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Editor-in-Chief
Alex Carnevale
(e-mail/tumblr/twitter)

Features Editor
Mia Nguyen
(e-mail)

Reviews Editor
Ethan Peterson
(e-mail)

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)

Wednesday
Sep042013

In Which We Lose Ourselves In The Timber Hills Of Paul Bowles

In Paris, Young Paul Bowles

by ALEX CARNEVALE

You see I shouldn't be so wretched if there were only some way I could be sure that some day, be it fifty years hence, I shall be able to justify to myself the fact that I'm alive, but now I see no way, not even a vista of what might become a hope. It is not a help for me to repeat that life is its own excuse. I say: my life is no excuse. I have a horror not of anyone's failing to find merit in my existence, but only in my own. And in order for me to find myself worthwhile, I have got to be pretty brilliant, and understand everything.

Paul Bowles arrived in Paris in 1931. When he rode up to the home of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, they could not believe they had been corresponding with a college student. "I was sure from your letters that you were an elderly gentleman, at least seventy-five," Stein told him. He was twenty-one years old.

Bowles started fast. He had been insulated from the world until the age of six, when he was sent to school. "I developed a superiority complex the first day," he wrote in one of his many, many letters. His advancement continued apace:

When I was eight I wrote an opera. We had no piano, but we had two or three pieces of sheet-music which I studied and I had a zither which I tuned in various scales and modes. My first sexual thrills were obtained from reading newspaper account of electrocutions. At the time I was quite unconscious of the facts, except that I had the New England guilt about it.


Bowles' first literary idol was Poe, and crossing the Atlantic aboard the S.S. McKeesport he contemplated setting some of the man's poems to music. As a self-described modernist snob, Bowles' perspective on other artists resembled his shaky feelings about being turned on by torture -  a mix of wonder, awe and pain. Upon his arrival in Paris, the first person he went out of his way to meet was Jean Cocteau. At the beginning of April 1931 he writes that Cocteau

rushed about the room with great speed for two hours and never sat down once. Now he pretended he was an orangoutang, next an usher at Paramount Theatre, and finally he held a dialogue between an aged grandfather and his young grandson which was side-splitting. I think never have I seen anyone like him in my life. He still smokes opium every day and claims it does him a great deal of good. I daresay it does. By definition, the fact that it is considered harmful for most mere mortals would convince me of its efficaciousness for him.

Reading Bowles' private letters is like watching the precise movements of a guided laser. He writes completely differently depending on the level of intimacy with his correspondent. He penned almost stream-of-consciousness Joyce imitations to his friend Bruce Morissette, adopting a more formal tone for those whose friendship he coveted and had yet to earn. With his closest ones he even vacillated between styles with a severity of purpose nearly bipolar in its enthusiasm.


By June of 1931 he was in Berlin. He hated the city, all rain and mosquitos, but it was mostly that the place suffered in comparison to Paris. It is obvious how much his surroundings affected Bowles' personality. In his letter to the Paris-born Jew Edouard Roditi, Bowles accurately described his view of the German metropolis:

if only the world were stronger! if only there were more dimensions! if only we thought in terms of perfumes! if only there were a third world where we could hide from the other two. then the other one would not be always grinning in feeling so perfectly well that we could do nothing when it intended to enter. there would be two of them there, and the two would be easier to fight than the one. but now it is always either one or the other, and neither one stays away long enough. in full noon sleep falls upon one for one tiny second without measurement and one knows there is no escape. berlin is not a beautiful city

Later he would tell Roditi, and in a sense himself as well, that "I have the feeling you are primarily two people, one of which should be killed."

Among so many potent writers and artists, it was natural for young Bowles to feel a bit discouraged in his own writing. Yes, he could write or speak to Gertrude Stein anytime he liked, but reading further and further into her work, he despaired of his own.

All my theories on her I discover to be utterly vagrant. She has set me right, by much labor on her part, and now the fact emerges that there is nothing in her works save the sense. The sound, the sight, the soporific repetitions to which I had attached such great importance, are accidental, she insists, and the one aim of her writing is the superlative sense. "What is the use of writing," she will shout, "unless every word makes the utmost sense?" Naturally all that renders her 'opera' far more difficult, and after many hours of patient reading, I discover she is telling the truth, and that she is wholly correct about the entire matter. And what is even more painful is that all my poems are worth a large zero. That is the end of that. And unless I undergo a great metamorphosis, there will never be any more poems.

In August he boarded another ship, the S.S. Imerethie II, with a destination of Tangier. His reaction to this lush place was the polar opposite to his experience of Berlin. In a postcard to John Widdicombe he wrote, "here I shall live until the eucalyptus leaves all fall and it starts to rain across the strait." He took up residence in a villa with Aaron Copland. The villa featured a permanently out of tune piano, and while Copland found he could not do his work, Bowles' mood improved immediately. After a sojourn in Marrakech, Bowles returned to Paris before stopping in London at the beginning of December.

London did not offend him as a city, but as a way of life. In a letter to Charles Henri-Ford, he writes,

I have crossed the little water that is mightier in its human gap than an ocean, and fallen again into the great pit of London. The chalk cliffs at Newhaven were all greyer through the dawn rain than any human eyes could be, and white gulls fluttered out of the black wind into the vague lights of the boat, and seemed to cry when their flight crossed the boat, but to be silent when they went back into the darkness again. There is little change, save that Piccadilly grows more and more like a sprawling Times Square, running down Haymarket and Coventry and Regent, all garish and burning with neon. It doesn't fit. In New York, the great planes of the lifting buildings can carry it off, in London it stays right there, on the ground, on your mind, on your hands, and you can't lift it. I am sad for this.

Paris left me empty. I look only, everywhere, all hours, for that new way of looking at the human thing, the heart, I suppose, of the world, and I found it not there. I was childish to look for it. Only the echo of the beat, not the strong pulse.

At any rate, it was good of you to lead me about by my nose, and to let me meet so many people. As you know, I like to meet everyone in the world at least once.

He had met many of the most important artists of his generation; from Klee to Gide to Stein to Copland to Pound. For a short time, it raised all boats to be amidst such individuals, but eventually Bowles' surroundings discouraged him: 

Literature has never lived on literary talk, and literary acquaintances. I want to take every poet and shove him down into the dung-heap, kick all his literary friends in the ass, and try to make him see that writing is not word-bandying, like Stein, and the thousand legions of her followers, but an emotion seen through the mind, or an intellectual concept emotionalized, and shaping its own expression. You can't write from a literary vacuum, and all of Paris, I felt, was trying to. They get all tangled up in trying to write cleverly and as no one else has, and get lost in the timber hills of their effort. I can't help thinking Shakespeare never worried about writing a new kind of blank verse, just went ahead instinctively and did it.

The artists and writers Bowles once idolized had begun to let him down, as they had to. (He called Gertrude Stein, who told him, "Why don't you go to Mexico? You'd last two days there.") Friends he depended on for money were no longer as forgiving; after all, he had been in Europe for almost a year. A traveler is always welcome, a wayward resident finds himself more swiftly resented. Even Copland became slow in answering his letters, and Bowles stopped visiting the Stein home. He developed syphilis and then acute tonsilitis, medical expressions of how little Europe had left for him. How he loathed these ancient cities! By the same token, he did not want to go home at all.

In Algiers he began, for the first time in his life, to read the work of Marcel Proust.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He is a writer living in Manhattan. He last wrote in these pages about Blue Jasmine and the Fullbright Company's Gone Home. He tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.

"On My Own" - Zero 7 (mp3)

"Don't Call It Love" - Zero 7 (mp3)

in his library

Tuesday
Aug272013

In Which You Are Not Going To See Me For A Few Months

Cigarettes and Magazines

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Gone Home
The Fullbright Company

design by Steve Gaynor

Now that the 90s are a good fifty or sixty years in our collective past it is possible to take stock of them. Adjectives are inadequate who can deign to describe Rome at its most opulent? It is like staring too long at the sun. Gone Home returns to this moment, represented by an empty house in the Pacific Northwest during a thunderstorm.

Kaitlin Greenbriar is the protagonist of Gone Home, the new game created by the Fullbright Company. Gone Home suggests that Kaitlin is a fairly heteronormative straight A student who comes from a troubled family, which we will learn more about presently. Since there are no mirrors in the Greenbriar house, we never see who Kaitlin is in the present of Gone Home. We have to be content with the family photos and documents that show what her and family looked like in the past.

Rotating and examining various objects in the Greenbriar house up close, with rain pouring down in the background between the fantastic score by Chris Remo, is the game. In 90 minutes or so you can finish Gone Home. By the end you will have opened a safe in the basement replete with accusations of molestation, explored an attic darkroom where Kaitlin's sister Samantha made out with her ROTC girlfriend Lonnie, and felt completely alone in the world.

It is another life completely, each detail reinforced by the accompanying cultural reference. Gone Home contains an astounding level of detail. Along with guilt and fear, each room in the house generally holds a box of tissues, a lamp, and a handwritten letter or list at the very least. There are always more secrets left to find here. Going through your family's private writings and keepsakes feels like a betrayal. On this level, Gone Home is spot on, since no one cared a whit for anybody else from 1990 to 2001.

Gone Home has inspired divergent opinions on the internet; there are no reports as of yet as to what the Prodigy.com userbase thinks of it. Some seem to feel it is wry or obvious commentary on the positioning of homosexuality during this period; others connect with the general Americanness of Nirvana on the radio, The X-Files on the VCR. It is completely ridiculous to make this time innocent or unknowing in any way, and Gone Home avoids this softening at every turn.

The general milieu inspires a nostalgia that already itself feel like an affection borne of a second, additional remembering. Now we not only recall the original period, maybe from news clippings, television and movies, but we also revisit our memories of our memories.

It was as a child that I learned how easy the past is to bring back in conversation, how it let me understand other children when they were no more than tiny, walking mysteries. In a society with no history what is left over becomes even more powerful. At this point Ronald Reagan is just a fucking face on a t-shirt. Much like Sam Greenbriar, 1995 was the worst year of my life, and also kind of the best. When Sam Greenbriar's girlfriend tells her she is enlisting in the military, it is very difficult to get over whether she goes through with it or not.

 As with anything sentimental, a vocal minority loathes Gone Home. There is a deeply reductive idea that any piece of art must appeal to every single person. That seems to me misguided, although I do regret some of the things I said to people who liked The Dark Knight. Those who object to Gone Home's austere precociousness are usually those who did not come of age in the 90s, since it describes the decade perfectly.

Until the 90s, there was the distinct possibility that there existed a place more exotic and fascinating than the boredom we inhabitated. Today we are factually aware that the entire world is just a mirror. Kaitlin Greenbriar returns from college, the place she went to abandon the dullness of her Oregon life. She discovered, we may intuit, that it was all the same - now everything follows you everywhere. Then, youth could be fled or rearranged: people actually forgot the things that Lillian Hellman said and did, Margaret Mead was written about positively in magazines while Norman Mailer and Paul Gauguin were not locked up in jail.

The documents in Gone Home maintain an ineradicable record of our fuckups, making that break impossible. Jeanne, a disciple of Karl Jaspers, wrote that the philosophy of freedom consists of knowing that a choice made today projects itself backwards and changes our past actions. She could have added two words to the beginning of her definition to make it more accurate before now.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He is a writer living in Manhattan. He last wrote in these pages about Blue Jasmine and Philip Johnson. He tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.

"Everything" - Nine Inch Nails (mp3)

"While I'm Still Here" - Nine Inch Nails (mp3)

Friday
Aug162013

In Which There Is One Actual Word For It

Headed Separate Ways

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Blue Jasmine
dir. Woody Allen
97 minutes

Watching foreign actresses playing white American socialites is an occupation, like lawyer, seamstress, or federal agent. There's an actual word for it, but it's filthy.

There are these tiny little apartments in San Francisco, maybe you've seen them? They're for wealthy people. Everything is for wealthy people, Woody Allen's new film Blue Jasmine tells us, and he knows this from experience. About eighty minutes in to Blue Jasmine, Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard) suggests that he and Jeanette (Cate Blanchett) spend the next three years in Vienna. Watching Cate Blanchett consider this proposal is the task of the person with the job that sounds like a filthy word.

Foreign actresses all loathe the American parts they have to play because they're fake and made up. After the death of her husband, Jeannette has moved to San Francisco to be with her sister Ginger (British actress Sally Hawkins). Even though she has no money and no other place to go, she still flies first-class.

It's like a regular American family, except all the people in it are, you know, not Americans. There's one point where someone asks Jeanette where she grew up and she reflexively lies, another time she says "New York." We never find out where she grew up, but Allen takes great care to inform us that these women are adopted.

The main incident in Jeanette's life, the one that really stuck with her, was meeting her husband Hal. They were together for 30 years, you see. In this time, in the fiction of Blue Jasmine, virtually nothing happened except vacations (St. Tropez), golf (The Masters). Nothing really happens to rich people, Allen is informing us, so your jealousy of them is misplaced.

Now impoverished, Jeannette takes a job as a receptionist in a dental office. The man Woody Allen hired to portray the dentist fills his own coffers by performing in a stage show as famed Jew Arnold Weinstein. Jeanette disapproves of her sister's boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale) because he is some kind of weird 1990s Woody Allen memory of what the one working class person he met briefly at an event was like:

Flashbacks interrupt the tedium of Jeannette's San Francisco life. She had a beautiful home with her now-deceased husband Hal. He was the gentile Bernie Madoff, but even when we know what is behind them, his slick business assertions enthrall everyone present. Until one significant moment, we are as overwhelmed by Alec Baldwin's choice in belts as his wife and everyone he meets.

That's until Andrew Dice Clay comes on the scene; somehow his body has crumbled into this beautiful thing:

Hal is of course repulsed by this construction worker brother-in-law, and steals all the money that he won in the lottery by funneling it into his Ponzi scheme. (That's how poor people get $200,000, Woody Allen could imagine no other feasible way.) But Dice Clay's Augie is equally repulsed by Hal, and it reflects poorly on both of them that they cannot find any common ground whatsoever.

In the present of Blue Jasmine, a divorced-with-two-kids Ginger bags groceries and looks for a new boyfriend, someone her sister will be more impressed by. This is what she finds:

These women are not as hapless as they first appear. They do not really have very bad choice in men, although once Chili is so mad that he breaks a telephone. Not a cell phone, like a telephone you might have seen in The Maltese Falcon.

Jeanette tries taking a computer course, but all she gets from that experience is an invitation to a party. That's where she meets another widower. She lies to him about her past, about the husband who hung himself in his prison cell. For a few vague moments, Jeanette considers the possibility of a new life containing all the allure of her previous existence.

Woody's grasp of low culture is what you would expect of a 77-year-old man. Unlike the upper class, the lower class is constantly forced to change its parameters, but for the very wealthy, it is always Paris before the war. His assessments of the people he chose to surround himself with feel somewhat relevant.

We judge Jeanette/Jasmine the most harshly. Everything Blue Jasmine does to win us to her side falls flat: we see the excess of her old life and have to admit she deserves her new one. It's a bad reflection on the people who put this maudlin little stage show together that we can't feel pity for a sobbing once-rich woman babbling to herself in a public park, but it's a condemnation of ourselves as well.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He is a writer living in Manhattan. He last wrote in these pages about Philip Johnson. He tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.

"A Different Room" - Travis (mp3)

"Anniversary" - Travis (mp3)