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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 (202)

Monday
Feb222016

In Which You Can Count On China Miéville To Split

Bridge Work

by ALEX CARNEVALE

This Census-Taker
by China Miéville
Pan McMillan, 190pp

The last pieces of writing we have received from the scrutable, inscrutable novelist China Miéville have appeared in December and January, respectively. Both emanate from a worldview that is distinctive and finite. "You are trapped in here with us," reads one of the mottoes of the journal Salvage Miéville founded with Verso Books editor Rosie Warren, and we know this is true for so many reasons.

In his essay in those pages, "On Social Sadism", Miéville manages to go on about the cruelty of the United States for thousands of words without ever mentioning Christianity, which I have to say is impressive. To say religion does not feature prominently as a theme in Mr. Miéville's work would be the understatement of the millennium.

In his debut novel, King Rat , Miéville did touch on the idea of gods, plural. It is his way of criticizing monotheism, that each being may have his own silly path of worship. The new King Rat might turn into a small god at the end of his story; instead he abdicates the throne and establishes a republic. Democracy is very much to Miéville's liking, he is a socialist dedicated to the virtues of self-interest. (Ironically, this has never been a particularly inaccurate description of a Christian.)

What is apparent in both "On Social Sadism" and his novels is a love of poor and distressed individuals that is quite shaming for any Western reader. Like his spiritual predecessor, the young adult novelist Michael de Larrabeiti, Miéville takes great pains to find heroes among the homeless, the indigent, the malingering elements of any society. Even more so than de Larrabeiti, who forced himself to be somewhat evenhanded about the most degrading aspects of poverty in his devastatingly sincere Borrible Trilogy, Miéville is a champion of those who he believes have no ability to speak for themselves.

Miéville has taken great care to ostensibly separate his politics from his novels. His best book, the alien saga Embassytown, was mostly focused around how class power proceeds through linguistic expression. Language has always been one of Miéville's many fortes, and his latest effort, This Census-Taker, wrapped tightly around the smallest of conceits, shows just how far he has come as a prose stylist. I imagine it is difficult for Miéville to look back at the languorous sentences of Perdido Street Station and his dreary polemical novel Iron Council given how his efforts have continued to evolve.

The difference between that Miéville and the one we have now is the different between a lengthy, overlong fireworks display and an atom bomb. This Census-Taker is classified as a novella, but it is really no less a novel than his longest book, the brilliant feminist steampunk novel The Scar that stands as his most tolerable early work.

Mieville dislikes the path that recent literary fantasy has taken. This Census-Taker might nominally be described as the author's Kafka book, but it veers away from those tropes with just as much precision as it embraces others. A boy lives in the uphill with his parents — below their small house is a town that provides their food and other necessities. One night the boy sees his father striking out to kill his mother. He is sure she is dead, so he runs down the hill, and the first thing he can think of to say is, "My mother killed my father."

It isn't true, but nobody believes him anyway, not even when he tells the events of his life as honestly as he can. In This Census-Taker, Miéville tells us that we can keep three books in life. The first is our everyday book — the words and numbers we require to live. The second book to which we are entitled is our own story, as truthfully as we can tell it, for the largest possible audience. The third book contains our secrets and should never be read by anyone.

It so emerges that we are reading a prologue to the second book of the author. It is interesting to hear Miéville talk about how much he dislikes torture and sadism in his political writing, since most of his characters are not exactly beacons of empathy. He gives us his most sensitive moments as glimpses of the world as seen by his supporting characters, who are generally weaker in comparison to his narrators. You can sense he has an affection for the sad cases, but that is not the same as considering himself as one of them or even empathizing with them. We are never so much in the shoes of the powerless in Miéville as hearing the footfalls.

There is a bizarre scene in the smash novel that established Miéville's reputation worldwide, Perdido Street Station, that I always think of when I read Mr. Miéville's political writing. A bird/man character by the name of Yagharek has had his wings cut off because of a criminal offense in his native country. He comes to the city of New Crobuzon in order to have new wings fashioned for him by a scientist named Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin, or else another solution for his problem that would allow him to fly. The nature of Yagharek's offense is not made clear, so we feel the utmost sympathy for his plight. Reading Perdido Street Station is basically just an exercise in wishing good things for Yagharek — the main plot is nothing special, it is more about getting those wings.

At the very end of the novel, we find out that the reason Yagharek had his wings cut off was because he raped a woman. All sympathy vanishes for the birdman, and no one wants to help him anymore. But we spent like 800 pages wanting something desperately, until we didn't.

If you have ever met someone with very strong political convictions, you know what am I hurtling towards here. Miéville might meet the kindest half-bird, half-man creature in all the world, but if he has any cruelty in him at all, he's a piece of shit that can die. This is a somewhat incongruous state of affairs, since cruelty begat cruelty in this circumstance. Miéville's catalogue of sadism in Salvage does not so much explain the reasons for it, like more faithful Marxists seem obliged to, but amounts to a list of pithy complaints, as if no one else in the world were aware of what an asshole is.

Well, if you have read any Christian texts at all, you know what delineates an asshole. He is defined by the Bible as someone who does not follow the word and mission of Jesus Christ. But Christianity doesn't tell us such nonbelievers are sadist Americans speckled by their love of money or some such thing. It informs us they are lost, and can be brought into the light!

Positioned this way, I have to admit that faith in God sounds like a much better bargain than anything Miéville offers, since believing the world is full of monsters is about as ridiculous as saying it is full of saints. There's just people. But that is not the entire story, since the West seems to be losing its faith anyway. Say what you want about whatever peripheral evils God seems to have inspired, I shudder when I think of what might replace Him.

Maybe something great? Miéville offers no hope or credibility to the concept of revolution, which has always ended with disaster in his fiction. In This Census-Taker, the question of how to affect change is taken up scrupulously, and the answer Miéville emerges with is not all that satisfying. Revolution, in this neo-Marxist view, is kind of like a false hope built into the system for its own protection.

Then again, sometimes you want to stop thinking about the horrors of late capitalism and start being absorbed by the detailed world Miéville weaves for us. This Census-Taker offers a bevy of hints and shadows of its complicated setting. Unravelling these clues makes what might otherwise be a long short-story into a much deeper work, one of Miéville's very best. His more Lovecraftian adventures were very creative, but his writing is so much improved as a testimony of various individuals who saw things they can't necessarily explain. His oeuvre as a whole provides definitive proof that the first person narrator is wholly superior to the third.

Miéville no longer feels such a need to describe how things are, an easy temptation for young novelists. In middle age we sicken of that introductory material, and seek the only way it can realistically be altered: by the changeable minds and perspective of the people who live in it. China's political writing has undergone a similar evolution: optimism or novelty has been wrung out of it, and Miéville retreats into himself.

The narrator of This Census-Taker is somewhat confused as to whether he might actually be his father, the last in a fading race of men. He is unsure in himself and appeals to something larger than his little bubble:

The dream of a bridge is a woman standing on one side of a gorge and stepping out as if her job is to die, but when her foot falls it meets the ground right on the other side. A bridge is just better than no bridge but its horizon is gaplessness, and the facts of itself should still shame it. But someone had built on this bridge, drawn attention to its matter and failure. An arrogance that thrilled me.

That interiority constitutes an appeal to God, only this deity talks and sounds a lot like the author. I can think of worse omnipotence. China Miéville has become a great deal more of a pragmatist than his fellows, and for this reason faith has never appealed to him. Unlike the character of Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin, he does not care what crime Yagharek committed. A man needs wings.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"Mercy" - Saint Saviour (mp3)

"Tightrope" - Saint Saviour (mp3)

Friday
Feb192016

In Which There Is Enough Crazy Widow To Go Around

Hunter Captured By The Game

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Tumbledown
dir. Sean Mewshaw
105 minutes

Andrew McCabe (Jason Sudeikis) is the worst music writer in the world. But who cares, I mean he has the most perfect beard I have ever seen. Did Jason Sudeikis always look like this? I always wondered why January Jones chose him to be the seventeenth person to enter her vagina and now I know: he has grown into the most gorgeous, stupid mimbo that has ever existed.

Hannah Miles (Rebecca Hall) is having sex with her clothes on when she finds out this professor of pop culture and music studies has journeyed to her Maine town. Hannah's husband was a folk singer who died — she may have killed him, but it is never made clear. "He wrote one surprising album," Sudeikis' girlfriend Finley (Dianna Agron) explains, and Hannah suspects that Andrew McCabe may be using her to get on The View. For writing a biography of a folk singer who released one album. But who cares?

The music in Tumbledown is composed by Damien Jurado, a folk artist possessed of all the integrity the man he is ghostwriting for lacks. His soundtrack for Tumbledown is lush and gorgeous, if a bit muted for the character. Hannah finds that she cannot really make any headway on a biography of her husband, although it is somewhat unclear why anyone would be interested in this anyway. It's not like Hunter Miles was John Lennon.

Hall was a gorgeous young actress who has failed to develop her talent any further now that she is in her thirties. Her Hannah is supposed to be a bit erratic and impulsive — Sudeikis calls her a crazy widow — and the amazing retinue of hats that she wears during Tumbledown accentuates her age. She has a part down the middle of her hair that reminds you of a fourth grader. Overly made-up and bright-eyed, she is almost nothing like the complicated woman she is portraying.

But who cares? "I love spunky!" yelps Sudekiis as he is invited back to Maine after Hannah runs him out of town on their first meeting. When she contacts him again he is disobeying Kanye's wishes and teaching a college course about the Notorious B.I.G., which might be the dumbest, most racist thing I have ever witnessed. Such is the life of a professor of "pop culture and music studies," which is more certain to land an individual in the pits of hell than damn near any other occupation.

Sudeikis explains to her that all magazines are trash (not sure what magazines he is referring to, since the only music magazine left is Rolling Stone and the moron there gave Tumbledown three stars). Professor Andrew McCabe wants to write a printed book — none of this ebook shit. If the book is available on Kindle, he's going to delete it from the memory of the world. He has standards.

Sudeikis further explains that he has respect "fathoms deep" for Hannah's dead husband. He proclaims that he has a book deal with Random House and she offers to pay him $50,000 to live in her guest house and co-write the biography, since a woman writing a book by herself is too wild an idea for motion pictures. "It's too haaaaarrrrrrd!" she whines while having whiskey and intercourse with the local wildlife impresario Curtis (a ruined-looking Joe Manganiello).

Sudeikis seems to get along well with Hannah's dogs, Ripken and Glover. Despite the fact that he is writing a book about her husband, Sudeikis has no idea how the man died and has to find out about it from Hannah. He apparently fell off a cliff in the middle of the night? She also reveals that her dead husband's nickname for her was Buttercup, and Sudeikis finds a bullet in the guy's guitar case. For some reason Hannah takes him to meet her parents.

His girlfriend Finley shows up unexpectedly when an unpublished song of Hunter Miles is discovered in the unlikeliest of places: his studio. To get Finley off his back Sudeikis gets her very drunk and puts her to bed — this way he can spend some more quality time with his brunette writing partner. I have to say I had no idea where this was going.

Sudeikis interprets the lyrics of this new song as expressing Hunter Miles' desire for suicide. Rebecca Hall's character is deeply offended by this insinuation. It is the suicide of his own father he is reading into the situation, she insists, because the lyrics of the newly discovered track are actually derived from a poem she wrote about winter, and do not concern death at all. He is ashamed and leaves Maine.

She feels bad about pushing him away, likely because she is unsure if the song can really be interpreted in just one way. "There is no absolute truth: rather truth is relative to the community in which we participate," Richard Rorty tells us, but he is wrong about that. Tumbledown proves that this community absolutely sucks.

"I love living in place where you earn your seasons," Hannah says at some point long after I had stopped caring about this movie. Sudeikis dumps his appealing girlfriend for Rebecca Hall and tells her that he wants to kiss her. It's kind of gross when they do kiss, it reminded me of two steel wool sponges being scraped together over a toilet bowl.

The ensuing sex is very, very caring, although everyone is still mostly clothed. The next morning Sudeikis tells her that she smells like dirt and Hawaii and Hannah starts crying. Sudeikis then says that he "loves the shit" out of her. She's had sex thousands of times since her husband died, but it never felt this intimate!

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"Horizons" - Damien Jurado (mp3)

"Hands on the Table"  - Damien Jurado (mp3)

Thursday
Feb182016

In Which We Remain Far From Amused By The Glorious Surprises Of Karl Marx

"Gedenkflug oder Karl Marx als Schwartze Madonna" by Inna Levinson

Notes on Marx

by ALEX CARNEVALE

The biggest phony, the most long-lasting piece of garbage was Karl Marx. I hate saying his name.

On the 8th of March, Marx wrote, “Yesterday we were informed of A VERY HAPPY EVENT. The death of my wife’s uncle, aged ninety.” Why would Karl Marx write such an awful thing? Because he stood to make £100 from it.

This is where Marx really believed wealth came from — inheritance.

Marx made disgusting comments about both Jews and blacks in his letters to Friedrich Engels. For Marx, ethnic identity was a kind of egoism, which allowed people to set themselves apart from one another. Of a enemy who he slandered as a Jew, Marx wrote to Friedrich Engels that "the fellow's importunity is also nigger-like."

Engels' family loathed Marx, who was financially sustained by them for most of his life. They wanted Engels to work in the family business, which was cotton. Papa Engels asked his son to choose between a life in Calcutta or one in New York. In order to support Marx and his family, Engels joined his father's company. He received 200 pounds plus expenses in his job there, which allowed him to fund the "political" work Karl was doing.

Marx taught himself English by memorizing Shakespeare. He eventually brought in some money by selling his political columns to newspapers. If he needed more money for alcohol or drugs, Marx pawned his wife’s family silverware or begged for it.

On Christmas Marx gave his kids gifts. He explained the event by suggesting that Christ was a poor carpenter killed by rich men. One biographer, discussing the fact that Marx’s writing rarely made any kind of logical sense, writes, "his vices were also his virtues, manifestations of a mind addicted to paradox and inversion.” Jesus Christ.

While his pregnant wife was off asking a relative for money, Marx drank a lot and threw rocks at policemen. To amuse himself, Marx fucked the housekeeper, a maid named Helene Demuth. The family all slept in one disgusting room. Engels paid for the ensuing child to be removed from Marx’s presence. The baby boy, Frederic, was given to a Jewish family in London. The child was so ashamed of his real family he visited his mother by the back door of the house.

Marx regretted getting married at all. He believed marriage was a silly institution, and he taught his daughters the same.

The phrase "from each according to his abilities" was originally an insult that Karl Marx levied at his intellectual rivals. It meant the individual in question had no ability. So we begin to understand the foundation of an all-powerful state — it presides over idiots for their own good.

Fascism tells us that all men are liars, that they cannot be trusted. Communism suggests all men are fools. Marx took almost forever to compose his magnum opus, Capital, forcing his family to live in abject poverty while he wrote the book's volumes in longhand. At first things seemed to be coming together quickly; Marx told Engels in April of 1851 that "I am so far advanced that I will have finished the whole economic shit in five weeks time.” He still had not, sixteen years later.

Prussian spies tasked with covering Marx could not believe how he lived. In their reports they noted

He leads the existence of a real bohemian intellectual. Washing, grooming and changing his linen are all things he does rarely, and he likes to get drunk. He often stays up all night, and then lies down fully clothed on the sofa at midday and sleeps till evening, untroubled by the coming and goings of the whole world.

Marx had asked for the position of London correspondent in a number of letters. The New York Tribune, a newspaper that he roundly denigrated to Engels, reached an audience of 200,000. He told the editor, Charles Anderson Dana, that he would be ecstatic if they featured his columns. So began Marx's career in journalism, and the regular income was sorely needed.

Marx took a break from writing his column in 1853, because a boil between his nose and mouth became so infected that he could not speak. Except for that sabbatical, he rarely missed a week.

In a 1951 epistle to Engels, he wrote, "At home everything’s always in a state of siege. For nights on end, I am set on edge and infuriated by floods of tears. So I cannot of course do very much. I feel sorry for my wife. The main burden falls on her, and fundamentally, she is right. Industry must be more productive than marriage."

Marx idolized his father and spoke often of the man, a well-to-do lawyer who converted to Lutheranism because of anti-Semitism. He loathed his mother, a housewife who spoke German with a heavy Dutch accent, after she cut off his allowance. He was not the slightest bit upset when she passed. "Blessed is he who hath no family," he wrote once in a letter to Engels.

The ascension of Napoleon gave Marx an easy target. His wife handled the secretarial work, churning out tract after tract from his illegible handwriting. When Marx was not writing, he hung out at a wine shop that he called his synagogue and binge drank. He smoked through the night, cheap cigars being the only thing Karl Marx could afford.

Engels was the only correspondent with whom Marx ever discussed intellectual matters. The rest of his letters were mostly trash talk, gossip, and complaints. He never engaged with any developments in philosophy, economics, social sciences, life sciences. He already knew better.

Marx's fifth child, Franziska, died shortly after her first birthday from a bout of bronchitis. Marx could not afford funeral arrangements, so Jenny begged for two pounds. Cholera was among the bigger threats to the survival of Marx's children, caused by sewage leaks to London wells. Only three of his kids lived to adulthood in such a poisonous environment.

Marx rarely managed to afford a doctor, so he spent what money he had a nice outfit for his wife. Pregnant with his next child, Jenny went to Trier to ask his relative for money. She had to look her best; it would too obvious if she went begging dressed as a pauper. Jenny returned with the needed cash; all the while Marx drank gin and his mistress took care of his children.

His sixth baby, Eleanor, was born sick. He wrote to Engels that the baby was “unfortunately of the 'sex.' If it had been a male child, well and good." (That daughter, Eleanor Marx, later killed herself by swallowing cyanide when she found out her boyfriend married a younger woman.) The distraction of Eleanor's infirmity was superseded by the sudden illness of their eight-year-old son Edgar, who was very ill with consumption. The boy died in Marx's arms.

Though Marx suffered a great deal of avoidable tragedy, he was never sympathetic to anyone else's pain. When Engels' father passed away, Marx received an unexpected windfall. Engels' inheritance allowed Marx to focus on Capital. He called the death of Friedrich Engels Sr. "a glorious surprise" and explained the whole family was "filled with glee" upon receiving £100 from Engels' inheritance. Marx spent most of the money publishing a manuscript he had written about a rival who falsely claimed he was in league with the secret police.

Jenny was so overtired from copying and recopying Marx's broadside that she contracted smallpox. The only thing that kept Marx from falling totally apart was the substantial distraction of a very bad toothache.

That book, Herr Vogt, sold 80 copies and the publisher went bankrupt. The printer demanded twenty additional pounds. Jenny recovered from her illness, but her face was a mess: she compared herself to a "hippopotamus which belongs in a zoological garden rather than in the ranks of the Caucasian race."

To give himself distance from this monstrosity, Karl Marx went to Holland to ask his uncle for money. On the way he partied in Berlin, but soon found the Germans not to his liking. He met a woman there, a connected one who satisfied him sexually. Marx's uncle gave him £160, money which lasted all of four months on Marx's diet.

Engels had been tapped out by the decline in the cotton industry, and Marx had no choice but to consider a job. He secured a position at a British railway office.  After decades of work on the manuscript, the publication of Capital was met with resounding silence. To be fair, reading the massive tome was likely to take weeks or months and most reviewers could not be bothered. The copy he sent to Charles Darwin was never touched after the first eighty pages. Darwin sent along a terse and unwelcoming thank you note. This insult inspired Marx to suggest an alternate theory of evolution: that it was prompted by changes in the soil.

Marx amused himself by copying French pornographic poetry to Engels in the interim. Capital began achieving its first real notices when it was translated into Russian. Marx had always railed against the Russian culture, specifically the aristocracy, so this reception came as a bit of surprise to him.

Engels decided to bail out of the family business and retired with £12,500. This was happy news for the Marx family, but when Engels' wife died of heart disease Marx was less than sympathetic asent his friend a letter complaining about his finances for several pages and wishing it had been his mother who died. Engels forgave him in a letter later in the year, as he always did.

Jenny Marx died in 1881, and Marx prepared to follow her shortly thereafter. Marx was ill in his last years, travelling outside of Europe for the first time in his life, spending time at resorts in Algiers and Switzerland. He shaved off his hair and distinctive beard. His bronchitis worsened, but he never told his daughters, writing to a friend, "What's the point of alarming them?" 

Marx's daughter Jennychen developed cancer while pregnant and beat her father to the grave, perishing in 1883. In his last days Marx drank a pint of milk mixed with rum and brandy for every meal. Only eleven people showed up for his funeral.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"Killing Time" - City and the Colour (mp3)