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8 March 2013

J.M. Coetzee, Jesus Christ & a visit to Adelaide

Lying prone in a front room of a Melbourne suburb, I’m reading this J.M. Coetzee essay about Aussie poet Les Murray. I did not previously know of Murray or his poems — my bad, my loss, he is apparently “the leading Australian poet of his generation.” Could be! At least I was quite struck by these lines excerpted in Coetzee’s piece:

(bird minds and ours are so pointedly visual):

a field all foreground, and equally all background,

like a painting of equality. Of infinite detailed extent

like God’s attention. Where nothing is diminished by perspective.

It’s interesting the way artists put themselves in God’s shoes. For example, here’s one impressionistic flash from Adelaide Writer’s Week¬†which took place simultaneous with Brassland’s program at Adelaide Festival. Coetzee now resides in Adelaide. He relocated there in 2002, just after retiring from his university position in South Africa, and just before winning the Nobel prize. Yet he seems, at best, a phantom presence.

For example, something of a recluse, Coetzee declined to appear in support of his new novel which has something to do with Jesus Christ. (Guilty as charged: I have not read it…yet.) He did, however, supply the festival with 75 signed copies of his book, a number of which remained unsold at the festival’s conclusion Thursday night. (Evidence pictured above.)

I’m a fan of Coetzee — especially his memoirs — and while the chilly nature of his prose is one of its appeals — his distance — I could not help but see a bit of comedy (unselfconscious self-parody?) in this gesture and in this state of affairs: a pile of unsold author signed copies on a work about Jesus. I may be giving undue credit for the good humor of the work itself. For example, in a summary of the book from Wikipedia:

The Childhood of Jesus, as its title was later revealed to be, was released March 2013, and concerning the early life of Jesus, particularly his struggles to free himself from the iron-fisted discipline of his long-suffering parents, get the girl, earn a decent wage, and find his place in an unforgiving world.

“Get the girl”?

Posted by Alec Hanley Bemis  

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25 February 2008

Alec (who is the same age as Jesus) responds to his critic. Also, a special guest appearance by Judas aka Bob Dylan (you know, the guy from the panty commercial).

A commenter writes of my post on These New Puritans:

I have met people in their teens and early twenties who are much less arrogant than this writer(Alec Bemis). New Puritans are OK, definitly not cutting edge, and not like anything we havent heard before.Yes, I’m old, but I was into The Fall as well as the Stones thousands of years ago and I still recognize what bands from the past brought to the party.

Maybe Alec is burnt out on the oldtimers, which is understandable, but if he could think past his own experience it would be a nice.He remionds me of a spoiled kid I once knew that would break his toys when he got tired of them so no one else could enjoy them.

Posted on February 19, 2008 11:10 AM by andrew

Let me respond.

1. As a clarification, I am 33, the same age of Jesus. Clearly those kids in their teens and early twenties who you’re meeting have some work to do to get as arrogant as me. But don’t worry, sounds like they have plenty of time to catch up!

2. I never said that These New Puritans were “cutting edge.” They cite terrorist videos as an influence for Alec’s sake, and those have been around at least twenty or thirty years. I even point out in my post that their music reminds me of groups like the Fall very very much. I think you are taking a typical boomer-era view of praise, and assuming that I think the only art worth celebrating is “original.” Really, though, my criteria for artistic greatness has much more to do with “excellence of execution.” There is a huge difference.


3. I’m not “burnt out” on the old timers. To this day Sonic Youth are consistently one of my favorite bands to experience live and there’s a reason I was posting video of Mark E. Smith only a few days ago. I will see Bob Dylan live every opportunity I get until the man dies. But I am quite aware that the more comfortable a band gets, the more discomfiting sponsorship opportunities can be. I’d be the last person, for example, to criticize the Shins when their music was used to shill for McDonald’s early in the band’s career. They almost definitely needed the money. As a band becomes more of a self-sufficient entity, however, it needs become increasingly aware, and careful, of how its accumulated chain of cultural associations are wielded in public view.

In other words. Rolling Stones shilling for Rice Crispies in 1964 = A-OK!

The Rolling Stones shilling for Tommy Hilfiger on their No Security tour in 1999. Well, you’ve got to be joking me. Maybe if they called it their Social Security tour I would have been more sympathetic.

After the jump, Bob Dylan’s most embarrassing-slash-greatest commercial moment(s).
Read more »

Posted by Alec Hanley Bemis  

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