shocked, shocked

One of Gainsbourg’s most controversial musical successes was an antipatriotic rendition of the “Marseillaise,” which he sang in concert and recorded in the 1970s. It was the national anthem sung with a sneer, sung to stress the ultimate hollowness not only of patriotic symbols but of all attempts at significant association, at the delusion of belonging to anything larger than the basic, instinctual self, and it was, significantly, sung by a man who looked the part, whose very appearance was a calculated act of indifference to the decent opinion of mankind. Gainsbourg’s “Marseillaise,” outraged many, delighted many others. Its appeal, for those to whom it appealed, lay, of course, in the very outrage it inspired in those who found it offensive. There is something very close to the French soul in this nihilism of style. Lying beneath the smooth surface of more conventional French stylishness, the stylishness of international fame and big business, whose centerpieces are on the avenue Montaigne and the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré and in the big tents set up in the Tuileries for the spectacular semiannual fashion shows, is, this leather-jacketed Gainsbourgian snicker, this reminder of contempt.

— Richard Bernstein, Fragile Glory: a Portrait of France and the French, Knopf, 1990, p. 211

the definitive reckoning of the man-hour

Dr Thurgood: Larry! 
Larry David: Hi. I know I don’t have an appointment, but I got a bill in the mail today… am I to understand that you charge me for talking to me on line in a baseball card show? Is that possible? 
Dr Thurgood: Well yes, it is. 
Larry David: Dr Thurgood, we spoke for all of three minutes! 
Dr Thurgood: Let me just point out, Larry, that sometimes when people suffer with what I might call the more dramatic forms of narcissism, they have a hard time gauging how long they have been talking about their problems for themselves. 
Larry David: You’re saying I’m a narcissist? 
Dr Thurgood: Larry, maybe I can help you understand this way. I had a client, he was quite an illustrious, well-known director. I don’t want to reveal who he was, but he did direct Star Wars… And he enjoyed, in his repertoire of things that he liked, to see prostitutes. Now, in that particular situation, if he were to hire a prostitute, let’s say for an hour, which was normal for him… 
Larry David: You might as well call him George Lucas, I mean that’s who directed Star Wars
Dr Thurgood: Oh, well, I would never say that. I would never say that. 
Larry David: Well, you just told me who it was. 
Dr Thurgood: I merely alluded to the fact that he was a well-known director. Now, one of the things he needed to complete his work, it was important for him… 
Larry David: Everybody knows who directed Star Wars
Mr. Thurgood: Well, not everyone is in show business, Larry.  
Larry David: Okay, good… all right, go ahead. 
Dr Thurgood: My point is… 
Larry David: God only knows what you’re saying about me! 
Dr Thurgood: No one asks about you. 
Larry David: I didn’t ask about George Lucas, but you just brought him up! 
Dr Thurgood: I merely said “a well-known director”. And here’s my point: he used to frequent prostitutes. And very often he would hire them for an hour, which was their minimum, but it only took him three or four, maybe five minutes to complete the shot, if you understand what I’m saying. However! they considered it fair and he considered it fair to pay them for the full hour—that was the way they did business. 
Larry David: First off, I am appalled by what you just said to me… 
Dr Thurgood: He has a right to do what he wants. He is an adult. 
Larry David: It’s supposed to be confidential! 
Dr Thurgood: And it is. 
Larry David: You’re not supposed to be telling people! 
Dr Thurgood: It’s merely my way of illustration. My point is that people need various things to help them function, and my hope is that I was doing that for you. Well, it was good to see you. 
Larry David: And congratulations, doctor, I think you’ve stumbled upon the perfect analogy for exactly what you do. 
Dr Thurgood: Well, it’s somewhere between a hobby and a profession for me, just as it is for them.  
Larry David: Uh huh. 
Dr Thurgood: Good seeing you. 
Larry David: Okay. 

Curb Your Enthusiasm, Season 8, Episode 9

monday nothing

The Fugs, named after Norman Mailer’s euphemism punctuating the pages of The Naked and the Dead, were conceived in a former kosher meat store on East 10th Street in late 1964, when 26 year old Ed Sanders published 42 year old Tuli Kupferberg’s poetry in his highbrow literary journal, Fuck You: A Magazine of the Arts:

We drew inspiration for the Fugs from a long and varied tradition, going all the way back to the dances of Dionysus in the ancient Greek plays and the “Theory of the Spectacle” in Aristotle’s Poetics, and moving forward to the famous premier performance of Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi in 1896, to the poèmes simultanés of the Dadaists in Zurich’s Cabaret Voltaire in 1916, to the jazz-poetry of the Beats, to Charlie Parker’s seething sax, to the silence of John Cage, to the calm pushiness of the Happening movement, the songs of the Civil Rights movement, and to our concept that there was oodles of freedom guaranteed by the United States Constitution that was not being used.

Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupferberg photographed by Richard Avedon in 1967
The Fugs consisted of three members: Tuli Kupferberg, native New Yorker and “one of the leading Anarchist theorists of our time,” Ken Weaver, humorist and poet, and Ed Sanders, fellow poet and leader of the group. Their inspiration was irreproachable. Their performance was parodic. There were musicians, there were noisemakers, and then there were The Fugs. “From now on nothing holds us back, cacophony forever”, crowed Ed Sanders during a 1964 recording session. The form suited the subject. Nothing is Kupferberg’s inspired paraphrase of a Yiddish potato folk song into a supreme ode to negativity:

Monday nothing, Tuesday nothing
Wednesday and Thursday nothing
Friday for a change a little more nothing
Saturday once more nothing

Sunday nothing, Monday nothing
Tuesday and Wednesday nothing
Thursday for a change a little more nothing
Friday once more nothing

Montik gar nicht dinstik gar nicht
Mitvokh und donershtik gar nicht
Fraytik in a noveneh a gar nicht kuggele
Shabes vayter garnicht

Lunes nada martes nada
Miércoles jueves nada
Viernes por cambio poco mas nada
Sábado otra más nada

January nothing, February nothing
March and April nothing
May and June a lot more nothing
Ju-u-ly nothing

29 nothing
32 nothing
39, 45 nothing
1965 a whole lot of nothing
1966 nothing

Reading nothing, writing nothing
Even arithmetic nothing
Geography, philosophy, history nothing
Social Anthropology nothing

Oh, Village Voice nothing, New Yorker nothing
Sing Out and Folkways nothing
Harry Smith and Allen Ginsberg
Nothing nothing nothing

Poetry nothing
Music nothing
Painting and dancing nothing
The world’s great books a great set of nothing
Arty and farty nothing.

Fucking nothing, sucking nothing
Flesh and sex nothing
Church and Times Square all a lot of nothing
Nothing nothing nothing

Stevenson nothing, Humphrey nothing
Averell Harriman nothing
John Stewart Mill nihil nihil
Franklin Delano nothing

Karlos Marx nothing, Engels nothing
Bakunin, Kropotkin nyothing
Leon Trotsky lots of nothing
Stalin less than nothing

Nothing nothing nothing nothing
The whole scene’s a whole lot of nothing
Nothing lots and lots of nothing
Nothing nothing nothing nothing NOTHING NOTHING NOTHING

Nothing nothing nothing NOTHING nothing
Lots of it

Nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing
Not a Goddam thing.

Here’s wishing Tuli Kupferberg a whole lot of Nothing.

Tuli Kupferberg and Ed Sanders photographed by Bob Gruen in 2003

prevailing through contempt I

Albert Camus was born on 7 November 1913, in a family of French settlers in Algiers. In his youth, he played soccer and studied philosophy. He realized his maturity in popular essays that treated disturbing themes in a soothing fashion. He wrote about resisting suicide and living in insensibility. He engaged the demons of personal and social negativity, ranging from debilitating guilt to random terror. He endorsed personal rebellion as the pathway to solidarity in the face of absurd existence. Camus stood on the left, apart from all parties. He published clandestine polemics in the French Resistance and disassociated himself from the Communist Party after the Soviets suppressed the Hungarian rebellion. He declared himself against the capital punishment and declined to declare himself against colonialism, refusing to take sides in the Algerian revolt. His novels and plays rehearsed and amplified his concerns. They became wildly popular in France and abroad. The Nobel Prize consecrated his ambivalent reputation. His writing earned popular acclaim and supercilious condescension. He was killed on January 4th, 1960, when his friend Michel Gallimard spun out of control his Facel Vega, advertised as the fastest four-seat coupé in the world, its refined French chassis overwhelmed by a brutish American engine. The car veered off a country road and rammed into a tree. Camus was the only casualty of this accident. He was 46 years old. Ever since, his stature has grown, even as his critics declined into odium and hysteria.

Continue reading prevailing through contempt I