Monday, September 24, 2007

Grieving Friendship

I write this without a particular provocation, except that I saw several parts of the Brideshead Revisited miniseries, a month or so ago, and it brought this topic to mind. In the book/miniseries (I'm proud to say I did read the book, no matter how Raoni and Mike derided me for reading a "romance novel"), our narrator, Charles Ryder, recounts meeting the amazing Sebastian Flyte, their "friendship," the demise thereof, and other ensuing events.

Of course, the demise is the part I aim to say something about. Flyte falls into a very serious depression, which he, like the best of us, self-medicates (as they say spitefully) with the most immediate agent, alcohol. Ryder deeply loves his friend, but nothing he can do affects recovery. Although I read the novel without difficulty, the miniseries was too much for me, and I have yet to watch past that fifth or sixth episode (of thirteen).

But I'm kind of a softy. I watch horror films with my hands over my face.

The idea of the demise of a friendship is particularly difficult for me, although I wish I knew why. Of course, here I mean my male friends, not my female friends. The issue is pointed for me because I grew up, practically, with two women, and so I was somewhat starved for the attention of other males. I needed to know what I was supposed to be feeling and thinking. I needed the recognition of others. And I needed the unique desire of a male friendship.

Perhaps it is not surprising that I have more female friendships. Which means, really, that I tell them more. That I can count on them and that their support is vital to me. But again, these male friendships are vital, although I am not able to tell them much. And my two closest male friends both live in other countries. These days, I see them perhaps once or twice a year, and sadly not for very long. Despite this distance, these friendships are very much alive, I think ... and perhaps I like my closest friends at a distance.

So of friendships I've mourned: how did I lose them? One, I missed his wedding because of a conflict. Another, I simply haven't spoken to in years, but our last encounter I was pretty haughty. Another, distance, circumstance. Another, I dated his ex-girlfriend.

God, have you seen the images that appear when you type "friendship" into Google Images? Sad.

Losing a friendship is a harder loss, but it is never felt as such. The end of romantic relationships usually occurs dramatically. Which is not to say that there are not dramatic ends to friendships (of the likes of Heidi and Lauren on "The Hills," zum Beispiel). But I tend to think those were friendships not meant to be, anyway. Losing a friendship, like in the case of Ryder and Flyte, is about the slow deterioration, which is arguably worse. The level of confusion is more severe, precisely because there is no immediacy to underline the symptoms. Even the simplest, friendships lost because of circumstance: those are just wanings because the practical conditions are no longer there. But the common idealistic sense of friendship cannot comprehend this kind of thing. And the last thing we want to realize is that our friendships were chance affairs.

The elephant remains in the pitch black room.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Uses and Abuses of 9/11 for Literature

Part 3: The undesired story continues

After the seeming disinterest in the first two posts, I thought maybe the issue was dead. And even I wondered what I meant in the latter, claiming the exhaustion of the event through images, its inaccessibility in words. I had typical doubts about if there was something meaningful in what I'd said. But today, the poignancy again appears to me, not necessarily in my words, which I freely admit flounder, but in the exigency TO say something.

A word on Claire Messud's book, The Emperor's Children (2005): an abuse of the event. The deus ex machina to solve a narrative that bent towards an uninteresting, messy conclusion. How it has gotten such glowing reviews still fools me. Even the people who like the critical perspective on literary culture must have been baffled by the ending. That is, if they'd had any sense. Essentially, my reaction is, that September 11th can't serve as a solution to a narrative. Lots of things ended that day. Narratives were totally over at that point. That is one of the fascinating, bizarre elements of September 11th. Fuck, all of us had read about historical discontinuities, but to live through one! (And yet, it seems vital to equally emphasize the continuities ....) But one can't help to conclude as well, perhaps the conviction that the event isn't ready for literature provokes my response.

This blog entry from the on the stories of September 11th (pathologically, I've insisted on calling it such, rather than the pedestrian 9/11, which I take great umbrage to, despite my title): "The Thing about these 9/11 Stories." Go read it if you haven't already, but in particular consider the readers' responses, which oscillate between self-righteous disgust and sympathetic appreciation. I suppose ultimately, having read the whole, I appreciated it. The fact is, this event will become dinner conversation. Which is not to say the dinner conversation will then idly turn to French wines with similar levity. Yet, when the date arrives, I can't help feeling offended, upset, even by the memorials devoted thereto. Something about doing justice, I think, pathetically.

A use for September 11th? Isn't a use merely an abuse of September 11th?

I hate the words. And this is a hatred I'm not afraid of expressing. All the rest are contempt surrounding inadequacy or powerlessness, on whatever level of consciousness. This too, likely. But I am comfortable with it.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Chet Travels: sur les bricoleurs de l'angoisse

One of the things I learned on my last trip to Paris was about this special group of individuals in French society. They have been called the "bricoleurs de l'angoisse," which, for those of you who don't speak French, means "the handymen of anguish." I learned this overhearing a conversation when I was in line at the Action Christine in Saint Germain-des-Pres, waiting to see the old Bogart film, To Have and Have Not (1944). This film was made by Howard Hawks, scripted by William Faulkner and based on a novel by Ernest Hemingway, and has the pleasure of casting in addition to Bogey, Lauren Bacall and that guy, born to characterize the chuck wagon chef named Cookie in old Westerns, Walter Brennan. The French title was "Le Port de l'Angoisse."

By itself, none of this would mean much to me. Of course, I adore all of these characters, Brennan especially, as much as the next guy, but it was the anecdote about the "bricoleur de l'angoisse" that piqued my interest. I don't know what it was, but there was something incredibly resonant about this group I heard described, such that, I started to think there might be an American analogue.

Primarily, the bricoleurs come off as a self-involved group. High among their list of priorities is fashion. Yet, they wear the outdated styles of the 1980s, which none of them were old enough to live through. They wear big, ugly glasses. Sometimes they look like this! Their hair is usually, in the best cases, matted, but definitely unkempt. Or, they wear ugly medallions, like so.

But who, really, are these bricoleurs? Well, they are frequently art school students. Or serverati. Or serverati. What is a serverati? Well, they include individuals easily lured by the supposed immediacy of easy money. They like taking home cash at night. And they stand in our coffeeshops, our bars, our restaurants and dinner clubs (if not our after-hours clubs), taking orders and bringing food, pasting fake smiles on their faces and faux interest. Five years ago, we championed these blue collar people. But that was only until they started claiming their rights. Then, we're like, kuchka, get back behind that apron.

In history there is one rule: endurance. History is like the Boston Marathon in which everyone loses. The key to endurance is an intellectual correlate. The closest we can come to eternity. But les bricoleur de l'angoisse is a renegade group. For most of the post-war fashion movements, an intellectual correlate has always accompanied them, regardless of its depravity (I think here of early 1980s upper class "greed is good" thinkers)--but not the bricoleurs de l'angoisse. They are entirely vacuous.

And this is the reason why they are filled with angoisse. Someday there will be a book written by a future Nietzsche (dare I say, a Tim Nutter?), who will add a new chapter to the diagnosis of ressentiment, abridging with an account of the man of ressentiment's not-so-distant cousin: le bricoleur de l'angoisse. What they can do with l'angoisse, we can only imagine. And only the future will tell.