Friday, February 26, 2010

More thoughts about sadness

Fascinating article by Louis Menand in the New Yorker this week, discussing psychiatry and its place in science. After devouring the article I've come to a few conclusions:

1. I no longer believe in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy as a proper treatment for depression.
2. In the vast majority of people labeled as depressives, what they are feeling is not caused by neurological imbalance but just plain ol' life problems.
3. There must be something perverse in a culture that refuses to acknowledge the suffering inherent in the human condition, and instead labels it as some sort of social deviancy.

Big leaps for an amateur psychologist. Strange that I can still be so interested in psychology but completely disagree with talk therapy now. Maybe I'm just marred by my own disappointing experiences with talk therapy, but it seems to exaggerate the ego instead of actually concretely solving problems. Frankly I don't like talking about my problems. I think about them all day regardless; what's the point of rehashing them for a complete stranger with absolutely no knowledge of your thought processes, intelligence, experiences? How comfortable can we truly be with someone trained to diagnose you? It just doesn't work for me, personally, although I know it has for many others. Really I'd prefer to be cuddling with a best friend on the couch, cup of herbal tea in hand.

I've only had limited experience with this sort of thing, but enough to find it absurdly frustrating, especially when I have my own psychology-knowledge-based superiority complex ("I know what you're doing, I've been self-psycho-analyzing myself since age 15, thankyouverymuch."). I don't like talking ceaselessly, I like asking questions that, unfortunately, nobody can answer: What is the point of suffering? Why are most people never happy except for a short while? Why do we grow up thinking one day our emotional life will plateau into some kind of contentment, when this never happens in reality and life is nothing but constant turbulence? Can we ever, truly, be entirely open with another person? How does one fall out of love?

As the New Yorker article states in its concluding line, Questions like these are the reason we have literature and philosophy. No science will ever answer them. Appropriate, then, that I'll soon be a grad student in comparative literature instead of, say, psychology, which I mulled about in 11th grade. I don't really care much for biology when it's the human condition I'm after.

I've been thinking about this nonstop ever since I was surprised by the comment on my last entry, which may or may not have been written by Franz Wright (although it would be pretty grand if it was). Especially:

... the idea that there is something intrinsically appalling about anyone ever being sad is one of the most bizarre things I have ever heard. How might the eradication of sadness be accomplished on a planet of mortal beings? And have you given any consideration, when you look at your own life, to the more positive aspects of sadness.

How true. This is what I've suspected all along, even before reading Schopenhauer. In a world of mortal beings, sadness-- or, I guess, "depression"-- is an inevitable state of being, and has the potential for a pseudo-spiritual resurrection, which the article compares to the cleansing feeling after a period of mourning and grief. Art, too. Art is resurrection.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sad Poems

Good article from the Smart Set about sad poetry.

"When a good poem captures sadness, it reminds us of the times we’ve been sad, whether after a death, a failed romance, or even no dessert; of when we’ve been more humble, more understanding and open, more certain that we would never want anybody to feel sad in any way, ever."

I had been thinking about this for a while-- the fact that I am not able to relax without being depressed, because I associate relaxation with poetry, and poetry with depressing themes. I guess it doesn't help if Franz Wright is one of my favorite poets, and his work is mostly about suicide, it seems...

But I guess it's not such a bad thing after all. Apparently reading sad poetry activates the parasympathetic nervous system, aiding digestion and slowing down heart rate... definitely something I need since my stress level is on a permanent "fight or flight" stage.

I've read this poem before, but it's still one of the saddest and most gentle things:

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

-Robert Hayden

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Kid Movies

Newest series installment, qua children's film and adult reception. Thanks to my lovely interviewees for their awesome quotes, week after week! :

Films show that animation is more than child’s play

More adults are seeing “kids’ movies” than ever, and this time, it isn’t only to placate a screaming seven-year-old. We wholeheartedly enjoy them.

Oscar nominee “Up” may appear to be a children’s film at first glance, but it is just one of a score of recent kiddie flicks with an adult following.

Courtesy of Disney Pixar

One Friday night last July, I found myself sobbing uncontrollably in a movie theatre, five minutes into Pixar’s “Up”—a film that is, for all intents and purposes, meant for children. Not helping was the throng of stone-faced ten-year-old girls in the row in front of me, whispering: “Hey, I think that lady behind us is crying.” Uh-oh.

Who is the target audience of films such as “Up”? The viewership of children’s films has expanded to include adults—even cynical college students. Young adults enjoy movies that remind them of an idyllic past—a place of misleading simplicity but also surprising complexity. More adults are seeing “kids’ movies” than ever, and this time, it isn’t only to placate a screaming seven-year-old. We wholeheartedly enjoy them.

On Feb. 2, the Academy Awards nominated Pixar’s “Up” for Best Picture. It became the first animated film to be nominated since Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” and the first since the installment of the Best Animated Feature award. Recently, there has been a renaissance of “family friendly” films—in particular, animated films—which are finally able to compete with live-action features in viewership and overall quality. Consider the plethora of well-reviewed animated films of 2009: “Coraline,” “Ponyo,” “Up,” and “The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” among others.

There are two reasons for this resurgence of interest in children’s movies: Contemporary PG-rated movies are simply better than the average R-rated ones, and “kids’ movies” have become increasingly relevant to young adults. Pixar in particular manages to perfectly fuse these two qualities.

Tony Jin, CC ’10, said, “I could write an essay on why I liked ‘Up!’. I think adults watch Pixar because we have come to expect a level of artistic maturity from all of their films.”

Twenty or thirty years ago, the average college student would never watch a children’s film when an action flick or a thriller was readily available. Now the tables have turned: the best-made films are often PG, and even directors such as Wes Anderson are beginning to branch out. Anderson’s films have been marketed to hipster young adults for so long that the inclusion of a children’s film—“The Fantastic Mr. Fox”—in his oeuvre has become a mark of the kids’ film revolution. Anderson has also managed to retain his signature aesthetic and produce a work of art as enjoyable as, if not better than, its R-rated predecessors.

Jenny Lam, CC ’09, who dreams of working with Pixar, said, “I don’t think family-friendly films are just now expanding viewership to include adults—I think we, as an audience, are beginning to realize that ‘family-friendly’ is not equivalent to ‘kids only’—it means there is something for everyone. As an audience, we are also finally beginning to accept the fact that something like animation—often associated with kids—isn’t a genre, but a medium.”

Of course, there are kids’ movies, and there are kids’ movies. Some college students may rush to the theatre to see “Coraline,” but most would never voluntarily set foot in “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel.” The difference between these films lies in levels of artistry and plot complexity.

“Family friendly” no longer means “simple plot, no curse words”—the possibilities for these films are infinite, and college students have become a more than willing audience for their artistic feats.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Keffiyeh

"First it was the hummus war. Then it was the tabouleh war. Now get ready for the keffiyeh war."

(Not to say "good" per se, since it's actually pretty poorly written...) I would recommend reading the comments below for a good fresh daily dose of nihilism. One would think NYT readers would be slightly more open-minded than the average American, but alas...

Apparently some hip Jewish DJs and brooklyn have begun to wear Keffiyehs adorned with stars of David, to keep from identifying with the Palestinian movement. I'm not completely against this; after all, I spent a semester in Europe. Everyone wore a Keffiyeh, even Jews. I bought two. It's a genuine fashion statement, and even in the US, I get compliments about them. It has grown nearly devoid of political statement.

HOWEVER. Nearly devoid of politics is not completely devoid of politics. When I wear a Keffiyeh I am, as a Jew, also supporting the Palestinian movement. It is something political-- and entirely unreligious. Just because I am a certain Matzo-ball, Latke, Gefilte-fish-consuming ethnicity does not make me Zionist in the slightest. I have been to Israel and my views are more complicated, and not entirely unbiased. Everybody should be allowed to wear the clothing they wish (I'm talkin' to YOU, Sarkozy). It's fashion. It's art. Next we won't allow tattoos, piercings, or pendant necklaces (and hey, rabbi from Tzvat, I'm STILL wearing those Ankh earings, years of Egyptian slavery regardless!).

And hey, New York Zionists, Jewish and Gentile social conservatives, you can't take away my keffiyeh. Even if it "offends" you. Two keffiyehs does not a terrorist make.


(stolen from random streetstyle sites):

Friday, February 5, 2010

Oscar nominations podcast! etc

Check it out. Dan, Morgan, and I talk about the 2010 nominees for the Spectator.

Always strange to hear my voice online, or recorded, anywhere. Not the most incredible of speeches (also I tend to use one too many "um"s), but...

Our nominees:
1. Inglourious Basterds
2. A Serious Man
3. The Hurt Locker

I was iffy about Inglourious Basterds, but I personally supported A Serious Man. Was not as eloquent as I would have wanted to be, but still kind of cool. If there's anything I enjoy doing, it's waxing nostalgic about movies I've seen in the past year, so doing this was incredibly fun. Also gave me a fresh kick in the butt for the amount of great movies that I haven't seen: Precious, Fish Tank, An Education, etc. Alas, if only I was paid to watch films all day!

Also, how incredible is this video by Yeasayer? 'Holy Mountain' meets 'Fantasia' meets indie rock? Beautiful.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Daily Dose of Beauty: February Edition

February is my least favorite month. By far. How could the shortest month be so dreadful?
-Stress before finding out grad school verdicts in March/April
-Memories of horrible Februaries past (is my February hatred a self-fulfilling prophecy?)
-Cold. Ass. Weather.
-Annoying senior functions
-Unlike Chicago, it never snows enough in NY to make the WRETCHED COLD bearable
and, of course,
-Valentine's Day

THUS: a poem.


by Margaret Atwood

Winter. Time to eat fat
and watch hockey. In the pewter mornings, the cat,
a black fur sausage with yellow
Houdini eyes, jumps up on the bed and tries
to get onto my head. It’s his
way of telling whether or not I’m dead.
If I’m not, he wants to be scratched; if I am
He’ll think of something. He settles
on my chest, breathing his breath
of burped-up meat and musty sofas,
purring like a washboard. Some other tomcat,
not yet a capon, has been spraying our front door,
declaring war. It’s all about sex and territory,
which are what will finish us off
in the long run. Some cat owners around here
should snip a few testicles. If we wise
hominids were sensible, we’d do that too,
or eat our young, like sharks.
But it’s love that does us in. Over and over
again, He shoots, he scores! and famine
crouches in the bedsheets, ambushing the pulsing
eiderdown, and the windchill factor hits
thirty below, and pollution pours
out of our chimneys to keep us warm.
February, month of despair,
with a skewered heart in the centre.
I think dire thoughts, and lust for French fries
with a splash of vinegar.
Cat, enough of your greedy whining
and your small pink bumhole.
Off my face! You’re the life principle,
more or less, so get going
on a little optimism around here.
Get rid of death. Celebrate increase. Make it be spring.

AND: an illustration I love of this Magnetic Fields song from their "69 Love songs" compilation. I've been listening to these three albums for a little while. They're often mediocre but once in a while there's an underrated gem. Like this one.

In other news, will have a telecast on the Spectator website soon, after the Oscar nominations come out! (*crossing fingers for the Coen bros, Wes Anderson, Clooney in anything, Hurt Locker...) Should be available on Thursday. Will link to it as soon as it's available (and, you know, taped)

Lastly (reblogged from Jess):