Monastic Sign Language

May 17, 2017

In a biography of Thomas Merton, a mention of “Cistercian Sign Language,” one of a few monastic sign languages developed in order to help monks communicate with one another.  A bit on Catholicism and sign language, from Jonathan Burgess:

Monastic sign language, much like the sign language with which most of us are familiar, is based on symbolic gestures involving the hands and face to communicate basic concepts. A Catholic who regularly attends Mass already knows at least one. Tapping one’s chest with a closed fist means, “Forgive me” or “Pardon me.” Pressing one’s thumb under the chin can mean “Alright. That’s it.” or “Enough.” Pressing one’s index fingers together to create the shape of a triangle means “Finish[ed].” Spreading the fingers of one’s hand and sweeping them across one’s cheek means “Pretty” or “Beautiful.” To sign “God,” touch the thumbs of both hands to the opposite palm while touching both index fingers to point upward in a triangle to indicate the Blessed Trinity. “Soul” is indicated by making a semi C-shape with the index finger pointing upward, touching the hand to one’s forehead, and then extending the hand upward. If a friend or interlocutor asks how one’s day is going, a brief touch of the cheek is “good” and a rub of the nose is “bad.” Touch one hand to the chin, and extend the hand forward keeping the fingers extended and joined with the back still facing the other person to say “thank you.” He or she returns the gesture to say “you’re welcome.”

Does this stuff really all come up in mass?  Or only the first one?  Anyway, I would fucking love to learn Cistercian (a specific order) sign language.  I’d put it in my bio and show off my skills at parties.  I’d sign my accomplishment from the Seven Storey mountain!

418BbUsVD0L._SL500_SX258_BO1,204,203,200_

 

Life Lessons

May 14, 2017

Things children in Samoa must learn before the age of five:

To sit or crawl within the house

Never to stand upright unless absolutely necessary

Never to address an adult in a standing position

To stay out of the sun

Not to tangle the strands of the weaver

Not to scatter the cut up coconut which is spread out to dry

To keep their scant loin cloths at least nominally fastened to their person

To treat fire and knives with proper caution

Not to touch the kava bowl, or the kava cup

If their father is a chief, not to crawl on his bed-place when he is [near]by

~Margaret Mead, Coming of Age in Samoa

Jacques Lacan Being a Dick

May 3, 2017

Interviewer: In your philosophy…

Lacan: I am not a philosopher, not in the least.

An ontological, metaphysical notion of the real…

It is not at all ontological.

You borrow a Kantian notion of the real.

It is not even remotely Kantian.  I make that quite clear.

***

“The Triumph of Religion” comes from a press conference held in Rome on October 29, 1974, at the French Cultural Center.  Lacan was interviewed by Italian journalists.

Someone Please Remember

April 14, 2017

Remember when I had an idea to make a TV show (equal parts Knick and Mad Men) about RD Laing’s Kingsley Hall?  No?  I know someone has a record of this somewhere.  Although I guess it doesn’t matter now, because screenwriter-director Robert Mullan has beaten me to the punch with his new movie Mad to Be Normal.  From The Guardian‘s (much maligned) Peter Bradshaw:

David Tennant is on pugnacious, mercurial and beady-eyed form in this very interesting and absorbing film. It’s one of his best performances. He plays the psychiatrist RD Laing, who became a 60s counterculture hero for challenging what he saw as the profession’s heartless prison-hospital ethos of tranquillisers and electroconvulsive shock treatment. Instead, Laing proposed a holistic treatment without drugs (although medically licensed LSD was acceptable), using group therapy and communal healing. He set up a refuge at Kingsley Hall in east London, that was regarded suspiciously as something like a Bedlam cult.

Hard-drinking, hard-smoking Laing laughs and cries along with his patients – who adore him – and angrily tells interviewers about the people “out to get” him. Elisabeth Moss plays Laing’s (composite-fictional) partner Angie, and Gabriel Byrne and Michael Gambon are excellent as his patients: old men who in a later era might be overlooked as care-in-the-community homeless. The screenplay by Robert Mullan and Tracy Moreton does not take a conventional biopic line but instead shows scenes from a life, with influences from Beckett, BS Johnson and perhaps David Cronenberg’s Spider in its images of broken things being put back together. Now I’d like see Mullan direct a biopic of Laing’s French counterpart, the philosopher and critic Michel Foucault. Perhaps Cédric Kahn could shave his head for the part.

Short Story

April 12, 2017

Someone base a short story on the moment they broke the news to Elmer, please!  I’d do it myself but I don’t have the time at the moment…

“In questions of administration, [McLean Hospital head] Stanton could simply get lost.  Longtime facilities manager Henry Langevin remembers presenting Stanton with three competing bids for resurfacing McLean’s central tennis court, where Stanton himself often played.  But the director was paralyzed by indecision because the switch from the clay to a hard surface would eliminate a cherished job––rolling and sweeping the ochre-colored clay––for one of the hospital’s elderly, chronic schizophrenics.  ‘What’s poor Elmer going to do?’ was Stanton’s plaint, as the trial court resurfacing decision hung fire for months.”

I know Stanton’s indecision is supposed to be annoying, but I find his concern for Elmer rather sweet, don’t you?

 

(From Gracefully Insane: Life and Death Inside America’s Premier Mental Hospital by Alex Beam)

Resemblance

April 2, 2017

6a00d83451ebab69e2014e60159b67970c-550wi

schiele_egon_2

Smoking

March 31, 2017

On rare occasions I’ll feel a bit sad that my days of being a stupid kid are coming to a close.  When that happens, I tend to envision myself doing something like smoking one of these Sobranie cigarettes––kinda kitschy, but undeniably glamorous.  I can probably have one a year or so even now that I’m a grown-up, right?

6aff7ae6a6256cc66eb3bcb8ecb25526

I Knew First

March 30, 2017

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming for a moment of unadulterated showing off: I knew that William Powell, author of The Anarchist Cookbook, passed away, it appears, before the Times did.  Last year, I reached out to his wife to ask if I could interview him about his conversion to Anglicanism.  I was sorry to hear he had died, as it sounds like although he was a bit of an angry young man, and his writings had unfortunate repercussions (the perpetrators Columbine and the Oklahoma City bombing were said to be partially inspired by the Cookbook) he really had turned his life around by devoting it to education.  RIP William Powell.

Xanadu!

March 28, 2017

As some of you may remember, many moons ago, I wrote an essay that I suspect is probably  my best work of all time, about the Broadway show Xanadu!   Looking back now, I can see it’s a bit of a flawed piece, but ultimately, the heart of it is still genius.  As many of you also know, I happen to have become, in the aftermath of the election, obsessed with a website called 366 Weird Movies, which is, as you might have guessed, a list of weird movies, and supplementary materials.  Well, today, my loves collided, because 366 Weird Movies did a post on Xanadu!  Let’s just say they weren’t too enthused…

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Xanadu is campy, kitschy and appalling, but it’s not weird. It’s just one of the last death rattles of the disco era.

COMMENTS: La La Land may have revived the movie musical, which has been on life support for decades because of flops like Xanadu. This film spawned a soundtrack album (deliriously overproduced by the Electric Light Orchestra’s Jeff Lynne) that was a monster hit in 1980, spawning five top 20 singles. The movie itself, however, bombed, and rightfully so. It’s inoffensive, embarrassing piffle. Made on a big budget, Xanadu still looks cheap, and director Robert Greenwald , who later made The Burning Bed and several progressive-minded documentaries, doesn’t really seem to know how to stage musical numbers, despite choreography from Kenny Ortega (High School Musical). Michael Beck, fresh off the macho action classic The Warriors, looks embarrassed (he never starred in a movie again), and poor 68-year-old Gene Kelly makes his unfortunate farewell to musicals in this dud. Olivia Newton-John is beautiful but cannot act—although she was much better in Grease—-while director Don Bluth (An American Tail) contributes a weak animated segment.

Practically all memory of the film vanishes right after you’ve seen it. Xanadu is sort of a remake of the indifferently received 1947 Rita Hayworth musical Down to Earth, while Kelly also played a character named Danny McGuire in the 1944’s Cover Girl opposite Hayworth. Either of those films has to better than Xanadu, which only Newton-John may still remember fondly: the young Danny McGuire is played in flashback by dancer-actor Matt Lattanzi, who later became her husband. No amount of fake glitter and flash can salvage this Lattanzi-Newton John family album, however: the climactic musical number involves a series of revolving stages that reminded me of the old Disneyland show “America Sings”. I’d rather sit through “America Sings” again. In fact, those who want to experience Xanadu should listen to the soundtrack album (featuring Newton John, ELO, Cliff Richard, and the Tubes)  instead of slumbering through this decidedly non-weird musical relic of the Studio 54 era.

Someone apparently had pleasant, perhaps drug-induced memories of the picture, because in 2007 Xanadu was adapted into a modestly produced Broadway musical (starring “30 Rock”‘s Cheyenne Jackson) that was nominated  for a few Tony awards. In the end, Xanadu may be recalled chiefly as being part of the “great”—or awful—disco musical trend of 1980, which also gave us the infamous Village People vehicle Can’t Stop the Music. Anecdotally, unfortunate moviegoer John J.B. Wilson saw both films at a 99-cent double feature and came up with the idea of the Razzie awards, “honoring” the year’s worst films, which are still held today. At least Xanadu has better songs than Can’t Stop the Music.

A Stunning Essay

March 20, 2017

Things have been––well, let’s say, harried around here recently, so I am half-assing this post by pointing you in the direction of an incredible piece of writing someone recently reminded me of.  It’s more than half-assed, in fact: it’s a selfish move, because I want to pretend that I have some affiliation with someone who can write so well, even though we’ve emailed twice and I’m resorting to cutting and pasting her words.  Ah well––extenuating circumstances!  Here’s a teaser of “What’s in a Necronym?” by Jeannie Vanasco:

I.

I am named after the daughter my father lost.

I remember the day I first learned about her. I was eight. My father was in his chair, holding a small white box. As my mother explained that he had a dead daughter named Jeanne, pronounced the same as my name, “without an i,” he opened the box and looked away. Inside was a medal Jeanne had received from a church “for being a good person,” my mother said. My father said nothing. I said nothing. I stared at the medal.

Later that day, in the basement, my mother told me Jeanne died in a car accident in New York when she was sixteen, many years before I was born. Two other girls were in the car. Jeanne sat between the driver and the other passenger in the front seat. The driver tried to pass a car, hesitated, then tried to pull back into her lane. She lost control and Jeanne was thrown from the car and killed instantly.

“Your father blames himself,” my mother said. “He can’t talk about it.”

“Why?” I asked.

“He gave her permission to go out that night.”

After Jeanne died, my father bought two burial plots next to one another, one for Jeanne and one for himself. When he and his first wife divorced, she stipulated that he forfeit his plot, and he agreed. Soon after the divorce, he went to court again, this time for beating up a bum on the street. “Why should you be alive?” my father had asked him. “You’re not working and my daughter’s dead.” The judge remembered my father and let him go.

“Did you know his first wife?” I asked my mother.

“No, he was divorced long before I met him. All this happened in New York.”

I lived in Ohio, where my father and mother met. In my mind, New York was made of skyscrapers, taxicabs, and car accidents.

“What did Jeanne look like?”

My mother said she had never seen a photo.

That spring I painted portraits of Jeanne in watercolor. I titled them Jeanne. My art teacher told me she was disappointed that such a good student could misspell her own name. From then on, I included an i.