an announcement of my retirement.

Well, not quite as drastic as that, so let me explain. If I can—not that much of this makes much sense even to me.

(Note: The following was written as a “prologue” for my “best of 2007” wrap-up that remains half-written, in that half-formed place where I’m not sure if it’ll ever be resurrected to see the light of day.)

***

No matter how I’ve tried to approach it, 2007 remains problematic for me. First, an admission of embarrassing facts: 2007 was the year I saw the least amount of new releases since high school, and if I had not attended TIFF this last year, I would have seen just a mere dozen or so of 2007’s offerings. But most disheartening for me was the realization that I read (or completed, more accurately) less books during the course of the year than I probably ever have. As a result, 2007 seems to stand as an alarmingly stagnant year, at least weighed solely in intellectual terms. During college, intellectual growth became my major (perhaps my only) yardstick for measuring personal growth, and holding to that standard, 2007, to be quite blunt, ranks as a dismal one.

Thankfully, one of the personal breakthroughs of 2007 was the realization that there are other means of measuring the self out there, and what’s more they are probably more accurate in their eventual assessments. Because even if day-to-day living seemed resolutely immomentous, 2007 actually stands as a year of tremendous personal growth—a rather stunning realization I made during my annual New Years Day recap that I sit down and write every year in my journal. Just taking just an hour or so to take stock of where I was, I was rather floored to realize where I started 2007 and how much progress had been made as I entered 2008.

Now as nice as this all is, why does this matter, especially as a prelude to unveiling my own contribution to that narcissistic but somehow very necessary tradition among film buffs in presenting their favorite films of the preceding year? On some levels its an attempt at an apology for the really stunning gaps in my film viewing this year, but I also offer it up a bit blindly because there’s something about it that I haven’t grasped fully but sure feels important. I’m likely overstating things, but at this moment I feel that without a firm grasp of knowing myself, any kind of intellectual enterprise is more or less like playing at making little towers out of playing cards—interesting, even occasionally admirable in its results, but much too flimsy and insubstantial to be much of anything at all. An example, because it’s been on my mind a lot lately: I’ve always been more than a bit embarrassed of my honors thesis, which in my most honest moments I admit I’ve considered an unqualified failure from the very moment I turned in the first draft for committee review. I never was really grasped why I felt this way, but I think I do now, and the reason surprises me—I wasn’t comfortable digging into any kind of genuine and honest analysis and dialogue with the topic that I selected. To not stray too far into tangential explanations I’ll just say even if it was completely unwitting, at its core the entire paper was an act of intellectual dishonesty, and as such, I doomed it to failure the moment I started it. And now, suddenly, the rest of my writing feels suspect.

Gah. All of that just to say that another of my great personal discoveries of 2007 was a growing sense that approaching films—and reading, and anything else—from a point of personal honesty and awareness of self is absolutely essential if there is any hope of grasping any kind of intellectual truth. Which segues into another of 2007’s revelations—that of coming to grips and ultimately making peace with what is increasingly beginning to feel like alienation from not only film culture at large (whatever that exactly encompasses), but most particularly from the cinematic-minded blogosphere that I was just beginning to feel part of. For the first time since I started taking cinema seriously, I’ve never felt so disconnected from what’s new and what is being hailed as important by those I consider “in the know;” looking at Film Comment’s critics poll, just looking at the top tier it’s rather staggering the films I haven’t seen: There Will Be Blood, No Country for Old Men, Zodiac, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, Eastern Promises, The Lives of Others, Black Book, Michael Clayton, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and the list goes on and on… of course, it’s one thing that I just haven’t seen said films yet—the fact time and financial resources were in short supply can’t be avoided—but what does it mean that quite frankly I just don’t really want to see any of the above listed? Of course, this isn’t unprecedented—I refused to bow to the pressure to see The Departed, as I can’t be less interested in Scorese’s film—but this year it just feels so, so widespread, so, overwhelming.

Inevitably, I feel left out, which is one reason why in the second half of 2007 output of this blog dropped dramatically, with only the occasional capsule review to give others some kind of indication of a vital sign (yes, I’m still here!). And I think I’m okay with that now, even as I continue to wrestle with the implications. I used to be very concerned—almost obsessively—with having something important or vital or interesting to say, which is probably why this blog was never as vibrant as I wanted it to be, even when I was at my most committed. I’ve let go of any aspirations of greatness and furthermore discarded once and for all the mantle of precociousness I cherished for years and years in my internet interactions. I no longer really possess the desire to say something important because I realize thet I’m not at a point where such expectations are even realistic. Instead, for the first time, I’m really allowing myself to merely be exposed to the things that interest me, and see where that eventually takes me. I feel like I need to see more films, read more books, listen to more music, experience more art, and simply live more before I dare even think I have a chance of coming up with something genuinely insightful. One of my resolutions for 2008: to undue my habit of watching a film or reading a book or whatever through a filter of “now what interesting thing am I going to say about this when I write my review?” I see now that such a mindset is severely limiting, and might even be robbing me of quite a bit of enjoyment I might not even realize I’m missing. Happily, I’m already seeing results—in the first months of 2008 I have read more books than I have during any period since graduating, and furthermore, it was on more wide-ranging subjects than I’ve ever let myself indulge in before. It’s been fun, it’s been terribly interesting, and for now, I’m going to stick with that.

I don’t even know what I’m getting to at this point, and I find myself already fighting thoughts of “what did I end up saying? Is it good? Is it insightful?” This is what it is, I guess. And I’ll end this thing here, and you know, actually get to the films themselves, which is why I undertook this thing in the first place.

***

And now, I guess an epilogue to my prologue, written from the perspective a month after the above was written. Just last night I had a long conversation with my best friend with whom I shared much of what is written here, and as always, her insight and empathy hit the bullseye. She emphasized that it is impossible to expect ever reaching a place of “knowing enough,” and as a result it should never serve as a deterrent for writing (because in reality it’s merely an excuse, a flimsy cop-out). So I think the problem lies in my burning desire of saying something meaningful, an exhausting ambition that I currently don’t have the time or energy to keep wrestling with. As a result I’m still not sure of the fate of Memories of the Future, but for now I have decided for now to turn my writing inward, that is, to focus more on my personal journal until I’m ready to start focusing outward again. This also comes as I’ve stepped away from internet use in general as I’ve thrown myself into redeveloping my intense love of books, literature and cinema, and also a new appreciation of music I have never reached before.

And that, in effect, is my “retirement”—though in actuality it’s more of an open-ended sabbatical. For a while at least the only thing that can really be expected from me is repostings of the capsule reviews I will continue to write for the IMDb Classic Film message board (simply means to save them for future reference). Maybe there will be more, I really don’t know at this point. I just wanted to let you all know the reason for my absence—and rest assure, I’ll continue to read you all in hopes of rejoining your ranks once again sometime in the future.

-jesse

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5 thoughts on “an announcement of my retirement.

  1. –I totally agree with at least three things you wrote:

    1.” I’m really allowing myself to merely be exposed to the things that interest me, and see where that eventually takes me.”

    That’s what I’m doing, too. And I think that is the right thing to do.

    2.” One of my resolutions for 2008: to undue my habit of watching a film or reading a book or whatever through a filter of “now what interesting thing am I going to say about this when I write my review?” I see now that such a mindset is severely limiting, and might even be robbing me of quite a bit of enjoyment I might not even realize I’m missing.”

    Yeah, that’s absolutely right. Writing about a film should not lessen any enjoyment you can get from a film. I used to spend some time thinking about what I should write in my blog, but whenever I thought about that, it would distract me from any enjoyment I could get from other things I was experiencing at that moment. If I thought about my blog when I was watching a film, that thought would distract me from enjoying the film at that moment. If I thought about my blog when I was sipping coffee, that thought would distract me from really enjoying the taste of coffee. I will not let my blog or my writing preventing me from enjoying other things in life.

    3.” it is impossible to expect ever reaching a place of “knowing enough,” and as a result it should never serve as a deterrent for writing”

    That’s absolutely true, too.

    –I don’t know how much you will write here in the near future. I just want to tell you that you should do whatever you feel happy to do. Whenever you feel happy to read, read. Whenever you feel happy to write, write. But there’s at least one thing I hope you will continue doing: whenever you experience such an indescribable joy from any film, any song, any book, or anything in your life, I hope you will let us readers know. If you don’t have time to analyze those great things you enjoy, at least I hope you make just a simple list of them. It would be very useful for us.

    I would have never listened to Nina Simone or Regina Spektor if it’s not because of you, Jesse. :-)

  2. I’m glad you’ve come to terms with these issues and have expressed them so openly, Jesse. I’m pretty sure these anxieties are something everyone who is enthusiastically involved with the arts must contend with at some point in their lives – I certainly have. You made me recall this passage from my notes on the NYU Film criticism workshop, paraphrasing Adrian Martin:

    “He emphasized the value of diversity within film criticism, using as a negative example his recent findings that among about 20 film magazines he had recently surveyed, the majority had an image of Daniel Day Lewis and There Will Be Blood on the cover. He found these tokens of hegemony lamentable (at this I couldn’t resist giving a consoling pat on the shoulder of the man seated in front of me, Richard Porton, editor of Cineaste, whose current issue has you-know-who on the cover). Martin recalled a recent exchange with Andy Rector, intrepid critic and host of the Kino Slang blog, who wondered if he had been shirking his responsibility by not covering There Will Be Blood. Martin’s response was that a critic only thing a critic needed to write was to write bravely – not necessarily to see new things, but to see things anew.”

    Not to sound like an old fogey, but when I was your age I was in the midst of my two year teaching stint in China, as far removed from the American arts and entertainment matrix as one could imagine. It was perhaps the most liberating time of my life, and when I came back to the states I had a perspective on things that I could proudly recognize as unique. Sometimes you do have to just walk away from the parade if you aren’t getting much out of it or feeling like you can’t fulfill yourself as much as you want to, because you probably do have more to experience elsewhere. I’m sure I’ll hear more from you at a later point, and I look forward to seeing what life has to offer you and what you will have to offer life.

  3. I could have easily written this same entry, albeit less eloquently, but the underlying sentiment is the same. I obviously “kept up” with 2007 Film more than yourself, but the number of films I saw last year (roughly seventy) pales in comparison to the standard I usually set (one hundred-plus being the minimum.) True, I’ve started following imdb release dates in terms of my yearly lists, which may explain the situation above, but I can’t help but feel burnt out as well. I’ve kind of stopped caring, which admittedly is a little liberating, but the sight of my neglected blog always makes me feel guilty. Even though the Oscars will always fascinate and excite me, I can’t deny that there wasn’t much investment on my part this year until the night-of (again, at least in comparison to other years when 99% of my posting was on “who-will-win” speculation.) I’m even less interested in posting an official top ten, and the idea of ranking achievements in film via a personal awards project could not be less appealing to me. Why bother? What will it matter? Etc, etc…

    That sinking realization that you’ll “not [know] enough” is one I know all too well. When I first started my blog in late 2005, I sensed so much possibility and discovery ahead. It was a turning over a new leaf from my RT journal, which I disliked so much. For this new journal, I wanted to watch a film a day, read a book a week, and maintain a steady output of related reviews/blog entries. I realize now that I set the bar too high, and that there was only so much I could experience at once. I used to compare myself to other critics who were able to watch (and discuss at length about) so many films. I remember visiting your old film website and marvelling at your top ten lists going back into the 60s and 50s, thinking how much work I had ahead of me. I was (am!) jealous about how many books you had read, and feeling completely out of my depth talking literature with you. Remember how I desperately solicited your advice for my Woolf essay in third year? ;) (Thank you again for the help, btw.)

    I guess I just need to be more realistic about my limitations in this regard; I’m not one of those people who can churn out reviews daily. Well, I suppose I could be, but I don’t think I’d being saying anything of much value. I’m kind of embarrassed to admit it, but each of my reviews takes weeks or even months to compose – not so much in the fingers-to-keyboard stage of it (I usually type the text out over one night) – but within my head. That recent “Lagaan” review has been bouncing around in there for a little over six months, and has probably been in “Drafts” for even longer! I haven’t even started thinking about what I’m going to write about next, and even having so many DVDs at hand doesn’t push me hard enough.

    But back to you – I’m so glad to hear that you’ve felt inspired to start reading again, and only those titles which truly appeal to you. I myself am trying to only read/watch/experience that which appeals to me, not due to some ridiculous obligation conjured up on my part. For example, in any other fanatic awards season, I would have watched every single nominated film, but I walked out of “At World’s End”, “Charlie Wilson’s War”, “Lars and the Real Girl”, and others because they just couldn’t hold my interest for more than fifteen minutes. It’s rather liberating, I must admit!

    SO… in conclusion, I am kind of excited to see what emerges out of this sabbatical. I will miss your rare-but-inspired posts for now, but hopefully this “retirement” will give you time and inspiration to return full-force.

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