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Alex Carnevale

Features Editor
Mia Nguyen

Reviews Editor
Ethan Peterson

This Recording

is dedicated to the enjoyment of audio and visual stimuli. Please visit our archives where we have uncovered the true importance of nearly everything. Should you want to reach us, e-mail alex dot carnevale at gmail dot com, but don't tell the spam robots. Consider contacting us if you wish to use This Recording in your classroom or club setting. We have given several talks at local Rotarys that we feel went really well.

Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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Entries in alex carnevale (230)


In Which He Was Iris Murdoch's First And Last Jewish Boy

Falling In Love With I


Like Socrates, perhaps love is the only subject on which I am really expert?

Iris Murdoch, July 1976

She was an only child. She thought of her little family as "a perfect trinity of love."

The first sentence she ever copied down was, "The snowdrop hangs its head down. Why?"

She wrote, "Jesus: my first (and last?) Jewish boy." She was the best student in her class; a mother of a friend called her a Botticelli angel. After she died, Harold Bloom wrote that there were no more first rate writers left in Britain. A variation of this escaped his mouth whenever anyone died, so that someone else might say it of him.


Hitler invaded the Rhineland; her Jewish and Indian classmates would go on hikes together, four at a time. Iris' closest friend was the school's headmistress. Auden came to visit her boarding school. According to her, he was "young and beautiful, with his golden hair."

Her first boyfriend was in training to be a dentist; they bonded over Virgil. She had her first drink at seventeen. She said, "the experience comes back to me surrounded by a halo of the purest and most intense joy."

Her first real boyfriend was David Hicks, three years her elder. He sent her C.S. Lewis' Allegory of Love, even now known as a strong move. As she grew into a charming young woman, many desired Iris, women as well as men. All the boys she knew at Oxford left to die in the war.

There she was the pet pupil of Eduard Fraenkel, who recognized her talent immediately and would spend countless hours talking to her. He would later call her the only truly educated person of her generation. Others were forced to agree. A classmate described her as having "a lioness' face — very square, very strong, very gentle."

Her first real love was a guy named Frank Thompson. Even as she dated someone closer to home, she believed she would marry Frank. A self-described "left intellectual," he was captured and executed by Bulgarians, with a volume of poetry by Catullus in his front pocket.

In 1980, she had a dream that she, Frank and her husband John Bayley were living together happily. She wrote, "A dream about Frank. I was with Frank and he told me he loved me. (As he did on that day in autumn 1938 in New College.) I was very moved but not sure what I felt (as then). He went away and then I realised I loved him. (As I really did come to love him later.) In the dream, realising I loved him I felt great joy at the thought that I could tell him now, and I sent for him. He appeared at the top of a steep slope, dressed as a soldier, with a black cap on. As I climbed up the slope towards him I felt sudden dismay, thinking I cannot marry him, I am married already. Then I thought, it is all right, I can be married to both him and John. We met and were all somehow very happy and yet awkward too."

Iris was a prolific letter writer: "When I was younger, I remember I loved writing long letters to all sorts of people — a kind of exhibitionism I daresay." She often wanted her boyfriends to send her pictures of themselves, under the guise that "I hate to not know what my friends look like."

She visited Paris and met Sartre. He signed a copy of Being and Nothingness over to her. She was starting to feel like a philosopher again.

She became engaged to a man who showed little to no interest in her work, and confessed "doubts & terrors" towards the prospect of their marriage. In Prague, he left her for a girl named Molly. Even after they dissolved their arrangement by postal mail, Iris still gave him money.

She spoke only French to Raymond Queneau. They went on hikes together. He told her about his analysis. He introduced her to the work of William Faulkner. He never liked to talk about his work, except with her. Queneau described Iris as "Irishwoman. Big. Blonde. Common-sensical. A little bun. A perked cap. A decided walk, somewhat heavy, military. Beautiful eyes. Charming smile. She loves Kierkegaard. Is interested in the problems of blacks. Likes Colossus of Maroussi. She is weary. Her work interests her sufficiently. She skis."

She thought he "had a very beautiful head."

When she returned to England, she took up with Donald MacKinnon, in almost full view of his suffering wife. She became more and more depressed. She went to visit the widowed mother of Frank Thompson, which did not help matters. The old woman gave Iris the volume of Catullus that had been returned to her.

She came to Cambridge, where she met Wittgenstein. She thought of him as a handsome but disturbing figure, with "a trampish sort of appearance." They never connected, but Cambridge was full of romantic possibilities. She took up with a number of men, but none of them for very long. Later she would write, "that business of falling in love with A, then with B, then with C (all madly) seems a bit sickening."

To break the pattern, she considered a relationship with Wittgenstein's protege, a woman named Elizabeth Anscombe. The relationship was never consummated, but Iris fantasized about kissing the back of her neck, and the emotional side was very real.

She took a post teaching at St. Ann's College, where she became the resident expert on moral and political philosophy. Her circle of friends, largely the ethnic misfits of the school, grew and grew. (In The Black Prince she wrote that "most friendship exists in a state of frozen and undeveloping hostility.") Her skill involved paying her friends exactly the amount of attention they required, but not so much that they lost their desire for being with her. Once, she offhandedly remarked to one of her students that didn't she agree "that any worthwhile person ought to have at least some Jewish blood?"

Iris became engaged to another man, but cheated on him with the philosopher Michael Oakeshott. A friend described them both as "addicted to love at first sight." She did not like to ask things of her boyfriends, and she generally hated if they made any demands on her. She contrived an exception to this rule by taking up with a frail Jewish philosopher whose debilitating heart ailment was aggravated by sex. He died.

As a consequence, her next relationship was with the writer Elias Canetti. He was very different from her other boyfriends. Their three year affair was kept secret from all close to them; she was neither the first nor the last of his mistresses. Canetti was the king of flattery, an expert manipulator. He would often read a writer's entire oeuvre before meeting them so he would know what to say. Behind their backs, he could be extremely cruel. Iris' friends suspected that Elias was the sort of literary intellectual monster she feared becoming.

Among other things, Iris found him to be the best sexual partner she had ever had. She wrote, "He holds me savagely between his knees & grasps my hair and forces my head back. His power. He subjugates me completely. Only a complete intellectual and moral ascendancy could hold me." She compared him to Zeus. "He takes me quickly, suddenly... When we are satisfied, we do not lie together, but contemplate each other with a sort of amused hostility." Her next boyfriend did not like Canetti, and was nothing like him.

Even though I never knew her, I still miss her.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.


In Which We Return To Montana For Horses And The Law

Survival Gear


Certain Women
dir. Kelly Reichardt
107 minutes

The setting for the new film by Kelly Reichardt (Night Moves) is rural Montana. The landscape in this place explodes with color along a narrow scale. Darkness is almost complete, but there is never any morning – just a freezing day that plops down without warning. There is no music in Certain Women until about ten minutes before the movie ends, when it seems like the farmhand played by Lily Gladstone is on the verge of potentially displaying an emotion. She never does.

Earlier, Laura Dern has intercourse with Michelle Williams' husband, who is portrayed by James Le Gros. He breaks it off with Dern for reasons we never really understand. It reminds me of when Billy Bob Thornton married Angelina Jolie. "My boyfriend left to do a movie," Dern explained later, "and he never came back." Both Dern and Williams do an incredible job making us forget who they actually are. Reichardt has a true gift for bringing natural performances out of famous actors whose notoriety might otherwise be inclined to overwhelm the diegesis.

Dern is a lawyer with a difficult client (the English actor Jared Harris). Like all three of the short stories Reichardt has adapted here from Maile Meloy, the actual events are very slight. The psychology revolves around a similar type of relationship in which one party can't get away from the other; until she does. Dern achieves this separation by getting her client arrested. He forgives her, even though she does not ask to be forgiven. Reichardt's moral point is that no relationship can exist unless both parties ask for something from the other.

Along those lines Michelle Williams purchases a batch of sandstone from an old man (Rene Auberjonois). He eventually permits her to take it away; she intends to use it in construction of her new house. We see in her conversation with the older man why her husband may have disrespected her by straying from her marriage. Also, she is a smoker with a teenaged daughter. As she enters her late thirties, Williams has become so much fun to watch – here she is a tightly wound ball of anger and persona, expressed as softly as the character can manage.

Visually, Reichardt always knows the correct angle. She is the master of using walls and confined, normal spaces and turning them into subtle psychological aspects in a scene. The clothing that these certain women wear also tells so much of the story. Certain Women begins with Laura Dern in a bra in bed, and as we watch her slowly accumulate enough professional clothing for her job at the law firm, we see how fabric itself is used as protective gear. I mean, Jesus, Kristen Stewart's vest.

Certain Women concludes with its disturbing centerpiece, a story about Lily Gladstone falling in unrequited love with a teacher in a night class (Kristen Stewart). Stewart's lesbian outerwear is truly magnificent, but we get the vague sense that Gladstone is actually the more attractive, complete person as they sit across from each other at the only place in town to get a meal at 10 p.m.

There is one scene where Gladstone's farmhand is brushing her hair in particular where we see the kind of care she could give herself if she only had the inclination or reason to do so. Reichardt falls in love with Gladstone's movements, replaying her routines as she takes care of a beautiful group of horses, circling a pasture to drop hay in the snow. It feels like it has taken her the entire running time to find something she really adores.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.


In Which Bulletproof Is The Only Word You Need Remember



Luke Cage
creator Cheo Hodari Coker

There is a scene near the end of Netflix series Luke Cage where an African-American cop beats up a twelve year old boy in an interrogation room. We cannot be sure that such a hideous act never occurred in Harlem, but as something that could happen, now, today?

Luke Cage creator Cheo Hodari Coker is just getting started. The evil villains of Luke Cage are an arms dealer named Cornell "Cottonmouth" Stokes (Mahershala Ali) and his cousin, a city-councilwoman named Mariah (Alfred Woodard). Here is their devious plan: they plan to take money they've made selling guns to other gangs and repurpose it for the good of the community. Luke Cage (a horrendous Mike Colter, oh my god is he the worst actor in a long time) has an idea to foil this plan: he takes the money and gives it to the police. What do they use for? I can tell you candidly it will not be invested in Harlem.

Let's talk about why some minority communities turned to crime to begin with: hint, it wasn't because they were evil. It was because the easiest access to wealth that some Italians, Jews, blacks, Irish, and later on other groups had was illicit. Racism and bigotry prevented other opportunities. But now Mr. Hodari Parker has come up with another reason, only I am not quite sure what makes Cottonmouth so bad. Presumably Mr. Coker realizes that the United States government sells guns as well?

It is painful but also amusing to watch Luke Cage's idea of what makes someone a bad person. It would seem that during his extensive stay in jail for a crime he did not commit, Cage would have learned not to judge a book by its cover. The naivete of Luke Cage's titular hero threatens to turn this show into a kiddie version of the same.

Besides being bulletproof, Cage can also bend guns in half, destroying them. He does this to cops and criminals alike, since they both open fire on him frequently. Someone tries to kill Luke Cage by opening an entire magazine of bullets on him in every episode; by the finale it is the most boring gag imaginable. Between the scenes where Cage mauls gun-toting adversaries like a stuttering bear, there is another more entertaining show that actually takes the time to pay tribute to Harlem as a cultural touchstone in black America.

Luke Cage does not actively hate cops, but he never tries to help them accumulate evidence on the people he has recklessly determined are bad for his community. Cage has sex exactly once during his own show, and the subject of his affections is a police detective named Missy Knight (Simone Missick). After a few hours together he catches feelings even though he has been floating negs to her all evening. You would think super strength would complicate the idea of sex immeasurably, and true to form, Missy gets a call and never comes back to Cage's dingy apartment above a barber shop.

Luke Cage takes time to establish the lengthy backstory of Cornell Stokes, who is given very little to do as a "villain" other than laugh and play the piano. (Once he punches a guy in the face and cackles. Who among us is not guilty of that?) Stokes loves music because his early ambitions were to create it himself. At his fantastic club, Harlem's Paradise, Mr. Coker presents a series of musical acts intended to reflect the extensive diversity of African-American music. Outside of one time, we never see the club packed and joyous, perhaps because of Luke Cage's budgetary restrictions. These financial limits also make Cage the least action-heavy of all the Marvel shows.

Cage is so clearly not a role model. His ex-girlfriend Misty Knight is a lot closer to one. She never faces any racism or sexism in her job as a police detective, and all of her superior officers are also black women around the same age. I guess since Luke Cage's sister series Jessica Jones was so focused on the particulars of women's suffering from violence and sexism, Luke Cage is so reluctant to touch on any of those things.

Women in Luke Cage are never powerless. Alfre Woodard's magnificent performance as Mariah here generally keeps the entire show from falling apart. Coker has the most fun writing for her character when she is telling the truth and has something useful to say; at other times, she is too much of a garden variety hypocrite. In flashbacks that go back to Mariah's life as a teen, he does a fantastic job giving us an idea of how blacks viewed their white neighbors, and related to each other as members of the same clan. When Claire (Rosario Dawson) comes on the scene as Cage's sidekick, she feels weirdly outside of events because she cannot understand them in the same way.

Luke Cage has various new things to say about what it means to be black in America, and the vivid world that surrounds Cage is infinitely more intriguing than its centerpiece. The show's most tedious episode explains Cage's origins. The years he served in prison were not particularly difficult; he escapes a fire and busts out of the walls of the penitentiary. Free at last, he works as a dishwasher and sweeps up hair in his friend's barbershop. Unfortunately for us, he quits both of these jobs in short order and never works another day. It is unclear how he supports himself after that, although he steals $80,000 from a heavily protected safe to purchase his friend's barbershop.

The fact that Luke Cage used to be a police officer should give him some context for how he relates to men and women in blue. Instead, the fact that he is identified as black completely dominates his previous identity. He struggles to form relationships with anyone who does not have a similar background. Even being a former cop gives him no advantages or disadvantages in prison: he is always seen as who he is in the moment – a dangerous, powerful/powerless black man. This subtle indictment is never focused on or identified, which perhaps makes it all the more deft.

Policing urban communities is the kind of thing people are always saying, "Let's have a frank, open conversation about this." But like, later. Next week? After the election. Maybe we should be happy that the subject is being mentioned at all in a genre that is usually considered mindless entertainment. I blame Mr. Coker, who displays his characters reading and reflecting on fine literature, for giving me hope. In different moments, Cage brandishes paperbacks of Walter Mosley and Ralph Ellison. Then, as he becomes more and more concerned with his survival, he finds that he no longer has time to read.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.