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