It's Not Language that Governs the Connection Between People

Bérénice Bejo and Tahar Rahim in The Past (Photo by Carole Bethuel, Sony Pictures Classics)

Excerpts from "Oscar-Winning Filmmaker Asghar Farhadi on Making Movies in Iran," KCRW's The Business, Dec. 23, 2013:

Kim Masters: The film is almost entirely in French. How did you manage that [since you don't speak French]?  

Asghar Farhadi: I moved with my family and we lived in France for two years. I set aside a great deal of time to become acquainted with the melodies of the French language. I tried to become familiar with the daily details of life there, with the way people behave. I had numerous French friends and they were invaluable. But what helped me the most was the fact that the story I had was one that was structured on the basis of the similarities of our cultures, not the differences...

I had several people who acted as my voice. There was one of them who accompanied me constantly, who not only interpreted the words I spoke, but who shadowed me in gesture. When I would move my hands, he would also do the same thing. When I raised my voice, he too would raise his voice. Gradually I began to feel that he was my voice. He was closer to who I was. I remember the day when I said something and then I walked over to the table to pick up a cigarette, and he started interpreting and walked over to the table and picked up a cigarette...

But after a while, I discovered that it's not language that governs the connection between people to the extent that we imagine it does. When people grow close to each otherthrough their eyes, through a kind of an exchange of energythey can grasp a great deal about each other.

With Bérénice, with those children, I discussed matters of great delicacy and intricacy that even in Persian would be difficult to convey.   

Why It Takes All Day

Silk Parachute “On a sentence-by-sentence level, it’s more spontaneous. In other words, I know what I want to have said when I’m finished with this writing, but I really don’t know, when I’m down to the nub of it to address it, what’s going to happen. I mean I know where it should go, but it certainly isn’t — the phraseology — is not prefabricated and that’s why it takes me all day to get one sentence written.”

~ John McPhee, discussing his writing process and his new collection of essays, Silk Parachute, with Michael Silverblatt on KCRW’s Bookworm (March 18, 2010).

In the Absence of that Conversation

Jonathan Lethem, discussing his most recent novel, Chronic City, with Michael Silverblatt on KCRW’s Bookworm (January 28, 2010):

“I was very interested in thinking about the condition of an actor, someone who’s learned to operate within scripts that are handed to them — whether the scripts are worth anything or not. It seemed to me that, in a way, stood for the problem of a lot of us as we get through our days. The scripts right now aren’t very good, but we don’t know how to step outside them very readily or at all.”

*     *     *

Chronic City“A writer, a social satirist, looking for ways to exemplify the hypocrisies of contemporary economic disparities — the unacknowledged class system — it’s almost impossible not to find easy targets. It’s so near at hand that you only have to turn your hand and it falls into your grasp. And so I couldn’t be terribly interested with looking for those kinds of symbols. Instead I wanted to talk about what happens when you and I and everyone we know lives with them right in front of our face — two inches from our face — and yet they’re not spoken of. It’s the denial. It’s the fact that symbols of this kind of reality proliferate wildly in books and in life.

Every day you open the newspaper and you find another allegory that would’ve made Karl Marx’s jaw drop — or Roland Barthes’s jaw drop. And yet we all go on reading that newspaper. We all go on moving through our days and this is the subject of the book: what we do instead, what we think about, and how we behave in the absence of that conversation. When everything is as exaggerated and hysterically out of whack and yet somehow the machine tumbles forward day-to-day. We wake up and take our positions inside it. Well, that’s an interesting subject and an elusive one. The social satire is not elusive at all.

All you have to do is take it to the ultimate degree and then you’ve got John Carpenter’s They Live or Idiocracy. Then you’ve said it as stridently as you possibly can. You’ve made the cartoon of reality into a cartoon and then it can be shrugged off again. I was trying not to shrug it off. I was trying to inhabit it with these characters. It’s the fact that we all live in a situation that is patently absurd in many ways and yet we we have no opportunity to take it lightly. We’re living real lives. It’s tragic…I don’t mean to fall into the trap of saying there can be a non-ideological space, but you do the best you can. You meet what’s before you. You try to solve the cartoon conundrums that come your way with as much real sincerity as you can bring to them. ”  

Not Beyond Your Imagination

James Cameron, in conversation with Elvis Mitchell for a special online edition of The Treatment, recorded live at a benefit for the Natural Resources Defense Council:

“I’ve always believed in exploration. I’ve always believed in that sense of going beyond and looking where we haven’t looked. I think the film connects that way in a number of different ways. There’s one line I hate and studios love to use: Beyond your imagination. It’s not beyond your imagination. People have great imaginations. They have great dreams when they’re kids. You can fly when you’re a kid in your dreams. As you grow up, your dreams somewhat diminish and you don’t fly as much in your dreams. I wanted to go back to that childlike dream state in this movie because I think we all kind of connect at that level. And so I wanted to create essentially a lucid dream that would connect us all at some kind of unconscious level.”

*     *     *

“We were tasked with designing all these creatures and plants and everything for this movie. And every time we thought we had a great idea somebody would bring in a photograph or some bit of nature here had beat us to the idea. Ultimately, at the end of a two-year design process, we had to just admit with great humility that nature’s imagination was better than the combined imagination of the best visual artists on the planet that I had gathered to make Avatar. And it’s true.”

*     *     *

In his talk at TED 2010, James Cameron “reveals his childhood fascination with the fantastic — from reading science fiction to deep-sea diving — and how it ultimately drove the success of his blockbuster hits Aliens, The Terminator, Titanic and Avatar.”

Experiencing Things Directly

Tao Lin “The improvising is something that I nurtured in bed mostly, where if I wanted to describe a feeling, I would just do this thing where I’d force my brain to exist without preconceptions. And then, usually if I did that enough, I would just think of something — a new way to describe a feeling. And then in my newest book (Shoplifting from American Apparel), I deliberately didn’t do any of that…My detachment is more kind of trying to advocate to myself a way of living life that is kind of pre-language, just like experiencing things directly.”

~ Tao Lin, speaking with Michael Silverblatt on KCRW’s Bookworm (December 3, 2009)

*     *     *

ugly fish poem, part one
by Tao Lin, from Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

i have licked the ashen barnacles of the low ports of melbourne 

low in elevation (when viewed from the highway)

i have swam with the handsome redfish of the small piers of melbourne

i have been to jetty park near cape canaveral, mackeral, jewfish,

the little mermaid, and journeyed deep into the rocks, at my own peril,

to stare at the handsome feet of young caucasian humans

i have felt a love of life that i believe is good 

and i have felt it alone; i have always felt alienated from my peers

i am an alone ugly fish

the concrete manifestation of my emotional center is a skinned red onion covered

by local newspapers under a boardwalk at cocoa beach

i know many terms but speak only in concrete specifics

from afar i have appreciated the manatee for its round body

from within i have appreciated the manatee for its veganism

my favorite poets include mary oliver and alice notley

i am a playful companion, a tactful friend

and compassionate lover; a mutant sturgeon sniffs a seahorse with a nose located on its stomach

i have lain on the ocean floor alone at night on my birthday 

and felt very aroused and ugly 

i have willfully and simultaneously subjected myself to multiple irreconcilable philosophies 

i have held my body with my little fins

on the fourth of july 

and made excruciating screams of despair

i have my grotesque appearance and my small mind to accomplish these many tasks

i have made small noises of despair in the presence of those i respect most

i have suffered unseen in the nooks of jetty park

and i have swam unseen 

and i have swam fast; any speed that exists i have swam at that speed; i have been wild with loneliness 

and felt the generosity of loneliness

i have seen a hammerhead shark strike a manatee then flee in confusion

i have seen a manatee strike a baby hammerhead shark repeatedly

until a small brown-gray paste floats away

i have seen a blue whale scream in joy then wake from a dream

i have seen a giant tuna swim upside-down with lust into a concrete wall

in frustration, and i know how it feels, 

as i have felt the center for international studies of subatomic particles inside of me 

and swam with it in the foamy waters of cape canaveral

i have tasted the still-frozen midsections of bulk shrimp and fought away other shrimp with my fins

conversely i have tasted the artificially flavored centers of soy meats

i am almost nine years old

i have seen the decapitated heads of pigfish 

drop into the ocean: their faces were shiny

thank you for reading so far

i'll finish the rest of this poem very soon

i hope you like me so far

Strict Joy

Marketa Irglova and Glen Hansard recently broke up but are still making music together as The Swell Season. Their new project, Strict Joy, comes out next week.

Marketa tells the New York Times, “Like Glen always puts it, you live your life, and the residue of that life you lead becomes the music. The same way it turned from friends to lovers, it somehow managed to turn the other way around at the end of it, which I’m delighted about because I’d hate for it to be drama.”

I Want to be Good to Myself

by Matthew Dickman, from All-American Poem

Marilyn Monroe took all her sleeping pills
to bed when she was thirty-six, and Marlon Brando’s daughter
hung in the Tahitian bedroom
of her mother’s house,
while Stanley Adams shot himself in the head.  Sometimes
you can look at the clouds or the trees
and they look nothing like clouds or trees or the sky or the ground.
The performance artist Kathy Change
set herself on fire while Bing Crosby’s sons shot themselves
out of the music industry forever.
I sometimes wonder about the inner lives of polar bears.  The French
philosopher Gilles Deleuze jumped
from an apartment window into the world
and then out of it.  Peg Entwistle, an actress with no lead roles, leaped from the “H” in the HOLLYWOOD sign
when everything looked black and white
and David O. Selznick was king, circa 1932.  Ernest Hemingway
put a shotgun to his head in Ketchum, Idaho
while his granddaughter, a model and actress, climbed the family tree
and overdosed on phenobarbital.  My brother opened thirteen fentanyl patches and stuck them on his body
until it wasn’t his body anymore.  I like
the way geese sound above the river.  I like
the little soaps you find in hotel bathrooms because they’re beautiful.
Sarah Kane hanged herself, Harold Pinter
brought her roses when she was still alive,
and Louis Lingg, the German anarchist, lit a cap of dynamite
in his own mouth
though it took six hours for him
to die, 1887.  Ludwig II of Bavaria drowned
and so did Hart Crane, John Berryman, and Virginia Woolf.  If you are
traveling, you should always bring a book to read, especially
on a train.  Andrew Martinez the nude activist, died
in prison, naked, a bag
around his head, while in 1815 the Polish aristocrat and writer
Jan Potocki shot himself with a silver bullet.
Sara Teasdale swallowed a bottle of blues
after drawing a hot bath,
in which dozens of Roman senators opened their veins beneath the water.
Larry Walters became famous
for flying in a Sears patio chair and forty-five helium-filled weather balloons.  He reached an altitude of 16,000 feet
and then he landed.  He was a man who flew.
He shot himself in the heart.  In the morning I get out of bed, I brush
my teeth, I wash my face, I get dressed in the clothes I like best.
I want to be good to myself.


KCRW Bookworm (June 25, 2009)

Not Knowing Even as We're Seeing

"It's kind of a paradox of being both a writer and a teacher, I want to preserve the mystery of art. Whatever illuminations art gives us depends upon some aspect of not knowing even as we 're seeing and understanding more. At the same time, I'm trying to teach my students something about it. So what can I say? This is how mystery is made - no I can't say that, there's no formula. But it is something that I'm increasingly fierce about, the preservation of mystery, of uncertainty in these times when certainty leads too easily to fanaticism. I want to weaken that connection. I want to find in art the means to get us thinking about the importance of uncertainty, the agile beliefs that can change, minds that can reflect again and find a different answer."

- Joanna Scott, speaking with Michael Silverblatt about her new collection of short stories, Everybody Loves Somebody
Excerpt at KCRW's Bookworm

A Deeper Respect for the Demands of Complexity

Norman Mailer discussing his novel The Castle in the Forest with Michael Silverblatt (KCRW's Bookworm, 5/12/07):

One small example of what I'm trying to do here maybe. I was very struck with Clara, Hitler's mother, because she adores him when he's a little boy. She loves him so much. And she really believes she's created an angel. There he is--outrageously spoiled by her when he's young. And I thought this is one of the disproportions of life that we live with so often which is that good mothers can give birth to children whom they turn into monsters through their love. That's how difficult love is. That's how difficult our existence is. There are perversities at every turn. And it's as if there is no single rule that say to you 'This is the way to live.' That indeed, what we have to do is we have to embark as human beings on a deeper respect for the demands of complexity.

And if I find anything disturbing in American life, and one of the reasons I've despised George Bush from the word go, is he's a simplifier. And in doing that, he's injuring a great democracy, because the virtue of a democracy is that the openness and freedom for thought in the country enables us to enter more and more difficult domains of moral ambiguity. We live in moral ambiguity. It's usually a small person or a rare person who can say I'm a good person or a bad person. Generally we sit there and we say, "Who am I? What do I stand for? Am I moral or am I immoral?" Because for so many of our actions, we have no guides. The churches can't guide us. The scientists can't guide us. The psychoanalysts can't guide us. And my vanity, since I'm a novelist, is occasionally good novels come along that can be a bit of a guide. Because dealing with fancy, not fact, they can create models that sit there as hypotheses...When we read a really good novel, it sits with us afterward as one more human possibility and we keep bringing it up and thinking about it and saying, "Do I believe in this or don't I?"

For instance, we read Kafka. We love his notion of absurdity and frustration and they become models for us in times in our lives when everything seems to be going wrong. We say to ourselves, "My lord, this is Kafkan." And doing so, he's relieved us of incredible tantrums and terrors. And in that sense, you can point to all the great novels and they all give us something that is a model of possible reality. And that is what we need. What we need is an entrance into more and more complexity rather than the assumption that I want to have answers.

One of the most intelligent people I ever knew in my life once said in the middle of a lecture when he was on fire, someone said to him, "You never give us answers, all you ever offer are questions." And he said, 'There are no answers. There are only questions.' And I've used it to live with for the rest of my life.

Goodness, Restraint, and Messiness

"One of the things that I’m always interested in is the problems of goodness. I’m very interested in goodness. I think badness gets a lot of treatment in literature and the notion is that goodness is not interesting. To have encounters with goodness can be as vexing as having encounters with evil. And goodness can create its own distortions in the person on the other side of goodness. And we often don’t know how to respond to goodness in the same way that we don’t know how to respond to evil…What does goodness prevent in human intimacy? We know what it allows, but what does it prevent? What is the patina that it creates over the soul of the good person that makes her or him impenetrable?"


“One of my great problems in life is that I think I am temperamentally a formalist and I’m very attracted to restraint in art. That would sort of link me with conservatives. But ethically, I’m very attracted to the mess of humanity and so that would link me to less traditional habits of mind. That’s a tension that I think marks me very much. It causes me a lot of anguish…I love restraint and I love human vitality and so I’m always trying to honor both in my work. [I’m] always doomed to fail on one side or the other, but it is a project that I’m committed to.”

- Mary Gordon, talking with Michael Silverblatt on KCRW's Bookworm about her most recent collection of short stories.