body atlas
January 7, 2014, 3:41 pm
Filed under: unseen world | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Happiness and depression are felt all over the body, while anger and pride only in the chest and head. These are images from research on emotion response by a group of scientists from Finland. The researchers used stimuli – words, images, stories – to provoke emotion and the subjects indicated where the emotion manifested on their bodies.

From Body Atlas, Lauri Nummenmaa, Enrico Glerean, Riitta Hari, and Jari K. Hietanen

An Atlas Of The Human Body That Maps Where We Feel Emotions, Fast Company, Jessica Leber


the instinct to love
January 22, 2012, 2:34 pm
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , , , , ,

Perhaps the best function of parenthood is to teach the young creature to love with safety, so that it may be able to venture unafraid when later emotion comes; the thwarting of the instinct to love is the root of all sorrow and not sex only but divinity itself is insulted when it is repressed. To disapprove, to condemn –the human soul shrivels under barren righteousness.

Freya Stark

The instinct to love is the quick of life and the flowering of it leads to fearless living. That’s the best case scenario. But the scene is strewn with the walking wounded, and flowering and fearlessness have gone the way of the dodo, it seems.

I spoke with a friend only this week about the very real and deleterious affects, thirty years and more on, of parental absenteeism, alcohol and isolation.  I don’t know why her psychic misery, which is easily traceable as she so vividly related to me, is somehow unreal and to be denied.  She described her misery and in the same breath stated that, once past the age of eighteen, one mustn’t blame. There’s a small insanity: bearing witness to the root – and saying it’s not real and that someone can’t be blamed.  Well, you only have yourself to blame these days; an almost desperate need to which she still clings.


A girl was selling books on her stoop and I picked up a copy of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited for $2.  Maybe it will be something like Downton, which I have been devouring – I thought.  Not two weeks later I saw the full set of Brideshead DVDs at the library and checked them out and watched all 11 episodes in three nights.

On its face Brideshead is a story, like Downton, of the waning of the British aristocracy in the early 20th century.   That’s what the reviewers and the jacket covers tell us.  But the story is really more about adolescent love, family and religion.  At its heart, it is about the thwarting of love. Continue reading

what happens when the one who dreamt us wakes up and feels ashamed?
September 27, 2010, 10:04 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , ,


I found a copy of Bergman’s The Shame and watched it last night.  And of course highly recommend it.  It’s about a couple who are artists and trying to avoid a war but it eventually comes to them and changes their lives.  I’ve rarely watched a film that so convincingly and relentlessly takes you right to the human heart.  And on the surface it’s just people moving around and talking while bombs go off in the background.

The Von Sydow character Jan is one of the weakest male characters in film, and makes you think the Ullmann character Eva is strong.  She is.  He feels everything and reacts by retreating; she feels deeply too but is more reactive.   He talks about the past and music, she about bringing a child into this uncertain world.

The action is picaresque, event to image to action to event, and the feeling is despairing that our lives in war are completely manipulated by forces we can’t see or know and then the violence arrives at the door.  The hinge is Eva’s dream:

Eva: Sometimes everything seems just like a dream. It’s not my dream, but someone else’s, that I have to participate in. What happens when the one who dreamt us wakes up and feels ashamed?

An existential question for our times – what happens when?  There’s her strength, she knows someone will wake up and that there will be shame.

I like this website, Ingmar Bergman Face to Face.

a coincidence between two stories
September 13, 2010, 4:33 pm
Filed under: unseen world | Tags: , , , , , ,

Learning to Love:

Sometime in the first 20 minutes of Michael Haneke’s film La Pianiste, we learn that the perfectionist piano teacher Erika, played by Isabelle Huppert, sleeps in the same room as her mother.  Much further along, we find out that she is a regular at the live sex booth in a porn shop.  Shocking images, perhaps only at first:  the beautiful, accomplished piano teacher with a shameful home and inner life.  Haneke’s speciality:  truth masquerading as shock.  Or more accurately truth that we continue to pretend is an aberration and continue to allow to shock us.

Erika is like Norman Bates (from Psycho), only a little more socially acceptable.  Erika merely slept in her mother’s room; Bates embalmed his, and kept her in the upstairs room in a rocking chair.  The point is both moms controlled their children, and both children went far far into their adult lives allowing themselves to be controlled.  As a result of this control, Erika’s intimate life was reduced to watching other people have sex in booths and engaging boyfriends in sexual domination games.

There is an interesting side story in La Pianiste.  Erika has a student, a young girl, who has a neurotic and domineering mother, not unlike her own.  The teacher has a complex relationship with the girl and near the end we see her sneak into the concert hall’s cloak room, smash a drinking glass and put the shards in the young girl’s winter coat while she plays a recital in the hall.  After the recital, the girl badly injures her right hand on the glass shards.  It’s a malevolent act, and curiously it’s an act of salvation:  maybe this injury will set you back, she is saying, will alter your life course away from the one I took of perfectionism and isolation, will cause your mother to leave you be to live a normal life.

So, La Pianiste is about Erika’s attempt to form a real human bond with a lover.  It is a violent attempt, for she must confront and rebuke the control her mother and her own prolonged adolescence has over her.  Ah, the violence of family life.  Is it real or an aberration, a cheap trick used by a director to shock?

A Critical Coincidence:

The following quotation has nothing to do with the writing above.  It is Huppert’s description of what it means to be an actor.  She says to be beautiful, the story she has made about Erika and the story the director and writer have made must coincide.  Here is her description —

When you make a film, actually you make two films.  The director’s film is being made.  And the actor’s film or actress’s film is being made.  And the actress’s film is like a very intimate story that she tells to herself, which is within the director’s story.  And hopefully there is a coincidence between the two stories.  Ultimately, of course, it is the director’s film, but I think an actor always chases a very personal quest when he makes a film and very intimate and very secret and not invisible because I think it’s on screen, but it’s a whole personal fantasy, you know, that is not necessarily 100% according to the director’s fantasy itself, you know.   And I think that the mystery, the chemistry between an actress and a director is how these two personal fantasies make a coincidence, between the two of them, and it makes a film.

-Isabelle Huppert, interview, The Piano Teacher

exposure is the great evil
August 26, 2009, 1:45 am
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , , ,

In his essay In the Garden, Alan Jacobs discusses the biblical origins of shame.  The quotation excerpted below distinguishes between shame and guilt cultures.  He tells us how the guilt culture is confessional; the act of confession gives release from the pain of transgression.  A shame culture, however, doesn’t see the transgression as a problem unless, of course, it is revealed.

Since the 1940s, anthropologists have distinguished between shame-cultures and guilt-cultures. People who belong to the latter suffer from an inner sense that they have transgressed some immutable law, and the hiddenness of that transgression can intensify the pain: thus the feeling of relief that can accompany confession in such cultures. But in shame-cultures, exposure is the great evil: not to transgress, but to have one’s transgressions revealed. Thus in the Iliad, when Andromache begs her beloved Hector to stay in the city rather than return to the fighting, he replies that he cannot, for the shame of doing so would be too terrible.

-In the Garden, Alan Jacobs, Cabinet, Issue 31, Shame, Fall 2009

August 18, 2008, 4:59 pm
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Shame leads to violence.  It is like a contagion that at its induction freezes and isolates and traps; and over a lifetime eventually surfaces in rage.  Salman Rushdie’s novel Shame is structured around a real life event of shame:  a father in London kills his daughter, in the street, because she has slept with a white boy.  Rushdie changes the story for the book.  In it a father shames his daughter from birth, because he wanted to have a boy.  She becomes a lightening rod for shame with a capacity for holding more and more of it.  And the men around her match her capacity for being shamed with their own capacity for perpetuating it.  Eventually she takes a revenge of sorts, by seducing and decapitating four men.

Rushdie’s characters are metaphors for Pakistani politics in the 1970’s.  The phenomenon of shaming and its relationship to violence exists at the micro and macro level.  It is viral and corrupts an individual life and a state at the same time.

Here is a description of the topic of shame in the book, by Abdulrazak Gurnah.  You can read the entire article here.

Sufiya Zenobia is born a girl when Raza Hyder wanted a boy. At her birth, he rages at the medical staff as if somehow his anger will force them to change the baby’s gender. Sufiya Zenobia blushes for shame. From the moment of her birth, Sufiya Zenobia is made inadequate, shamed by her gender. As the novel progresses she comes to represent an unavoidable capacity for feeling shame while the world that dictates to her, the world of men, cannot restrain itself from shamelessness. Rushdie’s argument suggests a gendered sense of ‘honour’, a public sense in which men fraudulently disguise cynicism by investing honour in the conduct of women, in the process dictating to them, while conducting themselves with cruelty and self-indulgence. Women, who are required to submit to what has been invested in them and are made inadequate by this submission, feel shame. Sufiya Zenobia cannot prevent herself blushing for shame, and is a literal representation of this gendered condition, which is attenuated further by making her retarded by illness to a permanent mental age of a six-year-old. So her blushes, in other words, are not from a heightened moral sense but the metaphorical conditioning of her gender.

In Rushdie’s argument, humiliation and shame will inevitably lead to violence, which is as much about the oppression of women in Pakistan (and Islam) as about the whole society. It is Sufiya who demonstrates this argument. The first occasion is when she tears off the heads of 218 turkeys, ‘then reached down into their bodies to draw their guts up through their necks’ (Shame, p.138). Later, in the novel’s closing stages, she fulfils what this early outburst of prodigious violence promises. She tempts four nameless men to have sex with her, inverting the right of Muslim men to take four wives, then she pulls their heads off:

Shame walks the streets of night. In the slums four youths are transfixed by those appalling eyes, whose deadly yellow fire blows like a wind through the lattice-work of the veil. They follow her to the rubbish-dump of doom, rats to her piper, automata dancing in the all-consuming light from the black-veiled eyes. Down she lies […] Four husbands come and go. Four of them in and out, and then her hands reach for the first boy’s neck. The others stand still and wait their turn.(Shame, p.219)

Her humiliation at the hands of men who should have loved her, her father Raza Hyder and her husband Omar Khayyam Shakil, have turned her into a Beast. Rushdie celebrates Sufiya’s violence as liberation, or makes Omar Khayyam Shakil ponder along these lines, but the real force behind this figuration of women is not so much to suggest a route to fulfilment, but to issue a warning to the rulers of Pakistan. Out of the encounter of shame and shamelessness will come violence. Not surprisingly, Shame was banned in Pakistan, although it was short-listed for the Booker Prize.

From The Cambridge