January 21, 2010


De Beauvoir, Simone, America Day By Day translated from the French by Carol Cosman (Berkeley: U. of California Press, 1999) ("Listening to their jazz, talking with them about it, I often felt that even the time they're living in is abstract. They respect the past, but as an embalmed monument; the idea of a living past integrated with the present is alien to them. They want to know only a present that's cut off from the flow of time, and a future they project is one that can be mechanically deduced from it, not one whose slow ripening or abrupt explosion implies unpredictable risks. They believe in the future of a bridge or an economic plan, not the future of an art or a revolution. Their time is the 'physicist's time,' a pure exteriority that mirrors the exteriority of space. And because they reject duration, they also reject quality. It's not just for economic reasons that there is no 'craftsmanship' in America; even in the leisure activities of domestic life, they don't aim for superior quality: food is cooked and fruit is ripened as quickly as possible. In every area they rush for fear that the result will already be outdated the moment it's achieved. Cut off from the past and the future, the present has no thickness. Nothing is stranger to Americans than the idea of seeing the moment as a recapitulation of time, as a mirror of the eternal, and of anchoring themselves in it in order to grasp timeless truths and values. The contents of the moment seem to them as precarious as the moment itself. Because they don't acknowledge that truths and values are evolving, they don't know how to preserve them in the movement that surpasses them; they just deny them. History is a large cemetery here: men, works, and ideas die almost as soon as they are born. And every individual existence has a taste of death: from minute to minute, the present is merely an honorary past. It must constantly be filled with the new to conceal the curse it carries within it. That's why Americans love speed, alcohol, film 'thrillings,' and sensational news. They feverishly demand something more and, again, something more, never able to quell their restlessness. Yet here, as everywhere else, life repeats itself day after day, so people amuse themselves with gadgets, and lacking real projects, they cultivate hobbies. These manias allow them to pretend to take responsibility, by choice, for their daily habits. Sports, movies, comics all offer distractions. But in the end, people are always faced with what they wanted to escape: the arid basis of American life--boredom." Id. at 385-386.).

Thomson, David, The Moment of Psycho: How Alfred Hitchcock Taught America to Love Murder (New York: Basic Books, 2009) ("That was less than fifty years ago. It's not that Psycho didn't shock many people and didn't acquire a reputation for cynical sensationalism. Still, the real measure of the breakthrough that had occurred--in the name of pure cinema--is the bloodletting, sadism, and slaughter that are now taken for granted. In terms of the cruelties we no longer notice, we are another species." Id. at 67.).