Daily Archives: May 14, 2010

TGIF: “George” — The Movie!


In a world where unforgettable moments of well-earned defeat and humiliation in an iconic sitcom can be stripped of their context and re-edited to transform one of the most hapless and selfish of characters into the redeemed hero of a tearjerking melodrama — in only such a world could that hero be. . .George Constanza.

This ingenious re-alignment of the Seinfeld universe brought to you by lorocker.

Chairmen of the Board: Frye on Sinatra


Thanks for this post on Sinatra, Mike. Frye’s erudite knowledge of classical music is well known, but the one essay he wrote on Frank Sinatra is a little known fact. It just goes to show Frye’s incredible range, like ol’ blue eyes himself. The essay remained unpublished; Sinatra threatened to sue, or worse–and you know what that means.

Below are some excerpts from the essay, “The Fearful Symmetry of Frank Sinatra,” which opens with a statement by the singer about his legendary sense of wardrobe and style, “I am a symmetrical man, almost to a fault,” a thinly veiled allusion to both Blake’s “Songs of Innocence and Experience” and Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus

The excerpts start in fact with a brilliant gloss on Sinatra’s version of Cole Porter’s “I’ve Got you Under my Skin” (great choice for the post, Mike!), worth quoting as it puts to to rest all the lame accusations that Frye was somehow weak on texture:

“In ‘I’ve Got you Under My Skin,’ [Nelson] Riddle starts with a comfortable, loping rhythm that he called ‘the heartbeat rhythm’–‘Sinatra’s tempo is the tempo of the heartbeat,’ he said–and then created a marvelous instrumental tension around Sinatra’s voice. Riddle always found little licks–certain spicy, nearly out-of-key notes–that would tease the key, and added the glue of ‘sustaining strings’ almost subliminally to the rhythm and woodwind sections. At the instrumental breaks in the songs, Riddle gave solo voices to oboes, muted trumpets, piccolos, bassoons; in ‘I’ve Got you Under My Skin,’ it was Milt Bernhart’s trombone, which is whipped up the excitement and Sinatra joined the song again and brought it back to the heartbeat rhythm where it had begun. Sinatra had wanted an extended crescendo; Riddle provided one that was longer than had ever been heard in an organized arrangement.”

And for you cultural studies types:

“What Sinatra evokes is not strictly urban. It is a very particular American loneliness–that of the soul adrift in its pursuit of the destiny of ‘me,’ and thrown back onto the solitude of its own restless heart.”

“The cocked hat, the open collar, the backward glance with the raincoat slung over the shoulder, the body leaning back with arms wide open in song–these images of perfect individualism dominated the albums of the fifties.”

And finally, in the context of ritual and dream, opsis and melos:

“In time, Sinatra seized more than power; he infiltrated the Western world’s dream life.”

Frye never stops amazing his readers. Who’d have thunk it? Not even Bob Denham. As one critic of Frye has justly remarked, “in whatever direction you happen to be going, you always meet Frye on the way back.”

And Sinatra. Just don’t get in his way.

Experimental Teaching, Experimental Learning


Parts of this post come from my introduction to Eva-Lynn Jagoe’s plenary lecture – The Linda Hutcheon and J. Edward Chamberlin Lecture in Literary Theory – at the annual conference at the Centre for Comparative Literature.

I recently had the great pleasure of studying and learning in an experimental setting.  The goal of the course – Proust and Modernity – was to read Proust in relation to Modernity alongside various theoretical texts.  The theory texts consisted of the usual suspects: Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Fredric Jameson, Jacques Lacan, Kaja Silverman, Julia Kristeva, Malcolm Bowie, and Carol Mavor. The course itself consisted of response papers, presentations, and a term paper.  Nothing, so far, out of the ordinary.  Well, let me introduce the first oddity: only one of the students had read Proust previously, and the professor like the rest of the students was reading Proust for the first time.  We ultimately, toward the end of the class, called this “virginal reading.”

Most readers of this blog will likely have never encountered Eva-Lynn Jagoe, the author (currently at work on “the long novel”) or the professor, so let me briefly indulge here in giving some account of her as instructor.  In the classroom, Professor Jagoe’s central goal is always to test ideas and question students and their ideas.  Her classroom is a laboratory for readers.  The first thing to know is that Eva-Lynn often seeks to break down the institutional walls of the structure: we ultimately tossed the syllabus.  In its place, each student agreed to offer commentary, work through Proust, and decide with Professor Jagoe (I’m oscillating between the professorial and the personal precisely because blurring of lines is so important, and to show that students ultimately did recognise there was a professor in the room) how we would be evaluated – but evaluation, as a university requirement, takes on a new role in her classroom.  Throughout the course on Proust, we experimented with a new pedagogy and a new classroom experience (or, perhaps, just new to me, but something felt novel).  The classroom always has food, always has drinks, always had laughter: these were the requirements.  Additionally, we were to read and discuss the novel from personal, subjective, and confessional starting points – which, naturally, makes Proust the near perfect subject of study. It is in this space that we, students and professor, began to experiment with modes of teaching, modes of learning, modes of reading.

Initially, we had set upon reading a series of theorists in addition to Proust and we had agreed to follow Roger Shattuck’s plan of study for reading Proust. However, as we began to read, we realised that something was not working; we were not able to do what we had wanted to do, which was read Proust’s In Search of Lost Time.  Thus, the critical readings became optional and then later they became obsolete.  In addition to tossing the theory, we added an extra hour to our Friday sessions.  One of our meetings lasted over five hours, we left around 6 pm on a Friday, we began at 1, and the discussion continued over email.  In the classroom, Professor Jagoe managed to create something of a utopian space in which Proust was read, discussed, and in many ways dreamed into the living.  In these moments, Proust became real, or we became Proustian and from here the text was no longer studied in and of itself, but in relation to the greater problem of the imagination.  Proust, of course, will teach this very lesson in the last volume of the novel, he writes: “In reality, every reader is, while he is reading, the reader of his own self.  The writer’s work is merely a kind of optical instrument which he offers to the reader to enable him to discern what, without his book, he would perhaps never have expressed himself.  And the recognition by the reader in his own self of what the book says is a proof of its veracity.”

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