by carl wilson

2009, The Year of the Ox(ymoron)
(Plus: Help Wanted!)


Happy New Year, everybody, and welcome to the year of hope and change, I mean fear and austerity, I mean ... Anyway, the second half of '08 was a pretty inconsistent one for Zoilus postings, I know - my only resolution for the new year, or at least the only one that's any of your business, is to find my way back to a fairly regular posting schedule.

Let's start slow: I saw Un conte de Noel (A Christmas Tale), the latest (and my first) Arnaud Desplechin film, with Catherine Deneuve and Mathieu Amalric, last weekend. I was quite taken with the film's multifarious maelstro-dramas (nicely described by The Nation's Stuart Klawans as "psychoanalytic realism"), and its ambitious narrative structure (which makes a suitably bloodyminded argument for film's takeover from the novel as the standard-bearer of bourgeois consciousness).

But I bring it up here because the co-author of the screenplay is Emmanuel Bourdieu, the son of French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, whose theory of "distinction" as the motor of taste-making I explain in my book (see left). The film includes a couple of perfect examples of the shift from "high-brow" to "omnivore" modes of cultural consumption that I also cover there.

It's emphasized that the members of the film's fractious family (split generationally from industrial to post-industrial - the neurotic siblings are baffled and embarrassed that their jovial father holds on to his unfashionable dye factory) are all adept musicians. The soundtrack, sometimes generated on-screen, includes everything from classical to free jazz (Cecil Taylor) to '60s R&B; and so on. But it still comes as a surprise when it's revealed that the only one of the siblings whose career we haven't been told about yet, the fragile but responsible Ivan, is a hip-hop DJ - a turntablist, really - when he breaks out his skills at a Christmas party at their hometown's community centre.

No one on screen seems anything but comfortable and happy with Ivan's pursuit. In real life, although they're a culturally sophisticated set (one sister is a playwright, her husband an award-winning mathematician, a close cousin is a painter, etc.), I still think there might be a few cracks made about Ivan, who must be in his mid-30s at least, messing with this greasy kid stuff. But for Desplechin and Bourdieu, the pleasure seems to be in demonstrating their own ability to cross cultural levels and boundaries without the least friction. If the audience finds the juxtaposition a bit odd or inconsistent - notice, for example, that among the several films the characters are caught watching, none is ever made after 1980 - that's the audience's problem.

On other matters: Zoilus is in need of a Movable Type-literate design/troubleshooting helper, to do occasional tweaks and very infrequent larger overhauls and consult on technical matters. Since this site makes no revenue, I'm hoping there's a friendly reader who would be willing to help out on a modest retainer. If you might (or know someone who could), please drop a line.

General | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, January 06 at 6:56 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (4)



Demme's "Rachel Getting Married" is a good example of the same phenomenon. I puzzled over whether there was any plausible sociological reality to the combination of hip-hop, Robyn Hitchcock, Sister Carol, etc. all performed at this fancy wedding at a big house in Connecticut (without anyone, not even the old aunts and uncles, finding any of it odd or off-putting). Anyway, the movie is very insistent, perhaps a bit annoyingly, about its cultural omnivorousness.

I'm looking forward to catching 'A Christmas Tale'...

Posted by Ivan on January 10, 2009 1:22 PM



Love this post...very full-some and interesting. Thanks.

Posted by Phil on January 7, 2009 1:03 PM



Lately I've been wondering whether the so-called "fine" arts having lost their prestige isn't collateral damage of living in the age of The Bomb. I can't remember whether it was Don Byrd or Eliot Weinberger who said that the post-War (WW2) generation was the first to grow up without a guarantee of posterity.

Check it out: The rascally gangster in the great '50s rock flick "The Girl Can't Help It" quotes a line from Sir Walter Scott. Poetry was part of a high school education.

Without a future to look forward to (paging Mr. Rotten, white courtesy telephone please [and now Laurie Anderson's line is outdated, when everybody has cell phones]), the fine arts lost their cachet.

Posted by john on January 7, 2009 2:44 AM



Hi Carl,

Bourdieu fils has actually directed a couple movies of his own as well. The only one I've seen, "Poison Friends," is explicitly about the game of social distinction (in the world of literary academia, though, which is still more highbrow than omnivore - at least in France). It's not a great film, but it's interesting, particularly if you know the work of Bourdieu père.

Also, if you liked "Xmas Tale," Desplechin's "Kings and Queen," from a couple years ago, is even better.

Posted by Evan on January 6, 2009 11:11 PM




Zoilus by Carl Wilson