======================================================================= Cybernetics in the 3rd Millennium (C3M) -- Volume 2 Number 7, July 2003 Alan B. Scrivener --- www.well.com/~abs --- mailto:abs@well.com =======================================================================
[Author's note: Most months I am scrambling to produce this e-Zine at the end of the month; last month I knew the SIGGRAPH conference was coming to San Diego for the last week of July 2003 and I would be swamped by attending the conference as well as producing the parallel SIGKIDS event. (A report on both these is coming soon.) So I decided to write a shorter, fluffier piece, on the role of literature in a cybernetics education, and to finish it a few weeks early. I thought I had it pretty near done by mid-July, and then the SIGGRAPH wave struck early, swamping me as expected, and amidst it all my Gateway(R) computer died, and Gateway ended up erasing my hard drive out of sheer greed and laziness, and this nuked my bulk mail program, which took a while for me to reconstruct. (A report on this Java code and its implications is also coming soon.) So that's why the July 2003 e-Zine is so late. But I learned one thing: I really am incapable of writing a short, fluffy piece; this one has already expanded into a 2-parter.]

Remembrance of Things Proust

(Part One)

"I believe, contrary to the fashion among our contemporaries, that one can have a very lofty idea of literature, and at the same time have a good-natured laugh at it." -- Marcel Proust, writing to a friend The "criticism" of literature is so cliched in our society that it goes by the shorthand "lit. crit." Along with the brick-backed stages of the stand-up comedians, it is the modern hiding place of the moral philosopher and the social revolutionary. Marshall McLuhan began his academic career writing lit. crit. of Edgar Allen Poe, before writing his first media analysis (still in the lit. crit. mode), "The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man" (1951). ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1584230509/hip-20 ) Come to thing of it, just about everything McLuhan wrote stayed in this mode (until he branched out into the "collage books" previously introduced in the mid-1960s by young Catholic priests trying to reach out to estranged youth). Of course, the whole "Deconstructionist" movement is an attempt at shredding the very concept of literature without questioning the cultural importance of and ongoing need for lit. crit. Perhaps the lit. crit. mode is still preferred because it allows the freest use of quotations without violating copyrights; most publishers regard lit. crit. as "fair use." Or perhaps there really is still much to be said about literature. But this is a cybernetics e-Zine. What does literature have to do with cybernetics? Well, for me there are three connections, one universal and important, one certainly non-trivial, and the third personal and idiosyncratic and possibly quite trivial. The important connection is this: from ancient heroic poetry, to the Greek invention of drama, to the Commedia Del'Arte in Renaissance Italy (prototype of "Punch and Judy") to the modern novel form, literature has served as a sort of alternate repository of cultural wisdom; when religion and politics became corrupt, when emperors went crazy (like Caligula), when Kings ripped up the social fabric (like Henry the VIII), no one dared speak up; but the parables in literature, of corrupting power and ruinous greed and vanity devolving into madness, could be read silently and used to guide the quiet resistance to the destructive authority. Yet even when the crisis is passed, literature still serves as a repository to arm us against the hundreds of petty crises of each "ordinary" day: it contains hidden wisdom about epistemology, about how we construct our reality. This is wisdom which we are likely to ignore when preached to us by linguists and psychologists, as long as we are tyrannized by our own "mad king," the ego. But when we read about one who was more foolish than even us, whose epistemological errors are tragically obvious, we tend to get the point. The second connection is through my mentor, Gregory Bateson. Bateson was a founder of cybernetics, and he seemed always to prefer examples from literature for whatever he was explaining. Cambridge-educated during the age of Greek and Latin instruction, his favorite author was William Blake, but to his dismay he found that most American students only knew the poem, "The Tiger" (also known as "Tiger, Tiger") with its questionable rhyme of "eye" and "symmetry," and even then only a minority had read it. Once in his survey class of about 150 students he was casting about for a work of literature that almost all of us had read, by a show of hands, and after several failed attempts, which I believe included Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" (1798) and Milton's "Paradise Lost," he asked in desperation, "What do they make American students read?" I blurted out, "Moby Dick!" and he looked astonished. "Moby Dick?" he asked with incredulity. "How many have read Moby Dick?" Almost all the hands went up. He was stunned. I still remember him shaking his his head and muttering "They make them read Moby Dick..." He went on to explain his point, which I've now totally forgotten, using the whiteness of Melville's whale instead of the "golden fire" of Coleridge's water-snakes as his example. But his passion for the Coleridge later moved me to read it, and to find this passage: Beyond the shadow of the ship, I watched the water-snakes: They moved in tracks of shining white, And when they reared, the elfish light Fell off in hoary flakes. Within the shadow of the ship I watched their rich attire: Blue, glossy green, and velvet black, They coiled and swam; and every track Was a flash of golden fire. O happy living things! no tongue Their beauty might declare: A spring of love gushed from my heart, And I blessed them unaware: Sure my kind saint took pity on me, And I blessed them unaware. ( icg.harvard.edu/~hsci278/Readings_on_Imagination/The_Rime_of_the_Ancient_Mariner.htm ) The third connection seems to be a biographical accident, but I'm going to trace it anyway. I first learned of cybernetics by reading several issues of the quarterly "Whole Earth Catalog" (WEC) in the late 1960s and early 1970s, including the misnamed "Last Whole Earth Catalog" (1971). ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0394704592/hip-20 ) By then I was in Santa Cruz, and when I learned that Stewart Brand and his staff published the WEC out of a storefront called the "Whole Earth Truck Store" in nearby Menlo Park, I made a pilgrimage. I was able to buy some very rare publications, including a little (132-page) comic book sized (7x10.5 inch) "Last Supplement to the Whole Earth Catalog" (1971) edited by Ken Kesey and Paul Krassner as a favor (I gathered) to Stewart Brand, who was too busy for the last of his 8-times-a-year supplements because he was editing the monster-sized last WEC. ( lopezbooks.com/vs1/vs1-25.html ) This remarkable booklet has a cover by underground cartoonist R. Crumb portraying "whole earth" hippies at the Last Supper, guarded by a light bulb with a rifle who looks a lot like Reddy Kilowatt, the electricity logo. At one point I claimed to have been convinced that this "supplement" was the greatest publication ever to emerge from Western Civilization. (Hey, I was a college student, and I don't remember now if I really believed it or I was bluffing.) This vanguard collection introduced me first to ginseng tea, acidophilus milk, laetrile as natural cancer fighter, the Sufis, public access television, and Meher Baba ("don't worry, be happy"), among many other things. Standing out in my recollection was an essay by Ken Kesey called "Tools From My Chest," clearly a response to Stewart Brand's WEC sub-title "Access to Tools," which took up more pages that any other single piece. It was later reprinted in "Kesey's Garage Sale" (1973) when Ken slapped together some stuff to sell to make money. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0670412686/hip-20 ) Here is the list of "tools" from his chest: Martin Buber Malcolm X Hemingway The Beatles S. Clay Wilson polk salad Faulkner Jimmy Durante Woody Guthrie ginseng booze golf [he was against it] [William] Burroughs [Richard] Brautigan Quicksilver Messenger Service City Lights Bookstore Larry McMurtry flowers Ashley Automatic [wood stove] Wendell Berry Anonymous Artists of America Lynd Ward Fred Neil Eldridge Cleaver Grateful Dead Tantra art Joan Baez Dope: acid - no [street purity issues] psilocybin - no [street purity issues] STP - no downers - no tranquilizers - no grass - yes Lord Buckley Roland Kirk Neal Cassady Since the way Ken Kesey and Stewart Brand know each other is from travels together on a day-glo school bus called FURTHER, which carried around a band of psychedelic reality hackers called "The Merry Pranksters" in the 1960s, as documented in Tom Wolfe's "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test" (1968), ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0553380648/hip-20 ) the drugs and rock 'n' roll should come as no surprise. But remember also that Ken Kesey isn't famous for this -- he's famous for writing two novels, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (1962), ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0451163966/hip-20 ) and "Sometimes a Great Notion" (1963) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0140045295/hip-20 ) both of which were made into movies; one with Jack Nicholson www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0790734079/hip-20 ) and the other with Paul Newman and Henry Fonda. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/630018188X/hip-20 ) In other words, history will remember him primarily as a literary figure: Ken Kesey (1935 - 2001) and that is also the only reason his "pranks" were noticed by the mainstream in the first place. In any event, it definitely piqued my interest that he listed Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, William Burroughs, Richard Brautigan and Larry McMurtry among his "tools."
  • Ernest Hemingway (1899 - 1961) Hemingway I thought I knew all about. In 11th grade high school English class I was required to read "The Old Man and the Sea" (1950), Hemingway's last novel. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0684801221/hip-20 ) None of us liked it very much. Fortunately, we had a wonderful teacher, Mrs. Dorsey, who told us 16-year-olds (circa 1970) that this was an old man's novel, and we should try rereading it in 25 years. (I'm about 8 years overdue now in 2003, but I just don't feel old enough yet.) In the mean time, she recommended his first novel, "Sun Also Rises" (1920). ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0684800713/hip-20 ) This I loved. At age 16 it led me to buy a bota (wine bag) in Tijuana and learn to drink from it like Hemingway's fiesta goers, and to fantasize of sipping Italian coffees at outdoor cafe tables in rural Spain, while planning a trip with friends to run with the bulls in Pamplona. But in re-reading of this book last year I was astounded to discover that although I'd enjoyed the details at 16 I missed the whole plot and the whole point, which were far more obvious at 48. The hero gave up so much, his money, his friends in Spain, even some of his reputation, in pointless sacrifice for a woman he couldn't have and probably wouldn't want anyway, for what? It seemed like for infatuation's sake. But if I saw more of the tragedy, I also saw more of the beauty. I was getting closer to Kesey's appreciation, as he described it in "Tools...": ...don't be misled by the bodies of bullfighters or the riddled remains of soldiers; look instead for live trout on the bottom vibrating against the clear current, or bacon fat going cold on a veteran's breakfast plate, or old boards going sharp into focus through a pair of binoculars; in those delicate transitions where nothing actually moves you may find something of the slow and gentle old giant. In 11th grade Mrs. Dorsey read us a short, surreal, satirical play by Hemingway called "Today is Friday," about some Roman soldiers having a beer after crucifying Jesus. I heartily recommend it, along with the acidic "A Very Short Story." Both can be found in "The Complete Short Stories Of Ernest Hemingway: The Finca Vigia Edition." ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0684843323/hip-20 )
  • William Faulkner (1897 - 1962) Faulkner I'd also studied in 11th grade as part of American English Literature. If answering an essay question I would work in that he lived in and wrote about the American south, and one of his books was "The Bear," the only two facts I knew about him. Later, in college in Santa Cruz, I hung out with two women in town who were descended from big land owners in Santa Cruz. Where once there'd stood a grand Victorian hotel, owned by their family, a street still had the family name. All that was left for these sisters was a small house; they both worked jobs at barely above minimum wage at the nearby Santa Cruz Boardwalk amusement park, which was where I met them, running kiddy rides. One of them highly recommended Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying" (1930). ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/067973225X/hip-20 ) I tried to read it around 1973, because of her, and because of these words by Kesey: ...yes if Southern Comfort is overcloying in honeysuckle sweet decadence it is still one of the few hundred proofs that a man can sip and not be burned; yes, Faulkner is my admitted favorite... (I did because of this passage end up putting Southern Comfort in my bota, which now in retrospect seems insane.) I tried reading "As I Lay Dying" again last week, 30 years later. I'm still not ready. But I did like the hypnotic sounds of Cash building the coffin for Addie: When I reach the top he has quit sawing. Standing in a litter of chips, he is fitting two of the boards together. Between the shadow spaces they are yellow as gold, like soft gold, bearing on their flanks in smooth undulations the marks of the adze blade: a good carpenter, Cash is. He holds the two planks on the trestle, fitted along the edges in a quarter of the finished box. He kneels and squints along the edge of them, the he lowers them and takes up the adze. A good carpenter. Addie Bundren could not want a better one, a better box to lie in. It will give her confidence and comfort. I go on to the house, followed by the Chuck. Chuck. Chuck. of the adze.
  • William Burroughs (1914 - 1997) Now, William Burroughs, this was a guy I had never heard of before Kesey described him this way: I used to say that I thought Burroughs was the only writer who had done anything new with writing since Shakespeare. I don't say it so much any more but I still think it's true. What followed was a quote from "Nova Express" (1964) that blew me away. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0802133304/hip-20 ) This quote began: PRISONERS, COME OUT "DON'T LISTEN to Hassan i Sabbah" they will tell you. "He wants to take your body and all pleasures of the body away from you. Listen to us. We are serving The Garden of Delights Immortality Cosmic Consciousness The Best Ever in Drug Kicks. And LOVE LOVE LOVE in slop buckets. How does that sound to you boys? Better than Hassan i Sabbah and his cold windy bodiless rock?" At the immediate risk of finding myself the most unpopular character in all of fiction -- and history is fiction -- I must say this: "Bring together state of news -- Inquire onward from state to doer -- Who monopolized Immortality? Who monopolized Cosmic Consciousness? Who monopolized Love Sex and Dream? Who monopolized Time Life and Fortune? ... " ...and so on. At Kresge College in the mid-1970s -- especially on days when classes were out, like January 1st -- it was not too uncommon for small groups "tripping" on LSD to wander the college, huddled together for mutual support and experiencing the freakier aspects of the college's "Post-Modern" architecture. ( www.bluffton.edu/~sullivanm/moorekresge/kresge.html ) This was at a time when I was adamantly anti-drug (a position I have softened on since due to scientific evidence and Libertarian politics), and I would sometimes amuse myself by mounting one of the many Dr. Seuss-like podiums or balconies in the college and haranguing the trippers by reading aloud Kesey's quote from Burroughs. By the time I got to the last paragraph: Minutes to go. Souls rotten from their orgasm drugs, flesh shuddering from their nova ovens, prisoners of the earth to COME OUT. With your help we can occupy The Reality Studio and retake their universe of Fear Death and Monopoly -- "(Signed) INSPECTOR J. LEE, NOVA POLICE" ...I was screaming, with spittle flying out of my mouth like a madman. It was fun. (Later I was given a copy of "Nova Express" as a gift, and I am still trying to read it.) Apparently I wasn't the only one who liked to shout his stuff. Satirical rock band the Fugs constructed an audio collage using phrases from Burroughs' books layered with electric guitar sounds, called "Burroughsian Time Grid," as a part of the larger piece called "Virgin Forest" on their second album, "The Fugs Second Album." ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000000XEG/hip-20 ) It's in the 10th track on the album, which is 11 minutes and 16 seconds in full; the Burroughs bit is about a minute long, from 5:57 to 6:57 in the track.
  • Richard Brautigan (1935 - 1984) Brautigan I had discovered in high school, about the same time as I learned about the "Dada" artists in the 1920s in Europe and America, and his "Trout Fishing in America" (1967) fit right in with that. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0440391253/hip-20 ) It had a section called "Prelude to the Mayonnaise Chapter" in which he said "Expressing a human need, I've always wanted to write a book that ended with the word mayonnaise." And, by golly, he did! One of my all-time favorite poems is Brautigan's: "Rommel Drives on Deep into Egypt" San Francisco Chronicle Headline June 26, 1942 Rommel is dead. His army has joined the quicksand legions of history where battle is always a metal echo saluting a rusty shadow. His tanks are gone. How's your ass? (This poem appears in the collection of the same name: www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0385288646/hip-20 ) Of course, he also wrote the only poem I've ever read that mentions cybernetics, "All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace," which was quoted in the WEC: I like to think (and the sooner the better!) of a cybernetic meadow where mammals and computers live together in mutually programming harmony like pure water touching clear sky. I like to think (right now, please!) of a cybernetic forest filled with pines and electronics where deer stroll peacefully past computers as if they were flowers with spinning blossoms. I like to think (it has to be!) of a cybernetic ecology where we are free of our labors and joined back to nature, returned to our mammal brothers and sisters, and all watched over by machines of loving grace. This also is the first time I ever saw the words "cybernetic" and "ecology" used in the same sentence. This poem was printed in a "broadside" that was distributed free in San Francisco in 1967; today copies are collectibles worth hundreds of dollars. ( www.lopezbooks.com/highlight.php?ac=3&id=019121&back=%2Fsection.php%3Fc%3DBroadside%26p%3D1 ) The original copyright notice says "Permission is granted to reprint any of these poems in magazines, books and newspapers if they are given away free." The poem is reprinted in "The Pill vs. the Springhill Mining Disaster" (1968). ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0395500761/hip-20 ) Also, John F. Barber reprints the poem on a page "Promoting Cybernetic Ecology in Writing Classrooms." ( wac.colostate.edu/aw/articles/barber2000/frameset.html ) These days the only places I find Brautigan are on the internet ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/external-search?tag=hip-20&keyword=richard%20brautigan&mode=blended ) and at the old City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco (another of Kesey's "tools"). ( www.citylights.com/ )
  • Larry McMurtry (1936 - ) This (the only author in Kesey's list who is still alive) was one who was in a creative writing class with him at Stanford, and so I'd always sort of thought this was a plug for a buddy: This is the guy that wrote "Hud." He can write of Texas and our great southwest with an eye both on how it is and how it was; he sees whatever good there was in our fast fading lone prarie dream, and sees as well the present plastic pestilence carpeting the plains like a variety of Astroturf crabgrass. He's a beautiful writer. "Leaving Cheyenne" is my favorite. To be precise, McMurtry's "Horseman, Pass By" (1961) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/068485385X/hip-20 ) -- which I havn't read -- was made into movie "Hud" (1963) with Paul Newman and Patricia Neal ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/6300215962/hip-20 ) -- which I haven't seen. (I did read the "Mad Magazine" satire when I was ten years old.) "Leaving Cheyenne" (1963) is on my to-read shelf right now; my wife says it's good too. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0671753800/hip-20 ) If I were to be writing a review of McMurtry today, I might lead with his writing "Terms of Endearment" (1975) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0684853906/hip-20 ) -- which I also haven't read -- and mention that it was made into a movie in 1983 with Shirley MacLaine, Jack Nicholson, Danny DeVito, Jeff Daniels, Debra Winger and John Lithgow ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000055ZF6/hip-20 ) -- which I haven't seen either. But enough about what I haven't read or seen. Of all the writers on Kesey's list, this is the one whose works I've read the most, the one whose works I seek out to read for pleasure, the one whose books seem to be over too quickly instead of taking 30 years to half read. This is the guy I get the most "juice" from. Clearly he wasn't just "plugging a buddy" when he recommended his contemporary. Not the first thing I read by McMurtry, but the first to make a major impression, was "Lonesome Dove" (1985). ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/067168390X/hip-20 ) (It made major impression on some other people too, winning a Pulitzer Prize.) I read it around 1990, when business travel was taking me frequently to Dallas and El Paso, Texas, Las Cruces, Los Alamos and Albuquerque, New Mexico, Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona, and the high desert of California. I ended up on a sort of "Western" kick, got the boots and hat and the coyote bandana, listened to some Spaghetti Western soundtracks ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000002WFD/hip-20 ) and Chris Isaak alternative/Western crooning, ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000002LGI/hip-20 ) and after some serious urging from a lot of people including my dad I started in on the book that some folks were calling "the greatest Western novel ever written." I read it on my travels. I remember visiting Old Tucson Studios, a movie set outside of Tucson, Arizona where a number of Western movies were filmed, including "Arizona" (1939), "Gunfight at the OK Corral" (1956), "Rio Bravo" (1959), "Have Gun Will Travel" (1962), "Hombre" (1966), "Dirty Dingus Magee" (1970), "The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean" (1972), "The Outlaw Josey Wales" (1976), "Three Amigos" (1986) and "Tombstone" (1993), as well as the television shows "Bonanza" (1966, '71, '72), "Death Valley Days" (1966-69), "High Chaparral" (1966-'71) and "Little House on the Prairie" (1977-1983). ( www.oldtucson.com/ ) I was on a business trip and had a few hours before my flight, so I moseyed over. The first thing I noticed was the cell phone coverage was great, but hey, this was show biz. The second thing I noticed was a strong sense of deja vu, from all the movies I'd seen set on this one town's street. Saloons and livery in the foreground, a plain of saguaro cactus and purple mountains in the background, and an Arizona sunset brewing on the horizon. So far my "Western" kick had been a fairly superficial fashion statement, and Old Tucson seemed to feed this, playing soundtrack music from old Westerns over blaring loudspeakers. I was reminded of the Smothers Brothers version of the song "The Streets of Laredo," on their album "Sibling Revelry -- The Best of the Smothers Brothers." ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0000063EI/hip-20 ) They sang: Tom: I see by your outfit that you are a cowboy, Dick: I see by your outfit you are a cowboy too. Both: We see by our outfits that we are both cowboys, And if you get an outfit you can be a cowboy too! It's the kind of behavior they mock every week in "The Onion." ( www.onion.com ) I can just see the headline now: "GUY LIVING IN L.A. BUYS COWBOY HAT, PLAYS STEEL SLIDE GUITAR MUSIC ON CAR STEREO." But as I immersed myself in "Lonesome Dove" that began to change. Sitting on a bench outside the bank building on the western street, bathed in the red-oranges of just another fabulous Arizona sunset, this fascinating tale of the "closing of the west" unfolded before me, as a sort of "anti-western." The novel begins with a quote from a historian of America's West, and I found myself flipping back to reread it as I reached what seemed to be the core metaphor of the novel (young cowboys on one of the last big cattle drives into new territory, who are totally at home on the range, paralyzed with fear at the prospect of climbing a flight of wooden steps to reach a modest upstairs brothel in a small frontier town): All America lies at the end of a wilderness road, and our past is not a dead past, but still lives in us. Our forefathers had civilization inside themselves, the wild outside. We live in the civilization they created, but within us the wilderness still lingers. What they dreamed, we live, and they lived, we dream." T. K. Whipple, "Study Out the Land" I imagined the young cowboys' fears at climbing those steps, of even entering the town, where danger lay in unknown, human forms, not like the familiar dangers of nature on the cattle drive. At last I was getting inside the West, by finding what was left of it inside me. I strained to keep reading by dusk's light. An ornery looking feller in a black hat walked up to the bank. "You better get a move on," he said. "I'm fixin' to rob this bank." I obliged him. "what's that you're readin' there?" he asked as I moved to a bench next door. "Lonesome Dove," I told him, "They tell me it's the greatest Western novel ever written." "That's what I hear," he concurred, and then he held up the bank, firing blanks until he was "shot dead" by the Sheriff of Old Tucson. The book was subsequently made into a television mini-series (1989) starring Robert Duvall, Tommy Lee Jones, Danny Glover and Robert Urich ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005Y6YB/hip-20 ) and it's quite entertaining, but it pales in comparison to McMurtry's exquisite prose. Almost twenty years previously McMurtry had written what everyone assumes is his most autobiographical work, "The Last Picture Show" (1966), about growing up as working poor in a small oil patch town in West Texas in the 1950s. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0684853868/hip-20 ) It was made into movie "The Last Picture Show" (1971) with Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd, Cloris Leachman and Randy Quaid, directed by Peter Bogdanovich. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0767827902/hip-20 ) There is no doubt that Bogdanovich was playing the auteur here, making a European-style "art" film out of what I'm sure the studio saw as another "youth exploitation" coming-of-age B movie sex comedy for the drive-in circuit. They probably freaked when he wanted to shoot it in black and white. The movie was a hit with the public and the critics, a masterful blend of low-brow and high-brow, like a Dr. Pepper sign seen through the eyes of impressionist painter Claude Monet. It also was bathed in scandal: actress Cybill Shepherd in her first role managed to appear in full frontal nudity and then to run off with the film's already-married director. But, in its defense, the film lead me to the book. I read it in the early 1980s, and I remember very vividly finishing it, putting it down, and thinking, "Boy, I am REALLY GLAD that I didn't grow up in west Texas in the 1950s!" I think the best way to contrast this book with its sequels is to look at the first two paragraphs of each. "The Last Picture Show" (1966) begins: Sometimes Sonny felt like he was the only human creature in the town. It was a bad feeling, and it usually came on him in the mornings early, when the streets were completely empty, the way they were one Saturday morning in late November. The night before Sonny had played his last game of football for Thalia High School, but it wasn't that that made him feel so strange and alone. It was just the look of the town. There was only one car parked on the courthouse square -- the night watchman's old white Nash. A cold norther was singing in off the plains, swirling long ribbons of dust down Main Street, the only street in Thalia with businesses on it. Sonny's pickup was a '41 Chevrolet, not at its best on cold mornings. In front of the picture show it coughed out and had to be choked for a while, but then it started again and jerked its way to the red light, blowing out spumes of white exhaust that the wind whipped away. "Texasville" (1987) begins: Duane was in the hot tub, shooting at his new doghouse with a .44 Magnum. The two-story log doghouse was supposedly a replica of a frontier fort. He and Karla had bought it at a home show in Fort Worth on a day when they were both bored. It would have housed several Great Danes comfortably, but so far had housed nothing. Shorty, the only dog Duane could put up with, never went near it. Every time a slug hit the doghouse, slivers of white wood flew. The yard of the Moore's new mansion had just been seeded, at enormous expense, but the grass had a tentative look. The house stood on a long, narrow, rocky bluff, overlooking a valley pockmarked with well sites, saltwater pits and oily little roads leading from one oil pump to the next. The bluff was not a very likely place to grow Bermuda grass, but six acres of it had been planted anyway. Karla took the view that you could make anything happen if you spent enough money. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/067165764X/hip-20 Now here is a book about surviving affluent middle age in a small oil patch town in West Texas in the 1980s. It was made into a movie in 1990 by the same director with almost exactly the same cast: Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd, Cloris Leachman and Randy Quaid; only Ellen Burstyn was missing, and a major addition was Annie Potts as Duane's wife Karla. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000069I00/hip-20 ) The critics and public didn't like it. In this case I read the book first, and actually thought the movie improved on the book, especially in the balance of story elements. One thing I liked in the book, though, that was missing from the movie, was a subtle cameo appearance by the author. Actually, you only get to see his house, which the Cybill Shepherd character Jacy Farrow is borrowing (or house-sitting). But it is unmistakable: Duane wandered through the house, amazed at the number of books it contained. Room after room had bookshelves filled with books from floor to ceiling. The halls were also lined with books -- thousands of them. Duane had never supposed that any one person would want, or own, so many books. I can relate. That's my house. It has always been that way for me, since my mid-twenties, and it's gotten more extreme since I started writing a book over the last year, as well as writing this e-Zine. Sometimes it seems like my life is filled with reading and writing, with breaks for eating and excreting, exercise and sleep, kissing my wife and my daughter, and occasional vacations to Las Vegas or Orlando or San Francisco. The latest book in what they're now calling the "Thalia Trilogy" (after the town with no picture show but lots of satellite dishes) is "Duane's Depressed" (1999). ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0743230159/hip-20 ) Its first two paragraphs are: Two years into his sixties, Duane Moore -- a man who had driven pickups for as long as he had been licensed to drive -- parked his pickup in his own carport one day and began to walk wherever he went. The carport was a spacious affair, built to house six cars in the days when cars still had some size; now that cars had been miniaturized -- as had horses -- the carport could accommodate ten vehicles and might have accommodated as many as a dozen if the vehicles had been parked with some care; but care, defined as a capacity for attention to such things as order and propriety, was not something that most members of Duane's large family had proven to be capable of or interested in -- not so far, at least. In the Moore carport cars tended to stack up behind one another, so that the person who had parked in front could rarely get his or her car out without a bitter quarrel, sometimes involving fisticuffs, with the person or persons whose car or cars were parked behind theirs. Of the three books I find this one to be the best written and the wisest. What is McMurtry doing right? What is it about his novels that nurture this student of cybernetics? I found one big clue was that the last half of "Duane's Depressed" involved the relevance of 19th century French novelist Marcel Proust to the problems of surviving old age and life's disappointments in West Texas at the end of the 20th Century.
TO BE CONTINUED... ======================================================================= newsletter archives: www.well.com/~abs/Cyb/4.669211660910299067185320382047/ ======================================================================= Privacy Promise: Your email address will never be sold or given to others. You will receive only the e-Zine C3M unless you opt-in to receive occasional commercial offers directly from me, Alan Scrivener, by sending email to abs@well.com with the subject line "opt in" -- you can always opt out again with the subject line "opt out" -- by default you are opted out. To cancel the e-Zine entirely send the subject line "unsubscribe" to me. I receive a commission on everything you purchase during your session with Amazon.com after following one of my links, which helps to support my research. ======================================================================= Copyright 2003 by Alan B. Scrivener