Only disconnect: Jaron Lanier in London

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A rare visit to our capital by the brilliant Jaron Lanier, in conversation in the wonderful (and appropriate) Marx Memorial Library with dapper Idler host Tom Hodgkinson (centre) and trenchant Guardian columnist John Harris (left). Lanier brought, and played (thrillingly), two of his obscure wind instruments and addressed the main points from his brand-new Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. He is a genuinely fascinating Silicon Valley maverick and I urge you to read all his books. He and his like may be all that stand between us and a dystopian hi-tech nightmare of total control and dehumanisation. (N.B. the Socialist Society banner below was apparently woven by William Morris and his son…)

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Judd Apatow’s Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling

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LAST NIGHT I finally came to the end of Judd Apatow’s extraordinary four-hour film about the late Garry Shandling – the so-called Zen Diaries of said comedian.
As the director of There’s Something About Mary read aloud a letter that Shandling had written to the older brother who’d died, as a child, of cystic fibrosis, I completely lost it – I broke down and sobbed. I’d come to the close of a remarkable, hilarious, neurotic life haunted by the loss of Barry Shandling (a death never explained to the little brother) and felt overwhelmed by compassion for the witheringly brilliant creator of the meta-show about host Larry Sanders.
It made me realise how much Shandling and his Comedy Store peers – a particular strain of American-Jewish humour that slices through to the heart of the human condition – have meant to me. And it prompted this short distillation of gratitude for the sheer fearlessness of Shandling, Seinfeld, Silverman, Larry David – and of Mel Brooks, Joan Rivers, Jackie Mason and the many who came before them. Out of such pain has come the purest comedic joy I’ve ever known.

 

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Always I’m in awe of them:

unsparing men and salty women

lancing my illusions

and my gentile self-delusions.

No hugging and no learning,

nothing left to lose:

ancestral agony of pogroms

and the terrors of the Zyklon B.

The balls it takes to work that space,

illusion of a mastery that masks

the backstage whimper of a fevered need:

  “You think they liked me?”

“Man, you killed out there.”

A poem and some pix from Ithaca

 

 

No one knows I’m here, or cares especially,

and if I close my eyes I hear

the distant things Odysseus would have known

if he indeed existed in this place.

 

The chittering birds,

the muted bonging of the bells

on necks of goats,

like finger-chimes of monks in monasteries.

 

I smell the wafted perfumes he’d have breathed:

the mix of earth and herbs and warmed-through stone,

the pines and cypresses in this ravine

so high the clouds are stealing softly past.

 

A giant bowl of human silence,

fecund stadium indifferent to me,

except the cats that track my every move,

their hungry eyes on high alert.

 

One might just say the silence deafens

when compared to planes that track the Thames

on their descent over my London roof,

assaulting me in morning meditation every working day.

 

I climb and cannot quite believe

there are no yells or honks

or whoosh of traffic on the bridge,

but just the softest wind.

 

The bells now nearer through the pines,

the sounds of life on earth for one who watches,

listens, still as he can be,

expecting nothing more.

 

Exogi, September 2017

“My own frail and disappointing humanity”: Rana Dasgupta’s Long Read

 

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“Social media… supplied a publicity machinery with a reach and power previously available only to truly famous people, and now the condition of the celebrity was everyone’s condition. Suddenly everyone was broadcasting their life to the world, and measuring their worth on the basis of the libidinal pulses that came back – as only celebrities had before. Suddenly, the celebrity’s grief over privacy was everyone’s, and everyone was afflicted by her insecurity: do people realise there’s nothing behind it all except my own frail and disappointing humanity?

(From Rana Dasgupta’s Guardian Long Read piece “The First Social Media Suicide”, one of the most extraordinary pieces I’ve read about the era of techno-alienation we’re now in.)

For Christophe Edwards (1954-2017)

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spared

 

One, and then another, taken out.

A father gone, and then a friend.

The space they took now voided

when you thought they always would be there,

breathing somewhere far or near.

 

But keep your head down, get the job done,

keep the blinkers on.

Try not thinking what they’d think

if they could see you, see that life goes on

to no great purpose after all.

Rediscovering Rublev

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This week I finally found time to watch Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1966 epic Andrei Rublev, recorded on TV a few weeks ago. I hadn’t seen it for many years and now wonder if I ever saw it at all. The only mental snapshot I retained of it turned out not to be in the film at all, though it did involve a church. I also retain a snapshot of Tarkovsky’s Nostalgia, which, again, I haven’t seen for years: a long shot of rainwater on a puddle in a ruined building. I’ll doubtless discover that too was a false recall.

There’s a lot of water in Andrei Rublev: the slow studies of wet stuff that make people think of Tarkovsky as a kind of pantheistic mystic. The most beautiful one – and the most mystical – is of the young apprentice, shot with a Tartar arrow, who (in slow motion) falls into a stream, followed shortly after in the water by a small, swirling cloud of white paint: the paint, one is forced to assume, that leaked into another stream in one of the film’s earlier scenes.

I’d forgotten the many horrors in Rublev, which wasn’t shown in Soviet Russia until 1971, and then only in censored form. It remains a brutally real depiction of life in medieval Russia: gouged eyes, burned limbs, panic and devastation wherever you look. Yet at the centre of its long narrative sweep is the still, Christlike visage of the icon painter Rublev himself, striving to square his humanity with the reality of power, violence and religious conditioning. (He refuses to paint a Last Judgement in the cathedral because he believes Christianity shouldn’t rule through superstitious terror.)

For all the film’s atrocities, there are as many moments of preternatural stillness and austere tenderness. Divided into chapters that jump forward in time, Rublev‘s only real thread is the haunted consciousness of its eponymous protagonist, who in one section takes a vow of silence that renders Anatoly Solonitsyn’s melancholy good looks even more despairing. (With a touch of perversity, Tarkovsky described the actor’s single-minded intensity as “demoniacal”.)

I remember thinking Tarkovsky’s final film, The Sacrifice, was a pretentious travesty, so it’s nice to rediscover that Rublev, his second, is as beautiful, as meditative, and as visually thrilling as it is shocking and starkly unsentimental.

“Love bears all things, believes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” Those magnificent lines from 1 Corinthians 13 – we hear them spoken in the film – turn out to be true after all.