blasphemous charms

in our age, men in erring are transformers of themselves

Top 10 Most Ridiculous Things To Ever Happen On The Borgias (And They’re All From The Latter Half Of Its Third Season!)

What the fuck is even happening on The Borgias right now. Read the rest of this entry »

Deadwood: Drinking Dame’s Edition

Having watched HBO’s Deadwood to the point of time singularity—am watching Deadwood, have watched Deadwood, will be watching Deadwood—with Maddi (resident and residential partner in Westerns and boozecrime), I am starting to sense its effect on our lives. It’s done the obligatory wear and tear on my cocksuckin’ loquacity, and I blame it, tacitly, for the $60 bottle of bourbon that’s now resting thronelike on top of our fridge. Which is going to get used. I mean, we could just drink it, but what fun would that be? No: we are two girls with a feel for booze and a date with Deadwood and an all-consuming speaking memory of the show, and we can do one better. And seeing as it’s a good show for community and drinks, without further ado, I’d like to invite you into A VERY DEADWOOD COCKTAIL CABINET: cobbled together by two girls with one liquor cabinet and one thoroughly-worn DVD set, it serves as a primer to everyone you need to know.


  • ALMA GARRET – Widow Jane bourbon, Firefly sweet tea vodka, St. Germain, French berry lemonade. Fruity, girly, delicious, the kind of drink that calls for a pretty glass, the kind of drink that will leave you legless if you drink it too quick and don’t think about what you’re doing. In accordance with how yours-truly watches the show, I definitely put the most thought into this one. (Bury me shouting about the way Molly Parker delivers monologues in that sinuous whisper of hers. I mean, I do that fully sober.)
  • TRIXIE – Cranberry juice, Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey, heavyhanded slug of cranberry vodka. Tart and harsh enough to cut through that sweet, never you mind that you can taste the sweet all the same.
  • JOANIE STUBBS – French lemonade (limonade, the fizzy stuff) and Tennessee Honey. We may make these forever. They are softly Southern-sweet and have a weird lovely refinement for all their low-maintenance making; basically, the martini-glassed equivalent of those dainty gold boots she wears.
  • CALAMITY JANE – Pick up bottle of Widow Jane. Put mouth to neck of bottle of Widow Jane. Glug. Read the rest of this entry »

“That’s the place where I trace my bloodline” | Review: Justified, season 1

Near as long as I’ve been running this blog, I’ve been wanting to do reviews of all kinds. That’s been hit or miss—like, one hit, I know, I know, but this January, if I’d had the internet and been making resolutions (I never make resolutions, I’m crippled by my own latent perfection on that count, alas!) I would’ve made a post resolving in the public eye to get my shit together and DO THIS THING. Well, no time like the present: this week I’ve started rewatching (with Maddi, my star of a roommate, meaning rewatching intelligently, with a side order of never shutting up about) the finest show currently airing on American TV, which is not Breaking Bad or Mad Men or any of HBO’s current disasters but is in fact FX’s Elmore Leonard adaptation, the definition of “bigger than its source” and weirdly neglected in spite of its consistent triumphant expectation-defeat, Justified. Maybe you’ve seen the posters, for the one week in winter where they’re all over New York. Timothy Olyphant’s face is on them, under the rim of a ten-gallon hat. It doesn’t look like a televisual miracle, but it takes a baseball bat to your expectations from pretty much the start of things: I didn’t come to it loving Westerns or cop shows and I came out swooning, hard, with a taste like bourbon and scripture ghosting around in my mouth.

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A Renaissance hysteric takes the Internet

Excerpt from my medieval & Renaissance studies seminar notes today:

Fra Angelico

Fra Angelico—for context—one of the better medieval religious artists, was said to have been unable to pick up a paintbrush without shedding tears. Calm down, Fra Angelico, I wrote him through the ether. I imagine that makes your job a bit difficult, as you are a painter.

Only we were spending a class on artists and Pygmalions of assorted calibers, and after a long litany of artists and observers struck dumb with revelation, knocked flat with beauty, spun into tornados of tears, arousal, or tearful arousal, Fra Angelico’s sort of the natural capper. Pretty much everyone in the Renaissance who’s writing about art cries at least once—the just-once is a rarity.

We were talking about art as the face of God, sure, but the historical-hysterical affective response to art is bigger than divinity. Or maybe nothing’s bigger than divinity,  but the tornado of Looking At Art broadens the umbrella of divinity, makes every emotion as big as God, all kinds of profanes turned sacred. Pygmalion wasn’t thinking about the goddess when he looked at his stone, after all; he was thinking about the women. We talked about audiences wanting to press their hand to oil, to marble, sure for a minute that they’d brush flesh, walking away with astonishing insatiable hungers for figment women and beautiful stone ideal boys. But mostly they wept, they shook, they knelt and bowed their heads and gave themselves over to the indignity of loving art to the point of abjection. We have diaries over the ages of people racked with agony and ecstasy in the name of art—not only of making it but of looking at it. Everyone’s a little Pygmalion at least once: that dude started by looking. Everyone’s a little Pygmalion, no matter what the emotion guiding them.

The class discussion was, in large part: Really? You start to wonder about the truth of these accounts after you get to maybe the fifth diary of collapse. Can they all have been crying like that? Maybe, maybe not, but you have to give the tears some credulity. They track us all the way up to the Victorian age: these weepy, adoring diarists certainly can’t all have been lying.

So the discussion gets to psychological discrepancies. The historical mind, we are taught, responded differently. Not from biology, but from conditioning. Different world, different place for art in the world. The ghost in the room: the idea that knowledge, perhaps, hems us in, that we don’t cry because the magic’s gone, that Pygmalion’s under too much scrutiny to feel the flesh under his stone.

I hate that ghost. I bit my lip and found I’d skipped the really? altogether. I spend time on the internet, y’see. (Says the blogger. We know, we know.)

I spend time on the internet, where I see the words “shaking”, “sobbing”, “screaming”, and assorted other emotional sibilants thrown around on the daily. Our record, when it comes to Looking At Art, is not going to be altogether different from the revelators that came before us—the emotional vocabulary of online reaction is all powerful emotional hyperbole. Hyperbole, yes: it’s taken for granted that not every typist is, in fact, shaking, sobbing, or screaming. We all spend too much time on our laptop in public for that. It doesn’t matter if maybe some of the diarists lied. We’re still doing the same thing.

It doesn’t matter that it’s hyperbole, that your lips are closed as you type your howls, that your face is smooth at the café when you type your crisis into being. You get good news, bad news, media news, and something in you throws your soul’s hands to the sky. In your head, still as you are, you see a version of yourself that’s flung itself bodily to the floor, Pentecostal with emotion over a favorite show, a new book, a good movie. There’s something inside you that’s screaming, capable of ecstatic overwhelm even in silence. The internet’s for hysterics, and the catalogue of them makes them sincere.

Perhaps I give everyone too much credit, or too little for their control—I know overreact, that at least once when typing “shaking” my hands have in fact shook the keyboard, that I have in my personal ridiculous overaffective manic artloving obsessive tactile thoughtless youth thrown my body to the ground more than once and probably more than five times and probably will grow out of this and probably have not done it for the last time, walked once full-body into a plate-glass wall in an agony/ecstasy fugue thinking about Battlestar Galactica, bit down hard on a fistful of knuckles and clutched hair at the last Borgias trailer because I was in a café and couldn’t make a sound out loud. But I can’t shake the sense that even those who have better control and far better physical deadpans than I do are still tapped into something cosmically earthshaking. We—the big We, not just art-lovers, not just people at their keyboards, the big fuck-the-caveats We of humanity through the ages—are capable of caring so deeply about unreal things that it racks us to the bone. It doesn’t matter that the words are exaggeration. Some piece of us is always shaking. Some piece of us will always be shaking. Someday this will be our record, and it will be true.

(The fact that it’s been a month, by the way, is not altogether to do with irresponsible blogging habits and more to do with the fact that my new place is—to this day, over a month after moving in—getting methodically dicked around by the wifi guys. Living a Santigold song is not all it’s cracked up to be.)

Reinventing love, fiction edition, feat. robots

PostChristmas this year mostly reminds me of postChristmas last year, when I gave Battlestar Galactica my heart. (And the very next couple-of-months, it gave it away. (Seriously, that finale’s just as bad as everyone says.) But then I got it back!)

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Another pagan at the Vatican

To the woman who was praying at the David back when I last visited the Accademia: I understand. A month or so later, I understand.

Not that I didn’t understand then, when I was talking around the magnitude of him and thinking, this, this is something you can’t reproduce (not on postcards and not in the Piazza della Signioria’s clumsy duplicate). When I was staring up at him at that just-right angle where his head looks normal, because you’re looking at him right under the jaw and he’s meant to be adored at that angle. When I took stock of his huge hands and the marble hollow of his sternum, when I walked around the plinth and caught his furious marble eye. There are two kinds of famous artworks: the kinds that are capturable in reproduction, and those that aren’t. The kind you see in person after seeing the pictures and go yep, or go Oh. The Mona Lisa is capturable. Klimt, huge and golden, isn’t. The David is impossible. Worth any kind of overwhelm, and what’s prayer if not a kind of catalyzed overwhelm? Lady, I didn’t begrudge you then.

And I understand now. Viscerally. Have made the skip from sympathy to empathy, as it were.

I just got back from Rome—I just got back from the Borgia Apartments.

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Review (Movie): “Skyfall”

I had fairly high expectations for the newest Bond film going in. They were met, exceeded, and surprised. What I didn’t expect: to find it one of the most loving movies of the season, within the bounds of its own perverse brand of love. Skyfall is a reinvention—perhaps the apex of the new Bond films in terms of where reinvention and franchise meet—and it is many different love letters to the franchise it is reinventing. Read the rest of this entry »

All the readers I’ve been, all the readers I’ll be

Sarah McCarry has written a book. She released the cover a few weeks ago. It’s beautiful. On it, Elizabeth Hand compares her to Francesca Lia Block and Neil Gaiman. It was at that point—reading the blurb on that beautiful book—that I started laughing, big and bright and crazy and fortunately alone with my computer.

Sarah McCarry, if you don’t know, is a writer, an essayist, a blogger, whatever you will. She puts words together. She wrote this. A good friend of mine sent me that this summer and I read it and put my hand on my stomach and felt it hollow me out. I sent that friend a day’s worth of frantic messages, selfhood in crisis—because I was there in that piece, because that was me in that piece, because I had the rewritten-in-the-marrow sense of being constructed from without by someone who’d never met me.

(Sarah McCarry is maybe not at all like me. She is cooler, and wiser, and slightly less tightly wound. But she won a little piece of my marrow, on that day, in that essay, forever.)

Sarah McCarry is twenty-eight, which is young. I am twenty, which is younger. You’ve got time, my friend told me, and I breathed. You’ve got time to accrue your own audience, I promised myself. Someday the writer recounting the intricacies of you is going to be—yes—you. You have time. Take comfort that this is what the other side looks like.

But that’s what it is to be a reader: it is to unconsciously look for yourself in every piece of literature you find, to rediscover yourself as written by strangers and shatter with self-discovery again and again. It doesn’t happen on purpose. You fall into it—you collide with a different version of you each time. Read the rest of this entry »

The desperate quest to make Lena Dunham relevant

I am bitter about being the target audience for Girls (NYU-educated WASP, with that dishwater-blonde hipster pageboy and everything), generally because I think I deserve a better show. I watched Girls because of target-audience consciousness and found it to be like trudging through oatmeal: I watched the pilot on a plane and kept poking my mother in the ribs while she tried to sleep. “Mom, this show is so DULL. Mom, this show is getting so much press and it’s A TOOTHLESS SEA OF BEIGE. MOOOOOM, okay, no wait, she’s having terrible sex, go back to sleep for a while. God, I wish could sleep on planes.”

My point about being the target audience, though: I’ve followed the coverage of the show, pissily. I’ve glared at the posters in the subway station back when all that was being shown in the media was blanket adoration, thinking you say you are For Me and instead you are a pile of toenails. I’ve subsequently tracked the racial representation debate. (My god, Lena! Do you know how hard it is to keep a group of friends that lily-white in the city? It’s fucking difficult to keep your life homogeneous, babe: you have to actively work at it.) And now I’m following the third layer of response now: the “backlash to the backlash”.

Today we’ve got this Huffington Post article about HuffPo Women’s high-hatted refusal to “participate in the backlash against Lena Dunham”, which, gosh, isn’t it a bit shit that “actually critical media criticism” automatically amounts to a “backlash” (such success-story Fuck The Haters vocabulary bait to start out with)? The article goes on to laud Dunham as feminist figure and hero, and I started bleeding internally by point two: “She’s not paralyzed by her own ambition.” Thank you, HuffPo! Thank you for letting me know that all the women who haven’t achieved media representation like our Lena weren’t actually wronged or marginalized. They were just paralyzed. Too scared to go after the things they wanted. You know how stressful it is, being a woman that wants things. Leaves most dames quaking in their boots. Thank goodness we’ve got a model of fearlessness for the first time in the entire history of media, amiright.

Hardly. Girls wouldn’t exist without a litany of predecessors. (On the plane, I literally watched the pilot back to back with an episode of Sex & the City and tried not to laugh out loud. Sad fact: SATC comes off better TV, even as irrevocably dated as it is. At least their wardrobes have color.) Pretending it’s doing a single thing new and noteworthy is in fact what’s made the media surrounding it so toxic.

Girls is a mediocre show that wouldn’t be getting as much press as it’s been getting if Dunham wasn’t so young and so self-aggrandizing. (If you have to literally write in your first episode I’m the voice of my generation, like a viewer FYI, I DO NOT THINK THAT YOU ARE.) That’s it, in terms of show qua show. Girls is harmless—in a vacuum. When I was watching Girls, I wasn’t thinking “this is whiter than most of TV” or “these girls are antifeminist” or “these girls are feminist” or anything particularly political at all. I was thinking “this is like watching pieces of toast model the Urban Outfitters catalogue and I wish it would stop.” It’s not a good show, but it’s simply not enough to merit extreme reactions one way or the other. (Is this the part where I admit to watching multiple episodes on Youtube, badly subtitled in French? I did! I wanted to yell on the internet in an informed manner, and a small wicked doubting part of me was going: what if you LIKE it? I didn’t. I also didn’t hate it. Watching it was like trying to eat when you have a cold, when everything tastes a little like mucus and a little like sand and mostly like nothing at all. You come away thinking nothing so much as but, why.) The harm is generated from without. Because Girls doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Nothing does.

The problem starts with Dunham herself, and the writing staff. I don’t feel the need to elaborate on Lena Dunham’s propensity toward making an ass out of herself when she’s managed to do it consistently in every one of her interviews ever since people started saying “hey honey, I don’t see my generation in your claim”—Google any of them. I don’t really need to go into why Girls writer Lesley Arfin calling her shit “Obama in the white house” is not just foul but also pretty indicative of why a good chunk of thinking media consumers have stopped wanting to be generationally represented by these white girls. Trust me, you can find examples of the Girls girls’ privileged assery all over: they all have twitters, knock yourself out.

What I want to talk about is the rallying cry behind Lena Dunham. The HuffPo Women’s self-satisfied presentation of being above the Just-Jealous Lena-Hating Rabble. The Caitlin “How To Be A Woman” Moran interview followed up by Moran’s “I don’t give a shit”s to the racial question. The uprising of privileged, fiercely self-declared feminists to back up their girl—that’s the thing that’s toxic, most of all. The language you get out of that: how should one be a woman, then, Moran? A: Dunham or GTFO.

Huffington Post, in praising Lena Dunham, indicts pretty much every woman that isn’t Lena Dunham. The article’s very much not alone: Girls-defensive media has responded to accusations of erasure by erasing its accusers outright from the realm of feminism. HuffPo’s smug we-understand shoulderpatting—”there are plenty of complicated external reasons we don’t always fight to see our ideas realized,” they write ever-so-kindly, “but when a young woman does, that is something to celebrate”—manages to neatly block out a good swath of history as well as most of the present. Saying Lena Dunham’s broken a glass ceiling that Mary Tyler Moore was tap-dancing on half a century ago is unbelievably disingenuous; saying that everyone who doesn’t have a show (including, one presumes, all the upset underrepresenteds complaining about Dunham’s generational masterwork) simply didn’t want it enough is borderline Reaganesque. Trickle-down self-esteem economics: Dunham’s access to the top is supposed to be good enough for everyone below.

Because, look at the Dunham model and tell me she’s not working from the top. White, well-to-do, parental background in the arts, friends with parental backgrounds in the arts. (This hilariously disingenuous article argues that it doesn’t count as “nepotism” because all her fame-scion castmates were her friends first, like, fuck you, are YOU friends with David Mamet’s daughter?) The party line here is “women supporting women”, but how many women fit this bill? Tell me again about the hurdles Dunham had to jump over. Tell me again, again.

We do need more women in the media, more women writing about women for women. There is a huge amount of ground waiting to be broken in the industry, and a horrifying number of chauvinistic infrastructures that make that difficult. (Hiya.) Dunham is in the absolute least challenging position to enter the industry, however, and using her as a model either of accessibility or of trailblazing has led to a line of rhetoric that diminishes everyone else out there. She “did the most with the most”, HuffPo says as a kind of virtue. All right. Where does that leave the rest of the world? She can’t be the platonic female media ideal she’s being lauded as without leaving everyone else overtly out on their ass. The Dunham System doesn’t work as a system. Lena Dunham broke ground only for women like Lena Dunham, and therefore the fierce defense of Lena Dunham blocks out room for any woman who is not like Lena Dunham. This makes for a very gray history, a fairly gloomy future, and a present pretending to be much smaller than it is.

Caitlin Moran spat back at Dunham detractors on twitter: why don’t you ask Charlotte Bronte why Jane Eyre didn’t have any black people in it? Answer: you know your history, Moran, don’t be dull just to make Dunham look brighter. (If we have to dim ourselves down to make Dunham look good, I don’t think we should be trying that hard to make her look good.) They couldn’t tweet her, for one. Now—especially with social media opening up social justice discussions to a broader audience—culture makes consciousness unavoidable. The internet’s not a harmonious melting pot, and God knows it’s not a guarantee that intelligent discussion is always taking place, but people are talking about minority representation, talking about it vociferously enough in smaller media spaces that the discussions bleed into the larger ones. The shift this makes isn’t a physical one; it’s mental. There are still plenty of places that aren’t all that diverse, but we conceptualize them differently: majority ≠ default. When there’s a vocal minority, you end up codifying the majority. I come from a town in Massachusetts. It’s a really, really white town. And I conceptualized it—despite having had no greater spectrum of diversity of my life until I left and came to New York—as a really white town. And New York, notably, is not homogeneous. You could do Sex & the City in the nineties, unchecked, because no one was talking about this. You cannot give the SATC model to four symmetrical twentysomethings in the present day and pretend nothing’s changed.

The self-declared-feminist rallying cries that back Dunham up with relentless prescriptivism regarding what women are worth defending—they’re upsetting not least because they’re so strikingly dated, so passionately unwilling to look forward. To pretend not just that there’s no nonDunhammy presence in New York worth the “voice of a generation” talking about, but that there’s no discourse of representation in media, period, is inaccurate. It’s exactly the wrong generation for that.

Richer on the stage than on the page. (Or: get thee to a cinema tomorrow night!)

Ellie Piercy & Sam Crane clasp hands in the Globe’s 2001 production of All’s Well that Ends Well, playing in select theaters tomorrow (Oct 11)

The Globe Theatre is doing a wonderful thing. For a few nights, scattered through the autumnal months, they’re releasing recordings of their last season’s shows, to be played in cinemas all over the States, greater UK areas, and Australia/NZ. For all my Americans: this starts tomorrow. It starts with their 2011 production of All’s Well that Ends well. See it.

Take a moment. Check the list. Find the one nearest you. Put it in your schedule. See this show.

See this show because they’re doing something important, doing this. Because they’re letting you in on something geography-locked, making it as accessible as possible; they’re taking something confined to one little theater on the South Bank of the Thames and making it three continents bigger. The performances are onscreen, lucid and wonderful, to bring the words to life for you, location regardless. You can leave with the play reinvented for you in performance, as it should be—the words off the page, transfigured three-dimensionally into thoughts. You can see it even though theater tickets are usually too expensive and plane tickets are quite out of the question. See it. Plays are meant to be performed. The fundamental difficulties of theater involve accessibility and posterity—how do you capture the performance after the actors have bowed and exited the stage? how do you give it to people who aren’t there to see it?—but technology’s given the theatrical community the tools to start solving them. See it. See everything you can that they’re willing to give you, because the more you see, the more they’ll keep giving us. Take, until it becomes commonplace. Take advantage of this wonderful opportunity because a) it is a wonderful opportunity and b) if we just take enthusiastically and communally enough, maybe it’ll become the standard. Or a standard, at least.

More theaters should be doing this. But right now we have the Globe, which is one of the best theaters we have, one of the most engaged with the material and with the community. The Globe is a fundamentally communal place: I’ve seen every show I’ve seen there standing on the ground and in the thick of a joyous, reactive crowd. The cinema can’t replicate the three-dimensional physicality of watching actors at arms’ length, but it does give you the offering of the crowd. See it. Surrounded by packed human warmth, see the words become what they’ve always intended to be.

See all the shows they have—I’ve heard nothing but good things about their Much Ado about Nothing, and Doctor Faustus has Doctor Who bait Arthur Darvill as the devil. Dirty secret: I’ve not seen those two. But I’ve seen All’s Well that Ends Well.

My God. See All’s Well that Ends Well. Read the rest of this entry »


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