Thursday, September 21, 2017

“It Is the Little Things That Make Life Big” by Ariana Farajollah

Many films act as messages urging viewers to take action against the atrocities in humanity whereas others communicate that, at their core, humans are basically good. Beginning with Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout, advancing onto Jamie Uys’ The Gods Must Be Crazy, and ultimately scrutinizing Lina Wertmüller’s Swept Away, our class concluded our “Art of Interpretation” with Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire. Set in Berlin, the film follows two angels as they comfort mortals. Although Damiel and Cassiel offer sympathy to humans, they lack true human emotion. Inspired by trapeze artist Marion and her beauty, Damiel’s desire is to transform into a human being. The initial three movies that depict the harm done by Western Civilization strategically serve as a set-up for this last film that displays the good that can be found in humanity.

Walkabout is a tale of two city-bred siblings who, following their father’s suicide, are forced to trudge along the scorching desert in search of home. Every detail in Roeg’s film is carefully considered and decided upon. More specifically, costume choices are deliberately made, as they tell a story in themselves. The director spends a generous amount of time focusing on those who are clothed versus those who are naked. Despite the soaring temperatures of the Australian Outback, the female protagonist refuses to remove a single article of clothing. She opts to restrict the heat from escaping her body in her classic schoolgirl plaid skirt and crisp white button down. However, once she finds a break in the auburn, ashy desert at a secluded flowing stream, the teenage girl strips off the oppressive clothing to bear only skin. She lets out a sigh of relief as her arms aid her in floating across a pond. Critic Patrick Gibbs recalls this scene as “memorable for its lyrical quality when the girl’s inhibitions seem finally to be dispersed by the force of nature and she swims nude” (par. 2) and alludes to her fear of judgment. Her discomfort with nudity plays to her apprehension of revealing her true self. The only place the girl finds serenity is when she has the freedom to be exposed in the comfort of privacy.  

The protagonist’s anxiety reflects society’s own, grander-scale angst. One frequently puts forward a mask to avoid judgment from his peers. Western civilization encourages this behavior by labeling certain identities as superior to others. For instance, one may lie about his or her sexual orientation or personal interests to conceal one’s true qualities and quirky characteristics. In the process, the colorful individuals that comprise our society lose just that: their individuality, their distinctiveness, and their rarity. Through the inclusion of scenes depicting the girl both clothed and nude, Roeg draws on our society’s need to eschew our fear of judgment, let down our façades, and express what makes us unique. Walkabout is suitable for interpreting our first film as it poses the dangers of judgment and the extremes that some must go to in order to feel truly and completely comfortable.

Similar to the close scrutiny of Nicolas Roeg’s work, many of us slid Jamie Uys’ The Gods Must Be Crazy under a microscope. The movie depicts Bushman Xi’s journey to the end of the Earth, clumsy scientist Andrew’s developing crush on Kate, a South African transplant, and belligerent guerillas causing mischief in the jungle. Although at first glance the film appears to be nothing short of a comedy, Uys embeds deeper messages about ownership for his audience to consider. When a Coke bottle is dropped into the Kalahari Desert and found by the Bushman’s hands, the indigenous people question the motives of the “gods” (Uys, 0:06:57). What was originally an object of many usages quickly has become a weapon to their society. Uys alternates scenes of children taking blows to the head, playing rough games of tug-of-war with the glass bottle, and even the adults getting in on some of the action (Uys, 0:10:16). Critic Vincent Canby comments on the situation, “…the bottle also introduces the Bushmen to feelings of envy and ideas of ownership, thus threatening their idyllic society that, until then, has existed without poverty, greed or crime” (par. 6). 

The homeostatic upset in the Bushmen’s community speaks to the danger of possession. Although the people had never owned anything before, as soon as the bottle entered the picture, the Bushmen became animal-like and unwilling to share. Similarly, those in Western society are so focused on gaining that lusted-after competitive edge that they often forget to help a neighbor out. They wildly climb the ladder to success at the expense of their equals until they are no longer equal. In reality, the results lack any hint of success, but, rather, the human condition suffers. The Gods Must Be Crazy is fitting for a second film as it introduces the barbarism that results from ownership.

Swept Away acts as an additional interrogation of what it means to be civilized. Wertmüller’s film follows capitalistic yacht-cruiser Rafaella and communistic crewmember Gennarino as they seek to escape their isolation on a stranded island. In the process, these two characters undergo personality changes. The director uses the protagonists’ roles to explore the notion of gender and sexism. Gennarino, normally a passive young man, endures a complete one-eighty as he transforms into a disturbingly dominant version of himself. Rafaella, once a snooty, reliant woman becomes docile and obedient to Gennarino. Blogger Samantha Storms writes, “Wertmüller’s violent scenes of abuse and manipulation serve…as representations of the issues that the female gender must face in daily life…” (par. 6). As soon as the two protagonists undergo these extreme changes in personality, they slip into classic gender roles of dominant male and submissive female. This situation speaks to modern day sexist stereotype of men as physically and mentally superior to women. Ladies are often belittled for trying to independently secure a steady income, choosing to go through life without a husband, and engaging in traditional “male” pastimes, such as sports. Simply put, sexism is yet another symptom of a civilization out of balance. Swept Away powerfully addresses the misogynistic challenges within Western society.

Wenders’ Wings of Desire directly responds to the impact of judgment, ownership, and sexism in our contemporary lives. The film thrives off of uncertainty in order to delve deeper into what it means to be human and to provoke its audience to question its conventions. Wings of Desire assures viewers that the concerns raised by the former three films are minor compared to life’s inherent beauty. For instance, the commuters on the train are too jaded by the anxieties of daily life to see the angels around them paying witness to their woes. In contrast, the children, not yet corrupted by the limits of the rational mind, easily sense the comfort emitted by Damiel and Cassiel. Moreover, trapeze artist Marion, although an adult, is conscious of the angel’s presence because she has maintained passion in her art. The juxtaposition between characters who are aware of Damiel and Cassiel’s angelic presence and those who are not is analogous to the characters who can appreciate life’s beauty and those who cannot.

The all-too-human struggles in Roeg’s Walkabout, Uys’ The Gods Must Be Crazy, and Wertmüller’s Swept Away are but a prelude to the transformation into mortality celebrated in Wings of Desire. Wenders focuses on Damiel’s yearning to exchange his status as an angel for a chance at experiencing life as a human. He has quieted the violent thoughts of a Holocaust survivor, eavesdropped on the concerns of commuters, and solaced the escort struggling to meet ends. Reviewer Jessica Winter discusses his desire for mortality, “The angel wants to live ‘not forever but now,’ to trade the unbearable lightness of being for the heft and dirt of the mortal coil. He rhapsodizes about being able to feel his own bones, to let the newspaper blacken his fingers, to ‘feed the cat like Philip Marlowe’" (par. 4). Damiel has seen all the tragedies that life can unexpectedly throw at its members, yet still wants to experience what it means to be human. The angel appreciates the little things in life that Walkabout’s female character, the Bushmen, and Rafaella are too consumed by life’s evils to see. Damiel minimizes the concerns, looking beyond them to discover a world swelling with affection, beauty, and gratitude. Blogger Ariel Hannanian puts it best, “…his urge to live among these flawed individuals suggests there is an innate beauty in being human” (par. 1). Wings of Desire is an intriguing film to wrap up our investigations because it resolves any loose or alarming thoughts that the audience may have experienced concerning our lack of humanity to one another. It portrays civilization in an optimistic light and asks us to see that, although society is tainted with tragic moments, it has its good ones, too. 

Yes, no doubt our humanity is flawed, but only in so far as we choose to bury the flaw and not address it. Nicolas Roeg, Jamie Uys, and Lina Wertmüller communicate the brutalities of our judgments, the struggles we encounter with ownership, and the nagging stereotype of sexist behaviors. However, I suggest that the sequence of films is methodically ordered to conclude with a film that transcends those atrocities. Through Damiel’s journey into true human feeling, Wings of Desire explores the intrinsic good in our humanity. Wim Wenders calls on viewers to take action, improve humanity, and make Damiel’s perspective of the world a little less difficult to see. After all, it is the little things that make life big.

Works Cited

Canby, Vincent. "Is 'The Gods Must Be Crazy' Only a Comedy?" The New York Times,

27 Oct. 1984. Web. 29 Apr. 2017.

Gibbs, Patrick. "Walkabout, original 1971 review: 'beautiful'" The Telegraph, 08 Nov.

2014. Web. 29 Apr. 2017.

Hannanian, Ariel. "Awakenings into Adulthood via Wim Wenders." Taking Giant

Steps, 16 Apr. 2017. Web. 09 May 2017.

Storms, Samantha. "Passion’s Dark Side: Roeg’s Walkabout vs Wertmüller’s Swept

            Away by Samantha Storms." Taking Giant Steps, 08 Dec. 2016. Web. 29 Apr. 2017.

Winter, Jessica. "Revisiting Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire." Slate Magazine, 12 Jan.

2010. Web. 29 Apr. 2017.


Sunday, September 17, 2017

“Walt Whitman, Alan Watts, and We” by DaisyMae VanValkenburgh

The most fascinating thing about a young adult’s life is that it is always changing. There is so much room for improvement, for seeing things differently, and for trying to understand the inner self. American poet Walt Whitman and British philosopher Alan Watts demonstrate in their writing how the world around us is in constant flux, how we learn to absorb information and then decide how we will allow it to change us. When I began my first college writing class, I felt as if I was quite the cultured person, but I soon caught on that the people around me and the forum style of the class would allow me to grow a lot more than I imagined. Our many discussions of texts, especially in regard to our identity, gave me an opportunity to reach a higher level of understanding. The variety of my peers’ responses to both Asian and Western appreciations of the spiritual side of life has made me open my eyes to just how much I was unaware of. These glimpses into other lifestyles, priorities and “techniques of the sacred” have allowed me to see things much differently.

Walt Whitman in Section One of “Song of Myself” writes, “I celebrate myself, and sing myself, / And what I assume you shall assume” (Whitman 1.1.1-2).  By Whitman saying I, he speaks about his own person, but he also insinuates a cosmic (or Vedic) self that is not higher or lower than anyone else; rather he asks us to see the self as universal, something we are all a part of: “For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you” (Whitman 1.1.3). I view this as a brilliant escape from the demanding trap of the ego in which I must create, denounce, and defend a position or a personal identity in order to be comfortable or taken seriously. Whitman knows that we as individuals understand each other better when we are all involved, and that is a huge motivation for young, susceptible individuals trying to make sense of who they are. In Section 24 he calls himself “a kosmos” and adds this moral dimension, “Whoever degrades another, degrades me / And whatever is done or said returns at last to me” (Whitman 1.24. 1; 8-9).  

Indeed, the motive of “Song of Myself” strikes me as an appeal to the reader to think beyond the either/or of our perceptions. As fellow Taking Giant Steps blogger Emily Baksic astutely writes on Leaves of Grass and its relation to Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, “The yin and yang accept the flow between one’s life and the universe counteracting together. The yin and yang represent the integration of opposites not merely as polarities, but as complements” (Baksic, Par. 5). Though we may split the universe into good and bad, we need to see how opposites attract and create a larger whole in and of itself. Whitman caused me to recognize that we are all individual entities sharing space in the same universe. No one is anything more, and no one is anything less. To insist otherwise feels like an unnecessary defense against our own urge to grow our souls. When one works with another, dates another, or speaks to a stranger, one can gain so much by putting oneself on the same level as the other. It is not worth putting oneself above or below another, just because one is speaking to an individual of a certain status. One must find oneself in others to truly grasp all the dimensions of one’s identity. As Alan Watts would say, regarding our need to make all these distinctions in status, we are “putting legs on a snake” (Watts, 11). 

After reading Chapter One of his The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, I observed that Watts and Whitman are essentially singing the same song, each for their own generation. Watts’s reading of Vedanta, the end of the Vedas (knowledge), makes us as humans wonder if what we know is not what we actually need to know in order to be “in the know” (Watts, 9). Watts suggests that we must dig down deeper---beyond the masks of our personalities and the social conventions we obey without a second thought---into the taboo of the world, search a little in the unknown, and work on figuring out what the others refuse to tell us. Maybe there is “some inside information, some special taboo, some real lowdown on life and existence that most parents and teachers either don't know or won't tell” (Watts, 9).

Watts caused me to consider that life has more meaning than what we just see on the outer surface. We have to interrogate the taboos of our society and run with what the world does not want us to know. Watts states that we are “flesh or plastic, intelligence or mechanism, nerve or wire, biology or physics” (Watts, 39), a “human race leaving no more trace of itself in the universe than a system of electronic patterns” (Watts, 37). Watts asks us to look at each occurrence that happens in life differently. As he puts it, “Taboos lie within taboos” (Watts, 9), and that is where we need to search in order to find what we are missing. These hush-hush, inflammatory, unpopular, or alternative readings of the world are what students need to learn for themselves. I gratefully entertain the notion that I am not merely a separate self, alienated from others, alone and afraid, but part of the greater whole in which my individual soul (Atman) is none other than the universal soul (Brahman).

Fortunately, I first encountered these two iconoclastic writers in my middle school and high school years. Growing up a sheltered child with a mother who perennially fought health problems, I was not able to explore as much as the other children were, nor was I able to go spend time with friends as much at a young age, due to the fear of contracting an ordinary illness and getting my mother more ill. With chronic illnesses, even the simplest of colds can have severe effects on the immune system. If I did have playdates growing up, I do not remember them clearly. In second grade my thirst for knowledge wound up distancing me from my peers. However, this solitude gave me a kind of freedom. I picked up an encyclopedia in my house one day and began reading it, one book at a time. Reading led to writing, and I learned to analyze material to find deeper meanings, but also to find a larger understanding in every circumstance. I am thankful for the chance to grow my interpretive antennae at such an early age. Fellow blogger Kelsey Picciano was not so lucky: “I learned only that of the history the school chose for me to learn; I read only the literature of which the school wished for me to read; I knew only of the environment that the school wished for me to be in” (Picciano, Par. 3).

In middle school, my English teacher realized I had a knack for seeing things differently, so she introduced me to the 52 sections of “Song of Myself.” Whitman’s way of expressing how we as humans are comprised of experiences, ideas, and mental states, as well as a personal spiritual understanding, demonstrated so clearly that each person is part of one universal self in the world. From a young age this point of view is something that I have sought to celebrate. Likewise, in high school, my English teacher, seeing that I needed a challenge, invited me to spend my sophomore year reading Alan Watts. Once again, I found myself in the company of a real seeker willing to question everything around him to get to the bottom of things. With this inside knowledge, I realized that I was no longer going to let anyone dictate who I was becoming. I took the chances I wanted and have never looked back. Because of these self-discoveries in middle and high school, “I no longer find myself with a void sitting inside of me; I no longer solely feel my physical being; I feel my existence as my own unique individual” (Picciano, Par. 7). 

In my first semester of college, I have further realized that in order to continue my path towards a career in journalism, I need to allow my mind to wander into the unknowns of the world, as Watts teaches us, and that I must find myself within others, as Whitman illustrates. My past is no longer going to define my future; rather, my present self is going to be the guide to find out who I will become. As someone who considered herself well cultured, I found that Watts and Whitman truly challenged my homeostasis. Whitman showed me how we are all a part of the same whole, working to figure out what truly works for each of us. Watts opened my eyes to see that what we already know is not all that we need to know. We must be in constant search of what we do not know to acquire what we still need to. I realized that my best strategy as a learner, thinker and evolving writer is to break out of my comfort zone in order to challenge what it is I have yet to learn. 

Works Cited

Baksic, Emily. "Corresponding Ideas of Nature in Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass & Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching." Taking Giant Steps, 05 May 2016. Web. 30 Nov. 2016.

Picciano, Kelsey. "Forging a Whitmanic, Post-Traditional, Bisexual Identity." Taking Giant Steps. N.p., 28 Jan. 2016. Web. 07 Dec. 2016.

Watts, Alan. “Chapter 1,” The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are. Share and Discover Knowledge on LinkedIn SlideShare. N.p., 25 Dec. 2015. Web. 30 Nov. 2016.

Whitman, Walt. “Song of Myself” (1892 Version)| Poetry Foundation, n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Wim Wenders’ WINGS OF DESIRE: A Reason to Believe by Monica Boretsky

To persevere: to persist in anything undertaken; maintain a purpose in spite of difficulty, obstacles, or discouragement; continue steadfastly (Bastida). 

The films presented in our writing class provide one with reasons to become indignant with the outcome Western civilization has on the lifestyle of its citizens. In Walkabout Nicolas Roeg exposes the ignorance and self-centeredness it instills in a person; in The Gods Must Be Crazy Jamie Uys shows that the desire for possessions can consume one’s life; in Swept Away Lina Wertmuller demonstrates the inability for one to love another outside the predetermined qualities defined by society. Viewers become witnesses to the destruction caused by these traits and habits of life in Western civilization. Wim Wenders, however, provides a different approach, in Wings of Desire. Although he, too, reveals the defeating aspects of our over-civilized society by focusing on Berlin divided by a wall, he provides a reason to believe in civilization as well. Through Damiel’s experience of becoming human, one is reminded of the beauty of life that one may experience through love. 

As a living inheritor of Western culture, I was appalled at how the characters in these films take things for granted.  The older sister of Walkabout and Raffaella of Swept Away both live in the luxury of a wealthy lifestyle. In this life, they do not bear the weight of personally putting in any labor to obtain what they want in life. Both of them lack the appreciation for those who do put in the effort.  In Walkabout, the older sister says condescendingly to the Aborigine, We want water to drink. You must understand! Anyone can understand that. We want to drink. I can't make it any simpler” (Roeg, 27:18). Her ignorance is mirrored in Raffaella when she speaks to those serving her on the yacht in a demeaning tone. One morning she says, “I like having my coffee fresh if you could understand that. The bad habits of a typical grubby southern slob” (Wertmuller, 00:08:32). While these characters expect the world to rotate around them, Wings of Desire reminds us of life’s small pleasures that have become so second nature to us that we forget to appreciate them. When angel Damiel becomes human and smokes a cigarette for the first time, he has a visible reaction of joy and contentment. His face eases up and clearly experiences the full sensation that many people have overlooked (Wenders, 1:42:00).  This little moment of the film is greatly representational of our own dilemmas. Not only do we shut down these small pleasures, but Wings of Desire also shows us the possibilities available when we break down the divides set up by Western civilization.      

Walkabout and Swept Away display two relationships in which the partners come from different sides of the money and power equation. According to societal standards, the two women are the most prized in society. The men who attempt to have a loving connection with them ultimately face self-destruction. The Aborigine commits suicide (Roeg, 1:52:34) and Gennarino leaves his family for a life of loneliness and shame. In a monotone voice, with the sense of defeat he says to his wife, “Don’t worry about it, I’m not ever going home again” (Wertmuller, 1:51:12).  Both of these relationships were halted and ended due to the stigma that society set in place.  The English older sister of Walkabout could not accept the offer of the Aborigine through his mating dance (Roeg, 1:48:25).  Raffaella, despite confessing her love to Gennarino on the island, did not leave her wealthy capitalist husband ooce she returned to the mainland(1:38:00). These two films prove that the social constructs of society are a plague to the value of love. The divides are strongly built and could not be broken down in these films to allow a loving connection to exist.  Wenders, however, shows a more optimistic approach to love---one in which the divide set by society between the two partners did not keep them apart. 

Wings of Desire demonstrates the many divides that are embedded deeply in society.  Set in Germany, there is the line separating West and East Berlin. There is another line separating circus people (traveling performers) and village people (average citizens). The most distinct difference found in this film is the divide created between angels and humans. While this may be called fanciful, Wenders makes the case that love is bigger than the social rules that divide us. Angel Damiel confronts the fact that he is in love with human Marion. Unlike the older sister and Raffaella, however, Damiel does not give into abiding by the divide, and pursues a relationship with her.  Their connection is successful and meaningful.  As Michael Sexson states in his review of the film, Marion, “Indeed… is teaching Damiel what he needs to know. Here the child's puddle is becoming the sea” (Sexson, para. 17).  Their relationship is one of true love and, “the fact that she meets the person literally from her dreams gives hope to the viewer of how the joining of two individual to make both their dreams come true” (Hannanian para. 7).  They return each other back to the childhood innocence that Wenders warns his viewers not to lose.

It is clear throughout the film that only the children in society are able to witness the presence of Damiel and his fellow angels; the adults cannot. Angels are representative of innocence, and so Wenders is making a strong point about the innocence of one’s childhood.  This sense of innocence is lost through the progression of existing in Western civilization.  This mirrors the idea present in Walkabout:

It is particularly eye opening to see the six-year-old boy begin speaking the Aborigine language, clearly embracing what his older sister cannot.  Both of them have grown up in civilization, however the sister has been living in it a full eight years longer than the boy…Roeg warns his viewers that the older one becomes and the more time one spends in Western civilization, the less apt they will be to understand the whole picture: an individual is larger than the society they grew up in and a difference in cultures does not make someone lesser than another (Boretsky). 

As one progresses through Western civilization, one loses one’s childhood innocence. Wenders delivers to viewers the harsh reality that is present in the world, depicted in the opening scenes of the film: passengers on a train bombarded by their anxious thoughts, fearful responsibilities and of a man committing suicide. Despite demonstrating this, Wenders presents Damiel as an example of staying strong through the bad to experience and embrace the good that life has to offer. This angel has seen these evil pressures of society that sometimes get the best of us, but he continues to pursue becoming a human. When rationalizing his desire, he claims, “To conquer a history for myself.  What my timeless downward look has taught me… I want to transmute, I want to sustain a glance… a short shout, a sour smell.  I’ve been outside long enough.  Loving enough out of the world. Let me enter the history of the world.  Or just hold an apple in my hand” (Wenders, 1:14).  He understands and appreciates the value of Western civilization and sees the opportunities it provides its citizens.  For him, it gave him the experience of sensations like taste and pain, as well as the gift of love. 

In the end, Damiel is each of us stuck in a limiting version of Western civilization. Like him, we must not be afraid to transform ourselves and must persevere in order to find love, success and happiness. We must not let obstacles constructed by society keep us from obtaining what we want.  Unlike the other characters in previous films viewed this semester, he transcended the divide keeping him from what he desired. Breaking through resulted in the realization of experiencing all the good Western civilization has to offer, things that many often overlook. Wim Wenders reminds his audience to never stop appreciating the small things in life and to not give up when there is an obstacle in our path to obtaining what we want.  In short, we should strive to embody the spirit of Damiel, who encompasses appreciation and optimism, when living within Western civilization. 

                                             Works Cited

Bastida, Maria. "Top 60 Perseverance Quotes." LoveQuotesMessages. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2017.

Boretsky, Monica.  “Blinded by the Status Quo.”  06 March 2017.

Hannanian, Ariel. "Awakenings into Adulthood Via Wim Wenders." Awakenings into Adulthood Via Wim Wenders’ "Wings of Desire". Taking Giant Steps. Web. 03 May 2017.

Jamie Uys.  The Gods Must Be Crazy. New Realm, 1980. Youtube.

Lina Wertmüller.  Swept Away--by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August. Perf. Mariangela Melato and Giancarlo Giannini. Medusa Distribuzione S.R.L., 1974. Youtube.

Nicolas Roeg.  Walkabout. Twentieth Century Fox, 1971. Youtube.

Sexson, Michael. "The Storyteller and Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire (The Cresset, March 1993)." Header. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2017.

Wim Wenders.  Wings of Desire. Perf. Bruno Ganz and Solveig Dommartin. Road Movies, 1987

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Ralph La Charity's LITANIES SAID HANDELY Reviewed by Kirpal Gordon

Listeners and lovers of the open mic, ancient-to-the-future scribes of the oral-aural, laya yogis and lyrical-miracle technicians of the sacred, cross-country Whitmaniacs of every stripe and Democratic Vista impulse will delight in journeyman Ralph La Charity's latest from Dos Madres Press in Loveland, OH, ($20.00 at Litanies Said Handedly: poetry, collage, & performance.

The tongue-in-cheek title is the key that opens this delightful book. Consider the words: Litanies (Middle English) are simultaneously petitions for use in church services or processions, usually recited by the clergy and responded to in a recurring formula by the people” AND tedious recitals or repetitive series”---that is to say that both meanings are jokes. The only church he gets remotely close to, or reminds one of, is the Church to John Coltrane. As for tedium, even as he delivers his ghost-driven/rust-belted Homeric tales, Orphic songs in hell and street-wise celebrations of signifyin’ monkeys, Frankie-&-Johnny lovers, neo-Irish aborigines and bar room Crazy Janes, one is at the edge of one’s seat.  This is oral story telling at its best. As for Said Handedly: beware! Even reading the poetry silently causes the ear to want to hear these sounds aloud, but one must view La Charity actually kicking it live ( to realize that his presentation of his work, a combo of Joe Cocker spasmodics meeting Robert Bly’s arm-wave scansions, is indeed said with his left hand in full metric swing and his voice a trained instrument of multiple meanings and dial-a-dialect possibilities!

Check his opening shot, “he was a dandy mon.” On the page (p. 81 in the book) the language is a tad spooky and the repetition of “a dead man walking” a bit grim, but to hear him rock it aloud is to experience real fright that won’t quit. Note that his voice jumps into song and then returns to speech in a performance matched by his body’s full participation. This reviewer heard the spoken version first, and although a reader may think that the 25 minutes of youtube is all one needs (BTW: he recites entirely/tirelessly from memory!), I have taken great delight in finally seeing his spoken word in print. Moreover, the twelve collages, multiple front matter dope, and his appendices on the art of oral poesie, really contextualize his Algren-esque quests.

Regarding this art form, in “Prefatory notations,” he calls it “an obscure-side apprenticeship, akin to learning pick-pocketry; a dark economy guild of seers & sounders” and sees himself as “a practitioner of call/caul poetics, a self-embodied variorum; a calling forth from within fused with a calling out of the surround, this transactional dynamic yielding a utility of rare gas bases for actualizing the Body Poetique; a Harm’s Way Yoga of public poet alchemizing.” He sees poetry as “the shapeliness of form worn as sound cloak” and calls the book “an assemblage of Ever-Dance, the shards captured mid-melt as scored scourings meant for the tongue-trigger emptying forth of an early dog days evening.” In “Interrupted,” he remarks that “Makars commune with the dead & artists / who’ve brought back are who’ve / brought back from the Other side.”

This graybeard big daddy from Cincinnatti encants, enchants and takes the kind of chances that an improvising be-bopper might take with the chord changes---or that, as the nuns would say back in the day when we danced too closely at the parish dance---“leave room for the Holy Ghost.” His dedication reads, “…These poetics descend in a rush, tripping off the tongue, resonant to the blind who will, unaccompanied, sing.” He's the real deal.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Viewing from the Outside: New Perspectives on Western Civilization by Michael LoRusso

Humanity is blinded by greed and today’s fast paced nature to the extent that we have lost the ability to appreciate seemingly minor surroundings and experiences. As inheritors of Western society, we have become increasingly comfortable with the everyday patterns of our lives, and we often forget to question the work that others perform that enables us to live the way we do. Whether or not this ignorance is a result of our environment and the principles that are instilled in us at an early age, one truth that cannot be repressed is that experiences we are unprepared for and the interaction with those unlike us are what cause us to see life in a bigger way. When we interact with others, we are forced to question our everyday lives, and we learn to appreciate the little things in our lives that often get looked over. Through the four films assigned---Nicholas Roeg’s Walkabout, Jamie Uys’ The Gods Must Be Crazy, Lina Wertmüller’s Swept Away, and Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire---one is taught to break free of one's comfort zone and embrace one's curiosity. These films show us that until we challenge the principles that have been instilled in us and accept those of others unlike us through a desire to see the world from a broader perspective, we will never reach the potential of wisdom and awareness of life that our generation has granted us.

Film director Nicolas Roeg, via his 1971 classic Walkabout, was the first to persuade us to see the world from a different perspective. Our generation is depicted exactly as citizens who are consumed by Western civilization. Seeing the vast distinctions between the Aboriginal boy on a walkabout and the two English children, such as the jump cuts of the Aborigine hunting for food immediately following a butcher chopping a steak, the audience is forced to question their level of awareness (Roeg, 0:45:20). What seemed so normal suddenly inspires the audience to question the normality of everyday life. For nineteen years, I have accepted all that is around me, failing to challenge the ways in which our society acts. Though Roeg shows us how the simplicity of our lives holds us back from understanding life as a whole, he reminds us that we have not yet failed. As young recipients of Western civilization, it is difficult to stray from living the way we are surrounded by, stuck in a pre-conventional stage of moral development, too scared to challenge our society (Kohlberg). I was led to believe that there was no other way to think; there was no other perspective. It is not until the English boy begins to understand the cultural distinctions, and adopt the Aboriginal culture, that I could sense a sign of hope. The aborigine teaches the English boy survival skills, and eventually he is able to find a spring of water on his own (Roeg, 1:05:00). After the boy accepts the Aboriginal culture, he, unlike his older sister, grows confident that that he can survive and thrive in a very non-Western and "uncivilized" milieu. The interactions and culture clashes throughout his journey in the Outback allow him to open his eyes and experience a new perspective.

South African film director Jamie Uys also challenges us to question the principles of our society in his 1980 comedy, The Gods Must Be Crazy. Of course the opening narrative embodies this theme and mocks some of the illusions of Western civilization which causes viewers to see this film allegory in new ways. However, the deeper themes throughout the film force our eyes even wider. One of the first things I questioned was how the Bushmen function as a tribe without a written law! What is it that keeps them governed? Later it becomes clear: The absence of greed and possession give them nothing to fight over; therefore, there is no need for written law. Uys makes it evident that the purity of the Bushman tribes’ lives allow them to reach a post-conventional stage of moral development (Kohlberg). Kalahari Bushmen live based on their own ethical principles. “They’ll never punish a child, or even speak harshly to it, so of course the kids are well behaved” (Uys, 0:04:18). The signs of respect, not only between people of the tribe but also their respect for the animals they hunt and the nature that surrounds them, depicts these Bushmen in a higher ethical state than us (Uys, 0:05:00). Compelled to experience things from their point of view, I find the world so much easier to handle. There is none of the stress or anxiety that I face on a typical day at Hofstra University. Seeing the clashes between Bushman culture and Western civilization throughout the film causes us to widen our perspective on life even more. Uys suggests that we may be missing out on a higher quality of life by showing us the simplicity of their everyday lives, which lack the stresses we complain about unceasingly. Suddenly I found a new point of view; I began to wonder who should truly be considered civilized.

As I continued to question my life, I was smacked in the face with another culture-clashing film, Lena Wertmuller's 1974 international sensation Swept Away. At this point I more readily widened my perspective, and I was able to see this third film from a big picture point of view. Seeing how money can corrupt someone so dramatically was scary. I wonder if I act at times like the female protagonist Rafaella, the wealthy, never-ending complainer with a sense of entitlement who thinks she is superior to those around her. She zeroes in on deckhand Gennarino and orders him to get her fresh coffee and properly cooked spaghetti (Wertmuller, 0:14:36). I thought of my high school friend who would never get in trouble, because his money could buy him out of any woe. He had always seemed invincible to me until I was exposed to this film. I learned that money has minimal value in real life situations. In fact, I no longer consider financial status as a reflection of one’s wealth, but instead I consider the experience they have when it matters most. Raffaella lacks any knowledge of survival and the capability to kill in order to eat, making her the less wealthy one in this isolated island situation (Wertmuller, 1:15:00). She even tries to buy a lobster off Gennarino, offering him thousands of dollars, which he promptly refuses (Wertmuller 0:53:00). Appreciating the film from Gennarino’s point of view, we see that something that we value so heavily in our capitalistic society cannot compare to the value of knowledge and wisdom.

 Lastly, we watched the Wim Wenders'  1987 romantic film fantasy Wings of Desire which perfectly summed up the entire semester and celebrated seeing the world from a wider perspective. If anyone can see life from an outsider's point of view, it is the angels in this Berlin setting. They have been watching life from a non-corporeal perspective since the beginning of time. Though they cannot interact, they still understand us as humans---sometimes more than we can understand ourselves. They are able to see the mistakes and wrongs of humankind. Wenders creates a boundary that separates the humans from the angels which clarifies their distinctions. Although the angels are able to see the lives of everyone from the outside and can understand a desire for spiritual assistance, they cannot understand what it feels like to exist in real life. At one point Damiel says, "Sometimes I get fed up with this spiritual existence. I don’t want to always hover above I’d rather feel a weight within," and then he proceeds to list a number of human actions that we as humans often take for granted, such as a simple card game or the concept of pain (Wenders, 0:13:20). Since Damiel is able to see the world from the outside, he is not corrupted by an egocentric society, and he has a desire to feel and experience all these things that we often take for granted. We are so consumed by the stressors our daily lives, that we fail to see the value in the little pleasures we see and feel every day. We look for some sense of guidance or a way to get us through our sophisticated lives. Often time we reach for a spiritual sense of help to get us through, because our complicated lives become too tough to handle.

Wenders depicts the parallels between spiritual and physical notions in the film. I have been told from a young age that if I do good on earth I will fly to heaven. With that desire to fly comes a fear of falling as well. At times when I do wrong, I may fear that I may not make it to heaven, but rather fall to hell below. This idea appears throughout the film. For example, Marion’s dream to fly is accompanied with a fear of falling, and breaking her neck in front of an audience (Wenders 0:26:00). Finally, I was convinced again to open my eyes, and live my life with an open perspective, shown to appreciate the value in things I had previously taken for granted.

Our journey this semester was difficult, and it tore us out of out comfort zone, forcing us to finally consider our lives from the outside. Through less than two hours of confusion and frustration, I was able to appreciate and widen my perspective more and more with each film. I can now see the obvious flaws in Western civilization that I had been blinded to before. What seemed so natural to me began to feel barbaric. I learned to embrace my curiosity and question the things and ideas I am fed rather than merely accept them. Then finally, I was convinced to appreciate the little things in my life that I often look right past. Through four short yet powerful films, I am able to value my life in a whole new way, open my eyes to new ideas and suggestions, and feel that I am closer to achieving a post-conventional stage of moral development


Works Cited
Kohlberg, Lawrence. "Stages of Moral Development." Lawrence Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Development. N.p., 5 Dec. 2007. Web. 29 Mar. 2017.
Wings of Desire. Dir. Wim Wenders. Road Movies, 1987. Youtube
Swept Away-by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August. Dir. Lina Wertmüller. Perf. Mariangela Melato and Giancarlo Giannini. Medusa Distribuzione S.R.L., 1974. Youtube.
The Gods Must Be Crazy. Dir. Jamie Ups. New Realm, 1980. Youtube.
Walkabout. Dir. Nicolas Roeg. Twentieth Century Fox, 1971. Youtube.
Wings of Desire. Dir. Wim Wenders. Road Movies, 1987. Youtube   
The Gods Must Be Crazy. Dir. Jamie Ups. New Realm, 1980. Youtube.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Bill Bradd's CONTINENT OF GHOSTS Reviewed by Kirpal Gordon

Bill Bradd offers us a portal into a multi-dimensional universe via this book of poems and prose poems. Using Pangea for his metaphor of the undivided self at birth and the death of his mother (when he was two and of whom he has no memory) as our point of departure, we enter “the Continent of Ghosts, where all the people you used to know reside now.” Wearing the mask of the Trojan soldier Aeneas---“stitcher of songs, a wandering performer from occasion to / occasion, hoping for payment of some kind, a room or a meal”---Bradd weaves and re-weaves tales of ancient Greece alongside Biblical events, Native American lore and moments torn from his own life. In addition, the narrator is shadowed by Belial, envoy of Satan, and the many surprise shifts in voice and diction add an element of the kaleidoscopic to this already shape-shifting, interconnecting experience.

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