Monday, March 31, 2003

From ‘2 Reasons to Watch Al-Jazeera’, posted on Reason magazine’s website:

“Ziad,” [the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera satellite channel’s] rooftop guy in Baghdad, is in the middle—and I mean right in the fucking center—of whatever area we're trying to pulverize. For a good twenty minutes tonight his camera picked up blinding flashes from explosions no more than a few blocks away, on at least two sides. One particularly close hit sent the camara reeling, and after it settled down, there was a long, stationary, eerily silent shot of a rising mushroom cloud of smoke, while the anchorman kept asking, “Ziad?...Ziad?” …

The weekend was a treat. On Friday I saw the second part of Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers. The first part, though spectacular, was a little disappointing mostly I suppose due to an unfulfilling narrative. The second part I felt to be much better—something like Kurosawa’s Shakespeare adaptations diluted with John McTiernan’s The Thirteenth Warrior. There is Shakespearean grandeur as well as adolescent thrills. I think it is not an exaggeration to say that this film pushes the medium to new limits. Jackson has to be given credit for accomplishing in this series things that many would have felt was impossible. One review of The Fellowship of the Ring went so far as to say that the battle scenes would have Welles and Kurosawa turning in their graves with envy. (No wonder I was disappointed with the film!) Viggo Mortensen’s part may well be the cinematic character whose heroism is most spectacularly documented on the silver screen.

The second film of the weekend also belonged to a trilogy. Though I am yet to see the first two instalments, I caught the last of Sergio Leone’s so-called Dollars Trilogy—the celebrated The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. It is one of those films that has become an archetype; or maybe it is the definitive treatment of a particular archetype. This one too has a Kurosawa connexion—the first film of the trilogy being a remake of his Yojimbo. Clint Eastwood continues the Mifune role. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is a long, rambling film, stylishly made within the confines of a genre Western, with its sometimes extreme violence spiced with moments of comedy, suspense, and surprisingly, even pathos. Add to that spectacular cinematography, and the film’s most famous asset, the instantly recognizable score by soon to be legendary Ennio Morricone. It is clear that Ramesh Sippy, who made Sholay owes a debt to Leone. And it also appears to me that Amitabh Bachchan has borrowed something of the Eastwood persona in more than one of his films. But, lest we forget, it all goes back to that samurai swaggering into an unwelcoming town, with a scratchy beard, and a mean toothpick between his teeth. To Toshiro Mifune.slfr

A short essay in the Washington Post examining what makes, or rather what does not make, ‘good art’. Interesting.

The Kerala Blog Roll, courtesy Manoj Prabhakaran, an IITian now at Princeton.

Speaking of visually interesting blogs, here’s one that makes me wish for a Nikon and a scanner—Mumbaiite Natasha’s catchily titled ‘Sundancer, My Songbird’s Journal’. Natasha’s interests include Saint-Exupéry, Cartier-Bresson and Walt Whitman. And chiffon, shiny gauze and The Dave Matthews Band.

Congrats to Fobbin for having posted his first painting on Salon. More are welcome, to keep this blog visually stimulating.

Saturday, March 29, 2003


Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Ok, now that God has been thrown out of our party for some decades, it would be better to take a look at ourselves and the party scene as a whole. Till the act of throwing him out of the window, we had someone to blame for the morality hiccups and other party spoilers. He came into our party, uninvited, caught us by our balls and put us in straitjackets, twisted our arms and made us scream his name.

Now that he is gone, did we ever stop complaining? No we didn’t. About whom are we complaining now? Even though we are so much free due to extraordinary knowledge, superhuman reasoning and holy smoke, we aren’t feeling any better. Our party isn’t any better.

So whom do we point our finger at? Think everyone, think.

Remember, it is always good to have someone to throw shit at.slcw

Sunday, March 23, 2003

In the film The Deer Hunter there is a scene where Christopher Walken plays Russian roulette. Life is very much like that. We are doomed to play this fucking game called life, in this dark hot steamy shithole. God has left the place, content with the mess he has made of a decent game of solitaire he started long back. Even the devil is bored. But man, the greater being, must and will persist in this one-way game till the golden bullet enters his skull and closes this game. It is sad that man will not be alive to feel the great relief that comes at the end of the game, nor will he ever know who his opponent was.slcw

Saturday, March 22, 2003

‘The gun made a ripping sound like the opening of the fly of God Almighty.’
- Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Fiveslq

Monday, March 17, 2003

‘There is no female Mozart because there is no female Jack the Ripper. Great art and great crime are similar deviations…. Most women have too much empathy to want to be involved in anything like that.’
- Camille Pagliaslq

Camille Paglia’s March 2002 lecture at Yale titled ‘Cults and Cosmic Consciousness: Religious Vision in the American 1960s’ is a comprehensive overview of the legacy of that seminal decade. From Arion.

Saturday, March 15, 2003

I am suddenly a fan of Paul Valéry, the French writer. I just read an article about him by Joseph Epstein in The New Criterion, and found that he was an early visitor to the abyss I find myself in.

[Valery] sought, as he himself late in life put it, “to know the substratum of thought and sensibility on which one has lived.” In his Cahiers, again, he wrote: “I would like to have classified and clarified my personal forms of thought, and learned to think within them in such a way that each new thought bore the imprint of the whole system generating it and was unmistakably a modification of a well-defined system.”


Of the various divisions among thinkers, I have always been partial to that between thinkers whose strength is in their ideas (Marx, Freud, to a much lesser power Orwell) and thinkers whose strength is in the texture and subtlety, the sensibility, of their minds (Montaigne, Henry James, Santayana). The former win their way in the world, then die out; the latter, always less dramatic in their presentation, are wiser and their work tends to last longer. Valéry is among the sensibility thinkers. “I don’t construct a ‘System,’” he reports in his Notebooks. “My system—is me,” And later he writes: “Just think!—The stock of ideas on which the majority of ‘cultured’ people live is the legacy of a specific number of individuals, all of whom were moved and inspired by philosophic and literary vanity, and by the ambition to govern other minds and seek their approval and their praise.” This may seem very radical, but Valéry would have viewed it as traditional, for, as he wrote, “in all great undertakings, tradition, in the true sense of the word, does not consist of doing again what others have done before, but in recapturing the spirit that went into what they did—and would have done differently in a different age.”

Valéry: “The mind is a moment in the response of the body to the world.”

“[Some minds] have the merit of seeing clearly what all others see confusedly. Some have the merit of glimpsing confusedly what no one sees as yet. A combination of these gifts is exceptional.”

Today I feel like telling you I think the Beatles’ so-called White Album is one of the greatest albums of all time. Actually today I think it is the greatest.

Friday, March 14, 2003

Lenny Bruce (1925-1966):

‘A lot of people say to me, “Why did you kill Christ?” “I dunno... it was one of those parties, got out of hand, you know.” “We killed him because he didn't want to become a doctor, that's why we killed him.”’

‘If Christ had died in the 20th century, Catholics would be wearing little electric chairs around their necks.’

‘Take away the right to say “fuck” and you take away the right to say “fuck the government”.’slq

Though I could never summon the whatever it takes to sit down and finish a piece to submit towards publication—so that I could show my mother my name in print—Lenny Bruce: The reason I’m in this business, I assume all performers are—It's ‘Look at me, Ma!’ It’s acceptance, you know—‘Look at me, Ma, look at me, Ma, look at me, Ma.’ And if your mother watches, you’ll show off till you’re exhausted; but if your mother goes, Ptshew!—the demise of Gentleman magazine put paid to my hopes. But I had read some time in The Hindu about another magazine that published creative writing: The Little Magazine. I just happened on their website today. Well, whaddyaknow? They accept online submissions. Maybe I’ll send them some of my stuff.

TLM is published every alternate month from Delhi and is edited by Antara Dev Sen, daughter of Amartya Sen. The April 2002 article in The Hindu says the publication receives 400 unsolicited articles a week, and that Ms Sen’s verdict on them is that most of them are lurid sexual fantasies disguised as poetry. Now isn’t that casting aspersions on their own readers?

Feel the heat twisting your heart in silence eating the last words that tear down your throat in hushed incredulity twisting and turning into an agonized haemorrhage that could have had you shooting off missile after missile of screams to the rings of Saturn, laughing like naked gods frolicking in the seas of opium I had thought were hidden under the skirt of Venus’ child. You there? You there? Yes, and you are smiling, for yesterday the cat had spilled milk over the red carpet’s bloody terrain. Yes, and the night is not your child’s playground. Yes she smiles. With laughter and wine, you begin an evening that could lead somewhere; yes, couldn’t it? Faithless, drown. Mesmeric aqua. Vita dolores. Antiquis temporibus, nati tibi similes in rupibus ventosissimis exponebantur ad necem. Vacca Foeda!slcw

Thursday, March 13, 2003

Christopher Buckley’s mirthful NY Times review of the reissued version of Alex Comfort’s The Joy of Sex, originally published in 1972.

A lot has happened, sex-wise, since 1972: Roe v. Wade; the herpes epidemic; AIDS; Attorney General Edwin Meese's doomed Commission on Pornography; ubiquitous breast implants; the rise and fall of Penthouse magazine; X-rated videos; triple-X-rated videos; Larry Flynt; the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue industry; Victoria's Secret; cyber-porn; ''Boogie Nights''; RU-486; Wilt Chamberlain's 20,000th conquest; Courtney Love and her band, Hole; the Wonderbra; Monica and Bill; Ellen DeGeneres and Anne Heche; Viagra; Maxim; Manolo Blahnik; the Anna Nicole Smith television show. It would appear that more people are having sex than ever before.

You gotta read this: the article really hacks into the ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ mentality of modern poetry.

We are told outright what we secretly feared: that Graham’s poems are difficult, not due to any deficiency on the poet’s part, but because of our limitations as readers. Someone has noticed the hole in our head. Thus, the persuasion to buy is based on the implication that, if we do so, we will demonstrate to ourselves, and anyone else who cares, that we are better people, less frivolous, less blunted. As with any marketing based on an appeal to status, this works beautifully—if we will simply agree (and repeat to others) that Graham is difficult because she is a genius, because we are not, and never the twain shall meet. Now, paradoxically, we can join the privileged class of those who “get it ” by admitting that we never will. We don’t even have to read the poetry!

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Which films were selected as the best of the last year by various critics, publications and committees? Find answers here.sll

CNET’s top 100 products, including PhotoShop, CorelDraw, Office XP, Tripod, Encarta, Sound Forge, McAfee, etc.slrs sll

Monday, March 10, 2003


‘The existentialist... thinks it very distressing that God does not exist, because all possibility of finding values in a heaven of ideas disappears along with Him; there can no longer be a priori of God, since there is no infinite and perfect consciousness to think it. Nowhere is it written that the Good exists, that we must be honest, that we must not lie; because the fact is that we are on a plane where there are only men. Dostoyevsky said, If God didn't exist, everything would be possible. That is the very starting point of existentialism. Indeed, everything is permissible if God does not exist, and as a result man is forlorn, because neither within him nor without does he find anything to cling to.’
- Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism and Human Emotions

‘Man staggers through life yapped at by his reason, pulled and shoved by his appetites, whispered to by fears, beckoned by hopes. Small wonder that what he craves most is self-forgetting.’
- Eric Hoffer, The Passionate State of Mindslq

Sunday, March 09, 2003

Harvard professor Lewis Lockwood is the author of the newest biography of Beethoven. From the NYT’s review of the book:

At his funeral, Ludwig van Beethoven was remembered by the dramatist Franz Grillparzer as a paradox, in his personal life discontented and alienated from much of society but full of love for humanity in his music. Baron de Tremont, who visited his apartment in Vienna in 1809, reported seeing ‘the dirtiest, most disorderly place imaginable,’ the piano buried under dust and papers, an unemptied chamber pot under the piano. This was the same year Beethoven wrote his Fifth Piano Concerto, the noble ‘Emperor,’ and ‘Das Lebewohl,’ one of his most elegant piano sonatas.

Miles Davis once pronounced classical music to be ‘dead shit’. The Economist reviews Julian Johnson’s book Who Needs Classical Music? Cultural Choice and Musical Values, in which the author passionately defends classical music against its detractors.

‘He who fights against monsters should see to it that he does not become a monster in the process. And when you stare persistently into an abyss, the abyss also stares into you.’
- Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evilslq

Saturday, March 08, 2003

Catch Me If You Can is a fun, enjoyable flick. Nothing spectacular. Fine acting by DiCaprio, Hanks and Walken. But I’ve got to say that with this film and especially Road to Perdition Hanks, a superb actor, seems to be getting too low-key.slfr

Scientific American: The Neuroscience of Suicide.

From The Telegraph:

‘Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.’

- the last verse of Dylan Thomas’s ‘Fern Hill’.slq

Robert K Merton, whose books I used to bump into at the Sacred Heart College’s Sociology section. He passed away this February.

Ms Kylie Minogue titillating her way to the title of the ‘Greatest Living Australian’.

I am sitting in the net café near Alaka cinema with the Muslim proprietor and I’m thinking I’m wasting the money and then I realize that though MS Word is doing the capitalization, it is not checking the spelling and I’m also thinking that I’m wasting the money because here it costs 20 ‘bucks’ an hour while at Netway it costs me only around 10 but I’m here because Vijay Cinema has the show at 1 pm instead of at 12 and 2 because Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can is probably longer than 2 hours and I’m doing stream-of-consciousness bullshit. Now the time is 2.24 pm according to the Seiko on my wrist. Got to catch the show at 4.

I just read that Kylie Minogue has been named ‘Greatest Living Australian’ and the Evening Standard wrote that the epithet ‘great’ ‘should not be wasted on a sprightly singer with a shapely butt.’slcw

Thursday, March 06, 2003

Celebrated my return to solitude and discontent in Pune by getting hold of Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks (1968). What a weird ride I had yesterday night! An album quite unlike any I’ve heard.

‘If I ventured in the slipstream
Between the viaducts of your dream
Where immobile steel rims crack
And the ditch in the back roads stop
Could you find me?
Would you kiss-a my eyes?
To lay me down
In silence easy
To be born again
To be born again
From the far side of the ocean
If I put the wheels in motion
And I stand with my arms behind me
And I’m pushin’ on the door
Could you find me?
Would you kiss-a my eyes?
To lay me down
In silence easy
To be born again
To be born again’

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

‘Man has been a hunter 99% of mankind’s lifespan.’
- Amaury De Riencourt, Women and Power in History.slq