The Week in Consumption, 11.30

missed last week due to thanksgiving shenanigans!

Each week, Luke takes a look back at all he’s seen and heard. The Week in Consumption is a record of his thoughts, worries, and reflections about these objects, caught in amber. Perhaps in some future time, scientists will be able to clone Luke based on the material.

Chronic City Jonathan Lethem’s most recent novel. Fuller thoughts here. Lethem’s writing about the connection between pop culture obsession and engagement with the world. See also his most acclaimed novel The Fortress of Solitude, and The Disappointment Artist, a slim collection of essays. For me, this was his most moving articulation of the idea that popular culture can unmask reality better than anything else. Michiko Kakutani fans should note that the the plot is slippery, the characters thin, and so on.

Fantastic Mr. Fox Yesterday I fleshed out how this new film treads on familiar ground for Wes Anderson films and family movies. Yet it trumps them both with a sober, somewhat harrowing assessment of how individuals can best contribute to communities. In the months leading up to its release, the animators complained about Wes Anderson’s idiosyncratic work methods and inflexible decision-making. My first impression is that WA was right to be so stubborn. The real fur, to name one example, looks marvelous. The plot does lose its momentum in the final third; readers might end up in an aesthetic coma.

Blindsided: Why the Left Tackle is Overrated and Other Contrarian Football Thoughts This thin little volume, by KC Joyner, applies Bill James-ian statistical analysis to the NFL’s big questions. How likely is it that another team will go undefeated? How important is a star running back to team success? I’m unconvinced by his findings, because he approaches football as if it actually were baseball, making no real effort to account for all the extra variables the gridiron provides. The title essay is especially unconvincing. Joyner feels the left tackle is overrated because its numbers are no better than any other line position when you compare sacks allowed and running yards gained. He doesn’t account for 1) scarcity of great left tackles, 2) the fact the a left tackle is more likely to face the best defensive lineman, or 3) the ways that having superior players elsewhere in the lineup creates vulnerabilities elsewhere on the field. I really would have appreciated a chapter outlining and justifying his statistical methodology.

By contrast, I found his chapter on coaching style compelling. There, Joyner borrows from Dungeons and Dragons instead of Bill James, developing coaching alignments along two axes: personnel/scheme and athletic/hitter. This was totally useful on thanksgiving day, as it was easy to apply to the coaches of the six teams, and yielded insight about why they operate the way they do.

How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read Pierre Bayard’s supremely witty book about dealing with deficits in cultural capital. Translated by Jeffrey Mehlman. Bayard sits at the crossroads between sociology and psychoanalysis in order to lay out the different situations in which your knowledge of a book is called into question, and the different ways one might be ignorant of a book’s real content. Although Bayard feels that shame is inevitable, people must learn to be more comfortable with inadequate knowledge. When we’re busy trying to be faithful to a text and glean a deep understanding of it, we’re stifling our own creative impulses. For example, I finished this book three days ago, and I’m not certain that I’m summarizing it correctly. It’s already a Forgotten Book. But I’m exercising my creativity by manufacturing a new book in my mind, bearing the same name as Bayard’s, and by telling you about it.

So it’s a strange kind of self-help book, with lots of entertaining content. And it’s very easy to read! Bayard is like a cat with a ball of yarn, but he never gets tangled. I’ve got some questions about how its lessons may translate outside of literary situations. Bayard conjures up a litany of different social situations in which we’re asked to display our literary knowledge. These are almost all casual. What if we raised the stakes a little bit? Do Bayard’s insights apply outside of literature? What if we forget what we learned from, say, statistics? What if we forget crucial organizational rules? What if we follow philosophical dictates without recalling the chain of logic that led us to them?

Alice Bear with me; I feel like I only have banal things to say about Jan Svankmajer’s adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. The film itself is anything but banal. It recreates the story with unusual faithfulness. Stop-motion is a wonderful tool as it seems to recreate my sense of toys as a child. I love the conceit of using the same room over and over again, decorated differently, to represent different parts of the story. That also rings true to my experience. Svankmajer’s puppets are constantly losing their insides, getting their heads chopped off, and losing power. This world is fragile.

Nanook of the North Robert Flaherty’s documentary is one of the most revered of all time, and a great “teachable text’ about Western representations of racial Others. But our present-day knowledge of Flaherty’s many fictional touches doesn’t hurt the film much at all, entertainment-wise. If it were labeled a fiction film, it would still be a classic. The nature photography captured something utterly foreign. In one scene, Nanook quickly builds an igloo and adds a window made of ice. It’s jawdropping. Later on, Nanook & Co. hunt Walruses! I can safely say I’ve never seen that before.

In the Realm of the Senses Oshima Nagisa’s most famous look at how sex, death, politics, and isolation intertwine. Wikipedia tells me that the film is still banned in Japan, which I find really surprising. Hideo Ito’s lush photography elevates this version of the Sada Abe affair to another plane–everything seems so warm and florid. In 1930s Japan, a servant woman (and former prostitute) begins an affair with her boss after he molests her. Their compulsive, affectionate lovemaking leads them to spurn any semblance of normal life, stirs incredible possessiveness, and culminates in experiments with asphyxiation. Frankly, all their lovemaking gets a little repetitive, but Nagisa sets up some powerful tableaux and inventively renders the human form on screen.


1 Response to “The Week in Consumption, 11.30”

  1. 1 Matt Thomas November 30, 2009 at 3:31 pm

    How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read is one of my favorite books of the last few years. So good. As is Nanook of the North. Love the scene where Nanook pulls up in his canoe and people just keep popping out!

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