Moonshine: Shining

The Shining. Dir. Stanley Kubrick. Warner Bros, 1980. Film Still: 00:58:00.

Stargazing on a summer night, a friend once told me to identify planets as I would the moon. They are the ones that don’t twinkle. Rather than producing their own light, they shine flat light reflected from the sun. And by the time that light reaches us, it is minutes to hours old. These celestial bodies, as we perceive them, are not self-defining, nor are they ever our precise contemporaries. But we just see isolated, presently glowing dots.

What happens when humans are put into this position, made into reflective surfaces that claim foreign light as their own, masking its historical origin? In an extreme case, we get the events of The Shining, Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 psychological-horror movie based on a Steven King novel by the same name.

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Moonshine: Catacombs

Curious Figures, Tom Otterness, 2004. Image courtesy of

A few hundred feet below the cabs and wheezing busses that circle the rotunda at Denfert-Rochereau, a plaza in a southern neighborhood of Paris, the remains of six million Parisians lie quiet and dense. Wheelbarrows began to transfer the bodies here in the late eighteenth century, the city’s central cemeteries groaning under the weight of their holdings. The bodies were, by then, giving off an odor that had started to seep into the central markets, clinging redolently to the fruit. Here in the so-called catacombs, skeletons from the medieval era rub shoulders with the bones of Robespierre and Marat. Tourists can pay eight euros to wander among the stacked-up skulls.

These are not the only tunnels sprawling underneath the breadth of Haussmann’s boulevards. People tend to forget that much of the southern part of Paris is constructed on a delicate crust, fault lines slicing just atop a porous mantle. You remember only when there is a collapse, a whole southeastern neighborhood, for instance, that crumbled into its foundations back in the sixties. The tunnels were quarries, at first: it was their stones that built the city when the south was no more than barren land, when builders could cart their materials from here over to the Panthéon and the Louvre. As Paris’s borders were teased outwards, construction overlaid the old quarries, sealing them in like streets under the dried lava of Pompeii. There are almost two-hundred miles of these pathways coursing beneath the urban lanes.

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Moonshine: Can I Eat What You Give Me

Image courtesy of

after Robert Creeley

“I’d rather be dead than eighty,” you’d tell me, and “Hmm,” I’d reply, or “Really,” if I thought you deserved the extra syllable. You weren’t a rock star, after all. No risk of getting fat and fading away.

Sometimes, especially if I granted you that second syllable, you’d persist. “What would I do with myself at that point, you know?” (You’d open up your laptop.) “It’d be so boring.” (Arrested Development would be playing, though you’d seen each episode at least three times.) “You know?”

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Moonshine: “I am on my guard”

Roden Crater, James Turrell, conceived in 1974. Image courtesy of

Separation requires an
other quest for union
I use a white thread
half of the same paper
and in the sun’s light
I place a lens so that
the sea reflects back
violet and blue making
rays easily more freely
your nativity and you
of light from that of
memory when eyelids close
so in dream sensation
Mind’s trajected light
– “Rückenfigur” by Susan Howe

The architect Tadao Ando once claimed, “Walls manifest a power that borders on the violent.” Ando’s characteristic work both suppresses and celebrates this power; the architect metes thick concrete walls in sharp corners and curved interventions. Ando softens the severity of his geometric lines and reinforced concrete with painstaking attention to the location of the structure. In some works, an unexpected slit in the concrete will bathe an entire wall in sunlight. A cleverly placed window might frame a distant mountain, as though the window were serving as art.  Ando’s austerity, balanced with a delicate treatment of natural light and surrounding landscapes, rarely feels aggressive.

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Moonshine: Encounters

R.S.V.P. V, Senga Nengudi, 1976. Nylon, mesh and sand, 48 x 36 x 2 in. Image courtesy of

We are six. No, you are six and I am eight, and our feet, they are moving in clumsy circles on the tiles of our kitchen floor, and we are hugging so tightly that I can feel your breath on my ear, hot in a way that makes me want to say Yuck but I want to win this game so I do not pull away. It is like we are playing thumb wars but with our feet; mine are on yours, then yours on mine and the grit from the bottom of your feet rubs off onto the tops of mine and I make a face and tell you: You are disgusting, to which you reply: But nothing like you, and round and round we go and now both of us are laughing so hard we can’t even hear the sound of Mom watching the 9 pm news in the sitting room. The curtain is pulled to one side so we can see the sky and we will call our game, this cross between a lover’s dance and thumb wars, “A Dance in the Moonlight”. You start to sing, repeating the phrase over and over again, and I start to sing too, and our voices sound not too different from the way the stray cats do when they fight one another for leftovers when someone has left the trash uncovered, but I will remember this tune, still, when I am twenty-one.

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Introduction: Moonshine

This summer, members of the Harvard Advocate will wax poetic on one theme. Features member Noah Pisner ’14 introduces Moonshine, which will last through August.

L’Amour au théâtre italien, Antoine Watteau, c. 1716. Image courtesy of

Here they come: three stone-faced bootleggers with their shirts tucked into their coveralls driving Chevys out of the laurel to sell moonshine in bottles in the pavilion parking lot. Here they come: the three of them now finished with their breakfast, their stomachs full of biscuits and gravy and kraut. Here they come, my friend says. He tells me they come here often.

We’re seven miles from the highway. It’s just past dawn. Some farm kids are out running dogs. The first bootlegger jabs the air with his index finger: No-no-no, it’s the special pussy, man, way back in the back. Which part of a truck bed is the back? I lift the tarpaulin further along and my friend quickly moves for a different set of jars — is he guessing? The second bootlegger heaves back with his kitchen table drawl: Boss uh-huh boss. I guess he’s not guessing. The third bootlegger, an Iraq vet, explains he’s been drinking hooch since his mother first tried to get rid of him in utero by chugging two quarts of it.

They ask my friend and I if we’ve ever drunk moonshine before. I lie.

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