Saturday, August 29, 2009

Official "making of" documentary of last post

My little illustrated guide was begun on a whim and ended up taking me about three or four hours. The text is from the "Ithaka" chapter of Ulysses, which is presented in a catechistic, question-and-answer format. It's past midnight, and Leopold Bloom has brought Stephen Dedalus home with him. The long paragraph I used comes after Bloom contemplates the water he draws from the faucet to make tea. Joyce uses it as an opportunity to deliver an elaborate prose poem celebrating water in all its forms (it was Richard Ellmann who called it a "pseudo-hymn to water," a phrase that's stuck with me as strongly as anything in the hymn itself). Joyce, a fellow Aquarian who was born only a day apart from me on the calendar, is a certified hydrophile; like Hollis Mulwray in Chinatown, we both have water on the brain.

In finding links for all these watery terms I had most trouble with "freshets," "rhabdomantic," "bights," and, weirdly enough, "dissolve." Also had trouble with "torrents"--it mostly brought up file-sharing sites, and besides, what the hell is a water torrent anyway? "Maelstrom" is similarly unscientific, imprecise. I had no idea what Joyce meant by "luteofulvous bed" until I broke the adjective down into two parts, both of which pertained to the color yellow, thus the pic of yellow coral. Turns out Joyce is wrong with his "Sundam trench" (should be Sunda), and the Ashtown gate in Dublin has no well (or, as he weirdly calls it, a "hole in the wall"), which just goes to show that if you write a 700-page novel about your old hometown, you're bound to remember something wrong.

Funny that Joyce, although he does include spring tides, does not mention tidal waves. More surprising is his neglecting to address high and low tides, something I'd have guessed he'd go totally apeshit over. (Plumbing and other water-delivery concepts are also absent, but the paragraph I illustrated is preceded by an equally extravagant paragraph in which Joyce traces the delivery of Bloom's water, step by meticulous step, from the Roundwood reservoir [cubic capacity: 2,400 million gallons] to the kitchen faucet.) The original Odyssey kept coming back to the wine-dark sea, and in Joyce's work allusions to water are hardly confined to this chapter. Elsewhere in the book Joyce sends a crumpled-up leaflet for a journey down the Liffey, compares the greenish morning bay to the bowl of bile beside Stephen's mother's deathbed, and, in one of his attempts to rid the world of hyphens, speaks of the "scrotumtightening sea" and "everchanging neverchanging water." His water obsession would culminate in Finnegans Wake with the "Anna Livia Plurabelle" chapter, an account of two washerwomen on the Liffey in which hundreds of names of real rivers are ingeniously worked into the text. Upon completing it, Joyce ran out his door and down to the nearest river (in this case the Seine) to make sure the chapter's cadences truly sounded like water.

In seeking images, I found that "gulley," "marsh," and "fathom," besides being hydro terms, are also the names of various popular heavily-augmented women. (If Google searches are the yardstick, Michelle Marsh currently enjoys far more popularity than all the world's actual marshes combined.) Finally, here's a picture that I liked very much but could not find a place for even in a paragraph as seemingly all-inclusive as Joyce's. And here's another.

Friday, August 28, 2009

My Illustrated Guide to Joyce's Pseudo-Hymn to Water

What in water did Bloom, waterlover, drawer of water, watercarrier returning to the range, admire?

Its universality: its democratic equality and constancy to its nature in seeking its own level: its vastness in the ocean of Mercator's projection: its umplumbed profundity in the Sundam trench of the Pacific exceeding 8,000 fathoms: the restlessness of its waves and surface particles visiting in turn all points of its seaboard: the independence of its units: the variability of states of sea: its hydrostatic quiescence in calm: its hydrokinetic turgidity in neap and spring tides: its subsidence after devastation: its sterility in the circumpolar icecaps, arctic and antarctic: its climatic and commercial significance: its preponderance of 3 to 1 over the dry land of the globe: its indisputable hegemony extending in square leagues over all the region below the subequatorial tropic of Capricorn: the multisecular stability of its primeval basin: its luteofulvous bed: Its capacity to dissolve and hold in solution all soluble substances including billions of tons of the most precious metals: its slow erosions of peninsulas and downwardtending promontories: its alluvial deposits: its weight and volume and density: its imperturbability in lagoons and highland tarns: its gradation of colours in the torrid and temperate and frigid zones: its vehicular ramifications in continental lakecontained streams and confluent oceanflowing rivers with their tributaries and transoceanic currents: gulfstream, north and south equatorial courses: its violence in seaquakes, waterspouts, artesian wells, eruptions, torrents, eddies, freshets, spates, groundswells, watersheds, waterpartings, geysers, cataracts, whirlpools, maelstroms, inundations, deluges, cloudbursts: its vast circumterrestrial ahorizontal curve: its secrecy in springs, and latent humidity, revealed by rhabdomantic or hygrometric instruments and exemplified by the hole in the wall at Ashtown gate, saturation of air, distillation of dew: the simplicity of its composition, two constituent parts of hydrogen with one constituent part of oxygen: its healing virtues: its buoyancy in the waters of the Dead Sea: its persevering penetrativeness in runnels, gullies, inadequate dams, leaks on shipboard: its properties for cleansing, quenching thirst and fire, nourishing vegetation: its infallibility as paradigm and paragon: its metamorphoses as vapour, mist, cloud, rain, sleet, snow, hail: its strength in rigid hydrants: its variety of forms in loughs and bays and gulfs and bights and guts and lagoons and atolls and archipelagos and sounds and fjords and minches and tidal estuaries and arms of sea: its solidity in glaciers, icebergs, icefloes: its docility in working hydraulic millwheels, turbines, dynamos, electric power stations, bleachworks, tanneries, scutchmills: its utility in canals, rivers, if navigable, floating and graving docks: its potentiality derivable from harnessed tides or watercourses falling from level to level: its submarine fauna and flora (anacoustic, photophobe) numerically, if not literally, the inhabitants of the globe: its ubiquity as constituting 90% of the human body: the noxiousness of its effluvia in lacustrine marshes, pestilential fens, faded flowerwater, stagnant pools in the waning moon.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Not safe for work, home...planet

A French site has posted the Stones' infamous 1972 tour film. The first clip has been removed, but the others still seem to be working. (You can also find it on this fine blog.) This film possesses an Eat The Document-level rarity, so, although I wasn't particularly in the mood for it, I felt I had to ACT NOW and watch the damn thing.

Director Robert Frank was given rather jaw-dropping access and made the most of it. Not surprising that the Stones shelved the film; they would probably have been arrested in half a dozen states if it had ever been screened. That's an exaggeration, of course, but safe to say it probably won't be showing at your friendly neighborhood theater anytime soon. It's boring at times, shocking at others. For all the film's high and low times, Frank is not out to titillate. This is the same guy who shot the spooky b&w photos on the Exile on Main Street cover; he is drawn to the empty, desolate America where anything--even something dull--might happen. He sure found the right cast to show this. Helps if you suffer from the same nostalgia for the era that I do, because above all else this is a fresh hit of 1972, in all its dark decadent glory. Hanging around in your underwear (no matter who drops by), always a groupie there to help you with your hangover, and, my god, all the endless hotel rooms. Did I mention that I was six years old in 1972?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The busy life of one NBA star and high school graduate

AP story from a few days ago:

NEW YORK -- All-Star forward Rashard Lewis of the Orlando Magic has been suspended without pay for 10 games for testing positive for an elevated testosterone level, the NBA announced Thursday. "First and foremost I take full responsibility for the situation and accept the corresponding penalty," Lewis said in a statement released by the league. "Toward the end of the season I took an over-the-counter supplement which at the time I did not realize included a substance banned by the NBA. I apologize to Magic fans, my teammates and this organization for not doing the research that should come with good judgment."

We now join Rashard Lewis at his Orlando estate. It has been a long day. It began in his library, where he spent all morning drafting a public statement in which he shouldered the entire blame for his substance infraction. "We have lawyers to do that, man," his friend told him—"You don't have to write that thing yourself, Rashard." But no. Rashard insisted.

Having completed that task and returned various volumes of law to their shelves, he took the secret elevator to his laboratory. Only the dopest, phattest, sickest laboratory in any NBA crib. Rashard threw on his lab coat. "Where could I have gone wrong?" he wondered. An afternoon of intense research ensued.

"I have it!" he finally cried. The answer was clear. It was that over-the-counter drug he had taken last spring for his sniffles—damn thing was loaded with the chemical compound dehydroepiandrosterone. Of course. It had been staring him in the face all along. He dialed headquarters at once and related his findings.

He retired upstairs. In the few hours before the whores showed up, he ate three bowls of Fruity Pebbles and watched Spongebob Squarepants.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Steve, how can you be so fucking funny

Avoiding the promotional copy I must write for a book on Florentine architecture by listening to Steve Martin's trio of late-70s comedy albums. First time I've heard them since I was fully past the pubertal stage, and this is what I have to say: aside from the stadium show that makes up half of the second record (and which is a document of a phenomenon more than an honest-to-god comedy act), they hold up pretty damn well. Two things strike me now as I listen to these things. First, the guy worked his ass off. There are no approximations here; he honed something until it was exactly what he wanted it to be. (What a dogged worker he was. Think it would be funny to add some banjo-playing or juggling to the act? No problem, just spend a few years learning it.)

Second thing that strikes me is how Martin can take neither himself nor the audience seriously. He lampoons the whole concept of an audience with impossible sing-alongs, transparent pandering (check the absurdly technical joke for plumbers), meaningless confessions. His act is as totally free of vanity as it is of earnestness; all he can commit to is his intelligence and discipline.

For your convenience, this guy has put links to all these albums on his blog. No Ukrainian-bride pop-up windows, no exotic file formats to convert, no Portuguese passwords to decipher, just good old-fashioned, illegally-shared recordings we can all download and enjoy.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Albacore Club

Inspired by a legal mini-drama that has just made my personal life more interesting, I'm now thinking of those residents of the Mar Vista nursing home--the oblivious front for the land grab that is exposed in the great Chinatown.

Knowing that a stretch of drought-stricken California farmland is going to benefit from a future diversion of water, fat cat Noah Cross buys it all up while the prices are bottoming out. Not wanting anyone to know he is the buyer, he registers the residents of the Mar Vista as the owners. The detective, Gittes, finds it particularly puzzling that one of the landowners, a Jasper Lamar Crabbe, bought his property about a week after he had passed away. Gittes pays a visit to the retirement home, which is sponsored by the Cross's own yacht club, the Albacore Club (earlier in the film, one of Gittes' eavesdropping operatives--in a nice naturalistic touch not entirely metaphor-free--hears this wrongly as "apple core.") Gittes approaches one woman, a resident who is embroidering a flag for the Albacore Club, and asks her if she realizes that she is a very wealthy woman.

The nerve of some people. Here's the script's author, Robert Towne, on how society deals with people like Noah Cross:
"Originally, I had Evelyn kill her father [and] you knew that [she] was going to have to stand trial. . .But the larger crime against the whole community went unpunished. In a sense, that was my point, that there are some crimes for which you get punished, and killing her father was a crime for which she could be punished, and so she would be. Then, there are some crimes that our society isn't equipped to punish, so we reward it. You displace a whole community and take their land and there's really nothing that's done except putting their names on a plaque at City Hall." The full interview--and it's a good one--is online.

By the way, author Alexandra Sokoloff has posted an extravagant but worthwhile, three-part analysis of Chinatown on her blog. And here is another one.