The Other & Us

Beginning With Bergman

It is generally agreed among those who follow these things that Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman was something of an existential genius.  Using the established vocabulary of a true visual stylist, he confronted some of our most primal fears and assumptions.  About belonging.  About believing.  And finding a way to regard the material world in a way that made sense for a generation for whom sense no longer made sense.  He was an artist who constantly challenged our assumptions about what it means to live in a free society.  How we participate.  How we observe.  How we change and make the most of the time we’re given.
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Stories

The Prompt

The elevators, situated at either end of these long and seemingly photocopied hallways, give the erstwhile traveler pause.  The first is just off the main lobby, where he has trekked in search of toothpaste and an accompanying brush.

These hygienic accouterments were located without incident and a conversation thus ensued.  There were two young people at the front desk.  The woman, maybe twenty or twenty-one, had a cheerful demeanor and as she directed the young man who had been searching for a toothbrush, I noticed a weathered paperback laying open on the formica counter.  Playing Sam Spade, I altered the orientation of its dog-eared pages so that the text might be discernible to my eye.
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Conquest

Plunder & Profit

Born in Medellin, Spain, Hernan Cortes (1485-1547) first served as a soldier in an expedition of Cuba led by Diego Velazquez in 1511.  He ignored orders and traveled to Mexico, setting his sights on overthrowing the Aztec ruler Montezuma II in Tenochitilan.  The Aztecs eventually drove the Spanish from Tenochitilan, but Cortes returned to defeat the natives and take the city in 1521,  He spent much of his later career seeking recognition for his achievements and support from the Spanish royal court.
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Wild West

Those Who Made Us Who We Are

When it comes to endangered species, most of us don’t spend too much time thinking about the folks who set the table for us.  By that, of course, I mean our indiginous and close-to-the-earth Native Americans.  Their forebears were already active hunters, farmers and fishermen long before those past times might have been considered rugged or revolutionary.  Yet these same tribes were and are in a very real sense the very first prototypes of individualism, self-sufficiency and survival.
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Drinking

Addiction

Thinking about drinking, one wonders why the notion of release becomes more seductive than the idea of confrontation.  A story about addiction is always a story that has already been told; one that comes down to the same demolished and reductive and recycled core:

DESIRE.  USE.  REPEAT.

Addiction makes not just for cliched writing, but for a cliched life.  It is a narrative deficit disorder.

To be John Barleycorn’s subject is to always know what to do when the animal growls: Give it a drink.
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Slavery's Story

Absalom!, Absalom!

Absalom, Absalom details the rise and fall of Thomas Sutpen, a white man born into poverty in West Virginia who comes to Mississippi with the complementary aims of gaining wealth and becoming a powerful family patriarch.  The story is told entirely in flashbacks narrated mostly by Quentin Compson to his roommates at Harvard University.  The narration of Rosa Coldfield, and Quentin’s father and grandfather, are also included and re-interpreted, with the total events of the story unfolding in non chronological order and often with differing details.  This results in a peeling-back-the-onion revelation of the true story of the Sutpens.  Rosa initially narrates the story with long digressions and a biased memory, to Quentin Compson, whose grandfather was a friend of Sutpen’s.  Quentin’s father then fills in some of the details.  Finally, Quentin relates the story to his roommate Shreve, and in each retelling, the reader receives more details as the parties flesh out the story by adding layers.  The final effect leaves the reader more certain about the attitudes and biases of the characters than about the facts of Sutpen’s story.
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