In Which We Illustrate The Strength Of Our Connection



In the fourth grade, my class went on a school trip to the Buehler Challenger and Science Center in Paramus, New Jersey. If I hadn’t googled the building today I would have told you it was a dome with silver panes, widescreens and shiny floors. Buehler is an extension of Bergen Community College, nondescript and supported by aging and discolored concrete columns. We followed adults, brushing our hands against the wall or each other, buzzing and wondering what our “mission” would be. In a room with a dark screen we were given blue vests and assigned roles. My name was called. My pulse jumped. My teacher said, “Control.”

Sylvia Plath wrote her five-poem bee sequence in October 1962. The first poem, “The Bee Meeting” opens with the speaker feeling as nude as a chicken neck, wondering if anyone loves her. There is a man dressed like an astronaut but called a surgeon in a green helmet, / Shining gloves and white suit. The villagers are anonymous. The bees are hysterical. If I stand very still, the speaker continues, they will think I am cow parsley. Being seen is dangerous and sometimes the best thing I can be is absent.

Control, before a sweaty palm grasping an iPhone meant both a desire for and relinquishing of it, meant that I sat on a high chair next to Nicole. She had thick bangs and the highest ponytail. I could swivel a camera around scanning the other half of my class in the artificial aircraft. I could type commands into the computer in front of me. I could speak into a microphone.

Luce Irigaray describes in her essay “A Natal Lacuna,” how in Unica Zürn’s work, the visible appears in a frame like a back-to-front-window, through which an interior universe is transmitted, vomited, or expelled through the real or fantasmic orifices of the body. Scientific inquiry involves boxes, jars, educational space centers and putting things in them. This makes subjects visible and observation possible, much like an essay. In Thinking with Irigaray, Elaine Miller writes, The order of the visible often paradoxically obscures, rather than manifests, life. Jars and windows make subjects visible but the environment unnatural. The visible is wonderful, but limited. Invisibility is not absence but excess. According to Irigaray, it is possible to recognize overabundance all at once in the register of beauty. Sylvia Plath wrote the bee poems on a draft of The Bell Jar, back-to-front.

We didn’t notice that the material about NASA was dated but it didn’t matter anyway. Space was cool, as was having a keyboard and a mission. This was a few years before any of us would hide Myspace from our parents and toggle with our top friends and their hearts. It was many years before I’d read Sylvia Plath’s bee poems. It was a self-contained experiment, technology without overload.

The feeling of overload—is often lived as if it were a totally new phenomenon and as if it were dictated by the new technology, not the people using it. I’m always repeating myself, but productive repetition compels us to do the work of breaking what seem like involuntary habits and re-directing our patterns of thought.

After the first half of us sat in mission control, we switched with our classmates in the artificial spaceship. Me and Nicole hurried to our seats inside the spaceship to find out that the kids now in our mission control seats were doing something we didn’t realize we could with the camera. We felt like we’d missed out. We could’ve done more.

The widely-used metaphor, Knowing is seeing, has certain connotations. R.B. Zajonc’s study on mere-repeated-exposure shows us that repetition itself, with the absence of negative stimuli, can enhance positive effect. It is a function of classical conditioning. We do not need to be aware of stimuli around us to develop an inclination towards it. Exposure accounts for our tastes. My body accounts for my preference. Productive repetition compels us to do the work of breaking what seem like involuntary habits and re-directing our patterns of thought.

After Buehler, I’d repeat myself many times and communicate in clippings to form stringy and prismatic hexagonal connections, always ending in excess and knowing I’d very likely never fill the spaces in between…

1. Honey bees detect gravity with magnetic material in the bands across their abdomens. Their bodies are magnetic all over but higher concentrations are in the abdomen and the antennae. How instructive is this! says the speaker in “The Swarm,” The dumb, banded bodies.

2. Reiteration itself is the point. Reiteration of metaphor and of ideas through language is necessary for further exploration. Repetition of ideas unexamined is potentially restrictive but it is during repetition and replication that ideas are mutable—bound to evolve and change. Scrolling is a means of repetition and further exploration. It is also a reminder of our inability to know everything, which can slip quickly into feeling like an inability to know anything.

3. Of Sylvia Plath’s bee poems, Jessica Lewis Luck writes, If she chooses life, then she must acknowledge that life is built on biological structures and processes beyond her control. Without a director, there is no rational center and there is a certain lack of control of the outcome of the self. Here is my honey-machine the speaker in “Stings” offers, It will work without thinking. Like the bees and the hive Plath describes, there is no authority. But the body is the self. No matter how far you go into the mind you will always find the body. The hidden and immaterial is not within us but between us. Our relations with others and the world are not visible. But we desire control over that which is reflected back to us.

4. Virtual proximity is this term coined by Janine Solberg, meaning the potential to find or encounter a source through the use of finding aids, search technologies, metadata, and similar mechanisms. It is about the potential to make the right sources visible; the voices and experiences that are routinely pushed to the side. It is about how the work of reevaluating your sources and your position in relation to a source never ends. It is about the company you keep. Because lives and connections seem to take shape and become visible online, virtual proximity requires acknowledgment if not an acceptance of continuous human interference and processes beyond individual control or awareness. It requires at the same time that we take responsibility for them.

5. Honey bees leave the hive for flowers. Honey bees return and dance in the colony’s language: Electrically charged figure eights. A honey bee born without a magnetic abdomen is a honey bee born without gravity. A honey bee born without gravity is a honey bee born without language; she can’t dance or she is left to find other means.

6. Biology is a site of play and indecision is the most accurate model. Real time updates are ripples that televise, restate and upset the status quo. Disequilibrium is a catalyst for making social change the new balance. Reiteration itself is the point. Beauty is realized in overabundance and invisibility is light. Organizational structures of the brain, and by that I mean metaphors, illustrate connection strengths, vicinities, and relationship patterns. Productive repetition compels us to do the work of breaking what seem like involuntary habits and re-directing our patterns of thought. (An indecisive body works the hardest.)

That day in Paramus, I had my photo taken in a baggy sky blue space suit. My eyes were huge and my body looked small. For years, it was my favorite.

Melissa Hutton is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in New York.

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In Which We Stare Down Alison Brie In The Past

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Perils of Adam


The Little Hours
dir. Jeff Baena
90 minutes

Screen Shot 2017-07-16 at 1.26.37 PMYou can tell how much writer-director Jeff Baena loves his girlfriend Aubrey Plaza in the opening moments of The Little Hours. Fernanda is a young witch posing as a nun in 15th century, and as she drags a donkey across a landscape that looks suspiciously un-European, the camera can barely hold its attention off of her. Baena writes his life partner into the most objectionable role, but this is a subtle message also esteemed in the source material of The Decameron: the unlikeliest things are also the holiest.

Plaza looks a lot like Alison Brie since for the most part all we see are their full-lipped, pouting faces and icy eyes. Even with her body obscured, there is something indecent about Alison, and no matter how prim she looks, we realize she will be disrobing at some point in every narrative. In The Little Hours, that comes in the garden of a convent, where she pounces on the mute gardener, Massetto (Dave Franco).

Even thought The Little Hours does not focus at all on the beauty of its female leads, it would be a hard thing to obscure it. Baena not only seems devoted to Brie and Plaza, but this is also the best Molly Shannon, also playing a nun, and John C. Reilly, as the local priest, have looked in years. Baena gives all of his actresses and actors a quiet dignity, except for one.

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Dave Franco was maybe not the best actor to begin with, but he is supposed to be the straight man here and in this role he fails miserably. Attempting not to draw undue attention to Franco’s physical form, Baena makes a show of his considerable deficiences. First of all, the man’s gargantuan adam’s apple slides up and down his throat perilously for the entire film. I don’t know what everyone involved might have been able to do about this, but preventing Franco from repeatedly swallowing during his scenes would have been a welcome start.

The Little Hours initially focuses on Alison Brie’s desire to leave the convent against the wishes of her father Ilario (Paul Reiser) in order to select a husband, but it is quickly distracted by her embroidery. Reiser never appears in the movie again and Brie never does manage to find a husband. Instead of any plot per se, we receive a series of jokes involving the aggressive nature of Ms. Plaza. Some are funny, like when she assaults the convent’s handyman and calls him a Jew. Others are not really as enlivening, since they involve her brandishing a knife repeatedly and saying ‘fuck’ more times than is really entertaining.

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Baena’s last directorial effort, Joshy, was a clone of The Big Chill that was very serious and depressing. In contrast, The Little Hours is even less significant or thematically memorable than a Mel Brooks movie. It is at least a great deal funnier, which is not actually saying a lot. It is obvious that the film was made on a considerably tiny budget, and it shows. The Little Hours avoids displaying the local town at all – we just see actors going and returning from the place. Even the props and costumes on this production are third or fourth rate.

Late in the film, Fred Armisen shows up as a bishop. His presence adds a striking focus to the proceedings, as if what we really required to enjoy the bad behavior of these purported adherents to the word of the lord was an antagonist who doubted their sincerity. It is a missed opportunity that he only receives a few scenes, and that they are the most amusing in the entire film reminds us that The Little Hours is about as meaningful as a Portlandia sketch.

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I don’t know what turned Baena off from making serious cinema instead of something this frivolous. He might taken a page out of the comparative success of The Big Sick and made something that comes a little more directly from his heart. He could make a movie about why Aubrey Plaza is interested him. Does he have a large penis or cooking skills that would otherwise explain why she lives in the house?

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording.

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In Which We Accept Almost Every Situation Imaginable

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Hard to Say is This Recording’s weekly advice column. It will appear every Wednesday until the Earth perishes in a fiery blaze, or until North West turns 40. Get no-nonsense answers to all of your most pressing questions by writing to


I have two older brothers who are very protective of me. I haven’t been the most assertive person in the past — it is just part of my personality. So when they asked my boyfriends difficult questions or made them uncomfortable, I argued to myself that it was all in my best interest. I even recall telling someone I was very close to that they would have to accept the presence of my brothers in his life.

Now this seems stupid, since they are both married and I am not. Despite having families of their own, they are still deeply involved in judging whoever I am with at the time. Well, I have met someone new, and this time I plan to approach the situation differently. I sat them both down individually and asked them to back off, but I don’t think I am getting through to either of them. I’m at my wits end. Do you have any ideas?

Thanks. You’re the absolute best.

Chelsea M.

Dear Chelsea,

Often when people are determined to finally be honest about something, they do not take it far enough in one direction. Calmly and calculatingly asking these people to behave differently is humming when you require yodeling.

Fortunately, it sounds like you have built up a lot of credit with these deplorables, so some cursory sobbing should be able to get through to them at a level honesty cannot. Since they have been oblivious to your desire so far, we cannot count on being able to react them in this fashion. If you still struggle to disabuse them of their sexist notions, then you must begin returning like for like and sabotaging their lives in a similar fashion. Soon they will realize what a disastrous fucking imposition they are.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.


I have a friend we should call Charlie. He recently broke up with his girlfriend of three years, Nora. He met someone else and really hit it off, so he told Nora that things were over.

I have always liked Nora and we get along great. Before she was with Charlie, she had admitted we were attracted to each other but I was going into the Peace Corps. I would like to at least try being with her now, but I sense that Charlie would be angry about this and she might be reluctant since Charlie and I are friends. I don’t want to ruin my relationship with either of them.

What’s the best way to clear the path?

Dan Y.

Dear Dan,

The best thing to do is have her make the first move. This solves several problems for you.

1. It puts the impetus on her to explain to Charlie that she is now with you and not him. If she does not tell him, all the better. The longer you can delay speaking to Charlie about this the better.

2. Her reluctance about getting with you is strongly diminished if she eliminates your potential questionable motivations for being with her from the field of play.

3. It’s easier.

If Charlie confronts you about it, tell him you did not want to hurt him, but she is the love of your life. What is he going to say to that? No?

In Which We Have Written And Discarded Some Sansa Stark Love Scenes

He Did It All With A Knuckle


Game of Thrones
creators David Benioff & D.B. Weiss

There was a moment during Sunday’s Thronesing when I was pretty sure Jon Snow was going to strike Sansa Stark down. She was talking at length, in front of a large crowd, about her plan to make child-aged heirs to fiefdoms homeless, and he let loose a “No!” deep within his caustic stomach. All the nearby lords were like, “Sansa, the fuck are you doing, girl? You have done exactly shit except watch a couple husbands die and now you think you’re Disraeli?” Thrones is just fanfiction now.

They should honestly make Thrones silent at this point. Jamie Lannister can mime with his faux right hand if he can’t sign. You see, the original Game of Thrones was actually about how various families operated when they pursued power  but now it is about decimating a Big Bad, in this case a frozen army that is going to be awful susceptible to three enormous dragons. I mean, what can they really do against these beasts, hole up in a refrigerator like Indiana Jones?

Sure, Game of Thrones was always like a light, easily passed stool but now it gives me various headaches with the plot holes and the reinvention of various characters. Only one thing can never be retconned or re-envisioned, and that is how much of a useless mound Bran Stark is. Maybe I’m feeling particularly hostile because no one can ever bother to write dialogue or conflict for Daenerys Targaryen and her group of ne’er-do-wells looks to average a height of 4’11”.

I think I was most angry when I saw Arya Stark destroy the Freys in one scene. How hard is it exactly to murder all of King’s Landing given that? This mass poisoning was roundly unsatisfying, and the sexist way she spared the women like they were not culpable as well irked me, too. Thrones has a terrible time struggling with its innate sexism. Women are quick to anger and murder; men are all Father Brown. Even when you flip a stereotype on its head, it’s still a fucking stereotype.

Speaking of Father Brown, Samwell Tarly living with his wife and child in the Citadel was such a letdown. I mean, would it have been that hard to give the maesters some secret power over their betters, for example a blood pressure test or access to unlimited antibiotics? Instead they are a shittier, primal version of doctors, having inherited only the egotism and propensity for note-taking.

Now that every single one of Cersei’s children is dead, I was semi-interested in how she would appear altered as a character. Instead we are witnessing a quick rehabilitation of her as a powerful executive, only the point of all this is not exactly clear. She at least is a good performer – we feel how lame and pathetic the regular stars of Thrones are when a particularly charismatic and attention getting actor takes over the scene: the immensely talented Richard Dormer as Beric Dondarrion, or the disembodied hand of Ser Jorah Mormont.

Thinking too long about this stuff gives me a headache at the worst possible time, before Lynne and I curl up to a solid hour of the Starz series Power. It seems they have taken the criticisms of Thrones‘ constant nude scenes to heart: now we cannot even get so much as a bodice or some ample cleavage. What a world. To fill the gaps, I have composed this brief elegia to the Sansa Stark that was. Enjoy.


When we had to pass in a narrow space, doing the hard work of reassembling Winterfell, she contrived to bump me with a round hip. She looked bemused and tricky and smug, darting her blue and challenging glances. She finished a sandwich, licked her fingers, tried to give me a wink. But she couldn’t close one eye without nearly closing the other. It made her look like a blind direwolf.

When she would come to show me where something went, she would manage to press the heat of a mellow breast against my arm. She built the big awareness of Sansa. The infrequent small talk — “Did you know that Brienne always smells like a hot dog that has been left out for a couple days?” — bore little relation to what was happening between us. Wasn’t I supposed to be her brother?

Finally, she managed to trip and turn and be caught just so, gasping, a silky weight, breath warm, eyes knowing, lips gone soft and an inch away, and not enough air in the frigid room.

I straightened back up and gave her a little push. “Now, Sansa, we can’t do this.”

“Oh Jon,” she said, “ethics and everything. The little sister. You talk so many bold games about knighting those traitors, it gets confusing for a girl. I guess you think it would be a lousy thing to come here to take care of me, and then take care of me too many ways? But there are all kinds of ways. How it is you should be so stuffy you make me seem sort of cheap and obvious?”

I said nothing, only thought of Sam giving it to his girlfriend in warmer climes.


“I’m getting mad to keep from crying,” Sansa said, brushing her hair back from her face. “I mean you’re so stuck on this role you have to play. Seven gods, I suppose I am the little sister, but I am also an adult, Jon. I told you before I’ve run into some doors and had my share of black eyes. My husbands are all dead now. I had a disaster of a marriage and a very fast annulment. But you have some kind of boy scout oath… Now I feel degraded, and… damn it, get out of here!”

I laughed and caught her. She leapt about, saying in effect that the precious moment had passed, and to the Narrow Sea with it, and we couldn’t retrieve the situation, it was spoiled, etc etc. I stilled her mouth and each time she talked it was with a little less conviction, and finally she stood docile, trembling, taking huge noisy inhalations, her strong pale neck bent forward while, with clumsy fingers, I unlatched the little hook on the back of the potato sack she was wearing for some reason.

“This is n-n-n-nutty,” she whispered. I told her that indeed it was. I could feel Littlefinger’s eyes on us from the alcove above. Time moves slowly, then, as in an underwater world. She had hitched herself to rest upon me, so distributed that she seemed to have no weight at all. She had her dark head tucked under the angle of my jaw, her hands under me and hooked back over the tops of my shoulders, her deep breasts flattened against me, used loins resting astraddle my right thigh.

“Golly, golly, golly,” she said in a sighing whisper. “Do you think that Jamie ever made Cersei this happy?” I told her I hoped that he had.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.

In Which We Refuse To Fight For The Planet

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The Ape Hunter


War for the Planet of the Apes
dir. Matt Reeves
140 minutes

Screen Shot 2017-07-16 at 1.05.29 PMBad things keep happening to apes. Even though only two living apes in War for the Planet of the Apes are actually able to speak English, and the species still lives in deep nature, their lifestyle is not in any way altered from when they were beasts, we are supposed to believe that these creatures have transcended some invisible line of sentience. The life of an ape is by far the most important thing in War for the Planet of the Apes, even though the apes seem to be killing just as many humans, if not more.

Caesar (Andy Serkis) gets very, very upset when Woody Harrelson assassinates his family, so he decides to strike out with a few of his ape buddies to murder him out of revenge. The circumstances of Woody’s slaughter are kind of unclear: we never actually see him end Caesar’s family and the patriarch is conveniently elsewhere when the violence happens. This is just the first dumb shit thing Caesar does, but it is far from the last.

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If Caesar were a human being, he would be an unsympathetic failure. But since world-class CGI gives him the saddest and fiercest looking face, reminding everyone of a puppy, we decide we can forgive him everything. The only thing Caesar eats during War for the Planet of the Apes is a light brown substance that looks like birdseed, since if he bit the head off of a bunny rabbit, we might realize he’s not perfect.

Bothering me even more than Caesar’s diet is his lack of fungible genitalia. None of the apes have penises, despite walking around in the nude presumably among friends. These apes abhor sex, and never show the slightest romantic interest in other apes. There is one woman ape, who is most notable for being the nanny to Caesar’s son. She has no other function or utility. There are a few human women who we see briefly as soldiers later on, but the only other woman in War for the Planet of the Apes is Nova (Amiah Miller), a nine year old who is unable to speak because of a virus that has spread all over North Carolina.

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In a weird editing accident, director Matt Reeves did not notice that he placed a scene where a gorilla named Red places a flower in Nova’s hair right next to a scene where she does the same to him. It is actually the only emotional misstep in the entire movie, which does a fantastic job balancing a goofy humor and the unending, merciless onslaught of tragedy. Reeves for the most part goes to great trouble in order to differentiate the apes, and the remarkable special effects at work here by Weta Digital capably transmit a very basic emotional journey between these limited characters.

Undoubtedly the worst part of War for the Planet of the Apes is an interminable sequence where Woody Harrelson completely explains his motivations and history as a person. After many years of watching the man, it might be time to admit that Woody is a variously passable comic actor and an intensely inadequate dramatic actor. He is completely unsuitable to this role as a grim, uncomplicated villain, and he gives us very little insight into how humanity in general is adapting to their new position in the world.

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The last half of the film occurs at a single location: a military base and prison camp underneath a small mountain. The battle that ensues there is relatively limited in scope, and it is very hard to account for the $150 million that was spent on this project. There is no actual war between humans and apes in the film, which is something of a disappointing development given all the promotional media and trailers promised actual conflict between the species. Like the historical figure he is meant to represent, Moses, Caesar’s only purpose is to flee conflict and establish a sanctuary for his race. Everyone else in War for the Planet of the Apes waits patiently and silently for this to happen.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.


In Which We Look Up From The Apartment Below

The Nitty Gritty


Rear Window
dir. Alfred Hitchcock
112 minutes

Whatever happens, I think the release of Rear Window will tend to create a united front in film criticism. Even the Anglo-Saxon critics themselves, who had shied away from some of Hitchcock’s films for a while, regarded Rear Window with seriousness and sympathy. Indeed, right from its opening, Rear Window does present an immediate focus of interest that puts it on a higher plane than the majority of Hitchcock’s earlier works, enough to warrant its entry into the category of serious films, beyond the mere entertainment thriller.

In fact, in this review, I do not want to concentrate on an element that is all too clear already: the culpability of the central character, a voyeur in the worst sense of the word. Rather I want to engage in drawing out certain elements that are less obvious, but even more interesting, which enrich the work with very specific resonances and make it possible to brush aside the objections and the criticisms that ensued after a superficial viewing of Rear Window at the last Venice Biennale.

In its first few minutes Rear Window presents us with an assembly of rabbit hutches, each of them completely separate and observed from another closed, incommunicable, rabbit hutch. From there it is obviously just a step, made with no difficulty, to the conclusion that the behaviour of the rabbits is, or should be, the object of attention, since in fact there is nothing to contradict this interpretation of the elements before us. We merely have to acknowledge that the study of this behavior is carried out by a rabbit essentially no different from the others. Which leads to the notion of a perpetual shift between the real behavior of the rabbits and the interpretation that the observer-rabbit gives of it, ultimately the only one communicated to us, since any break or choice in the continuity of this behavior, a continuity multiplied by the number of hutches observed, is imposed on us.

While the observer-rabbit is himself observed with a total objectivity, for example that of a camera which restricts itself to the observer’s hutch, we are obliged to acknowledge that all the other hutches and all the rabbits in them are the sum of a multiple distortion produced from the hutch and by the rabbit which is objectively, or directly, presented.

So in Rear Window the other side of the courtyard must be regarded as a multiple projection of James Stewart’s amorous fixation.

The constitutive elements of this multiple projection are in fact a range of possible emotional relationships between two people of the opposite sex, from the absence of an emotional relationship, via the respective solitude of two people who are close neighbours, to a hate which ultimately turns to murder, by way of the sexual hunger of the first few days of love.

Once this is posited, another, essential element should be added: what might be called the position of the author, which, combined with the artistic factors imposed by the very nature of the enterprise, is developed through the characters directly presented and openly avowed by the strength of the evidence and the testimony of three biblical quotations, as Christian.

With these premises duly established, I leave to the reader the conclusion of that syllogism which definitively fixes the moral climate of the work, to pass on to what would properly be called its meaning.

The window which overlooks the courtyard consists of three sections, as stressed in the credit sequence. This trinity demands scrutiny. The work is in fact composed of three elements, three themes one could say, which are synchronized and in the end unified.

The first is a romantic plot, which by turns opposes and reunites James Stewart and Grace Kelly. Both are in search of an area of mutual understanding, for though each is in love with the other, their respective egos, only minimally divergent, constitute an obstacle.

The second theme is on the plane of the thriller. It is located on the other side of the courtyard, and consequently is of a rather complex, semi-obsessional character. Moreover it is very skillfully combined with a theme of indiscretion which runs through the whole work and confers on it a part of its unity. What is more, this thriller element presents all the stock characters of Hitchcock’s earlier works, taken to their most extreme limits, since in the end one no longer knows whether the crime may not have been made a reality simply by Stewart’s willing it.

The last theme reaches a complexity that cannot be defined in a single word: it is presented as a kind of realist painting of the courtyard, although ‘realist’ is a term that in the circumstances is a particularly bad choice, since the painting depicts beings which are, a priori, mental entities and projections. The aim is to illuminate, validate and affirm the fundamental conception of the work, its postulate: the egocentric structure of the world as it exists, a structure which the interlinking of themes seeks to represent faithfully. Thus the individual is the split atom, the couple is the molecule, the building is the body composed of X number of molecules, and itself split from the rest of the world.

The two external characters have the double role of intelligent confidants, one totally lucid, the other totally mechanized, and of witnesses themselves incriminated. Thus generalizing the exposé. Risking a musical comparison to illuminate the relationship between the themes, one might say that all three are composed with the same notes, but elaborated in a different order, and in different tonalities, each vying with the other and functioning in counterpoint. What is more, there is nothing presumptuous in such a comparison, since, within the rhythm of the work, it would be easy to determine four different constituent forms definable in musical jargon.

As one would expect in a work as structured as this one, there is in Rear Window a moment which crystallizes the themes into a single lesson, an enormous, perfect harmony: the death of the little dog. This sequence, the only one treated peripherally to the position of the narrator as articulated above (the only one where the camera goes into the courtyard without the presence of the hero), though grounded in an incident that in itself is relatively undramatic, is of a tragic and overwhelming intensity.

I can well understand how such vehemence and such gravity could seem rather inappropriate in the circumstances; a dog is only a dog and the death of a dog would seem an event whose tragic import bears no relation to the words spoken by the animal’s owner. And these words themselves — ‘You don’t know the meaning of the word “neighbour”‘ — which encapsulate the film’s moral significance, seem all too clumsy and too naive to justify such a solemn style. But the displacement itself is destroyed, for the tone leaves no room for doubt and gives things and feelings their real intensity and their invective: in reality this is the massacre of an innocent, and a mother who bemoans her child.

From then on the implications of this scene become vertiginous: responsibilities press upon one another at every imaginable level, to condemn a monstrously egocentric world, whose every element on every scale is immured in an ungodly solitude.

On the dramatic level, the scene presents the dual interest of a thriller plot development, aggravating suspicion, and an illustration of a theme dear to its author – the materialization of a criminal act that is indirectly willed (in this particular case, this death confirms Stewart’s hopes).

From this point of view the confrontation scene between the murderer and the ‘voyeur’ is extremely interesting. The communication sought by the former — ‘What do you want from me?’ — whether blackmail or confession, involves the latter, who refuses from a recognition of its baseness, and in some way authenticates his responsibility. Stewart’s refusal in this way illuminates the profound reason for the loneliness of the world, which is established as the absence of communication between human beings, in a word, the absence of love.

Other works of Hitchcock, like Rebecca, Under Capricorn or Notorious, have demonstrated the corollary of the problem: to know what the power of love can be. What is more, this aspect is not absent from Rear Window, where the embodiment of the Grace Kelly character draws her precious ambiguity from the opposition between her ‘possible’ and her ‘being’. The possible is in fact the perceptible irradiation of her beauty and her charm, powerful enough to transform the oppressive and lonely atmosphere of the invalid’s room into a flower garden with, in an unforgettable shot, James Stewart’s head in repose.

Simultaneously, with her appearance on the scene comes the inexpressible poetry which is the love of two human beings: more than justified by the knowing coquetry of the author in the work’s construction, this poetry brings into the stifling atmosphere of Rear Window, which is the atmosphere of the sewers themselves, a fleeting vision of our lost earthly paradise.

Since I don’t want to go through the evidence yet again, I shall just leave it up to the spectator to appreciate the technical perfection of this film and the extraordinary quality of its color.

Rear Window affords me the satisfaction of greeting the piteous blindness of the skeptics with a gentle and compassionate hilarity.

April 1955

In Which We Leave Or Return To New York

This is the first in a two part series.

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photograph by stephen wilkes

Summer Diary


May 4th

The boys and girls dominate a playground, flags wave at them, perilously, calling. My friend Mary was supposed to come into town this week until she saw the temperatures. She called me from her boyfriend’s place in the country.

“You wouldn’t believe how nice it is here.”

“I wouldn’t,” I said. I asked, what kinds of animals are there? She thought for a second.

“There are loads of bats in the barn,” she said, “but you can’t see them. They feast on the mosquitos. And I saw a yellow lab puppy. It was eating jello.”

May 12th

Bats are not generally friendly to human beings, but it is a lot more acceptance than you can find walking along the East River. Yesterday I saw boys sliding across the wake of a container ship on colored jetskis. I read in the paper that one of them died next to the Statue of Liberty. Mary seemed nonplussed by the news. “I would want to go in an ironic way also, like choking to death in San Simeon.” She had to get off the phone because they were going to a farmer’s market.

Nothing holds my attention for very long, so I try to think of what would manage to occupy me for more than the moment it would take to make me think of something better. It’s not writing.

May 20th

Running is difficult, but not as difficult as walking very quickly. I try to keep a more measured pace. On the way to the mayor’s mansion I spotted a homeless gay Indian couple sleeping back to back under the bridge. The amount of costume jewelry on hand is staggering. Even the dog park radiates echoes of disappointment, but I am not prepared to concede I should never come here while I am single.

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photograph by stephen wilkes

May 23rd

I finished an autobiography by a woman who was a well-paid actor. She married a man twelve years her senior, I think he was a doctor but of economics, or some other social science. After she marries him, she never mentions him again.

It is hard to be reminded of places in the city that are familiar from another time, like the fake castle or the hollowed out church where we did spin. It makes me want to go to the country to avoid them. Mary said, sure! Come up. I take the worst train on the continent and I was still forty minutes from where she’s staying.

Her boyfriend’s name is Sam, and he has a relevant anecdote about almost everything. Here is an example: I couldn’t find my phone. “Oh, Sam used to work for Apple,” she said, “he’ll find it for you.” It turns up in the car, which is a BMW.

I asked what Sam does for a job now. Mary explained that he had invented a certain type of software that made it easier to develop other kinds of software. I asked what kind of software that was. Sam said, “Mostly security.” At the first opportunity, he bought seven eggplants. I thought, for what?!

May 24th

Some of Sam’s friends came over and they all gathered around a fire. It was like parties at my high school, hiding behind the largest rock we could find to smoke, only there are only two subjects permitted as topics of conversation: Donald Trump, and the destructive elements of technological advancement. Deja vu reigns supreme.

Sam seemed to notice how bored Mary and I are and he details a game he sometimes plays to pass the time. The game is designed to encourage confessions from introverted or reticent people. It involves suggesting that you are, if only for a brief second, someone else.

It gives me an idea. Pretending to be a different Linda might hold my attention. Here are some fortunate qualities this other me might embody:

– she could outlast anyone at anything, even sex
– she could recall how often and well she hula-hooped in her childhood
– she could develop an everlasting appreciation for the opera and Cicely Tyson
– she could eat gluten
– she could be friend to man and beast, leaving her anxiety behind in the cold morass of dawn on the lilies

Gardening is a wonderful hobby. It’s simply not my hobby.

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photograph by stephen wilkes

June 2

I decided to return to New York the second I saw it in the background of a movie about a woman who compared it, unfavorably, to wine country.

It stunned me to think I have suddenly become homesick for the place, especially when it is summer and the default condition of the air is exhaust. At my favorite park, it is best not to hang around at dusk because the rats prance out of their nests. A well-informed woman once told me they have no real fear of strollers, which is more than I can say for myself.

Maybe I should be thinking that I could be like these mothers, that I had someone in my life who would have made a placid, yet assertive sort of father. New York is not the place to try to find that type of man again, I’m afraid. It keeps you young, very young, much more youthful than your listed age until it suddenly catches up to you in one prophetic gasp.

I went to eat some blueberries in my fridge, and they were covered with fuzzy moss.

June 11

Mary finally came to visit. When she arrived, I forced her to admit she only made the time since Sam was in San Diego for a conference. It does not make me feel great, but it does not bother the other Linda as much as me.

June 12

After 24 hours, we have fully exhausted the conversation about Sam, examining the relationship from every conceivable angle. Mary’s chief worry, and possibly a valid one, was that Sam would prefer to be with someone more technically adept in his field. “You know what they do at these conferences,” she said, cutting an apple in half with my largest knife like William Tell with dementia.

“I have no idea what they do,” I said.

“Sex!” she said, “it’s just an excuse to have human contact with others outside the boundaries of marriage. Haven’t you heard of Sergey Brin?”

“No,” I said. “Does he know Sheryl Sandberg?” She holds my hips and stares at me like I was silly for playing dumb.

We devise a plan to confirm or deny Mary’s suspicions. It involves calling Sam at his hotel a number of times but never saying anything, just listening at the phone. Eventually he picks up, but we just sit there quietly, confirming or invalidating our worst fears.

June 14th

Mary had her mother in the city for the day. Her mom’s name is Jeanne and she will not remarry, and she has been asked to do so very often. “It must be flattering,” I said, “that so many people want you for their wife.”

“Men get to the point where it is the only thing they want,” she explained, “if they have any sense.” I asked her if she was ever tempted to say yes. She touched my face and giggled like I was the most naive person on the planet.

You can get fruits or vegetables, any kind, cheapest in the summer in the right places. If you know where it is all coming in, which I have learned by now.

You might want to eat the fruit the second you handle it, especially if you have not had breakfast that morning. But wash it first, in your home, because I know a guy who ate a grapefruit he saw and the left side of his face looked like it was on fire.

June 27th

I saw Mary’s number on my phone, but when I answered, it was Sam. He inquired for my advice about what to get Mary as a gift. He apologized that his friends talked about politics all night. “It’s the only thing that makes them feel alive,” he said. I suggested a pet.

Talking to anyone on the phone feels excessively intimate in these times, even when it is Jeanne. She wanted to know what perfume I was wearing that day two weeks ago. I am stunned into silence that so much time has passed. “I wasn’t wearing any perfume,” I said. “Mary was.”

July 1st

In order to develop the kind of attention span that will suit me well in the years to come, I practiced standing completely still, especially while waiting for something to happen.

Mary announced that she does not care what happened in San Diego. I told her I was sorry. She said, “No, no, it’s not that.”

I said, “You know better than me. You’ve been through this before. I don’t know if there is a real chance of gaining that trust. But in order to do so, you have to be open to it.” I relate the phone call Sam had made to me the previous month and that it was innocent and sweet. But when you think about it for long enough, nothing in New York is really either one.

Linda Eddings is the senior contributor to This Recording. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

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