Hieronymus Bosch’s “The Fall Of The Rebel Angels”

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Hieronymous Bosch's The Fall Of The Rebel Angels, 1500-1504.

Hieronymus Bosch’s The Fall Of The Rebel Angels, 1500-1504.

I’ve been a fan of Hieronymus Bosch for some time now, but have never really given him my public due. That will change as I plan to discuss at least a few of his paintings at some point, but suffice to say that I consider him one of the first truly great painters — greater, in some respects, than even some of the best-known painters of the High Renaissance, with whom he was contemporaneous. That is because while Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael were still at times stuck in the ancient Christian world of Old Rome, replete with its rote symbolism, simple — even twee! — tales, and predictable figuration, Bosch had turned to an unlikely, even contrarian, source: that of medieval art, with its clunky figures, simple landscapes, and other elements that, in lesser hands, stifled Western art of any real potential for many centuries.

This is because, under most circumstances, medieval art was simply flat. There was, on the one hand, no real technical merit, and on the other, no real idea, either. Bosch, however, was able to reach a compromise of his own making. Technical excellence, he likely realized, meant nothing without some intellectual heft, some deeper ‘trap’ or allure that would make mere technique absolutely REAL to the observer. So, forget the new standards of painting for a second, forget some of the better rules of perspective, and forget some of the repetitions, as well as the aesthetic demand for ‘beauty’. The more relevant thing, he instinctively thought, was not ‘beauty’ — which is always a tool or a preference, as opposed to an inherent good or depth — but COMMUNICATION. And not just communication, mind, but deeper communication, which might, in the right circumstances, involve less technically accomplished figuration, or colors and ideas that were presently out of vogue. Yet, in exchange, one would get a deeper look at the sorts of things the more popular painters were trying to do, via techniques that, while less showy, complemented the subject matter in a way that was not only richer, but more relevant to art in the long-term sense. Say what you will of the technical excellence required for the best Leonardo, or the greatest Michelangelo, but these are painters that have dated in a way that Bosch has not.

In fact, if one were to draw a line from the Italian Renaissance to modernity, the Renaissance painters would clearly be a kind of blueprint for the greater things to come. After all, who is Francis Bacon, Picasso, or Van Gogh more indebted to: the ideas (if not the artist) of Bosch, who revealed a more fractal sense of what art could be, or of the polish and re-polish of the Masters? Hell, even Caravaggio, who seems to be a direct descendant of Michelangelo, is only superficially of ‘that’ world. His ideas are just so completely different, and — even more … Continue reading →

Wallace Stevens: “A Rabbit As King Of The Ghosts”

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Wallace Stevens

Wallace Stevens, in full. (c) Amazon.com

[Listen to my reading of the poem here.]

Wallace Stevens is not only one of the 5 or 6 greatest poets to have ever lived, but — after years of being nigh-impenetrable to me, as a teenager — has become one of my favorites, too. He can be beautiful without emotion, and he can be emotional with nothing but an intellectual base. Too often, such things are treated as mutually exclusive, when in fact, one can simply be a route to the other, with Stevens’s choice of ‘intellect first’ generating some interesting effects. After all, if you erase emotion — at least in the literal sense — yet still write in a way that the reader utterly wallows in it, what does this say except that the intellect is, paradoxically, one way into the heart? (And I’d argue it’s the superior route.)

No, I wouldn’t go as far as calling Wallace Stevens a “dead end” in poetry (as Emily Dickinson was, or parts of Gerard Manley Hopkins and William Blake were), but prior to Wallace Stevens’s ascent, there were few that resembled him, at least in this regard. At best, there were prototypes — perhaps in some of the direct treatment of the Chinese classical writers, some parts of Ezra Pound, something of Yeats in mid-line, or Rainer Maria Rilke, who might in fact be the closest to him of all great contemporaneous writers. Yet Stevens still reads like an aberration, and MANY writers of the last few decades have tried to emulate him. I know, because whenever I open a given poetry book — usually forgotten after a few years’ time — there are the inevitable Stevens rip-offs, since many assume that merely writing ABOUT ideas (as Stevens did) is the same as writing about them WELL (which few ever do). In such cases, jargon takes place of real language, and broken prose for genuine music, since it is those things that, unfortunately, are presently associated with ideational heft.

Yet here’s an example of the above done right, and how emotion can come in roundabout ways, even when dealing with topics that, at first glance, seem to have no real connection with human experience:

A Rabbit As King Of The Ghosts

*from Parts Of A World (1942)

The difficulty to think at the end of day,
When the shapeless shadow covers the sun
And nothing is left except light on your fur —

There was the cat slopping its milk all day,
Fat cat, red tongue, green mind, white milk
And August the most peaceful month.

To be, in the grass, in the peacefullest time,
Without that monument of cat,
The cat forgotten on the moon;

And to feel that the light is a rabbit-light,
In which everything is meant for you
And nothing need be explained;

Then there is nothing to think of. It comes of itself;
And east rushes west and west rushes down,
No matter. The grass is … Continue reading →

Transcript: Dan Schneider Video Interview (Part 2) from 9/30/2014.

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PART 2

*Interview can be found here
*Part 1 can be found here
Dan Schneider Video Interview Series YouTube Channel
Dan Schneider’s website, Cosmoetica

Woody Allen does his banana thing. (c) CatholicVote.org

Woody Allen does his banana thing, as Dan Schneider & Alex Sheremet explain why. (c) CatholicVote.org

Dan Schneider: Now, the book ends with the last couple of decades of Woody’s cinematic output. You have it divided into a last two eras. What are the two eras? Give me a film, pro or con, that you think is the most representative, the best, the most interesting, what critics… whichever one jumps right out at you. So what are the last two Woody eras that you tackle?

Alex Sheremet: The last two eras are 1993 until 2004, so that’s the films between Bullets Over Broadway…No, Manhattan Murder Mystery and Melinda and Melinda. And then I go from Match Point in 2005, up until 2013’s Blue Jasmine. Looking at the first time period, that film that I want to talk about most is Celebrity. This is because this is a film that’s been pretty much ignored, it’s been neglected, and in many ways it’s been much more panned, even, than Stardust Memories, or Another Woman, or similar films. It has not necessarily had this kind of revitalization like some other films might have, and it’s… I wouldn’t call it a great film. It’s not up to par with his best work, but at the very least, I would argue that it is an excellent film. It’s an excellent film for the very reasons that people deride it for. For example, you have the character of Simon, through Kenneth Branagh, and he’s been derided as this really poor Woody Allen stand-in, that he’s merely doing the Woody Allen shtick in a way that Woody Allen wouldn’t be able to do.

But this is kind of the point. If you look at his appearance, he is clearly more handsome than Woody Allen, he looks more manly than Woody Allen, and he’s somebody that would much more easily fit into this kind of celebrity life than Woody Allen would. If you see, for example, the flirt scenes that he has with various women, if you see him going around with different models… these are not things that Woody Allen would be able to pull off, himself, because if he were to do it, it would look like mere comedy. And it would look like mere comedy because here’s this nebbish that has these glasses and just looks so awkward and just acts so awkward. There is no sense of genuine romance, there is no sense that this is a realistic move for this kind of human being to make. But with Woody Allen’s stand-in, as he’s being called, he does a very good job. He’s very realistic in that role, and these are all pluses. This is not the negative that it’s been made out to be. A close viewing of the film without allowing Woody Allen … Continue reading →

Review Of Steven Pinker’s “The Sense Of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide To Writing In The 21st Century”

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Steven Pinker Sense Of Style

Steven Pinker on the written aesthetic.

Now, to be sure, I have never had much use for style guides. Yes, there was all the studying for the writing portion of the SAT, years ago, which required lots of rule-learning and — even worse — the application of said rules to poorly-written ‘answers’ that were anything but right. Yes, I’d been assigned the oft-banal Strunk & White’s Elements Of Style in college courses, and have, out of curiosity, perused a number of similar guides not only across form and genre (prose, poetry, non-fiction, sci-fi, grammar) but multiple languages, as well, just to see how the rest of the world, well, merely hypothesizes the sorts of things that are in fact REAL to me. For instance, I still recall reading Orson Scott Card’s How To Write Science Fiction And Fantasy, and finding — even as a 10 year old with a desire to impart stories — the thing too restrictive for anyone but the worst writers, to whom issues of mechanics and advice re: ‘world-building’ might narrowly apply.

Thus, I was both intrigued and a little alarmed when I read the title of Steven Pinker’s new book. Now, don’t get me wrong. While admittedly a very good writer with MANY interesting ideas across the board, Steven Pinker is a thinking academic (as opposed an academic thinker!), first, and has not, in his occasional comments on the topic, shown any deeper understanding of the arts. Yes, he’s constructed some great arguments, and pointedly done away with scientific fraud within the clarion of a mere sentence or two, but that does not really lend itself to art criticism. This is because the wisdom (not ‘knowledge’) immanent to recognizing a great poem, or the odd assortment of skills and luck that goes into differentiating a good from bad metaphor is nigh-indefinable. In short, while true creativity might be easy to quantify, if one merely KNOWS how to evaluate the works, themselves, its source in most cases isn’t. This means that no intellect, personal background, type, or force of character guarantees success in this endeavor, and Pinker’s book, to its credit, does not pretend otherwise.

Before getting into the book’s negatives, however, one must first say what it does right. Although it is easily the worst of the 3 or 4 books of his that I’ve read, The Sense Of Style is also, unsurprisingly, the best style guide that I’ve ever read. This is because it simply drops a few key hints re: usage and style, combs over the important historical trends as a kind of guideline, and thus allows the reader — at least for the most part — to draw his own conclusions on aesthetic matters, keeping the long view in mind and minimizing the least defensible stylistic errors. Too often, style guides are bogged down by dull proscriptive rules that don’t give a damn for rhythm, music, ambiguity, and subtleties of meaning that, in the end, do FAR more … Continue reading →

Transcript: Dan Schneider Video Interview (Part 1), via Cosmoetica.

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PART 1

 

*Interview can be found here
The Dan Schneider Interview Series YouTube channel
Dan Schneider’s website, Cosmoetica

Woody Allen & Stardust Memories. (c) MGM

Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories. (c) MGM

Dan Schneider: This is Dan Schneider, and this is the first Dan Schneider Video Interview. My guest is Alex Sheremet, a writer, poet, and film critic. We will be discussing his latest book on the film career of Woody Allen. Before we get into that, I just want to give a little word on the nature of the Dan Schneider interviews. Those familiar with Cosmoetica know that I’d done several dozen interviews in a written format. One of the things that I’ve found out in this day and age is that a lot of people don’t have the time, and a lot of people simply are not good enough with words to do interviews. So I’m trying now to put Cosmoetica and the interview series online on YouTube and this is the first of those interviews.

Anyone who has ever saw the old television show Open End by David Susskind in the 1960s, this will sort of follow that format. Some interviews might be 40 or 45 minutes, others are an hour and a half, and others might run 2 or 3 hours depending on the subject matter and the interviewee. If you’ve ever watched the interviews at the Archive Of American Television, with television stars, we’ll follow that format. Basically, I’ll ask questions of the interviewee, who you will see on your screen before you. This is, again, Alex Sheremet, and this is being recorded on September 27th, a Saturday, 2014.

Alex is a poet, a writer, and a film critic. He has a new book coming out from a new press, and is about the filmic career of Woody Allen. Alex, what is the name of the book, and what is the name of the press?

Alex Sheremet: The book is Woody Allen: Reel To Real, and the press is Take2 Publishing.

DS: The book Woody Allen: Reel To Real…that suggests you may be doing more than just talking about the man’s filmic life. What is general thrust of the book, in just a few minutes?

AS: I think what you originally said was right. You first said the life and career of Woody Allen, and then you corrected yourself and said the filmic career of Woody Allen. And this is really what it is. I cover every single film that Woody Allen has ever appeared in, or otherwise written or directed. It covers every film in minute detail specifically addressing the art. So, if you want to talk about the thrust of the book, the thrust is really an evaluation. I go from film to film, evaluating each film as a work of art, because one thing I noticed when I would read a couple of dozen or so books on Woody Allen, there’s so much written about him online, there’s … Continue reading →