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Posts Tagged ‘Montaigne’

What We’re Loving: Boyhood, Blockbusters, Bay Area Ceramists

July 11, 2014 | by

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A publicity shot from Edge of Tomorrow.

Left Coast/Third Coast”: it’s the name of an exhibition up at George Adams Gallery through the middle of next month, and a brilliantly concise epithet for those other places where art gets made. They refer, of course, to the West Coast and to Chicago, and the show focuses on artists whose careers were begun in the Bay Area and in the Windy City in the fifties and sixties. It’s not every day you get to see so many of these artists in one place. Among them are Jim Nutt and Gladys Nilsson (part of the Hairy Who), Robert Arneson (a wonderfully profane Bay Area ceramist), and Jeremy Anderson (a West Coast sculptor who frequently worked with wood). H. C. Westermann’s work is also here, and it’s always a treat to see his sculptures and drawings in person. These are artists who not only returned to figuration when Abstract Expressionism was at its most monumental, but they did it in what were then considered remote corners of the country for art making. —Nicole Rudick

Go see Edge of Tomorrow, the new Tom Cruise sci-fi romp, and walk out about fifteen minutes before its rah-rah conclusion. What you’ll be left with—as three of us learned yesterday in an impromptu TPR Night at the Movies™—is a grim but heartening existential parable. If you’ve seen the ads, you know that Edge runs with a premise similar to Groundhog Day’s: Cruise plays an infantryman who comes back to life whenever he’s killed. Instead of awaking in sleepy Punxsutawney, he comes to in a militarized, bureaucratized hell, i.e., the future. He’s always hours away from facing a massive extraterrestrial invasion, and he’s always tasked (not unpleasantly) with seeking the counsel of Emily Blunt, who is always crouched in the same sweaty, imperious yoga pose. Cruise’s condition gives him a chance to defeat the aliens, but it also gives us a chance to watch him die, a lot, in an elaborate montage that’s as compelling as anything at the movies now. Step by painstaking step, he has to repeat an intricate performance on which the fate of humanity is staked. If you’re willing to dwell on the sequence, it can take you to some surprising places, some rarefied and some not: I thought of syllogisms, Sisyphus, The Trial, first-person shooters, cheat codes, mid-period Paul Verhoeven, D-Day, Dance Dance Revolution, Kierkegaard’s knight of infinite resignation, those team-building, problem-solving exercises I had to do in elementary school, and how neat it would be to save the planet with Emily Blunt. These ruminations may not bear fruit, but that’s okay—Edge is still a more enlightened mental vacation than it ought to be. —Dan Piepenbring

In trying to come up with recommendations for these posts, I sometimes think of Montaigne, who, despite serving as a legal counselor for most of his professional life, did not like giving advice: “I am very seldom consulted, and even more seldom heeded; and I know of no undertaking, public or private, that my advice has advanced and improved. Even those who, by chance, have come to depend on it, have in the end preferred to be guided by any other brain than mine.” He was a bit of a lone wolf, continuing, “By leaving me alone, they follow my declared wish, which is to be wholly self-reliant and self-contained. It pleases me not to be interested in the affairs of others, and to be free from responsibility for them.” This sentiment may have had something to do with the extreme social isolation in which Montaigne was raised; it was part of his father’s strict pedagogical curriculum, which would put today’s pre-Ivy prep Montessori schools to shame. (Montaigne’s first language—in sixteenth-century France—was Latin. Every morning the child was awakened by soft music. As a baby, he was sent to live with a peasant family for three years so he would not become accustomed to great wealth.) Montaigne later returned to this isolation, retreating to his tower-library in Dordogne when he retired. He considered the opinions of others “flies and specks that distract my will,” and so, at risk of being one of those specks, I recommend the vast, insight-laden Essays of this thoroughly, idiosyncratically educated man. They’re always worth another look. —Chantal McStay

Nearly a decade elapsed between each of Richard Linklater’s three Before Sunrise films, and like that trilogy, his latest, Boyhood, follows a pattern of real time, grounding us in fixed points throughout its character’s lives. Boyhood was filmed over twelve years, which allows its actors to age onscreen. It has an authenticity that’s too rare in cinema—its pinches of dialogue sound like natural exchanges, rooting the audience into a narrative that mirrors the adolescent experience with a painstaking awareness. Linklater recently voiced his intent in The New Yorker: “I always had that personality—I think it’s a writer’s sensibility—where you’re there but not there … I had to make a peace with myself. It’s like, well, you’re not in the moment. But just by contemplating it, by searching for the depth of the moment, that is itself an experience.” —Yasmin Roshanian

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Round Two

November 14, 2013 | by

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It was Tuesday and Mike Tyson was comparing himself to Machiavelli.

“After you kill the king,” he said, “you cut off his head and you be audacious. You say what you’re going to do to the next king. Speak foully.”

What great writer bears the most resemblance to Mike Tyson? At a talk at the New York Public Library, host Paul Holdengräber compared Tyson to Montaigne, Rousseau, and Orwell, all in the same breath. “Well, uh, that’s pretty profound,” said Tyson, who was there to promote his new memoir, Undisputed Truth. He might have had a different thinker in mind. “I think about Nietzsche a lot,” he writes in the book. Tyson the superman, a former petty criminal from Brownsville, Brooklyn, and the son of, as he put it, two people who “worked in the sex industry,” is by now a thoroughly American symbol. He found riches on the basis of physical strength and sheer willpower, then lost everything by the force of his scarred psyche. He’s currently aiming at the redemptive stage of his career. It isn’t the first time. He is tragic in a Greek kind of way. “I love war,” he told Holdengräber enthusiastically. “I love the players in war. I love the philosophy of war.” And he has the facial tattoos to prove it.

At the library, he walked the audience through the lineage of Frankish kings. He identifies with them because “they came from obscurity” and “I was born in obscurity and I never wanted to go back again.” Tyson is also an admirer of Pepin the Short, the first of the Carolingian rulers, a ruthless suppressor of revolts and the father of Charlemagne. At one point, he likened himself to Ben-Hur.

“Remember Ben-Hur?” Tyson said. “He became a wealthy man. He became a great conqueror for slaves. He became the best celebrity. And, wherever it was, he rescued the general of that ship, and after all that he couldn’t save his family. They put them with the lepers. His sister and his mother. Then he got his family from the lepers. He was a success.” There was a pause. “Look at success with me, myself.” Read More »

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What Bloggers Owe Montaigne

November 12, 2010 | by

The weekend newspapers are full of them. Our computer screens are full of them. They go by different names—columns, opinion pieces, diaries, blogs—but personal essays are alive and well in the twenty-first century. They flourish just as they did in James Thurber’s and E. B. White’s twentieth-century New York, or in the nineteenth-century London of William Hazlitt and Charles Lamb. There seems no end to the appeal of the essayist’s basic idea: that you can write spontaneously and ramblingly about yourself and your interests, and that the world will love you for it.

No end—but there was a beginning. The essay tradition blossomed in English-speaking countries only after being invented by a sixteenth-century Frenchman, Michel Eyquem de Montaigne. His contemporary, the English writer Francis Bacon, also used the title Essays, but his were well-organized intellectual inquiries. While Bacon was assembling his thoughts neatly, the self-avowedly lazy nobleman and winegrower Montaigne was letting his run riot on the other side of the Channel. In his Essais (“Attempts”), published in 1580 and later expanded into larger editions, he wrote as if he were chatting to his readers: just two friends, whiling away an afternoon in conversation.

Montaigne raised questions rather than giving answers. He wrote about whatever caught his eye: war, psychology, animals, sex, magic, diplomacy, vanity, glory, violence, hermaphroditism, self-doubt. Most of all, he wrote about himself and was amazed at the variety he found within. “I cannot keep my subject still,” he said. “It goes along befuddled and staggering, with a natural drunkenness.” His writing followed the same wayward path.

In doing this, he rejected almost every literary virtue the French were to hold dear for the next few hundred years: clarity, rigour, beauty, and elegance. Yet his rebellious style gave him immense appeal to British, Irish and American authors. For more than 450 years, they took inspiration from Montaigne and his meandering charms.

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