Friday, February 20, 2004

The writing of the disaster

Speaking of books, I like to peruse the shelves of cheap and free books you sometimes see at used bookstores and other outlets. Now I don't know if it's just the places I frequent, but I always see books with titles like "THE COMING DEFLATIONARY CATACLYSM OF 1995" and "CURRENCY COLLAPSE 1997: HOW TO SURVIVE."

Anyway, whatever it was, I hope you made it. So far I feel OK.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Reading trash

I share a home with a bibliophile, and I adore Ereck's bibliophilia. A scholar of literature, he fills his shelves with gorgeous editions of books new and old, and there is nary a mass-market paperback among them. (I am able to call to mind one mass-market paperback he owns: Trudy Baker and Rachel Jones' stewardess expos� Coffee, Tea or Me?, but I fell in love with this book years ago and it somehow has ended up on my shelves. (Don't tell Ereck.))

I never was a bibliophile, in the sense of a person who treasures books not merely as conduits of information but as beautiful objects in their own right. Don't get me wrong: I love reading books. The house is full of them, and I regularly leave bookstores, thrift stores and libraries with armloads of the things. But while I do appreciate an attractive, well made, well preserved book, I'll happily read just about any book if it interests me, even a mass-market paperback with its cover ripped off.

The only books I can't read are those so deteriorated (crumbling bindings, loose pages) that they require extra physical effort to read; and underlined or--gag--highlighted books. I try never to underline books, and in graduate school I devised elaborate schemes of tiny Post-It notes, just to keep from underlining. And there's something about the sight of highlighter ink in books that just makes me want to close them.

How do you feel about reading mass-market paperbacks with missing covers?

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Myth congeniality

I recently got interested in myth and mythology; I'm not exactly sure how. I think it started when I read The Da Vinci Code, which has to do with, among other things, the Holy Grail, which got me to thinking about the Arthurian legend. Then I watched a bunch of old-school "Star Trek," which is real archetypal.

And then I reviewed a couple of locally written plays, Oriphice and G�tterdrama-rama, which draw heavily on classical mythology. The latter play is especially thoughtful: seven Madison playwrights take a Greek myth and, in a one-act, fiddle with it in some way: spoof it, for example, or translate it to a modern setting. The playlets made me think about those myths, for the first time, as stories that aren't just ripping yarns but also have interesting things to say about human life, ancient and modern: a one-act about the labors of Hercules suggested that he suffered from that most contemporary of diseases, workaholism. And so on.

Inevitably, Arthur and the Greeks brought me to Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers' The Power of Myth (New York: Doubleday, 1988), which, for all its coffee-table kitsch reputation, is a pretty fascinating read. I actually looked up Campbell as I was writing one of the play reviews: even though I knew virtually nothing about him, I knew enough to know that pop mythology equals Joseph Campbell, and I was trying to come up with a quote for the review. I planned to launch the essay with a Campbell quote, wittily demolish the quote, and then proceed with reviewing. I had this notion that Campbell was just some loony guy who said silly things, but the more read by him and about him--under deadline pressure, of course--the more interested I became. The closest I got to an epigram is something that, it turns out, he says in The Power of Myth: "The myth is the public dream and the dream is the private myth." But for all its chiasmic pithiness, I decided this actually is kind of an intense thought and ended up filing a review that did not mock Joseph Campbell.

And later I checked out The Power of Myth. What I enjoyed most in the book is an exchange Moyers and Campbell have about two giants of 1980s consumer culture. (The book is structured as a conversation between Moyers and Campbell.) Moyers describes a picture he saw somewhere:

MOYERS: The photograph showed the new Rambo doll that has been created and is being sold by the same company that produces the Cabbage Patch dolls. In the foreground is the image of a sweet, lovable Cabbage Patch Doll, and behind it, the brute force, Rambo.

CAMPBELL: Those are two mythic figures. The image that comes to my mind now is of Picasso's Minotauromachy, an engraving that shows a great monster bull approaching. The philosopher is climbing up a ladder in terror to get away. In the bullring there is a horse, which has been killed, and on the sacrificed horse lies a female matador who has also been killed. The only creature facing this terrific monster is a little girl with a flower. Those are the two figures you have just spoken of--the simple, innocent, childlike one, and the terrific threat. You see the problems of the modern day [16-17].

I'm still not sure I see the problems of the modern day, but I love this kind of textual analysis of the weird stuff late capitalism throws up all around us.

Getting back to the Arthurian legend, I realized that most of my direct knowledge of it comes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and then I got to wondering just where all those stories come from. Was there a real Arthur? Apparently there was, depending on which secondary source you read, but I guess the point of myth and mythology is that it doesn't matter whether the stuff really happened. I'm about to dig into Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur.

Which brings me to one last bit of legend. I decided to glance at Junker drummer Thomas Crofts' dissertation, which he deposited last spring before merrily making his way to Oklahoma. The diss is about Malory, and I thought its bibliography might be good to peruse. So I downloaded the 30 megabyte PDF file from the Internet, fired up Adobe Acrobat, and flipped to the acknowledgements page, where I read these words from Thomas:

The Junkers--Matthew Stratton, David Junker, Kenneth Burns, Edwin Larson, Matt McNeil and Bob Hemauer--then, now, and always, have kept it country: family-style: fiat musica rustica.

I've been acknowledged in a dissertation! I've never felt so honored. Thomas is my King Arthur and Hercules all in one.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Other Kenny

Recently someone told me I look like David Kelley, creator of "Ally McBeal," "The Practice" and "Doogie Howser, M.D." He's also married to Michelle Pfeiffer.

I can see it.

Monday, February 16, 2004


And a happy President's Day to you, too. I like President's Day because it means cartoon images of Abe and George being used to sell everthing from Hummers to bedsheets.

In case you wondered, here is the post office's 2004 schedule of mail holidays, DI-rect from to you:

Monday, January 19 - Martin Luther King Jr's Birthday
Monday, February 16 - Washington's Birthday (President's Day)
Monday, May 31 - Memorial Day
Monday, July 5 - Independence Day
Monday, September 6 - Labor Day
Monday, October 11 - Columbus Day
Thursday, November 11 - Veterans Day
Thursday, November 25 - Thanksgiving Day
Saturday, December 25 - Christmas Day
Saturday, January 1, 2005 - New Year's Day

That's 10 days without credit-card offers. Which is like 10 days without sunshine.

What does it mean that the first half of the year has only four mail holidays but the second half has six?

Sunday, February 15, 2004

She's been everywhere, man

In looking over my blog's hit statistics just now, I noticed someone found their way here by searching google for "Jane Fonda" and "North Korea."

Damn, did she go there, too?
The visitation

Ereck and I have been watching loads of old-school "Star Trek" on tapes we get from the public library. And while I would not go so far as to say I'm a Trekkie, now that I have 20 or so episodes under my belt, I can see why people are so gaga for this show. Those characters get in your brain.

Like all my preoccupations, this one is multimedia, and my inquisitive eyes have managed to rip themselves away from the tube long enough to read a book or two about "Star Trek." At the moment I'm perusing Star Trek Memories (New York: HarperCollins, 1993) by William Shatner with Chris Kreski. It's Shatner's idiosyncratic memoir of making the TV series, and it's the kind of book a pop-culture obsessive like me loves: breezy, funny, revealing.

(A few months ago I read another book by Shatner and Kreski, Get A Life! (New York: Atria Books, 1999), Shatner's first-person history of the Trekkie movement. Get A Life! has one of the most moving stories I've ever read: Shatner writes of sitting in on the therapy of a woman with multiple personalities, many of which are "Star Trek" characters. As Mr. Spock would say, fascinating.)

Much of Star Trek Memories is Shatner's interviews with actors and crew members, and I want to share this anecdote from wonderful Nichelle Nichols, otherwise known as Lt. Uhura. Nichols, it seems, was bugged that so many of her lines were getting cut, so she told series creator and producer Gene Roddenberry she was quitting. That evening, she tells Shatner, she went to an NAACP function (and thank you, OCR feature on my scanner, for actually working, mostly):

I was sitting at my table and I was chatting and saying hello to people when all of a sudden a man comes up to me and says, "Miss Nichols, I'm sorry to bother you, but there's someone over here who would really like to meet you." And I said, "Well . . . uh, I guess that's okay," at which point he leads me across the floor and up to a table that's surrounded by a lot of people, and he says to me, "I must tell you, the man that wants to meet you is a big fan, a really great fan."

And now I'm thinking to myself, "Well, that's nice," and suddenly the man that's led me through the crowd sort of squeezes in through the people around the table, and the next thing I know, the crowd sort of parts down the middle, and sitting there smiling at me is Dr. Martin Luther King.

So now I'm immediately thrilled. I mean, Dr. King is a fan? Of MINE? And we exchanged greetings, and he told me how much he enjoyed "Star Trek," and about how happy he was that I was part of the cast.

And so I told him about what had been happening in regard to our scripts, and about my meeting with Gene, and that I had actually decided to leave the series.

And he looked at me and said, "Don't do this. Nichelle, you can't do this. Don't you know that the world, for the first time, is beginning to see us as equals? Your character has gone into space on a five-year mission. She's intelligent, strong, capable and a wonderful role model, not just for black people, but for all people. What you're doing is very, very important, and I'd hate to see you just walk away from such a noble task."

That just floored me, and I realized that there was a real responsibility attached to what I represented each week. So I came back into Gene's office Monday morning, told him the whole story about me and Dr. King and I told him that I was absolutely, positively staying. And from that point on, Uhura's importance became a little more clearly defined, and the scripts featured her a little more prominently . . . not always, but at least on a more consistent basis [213-214].

I really like this story. I like the idea of someone like Dr. King--a modern American deity, if there is one--appearing in my life, listening to what I have to say, and dispensing advice and support. We all could use a little divine intervention. I'm glad Nichelle Nichols got hers, and so, I'd hazard, are legions of "Trek" fans.

I also like to picture Dr. King watching "Star Trek." While wearing Spock ears.