Thursday, December 31, 2015

Loose Ends 2015

This year I spent a lot of time thinking and reading slowly. Part of this slowness was due to the demands and interruptions of life.  Part of it is a sort of lessening of energy I am experiencing either due to aging or my increased workload or both.  I find my career more fatiguing than rewarding, regardless of the necessary money it makes me. The health insurance alone saves me several thousand dollars a year.  All that is factored in and I accept it for now. I try, instead, to see my “job” as a meditation in action, or at least an obstacle course to strengthen my resilience.

But working about 50 hours a week (and decompressing from work – I run and do yoga) slows my life in various ways. Since May I have been considering and reconsidering a post about various absurd perspectives on human consciousness. I find the linking of human consciousness with some sort of larger "force" or "agency" in the universe to be about as grounded and worthy of respect as The Force in Star Wars. But, I have to be careful about how I approach this subject. There are many potential roadblocks to clarity, much of them muddied by fringe scientists with a religious and/or spiritual agenda. Even more importantly, most human beings believe that they need this imaginary force or agency to live fulfilling lives - I don't really want to disrespect that specific metaphysical need.

I have also been rereading two books on philosophical aesthetics beginning primarily with Nietzsche and including Heidegger, Adorno, Camus, Foucault among others.  The Re-enchantment of the World and Life as Art each deal with the possibility of Art (and the incorporation of Art into one’s intimate life) as a replacement for religion in human living.  I am very sympathetic to this perspective as it rings so true in my personal experience.  These two books fascinate me and spark all sorts of (as yet) fragmented ideas. So, again, I am moving slowly through the experience of that. 

I spent a lot of time, particularly in the second half of the year, rereading my small collection of chess books and reacquainted myself with that ancient game.  There was a time in my life when Ted, Jeffery, and I played dozens if not hundreds of games of chess.  But that started in my college days and stopped well over a decade ago now. Again, I am doing this slowly, studying about a dozen games by world masters over the course of weeks while playing chess against my iPad a little. I enjoyed these moments of play along with a couple of wargames I concentrated on: Ukraine '43 and The Mighty Endeavor II - both of which I found fun and historically insightful.

So I have not written as much in 2015 and much of what I have written is in the form of notes and random paragraphs. I have toyed with a couple of ideas for fictional writing but have made little headway other than a few spontaneous bursts of creativity which have yielded a few pages of what I would consider acceptable text.  In addition to my thoughts on human consciousness mentioned above, I have several other blog posts in the works but also unfinished.  They need more thought and consideration.  My Nietzsche blog continues to progress slowly as well.

The truth is kind of enjoy it, this journey - or the reveling within the consideration rather than the resolution of questions; in between walks on my land, staring at the sky and stars, regular running, tending to chores, and Flipboarding (see below).

I blogged about various books I read throughout this year. There are some cool books already lined up for 2016, mostly of a historical nature.  But I also am interested in rereading Proust again.  It has been awhile.  But Proust is massive and all-consuming and the slowness of reading his thousands of pages would overwhelm other worthy interests of the moment.  So Proust will wait. 

Meantime, I began a biography of Soviet Marshall K.K. Rokossovsky after Christmas. I am particularly excited to read this history since we have so few biographies of Soviet commanders during the Second World War available in English. This is primarily a residual effect due to the inaccessibility of Soviet records during the Cold War period, when the Soviet history and culture was mostly off limits to the West. But since then a lot of terrific material of the Soviet war effort has become known, such as the work of Colonel David Glantz. Before the current period, only biographies on the great Soviet Marshal Georgy Zhukov were accessible to me. Nevertheless, in my general reading about the Eastern Front of WW2, I became aware of Rokossovsky’s particular operational prowess as an army commander.  So, I look forward to learning more about this interesting military leader.

Back to the Flipboarding mentioned above.  I am not into social media much.  I don't have a Facebook account or Snapchat or Instagram or anything.  I have never seen much value in the mindless technological intrusion into human intimacy that all that entails. I text with family members but that is about it, except for my blogs, of course.  At any rate, I blogged in last year's Loose Ends post about becoming an avid user and reader of the Flipboard app on my iPad.

In 2015 Flipboard became a larger part of my daily life.  I spend an hour or two every day, mostly in the mornings, reading and sifting through articles for possible inclusion in my Flipboard magazines.  I discovered the rather addictive nature of "likes" and "followers" as my various magazines caught the eye of other Flipboard users. I now have ten separate magazines and more than 1185 followers. Last year at this time I had only a handful of followers and my most popular flipzine, one on art, was not even created yet.

I admit there is an obsessive aspect to my Flipboarding.  It is likely as bad as what everyone is doing with smartphones these days.  I don’t have a smartphone, so Flipboard is my “plug-in” to technology.  But, I would be doing this anyway, more or less.  I am fascinated with the world and with keeping up with all things my magazines represent. They are all topics of fascination for me. I have always studied the news and read about current events more than most people I know.

Only now when I do it, in the back of my mind, there are these invisible “followers” watching me – or at least peeking in on me now and then. Sometimes I think about them when I am selecting a story.  But, I try to minimize that sort of mindset and stick to general journalistic guidelines I have formed in my head and gradually refined from using the app so much.  I churn through over 100 content sources every day.  I skim every story I flip into a magazine.  But I usually fully read only 8-12 stories per day. 

My Loose Ends flipzine had no followers this time last year. Today it has 104.  That is not a large number by any means. There are plenty of flipzines by other flipboarders that have thousands of followers and millions of page flips.  Sex and Intimacy remains my most popular flipzine in terms of total page flips with more than 115,600, all basically over the past year.  Notice: Art has the most followers with 477. I created it back in March. My daily news Notice Magazine has 189 followers and features my own mix of short-term news and special interest stories. Nearly 109,000 pages have been flipped in that one.

So, I enjoy flipboarding, it is a "flow" experience for me. When I flipboard time just seems to fly.  I discipline myself to keep it under two hours a day. That might sound absurd, spending so much time on such an activity. I am entertained, informed, puzzled, made more aware of so many things happening in our world.  These things cannot be dismissed by either going outward into the infinity of space or inward into the infinity of consciousness.  These are, all of them, things in themselves.  They are out there in definable mental or physical (only) space.

I can choose to trivialize them from some spiritual or scientific perspective - they don't really matter because of whatever theory you might wish to apply.  But I think that theory is about as relevant to the origins and workings of things as my flipboarding all this content. Obviously, Flipboard in no way creates events nor does it make them happen.  Yet that utter nonsense is pervasive in the grand dialog about "truth" (biocentrism or the alleged spiritual implications of quantum physics are two examples) and I hope to blog more about this ridiculousness in 2016.

You do not need the Flipboard app to view my magazines. You can do it on your PC, if you like.  It just formats the pages better if you use the app. My Flipboard magazines, for those interested…

Loose Ends
Putin’s Syrian Gambit
Sex and Intimacy
Notice: South China Sea
Notice: Art
Notice: Climate Change
Notice: The Security State
Notice: Space
Notice Magazine
Hot Pix

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Reading Anaïs Nin in 2015

When I was in college I read two short erotic novels by Anaïs Nin.  I did not know anything about Nin really other than she was a woman who wrote naughty books.  Delta of Venus and Little Birds struck me at the time as rather poetic but not animalistic enough, though the sensual passion in each work was striking at times, and I truly enjoyed Nin's style. She has a wonderful literary voice.

But Nin was not someone who particularly interested me the way other writers did.  I did not purchase any of her novels (or her infamous diaries) and so I gradually became blind to her in my life.  In 2015 I decided to reacquaint myself with her through the purchase of The Portable Anaïs Nin and Nin's five short, loosely related novels published together under the overarching title Cities of the Interior.

Reading Anaïs Nin gives me insight into articulation of the feminine experience of pleasure, desire, need, fear, chaos, sadness, love and artistic expression.  Nin churns these emotions to form basic drives in her characters, who are most often sensual in nature.  This sets up a multitude of erotic situations throughout Nin's work.  But, generally speaking, these situations are often of different characters all behaving the same as characters in her other stories.  There is a specific feel to Nin's leading woman and man, and often another woman included.

Nin writes intense, erotically charged prose and yet she is not harsh and graphic with her writing style, or her narratives. In this respect there may be readers of hardcore erotica who feel Nin is too quaint and poetic to be considered truly hot sex writing as exists commonly today.  D. H. Lawrence, of whom the young Nin was an early biographer, was more graphic with Lady Chatterley's Lover than Nin is in anything I have read by her in 2015.

Cities of the Interior is five stories which switch and swap the same characters in unconnected variations of sexual experience.  The most common one, as mentioned above, is a woman with a husband (or dominant lover) who is unfulfilled (same premise as Lady Chatterley) and finds greater passion with another woman, or less often another man.  Characters shift from sexual interaction to sexual interaction with the perspective that it is more special to love and desire many people rather than one special person because each person is special and none diminishes special incarnation of any other, you merely experience a more complex specialty. But, for Nin, there is ironically always one most special person in here narratives.  And that is where much of her erotic power comes from in her writing.

Her characters in the five novels inhabit an artistic world. Nin's characters are dancers and writers and painters, actors both employed and unemployed. Cafes and hotels and clubs and the night life of the city street is the standard environment the characters interact within.  There is only a little of the natural world here, and even then it emphasizes the sensual experience of nature. There are no attorneys or accountants or insurance salesmen or scientists (other than physicians) or people of the military, academia, or customer service assistants.  This world is a different world from the consumerist materialism most of us inhabit.  Our pop world was not how Nin related to anything.

Classical music is featured throughout Cities of the Interior. Nin has a particular affinity for Cesar Franck's Symphony in D minor as well as various works by Claude Debussy, among others.  The Debussy passages are particularly interesting to me because the selections of background music for her characters to act out their various passions are usually very (musically) sensual in and of themselves.  It is obvious that all forms of art, and especially impressionistic classical music were an influence on Nin's intimate life and experiences.

Jay and Lillian are only two of the several major interchangeable characters Nin creates.  In one short novel they are involved in different relationships with other major characters.  In the short novel Children of the Albatross, they are lovers and she, as usual, is missing something in their obvious passion.

“At dawn Jay turned towards Lillian beside him and his first kiss reached her through the net of her hair.

“Her eyes were closed, her nerves asleep, but under his hand her body slipped down a dune into warm waves lapping over each other, rippling her skin.

“Jay’s sensual thrusts wakened to dormant walls of flesh, and tongues of fire flicked towards his hard lashings piercing the kernel of mercury, disrupting a current of fire through the veins.  The burning fluid of ecstasy eddying madly and breaking, loosening a river of pulsations.

“The core of ecstasy bursting to the rhythmic pounding, until his hard thrusts spurted burning fluid against the walls of flesh, impulsion within the womb like a thunderbolt.

“Lillian’s panting decrease, and her body reverberated in the silence, filled with echoes…antennae which had drunk like the stems of plants.

“He awakened free, and she did not.

“His desire had reached a finality, like a clean saber cut which dealt pleasure, not death.

“She felt impregnated.

“She had greater difficulty in shifting, in separating, in turning away.

“Her body was filled with retentions, residues, sediments.

“He awakened and passed into other realms.  The longer his stay in the enfolding whirls, the greater his energy to enter activity again.  He awakened and he talked of painting, he awakened laughing, eyes closed with laughter, laughing on the edges of his cheeks, laughter in the corner of his mouth, the laughter of great separateness. 

“She awakened unfree, as is laden with the seeds of his being, wondering as what moment he would pull his whole self away as one tears a plant out by the roots, leaving a crevice in the earth. Dreading the break because she felt him a master of this act, free to enter and free to emerge, whereas she felt dispossessed of her identity and freedom because Jay upon waking did not turn about and contemplate her even for a moment as Lillian, a particular woman, but that when he took her, or looked at her he did so gaily, anonymously, as if any woman lying there would have been equally pleasant, natural, and not Lillian among all women.” (pp. 204-205)

The Portable Anaïs Nin combines selections of fiction with the now famous diaries of Nin.  The diary selections are rather forceful.  They represent the fact that Nin's poetic prose began with the way she tinkered with words and descriptions in her diaries.  Her affairs with her father and with Henry Miller are among the plethora of juicy, naughty details given.

Sensuality is the highest form of love to Nin.  Her characters love each other.  They love in random couplings, they love in threesomes, they have various lovers simultaneously.  This is as Nin lived her own life and they give us a window into polygamous relationships.  She was bi-sexual, attracted almost equally to men and women. But Nin's sensuality comes from a rich sense of fulfillment to be found with multiple personalities and bodies.  Nin's characters are rarely driven by sexual need alone.  Rather, they are highly sexual people attracted to each other for tangible but non-sexual (yet often aesthetic or nurturing) reasons.

“'Let me kiss your mouth.’  He put his arms around me.  I hesitated.  I was tortured by a complexity of feelings, wanting his mouth, yet afraid, feeling I was to kiss a brother, yet tempted – terrified and desirous.  I was taut.  He smiled and opened his mouth.  We kissed, and that kiss unleashed a wave of desire.  I was lying across his body and with my breast I felt his desire, hard, palpitating.  Another kiss.  More terror than joy.  The joy of something unnamable, obscure. He so beautiful – godlike and womanly, seductive and chiseled, hard and soft.  A hard passion.

“'We must avoid possession,’ he said, ‘but, oh, let me kiss you.’  He caressed my breasts and tips hardened.  I was resisting, saying no, but my nipples hardened.  And when his hand caressed me – oh, the knowingness of those caresses – I melted.  But all the while some part of me was hard and terrified.  My body yielded to the penetration of his hand, but I resisted, I resisted enjoyment.  I resisted showing my body. I only uncovered my breasts.  I was timid and unwilling, yet passionately moved.  ‘I want you to enjoy, to enjoy,’ he said. 'Enjoy.'  And his caresses were so acute, so subtle; but I couldn’t, and to escape from him I pretended to. Again I lay over him and felt the hardness of his penis.  He uncovered himself.  I caressed him with my hand.  I saw him quiver with desire.

“With a strange violence, I lifted my negligee and I aly over him. ‘Toi, Anaïs!  Je n’ai plus de Dieu!

“Ecstatic, his face, and I now frenzied with the desire to unite with him…undulating, caressing him, clinging to him. His spasm was tremendous, immense, with my whole being, with only that core of fear which arrested the supreme spasm in me.”  (From The Portable Anaïs Nin, page 49)

This is Nin's diary entry for the beginning of her incestuous relationship in her twenties with her father.  Some readers might find this revolting.  But it was Nin's actual experience. She had sex with Henry Miller in Paris.  She had sex with Henry Miller's wife in Paris, she had sex men before Miller and with women before his wife.  She had sex with men and women afterward.  She was totally promiscuous and she did not care.  In fact, promiscuity was part of her expansion of desire throughout human intimacy.

That might not seem like a special intimacy to many.  It might seem vile and cheating and dishonest.  But Nin means it honestly enough.  It is cheating, of course, if you count monogamy, but that type of relationship only existed for Nin through short periods of her life.  Generally, she had more than one lover.  She felt the passion within her clearly and projected it outward into what attracted her in other people. It was coupling, always a coupling in the present moment, that Nin wrote about.  Physical, sexual, artistic, and intellectual couplings are the riches her writing yielded.  She has a distinctive, emotional voice that rings like a trumpet through the world of erotica.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Welcome Back Star Wars

Warning: there are a few spoilers below but none are related to the really good stuff from The Force Awakens.

I remember seeing the original Star Wars: A New Hope as a late teen when it was released in late-May of 1977.  I had just graduated high school and was an avid science fiction fan.  It was my primary reading material at the time.  The movie featured exciting action set in a fantastic intergalactic universe and I recall seeing it multiple times over a few weeks with numerous friends.  It was an exciting movie to talk about over hamburgers afterwards.  I even took my younger brother to see it at our hometown theater.  We sat through it twice in one day, with only a popcorn break in between. He was only six and was as enraptured with it as I had been the summer of 1976 watching Jaws.

The intial shot in Star Wars left most of us either hooping with delight or staring with our jaw open from sheer awe. The empire battle cruiser chasing Princess Leia in one of the opening shots seemed to go on and on and on.  It was an epic establishing shot and audiences loved it.  We loved the "western" shoot 'em up sequences, the chases, the parallel plot lines featuring action that intermingled at just the right moment keeping viewers on their toes and enthralled with what is actually a very straightforward plot.

The original aspect of Star Wars is how it feels to watch it.  Do you sense mystery?  Doesn't that space ship look cool?  How about all that future tech?  Wow! Did you see that!  The characters are all straight out of Louis L'Amour or some classic swashbuckling tale of adventure.  This is the feeling that the original three movies possess, but the following 'prequels' found in short supply, though enough to connect them to the canon of Star Wars.

The most metaphorical aspect to the film is, of course, The Force and the infamous (and now culturally ingrained) Dark Side.  The Force runs through the universe and binds everything together.  Certain students of The Force can use it with telepathic effect, among other skills.  That is about as heavy-weight as Star Wars gets.  It is not a deep movie, it is a fun movie.  So, when watching any of the Star Wars films, I smile at its naive and sentimental philosophical aspects.  I relax and have fun.

By the time The Empire Strikes Back in 1980 (the best movie in this series in my opinion) was released, the "Star Wars" idea was a huge commercial success, both in terms of the movie franchise and all the assorted merchandising that goes along with consumerist culture.   Once again I took my brother to see it, only this time we didn't stay for consecutive showings.  The theaters were full and security had gotten a bit tighter than just a few years before.

We both had a great time.  It was cool seeing things through his still very young mind.  He was full of questions.  What do they call this?  How did they do that?  Nevertheless, he could relate to Han Solo and especially to Luke Skywalker in a higher childlike manner, seen most often at Christmas time, as children that age are prone to shout their ideas and wear their emotions on their sleeve.

At any rate, after all this time, The Force Awakens is released. As anticipated, it is achieving enormous commercial success and most critics like the movie. I remained pretty much spoiler-free as I went to see the film last night with my daughter, her boyfriend, and my brother who is now a father himself, and his 13 year old son.  My brother and I were the only two that had ever actually seen a Star Wars film in a movie theater.  It seemed to bring things full circle for me regarding A New Hope, watching my brother take his son, as I took him decades ago, to see a Star Wars film in a venue other than a large flat TV screen.

The movie definitely felt like Star Wars.  It was thrilling in both the visual and the narrative, it was spectacular with constant action-packed pacing, it touched on some past story-lines by bringing back previous characters, most notably Han Solo and, now, General Leia, commanding the resistance. Yes, the resistance is still around, this time resisting the First Order.  If it sounds like familiar turf, it should.  Though several interesting new major characters are introduced in The Force Awakens, it is the original ones that thread all this together.  This film is the beginning of a new storyline within the trappings of the older story.

There is even a new kind of "Death Star" with the predictable finish to it - as in the 1977 and 1983 films.  Not very original at all, so I frankly can't give the film much credit here.  I suppose it offers dumb-downed familiarity to fuse this film with the original three.  After all, the prequels are just as original as the original trilogy.  It is just that they were original in a way that did not resonate as well with Star Wars fans.

What one can authentically say is that The Force Awakens is the essence of the original trilogy, introducing new elements but not really doing anything new with any of them.  It is nostalgic for me and exciting for my nephew.  Maybe that is how it should be.  I enjoyed the film but it is nothing exceptional, it is more tribute and continuation than transcending in any way. But it is competently made and fun. So I give it a 7.  

Some think Star Wars is the myth of our current age, even a postmodern classic.  I believe we are certainly better off for having it around than not.  I think J.J. Abrams did a terrific job with not a reboot but a resuscitation of the narrative.  The narrative is smoothly transitional and for that reason somewhat masterfully handled.  A new generation will now delve deeply into the Star Wars expanded universe just as I did back in my youth and my brother did sort of at the same time in his younger youth.  

On the drive home, he and I laughed about certain scenes in the new movie (which has that wonderful Star Wars humor) and compared them back to a few comical scenes in the earlier films.  I asked his son how he liked The Force Awakens before he got out the car.  "It was great!" he said, his early adolescence beaming. Well, maybe it is not "great" from my perspective, but it connects me back to an innocent time and the wonder of the films and all those happy hours spent with them in between.  Welcome back.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Coldplay: Head Full of Mush

Long-time readers know that Coldplay is my favorite contemporary band.  It does not bother me that the more success they attain in terms of popularity, the more the critics put them down.  Coldplay may be the essence of kitsch for all I know.  But, I don't care.  Their music makes me feel good.  That is why I listen to them.

But their most recent effort, A Head Full of Dreams, is a full-throttle disappointment to me.  I suppose it continues with a transition in style the band first began with 2014's Ghost Stories.  Unfortunately, with their latest record, the transition has gone so far that, for me, the band has become a stranger, invisible.  This is Coldplay being something that is not, for me, Coldplay at all.

Normally with a Coldplay album, I listen to it a couple of times and end up with a tune or two resonating in my mind off and on over the next few weeks.  I will catch myself humming a new Coldplay song while driving or just sitting at my desk.  New Coldplay music becomes a part of my life and puts a smile on my face.

Not so with this new material.  What began in Ghost Stories as a changeover from Coldplay's distinctive guitar-accented, alt rock sound into more of a synthesized, dance club sound has devolved completely into this dance beat, guitar-minimized offering that, frankly, sounds like about 100 other ordinary bands.  When I listen to this new album I find that after about 15 minutes I am so ready for the beat and crooning and the wailing to stop.  Just stop it! 

After one listen I have not been able to get through the entire effort again.  It sounds sooo mediocre.  Normally, even mediocre Coldplay is better than a lot of other music.  In this case, this is mediocre Coldplay pretending to either be something they are not or something they never should have become.  (Not everyone agrees with my assessment, of course.  And if you look at how this album is selling, the bottom line is a lot of money for these guys.)

Taken as a whole, the album fails to offer much diversity of sound.  The title track, "Birds", "Adventure of a Lifetime", and "Army of One" all seem to have the same blasé instrumentation, lyrics, and dance-able beat.  The problem with the beat is that fails to inspire anything in me.  It all sounds like the same mediocrity repeated beyond my capacity to tolerate.

"Everglow" (featuring Chris Martin's previously "uncoupled" lady 
Gwyneth Paltrow) and "Fun" slow things down a bit but they are nothing special and they are certainly not "glowing" or "fun".  Instead they are a collection of cliche lyrics and playing that is so middle-of-the-road they are more like road kill than easy-going.  Blah.

The album's strongest tracks are "Hymn for the Weekend" (featuring Beyoncé), "Amazing Day", and "Up&Up".  All of these attempt to capture the joy of life and friendship and opportunity.  They are optimistic and heartfelt, which, of course, is why I enjoy Coldplay so much.  But, compared with their overall body of work, the synthesized (commercialized) heart and soul of these tracks sound more like cardboard cutouts than the real band.  Though listenable, I would not rate any of these three songs among Coldplay's best work - and, unfortunately, these are the best this album has to offer.

Being a worldwide music phenomenon, Coldplay will play the halftime show at the upcoming Super Bowl in 2016.  This has brought out the best in those who hate the band.  It is already being called the most "boring" halftime booking in history. As I mentioned above, the band's detractors have grown more prominent with each year of increasing success.  I suppose doing the Super Bowl halftime show is the highest (or lowest) manifestation commercial success.  So, perhaps it is fitting, that this opportunity now comes to the band at precisely the moment when they have dissolved into musical blandness.   

Rumor has it that this might be the final Coldplay studio album.  If that is so they are definitely going out with a whimper, or better yet, make that a whine.  I will likely still go see them live, if given the chance.  They put on a terrific, energized, fun show.  But this material will not be a draw for me, maybe it will offer an opportune moment to go get a beer until the real Coldplay decides to present itself in the concert venue again.

But, assuming there is a future for the band, if A Head Full of Dreams represents Coldplay's new trajectory then as a fan I can only hope they start communicating a little more from their heart than their head.  They have become mechanical, naively sentimental, their joy and energy feel counterfeit without any of the edginess and bite that made their always upbeat songs and ballads not only tolerable but often brilliant.  Head Full of Mush, Ear Full of Yawns might be a better title for this one. 

5 out of 10 stars. Or two and one-half stars in the Amazon rating system.  As of today's post the album is #8 in all of music and #3 in rock on Amazon. The record was released this past Friday.