Monday, December 31, 2007

Netflix Queue Housecleaning (Part I)

At a film discussion group I frequent, some members have been posting some great "favorite discovery" lists. These are films that were not new to 2007 but that the members enjoyed as one of their 10 favorite "new to me" films experiences.

I decided to cull through their lists and use it to stock my Netflix queue for the coming year. But first that meant some housecleaning. I decided to go through my queue and remove items that weren't making it up the list. You know how it goes, you see something and say "that might be interesting" so you throw it on the queue. Pretty soon you have over a 100 films in line and you have a queue within a queue, which is stuff you bump to the front.

So, like purging the closet of clothes you don't wear, I decided to go through and delete films that had been on my queue for more than three months and had not managed to go up the queue (were now farther down the list than when they started).

This makes for an interesting alternate history list of the year in viewing that might have been but never was.

Here are the films that got cut.

American Short Stories: Paul's Case
Ten Canoes
American Gothic (TV)
Merchant of Venice--Trevor Nunn
Ball of Fire (Howard Hawks)
Diary of a Lost Girl
Wheel of Time (Werner Herzog)
Woyzeck (Werner Herzog)
Pandora's Box
4 Little Girls
Jesus of Nazareth
Valley of the Dolls
Winter Sleepers
Stage Fright
The Silence
The Brides of Christ (TV)
Jane Austen in Manhattan
Broken Blossoms

Here are films that would have been purged if I had scrupulously followed the rules but which I left on because I thought they still might get watched in the coming year (from lowest on queue to highest):

Sherlock, Jr.
Sansho the Baliff
The Fallen Idol
Aguirre: The Wrath of God
King Lear (Kozintzev)
The Killers (actually want for the short film by Tarkovsky on it)
Blind Chance (Kieslowski)
Early Summer
Mr. Death: Fred Leuchter, Jr.
My Life to Live (actually this has been "short wait" for like forever)
Moby Dick (only because I'm working on a John Huston blog entry)
Yi Yi

"I'll Take Crappy Customer Service for $100, Alex"

Apple and Directv...

"What are two companies that have as poor customer service as Blockbuster?"

Frequent readers of this blog know that I've picked on Blockbuster more than a few times for the ways in which it has failed again and again to parlay whatever advantages its service has over Netflix into a decent alternative to the Red & White.

It should come as no surprise, then, that I got a holiday letter from Blockbuster saying they were raising the price of their Total Access option an additional $10...about a 30% increase.

I was happy to get an Ipod this winter and happier still to receive a $15 gift card for Itunes this Christmas. The only problem was that when I scratched off to reveal the code and enter it at Itunes to redeem my gift I got a message saying my card had not been "activated." They told me to take it up with whoever sold me the card. Since it was a gift (hence, you know, the term "Gift" card) and I had no way of knowing where it was sold, I contacted Apple's customer service via their hard to find link. Their response? Fax them a copy of the card along with a copy of the sales receipt. (This after I told them I didn't know where it was bought because, you know it was a "Gift" card.)

I understand Apple doesn't want Target or Wal-Mart or Best Buy or Kroger or whoever to rip them off in some way and that these cards may be easy to steal, hence making activation important. But I find it hard to believe in a computer world where my grocery store can send me specialized coupons based on the fact that I charged Pop-Tarts seven months ago, my car dealer can e-mail me about how many miles its been since my last oil change, and my video store can tell me which shipping center Felicity season four, disc one was sent three years ago when I ordered it that Apple has no way of knowing where a serial number was distributed to and whether or not, based on the bar code, it was purchased. They just don't want to do the leg work of checking...they want me to do it. Or they figure enough people won't want to embarrass the "gift" card giver and just eat it. If you are going to market "gift" cards aggressively, then you should reasonably foresee that people will want you to resolve problems they have with YOUR product. The Itunes brand is the name on the card, not Target, Best Buy, etc. Problems with the cards will be a mark on the Itunes brand and image.

I recently decided to downgrade my Directv membership to just one room. I hadn't used the one in the office much, and it kept losing signal. When I contacted Directv, they said I needed to return the receiver or face up to $490 in charges. No problem. Where to return it? Well wait until I receive a "recovery kit" in the mail and then follow the instructions. A week later and I still had no recovery kit. I e-mailed Directv customer service and requested it again. Then I started getting the collection calls. Why hadn't I returned my receiver? They would charge me up to $490 if I didn't do so.

As an aside..I hate automated reminders. Calls generated by computer with no humans at the other end. Blockbuster does these too. Another of my pet peeves is when you are in line at a store (okay, usually Blockbuster) and the person on the phone gets priority over the customer in line. You know...if they are always on the phone, why are all my calls automated?

Anyways, I finaally got the recovery kit and sent it back to Directv via Fedex. According to the tracking number, it was received 12/26/2007 and signed for. Home free, right?

No, not really. On 12/28, I get another automated call from Directv threatening me with a $490 charge if I don't return my receiver. Then the kicker.

"If you have already returned your 1; if..."

What???? So two days after they signed for it, they send me an automated message saying, in essence, "we don't know if you returned it or not, but if you didn't we'll charge you for it."

Postscript--Apple sent me one of those e-mail surveys generated by a "visit" to customer know, "was your problem resolved?" (no) "were you satisfied with your service?" (hell no). What I love is they don't ask "how can we do better?" Instead it is, "please outline the steps you took to try to resolve this problem before contacting customer service?"

Oh...and for the record...I gave the gift card back to the giver who will go back to the store for a refund. She said she might give me a card for Amazon instead.

Way to go, Apple. Within 1 month you took a guy who was thrilled to get his first Ipod and turned him into a guy whose first thought was "where can I get content for it someplace else."

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Emma (54-56)--"I have none of the usual inducements of women to marry..."

Chapter 10 of Volume I has one of the better known speeches from the novel. When Harriet expresses surprise that Emma is not married, our heroine replies:

I have none of the usual inducements to marry. Were I to fall in love, indeed,
it would be a different thing! but I never have been in love; it is not my way,
or my nature; and I do not think I ever shall. And without love, I am sure I
should be a fool to change such a situation as mine. Fortune I do not want: I
believe few married women are half as much mistress of their husband's house as
I am of Hartfield; and never, never could I expect to be so truly beloved and
important; so always first and always right in any man's eyes as I am in my
father's. (55)
There is, in one way, a Miss Bates-like quality to this monologue. The beginning is not that bad, but then she keeps going. The first half, indeed, appears to champion a woman's right to marry for love, and if Emma were to simply affirm that she does not want to marry absent love this passage would not be all that notable. She does, however, go on to talk about being mistress of the house and to state that it would be "foolish" to give up a position such as hers without love.

The questions raised by this monologue are ones of self awareness. Does Emma really think she is mistress at Hartfield? We have seen in several chapters already how her father exercises a benign dominion over her. Also puzzling is her claim in the preceding paragraph that to fall in love she must see "somebody very superior to any one I have seen yet" (55) and that she does not want to be "tempted" by seeing such a person.

"Tempted" seems to move the speech from the purely descriptive to an expression of of desire. To admit that such a person (a "superior" person who might make Emma fall in love) is someone she does not wish to meet, someone who would be a temptation, is to admit that Emma has a preference to being mistress of her own house, that Emma's desire to remain single is an active preference and not merely the result of an absence.

Emma's speech, using Miss Bates as an example, about how it is only poverty that makes an old maid contemptible is humorous in its irony. She is so (falsely) certain of Elton's affections for Harriet that we might even forget to wonder how her speech must come across to Harriet who (through Emma's prompting) has given up two of the usual inducements to marry (financial security and a person she loves) and now has Emma holding out a bleak picture of solitude that is much more applicable to someone in her position than Emma's.

Emma goes on to say that a narrow income has a tendency to "contract the mind and sour the temper" (56). Her logic is that such an income forces one to live in inferior society where she may develop habits that go unchecked and hence gradually become "illiberal and cross" (56). This is followed by perhaps the oddest statement in her rumination: "This does not apply, however to Miss Bates; she is only too good natured and too silly to suit me; but in general, she is very much to the taste of everybody, though single and though poor. Poverty certainly has not contracted her mind..." (56).

In essence, this speech has begun with Emma postulating that she could never be like Miss Bates because she (Emma) has money but then holds up Miss Bates as an exception to the rule of how the lack of money must operate on an old maid to make her contemptible. Here are a couple of ways we might process Emma's garbled thoughts here:

1) The defense of Miss Bates is an afterthought. Emma realizes she has overstepped charity in her criticism and reflexively but untruthfully claims the opposite of what she believes. In fact, her defense (such as it is) at Box Hill, will suggest that she very much does believe that poverty (or something) has contracted Miss Bates's mind, that "too silly" is merely a polite way of saying "ridiculous" or "contemptible."

2) Emma can't bear to be crossed or contradicted even by her own logic. When a train of thought--in this case expressed out loud to Harriet--leads her towards an uncomfortable conclusion (or even implication), she cuts it short through an assertion of will. In other words, she does with her own thoughts or logic what she has done with Knightley's--she denies them through a proclamation that rests on her own assertion rather than logic or evidence.

3) Emma's postulate doesn't hold. It is the possession of money (and with it the power to have too much one's own way) that leads to the contraction of one's mind and spirits.

I can't help but think in reference to this latter point that the comparison that is really floating around in Emma's mind is not between Miss Bates and her own, hypothetical old maid status but between her own vision of old age and the picture of her father. If there is any other character of whom we can say his (or her) mind has been contracted, it is Mr. Woodhouse. Is it possible on some level that the resentment and dislike Emma feels for Miss Bates is transference? That repressed or sublimated irritation at her father (who is silly but loved due to his "good nature") is finding a target in Miss Bates because it cannot be expressed at Mr. Woodhouse?

In his essay "Special Gift and Special Burden: Views of Old Age in the Early Church," Rowan A. Greer outlines some of the special gifts and advantages old age brings in a Christian culture (at least as practiced by the early church) and then turns to some problems or vices to which people in that stage of life might be particularly susceptible. He says: "The virtues of old age ought to be the crown of a lifelong quest; nevertheless, there are vices that can be specifically associated with the elderly. The old can, for example be garrulous" (33). Later he also suggests, "[...] old people sometimes rest on their laurels and become slothful" (33). Of course, these are qualities that can be found in the young as well as the aged; Rowan only suggests that because of culture (and perhaps biology) that they are particular temptations for the elderly. Garrulousness might develop in part because the culture accords respect to the elderly and hence makes others less likely to interrupt or quiet them.

The point I think worth making about these two traits is that I think one pretty clearly applies to Miss Bates (garrulousness) and the other to Mr. Woodhouse (sloth) and--more importantly--it is the latter that appears to be more easily related to a "contracted" mind. Miss Bates, if anything, comes across as a person who is too easily stimulated or overstimulated; Mr. Woodhouse is the one whose world (internal as well as external) is contracted. And if in fact this contraction of the mind is what is really worrying Emma (and, I suspect, Austen, but that's another matter entirely), then the witness of those around her/closest to her is that the possession of money is not really that much of a buttress against the effect of aging that most frightens her.

I think some of this interpretation is borne out by the subsequent paragraph in which Harriet asks Emma how she will employ herself when she grows old. In her reply Emma suggests that the "usual occupations" of "eye and hand and mind" (56) that occupy women's time will be open to her. She seems to recognize in her own disposition a temperament of animation and activity that makes sloth less of a probability in her case. (Perhaps, too, that explains her indulgence of her father and dislike of Miss Bates since human nature often tends to be most critical of those who openly display the faults we struggle with in our own character.) Emma then goes on to talk about what is "in truth" the great point of inferiority in remaining single--objects of affection. She answers this problem by suggesting that she will have ample nieces and nephews on whom to lavish her affection. More telling, though, is what she feels the children will provide her (or, at least, the hypothetical spinster that she imagines herself to be in the future): "There will be enough of them, in all probability, to supply every sort of sensation that declining life can need" (56).

What the children would provide is not care--her money would allow her to care for herself. Rather, they provide sensation. There will be an interest in her attachment and in their lives and activities that will mitigate against sloth.

Is that what Emma provides for her father? Not really. She enables his sloth more than mitigating it. This may, of course, be an appropriate response if we understand that Emma and her father have, on some levels, different temperaments that make what they want and need from their children (from life, really) different. I do find it telling, however, that Emma's idealized conception of old age is one which is not only diametrically opposed to the life Miss Bates (who was supposed to be the picture against which Emma was contrasting) is living but also to the life her father is living. (It's also somewhat different to the life Knightley is settling into and likely to live if he remains unmarried...but more on that [perhaps] later.)

Greer, Rowan A. "Special Gift and Special Burden: Views of Old Age in the Early Church." Growing Old in Christ. Ed. Stanley Hauerwas, et al. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003.

[For more close readings of Emma, click on one of the post labels below.]

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Original Rant

I have a label for posts I've designated as "rants," and it occurred to me that the original rant (which was posted at an external site) is no longer available. I'm re-posting it here. Obviously the rant was in reference to a particular thread dedicated to rants, and Blogger doesn't separate posts by threads, so this blog contains more than just rants...but this still conveys the spirit in which those posts that are rants are made:

Are you tired of having the men in the white suits sent for you just because you see the prentitiousness and pomposity of someone else's cherished drivel?

Are you tired of ducking from rotten tomatoes just because you are brave enough to call Kevin Spacey a wooden kewpie doll who got out-acted in his biggest film--by a plastic bag!

Are you tired of people mumbling phrases like "critical consensus" and "mise-en-scene" when you gag at the newest Criterion collection re-release but who turn like jackals when you try to defend Titanic?

Do you think your opinion should count as much as anyone else's, even if you didn't go to film school at Florida State for two semesters and hear Dustin Hoffman lecture on campus about how he prepared for Death of a Salesman by using a walker before dropping out to design Angelina Jolie wallpapers for Microsoft XP?

Well, step right in, because I have a safe haven for you...the Rant Zone...a thread designed for NEGATIVE COMMENTS ONLY!

This is not the place where you defend the film (go do that in its thread); this is not the place where you engage others in persuasive arguments designed to win them to your way of thinking....

No, no, no, no, no.

This is the place for you to vent your frustration at the mass hypnosis that has thrust Renee Zellweger to prominence. (I mean any American with an accent mark in her name, puh-leeze).

Consider this a safe zone for the disaffected and disillusioned. Here you may say, if you wish, that you didn't think Monty Python and the Holy Grail was very (or even a little) funny. Here you can say that you've always found Alfred Hitchcock's films to be slow and laborious. You can even diss multiple Oscar winner Hillary Swank for her performances in Beverly Hills 90210 and The Next Karate Kid . If you think Mulholland Drive made even less sense than the last season of Felicity, well that's okay, because we're a support group and we are here to do what all support groups do...bite our tongues, nod our heads, and listen sympathetically to you explain how you laughed even less at I Heart Huckabees than you did at The Life Aquatic.

If you DON'T CARE what Bill Murray said to Scarlett Johansson at the end of Lost in Translation because you were already bored silly, come right in.
If you think Sean Connery was the worst of the five James Bonds that you've seen, pull up a chair.
If you thought Sideways could only be entertaining to someone who had just drank a bottle of Pinot Grigot, get in line for a group hug, because Uncle Ken is here to tell you everything is going to be okay.

We give compassionate listening to all who would vent and ask only two things in return.

1) Only rants, please. If you liked a movie, frankly my dear fanboy, we don't give a damn.
2) Absolutely, positively, no defending a movie someone else has trashed. We don't pass judgment on another's pain in the Rant Zone; the road to healing is through empathy.

Best Films of 2007

It's a bit early, but I have posted my best films of 2007.

The list and some comments is available here.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Seven Song Meme Tag

I'm not really on MySpace, so even though I've been blogging for awhile, I've never been "tagged" before. I gather it's a cross between a chain letter and being poked with a stick.

Anyway, my friend Todd Truffin tagged me, which leaves me with the following task:

List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether or not they have words, or even if they’re not any good, but they must be songs you’re really enjoying now. Post these instructions in your blog along with your seven songs. Then tag seven other people to see what they’re listening to. If you want.
I'll pass on the tagging seven others, but as a diligent friend, here are my songs.

I put the Ipod on Shuffle play and looked for the first seven songs that I was "into" right now:

"Easy Silence"--The Dixie Chicks. I had never listened to a DC album before seeing the documentary Shut Up and Sing. Over a year later, I still get good play from the Taking the Long Way CD I bought the day I saw (and was bowled over by) the documentary. I love the mix of passion and peace in the album, and this song really expresses the way in which a spouse or mate can center those of us with more volatile temperaments.

"The Pearl"--Emmylou Harris. I only have one ELH album. I love the plaintive quality of her voice in this first song. Many of her songs build. I love that there is resolution to her songs, too. So many just fade out over the chorus being repeated.

"I'll Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)"--Meatloaf. Pure bombast, but I love it.

"I Feel Lucky"--Mary Chapin Carpenter. The nice thing about an Ipod, I've discovered is that every now and then a song pops up that you haven't listened to in ages and you say, "hey, I really liked that song." I was never much into that song when I liked the album, but there is a relentless cheerfullness about it that I like.

"Everybody Knows"--Leonard Cohen. I discovered LC this year. Wow. I could pick any song off his greatest hits album. This one was first.

"Teen for God"--Dar Williams. It's such a great mix of self-deprecating irony and sincerity. Wish I had a God for such cynical, cynical times...far from today.

"Lifetime Piling Up"--Talking Heads. There is such an infectious joy in TTH. Sometimes the lyrics are at odds with the music...such as in "Stay Up Late" and in this song. I'm not a dancer, and I like lyrics more than music, but so many of their songs just get beneath me and fill me with life, which is a good thing.

Friday, December 21, 2007

A New Year, A New Look

I moved my web-hosting from Go Daddy to Weebly...mostly to save a few bucks. Check out the new design here.

Incidentally, if you have bookmarked and it's not working, try That should do the trick.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Emma (49-54)--"How nicely you talk..."

The word "clever" is used at least three time in the latter half of Chapter Nine. It is an important word in the novel, one that we have touched on already. In the context of the opening chapter, "clever," along with "handsome," and "rich" are back-handed compliments (at best) or outright critiques that stand in contrast to similar words with more positive connotations.

"Clever" stands in contrast with "sense," and both terms are fairly strongly gendered in the novel. "Men of sense, whatever you man choose to say, do not want silly wives" (41), Knightley has informed Emma. He has held up Robert Martin as a man of sense at least three times:

"I never hear better sense from any one than Robert Martin" (37).
"...he is as much [Harriet's] superior in sense as in situation" (38).
"Robert Martin's manners have sense, sincerity, and good humor..." (41)

Harriet, by contrast is "not a sensible girl" (39). Knightley does imply that Emma has some sense, saying: "Upon my word, Emma, to hear you abusing the reason you have is almost enough to make me think so too. Better be without sense, than misapply it as you do" (40). This latter quote ties "sense" to reason but suggests that is has more to do with the use one puts to reason than the quantity of it which one possesses that earns this mantle. Elton, remember, acts rationally in selecting a wife, but Knightley says only that he is unlikely to make an "imprudent" match (42). "Elton may talk sentimentally," Knightley continues, "but he will act rationally" (42).

Cleverness is more commonly attributed to females in the novel, Emma particularly. In this chapter, we get a rare comment about Emma's mother, from Mr. Woodhouse: "It is no difficulty to see who you take after! Your dear mother was so clever at all those things!" (51, in reference to riddles and charades).

The most common current definitions of "clever" denote quickness, wit, and intelligence, with only some of the latter conceding that the word often connotes those who have it are "cagey," "shrewd" or in some other way in possession of a moral deficiency that is inextricably tied to their mental superiority. One might even go so far as to suggest that the underlying defense of patriarchy in Emma is the implicit assertion that (some) men can govern their use of reason to guard against its abuse for selfish ends while (most) women cannot. When I think about this theme, I'm often reminded of how this word is used in almost precisely the same way in Henry James's Washington Square, with the difference being that the gender assumptions are reveresed. Dr. Sloper's use of reason is morally compromised while Catherine's total lack of cleverness is tied to her Romantic innocence. I'm also reminded of how the Satan figure in Russel Hoban's science-fiction masterpiece Riddley Walker is aptly renamed "Mr. Clevver."

Perhaps what the latter half of this chapter illustrates, more so than some other examples of where characters are labeled "clever" or "sensible" is that the prominent way in which cleverness is displayed is through rhetoric. "How nicely you talk" Harriet says to Emma. "I love to hear you. You understand every thing. You and Mr. Elton are one as clever as the other" (49). Harriet is here talking about the charade that is painfully easy for Emma to decipher but which must be explained to Harriet and, later, to Mr. Woodhouse. Harriet is a bit of an idiot savant, to be sure, and it is through the contrast between her estimation of the situation and our own that we experience the verbal irony that is so often deliciously comic in Austen.

She's not wrong, though, at least not about Elton and Emma being clever. The essence of verbal irony is that a statement is true but not in the way the speaker intends. The evidence of Emma's cleverness lies not in her deciphering of the charade (which, remember, she misinterprets on one fundamentally important level) but on her ability to coerce agreement from those inferior through the use of rhetoric that passes as an exercise of reason. It becomes important, then, to make a distinction between places where Emma is just wrong and places where, as Knightley says, she abuses reason. After Knightley warns her that Elton will not marry imprudently, the narrator discusses Emma's state of mind:

He had frightened her a little about Mr. Elton; but when she considered that Mr. Knightley could not have observed him as she had done, neither with the interest, nor (she must be allowed to tell herself, in spite of Mr. Knightley's pretensions) with the skill of such an observer on such a question as herself, that he had spoken it hastily and in anger, she was able to believe, that he had rather said what he wished resentfully to be true, than what he knew anything about. He certainly might have heard Mr. Elton speak with more unreserve than she had ever done, and Mr. Elton might not be of an imprudent, inconsiderate disposition as to money-matters; he might naturally be rather attentive than otherwise to them; but then, Mr. Knightley did not made due allowance for the influence of a strong passion at war with all interested motives. (43)

This passage is classic Emma. Notice, for instance, how quickly Emma moves from an insistence that Knightley "could not have observed" Elton as she had done to an admittance that she might not have observed Elton as Knightley had. The word that jumps out to me, though, is "skill." Emma's claim, even to herself, that she has more skill than Knightley as an observer, is felt, even to herself, to be suspect and so must be bolstered with the parenthetical "she must be allowed to tell herself." I hate to use this word, because no pun is intended, but Emma is doing the job here of persuading herself that she is right. She goes about doing it by the same means she persuades others, through the skillful application of rhetoric.

The classical tradition of rhetoric is one of the fabrics of contemporary (Western) society, and its assumption inform everything from mass media to politics to education. George A. Kennedy's justly praised Classical Rhetoric and Its Christian and Secular Tradition from Ancient to Modern Times helps illustrate the fact that for many ancients, the act of persuasion was viewed as the proper focus of training. In many of the most common forms in which it is (mis)taught, the "skill" of rhetoric is something divorced from its content or subject matter. Clarence Darrow used to say how he enjoyed nothing more than demonstrating his rhetorical skill by debating one side of an issue until his audience agreed and then changing sides to show how he could persuade them of a different, contradictory point of view simply through the exercise of his skill.

There have, of course, been those who have eschewed rhetorical power in favor of service to some higher goal. Christian scripture and history is sprinkled with examples of those who sought a different means of persuasion. (Though it is also, sadly, sprinkled with more than a few of those who were satisfied with coercion rather than persuasion). Paul said to the Corinthians: "When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified." I interpret this to mean that Paul felt (justly if his reputation was deserved) that he could win a lot of arguments through the exercise of his rhetorical skills but wanted the response to his evangelism to be a genuine one prompted by the truth of his statements rather than the power of his rhetoric. William Bradford, in setting out the history of Plymouth Plantation said he wished to tell the "simple truth" in the "plain style." The gospels are littered with claims that Jesus startled people by speaking with "authority," suggesting it was his position relative to the truth that allowed him to speak persuasively rather than his skill in saying the things he did.

Emma doesn't out and out lie. She borders on the willfully blind at times. She sees what she wants to see and interprets contradictory evidence away. She will not, though, as we shall see, knowingly advocate what she knows to be false. Her weakness is more about an inability to distinguish between that certainty that comes from direct knowledge or authoritative pronouncement and that which comes from skillful application of rhetoric. When Harriet says, "Yes, very true [....] you understand every thing" (49) it is response to Emma's argument that a match between Harriet and Elton "must be agreeable" to her friends because Mr. Elton's "amiable character gives every assurance" of Harriet's eventual happiness (49). This pronouncement is not a knowing falsehood, though it does prove to be false. It is, however, persuasive, in that it achieves its desired end, which is not an arrival at a position of truth but a deference to the proposition the side of the argument on which Emma has been laboring:
"It is one thing," [Harriet] said presently--her cheeks in a glow--"to have very good sense in a common way, like everybody else, and if there is anything to say, to sit down and write a letter, and say just what you must, in a short way; and another to write verses and charades like this." (50).
On a first reading, this could be taken as more verbal irony from Harriet. Close (re)reading highlights a couple of facts that are ominous. First, Harriet is adopting Emma's rhetoric. Her use of "common" here smacks of an elitism that is neither natural to her nor appropriate for one in her situation. The other is that it is not merely Harriet's decision (relative to Robert Martin) that is changing. That would be bad enough. Her rejection of "good sense" and direct honesty and truthfulness in favor of cleverness, charades, rhetorical games, and exercises of skill show that her values are changing as well. That change is the real damage that Emma is doing to Harriet, and she will be very fortunate that, in the last, Harriet's own character is strong enough to survive that damage and realign herself with the truth (of her own feelings) rather than to cling tenaciously to the position in which Emma's skillful rhetoric threatens to leave her when the truth of Elton's feelings are finally revealed.

What are we to make of Austen's gendering of cleverness? Is this just an example of Austen taking the part of men against her own sex, suggesting that women must be ruled by men because they can't master themselves? Some have read the book that way, and the characters of Mrs. Elton (and to a lesser extent, Miss Bates) lend ammunition to that side of the argument.

The chapter continues, though, with another conversation between Emma and her father, and it is helpful in reminding us that, whatever position of power or influence Emma's skill helps her attain, she is pretty much powerless in the face of patriarchal privilege. Cleverness might very well be a coping mechanism for power discrepancies since the only hope of attaining concessions (intellectual or otherwise) from her father is through persuasion. He is rather dim-witted, so the exercise of logic seldom operates on him in a way that alleviates his egoism (I'm tempted to say "selfishness"). We get, in fact, a familiar list of complaints from Mr. Woodhouse about Isabella's impending visit: where will the children sleep? (Isabella shall have her own room as she "always" has; the children get the nursery.) Won't she be disappointed at Miss Taylor (not Mrs. Weston, mind you) being there? (They shall invite the "Mr. and Mrs. Weston" to dine.) Will there be enough time for everything? (They must do all they can and understand the shortness and infrequency of her visits is by necessity not through rudeness.)

Just as in the first chapter, a negative portrayal of Emma is mitigated by a reminder of how she must tend to an overbearing and cranky father--and an illustration of her doing so with relative good cheer and seeming lack of resentment at her sister for not sharing some of that burden. It is interesting, though, how Emma's strategy of countering her father's arguments, either accidentally or by design, changes:

"But I do not see why poor Isabella should be obliged to go back so soon, though he does. I think, Emma, I shall try and persuade her to stay longer with us. She and the children might stay very well."

"Ah! papa--that is what you never have been able to accomplish, and I do not think you ever will. Isabella cannot bear to stay behind her husband."

This was too true for contradiction. Unwelcome as it was, Mr. Woodouse could only give a submissive sigh; and as Emma saw his spirits affected by the idea of his daughter's attachment to her husband, she immediately led to such a branch of subject as must raise them. (52)

The phrase "too true for contradiction" is resonant here. Among other things, it suggest that in the end, Mr. Woodhouse submits to the truth rather than Emma's skillful applications of arguments or appeasements. To be sure, Emma's application of attention and change of subject take some of the sting out of that submission and raise his spirits, but it is her speaking of the truth, and his recognition of it, that ultimately persuades him to alter his plans.

I'm left with a question. Is anything "too true for contradiction" for Emma, or does she have such faith in her own skills of observation and argument that no apparent truth cannot be argued (momentarily) away? The answer, I think, is that Emma will eventually submit to the truth, be it the truth of her own feelings, the truth about her conduct towards Harriet or Miss Bates, and the truth of what friendship demands of her in freely giving Knightley her support when she thinks he will pick Harriet.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Blade Runner: The Final Cut

My interview with Doug Cummings about Blade Runner is now live at The Matthews House Project.

Here is the link: MHP BLADE RUNNER

Friday, November 30, 2007

Beowulf Rant

Okay, today was the last day of class, so I decided to reward myself before the torrent of papers comes in on Monday by giving myself a night out. First stop Borders, to pick up a copy of Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Tower. Reading for pleasure, I have a vague recollection of what that was like. Then, on to Beowulf.

As I had indicated to some friends, I was mildly curious and went expecting to like it for two reasons. One, I'm a non-reformed contrarian. If the majority of the evangelical press and subculture hate it, I'm bound to like it just to tweak their noses. Second, unlike, say, LOTR, I have no real emotional attachment to the source material, so I'm not likely to be offended by changes.

It took me, sadly, about five minutes to realize that this film was a colossal series of blunders, the last of which was my blundering into the theater to see it.




I'm stunned speechless. Pardon me while I try to think of how to express the inexpressible badness of this film...

Okay, I'm back.

I thought (honestly) of two analogies while I was watching Beowulf. The first was, to be perfectly honest, Left Behind. Beowulf shares with Left Behind a sort of zenith of badness. It is, what Slacktivist calls "instructionally bad"--that is bad in such a way that it is actually an object lesson in how to be bad, an almost perfect Platonic example of badness. The other analogy that I had was that my response was something akin to what English teachers sometimes feel when they receive one of those rare train wreck papers. You know the ones I'm talking about...the ones where "F" just isn't quite sufficient to express their failure...the ones with total system failure....where the grammar is bad, the documentation is haphazard, where you can't find the hint of the whiff of the scent of an idea, where it's not just disorganized but incoherent, and where the smiling student asks you to read it over (the day before the paper is due) to make sure she hasn't missed any tiny points that might keep her from getting the "A" on which she is counting...

In poker lingo...they call this going on "tilt"...a Mike Matusow meltdown. This is 2oo7 New York Mets territory here...a once in a lifetime perfect storm of bad decisions, bad luck, and bad execution punctuated almost exclusively by brain farts.

Better, more educated men than me have documented some of the content problems...some of the ways that the film not only misunderstands and misrepresents its source material, but does so needlessly and (bigger sin here) pointlessly. It is not as though they are subverting some Christian or humanistic or epic message to replace it with something else, because there is just no real consistent view of what makes Beowulf heroic or different from anyone else other than he happens to share his name with the title of the movie.

No, let me focus on a point that I haven't yet heard mentioned in the jeers and catcalls about content....

The movie looks like crap

I really, really, really, cannot overemphasize this point. I might be willing to forgive the ideological or literary rape of the source material if it were in the service of an alternative idea or philosophy or even in the service of an entertaining spectacle, but, alas....

The movie, really, really, looks like crap.

The animation here, mostly rendered in a style to make it accessible to 3D is totally and completely wrong. Was I the only person in America who kept looking at the seat next to him to see if the other guy in the audience was holding a joystick? Because, I swear, it felt like I was watching someone play a video game, not watching a movie...and, even in comparison to contemporary video game standards, the graphics looked like crap...closer to Grand Theft Auto than Halo3, if you know what I mean. (With the exception, of course, of Angelina Jolie's breasts which were lovingly and carefully rendered to have depth, curve and musculature rather than just lines to suggest the same. How the hell this movie got a PG-13 is beyond me, and I like to think of myself as the least prudish evangelical in America.) Anyway, there is a rotoscoped feel to the herky-jerky movements that make the exchanges plastic, wooden and two dimensional but is supplemented with computer enhanced detail in all the wrong places. Thus you can count the hairs on Wulfgar's beard but Beowulf never changes expression. Really, a half-hour spent with the Simpsons animators would have gone a long way for Zemeckis and company in learning how minimal changes in simple animation in conjunction with vocal performance can convey a broad range of emotion. Stack the set design up against 300 (another anachronistic and lurid retelling of source material that is sick in both senses of the word [as an insult and as a compliment]) and you see how bare is the vision of the world here. Zemeckis and Gaiman are clearly infatuated with some of the ideas expressed in Beowulf and expressed through Beowulf, but (I really can't emphasize this enough) film is primarily a visual medium and abstractions don't film well..and the narrative through which the ideas are supposed to be conveyed LOOKS LIKE CRAP!

I will admit, that I have friends who are much more tolerant of expressionism in film than I am. Amongst my cinematic friends, I refer to myself unapologetically as the narrative whore. So I will cop to the fact that seldom is being visually interesting sufficient to engage me in a film. Oh, the last five minutes of 2001 looks trippy and all (even if you're not stoned), and In Memory of Myself looks gothic and operatic and is cool even if you don't know what the hell is going on most of the time...but truth to be told I get a little bored by Fantasia or Mary Poppins or even (it pains me to say it) parts of A Clockwork Orange...where the visuals so overpower the narrative that the medium becomes the message itself. It's not that I need's that I want a sensible meshing of style with content. The Man Who Planted Trees is both minimal and expressionistic, but the simple, pencil drawings are perfect for conveying the starkness and emptiness of the landscape that is gradually and subtly transformed by Eleazar Bouffier's faithfulness. Pan's Labyrinth and Blade Runner both have power enhanced by expressionistic set design that creates a real world in which real people (and replicants) can interact rather than just being sets to look at without a story (e.g. Jeneut's Alien Ressurection or Lucas's Phantom Menace). The last time I saw such a poor marriage of style and content was Michael Wigglesworth's "The Day of Doom" (trying to do the last judgment in nursery rhyme form, really...argh).

I could go on and on...the naked battle was ironically and unintentionally reminiscent of Austin Powers in all the wrong ways. Mike Myers has made it impossible to cleverly hide the male sex organ and that device has already passed the genre cycle of parody (in The Simpsons Movie) to the point where it is experienced, instinctively as cliche or parody, not as can't be taken seriously by this audience at this time. The dialogue is just wincingly bad...I actually got some dirty looks from a few people in the theater for inappropriate laughter...

"You honor me."
"No it is you who honor me; it is I who am you...who am honoring me...because I am Beowulf!...and I have come to kill your monster! Your monster will be killed by me, Beowulf. After which we will drink mead...or maybe any regards, there will be mead drinking and monster killing at some point because I am...umm...who am I again...oh yeah, Beowulf...and you are Unferth and you are hot chick that I'd like to sleep with after I kill the monster and drink the mead and am honored by you for doing the same...."

Oh, the scene where Jolie grabs Beowulf's erect Hrunting...and it...ummm...splurbs onto the floor into a pool of liquid was, quite possibly the biggest belly laugh I've had at the movies since Derek Zoolander said "You can read minds?"

The latter, at least, was intentionally stupid.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Emma (44-48)--"There can be no doubt of its being written for you..."

Chapter Nine of Volume I begins with Emma and Harriet collecting riddles and provides Jane Austen with an opportunity for reiterating certain points about her characters while also exercising her comedic abilities. The central point of humor is Emma's misreading of the riddle (twice) that Elton provides and thus concluding that there can be "no doubt" of a conclusion that is, in fact, quite wrong. This echoes Emma's assertion from the last chapter that it is "indubitable" (to her) that Harriet is a gentleman's daughter.

I don't think it is coincidental that Emma's increasing assurance in the doubtlessness of her own beliefs is combined with the evil of her situation (from chapter one) of having too much her own way. This chapter begins with an irksome reminder that "Mr. Knightley might quarrel with her, but Emma could not quarrel with herself" (44). This sentence is wonderfully ambiguous, meaning on the surface that Emma is increasingly satisfied by the results of her decision but also hinting that Emma on a more fundamental level cannot quarrel with herself...that is, lacks the ability, maturity, or strength of character to quarrel with herself.

"Quarrel" too is a very interesting word choice. Unlike "argue" or "reason" that would suggest a more rational basis, "quarrel" suggests something more active, more relational. It suggests that what Emma is not capable of is leaving a dispute or question open or unresolved, which is quite different from not being able to weigh the pros and cons of a decision before making one. Emma has some capacity for the former. She is not, for example, trying to set up Harriet willy-nilly with just anyone, and her reasons for not influencing Harriet to reject Robert Martin, while selfish, are born in some fact. What she appears less capable of is, having made a decision, holding that decision open to examination.

It is a strange and sad paradox that this quality can develop most strongly in people who are in positions of authority or influence. I can think of a fair number of teachers or scholars who begin open to dialog or insights from others who gradually, through the experience of always having their positions endorsed by students and seldom having their opinions differentiated from their knowledge, develop a sort of reflexive assumption of their own correctness and who cannot bear to quarrel. Many remain willing to argue--the difference being that in some dictionaries a quarrel implies a disagreement between previously friendly parties or relations, while an argument implies an adversarial relationship to begin with.

There is political and social and moral point to be made in that distinction that Austen underscores with her description. Those who are used to getting their own way too often determine who is friendly to them by who agrees with them and tend to see the world in dichotomous terms--those (friendly) who agree with them and those (adversarial) with whom they argue. A quarrel then, an argument from friendly quarters, not only disrupts the comfort of one's social challenges their underlying assumptions about the propriety of the deference they usually receive. Is it any wonder then that Emma "was sorry, but could not repent" (44)? To repent is to win back the friendly relationship at the cost of surrendering the privilege of being the final arbiter of what is right 1.

Regarding the riddle itself...

There is a school of reader-response criticism that is particularly interested in examples of or depictions of reading within the text. The argument goes that by showing a character reading and showing the results of their interpretation, the author or narrator sets his own readers a positive or negative role model for how to read the text they have been given. Jane Austen is rich source for this school of criticism because her texts are filled with readings of letters, books, and, in this case, riddles.

What sort of reader is Emma, then? Well not a very good one, and through her examples of misreading, we may get some hints as to how to avoid misreading Emma.

First of all, she is not an industrious or practiced reader: "Her views of improving her little friend's mind, by a great deal of useful reading and conversation, had never yet led to more than few first chapters, and the intention of going on to-morrow. It was much easier to chat than to study; much pleasanter to let her imagination range and work at Harriet's fortune, than to be laboring to enlarge her comprehension or exercise it on sober facts" (44). Remember Emma's response to reading the Robert Martin proposal? She jumps to a conclusion after the very first parts and let's her imagination range (the sisters must have written it) rather than focus on sober facts (it was a better letter than she supposed). Austen may too be reminding us that we are in the very early chapters of our own book, and if we let our imaginations range we may very well misread the situation as badly as Emma does.

I think this point is underscored by an odd feature of this chapter, which is that Emma works through the riddle twice. It would be easy enough having given the answer-- ("Very well, Mr. Elton, very well indeed. I have read worse charades. Courtship--a very good hint.)--to say something like "and she very quickly led Harriet to the answer already intimated" or something like. Instead we get Harriet's comic misreadings and Emma step by step taking her through it. Part of the reason for this is surely just comic relief. Another must be to contrast the ease with which Emma gets the answer with the difficulty Harriet has in order to reinforce that Harriet is really at Emma's mercy. From a reader-response point, though, a third reason might be to show how, when we have jumped to a conclusion, we often too quickly dismiss contrary hints or evidence. "Thy ready wit the word will soon supply" is followed by: "Humph!--Harriet's ready wit! A man must be very much in love indeed, to describe her so" (46). The absolute conviction born from the unwillingness to hear contradictory arguments from friends and ease with which we dismiss contradictory evidence on our own leads to Emma to act prematurely. Harriet longs to speak but instinctively, even in her unrefined ignorance, does not. Emma is bold to declare intentions without a "moment's doubt" (48).

There is a satisfaction in seeing people who are so sure of themselves proved wrong and brought low. Were embarrassment for Emma the only result of her false certainty, her being stuck in it might not be an evil. As is so often the case, though, others pay the price when those in positions of power or influence act rashly based on an indubitable certainty which turns out to be only a mix of opinion, wishful thinking, and habit.

If there is a softening of our judgment of Emma's conduct here, it should probably come, once again, from the revelation of her motives, which are both pathos laden and, I think, still unconscious to her: "This is a connection which offers nothing but good. It will give you everything that you want--consideration, independence, a proper home--it will fix you in the centre of all your real friends..." (48). Is Emma describing Harriet's deepest desires or her own? Emma's goodness lies in the fact that she is a generous soul. She genuinely wants good for her friend. Her lack of development, though, makes it hard for her to imagine or understand that not everyone is her and so not everyone might want the things she wants or see their fruition (or denial) in the same circumstances. It is precisely the ability to make such distinctions that allows Elizabeth Bennet to maintain charitable feelings towards Charlotte Lucas after she accepts Mr. Collins's proposal of marriage in Pride and Prejudice.

Sometimes the golden rule doesn't mean treating others the way you would want to be treated but treating others the way they wish to be treated even if what they wish for themselves is not what you wish for yourself or would wish for them.

1Even if he or she is not admitting error, even if he or she is not wrong about the point of contention, to repent is to admit that one has failed a standard set by another (even if that other is God and not the person to whom the person is expressing their repentance) and that one accepts, in some way, a subordinate position to that other.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Emma (36-44)--"That she is a gentleman's daughter is indubitable to me."

There are two major confrontations between Emma and Knightley in Book I. The first occurs here, over Harriet's refusal of Robert Martin. The second finishes Book I and is about the conspicuous absence of Frank Churchill.

The comic structure of Emma comes from her repeated misjudgments, called in advance (or at the moment) by Knightley and the increasing gap between Emma's perception of herself as a better judge than Knightley and the evidence. We are told, for instance, that "it was most convenient to Emma not to make a direct reply" (40); that "Emma made no answer, and tried to look cheerfully unconcerned, but was really feeling uncomfortable and wanting him very much to be gone" (42); that "Emma remained in a state of vexation" (42); and that "he had frightened her a little about Mr. Elton" (41). In other words, Emma's conscience indicts her even where her rhetorical skills force a draw. Or rather, her refusal to admit contradiction ("there can be no use in canvassing it" [41]) leaves him with the alternatives of laying bare her contradictions--she is "far from allowing" (38) that she wrote Harriet's answer but then admits but then admits she influenced Harriet "a little" (41)--or accepting her good intentions ("there was very little for me or for anybody to do" (41).

Of course this is what is called in logic as a false dilemma or an A/B fallacy. It is quite possible that Emma could have good intentions (though the previous chapter makes us doubt that her primary concern was for Harriet's well being and not her own loneliness) and nevertheless be wrong as to the application of them. The question of good intentions is a good fall back for the weaker debater, though, because it is extremely hard to falsify. Knightley can (and does) say that Emma has been no friend to Harriet Smith, meaning that her actions will not promote Harriet's well being. Emma's definition of friendship is that of a state of feeling. [Ironically, at Box Hill, Knightley will insist that he is serving the office of a friend in hurting Emma, suggesting that it is at times when we are most insecure of our motives that we insist on their purity, rather than our own success, being the mark of our authenticity.]

This argument goes on for a bit, and there is a weird sort of cold war quality to it, as there is to many of Emma's and Knightley's interactions. By that I mean that through most of the book, conflicts between people are rarely played out between them directly. The lives of others, and their interaction with these others, becomes the ideological battleground on which central arguments are played out. In some cases secrets and power discrepancies prevent direct confrontations from taking place (such as with Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill), but at others, such as the ball where Elton snubs Harriet (to hurt Emma) and Knightley dances with Harriet (to please Emma), Harriet serves as Highbury's own little Vietnam.

This may sound too harsh towards Knightley. The standard approach to this passage is that Emma's immaturity fails to bow before his superior logical and insight. It is worth noting, though, that Knightley confirms that Harriet's leaving Highbury would be a loss to Emma (39), but one that Emma would gladly give up. Emma responds, "I cannot help wondering at your knowing so little of Emma as to say any such thing" (39). The retreat to the third person here is odd, and it is perhaps telling that this is the first poitn that Emma picks up in contention. To be sure, Emma's explanation is that she disagrees with Knightley's contention that this is "a good match" but this statement is doubly, unconsciously ironic given Knightley's claim that "you would not regret your friend's leaving Highbury" (39).

It is also customary in discussing this chapter to contrast Knightley's budding egalitarianism (evidenced by Knightley's praise of Robert Martin's "sense") with Emma's residual class prejudice (in claiming that the Martin's are beneath her and even her friend). The question of class prejudice is a tricky one in Emma. It is clear that the Martins act in marked contrast to the Eltons, especially, and that they often act the part of the gentry even while the gentry are acting crassly, materialistically, shallowly, and superficially. On the other hand, Emma and Knightley never question the appropriateness of their own place at the top of the social pecking order. To be sure, they accept the burdens of noblesse oblige more graciously than the Eltons, and are always free with a carriage for Miss Bates or some meat for a poor local family. For all Martin's independence, Knightley seems to like him most for his deference to him. That Martin opens his life to him--that he can still interact with a pleasant acquaintance despite of class differences while Emma cannot--may play a material part in Knightley's estimation of Martin's conduct and willingness to live with prospective changes.

This chapter also provides examples of Emma's budding psychosis.

Okay, that's a strong word, but consider this assertion from Emma about Harriet's claims in society:

As to the circumstances of her birth, though in a legal sense she may be called Nobody, it will not hold in a common sense. She is not to pay for the offence of others, by being held below the level of those with whom she is brought up--There can scarcely be a doubt that her father is a gentleman--and a gentleman of fortune.--Her allowance is very liberal; nothing has ever been grudged for her improvement or comfort.--That she is a gentleman's daughter, is indubitable to me; that she associates with gentlemen's daughters, no one, I apprehend, will deny.--She is superior to Robert Martin. (39)

What is Emma's evidence that Robert Martin is inferior to Harriet? It is clear to Emma. Her allowance is liberal. She associates with gentelmen's daughters. Well, the latter is actually a bit of a stretch in its use of the plural. Harriet associates with one gentleman's daughter--Emma. Harriet is superior to Robert Martin because Emma declares her to be so, and Emma believes she can bend social rules to her will, that by acting as though a thing is so, she will make it so.

Then again, Knightley asserts, "Robert Martin has no great loss--if he can but think so" (42). The irony of this juxtaposition is that in a patriarchal society, assertion is often sufficient for those of power or privilege to carry the day, and Emma is only really trying to act in reference to Harriet as men in her circle act all the time. Her father can declare a light snowfall a blizzard and his word is sufficient to make it so. Frank Churchill can declare a haircut sufficient reason to go to London and nobody (excepting another man) will contradict him. Elton can declare Emma's amateur painting worthy of a frame and a place of honor, and thus it is. It may be that Emma's delusion is not so much that she thinks she is particular but that she thinks she is not, not so much that she thinks that as an individual she can do what others cannot (bend reality to her will) but that as a woman she thinks she can do what others can (make pronouncements that others have to live with).

More on Kiva

Today I received an e-mail that the person who received my funds from a Kiva micro-loan began to repay it. Once the loan is repaid, the money is funded to the lender who can take it back or loan it to another party.

It was and is an odd feeling to have work used for "charity" paid back, and I confess that one thing that appeals to me about the Kiva model is that there does seem to be something about enabling a person to make their living (rather than simply giving him or her a daily portion) that ennobles the recipient.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Festival Awards

I have not seen the new film Bella, but just about every site or blog has picked up the talking point that it won an award at the Toronto International Film Festival.

A word on these awards. Most of them are tabulated through slips of paper given to the viewers who can then drop them off (or not) in boxes outside the theater doors.

In two years, I have never voted.

One friend who attends told me he'll vote if it is an independent film that won't otherwise get backing.

Of course, this format also means that results of such polls depend on the day of the screening(s), the theater (some festival auditoriums hold substantially more patrons than others) and the rate of return.

A single viewer who was so inclined could influence voting by collecting ballots from indifferent voters, and a single usher who is more or less pushy could also effect the outcome.

All of which is to say, the next time you hear an advertisement about an audience award at a festival, take it with a grain of salt.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Emma (31-35)--"Now I am Secure of You Forever"

Ask a hundred casual Austen readers where Emma is at her worst, and I imagine over ninety of them would probably say, "Box Hill--when she insults Miss Bates."

Given that Austen readers tend to be a polite bunch, perhaps only eight-five of them or so would add, "Duh!"

Emma is a novel about moral education, transformation, and growth, though. Suggesting she is at her worst right before she is at her best misunderstands the nature of moral transformation in a way that creates all sorts of critical problems: Why would we think the latest transformation will stick? Is Emma sorry at the harm she has caused or the pain she feels in Knightley's rebuke? Is the damage done to Miss Bates objectively or quantifiably worse than the damage to Harriet?

There are ways, I suppose, one can sidestep these questions. Harriet, we might argue is complicit to a greater degree in her victimization than Miss Bates. Perhaps. Knightley argues that it was the evidence of a corrupting influence that gets him to speak. Certainly. Though that doesn't necessarily mean that he objectively thinks the treatment of Miss Bates is worse than anything Emma's ever done. Often it is the case that we can forgive larger transgressions in friends or loved ones--confident that they are chagrined or feel the pain of their errors--but have a harder time forgiving smaller or more frequent slights.

Reading the novel as a slow devolution of Emma's character leads one--falsely I hope--to the conclusion that the patriarchal intercession of Knightley is instrumental to Emma's happiness and the happy ending. I would like to argue that the effectiveness of Knightley's rebuke lies as much in its timing--Emma's own development has brought her to the point where she has ears to hear--than his power. But I get ahead of myself.

In Chapter Seven of Volume I, Emma talks Harriet out of accepting a proposal from Robert Martin. That Emma does so in such a way that Harriet is unaware that she has done so--or why--is a source of some humor. The finesse with which she handles it, though, blunts the action's ugliness, an ugliness that I sometimes miss because I'm too busy chuckling at her brazenness.

"While you were in the smallest degree wavering, I said nothing about it, because I would not interfere; but it would have been the loss of a friend to me. I could not have visited Mrs. Robert Martin, of Abbey-Mill Farm. Now I am secure of you for ever" (33).

The pain of this revelation is muted for the readers in the realization not merely that this danger (that of a painful separation) has been averted but in our assessment that it was not that close to happening to begin with. For Harriet, though, it was very real, and she must be processing on some level. The subsequent exchanges in which she looks "aghast," says that fate would be "too dreadful" and that it would have "killed" her not to be able to visit Hartfield are easily dismissed as overly melodramatic, but I think we are wrong if we conclude that they are not real.

So, in addition to Emma hurting her friend's prospects, she inflicts, in the wake of doing so, some very real emotional pain.


That's not a completely rhetorical question. The decision has already been made, and Emma's influence over Harriet is such that she has no reason to doubt that she could make the decision stick. Even if she suspected Harriet were on the fence, this trump card might be held in abeyance for that contingency rather than used here to turn a winning bid into a grand slam.

Is it possible that Emma herself has just thought of this? That the prospect of losing Harriet was so distressing she repressed it, thinking only that Harriet "must" not marry Robert Martin without being able to satisfactorily answer, even to herself, why she must not? Such a reading would be consistent with other places in the text, most notably when she admits being puzzled by her own response to Jane Fairfax.

There is a bald egoism in Emma's statements--"It would have grieved me to lose would have been the loss of a friend to I am secure of you..."--that may make us judge her harshly, but there is also a pathetic desperation in it that may make us temper that judgment with some charity. For all the protestations that Harriet is just "a Harriet Smith," a type that is useful to have around, a project to fill her time, the prospect of losing Harriet leads to a very real panic, and that panic ought to key us in to just how isolated, lonely, bored, and trapped Emma really is.

The standard rationalization for Emma's interference here is, of course, that she thinks she can match Harriet with Elton, and Elton is a higher (if not a better match). It's telling, though, that this is not, apparently, the first thought that Emma has. Elton's primary advantage over Martin is not that a match would be better for Harriet but that it would be better for Emma.

I do think that endangering Harriet's prospects with Robert Martin is one of the very worst things Emma does because of that ratio between the (potential) costs of the action to others and the (unrealized but even potentially small) gains that might come from it. If one wanted to defend Emma just a little here, and I do, one could best say that her egoistic blurting of "Now I am secure of you forever" is telling in two ways. It's telling that Emma is motivated by her own selfish interests to be sure, but it is also telling that this motivation is less calculated than sometimes thought and more the product of unconscious (perhaps repressed) emotions.

Part of Emma's moral development is the acquisition of emotional courage. It is hard for any of us (much less those not yet one and twenty) to look at and face the things we are most afraid of, and the things Emma is most afraid of--loneliness, abandonment, boredom--are fears that are not without some foundation. They are fears of things that she has already experienced or is experiencing. Her eventual triumph will be not in manipulating events so that the things she fears will never intrude upon her world but rather in her eventual willingness to face the things she fears and to act in a manner she believes is right.

Even in this chapter, the farther we get from her instinctive panic, the closer we get to something resembling virtue. Yes, the Elton prospect is a rationalization, but it is one born of a charitable spirit that does want good things for her friend.

Yes, Emma's most instinctive actions are often her most selfish and foolish, but which of us cannot say the same? Emma's most calculated or considered actions, especially by the end of the novel, are usually her more noble. Would that we could all say the same to that.

Another Review for No Country for Old Men

My review of "No Country for Old Men" is now available at Christian Spotlight on Entertainment.

A previous review is also available at the Looking Closer blog.

Monday, November 05, 2007

I Have Joined...

...the IPod tidal wave.

Next up, I'll be podcasting my classes no doubt.

More on this earth shattering development as it occurs.

P.S. I have a measly 740 songs on my IPOD at the moment. (Sherry can mock me now.)

Happy Guy Fawkes Day

A Raliegh theater has decided to play V for Vendetta in honor of the day.

I like that...I like that very much.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Rant

First off, I'll say *SPOILERS* ahead because a friend posted some general comments on his blog a few weeks ago that I claimed constituted a major spoiler and he said did not. Well, having finished the novel, I'll just say, yes, it was a spoiler. You didn't give away the precise details of the end of the novel, but the substance of the ending was as I anticipated from your comments both in terms of the nature of the action you mentioned and the character who made it.

Okay, on with my comments, which have nothing to do with Dumbledore's newly revealed sexual orientation.

Unlike the object of some of my recent rants, I didn't hate this book or the series. I did think it was overdone. I'll also qualify this by saying my wife and I read this book aloud, an experience of which is always different from speed reading.

3) Deux-ex-machidobbyscar. The Dobby thing just turned into a too convenient Deux-ex-Machina. How many times did Rowling write the heroes into a corner only to use the house elves to get them out? At least twice in this book. The scar (which is forever throbbing, screaming, burning, leaving him in pain, agony, and sweats) also became an overused device to bring in offstage action and tie a plot together.

2) Magic and monologues. When Harry and You-Know-Who-Riddle are circling, circling, circling, circling, circling, I kept waiting for the jet from the Incredibles to come and suck him up by his invisibility cloak into the Island of Lost Batman Villains. Yeah, we get it, he was a Horcrux. The idea was on the Internet before the book became out and we had the entire idea set out in the dream sequence. Yet we have to have Harry go over and over to Riddle with a "There's one thing you don't know" speech. Which raises another point...this whole magic thing doesn't make sense to me. If the Death Eaters can put a curse on a particular word that alerts them to whenever anyone speaks it why limit it just to "Voldemort"? Going all the way back to the last book...if you've got time to freeze Harry under a cloak, you've got time to freeze Draco coming after you. Why is nobody watching these guys circling, circling, circling, throwing in a spell. Oh, I konw, there are shield charms over them or whatever. It's all just sort of convoluted to avoid the question of why Harry can't just use the invisibility cloak to get the drop on Voldemort and why whoever gets first spell doesn't always win.

1) Stylistics. Not since Stephen King wrote his valentine to Hannibal has he given a more preposterous review than when he said Rowling had turned herself into one of the preeminent stylists of her generation. The books are imaginative and characters memorable. As a plotter, she is first rate. As a stylist? Repeated phrases and whole sections. The books are increasingly bloated and the last one with all Dumbledore's "You are the better man" move from the over-ripe to the mushy. I've had more than one person suggest to me that the overwrought quality of the prose is an echo of the overwrought emotional quality of teens who are the protagonists. Maybe. Though the ending seems to portray Harry as having arrived at manhood and doesn't leave me suggesting that she is writing for teens about teens.

I suppose I should follow up on the last and the post in general by saying there is a difference between being horrible and being average and being exceptional. The books are mostly satisfying and I'm glad I read them and all, but...

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Once in a Lifetime

Navy 46
Notre Dame 44

That hasn't happened since I've been alive.

Congratulations to the Naval Academy.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Spiderman 3 Rant

Okay, I know this is hopelessly late because I'm the only person in the universe who didn't see Spiderman 3 in the theater, but wow, how cheap and exploitative was that beam scene? First we have a large metal object crashing into a skyscraper (with a POV shot from people in the building no less), followed by innocents on the ground getting debris scattered over them, followed by people in the building falling from death inducing hight (to be saved by a swooping Spiderman).

I'm not sure if we've yet answered (honestly) the question of whether or not America is ready for a film about 9/11, but we've at least answered the question of how long it will take for the latest watershed Event That Changed The Universe to get subsumed in the pop-culture machine and become a shorthand allusion through which lazy writers and reckless auteurs can graft a sense of (unearned) significance onto their empty eye candy or jolt the numbed senses (and sensibilities) of a weary audience with a sense of danger and dread that can no longer be imparted through the use of stunts, special effects, or narrative.

P.S. [Later Edit]--I've never been a big fan of the conceit of having superheroes refer to each other by their civilian was and is a sort of causualness with one's most precious commodity, the secret identity, that seemed at odds with the seriousness with which they took their jobs. This conceit (which I've noticed in Justice League Unlimited) is growing increasingly irritating. In the last thirty minutes of the film Spdierman fights without his mask and they all yell "Peter" and "Harry" at each other. Apparently nobody in the year 2007 has invented a telephoto lens (this in a film about competing photos of Spiderman) or advanced listening technology to eavesdrop on distant conversations.

Saturday, October 20, 2007


My review of Rendition is now available at Christian Spotlight on Entertainment.

Link is here.

Kiva Micro Loan

After doing some research about various charitable organizations, I participated in a micro loan toady through Micro-loans are small to no interest loans for people who generally don't have collateral necessary to get loans from larger institutions. It was a model advocated by Muhammad Yunus for which he was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize.

Kiva is a non-profit that facilitates micro loans to small entrepreneurs. A pharmacist in Tanzania is requesting a micro loan of $550 to restock and expand her business. If you think this is a worthwhile investment, click here for more information, and please consider joining me in helping to fund this project.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Euchre Whining--"You're a Sandbagger"

I've been playing at a different site than I normally do recently, and I've run across the reemergence of the social player who enters tournaments and then grouses about things that competitive (i.e. good) players do to try to win.

I had one player pitch a fit when I donated (called up a euchre to avoid a loner). I've run into a culture that holds on to the old rube that calling alone with 8 points is poor sportsmanship. And I've seen an increase of people getting euchred complaining about "sandbaggers"

Sandbagging is passing when you could call.

The majority of accusations of sandbagging are inherently contradictory since the order proceeds in a clockwise direction. I've heard people accuse others of sandbagging when the person calling actually was to the right of the alleged sandbagger. That means the person called before the other person had an opportunity to call. This by definition is not sandbagging. For example, I had a person call into me from first base (I was dealer), and then accuse me of sandbagging? Huh?

But that's not really my complaint. My complaint is that there can be strategic reasons for passing when you could call and make a point. Like going alone at 8, this is not evidence of poor sportsmanship, it is evidence of skill.

Say I'm at first base and the ace of space is turned up. I have the two black jacks, the king of spades, the ace of clubs and the 9 of hearts. I could very easily call into my opponents hand and be reasonably sure of getting a point (I might even go alone depending on the score). If I pass and and fortunate enough to have my opponents call, I get two points for euchring them (and a pretty good idea of where the remaining trump are based on who called). If they don't call, I still get first bid on second go round and can call clubs (again, maybe even alone) for a guaranteed point. My contention is that any player who doesn't "sandbag" here is just a poor (or social) player and not somebody I'd want as my partner.

Another obvious situation for sandbagging is if you are sitting third base and playing stick the dealer. You may have two sure trick and maybe a third. Would it be better to make a borderline call or to force your opponent to make a call and get two points for making three tricks instead of one?

People who don't like sandbagging should NEVER play stick the dealer, since absent stick the dealer one can punish the sandbagger by simply throwing in the hand (making the bagger lose the opportunity to get a point).

In my experience, the players who complain the most about sandbagging are infrequent or intermediate players who are frustrated at getting set on a bid they are used to making--one which would probably fly if there were an even trump distribution. Consciously or not, they think the fact that someone didn't call is a guarantee that the trump is evenly distributed and hence feel safe(r) calling a thin hand.

In general I believe the more aggressive team usually wins and that one should call if one can. An underrated component of the game, however, is knowing your opponent. If you know your opponent likes to call thin, sometimes the lost opportunities for borderline points can be made up for by euchres.

Players who complain about sandbagging are like a football team that is behind complaining that the other team is playing a prevent defense when they normally blitz or claiming that it is unsportsmanlike for an offensive line to let a defensive lineman get by in order to set up a screen pass. It makes no sense.

More Blockbuster Stupidity

I've written in the past about different ways Blockbuster has messed up (in my opinion).

One of their last big shenanigans was to roll out and advertise to death a "no late fees" policy that was anything but "no late fees." More recently, they've been trying to bit into Netflix's subscriber base by pushing Total Access, a service where their online rentals can be returned to the store and used as a voucher for a free rental--effectively doubling the number of rentals you could get for the same subscriber price.

Blockbuster recently announced that they were raising prices for this service. Okay, that doesn't bother me too much. Price wars are nice for the consumer, but they have to end eventually. More irritating is that they put a cap on the number of in store trades ins on several of their subscription options. But again, I could live with it. After all, the decision is mine whether I want to pay the premium for unlimited in-store trades (where it's easier to find TV on DVD available then it is to get high demand titles shipped) or have a limit.

I selected the option where I get five (5) in-store rentals each month, and that's where my current beef lies.

I was at a store yesterday and asked what had to be an anticipated question with the new, capped trade in service: "How many in-store trades do I have left in my billing cycle?" The inexplicable answer? "We don't know."

It was explained to me that the store had "no way" to access (no pun intended) that information. The register/computer simply spit out a denial whenever the customer was over his or her limit, at which point they asked if he/she wanted to continue with the transaction.

Now lets think about this for a second. There is absolutely no legitimate customer service reason why the register can tell you that you are over but can't tell you how close you are to being over. The computer can tell you when your Blockbuster Rewards is up, how many rentals you need until a free rental, and when your rentals are due.

The only rational conclusion I can come to is that Blockbuster doesn't want you to have that information. Why? Well, if my receipt tells me, "Hey this is your last trade in until the end of the month," then I'm going to stay away from the store for a week or two until I have another trade in. But if I go to the store, wind through checkout, and at the point of exit am told, "you are over your limit" then I might be more likely to say (standing at the register with the DVD I want in my hand), "Oh, bother...well, I'll just pay cash for this one rental and then come back when I have more trade ins." Now, instead of walking out of the store happy about my transaction and service, I'm walking out angry and feeling fleeced of extra couple of bucks.

This is just bad customer service. It is penny wise and pound foolish. Blockbuster is spending all this advertising money to try to get new customers and then going out of its way to alienate rather than satisfy them. If Blockbuster spent a fraction of the effort keeping customers satisfied (rather than squeezing them) that they did trying to get them to try the service in the first place, they would be better off. They may wrestle an additoinal $5 rental out of a loyal customer only to find that customer cancelling a monthly $20 subscription.

And they wonder why Netflix continues to kick their butt.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Emma (25-31)--Almost too Gallant to be in Love

I find I don't have much to say about Chapter Six of Volume I, in which the obsequious Mr. Elton graces the stage in body for the first time. The bulk of this chapter centers on Emma's drawing a portrait of Harriet Smith and her misunderstanding Elton's praise of it as an infatuation for its subject rather than its creator.

There are two prominent instances in which the omniscient narrator reads and recites Emma's thoughts, a technique Austen uses throughout to blur the line between objective fact and subjective perspective. After Elton praises the art work of Emma's he has seen at Randalls, the next paragraph begins:

Yes, good man!--thought Emma--but what has all that to do with taking likenesses? You know nothing of drawing. Don't pretend to be in raptures about mine. Keep your raptures for Harriet's face. (27)

At the end of the chapter, when Elton asks to take the picture to London, we are told:

"This man is almost too gallant to be in love," thought Emma. "I should say so, but that I suppose there may be a hundred different ways of being in love."

One odd feature that stands out when these two exchanges are juxtaposed is that the latter uses traditional punctuation (the quotation marks) to denote that we are hearing Emma's exact thoughts and not a general description of them. The former example does not come with those quotation marks, but surely we are meant to understand the first example as being a direct quote as well, aren't we?

One could, I suppose look at these quotes and attribute the difference to the non-standard use of punctuation in a culture where printing is not quite ubiquitous. Whether this is the case, or whether Austen is intentional, the effect is a further obscuring of the line between thought and speech, public and private, narrator and Austen.

Oh, when these quotes are wrenched out of context and placed side by side, I don't think too many readers would have any trouble distinguishing whose thoughts are being represented. Over the course of a novel, though, I wonder if the gradual conflation of narrative description with Emma's thoughts doesn't give us a skewed representation of reality making us as surprised as Emma when objective reality imposes itself on our (and her) subjective experience.

The most obvious example in this chapter of what I am calling an abrupt narrative shift is Knightley's comment "You have made her too tall, Emma" (30). The paragraphs immediately preceding this comment are meant, I think, to convey a composite of several different interactions. (The chapter covers the formation of the idea of the painting to the completion of the painting.) We move rather seamlessly from Elton's representative comments (supplied to illustrate how Emma received them) to one specific comment of Knightley during one specific viewing.

My point here is not that this narrative foreshortening is unique to Austen--it isn't. What is interesting and somewhat different is the lack of signals indicating the transition from montage to specific event. We are forever doing double-takes, large and small, in this novel. Although less egregious (and irritating), this device reminds of those dream scenes in film where there is no music nor fuzzy lighting to designate that a person is dreaming.

More so with the conflation of narrator's description and Emma's thoughts than the movement from montage to specific scene, I find these devices have a cumulative effect of pushing us towards Emma's views of the world. With their repetition, I would argue, we gradually forget how much of the novel's other characters and our opinions of them are mediated through Emma. It's a surprise not just when they don't conform to our (i.e. Emma's) expectations, but also when they are surprised by Emma's behavior. (Since her motivations and thoughts--not accessible to them--are so thoroughly familiar to us.)

The comic nature of these surprises is how often they occur in the novel without us getting clued in. Mr. Elton is not almost too gallant to be in love...he is too gallant because he is not in love (with Harriet).

Austen doesn't hide the voice of reason, whether Knightley's or her own, she just shows how easy it is to not hear it while attending to those other more vibrant voices that confirm what we want to hear. Of Emma's art, the narrator says, "There was merit in every drawing--in the least finished, perhaps the most; her style was spirited; but had there been much more or less, or had there been ten times more, the delight and admiration of her two companions would have been the same" (27). The observation that it is the drawings that are "least finished" that show the most merit symbolizes easily and clearly that Emma's core nature is good but that the more she applies her art(ifice) to her projects, the less merit they express.

This is a reading of Emma that is not inconsistent with what we are told in Chapter One. That she thinks a little too well of herself should not be taken to mean there is nothing in her to think well of. That her admirers are not serving in the office of true friend (as Knightley will put it later) with their flattery is easily overlooked in its lack of immediate consequences.

The paragraph regarding Emma's drawings ends with a perfect example of the blending of sincere narrative description with judgmental evaluation: "A likeness pleases every body; and Miss Woodhouse's performance must be capital" (27). It is only in the word "must" that the tone of censure is heard, and how easy it is to rush past it, to not linger on the unpleasant (such as Emma does not linger on the paintings when the work becomes burdensome).

[For more close readings of Emma, click on the labels for this post.]

Friday, September 28, 2007

Emma (22-25)--A Scene without Emma in It

Chapter Five of Volume I is the first (and to my current recollection only) major passage in the book in which Emma does not appear. The narrator will occasionally fill in back story or events about people outside of Emma's range of sight, but this is usually done within the framework of telling about some event about which Emma is participating. This chapter's rather singular nature, then, makes me think it either very important or a mistake.

What might be some reasons for including a scene that Emma does not participate in? Knightley may be acting as an author surrogate here. The views he has reinforce the narrator's claims and description from Chapter One, so one thing that is accomplished through this chapter is an aligning of Knightley's views with the narrator's. Compare the narrator's "The real evils of Emma's situation were the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little to well of herself" (1), with Knightley's "Emma is spoiled by being the cleverest of her family...And ever since she was twelve, Emma has been mistress of the house and of you all" (23). This alignment of views means that subsequently, when Knightley speaks, we are more prone to think he speaks for Austen (or at least for the narrator).

The absence of Emma in this exchange also allows for the delicious irony, normally only caught on a second or third reading of Knightley saying: "It would not be a bad thing for her to be very much in love with a proper object. I should like to see Emma in love and in some doubt of a return; it would do her good" (25). I'm prone to read this exchange primarily as a sort of M. Night Shyamalan-like joke on the audience, and I think it works that way, but I'm not sure that having this joke is a sufficient reason for an author of Austen's caliber to include a gratuitous scene. I return then to the question of what does this scene provide us that we couldn't or don't get elsewhere in the novel?

One possible answer is that it gives us some insight into Knightley--insight that helps round his character. Really, in order to keep the union a surprise for so long from Emma and the reader's, Knightley's mind, if not his person, must be kept at a distance from the action. Later in the novel Knightley will tell Emma that he has loved her tenderly since she was thirteen. We can then read the statements made in this chapter as those of a man in love and through them get some insight into what he (and through the alignment, the narrator) thinks about the natures of love and their respective values.

The first statement that jumps out is his claim that John (his brother and Emma's brother-in-law) "loves Emma with a reasonable and therefore not a blind affection" (24). Reason (and its corollary "sense") are gendered throughout the novel. Characters associated with "sense" are Knightley, of course, and Robert Martin. Emma, we are told, lacks sense (she is "clever"), although at one point Knightley concedes she has some sense but misuses it. What exactly is a "reasonable" affection? Are "blind" and "reasonable" truly opposites when referring to types of affection, and is "reasonable" really the superior of the two? Is "reasonable" the way you want your lover to describe his affection for you? Knightley's love is hidden in part because he fails to use the taxonomy of love we expect from lovers. Some of this (maybe all of it) may be due to his judiciousness. It's worth contemplating, though, whether or not the nature of Knightley's love undergoes changes throughout the novel or whether it is constant, making Emma the one who changes to meet him.

On first reading Knightley's desire that Emma experience love of which she is unsure of the return reads as a paternalistic desire for her maturity. Again, though, it is worth asking, why would someone in love want this for the object of his/her love? Is this jealousy or a desire that she experience what he has experienced? Even if it is a desire for her maturity, there is a sense in both these two statements that he is frustrated at himself for loving her in spite of her flaws. Isn't that the essence of love, though? It is almost as though he is disappointed in himself for not being able to resist.

In another passage where Knightley is projecting (this time onto Isabella), he says: "There is an anxiety, a curiosity in what one feels for Emma. I wonder what will become of her" (25). Certainly that "anxiety" may be another in-joke between Austen and the repeat reader. Our man of sense is flummoxed and, despite his air of reasonable non-chalance, not as tightly in control of his emotions nor as confident as he lets on.

The word "curiosity" here is interesting. It doesn't say there is a curiosity "about" what one feels for Emma but "in" it. This may simply be a way of saying there is something "odd" about his feelings, or anyone's, for Emma. That it is odd the sorts of responses she elicits. But it could mean, literally, there is an element of curiosity in one's feelings for Emma, that part of what is endearing about her is the performance aspect of the relationship. One is curious to see what she will do next. She entertains.

In an extreme case this might be bad. I think of all the language that Edith Wharton uses to illustrate that Selden loves to contemplate Lily Bart (in The House of Mirth) as an art object, but that loving to watch her is not the same as loving her. I'm not sure that I want to place Knightley with Selden, but I do want to suggest that he has a few things to learn about loving wisely and well and that the novel shouldn't just be read as the perfect male waiting for the reformation and maturation of the imperfect female in order to be worthy of him. In fact, in this area, Knightley and Emma are much the same--they are both cast as observers of life first and participants only vicariously (Emma through Harriet, Miss Weston, matchmaking; Knightley through watching Emma, advising Robert Martin, watching John and Isabella). Their reasons for being so may be different. There could be a mixture of temperament, fear, conditioning, and selfishness. (Perhaps it is bad for a man, too, to have too much the power to have his own way and Knightley may be in danger of growing into Mr. Woodhouse as he grows older.)

Being in love, much less pursuing it, brings a person into a vulnerable state. I often ask my students what Emma brings to the match. How she helps Knightley rather than just being helped by him. There is an emotional cautiousness about him that manifests itself in this tendency to sublimate affection into observation or curiosity (much safer emotions). Emma has as much reason to fear entanglement or attachment as he. This chapter introduces her resolution not to marry and she will repeat to Harriet the litany of points in favor of remaining single, most of which center around the fact that marriage is a risky proposition both emotionally (for everyone) and socially/economically (for her, especially). If Emma gives up more of her freedom (or at least more of her security) in falling in love, her willingness to move from the state of observer or vicarious matchmaker to that of one who owns her own feelings is an emotionally brave one, and there is both a zest for life and a willingness to take risks that leaven Knightley's caution and, I think, challenge him to strive for happiness rather than settle for contentedness.

[For more close readings of Emma, click on one of the labels below. I try to post a close reading of a passage every Friday.]