19 August 2012


Filed under: Fiction — ktismatics @ 12:09 pm

Here’s a little thought — and there’s a good chance that you too have entertained this thought if you watch — about Breaking Bad, a TV show that I’m hooked on. In last season’s fourth episode, Walter and Skyler White sit in their living room planning their evening’s conversation with Skyler’s sister Marie and her husband Hank, a DEA agent. Walt cooks methamphetamine, and now he’s bought a car wash as a front for laundering (LOL) the drug money. But he’s just a high school chemistry teacher:  how could he possibly afford to pay for a car wash? Skyler cooks up a cover story: Walt made the money counting cards at blackjack tables. Walt is preparing a demonstration of his skills to stage for the in-laws, but he keeps losing. Finally Walt throws in the cards. I shouldn’t be showing off my technique, he tells Skyler: I’m in recovery.

WALT:  And that is the fiction we should be sticking to.
SKYLER:  You know what? You’re right. Yeah.
WALT:  Wow.

Skyler walks over to the coffee table and picks up two sheaves of paper. She hands one stack to Walt, keeping the other, and sits back down.

SKYLER:  Okay. We’re not leaving anything to chance. Alright let’s get started, got a lot of ground to cover.
WALT:  What is this?
SKYLER:  We have to get our story straight, we’ve got to be on the same page.
WALT:  A script?
SKYLER:  Bullet points.
WALT:  Bullet points? Looks like a novella.
SKYLER:  This is smart. You really want to try to sell a DEA agent some ill-prepared, half-assed, full of holes story about how we suddenly have enough money to buy a car wash?
WALT:  Am I supposed to memorize this?
SKYLER:  We need to practice, Walt. We need to be word perfect.
WALT:  Within reason.
SKYLER:  We need this story to be solid and sympathetic and most of all completely believable.

There’s some sort of metafictional business written into every episode of Breaking Bad. So how about this: cooking meth is a metaphor for producing a television series.

Walt has come up with the formula for making the best meth on the market: the highest level of chemical purity that triggers the most intense high for its users. Walt has achieved this level of excellence through systematic rational experimentation with ingredients and techniques, with organization and timing. Among all the competitors on the market Walt’s product is the best at doing what it’s supposed to do: overwhelming the user’s systematic rational judgment. As a result the customers are prepared to pay top dollar for Walt’s product.

I can’t wait for tonight’s episode.


  1. WALT: I’m not in the meth business, or in the money business. I’m in the empire business.

    Okay, so that’s a broader metaphor…


    Comment by ktismatics — 20 August 2012 @ 8:27 pm

  2. I can’t honestly claim that my enjoyment of Breaking Bad is only ironic. I appreciate the meta elements, but I also like the show as a straight-up adventure story. I recognize that the Walt character is designed to play right into my demographic, that even Walt’s good-guy motivations for engineering the most destructive and addictive substance possible are repulsive, that the government is portrayed as incompetent (DEA) and ineffectual (public high school), that the Mexicans are presented as too stupid to make really high-quality product and nearly subhuman in their viciousness. My emotional resonance with the Walt’s nerve and resourcefulness, with his fucked-up personal relationships and his ethical compromises: does it mean that unconsciously I’m looking for justification of my own latent and unacknowledged neoliberalism, racism, and sexism? I suppose that would be hard to argue against: if I deny it then I’ve clearly not achieved adequate self-awareness. For now I do acknowledge that I liked it when Jesse’s latest scheme succeeded in outwitting the railroad even if it meant securing for the meth cooks a supply of the key raw material for making much more of their terrible product, and I was saddened and angered when the thug killed the kid on the bike who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Are these the mirror neurons firing in my brain, triggering my emotional response prior to conscious mediation? Am I culpable for putting myself in front of the TV screen knowing that I will be subjected to this sort of emotional manipulation? Is it just a TV show for Pete’s sake, the only one I watch all week?


    Comment by ktismatics — 21 August 2012 @ 10:50 am

  3. Tell it to the judge!


    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 21 August 2012 @ 12:24 pm

  4. Yes I know you don’t experience these moral qualms about art or entertainment, Patrick. Did you have to resolve some inner turmoil in order to attain your present equanimity, or are you just immune — kind of like my immunity to Monkey Mind?

    There have been only 3 hits on this post today, so evidently the judge is sleeping through my Hamlet soliloquy.


    Comment by ktismatics — 21 August 2012 @ 12:38 pm

  5. I thoroughly enjoyed your confessional, it reminded me of Peter Finch at the end of ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’. There’s a whole of OTHER things you don’t feel guilty about that you probably should!

    I guess I’m just immune, after surviving some 7 years of attacks as a pariah by all the bleugers. I found that just standing alone was what you have to do at death (even if some nice companion of spouse holds your hand), so why bother with ‘loneliness’ in life, and enjoy ‘la solitude’. (Gilbert Becaud has a wonderful song by that title, I think from late 70s. I bet he and Brigitte Bardot were hot lovers.)


    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 21 August 2012 @ 1:03 pm

  6. I’ve never seen Sunday Bloody Sunday, so I just requested it from interlibrary.


    Comment by ktismatics — 21 August 2012 @ 2:22 pm

  7. I hoped you would! Finch’s little soliloquy is only in tone like yours, not the same kind of material and not about musing on guilt, and it’s naturally at the end, when the young man he and Glenda Jackson have been sharing has run off (that theme was pretty popular in the 70s, whether in the Warhol ‘Heat’ or in ‘Welcome to L.A.’, ‘Nashville’, countless others.) It’s quite a unique movie, Penelope Gilliatt wrote the famous script that was nominated for an Oscar.


    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 21 August 2012 @ 2:43 pm

  8. I like how you characterise the show as “a straight-up adventure story”, and talk about enjoying the plotting and execution of the schemes, etc. This is clearly what a lot of people enjoy in the show: well staged and paced heist-style plots, with tension and excitement, twists and cliffhangers, etc. And this stuff is of course great fun. Plus the acting, cinematography, etc. For some reason, though, many of the show’s fans want to present themselves not as enjoying the action adventure elements (they’ll often even deny that the show participates in these genres) but instead as enriched by its searching psychological profundity and searing insights into the abyss of hubristic moral collapse, etc. And because they’re keen to present the show’s deep meaning as the source of their enjoyment, they’ll also angrily deny that the show contains the many sexist, racist, generally reactionary elements that it obviously does. This in turn makes it difficult not to see repression at work – and that in turn leads to the suspicion that one of the things repressed may, in fact, be pleasure taken in those reactionary aspects of the show. Why else deny their presence?

    Diagnosing this of course isn’t the same thing as saying that such pleasures are the only ones the show provides. Like any reactionary artwork, it can be enjoyed in many other respects – and will be enjoyed for different things by different audiences. Maybe one of the problems with ‘Breaking Bad’ is not (just) that it caters to racists and sexists; but (also) that it serves racist and sexist political resentment as a side order for people who mostly just want good performances, exciting plot twists, derring-do, and an ongoing story of peril and adventure. A sign of the times, perhaps, that the most prominent tv vehicles for these pleasures also bear so many other, more heinous, resonances?


    Comment by duncan — 22 August 2012 @ 7:17 am

  9. “Why else deny their presence?”

    I’ve not had much occasion to discuss Breaking Bad with intellectual cultural critics, but I have seen a few recent blog posts and I like your analysis, Duncan. Being caught up in the action a viewer well might fail to notice the searing insights and deep meaning, like the little kid who misses the adult innuendos in a Disney animation. But sophisticated viewers would have to be out of touch not just with their emotional responses but with the manifest content of the show to fail to detect the action-adventure elements — hell, not just elements but the core — of Breaking Bad. So I think you’re right: there’s some sort of denial or repression going on. If a viewer acknowledges being jazzed by the content while also acknowledging that the content is fueled to a significant degree by reactionary elements — libertarian capitalism, xenophobia, vendetta, etc. — then the viewer has to confront an inner conflict. Maybe it’s easier to deal with cognitive dissonance the way Walt does: let’s just move on, we can get past this, we’ve got to keep single-minded focus, just ignore these unsettling distractions.

    “it serves racist and sexist political resentment as a side order”

    Very possibly. Putting a psychotic drug-addled ultraviolent brute in play as an enemy makes for an easy good-guy bad-guy identification. But does he have to be Mexican? And wouldn’t the insights sear a little deeper if the drug lord too had some depth, some motivation, some embeddedness in a larger social order? The series takes place in New Mexico, its long land border with Mexico patrolled by INS agents and half of its population reporting Latino heritage. There is a context.


    Comment by ktismatics — 22 August 2012 @ 10:06 am

  10. “Is it just a TV show for Pete’s sake, the only one I watch all week?”

    Basically, yes. This is just more complicated and has elements that leftists analyze to death, but simplifying it, take any noir or even just anything with a lot of brutal murders in it that doesn’t have political overtones, uindertones, whatever. You ‘shouldn’t’ really enjoy that either. How about watching career criminal Barbara Graham in the gas chamber in ‘I Want to Live’. Oh well, I did NOT enjoy that, but I’m sure many did.

    You’re probably just questioning your enjoyment of something with so-called ‘reactionary’ elements (I wouldn’t have said ‘so-called’ until I met the bleugers, and then I found that leftists aren’t one whit brighter or more decent (there are extremes, of course–Romney/Ryan) than many conservatives. You get enjoyment wherever you get it. Shaviro’s weird choice of ‘Imitation of Life’ (the Sirk one) was interesting, because there’s no way that that would survive accusations of racism on the part of everyone involved by now. And just because in the old days of public segregation, blacks wanted to see it so bad they’d sit in the ‘coloured only’ section in order to see this schlock (which started being recognized as ‘art’ only during the 80s). I mentioned offhand a few years ago to this black girl something about ‘Our Town’, and she smirked. And this is why you feel guilty (or part of it.) The concensus is that her smirk was okay, since centuries of racism, no blacks in the film, etc. The biggest ballet companies often never have anyone black in them, there is a such thing as the ‘white ballet’, and it’s supposed to have a certain coloration, and if you do the token black (even if there’s a black member of the company, which there often is, at least in the U.S., not in Russia, with the Kirov or Bolshoi, unless it’s a Cuban) stands out and the effect is lost. So some who don’t care about the ‘straightforward adventure story’ or the ‘white ballet done perfectly’ (as parts of ‘Giselle’ I saw by Paris Opera Ballet in July), you have the satisfaction of ‘social justice’ made more important than the artwork. Which it may well be, but not within the work. Stereotypes all over the place are okay. You shouldn’t give in on it an inch! And there have been tons of Mexican cocaine kingpins, and certain drugs coming across the border were recently the subject of legislation, I think these were prescription drugs, may have been hydrocodone and vicodin, can’t remember. TV people could as easily do ‘exciting’ shows about holdups at pharmacies on Long Island since 2005, in which there were shootouts a couple of years ago. And they’ve got all sorts of protective barriers in place and signs saying ‘WE DON’T STOCK HYDROCODONE’, because so many of them have had terrifying experiences with addicts. The stupidity is not legalizing some of these things, probably, although that’s another issue. If marijuana is made legal, the poor, suffering pushers who make a living that way will be out of business.

    There’s such a big contingent discussing how these shows operate on the populace, you’re bound to wonder why you feel that way enjoying all of it, unlike me. That’s purely and simply because you may not exactly adore all of them, but you don’t loathe them the way I do. I think they’re time-wasters and indolent.

    How, for chrissake, watch ‘The Sopranos’, which most enjoyed immensely (including myself, although tardy to get them out of NYPL several seasons late), if you don’t suspend your ‘moral judgment’. They’re ALL doing terrible things. Even Carmela almost fucks a priest, until it turns out all he wants is food and wine and not pussy. Then she tries to go straight, but is between two shrinks, one of whom will accept ‘blood money’ and another who won’t (but has been recommended by the first.) She gives in, and Tony gives her some large dough for a school or some cause, and that semi-assuages her refusal to ‘leave him’, as the second shrink had said. What happens when you watch the Sopranos is not something insidious, but that you find out exactly what Mafia families are like: They’re, for the most part, on a day-to-day basis, just like other families, and you have to empathize with them if you’re going to enjoy the show. In this, ‘The Sopranos’ took it much further than ‘The Godfather’ movies, because those didn’t seem to be about ‘PLU’, and Carmela and Tony sometimes are exactly like us. My sisters don’t say ‘Jesus Fucking Christ’, but one of my cousins has never put up too much protest when her husband made millions by being rather rough-and-tumble with some people.

    What you want outta life? Sit around are feel virtuous? Then don’t watch TV at all. Like me. Although this show sounds really good. Of course, it could be even more extremely ‘racist’, by doing a show about meth on Indian reservations, where tragedies almost unfathomable have been the norm for some 15 years. Why an Indian? Because that’s where a lot of it happened. A show about that would be done if there was thought to be a demographic for it, but there probably isn’t. In any case, the matter of what Marxists think about Anglos vs. Indians in the U.S. is beside the point for a show. The reservations without the meth are already proof of the history, calling them ‘nations’, etc. Plus, you’d have to hire a lot of Apache and Navaho actors to make it work, and they’re not that many, not nearly as many available as Hispanic or Asian even.

    But when you just enjoy a film noir, you’re enjoying all sorts of basically grisly stuff, even if it’s not subject to the thought police. Which the net is full of.


    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 22 August 2012 @ 11:17 am

  11. I asked you before whether you had to resolve the dilemma between enjoyment and ethics in your response to entertainments, and you said you didn’t, that maybe you were immune to the conflict. “You get enjoyment wherever you get it,” you say, and maybe that’s an epigrammatic summary of your own ethic: pleasure for pleasure’s sake, enjoyment as a moral good. Then there’s no conflict: if the show doesn’t induce pleasure then it’s bad. If reflecting on the show’s impact on you diminishes the pleasure then that reflection is bad.

    It’s very possible that the producers of Breaking Bad share your viewpoint on art/entertainment/enjoyment for their own sakes, on the indolence of leftist cultural critics, on the fundamental human similarity between law-abiders and criminals. They might regard their work on the show as a morally good deed, or as a way of doing what they enjoy and getting paid for it, or both. Some of what I get in reading/watching the show is reflexive, about my own pleasure-morality quotient when watching people do bad things as well as about the fiction as a cultural artifact that might be exerting reactionary influences on the viewers. This no doubt is a bourgeois consumerist conceit on my part, to luxuriate in the pleasure of exploring my own inner conflicts and plumbing my own depths of character. But is that all it is? Oh boy, there’s another layer I can peel off…


    Comment by ktismatics — 22 August 2012 @ 12:39 pm

  12. ” of your own ethic: pleasure for pleasure’s sake, enjoyment as a moral good. Then there’s no conflict: if the show doesn’t induce pleasure then it’s bad. If reflecting on the show’s impact on you diminishes the pleasure then that reflection is bad.”

    Odd response. I don’t think I said any of that, or at least not so extensively. I don’t think ‘I Want to Live’ (including the gas chamber scene) was bad because I don’t get pleasure watching capital punishment.

    My main point was much simpler: That ‘talk’ is all about ideology and politics, and that’s what your misgivings about the pleasure you got from ‘breaking bad’ was about. I just said that there has always been pleasure in extremely TRAGIC things, just say Medea or Antigone or Oedipus, because seeing it in theatrical form is removed from the experiences of pain the characters are having–going to the theater is pleasurable, watching TV is pleasurable. The discussions, esp. about ‘The Wire’ and the others, are supposedly different, they are supposed to be a kind of anti-communist propaganda that Nick rightly said is the one thing that cannot be countenanced, this leninism. I was victim of this when I was much younger, although not exactly from communists, but from anyone as coercive as these are now (and they definitely are.) I’m just not anymore. Someone said I would like seeing Iraqi children raped, killed and thrown into a ditch because of the usual reasons, I needn’t go into them. Well, I wouldn’t, and don’t even think most of the evillest people involved in those wars would (although some would.)

    I just said even watching a fabulously done murder mystery, or even something like ‘Psycho’ gives pleasure, despite its horror. So why not despite its ‘bad politics’. What’s so difficult about that to understand? The analyses constantly ongoing are just rhetoric for political agendas of the left. So listen to them if you want to. There are always combinations of semi-pleasure and half-guilt you can do too. I DON’T think the symptoms sound serious, and they may even sound SOLIPSISTIC So nice to be able to use that to someone else, instead of always being accused of it. Or, if you buy the Marxists’ arguments, you an picket Time Warner or whoever the hell makes any of these things. THEY certainly get pleasure in their endless critiques off all these things, and some of them are completely insane by now in their out-of-controlness.


    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 22 August 2012 @ 1:26 pm

  13. The discussions, esp. about ‘The Wire’ and the others, are supposedly different, they are supposed to be a kind of anti-communist propaganda that Nick rightly said is the one thing that cannot be countenanced, this leninism.

    That was sort of hasty convoluted sentence. He was talking about his and Moldbug’s ‘Cathedralists’, and how the leninists do not even recognize anything else as even existing. I had thought he was very good on that, because they really don’t talk as if they’re competing with anyone else, even though they’re also not at all in power in important ways. In this, they are not different from religious fanatics through the ages, and they are very violent in their tactics. For example, after years, it comes out that one of them’s grandfather was a Stalinist, and that says something there, the same person said ‘not all of these stalinists were so stupid’. Recently, there’s been Twitter about how ‘we don’t know yet what Stalin and Mao’, etc., may have achieved as revolt. It’s totally abstract bullshit, doesn’t apply to them personally in the slightest, and they say it as if you have no choice but to listen to it. One of them recently referred to Maureen Dowd as ‘juvenile msm’, and in the past, I used to listen to her condescension of Dowd, while not paying it much attention in practice. She’s not always good, but sometimes she is, but this person was saying she was ‘juvenile’ as if there was no possibility of disagreeing with it. That’s how much more violent they’ve gotten than they were even 6 years ago. It’s vaguely refreshing to see Seymour write a balanced article about the Assange thing, since the delay in deciding ‘I was raped’ has not interested these same violent people I’ve just been talking about. But there’s no PLEASURE in that. The issue is only about misogyny. So vulgar, so low-class, as Marlene would say (of Joan Crawford.)


    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 22 August 2012 @ 1:36 pm

  14. I don’t know if you remember, but 4 years ago I wrote an enthusiastic post about The Wire, framing it in the context of Vertov’s Man with the Movie Camera and Beller’s Cinematic Mode of Production. My contention was that by focusing specifically on how production and distribution are organized, The Wire demystifies the capitalist spectacular image. I even exchanged emails with Beller about this, though I should acknowledge that he couldn’t offer unequivocal endorsement of my position because he hadn’t actually watched The Wire. The point though is that while this sort of Marxist-inflected reading did come to mind, the idea that the show was racist didn’t really occur to me. I realized that the heroic cop was a white guy while all of the drug peddlers were black, and the show does focus on police covert surveillance in a political climate where Homeland Security wants to pry into everything. So sure, it was shortsighted of me not to put two and two together. But do I now recant my Vertovian-Bellerian interpretation? I don’t see why that’s called for. We’re talking about maybe sixty hours of TV programming — presumably it can withstand multiple layers and strands of interpretation, some of them conflicting with one another.

    But yes, my enjoyment of a novel or movie or television series is different from my enjoying all of the fictional activities dramatized therein, and even more different from enjoying these fictional activities’ real-world analogs. And I am as fascinated and appalled — entertained — by Walt’s badness and his attempts to justify himself as by the high-risk adventure schemes he attempts.


    Comment by ktismatics — 22 August 2012 @ 4:11 pm

  15. Part of the presumption is that reactionary elements in TV shows strengthen the reactionary elements among viewers. Can this hypothesis be subjected to empirical scrutiny? A few months back I put up some posts about readers’ and viewers’ empathic response to fictional characters. I cited a study in which there seemed to be no association between readers’ empathic identification with a character and their subsequent support of social or political issues endorsed or embodied by that character. Of course this was only one text; it might take many texts to counteract a more pervasive fictional milieu in which readers/viewers are immersed. On the other hand, it’s also been proposed that fictional worlds afford a fantasy identification that doesn’t translate well to real-world situations. Fictional characters demand nothing from the audience; there are no repercussions for the alliances one makes while reading/watching. so the audience members are free to let themselves go, identifying with all sorts of characters both good and bad without having to make any sort of commitment. In short, the fictional world isn’t the real world.

    From an empirical standpoint these studies don’t “prove the null hypothesis;” absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence. Almost certainly there is empirical evidence supporting the contention that viewers’ identification with characters in a TV commercial correlates with their attitudes toward the product and their buying decisions. Maybe there is empirical work being done on the extent to which sociopolitical subtexts in TV shows shape viewers’ attitudes and behaviors.


    Comment by ktismatics — 23 August 2012 @ 9:24 am

  16. I enjoyed your soliloquy, Ktis. I thought, ” this is particularly good. Why isn’t my internal response to tv so articulate ?”

    You and Patrick write so much, it feels like you think straight into your fingers. That just never happens with me; I have to pull some key points out of a sort of Pynchonesque thought stream, where if I focus on any point I forget the rest, at least for a while, and so grab and note down as much as I can remember and try and structure it into something coherent… there you go – I wouldn’t admit that to everyone.

    Anyway, my response is: yes, must get round to starting on Breaking Bad, along with all those books…

    I could go along some way with a lot of what Patrick’s saying here, up to:

    “It’s vaguely refreshing to see Seymour write a balanced article about the Assange thing…”

    Oh please! If I said more you’d probably end up deleting me and who needs it anyway. Anyway, here’s my idea of a balanced statement, from Women Against Rape, on Socialist Unity today:

    I also have to pull you up, Ktis, for your apparent conversion to the view that the Wire is racist – ” a white hero and black criminals”!

    That white guy isn’t the central focus for huge swathes of it; there’s plenty of black heroes too – amongst the criminals too. There’s black cops, lawyers, doctors, cleaners, teachers, housewives, you name it… Ok, you could make a series about black professionaly people that could employ all these great black actors; but then you’d have the Cosby show or something, instead of an exploration of the effects of the drug-war and target-led policing and the de-industrialisation of a once-great American city. I must point out that there are VERY few gunfights in the Wire.


    Comment by lafayettesennacherib — 23 August 2012 @ 9:25 am

  17. Thanks for the compliment, Lafayette, though I think that Patrick is more spontaneous in his remarks than I am. I had already written the post, which helped focus my follow-up thoughts.

    I agree that there were both white and black good guys on The Wire, though clearly McNulty was the leading figure. Was he presented as a white savior? I don’t think so; the story would have played out more or less the same way if McNulty had been black. For purposes of driving up viewership the network probably wanted a white lead character on The Wire. Did you ever watch Kelley’s prior series Homicide, Laffayette? Another good show, Homicide also featured a mixed-race ensemble of good-guy cops, but Frank gradually emerged as the lead figure and he was black.

    Was it unrealistic to portray the drug dealers in Baltimore as black, or the wholesaler as white? I don’t think so. Could there have been more sociopolitical explorations of the causes of drug use in inner cities, of drug busts as being racially biased in the US, of profiling black kids as surveillance targets resulting in disproportionate arrests of black kids? Yes and yes and yes.


    Comment by ktismatics — 23 August 2012 @ 10:34 am

  18. “It’s vaguely refreshing to see Seymour write a balanced article about the Assange thing…”

    I should have said ‘Considering the source and audience, it’s vaguely refreshing to see Seymour write a vaguely balanced article about the Assange thing…’

    It was mostly in some comments by ‘Rose–something’ that I got that sensation, because she pointed out that one of the girls went to several functions with Assange after ‘raping’ her. I haven’t followed any of the Wikileaks business that closely, and am still not interested in it.

    I just said that, not because I am in any way a fan of RS (I’m certainly not), but sometimes he doesn’t go against indisputable facts in the face of total insanity (he would stupidly allow the 9/11 truthers on the bleug–and give them free rein, but always told them they were idiots, and even wrote me one good point in email, about how they always ignored the fact of Rumsfeld being in the Pentagon when the plane crashed into it). My half-lazy (because that wasn’t the main thrust between me and John on this thread) sentence was just in comparing his attempt to at least separate the two matters–after all, maybe the U.S. does need to extradite him, I would probably think so, you know, but don’t have time for this particular case….etc. I do know Swedes are a particular kind of stereotype themselves, having known more of them than I needed to. I looked at your link, but just skimmed it.

    Back to John’s matter: It also is not even the worst thing in the world if you have some reactionary blood in you. Remember when the thought police were saying that using racial epithets in private was ‘just as bad’ as saying it in public or ‘to one’ (lol). Well, it’s just not, and there’s not even any reason to discuss it. I can’t believe you want to be so lily-white. I have spent most of the week giving ‘lesb’an sensibility’ a hard time, and will probably continue to do so.


    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 23 August 2012 @ 11:03 am

  19. “one of the girls went to several functions with Assange after ‘raping’ her.”

    TOO spontaneous sometimes. I love the way this one came out, as if Assange were raped and it were being discussed at CPC.


    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 23 August 2012 @ 11:23 am

  20. OT but you might be interested in this essay from Iain Sinclair on the Olympics, from the latest London Review of Books – free to read online:


    Comment by lafayettesennacherib — 23 August 2012 @ 12:38 pm

  21. Iain ought to get out of town once in awhile. I watched none of the Olympic events, not even the opening extravaganza, nor do I know the names of any of the individual champions or whether U-S-A prevailed in the competition of nations. You live in London, don’t you Lafayette? Did the Olympics impinge on your lifestyle?


    Comment by ktismatics — 25 August 2012 @ 2:32 pm

  22. No, I hardly noticed it. But it was way over on the other side of London, and I don’t get about that much now anyway. But in a way it’ll affect everyone in London for years because of the huge land-grab as described by Sinclair – not one of his better pieces really, but some telling details.

    Glad someone else is as disinterested in it as me. I don’t even feel a guilty sense of ” I should follow it to be a good sport and enter into the spirit of things and support sport and the strivings of all who’ve worked so hard…” You know – you’ve heard it all. No, I don’t even feel the need to watch it because I’m worried about the pack turning on me if I don’t pretend to join in the party. Because I sense that most people, even the most uniformed uninquisitve people, under the surface no longer feel it’s anything to do with them.

    It’s the huge, obscene money involved. It just doesn’t feel like the amateur sporting event it seemed to be back in the early 50s and sixties. There’s not really much entertainment to be got out of watching a sport you don’t practice and have a personal interest in , but if there was any sense of a communal enterprise, one could go along ‘to be a good sport’, but ‘communal’ isn’t what the oligarchs are about, is it?


    Comment by lafayettesennacherib — 27 August 2012 @ 5:40 pm

  23. It’s the huge, obscene money involved.

    That doesn’t matter a whit, all sports and entertainment and huge blockbuster movies and ExPos, etc., involve ‘huge, obscene money’. It’s that it’s BORING. I didn’t watch one second of it.

    “but if there was any sense of a communal enterprise, one could go along ‘to be a good sport’, but ‘communal’ isn’t what the oligarchs are about, is it?”

    That’s a bit leaning to cornball. Professionalism in a sport or art is more important than ‘communal’ unless you want to do ashram folk songs. Just like the best in music and dance aren’t little sing-alongs and karaoke doo-doos and square dances, even if they’re fun.

    “No, I don’t even feel the need to watch it because I’m worried about the pack turning on me”

    That PACK turning on you? What is that? I don’t even now how somebody could come up with the possibility. My brothers love it, and they both know I don’t give a shit about it. I liked better John’s talk about the stars between Des Moines and Lincoln. There’s ‘night-blooming fruit’ in all parts of the world. The best I saw were on one of my many night flights to LA when everything was so clear from a distance it was like you were in the stars. The other was in Alabama about 1986, I slept on the heat pump of our house and the stars fell from all the way up down, there seemed 5 times as many as I’ve ever seen in New York, and Saturn was very obvious. I like Saturn in particularly, because people always ignore the central planet, concentrating on the moons and rings, because it’s all gas–really a dirty yellow, I bet. Henry Miller thought Saturn was everything bad,


    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 28 August 2012 @ 12:11 am

  24. Breaking Bad ended with a bang, a very satisfying wrap in my view. From beginning to end this series consistently told a great story, each episode giving the crank another firm turn. I began watching the show about 3 years ago, and while there have been other fine episodic series it was this one that got me thinking seriously about turning my stand-alone fictions into an interconnected sequence or cluster.


    Comment by ktismatics — 30 September 2013 @ 1:53 pm

  25. Let’s presume that in the end Walt came to Jesus, finally owning up to his true motivation for breaking so completely bad. “I liked it; I was good at it; it made me feel alive.” Doesn’t Walt’s admission serve as an indictment of self-interest, self-fulfillment, and the pursuit of personal happiness? I.e., doesn’t Walt represent the evils of Hayekian capitalism and its rejection of social justice in the name of personal freedom/will/power/success?

    Regarding Walt’s having changed as a person over the course of the show… If you’re old-school you might infer that Walt changed through a series of personal choices and acts of will. Surely Walt would portray himself as this sort of self-defining agent. On the other hand, if you accept the general thrust of empirical psychology you have to acknowledge that people become who they are through some interaction of genes, environment, and chance. Isn’t it reasonable to propose that Walt was changed (passive tense) as an unintended consequence of the series of genetic and environmental situations he was thrust into? First his genes mutated and he got cancer. Through the ecosystem of extended family he happens to be connected to a DEA man. Through chance he encounters on his ride-along a meth cook who once happened to be a participant in his chemistry classroom environment. He enters into a business environment fraught with peril, repeatedly activating the fight-or-flight instinct. And so on and so on. Walt insists on his controlled rationality, his pragmatic shrewdness, his ability to weigh the odds in reaching sound decisions, his empirical realism, his ability to decide. But can’t we regard Walt’s in-control self-image as a defense mechanism against the truth — that, just like the rest of us, he is being shaped by genes and environment and chance. And this is what I particularly liked about the show: the writers kept placing Walt into situations that inexorably caused him to change, to break badder and badder, if he was going to survive.

    Also, when Walt says “I liked it,” isn’t this what an addict in denial would say, emphasizing the personal pleasure while denying the compulsion, the need, the neurochemical urge that’s beyond his control? Soldiers and vets report this same addiction to the dangers of combat, calling themselves “action junkies.” The danger triggers a release of dopamine and epinephrine, not unlike the effects of meth on the user’s neurotransmitters.


    Comment by ktismatics — 16 October 2013 @ 10:21 am

  26. Tweets from Joyce Carol Oates just after the last episode of BB aired:


    (Rumor that Walter White’s ingenious rotating machine gun soon to be sold in US under protection of Second Amendment! Order now.)

    Fantasy of Walter White as “white” American male not to be trifled with or underestimated. Brilliant with chemicals, engines. “Provider.”

    Fantasy of Walter White & wife as “Ozzie & Harriet” of 21st century: at last, Dad is capable of–well, more than you’d guessed! Thrilling.

    Walter White a hero in households where the husband/father can’t insert a battery properly let alone create one. Not to mention cooking.

    Did anyone think that Walter White is “posthumous” through the final episode? Appears like a ghost through locked doors? Fantasy revenge?

    Re. “posthumous” Walter White: sometimes impossible to tell when the surreal is intentional & when just “crime genre” (i.e., implausible).

    What in realistic fiction, for instance, would be wildly unlikely & distracting can be, in genre, “mythic” & “poetic.” Skill of execution.


    Comment by ktismatics — 16 October 2013 @ 3:06 pm

    • Tweets from THE MOST POSTHUMOUS CREATURE IN ALL OF AMERICA. She truly is so skilled at self-execution.


      Comment by Patrick — 16 October 2013 @ 8:07 pm

  27. I believe that these tweets are the first of JCO’s writings that I’ve read. I got interested based on your mention of her by Capote. There’s a link to her twitter via Google, so I had a look. Evidently she’s now chair for awarding some sort of annual Capote Prize. She acknowledges Capote’s jabs at her, says he was drunk and had never read any of her output when he made his pronouncement. Then she dumps on Capote for being rich and famous but still unhappy, putting him at a dead end even before he was literally posthumous. Sounds like she hasn’t quite gotten over him. I can’t tell from these tweeted remarks whether she liked Breaking Bad, but evidently she was a loyal viewer. The white man critique is built into the show from the beginning — after all, the two main characters’ names are White and Pinkman. It seems heavy-handed to interpret Walter White as some sort of unambiguously powerful Nietschean figure. He’s likable and clever, but he’s bad and getting worse all the time — it’s the ambiguity that keeps the show going week after week.

    Posthumous? It was a total wrapup of all loose ends in a way that satisfied Walter White in pretty much every respect. Implausible perhaps, and irritating to those who wanted Walt to get his punishment in the end, but fully in keeping with the rest of the show as it developed over the years. And he is taking out his revenge on White Supremacists, who are the baddest of the bad in this show. Implausible fantasy? No shit. Maybe the whole show is posthumous and Walt died of cancer before the very first episode, like Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge or Who Killed JR. Hey, maybe Walt never existed in the first place. Maybe he’s… fictional!


    Comment by ktismatics — 16 October 2013 @ 8:36 pm

    • But what I want her to do is some ‘poetic genre’. I mean, I just really want to see how DARE she think anything she comes up with is poetic. I also think Didion knows how mechanical and ‘Stephen King-ish’ Oates is, and it’s part of her bitterness of the last 7-8 years, just wants to prove she can be contrary (god knows, she is that). Even when she was still strong, she’d defend Susan Sontag for something she no more believed than shit. That was the first sign I ever saw of her not sticking to her guns (although many would disagree, and said she hadn’t all along, but I never had found it.)

      I HAVE read a complete Joyce Carol Oates novel, one that was set in contemporary New England academia, and it was polished yet mediocre anyway, and that’s kind of a hard combination to come by. The most ridiculous thing about this novel is that I’ve searched the web to try to figure out what the name of it was, and I can’t find it. I only read it because it was the only one I could find that was not one of her endless list of historical novels, and I simply am not able to read those.

      She also wouldn’t understand that people say stupid things when they’re drunk, but that sometimes they go on and tell the whole truth. Capote’s early work is so poetic that, even when he just wanted to be an ‘East Side Lady of Quality’, he couldn’t keep from noticing how pedestrian Oates was. Now I remember I read this scholarly book about Southern writers (he didn’t include Capote, probably because he himself thought Capote was too involved with fashionable wealth, etc.), but HE also singled out Oates for her flattened out style. And here she is tweeting, reminding me of some little schoolmarmish thing that moves her lips when she reads. I can’t remember who wrote that book, and it has been probably 20 years since I read it.


      Comment by Patrick — 16 October 2013 @ 9:20 pm

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