Tag Archives: Pop Culture Theory

Book Review: The Cry of Nature by Stephen F. Eisenman

The Cry of Nature

The Cry of Nature: Art and the Making of Animal Rights

I got a note from the nice people at Sehepunkte about the review of Stephen Eisenman’s The Cry of Nature I wrote (which is posted on Sehepunkte’s website):
“Sofern Sie über eine eigene Präsentation im Internet verfügen, würden wir uns freuen, wenn Sie dort Ihre Rezension und unser Journal verlinken würden. Hierfür können Sie gerne auch eines unserer Logos … verwenden…”

…so of course, OK! I really like Sehepunkte and am working on some more stuff for them too.

So here the logo: 🙂

sehepunkte_logo

Now a few months after reading it, I should report that this book has had a nice slow burn and even though this is a very positive review I think I would rate it even more highly now, particularly as a teaching text as it covers a broad subject area still with clarity and depth in each chapter. I was able to use Eisenman’s section on the hunting practice of indigenous peoples, for example, as a point of reference in a recent seminar I gave for the Bioethics Centre at the university and in reference to a discussion about the dolphin massacre in Taiji, Japan. (To support my argument against hunting and hunters I mean: Don’t get me wrong; there’s no place for humans who hunt in any universe, and people trying to be “open minded” about hunting are without fail patronizing, paternalistic, and dead inside.)

Anyway, this is an excellent book and here is the review:

(Stephen F. Eisenman: The Cry of Nature. Art and the Making of Animal Rights, London: Reaktion Books 2013, ISBN 978-1-78023-195-2).

Art historical texts, and especially single-authored volumes, should be judged in great measure by how well they fulfill their expressed ambitions. By this rule The Cry of Nature. Art and the Making of Animal Rights, whose central objective is to provide an intellectual and informational resource for readers interested in the intersection of the animal studies and the making of art, and a platform for scholars to reflect on provocative subjects suggested by the twining of these two themes, must be deemed a success.
Each of its chapters contributes to author Stephen F. Eisenman’s goal of addressing and evaluating important issues pertaining to the contemporary discussion of animal rights and the movement’s connection to art and ideas originating in the 18th century as well as, to some extent, before. Organized into five chapters and a strong introduction and conclusion, plus a recommended reading list of some of the foundational volumes of the relatively new discipline of animal studies, the book surveys not only images but historicizing texts and makes a strong claim that something like an animal rights movement has existed since antiquity, springing into cohesion in the 1700s, with artists making and using images as persuasion and propaganda.
The pleasure derived from reading this book lies partially in the richness of Eisenman’s detailed, personal, and confident descriptions of the lives and emotions of real animals, making his prose eminently accessible. Readers will be compelled by the forcefulness of local histories about, for example, a majestic African elephant photographed in a moment of perfect stillness at a watering hole in 2007 who is killed by poachers in 2009, and delighted by anecdotes about Echo, the author’s dog, who learns to stage pratfalls and tumbles in order to make Eisenman laugh. These stories are integrated meticulously within more formal discussions of images – some well-studied, including Rosa Bonheur’s The Horse Fair (1853) and Jean-Baptiste Oudry’s A Hare and a Leg of Lamb (1742), some less famous – such as Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri’s 1975 painting Eagle Dreaming – which are produced about, and in mindfulness of, the animal.
The book begins with a background chapter defining “What is an Animal?” in terms of societal mores and biological evidence about the commonalities and differences amid living creatures, centering on the ability of animals to communicate, to experience emotions, and to feel pain. This chapter includes pleasantly unexpected exemplars, such as Simon Tookoome’s 1979 linocut I Am Always Thinking of Animals, as it stakes out the moral and practical discussions around how we define language and consciousness.
The chapters “Animals into Meat” and “Counter Revolution” dwell on images of the corpses of animals, shown as food, prey, and sacrificial stand-in for the human figure and body. While the recurring motif of the flayed ox in paintings by Gustave Caillebotte and Rembrandt may arouse as much distancing disgust as identification, Eisenman’s delicate examination of Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin’s The Ray (1728) makes persuasive on the page that these artists intended to convey their beliefs in the existence of the souls and consciousness of animals, and commensurately, the dismal mortality of humans, on their canvases. Continue reading

Better Parted?

 

Centurion is supposed to be historical fiction about the disappearance of the Legio IX Hispania in the third century in something like the Battle of Teutoberg Wald but it kind of lapses into … semi-fantasy. There is a lot of snow and awesome alpine scenery and fun costumes. Basically the only reason to see Centurion is for Dominic West in one of his typically movie-stealing supporting roles (as “General Titus Flavius Virilus” – really!) and Etain, the “guerra picta” played by Olga Kurylenko. Etain doesn’t speak, takes the wolf as her attribute animal, and endures a strange sort of Penthesilea-like death. She has fantastic Pict ordnance and body decorations.

I was sort of half-waking up, half-dreaming about the movie when the song “Signs” came on the former dataheaven.us  I haven’t paid much attention to Bloc Party previously but I was blown away by this particular song. Maybe it was just the combination of sound and imagery but it really shook me up.

What do these two things have in common that together they should make such a resonant impression? I don’t know.

Here is the link to “Signs” on Soundcloud, and a snippet of lyric: “I  could sleep forever these days because in my dreams I see you again.”

Crack at the Edge of the World

 

Crack at the Edge of the World

It is clinically and physically possible to inhale a heart-stopping dose of crack cocaine. Yet in the majority of death-by-rock cases in Tampa and other urban centers during the drug’s heyday in the Eighties and the years since, the cocaine dilute has been no more than a contributing factor.
In fact most crack-related fatalities were caused not by toxic rock but by lead poisoning courtesy first of small-caliber handguns and then by increasingly high-powered automatic weapons, often wielded in crimes auxiliary to the actual use of the drug. As convenience store and gas station clerks were gunned down for twenty dollars by desperate rock fiends and hollow-points blasted through children’s bedroom windows, crack’s collateral victims came, almost obsessively, the attention of affluent, white Floridians.
Throughout the Seventies and the early Eighties, Tampa Bay had a fearless if uneasy relationship with cocaine, the party drug of the wealthy and popular. In 1980, suffering hallucinations and insomnia, comedian Richard Pryor set himself on fire while freebasing cocaine — the drug is rendered with ether making it smokable as well as highly flammable — and suddenly it seemed the free ride the suburban white powder had winkingly got in the media was over, becoming the gritty slush of the ghetto.

Juvenile Ibis, August 2007
Freebasing, in which cocaine hydrochloride was chemically converted was clearly too uncontrollable for even the most high-craving fiends. Crack — a mixture of coke, ammonia, baking soda, and other filler ingredients solidified into rough pellets for consumption via a glass pipe — was more stable. Containing only about ten percent pure cocaine, it was also much less expensive than the polar powder inhaled in discos, selling for as little as ten dollars a hit.
The physical effects of smoking crack are instant, extremely pleasurable, — and very brief. Like modern-day scourge meth, crack produces a spurt of intense euphoria, reduced hunger, and trenchant wakefulness .As the rush evaporates after as little as fifteen minutes, these sensations are replaced by an intense depression and the irrational but seemingly irresistible desire for more crack.
The so-called crack epidemic victimized mostly the poor, and inordinately the black, so much so that claims by Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton that crack was introduced to African American population centers by the CIA were taken quite seriously. Throughout most of the Nineties, gangs dueled for crack-selling corners in housing projects in Tampa and St. Petersburg with frequently fatal results, while police waged a “War on Drugs” in those communities and the justice system executed a no-tolerance-for-possession policy which resulted in insanely long sentences for those caught with just a few rocks.
Continue reading

Normal Adolescent Behavior

It was so encouraging when Lifetime began airing movies having some resonance to the lives of real teens; a particular highlight was Speak, the wonderful adaptation of the teen fiction novel by Laurie Halse Anderson. Less well-executed but at least somewhat credible was Augusta, Gone, but this aught-year Don’t Ask Alice also benefited from the literary skeleton of Martha Tod Dudman’s autobiographical work of the same name.

Normal Adolescent Behavior however is so sordid, so nasty, that even adults will come away from this two-hour skank fest (significantly padded by endless montages of the core group of six teens dressing, undressing, “hanging out,” and in one particularly creepy aside having a Cabaret-motifed karaoke party).

The plot of this movie basically concerns a sextet of polyamorous high school students (though the word polyamorous never is uttered) which is nasty enough. The girls who proclaim that they’re special because they don’t do pole dances and stuff like that are insanely surgically enhanced, particularly the borderline blonde.

A lot of the group sex is pretty much shown, as much as can be on regular cable, but as if that’s not sick-making enough, there’s an even weirder scene (which has no relevance to the plot) of Amber Tamblyn begging an “outsider” boy to spank her as she wiggles her floral-grandma-panties-clad ass).

The moral of the story seems to be that polyamorous relationships aren’t bad, just temporal, and that if your little brother spends all his time cooking for the Desperate Housewives-style neighbor and babbling about frisee, well, that’s about the best the burbs have to offer.

Despite is queasiness-inducement this film is also very boring; the two hours will seem like five. Must to avoid.

Tarnation

In the director commentary portion of Tarnation, Jonathan Caouette introduces himself as the writer, editor, director, and creator of the film, notably omitting the name of its executive producer (and obvious reason this film was ubiquitous at festivals), Gus Van Sant. Only in the commentary does Caouette reveal that a lot of what appear to be linear documentary sequences of his boyfriend coming and going to work and himself talking on the phone were “recreations.” I guess that happens in a lot of documentaries but it’s an annoying technique here, because Tarnation is such a naked plea for sympathy, and very thinly beyond that, a plea for viewers to see how talented and amazing Caouette is, at the expense of his grandparents and especially his schizophrenic mom.

There’s one shocking moment of use of the Magnetic Fields’ “Strange Powers” during a Brooklyn montage, but that was only shocking to me, I think…otherwise, a very self-involved student filmmaker with a powerful patron…

In the director commentary portion of Tarnation, Jonathan Caouette introduces himself as the writer, editor, director, and creator of the film, notably omitting the name of its executive producer (and obvious reason this film was ubiquitous at festivals), Gus Van Sant. Only in the commentary does Caouette reveal that a lot of what appear to be linear documentary sequences of his boyfriend coming and going to work and himself talking on the phone were “recreations.” I guess that happens in a lot of documentaries but it’s an annoying technique here, because Tarnation is such a naked plea for sympathy, and very thinly beyond that, a plea for viewers to see how talented and amazing Caouette is, at the expense of his grandparents and especially his schizophrenic mom.

There’s one shocking moment of use of the Magnetic Fields’ “Strange Powers” during a Brooklyn montage, but that was only shocking to me, I think…otherwise, a very self-involved student filmmaker with a powerful patron…

In the director commentary portion of Tarnation, Jonathan Caouette introduces himself as the writer, editor, director, and creator of the film, notably omitting the name of its executive producer (and obvious reason this film was ubiquitous at festivals), Gus Van Sant. Only in the commentary does Caouette reveal that a lot of what appear to be linear documentary sequences of his boyfriend coming and going to work and himself talking on the phone were “recreations.” I guess that happens in a lot of documentaries but it’s an annoying technique here, because Tarnation is such a naked plea for sympathy, and very thinly beyond that, a plea for viewers to see how talented and amazing Caouette is, at the expense of his grandparents and especially his schizophrenic mom.

There’s one shocking moment of use of the Magnetic Fields’ “Strange Powers” during a Brooklyn montage, but that was only shocking to me, I think…otherwise, a very self-involved student filmmaker with a powerful patron…

In the director commentary portion of Tarnation, Jonathan Caouette introduces himself as the writer, editor, director, and creator of the film, notably omitting the name of its executive producer (and obvious reason this film was ubiquitous at festivals), Gus Van Sant. Only in the commentary does Caouette reveal that a lot of what appear to be linear documentary sequences of his boyfriend coming and going to work and himself talking on the phone were “recreations.” I guess that happens in a lot of documentaries but it’s an annoying technique here, because Tarnation is such a naked plea for sympathy, and very thinly beyond that, a plea for viewers to see how talented and amazing Caouette is, at the expense of his grandparents and especially his schizophrenic mom.

There’s one shocking moment of use of the Magnetic Fields’ “Strange Powers” during a Brooklyn montage, but that was only shocking to me, I think…otherwise, a very self-involved student filmmaker with a powerful patron…

Primer

This film is criminally underknown, if that’s the right word…despite winning the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance , there just doesn’t seem to be even any underground buzz, not even amid the scifi community. Primer is wholly the creation of Shane Carruth, an actual engineer from Dallas, and he did the entire production – editing, script, direction, music, bulidng the machine – entirely himself. This is a cerebral, non-special-effects-driven science fiction piece which appears at first to be about time travel, but its more accurately should be described as cloning, and the moral (and practical) ramifications thereof.

Carruth, who greatly resembles the other great underrated actor of horror and scifi, Jeffrey Combs from ReAnimator, is a genius, but is frustratingly apparently laying low. He hasn’t commented, even on his own message board, about whether he will make another movie.