For Your Consideration is a regular feature published on the first of each month (published on the preceding Saturday if the first is a Sunday) that lists some of my “picks of the month” in reading, music, moving pictures, and something random. These aren’t necessarily new or trendy picks, but they will be things that I hope you will find worth your time!
July, July! It never seemed so strange!
Read This: Nox, by Anne Carson
Nox is presented as both an examination of the issues of reading and translating literature, and a collage piece in memoriam. Engaging with both the memory of her brother and the translation of Catullus 101 (an elegiac poem addressed to Catullus’ own dead brother), Carson’s Nox is a literal, physical representation of the ways in which our personal lives and memories become entwined with our acts of reading, interpretation, and translation. However, this physicality is only an illusion. It is said that Nox is a reproduction of an actual, massive piece of collage art of Carson’s. This book (if it can be called that) therefore imperfectly and mechanically mass reproduces a very personal creation. Its pieces of paper, torn out, glued; the scraps of handwriting; the photographs, are only images, printed from photographs. There is only the impression of physical depth and tactility. This underscores the singularity of the work of art, stressing that the piece occurred once, and never again. We can only access these illusions. This is, of course, the same issue when translating classical literature (how do we translate Catullus without access to the whole context?), or more generally, accessing art. There is a painful reflection here in the photographs, the snippets of prose that tell stories of Carson’s memories of life with and without her brother, and the doodles, sketches, scrawls. Death is a permanent loss, an irretrievability, and all that we have left are apparitions.
This underpins the struggle in Nox: it is an attempt to speak of the unspeakable. It is difficult to speak of Nox itself. In its sprawling (and difficult-to-read) accordion format, there are no pages, or perhaps the pages connect to one another, seeping, bleeding, connecting. Nothing happens in order. Unidentifiable fragments. Words. In this position as an author without total authority, Carson creates both the ghost of a poem and the poem of a ghost.
Listen to This: Lux, by Brian Eno
Brian Eno’s Lux is so unimposing that it seems perfectly suited to serve as background music. Perhaps it is just that, music for work, bedtime, dinnertime, relaxation, or meditation. However, it is also possible to wonder if that’s selling the album short. Originally created for an art installation, Lux is a somewhat different proposition by itself. It seems to refer to nothing in particular, nowhere in particular. While it evokes a sense of place, it also remains as nondescriptive as it can. Eno’s mastery of ambient music is plain to see here, with sounds falling perfectly into place, avoiding over-emphasis and overuse. One coasts along with the music as it paints its picture using a variety of strings and synthesiser sounds, each moment sounding just subtly different from the ones before and after it. Questions arise: How do we differentiate one piece of music from another? How much information is necessary? For that matter, how do we differentiate one place or space from another? one event from the next? Does a place remain the same over time (or is it simply a space)? If it does not, then doesn’t the idea of places overlap heavily with that of events? To me, the album serves as an entry point into reflections of these ideas (music, place, space, event). Lux doesn’t make demands of its listeners, but in its painterly evocations, its relinquishing of emotional control, and its portrayal of the subtle, even gentle shifts of light, invites its listeners to make demands of it.
Watch This: Jiro Dreams of Sushi, directed by David Gelb
In Jiro Dreams of Sushi, David Gelb presents a story about Sukiyabashi Jiro and its owner, the sushi master Jiro Ono. The film succeeds in its attempt to portray the art, the beauty of sushi, but also the pressures (environmental changes, the issue of succession) that cast shadows over the restaurant. Yet its greatest achievement may be in the use of the metaphor of the theatre in its understanding of sushi and food in general. Sushi, after all, like many performances, depends on the mastery of numerous acts of repetition, several of which are rendered in slow-motion in Jiro Dreams of Sushi. (The Philip Glass-heavy soundtrack only emphasises this fact.) When Jiro recognises that the majority of the work is completed in the kitchen by his eldest son and the apprentices, I cannot help but think of all the hustle and bustle backstage, all in service of the actual show. And when Jiro finally begins the dinner service, it is easy to map the theatrical relationship between spectacle and spectator onto him and the diners.
There is little question that sushi is a performance. As recognised in the film, part of the skill and importance of the sushi chef is reflected in the pursuit of the perfect moment. The dinner course that Jiro designs is described as a concerto, and it is also said that there are dynamics in the way sushi is served. Jiro tailors the size of the sushi to the diner’s gender, so as not to affect the pace of the meal. There is an understanding that sushi (and food in general as well) unfolds in time, so much so that when the film later concentrates on the likelihood of Jiro’s eldest son Yoshikazu eventually taking on the nigh-impossible challenge of succeeding his father, it serves also to emphasise the ephemeral quality of food and food culture.
Bonus of the Month: The Don Hertzfeldt pictures
Years ago, before I had my first class in university, when YouTube was still in its early days, I encountered Don Hertzfeldt’s Rejected. I forget the actual context of it. I doubt someone linked me there. Perhaps it was an article. Perhaps it was a comment on an article. Whatever it was, it gave rise to a fascination with the work of Hertzfeldt and animation in general. Today, I look back at it and realise that Rejected left such an impression because it crossed so many boundaries, especially for someone who had at that time been weaned on Chuck Jones, Disney, Saturday morning cartoons, and a small assortment of anime. Its juxtaposition of the Family Learning Channel with the topic of commercialisation and its metafilmic concerns. It was sometimes absurd, sometimes surreal, sometimes gory, and even possibly scatological. And it also crossed the one boundary that I would find myself crossing over and over years later, with its self-aware, fourth wall-piercing design. Don Hertzfeldt has built up an impressive filmography since. On the other hand, I’ve also since developed something in the way of critical faculties and an interest in animation that only grows with time, but it began there, with those simple lines and those crazy lines, with the possibilities afforded by simplest of audio and visual components, and with a banana and a spoon that was just too big.