KUKU NGBENDU.

This Wordorigins thread about names for dictators wound up discussing the impressive moniker Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu waza Banga, the last part of which is variously translated as “the all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, will go from conquest to conquest leaving fire in his wake” and “the rooster that watches over all the hens.” Apparently some Wikipedia editor said on the talk page, “That’s the Tshiluba translation of his name. The Ngbandi translation is the one stated in the article. Both are correct.” Which is idiotic on the face of it. I had always wondered what language it was and what an accurate translation would be, and now my curiosity has reached a crisis point and I am impelled to ask the Varied Reader: do any of you know enough about Congolese languages to be able to speak with authority on this matter?
Unrelated, but we’re all jamessal fans here, so I know you’ll want to see his inaugural post as a GQ television critic. In the course of it, he calls Justified “the best show currently on television,” and he makes me want to see it.

Comments

  1. Thanks for that, Hat. Really. One LH mention — hell, one passing mention in an LH comment — is worth all the Tweets and Tumbles in the world. I still don’t know what a Tumble is, but apparently me and my little post are being Tumbled all over the fucking place. Frankly, I don’t want it explained either. Just — really — thanks again.

  2. I got so excited about your plug, I almost forgot: this may shock you, but this particular critic employed by the periodical formerly known as Gentleman’s Quarterly does *not* in fact know enough about Congolese languages to be of any help with the main subject of your post. You’d think the magazine would have higher standards.

  3. Consistent with the proverb translated on the Talk page where kuku ngbendu means ‘hot pepper’ is an interview Mobutu gave to Fraternité Matin 14-jan-1972 reported here (or here if you’re willing to register).

    • sese ‘earth’
    • seko ‘warrior’
    • kuku ngbendu ‘pepper’
    • waza banga ‘all powerful warrior who etc.’

    where presumably there is some poetic license in that last part and it was literally as given for the proverb’s translation ‘stings’.
    Apparently Thomas M. Callaghy’s Berkeley thesis gives some contemporary insight into how this was re-interpreted in Tshiluba, but a trip to library is needed to read it.

  4. AJP Crowd-Control says:

    I tried to post a comment at GQ but they won’t take it, so I’ll say it here.
    All these US tv shows (The Wire, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, Justified) are about the home life of the criminal classes. The writers create action characters who, as well as working, watch telly and drive their children to school and eat potato chips and do, in short, all the things the audience does. Now I’ve only watched the first series of Breaking Bad, but I think they missed an opportunity by introducing the protagonist to an organised crime gang. Surely some if not most of the crime in the USA takes place without the mafia being involved, and surely it’s the private things that take place in people’s lives that are often the most interesting. A schoolteacher who murders his friends and relatives quietly at home (preferably using poison or knockout drops, and then chopping them up) would be a stronger show. They didn’t just need the usual thugs with the usual guns and explosives – it’s so boring, always the same and never like life.
    My wife’s favourite is Justified. She keeps asking me if some car she sees is a Lincoln, like the man in Justified drives, and I never know if it is or not.

  5. Happy as I am to have saved handbag longchamp’s life, I must admit I’m much happier to hear the opinion of my old friend AJP. Not only was it a damn good point — two of the “best” shows now on the air (scare quotes because that’s the opinion of most critics, not mine) are about gangsters trying to hold onto their power, in spite of nagging spouses and blah, blah, blah — but also I’m just happy to hear from him. I definitely owe you an email, AJP (it’s been yet another rough year, GQ notwithstanding — or maybe actually compounding). One point, though, neither The Wire nor Justified fit the mold you described so well. There was very little home life in The Wire — David Simon was too busy shoving his arrogant all-encompassing political views down our throats (not that it wasn’t a good show otherwise) — and Justified is a whole other beast. Genuinely subtle and artistic, it’s by far the best show on television. It might not seem to be on first viewing, but that’s one of the show’s best tricks: it’s most meaningful lines — meaningful regarding the characters’ various, and actually interesting, psychologies — are often overshadowed by flashier lines and gun shots.

  6. AJP, what excuse did the GQ website give for not accepting your comment? I was actually looking forward to an intelligent comment on that site — an excuse to join the fray myself. As it is, it’s just thumbs up and down (mostly down), all in the form of one inane, often snarky sentence. One guy said that a former meth addict writing a “long-winded” article about meth was a cliche. I’d like to offer him a hundred dollars to show me one other four-thousand word article written by a meth addict critiquing a show involving meth, but that would of course imply that I give a shit.

  7. I suppose you’re right about The Wire, though I hadn’t realised David Simon’s politics were such a problem, but Justified is certainly about the home lives of the characters, even if they’re too hillbilly for most of us to identify with.
    I’d like to see another crime soap opera where the lawmen & lawyers don’t take any major roles. They don’t in real life, and that was one of the best things about The Sopranos. The are next to no lawmen in Shakespeare, but plenty of crimes & criminals.
    I think it’s too bad that I’ve got to watch Justified two more times in order to hear the meaningful lines. Why is that an advantage? Next time I’m using subtitles.
    We’ll talk soon, Jim.

  8. I meant to say: what an ugly bunch of comments! Not what I was expecting. That’s why I wanted to say something a bit more gentlemanly.
    The said they were “reviewing” my application to make a comment or some such, but I never got the green light.

  9. show me one other four-thousand word article written by a meth addict critiquing a show involving meth
    Yeah, I wanted to respond to that, too, but I didn’t think it would be really possible to communicate with such a person.

  10. I’ve watched a lot of Justified. I like it. I especially like the dialogue. I don’t like the way the creators seem to feel compelled to increase the shock level of the violence.

  11. I don’t like the way the creators seem to feel compelled to increase the shock level of the violence.
    They’re playing to different audiences, successfully, like Shakespeare, whose plays often include the silliest of slapstick.
    I think it’s too bad that I’ve got to watch Justified two more times in order to hear the meaningful lines. Why is that an advantage?
    Because, as Nabokov said, a good reader is a re-reader. The same applies to truly artistic shows.
    I especially like the dialogue.
    You’ve got a good ear. I’ve been writing about the dialogue pretty much for myself — I doubt GQ will be interested in anything so “academic.” But here’s a taste:

    Boyd Crowder, the second lead, a lifelong criminal trying for a while to play it straight, runs into an old lackey in a bar, Dewey Crow. Out of mere habit, Boyd mildly condescends to him throughout their conversation; he offers at one point to give Dewey a little money for a whore, but Dewey says that he doesn’t need Boyd’s charity, that he’s got things lined up, that he’s going to Florida—he always had a big mouth—to participate in a drug run. Then he adds, “You know Boyd, for a guy who supposedly changed, you sound an awful lot like you always did.” This stings, even coming from Dewey, because Boyd is sincerely trying to play it straight and nobody believes it. So the next time he sees Dewey—after the drug run, unbeknownst to Boyd, has been hijacked by other criminals—he greets him, “Dewey Crow! Have you come to regale me with stories of your Floridian adventures?” Nobody speaks like that off the cuff, but who cares? You couldn’t write a better sentence. Boyd resists the obvious assonance for a subtler one: if he’d used tales instead of stories, the a in tales would have rhymed loudly with the a in regales; his version has stories rhyming with me, an improvement not only in its dulcetness (one of the least dulcet words in the language, strangely) but also in its rhythm—which is perfect, coming as close to establishing a meter as prose ever should. Stories slows the sentence, as well, to aid comprehension: hardly an insignificant aspect, considering that the word is followed by a preposition, two modifiers, and another noun, all of which could get blurry if the speed is uncontrolled. A lot goes into a perfect sentence. And still, it’s just a building block. It helps that the next lines out of Dewey’s mouth are, “I’m surprised you’ve got the nerve to ask me that, Boyd”—he thinks Boyd orchestrated the hijacking—and that Boyd, who did no such thing and is concerned merely that the dimwit Dewey may have misunderstood a few of his multisyllabic words for further condescension, answers, “I’m sorry, did you find that offensive?” Not only is it clear, rhythmic, and mellifluous—it leads to hilarity.

  12. I meant to say: what an ugly bunch of comments! Not what I was expecting. That’s why I wanted to say something a bit more gentlemanly.
    Yeah, I wanted to respond to that, too, but I didn’t think it would be really possible to communicate with such a person.
    Thanks for that, AJP and Empty. Of course, I expected it, and I’m pretty good at ignoring it, but it’s still mildly depressing.
    To pick myself up — or really, just for unrelated fun — I put a few of Boyd’s lines into verse:

    You come out here from Oklahoma
    Full of piss and vinegar
    Talkin’ ’bout how
    you were tired of
    Spray paintin’ Synagogues sayin’ wanna blow some shit up.

    Of course, it doesn’t make a poem, but that it can be done so easily speaks, I think, to the quality of the writing. Deadwood is the only other show that had writers with such good ears.

  13. I hadn’t realised David Simon’s politics were such a problem
    His big idea, quoted in at least one interview I read, is that capitalism makes all our lives smaller. Big thinker, huh? He did have plenty of insights into the world his show was about, and he showed a lot people things that they should be shown, but his big thoughts kept him from truly focusing. That world deserves — positively needs — reporters, educated in philosophy and politics, to focus on it alone, like true scholars, not just good TV producers further mucking up the view with their big ideas.
    We’ll talk soon, Jim.
    Yes, I really look forward to that.

  14. I don’t like the way the creators seem to feel compelled to increase the shock level of the violence.
    I know already answered this, but I should have mentioned that the shock level is worlds lower on Justified than it is on Breaking Bad and Boardwalk Empire, and was on The Sopranos and Deadwood (though the violence on that last show was warranted — pun, not intended). By today’s standards, the violence on Justified is almost mild.

  15. “Dewey Crow! Have you come to regale me with stories of your Floridian adventures?”
    I agree that’s a great line. Maybe I’ll have to watch it again. Surely talking about rhyming and language doesn’t have to be any less populist than the show itself, though. This is the age of rap, after all.
    it’s still mildly depressing
    I’ll say.
    I was wondering why you hadn’t mentioned Deadwood. I know it’s one of your favorites.

  16. I’d like to see another crime soap opera where the lawmen & lawyers don’t take any major roles. They don’t in real life
    Depends where real life is taking place. I’ve got a friend in north Philly who’d disagree vigorously. His son’s in prison for 18 months for stuff that happens every day at Princeton University, and he’s looking at a half a year for fucking traffic violations.
    I was wondering why you hadn’t mentioned Deadwood. I know it’s one of your favorites.
    I just re-watched all the shows from HBO’s golden days — The Wire, Deadwood, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under — and Deadwood held up the best by far. In fact, it’s far better than I’d thought it was, and I was always a big fan. The third season, which I’d thought jumped the shark, in fact cohered perfectly with the previous two and was just as brilliant.

  17. Thomas M. Callaghy’s thesis
    No help on this score. It’s no more detailed than later explanations like, say, this.
    I haven’t even found a reference to a sociolinguistic history of Zaïrization.

  18. His son’s in prison for 18 months for stuff that happens every day at Princeton University
    That’s what I meant. I’m quite sure most crime goes uninvestigated.
    I HATED every character in Six Feet Under.

  19. Even Dave’s boyfriend?

  20. No, the ex-policeman? He was ok. I disliked the mother the most.

  21. That’s what I meant. I’m quite sure most crime goes uninvestigated.
    Absolutely. But to take the shows you took issue with in order: The Wire took place in an area where the draconian laws on the books really are truly enforced; Breaking Bad, though I take you point about its missing an opportunity, is about meth — the DEA’s new crack — and so plenty of private suburban cooks have been busted (there’s just too much pollution in the manufacturing to ever keep it really under the radar); and Justified addresses your point head-on, such that Raylan even tells Boyd that he has “no interest in shit-kicker on shit-kicker crime.” Cops do get involved when churches get blown up with rocket launchers, but of course then they really would.

  22. I agree, but you’re looking at these shows from the point of view of how they conform to, or reflect, current public policy and politics, whereas I’m more interested in the private, human-nature and moral aspect of unreported crime which (apart from the Sopranos) only gets covered by PBS Agatha Christie shows, where the murderer turns out to have been jealous thirty years ago of his uncle’s chauffeur, or some such nonsense that incidentally gives the audience an opportunity to admire 1930s automobiles and chauffeur outfits. And the Sopranos, good as it was, was about the Mafia, which meant that all the clichées – the rules that we all know about “organised crime” – were inevitably sucking energy.
    I’d like to see an updated Crime & Punishment show, or a show about unreported crimes in a neighborhood, or a Justified without any police in it, just for once.
    Sorry for rambling. I’ve got an ear infection.

  23. Funny you should mention Crime and Punishment — the only book or show or movie in which I can remember the cop being my favorite character, Detective Porfiry. I think it’d be pretty hard to write the show you want to see today, maybe impossible. The type of crime that goes ignored in places like Princetion just isn’t all that interesting; there’s no real moral interest in students selling each other stuff that should be legal anyway. Princeton itself happens to have two police forces for murders, abductions, rapes, and ostentatious quality of life crimes, like wearing your pants too low; and it’s not a big town. I hear the situations aren’t so similar in other rich towns and suburbs. Ironically, the places where you might get away with crimes serious enough to be interesting are the ones where all the other crimes are haphazardly, yet often and viciously, enforced. Not that that’s the only reason why you might be able to get away with serious crimes in such places; there’s are also just a lot of other serious crimes. I suppose someone could get away with one in an area like that and we could see what it would do to him or her with no police involvement; but’s that’s a movie, not a TV series. For all other aspects you want — the private, human-nature and moral aspect — of modern day crime, you can’t do better than Justified. Let me know how far you’ve gotten, and I’ll email you a few of my other notes — things I missed the first several times around myself. It’s also the only show I’ve ever seen that actually makes religion interesting; Deadwood had a few insights and moving scenes — far more moving than Sipowicz reading biblical passages to lugubrious music — but it didn’t alter my reading material.

  24. Sorry about the ear infection.

  25. Thanks, I went to the doctor and I think maybe it’s improving. I’ve been in bed for 2 days, mostly because I can’t sleep due to the pretty awful pain. I know you’re familiar with that kind of thing.
    It’s a film, and I’m not sure it’s a great one, but did you ever see Blow Up, by Michelangelo Antonioni? It’s where a fashion photographer photographs a murder, by accident. Or maybe he doesn’t, who knows? Better still, The Conversation, a very good early Coppola film along the same lines. When the investigation is made by someone other than a police official, who is just doing a job, it seems to me to be easier to accept questions about morality. What was that famous 1960s show about the guy who was trying to clear his name for a murder he hadn’t committed, and every week he got into a new scrape? That was a good premise, for the time.
    We’ve seen the first two series of Justified. We can’t get the third series on Europe-coded DVD yet.
    I keep meaning to ask you, have you seen The Killing? It’s a really, really, really good Danish detective (woman detective) show. I believe they remade a US version set in Seattle, but I heartily recommend the original (with English subtitles, obviously). The first series is the best, I didn’t like Series 2 as much. Now I see that maybe it’s not available in the US. Oh well. Broen (The Bridge) is another good one if you can get hold of one that’s screenable.

  26. What was that famous 1960s show
    The Fugitive. I never watched it. There was a remake, wasn’t there?

  27. I’ve been trying to remember that all night. Yes, they remade it as a film, like all those old tv shows, with Harrison Ford as Dr Richard Kimble. There’s a one-armed man or a one-legged man who is the real murderer. I think the victim was his wife.

  28. Better still, The Conversation
    Fantastic film, one of my favorites of the ’70s. There are scenes that give me chills no matter how many times I watch it.

  29. Me too.

  30. Well, this seems like the proper place to bring up my discomfort with Justified after the second season. I was beginning to think that the show was teetering on the edge of sentimentalizing and caricaturing the mountain folk of Harlan and then I heard Mags say that she had “sussed” out something. So far as I know, “suss” is a British verb. I lived in places over on the Virginia side of Appalachia from 1948 – 1969 (my father was a probation officer between 1948 and 1952 or thereabouts and the family had a lot of interaction with mountain people) and I never heard the word “suss” before Brit pop groups came on the scene. That word has got in between me and enjoying the show. So, all you linguist types, is “suss” now part of Appalachian dialect? If so, was it introduced by travelling Brit musicians?

  31. I suppose Mags learned the word on TV, maybe watching Mystery.

  32. Indeed, as Boyd Crowder himself said, “Yeah, we have, uh, TVs down here now.” They probably got most of those TVs between 1969 and 2011, though the Virginia side of Appalachia did just lose one of the best restaurants in the country, Town House. I never lived in Appalachia myself, but I have spent enough time there to know that, high def and molecular gastronomy notwithstanding, a lot of the mountain folk still do speak so dialectally that a TV show actually representing their speech would be incomprehensible to most viewers. So I must say I find it strange that one word, easily absorbed through various media, could get “in between [anybody] and enjoying the show.” Not only is Justified not a documentary; it’s less beholden to realism than most shows on television, especially in its speech. All shows have characters more articulate than the overwhelming majority of people; this one throws out figures and metaphors at a rate similar to Deadwood, starting with an anastrophe in the very first scene, before Raylan shoots Tommy Bucks: “Does nothing count that I let you live?” That any of the Bennetts could seem either sentimental or a caricature is equally strange to me, but that’s a whole other conversation.

  33. It seems to me that the series became patronizing to the people depicted. Now that the action has moved back (mostly) into town, less so. Anyway, “suss” is not Appalachian regional dialect, true or false?

  34. I haven’t seen the show, but surely you’re not suggesting that Appalachian characters shouldn’t be presented as using any words that aren’t part of some official Appalachian regional dialect? Couldn’t Mags have heard “suss” from TV or from someone passing through and liked the sound of it?

  35. Fascinating as the TV discussion is, even to one who does not watch the box, I rather wanted to know the answer to the original question having been brought up on the “rooster leaving no chicken in the henhouse untouched” version.
    I shall await possible enlightenment.

  36. It seems to me that the series became patronizing to the people depicted
    I just want to say that judging art almost solely by how closely it conforms to some standard of political correctness is something US popular opinion needs to get over. There’s more to life than positive role models.

  37. J.W. Brewer says:

    Yes. It is understandable that GQ’s tv critic is not the inhouse expert on Congolese languages, but no doubt could refer the question to whoever else on the GQ mssthead holds that post?
    There are more recent hits for “suss” in COCA than I would have expected, including in contexts where affected Anglophilia seems comparatively unlikely, e.g. sex-tips columns in Cosmo: “While some women are turned off, others find it hot. To suss out your partner’s ick factor, read her body language.”

  38. A schoolteacher who murders his friends and relatives quietly at home (preferably using poison or knockout drops, and then chopping them up) would be a stronger show.
    AJP: Have you watched Dexter? It’s about a blood-spatter analyst for the Miami Metro PD who quietly kills serial killers and chops them up before the police can get to them, but otherwise leads a normal life.

  39. It’s a film, and I’m not sure it’s a great one, but did you ever see Blow Up, by Michelangelo Antonioni?
    I have not, but I plan — actually, having been planning for quite some time — to watch it and acquaint myself with the rest of the man’s oeuvre. I actually haven’t seen The Conversation either (there’s a reason I’m not the film critic!), though I have had conversations in which I’d pretended I had.

  40. I didn’t know about Dexter, it sounds exciting! I wonder if we can get it.
    You guys would love The Conversation, (there’s a reason people talk about it).
    I’m not sure about Blow Up, I haven’t seen it for years. It may have too much 1960s swinging London nostalgia for me now. Also, like Zabriskie Point, his film that takes place in Death Valley, it’s the kind of film you can go out and make a cup of tea and see what’s in the fridge and come back 15 minutes later and find you haven’t missed anything; but there are some great filmmakers who work like that (Vertov). We’re all too used to the convention that every second the story isn’t being pushed forward is a second that can be left out of the film.
    I’m sure I’m not the first to say it, but both films seem to me to be a kind of comment on the Zapruder film of the Kennedy assassination. There’s an expert running an ephemeral sound or picture over and over, science analyzing the evidence, and knowing there’s something there – or maybe not – tantalizingly not being able to prove it.
    Cod, have you read Wolf Hall? It could have been a costume drama (Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII and his first two wives), but it’s written very vividly, with the sensibility of someone from today (postmodern, but in a good way). Based on Jacob de Zoet I think you & your husband might like it.

  41. Yes. It is understandable that GQ’s tv critic is not the inhouse expert on Congolese languages, but no doubt could refer the question to whoever else on the GQ mssthead holds that post?
    It’s a bit complicated. The position exists, but the man who holds it is dangerous. On holidays they let him walk the building in restraints, with the doors chained from the outside. On workdays they pass food and questions through a slot in a locked door, but apparently the slot is too big or something — people have still gotten hurt retrieving dishes and answers (the latter always, ostensibly, correct). I wish I could help, but I don’t work in the building myself and I don’t have the juice yet to ask anyone who does to bell that particular cat.

  42. Cod, have you read Wolf Hall?
    Cod hasn’t, in spite of my own recommendations, though I think she plans to. I loved it — favorite novel of the past year other than Falconer, to me a masterpiece. We’re reading Of Human Bandaids [sorry, the actual title of Somerset Maugham's book is deemed "questionable content"] — reading it aloud to each other when we have the time, which is unfortunately rare; unfortunately for several reasons, including that that book, too, is fantastic.

  43. I didn’t know about Dexter, it sounds exciting!
    Cod asked me to tell you that Dexter is less brilliant than diverting. She’s right. At not unfrequent intervals, that show is quite stupid.

  44. OK, OK, I’ve removed “bondage” from the blacklist, but I’m glad it stayed long enough to inspire the revised Maugham title.

  45. Also, I’m very much looking forward to Wolf Hall (on my Kindle but not yet begun).

  46. Oh, you must! You’ll absolutely love it. She’s written a sequel, you know, too.
    I like Bandaids better than Bondage – in all senses.

  47. I like Bandaids better than Bondage – in all senses.
    All senses. I don’t know. We tried it in the amatory sense once — didn’t do much for either of us.

  48. It seems to me that the series became patronizing to the people depicted.
    One of the show’s recurring themes is people buying into their mythoi, be they federal marshals hearing the the jingle of spurs on their loafers or mountain folk proud over their own music, liquor, and self-sufficiency. That an Appalachian crime lord takes advantage of the latter weakness hardly constitutes a show patronizing the people depicted; on the contrary, it is in fact the most sophisticated, informative, fearless, entertaining, and fast-paced depiction of a people’s collective psychology and way of life I’ve ever seen on television. Groups of all kinds fall for flattery: that’s not insulting; that’s life. Mags played up “her people’s” sorrowful yet romantic way of life perfectly, for her own purposes. That you, and probably a lot of other viewers (including critics), bought it — along with everybody at her party, save Boyd and herself — is just further evidence to me that it’s the best, subtlest show in the history of television. I just can’t wait till it comes back on, so I can start writing about it directly, because its writers are working their asses off and nobody is giving them the credit they deserve.

  49. Well, you may have a point — or not. Mags making use of her regional myths in the manner you describe is there all right. I still feel a patronizing edge. But look, I can see you’re really invested in this program. That’s fine; I’m not dissing it, or at least that was not my purpose here. I wanted to know about “suss”. Sure, Mags could have picked it up from TV but has the word been adopted into Americanese? COCA seems to say Maybe. I will need to hear it from American-speakers a few times before I accept that. Now if “suss” and perhaps other Briticisms were being picked up in Appalachia and not in other American regions… Well, then, that would be a story.

  50. J.W. Brewer says:

    For another AmEng instance (although not an Appalachian one), see “That works, but it’s a style of interpretation more suited to reading Wallace Stevens than to sussing out newswire headlines.” This from a Language Log post earlier today by Mark Liberman, who has not generally struck me as any sort of obvious Anglophile/poseur in his general prose style. But I myself still wouldn’t use it, unless I were still a teenager and trying to mimic the diction of British rock lyrics as an affectation.

  51. has the word been adopted into Americanese? COCA seems to say Maybe. I will need to hear it from American-speakers a few times before I accept that. Now if “suss” and perhaps other Briticisms were being picked up in Appalachia
    I feel a patronising edge coming on.

  52. has the word been adopted into Americanese?
    My wife and I are both in our late twenties, and neither of us had any idea suss was British rather than American word until some years ago, when I got serious about reading dictionaries — though the word had both been firmly in our idiolects from childhood. My wife, born in Ohio, remembers stern discussions at the dinner table in which something needed to be “sussed out.” Born in Manhattan, I moved to NJ when I was five and grew up there, and I remember first liking the word as a teenager and then hearing it used by criminals in California when I was living there, among them, in my late teens. I know that’s all anecdotal, but it’s pretty wide-ranging, and J.W. Brewer has at least one firmly American print example. It also just took me all of two minutes to find an example in this New Yorker article from the 90s about Dos Equis’ Most Interesting Man in the World, by Nick Paumgarten: “[Jonathan Goldsmith, the actor, and his wife, apparently also his agent,] live aboard his sailboat, in Marina del Rey, but had come East to (a) buy a new house in Vermont, to retire to, and (b) spend a week in New York, sussing out what the Most Interesting Man in the World could do for Jonathan Goldsmith.” I wouldn’t need COCA to find a whole lot of other examples if you’re still not convinced that it’s a fairly common American word.
    Well, you may have a point
    Thank you . . .
    or not.
    . . . I guess. Well, actually, really. You forced me to articulate my thinking, and so it’ll be easier to write about again later. Which my editor has already okayed. Auden said, paraphrasing, that we only read well when we do it for a reason. I think the same is true of thinking of writing, and someone being wrong on the internet is a powerful reason indeed.
    I still feel a patronizing edge.
    I wish you would make an argument for why you have this feeling, or rather why anyone — sorry to put it this so bluntly — should care. I know it’s “fine” that I’m an advocate for the show; I’m also an advocate for criticism — i.e., giving reasons for why a show, book, film, poem, painting, etc. is good or bad, rather than just shrugging as you say what you like and I say what I like and the guy next door . . etc. etc.. The idea that artistic quality is all subjective anyway leads to reality TV and most of the crap you hear on the radio.

  53. That New Yorker article is from last year, sorry. It was another potential example that was from the 90s.

  54. J.W. Brewer says:

    “Hey you getting drunk, so sorry!
    I’ve got you sussed.
    Hey you smoking Mother Nature!
    This is a bust!
    Hey hung up old Mr. Normal,
    Don’t try to gain my trust!
    ‘Cause you ain’t gonna follow me any of those ways
    Although you think you must.”
    I would guess I first focused on the lyrics of that song circa 1979, when it was already a decade old and I suppose jamessal et ux. were not yet born. As of that time, “suss” was afaik totally outside the normal lexicon of normal American teenagers at least in the Delaware Valley and seemed to us as markedly British as “wanker” or “sod” (as in the Sex Pistols song with the refrain “I’m a lazy sod,” which I don’t think we realized was a clipped form of “sodomite” . . .). But I suppose I can’t rule out the possibility that AmEng has changed in the intervening decades. Now get off my lawn.

  55. Now get off my lawn.
    Just a sec! I’ve gotta steal — um, retrieve — that et ux. for a future comment or article ;-)

  56. J.W. Brewer says:

    That’s a semi-archaic lawyerism, which was a quick workaround based on fact that I know Mrs. jamessal’s first name has appeared in prior comment threads but I didn’t recall it plus it might have been presumptuous/overfamiliar/stalkeresque for me to throw it out there (but it turns out that less than a minute’s googling not only discloses it but the fact that she’s taken her husband’s surname at least for gmail purposes, although I suppose “Mr. and Mrs. jamessal” would have been jocular enough to hopefully avoid giving offense even to someone who had rather self-consciously retained her prior surname).

  57. Anyone who divides English into “Briticisms” and “Americanese” needs to look in a dictionary before they use words like “patronizing”. And if you’d like language to obey national borders so it doesn’t fuck up your region (somehow), then why don’t you start your own United States Academy of English (“American” is too vague, you might get some…”Canadianisms”).

  58. That’s a semi-archaic lawyerism
    Good to know — thank you! And it’s Robin, Mrs. Jamessal — soon to be Mrs. Salant legally, or at least whenever we get around to it. Don’t worry about being too familiar; I’ve always been a fan of your comments — I do believe you whooped my ass with great manners in a debate semi-recently — and people I like Robin likes, and of course vice versa. We’re also just exceptionally informal, and not particular about what people call us, especially me (Robin’s not crazy about” Rob” or “Robbie”).

  59. >Jamessal: I wish you would make an argument for why you have this feeling, or rather why anyone — sorry to put it this so bluntly — should care.
    No one should care. I asked about “suss”. The word is not common American usage. The writers put it in the mouth of a particular character. Was this person’s use of the word meant to tell us something about her? Or was it the writers trying to sound Appalachian poetic? It jarred me. That is the basis for my feeling. I am ready to give this a rest.

  60. I will need to hear it from American-speakers a few times before I accept that.
    I have heard it from American-speakers, for what that’s worth. And jamessal’s comment above should be convincing.
    The word is not common American usage. The writers put it in the mouth of a particular character. Was this person’s use of the word meant to tell us something about her? Or was it the writers trying to sound Appalachian poetic?
    I suspect it’s a lot more common these days than you’re giving it credit for; we codgers have to accept that our understandings of what’s “American” are increasingly out of date. (I induct you into the codger ranks because you seem unaware of the word’s increasing acceptance in Yankdom.) I don’t know the writers, but I would bet cash money they weren’t “trying to sound Appalachian poetic,” so if that’s what you’re worried about, I think you can rest easy. They were probably just using it because, like jamessal, they thought of it as part of American vocabulary.

  61. I’m also an advocate for criticism — i.e., giving reasons for why a show, book, film, poem, painting, etc. is good or bad, rather than just shrugging as you say what you like and I say what I like and the guy next door . . etc. etc..
    I’m something of an advocate against criticism, actually. There are some people–critics, scholars, connoisseurs of a certain field–who can sometimes provide useful criticism, but for others, who enjoy more casually, criticism is often wrong (that is it provides the wrong reasons for liking/disliking) and even worse is likely to confuse one’s opinion rather than clarify it.
    An example: I hated the movie No Country For Old Men. I thought about this a little after I saw the movie, and I’m really not sure why I hated the movie some much. When pressed for a reason, I say that it was violent and senseless. But this is a terrible reason: I’ve liked other movies that were violent and senseless, and surely there are a lot of people who would claim that the movie was not senseless at all. One person I talked to said he liked the fact that the movie didn’t have a score. But this is clearly not a justification for liking the entire movie. I actually liked this also, I thought it was really interesting and would like to see more movies do this, though I think it’s actually possible that somehow the scorelessness set up me up for hating the movie, but I don’t know. When I told another person I didn’t like No Country For Old Men, he said something like “Oh, it’s got great acting and great cinematography.” This also seems like a terrible form of criticism. Like in this school of criticism there are five boxes to be checked off: Good Acting, Good Directing, Good Writing, Good Cinematography, and Good Other Stuff (costumes, music, special effects). Then the number of boxes checked corresponds to the number of stars you give a movie. I think this is often the kind of criticism people give when trying to reason their like of a certain movie, and I think it’s awful.
    I think one reason it’s so hard to provide reasons for liking a movie, is because if you like the movie you like all of it, all two hours of it. So when you say why you liked a movie, you don’t have two hours to talk about it, so you say that you liked one particular character, or one particular scene, or you say that “I think Christopher Nolan has very good directorial sensibilities” (actual quote), when what you really like is the whole of the movie, the way all the individual things work together over the course of two hours. For paintings or music, it’s even worse, as it’s nearly impossible to provide even bad criticism without technical knowledge. If you wanted everybody who went to art museum or to the symphony to provide reasons for why they liked/disliked what they saw or heard, you would end up with a lot less patrons of art museums and symphonies.
    But the worse thing about criticism, and thing that goes directly against your points, is that it actually tends to distort opinions rather than clarify them. One particularly relevant study:
    Several years ago Timothy Wilson conducted one of the first studies to illustrated this. He asked female college students to pick their favorite posters from five options: a van Gogh, a Monet and three humorous cat posters. He divided them into two groups: The first (non-thinkers) was instructed to rate each poster on a scale from 1 to 9. The second (analyzers) answered questionnaires asking them to explain why they liked or disliked each of them. Finally, Wilson gave each subject her favorite poster to take home.
    Wilson discovered that the preferences of the two groups were quite different. About 95 percent of the non-thinkers went with van Gogh or Monet. On the other hand, the analyzers went with the humorous cat poster about 50 percent of the time. The surprising results of the experiment showed themselves a few weeks later. In a series of follow-up interviews, Wilson found that the non-thinkers were much more satisfied with their posters.
    There are other studies along these lines if you’d like to see them.
    Lack of criticism doesn’t lead to a anything-goes world where people choose lolcats over Monet, it apparently leads to a world where people choose Monet over lolcats, but are free from having to come up with bad and pretentious reason why they made that choice.

  62. For the record, I’m an American, mid-twenties, and “suss” does not strike me at all as foreign or British the way “wanker” does.
    Here’s another American using the word.

  63. Lack of criticism doesn’t lead to a anything-goes world where people choose lolcats over Monet, it apparently leads to a world where people choose Monet over lolcats, but are free from having to come up with bad and pretentious reason why they made that choice.
    There’s a certain irony in this sentence, in that it assumes that Van Gogh and Monet are GOOD whereas lolcats posters are BAD while at the same time asserting criticism to be irrelevant, whereas that assumption, of course, wouldn’t seem like common sense if it weren’t for criticism in the first place. Van Gogh and Monet didn’t work in a world without criticism, nor did their work take on the status it has without critics playing their part. All that studies says, and all your comments about movies and such say, is that most people aren’t cut out to be critics — not that good criticism is impossible, nor that good criticism doesn’t have an overall salutary effect on people’s ideas of what constitutes worthwhile art. That people put such faith in studies, without even thinking out their limited implications, is one of the reasons we’ve reached the sorry state in which good criticism needs advocates. That said, I’m all in favor of people who aren’t cut out to be critics admitting as much; I just wish they wouldn’t continue to state their opinions in the face of reasoned arguments about a show, in this case, and movies, art, etc. in others. Did you find any of my arguments “pretentious” or just a haphazard opinion dressed up as if it had thought-out criteria supporting it (but not really)? If so, I’d like to know which. Perhaps in order to avoid confusion, because there are indeed a lot of college kids who’ve mistaken themselves for Hugh Kenner, I should have said that I’m an advocate of argumentation as opposed to stubborn assertions.

  64. Sorry jamessal, I knew that last sentence was too sweeping and that I was going to get in trouble for it, but I couldn’t resist.
    I agree with almost 100% of what you say in your last post, but I still object to the post I originally responded to:
    All that studies says, and all your comments about movies and such say, is that most people aren’t cut out to be critics
    This is exactly the point I was trying to make. I was objecting not to the fact of you reviewing a TV show, but of you trying to insist that others should justify their reasons for disliking the show:
    I wish you would make an argument for why you have this feeling, or rather why anyone — sorry to put it this so bluntly — should care. I know it’s “fine” that I’m an advocate for the show; I’m also an advocate for criticism — i.e., giving reasons for why a show, book, film, poem, painting, etc. is good or bad, rather than just shrugging as you say what you like and I say what I like and the guy next door . . etc. etc..
    From the context, it seemed to me that the criticism you were advocating was, let’s call it, “automatic criticism”, the idea that any opinion of quality has to be backed up by some reasons. It was this kind of criticism that I was advocating against in my post. I thought this was pretty clear, because, as you pointed out, I didn’t make any arguments against professional, or “good”, criticism, but I guess my first and last sentences gave the wrong impression.
    I think it’s important for people to understand that criticism is hard, and that some kinds of critical thought can lead you astray as much as guide you, that just because you like something, doesn’t mean you understand why you like it; but, on the other hand, also important to realize that just because you can’t back your opinions with arguments, doesn’t mean your opinions are somehow invalid (in the jam study, the non-critical group picked the same jams as the experts, even though they couldn’t say why and were unfamiliar with the work of the jam critics).
    I just wish they wouldn’t continue to state their opinions in the face of reasoned arguments about a show
    This part I disagree with. No matter how many reasoned arguments I hear about why No Country For Old Men was a great movie, I’m still going to hate it, and I’m not going to hide my opinion.

  65. I’m an advocate of argumentation as opposed to stubborn assertions.
    I missed this before, obviously I disagree with this as well, see my last paragraph above.
    In this particular area (personal opinions about a piece of art, etc.), I am definitely in favor of stubborn assertions.
    I’m not against argumentation, but I don’t think that it is necessary to have an opinion, and I am only in favor of argumentation if it’s good argumentation, and above I try to argue that for the most part, most people provide bad arguments, and in fact they end up being worse than bad.
    If you are trying to create a canon of “truly artistic” TV shows, then it’s a different story, okay. Yes, then you probably need arguments. But I don’t think this is what mikulpepper was trying to do. mikulpepper personally dislikes the show, and threw out a couple arguments as to why. It turned out maybe these arguments weren’t so good, but it doesn’t really matter, mikulpepper still dislikes the shows.
    Like, I don’t really object to the fact that No Country won the Best Picture award. If a lot of people liked it that’s “fine” with me. But I hated it, and I don’t need to give any reasons why, and that’s my stubborn assertion and I’m going to continue to state it in the face of reasoned arguments.

  66. Sorry jamessal, I knew that last sentence was too sweeping and that I was going to get in trouble for it, but I couldn’t resist.
    I can appreciate that ;-)
    In fact, now that you’ve explained your position more fully, I think we disagree on even less than you think. I have no problem with someone saying, “Hey, I’m not a critic, so I’m not gonna try to explain it, but I hate this movie, show, symphony, etc.” I just don’t think that’s what Milkulpepper was doing — perhaps where we still disagree (you can let me know). He was saying the show was doing something specific, something that would make the show worse if it were true — i.e., he was critiquing it, just shallowly, with assertions rather than arguments — and he was unresponsive to arguments to the contrary. In other words, he had stepped into the arena and refused to fight. Which I find annoying. That’s quite different from saying that though he couldn’t explain why, he didn’t like the show. I would have had no problem with that.

  67. I’m another american in my 20′s, and “suss out” doesn’t strike me as british either.

  68. Trond Engen says:

    When it comes to art I’m firmly of the opinion that the only relevant criterium is whether it does anything for me. I may try to explain what that anything is, but if I really could it would probably not have it anyway. Usually the number of stars (or in Norwegian semiology: The roll of the dice) is the only opinion I want from a critic. Long-form literature and — just maybe — film may be different, though, because they’re not instantaneous in the way a painting or a poem is.
    I used to add “immediately”, but I appreciate that some works creep on you over time. I could even give examples and explain why!

  69. For paintings or music, it’s even worse, as it’s nearly impossible to provide even bad criticism without technical knowledge.
    It ought to be possible to have different levels of discussion of the arts. I’ve just been reading a very interesting book about filmmaking, by Alexander McKendrick, and what I really learned from it is that most of what goes into scriptwriting and directing and so on is beyond anything I need or care to know in order to enjoy a film. That’s the same for many subjects: you don’t need to cook to enjoy food, tread grapes to drink wine etc. But – and I’d call it art rather than painting, nowadays – but for art & non-pop music (and I’d add architecture) the public is totally excluded from the discussion because it can’t be understood without several years of full-time higher education, and pretty much nobody taking part in the discussion cares about that. That’s a bit of a problem in my opinion, not having a dialogue with the audience, and not caring that pretty much everyone outside the subject either dispises or is bored to death by it.

  70. Oh no, I spelled “despises” wrong. Oh well.

  71. I was advocating against . . . the idea that any opinion of quality has to be backed up by some reasons.
    No matter how many reasoned arguments I hear about why No Country For Old Men was a great movie, I’m still going to hate it, and I’m not going to hide my opinion.
    Will, checking just now to see if you’d responded to my latest comment, I skimmed yours again and realized that in spite of the first quote, you never actually offer “an opinion of quality”; you merely state your reaction to No Country for Old Men in your repeated example: “I hated it.” You haven’t once said that No Country for Old Men is a bad movie. To both statements I’d probably answer, “Why?’ but only in the case of latter would if find it annoying if your answer was, “I have no idea!”
    Jeremy, should I buy that book?

  72. What matters about critics is their knowledge, not their opinions (which are just like anyone else’s opinions). Using reason to defend judgments of taste is futile.

  73. At comment 73, really, John? A statement so terse I could argue it in any direction I choose, knowing full well you could not only reframe the debate in a sentence or two back to whatever sophisticated personal philosophy underlie the terse comment to begin with, but also cut me off at whatever path I’d chosen to follow, however ultimately irrelevant it proved to be? No, it’s late at night and later in the week; I can’t sleep and time for comments wanes. So I’ll choose flattery over picking up this particular gauntlet. If you decided to elaborate further unprovoked, however, I’d be grateful for the ponderables.

  74. It’s certainly up your street. I’m glad I bought it. You can flip through it at Amazon. Alexander McKendrick was a 1950s Ealing Studios director (The Ladykillers), who retired to Hollywood to teach film at USC or UCLA or one of those places. This book is mostly his teaching material written up as essays.

  75. USC or UCLA or one of those places
    CalArts (though Wikipedia manages not to say so), along with Nam June Paik, Jules Engel, Ravi Shankar, Emmett Williams and a bunch of other Fluxus people.

  76. “I HATED every character in Six Feet Under”.
    Well, I couldn’t stand anybody in Boardwalk Empire, not quite sure why I watched the whole first series.
    As to Breaking Bad, I stopped watching at the beginning of the third episode, when they were dealing with the aftermath of the “dissolved” bathtub. I then read a description somewhere on the internet, saying it was “not for the squeamish”. They were certainly right about that!
    I believe the BBC is planning a version of Wolf Hall, whether that is a good thing, I’ll leave for you to decide.

  77. Trond Engen says:

    I was trying to express a sophisticated attitude to my own genupulsivity, but I think I revealed myself as pure jerk. If anyone has some sophistication to spare, I’ll buy.

  78. Well, I couldn’t stand anybody in Boardwalk Empire, not quite sure why I watched the whole first series.
    Then you may very well enjoy my post about it at GQ’s website, scheduled to go up in September, just before the new season starts; that is, if my editor gives it the okay.
    I was trying to express a sophisticated attitude to my own genupulsivity, but I think I revealed myself as pure jerk.
    Not at all. I just missed your comment amid the others, and now that I’ve reread it I appreciate your drawing a distinction between criticism of long- and short-form art, as it were. I’m sure we differ plenty in our opinions toward criticism in general, but I’m all fought out, at least for now — though I would appreciate it if you too explained your thinking in more detail. I’ll even call you sophisticated ;-)

  79. BBC is planning a version of Wolf Hall, whether that is a good thing, I’ll leave for you to decide.
    I’ll look out for it, but Wolf Hall is all about the writing, so I’ll be interested to see if they can dodge just making another BBC costume drama.
    Cal Arts – Walt Disney meets Nam June Paik…at Ealing Studios.

  80. Jamessal:
    Yeah, it was late and my bed was calling me. I’m not sure how ambitious I feel about this one either. [Returns after five-hour troll through LH archives trying to find where, if anywhere, he said all this before, with no luck but lots of wonderful memories refreshed.]
    Crudely then, what matters is not what critic X’s opinion of artist Y may be. She likes him, he doesn’t like him, whatever. “Opinions are like assholes: we all have them and they all stink.” But a good critic is meaningfully distinguished from a bad one by what she knows about the particular branch of art that Y engages in. In short, critics make two kinds of contributions: to scholarship (widely construed, not necessarily meaning the kind you find in books) and to the history of taste.
    And for the latter I give you Northrop Frye, as I often do, telling us what literary criticism isn’t:

    All judgments in which the values are not based on literary experience but are sentimental or derived from religious or political prejudice may be regarded as casual. Sentimental judgments are usually based either on non-existent categories or antitheses (“Shakespeare studied life, Milton books”) or on a visceral reaction to the writer’s personality. The literary chit-chat which makes the reputations of poets boom and crash in an imaginary stock exchange is pseudo-criticism.
    That wealthy investor Mr. Eliot, after dumping Milton on the market, is now buying him again; Donne has probably reached his peak and will begin to taper off; Tennyson may be in for a slight flutter but the Shelley stocks are still bearish. This sort of thing cannot be part of any systematic study, for a systematic study can only progress: whatever dithers or vacillates or reacts is merely leisure-class conversation.

    And looking around the net, I find that I posted this same quotation at Wormtalk and Slugspeak, the blog of Michael D.C. Drout, the mediaevalist and Tolkien scholar, with the following further remarks:

    [C]riticism is the systematic study, not of the supposed value of artworks, but of what they are: their relationships to one another, their meanings, and so on. Michael (and Frye) are right to say that there needs to be some way to decide what goes in the syllabus, but that’s a pedagogical rather than a scholarly issue: it’s not exactly obvious why high-school physics students study the behavior of cannonballs rather than satellites, either. (“East takes you out, out takes you west, west takes you in, and in takes you east” — explanations on request). Such decisions don’t have to last forever, either. In any case, physics itself does not have a prescribed list of good and bad topics, much less a pseudo-theory about why the good are good and the bad are bad.
    The theory wars, as Michael rightly says, killed the old evaluation hierarchy, only to replace it with a set of conflicting evaluation hierarchies, and so much the worse for scholarship. Those who can remain scholars of the humanities in academia today [as Michael is] have all my admiration.

    I hope that helps. I have three other things on my mind at present, all of them rather worrisome, so I well realize I am not doing this any justice at all, but I hope these little bits will be at least somewhat suggestive. Truly I am not trying to bait anyone.
    Any luck with B.R. Myers’s book?

  81. And here’s me again, saying the same thing a decade ago, complete with the word “futile”.

  82. Trond Engen says:

    Jim: I’m not sure I really can explain my point with examples or if I just said so for the cuteness of the paradox.
    But here’s a try. When I first read Paul Eluard’s famous surrealist poem La terre est bleue …, I was amused by the image, but indifferent, untouched by the unconnected wordstream. But it had been presented (or actually just the opening line) as an example of untranslateability. So I gave a translation to prove a point, and added that I couldn’t possibly finish the whole poem. But it had started creeping on me, and now I really liked the feel of it, the intense, shaky stream of images and the rhythm and sounds, and suddenly I had it all translated — in both senses — to rural Norwegian summer.
    Or maybe what this says is that I was right about “immediately” and that the instant, slight amusement that made me do the work is what I call quality, and maybe it shows that I was wrong about criticism and that the challenge that made me really work with it shows that something worthwhile can come out of a conscious approach.
    But now my brain’s about to explode. Back to the oneliners:
    A bull in chains in a demonstration for animal rights, that’s a paradox.

  83. Any luck with B.R. Myers’s book?
    You know they’re not selling it new at Amazon, let alone on the Kindle? I started looking for the best deal on a used copy, then forgot about it — though I can say that I’m already imagining I’ll agree with most of it. I’ve come to agree with his central thesis: that “literature” has become a marketing tool and that most books published as it suck. If you tell me that the book is better than the article, containing less nonsense about language and whatnot, I’ll take it on faith, although I do want to read the book myself. I think my position’s changed because I’ve read a few more older books (Maugham, Cheever, and Waugh are the first to come to mind), reread a few I’d admired and came to think less of, and skimmed some terrible brand new ones praised in the exact same vapid fashion Myers deplored in his essay. I found myself scratching my head before ranting at dinner parties about recent publications the same way Myers must have before he started writing his manifesto. Thanks for the reminder. I’ll resume searching for used copies.
    Thanks also for the quotes, both of which I enjoyed and agreed with. Hazlitt was deemed beneath scholarship only twenty or so years ago; now his stock has risen, as it should have — though the idea that it could rise and fall doesn’t speak well of the history of criticism. Still, I do believe that sometimes critics are just right, that they’ve paid more attention than others (be they other critics or lay people), and that they’ve discerned an artist’s intentions and failings as well as possible. Whether or not those labors can add up to some sort of science I leave to philosophers.
    I’ll follow the link in your comment and let you know how I’ve done seeking a good used copy on the cheap tomorrow — hopefully: it’ll be a busy day.
    Trond, I’ll also try to give your comment the time it deserves, too. I’m falling off just now. Thanks for taking the time to leave it.

  84. Trond Engen says:

    give your comment the time it deserves
    Frankly, I’d hoped for something more than that.

  85. Trond Engen says:

    (No, don’t push it. I don’t demand answers from anyone, and it’s really not very deep anyway.)

  86. Frankly, I’d hoped for something more than that.

    As you damn well should. I apologize — I was, as I said, falling off. The plan, now that I realize how lame and insensitive my last comment was, is for my wife and me to come over and cook you dinner. We’ll shoot for Saturday, 7ish?

  87. Trond Engen says:

    It’s a good start. Just give us time to beat the dust out of the kids, polish the carpets and send the silverware off to camp. Your clock or mine?

  88. But will they also do the washing up.

  89. Just give us time to beat the dust out of the kids, polish the carpets and send the silverware off to camp.
    Wow. I’m not even sure there is a polite way to say this, but frankly we hate dirty children and slick floors and we usually stage these events just to steal the silverware anyway (AJP’s usually in on it: he argues with our gracious hosts over who’s doing the dishes while we pluck the choice silver); so while I appreciate your caution — we bury credit cards, bank statements, cash, filched silverware, etc. before having guests of any kind ourselves — I’m really just feeling foiled and annoyed, such that I don’t think we’d be good dinner companions anyway. As for the battle of the clocks — I assume you’re talking about the autumnal tradition of knocking mutual favorites against each other until one cracks, like Easter eggs — we’re undefeated. So I’ll give you odds. 3-1. And even go easy on the vig. But again, we’re gonna have to pick another night. I will find some other way to make this up to you, though. Don’t worry.
    Maybe I’ll let you write my next GQ post! It’s really a lot of fun. The trick is to write your first draft and let it sit for a while, as if drying, so that you can see the words with the necessary distance; then go over the whole thing again — maybe once more, maybe twice — like painting your garage or fence. They pay me by direct deposit, but then I can just send you a proverbial check in the proverbial mail. Do be honest with me about one thing, though: did Hat tip you off about the silverware? I mean, he was cool and all about it after he had us over; everybody got a good laugh after his P.I. tracked us down. But he was still the only guest at our wedding to whom we had to write a check. So . . . I guess I’d just like to know where I stand. Like, if he’s still acting like it’s a big thing, I’d wanna know.

  90. then go over the whole thing again — maybe once more, maybe twice — like painting your garage or fence
    Have them paint your garage and fence, Trond. Twice sounds good. They won’t even need to come inside the house.
    They pay me by direct deposit
    Sure they do. Just don’t give them access to your bank records.

  91. Trond Engen says:

    Jim: It’s interesting, but what does the GQ style guide say about Norwegian nominal and verbal inflection? I don’t compromise on style.
    -
    I don’t know, Crown. They’re all cuddly when they come, but there’s no cuttlery when they leave. You give them your fence in good faith, but there’s no defence.

  92. You engage them in conversation; then they go gloomily, rudely silent.
    Sorry I dropped out of this thread. Life and such took over.

  93. But here’s a try. When I first read Paul Eluard’s famous surrealist poem La terre est bleue …, I was amused by the image, but indifferent, untouched by the unconnected wordstream. But it had been presented (or actually just the opening line) as an example of untranslateability. So I gave a translation to prove a point, and added that I couldn’t possibly finish the whole poem. But it had started creeping on me, and now I really liked the feel of it, the intense, shaky stream of images and the rhythm and sounds, and suddenly I had it all translated — in both senses — to rural Norwegian summer.
    Or maybe what this says is that I was right about “immediately” and that the instant, slight amusement that made me do the work is what I call quality, and maybe it shows that I was wrong about criticism and that the challenge that made me really work with it shows that something worthwhile can come out of a conscious approach.
    God, I wished I’d read this comment earlier instead of saying I would later and then getting diverted into the silliest of LH maunderings, largely initiated by me. You articulated precisely my attitude, rather articulately. I can’t tell you how many times a second or third or fourth — etc. — look has given me a new insight; and I find it frustrating when people who haven’t taken that time and effort act as though their first reaction — e.g., “I don’t like this show; hence it sucks” — are as valuable or “valid” (a word they’re fond of) as people who’ve put it in similar effort. Not that multiple readings, consuming concentration, and a willingness to track down allusions and think through metaphors necessarily leads to the “right” verdict; it just means the people who’ve attempted the above should be taken more seriously than casual viewers, readers, listeners, etc., who consider themselves smart.

  94. I hated the movie No Country For Old Men. I thought about this a little after I saw the movie, and I’m really not sure why I hated the movie some much. When pressed for a reason, I say that it was violent and senseless
    Well, that was the point, as it seems to be the point to most Cohen Bros. movies. They do seem to believe that life is essentially meaningless and that we are at the mercy of random chance – people drop dead randomly as in Big Lebowski or A Serious Man, criminals are often simply stupid as in Fargo and Burn Before Reading, police and other authority figures are clueless and have no real control or authority (pretty much all their movies, but possibly the major theme in NCFOM), etc. It’s a bleak worldview leavened by a sense of humor and what seems to me to be a genuine affection for most of their characters. Some critics apparently feel the Cohens are snide hipsters laughing at losers. I don’t see that, I think they genuinely love and respect the absurdity of “abiding” in a godless universe.

  95. Trond Engen says:

    getting diverted into the silliest of LH maunderings
    That’s a high bar to set!
    You articulated precisely my attitude, rather articulately.
    Thanks, It’s always nice to reach common ground. I think — I’m still not sure if I articulated my own attitude that precise.

  96. I agree with Vanya. It’s a good summing up of their movies, and I love the idea of stories where people occasionally drop dead randomly.

  97. Ditto. Nice comment, Vanya. I also admire the Cohens’ filmmaking chops for their own sake. They just keep getting better: the cinematography, the score, the exposition, the writing, the timing — they just keep getting better with each movie, such that at this point I’m just happy to enjoy the ride, admiring what went into it. Their latest, I’m forgetting the name, with the Jeff Bridges and the little girl, I enjoyed especially.

  98. Thanks, It’s always nice to reach common ground.
    No, thank you — I had a lot of fun at a time I really needed to have a lot of fun. A real pleasure. That goes for you too, Crown.

  99. Likewise, as always.

  100. You’re thinking of True Grit. And it should be “Coen”, not “Cohen”. I apologize for the silly typo.

  101. Ah, thanks, Vanya! As for typos — I’ve issued my fair share this sleep-deprived morning (my God, it’s early afternoon) . . . if they were contagious, we’d all be putting y before p except after weeeee! That is, I could’a looked the names up myself, or at least thought before typing — I knew it was “Coen.”

  102. Alright, John Cowan, I did it: I ordered an Amazon-insured used copy of the BR Myers book for seven bucks, including shipping. I’ll let you know!

  103. James: Cool. Just ignore the prescriptivism.

  104. Just ignore the prescriptivism.
    Will do: I’ll just consider it costive notions of correctness, lingering in his literate psyche (as Hugh Kenner put it), deprived as Myers must be of any knowledge of linguistics.

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