Ornamentalism


‘Theory’ (in the context of the humanities) and ‘critical theory’ (and especially ‘critical race theory’) find themselves frequently despised. Well, Anne Anlin Cheng’s Ornamentalism falls squarely into that camp.

Though short, if you do not like those categories, you won’t like, even if it won’t take you long to read.

I am always trying to be a ‘good’ white man and especially to be a good, white father to an non-white appearing daughter and I try to welcome challenges to my understandings (and, yes, prejudices).

The author struck me to the heart of the unseen biases within myself. I was most impacted by an off-handed line criticizing Elaine Scarry’s On Beauty and Being Just, a book that I adored, for failing to recognize how beauty can be terribly, damagingly racialized. It is so easy to see ‘my’ truth (a white, heterosexual, college-educated, middle class, man in America) as being everyone’s reality. Like Kant, I am constantly being awakened from my dogmatic slumber. It’s not always fun, but it is important.

Beyond that, it is about the Asian, female body. The body as clothed in exotic dresses, jewelry, headwear. The body stamped by prejudices (the assumption of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that unaccompanied Asian woman coming to America must be sex workers). The body as skin and flesh (naked, like sashimi; or, compared to porcelain). The body appropriated by white females.

I Want To Be At That Party


My all time favorite fictional party is the one at Holly Golightly’s apartment in the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s (I read the book, indeed, it is the only Capote novel that I have, as yet, read, but the movie made a more startling and powerful impression on me).

My new second favorite might be the one in Cicero’s De Natura Deorum or, On the Nature of the Gods. Intelligent men having deeply thought-out conversations on ideas passionately held. It’s like one of Plato’s dialogues, but not everyone gets railroaded by Socrates, which, let’s be honest, would probably not be that fun to experience. Just ask Gorgias.

A Huey P. Newton


In light of recent events, Starz has made this free to watch, which I am incredibly happy about. I saw this years ago, back before Netflix was a thing and was powerfully struck by it. An amazing performance by Roger Guenveur Smith (who I had never seen before nor, to my knowledge, since) and powerfully staged and directed by Spike Lee in a very stagey manner, but in a theater that resembles a panopticon.

I will here admit that I had almost no knowledge of Newton before watching this and to this day, not enough, but I can’t emphasize enough what a fantastic film it is and I urge you to watch it as an amazing performance and as an educational and aesthetic event.

‘Tek Secret’ & ‘Tek War’ The Movie/Series


I am not going to justify myself here. I really can’t, except for a sort of pact with the devil and a deep love of William Shatner. Also, a memory of it being on the sort of revolving wire book rack you used to see in drugstores in the Dunedin Library, near the card catalog.

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China Rich Girlfriend


Some eighty-five percent of the way through this novel, I realized that it’s actually a nineteenth century novel (a touch more explicit about the sex, but arguably with slightly less sex overall than its predecessors). The coincidences, the interrelations, the series of deus ex machina (what’s the plural for that?). Arguably, this one was better than Crazy Rich Asians for embracing its origins (though lacking the newness of that first book). I just hope the movie finds away to make sure Michelle Yeoh gets plenty of screen time.

Now it’s time to ask for the library to hold a copy of the third book for me.

So… I Read ‘Crazy Rich Asians’


I can’t exactly say what inspired me to read this book, except that I live with two of Asians (one of whom is an eight year old ball of cute crazy, though not particularly rich). I also saw the movie, yes, and liked it.

The book is better in some ways, less funny in other ways (I got a better feel for who Nick was in the book, but not much feel for Rachel and Peik in the book, the latter of whom was the movie’s highlight and I apologize if you have neither seen the movie nor read the book and don’t know who those people are, but I’m not about the go over the whole plot for reasons that will become apparent), and a lot more ‘plot-y.’

But I guess that’s because it’s a beach book or a romance novel (chick lit? I don’t feel like i should be using that term) and it’s not something I have ever read before. It was fun and I’m glad that I read it (I liked the more ambiguous ending better than the put a bow on it, happy ending of the breezy film, but maybe I liked the film better (because Michelle Yeoh makes every thing better).

So… um, read if it’s your thing. And don’t avoid reading it if it’s not absolutely antithetical to you thing.

 

Jackson Pollock’s Mural


I apologize for the distortion cause by my effort to use the ‘panorama’ function on my iphone

I am only slightly ashamed to admit that I first learned about this mural from the Ed Harris biopic, Pollock (which also helped to promote the apparently misguided belief that Pollock painted the massive work nearly overnight – the exhibit makes clear that he had been working and making progress on it for a period of at least several weeks).

So it was awesome to finally see it in person… and disappointing.

This is the first time the mural has ever been displayed in DC. The decision was made to pair it with one of my favorite paintings from the National Gallery’s permanent collection, Number 1, 1950, better known as Lavender Mist.

I first encountered Lavender Mist in a college art textbook, but without seeing it’s scale (it’s extremely large, but less than enormous), it’s impossible to fully appreciate. Sometimes, I will visit the National Gallery for the sole purpose of spending twenty minutes sitting in front of it. I’ve done that at least a dozen times (besides shorter visits, or visits focused on other works) and I’ve never grown tired of the work.

And… Lavender Mist is better than Mural. It just is. And it kind of ruined Mural for me. I wish I could have seen it on it’s own. Surely it’s important enough to be placed where one can soak it in, undistracted by other large works?

Bad call, curator. Bad call.

 

‘The Shrinking Man’ By Richard Matheson


If you’re a fan of the Charlton Heston classic, The Omega Man or the less classic, but more recent, I Am Legend, you have been exposed to the sci fi writer, Richard Matheson.

Some time ago, I read I Am Legend (the actual name of the novel; both movies are based on it) and while I wasn’t much interested in delving further into his oeuvre, this was in a four book collection of mid-fifties science fiction from the Library of America, so I read it.

And it ain’t bad.

Scott Carey is shrinking inexorably by approximately 1/7 of an inch a day. The narrative runs on two parallel tracks. First, when he is one inch tall (seven days to live!) and being stalked by a black widow spider in the basement in which he is trapped. This tales alternate with him shrinking over time and watching his life and family fall apart under it all. The tales converge when the second timeline reaches when he gets trapped in the cellar.

Half of it is exciting, survival fiction in what is, effectively, an alien environment. The other half is more thinking person’s sci fi, about the personal implications (finances; becoming shorter than one’s daughter; ceasing to be sexually attractive to one’s wife; being mistaken for a child by bullies).

‘The Long Tomorrow’ By Leigh Brackett


Leigh Brackett wrote heady, thinking person’s sci fi, pulpy space operas and planetary romances, and also worked on the script for The Empire Strikes Back. I’ve read a little of her pulp (one of her Eric John Stark novels/novellas – an homage to Burroughs’ Barsoom novels), but it’s more books like The Long Tomorrow that have made her important to the history of sci fi.

The Long Tomorrow is post apocalyptic, but more in a Canticle for Leibowtiz way than a Road Warrior way. The world is still around. She’s thought out some interesting implications (the new America is politically dominated by groups descended from Mennonites, because they were already reasonably self sufficient in the absence of much technology; and America still exists, but it’s a lot more low-tech).

The evolution of the main character, Len, is interesting. It’s not that he’s super smart, but he is a thinker. More, he can’t help thinking and can’t help taking his time when thinking, but then, in the end, acting on the implications of what he has figured out.

The ‘twist,’ if that’s what it is (and it just might be my interpretation) is that the secret colony of scientists may just be spinning their wheels and the answers may not exist. Which also might be the point of Len’s thinking.

‘Ex Machina’ & Ted Lieu


Ex Machina is an excellent, creepy, and faintly problematic movie. Ted Lieu is a congressman from Southern California. As a just meaningless side note and, arguably, a moment of pointless name dropping, I met him a dozen years ago when I canvassed for him when he ran in a special election for an open seat in the California General Assembly.

This was part of a series by a nonprofit called Future Tense. It’s one of many semi-political, semi-advocacy, vaguely but not quite thinktank-y orgs that exist all around DC.

Lieu spoke well and amusingly and amazingly non-partisanly about technology legislation around the hacking of driverless cars, cells, etc. But I’ve always liked him. He even mentioned universal basic income or UBI as something worth attaining.

This was the second time I’d seen Ex Machina and I was able to better appreciate parts of the performance, script, and direction better. Like watching a surprising mystery, it can be fun to go back and re-see things again, knowing what one knows. The manipulations of the sparse cast.

But… the nudity seems problematic. There’s not a lot, except, towards the very end, there is a scene with great deal of extended nudity (there was an earlier nude scene which felt less problematic, as well), all of women (and all, my better half noted, women of a certain body type). I can understand why the director did it, in one sense, and I can outline why, I expect, he felt needed and why he felt it was okay. The gaze was female, for example. It was about becoming a woman (and a human). More reasons, too. But even though it probably wasn’t more than a minute or two, it felt like it lingered and it’s hard to fully explain away voyeurism. I won’t truly condemn voyeurism (I’m a man who’s used the internet, so it would be disingenuous), but maybe this movie didn’t need it.