Saturday, January 28, 2017

Shakespeare contra Trump

As we embark on week two of this bizarre, pseudo-North Korean political experiment, with our maximally moronic Maximum Leader (call him Kim Jong Don) governing by Orwellian lies, psychotic delusions, and diktat-signing photo-ops, with a Constitution-shredding de facto 'Muslim ban' already being enforced at our airports, with the ridiculously hypocritical 'conservatives' of the now thoroughly fascisized Republican Party donning MAGA hats and goose-stepping into a Busby Berkley chorus line behind the Mustard-Headed the midst of all this insanity, it's a kind of comfort to discover that we need not compose an angry-eloquent protest letter to the Trump Administration, for William Shakespeare wrote an incomparable one four hundred and some years ago.
Here's Ian McKellen introducing and reading Thomas More's speech to an anti-immigrant mob, from Shakespeare's contribution to the Sir Thomas More manuscript. (Transcript below.)

Grant them removed, and grant that this your noise
Hath chid down all the majesty of England;
Imagine that you see the wretched strangers,
Their babies at their backs and their poor luggage,
Plodding to the ports and coasts for transportation,
And that you sit as kings in your desires,
Authority quite silenced by your brawl,
And you in ruff of your opinions clothed;
What had you got? I’ll tell you. You had taught
How insolence and strong hand should prevail,
How order should be quelled; and by this pattern
Not one of you should live an aged man,
For other ruffians, as their fancies wrought,
With self same hand, self reasons, and self right,
Would shark on you, and men like ravenous fishes
Would feed on one another...
                                 ...O, desperate as you are,
Wash your foul minds with tears, and those same hands,
That you like rebels lift against the peace,
Lift up for peace, and your unreverent knees,
Make them your feet to kneel to be forgiven...
                             ...You’ll put down strangers,
Kill them, cut their throats, possess their houses,
And lead the majesty of law in lion
To slip him like a hound. Say now the king
(As he is clement, if th’ offender mourn)
Should so much come to short of your great trespass
As but to banish you, whither would you go?
What country, by the nature of your error,
Should give you harbor? Go you to France or Flanders,
To any German province, to Spain or Portugal,
Nay, any where that not adheres to England,—
Why, you must needs be strangers. Would you be pleased
To find a nation of such barbarous temper,
That, breaking out in hideous violence,
Would not afford you an abode on earth,
Whet their detested knives against your throats,
Spurn you like dogs, and like as if that God
Owed not nor made not you, nor that the elements
Were not all appropriate to your comforts,
But chartered unto them, what would you think
To be thus used? This is the strangers’ case,
And this your mountainish inhumanity.
--William Shakespeare, et al., Sir Thomas More, Act 2, Scene 4, (extracted from a manuscript in the British Library)

Copyright © 2016 by
Visit for details.

Copyright © 2016 by
Visit for details.

Copyright © 2016 by
Visit for details.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

An Epitome of Cultural Elitism

In a footnote at the back of his Oxford World's Classics edition of Walter Pater's The Renaissance (one of my personal holy books), Adam Phillips unearths a quote from French Renaissance poet Joachim du Bellay that I consider an epitome of the cultural elitist position. In the preface to his book l'Olive, du Bellay writes:

As for those people who will not welcome this kind of writing, which they call obscure because it is beyond their understanding, I leave them with those who, after the invention of wheat, still want to live on acorns.

Joshua ben Joseph of Nazareth, the Palestinian rabbi vulgarly known as Jesus Christ, expressed a similar sentiment using the cruder imagery of pearls and swine. While I harbor grave reservations about Josh's Mountainous Sermon, I find du Bellay's sentence and sentiment entirely admirable. His staunch refusal to dumb himself down, his requirement that readers rise to his level, his wild, Wildean self-assurance--add to these an aristocratic hauteur that makes Nabokov sound like Dr. Seuss and an enlightened, humanistic freedom from the stink of sanctimony, and we have in these 40 words a near-perfect example of the most valuable and necessary kind of elitism.

Friday, January 20, 2017

And so it begins... : Some Thoughts upon the Inauguration of America's Most Egregious Jackass

Breaking news from the hippest part of the afterlife: saxophonist Lester Young has just requested a new nickname.

I told myself I wasn't going to watch any of the Trump inauguration, that I have better things to do than feast on fascism, that I'm not going to permit the mustard-haired shitemonster to colonize my mind, but I couldn't resist clicking on the TV at noon, apparently just after Don the Dildo took his oath, and watching that ridiculous excuse for a speech. Most of it sounded cut and pasted from his RNC address. (Less than five minutes into his presidency and the bastard's self-plagiarizing already!) Any passages not from his convention speech were cribbed from ca.1940 Charles Lindbergh. To paraphrase the last words of a great American our unelected 'like smart' prez has never heard of: So here it is at last, the undistinguished thing.

And so it begins...
Over the next six months, Paul Ryan will lead his long-envisioned all-out assault on the liberal state (i.e., everything the U.S. government does that actually helps its citizens: ACA, welfare, medicaid, medicare, social security, etc., all those programs that our political culture demagogically labels 'entitlements'). The Republican Party has long been an open conspiracy to destroy our government and replace it with a corporatist kleptocracy, and now's the time for the Goofball Oligarchic Party to take a big shit on the National Mall and switch on the world's biggest fan. The only cause for leftist optimism, at the moment, is the fact that their Brainless Billsigner is entering office with historically low popularity numbers. Trump is beginning his administration with Dubya-level approval ratings, and after the sadism of the Republican agenda becomes apparent, those numbers will likely slide from Dubya to Dick. Trump's next 'historic first' may be "first president with a single-digit approval rating." The ferocious unpopularity of the unelected Chump has already translated into large, national anti-Trump rallies and demonstrations, and those must continue. Although the Republicans have captured power federally and in many states, the majority of our population, like the majority of voters in the past election, fundamentally disagree with the Republican agenda. We are many, they are few. When I consider how effectively the Republicans, with a minority of Americans behind them, blocked and stonewalled the Obama administration--even to the outrageous, Constitution-combusting point of denying him the right to appoint a Supreme Court justice--and then think about the possible legislative logjamming powers of even a Democratic senatorial minority with a vast majority of the populace behind them, well, let's say that left-liberal hope isn't exactly Obamianly audacious right now. In fact, it's kind of obvious. Things might turn out better than we think. Provided we liberals and leftists fight for America, vote for America (especially in off-year and midterm elections) and remember that we are America (and they, the Trumpites, are the deluded or cynical followers of a Euro-fascist), then we might emerge from the Trump years with a place we can still call America.

Personally, I intend to resist Trump, Trumpism and all forms of Trumpery by doing all of those things and by remaining a defiantly highbrow, unabashed and unapologetic cultural elitist. (There's no contradiction between this and a left-liberal political worldview; the cultural/artistic elite is radically open to all who possess the talent and intelligence to join or enjoy it.) The Obama years have been pretty good for American culture. They gave us Miranda's Hamilton (probably the quintessential American artwork of the time), Bechdel's Fun Home (my nominee for runner-up in  the Broadway musical category), Bob Dylan's Nobel Prize and the official release (finally) of the complete Basement Tapes, presidential medals hung around the necks of Philip Roth, Sonny Rollins, Donald Hall, M. H. Abrams, Toni Morrison, and many others; of equal importance, in Obama we had a president who read books and wrote them (with admirable talent and skill), who possessed oratorical chops more impressive than those of any president of the past 50 years, who was in fact only the third bona fide intellectual to sit behind the presidential desk (after Jefferson and Wilson--and one of them owned slaves and the other thought Griffith's Birth of a Nation was good history, so B. O. pretty much towers in that trio). By contrast, the lumpy pile of shoe-scraped catshit who now wears the nuclear codes in his breast pocket is already promising a cultural wasteland for the next four to eight years. The Republicans have revived their old art-hating wet dreams of abolishing the NEA and NEH and destroying public television--and they may suck-ceed this time, because the Democrats won't be able to fight everything and the new president is a guy who thinks The Art of the Deal is a literary masterpiece and his gaudy, gold-plated Goldfinger apartment an apex of American architecture. And as the journalist Joe Conason observed more than a decade ago, during the administration of a Republican president who, compared to Trump, seems like a Rhodes Scholar, "People who read and think often arouse suspicion on the far right." Under Trump the arts will suffer like a cancer patient who loses his health insurance halfway through chemo, so its up to those of us who care about art to become a cultural resistance. This doesn't mean we should make propaganda, weave Fuck Trump tapestries, or write leftwing agitprop plays (but if those are your things, go right ahead). Rather, this is a time in which Americans who care about art and freedom and individual expression must work to keep American art alive during the coming dark days. Under Trump, the mere act of making art is an act of resistance. The cultural is the political, inevitably. As William Carlos Williams (another name that would ring no bell in dumb-dumb Donald's hollow dome) once wrote: "beauty is / a defiance of authority." Let's make some beautiful noise.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

When Guston Painted Gass...

I don't think William H. Gass has ever written about the day in 1969 when painter Philip Guston used his body as a canvas, painting a windowed cityscape across the avant-garde writer's chest and abdomen, a trompe l'oeil nail spearing his breastbone, a big eerie surrealist eye on his shoulder, and a brick-walled clock on his back. I wish Gass would write about it, if he still remembers the day. (It was the sixties and he was there, so he may not.) There must be a good story--maybe more than one--behind these photographs:

Ta-Nehisi Coates on Obama and America in The Atlantic

The current Atlantic features a very good, must-read cover story by Ta-Nehisi Coates on Obama, race and the rise of Trumpism. It offers a powerful and necessary, clear-eyed examination of the role of white racism in the Trump (non-)victory. (The "(non)" is necessary because amnesiac America needs constant reminding that Hillary Clinton won the election by almost three million votes while Trump weaseled into the presidency through the Electoral College loophole--an anti-democratic rat-hole that can be easily closed with a single-sentence amendment to the Constitution... and that will probably happen simultaneous with the release of Trump's tax returns and the premiere of The Other Side of the Wind.) Here's a very brief taste of the Coates article:

Historians will spend the next century analyzing how a country with such allegedly grand democratic traditions was, so swiftly and so easily, brought to the brink of fascism. But one needn’t stretch too far to conclude that an eight-year campaign of consistent and open racism aimed at the leader of the free world helped clear the way.

“They rode the tiger. And now the tiger is eating them,” David Axelrod, speaking of the Republican Party, told me. That was in October. His words proved too optimistic. The tiger would devour us all.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Donald's Danaes and the Shower of Gold (definitely not the next Harry Potter book)

However, there were other aspects to Trump's engagement with the Russian authorities. One which had borne fruit for them was to exploit Trump's personal obsessions and sexual perversions in order to obtain suitable 'kompromat'  (compromising material) on him. According to Source D, where s/he had been present, Trump's (perverted) conduct in Moscow included hiring the presidential suite of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, where he knew President and Mrs. Obama (whom he hated) had stayed on one of their official trips to Russia, and defiling the bed where they had slept by employing a number of prostitutes to perform a 'golden showers' (urination) show in front of him. The hotel was known to be under FSB control with microphones and concealed cameras in all the main rooms to record anything they wanted to. -- from a widely circulated raw intelligence dossier on Donald Trump compiled by a former member of British Intelligence

Titian, Danae (detail), 1544, Capodimonte Museum, Naples

According to my sources O (also known as Ovid) and T (aka Titian), Zeus seduced Danae--thus fathering the hero Perseus--by concealing himself in a shower of gold, a scene richly imagined by the Renaissance master as a waterfall of Trump-friendly doubloons. Alas, the pile of half-sentient cowflop that will raise its hand (while defiling Lincoln's Bible with the other) at the Capitol on Friday likely had no classical allusions in mind when he took himself in hand and stroked the soon-to-be First Member while watching 'a number' (two? five? thirty-six?) of Putin's Finest micturating for his erotic edification. I knew Trump was going to be a piss-poor president, but even I didn't expect him to be a piss-porn one. If such a story had circulated concerning President Obama, it would've been dismissed out of hand as disinformation, another product of the right-wing hate machine; with Trump, however, piss like this seems completely in character. And the dude's press conference defense ("I'm a germophobe.") marks the Piss-Prez as the kind of perp police detectives love to encounter in the interrogation room: the kind who volunteers incriminating information because he's so ignorant he thinks it's exculpatory. A germophobe is exactly the sort of person most turned on by scat porn, because it activates his deepest taboos; for Trump, piss is the ultimate forbidden fruit juice.

All of which leads me back to Philip Roth's 50+ year-old line about American reality beggaring the imaginations of its novelists. In our present Trumptime, Roth's argument sounds rather quaintly understated. Trumpian reality exceeds even the weirdest and most excessive of novels. His administration is going to be like Gravity's Rainbow rewritten by a committee of schlockmeisters--imagine Trump as Brigadier Pudding celebrating his inauguration by hiring two DC crack whores for a golden shower show in the Lincoln bedroom; worse, Trumperika might be a fascist synthesis of 1984 and The Handmaid's Tale, with Don the Con as our gaslighting Big Bro, holding massive rallies to convince his followers that slavery is freedom (an easy job, since few Americans have any idea what freedom means; we ain't no intellecshul country; we ain't readin' no Gene Pool Sartrees), while fruity, loopy Mike Pence, Indiana's fetal funeral fanatic, sets himself up as America's Ceausescu. (Check out Romanian director Cristian Mungiu's excellent film 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days for a glimpse of what Pence's ideal America might look like.) The high point of Friday's inaugural festivities might come when the newly sworn-in Trumpenfuhrer (Can we, just this once, swear the bastard in with actual swear words? I intend to.) orders the Rockettes to piss all over the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. The 4-8 year Trump Urine Stream will all run downhill from there.

Enjoy the last two days of the Obama administration, because after Friday at noon (a blood meridian indeed) we'll be living inside a Chinese curse: interesting times.