I’ve been missing my Monday deadline for the last couple of weeks, but it’s because I’ve been working on some other deadlines (for pay), about which I’ll post more when the time comes. But don’t fret. I’ve been doing plenty of reading lately, and here’s the best of what I have found.
On more than one occasion, I’ve written that the mighty Zadie Smith is at least as good a literary critic as she is a novelist. Here she is, once again making my case for me, with a long assessment of Franz Kafka that actually manages to say some new things. It’s ostensibly a review of a new biography but her piece is so much more than that.
"First of all, working out a problem provides for necessary friction, without which writing is pointless. It also makes for a process. I go through the sequence of my reactions in chronological order, trying not to leave anything out, since even the smallest details can contribute—I suppose in a sense it’s like detective work, possibly combined with court procedural. These things help me to understand the matter at hand, if only subjectively, but they do not guarantee a resolution—which may not be the point anyway. I may circle round the matter, sift the ashes, exhume the cadaver, lay everything out on the examination table—but that may still leave a core that I can’t quite penetrate. I’m relieved when that happens, in fact. Anything I can resolve fully is likely to be insubstantial."
Sante’s nonfiction explores the seamy, grimy, undiscovered corners of city life, and weaves them expertly into the core of everyday life and large-scale cultural events. David Simon and Ed Burns’s TV show The Wire has done much the same thing on a fictional level. Somehow, I missed Mark Bowden’s substantive essay on the show’s merits and (few) demerits, which originally appeared back in January. Shame on me.
One of The Wire’s significant successes is the sheer number of multifaceted, intriguing black characters who appear onscreen, and who are allowed to evolve, show complexity, and mold the intricate web of plots. One of its significant failures, which gets resolved gradually as the seasons progress, is its relative lack of realistic women onscreen. Still, there’s more black women in the show than are probably in the last ten American movies you saw. Over at Living the Romantic Comedy, Billy Mernit wonders why that it is so. If you scroll down the comments box, you'll see that I add my two cents and then some.
Dark themes reign supreme in American cinema and TV, and that’s trickled down to our summer blockbusters. Using The Dark Knight as a case study, Orchard Letters (also a knitter) explores the evolving definition of “hero” in American popular culture, and finds it getting bleaker.
Bleakness and darkness, of course, are always part of the horror genre. Still, Michael S. Smith finds cause for celebration in the ghost story El Orfanato [The Orphanage]. In a three-part essay on the film, he declares that “I’ve seen few films in recent years that have compelled me as much as El Orfanato to rethink repeatedly what I’ve seen on screen (including the ultimate usefulness of one particularly disturbing image) and to revisit a film solely to reconsider its emotional and existential implications.” Here it is: part 1, part 2, and part 3. Go read, now.
David Bordwell wonders what it means to be a cinephile, and if any women are as actively cinephilic as men.
If anyone’s going to make me a true cinephile, lately it’s been Guy Maddin and the rejuvenated Woody Allen. (Watch that be a jinx, and Vicky Cristina Barcelona turn out to be a dud.) Here’s a great interview with Maddin as he discusses Brand Against the Brain! and his recent masterpiece My Winnipeg. At the Onion’s A.V. Club, Woody Allen opens up for a thoughtful, honest conversation.
Taking apart some more pretensions, Randy Nakamura fires a full blast at steampunk design. In doing so, he fails to acknowledge that a) its roots that extend beyond Victorian nostalgia, and b) its connections to punk culture via its DIY aesthetic. Anyway, there's lots of caustically funny, acerbic points made throughout the essay (which features illustrations), and the comments section is fired up.
Last but definitely not least, basketball lover and National Book Award winner Sherman Alexie offers up “61 Things He Learned While Testifying during the Seattle Supersonics Trial.” He tried valiantly to save his beloved team from being whisked away to Oklahoma City. He failed. In his failure, though, he reveals some important and hilarious truths.
That is all.