Sumptuously Reading, Watching, Viewing: May 2023

During May I’d hoped to do a 31 Days of Sub Specie 15-16th-Century Aeternitates, namely, reading through these 15th- and 16th-century texts and writing about them each day. The mainstay of this was to be Montaigne’s Essais, as well as Shakespeare and some of the metaphysical poets and maybe even some Luther.

But good intentions, you know, …

Well, at least I left myself the “31 days,” not a month. So it’s in progress.

— Shakespeare, King Henry IV, Part 2 (Hereafter, 2H4), A1S3-A2S2
Begun reading in April, after first re-reading King Henry IV, Part 1 yet again. It’s no 1H4, I’ll say that.
— William Alabaster, “Upon the Ensignes of Christs Crucifyinge”, “Incarnatio est maximum donum Dei”
Endeavour, S4E4
— Borges, “The Theme of the Traitor and the Hero”, “Death and the Compass
Have read “Death and the Compass” many times before and I guess that one of the things I admire about this is the features of the detective story, the references to literary history, notions of geometry complicated by mirrors … in other words, features consistent throughout the oeuvre de Borges.
Did not know Bertolucci made a film out of “The Theme of the Traitor and the Hero”
— Montaigne, Essais, 1:2 “Of Sadness”

— Montaigne, 1:3 “Our Feelings Reach Out Beyond Us”

— Montaigne, 1:4 “On Idleness”
— Sir Henry Wotton, “On His Mistris, Queen of Bohemia”

— Montaigne, 1:8 “On Idleness”

— NYRB on topiary over the ages, Kafka
— Montaigne, “Of Liars,” “That No Man Should Be Called Happy Until His Death”

— NYRB on Kafka, Erdogen
— Montaigne, “On the Power of the Imagination”
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (2017), last hour
This is the one with Kurt Russell, right? Is something charming about these movies, I suppose. The raccoon, probably. Groot. Bad 1980s music. Eh …

— NYRB on Adolf Loos
— Montaigne, 1:5 “Whether the governor of a besieged place should go out to parley”; 1:6 “Parley time is dangerous”

Endeavour, 5:1
— Montaigne, 1:10 “Of Prompt or slow speech”

— Montaigne 1:20, “That to philosophize is to learn to die”

— Montaigne, 2:1, “Of inconsistency”; 1:52, “Of the parsimony of the Ancients”; 1:53, “Of a saying of Caesar’s”
2H4, Act 2, Scene III, IV
Endeavour, 5, 2
— Kant, “Idea for a Universal History With A Cosmopolitan Purpose

Reading A Passage from Immanuel Kant’s “Idea for a University History …”

“History […] allows us to hope that, if it examines the free exercise of the human will on a large scale, it will be able to discover a regular progression among freely willed actions.

“to hope that …” Everything has to do with the freedom of the will, the heart of Kant’s thinking. To be clear (for normal human beings, i.e. non-Kantians), the problem is that we have no insight into experience of freedom insofar as all actions are experienced as themselves effects of previous events. In other words, our experience never allows freedom to be visible, so to speak. Freedom implies not being determined by prior events.

“In the same way, we may hope that what strikes us in the actions of individuals as confused and fortuitous may be recognized, in the history of the entire species, as a steadily advancing but slow development of man’s original capacities.

It’s this sentence with its sketch of the waves of human history betraying certain tendencies that is so exciting. We cannot see it on the level of individual actions, but when we zoom out, if you will, we might see something different.

“Thus marriages, births, and deaths do not seem to be subject to any rule by which their numbers could be calculated in advance, since the free human will has such a great influence upon them; and yet the annual statistics for them in large countries prove that they are just as subject to constant natural laws as are the changes in the weather, which in themselves are so inconsistent that their individual occurrence cannot be determined in advance, but which nevertheless do not fail as a whole to sustain the growth of plants, the flow of rivers, and other natural functions in a uniform and uninterrupted course.

The sociologist just observes “constant natural laws” not unlike geological movements, were they visible to the eye (like that of William Smith).

“Individual men and even entire nations little imagine that, while they are pursuing their own ends, each in his own way and often in opposition to others, they are unwittingly guided in their advance along a course intended by nature. They are unconsciously promoting an end which, even if they knew what it was, would scarcely arouse their interest.

Unconscious actions. Although Kant was not himself a contributor to the human story in terms of progeny …

The Benchwarmers (2005)
A comedy film … that is mildly entertaining. An improvement over Animal House, I think (see below). But really that much of one?
— Kant, “Idea for a Universal History
— Borges, “The End,” “The Secret Miracle”, and “Three Versions of Judas
The idea of God and the power of the story of Jesus, when appreciated in their imbrication, lead to certain consequences bearing on the status of Judas.

Two characters on top of a building, one at gunpoint, in a crucial scene in "Infernal Affairs".
Andy Lau and Tony Leung in the 2002 film Infernal Affairs, which is the exemplar for the more well-known film The Departed (2006), made by Martin Scorsese.

Infernal Affairs (2002)
This film stars Andy Lau and Tony Leung, and the former was a co-director. The latter I know from all of the films he’s made with Wong Kar-Wai (my favorite probably being 2000’s In the Mood for Love). Lau was in As Tears Go By (1988), which I’ve seen but don’t recall significantly.
Have known for some time about this film but had not seen it. Martin Scorsese’s 2006 film The Departed, which is well known, was based on this film.
I had not known Infernal Affairs was part of a trilogy (and haven’t yet seen the others).
Unfortunately, feel like I am not in a position to offer much judgment because of the fact that this film is in Mandarin, and I’m watching the subtitled version. Judging a performance depends heavily on the intonation and timing of lines, right?
There is no subplot between wife of the Triad spy infiltrating the police (Andy Lau) and the police officer infiltrating the Triad (Tony Leung), as in The Departed, and I have to say that this is an important plot element. However, Infernal Affairs has the Triad-infiltrating-officer be the father of a child that he’s not known.
Endeavour, 5.3

2H4, Act 3: Sc 1-4

Endeavour, 5.4
— Montaigne, “On Cannibals”

NYRB on crypto
2H4 finished

Porco Rosso (1992)
A Miyazaki film about a charming pig pilot, who was once human and then turned into a pig.

Better Call Saul, 6.4-8

Better Call Saul, 6.9
— Montaigne, 1.42, “Of the inequality that is between us”

— Introduction to 2H4

— Montaigne, 1:57, “Of age”; 1:40, “of the subtlety of words”

Better Call Saul, 6.10-11
Animal House (1979)
When I was growing up this film was held in high regard and yet I cannot really understand why. Like M*A*S*H (below), it has aged poorly.

Heat (1995) on large screen at Bryn Mawr Film Institute

Still from the major scene in the 1995 Michael Mann film "Heat", in which the bank robbers are engaged in a gun battle with police
Still from the major scene in the 1995 Michael Mann film Heat, in which the bank robbers are engaged in a gun battle with police

5/27 (cont’d)
M*A*S*H (1970), first 1.5 hours.
An early film by Robert Altman, famous for Nashville (1975), McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971), Brewster McCloud (1970), The Long Goodbye (1973), and Short Cuts (1993), a 70 mm print of which I saw in New York when the film was released; infamous for O.C. and Stiggs (1987).
I believe that I had seen this before, yet I have no recollection that the theme song for the movie and the television show is “Suicide is Painless.” There is something of a joke there in that the character who thinks he’s committing suicide is called Painless (he’s not actually committing suicide—in fact, they gave him a sedative and then had a woman have sex with him?).
Yet I could not think that so much of the humor concerning Hot Lips Houlihan would fall unquestionably into the realm of sexual harassment, some of it being especially pernicious (like the scene where they line up before the shower and then pull the curtain away.) Critic Jonathan Rosenbaum was one of the few to note this at the time.
Don’t think this film is aging well.
— Martin Luther, “Letter to Leo X”

— “Sublime Ideas”: Piranesi’s drawings at the Morgan Library. For more on this and the recent acquisition of a book collecting his etchings.

Better Call Saul, 6.12-13
I don’t know what to say about this series. I enjoyed it, clearly, as I binged at least one night. The main character is undoubtedly compelling, but I think his best moment was after his brother’s death by suicide and he offhandedly suggests that his brother’s legal partner bears responsibility. His nonchalance in that moment was powerful, galling.
But Saul Goodman was upstaged by his colleague and love interest Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) and drug dealer Nacho Varga (Michael Mando). When Kim leaves Jimmy, it was heartbreaking but necessary.

Endeavour, 5.5 (40 minutes)
— Montaigne, 2.14, “How our mind hinders itself”; 2.24, “Of the greatness of Rome”;2.26, “Of thumbs”