“I savour this total oblivion into which I have fallen.”
— Jean-Paul Sartre, Nausea
“I savour this total oblivion into which I have fallen.”
— Jean-Paul Sartre, Nausea
I’m eating a cheeseburger while rereading Irrational Man, William Barrett’s classic study of existentialism (one chapter each on Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Sartre), so I can make sense of Jean-Paul Sartre and his Being and Nothingness, from which I plan to pull quotes for posting on this blog this month, but all I can think of, really, is Jonathan Groff, his cherubic face, his sweet awkward man-child body, his being, as 29-year-old Patrick in Looking, and how I see myself in Patrick (all that awkwardness, the uptightness, the softie-trying-so-hard-yet-often-feeling-stuck-with-nothingness) and how he dances, drunk and giddy at the prospect of love and sex and self-discovery, to that synthesizer-pumped ‘80s Erasure anthem “A Little Respect” (“Oh baby pleeeeeeeease, give a little respeeeect toooooooo meeeeeeee”), in Season 1, Episode 2, and, look, I’m smiling now and giddy, too, like an irrational man-child who for a while forgets how dull and bleak day-to-day existence can be (in Sartre’s Nausea, Antoine Roquentin says, “I ruminate heavily near the gas stove; I know in advance the day is lost”) and how elusive and heartbreaking love and sex and self-discovery can be (“Roquentin’s last hope is love, human love, yet he knows now that this is a thin hope”), but this cheeseburger is tasting so much better than I expected and I can’t get enough of the first lines of Barrett’s book (Chapter One: “The Advent of Existentialism”), about the “story … told (by Kierkegaard) of the absent-minded man so abstracted from his own life that he hardly knows he exists until, one fine morning, he wakes up to find himself dead,” which is the exact opposite of how I feel after watching Episode 7, in which Patrick says “totally” too often because he’s nervous and in which Patrick and friends are sobered up by a series of breakups and sexual-tension mashups of being or something and perhaps-really-nothing (see brief washroom kiss between Patrick and his Brit boss, the yummy Russell Tovey), and oh yes, this is so gay, totally, but once you relax and try Looking beyond the surface (Patrick and friends all have self-image issues and who hasn’t grappled with those?), you’ll see how these breakups hangups fuckups can happen to anybody, male or female, straight or gay, young or old, because this show’s a less self-absorbed, less fashion-crazy Sex and the City, a less horny, less political Queer as Folk, a less bitchy, less zany Will and Grace (and, mind you, I love those three predecessors), and therefore some might find Looking insubstantial or not edgy enough, but I’m totally hooked so let me bask in the beauty of the music that comes at the end of Episode 7, an appropriately overwrought, strings-saturated rendition of “The Man I Love” (“Someday he’ll come along, the man I love”) with an all-male chorus backing the crooner’s longing and aching while I tell my heart (“I got lost, but look what I found”) and tell my brain to stop rambling and fumbling like this because I got to focus now, finish my burger, finish the books on my endless must-read list, get back to Sartre and my homework for this blog, back to my awkward existence, my existentialist pretensions, my random riddles in Being and Nothingness, such as this (on page 275, Chapter Three: “Transcendence”)—
What the world makes known to me is only “worldly.” It follows that if the infinite reference of instruments never refers to a for-itself which I am, then the totality of instruments is the exact correlate of my possibilities; and as I am my possibilities, the order of instruments in the world is the image of my possibilities projected in the in-itself; i.e., the image of what I am. But I can never decipher this worldly image; I adapt myself to it in and through action, but a reflective scissiparity would be required in order for me to be able to be an object to myself.
—which reminds me that scissiparity is something I need to look up in the dictionary as I reflect on “the image of what I am,” seriously, but first, I just want to hear it and dance to it one more time, my earworm, my plea, my pleasure: “A Little Respect”—for Groff, for Sartre, for being and nothingness, for Looking and giddiness, for everything that, as Kierkegaard would put it, totally “abstracts” me from my own life without changing the fact that I am my possibilities, basically, and, hey, I can have my cheeseburger and eat it, too. Literally.
… Looking is emphatically, willfully not about outreach or identity politics or how hard it is to be queer. All of its characters came out years ago and are, as [the show’s creator and co-executive producer Michael] Lannan notes, roughly as comfortable with their sexuality as anyone in his 20s or 30s can expect to be. Any angst that Patrick or the other characters experience isn’t gay angst—it’s single angst, or thirtysomething angst, or roommate angst, or career-waiter angst, or monogamy angst. It’s human angst. In a late-season scene between Patrick and his mother, the central conflict doesn’t derive from some overwrought battle for acceptance, but rather from the quotidian irritation that any 29-year-old might feel toward his parents.
“The whole idea was dropping in on lives in progress,” Lannan says … . “It was not going to be about revealing your sexuality to your parents or the scandal of being gay. The questions were going to be about identity and living an authentic life. For gay people, those questions of identity are a little more acute and a little more constant, in some ways, but I think they’re the same questions that everyone faces now.” He ticks them off with the ease of someone who’s given all this a lot of thought: “Who am I gonna be with? How do I get by? Who’s there to support me? What do I want, and how are my expectations for myself not panning out?”
— from “The Joy of ‘Looking’” by Ellen Cushing (San Francisco magazine)
[Mr. Haigh, who directed the acclaimed 2011 indie film Weekend, “wrote and directed half of the eight episodes” of Looking’s first season. He is also one of the show’s executive producers.]
HOPE REESE: Looking deals with the complicated boundary between sex and intimacy that is universal across relationships—gay or straight.
HAIGH: You want it to be universal. The minute you start to become specific about these characters, you start to see that their concerns and struggles [are] universal. The notion that gay people are completely different from everybody else … well, of course they’re not. We all have similar desires and similar needs. And I think that struggle and search for intimacy and connection is such a universal one, and it’s what we wanted to focus on.
There’s this idea that if you watch a show about a bunch of gay people and you’re not gay, it’s not going to reflect your life. But of course it reflects your life.
— from “HBO’s Looking: Not ‘the Ultimate Gay Show About All Gay People’” by Hope Reese (The Atlantic)
“We can spend our lives letting the world tell us who we are. Sane or insane. Saints or sex addicts. Heroes or victims. Letting history tell us how good or bad we are. Letting our past decide our future. Or we can decide for ourselves. And maybe it’s our job to invent something better.”
— Chuck Palahniuk, Choke
“This is me, the real me. Like it or not, you can’t do anything about it, so you’d better get used to the idea.”
— Che Guevara, in a letter to his father (quoted in Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life by Jon Lee Anderson)
“So in the end this is not a book about Che Guevara; it is a book about us. It is about what we—society in general—have created as Che. The icon is a repository for the collective pool of dreams, fears, beliefs, doubts, and desires that makes up the human condition. The true mark of Che’s durability throughout his tumultuous afterlife is that his icon has somehow been able to reconcile all these demands. Che functions as the site of a long-running bitter conflict, one that preceded his death and now succeeds it. This conflict is sustained by either side’s steadfast commitment to its own definitions of justice, liberty, equality, fairness, etc. It’s a debate that societies, political systems, and religions have tried to resolve for centuries without success. And whereas the convictions we all hold on these matters might simply reflect the reality of our material or social circumstances, the stories we use to explain them are often imbued with the more romantic and profound language of morality. Many of us conceive of our politics in spiritual terms.”
— Michael Casey, Che’s Afterlife: The Legacy of an Image
The gap between [Fidel] Castro’s socialism brand and its economic reality is too wide for me—especially since the country scores so poorly on freedom of expression, personal liberty, and other principles I regard as important. But a person who prioritizes social equality over individual freedom and property rights might see Cuba’s universal health care, the success of its free education system, and its low crime rates as legitimate reasons to prefer it over the alternative, Brand USA. What matters is that this package of constructed image and real facts fits their personal value system. Choosing a brand—much as choosing to display a loved one’s photo, to don a religious pendant or national flag pin, to wear a favorite team’s colors, or to declare our admiration for a political, artistic, or sporting hero—is a personal act. Brands, symbols, and images are incorporated into a person’s identity. They form part of the idealized self with which we define our place in the world.
This is why the Korda Che brand is so prevalent and so enduring: It feeds the soul. Far from fitting Cuban-American writer Humberto Fontova’s description of them as “useful idiots,” people are drawn to the Che image for reasons that will defy outsiders’ political characterizations. Very often what matters is a personal connection to the image itself, more so than the story of Ernesto Guevara. In fact, the brand is powerful because, quite independently of Che and his story, the icon that emerged from Alberto Korda’s photograph is independently capable of stirring the forces of human imagination and of tapping into deep-seated longings for a better world.
— from Che’s Afterlife: The Legacy of an Image by Michael Casey