Number of times I have said, “I’m sorry.” Number of times I have felt sorry. Number of times I have made people feel angry and uncomfortable at dinner parties for directly expressing my views about women. Number of times I have been called “strident” and “aggressive.” Number of times a male person using my tone and language would be termed “strident” and “aggressive” to his face. Number of times I have thought my life was defined by anger. Number of times I have thought I should become softer, kinder, more open to contrasting views. Number of times I really thought this. Number of times friends have recommended Buddhism and meditation to me. Number of times I have thought no one can live an easy life with so much dissent and refusal in them. Number of times I have wondered if I would wind up entirely alone. Number of times I wondered if my outlook would destroy my writing. Number of times I have thought it was funny being stuck in my temperament and also in a world fighting hard against my desire for change. Number of times I have marveled at Rebecca Solnit for her ferocity and seeming nicer-than-me-ness. Number of times I have wondered if some people have more love in them. Number of times I have rewritten conversations in my head all night. Number of times I have felt it does not matter if your views are popular as long as they are yours. Number of times I have wanted to be loved with all my shit. Number of times I have had dreams about this.
After watching a doc about Bob Dylan some years ago.
How to be butch, for small, slender girls and boys. Develop a dead thing in your eyes that people will exhaust themselves trying to light up. Do not smile or articulate your joints. Develop a habit, whatever works for you, don’t give it away easily. Become a place no one wants to go if they are hungry. Feel born to the wrong parents. Love your own irritability. Stare blankly at questions about who you are and what you mean. Smoke. In response to the remark, “No fear, no envy, no meanness,” respond, “No childhood, no memories, no stitches.”
This is a description of the films of Hong Sang-soo, summarized by Phillip Lopate in the New York Review of Books, Dec. 7 2017: “The men tend to be loners, doggy-lustful yet timid seducers, alternating between commitment-aversion and needy clinging. Often they are film directors teaching in the academy and hitting on attractive female students. The women, ambitious to become actresses or filmmakers themselves, are typically looking for a mentor, a letter of recommendation, or a way to gain entry into the industry. So the power games begin.” Later in the essay, Lopate writes: “Hong has been called ‘The Korean Woody Allen’, as much to associate him with a more familiar brand–comedies about rationalizing males who receive a comeuppance–as for any real resemblance.”
I have not seen the films of Hong Sang-soo. I cannot compare my impression of his plots to Lopate’s. I’m struck by the fact that Lopate does not comment on this set of preoccupations in the work of this male artist at this time, socially and historically. I’m struck by the affectionate term “doggy-lustful.” What is that? A man who, given that he would typically find himself in the category of a loser, touches Lopate’s heart for still wanting to score with younger, beautiful females? I’m struck by the word “ambitious” to describe the younger females who want a place in the world and a way to be artists and have few options but to get with male losers who have power. Get with them and pretend interest in them beyond their capacity to help the women. I’m struck by the phrase, “So the power games begin.” What is the power the females have in this constellation? The ability to say yes or no? Yes can lead to professional advancement. No leads nowhere. I’m struck by Lopate’s summary of Woody Allen’s films as comedies where males receive comeuppance. When does this happen? It does not happen. Even if an Allen male hero doesn’t get the girl, his feelings and soulfulness are always the focus. Allen’s films are not investigations of male self-centeredness, they are expressions of it. They have also not been funny or sensitive to contemporary cultural shifts in decades. I don’t know what I would make of Sang-soo’s work. I might have a very different understanding from Lopate’s of the film director’s value as an artist and as a commentator on contemporary sexual mores. I am highlighting the kind of discourse this writing represents, where a male critic who is a mirror of the values and sensibilities of the male artist under discussion, sees nothing odd or jarring about the topics, sees only his reflection mirrored everywhere he looks, in the metal toaster, in the bathroom mirror, in the eyes of his fellow traveler.
Speaking of extraordinary stylists, one of the books Pup & I read on our day without electricity was by an acquaintance of many NYC years: Laurie Stone’s “My Life As an Animal.” it’s a book filled with magic tricks & sleights of the writing hand. Slants in from every direction, yet manages to tell not all, definitely not all (that’s one aspect of the brilliance of it) but definitely all you need to understand where it comes from while also understanding that you will never really know: That the narrator, who is possibly Laurie Stone, sort of Laurie Stone but not Laurie Stone and possibly trustworthy but never reliably trustworthy is the best kind of womanfriend: there but not there. A bit of a chimera, to call up an animal. Sage but not controlling. So nimble she tricks you into getting it: how life works, how her mind works. If this sounds way too Triquarterly clever, don’t worry. It is Triquarterly clever, but that’s not how it reads unless that’s what you want. If you want the story of a mother and daughter, if you want the story of a fresh relationship that starts up well after reason suggests it should & is held in Hepburn-Tracy-like suspense, if you want to know how to bargain, if you want to know about a lost friendship, that’s what you’ll get. And I don’t know about you but that’s what I always want.