The ambitious contemplative

My precious attention!

A friend of my coined this phrase in service of a socially conscious argument, and I have turned it into an object for lament. I don’t know what to do about my attention.

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New poems in May

An ongoing project at Bat, Bean, Beam.

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New Poems in April

An ongoing project at Bat, Bean, Beam

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To the World’s End

My DVD copy of Shaun of the Dead I ordered from the UK, not because it was unavailable in this country but because it was quicker and cheaper to find and buy DVDs in this way at that time. Instead of the usual simple structure its case had plastic hinges that kept it closed. I never saw this design again, but came to associate it with the film: as a way of keeping the (comedy) horror in, or the fact of its enjoyment, its value to me. It was like those barely-lockable diaries in circulation when I was younger: known, recognised, and yet still for a limited audience. I taught the movie to my film studies students in a pairing with Napoleon Dynamite, a lesser film that ran out its tenure more quickly than its zombie companion.

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The triumph of Don Ottavio

We wait for the comeuppance, and whatever deus ex machina by which it is delivered. It is what separates us from the other animals, so we say: not the delivery of justice but the assumption that external structures, external forces (“Call it Fate, Call it Karma” as a recent song title had it) will deliver indicators of a final act.

Those notions of divine justice gave the Reformation and Enlightenment dramatists heavy markers around which to circle, from which to depart and then – only pretending! – to return. The man gone up in flames runs first towards us and then away, whether solipsistic academic or unrepentant libertine. The consolation for the audience, who will not themselves get to see Helen of Troy or murder a local dignatory, is to escape this fate, or at least one day to face divine judgement with a more modest curriculum vitae.

Don Giovanni in his eponymous opera gets to try on all the guises, spinning a wheel of entitled lust until he is literally chasing skirts, while his credit, first social, then temporal, runs out. I have yet to see a performance in which the final hell-fires are metaphorical. New Zealand Opera’s production, which this week had a three-show run in Christchurch, kept the flames but removed the divine. It was a rendering in which the moral agents of the Don’s defeat were identifiably of this world. The collusion, the street justice, the competing commercial interests were elements in the staging that turned it gangster, even as the arias kept coming, so sweetly sung that the skin on one of my fingers split from applauding.

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