Keira Karenina

December 23, 2012 § 2 Comments

Image  Image

I depart from my usual book talk in order to address a present day dilemma: what right does Keira Knightley have to show up with her signature pout/giggle/tone/facial expressions in every damn literary masterpiece made film? My concern here is not to boo her off the stage, necessarily, but to highlight some very troubling patterns I have found in her performances. Before I break it down numerically, let me grant that I have only seen some of her films (Bend it Like Beckham, Love Actually, Pride & Prejudice, Anna Karenina)(and I’ll focus on the latter 2), so my opinion of her is non-comprehensive.

My issues are thus:

1. Keira Knightley’s good looks (high cheekbones, sexy eyes, pouty lips, thin frame, whateva floats your sexy boat) are used in every single film as an asset to her character, and more importantly, as an asset to the film. My #1 reason for being frustrated with Keira as Anna or Keira as Elizabeth is because it’s like the producers hire Keira for Keira, and not for her ability to become Elizabeth or be Anna. This supposition needs some examples, see below.

2. What difference is there between Keira in Beckham, Keira in Love, Keira in Pride, and Keira in Anna? The costumes are different, the lines are different, the supporting characters are different (and often magnificent), the stage is different, and sometimes the time period is different. But Keira Knightley shows up with the same intonation, the same sideways glances (see: Keira catching eyes with Darcy at the church, gasping, turning away, then Keira catching eyes with Vrosky at the ball, gasping, turning away), the same essence: “I have on a dress and it makes me Anna Karenina. Also look how quickly I can go from sweet to angry, NOW SEE IT AGAIN AND AGAIN” (see: Elizabeth screaming “NOW FOR ONCE IN MY LIFE WOULD YOU PLEASE LEAVE ME ALONE” to her family and Anna screaming “BLAH BLAH BLAH YOU DON’T LOVE ME” to Vronsky). Keira Knightley’s favorite thing to do is use her angry voice when we least—or, in practice, most, expect it.

3. And then I think, maybe my issue is actually with the producers, or the directors. Maybe if Keira wasn’t asked to be Anna Karenina (why why why why why why why why why), or if the directors didn’t take advantage of shining the light on her face so that it highlighted her absurdly high cheekbones all the time, we would see Keira differently. It is not my attention to be snooty here; I think actresses are as good as their fellow actors, as good as the whole production, but also as good as how much they are willing to kill their favorite tactics of being AN EMOTION in order to let the character say what the character wants. In both Pride and in Karenina, I think the production was much better than Keira as the lead, precisely because Keira did not take on the role completely.

4. What does Keira contribute?

Well, a bloody good time, that’s what. She manages to be in films that are a pleasure to watch, and she pulls her weight. She’s KeirElizabeth, KeirAnna. But here’s what we lose with Hollywood: Elizabeth Bennet. Anna Karenina. And here’s what we’ll lose if Keira ever plays another character from literature: the essence of Lady Macbeth, Lucy Honeychurch, Mrs. Dalloway (heaven. please. forbid.)

Put Keira in 21st century stories, I beg you, where she can flaunt her modern interpretations of what she’s supposed to act like. But get her away from the classics. Get her away.

But see Anna Karenina, because it’s fabulous, and it will win the Academy Award for Best Screenplay.


Re-reading, a particular kind of pleasure

October 28, 2012 § 2 Comments

“To paint a leaf, you have to sacrifice the whole landscape. It might seem like you’re limiting yourself at first, but after a while you realize that having a quarter-of-an-inch of something you have a better chance of holding on to a certain feeling of the universe than if you pretended to be doing the whole sky.”

History of Love, by Nicole Krauss

Untidy Activity

October 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

Elizabeth Bishop is one of my favorites. When I was beginning to study poems (first apprehensively, then with growing curiosity), hers stuck out to me as story-like, unconcerned with poetry, necessarily—just concerned with a scene on a page.

Her one-liners are more than excellent, in fact, satisfying. Her birthday poem ends, “All the untidy activity continues,/awful but cheerful.” (And don’t all birthdays, truly, end that way?) (that’s from “The Bight”)

Then the often-cited villanelle: “The art of losing isn’t hard to master;/so many things seem filled with the intent/to be lost that their loss is no disaster.” I have never found a more structured way of saying, “I no longer have something/someone, and this happens again and again, all the time.” (from “One Art”)

And then the individual poems (that you’ve just gotta read). See: “Sandpiper,” “At the Fishhouses,” “Insomnia,” “The Weed,” “Seven-Sided Poem,”  “Filling Station,” “The Shampoo,” “Questions of Travel,” etc. Check out for some. 

Recently, after going through this book cover-cover, I discovered some animal prose scenes she wrote (WHAT!? that was my immediate reaction, too). She includes 4 under the header, “Rainy Season; Sub-Tropics.” Because it is unlike any Bishop I have read before, and I have been fascinated by it, I will share 1 here. About a crab. The world’s most well-described crab, if you will.

Strayed Crab 

This is not my home. How did I get so far from water? It must be over that way somewhere.

I am the color of wine, of tinta. The inside of my powerful right claw is saffron-yellow. See, I see it now; I wave it like a flag. I am dapper and elegant; I move with great precision, cleverly managing all my smaller yellow claws. I believe in the oblique, the indirect approach, and I keep my feelings to myself.

But on this strange, smooth surface I am making too much noise. I wasn’t meant for this. If I maneuver a bit and keep a sharp look-out, I shall find my pool again. Watch out for my right claw, all passerby! This place is too hard. The rain has stopped, and it is damp, but still not wet enough to please me.

My eyes are good, though small; my shell is tough and tight. In my own pool are many small grey fish. I see right through them. Only their large eyes are opaque, and twitch at me. They are hard to catch, but I, I catch them quickly in my arms and eat them up.

What is that big soft monster, like a yellow cloud, stifling and warm? What is it doing? It pats my back. Out, claw. There, I have frightened it away. It’s sitting down, pretending nothing’s happened. I’ll skirt it. It’s still pretending not to see me. Out of my way, O monster. I own a pool, all the little fish that swim in it, and all the skittering waterbugs that smell like rotten apples.

Cheer up, oh grievous snail. I tap your shell, encouragingly, not that you will ever know about it.

And I want nothing to do with you, either, sulking toad. Imagine, at least four times my size and yet so vulnerable…I could open your belly with my claw. You glare and bulge, a watchdog near my pool; you make a loud and hollow noise. I do not care for such stupidity. I admire compression, lightness, and agility, all rare in this loose world.

“A gift, a love gift”

October 9, 2012 § 2 Comments

Lately it’s been Whitman, Roethke, craniosacral therapy & trauma, Randall Jarrell’s essays, etc. I’m afraid the habit of 7-at-a-time continues. As far as measuring ‘progress’, which is in part what this blog is about (the other main principle of the blog: madness written down is less mad than not written down)—I’m near done with 2 and have begun/am laxly continuing with the others.

The two I’ll talk about today: Plath’s Ariel, and Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed.

No person in their right mind could find a similarity between the authors, the mindsets, the intentions, etc.  Ariel is a descent into depression and self-scrutinization; it is about the big stamp of WOMAN, PERFECTION, and DEATH that Plath’s life was marked by, and was elevated because of.

Committed is about

1) Elizabeth Gilbert, the continuation of her love story, as begun in Eat, Pray, Love

2) The Institution of Marriage (it’s history, in Gilbert’s conversational style)

And, you know, because I can’t recount the history of marriage for you, I’m not gonna, but I suggest you check out the book. I find Gilbert very soothing to read, and if you need that in your life, and are perhaps feeling sad for some reason, you might enjoy a story about a woman who was really depressed for a while, forced to examine her ex-marriage, and to question her habits of entering relationships and then fleeing from them. In short, yes, people can change if they want to. BUT IT AIN’T GONNA BE PRETTY. And I enjoy that, when it’s in a book and I know that Elizabeth Gilbert now has a very devoted Brazilian man to spend the rest of her life with. Companionship is just nice.

Here’s a little snippet in the book I’ll share—In The Symposium, Plato describes a dinner party during which the playwright Aristophanes tells a mythical story of why humans have such deep longings for union with one another, and why the acts of union can suck so bad (unsatisfying and destructive, are Gilbert’s terms). Once upon a time, we were all creatures with 2 heads, 4 legs, and 4 arms—a perfect blend of two people seamlessly joined. And because we were born with our perfect other, we were happy (simple enough, right? NOT.) Anyway the point is, we wanted nobody. Perhaps that is ultimate freedom.

Well one day Zeus got pissed (we were forgetting to worship him again, because we were just so happy with our perfect partners), and he SPLIT US IN TWO WITH HIS LIGHTNING BOLT. Not only was it really painful of a physical level, it also inflicted on us a constant sense of not being whole. There emerged, in humankind, the idea that something—someone, is missing.

And so was born infatuation, longing, etc.

The only thing I have to say about this is: In stories, it makes sense, functionally, that something must happen to the person in order to create conflict. Zeus’ rage happened, else we all would have remained happy. A thing is always inflicted on the character. The character responds. The character, in the act of response, becomes human (to us, the reader). In Gilbert’s greater story, the structure of her problem is a little different—mostly, it’s her mind that’s inflicting the pain (and the US Department of Homeland Security, which basically tells her that she needs to get married to her Brazilian lover or else he can no longer make visits to America). Her mind has issue with marriage, but not at all (in this book) with being committed.

To change subjects completely, here’s a poem from Plath.

Poppies in October

Even the sun-clouds this morning cannot manage such skirts.

Nor the woman in the ambulance

Whose red heart looms through her coat so astoundingly—


A gift, a love gift

Utterly unasked for

By a sky


Palely and flamily

Igniting its carbon monoxides, by eyes

Dulled to a halt under bowlers.


Oh my God, what am I

That these late mouths should cry open

In a forest of frost, in a dawn of cornflowers.

                              (poster by Oskar Koller, Poppies)

Magical Thinking, a final sketch

September 17, 2012 § Leave a comment

I am so excited to have an anatomy atlas in my hands—9 dollars from Half Price (SHOCKING. LUCKY. PRAISE THE GOOD MAN OR WOMAN WHO PUT IT THERE) and exactly the one I wanted (Netter’s has excellent images of nerves and their passageways, in particular). It is in perfect condition but it smells like a hospital/cadaver lab—something sterile, plasticy. Yea okay I haven’t posted in about a month. Let’s just say that my focus turned exclusively to school, applications, finishing moving, and my best friend who took off for the other side of the country.


I’ve finished A Year of Magical Thinking. I’ll share a passage that hits on clumsiness, on stepping into a role while unsure of your role in that role; later, how the role remains yours, defines you. I don’t know death very well, so it’s not the theme I chose to highlight, though I have tried to be respectful of Didion’s account (see previous post, as well).

I have trouble thinking of myself as a widow. I remember hesitating the first time I had to check that box on the “marital status” part of a form. I also had trouble thinking of myself as a wife. Given the value I placed on the rituals of domestic life, the concept of “wife” should not have seemed difficult, but it did. For a long time after we were married I had trouble with the ring. It was loose enough to slip off my left ring finger, so for a year or two I wore it on my right. After I burned the right finger taking a pan from the oven, I put the ring on a gold chain around my neck. When Quintana was born and someone gave her a baby ring I added her ring to the chain.

This seemed to work. I still wear the rings that way.



Future things then are not yet:

August 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

and if they be not yet, 

they are not. And if they are not, 

they cannot be seen.

Yet foretold they may be

from things present which are already and are seen.

–Augustine, Confessions XI


Excuse the pause, readers. I’ll be back in a couple weeks. 

Books on Death, cont.

August 15, 2012 § 2 Comments

A friend of mine told me about a year ago that it’s only when things are getting good that we start thinking about death like “aww, shit, could come any minute.” All my feelings of invincibility are immediately followed by thinking I will die in a moment. My friends tell me this isn’t normal. I attribute it to some vague memory of abandonment in my childhood—things change fast, when they do.

The first sentence in the novel is Life changes fast. If you’re interested in this notion at all, you should maybe read this book.

I haven’t finished it yet (about 1/3 away) but it’s about time for a post. The novel’s about grief, family, place, and Didion’s memory of it all—Didion’s husband died on December 30th 2003, and her daughter Quintana on August 26th 2005; the book is about Didion’s mental state following the first death, and it also details the various hospitalizations of Quintana from 2003-2004. To let go of two of your closest people within two years? Who DOES that? Who can do it without going mad?

Does anyone else read “depressing” books before they go to bed? “Depressing” is in quotes because I don’t consider this book “depressing”—this book is about a woman acknowledging her memories; it is about the validation of death in a culture that (frequently) choses to youth-anize age, wrap death in a bow and hurry its significance. Isn’t it amazing to think that our friends are not immortal? Isn’t it worthwhile to consider how powerful our memories of people are?

I’m going to finish Magical Thinking this weekend (trip to the Washington Coast with mom). I’ll come back with more. Anyone read this book? Thoughts?