do you realize that you have the most beautiful face? do you realize we're floating in space?

August 26, 2009

bonjour!

Hello! I thought I’d write about a few songs that I’ve been listening to on repeat lately. This is a little collection of delightful, pretty songs that have been making me happy:

♥ Weezer’s “Say it Ain’t So” reminds me of being sixteen, staying up late to watch 120 Minutes on MTV, VHS tape labeled “Miranda’s videos! Do not tape over!” (heh!) in the VCR, my finger poised over the “Record” button, ready to hit it whenever anything I liked came on.

This song recently came up when I had iTunes on shuffle, and, although I’m not generally a nostalgic person, especially not for my not-terribly-pleasant teenage years, as I listened to it I was suddenly flooded with happy memories and vague, fuzzy, dreamy recollections of the blissful parts of adolescence, which were (to say the least) few and far between, to be sure, but which were so wonderfully, intensely thrilling on the rare occasions I was lucky enough to experience them.

It’s a great song, sweet, melancholy, and haunting all at once (plus, it rocks), and the video is adorable and charming (and is surely present somewhere on one of those “Miranda’s videos! Do not tape over!” VHS tapes.) The video looks and feels and sounds like 1995 to me, almost tangibly so, and although I wouldn’t go back to being sixteen for a million billion dollars, there are some aspects of it that I miss, and hearing, reading, or seeing certain things can make me feel little twinges of nostalgia for the time, and this is one of the videos that does that for me:

Weezer – Say It Ain’t So – Watch more Music Videos at Vodpod.

Dean and Britta’s “The Sun is Still Sunny” is such a delicious song. It’s perhaps my favorite song at the moment. I’m fond of their work in general (they’re both formerly of Luna), but this song has a wistful prettiness to it that I find especially charming and sweet. It flirts with melancholy, but is better described as poignantly, evocatively beautiful.

Many musical duos do vocal interplay very well with very lovely results. Frequently, this loveliness results from the marked contrast between the male voice and the female voice (Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan come to mind.) Dean and Britta have the most beautiful vocal interplay that I’ve heard in a long time, characterized by a gorgeous, delicate interweaving and exchange, but, unlike many other boy/girl duos, the beauty doesn’t arise from the contrast of their voices; instead, it derives from how their voices complement each other, sweetly and delicately intermingling in the most delectable of ways.

This video is a lovely live acoustic performance of the song (in a stairwell!), with some very Godard-esque opening and closing titles:

♥ The Flaming Lips’ “Do You Realize?” is one of those songs that, at first listen, can seem heartwrenchingly sad. And it is heartwrenching, touching, and achingly beautiful, but it’s not sad. Instead, it’s quite wonderfully uplifting in that it echoes and emphasizes what may perhaps be the single most important yet least understood truth about human existence: that this is it, this is the only life any of us will get, so stop wasting it, stop treating it like a dress-rehearsal for a non-existent afterlife, take as much delight in it as possible, and enjoy the deliciousness of being alive. It’s such a vitally important thing to understand, but so many people don’t, instead choosing to spend their lives looking for something “more,” whether that’s something spiritual, or supernatural, or transcendental, or any other such nonsense. Such pursuits waste precious time and also beg the question: what more could you possibly want than the wonder and the beauty of reality?

I love lead-singer Wayne Coyne’s comment about the song:

“Whenever I analyze the scientific realities of what it means to be living here on Earth – in this galaxy – spinning around the sun – flying through space – a terror shock seizes me!!! I’m reminded once again of how precarious our whole existence is…”

Exactly. These sentiments also bring to mind the superbly wonderful “Galaxy Song” from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life.

Here’s a wonderful live performance of “Do You Realize?” from 2002:

It’s definitely one of those songs that makes me a little teary every time I hear it. In a lovely, grateful way.

The Verlaines are one of my favorite bands ever, and one of their most wonderful songs is “Death and the Maiden”. It’s a catchy, wonderfully fun, pretty song, with fabulously smart and literate lyrics (references include Paul Verlaine (also the band’s namesake), Arthur Rimbaud, and Edvard Munch’s achingly lovely and spooky Death and the Maiden.)

I was so very excited to find a video of this song! Before today, I didn’t know that one existed. It’s super-cute, charmingly and refreshingly unpolished, adorably fun and boisterous, and has cute bunnies, too!:

That was fun! Perhaps I’ll do it again sometime.

(Also, I’m now the national Church & State Examiner over at Examiner.com, so, if that topic interests you, please do check it out. I may occasionally cross-post some of my articles here, too. Thanks!) ♥


the books poured forth

August 10, 2009

I love the idea of poets writing about other poets, especially when one poet writes an elegy for another. I find that these poems often offer beautifully written insights about emotions, relationships, connections, estrangement, the complicated nature of human interaction, love, etc. And elegies written by one skilled poet to another offer some of the most powerful, most complex, and most beautiful expressions in all of literature of love, loss, grief, loneliness, confusion, and the will (or lack thereof) to survive, either physically or emotionally or both.

I’m fond of doing and reading explications and/or close readings of poems, and would like to do a couple of them in this post. I think that, if done well, the process can provide much insight into the meanings of the poem, and can clarify the themes and central ideas expressed therein. Close readings are capable of making the implicit explicit in ways that looser/more general interpretations of the text are not. I would never advocate it as the only method by which one should analyze a text, but it’s certainly more valuable and provides more insight than ideologically-based forms of criticism, for example, wherein the critic is primarily looking for a justification of their beliefs and/or pre-conceived notions about the author and/or the text. This type of criticism is frequently done at the expense of an actual analysis of the text and an interpretation of what it contains. Critics of this sort often ignore the text itself in pursuit of an ideological goal. I don’t think that’s useful, and I think that it makes the text into a mere tool/conduit through which the writer can explain their opinions and ideological stance. Looking at a text from a specific ideological perspective (and solely from that perspective) strips the text of most of its intrinsic value. This type of critic, then, often sees only what they’re looking for and willfully ignores everything else. This does a disservice to both the text itself and to the power of literature as a whole to provide us with beauty, knowledge, and meaning.

I’d like to look at two elegies that I find to be interesting, thought-provoking, beautiful, and moving, each in their own ways.

(Full disclosure: I’m a big fan of Berryman, sort of fond of Williams and of Auden, and absolutely love Yeats. Unlike Yeats, I haven’t any interest in spirituality, magic, fairies, the transcendental, etc., and in fact find anyone who does hold those interests to be rather confusing and frustrating (in that I wonder why/how they could want or need more than what exists here, in the wonderful, amazing here and now), but that doesn’t stop me from loving the beauty of Yeats’s poems with a lovely, swoon-y devotion.)


(John Berryman, 1967)

The first is John Berryman’s elegy for his friend, William Carlos Williams. (“Henry” is Berryman’s narrator/speaker/protagonist in The Dream Songs, but this is complicated by the fact that the narrator also discusses “Henry” at some points. It seems fair to assume that “Henry” is, at least at some points, a manifestation of the author’s voice.)

“Dream Song 324: An Elegy for W.C.W., the lovely man”

Henry in Ireland to Bill underground:
Rest well, who worked so hard, who made a good sound
constantly, for so many years:
your high-jinks delighted the continents & our ears:
you had so many girls your life was a triumph
and you loved your one wife.

At dawn you rose & wrote—the books poured forth—
you delivered infinite babies, in one great birth—
and your generosity
to juniors made you deeply loved, deeply:
if envy was a Henry trademark, he would envy you,
especially the being through.

Too many journeys lie for him ahead,
too many galleys & page-proofs to be read,
he would like to lie down
in your sweet silence, to whom was not denied
the mysterious late excellence which is the crown
of our trials & our last bride.

Such a lovely tribute to a friend. I’m fond of how Berryman expresses such a complex set of emotions and of his stubborn refusal to oversimplify his intertwining, often-contradictory feelings. It’s clear that he admires WCW’s productivity, generosity, stability, and consistency, but that he is also envious of these qualities.

The speaker makes a comparison between the output of both of WCW’s careers, physician and poet:

—the books poured forth—
you delivered infinite babies, in one great birth—

This is an apt and beautiful description of what the speaker sees as WCW’s constant productivity. His creative output and his work as a physician (delivering babies) are, in a way, one and the same, “one great birth.” Berryman dealt with alcoholism and depression, and ultimately took his own life. WCW, too, dealt with depression, but he lived a much calmer and more stable life than Berryman, a fact that Berryman seemed to envy.

if envy was a Henry trademark, he would envy you,
especially the being through.

This is a place where Berryman’s use of “Henry” provides distance from the emotion he’s expressing while still allowing him to divulge it. Perhaps this authorial distance is especially important here because the narrator is yearning not only for WCW’s life but also for the fact that he is “through,”/dead.

The poem’s final stanza elaborates on this particular form of envy, emphasizing how the speaker dreads and resents all of the tasks that a living person must perform.

The poem finishes with:

he would like to lie down
in your sweet silence, to whom was not denied
the mysterious late excellence which is the crown
of our trials & our last bride.

“Your sweet silence” is a beautifully-phrased expression of jealousy at the fact that WCW is now, in death, able to live in silence, in quiet, and in calm, things which Berryman clearly craves. It also seems to be an expression of love from the speaker to this “lovely man,” a tender memorial from one who valued the “sweet silence” of both WCW’s life and of his death. Here, and throughout the poem, envy intermingles with love to the point where they become one powerful, intense emotion, and one beautifully moving expression of a complex, truly human friendship.

He indicates that the last part of WCW’s life was full of “mysterious late excellence” and argues that this was a well-deserved reward for having survived the difficulties of life. It is, as the speaker says, “the crown of our trials” and it is also our final opportunity to intermingle with greatness, with beauty, and with love before death.

Emotions are terribly complex things and I doubt (although there’s no real way to know for certain) that anyone ever feels just one thing/one way at a time; instead, although we can indeed categorize “these” kind of feelings as “love,” or “those” kind of feelings as “sadness,” etc., the specific emotions we feel and how we feel them depends on the situation we’re in and depends upon who we feel them for/about. They’re contextual and complicated and beautifully, wonderfully messy. They’re human. And this poem, this expression of grief, love, and envy, is an excellent example of the true complexity of human emotion. In this poem, the author expresses with honesty his confused and messy feelings regarding the death of his friend. That honesty makes the poem unique. It feels alive. It feels true.

To finish, from Paul Mariani’s Dream Song: The Life of John Berryman:

He envied Williams his zest for life, the good sounds he’d made over a lifetime, the “girls” he’d had, and the wife he’d loved through half a century. What he envied him most, however, was his being finished with his labor, having earned the right at last “to lie down/ in your sweet silence, to whom was not denied/ the mysterious late excellence which is the crown/ of our trials & our last bride.”

I have yet to read that book, but would really like to.


(W.H. Auden, 1969)

Another one I love: W.H. Auden’s “In Memory of W. B. Yeats“

He disappeared in the dead of winter:
The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,
And snow disfigured the public statues;
The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.

Far from his illness
The wolves ran on through the evergreen forests,
The peasant river was untempted by the fashionable quays;
By mourning tongues
The death of the poet was kept from his poems.

But for him it was his last afternoon as himself,
An afternoon of nurses and rumours;
The provinces of his body revolted,
The squares of his mind were empty,
Silence invaded the suburbs,
The current of his feeling failed; he became his admirers.

Now he is scattered among a hundred cities
And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections,
To find his happiness in another kind of wood
And be punished under a foreign code of conscience.
The words of a dead man
Are modified in the guts of the living.

But in the importance and noise of to-morrow
When the brokers are roaring like beasts on the floor of the Bourse,
And the poor have the sufferings to which they are fairly accustomed,
And each in the cell of himself is almost convinced of his freedom,
A few thousand will think of this day
As one thinks of a day when one did something slightly unusual.

What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.

II

You were silly like us; your gift survived it all:
The parish of rich women, physical decay,
Yourself. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.
Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still,
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.

III

Earth, receive an honoured guest:
William Yeats is laid to rest.
Let the Irish vessel lie
Emptied of its poetry.

In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of Europe bark,
And the living nations wait,
Each sequestered in its hate;

Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye.

Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice;

With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress;

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.

This is an emotional poem that is discursive yet unambiguous. Auden’s speaker begins and ends the poem’s first section by comparing the internal to the external, emphasizing the miserable coldness and bleakness of the day of Yeats’s death.

The first part of the second stanza describes both Yeats himself and the major themes/feelings of much of his work. Then, the speaker says:

By mourning tongues
The death of the poet was kept from his poems.

beginning a discussion of the eternal nature of Yeats’s artistic output, as compared to the temporality and ephemerality of Yeats himself (or, if we wish to, we can think of Yeats as representative of “the poet” in general.) Although the man is gone, his poetry is immortal, and, as the speaker indicates, the poems themselves don’t “know” that their creator is gone. The poetry survives unchanged.

The way in which the speaker contrasts the permanence of the poetry with the fleeting nature of human life perhaps also speaks to Yeats’s youthful fascination with myth, legend, and mysticism, and his lifelong yearning for something spiritual and transcendent. Here, perhaps the speaker provides a subtle counterpoint and questions why anyone (specifically a poet) would fruitlessly search for the mythical, the spiritual, and the transcendent when they’re already living in a magnificent world in which their work will outlive them and will provide them with a form of immortality. Auden’s focus is on the everlasting nature of the poetry, not the poet, and indeed provides both a eulogy for a man and a celebration of what remains.

Ending the third stanza, the speaker says:

The current of his feeling failed; he became his admirers.

No longer exists Yeats the man, the poet; instead, it is his work that survives. It endures among his audience and within his admirers.

The fourth stanza ends with:

To find his happiness in another kind of wood
And be punished under a foreign code of conscience.
The words of a dead man
Are modified in the guts of the living.

discussing the last day of Yeats’s life. The speaker here reemphasizes that the poetry is all that remains. However, the speaker has mixed feelings regarding the survival of the poetry. The issue is complicated, and this poem (and this section in particular) is not an unambiguous celebration of the immortality of art.

Yeats’s poetry now contains all that is left of the man. His life and his identity, then, are now being metaphorically spread throughout the world, to his audiences. As the speaker knows, this will bring both “happiness” and “punish[ment].” The punishment may arise from being exposed to “a foreign code of conscience,” which is the risk that an author, creator, artist, etc. must take when sharing their output with the world. Some people will understand it. Some won’t. Some people will love it. Some will loathe it. But, as the speaker emphasizes, it’s the only way in which the author will live on, so both reactions (and the spectrum of possible reactions in-between the extremes) must be accepted. His “words” will now be “modified in the guts of the living.” He’ll no longer be around to explain them, clarify them, contextualize them, or modify them. But they live and find new life when readers experience them, think of them, are affected by them, or are inspired by them. They feel them in their “guts”; they know the power of Yeats’s words.

The tone changes dramatically in the second section of the poem. It begins with:

You were silly like us; your gift survived it all:
The parish of rich women, physical decay,
Yourself.

The “you were silly like us” makes it clear that, to the speaker, Yeats was simultaneously a brilliant literary giant and an “average person,” expressing relatable sentiments and emotions. Here, the speaker also expresses admiration for Yeats’s tenacity and strength: “your gift survived it all.” According to the speaker, the biggest obstacle the poet faced was himself.

Section two ends with:

For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper

it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.

which speaks to one of the central paradoxes of poetry: it indeed doesn’t directly make anything happen. It doesn’t cause immediate, perceptible, large-scale change. But, as the speaker says, it does survive. Oh, how it survives. It lives on “in the [metaphorical] valley of its making,” because people who want it and need it will find it there when they search for it. In that sense, its survival does profoundly affect people and may also perhaps even become an indirect agent of large-scale change.

Poetry survives when people read it, share it, delight in it, incorporate it into their lives, see themselves reflected in it, and let it inspire them to both introspection and to action, “a way of happening.”

The final section again switches tone (and rhyme scheme), starting with:

Earth, receive an honoured guest:
William Yeats is laid to rest.
Let the Irish vessel lie
Emptied of its poetry.

This is a succinct synopsis of what the speaker has said so far. He reminds us that, although the man himself is going to “earth” (indicating the finality of death), and although his vessel has been “emptied of its poetry,” the poetry itself remains.

After providing a wider context for Yeats’s death (the beginning of WWII and the fear and pessimism that accompanied it), the speaker extols him to:

Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice;

Here, he portrays Yeats and his work as an antidote to the pessimistic attitudes of the time. Sure, “poetry makes nothing happen,” but it does deeply affect people, and the speaker asserts that Yeats’s rejoicing, inspiring voice may offer an important alternative to the prevailing Zeitgeist.

The poem concludes with this:

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.

a summation of the way in which Yeats will live on, and why it is important that he does. To the speaker, Yeats’s words have the potential to create and encourage optimism even for someone who must exist in “the prison of his days.” This is an ode to both Yeats specifically and to the power of poetry in general.

What’s confusing about this poem is how it seems to contrast with Auden’s expressed opinions of Yeats. As discussed in this 2007 article from The Guardian, Auden clearly had very mixed feelings about the man:

Auden, when asked for his opinion of Yeats, said: “Yeats spent the first part of his life as a minor poet, and the second part writing major poems about what it had been like to be a minor poet.”

On another occasion Auden said that he had only once encountered pure evil in a person, and that was when he met Yeats.

In 1939 (the same year in which the elegy was written), according to the article, Auden:

set out in the Partisan Review a marvellously trenchant pair of speeches for and against him, called “The Public v the Late Mr William Butler Yeats”.

offering a literal and explicit back-and-forth and pro-and-con discussion of Yeats and his work. Auden is extremely critical in it, but ultimately ends up deciding that:

there was one area in which the poet was indeed a man of action, and that was language. However false or undemocratic Yeats’s ideas had been, his diction saved him in the defence’s eyes: “The diction of ‘The Winding Stair’ is the diction of a just man, and it is for this reason that just men will always recognise the author as a master.”

The complexity and the often contradictory nature of Auden’s perception of Yeats is not reflected in the elegy. But Auden does ultimately focus on Yeats’s poetry (rather than his character) both in the elegy and in “real life.” This is an extreme example of a love/hate relationship, a more intense variety of the ambiguous relationships that often exist between artists, or between an artist and their audience. Auden managed to write a genuine, powerful, and well-crafted eulogy full of pathos and admiration. It is one that centers on the poetry that survives the poet and on the potential effects of that poetry. Auden sees value in both Yeats and his work, but can find more value in the work when he detaches it from the man.

The biographical information presented in the article shows that Auden’s feelings towards the subject of his elegy were ambiguous, complex, confusing, and contradictory. From the start, it’s pretty clear that, unlike Berryman’s eulogy for WCW, this is not an expression of love for a man, for a poet, or for a friend. Instead, it’s an expression of love for what poetry is and for what it can do. It’s a true paean to the subtle yet devastatingly important power of poetry.

Both elegies remind us that art outlives the artist, and that, through the act of creation, one may perhaps achieve a type of immortality. Each also underscores the often-invisible but nonetheless powerful impact that poetry can have on individuals, and how it can be a spark and a candle in the dark, one that may provide illumination and inspiration, and that may help us to begin the difficult but beautiful process of attempting to understand both ourselves and each other.

(All images are from The Life photo archive)

More soon! Thank you so much for reading.


perhaps the same bird echoed through both of us, yesterday, separate, in the evening

July 30, 2009

♥ I really love these lines, from Rainer Maria Rilke‘s
“[You who never arrived]“:

You, Beloved, who are all
the gardens I have ever gazed at,
longing. An open window
in a country house—, and you almost
stepped out, pensive, to meet me. Streets that I chanced upon,—
you had just walked down them and vanished.
And sometimes, in a shop, the mirrors
were still dizzy with your presence and, startled, gave back
my too-sudden image. Who knows? perhaps the same
bird echoed through both of us
yesterday, separate, in the evening…

This line is especially lovely:

♥ I am enamored with this photo of Serge and Anna (can’t recall where I found it), and I recently discovered this video of them singing “Ne Dis Rien” (“Don’t Say Anything”.) I believe that it’s a rehearsal of sorts for the 1967 French television program Anna (the photo seems to have been taken during the same rehearsal.) They’re amazingly beautiful here, and interact in such an intensely sensual and lovely way:

♥ I’ve been enjoying browsing the fascinating Life photo archive over at Google Images, where I came across the work of Gjon Mili. Very lovely, evocative work, and these, from 1945, are my favorite:

So incredibly beautiful. I think they were probably a part of a fashion article in the magazine, but I’m not sure. Dreamy.

Also from the archive, here’s a lovely 1981 photo of Paul Simon and Carrie Fisher. It’s so sweet. They were a ridiculously cute couple:

♥ I have a bad habit of re-reading beloved books. This is a bad habit because I have SO many unread books sitting around here, books that I’m excited to read, books waiting to be read. One book that I return to again and again is The Great Gatsby, because I find it to be beautiful, smart, inspiring, and because I enjoy the manner in which the text/subtext/context interact in the story (however, being that I wrote at least four papers on it during college and graduate school, you couldn’t pay me enough money to write another!).

I know that it’s a bit cliche, but these are my favorite lines, and are some of the most gorgeous phrases ever written:

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther… And one fine morning —
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

It makes me gasp every time I read it. Every time.

Also, the 1974 film adaptation is beautiful and very well-done. In general, I’m rather wary of film adaptations of books I love, but this one, overall, got it right.

(Image taken from Livejournal’s Film Stills community)

Relatedly, Hemingway’s stunningly beautiful description of Fitzgerald, from A Moveable Feast (also one of my favorite books and one that I re-read at least once a year) are some of the most moving lines in all of literature:

His talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly’s wings. At one time he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred. Later he became conscious of his damaged wings and of their construction and he learned to think and could not fly any more because the love of flight was gone and he could only remember when it had been effortless.

I think that can also be extrapolated to describe what many of us feel (I know that I do) when we are doing something we enjoy, are immersed in something we feel passionately about, but then suddenly realize that our ideas/work/creations aren’t perfect, aren’t going to be perfect, and thus we perhaps shouldn’t even bother trying. It’s the curse of we perfectionists and it’s something that I work hard to overcome.

Thanks so much for reading! I’m currently working on a few other posts, and they should be up soon. ♥


the main thing is to try

July 19, 2009


(Edward R. Murrow, 1957)

Lately, I’ve found myself cringing when I see or hear television, radio, or print media using Twitter or Facebook as their sources for information. It comes across as a desperate attempt to be relevant and to stay afloat in today’s media culture. And, of course, they cannot be blamed for fighting for their survival in an economy as unstable and poor as this one, and in a culture that, in general, no longer seems to value high-quality, informative, well-written/well-presented news and analysis.

This isn’t a completely new phenomenon. For years, American mass media (and I focus on American mass media here simply because it’s what I know most about/what I’ve experienced a great deal of) has been slowly but steadily moving towards an extreme commercialization of the news, leading up to today’s media climate, in which many media outlets seem to think that all news must consist of entertaining, easy-to-digest, and simple stories that require little to no critical thinking, analysis, or self-questioning on the part of the audience. The goal, it seems, is to make everything easily understandable and non-disturbing for the reader/viewer/listener; in other words, they don’t want us, as consumers of media, to have to think or to have to face the reality of what’s happening in the world. This attitude is often justified as “giving the audience what they want.”

It must be admitted that there is some truth to that. If we, as media consumers, choose to spend a great deal of time and money in support of news media that refuses to report on anything that isn’t entertaining or mindless, then, yes, we’re indicating that such writing/reporting is indeed what we want. However, it is also important to remember that media outlets have chosen to value entertainment and advertising revenue above useful, thought-provoking, and important news that informs us and requires us to think, to truly think, about the issue under discussion. It seems to me that the “well, the audience wants it so we better give it to them!” excuse is often simply a refusal to take responsibility for having chosen the easier, more profitable road.

Edward R. Murrow’s 1958 Speech to the Radio and Television News Directors Association convention explains these ideas so very eloquently, insightfully, and thoroughly. I find it to be one of the most inspiring rhetorical pieces I’ve ever read.

A few excerpts:

Our history will be what we make it. And if there are any historians about fifty or a hundred years from now, and there should be preserved the kinescopes for one week of all three networks, they will there find recorded in black and white, or color, evidence of decadence, escapism and insulation from the realities of the world in which we live. I invite your attention to the television schedules of all networks between the hours of 8 and 11 p.m., Eastern Time. Here you will find only fleeting and spasmodic reference to the fact that this nation is in mortal danger. There are, it is true, occasional informative programs presented in that intellectual ghetto on Sunday afternoons. But during the daily peak viewing periods, television in the main insulates us from the realities of the world in which we live. If this state of affairs continues, we may alter an advertising slogan to read: LOOK NOW, PAY LATER.

For surely we shall pay for using this most powerful instrument of communication to insulate the citizenry from the hard and demanding realities which must be faced if we are to survive. I mean the word survive literally. If there were to be a competition in indifference, or perhaps in insulation from reality, then Nero and his fiddle, Chamberlain and his umbrella, could not find a place on an early afternoon sustaining show. If Hollywood were to run out of Indians, the program schedules would be mangled beyond all recognition. Then some courageous soul with a small budget might be able to do a documentary telling what, in fact, we have done–and are still doing–to the Indians in this country. But that would be unpleasant. And we must at all costs shield the sensitive citizens from anything that is unpleasant.

I am entirely persuaded that the American public is more reasonable, restrained and more mature than most of our industry’s program planners believe. Their fear of controversy is not warranted by the evidence. I have reason to know, as do many of you, that when the evidence on a controversial subject is fairly and calmly presented, the public recognizes it for what it is–an effort to illuminate rather than to agitate.

Nowhere is this better illustrated than by the fact that the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission publicly prods broadcasters to engage in their legal right to editorialize. Of course, to undertake an editorial policy, overt and clearly labeled, and obviously unsponsored, requires a station or a network to be responsible. Most stations today probably do not have the manpower to assume this responsibility, but the manpower could be recruited. Editorials would not be profitable; if they had a cutting edge, they might even offend. It is much easier, much less troublesome, to use the money-making machine of television and radio merely as a conduit through which to channel anything that is not libelous, obscene or defamatory. In that way one has the illusion of power without responsibility.

I am frightened by the imbalance, the constant striving to reach the largest possible audience for everything; by the absence of a sustained study of the state of the nation. Heywood Broun once said, “No body politic is healthy until it begins to itch.” I would like television to produce some itching pills rather than this endless outpouring of tranquilizers. It can be done. Maybe it won’t be, but it could.

Just once in a while let us exalt the importance of ideas and information. Let us dream to the extent of saying that on a given Sunday night the time normally occupied by Ed Sullivan is given over to a clinical survey of the state of American education, and a week or two later the time normally used by Steve Allen is devoted to a thoroughgoing study of American policy in the Middle East. Would the corporate image of their respective sponsors be damaged? Would the stockholders rise up in their wrath and complain? Would anything happen other than that a few million people would have received a little illumination on subjects that may well determine the future of this country, and therefore the future of the corporations? This method would also provide real competition between the networks as to which could outdo the others in the palatable presentation of information. It would provide an outlet for the young men of skill, and there are some even of dedication, who would like to do something other than devise methods of insulating while selling.

It may be that the present system, with no modifications and no experiments, can survive. Perhaps the money-making machine has some kind of built-in perpetual motion, but I do not think so. To a very considerable extent the media of mass communications in a given country reflect the political, economic and social climate in which they flourish. That is the reason ours differ from the British and French, or the Russian and Chinese. We are currently wealthy, fat, comfortable and complacent. We have currently a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information. Our mass media reflect this. But unless we get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse and insulate us, then television and those who finance it, those who look at it and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late.

I do not advocate that we turn television into a 27-inch wailing wall, where longhairs constantly moan about the state of our culture and our defense. But I would just like to see it reflect occasionally the hard, unyielding realities of the world in which we live. I would like to see it done inside the existing framework, and I would like to see the doing of it redound to the credit of those who finance and program it. Measure the results by Nielsen, Trendex or Silex-it doesn’t matter. The main thing is to try. The responsibility can be easily placed, in spite of all the mouthings about giving the public what it wants. It rests on big business, and on big television, and it rests at the top. Responsibility is not something that can be assigned or delegated. And it promises its own reward: good business and good television.

To those who say people wouldn’t look; they wouldn’t be interested; they’re too complacent, indifferent and insulated, I can only reply: There is, in one reporter’s opinion, considerable evidence against that contention. But even if they are right, what have they got to lose? Because if they are right, and this instrument is good for nothing but to entertain, amuse and insulate, then the tube is flickering now and we will soon see that the whole struggle is lost.

This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference. This weapon of television could be useful.

Every bit of that is, unfortunately enough, still as relevant and as important today as it was in 1958. Things have only gotten worse since that time. I find it to be such an inspirational and powerful work, and one that offers advice that we would most definitely do well to heed.

The wonderful 2005 film, Good Night, and Good Luck, gives a glimpse into Murrow’s professional life and his fascination with and fierce passion for the truth.

In it, David Straithairn, playing Murrow, delivers excerpts from the Radio and Television News Directors Association convention speech, and the excerpts have been collected in this video:

Now, back to what I mentioned at the beginning. It upsets me to see traditional news media relying on social networking sites as a source of content. I want to hear quality news reporting and analysis delivered by experienced, skilled, and passionate reporters. Instead, what many news outlets give us today are talking heads reading out viewers’ responses from Twitter, or Facebook, or reading their text messages aloud, or taking calls on the air. And, unless it’s in the context of a specifically designated call-in program, that’s just ridiculous. It seems as if these media outlets do this to try to be relevant and entertaining, and also because they seem to think that giving all voices equal time and equal value will make the news more interesting to viewers. And perhaps that does make it more interesting to some. But “interesting” isn’t what I’m concerned with. I want these news sources to inform me and to provide explication and analysis from highly-qualified, skilled, and thoughtful professionals. Having a few truly informative and quality voices is so much more important than giving airtime to everyone who fires off 140 characters of nonsense on Twitter.

Ironically enough, Twitter is now one of the best places to follow current news (although it comes with neither context nor analysis, a fact which greatly lessens its usefulness), not only because so many of us now use it on a regular basis, but also because much of the traditional news media has become so obsessed with entertaining us and so focused on selling us things that they rarely choose to offer their audience anything of value or usefulness anymore, let alone any contextualizing of the information or useful analysis of it. Instead, they spend their programs reading aloud from Twitter.

I love to be entertained, and I would never argue that every bit of media we consume should be solely informative, or that news should never be entertaining. However, combining news and entertainment in the way that much of the mass media do today has left us with an under-informed populace who are rarely given the information we need in order to make sense of and make decisions about the world we live in. We’re also being denied quality, thoughtful, and thorough analyses of current events/issues that explain, contextualize, and comment upon the news, providing us with much more food for thought than a simple burst of facts without explanation ever could.

We can handle reality. We can think for ourselves. We can think critically and thoroughly about an issue. We don’t always have to be entertained. We owe it to ourselves and to everyone else to stay informed about and to truly understand the current events of our world. And the media needs to be responsible enough to provide us with that information.

As Murrow said (quoted above), “I would like television to produce some itching pills rather than this endless outpouring of tranquilizers. It can be done. Maybe it won’t be, but it could.”

With our time and our money, let’s make it clear to the media that we’d like a good dose of “itching pills” along with the constant stream of “tranquilizers” they’re currently so eager to force down our throats. To use a cheesy but apt metaphor: let’s close our throats a bit and then open our eyes as wide as they can go.


the endless endless summer in your laugh

July 1, 2009

Flowers at Pike Place Market

♥ Gorgeous pink flowers, seen at Pike Place Market last weekend. Oh, how I love that place!:

Pike Place Market

I’ve been there so many times, yet I’m always so enchanted with it and always become very absorbed in it. I love the flowers, the little shops spread out over so many different floors, the restaurants with the views of Elliott Bay, the bakeries, the musicians (I sat for a while and watched a man who was singing Simon and Garfunkel songs very beautifully), the hidden treasures. I also love the vitality of it all and really like to wander around and watch the crowds and the activity.

I was in Seattle with my mom for a few days. We had a great time and very much enjoyed downtown. Sometimes I really, really miss living there and would love to again, if it becomes feasible to do so.

And, oh goodness, the Seattle Central Library is gorgeous and wonderful! It was my first time visiting it. I’m generally not a fan of Deconstructivism (which is probably the most accurate classification for the building’s style), and most often prefer classical/neo-classical type architecture/buildings, but if a building is splendid and beautiful, then it is, regardless of its style:

Seattle Central Library. Oh my goodness! It was my first time visiting it. SWOON!

At Seattle Central Library. Oh my goodness! It was my first time visiting it. SWOON!

At Seattle Central Library. Oh my goodness! It was my first time visiting it. SWOON!

In Seattle Central Library. Oh my goodness! It was my first time visiting it. SWOON!

In Seattle Central Library. Oh my goodness! It was my first time visiting it. SWOON!

I would love to spend more time there! ♥

It’s always so wonderful when I’m listening to my I-pod, on shuffle, and, by chance, a song comes on that feels so appropriate and perfect for what I’m doing at that moment. While in Seattle, I was sitting on an outdoor terrace at one of the downtown malls, eating lunch, watching everything intently, when M. Ward’s “Hold Time” came on (it’s from the album of the same name. I’ve been rather enamored with it since it came out in February- definitely recommended) and it perfectly reflected the wistful, poignant loveliness that I was feeling/seeing. It’s one of my favorite songs, and the video is mesmerizingly beautiful:

My favorite lyric is:

I wrote this song just to remember the endless endless summer in your laugh

And a screenshot from the video, with that lovely lyric:

So gorgeous ♥♥♥

More soon! Thanks so much for reading. ♥


(in the grass of a clearing)

June 22, 2009

♥ I really love vintage maps, both because they’re often very beautiful, and because it’s fascinating to see the ways in which various parts of the world were depicted/known at the time of the map’s creation.

This one is a world map from 1864, from VintageMaps.com. It’s much too pricey for me (most are), but I love to look at them and would really like to have one on my wall someday.

♥ A couple of musical things that are making me happy lately:

This live performance of The Bird and The Bee’s cover (from the Please Clap Your Hands EP) of The Bee Gees’ “How Deep Is Your Love” is beautiful, swoon-worthy, and so gorgeous:

I quite like their music in general, but this is especially lovely.

& This is Colin Meloy (of The Decemberists), performing a solo version of The Decemberists’ “We Both Go Down Together,” one of my favorite of their songs (and, ha, yes, I will admit that part of the reason that I love it is that my name is in it (“Meet me on my vast veranda/ My sweet, untouched Miranda/ And while the seagulls are crying/ We fall but our souls are flying”), and my name doesn’t appear in songs too frequently, but it’s also just a gorgeous and lovely song overall), a version of which appears on his wonderful live album, Colin Meloy Sings Live!. This was apparently recorded in an elevator in Amsterdam in 2007. It’s a beautiful and adorable performance:

♥ I really like this darling dress, from Only Hearts’ spring collection:

And this one, too, from Odd Molly’s spring collection:

They’re both so wonderfully ethereal and pretty and summer-y!
(Images taken from their websites.)

♥ And, oh, how I love this wonderful bag that I recently ordered from Topshop. It’s important to me that my bags are big enough to hold quite a few things, have a long enough strap to go across my body if I want to wear them that way, have a top zipper, and are not leather, and this one is all of those things, plus it’s so soft, too!:


(Image taken from their website.)

And me & the bag, yesterday. I love that coat that I’m wearing, too:

i love my new bag so much

& This was taken at my parents’ house yesterday. More coat love!:

in one of my parents' bathrooms, today

(I’ve redesigned the blog quite a bit, and have moved it from wordpress.com to .org (in order to have more control over the design), and that has changed the url for the feed, which is now feed://www.burningtheletters.net/?feed=atom Thanks!)

♥ More soon!


we should boycott women who don't cry

June 15, 2009

Anna Karina is so delightfully pretty and wonderful!:

(The first is from Une Femme est une Femme, the second from Bande à Part)

And here’s a beautiful video of Anna singing “Sous le Soleil Exactement”:

Oh how that makes me want to be on a windy beach on a slightly overcast day, romping about in lovely clothes and with windblown hair, giggling and enjoying the wistful beauty and ephemerality of it all. ♥

It’s from Anna, a French television special from 1967, with music by Serge Gainsbourg (who also sang “Sous le Soleil Exactement.” I much prefer his version, but Anna is so charming and lovely that I quite like hers, too.) I haven’t yet had the chance to see it in its entirety, but would love to, as the clips I’ve seen are wonderfully beautiful and dreamlike.

& Another adorable clip from Anna, with Anna and Serge:

That’s really quite delicious! ♥

Lots of loveliness, indeed.

(The subject line is a quote from her character in Une Femme est une Femme.)

More soon!


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