the man

It’s been a long time. It’s weird. Lately I’ve been reading a lot more than writing. Pulled down some good books, though, including Sometimes a Great Notion and The Miracle of Castille di Sangro. Both are fantastic, the first being a fairly Objectivist (yuck) tale of the Stamper family doing what they’ve got to do, logging the Oregon forests despite the rest of town being on strike. It’s got a lot of powerful themes, largely dealing with hardship and revenge, leading to perseverance. SaGN celebrates the human spirit one page, then pisses on it a bit later.

The second is a lighter story about a tiny town in a crappy part of northern Italy who somehow build a good (not great) soccer team. There are many issues that they face, a lot of surprises, some very sad, some quite funny. It really is a page turner as you seek to find out just how the personalities will clash, or bond, or how the roughshod team will do against powerhouses like Genoa. This is another novel (nonfiction though!) that highlights what it is to be human.

Coincidentally, one of the themes that relates these two novels is that of what it is to be a man. From the chin-up square-shouldered perspective of Hank Stamper, to the maturation of his pampered blue-blood sibling, and across the Atlantic to the machismo of a team of Italian footballers and the managers and who parody that machismo, these novels investigate manliness. What is it to be a man? What are the responsibilities and social pressures? How does one relate to others, loved ones, strangers, enemies, and acquaintances. Do you walk with an air of silent power, do you confront with brutal honesty, or simply avoid confrontations?

Last night I saw a film that made no effort to answer those questions. The Five Obstructions is a movie about humanity…though not so much as it tries to be, I think. I cannot remember the foreign names, but basically Lars (maker of Dancer in the Dark and Dogville, both great, though the latter is _way_ messed up) challenges his mentor to remake a short of his five times, each facing different obstructions. The film is called The Perfect Human, and it is an interesting little bit, observing a man, and occasionally a woman, in a room with no background. They are both the perfect human. Perhaps the observer is alien. I don’t know. The film focused on how the perfect human is. How they eat, look, lie, fall. How they experience sadness and how they move. In an empty room. Why are they perfect? I do not know. In each iteration, the new film expresses beauty with loneliness and sorrow, sometimes through masculinity, sexuality, feminity, or absurdity.

I still wonder what it is to be a man. There are so many conflicting traits one needs. Strength of character, body, will, mind. Courage? What inspires some men to be silent and strong like rocks but others to let loose with very personal thoughts. Can both be masculine?

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