Monday, September 14, 2015

The Absurd

A time when puny Roberta Vinci—bless her!—derails the elephantine Serena on her route to the Grand Slam, the moment is rife for a discussion of the Absurd, which I deliberately capitalize. What a presence it has in our lives, both for the good, as for Vinci, and the bad, as for Williams.

This is also the time when Brian Kellow’s biography of Sue Mengers, “Can I Go Now?” hits the bookstores, to mixed reviews: pretty good in the Sunday Times, pretty bad in the daily one. What absurd grandeur that woman had! I wish Brian had consulted me about the admittedly not very prime time story about my lunch with Sue Mengers. This was during her prime time—and perhaps also mine—during a brief visit to Tinseltown, when she invited me to lunch. The object was to bring the one critic who was a nonbeliever in her star client, Barbra, into the church—or should I say temple?

I wish I had a transcript of our conversation. Sue deployed all of her charms and hegemony among Hollywood agents to entice me into having lunch with Streisand, panegyricizing about her wit, her smartness, her charm as she strove to effectuate a conversion of Saul-into-Paul magnitude. This proved no more likely to succeed than to convince Barbra of the need for a medial A in her name. But it was all worthy enough of at least a footnote in the bio.

Ah, yes, the Absurd. How it dogs us at every other step—to fully catalogue it would have added another labor to Hercules, surely the hardest. I am barely up to it, but at least I can advert to a few salient examples, and some worthy quotations from others.

For instance, I have always loved the name of an African head of state: Good Luck Jonathan, the first part of which he did not evince when it came to recovering the 300 abducted girls from his country. Well, as the song has it, maybe some other time. Or, for a nearer example, take the coiffure of Donald Trump, which in itself would be enough to make his presidency absurd. It is easily the worst since that of Anthony Burgess and Moe of the Three Stooges.

There had to be a philosophy of Absurdism, of which Albert Camus—“the absurd is the essential concept and the first truth” plus all his other writings—is the finest proponent. And how appropriate for the stage to have spawned he Theater of the Absurd. Here the chief proponent—Samuel Beckett having, however absurdly, declined having anything to do with it—there remains Eugene Ionesco, who at a lunch argued with me that his “Macbet” was superior to Shakespeare’s similarly titled play. Actually, Ionesco did very well by the Theater of the Absurd, “Rhinoceros” and “The Bald Soprano” being his most popular successes, although I prefer “Jacques or the Submission” and “The Chairs.”

But to revert to philosophy. I. M. Bochenski, in his book “Europaeische Philosophie der Gegenwart” (European Philosophy of the Present) has, as one of several epigraphs (I translate), “Modern Man, i.e., human beings since the Renaissance, is ripe for burial.” This attributed to Count Paul Yorck von Wartenburg, about whom there is regrettably nothing further in the book. Yet that is perhaps a bit too strong from someone unexposed to the works of America’s younger dramatists, and thus spared (to borrow a title from Carlo Emilio Gadda) the acquaintance with grief, or, if you prefer, the depth of the absurd.

It occurred to me to look up the entry Absurdism in the American Heritage Dictionary, and find, to my surprise, the following: “A philosophy, often translated into art forms, holding that humans exist in a meaningless, irrational universe and that any search for order by them will bring them into direct conflict with the universe. “True absurdism is not less but more real than reality. (John Simon).”

What a remarkable quotation, if only I knew just where it came from and contextualize. Could this come under the heading of Jonathan Swift’s famous exclamation, “What genius I had then”?

Let me start with a humble but telling aspect of quotidian absurdity. Until fairly recently people had no problem with correctly pronouncing “groceries” as if it were spelled “grosseries.” Then along comes some idiot or bunch of idiots proudly mispronouncing it by false analogy as if it were spelled “grosheries.” This would be correct if the spelling were “grocieries,” with an I after the C softening it from an SS sound to an SH, as in word like “glacier,” where there is such an I. But not so in “groceries.” Yet so ubiquitous has this blooper become that people who know better don’t even notice it on television or elsewhere. But all it takes in our democratic society for one ignoramus to come up with such an absurdity and promptly the sheep will follow.

Or take the world of fashion. Almost anything you see on runways or in magazine and newspaper pictures is absurd: anorexic models wearing things that no woman in her right mind would want to touch with a ten-foot pole unless she was a six-foot pole herself. Some women realize how ridiculous and uncomfortable those gladrags would be on them; others know that they couldn’t afford them if they were foolish enough to want them. But on and on the parade goes, as long as there are gay men to design them and Anna Wintours to promote them.

And how about those absurd opera singers? Rabid opera fans or persons with underdeveloped sensibilities can tolerate an Isolde who could use a slimming potion more than a love one {“It is only the voice that matters,” they say) or a Lohengrin who could more suitably ride on an ox than be drawn by a swan--although there has lately been some improvement in the average avoirdupois, but still here are plenty of Stephanie Blythes unblythely around.

A rather different kind of absurdity are the wretches who keep buying lottery tickets hoping for the big prize, who, even if they win a pittance, will have spent much more for years on lottery tickets than their win amounts to.

Still, there is also the good, the positive absurd. Surrealism sometimes provides that. Take the piquant perversity of some of those clever Belgian painters, Magritte, Delvaux  and Ensor. Does it have something to do with the drama of a country and language split in two? So, too, perhaps with such rather less talented Spaniards, Miro and Dali, think Basques and Catalans. But then where are the Canadian equivalents?






32 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. "Theater/John Simon: Pizzazz or Chutzpa,” New York, December 3, 1984, pages 139-140.

    See page 139 here.

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    1. Wow, you even highlighted the passage -- impressive!

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  3. Yeah, there's more absurdities in the world than the regular old mundane stuff. Paula Dean was talking about how she soiled her underwear on Dancing With the Stars last night. She even described the color of them. My wife called me in to watch it. I don't watch TV except for sports or movies.
    My wife watches The Bachelor, Survivor, and a couple of other reality shows. Now, those are absurd, in the bad way.
    Television commercials are really absurd, almost without exception.

    Absurd stuff:

    1) Jared is a pervert (loose tons of weight, get rich, go to jail. Yep, absurd.)
    2) Iran is going to get nuclear weapons (really? should ANYONE have a nuclear weapon? No. Absurd.)
    3) The Walking Dead is in the top 5 watched TVs shows (Just fucking absurd. Please!)
    4) Overboard Tattooed people (I could go on for hours about these idiots. I won't. Absurd.)
    5) I paid two dollars for an apple the other day (It was good, but it wasn't $2 good)
    6) People who insist on calling Groceries "grosseries" (Jesus! how stupid can you get! This is America. We don't call it "grosseries" for God's sake!)

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    1. Substitute "lose" for "loose". Oh, shut up.

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  4. I wouldn't call Serena Williams "elephantine" -- boorish, charmless, etc. are more to the mark. In case you missed Ms. Venci's post-game interview, here is the link -- it's well worth a look!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ihotJQWLdA

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    1. I think "elephantine" was referring to her physical attributes. "Boorish" and "charmless" would be adjectives describing her personality, which surprisingly, she is not. She doesn't sound like she looks, if you've seen her interviews. The ones I've seen show her to be interesting and intelligent. I kind of like that big-butt look anyway. That's just me, of course.

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    2. I've never seen Ms. Williams in an off-court interview, just her behavior during matches. And I should have written Vinci, not Venci!

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    3. She's an intense competitor, there's no doubt. Tennis is unique, in that, the players are so close to the camera. We see every nuance in their faces and behaviors. Remember John McEnroe? Jimmy Connors? If these guys (and Gals) were football players, we may not see much of their anger. In tennis, they're wide open. Exposed.
      To compete at the professional level, in ANY sport, requires an intense fire. That's why these people are as successful as they are.
      It's not only sports either. If one wants to be the best movie director, the best writer, the best doctor, whatever it is, one must have that extreme desire to be the best at what they do. Ask Simon. He's one of the best writers of the last 50 years.That's not by accident. He worked at his craft harder than everyone else, and made sure it happened. He has that fire.

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    4. Williams elephantine? Does she look like an elephant to you? If you fools weren't so politically correct, you would say the truth, which is she looks like a gorillian monster. Add some fur to her, and she would look like a gorilla, a male one at that.

      She looks like an ape, acts like an ape, and talks like an ape.

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    5. She looks like a dude, I'll give you that, but she doesn't sound like ape (or a man). Here she is on Letterman, and I've seen better interviews than this but I can't find them right now. She's fluent in French, does tons of charity work, etc.

      They say she tried out for the Green Bay Packers and won the middle linebacker job.

      I think she gets a bad rap.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x5Bo_GYcJhE

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  8. NYC + Canadian Genius = THE ABSURD
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g0MZrnuSGGg

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  9. This is great! I enjoyed the documentary. I'd say Gould was more eccentric than absurd though. Slight difference.

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  10. Here's absurd. Read number nine on the list. Simon will get a kick out of this one.

    http://listverse.com/2015/08/25/10-most-absurd-things-to-ban-on-politically-correct-college-campuses/

    "The offended students claimed that the spelling and grammar corrections were a part of a “hostile campus climate” for students of color. They argued that the professor’s corrections of their incorrect spelling and grammar were themselves incorrect because they were “perceived grammatical choices that in actuality reflect ideologies.' "

    Absurd!

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    1. Sounds like "campus climate change!"

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    2. I'd like to see those "ideologies". Well, maybe not.

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    3. THE STUDENTS
      "They argued that the professor’s corrections of their incorrect spelling and grammar were themselves incorrect because they were “perceived grammatical choices that in actuality reflect ideologies.' "
      THE FREE DICTIONARY
      "ideology:
      A set of doctrines or beliefs that are shared by the members of a social group or that form the basis of a political, economic, or other system."

      The students, of course, are right. The proper use of the English language does reflect an ideology - the belief that effective communication is enhanced by a set of commonly accepted doctrines concerning grammar, syntax, diction, spelling, etc. Those doctrines may and do change over time. Those doctrines may and are violated in everyday speech and writing. Sometimes those doctrines are tossed out the window by great writers from Shakespeare to Dickens to Twain to Faulkner to produce imperishable art.

      But students are just that: STUDENTS! If the don't wish to learn the beliefs and doctrines of basic communication, then drop out of school. Where life will quickly educate them - boy, will it educate them! - that lacking the "ideology" the professor was inflicting on them will make whatever occupation they pursue difficult. A plumber must communicate clearly as well as the poet. More so: I prefer bad poetry to my toilet backing up!

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    4. Why not just use an online grammar checker? Many of them are free. I use them. I know I'm not a syntax/grammar/spelling expert, so what the heck? The other day I couldn't spell "delicious". Put an "s" in there like a doofus. Spellcheck put a stop to my dumb ass. These ignorant bastards should use grammar check. It's a tool. Use it!

      It don't make no sense!

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  11. "Or take the world of fashion. Almost anything you see on runways or in magazine and newspaper pictures is absurd: anorexic models wearing things that no woman in her right mind would want to touch with a ten-foot pole unless she was a six-foot pole herself."

    This is because freaking homo turd-heads rule fashion. They see women as horses and scarecrows than as flesh-and-blood human beings. Homos are ultra-narcissists and disdain organicism of life. They prefer artifice and plastic, and that is why fashion is about nothing but the vanity of homos to show off their creativity by using women as stick figures.

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  12. "Rabid opera fans or persons with underdeveloped sensibilities can tolerate an Isolde who could use a slimming potion more than a love one."

    I see what you mean. Opera has had a long line of fatty fatkins, bloated hippos, and mega blimps. But isn't opera itself a kind of fat music? It's a form of singing where passion is layered with mounds of fat. It's fat-bellow-music.

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  13. "Let me start with a humble but telling aspect of quotidian absurdity. Until fairly recently people had no problem with correctly pronouncing “groceries” as if it were spelled “grosseries.”"

    If you look at the kind of food people buy and consume, you'd understand that GROSS-eries sounds about right.

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    1. I don't know anyone who isn't gay, or from a foreign country, that says "grosseries". Any word that has THAT many "eses" in it is strictly for gay guys. Not that there's anything wrong with that, there certainly is not.

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  14. "For instance, I have always loved the name of an African head of state: Good Luck Jonathan, the first part of which he did not evince when it came to recovering the 300 abducted girls from his country."

    He being an African dude, it would have more accurate if his name were Good Fuc* Jonathan.

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    1. The Chinese fuc a lot too. South Americans are known to do gobs of fucing. I'm American, and I fuc as much as I possibly can.

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  15. "The object was to bring the one critic who was a nonbeliever in her star client, Barbra, into the church—or should I say temple?"

    I would say tunnel given her schnauser.

    Anyway, recruiting Simon to hype Streisand sounds totally surreal. It'd be like trying to recruit Dracula to promote garlic.



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    1. The best thing about Barbra was her skin. Beautiful skin. The smallest pores I've ever seen. Her eyes were alluring. I would have fuced her in a heart beat.

      True, her nose was large, but it wasn't THAT unsightly. I kind of like that Jewish look anyway. One of my girlfriends back in the day thought Woody Allen was extremely sexy, and I had to agree with her. I don't think I would fuc him, but he's pretty cute.

      I wouldn't know, but Jews are supposed to be monsters in the sack. Heck, who knows.

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  16. "But then where are the Canadian equivalents?"

    Try the National Film Board collection, especially the animated films:

    https://www.nfb.ca/explore-all-films/

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  17. Pronounced difference

    Abzurd or ab-sirred?
    What's in a word,
    Simply having heard,
    Makes one beam like the sun
    Or like dream of a gun?

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    1. I love poetry. The last line makes it. Off kilter observations are killer.

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