Sunday, April 04, 2004

Daylight Savings Time; Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; King Crimson

A rather crowded agenda for this entry . . . just making up for lost time.
Fearful Syzygy's recent entry on the Dane/Danish fellow/Dansker (which is it nowadays?) who attributes some of Denmark's fiscal rotteness to that nation's version of Daylight Savings Time inspires the first part of this blog.  As of 2 a.m. this morning, we have sprung forward here, "here" signifying most of the U.S.  Arizona opts out of Daylight Savings Time entirely; even stranger, though, is the case of Indiana, which not only is bifurcated by the Eastern and Central time zone lines but also has individual COUNTIES on BOTH sides of that line which have chosen not to spring forward or fall back.  It becomes more than a little complicated to rise with the chickens there in the Hoosier State.And that last line leads me to argue against Daylight Savings Time as well, though for a reason different than the one offered by the fellow in Denmark.  I don't know why DST was initiated there, but here it was proposed by Benjamin Franklin as a way maximizing daylight hours during the winter, when the days grow shorter, for the benefit of farmers.  With the rise of mechanization on farms (one of the simplest signs of that being tractors with headlights on them), that reason no longer applies.  No doubt someone in this country makes arguments in support of DST, but I truly can't imagine what they would be.  At least the chief argument in favor of raising speed limits on major highways to 70 mph was that some people want to drive faster than 65.  So then, at least from my myopic perspective, we keep DST around for the same reason that most school districts keep the 9-month school year: a tradition dating back to our agrarian roots.  Nothing wrong with that, I suppose.  Much can be said in support of the idea that our agrarian society, without sentimentalizing it, was in most respects a healthier society: poor diets, yes, but the labor performed on farms resulted in less obesity in the population; only the upper classes could complain of boredom--now, of course, even the poor are so media-saturated that boredom permeates all societal levels of our culture; and I do think that the sort of communal labor that gets performed in such cultures leads to the sustaining of societies whose people do give at least a small darn about the welfare of their neighbors.  But DST, even in our mostly-agrarian past, didn't nurture the strengths mentioned above.  It didn't save time, the way most machines are supposed to do; it saved daylight so that there was "more" of it for working.  It paradoxically didn't allow farmers to keep time with the rhythms of the sun and seasons but actually tied them more tightly to the workings of gears inside clocks: "Well, the clock says 6, no  matter what the sun says."Could one make an argument that DST, far from aiding farmers in their work, is actually, if not a cause, then at least symptomatic of my nation's move away from agrarianism and toward an urban society?  That and the railroads, whose invention created the need for standardized time zones in the first place?I have no proof for any of the above.  I think Thoreau would dig this, though (I've been teaching a brief excerpt from Walden in my comp classes recently).  We can't revert from urbanism, and I'm not arguing that we should.  But the fact remains, as Thoreau argues and demonstrates so eloquently, that our self-removal from participation in daily and the seasonal rhythms via the Machine has the long-term effect of emptying our lives of a simpler and more genuine meaning for our living.
Speaking of thought-provoking ideas: two weeks ago, I went to see the most recent Charlie Kaufman-written film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (starring Jim Carrey, Kate Wimslet, Kristen Durst, and Elijah Wood in a decidedly anti-Frodo role).  In an earlier entry, the Blog mentioned some favorite directors, but inexplicably left off the list was Spike Jonze's work with Kaufman: Being John Malkovic and Adaptation are really imaginative films in the fullest sense of that adjective, I think, not just for their quirkiness but also in that (and this is especially true of the first one) they at their hearts tell familiar tales but make them appear fresh: What's it like to see the world through the eyes of another person?  What if we could in some way remove ourselves from our decidedly subjective point of view and THEN, in effect, see the world as we see it, but this time from that outsider's perspective?  And, in Adaptation, just where IS that boundary between the writer and his work. It took seeing Eternal Sunshine . . . to see these matters more clearly, to see these films' quirkiness as means to their respective ends.  This is a romance, in both the movie genre AND the Hawthornian senses of that word (In his preface to The Blithedale Romance, Hawthorne says that in romances, the "work is not exactly put side by side with nature," thus permitting "a license with regard to every-day Probability, in view of the improved effects which [the author] is bound to produce thereby.")  Via decidedly sci-fi means--kinda like The Matrix, but this time we're inside individual minds rather than (maybe, maybe not) computers--this film examines the relationship between love and memory: what is it exactly that love is?  Is love the result of memory, or is memory the result of love?  How is love (or memory, for that matter?) preserved?  Is that solely an act of the individual who remembers his/her lover, or does it come from somewhere else, ie., outside the individual?  Once we gain our narrative sea-legs in the plot, we root for the lovers, as we're supposed to do in all movie romances; but when approached from the Hawthornian angle, the film becomes less about the particulars of the lovers' relationship and more about a metaphysics of love, a dynamic of love, that we couldn't examine, one suspects, without the literal invasion of a decidedly anti-R/romantic Machine into the plot.  I'm afraid to say much more here for two reasons: 1) The film surprises in many ways, not the least of which is the richness produced by its explorations of that metaphysics of love, and I don't want to spoil that for the potential viewer; 2) If I keep talking about this intellectually and visually magical film, I'll never get to King Crimson in Arkansas today.  Perhaps I can continue that discussion, though, with those who see fit to comment on this entry.
The drive from Wichita to where my children live is 14 hours, so I take along a selection of CDs to listen to.  I try for a variety of things; my selections for the spring break trip were: the Branford Marsalis Quartet, Romare Bearden Revealed; Led Zeppelin, Presence; King Crimson, THRAK; The Rough Guide to Samba; Lizz Wright, Salt; and Yes, The Yes Album.  Oddly, I want to talk about THRAK because it disappointed me.  I like very much early Crimson--the debut album and Red especially stand out, I think--and one of my favorite albums, period, is Discipline.  All these albums have an elegance to them: an emphasis on melody and precision.  Discipline in particular works because of its impossibly tight rhythm section of Tony Levin (bass) and Bill Bruford ("batterie").  More recent Crimson, though, is different.  From this period I have THRAK and The ConstruKction of Light, and each of these albums explores the possibilities of imposing noise over simpler song constructions (and I'm certain there's a better way to say this).  As a comparison: maybe an artier Sonic Youth or Dinosaur Jr.?  I don't mind noise, but what I found myself noticing on THRAK was a lack of melodic variety and, despite a couple of "quiet" songs, an emphasis on heaviness.  It became tedious, wearying to listen to: not the sort of thing one wants one's music to be when driving through the flatlands of the Mississippi alluvial plain.  As for lyrics, one of the refreshing things about Discipline is the wit of Adrian Belew's lyrics--after all this time, they still make my brain smile.  But in THRAK, the words sound forced or tired.  I suppose, then, that it disappoints because it's not the Crimson that I prefer; one could say that it's unfair not to permit a band that's been around for so long the license to experiment with its sound . . . would that Yes would do a bit more of that in its newer work even as it settles into the stage persona of prog-rock oldies band.  But it IS fair for fans not to especially approve of the results of those experiments.I like better The ConstruKction of Light; as its title suggests, to these ears, at least, there's a return to an intricate melodicism underlying the heaviness--you can see why they toured with Tool for about a month a couple of years ago.
Susan and I continue our discussion of Flemish/Dutch painting; more talk of that will be forthcoming.

Those wishing to read the comments from the original LiveJournal post can go here.

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