Sunday, September 30, 2007

As You Like It

The new Branaugh "As You Like It" adaptation Utterly Owned. It's set in Japan and features some of the most pristine camerawork of any movie I've ever watched. Also sumo wrestling, which is, I believe, new territory for Shakespeare.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Horror and the Greeks

Had a thought today in my Greek Literature class-

Might Japanese horror films be in some way the bastard offspring of the Greek dramatic tradition, esp. the "Agamemnon" of Aeschylus? Both the genre and the play have at their center parents who mistreat their children and set off a vicious cycle of bloodletting that shows no sign of abatement at the end of their narratives. Similarly, the idea of positive alternatives of action does not appear in either; Agamemnon must either sacrifice his daughter or betray his oath to join the Achaians against Troy, and in "The Ring" Naomi Watts has to arrange the death of people around her to save herself and her son. Coincidence? Thoughts?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Some Quasi-Wordsworthian Doggerel I Knocked out in Greek Civ.

Such faithful trees as Benedict would bless,
Their pious arms the very props of heav'n;
Come morn, low orison do these confess,
Sooth vesper in the even.

At end of day, this rustic hermitage
Lets rise its voice in the breeze's chosen key;
An Ave lifts above the foliage
In easeful harmony.

And a passing traveller, by chance intruding here,
And staring up amidst the warbling throng,
Pauses, a moment idling, so to hear
The arbor's holy song.

-Thomas Banks-

No Second Troy

Why should I blame her that she filled my days
With misery, or that she would of late
Have tought to ignorant men most vile ways,
Or hurled the little streets upon the great,
Had they but courage equal to desire?
What could have made her peaceful with a mind
That nobleness made simple as a fire,
With beauty like a tightened bow, a kind
That is not natural in an age like this,
Being high and solitary and most stern?
Why, what could she have done, being what she is?
Was there another Troy for her to burn?

-William Butler Yeats-

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Occasional Pop Music Post

"Can't Believe a Single Word" by VHS or Beta (sadly a terrible name) is the best Brit pop song this side of Definitely Maybe. Although I'm told the band's actually Kentuckian.

Sunday, September 23, 2007



The world's last song at last outsung,
The singer stands in silent pride
To hear his final note upglide
The sounding mountaintops among.

The loom's expance of scene fulfilled,
The weaver stands him back aways
To admire his web with awful gaze,
By his hands' crafting overthrilled.

A voice sounds forth, and drowns the ryhme
And cadence of the singer's hymn,
And in his muteness sings to him
The tonic of the Song of Time.

A hand outstreches, and it tears
The product of the weaver's pains,
And in its place there now remains
The many colored Loom of Years.

-Thomas Banks-

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy was a great novelist and poet who had the odd chance to be a native pessimist in an era not known for its pessimism. He was born in 1844, an Englishman who lived to see a large part of the world made British, and all manner of apparent progress in politics, industry and science, and he was disconcerted over most of it.

The following, written in 1912, is his thought on one of the great symbols of the end of that period.

"The Convergence of the Twain"

In the solitude of the Sea
Deep from human vanity,
And the Pride of Life that planned her, stilly couches she.

Steel chambers, late the pyres
Of her salamandrine fires,
Cold currents thrid, and turn to rythmic tidal lyres.

Over the mirrors meant
To glass the opulent
The sea-worm crawls- grotesque, slimed, dumb, indifferent.

Jewels in joy designed
To ravish the sensuous mind
Lie lightless, all their sparkles bleared and black and blind.

Dim moon-eyed fishes near
Gaze at the gilded gear
And query: "What does this vaingloriousness down here?"

Well: while was fashioning
This creature of cleaving wing,
The Immanent Will that stirs and urges everything

Prepared a sinister mate
For her- so gaily great
A Shape of Ice- for the time fat and dissociate.

Alien they seemed to be:
No mortal eye could see
The intimate wielding of their later history.

Or sign that they were bent
By paths coincident
On being anon twin halves of one august event,

Till the Spinner of the Years
Said "Now!" and each one hears,
And consummation comes, and jars two hemispheres.

-Thomas Hardy-

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Time's Secondhands

What we have sealed, and here have spoken,
Were loosed and echoed long before.
Leave we here a common token
Amidst its kindred thousand score.

We named Life ours, and all Her store,
Thought ours the fiat and command
That ruled Her subtle parts, which wore
The print of many a pulseless hand.

We drew and drank of all Life's Charms;
We owned we did invent Love's game;
But Love had lived in others' arms,
When Love went by another name.

All things we bore, others had buried.
The dead once wearied of what we'd prized.
And while with Love or Sin we tarried,
She slightly smiled, unsurprised.

-Thomas Banks-

Friday, September 14, 2007

Why Dualism Doesn't Work, in 100 Words or Less

When we posit a dualistic function at the center of things, we invariably do so with the understanding that on the one side we have some chaotic force and on the other an opposing motion towards harmony and oneness. But the very fact that their relationship is contentious invites the conclusion that the universe has violence at its center, and therefore, the chaotic force has shown itself dominant, or at least more compatable with nature, and harmony has to go and scowl in the corner.

Or am I full of it?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Lines Composed After Having Read "Choric Song of the Lotus Eaters" For the Hundredth Time

Have had Ulysses on the brain lately. And yeah, I know I need a better title.

Now is surveyed the aggregate of all the earth,
And picked its pleasures,
Now we have tried the tune of all the sounding spheres,
And mined their measures,
Now that the grandeur of all eye-delighting sights
Has passed before us,
And to no novel spleandour from spent hopefulness
Can we restore us,
Why tread we still with withered feet our foot-tracks old,
In slowing pace,
Why with unyouthful eyes search for unvesseled sea,
Nor keep our place,
While every wave has weathered us, borne us to shores
That we have known,
To farthest latitude familiar, long familiar,
Every one?
Nought us awaits; no doubt that we had left a part
Of us with all;
And little better here to idle, earless of
The tempest's call.
Almost this doldrum goads our longing, hope in spite
Of likely end,
That further passage yielded nothing, save the sweat
And blood we spend-
But here to wait-no life in waiting, only promised
Ease from toil,
Better die for brighter guerdon, than to root
In this crude soil.
Or would it be to prove earth's spring of newness dry,
To bend the oar,
And cleave the wave, to seek a grave no worse than that
Which lies before
Us here unlabouring- Ah, but it ignoble were
To populate
This narrow isle, needless of our wisdom's gains,
To shrink from fate
Dry men and deedless, when perhaps there yet remains
Realm unespied-
Some virgin isle, untried delight of distant seas;
To more abide
Within this place, while sets horizonward the breeze-
Think on our late
Accomplished works- to grossly mar their merits bold
It were to wait.
Think you again on first the cause, what cost of pain,
What trying of fate!
How many friends much mourned have we lost, at what
Expense of tears,
Whose salt is blent amidst the sounding baths, that cured
Us of our fears,
Where piled to our mastpoints breakers dashed upon
Our groaning decks,
In strait and gulley, sinister with tearing rocks
And vessels' wrecks;
A perilled course, a path unkind, through fitful storm
'Cross faithless sea;
Yet eliminate from each, fast grew we slothful,
Listless, we,
In impious unmotion idling, by no god's
Divine decree,
Only by a lapse of will, a lazing valour
Gathering rust,
While the tide-pulse pounding beckons; let it cleanse
Our mortal dust.
-Thomas Banks-

Monday, September 10, 2007

As If the World Needed Another

Top Ten List. Novel titles this time.

10. War and Peace. Ashamed to say I have not read this, but have glanced through it enough to get the impression that the very vastness of its thematic, moral and social boundaries justify the almost overreaching ambition contained in those three words.

9. Tender Is the Night. Neatly communicates the fragility of its characters, and gets double points for being a John Keats allusion.

8. The Last. . . (of the Mohicans, Picture Show, Gentleman, Puritan, Tycoon, etc.) The perfect foundation for any elegy.

7. East of Eden. Cain and Abel updated to the Salinas Valley. The James Dean movie adaptation was also good.

6. The Razor's Edge. Somerset Maugham's rumination on the effects of capital on character and human affection, aptly summarized by this reference to a Buddhist proverb.

5. Heart of Darkness. As immediately dreadful as the smell of napalm in the morning.

4. For Whom the Bell Tolls. The closest to baroque that Hemingway ever got, its title the perfect exposition of the protagonist's growing awareness of his inevitable demise.

3. Far From the Madding Crowd. Hardy had some first rate titles; Jude the Obscure almost made the cut, but this one carries with it the moody atmosphere of the fictional Wessex moorlands where he set his works.

2. The Sound and the Fury. Expertly prepares us by way of a quotation from Macbeth for its complicated narrative structure, including that of Benjy the manchild.

1. Vanity Fair. Thackeray's uproarious yet forgiving sendup of Regency mores, all set within the coy frame of a pantomime show.

While I'm here, might as well include some duds as well. Here's the Ten Worst.

10. The Red and the Black. Critics still fight over why the hell this book is called this, which is sufficient cause to bring Stendhal up on charges of titular imprecision.

9. October Light. I like John Gardner, but Faulkner already gave us "A Light in August," and there ain't enough room on the syllabus for two novels whose dust jackets advertize an astrological phenomenon as appearing in a given month. At least change it up a bit. "November Fog" would be a bold move.

8. Vile Bodies. I really can't add to this.

7. Within a Budding Grove. I'd like to read more Proust, but he could at least have done me the favor of giving his book a title that wouldn't make my mother worry about me if she saw me reading it.

6. Moby Dick. I hate to be crass, but it is a fact that "Moby" means "Big" in old sea tar lingo.

5. A Good Man Is Hard to Find. Let's keep the truisms off the title page, eh, Flannery?

4. The Magic Mountain. This go-to candidate for best German novel of all time sounds like one of the four feet tall and under rides you find in third rate amusement parks.

3. Middlemarch. Middlebrow. (George Eliot deserves her own list of lousy titles. The Mill on the Floss, Romola, Adam Bede, it goes on.)

2. To Have and Have Not. The latter, in this case.

1. Persuasion. I hated this book from the front cover to the final puncuation mark. True, it is a misstep by one of the finest practicioners of the medium, but that doesn't excuse its title from bearing only a casual relation its central action, which brings drawing room triviality to a new low.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

More Movie Comments

"3:10 To Yuma" is the best western this side of "The Unforgiven." It's a more optimistic movie, and even though it's weak in certain areas (character motivation being one), Christian Bale and Russell Crowe both do some great work, and the choreography of the action sequences is very well done. More interestingly, the film is also one of the better ruminations on the exact nature of masculinity to come out of Hollywood in a while. If you have nothing to do with your weekend, I recommend this one.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Love's Compromise

In this our imperfected sphere,
Where every excellence is flawed,
And each perstringent measuring rod
Abuse the best that pass us here,

Why cringe that love must compromise,
That even in Dame Hera's rite
The best were wed in some despite
Of fault that in the other lies?

For if perfection reigned as such,
Complacency as well were king,
And honor to the oath and ring
Were easy-easy all too much.

And like in us, had we no slips
Of grace, of beauty-none of these
Awoke us from Philistine ease
With human hands and living lips.

And still the market makes increase,
Ideals being at a buying-price
That makes them cheap as cheapest vice;
And of their sale is no surcease.

But equally, do we as one
Defective love still realize;
And till in us perfection lies,
An easeful love us bettered none.

With unlucid tongue we speak our vow,
And hope that we, the faithless band,
Shall hear it said in later land
We loved enough for here, for now.

-Thomas Banks-

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The Smart and the Clever

It was helpfully pointed out to me some years ago by my most observant older sister, and has since been confirmed to me by individuals of no mean powers of perception that my younger brother is smarter than I, though less clever; which qualification, if my grasp of exigesis does not slip, is an optimistic way of pointing out that at least Esau got the soup. Time will tell, and till He does, I will do my best to enjoy the tortellini.

Sybling rivalries for a moment marginalized, my sister's statement does place before us a demarcation in the exercises of the mind that is worth negotiating. Wherein lies the difference between cleverness and mere smarts? Or, for that matter, smartness and mere clevers? Being that which I am, the alleged representative for the alphabetically senior position, a part of me likes to defer the solution of this quandry to one of the Smarties, but the local MENSA chapter being in session till further notice, I shall proceed on my own.

1. Smartness is constructive. It deals in things in themselves, things of themselves, and sometimes I'm told, things doing both at once. It perceives a thing inning, or ofing, recognizes its essential function, the productive motions of said function, and lastly, brings of these motions the products themselves; an apple, in Newton's rather disappointing case. I should mention at this point that the constructivity which is the stock in trade of smartness is not without its exceptions; take Einstein for instance; personally, I'm quite all right with E being equivalent to MC squared, but your average zoning commisioner in mid-twentieth century Japan was markedly less keen on the idea.

Going back to my original point, Smartness, in its systemization of natural or mechanical functions, takes note first of the general operation and than of the operations subordinate to it. We will call this the Hierarchy of Mechanism, and illustrate it thusly: the heart (Dominant Instrument) pumps blood through the aorta (Subdominant Instrument) to the brain (Non-essential Instrument) which then tells the aorta it is getting the shorter end of the stick and that it should renegotiate its contract. The aorta goes on strike, the market (Body) threatens to stagnate (Die) and the heart, not to be undermined, hires a new aorta from a foreign market (i.e., illegally imported Vietnamese cadaver) that will pump the same amount of currency into the market regardless of union regulations. From this, we derive not only the novel science of Triple Bipass Economics, but also the sobering truth that the operations of Smartness have little regard for democratic ideals. Smartness, then, has not often held elected office, which ought to explain at least a few things to regular viewers of C-Span. But let us not abandon ourselves to calumny.

As an historical force, Smartness succeeds most when its energies are wholly devoted to cutting through the various dilemmas that political or scientific impass erects before it. Here we are best served by the example of the Gordian Knot. Alexander, when confronted with this nodal conundrum, and possessing neither the Patience of Job nor a background in Eagle Scouts, followed the path of action dictated to him by his own native Smartness and cut through the entanglement with his sword. Put the same dilemma in front of a contemporary congress, and it will find some way to ensure that no sword or other sharp instrument is employed in the procedure, and a bipartisan subcommitee of UN-approved Eagle Scouts lays down an authoritative sanction on the Knot, with the mandate to untie itself by such-and-such a deadline at the risk of a cessation of all discourse. At all of which, of course, the Knot laughs, and then extends a few of its loops into the Czech Republic and the choicer parts of Austria. All of this is Smartness in an advanced state of diplomatic decadence. It does us little good however, to reprimand Smartness too much for the inevitable onset of Senility. All good things must come to an end, All Paths of Glory Lead But to the Grave, on occasion by way of a Miami assisted living center. So it is with Smartness, and we will leave her to her rice pudding.

2. If Smartness' child is Construction, then the offspring of Cleverness is Paradox, who goes out less often for sports. The best expertise tends to suggest that a positive, consistent environment is the best for the cultivation of Smartness, but Cleverness thrives under a more peculiar set of circumstances, these usually furnished by several family neuroses, a bicycle horn and a wardrobe full of clown suits. I would own that Cleverness is the rarer quality of the two, as it is too often clipped in the bud by the society into which it is born; France, for instance. It is clever, in a minor sense, to invent something like those mock-pillories with painted figures and holes for the head and the hands that you see clowns in at carnivals. It is the domain of the Smart (and the Sadistic) to get rid of the clown, add a blade, and commence with the decapitation of the ruling class. Such are the rewards the Clever Man got for his pains in France, whose Cleverest son, Voltaire, was also her most renowned exile. As a side note, we strangely find in the above opposition, that when we harmonize the opposed elements, that is to say, leave the painted figures and Clown with his head in the pillory, and add the blade and beheading as an afterthought, we produce Irony, which is the only state in which Smartness and Cleverness may mutually exist. One can only hope.

Unfortunately, too much musing on this subject has wearied brain and body, and I find that I need something to eat. And it seems my brother's soup has grown cold.

-Thomas Banks-