Ice Friday: John Updike’s “Perfection Wasted”

And another regrettable thing about death

is the ceasing of your own brand of magic,

which took a whole life to develop and market–

the quips, the witticisms, the slant

adjusted to a few, those loves ones nearest

the lip of the stage, their soft faces blanched

in the footlight glow, their laughter close to tears,

their tears confused with their diamond earrings,

their warm pooled breath in and out with your heartbeat,

their response and your performance twinned.

The jokes over the phone. The memories packed

in the rapid-access file. The whole act.

Who will do it again? That’s it: no one,

imitators and descendants aren’t the same.

Nancy Qualls-Corbett’s “The Sacred Prostitute”

I am the honored one and the scorned one/I am the whore and the holy one/I am the wife and the virgin/I am the mother and the daughter…(6) This Sumerian poem, written hundreds of years before the rise of Greek civilization, begins Qualls-Cotbett’s The Sacred Prostitute, an academic look at the ancient rites of female sexuality.

The idea of female power and of the sacred prostitution is an anathema to the sexual politics of the past three thousand years, an idea expressed succinctly by Pythagoras: “There is a good principle, which has created order, light and man; and there is a bad principle, which has created chaos, darkness and women.”  According to Qualls-Cotbett, it wasn’t always like this. Sacred rites of sexuality were a foundation to ancient civilizations: “The sacred prostitute leads the stranger to the couch prepared with white linens and aromatic myrtle leaves. She has rubbed sweet-smelling wild thyme on her thighs. The divine element of love resides in her. The stranger is transformed.” (23) Prostitution was not a heinous act conducted behind a veil of darkness and violence, but instead “nature and fertility were the core of existence. Desire and sexual response experienced as a regenerative power were recognized as a gift or a blessing of the divine. Great Mother was the goddess of all fertility.” (31) Much of modern-day attitudes toward female sexuality comes from the Bible and Koran, where the concepts are not so far from these ancient ideas: “She is the breath of the power of God, a pure effluence flowing from the glory of the Almighty.” (105) And yet, the dichotomy in today’s Calvinist/Capiltalistic world remains as strong as ever, reviling and adoring women solely on their sexuality, secreting the act of sex to one of shame, promoting pornography, defiling our scared selves.

President Trump & “The Plot Against America”

Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America chronicles the possibility of Charles Lindbergh, American hero and Nazi sympathizer, defeating Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1940 election, leading America into isolationism and violent Antisemitism. Most striking of all about this alternate reality is its similarities with today’s Trump America: “…when they turned on the news, they were devastated by the speed with which everything dreadful was happening.” (329) In the book’s postscript, Roth reprints Lindbergh’s speech against involvement in World War II on September 11, 1941:

The subterfuge and propaganda that exists in our country is obvious on every side. These war agitators comprise only a small minority of our people, but they control a tremendous influence. Against the determination of the American people…they have marshaled the power of the propaganda, their money, their patronage. The Jewish people’s greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our government.

Trump, identical to Lindbergh, refuses to address the hate and violence that stems from words like these.
And instead soldiers forth, blind and naked, leaving us to wonder where this reality, not as alternate as most would like, might lead.

Black Ice: Channel-Surf Proscrastination

Extract from 1997 novel, Black Ice:

Cam liked the animal shows, the cheetahs and whales, the lemurs and cougars, living in the open, in the forest, on the Savannah, in the depths of the dark sea, with nothing to hang on to but themselves, cut out raw, everything a meal or a monster around them, instinct not a word, but inside them, alive. He made a bet with himself: Six blonde women – it didn’t matter what they looked like – just six on one circuit up through the channels, and then he could delay everything, just sit there; he wouldn’t have to turn it off. Six blondes, six different channels. He had one on the first try, a sit-com, and another two channels one up – a newscaster. And then nothing. He slowed, waited for the camera to cut to her. But it was all car racing and gardening shows. Then he had another – a paramedic. And then nothing again. Too many old men, talking heads, and that was it. He had to get back to work.

Ice Friday: Curzio Malaparte’s “Kaputt”

Malaparte’s memoir details Fascist life, both German and Italian, at its height:

Then, as their mysterious fear grew, as that mysterious white stain spread over their eyes, they began killing prisoners whose feet were blistered and who could no longer walk. They began setting fire to the villages that were unable to hand over the fixed number of loads of wheat and flout, a certain amount of loads of corn and barley and of heads of horses and cattle to the requisitioning platoons. When only a few Jews remained, they began hanging the peasants. They strung them by their necks or by their feet to the branches of trees in the little village squares, around the bare pedestals where the white statues of Lenin and Stalin had stood only a few days before. They hung them side by side with the rain-washed corpses of the Jews that had been dangling for days under the black sky, side by side with the dogs of the Jews that had been strung up on the same trees with their masters. “Ah, the Jewish dogs,” said the German soldiers as they passed along.

The Precedence of Trump’s Silent Treatment

So-Called President Trump’s refusal to answer questions is nothing new. Charlton Heston nailed this role beautifully in Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine. As did Tom Cruise in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia. Well, as have many young folks from time immemorial.

 

Bobby Nystrom Figurine Smashed in Malice

I’ve never liked Bobby Nystrom. Brash and conceited, he’s the New York Islander I remembered for almost taking out Borje Salming’s eye in 1978. And so it was with a mix of revulsion and childish glee that I received his figurine at Barclay’s Center on Bobby Nystrom Night. I knew I would destroy it as soon as I had it. But what started out as a joke – it was Lorne Henning and not Nystrom who was responsible for Salming’s injury – turned into a glimpse of a personal abyss, in the creation of seedy ISIS-ish video.In my mind, it was fine and funny, something I had to do, but as an act it wasn’t. It was awful really, just wrecking something for a reason that didn’t exist. Not that I’m sad it’s gone.