Saturday, August 10, 2002

"The list would grow to nearly a dozen in the space of four nerve-jangling months. [...] What joined these men was their proximity to the world of bioterror and germ warfare. Que, the one who was car-jacked, was a researcher at the University of Miami School of Medicine. Wiley, the most famous, knew as much as anyone about how the immune system responds to attacks from viruses like Ebola. Pasechnik was Russian, and before he defected, he helped the Soviets transform cruise missiles into biological weapons. The chain of deaths -- these three men and eight others like them -- began last fall, back when emergency teams in moonsuits were scouring the Capitol, when postal workers were dying, when news agencies were on high alert and the entire nation was afraid to open its mail. In more ordinary times, this cluster of deaths might not have been noticed, but these are not ordinary times. Neighbors report neighbors to the F.B.I.; passengers are escorted off planes because they make other passengers nervous; medical journals debate what to publish, for fear the articles will be read by evil eyes. Now we are spooked and startled by stories like these -- all these scientists dying within months of one another, at the precise moment when tiny organisms loom as a gargantuan threat. The stories of these dozen or so deaths started out as a curiosity and were transformed rumor by rumor into the specter of conspiracy as they circulated first on the Internet and then in the mainstream media. What are the odds, after all? What are the odds, indeed? For this is not about conspiracy but about coincidence -- unexpected connections that are both riveting and rattling. Much religious faith is based on the idea that almost nothing is coincidence; science is an exercise in eliminating the taint of coincidence; police work is often a feint and parry between those trying to prove coincidence and those trying to prove complicity."
New York Times, 11 August 2002

"Like other sorts of paranoia, it is nothing less than the onset, the leading edge, of the discovery that everything is connected, everything in the Creation, a secondary illumination--not yet blindingly One, but at least connected, and perhaps a route In for those like Tchitcherine who are held at the edge. . . ."
(Gravity's Rainbow, 703)

Thursday, August 08, 2002

"Unbeknownst to Riefenstahl, she had acquired a very special fan. Enchanted by her dance by the sea in The Sacred Mountain, the avid cinephile Adolf Hitler brushed aside the objections of his jealous propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, and commissioned the 32-year-old actress to make a film record of the annual Nazi party congress at Nuremberg. The documentary she delivered was like nothing seen before, or since. Repellent and riveting, a study in pagan kitsch and industrial-strength totalitarianism, Triumph of the Will bequeathed the iconic images of Nazi Germany: Hitler, soaring above the medieval city and swooping down from the heavens like an eagle, haloed by sunlight as adoring crowds bathe in his divine aura; solemn brownshirts marching in geometric precision; montages of virile German youth in roughneck, homoerotic play; and everywhere, rolling seas of swirling banners and fluttering flags emblazoned with the talismanic swastika. "It reflects the truth that was then, in 1934, history," Riefenstahl later claimed. "It is therefore a documentary, not a propaganda film." [...]

"Far and away the most devastating critique of Riefenstahl's oeuvre -- and to the director the most infuriating -- was launched by the critic Susan Sontag in her oft-cited essay "Fascinating Fascism," originally published in The New York Times Book Review in 1975. Looking over Riefenstahl's photography book The Last of the Nuba (1973), Sontag interpreted the color portraits of sinewy Sudanese tribesmen as of a piece with her earlier work, a continuum of a fascist aesthetic built on the cult of the body beautiful. "Riefenstahl seems hardly to have modified the ideas of her Nazi films," Sontag observed. "Although the Nuba are black, not Aryan, Riefenstahl's portrait of them evokes some of the larger themes of Nazi ideology: the contrast between the clean and the impure, the incorruptible and the defiled, the physical and the mental, the joyful and the critical." Sontag added, "To cast Riefenstahl in the role of the individualist-artist, defying philistine bureaucrats and censorship by the patron state ... should seem like nonsense to anyone who has seen Triumph of the Will." [...]

"A long-rumored Hollywood biopic is perennially in development, with Madonna and Jodie Foster reportedly interested in the plum role. "

from: Leni Riefenstahl: Ethics of an Auteur by Thomas Doherty, in the Chronicle of Higher Education, issue of August 9, 2002.

". . . yes, bitch--yes, little bitch--poor helpless bitch you're coming can't stop yourself now I'll whip you again whip till you bleed. . . . Thus Pokler's whole front surface, eyes to knees: flooded with tonight's image of the delicious victim bound on her dungeon rack, filling the movie screen--close-ups of her twisting face, niles under the silk grown amazingly erect, making lies of her announcements of pain--bitch! she loves it . . . and Leni no longer solemn wife, embittered source of strength, but Margherita Erdmann underneath him" (Gravity's Rainbow, 397)

Wednesday, August 07, 2002

"The Hamzanama is a popular collection of dramatic stories based loosely on the exploits of Hamza, uncle of the Prophet Muhammad, who traveled the world spreading the teachings of Islam. Neither historical nor doctrinal in substance, the stories were born of the tradition of Persian oral literature that entertained audiences around nomadic campfires and in urban coffee houses with elaborate tales of fantastic derring-do.

"The huge paintings that together compose Akbar's Hamzanama were apparently held up to illustrate dramatic oral presentations by court storytellers. The stories describe heroes bravely confronting a host of formidable and menacing giants, sorcerers, demons and dragons, while other characters were depicted using more guile than force to rescue princes or maneuver their hapless foes into comical predicaments. Painted on cotton, the manuscript originally contained 1,400 roughly 2-foot-high unbound illustrations and accompanying text." -- Smithsonian Institution

"The characters in his books are all cartoon characters. He writes in frames just like a comic strip. He’s writing cartoons instead of drawing them. They’re not two dimensional but holograms. They’re real people who go in and out of being cartoons. They go back and forth between the real world and the cartoon world."
--attributed to former Pynchon companion, Christine Wexler in Lineland:
Mortality and Mercy on the Internet's Pynchon-L@Waste.Org Discussion List
by Jules Siegel, Christine Wexler, et al.

"The New York Times wrote recently about Russia getting
a new 'Western-style' legal code: 'The code enshrines
the fundamental concept of presumption of innocence
and gives new responsibilities--and, in theory,
independence--to judges, while it will gradually strip
prosecutors of the enormous powers they have wielded
over almost every step of any prosecution, from arrest
to trial. Defense lawyers will have the right to
challenge the admissibility of evidence, throwing out,
among other things, evidence collected by wiretaps
without a warrant.' The Times writes without a sense of irony. None of
these constitutional protections exist anymore in the
U.S. [...]
The First 21st Century Police State, August 7, 2002

"Brock [...] leaning darkly in above her like any of the sleek raptors that
decorate fascist architecture." (Vineland, p. 287)

Tuesday, August 06, 2002

"In a development bordering on what the American Civil Liberties Union called 'surreal,' the on-line magazine today revealed that the Department of Justice is forwarding incoming Operation TIPS calls to the Fox-owned "America's Most Wanted" television series."

"Madre de Dios!" an oddly panicked, high-pitched Hector was up and running for the kitchen -- luckily, Zoyd noted, having left a twenty on the table -- now with a platoon of folks come crashing in after him, what was this, all wearing identical camo jumpsuits and crash helmets with the word NEVER stenciled on. Two stayed by the door, two more went over to check the bowling alley, the rest went running on after Hector into the kitchen, where there was already a lot of screaming and clanging. [...] National Endowment for Video Education and Rehabilitation [...] "A dryin'-out place for Tubefreeks? "

--Vineland, 32-33


(GR 693)

"No incumbent U.S. president has ever visited
Hiroshima during his tenure."

"a date which will live in infamy"

Monday, August 05, 2002

"The Bush administration's plan to invade Iraq and
install a client regime in Baghdad may be popular in
America, but to the outside world it increasingly
recalls old-fashioned British imperialism. [...]
To form Iraq, Britain knitted together three utterly
disparate, mutually hostile regions: Kurdish tribal
lands; the Sunni Muslim region around Baghdad, then a
small city with a predominantly Jewish and Christian
population; and the Shia south. The result was an
unstable, artificial, Frankenstein state - a Mideast
Yugoslavia. [...]

"Alfonso, like Frankenstein's creature, is assembled
from pieces -- sable-plumed helmet, foot, leg, sword,
all of them, like the hand, quite oversized -- which
fall from the sky or just materialize here and there
about the castle grounds, relentless as Freud's slow
return of the repressed. The activating agencies,
again like those in Frankenstein, are non-mechanical.
The final assembly of "the form of Alfonso, dilated to
an immense magnitude," is achieved through
supernatural means: a family curse, and the
intercession of Otranto's patron saint.
The craze for Gothic fiction after The Castle of
Otranto was grounded, I suspect, in deep and religious
yearnings for that earlier mythic time which had come
to be known as the Age of Miracles. In ways more and
less literal, folks in the 18th century believed that
once upon a time all kinds of things had been possible
which were no longer so. Giants, dragons, spells. The
laws of nature had not been so strictly formulated
back then. What had once been true working magic had,
by the Age of Reason, degenerated into mere machinery.
Blake's dark Satanic mills represented an old magic
that, like Satan, had fallen from grace. "
Is It OK to be a Luddite?

I'm experimenting with a shift in the way I participate in Pynchon-L, the email discussion group devoted to the works of Thomas R. Pynchon, my favorite living American author.

I'll be posting to Pynchon-L from a new email account, I'll also be publishing some of that material here on this blog.

My plan is to shift to this venue some of the more tangential, "Pynchon-related" material that I cull from my daily readings -- posts that don't always win universal admiration on Pynchon-L, to say the least -- and keep my Pynchon-L posts more closely related to the ongoing discussion. That's my plan, at least.