Posts Tagged ‘Theodore Roethke’

With Nakedness my Shield

May 20, 2017

You can pry
And you can peel
You can flay
You can reveal

Strip me naked
To my soul
Detach my parts
To get my whole

Unlock pieces
That are real
Why I do
And what I feel

But who can ever tell me why
Cannonball Adderley makes me cry?

by Richard W. Bray

Seven Ways of Looking at a Line of Poetry

November 6, 2016

zzwaking

Anthropologists tell us* that “some time between 75 thousand and 60 thousand years ago” homo sapiens underwent a remarkable change (194). This event occurred “somewhere on the African continent (most likely somewhere in its eastern or southwestern regions)” (193). Suddenly, our already impressive brains developed the capacity for symbolic thought. Our ancestors, who heretofore merely consisted of roving bands of uppidy carnivorous weapon-wielding bipeds, were transformed into artists, shamans, scientists, and engineers. World-domination was now only a matter of time.

These new-and-improved brains rendered representational art, handicraft, metaphor, music, dance, language and poetry essential to our existence.

As Kurt Vonnegut notes, this spectacular transformation gave us not only the capacity and the inclination to produce Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony; it also gave us the capacity and the inclination to

burn people alive in the public square for holding opinions which were locally unpopular, or build factories whose only purpose was to kill people in industrial quantities.

I’m seriously into words. I have argued that it’s ultimately impossible to separate language from poetry because our ancestors began playing with words as soon as they began to invent them. Uttered phonemes are automatically poetic just like every basket and every arrowhead homo sapiens produce is a work of art.

Death and disruption at an early age hurt Theodore Roethke into poetry, as W. H. Auden suggests “mad Ireland” hurt W.B. Yeats into poetry. And oh what prodigious poetry Roethke did make! I’m going to spend a little bit of time talking about how to say the third line of a villanelle Roethke wrote called “The Waking” because my brain spends a lot of time thinking about such things.

A villanelle is a nineteen-line Italian form in which the first and third lines are each repeated three times. (I’ve written a few of them myself.) (A smartass once wrote on this blog that “the cool thing about villanelles is that once you’ve written the first three lines, you’re 42% finished.”)

Here’s the first stanza of Roethke’s “The Waking.”

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

I told you the dude was prodigious, right? Anyhow, the first and third lines of a good villanelle must be firm and flexible as much heavy lifting is expected of them. Here are some examples:

Time will say nothing but I told you so.

(First line of Auden’s “If I Could tell You”)

(I think I made you up inside my head.)
(Third Line of Sylvia Plath’s “Mad Girl’s Love Song”)

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

(Third Line of Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”)

Now back to “The Waking.” If a reader must read the same lines four times in a nineteen-line poem, the poet should provide her with options about which words to stress. Here are seven ways to say line three of “The Waking”:

#1 I learn by going where I have to go

Learning is about destination rather than free will.

#2 I learn by going where I have to go

The essential lesson is in the destination

#3 I learn by going (pause) where I have to go

The journey, so to speak, is the destination.

#4 I learn by going where I have to go

The lesson is in the doing.

#5 I learn by going where I have to go

The important thing is that the experience is educational.

#6 I learn by going where I have to go.

It’s imperative to take a certain route that is nonetheless educational.

#7 I learn by going where I have to go.

I find out what I’m supposed to do only by doing it.

Art inevitably pops up wherever you have people and it’s our sacred duty to make it available to our children. (But this isn’t another jeremiad about those sick, sad losers who think our children are merely their test scores).

by Richard W. Bray

*Ian Tattersall, Masters of the Planet

The Voice of Sanity

July 11, 2016

VVVVVbrightcontainer

The shapes a bright container can contain!
Theodore Roethke, I Knew a Woman

The shapes and colors you contain
Paralyze my lonesome brain

It did not lessen your appeal
When you suggested I get real

Who I am and who you are
Mean I must love you from afar

I hear the voice of sanity
Saying how it’s gotta be:

“Forget her smile, her voice, her hair
Cry a lot and look elsewhere”

I should just give up on love
My hopeless heart has had enough

by Richard W. Bray

Cruel to Be Cruel

May 9, 2016
Frank O'Hara

Frank O’Hara

 

J.K. Simmons garnered an Academy Award for his portrayal of the cruel, exacting, excellence-obsessed music teacher Terrence Fletcher in the movie Whiplash.  Fletcher tells his struggling student that “there are no two words more harmful in the English language than ‘good job.’” In other words, Fletcher argues, he is merely hard on people for their own good, pushing them to achieve new levels of excellence.

Fletcher is echoing Hamlet’s assertion that “I must be cruel only to be kind.” Today in our success-worshipping culture the clichéd notion that we are doing people a favor when we are hard on them is repeated often by parents, teachers, and others who suggest that they only want the best for us while they are abusing us.

But we should ask to whom, exactly, is Hamlet being kind. Notice that Hamlet makes his famous cruel-to-be-kind assertion right after he stabs Polonius in fit of rage. Yet Polonius was merely guilty of eavesdropping, hardly a capital offense. However, Hamlet demurs when presented with an opportunity to kill Claudius, the man who murdered Hamlet’s father.  (Claudius is certainly a much more appropriate target for Hamlet’s sword than Polonius.)

Hamlet is a cruel, insufferable, whimpering coward who, like Terrence Fletcher, is usually cruel just to be cruel. For sport, Hamlet badgers poor, innocent Ophelia, a woman who simply wants to love him. Later Hamlet whines when he discovers that Ophelia has committed suicide.

So Hamlet abuses people for fun and Terrence Fletcher abuses people because he wants to win jazz competitions. They’re both losers in my book.

However, the obviously hypocritical and self-serving sadism of Fletcher and Hamlet notwithstanding, there certainly are times when it is necessary to be hard on people.

But when is outright cruelty justifiable?  I’m not a big fan of fussing and fighting, yet Alfred Kazin notes in his memoir A Walker in the City that sometimes a healthy screaming row is necessary in order to clear the air, so to speak: “In Yiddish we broke all the windows to let a little air into the house” (119).

And the poet Frank O’Hara makes a similar point:

Hate is only one of many responses
true, hurt and hate go hand in hand
but why be afraid of hate, it is only there
think of filth, is it really awesome
neither is hate
don’t be shy of unkindness, either
it’s cleansing and allows you to be direct
like an arrow that feels something

out and out meanness, too, lets love breathe

Some people enjoy hurting other people; I don’t.  It sounds pretty wacky to me, but according to physicists, all matter is connected. So maybe when we attack others we are actually attacking ourselves. Or maybe Allan Seager’s description of poet Theodore Roethke also applies to me: “his despair seems to prove that he already had the prime requisites of a poet, a tingling sensitivity as if he lacked an outer layer of skin.”

by Richard W. Bray

 

LoveHappy

March 20, 2016

yyylovehappy

She’ll be nothing like I pictured her to be

Neil Young, Lookin’ for a Love

Didn’t expect her beauty
From her bones to her skin
Didn’t expect the galaxy
To suddenly spin

Didn’t expect her smile
With its magical power
Didn’t expect her laugh
To resonate for hours

Didn’t expect to quiver
When she looks me in the face
Didn’t expect her poise
Didn’t expect her grace

Didn’t expect her countenance
To fill me up with joy
Didn’t expect to frolic
Like a goofy little boy

Didn’t expect to ever be
This silly and this sappy
Didn’t know there was such a thing
As permanent lovehappy

by Richard W. Bray

Only Babies Expected Dreams to Come True: A Few More Thoughts on Theodore Roethke’s Glass House

August 30, 2014

glasshouse

The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.

Theodore Roethke, My Papa’s Waltz

I always get a strong reaction from my students when I teach Theodore Roethke’s often-anthologized poemMy Papa’s Waltz.” It’s about a drunken father who, much to his wife’s dismay, drags his young son through the kitchen and off to bed in a rambunctious dance. The poem is a Rorschach test on how my students feel about parental intoxication; they divide into partisan factions when I ask them whether this poem is a depiction of child abuse or merely an example of paternal playfulness.

Shortly after his father’s death, Theodore Roethke scribbled down some “accounts about his childhood and of his relations with his father” (23). For some reason, in a sketch titled “Papa” Roethke refers to himself as “John.” And here we find the genesis of “My Papa’s Waltz.”

Sometimes he dreamed about Papa. Once it seemed Papa came in and danced around with him. John put his feet on top of Papa’s and they’d waltzed. He-dee-dei-dei. Rump-tee-tump. Only babies expected dreams to come true (24).

Until I read The Glass House: The Life of Theodore Roethke by Allan Seager (previously discussed on this blog here), I had always assumed “My Papa’s Waltz” was based upon actual events. And Roethke, a great fabulist when it came to recounting the details of his own life, encouraged the false assumption that alcoholism was rife in his family.

While his father regularly took a schnapps or two, he could hardly be called a drinking man in spite of Ted’s later statement that he came from a long line of drunks. And his mother never took a drink in her life (38).

In the essay “Papa” Roethke laments that his father “didn’t like him much” (24). And in a another adolescent remembrance called “Fish Tale,” Roethke further reveals

I was awkward of mind as well as body. I asked thousands of questions. I always imagined myself fearfully hungry. All these things irritated my father who wanted, above all, to make me a wise fisherman and a self-reliant woodsman (25).

The Glass House is a biography written by Allan Seager, a novelist who happened to be an acquaintance of his subject. And Seager often takes the liberty of presenting speculation as though it were fact:

Quite illogically, Ted felt that his father, by dying, had betrayed him, left him far too soon without his love and guidance, and intermittently in those moments when he remembered his father as flawless, Ted was tormented by guilt for even having entertained the notion that a great man like his father could have done anything so base as to betray his son (62).

It’s clear that the death of Roethke’s father, a pivotal event which shaped both his life and his poetry, was the “most important thing that ever happened to him” (104). And Seager suggests that “It is an interesting conjecture whether, had his father lived, he would have been a poet at all” (62). But such speculation merely leads us to the cul-de-sac of a tautology: If Theodore Roethke had lived a different life, he would have been a different person.

Early in Roethke’s career, Rolfe Humphries (“The first poet of ability with whom Ted could have a continuing association”) served as a friend and mentor to the poet (76). In his usual fashion, Roethke attempted to impress Humphries with absurd accounts of his ties to organized crime and tales of women who were “always falling in love” with him (78). Humphries was impressed by Roethke’s talent (“the kid’s good”), but he saw through the bravado (78):

Humphries, however, penetrated the mask. “There was a lot of self-hatred in Ted, you know” he said. Everyone who knew Ted well recognized this eventually, that he was host to a mass of free-floating guilt that made him loathe himself (78).

And perhaps it was self-hatred which compelled Roethke to deceptively claim that he had driven a Stutz Bearcat as an undergraduate, that he had traveled to Russian and Germany, or that he had won a Hopwood Award before there was a Hopwood Award (83;112). But Theodore Roethke, mob associate?

When he was past fifty, Ted liked to say that he had friends in the Purple Gang in Detroit. (“I had such an in with the Purples, they offered to bump off my Aunt Margaret for me. As a favor, you understand”) (58).

Allan Seager is remarkably forgiving about Roethke’s habitual dissembling, concocting various explanations and excuses.

In his later years, as we all do, Ted liked to tinker with his past, rectify it by selections and suppressions, true it up to fit a mature notion of himself or it may be that he was unaware that he was rectifying, that he really remembered his youth in this way (38).

Two factors which may help explain Roethke’s often-strange behavior are alcoholism and mental illness. Today, of course, his bipolar condition could be controlled with drugs, but at the time hospitalization and long periods of rest were the only available remedies for Roethke’s occasional manic episodes. And these episodes could be rather frightening for Roethke and those around him. On one occasion he told Catherine De Vries, the wife of a colleague with whom he often went walking: “I could throttle you and stick you under a culvert and they wouldn’t find you for weeks” (90).

Today some might refer to Roethke’s copious alcohol consumption as “self-medication.” Yet there was a dark side to his drinking. “[H]e would drink heavily and, drunk, he grew wild, broke furniture, and beat out windows with his fist” (63-64). One of Roethke’s psychiatrists surmised that “his troubles were merely the running expenses he paid for being his kind of poet” and another said simply, “You can’t cure a personality” (109).

It’s possible that a prescription for lithium and a twelve-step program would have rendered Theodore Roethke a happier man. We can never know how this might have affected Roethke’s poetry, but Seager suggests that

the very qualities that made Ted a poet seem to have been the ones that made him ill, his sensibility and his energy….His native energy seems to have piled up inside him as a result of the abrasions of his youthful environment, an energy of resentment, rage, and fear, and to have been released by the shock of his father’s death (103)

In addition to being one of America’s greatest poets, Roethke was also a renowned teacher. Not surprisingly, his pedagogy was often unorthodox. Here’s an example from when he was teaching at Michigan State.

He said he was going to give them an assignment in the description of a physical action. “Now you watch what I do for the next five minutes and describe it,” he said. He opened up one of the windows and climbed out on a narrow ledge that ran around the building. He edged around the three sides of the building, making faces through each window, and climbed in again. Teachers do not usually do this (88-89).

Roethke could be remarkably blunt with his students. For example, he once “snarled at a torpid class”

You’ve heard of casting pearls before swine, haven’t you? Come on, you must have. Well, those were metaphorical pearls before metaphorical swine. But what I’m doing is casting real pearls before real swine (114).

Roethke taught in a less politically-correct era when professors were afforded great deference. And he had the temerity to say things that would quickly get today’s college professor into hot water. Seager recounts this episode from when he and Roethke were colleagues at Bennington College:

I was standing in the corridor as he was finishing the last class of a term. He said, “Well, I guess that’s all. Don’t turn into a lot of little bitches before next semester.” The girls, of course, adored him and it was at Bennington that his reputation as a great teacher began to burgeon (136).

by Richard W. Bray

Thinking v. Feeling

December 17, 2011

Thinking v. Feeling

Poet said We think by feeling
A thought that echoes Hume
No logic-minded being
Would genuflect at tombs

We feel therefore we think
Is what they’re finding out
This unappealing link
Is Descartes turned inside out

With a touch of intervention
From our modern frontal lobe
My breed maintains ascension
On our lovely little globe

Toughest on the block
With more appetite than smarts
Condemned to rule this rock
For the cravings of the heart

by Richard W. Bray

Eleven Stanzas that Strike Like a Chime through the Mind

May 29, 2011

Christina Rossetti

Richard Wilbur

e e cummings

Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
Yes, to the very end.
Will the day’s journey take the whole long day?
From morn to night, my friend.

from Uphill by Christina Rossetti

Let Observation with extensive view,
Survey mankind, from China to Peru:
Reark each anxious toil, each eager strife:
Then say how hope and fear, desire and hate,
O’spread with snares the clouded maze of fate,
Where wavering man, betrayed by venomous pride,
To tread the dreary paths without a guide,
But scarce observed, the knowing and the bold
Fall in the general massacre of gold;
Wide-wasting pest! That rages unconfined,
And crowds with crimes the record of mankind;
For gold his sword the hireling ruffian draws,
For gold the hirling judge distorts the laws;
Wealth heaped on wealth, not truth nor safety buys,
The Dangers Gather as the Treasures rise

from The Vanity of Human Wishes (The Tenth Satire of Juvenal Imitated) by Samuel Johnson

We have it and it doesn’t do us any
Good because nobody gets what they
Deserve more than everybody else.

from Family Values by Robert Pinsky

I am tired of tears and laughter,
And men that laugh and weep;
Of what may come hereafter
For men that sow to reap:
I am weary of days and hours,
Blown buds of barren flowers,
Desires and dreams and powers
And everything but sleep.

from Garden of Proserpine by Algernon Charles Swinburne

Thy gowns, thy shoes, thy beds of Roses,
Thy cap, thy kirtle, and thy posies
Soon break, soon wither, soon forgotten:
In folly ripe, in reason rotten.

from The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd by Sir Walter Ralegh

Joy’s trick is to supply
Dry lips with what can cool and slake,
Leaving them dumbstruck also with an ache
Nothing can satisfy.

from Hamlen Brook by Richard Wilbur

“I see the guilty world forgiven,”
Dreamer and drunkard sing,
“The ladders let down out of heaven,
The laurel springing from the martyr’s blood,
The children skipping where the weeper stood,
The lovers natural and the beasts all good.”
So dreamer and drunkard sing
Till day their sobriety bring:
Parrotwise with Death’s reply
From whelping fear and nesting lie,
Woods and their echoes ring.
The desires of the heart are as crooked as corkscrews,
Not to be born is the best for man;
The second-best is a formal order,
The dance’s pattern; dance while you can.

from Death’s Echo by W. H. Auden

To fight aloud, is very brave —
But gallanter, I know
Who charge within the bosom
The Cavalry of Woe —

from To Fight Aloud is Very Brave by Emily Dickinson

I knew a woman, lovely in her bones,
When small birds sighed, she would sigh back at them;
Ah, when she moved, she moved more ways than one:
The shapes a bright container can contain!
Of her choice virtues only gods should speak,
Or English poets who grew up on Greek
(I’d have them sing in chorus, cheek to cheek.)

from I Knew a Woman by Theodore Roethke

and nothing quite so least as truth
—i say though hate were why man breathe—
because my father lived his soul
love is the whole and more than all

from my father moved through dooms of love by e.e. cummings

No memory of having starred
Atones for later disregard
Or keeps the end from being hard.

from Provide, Provide by Robert Frost

by Richard W. Bray

Some Thoughts on The Glass House

August 2, 2010

Allan Seager

Theodore Roethke

Some Thoughts on The Glass House

I’m naked to the bone,
With nakedness my shield.
Myself is what I wear:
I keep the spirit spare.

–from Open House by Theodore Roethke, Collected Poems (3)

Theodore Roethke and his biographer Allan Seager had a lot in common. Although they were not particularly close, the two writers were one year apart as undergraduates at the University of Michigan and they were later colleagues at Bennington College and sometime drinking buddies. Their respective literary reputations, however, are far from equal: Despite achieving a certain amount of critical acclaim during his lifetime, Allan Seager’s fiction is rarely read today; Theodore Roethke, a poet who garnered a copious collection of prizes and honors in his time, is one of the titans of American Letters. But Seager was uniquely qualified to chronicle Roethke’s life in The Glass House, as fine a biography of a literary figure as one is likely to encounter.

Allan Seager was a heavy drinker who suffered with tuberculosis and finally succumbed to lung cancer in 1968. He had just completed The Glass House, which turned out to be his most enduring work. A Rhodes Scholar and champion swimmer in his early years, Seager wrote novels and short fiction which “never won general recognition,” yet his work was “highly praised ” by such esteemed critics as Hugh Kenner, James Dickey, and Robert Penn Warren (x). In his illuminating introduction to The Glass House, Donald Hall asserts that Seager’s real strength was constructing “stories and sentences–maybe sentences more than stories,” which is confirmed by the book’s many marvelous words, beautifully collocated (xii).

Any book tells us at least as much about its creator as it does about its subject. And The Glass House is particularly revealing when it comes to Seager’s feelings about what it felt like for a young man with an artistic temperament to grow up in a small-town Michigan about a century ago. (Seager was born in Adrian which is near Lansing; Roethke was reared in the more rural and remote city of Saginaw.) Seager’s Michigan was hardly a hotbed of artistic activity:

It is hard to convey how strange, how foreign the willful making of poem would have been in a society like his, the inert weight of custom that not only did not have room for any original work in the arts but feared and hated it (46).

And we can only wonder to what extent Seager is speaking about himself when he notes how a poetic temperament was evident in Roethke from an early age:

his despair seems to prove that he already had the prime requisites of a poet, a tingling sensitivity as if he lacked an outer layer of skin, and some sort of compulsion to elevate his life, his emotions into words (28).

As any reader of Roethke would immediately surmise, the glass house of the title refers to his family’s floral farm in Saginaw as well as the poet’s delicate ego. When Ted was fourteen, feuding between his father Otto and his Uncle Charlie, Otto’s brother, led to breakup of the family business and the sale of the beloved greenhouse. Soon thereafter, Uncle Charlie committed suicide. And then Otto, a monumental figure in young Ted’s world, died from intestinal disease. “In the space of three months, the greenhouse was gone, his uncle was gone, his father was gone” (43).

This fateful period in Roethke’s life “must have been a hell of bright awareness” because “he had suffered deprivations greater and keener than he was going to suffer again” (55). Thus, the first fourteen years of his life were “burned into his memory” and, as a poet, Roethke would continue to revisit his bucolic childhood for the rest of his life:

what he writes about are always himself, his father, his mother, more rarely his sister, the greenhouse and its flowers and its working people, the field behind it, the fishing trips with his father, and his own rambles in the game preserve and along the rivers. Instinctively he remembers the period and the area that has been charged with his deepest emotions (163).

Forever collapsing back into his early years, Roethke built one of the most remarkable oeuvres in American Literature. According to the poet Stanley Kunitz, a great friend and supporter of Roethke, “[t]his florist’s son never really departed from the moist, fecund world of his father’s greenhouse in Saginaw” (New York Review, 1963). Ultimately, a writer has only himself to work with, and he must “use himself as a mine, to dig out, to identify, and make images of his emotions” (105). Roethke’s keen reflections of a lost youth stoked his artistic furnace for decades.

Although he would later travel extensively throughout Europe, the greatest journey for Roethke was always inward. He had little interest in sightseeing.

“Churches, galleries, the Colosseum meant nothing to him and he simply refused to see them. It was people he liked to see”(211).

Seager relates that “Stanley Kunitz says he was not a really close observer, and, of course, he did not need to be since everything around him was useful to him only as signatures of himself” (123).

Roethke, who told his students that he never voted, was not someone who kept up with current affairs (50). He read voraciously but not systematically. As Roethke’s good friend W. H. Auden explains, “Ted had hardly any general ideas at all” (67). Seager explains that Roethke was “always reading–and it was not to acquire a fund of general knowledge. Rather, like most writers, he abstracted and kept only what concerned him and let the rest slide out of his memory” (110). At any rate, somehow the multitude of words that went into his head would later recombine in marvelous combinations in his poems.

Seager concedes that Roethke’s greatest artistic asset, a near total disregard for what was happening outside his own psyche, has been seen as a liability by some critics:

Ted’s work has been criticized for the narrowness of its range, for his constant concentration on the fluctuation of the state of his own soul, with the implication that he either selfishly or helplessly limited his vision or deliberately turned it inward, using his images of the nature outside himself merely as barometric signals of internal pressures, as if he found nothing worth writing about in the world around him or was blindly unaware of it (222).

At this point, however, Roethke’s high rank in the literary cannon is very secure.

In Allan Seager’s estimation, Theodore Roethke’s life was a smashing success:

It takes determination and luck for an artist to surmount the variety of obstacles which society–and he himself with unwitting inadvertence–can throw in the way of a period when he can work effectively, eat well enough, have friends to drink with, and be bothered by only petty everyday worries. But Ted managed it (189).

(An entire post about Theodore Roethke that doesn’t mention his renowned prowess as a teacher, his mental illness, the University of Washington, the incessant self-aggrandizing lies he would tell, nor his relationships with women. Wow.)

by Richard W. Bray

We Think by Feeling

March 2, 2010

Theodore Roethke

David Hume

We think by feeling. What is there to know?

–Theodore Roethke

Morals and criticism are not so properly objects of understanding as of taste and sentiment. Beauty, whether moral or natural, is felt, more properly than perceived.

–David Hume

Emotions ignite moral judgments. Reason follows in the wake of this dynamic….Conscious moral reasoning often plays no role in our moral judgments, and in many cases reflects a post-hoc justification or rationalization of previously held biases or beliefs.

–Marc D. Hauser, Moral Minds (24-25)

We Think by Feeling

In my last post I objected to clever and stylistic cinematic portrayals of violence because violence is the ugliest and stupidest thing that people do. I selected four movies for disapprobation, Snatch, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Pulp Fiction, and Kill Bill. (It is no accident that two of these movies were created by Quentin Terantino, but more on that later.) But it dawned on me after I made the post that the primary rationale that I could come up with for why Mr. and Mrs. Smith is such a morally execrable movie (it makes light of those wretched people who kill others instead of exploring the contours of their depravity) is also true of Prizzi’s Honor, one of my favorite movies. Of course, I could try to convince myself that Prizzi’s Honor deserves an exemption from my rule about glamorizing violence because it is a highly ironic work of art.

Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure that whoever came up with Mr and Mrs. Smith was trying to be ironic, and every movie is a work of art (but not necessarily a well-achieved work of art.) It has also occurred to me that every reason I can come up with for why I never enjoyed Married with Children (it’s about a bunch of pathetic losers who are constantly abusing each other) is true about Two and a Half Men, one of my favorite shows.

Because emotions ignite moral judgments, it is my feeling that violence in film should be just as ugly and stupid as it is in real life. That’s why I like Reservoir Dogs so much more than Pulp Fiction (Michael Madsen’s happy dancing torturer scene notwithstanding). Terantino is, of course, a lightening rod for people who object to violent movies, particularly when he says asinine things like this:

“Violence in the movies can be cool,” he says. “It’s just another color to work with. When Fred Astaire dances, it doesn’t mean anything. Violence is the same. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s a color.”

The maddening thing about Terantino is that he such an idiotic savant. He writes brilliant dialogue, gets unexpectedly marvelous performances out of his actors and he’s even capable of creating rather touching scenes. I was very moved, for example, by the way Robert Forster revealed his vulnerable side to Pam Grier in Jackie Brown by talking about how degrading it was to sit alone for hours in a dark room that reeked of cat piss in order to do the only job he was qualified for.

So is every work of criticism simply an attempt to rationalize feelings? I’m afraid so.

by Richard W. Bray