Commentaries - February 2008

Here is a recording of the hour-long interview/conversation with Art Spiegelman I conducted yesterday. You'll have a choice here: you can watch a video recording; or you can download or stream an audio-only mp3. Spiegelman was here as a Writers House Fellow. Art spent three hours with the 20 undergraduates in my Writers House Fellows Seminar, then gave a public presentation ("Comix 101") to about 120 people jammed into the KWH Arts Cafe, then joined a small group of us (including the comix genius Charles Burns) for home-cooked dinner in the Writers House dining room, then came back the next morning for the discussion you will see and/or hear when you click on the link above. Do, please, and let me know what you think. Spiegelman's new book, Breakdowns, will be published in October 2008.

Jim Backus seems silly - ridiculously weak and indecisive father, henpecked, trying to dole out manly advice to his "rebellious" teenaged son while wearing a frilly kitchen apron ... but in the end, Backus is right and the teens are wrong to rebel. It's all about family problems — mommy and daddy problems — and not about anything larger wrong with society and culture. So get over it, and let me put my arm around you ... and come on back home.

Yes, in my view Rebel without a Cause is among the few greatest anti-political film in American cinema — I mean "great" in the sense of powerful and influential. Perhaps everyone was so busy taking style (leaning, laconic, mumbling) cues from James Dean, a counterforce that almost but not quite undoes the film's relentless p.o.v. against the idea of the efficacy positions one might take against conformity, against the quietistic politics of a generation of parents, against American assumptions about home life and love. The parents are anti-ideal and in the end, waging psychological (psychoanalytic) war, their anti-idealism must be accepted.

Here are some of my favorite lines — along these lines — from the film:

Judy: "Yes. No. I don't know. He doesn't mean it, but he acts like he does."

Plato: "Nobody can help me." Mrs. Crawford "doesn't believe in psychiatrists," whom Plato calls "head-shrinkers."

Jim about his father: "He always wants to be my pal. If he had the guts to knock mom cold, then she's be happy and she wouldn't bother him."

Ray: "Go ahead. Hit the desk. You'll feel better ... It's easier sometimes than talking to your folks."

Frank Stark: "Well, you just get it off your chest, son." Jim: "That's not the point!" Frank: "You can't be idealistic all your life, son."

The scientist: "The universe will be little moved by our demise. We will disappear, destroyed as we began in a burst of gas and fire. In all the immensity of the gallaxy and beyond the earth will not be missed. The problems of man seem trivial and naive indeed, and man, existing alone, seems himself a thing of little consequence."

Jim's father, seeing Jim at the landing: "Hi Jim. You thought I was mom."

Judy's father: "It's just the age."

Frank Stark: "I wouldn't make a hasty decision. Nobody can make a snap decision. We've got to consider the pros and cons, make a list, get advice .... Have I ever stopped you from doing anything?"

Plato: "If only you coulda been my dad. We could have breakfast in the morning.

"What about children?" "We don I t encourage them. So noisy." "Nobody talks to children."

Jim, father-like: "He needs me." Judy, mother-like: "He needs you, but so do I, Jim."

The screenplay was written by Stewart Stern. And here's some good "Rebel" gossip.

The people of the Writers House helped me launch my new book this past Monday (February 11). John Carroll took some great photos, including this one (above) of the marvelous cake made at Isgro's in South Philly, reproducing the jacket design, which was the fantastic creation of a talented book designer, Laura Palese of Clarkson Potter. (Many, upon seeing the book first with its jacket, say, "Gee, I think I know what the book is about from the jacket!" That's a good thing, trust me.)

The March 1956 recording of Ginsberg reading Howl in Berkeley, it turns out, was not the first tape of it made. A month earlier AG and Gary Snyder had hitched up to Reed College (Snyder has grown up in Portland and attended Reed) where Snyder had arranged for some readings. Only recently did some folks at Reed find a box with a reel-to-reel tape marked "Snyder Ginsberg 1956," played it and heard a decent-quality 35-minute recording.

The date of the reading, at a student hostel called "the Anna Mann Cottage," is February 14 — Valentine's Day 52 years ago.
Here's an article about the find.