Intellectual Curiosities and Provocations



by Levi Asher on Wednesday, July 6, 2011 08:51 am

I'm still on vacation. But here are some links:

1. The image above is from a teaser promo for a new movie based on Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis. I don't know what to think. You be the judge.

2. It was fifty years ago that Ernest Hemingway took his own life. David Ulin has some thoughts about Hemingway's impact (and lack of impact) today. Also, the FBI really was spying on him.

3. Words Without Borders' July issue is about The Arab Spring.

Summertime News

by Levi Asher on Monday, June 6, 2011 10:51 pm

1. Lint, a novel by Steve Aylett about a famous but nonexistent writer that we told you about a few years ago, is now a movie! The trailer features supportive words from the legendary Alan Moore (Watchmen), Jeff Vandermeer, Mitzi Szereto and our own Bill Ectric, so you know there must be something special going on here.

2. Marty Beckerman has written a book inspired by Ernest Hemingway called The Heming Way: How to Unleash the Booze-Inhaling, Animal-Slaughtering, War-Glorifying, Hairy-Chested, Retro-Sexual Legend Within... Just Like Papa!.


by Levi Asher on Monday, May 16, 2011 06:43 pm

1. I've read a few good tributes to the late Beat/hippie poet Ira Cohen, a good guy I used to see around the East Village a lot. I did a poetry reading with him at the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus in 2002, but I never knew that Ira Cohen invented the 70s-era headshop art trend known as Mylar painting. (Photo of Ira Cohen from a video by Laki Vazakas).

2. You may have heard the news: e-books are hot. This time around, I'm on the bandwagon. I'll be attending the BookExpo gathering next week in New York City, and I'm sure electronic publishing will be the biggest buzz there. I'm a few days behind schedule with my new Kindle book ... the title and cover will be revealed soon. I'm very happy with the ongoing sales figures for my first Kindle book, Why Ayn Rand Is Wrong (and Why It Matters), and I'm proud that this book has remained in the top 100 Kindle bestsellers in the Politics->Ideology category for the entire month, and was #40 on the list this weekend.

Barna Nemethi's Fashionable 21st Century Dada

by Claudia Moscovici on Thursday, May 5, 2011 03:04 pm

(I especially appreciate Romanian-born contributor Claudia Moscovici's articles because they fill us in on literary/art scenes we'll never otherwise hear of. Here she introduces Barna Nemethi, a current sensation in Eastern Europe. -- Levi)

Newton’s third law of physics says for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction. However, things don’t work out as neatly in the world of art. There are some rules that govern the world of art, but these are constantly broken by new and innovative artists. One of the most creative and irreverent art movements was Dada, founded by a Romanian poet, Tristan Tzara. Like Surrealism, which later sprung from it, Dada was a broad cultural movement, involving the visual arts, poetry, literature, theater, graphic design and–inevitably–even politics.

Born in the wake of the devastation caused by the First World War, Dada rejected “reason” and “logic,” which many of its artists associated with capitalist ideology and the war machine. Despite becoming internationally known for so many visible artists and poets, the Dada movement could not be pinned down. Its aesthetic philosophy was anti-aesthetic; its artistic contribution was anti-art. As Hugo Ball stated, “For us, art is not an end in itself ... but it is an opportunity for the true perception and criticism of the times we live in.”

Beat Roots and Branches

by Levi Asher on Wednesday, April 6, 2011 03:54 pm

We'll always circle back to our Beat roots around here. Here are a few things that've been going on.

1. I spotted the artwork above, a tribute to the epic poem BOMB by Gregory Corso, on a website by a young French artist named Vince Larue, which is mostly dedicated to 1960s culture and the Grateful Dead.

2. Gary Snyder recalls his Mount Hood Days (a three-parter by Barney Mann).

3. The Norman Mailer Center in Cape Cod, Massachusetts is presenting a workshop on the legacy of Hunter S. Thompson, featuring Doug Brinkley.

4. The University of Oregon is presenting a celebration of Ken Kesey on Friday, April 8. More details here.

5. Jerry Cimino of San Francisco's lively Beat Museum is having a great time being an unofficial consultant (on Neal Cassady's dance moves, among other things) for the upcoming On The Road movie, which will be coming out later this year.

The Memory Business

by Levi Asher on Monday, April 4, 2011 07:42 pm

1. Billy Joel had a contract to write a memoir, but got cold feet. Too bad. We know this Long Island boy can write, and I bet he had some stories to tell. The alleged book (my personal guess is that he never began it, though the cover artwork was finished and released) was supposed to have been called The Book of Joel.

2. You know I've been wanting to read this Long Island boy's life story. Jay-Z's recent semi-memoir Decoded had its moments, but Jay hardly dug deep. Good hiphop memoirs or biographies are rare, but I eagerly snapped up Empire State of Mind: How Jay-Z Went from Street Corner to Corner Office, a new unauthorized biography by business writer Zack O'Malley Greenburg, who has covered hip-hop culture and money for Forbes magazine. I suppose it works as a business book, but I found it very disappointing. This white boy, unfortunately, does not know hiphop. The author also seems to think Jay-Z's best years must be right now (naturally, because this is when he's making the most money) which proves, once again, that he doesn't know anything about hiphop.

Positively Jones Street

by Levi Asher on Tuesday, March 15, 2011 11:31 pm

1. Scientists have discovered linguistic signals indicating that sperm whales may refer to themselves by names when they speak. Sounds like the kind of fact Herman Melville would have been interested to hear. It also makes me think of T. S. Eliot's cats with their "ineffable, deep and inscrutable singular names".

2. Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet, a tremendously popular book of philosophical poetry first published in 1923, will be adapted into a film, apparently with a series of directors contributing interpretations of separate chapters.


by Levi Asher on Wednesday, March 2, 2011 07:50 pm

1. A Stanford University "Digital Humanities Specialist" named Elijah Meeks has created a series of rich visualizations based on the email archives of poet Robert Creeley. The lines describe connections and context, with frequency mapped to vicinity. We can glean interesting discoveries from the diagrams, such as the fact that the tech-savvy Black Mountain/Beat Generation's poet's BFF was clearly his fellow poet (and one-time Warhol scenester) Gerard Malagna. I wonder what the two poets emailed about so often? Anyway, before Robert Creeley died in 2005, he was kind enough to put in a few appearances on Litkicks, so it's exciting to think that a couple of emails from us must be represented in that pink jellyfish above.

True Grit: Rewriting the Western

by Dedi Felman on Thursday, February 24, 2011 11:31 pm

One of the final films to be released in 2010, True Grit has been a bit of a last minute surprise to many folk. First, True Grit has thrown critics for a curve. A heartfelt Christmas movie from the Coen brothers? Could it be? The movie seems a straightforward and unlikely foray into the Western genre by two filmmakers better known for darker, more comedic flicks like The Big Lebowski and Fargo. Second, it’s the Coen brothers’ most financially successful flick to date. Made on a budget of about $35 million (peanuts for a genre film: see Inception, which cost $160 million to make), the movie has already doubled the U.S. take of the Coen’s previously largest grossing film, the quasi-action flick No Country For Old Men, pulling in $165 million to date. True Grit, like many Oscar nominees this season, including The King’s Speech, is the smaller movie that could.

The Coen brothers have a devoted cult fan base and much critical successes. Now they have on their hands a veritable box office hit. What accounts for this movie’s huge breakout? And how far a departure for the Coen brothers is True Grit? Finally, is there any connection between these two things? Delving into the script—one of my favorites of the year—I look at some of the elements contributing to the film’s multiple levels of success.

Christopher Nolan's Inception: Want and Need

by Dedi Felman on Thursday, February 17, 2011 07:29 pm

(Guest blogger Dedi Felman's analysis of screenwriting techniques for this year's popular Oscar-worthy films continues. Previous entries discuss The King's Speech and The Social Network. -- Levi)

Action movies and hyperarticulate idea movies don’t usually go hand in hand. So when Inception blasted onto screens last summer, its unholy marriage of genres at least partly explains why it was accompanied by a white hot publicity streak. Would Chris Nolan forge a bridge between Charlie Kaufman, king of idea-filled films such as Being John Malkovich, and Michael Bay, master of summer popcorn action fare? And could that bastard child possibly be any good as a script? After several reads of Nolan’s screenplay, my unequivocal answer is yes. And the more I dig into this complex script, the more enthusiastic I get. What makes Inception such a daring and well-executed juggling act? And how does Nolan make it all work?


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