Wednesday, November 21, 2007
And by the way, since it's that time of year already, I hope all of you will have a wonderful and relaxing Thanksgiving.
In Ways of Seeing John Berger asserts that it is difficult for an artist to successfully portray the object of his desire as anything other than an object. Antonia, the title character of this book, is the object of the narrator’s desire, and also, purportedly, of the author’s. Cather triumphs as a writer however, and gives us a dynamic portrait of Antonia, a sometimes desirable, sometimes offensive woman. Antonia is as far from caricature as a real person, although I’m sure that hasn’t stopped students in college courses across the country from trying. How so? Well, here’s a faux-shocking summary for you: Cather was probably a lesbian, and Antonia has many traditionally masculine characteristics. There, now you don’t need to read any of those papers.
Ways of Seeing
Berger’s exploration of the relationship between art and capital doubles as a short and easily understood explanation of Marxist philosophy. He’s also perceptive and entertaining on the subject of art.
Powell’s Bookstore stocks this novel, written about post-apocalyptic England, in the science fiction and fantasy section. However, it would be equally at home in the literature section. In other words, Riddley Walker is both brilliant and entertaining, and the reader will be rewarded according to what he brings to the reading.
Seven Against Thebes
Translated by Anthony Hecht and Helen H. Bacon
I decided to learn more about Greek drama when I was reading Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy. Nietzsche compared Aeschylus to Euripides, to the detriment of the latter. I like both writers, but this excellent version of Seven Against Thebes, a play often discounted by critics, actually shows Aeschylus at his best and also proves how much translation counts. The writing is stark and dramatic, like some of the best Modernist poetry.
The Eclipse of Art
Tackling the Crisis in Art Today
In spite of a long and misplaced diatribe against John Berger, the author succeeds in making his point. Spalding clearly loves modern art but he’s sick of watching so many talented artists struggle while more gimmicky artists get all the acclaim and money. He seems to miss a central irony, however. He and Berger are not so different. Both want to free art, as far as possible, from the judgment of the corporate-minded marketplace.
Monday, October 1, 2007
Invasion of the Body-Snatchers
Since this film was remade in the late seventies Pod-people have become such a cultural commonplace that it is difficult to understand what the characters are so upset about. Girlfriend or pod-girlfriend – who call tell the difference?
A Nightmare on Elm Street
Even here, Johnny Depp was attractive, in spite of his big 80's hair and disturbing resemblance to the 12-year old Annette Funicello. The rest of the cast’s mickey-mouse club-style acting (mental note to self: must stop obsessing about Annette before husband finds out) is deliciously bad.
Resident Evil: Apocalypse
A city relies on Commando SuperModels in various states of undress to rescue them from zombies. Unfortunately everyone else in the city gets turned into a zombie anyway, forcing the Commando Supermodels, in an excess of type-casting, to act selfishly and save themselves.
Since the 1950's lacked Commando SuperModels, a small town must rely on a pack of teenagers, led by 28-year old teenager Steve McQueen, to rescue them from mobile grape jelly from outer-space. Although substantially less well-armed, the teens prove themselves much more community-spirited than the Commando SuperModels. These were innocent times.
Sexy stylish vampires fight sexy thuggish werewolves for world domination. Which side looks better in skin-tight faux-Goth wear? The answer shall determine The Future (and two sequels, which I haven’t seen yet).
Friday, August 31, 2007
I just watched the video Giuliani Gets Exposed As Fraud by Firefighters, which has been up on UTube for over a month. For such a short video, it’s quite powerful, and I got emotional watching it. But let’s be honest here, I would never vote for Rudy Giuliani anyway. No, he doesn’t strike terror into my heart like some of the other candidates, and I do approve of some of his more edgy fashion choices (see above). But I’m a left-leaning centrist, and while once or twice in the past I’ve voted for moderate Republicans I can’t imagine doing it again unless the current political climate drastically changes. Polls indicate that I’m with the majority in that attitude. Turns out that most of us have somehow failed to appreciate the last seven years of corruption and bungling, or at least not as much as Fox News has hoped we would.
But I wish that most Americans would grasp the real lessons we should be learning from our current problems as a nation, and the lesson is surely not that Republicans are bad and Democrats are good. One of those lessons is front-row center in the Giuliani video. Once I dried my eyes over Rudy’s vicious, uncaring attitude towards fire fighters and his stereotypical Republican big-business centric corruption, I was left with the uncomfortable feeling that I had seen this somewhere before. Actually, we have all seen it before. Remember swift-boat veterans against John Kerry, John McCain’s illegitimate black child, the Clinton’s murder of Vince Foster? As I look fondly back at those stories and smile in anticipation of more as we approach the 2008 election, I can’t help but ruin my own good time by wondering if maybe I should start to reject all smear campaigns, even when they’re directed at someone like Rudy Giuliani.
But first I needed to ask, is this video informative or is it just part of a smear campaign? Well, here’s some information missing from the video. What is Giuliani’s own explanation for the defective radios provided for the fire-fighters? As mayor, would he actually have been aware of such a detail? Who was the decision-maker responsible for accepting the no-bid contract for the radios? Why did the city prohibit further excavation of the ruins of the twin towers – was it really because gold had already been recovered or did they have new information about the risks? I don’t have the answer to any of those questions either, and for all I know, Giuliani may well be an evil wealth-and-power driven maggot who prioritizes special deals for the makers of defective equipment over the lives of fire-fighters. I’m just saying I didn’t learn anything from this video that proves it. So gosh, unless someone offers me the facts, I guess I’ll just have to vote for some other candidate for the pathetically old-fashioned reason that I don’t like Giuliani’s platform.
Sure, it would be dull, but isn’t it just possible that the U.S. could be a better place if everyone voted for candidates based on their platforms and their proven records instead of reacting to unsubstantiated rumors? After all, when we need entertainment, we’ll still have Fox News.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
The August 25th issue of The Economist reports that two scientists have found a way to induce out-of-body experiences in the lab. Both Dr. Olaf Blanke of Geneva University Hospital and Dr. Henrik Ehrsson of the Karolinka Institute in Stockholm use a combination of virtual reality and real sensation to create the effect. These techniques trick subjects into mistakenly locating their body or self elsewhere, although as The Economist sensibly adds, “Astral projection it is not”.
But these findings have exciting implications for consciousness research, and I’m eager to hear the results of more experiments using similar techniques in the future. What I’m not eager to hear is the monotonous drone of a certain noisy subset of materialists claiming that these results prove that existence ends with the physical universe. Such materialists have a remarkable track record of conflating their philosophy with science. So expect to be cornered soon at a party-near-you by one of them announcing that science has now proved that astral projection, life-after-death, and the soul do not exist.
But as Robert Thurman points out, such arguments are always carefully selected. For instance, it’s easy enough to stimulate the brain electronically to produce visual hallucinations. But we don’t need anything so fancy to produce visual hallucinations on demand. We could instead take a long drive through a desert on a hot day and see non-existent water ahead or we could look at any number of common optical illusions. Yet you’re unlikely to be cornered at a party by a materialist claiming that visual hallucinations prove that everything we see and sight itself are illusions.
Of course, we can try to figure out what’s real by using all of our senses on an object and getting confirmation from other people. That works fine as long as you’re looking for confirmation of something physical, and as long as you believe that other people exist and can be trusted. But the keyword there is “belief”. In other words, expect the materialist to attempt to prove his materialist beliefs with materialist arguments. To escape his circular reasoning you could attempt to achieve an out-of-the-body experience on the spot. Or, more simply, you could outwit him with his own materialist strategies by standing in some other area of the party.
Flo Finklestein hastens to add that she does not think of all materialists in this way, and that she has attempted to avoid generalization in her wording. True believers, whether materialistic or non-materialistic, tend to think that any belief system is for the naïve. They have no need for beliefs, because they KNOW. In my opinion, that is...
Sunday, August 26, 2007
I’m starting this blog because I enjoy sharing my likes and dislikes with friends and with strangers who could become friends. I call it slinging hash because my interests vary, and I expect this blog to contain mixed content, much like the inside of my head.
Of course what I really want to share are the things I love and the things I hate. Bruno Schulz is a good example of the former. I knew almost nothing about Schulz when I recently happened to see his book The Street of Crocodiles sitting on a shelf at our local branch of the library. The blurb on the front cover quotes Isaac Bashevis Singer, “He wrote sometimes like Kafka, sometimes like Proust, and at times succeeded in reaching depths that neither of them reached.” Quite a claim, and book blurbs usually exaggerate, but Schulz makes good on this promise.
Here is Schulz’s description of a night at the local theatre:
We found ourselves again in that large, badly lit dirty hall, full of somnolent human chatter and aimless confusion. But when we made our way through the crowd, there emerged before us an enormous pale-blue curtain, like the sky of another firmament. Large, painted pink masks, with puffed-up cheeks floated in a huge expanse of canvas. The artificial sky spread out in both directions, swelling with the powerful breath of pathos and of great gestures, with the atmosphere of that fictitious flood lit world created on the echoing scaffoldings of the stage. The tremor sailing across the large area of that sky, the breath of the vast canvas which made the masks revive and grow, revealed the illusory character of that firmament, caused that vibration of reality which, in metaphysical moments, we experience as the glimmer of revelation.
The passage is reminiscent of Proust’s poetic descriptions of the Paris stage, although by contrast Schulz relied only on the theatre in his home-town, Drohobych Poland, for inspiration.
The following selection, which claims powers for matter extending far beyond animism, reads like a philosophical manifesto written by Kafka:
Treatise on Tailors’ Dummies, or The Second Book of Genesis
“The Demiurge,” said my father, “has had no monopoly of creation, for creation is the privilege of all spirits. Matter has been given infinite fertility, inexhaustible vitality, and, at the same time, a seductive power of temptation which invites us to create as well.”
Schulz was a gifted artist too. He worked as a high school art teacher, and also studied architecture. He never got the chance, however, to create a large body of fiction or art. He was a victim of shooting in the early phases of the holocaust. He was apparently working on a novel to be called The Messiah at the time, and I also recommend the Cynthia Ozick novel, The Messiah of Stockholm, which alludes to this lost work.
Did I mention that The Street of Crocodiles is only 160 pages long? Think of it as a shot-size version of Kafka and Proust; I can live with that oversimplification if it persuades at least one more person to read Schulz.