Monthly Archives: December 2010

"Howl": But Is It Art?


Didn’t see the movie, having met the man in the flesh, in the 1960s at Duke, wolfing down Oreo cookies at a classmate’s off-campus kitchen table. (Allen Ginsberg, not me, eating the Oreos.) Made a nice change from all the narcotics and hallucinogens, I suppose.

I always thought it was a pity Ginsberg was expelled from Columbia [for writing an ironic rude message in the grime of his unwashed dorm window, addressed to his “slatternly” maid, yet], before he read James Joyce. Well, I assume he hadn’t read Joyce, or else he wouldn’t have taken credit for “inventing” stream-of-consciousness prosody. Nar’mean?

Consider the social contract, concerning listening to the non-linear musings of another. If you forked over whatever the admission price was, to see Howl in an art film house, it’d get right up your nose if the projector broke down in the middle of reel 2, and the rest was silence. But if, on the subway ride to the art cinema, a raving loony inflicted his own brand of stream-of-consciousness “performance art” on you and your fellow straphangers, you’d be likely to regard it as a bloody intrusion, and to wish he would shut up, already.

How come? Possibly, because [unless you mistakenly thought the James Franco vehicle was yet another werewolf flick] you were expecting to hear poetry, and therefore perceived it as such. [Poetic speech: the “just kidding; don’t take this literally” speech function.] Whereas, the unknown [if not uncommon] loony on the subway might be spouting Referential [fact-giving] speech (“The aliens are coming!”), or even Conative [orders-giving] speech (“Get on your tinfoil hat!”), either of which could trigger the “Fear!” message in our amygdala, since this guy might not be “just kidding”; and he just might get up in our grille for emphasis.

Same sounds; different attribution, as to what they betoken. Sometime over the holidays, I just bet you were in a public place where you heard the howl of a young child. How did your amygdala process that? Merely intrusion? [Not my kid, not my job, man.] Vicarious pain & suffering? [Ah, the poor wee mite! Or, perhaps, those poor parents!] If you sense that the howl is strategic [a Poetic simulation of distress to manipulate the public], and you initially “fell for it,” you might even feel humiliated at having been schmized.

We pay for, and expect, to be “deceived” by the artistry of professional performers. Not by the artifice of amateurs, whether they be cunning children, subway soliloquists, or even that “difficult” family member, who always seems to tune up for a long, loud howl, just as the entree is taken out of the oven. Nar’mean?

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Filed under attribution theory, limbic system, non-linear thinking, vicarious trauma

"A cat may look on a king, ye know."


The earliest citation for this egalitarian proverb is 1546 [Oxford English Dictionary], when the king in question was Henry VIII. I was going to apply it to the case, a couple of weeks ago, of the Bishop of Willesden’s snarky Twitter response to the engagement of Prince William [heir to the throne and therefore this cleric’s eventual boss]: to paraphrase,”I give it seven years. The Royal Family are all philanderers. When the wedding date is announced, I’ll be booking my republican day trip to France.” The next day, the Bishop issued a pro forma “No offense intended” statement; but by the end of the week he had been relieved of his public duties.

But that puny piece of lese majesty has since been overshadowed by last week’s riotous assault [by disgruntled students] on Prince Charles’ official car and his current wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, who may actually have been “poked with a stick” through the broken window of their Rolls. [All of us curious cats may look at the now-famous photo of Camilla and the future king, wearing matching WTF facial expressions, under siege.] 182 protesters had been arrested by the following Tuesday, on the basis of CCTV footage.

Can you hear the hoofbeats of my hobbyhorse approaching? Det. Chief Superintendent Horne had this to say about the alleged perpetrators: “There was a stark contrast between scenes in Westminster and homes with crying parents and shocked young people when the police turned up. When they are shown footage of their actions that day some are shocked by the impact of their behavior.” Or to put words in their slack-jawed mouths, “I have no idea what got into me! I’m just not like that!”

To use another of my favorite Mancunian expressions, then “What are you like?” [It means “Your behavior is so bad, that similes fail me.”]

My own answer, to the Bishop and to the revolting students, is “You are like anyone else who ever got a snootfull of one or more of the Big Four Precursors: angry.” Was it intrusion? The tuition fees are set to treble in the next few years, meaning that almost all “Uni” grads will incur significant debt. Fear? “How will I ever find a job, if I can’t afford an education?” Pain & suffering? “If the government cuts back on ‘the dole,’ [unemployment benefits], I may not even be able to afford food & shelter!”

But consider the targets of their [and the Bishop’s] anger: the Royals. The ostentatiously wealthy, “Bow-to-me-when-you-address-me,” unelected, Ruling Class.

I’m thinking it was humiliation, that got up their noses. It usually is, when revolution is in the air.

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Filed under aggression happens, power subtext, understanding shenanigans