Archive for May, 2018

“Individuals” – a critique

An ongoing one from our friend Clarissa.

Sinners in the hands of an angry god

Jonathan Edwards, the 18th-century preacher who gave the world that lovely phrase, wrote a sermon on the back of a “bill of sale” accounting for his purchase of a black slave. Susan Stinson’s article is really good.

h/t MD

Obviously not obvious

If you throw everything *but* the kitchen sink at your problem, you will surely fail. You always need a kitchen sink.

Primary Progressive Aphasia

Harold Gulskin was an amazing acting coach who told his students “to emphasize the words of the script over any analysis of their characters’ motivation.” (His students included Kevin Kline, Glenn Close, and James Gandolfini.) That is, he did not believe in The Method. He believed in the script, and the actors reading that script. He passed away last week.

His wife, Sandra Jennings, said the cause [of his death] was probably a pulmonary embolism. He learned a decade ago that he had primary progressive aphasia, a rare form of dementia, she said, and had been living in a care facility in Park Ridge.

Primary Progressive Aphasia robs people of their linguistic abilities. Word by word, they can no longer understand names and terms; bit by bit, they can no longer find their own words in their minds; great big verbal parties become warehouses of nothing. Their other cognitive skills, and their memories, remain intact, for several years, until their brains and everything else fall apart.

This is what killed my Dad.

Reading Gulskin’s obituary moved me greatly.

As primary progressive aphasia gradually took away Mr. Guskin’s ability to speak and communicate, Ms. Jennings helped coach his students, filling in words he could no longer conjure and explaining his intentions.

Ms. Weisz said: “Even when he was down to about 20 words, I knew what he meant to say. We had a shorthand by then, and he would say, `No, no, no,’ when I wasn’t hitting the truth.”

My father was a stutterer well into adulthood. Learning how to speak out loud flawlessly and beautifully was I think to him his greatest achievement. That he was robbed of this toward and at his life’s end was utterly galling to him and our family. God bless Mr. Gulskin’s.

Farewell Tom Wolfe

He wrote some great books and coined new language. But I stopped liking him.

A blast from the past:

4 Nov. 04: A loyal basil.CA reader sent me a friendly election-day double-dinger: an email entitled “Is Bob Cranky Today?” that begins, “Your entry today [on Tom Wolfe, below*] was opaque and confusing.” I WAS cranky, and it  IS confusing.  Here is what I meant to say: 

Wolfe was my favourite writer for about a year in college, when I was an editor at the college newspaper:  He really opened up my view of nonfiction generally and journalism in particular.  He was very USEFUL to a young writer.  His later essays are often very funny, but they are infected with reverse snobbery, which I loathe a good deal more than regular snobbery. From college on, and especially from grad school on, I’ve run into countless snobs and reverse snobs.  I have always like snobs more:  They think they are better bred than you, and that’s fine with me, even on those occasions when they are clearly wrong.  Reverse snobs decry the whole idea of breeding and so not only renounce but DENY theirs — they become citizens of the working class, etc., or some other “authentic” class.  They are frauds, not to put too fine a point on it.

And here is what I meant when I said that Wolfe now parrots the Republican party:  He employs clichéd expressions like “the Eastern Media elite” to echo reactionary resentments the same way that party does. I don’t know if being a parrot makes you fraudulent, but it does make you mind-numbing.

The post to which my friend was responding:

At one time Tom Wolfe was my favourite writer.  (When I was at Stanford, I used to teach The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.) He lost his charm when he started writing fiction.  He lost everything else when he started parrotting the Republican Party.  It’s not uncommon for writers to get resentful and ossified at the end of their careers, but it always dismays.

Bobbie Louise Hawkins

BobbiHawkins

Bobbie Louise Hawkins called poet Robert Creeley “the most interesting man I ever met.” Their marriage and divorce – “Bob and Bobbie” – were famous among his students at SUNY/Buffalo, where I studied under and befriended Creeley. I was told that Bobbie once tried to run over Bob with a car. I knew Creeley was angry and quarrelsome as a young man, but this scene was still hard to picture.

Ms. Hawkins passed away on May 4. I had been reading about her on that very day (she appears prominently and vividly in Joe Brainard’s “Bolinas Journal,” found in Brainard’s Collected Writings).

From the New York Times obituary:

“When Bob and I were first together, he had three things he would say,” Ms Hawkins said. “One of them was ‘I’ll never live in a house with a woman who writes.’ One of them was ‘Everybody’s wife wants to be a writer.’ And one of them was ‘If you had been going to be a writer, you would have been one by now.’ That pretty much put the cap on it. I was too married, too old and too late, but he was wrong.”

She added: “I think a part of what attracted Bob to me was competences I had within myself, but it was as if once I was within his purview, those competences were only to be used for his needs, in the space where we lived, and not as though they were my own.”

“What I was really fighting for wasn’t the right to be some kind of brilliant writer,” she said. “I was fighting for the right to write badly until it got better.”

It did, once she and Mr. Creeley separated around 1975 and she stopped writing surreptitiously.

I like how the obituary ends:

Ms. Hawkins could bluntly revert to her Texas frontier forthrightness, as she did once when Neal Cassady, the wheelman in the cross-country trips that Jack Kerouac chronicled in “On the Road,” came for a visit and commandeered her car. …

“Get in back, Neal,” she is said to have declared. “It’s my car and you’re a lousy driver.”

Here’s a video of Bobbie reading from one of her memoirs:

HawkinsReading

 

“Educated”

In honour of the start of my summer semester, I present this excellent interview with Tara Westover, whose book “Educated” is the best memoir I have read in a very long time. Westover was raised in a Mormon “survivalist” home and didn’t go to school until she was 17; she ended up receiving a Ph.D. after studying at Cambridge and Harvard; she also became estranged from her parents and some of her siblings. Her story almost overwhelmed me emotionally, particularly those parts in which her teachers became mentors. It reminded me why I live.