Sweet Spots




Welcome! If, for some reason, you've stumbled across this blog (perhaps on your way to something more significant, more political, or at least funnier), chances are you're scratching your head at that juxtaposition of terms above. It's meant as something of a provocation (to paraphrase the great music journalist Bill Flanagan, it's designed to get rid of the whiners and carpers), a dare (for myself-- what do I mean by that?--and others), a starting point of curiosity (which is where all adventures begin) and, hopefully, a joke (Roland Barthes reminds us that "the logical future of criticism would be the gag", and I hope my blog title is taken in both senses of that last word, as both funny and something to choke on, if you believe all art begins and ends with self-serious, earnest chest-beating).


In The Real Thing, Tom Stoppard's central character, Henry, has a long and lovely soliloquy about writing and cricket bats, and the importance of style: "What we're trying to do," Henry proclaims, "is to write cricket bats, so that when we throw up an idea and give it a little knock, it might...travel..." What Henry's talking about is what Ted Williams, talking of hitting with a baseball bat, once referred to as "the sweet spot", that place where the ball/bat combination makes just the right (write?), cracking sound. A little off the mark, a little to the left or right, Williams noted, and you just didn't get the sweet sound you were looking for.




Stoppard is a nice example, as he straddles the worlds of so-called "high" and "popular" art-- takes that straddling as his subject, more often than not (and he still has the best Oscar speech ever, when he co-won a screenplay award for Shakespeare in Love, and used the moment to drily smack the odious roberto benigni, who'd used the evening to practice his chair-climbing while accepting far too many awards for Life Is Beautiful: "I'm English, so I feel like Roberto Benigni on the inside"). But the Stoppard passage that really inspired this blog title was a different one from The Real Thing, when Robert admits that he prefers the Shirelles to opera, and defends his choice as an aesthetically viable one (sadly, my copy of the play is at my office, and I can't seem to google the quote-- maybe I'll post it later). For me, this was the sweet spot of the text: that moment of recognition, when a work speaks to you, and were you not reading it in public, in a bagel shop, you'd yell, "yes, yes!" That this, like many moments in the play, is an ironic one, doesn't cancel out for me the beauty and rightness of that preference (if anything, such ambiguity makes it way more interesting, for the way it suggests that art and pop are false binaries, like "bubblegum" and "aesthetics").

I had this whole, visionary paper in mind: "Notes on a Bubblegum Aesthetic", outlining my ideas for a critical form that was poppier, that would groove like the best music singles, full of chunky baselines, sugar-sweet choruses, stick-in-your-head riffs: why shouldn't an idea be as fun as a song (such a style might stand in contrast to the more "album"-like tomes that often dominate academic study, with their weighty themes and false coherence. It's the difference between listening to "Day Tripper," which you *know* in your gut is a good song, and some prog-rock/metal monstrosity like Jethro Tull or Zepplin, which conventional wisdom makes you feel *obligated* to say is good, even though in your gut you want to retch. It's the saddest of all words: obligation, rearing its ugly head again). Here's my role model (imagine words like "authenticity," "earnestness" and "import" scrawled on Doc Ock's (Doc Ac's?) arms, as the dreaded "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" soundtrack plays in his lair):



Sadly, a combination of work (dissertation! Teaching!), intellectual vagueness and, um, chronic laziness meant my brilliant, discipline-shaking manifesto was never written (Truffaut weeps). But hey-- cool blog title, right?

So, this is, like all superheroic origin stories, a little too long-- get to the fights, dammit!-- but just a few more words about me and this here space:

I teach courses in film, literature, comics, theory and popular culture at a fantabulous shangri-la in the midwest. If, for some reason, you find the references to Godard, Spider-Man, and Derrida in a single post to be as appealing a combination as chocolate and brussel sprouts, this is probably not the blog for you. I am one with the sixties Godard, who wanted to do "research in the form of spectacle," and I see no reason not to have fun combining the above.

This blog may be as infrequent in its scheduling as a Joss Whedon comic book. Work, memory loss or the aforementioned laziness could strike at any moment. As Flavor Flav yelled at the beginning of It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back: "Consder yourselves-- WARNED!!"

The blog roll to the right (which you really should check out, I don't mind, I'll wait) hopefully gives some sense of the parameters of what's to come. It will probably mostly be a blog about film and pop culture, but politics, sports, food, teaching, the weather and almost anything else could rear their heads at any minute. How much of an autobiographical space it will be is something that will be determined as we go along, but I don't think it's going to transmogrify into a live-journal anytime soon (but I will warm up-- ME ME ME!!!...)

OK, enough about me: I think I've bored my two readers out there as it is. But over the next ??? months, as I rant about Bush, predict the Oscars, and try to convince you that the Pixies were, in fact, the greatest bubblegum pop group of all time, I hope this blog becomes a sweet spot for those who choose to stay.

Comments

Tom Sutpen said…
Any blog that . . . in its first post, yet . . . brandishes Godard, Derrida and Spidey, quotes Barthes and Flavor Flav (suggesting the beautiful heresy that there may indeed be a useful integration of so-called high and low culture if only we'd try for it) is one blog that's off to a rocketing start.

I salute ye!
DJ said…
Great first post--keep it up!
Cinephile said…
Thanks, dj! And thanks, Tom-- your blog is one of my favorites, so I'm deeply flattered at your kind remarks.
digital_sextant said…
I bring into contact with your Henry quote the memory of Spinal Tap's blond cad of a manager, Ethan, who carries a cricket bat for "Totemistic" reasons.

Meathead thinks it's an affectation. Welcome to the game.

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