About Me

About Me
I am a writer, editor and gardener living in the Calder Valley, West Yorkshire. I have a degree and masters in Literature and Philosophy undertaken while living in London. I obtained a PGCE in English and History and taught for two years in a secondary school in England (age range: 11-18). My writing credits can be viewed here. I have had two poetry books published and am co-translator of Alain-Fournier:Poems (Carcanet, 2016). I am an editor and associate publisher at The High Window Press.

(See:thehighwindowpress.com)

20.1.16

Cinema Queues:Birdman



Cinema Queues

A year ago, standing in a cinema queue on a cold winter night, a woman behind me started to sing. I was bemused: why sing? Soon, I became annoyed as I perceived the singing to be 'bad singing'. Bad, in the sense of pitchless, but also bad in the sense of impolite singing, invading the privacy of my (queue) space. (Isn't singing in the proximity of someone as potentially offensive as smoking next to someone?). I felt it was a nervy singing act; it felt inauthentic, forced, a symptom of an underlying pathological condition like Munchausen's Syndrome, or at least an attention deficit disorder. I showed my annoyance. I scratched my ears, enacted prolonged and dismissive right-angle turns of the head, deep sighs, until I could take no more; I turned and stared hard at the perpetrator, a small woman wearing a tired, old Beret, perhaps a woman as old as my mother. I stared at the woman's beau, a white-haired man unwilling to reign in his unruly consort. The singing continued. I stood aside and let Alternative Opera move ahead of me. At this point, the next person standing next to me seemed perplexed at my generous act or, perhaps, my angry countenance (he saw me gesticulating at the antics of the diva). Hugh seemed concerned, and said earnestly 'What's the matter?' Unable to help myseIf, I blurted under my breath: 'this woman has been singing'. Hugh seemed more sympathetic to the woman than me. He seemed aware of my intolerance and lack ot goodwill. After all, what is wrong with singing? But it was difficult to explain the finer nuances of my grievance because the woman had now stopped singing and was near enough to hear our conversation. The queue inched forward (until, breaking the silence) Hugh suggested we sit next to each other in the cinema. After the movie - Birdman - we swapped email addresses and a week later I bumped into Hugh in Hebden Bridge library. In a brief conversation I was able to explain my reaction to the 'singing woman' in the queue and we had a brief conversation about a chapter of a book I was working on about the relationship between Lord Byron and Doctor John Polidori. This brief email conversation followed...I hope it somehow makes sense? It may help if you have watched the movie Birdman. I haven't seen Hugh in a while, but he sometimes attends a monthly poetry event I run, and I can't help but thinking I would never have met a new friend without my display of grumpy and shallow intolerance toward the woman standing behind me in the cinema queue.

Hi Anthony,
Good to meet you and talk-your project sounds very exciting. This is a very brief view on bad faith and how it plays out in a one-to-one relationship.
From the point of view of Sartre and an 'existential' viewpoint there are no fixed or essential meanings in life. Sartre argues that we are freedom and as such responsible for the meanings we construct in life. Our awareness of this freedom is expressed as existential anxiety or 'nausea'. (for Heidegger 'angst')
Sartre calls the evasion of our choice and responsibility for our lives (out of our concrete situation or 'facticity') in the construction of or lives and meaning 'bad faith'. (something like Heidegger's inauthenticity) Although choice is evaded in 'bad faith' this is still a choice as we are choosing not to choose. Sartre demonstrates this with examples of a waiter which you can look up I'm sure. e.g. 'being a waiter'
Sartre calls structures of being belonging to the other 'being-for-others'. Our 'being-for-others' is over there with the Other in so far as the Other is free to evaluate and interpret us and the Other's being-for-others is with us in so far as we are in turn free to evaluate and interpret the Other. The 'look' of the Other reduces us to an object for the Other as our transcendent subjectivity is transcended by the transcendence of the Other and we are a transcendence-transcended until such time as we gain transcendence over the Other. This 'sadist-masochist' struggle is one in which one party seeks to dominate the Other and one seeks to conform to the domination of the other. It exists between two transcendent-subjectivities as a futile battle to gain a substantiality of being or 'self' through the Other.
However, even in the case of someone who has social power (and personal power too even) over the Other, as with Byron and his physician, this struggle is never finished once-and-for-all as even the slave is free in his thoughts. The transcendent-subjectivities of the Master-Slave relationship both know the game they are playing! They are famously unstable of course as made evident when social structures and circumstances change, like in your example with Byron and his physician going on holiday.
If as a transcendent-subjectivity (i.e. 'free', not a thing) I am not to be in 'bad faith' then I must acknowledge that the Other is also a 'transcendent-subjectivity' (i.e. free, not a thing) If in turn she is not to fall into 'bad faith' she must make the same acknowledgment. If two transcendent-subjectivities are in 'good faith' then they must reject the competetive struggle for mastery/ submission and seek co-operation, mutual respect, connection and mutual learning perhaps but above all acceptance of otherness.
It's all a bit complicated and I am no expert but I hope that's helpful,
Best wishes
Hugh

Dear Hugh,
I find it interesting that we have met twice: the first time as strangers/others? at The Picture House in Hebden Bridge and had pleasant and (for me) rewarding conversations after seeing The Imitation Game and Birdman, respectively.
The content of your conversation is not 'old hat' as I last studied Literature & Philosophy over twenty years ago and my library has for 4 years been in cold storage. Your looping qualifying sentences are just like my old philosophy teacher's, Jonathan Ree, who has an international reputation as a Heidegger scholar. I once had a stand off with him in class when I asked what lay beyond 'dasein'. He said he didn't understand the question, so I repeated it and he repeated the same answer, this went on for a while until the class finished. So I am glad you didn't mention 'dasein' in your email! I read 'Being and Nothingness' and 'La Nausee' many years ago, so it is good to be reminded of the central tenets of his theory of 'bad faith' and the additional construct of 'faith in bad faith'. I can definitely utilise this theory in my chapter on Byron and Polidori. As I told you, I am also interested in the master-slave aspect of Byron and Polidori's relationship, Polidori trying to gain personal suffrage and literary parity through writing 'The Vampyre'? With regards to Hegel's dialectic, could not Byron be the thesis, Polidori the antithesis, and me, as essayist, the synthesis?
Thank you for taking an interest in my project, which is on hold for a month while I am immersed in a collaborative poetry project with two American poets. The three of us are using a private google document to write a poem-a-day in February on the theme of myth and in the style and structure of (loosely) Japanese renga. I was wondering if I might be able to cut and paste from your email or sections of your email as a part of one of my entries? Your surname will not feature, and I can ask the American poets to never reveal the intended (found?) poem to any other party, if you should wish?
Can you let me know asap?
Thanks for trusting me with your sense that you are feeling a bit down at the moment. I know that feeling more than most. For me, exercise helps. Work helps. Friendship helps. Laughter helps. A little! I know you miss London, but when I moved to the Calder valley after 25 years away, I immersed myself in writing as a coping mechanism. And we still have these beautiful hills surrounding us if we can reach them.
Here's to looking forward to a third movie, (a tertium quid?) and good faith in our (transcendent-subjective) nascent friendship.
Kind Regards,
Anthony
PS... Re: Birdman. I have a different take on your Ed Norton theory in relation to 'bad faith' (or as I understand it, or am interpreting it). I see him as having 'good faith' in his off-stage life, in the sense that he does make decisions about his life, even though his behaviour is unpleasant and bordering on 'bad faith' in that he doesn't always take the transcendent-subjective feelings of others into consideration and, yet, he is deceiving himself in feeling he is being untrue in this off-stage life as everything he says in the film off-stage is a 'truth', exemplified in the scenes of 'truth or dare', where he religiously and instinctively plumps for 'truth'. He feels, also, he is exhibiting 'good faith' in the play by being authentic and true, but this is a kind of self-deception as he is, at some level, conscious of acting. He is true to the deception, and true to art. In many ways, he has 'good faith' in both his off-stage life and on-stage life, but this is a double deception. Norton's character would be a problem for Sartre's belief in the efficacy of 'good faith' . Because of his choice of selfishness, he could be said to have bad 'good faith'?
Despite apparent confusion and conflict leading to his questioning of reality, the Michael Keaton character (who for most of the film has exhibited 'bad faith'/'good faith' and 'faith in bad faith' in his back story) is aware of deception in life and in others, and aware of his own self-deceiving (including the deception on stage, of the theatre audience, and of the world of art generally, recalling his monologue at the bar with the theatre critic) comes to a position of good 'good faith', even if that position is then undermined by the metaphoric and surreal denouement. Perhaps the entire audience of The Picture House were exhibiting 'good faith' by deciding to go to see a movie this morning,  by being-there. Let me know if I am misunderstanding  Sartre's theory after all these years away from reading his work and philosophising. What I am particularly interested in at this early hour (for two months I have been suffering from insomnia), is how deception and faith are in close contact, or shadowing  each other.

Hello Anthony,
Thank-you for your warm and pleasing email. I welcome the kind words and encouragement.
Hmm, the Ed Norton character seems to be 'at one' with his role onstage rather than 'acting'- which has been lambasted early on with the actor who ended up with a busted nose! The 'faith of bad faith' is a suspension of disbelief and is itself a form of bad faith. The faith of bad faith supports bad faith which would otherwise collapse when the individual realises their bad faith as bad faith. On reflection and after the fact (i.e. off stage) the Ed Norton character maintains (I think) that what 'they' (actors) do on stage is about 'truth' and understand from this that he feels that doubt is eliminated from the consciousness of the 'true' actor when he/she is on stage. He becomes on stage what Sartre would call the sincere man. He is not playing a role, he is he character he is on stage! For Sartre consciousness is not what it is and is what it is not and can not coincide with itself but the Ed Norton character affects this by suspending disbelief, through the faith of bad faith.
Sartre says something about how we fall into the faith of bad faith at the age when self-consciousness first emerges.
 It moves me to reflect on how my most blissful moments have come with the dissolution of self.
I'm interested in what you say about his off stage lack of self-deception-do you mean he is an 'honest man?' Off-stage he seems to me to truly shameless about his desires in a way that suggests a particular relationship with his 'self-for-others'. His refusal to acknowledge ordinary social convention, his refusal to be dared that you note, his fear of not being able to get an erection although he wants to fuck the Birdman's daughter. Whilst all around him are desperately trying to hold onto some sort of self, desperately trying to affect some sort of substantiality to a 'self' or 'selves' (most painfully and graphically the Michael Keaton character and Birdman) through their relationships with others he affects a kind of indifference to all of this and to the (impossible) search for 'self'.
Please do whatever you want with anything I've written to you-I'm flattered you think it might be worth using.
I went to see 'Wild' last night-really terrific I thought.
A friend called Manu Bazzanno has published some Haiku on love. He might be an intersting contact for you,
best wishes and thanks,
Hugh

Dear Hugh,
I changed my opinion of the Ed Norton character, slightly, and I will send you my amended appraisal. But, yes, I do think he is an honest man off-stage, horrible though he is, and sincere about his (could it be) love for the Birdman's daughter. He has met his (disputed notions of) self in an other and likes it? The Birdman's daughter is sincere, too, horrible though she is, sincerely horrible in the dressing down of the Birdman. It seems impossible for sincerity or instinct to be controlled even within the structure of a scripted play...
you, evidently, have a much better understanding of Sartre's theory than I do, I concede. I might have to unpack my library one day.
Thanks for the suggested contact. Interestingly, one of the American poets has been writing haikus and also writing about love.
I haven't seen 'Wild' yet, but like the concept of this journey, and journeys generally, and also the hinterland of edgelands as in Michael Symmonds Roberts and Paul Farley's book of the same name appeal to me.

Anthony

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