Saturday, October 23, 2021

Commercial entertainment can transcend itself. It's a foundation, as the vulgar is foundational to the fine. Terminator II is an example of two dozen people and the Hollywood machine making something more significant than the work of most auteurs. I don't take Cameron seriously as an artist, but that's irrelevant. The Avengers: Endgame, is more than the sum its parts. But what to say about people who take Frank Herbert seriously as a novelist? We've been here before. He's read as Tolkien and Asimov are, and by adults, mostly male, nostalgic for adolescence or preadolescence, who justify their fandom if they do at all with arguments for the importance of content, matching the arguments of Christian fans of Giotto who also and inevitably defend Christian kitsch. In terms of film this all goes back to the 70s and Star Wars, the first film to take a place previously left to the novels of Heinlein, Ayn Rand, Asimov and the rest. But any serious viewer of Villeneuve's film, even among those who've read the book, will pay attention to the film itself, and for those who care about the source, to what he, and the screenwriters, and Hollywood, have done with the book as raw material. Villeneuve isn't Tarantino; he's still a product of the machine; he hasn't escaped it or made it fully his. 
The most interesting thing about the film is Jessica's relationship with men, and with her son. Rebecca Ferguson gives the only performance that competes with the scenery, while none of the others are stock enough simply to to support it. The three moments that stay with me: Jessica hearing Leto say he's always known he couldn't trust her, and asking her if he can trust her with their son; putting her hand gently on the shoulder of the defeated Stilgar; and at the end, her eyes, looking at Paul's new love interest. Those moments make it Ferguson's movie, and Villeneuve's. The rest of it belongs simply to Hollywood and Paul Schrader's "techies". But this film is only part one, and after two and half hours seems more like an introduction than a half-way point. It could get interesting. 

I had stylistic hopes moreover. Fed
Up so long and variously by
Our age’s fancy narrative concoctions,
I yearned for the kind of unseasoned telling found
In legends, fairy tales, a tone licked clean
Over the centuries by mild old tongues,
Grandam to cub, serene, anonymous.
Lacking that voice, the in its fashion brilliant
Nouveau roman (even the one I wrote)
Struck me as an orphaned form, whose followers,
Suckled by Woolf not Mann, had stories told them
In childhood, if at all, by adults whom
They could not love or honor. So my narrative
Wanted to be limpid, unfragmented;
My characters, conventional stock figures
Afflicted to a minimal degree
With personality and past experience—
A witch, a hermit, innocent young lovers,
The kinds of being we recall from Grimm,
Jung, Verdi, and the commedia dell’ arte.

The Changing Light at Sandover and Gravity's Rainbow are called "postmodern apocalyptic epics".
I didn't want to add that line. I hate telegraphing this shit.
Googling, to see who else remembered that passage, gets Philip Pullman; reading him reminded me of this

And looking for my past mentions of Merrill led back to 2005, making the same points,  not using Giotto but Fra Angelico, and answering fans of Tolkien and the Pre-Raphaelites.

Luc Sante in the NYRB in 2006. 
That the work of H.P. Lovecraft has been selected for the Library of America would have surprised Edmund Wilson, whose idea the Library was. In a 1945 review he dismissed Lovecraft’s stories as “hackwork,” with a sneer at the magazines for which they were written, Weird Tales and Amazing Stories, “where…they ought to have been left.”Lovecraft had been dead for eight years by then, and although his memory was kept alive by a cult—there is no other word—that established a publishing house for the express purpose of collecting his work, his reputation was strictly marginal and did not seem likely to expand.

Since then, though, for a writer who depended entirely on the meager sustenance of the pulps and whose brief career brought him sometimes to the brink of actual starvation, whose work did not appear in book form during his lifetime (apart from two slender volumes, each of a single story, published by fans) and did not attract the attention of serious critics before his death in 1937, Lovecraft has had quite an afterlife. His influence has been far-reaching and, in the last thirty or forty years, continually on the increase, if often in extraliterary ways. Board games, computer games, and role-playing games have been inspired by his work; the archive at includes an apparently endless list of pop songs—not all of them death metal—that quote or refer to his tales; and there have been around fifty film and television adaptations, although hardly any of these have been more than superficially related to their sources.

There is a reason for that superficiality. Lovecraft’s work is essentially unfilmable, not because his special effects are too gaudy or too expensive to translate to the screen, but because they are purely literary. Lovecraft was bookish in an extreme, almost parodistic way. He may not have worn a fez or been able to afford a wing chair, but he assumed the archetype of the nineteenth-century man of letters (Wilson calls him “a literary man manqué“) with his circle of disciples, the roughly 100,000 letters he wrote to them (and he was only forty-seven when he died), the preciously archaic language in which he expressed himself (almost always using “shew” in preference to “show,” for instance), the humid cultivation of in-jokes that migrated from the correspondence to the stories and were perpetuated in stories by the disciples, and the carefully tended aura, if quite self-aware, of “forbidden knowledge.”

In other words, he was a nerd.

"the humid cultivation of in-jokes that migrated from the correspondence to the stories and were perpetuated in stories by the disciples, and the carefully tended aura, if quite self-aware, of 'forbidden knowledge.'"

"I was a weird kid: artsy, fay, obsessed with conspiracies, science fiction, Ayn Rand, and the occult."

I suppose I should say something about Schmitt, but Weber will do

The Name of The Rose came out in english in 1983. Its themes were the end of scholasticism and the rise of humanism. It was obvious then. I've been repeating myself since the 70s.
Again and again and again.

The rise of a self-conscious geek culture, the proud celebration of the preadolescent imagination in adulthood, came in earnest ten years after the publication of One Dimensional Man and the release of Dr. Strangelove, the title character an amalgam of Werner von Braun and the ur-geek von Neumann. 

Geeks are idiots. They refuse to face moral complexity; they refuse to recognize it.  

A “tragic dilemma”, as I understand it, is a situation in which consequentialism gives a clear answer about which alternative is better, but the answer in question is unpalatable. I don’t see why, in such a situation, consequentialism should be described as “crass” rather than, say, “jolly sensible”.

As I said, sadly after the fact, a tragic dilemma is the choice between food for your children or cancer medicine for your wife.

I'm never going to want to talk to sincere fans of Asimov about the tragedies of the 20th century, or about tragedy in general. It's something they're not prepared to face. And yet they chatter incessantly about politics. Anyone serious about art or politics will think Villeneuve might to a better job of facing it than Herbert.

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