“To argue for the “creativity” of the cell is to align human creativity with the life force, with the restlessness of need and the will to thrive. It is to reclaim the artwork as an instance, however remarkable, of the general creativity of humanity, which is creative not only because it must reproduce itself, but because it must try to adapt itself to an ever-changing environment. That this collective struggle is so often experienced as beautiful is obviously to our benefit as a species.”
— Mark McGurl, The Program Era

On this Sunday: “Sunday,” an awesome amazing track from Earl Sweatshirt and Frank Ocean.

“What she did with me—I must have been eight, or twelve, who remembers—was to sit me down in the kitchen and take a straw broom and start furiously sweeping the floor, and she asked me which part of the broom was more elemental, more fundamental, in my opinion, the bristles or the handle. […] And finally when I said I supposed the bristles, because you could after a fashion sweep without the handle, by just holding on to the bristles, but couldn’t sweep with just the handle, she tackled me, and knocked me out of my chair, and yelled into my ear something like, “Aha, that’s because you want to sweep with the broom, isn’t it? It’s because of what you want the broom for, isn’t it?””
— David Foster Wallace, The Broom of the System
“It is man who is our enemy: the vast seething moiling spiritless mass of him. Once to each period of his inglorious history, one of us appears with the stature of a giant, suddenly and without warning in the middle of a nation as a dairymaid enters a buttery, and with his sword for paddle he heaps and pounds and stiffens the malleable mass and even holds it cohered and purposeful for a time. But never for always, nor even for very long: sometimes before he can even turn his back, it has relinquished, dis-cohered, faster and faster flowing and seeking back to its own base anonymity.”
— William Faulkner, A Fable

Big thank you to the organization that put the entire film of Oscar Micheaux’s 1920 silent film Within Our Gates up on YouTube, for our viewing pleasure!

Micheaux was the first successful black film director, and the film has an important place both in the history of cinema and in the history of the Harlem Renaissance. Micheaux rails against whites who see education or religion as a way to keep blacks “in their place” (a direct quote from the film). But he doesn’t propose that the educational institution itself is inherently flawed. Instead, he thinks that education is the only road towards African-American empowerment and social integration. The film is short and moves quickly through the plot — and it’s a cool change of pace to watch a silent film. The major Hollywood film was only in its early stages, and from time to time you can see some awkward growing pains. Both actors in the opening scene, for example, are visibly uncomfortable. But it’s also fascinating to see certain parts of the cinematic formula already in place. You can really see a medium being made.

cycling through

With the exam next week, I have a bit of a backlog right now of books I’ve read that still require posts. I’ll do a quick nod now to the York Mystery Plays, the oldest text on the list. This series of short plays was written sometime in the fourteenth century (when York hit its heyday after the Black Death), but continued to be performed well into the sixteenth century.

The “cycle” of plays was performed each year for the springtime Corpus Christi festivities. Rather than being shown on a central stage, the plays were performed from on top of a series of wagons that would process throughout the city, stopping to deliver different parts of the play. Think the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade… but the symbolism’s in soliloquies instead of in Mylar.

Taken all together, the York Mystery Plays recount, like, all of the Christian religious narrative. But they’re broken down into forty-eight parts, each of which was assigned to a particular guild, or type of craftsmen. So the Skinners do one part, and the Scriveners do one part, and the Mercers finish the whole thing off. The word mystery at the time mainly meant “occupation” or “trade,” and was unrelated to the contemporary meaning of the word. Only around this time, in the fourteenth century, do you get the first stirrings of the idea of mystery as a religious revelation — and it’s that root that eventually morphed into the word we know and use today.

“How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible whatever remains, HOWEVER IMPROBABLE, must be the truth?”
— Arthur Conan Doyle, The Sign of the Four