Thursday, February 26, 2015

Shining Books

This is a new essay added to the Cabinet, which thus can also be found here. It is a bit I have been wanting to do for a while. A little something for you Shining obsessives.


What I want to do here is mostly point out a curiosity I noticed with Kubrick's The Shining as regarding books. It's nothing groundbreaking; mostly a curiosity. Though, with Kubrick's well known attention to detail I think it is safe to go beyond mere curiosity: these are not accidents within the film, but designed and attended to details. How successfully you can read something out of these details is a matter of what it is you want read out of them. I myself will intend only safe steps.

For me, I think there are three such places to go. First, there is the simple issue of visual effect. Second, there is a relationship between books and the characters of the movie. Third, I believe that relationship works if but as one piece of evidence (and not a terribly important one at that) to disrupting what I believe is a false idea about the Overlook Hotel: that is, I believe most people want to read the movie as a haunted house film, that there is something inherently evil about the hotel. I do not read the movie as such: I read it that while there may be evil within the hotel (room 237 is most definitely a negatively defined place), the hotel itself is, as a whole, neutral. Yes, as Halloran says, the Overlook shines. But shining is not in itself evil. Perhaps, to use a theme not absent from The Shining, the Overlook's shine is like a mirror: you get out of it greatly what you put into it.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

There and Back: An Expeditionary Journey by Way of Manifesto

Something new to the Cabinet (you can find it here), an exploration of Sontag's "Against Interpretation," as well an indirect presentation of some of the ideas underlying the aesthetic modality. This was not my first engagement with Sontag's essay; but it is the fullest. (I will grant, it get's a bit confusing toward the end.)


As an essay, I have always enjoyed reading it – for the ideas, yes; but as much for the panache and bravado of the rhetoric, as well as for the pleasure of its structure of a layered expansion closed with a sudden contraction. But let there be no mistake: I would be the first to admit that Susan Sontag's "Against Interpretation" carries with it certain difficulties. Because of its rhetoric, it can only ever have something of a disadvantageous existence within a dialogue on aesthetics: its rhetoric is, after all, that of a manifesto, of something intent more toward proclamation, declamation and mustering than toward a subtle or cooperative engagement of ideas. As Sohnya Sayres speaks of it: "To ears trained in the nuances of literary goodfellowship, this is sophomoric, rebel talk, written as if the critical mind itself held no fathomless ambiguities. [. . .] The aroused march of Sontag's essay is drummed along by her instinct for the essence of a polemic."

Which is not to say that reading, enjoying, or the value of "Against Interpretation" can never be more than rambunctious and inspiriting yowling. The essay does operate well as a kick in the backside in prompting the interested or obliged – if na├»ve – reader of literature to the possibility that there are other ways of engaging a literary text than as autobiography or as personal or cultural history. Yet, even as such there is an inescapable sense of its own limitations: "If she had an antiprogram in mind, she has lost" (82): all passage from the essay out into the greater discourse of literary aesthetics is cut short by the arm waiving and table pounding. It plays and winds through its own mechanics, spends the energy it has to spend, and hopefully prompts the reader toward possibilities not before considered, or charges the reader for whom the possibilities are already beyond considerations; then, after its flamboyant final gesture, the essay is left with nothing more to say, nowhere else to go, and no means to move beyond the momentary performance. What is there is what is there, and for all it is worth. To move beyond would require the addition to or substitution of the polemic with less a monologic and more openly dialogic text, a text less proclamatory and more participatory within in the greater discourse of art and the aesthetic.

"Or," as Sayres writes, "perhaps not."

New to the Cabinet: Redesign, and New(ish) Content

Half the purpose of the blog is to announce and present content new to my site, Hatter's Cabinet of Curiosities. But, online life being most shut down these last months (and for at least a couple months to come) there hasn't been much to announce.

But, as a form of mental cleansing, the last few weeks have been about some site redesign and reorganization. Nothing will reveal organizational flaws like an increase in volume, and the Cabinet's old design was straining. So I've combined and reorganized some drawers and changed the way the pages are referenced (now through indexes, which permit a more purposeful cross-referencing). As well, implemented some small visual changes, hopefully to improve reading.

Also, I brought a good-sized handful of the last year's Poetry Daily Critique posts onto the site through the "Best of" page. There still a couple I think I have passed over, but I think I'm mostly caught up on that little side project.


Two wholly new documents to the site.

First, an explication/explanation of the semiotics in "Myth Today," the theoretic essay in Roland Barthes's Mythologies, appropriately named "Barthes's Mythologies". The essay is a year or so old; somehow it never made it to the site. (Probably because it could use an semantic editing.)

Second, an much older essay that is an explication/exploration of the ideas in Susan Sontag's "Against Interpretation," titled "There and Back: An Expeditionary Journey by Way of Manifesto". This brought to the cabinet as part of the ongoing effort to get to light some of my older scholarship. I will post that essay here, to follow this.