Melancholia is playing at the Milan cinema on La Rampa. I considered recommending it to P., having thought about this film for months, but it’s already obvious that she is the debutante type so common in the art world, familiar with proper names and the prices of various objects but completely uninterested in anything more demanding than a thumbnail reproduction and a press release. That’s as true of many high-end dealers as it is of fringe figures like P., who hosts receptions, and arranges this and that for visiting artists. They all have the mentality of pork butchers who keep both thumbs on the scale. It’s doubtful that she would go to a movie house on La Rampa, anyway.
Something was a little off with the projection, or the print, or both, it looked in fact as if the movie I saw in New York had been dipped briefly in a bucket of Clorox, but it was still very powerful. I felt curious to see how a Cuban audience would react. People leaving the theater looked stunned. That might have been the Clorox effect. But they all dispersed quickly. I had no chance to eavesdrop on their conversations. When I first saw Melancholia I was crawling out of my own living death, and the film pulled me right back into it. At the same time, the fact that someone had pictured this state of depressive alienation was, on some level, soothing. It confirmed something true about the melancholiac’s view of the world, his/her indifference to its empty rituals and false emotions. Certainly by the time Justine tells Claire that “life on Earth is evil” the film has proven it in spades. “What kind of God,” my father used to ask, “would have invented the food chain?”
I wondered if Lars von Trier experienced any benefit from the large number of people concerned about him, and decided, probably not. When you go behind the moon no one can follow you there to bring you back, and the quality of darkness is so overwhelming it can’t be described. The words that could describe it, like most words, have been rendered meaningless by the hyperbole of vernacular speech. When everything is awesome and amazing, anything that’s really out of the ordinary is practically inexpressible.
I also wondered if he deliberately piled on the operatic melancholia of Tristan and Isolde and Caspar David Friedrich in hopes that pushing it all beyond the pale would humor him back into a reasonable frame of mind. One is desperate for something to laugh about, even if it’s the end of all existence in the universe. It is usual for people in depression to try anything, anything at all, to make it go away. But people in depression are also, usually, incapable of taking the smallest steps. Justine can’t lift her foot to get into the bathtub. Meat loaf, the one thing she might be counted on to enjoy eating, tastes like ashes in her mouth, and she can’t swallow it.
People aren’t expected to be happy, as an ongoing condition, anywhere on Earth, except in propaganda, advertising, sitcoms. Life is pessimistic because we die, how could it be otherwise? But when people spill into the abyss, they discover that they aren’t allowed to be extremely unhappy as a chronic thing, either, and become the object of impatience, dread, and fear—fear that their hopelessness is contagious, as in the case of the bus driver who ran over the soccer star. Not here, though, but in Germany, where people have other reasons to be unhappy. He went into a depression, jumped off the roof, his wife then became depressed, took an overdose of pills, and the shrink who hadn’t been able to help her hung himself in his office.
New York. It used to take at least a month for the paralyzing ugliness of this city to work its negative alchemy, now it’s roughly twelve hours. I’ve already gone online to look at air fares for Beirut, Malta, even Bucharest. And now, I think, I am going to unplug the TV cable and the internet connection. In Havana I never try to get news of the outside world, and usually feel glad not to have any, but then, here, the glut of instant information becomes as irresistible as the sudden ability to find something besides chicken to eat in a restaurant.
Most of the information is redundant, or repulsive, unless, I suppose, one goes to really straining sorts of dinner parties: Salman Rushdie on the Bill Maher show, for example, flogging his memoir in a manner that suggests that the true price of liberty is listening to this cocktail bore settle scores with his ex-wives and flatter himself to the point of nausea and beyond. Its very title, his nom de fatwa, suggests the limitless vanity on sale: “Joseph Anton,” meaning Conrad and Chekhov, don’t you know. Rushdie the writer is more like a cloying fusion of Disney and Beidermeier; his mind is like a crowd-pandering bromide dispenser cloaked in bullying humility. But he’s not wrong about free expression. People should write what they please, and say what they want, regardless of whether a lunatic faction of Muslims, or Mormons, or Scientologists frappés itself into a rage about it. Good for Charlie Hebdo, and all of us. And, in that spirit, let me say that the Innocence of Muslims video and The Satanic Verses are not so very far apart aesthetically, in the sense that Innocence of Muslims is roughly the same distance from Birth of a Nation as The Satanic Verses is from anything by Anton Chekhov or Joseph Conrad.
Naomi Wolf, whose addiction to publicity seems exactly on a par with Monica Lewinsky’s, has chewed up most of a solid week’s Guardian. It is no longer necessary to even believe what you write in a book if you can claim some specious connection to gender or race issues; a corporate mass media indifferent to serious questions of any kind will flog your book ad nauseam by pretending to attack it, if its title happens to be Vagina. I, on the other hand, really am attacking it: It is meretricious. It is mindless. It is pornographic in entirely the wrong way, and represents something pathological not only about its author’s narcissism but also about the publishing industry’s bottomless cynicism. Briefly: after enduring the Calvary of diminished orgasms due to lower back pain, the author discovers the miracle of vaginal stimulation by some Mayfair faith healer and, consequently, something revelatory about the “neurobiological connection” between the brain and the genitals. She expounds this depressingly obvious connection at length, drawing many idiotic conclusions from it. Substitute “healing crystals” for “neurobiology” and you more or less have it. This is the same pataphysical twaddle Malcolm Gladwell, intellectual heir to Charles Reich and Jonathan Schell at The New Yorker, specializes in, though I would guess that he is an even bigger cunt than she is.
Of course, if Ms. Wolff had happened to get caught “plagiarizing” herself, or falsely ascribing some unintelligible remarks to a notoriously incoherent pop star, her publishers would have instantly yanked her book out of circulation and issued a public mea culpa to rival Jacques Chirac’s apology for the Dreyfus affair. When you have no raison d’etre except the profit motive, the delusion that you are doing something noble can often be asserted by upholding, to great fanfare, some trivial principle that no one in his right mind could possibly care about.
Since the election is immanent, that too. I’m not sure if articles that advise “what to look for in the debates,” or measure the fractional blips of poll numbers, are simply written to fill space, since space has to be far more elastic on the internet than in hard copy print, or written for a paycheck, but really one should skip them, vote for Obama happily or not, and get the whole charade of public empowerment over with. You can be dead sure if anything equivalent to Melancholia’s collision with the Earth—anything human beings could actually prevent, that is—were about to happen, absolutely nothing helpful would be done about it by a criminal enterprise Congress, an impudent ideological majority on the Court, or a president committed to drone warfare, illegal detention, and the suspension of habeas corpus. I like the president as well as I like other people’s cats—well, maybe not quite as well. They’re warm and cute and pleasant to watch, and I don’t for a moment expect them to close Guantanamo, solve the economic crisis, or do anything real about global warming. “Life is only on Earth. And not for long.” If a cat were running for president I would vote for it. I will vote for Obama, unless I decide to spend November in Beirut, or Malta. Mitt Romney, unfortunately for dogs, is a dog person.
Previously - Between Revolutions