December 2004 Archives

The Passionate Collector

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The Volcano Lover is I think, Susan Sontag's most accessible book, and was a great pleasure to read. It reminded me so much of my friend Grace, and when, during high school, we first discovered and began to read the European novel of ideas. In addition to enjoying Sontag's novel on its own merits, there was an added layer of pleasure for me in recalling the companionship of my friend and our adolescent encounters with a certain type of novel.

Both a romance and a historical novel, The Volcano Lover recounts the life of a character called simply The Cavaliere, modeled after Sir William Hamilton. It dramatizes the peculiar three-way relationship that Sir William Hamilton fosters with his wife and his friend, famously depicted on screen in That Hamilton Woman. Set in Naples, Italy, a smoldering Vesuvius is an appropriate backdrop to the heated ideas and overwrought emotions that create the atmosphere of the book.

In addition to the retelling of the infamous Hamilton love affair, The Volcano Lover is a meditation on collecting. The Cavaliere is a collector of antiquities, as was Sir William Hamilton, who once provided Sir Josiah Wedgwood with the Portland Vase, which served as an inspiration for his jasperware pottery.

This is where, I think, the book seems relevant to internet culture. Sontag connects the collecting impulse to all acts of enumerating, including counting, classifying, sequencing, and list-making--all of which structure our experience of using and creating the interweb.

Sontag writes, "The list is itself a collection, a sublimated collection. One does not actually have to own the things. To know is to have (luckily for those without great means). It is already a claim, a species of possession, to think about them in this form, the form of a list: which is to value them, to rank them, to say they are worth remembering or desiring."

Yet the collection is always unfinished in Sontag's eyes. Rather than provoking frustration, this unfinished or open-ended aspect is the ideal state of the collection, placing the obsessed collector in a perpetual state of desire. "You think you want to finish it," she writes, "but you don't."

I did not want to finish The Volcano Lover. I lingered over the final chapters, dawdled over its last pages. If you have not read a Susan Sontag book ever, this is an ideal one to start with.

Another remembrance

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It's surprising, at times, what people are remembered for once they have died. As I read through Susan Sontag's obituaries, I was taken aback at how prominently "Notes on Camp" featured in most of them. When I heard the reference to her essay in a television news segment last night it almost seemed, well, campy.

I am also disappointed that so many obituries seem to have focused in on her public persona rather than her work, emphasizing the controversial. However, Christopher Hitchens offers a substantive and sweet personal remembrance of Sontag that focuses on her bravery, both physical and moral.

On Sontag

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I read several obituaries for Susan Sontag today, but the best I thought was at the L.A. Times, which I found through the Wikipedia entry on Sontag. Written by the Times book editor, I felt it had a more personal tone to it than the other pieces. It also gave more space to Sontag's connection to Los Angeles. I especially liked reading about her attachment to the old Pickwick books that once graced Hollywood Boulevard.

A Great Writer Has Left Us

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A personal hero of mine, Susan Sontag, has just died. She wrote so many books that have inspired me over my lifetime. I am very sad to hear she has passed away. I plan on writing more later about some of her works.

Hey Hey Hey!

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I stopped blogging for a little while a few weeks back, and a number of people inquired to make sure I was okay, you know, mentally. My friend Joe, who suspected the presidential election had made me go off the deep end, worried, "I haven't heard from you...you were blogging about turning in to a zombie...I thought, 'Maybe she's taking this really hard.'"

Actually, I was sick, and then I got sick again, only much, much worse. But since you asked--thank you--there is something that has been driving me insane the last few weeks. And now I'm going to tell you about it.

First, if you don't live in Los Angeles, I need to give you a little background information. Because if you live in a small town, for example, a movie opening is not such a big deal. There will be TV ads announcing the movie, yes, but the movie may not even be playing in your town on opening weekend!

Movie openings are not like that here in Los Angeles. Here they are major cultural and news events. Here, it's like the publicity company for every movie being released sets up shop inside your asshole so they can make sure you know their movie is coming--that's how invasive it is. It's constant non-stop hype for weeks prior to the event.

So it is that I began to see this billboard for the forthcoming Fat Albert movie on my daily drive to work some--I don't know--six weeks ago. The location is the entrance to the Fox Studio. For a sense of scale, notice the SUV at the bottom of the picture, and the regular sized billboard advertising Kinsey next to it. I can see it from three long blocks away.

Fat Albert wishes you a Merry Christmas.This abomination was burrowing its way into my skull for weeks when, all of a sudden, there were more of them.

One day I left my house and drove onto Venice Blvd., a major cross street near me, and started to turn right: huge Fat Albert billboard. I abruptly decide to turn left: another Fat Albert billboard. Beneath the enormous Fox Studio billboard, there is now also a Fat Albert poster on the side of a bus stop.

It reminds me of the time I visited Moscow before the fall of the Soviet Union, and everywhere I looked there were billboards and posters of Lenin staring back at me. Except here, in the country that won the Cold War, it's Fat Albert that gazes down on us workers like an overstuffed Big Brother.

That is not even the worst of it. What bothered me so much about the Fat Albert billboard was the terrible moment I knew would have to come. And come it did, while I was innocently watching a bit of Entertainment Tonight. I was hoping for a word or two about the Michael Jackson trial, only to be sucked in further with the promise of news about Ellen DeGeneres's recent breakup with her girlfriend in an upcoming segment.

Then the moment I had dreaded came: the appearance of Bill Cosby, offering his sentimental perspective on the movie. Please, please, please let this not be a comeback. A girl can only take so much.

Becoming a harbinger

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I recently asked Dr. Menlo if I could sign on to his group blog, American Samizdat, as a harbinger. And recently, he announced me as a new harbinger on his own blog.

I decided to join based on my distress over media coverage of the U.S. presidential election, especially on television. The inability (or unwillingness) of the media to counter the disinformation released by the so-called Swift-Boat Veterans for Truth this summer was a turning point for me. As a result, I found myself increasingly turning to alternative outlets for news and opinion, including American Samizdat.

Now that the election is over, I believe the situation of the press in this country is only going to get worse. Already, the conservative marketing of lies has grown bolder: the economy is in great shape, incompetents are praised as heroes, there is no torture happening. My blood ran cold when I heard about William Donahue's recent statements on MSNBC. "And I'm not afraid to say it," he claimed.

It is becoming easier and easier to say these hateful things in the U.S., and eventually we will grow used to hearing them. That's why I've chosen to speak out now, by joining American Samizdat. I hope you'll add it and Dr. Menlo's site to your regular blog reading.

Lesbian Drama Gears Up

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Showtime has The L Word Season 2 preview trailers up on their site for your viewing pleasure. Was that Arianna Huffington in a guest spot on video 3? If you haven't subscribed to Showtime already, do this girl a favor and sign up so they can keep the sapphic televisual candy coming my way.

A series of notes

The other day I was listening to NPR and heard an interesting piece about birds and learning. Some researchers studied baby birds to see how they learned complex birdsongs. Did they learn them bit by bit, or did they learn them as a whole?

Interestingly, the birds learned the notes bit by bit, then assembled the song into a whole based on their understanding of sequence. On the one hand, sequence appears to help the process of understanding, on the other hand, it contributes to creating meaning. According to NPR's web site, the research will appear in an upcoming issue of the magazine Nature.

MT Makeover

I've just upgraded my Movable Type installation from 2.65 to the latest version. Hopefully nothing here on the site is too whacked. I'm still figuring out what's different with this new version, but I'm hoping I can fix some things that weren't working previously. For example, I haven't been able to assign posts to multiple categories for awhile now, and I'm hoping to fix that soon.

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