Monday, October 15, 2007

It is not at all times that one can gain admittance into this edifice,

although most persons enter it at some period or other of their lives—if not in their waking moments, then by the universal passport of a dream. (Hawthorne, “The Hall of Fantasy”)



A kiosk in the center of a plaza in the zone of post-war Vienna under British control conceals a stone spiral staircase that descends into the sewers that connect the city’s five occupation zones, and it is into this network that Harry Lime, the villain of Carol Reed’s The Third Man, escapes. The channels and pools and waterfalls of the sewers, the round, brick tunnels through which the detectives splash, make up a dreamwork of fantasy chambers like the dark cellars of recurring dreams in which the compartments are reordered like the chutes of a marble run or the 2-D culverts of a video game, dragged from a set of subterranean architectural elements represented in a box in the corner and placed end to end to build the pipeline through which your agent crosses the screen, or like the basements of old New England houses, whose dirt floors and crumbling walls’ recesses and staircases’ secret cabinets gave sensible content to what you, as a 5th grader, might have imagined the Underground Railroad to be. The space where spaces connect is visited often in the movies; the sewers in the Zone in Stalker, the subways of Dark City and The French Connection, the casinos and hotels of Dr. Mabuse the Gambler, the courtyard in Rear Window, and, more recently, the hallways in Inland Empire and the Turkish bathhouse in Eastern Promises are renderings of this original space, cinematic arguments that the forms of our deep and basic orientation in space are architectural, and more narrative than geometrical in their arrangement. There’s a nifty sequence in Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou that takes you through a cut-away mock-up of Zissou’s ship, where the rooms are laid out with the cartoon clarity of a cross-section from a Richard Scarry picture book, flat like an antfarm window, and here space is neat and cute like Ed Norton's IKEA catalog apartment in Fight Club, organized according to the demands of a stunted, solipcistic aesthethism that dignifies as perfectionism a desperate and autistic adherence to the safe success of kitsch, the sort of success whose failure The Life Aquatic powerfully critiques and then less powerfully redeems, and this cutaway view is recalled and amplified and made transcendent in a sequence at the end of The Darjeeling Limited, maybe the only fantastical part of the movie, where we see into a succession of train cars as the train passes—and am I correct in remembering that the camera shows them to be not just chained together but joined at right angles?—each a perfectly composed tableau with one of the characters we’ve met or heard about, who, though in some cases continents apart, are linked for a moment in the space of moving pictures.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Notecard found on sidewalk 10/13

Went to barnes and noble
Spent the weekend at my Grandpa's and Grandma's house built fort in woods

To my surprise learned that I was in adv. reading decided to join Bluestars had great time sharing poetry with 2nd Graders

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

D & D

1. Dungeons and dungeons
The first thing you are told when you are initiated into the world of Dungeons and Dragons is that the kind of dungeon in question is not just a secret dark and drippy castle cellar with an iron grate in the ceiling and manacles attached to rings in the wall, but an underground maze extending in every dimension, with all manner of chutes and shafts and arras-concealed spiral staircases, keeps and caches, catacombs, crypts, and mausoleums, sacrificial theaters and mossy temple ruins with winged columns, censers, flames of worship, and smashed mosaics, throne rooms with chessboard floors of life and death, magic mirrors, springs and wells, reservoirs and rivers and sluice gates and spillways, catwalks and canals and bridges behind waterfalls, an infinitely productive inner space organized in the sort of rooms that Piranesi or Coleridge or de Quincey might have known in dreams, sketched on on graph paper by the Dungeonmaster, the game's host or narrator, who is separated from the players by a sort of Trapper Keeper folder fort that conceals whatever dungeon he has drawn, with little symbols indicating false walls, ladders up or down, a bloody trough or plinth or dais with a chest of gold or plate.

2. Dragons and dragons
Carl Sagan:
The pervasiveness of dragon myths in the folk legends of many cultures is probably no accident. The implacable mutual hostility between man and dragon, as exemplified in the myth of St. George, is strongest in the West. But it is not a Western anomaly. It is a worldwide phenomenon. Is it only an accident that the common human sounds commanding silence or attracting attention seem strangely imitative of the hissing of reptiles? Is it possible that dragons posed a problem for our protohuman ancestors of a few million years ago, and that the terror they evoked and the deaths they caused helped bring about the evolution of human intelligence? Or does the metaphor of the serpent refer to the use of the aggressive and ritualistic reptilian component of our brain in the further evolution of the neocortex? With one exception, the Genesis account of the temptation by a reptile in Eden is the only instance in the Bible of humans understanding the language of animals. When we feared the dragons, were we fearing a part of ourselves? One way or another, there were dragons in Eden. (The Dragons of Eden, 149-50)

Monday, October 08, 2007


A man who was coming down the steps from the balcony as I was going up whispered to me that the movie had started fifteen minutes early, and though I instantly composed the letter of complaint I would write to the Cinema at the Whitney, whose Fall 2007 calendar is a sort of a life-map for me, an atlas of my routes through space and time, I felt fortunate to be walking into a screening of Contempt fifteen minutes late, with the movie standing against me as an event indifferent to my will, a flow of picture-stuff already under way, a stream in a channel whose true dimensions of reference and resonance I was lucky to actually see as beginningless, and my favorite seat was still free, a lone desk chair directly below the projection booth, in the center of the catwalk between the two wings of the balcony, where, if you lean forward and peer over the banister, carefully, so as not to eclipse the projector’s rays and enter the film as a silhouette, you can see the whole sweep of the seats below, all the heads facing the the screen, framed in a series of oaken proscenium arches receding to the stage, your comrades in luxurious imaginative privacy, even solipsism.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Ned placed the paper in the hand of the marble figure

A genre is a mode of storytelling in which objects belonging to a certain set are the primary carriers of the narrative. All the titles of Carolyn Keene’s Nancy Drew Mystery Stories posit two objects, a thing and its secret. The thing sort of summarizes or is the face of the secret, in the same way that a house seen from the sidewalk at night, the composition of shadow and shrubbery and light in the windows, can seem to summarize or be the face of something scary about October, and one imagines that in the order of the story’s action the thing effects a transport into mystery before any particular mystery is announced, that it suggests or causes magical thinking or perceptual disorientation or flights of imagination into necrotic inner tableaux before any particular crime or wrongdoing takes place, that the object is a sign before it is a signature. Almost all the books' titles conform to the narrative formula I suggest, in their logic if not in their manifest grammar, but you may perform your own detective-work:
The Secret of the Old Clock, The Hidden Staircase, The Bungalow Mystery, The Mystery at Lilac Inn, The Secret at Shadow Ranch, The Secret of Red Gate Farm, The Clue in the Diary, Nancy's Mysterious Letter, The Sign of the Twisted Candles, The Password to Larkspur Lane, The Clue of the Broken Locket, The Message in the Hollow Oak, The Mystery of the Ivory Charm, The Whispering Statue,The Haunted Bridge, The Clue of the Tapping Heels, The Mystery of the Brass-Bound Trunk, The Mystery at the Moss-Covered Mansion, The Quest of the Missing Map, The Clue in the Jewel Box, The Secret in the Old Attic, The Clue in the Crumbling Wall, The Mystery of the Tolling Bell, The Clue in the Old Album, The Ghost of Blackwood Hall, The Clue of the Leaning Chimney, The Secret of the Wooden Lady, The Clue of the Black Keys, The Mystery at the Ski Jump, The Clue of the Velvet Mask, The Ringmaster's Secret, The Scarlet Slipper Mystery, The Witch Tree Symbol, The Hidden Window Mystery, The Haunted Showboat, The Secret of the Golden Pavilion, The Clue in the Old Stagecoach, The Mystery of the Fire Dragon, The Clue of the Dancing Puppet, The Moonstone Castle Mystery, The Clue of the Whistling Bagpipes, The Phantom of Pine Hill, The Mystery of the 99 Steps, The Clue in the Crossword Cipher, The Spider Sapphire Mystery, The Invisible Intruder, The Mysterious Mannequin, The Crooked Banister, The Secret of Mirror Bay, The Double Jinx Mystery, The Mystery of the Glowing Eye, The Secret of the Forgotten City, The Sky Phantom, The Strange Message in the Parchment, The Mystery of Crocodile Island, The Thirteenth Pearl

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Privileging the optical

Tonight was viewing night at the Leitner Observatory, a fact I remembered around the time the viewing began, deep enough into a night in early October to see some stars in the city, and I gathered my things quickly and left, taking those streets that offered the most privacy for writing. When I arrived at the observatory, a flat, white building with a couple of silver domes open to the sky, the whole thing perched atop a hill in a park bordered at the bottom by university greenhouses and gardens, the graduate assistant who hosted the event and ran the telescope was telling some visitors that she had seen Hale-Bopp but not Halley’s Comet, the fizzle at the end of the space race whose star-trail burned most brightly in the cosmological imagination of American children who had absorbed space movies and PBS children’s science and science fiction as life-stuff during the years of Carter and Reagan, whose primary sense of wonder emerged or sort of opened out of a set of ways of framing backyard star views, and whose whole aesthetic/narrative vision of stars and space lost its plausibility and appeal not with the slow non-event of the comet’s failure to show up to the naked eye but with the daytime explosion of the Challenger on January 28, 1986, after which the curved and graphically simple letters of NASA could only signify something in the past. The telescope was aimed at Albireo, a double star in the constellation of Cygnus, a yellow star above a blue one, and I looked at it twice, once just looking and then more analytically and greedily after bolting back up the ladder to the eye-piece to confirm a vision that had become improbable in memory and would never, after the telescope was rotated, be available again. The Ring Nebula was next, and the rectangular opening in the dome shifted slowly around to reveal to a different slice of the night sky. The assistant said that the best way to view the nebula, the “leftover outer envelopes of a dead star,” was indirectly, by looking to the side and letting the thing appear gradually in the corner of one’s eye, a little knotted circle of light at the center of a sort of radiating tunnel or halo you could only ever seem to see, and to make it easier to see she put out the lights in the dome and threw a cloth over the computer screen. Last was globular cluster M15, a patch of the Milky Way dense enough to be considered a single object, thousands of “stars born together, suns as bright as ours, and bound to each other by gravity.” I asked the assistant a couple questions about the observatory to learn by what sorts of steps it mediated our experiences of these distant objects. The computerized star chart that controlled the position of the telescope was not fed by any real-time monitor of celestial objects but was just a list of what was visible when and from where, a summary of calculations astronomers did long ago on paper and that would be reliable for hundreds of years; the image in the view-finder was not an electronic or digital reconstruction, but, at the end of a series of lenses, a composition in natural light.

Monday, October 01, 2007

The same flitting witchcraft made a new one

I was just looking through The House of Seven Gables to see whether I was right in remembering that Hawthorne used the word phantasmagoria, and to see in what sense he might have used it, and I came across a mini-index I kept the summer I read the book. Its entries read: magic picture; looking-glass; illuminated map; sampler; New England Primer; tea set; well view; organ grinder’s organ; soap bubbles; seven-mile panorama. I had guessed what might be on my mind three years hence, and the page number I had marked well view returned me to this passage:
He had a singular propensity, for example, to hang over Maule's Well, and look at the constantly shifting phantasmagoria of figures produced by the agitation of the water over the mosaic-work of colored pebbles, at the bottom. He said that faces looked upward to him there—beautiful faces, arrayed in bewitching smiles—each momentary face so fair and rosy, and every smile so sunny, that he felt wronged at its departure, until the same flitting witchcraft made a new one.

At the movies