Saturday, June 11, 2011

Where Time Goes: Timing The Dancer Upstairs

John Malkovich’s film The Dancer Upstairs presents time as a woman in a flowing red costume.  This cinematic technique brings to postmodern film-making Plato’s definition of time—“A Moving Image of Eternity,” as translated by B. Jowett in Plato Bilingual Anthology (Timaeus, 37c-e).
What better way to highlight a subject, as Ezra Pound also required of art?  Officially, imagism began in the West with Pound’s focus on the image as the very core of art.  Thus, this movie moves its audience with flickering images which wind through cinematic aesthetics, tilting with Pound both west and east.
The dancer in the film’s title, then, becomes a series of photographs  recording on the eye and yet flowing with the dancer’s costume into the next photograph and epoch.  Each reminds us of the last and harkens of the next.  Exquisite artistic structure characterizes this motion-picture.
First, of course, the red in this costume represents blood—the blood of martyrs in causes both worthy and unworthy.  The religious sanctity granted by devotees to hideous acts rings eternal here, applying not only to demonstrations by the Shining Path in Peru but to IEPs in Iraq.
Second, the carnivorous beast of revolution rears its head where we least expect it--both here and next door, probably, too—upstairs, certainly, but, maybe, downstairs as well.  This movie insists that politics survives in the air we innocently breathe—always circulating.
Third, politics and art become as inextricably inter-bound in this film as lovers, always undulating through our fantasies of a better tomorrow or better lover or better neighbor than Peru, with its savage past—as if America’s past or present has been a sedate tale set securely in Iowa.
“A tale of a photographer-cowboy always bringing light into women’s lives”:  This description of a tale within the movie’s plot reveals the fourth level of fire imagery here.  Red signals moving tail-lights, yes, but their flowing appearance in the night raises the image to the level of liquid.
This impression captures the fifth level of imagery present in this movie.  Just as a dancer must connect each movement seamlessly to the next, so lives in Peru and the US function as one ambiguous whole, whether we grasp their unity in the moment, or not.  As if in a hypnotic trance, characters do-si-do. 
Within time, lovers and criminals here sing, dance, and act.  By movement, they define themselves as heroes or lepers.  But Malkovich is one director who leaves no stage empty in the search to find meaning in unpropitious occasions or subjects—like dead dogs dancing from street-lights.
Using photographs from the history of the Shining Path becomes here an entire aesthetic philosophy.  Like the Shining Path itself, the movie’s characters shine on our eyes as reflections of our best and worst selves.  If only the best could divorce the worst, all would be well.   
All is well for film-buffs when we discover one great work.  Here, an audience may find the most seductive of stories.  May it survive on the screen forever, for Nina Simone’s music—wrapping the film like a red silk scarf—deserves celebration in reality, where, maybe, we dwell.
This film’s meditation on time effortlessly opens into endless philosophy. Consider Thomas J McFarlane‘s conclusion on Husserl’s thought in his 1998 publication “The Nature of Time”:

The mystery of time opens up to the mystery of consciousness itself. A mystery that is at once a kind of self-knowledge and identity of knowing with the known.

Time is the most basic and, simultaneously, the slipperiest of subjects.  While delivering his ponderings in an explosive package which creates revolutionary theater, Malkovich shines.  His audience circles with him into poetic truth. 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Nicholas D. Kristof: King of American Fantasies

It shouldn’t take an English professor to identify the fallacy in Kristof’s op-ed piece for The New York Times on June 5, 2011.  And, maybe, it doesn’t, for this paper’s readership is falling faster than a rock from Newton’s head.  What gives this highly educated and Pulitzer prize-winner the chutzpah to commit the forced choice fallacy—of exactly the Love-America-or-Leave-It kind?
His entire essay rests on requiring readers to choose between the outrages of Pakistani politics, or shutting up and supporting Obama’s governance.  Like Walt Disney during World War II, Kristof oversimplifies the conflict which turned naked before the world on the day US Seals shot the world’s iconic leader of terrorism—who just happened to be in a religious retreat at the time.
Kristof’s editorial leads off with this tease:  “Op-Ed Columnist:  Our Fantasy Nation?
If Republicans seek a country with low taxes, little regulation and traditional family values, I have the perfect place for them. Body armor suggested.”
To describe Pakistan in this way—and Pakistan is his chosen polarity to zip past all the choices between the United States of America and Osama Nation East—is an affront to Republicans and even Republican elephants at the Bronx Zoo.  So, why attack the other side of a two-party system, when the best this writer can do is illustrate the deplorable state of American education?
How does a supposed leader of American journalism—with all its outstanding reliability—commit the Either Or Fallacy—and publish his grade D paper in The New York Times, in the Sunday edition, no less?  Maybe he skipped Freshman English, since his rhetorical gifts, early on, proved both slippery—as in slope—and fanciful indeed.
Lest the rest of his readership—however few that might be now—forget, The Prentice Hall Reference Guide, Custom Seventh Edition, defines this abomination of logical argument as “establishing a false either/or situation that does not allow for other possibilities or choices that may exist” (42).
Note also: Kristof’s evidence consists solely of generalities. Thus, he has also committed the first fallacy listed in PHRG: “Hasty Generalization; A conclusion reached with too few examples or with examples that are not representative” (40). Not one specific name or date appears in his delightful outline of a highly complex and conflict-riddled society:

“This society embraces traditional religious values and a conservative sensibility. Nobody minds school prayer, same-sex marriage isn’t imaginable, and criminals are never coddled…. So what is this Republican Eden, this Utopia? Why, it’s Pakistan” (1).
Readers in a democracy enjoy a choice:  They can either read stuff like this—and George Carlin would be the first to call it “stuff”—or they can engage with a complex analysis of a complex subject, as found in AA Khalid’s “Pakistan’s State of Nature,” published May 23, 2011, on Pak Tea House: 
“Questioning needs to be directed at the centres of concentrated power in Pakistan – it is only recently that the clerics have become such a centre after decades of being sponsored by the Army. Pakistan is a hard country where the real dynamic forces are those of manipulation, ruthless power grabbing and cold calculated political consolidation.”
Now, which summary of political realities—Kirstof’s or Khalid’s--will attract readers who understand Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation, as expressed succinctly on the website Sir Isaac Newton:  The Universal Law of Gravitation? 
“Every object in the Universe attracts every other object with a force directed along the line of centers for the two objects that is proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the separation between the two objects” (par. 6).
Or, to put the principle at stake here even more succinctly:  Readers who prefer attacking Republicans to serious cogitation will find Kristof’s editorial light-weight and attractive, if they want to spin in his fanciful orbit.  By contrast, readers who prefer getting down to business in Pakistan will lay down The New York Times after finding this editorial in its heavy-weight pages, and wonder:  Could we spend our cold cash more wisely—in the search for gravity? 

According to The New York Times itself, “In the last year, circulation at The New York Times dropped 5.2 percent on Sunday, to 1.4 million copies, and 8.5 percent on weekdays, to 950,000” (par. 7).  Note to Kristof:  Joseph Plambeck reported those statistics on April 26, 2010, and his article contains NO hilarity.