One year ago on Round and Square (25 April 2011)—Managing History
|[a] Salty RF|
Marine Biologist The Doorman Opposite George Newman's Mail The Bootleg Marriage
Just Dessert Sleep Desk Late Coffee High Stakes Motor Oil Downtown
Code Cracking Nonfat Yogurt Bad Boy It's Not You I Can't Be... Exploding Wallet
Elaine Flies Coach The Close Talker The Alliance Broccoli Coated Culture Dinner Party
George's Friend Jerry's Haircut Face Paint Mustachioed Smoking East River
Pool Man Dunkin' Joe Life Lessons Reckoning Dog Medicine Shower Heads
Looking Busy George Tips Kramer's Job Empty Tank Bathroom Book
Click here for the reference to the "Argonauts" title, below.
"What's wrong with that? I had a different interpretation."
|[b] Lea/r/age RF|
Above all, though, it is the line itself. Think about "interpretation." Elaine's is somewhat emotional in a mildly thespian sort of way. Kramer and Jerry? Milquetoast. But Georgie, we hardly knew ye. That is the voice of Lear III.ii, raging against the winds of nature and society. George—fumbling keys and gulping Shasta soda—speaks across the ages. I can imagine the pudgy little figure as Julius Caesar (from veni, vidi, vici to et tu...?) or Mao's sublimated rage (let a hundred flowers bloom) or even Richard Nixon (I'm not a crook, and you won't have Nixon to kick around anymore). In my interpretation, stress is the wind that rustles the branches of the lyric.
So what is it to "interpret" a line? George's case seems to tell us that emotion is not learned or practiced as in (as I interpret them) the failed lines of Kramer, Elaine, and Jerry. It is authentic, and flows from the heart of lived experience. His life is a car-parking hell, and:
...these pretzels are making him thirsty.
What does it mean to "live" lines rather than (merely to) "recite" them? There is something big going on here that we will only begin to examine today. It has everything to do with the way we talk about "book learning" and "life experience." This little clip from a twenty year-old television series speaks, if we really think about it, to some of the most important sets of assumptions we have about our world and how we come to know it.
|[c] Torrents RF|
Note well that I am not saying that experience makes for the best acting, writing, or other sorts of performing. Far from it; I'm on the fence on this issue. On the other hand, I am pointing it out as a place where our assumptions tend to gather, like puddles after a rainstorm. Some writers (I am thinking of the novelist John Gardner) scoff at the idea that one needs life experience to write well. Just read and write he said (and wrote) many times. Every emotion you need...you experienced by the time you started kindergarten. What you need is technique (and practice). I have a hunch that he would say the same thing if he were an actor.
One can be fooled by the legend of, say, Jack London, and imagine that the
best way to become a writer is to be a seaman or lumberjack. Jack London
lived in an age when writers were folk heroes, as they are not now, and an
age when technique was not quite as important as it is now. Though a tragic
and noble man, he was a relatively bad writer. He could have used a few
Them are fightin' words, as we say back home (sometimes—when English teachers are sleeping). This is one of the great dividing lines in all of human life. How much of it all is about living, and how much is about learning? Some especially diligent readers of Round and Square will know that this is a topic very close to my intellectual heart-mind (心), and we are better for reflecting upon it almost every day of our lives. Like life itself, it's complicated.
George had no idea what he was starting here.
|[d] Mangamotion RF|
So what's wrong with that? It's my interpretation!
|[e] Cri de 心 RF|
Finally, we end today with one of the most resonant poems in the Chinese lyrical tradition. Li Qingzhao lived through one of the happiest marriages ever recorded in Chinese history, as well as the loss of her husband. She also lived through the tectonic shift of the Song dynasty, as it was forced southward by northern forces. Li Qingzhao knew stress, yet the lyrical output was a thing as beautiful as the Sierra Nevada.
A Diary in the Strict Sense of the Term
|[d] Stress ADV|
Saturday, 1.24.15 [sic]
Yesterday, Friday, I felt quite rotten. In the afternoon and evening I suffered from characteristic lack of energy, which makes even trifles—like repacking plates, putting things tidy, etc.—appear a monstrous cross on the Golgotha of life. Yesterday at noon I took arsenic + iron, and today since midday I have been feeling better. Yesterday morning I got up as usual. Photos: making of boats; the street; 4 women. Most of the photos poor. Omaga [brought] letter from Cowley. Around 10 Omaga and Keneni came. Talk about taboo and its connection with magic practices. After lunch I waited for Pikana; happy he didn't come, and read Mexico. Very tired. With a very great effort (today, now, in the afternoon, I do not feel sleepy in the least, and I am impatient to go out, to get dressed, etc.—whatever the price, this is the result of arsenic: it is worthy of gratitude and an altar)[.] I went out after having collected the medicines I wanted to give Keneni's son (he has an abcess on the lg) in exchange for bird-of-paradise feathers. He did not come out of his hiding place.
Went to Dini's where I discussed baskets. Came back fairly early, monstrously tired; sat behind a little rock at the ogobada and watched the sunset. Very weak. Stuffed myself too much at supper. Then I had and inspiration—I wrote a poem [...]. Igua massaged me and told stories in delightful Motu, about murders of white men, as well as his fears about what he would do if I died in that way! I fell asleep feeling very poorly. My heart a bit restless. This morning I did not feel well at all. I could barely drag myself to the village—characteristic dullness and sleepiness. I tried to obtain stones from Aba'u....Before noon Omaga came and told me about his black-magic secrets. After lunch, read Mexico—right now (4 P.M.) I feel fairly well and am about to go to the village. Today at noon I have myself a shampoo, bathed, and performed a basic evacuation—all this did me good.
Plate Tectonics and Stress
|[e] Plates ADV|
The westernmost range of the Basin and Range Province is the Sierra Nevada, which has risen on a normal fault that runs along the eastern base of the mountains. The fault has experienced enough earthquakes to give the mountains their exceptional altitude. The most recent great earthquake there was in 1872. In a few seconds, the mountain range went up three feet. In the same few seconds, the Sierra Nevada also moved north-northwest twenty feet. That would help to fill in anybody's discrepancy.
Perhaps a sixth of the total motion between the plates is contributed by the other faults in the San Andreas family. Each is strike-slip, active, right-lateral—that is, viewed from one side of the fault, the other side appears to have gone to the right.
A Melancholy Tune (Autumn Sorrow): Despair
Li Qingzhao (c. 1130)
|[f] Searching ADV|
What comes of it but
Coldness and desolation,
A world of dreariness and misery
And stabbing pain!
As soon as one feels a bit of warmth
A sense of chill returns:
A time so hard to have a quiet rest.
What avail two or three cups of tasteless wine
Against a violent evening wind?
Wild geese wing past at this of all hours,
And it suddenly dawns on me
That I've met them before.
Golden chrysanthemums in drifts—
How I'd have loved to pick them,
But now, for whom? On the ground they lie strewn,
There's nothing for it but to stay at the window,
How the day drags before dusk descends!
Fine rain falling on the leaves of parasol trees—
Drip, drip, drop, drop, in the deepening twilight.
To convey all the melancholy feelings
Born of these scenes
Can the one word "sorrow" suffice?
 John Gardner, On Becoming a Novelist (New York: Harper & Row, 1983), 77.
 Bronislaw Malinowski, A Diary in the Strict Sense of the Term [Translated by Norbert Guterman] (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1967), 73-74.
 John McPhee, Annals of the Former World (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1998, 598-599.
 Victor Mair, The Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 339-340.
Mair, Victor. The Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature. New York:
Columbia University Press, 1994.
Malinowski, Bronislaw. A Diary in the Strict Sense of the Term [Translated by Norbert Guterman].
Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1967.
McPhee, John. Annals of the Former World. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1998.
Gardner, John. On Becoming a Novelist. New York: Harper & Row, 1983.
Wednesday, May 2nd
George's Swooshing Pants
Conformity and its discontents. We'll discuss them (and food poisoning) next week on Argonauts of the Seinfeldian Specific.