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Alex Carnevale
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Mia Nguyen
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Brittany Julious
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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 (206)

Friday
Feb262016

In Which They Don't Want To See Me Love You

Curtains

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Marcel Duchamp introduced Peggy Guggenheim to all the artists he knew in Paris. By various looks and expressions it was obvious to Duchamp that the heiress knew little of modern art, so he endeavored to teach her. He did not ask for money in exchange for his services, since the instruction of women was not considered a financially profitable task. Moreover Peggy was planning to open a gallery in London, and he saw it as something of a duty to ensure the place was filled to his liking.

When she was not with Duchamp, Peggy socialized in Paris with frenetic abandon. At a party thrown by James Joyce she observed across the table a slender, quiet, bespectacled amalgam of Irish masculinity. She stared at Samuel Beckett the entire night.

Peggy Guggenheim at “peep show, manipulated by turning a huge ship’s wheel, shows a rotating exhibit of reproductions of all the works, including a miniature toilet for MEN, by screwball Surrealist Marcel Duchamp.”

They walked the entire way back to her apartment on the Rue de Lille. Beckett's novel Murphy had begun to slowly appear across Europe. Although she had not read it, she knew it was accomplished, and she had already pleasantly digested his views on Proust. As a friend of Sam's later wrote, "She wanted to be a part of whatever good things were going to happen to him."

In her own book, Peggy wrote that Beckett was a "a tall lanky Irishman of about thirty with enormous green eyes that never looked at you. He wore spectacles and always seemed to be far away solving some intellectual problem; he spoke very seldom and never said anything stupid." They spent the next 24 hours in bed together. The only interruption came when Beckett leapt out of the sheets to purchase a few bottles of champagne and return. After Peggy finally left the embrace, Beckett murmured, "Thank you. It was nice while it lasted."

She found his long expositions on Irish painting a bit tiring, but pretended as well as she could to listen the entire time. Besides Joyce he told her he felt Journey to the End of Night was the greatest novel written in French or English. He gave her all of his books; intellectually she felt they were really clicking.

Joyce called for Beckett the next day. Both he and Guggenheim made a point of telling everyone they knew about Beckett's Parisian night and morning.

Peggy Guggenheim and Samuel Beckett did not see each other for more than a month, before Peggy made a show of running into him. Peggy was housesitting for her friend Mary Reynolds nearby; did he want to come back for a drink?

They spent the next fortnight there, Beckett drunk throughout. The sex was far from exciting - Beckett struggled to maintain his erection when he consumed alcohol. When that happened, the two would just keep drinking as they strolled through Paris until they came out the other side. The affair ended for the first time when Beckett fucked an Irish girl visiting from Dublin. To explain this behavior to Peggy, he told her "making love without being in love is like taking coffee without brandy." She did not buy this bullshit whatsoever.

SB in the 60s

They reconciled shortly after Beckett was knifed by a pimp. Peggy visited his hospital bed then, insisting as seductively as possible that she loved him. Joyce paid the cost of a private room for his protege, and passed the time waiting for Beckett's recovery by roaming, blind, through the hospital's wards. Seeing him reduced to a patient, she eagerly forgave him.

Peggy's London gallery opening was a tremendous success. One attendee called her the female W.C. Fields. She did not stay in London long enough to enjoy this adulation, because her Beckett was in Paris.

Beckett was no longer interested in being with Peggy. He had moved on to a pianist named Suzanne Dechevaux-Dumesnil, six years his elder. Suzanne nursed the wounded writer back to health, and eventually she would become his wife in 1961. Peggy reacted to the rejection by sleeping with one of Sam's friends, briefly reigniting Beckett's interest.

Meanwhile, she prepared an exhibition of Kandinsky's work for her new gallery. She became somewhat obsessed with getting her Irishman back, writing to her friend Emily Coleman that "I love being with him. It is more and more my real life. I have decided now to give up everything else, even sex if necessary, and concentrate on him." She was aware of Suzanne's presence in Beckett's life, but struggled to view the older musician as proper competition, remarking that "she made curtains while I made scenes." Beckett refused to sleep with Peggy despite her entreaties.

She did not sell a single Kandinsky.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He is a writer living in Manhattan. He tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.

"Before the Fire" - Santigold (mp3)

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)

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