terça-feira, outubro 17, 2017

I Can No Longer Bear the Aggressiveness of Poetry: "Berlin-Hamlet" by Szilárd Borbély, Ottilie Mulzet (Translator)

"When I came to Berlin, I no
wanted to live. Why isn't
   there a way, I thought, if 
  someone doesn't  want to live
any more, simply to 

In "Berlin-Hamlet" by Szilárd Borbély, Ottilie Mulzet (Translator)

"I do not believe in poetry"

In "Berlin-Hamlet" by Szilárd Borbély, Ottilie Mulzet (Translator)

"I can no longer bear the aggressiveness of poetry,
and I do not wish my deeds to be investigated."

In "Berlin-Hamlet" by Szilárd Borbély, Ottilie Mulzet (Translator)

"My need is for those who will know/how/all of this will end."

In "Berlin-Hamlet" by Szilárd Borbély, Ottilie Mulzet (Translator)

I can't give any more quotes...The book is a long quote.

After having finished reading this heart-wrenching poetry book, my thoughts come back to Hamlet, as always. It's always about indecision... 

Borbély is masterfully able to give us this indecision in a modern version.

The Hamlet's main soliloquy reflects the character's conflict and uncertainty after his father's ghost has told him of the sins of his mother and the crimes of his uncle, and he's asking himself what best to do with that knowledge. The best point for this introspection can be debated and played with. It isn't likely that treating it as Hamlet's greatest hit and getting it out of the way first thing is appropriate for character development. Although I haven't seen the production and it may be awesome. But the soliloquy really doesn't refer to his particular situation at that particular moment. There are no first person pronouns in it at all, and his other soliloquies are much more specific about what's happening to him. It is a generalised piece of philosophical thinking. Beautiful, insightful and compassionate, it may be, but it isn't a man deciding whether to kill himself or not. It isn't even especially emotional: there are no exclamations in it (two of his other soliloquies begin "oh").

It isn't an accident that the line 'to be or not to be' is such a passive, neutral construction; it's a meditation on the human condition, not a great emotional outpouring. It only touches Hamlet's own case, and then obliquely, when it gets to "lose the name of action" right at the end. And it's really not anchored very securely in Act III, since nothing immediately before it seems to provoke it, and it isn't the cause of anything that directly follows. I think it might work well as a prologue (though I don't know how well this production made it work). It might set the whole up thematically. Olivier in his film used a different speech as prologue, and added his own words: "this is the story of a man who could not make up his mind" (doesn't he also move "to be or not to be"? - Sacrilege!

It's perfectly possible for a specific individual to make a general philosophical argument, especially if it is entirely in keeping with their character. Hamlet is intelligent and skeptical, a thoughtful student and scholar. All of that is reflected in the way he thinks. You can't imagine Laertes ever having these thoughts. It is the generalisation within the speech that makes it so effective. Hamlet isn't just talking about his own situation (in fact he doesn't really mention it at all) he's talking about all of our lives and doubts. "... And makes us rather bear those ills we have, than fly to others that we know not of," is a wonderful way of turning the whole argument out towards the audience. The context is of a man capable of such extraordinary philosophical thought, trapped within this destructive narrative of revenge. Szilard played with an un-fucked-about version of Hamlet, but he still fucked with my head. Everybody fucks about with the words and rightly so. That's what makes this kind of stuff so gut-wrenching.

Should have gone with "the rest is silence". God, I hate this kind of poetry...5 stars because of that. I'll say no more...

NB: This collection was published in the original Hungarian in 2003 and this English version has been translated by Ottilie Mulzet.

NB2: If you want to hear what this particular soliloquy sounds like, look no farther. I built an Android App where you can find all the classical actors reciting it:

Kenneth Branagh
John Gielgud
Laurence Olivier
Derek Jacobi
Paul Scofield
David Tennant
Christopher Plummer
Ethan Hawke
Kevin Kleine
Ben Crystal
William Belchambers
Richard Burton
Vincent Price
Mel Gibson
Toby Stephens.

domingo, outubro 15, 2017

The Linux Server Encyclopaedia: "Anonymous" by Roland Emmerich


Sorry to interrupt, but what is it about the nature of our species that is so attracted to conspiracy theories? We can trace this as far back as Homer and plenty of modern examples as well.

If I had a crystal ball I think it may well show a 2416 Ox/Cam luminary frothing at the bung as he expounded on the impossibility of an illiterate uneducated Lennon seen as the co-author and author of his celebrated works. I took an interest in the claims of the Earl Of Oxford after the film Anonymous made its preposterous contribution in 2011. I was particularly interested in the fact that the denialists draw so much confidence from their claims to have discovered hidden ciphers in epitaphs and ancillary texts. The Oxfordian method of unwinding these hidden messages (they are never ciphers) involves little more than separating all the letters and making words out of them as if they were a Scrabble bag with two dozen blank tiles. Oxfordians tend to stop as soon as they have found what they want. I was able to go a bit further, whilst sticking rigidly to their 'method'. As a result, I can offer a few new ideas about Shakespeare's favourite books which not even Professor Jonathan Bate may not have considered.

1. The Autobiography of Howard Kendall

By far the most distressing revelation for a lifelong Kopite is that Shakespeare was an Everton supporter. As a native of the Midlands, he would have been forced to look north for a credible team to support. How he came to to choose The Toffees is a source of amazement but a 6x48 grill made from the epitaph reveals the legend "Evrtn is grat".

2. The Linux Server Encyclopaedia

It's fairly safe to assume most playwrights of the period, like creatives today, were Mac users but Will obviously needed industrial strength servers for his prolific output and showed a strong preference for Japanese hardware. On a desert island, with no online access to help, a cautiously competent techie would surely have taken a manual. A 4x96 grill reveals "Sony btr thn HP".

3. The Brilliant Bumper Joke Book

Much has been written about Will's comic knowledge and his instinctive grasp of the science of timing. His tavern jokes and gag lines like "William the Conqueror was there first" are legendary. No one has explored the possibility that Will may have been an early comic stand-up artist, yet in his epitaph (12 x 9 grid this time), he clearly left us one of his most treasured punchlines "Jesus saves, Moses paies owt". I think he'd have liked this book to remind him of his audience.

So remember, whilst almost all of what Oxfordians have to say might look completely ridiculous to anyone with a knowledge of the work, there will still be a legacy after the few who are left have gone.

Of course, Oxfordians don't really seem to like the fact that plays are in fact plays, and they will tend
to ignore everything that is known about how plays were produced in the period. Paul Crowley believes that the "canonical plays" were "rarely if ever performed" while William talks of plays being "held back". The fact is, that prior to 1616, the year of Shakespeare's death and Jonson' First Folio, the idea of English drama as an authorial publishing venture was unknown. The quartos were published by printers as and when they could get hold of prompt copies, and playwrights did not enjoy the benefits of copyright legislation. Plays were written to be staged. For no other reason - certainly not just to send coded messages within an aristocratic coterie.

Clear internal evidence shows typecasting, and typecasting determined a deal of choices for Shakespeare. Hamlet, which is explained by Oxfordians as a kind of autobiographical fable, tells us much about the context of drama at the time. Hamlet and Polonius (or the actors playing them) joke about the one stabbing the other in Julius Caesar the previous season. Hamlet demands that clowns stick to the script, shortly after a popular ad-libbing clown has been replaced with a more sober actorly clown.

The fact that plays were a successful commercial form of entertainment is very bothersome to Oxfordians, which is why they try to refute or tone down the idea wherever possible.

Last night I watched the movie again. After having read all of the Shakespeare work since 2011, I said to myself: "Maybe the the movie will have some merit after all"...Nope. It's was belly-button fluff in 2011, it's still belly-button fluff in 2017.A word to the wise for any brilliant writers out there - you'd better make sure that when you die, you leave behind you a trail of debris in your personal life to rival that of any of your characters.

If you write great romances, leave ample proof of all those sordid affairs you had, all those hearts you broke! Swoon for all you're worth in front of the cameras, baby, and don't leave the house without your lipstick on. Keep a detailed record of all the illegitimate children you had, and who adopted them, so that DNA testing on your descendants in the 25th century will prove you to be the author of your bodice-ripping yarns. Do not, under any circumstances, die unmarried, undivorced, or worse yet a virgin - the people of the future will mock the very idea of you understanding romance, and will put you in the fraudsters hall of shame alongside Jane Austen (whose books, as we all know, were really written by her male editor).

If you write spy thrillers, you'd better put a copy of your MI5 file in the safe for future generations to find. Better still if you can leave a copy of your old Stasi file alongside it. Shhh! Don't keep anything more than this or it will make you seem careless... careless like a bad spy who could never have come up with that twist in the ending of that triple-agent novel you wrote, you know the one, only you don't, do you? Because you didn't write it, you liar, you were just the front, the patsy for that CIA operative who couldn't use their own name because they had to do the job of a real man, a job you can't begin understand. You disgust me.

If you write fantasy fiction and care about the integrity of your legacy you really need to leave proof of your pagan/wiccan/voodoo/Satanic/other* predelictions. This is quite difficult, as a few scrawls in the margins of a tattered copy of the Book of Shadows might not be enough to convince people in the 25th century. Try getting arrested for the ritual murder of a virgin, or at the very least, indecent exposure when dancing around Stonehenge at midnight. Laminate the subsequent newspaper reports to ensure they don't degrade over the centuries as future generations will consider electronic files too easily faked, and besides, most of them were lost forever in the great EMP war of 2323, which was all a bit convenient for you, wasn't it? Someone still covering up for you after all that time, hmm?

If you write science fiction, for goodness sake don't be an actual scientist! People in the 25th century will understand physics in a way we cannot hope to comprehend and will therefore find your faster-than-light drive hilarious, and refuse to believe that a scientist wrote such a thing, attributing it instead to your alcoholic second cousin who still lived with his mother, as that's what science fiction writers are supposed to do. Please don't tell me you've moved with your girlfriend. We really are beyond hope now, aren't we?

Follow these basic rules, and you too can die happy in the knowledge that centuries from now, your body of work will not be used as an anti-establishment sledgehammer by an irate cultish group seeking to "bring down the man" by reading fiction in strictly autobiographical terms and calling everyone "sheeple".

To paraphrase Bill Bryson:

"Oxford would certainly have had ample leisure to write the plays after 1604, assuming he was not too dead to work."

Shakespeare wrote some of his finest plays after the death of Oxford. That's how stupid these people are. Shakespeare belongs to us, not the inbred, narrow aristocracy and thick actors. To the tower with them.

NB: It always amazes me what some people get obsessed by. Engaging with most "Shakespeare didn't write Shakespeare" advocates is a bit like being button-holed by someone who thinks they can prove the Ark of the Covenant is really buried under Birmingham New Street Station, and prove it mathematically based only on the Book of Revelation and the paintings of Rembrandt.

sábado, outubro 14, 2017

Entangled Strings: "Theories of Everything" by Frank Close

I’ve got a theory that the rules of the universe ARE created by people thinking up theories about it. Although due to elitism bias, i am yet to receive any funding for my groundbreaking “hypothesis.” Fucking scientist bastards, getting paid for thinking about stuff they think I can’t understand... what a scam.

I suspect that a lot of the hostility and rejection of science by people who can't understand it is because it makes them feel stupid. It is, after all, fundamental to understanding how the world works. Some people are scientists; some people are not, but know what science is; but some people not only don't understand science, but don't know that they don't know, because they can't even see it. This is a bit analogous to being able to read. Some can go into a library and read in a few languages, some only in one, others can know what books are but not be able to read, and some don't actually know what books are and feel stupid, so pretend that they either don't exist or are some sort of conspiracy against them, which makes them feel important. There are theories around which involved such complex mathematics only a handful of people in the entire world can understand them. Peer review not much use here and enter this new age of egg-heads trying to “out-complexify” each other.

You have only 12 dimensions? ...... pffft... Look here, I have a closed equation which explains life, the universe, and everything with dimensionality to the power of infinity minus 1. Theories aren't always testable however science tends to disregard theories which aren't testable because it does experimental physicists out of a job (and if its not testable then it becomes a matter of belief rather than science). Quite extreme theories are potentially needed to displace quantum/mechanics/relativity because they tend to be harder to test. The Bohm interpretation of Quantum mechanics offers explanations for things standard quantum mechanics doesn't explain but also produces identical results to standard Copenhagen interpretation of Quantum mechanics. Some disregarded it solely for that reason that it appeared to not be testable, though in recent years suggestions have been made for possible deviations from standard model results.

Take instance one of my favourite cases: Holonomics, i.e., the idea that the universe is a multidimensional projection of a two-dimensional universe, also partly due to Bohm, is also largely ignored because it appears to be untestable. Where theories are untestable, proponents tend to spend much of their time trying to come up with experiments that will allow them to be tested.
String theory has had a similar problem.

An important part of physics is figuring out how theories can be tested. As a pupil I was pretty good at mathematics and physics. So I'd conclude that our ordinary four dimensions plus the six extra dimension would result in a ten-dimensional universe. Would I be right? Indeed I’m frigging right! But there are other versions of string theory that call for differing numbers of dimensions. After 10, I believe 26 is the next mathematically credible number. But the questions is: “Will it make my cornflakes stay crispy in the milk?” Answer: “In the 5th dimension they will be crispy, in our dimension they will remain soggy. In the 6th dimension they will be a moonbeam. I'm sure I saw one of the extra dimensions doing a spot of shopping for the weekend, in Lisbon, last Thursday. It had nice legs and a cotton frock.”

String theory is the theory that matter, energy and women are made up of tiny strings. It states that whenever you put a set of perfectly arranged strings in any container, they will come out completely tangled, no matter what the arrangement or the container. The aforementioned three ingredients (plus lard that acts as the glue) give rise to various elaborate, sophisticated and highly complicated and yet subtly simple and non-functioning existences, such as: iPod headphones, Christmas Tree Lights, garden hoses, electric cords, string panties, shoelaces, my Kodi player, my Synology NAS, etc.; although surprisingly beautiful and functioning constructions have also appeared, such as horse intestines, beetle legs, belly-button fluff, the area behind your computer desk still has a lot of trash from the last century. The answer to that is loop quantum gravity; an opposing theory to string theory and one that has concrete evidence including the Higgs-Boson you happen to have heard about.

Seriously. Something that I've always found difficult to get my head round in "simplified" explanations of multidimensional physics is the concept of dimensions rolled up so small that we can't perceive them. (And I'm well into mathematical physics, though not this specialty). An explanation I've come up with, with the request that it be criticised and corrected if possible, and the hope that it might be accurate enough to help:

Imagine a creature living in a perceived one-dimensional world, a cotton thread (not necessarily straight as viewed by an outside 3D observer). The creature will only see one dimension (with 2 directions, forwards and backwards). Its senses are not sensitive enough to discover this, but actually the thread is 3-dimensional, with the perceived dimension of extension along the thread, although the thread has a diameter and an interior, so that expressing a position microscopically would require 3 dimensions (in polar coordinates extension along, distance from the centre, and angle relative to some arbitrary radial axis). The values of the 2nd and 3rd coordinates would always be infinitesimally small (for a very thin 1D-in-3D universe), and space would be seen as one-dimensional. How’s that for a visualization? Pretty neat, ah.

I agree general relativity is at a dead end when it comes to a theory that explains how the force of gravity is transferred. Perhaps it is time to shake it up and take a close look at the base fundamentals behind some current academic research. The challenge for fundamental analysis goes to the young up and coming academic researcher who is actively seeking solutions and innovation. If this is you then the principles of atomic gravity are your starting point! It may be your time to race past your peers with both prestige and setup a great career path. The principles of atomic gravity are tools used to advance academic research in the natural sciences. The principles describe the method to how the force of gravity is transferred in atomic structure. Understand the principles to understand the bigger picture.

The next step is easy. A summary of the principles can be found using Google. It is better to understand the principles now before spending too many years chasing ghosts like the many vested current academic pre-retirees and retirees whose past research centered on the fundamentals of gravity through the theory of general relativity.

New ideas are born and the old theories fade away demonstrating how the evolution of scientific knowledge has advanced through-out human endeavour. Take a step forward and get in the lead!

sexta-feira, outubro 13, 2017

Literaryness Made Easy: "The Edge of the Horizon" by Antonio Tabucchi, Tim Parks (Translator)

Of course it's the old "can you teach talent" argument, isn't it? That's the meaty question, the puzzler of substantial length and girth that needs to be grabbed firmly with both hands. What produces worse writing? People striking off alone, with nobody to tell them to stop and their critics being self-selected (because you see a lot of that online in fandom communities) or people going to study creative writing and, much like Larkin claims parents do, getting fucked up by their teachers' preferences? Books aren't quite the same as music, there's less chances for an obviously wrong note that doesn't fit; even a single poorly chosen word in a 50,000 word novel is often far less jarring in the grand scheme of things than a G# when you expect a G in a 10-minute concerto. As they say, even Homer nods. Of course if you open a book and it begins "It was the best of times, it was the best of times", then there's a problem. And "bad" is just a really broad term. A book might be beautifully written but completely morally repellant, and I'd call that bad; it might have a thrilling plot but contain nothing but dull clichés and poor imagery and I'd call it bad. I'd even call a book bad if it was great for three quarters of its length and then had an awful ending. All these different “badnesses” are forgivable by different people to different degrees; I'd be more kind to a book which just had a bit of a flat ending to a book that thoroughly endorsed objectivism as a moral philosophy as its sole Daseinszweck. I'd be more forgiving of something that used cliché and well-worn archetypes with brio and enthusiasm and a little inventiveness than something that tries so hard to not be formulaic it feels like a schoolchild told they can't use "got, nice or went".

When is a literary novel worth reading like this one by Tabucchi? It depends on how you define "culture." Literary novels were certainly an emblem of high (educated) culture as opposed to low (mass) culture--much like classical music. How did one truly get educated 50/150 years ago--you read seriously, including literary novels. There was no PC/Web on which to waste time. Right after I graduated from college, I spent the better part of a decade reading literary novels--best thing I ever did. My daughters are voracious readers--but of course it is all serialized apocalyptic teen fiction. For a while I have been telling them that they will soon be reading classic novels--and that they will grow to appreciate them and the genre. But as I write this words I realize that maybe they won't. The Millennial generation will be well-educated and able to do difficult work--but they probably won't read novels. They’re not wired like that.

Any reason to think that writing itself will be around in the future? Once upon a time, not that long ago, people lived without it. In a future of virtual reality and brain to brain interfaces who says it will still be needed? We've gone from oral storytelling, in which small groups made their own imaginative creations from the ever varying iterations of various storytellers - to writing in which one storyteller addresses the imaginations of millions - to cinema in which one storyteller eliminates the need for anyone to imagine anything. Maybe the next step is one story, one storyteller, one humanity, and no ability to imagine anything individually. And one sensory feed to rule them all...What I'd love to see is the return of the SHORT novel of great beauty and clarity like “The Edge of the Horizon” so masterfully does.

The contemporary writer is so passionless. So stale. Such meandering, somewhat antiseptic prose causes you NOT TO REALLY CARE. I always think it's a terrible crime when a novel loses the opportunity to get to the heart of the matter, the rape and pillage of all that is considered art and it's harekari at the feet of the Consumer.

Since I learnt to read, I have always spent a lot of my spare time reading. I plough through books at a rate of knots. I used to be buying books all the time. Now I read on the Kindle just as much. I hate it when a smack addict who often uses words that send readers willing to read him scurrying for a dictionary. That’s what loses readers. The idea that "Complexity" and "Literaryness" (and their adjuncts "Depth" and "Meaning") are things that writers consciously write into their books - they sit down and say "I'm going to write a Literary Novel", as if Literature is something you add to a work rather than a post-fact label ascribed to works that stand out from the crowd. Now that sounds like cowardly equivocation of my own - "literature's, like, totally relative, man" - but I think there's something to it. Throughout history a frankly tiny proportion of the massive corpus of books ever written endures and gains the label "literature" and, as many defenders of popular culture will tell you at great length, some of them were written as "popular books!" (It's always Shakespeare, Dickens and Austen, I find - and they'd all apparently have written comics/TV shows/whatever you're trying to sell).

So if "literature" is best applied as a label post-fact to the best writing an era can offer, perhaps what's really stultifying - and killing - culture is the efforts to capture that zing, that unknown quality that means you remember “The Merchant of Venice” over “The Jew of Malta”, and turn it into something you can mass-produce, teach in schools and writers can use as their selling-point.  

Narrative in written form has been mined until the seams have been gleaned clean in places. To create new voices like Tabucchi’s, to tell the seven basic plots in new and interesting ways has become more difficult as there are so many out there doing it. Yet what has already been written is alive and out there, waiting for new readers to discover. I’ll add that this novel doesn’t reach 100 pages…No small feat, considering the punch it gives. Tabucchi’s language is a wonderfully rich one. Should we impoverish it by stripping it of perfectly good words and phrases simply because they are uncommon? Why is a phrase construction that you and I know a better choice than one that we don't know but Tabucchi does?  

With Tabucchi I need not fear the usual House Syndrome:

1) Patient has strange condition.
2) House treats patient, assumes that they're cured.
3) Patient gets worse. Patient is on the verge of death.
4) House has epiphany. Cures patient.

It's hard enough these days to find time to get through books that aren't of the order of “The Edge of the Horizon”. Not that I worry too much about that, though - I think the best reading years of my life were in my twenties, when during the five years of my Engineering degree I was free to read novels and poetry all day in cafes and parks, and to go out drinking at night and do other unmentionable things. You can't do it forever, though, and there's a lot of stuff that I suspect I just couldn't be bothered with now, stuff that I read almost religiously and with enormous excitement when I was in my early to mid-20s - Kafka, Hemingway, Kerouac, TS Eliot, DH Lawrence, Malcolm Lowry, and so on. I'll never be mad for all that stuff the way I was back then. Living is easy when you're young, so you challenge yourself with art. When you get older, living itself becomes the main art you have to cultivate, and high falutin books don't hold the same fascination.

I can still tear into a Antonio Tabucchi like this one, though, no problem there. It’s not perfect, but it’s still better than most of the crap being published nowadays. Maybe Tabucchi has taken modernism and post-modernism as far as it can go (e.g., I can’t stand most of what’s being labelled and published as post-modernism in this day and age). Maybe it is impossible to trump a novel where everything is a chain of imaginings: a senile mind imagining an uneducated comatose mind imagining a lunatic mind. If so, it is a good thing that the final modernistic novel is not difficult at all, nerdishly very entertaining: I was disturbing other passengers by laughing sometimes while I was reading it. I know. I’m weird. And the way you write freely, without caring about trying not to sound pretentious, is very likable, in fact, charming. But modernism is not the only way of telling a story. Other movements will appear. Art, generally, is light and spectacular at the present. But this is just a phase. It will pass after the dominance of old men has been broken. The plutocracy will not always be forcing the young to waste all their time on useless work. Nor does it matter if appreciation of novels is confined to a cult. The Portuguese-speaking population with practical access to Portuguese-language novels is already greater than it was in 1950 by at least one order of magnitude. There will always be people who will appreciate the simplicity of pure text, without the complication of sound and visuals.  

It cannot happen in the near future. But there will be a renaissance of all the arts starting shortly before, or during, or shortly after the collapse of the plutocracy. I reckon.

The Edge of the Horizon is us.

NB: This time I re-read the book in English to see whether it'd would hold up. It did. One word: Marvellous.

quinta-feira, outubro 12, 2017

Minor SF Movie: "Blade Runner 2049" by Denis Villeneuve, Ridley Scott

As much as everyone should respect the unbelievable amount of hard work needed to bring to life such a world, I've found it disappointing. I had just watched the original, before going for Blade Runner 2049. At the beginning I appreciated the fact that the movie was apparently trying to give time to the spectator to get immersed in the new world. Not even the original gave out many details about the background of the action: what's happened to Earth, what's the overall condition of Replicants, who really are the characters. Leaving a number of things to imagination is good, when it's done in a balanced way. I don't care to know who (or what) Deckard really is as long as the movie provides me with sufficient hints to guess and to actually appreciate not just the truth but how much and in what ways the truth takes its toll on the characters. Under this respect, K is really a character for which I felt sorry. But at a certain point during the movie, one gets the annoying feeling that SO MUCH is going on in the background that is crucial to the main plot lines and is ready to explode BUT of course that won't be happening in this movie. To this, people and critics may replay that 'the focus of the movie is something else'.

Yes. The original was capable of making us appreciate the sheer nonsense of a degenerated world true the eyes of the characters. This one is extremely vast, grand, that on the one hand succeeds in showing us the void of this vast and ruined world, but on the other hand the characters' reactions, the plot twists, are weak enough to give you the feeling that not much has happened. Sincerely, I think the same has happened with Blade Runner 2049 that had happened with Star Wars: The Force Awakens. There are things to be praised. People calling it 'shit' are undercover bots of rival companies. But R. Scott's vice of hinting at things without having the courage or a complete idea of how to play them out is lurking. Alien: Covenant was plagued by the same problem. So much potential.

The original film was a small story that took place in a big world. The small story ended up giving a vivid context for our understanding of the wider world as a whole. This film falls in to the modern trope of the individualist myth where we are once again interested in ‘The Chosen One’. Albeit in this case the hero ends up being adjacent to The One, although we are left thinking that it was him for too long. Thank goodness though, the idea that K is the son of Deckard and the future leader of the Replicant rebellion because he is born of replicant womb is just too eggy for words. This is a shame IMO, the world of the first film extended past the edges of the frame, Deckard seemed to be a small part of a big machine. Just think of the giant police station in the start of the film, it was bustling with people working on cases that we never hear about. Here, K feels like he is in the Truman show, everything is there to inform his story. Even the prostitutes who we think are real inhabitants of the city turn out to be a part of the plot. We never feel the police who yell Skinjob at him in the station are on the way to somewhere else here, they are only there to give context to K. While this is not unusual for a film, I think it is a terrible shame because one of the great strengths of the original was the way active life seemed to be so active beyond the story. Aside from a couple of moments, this new film’s world feels dead.

The other point I think is worth raising is that the plot of replicants having sex and having baby replicants is just plain stupid. It is stupid for a great many reasons, without getting into the absurd technical issues, primarily, it’s stupid because it totally undermines the central question of the original film - At what point does a machine have a soul? Here, we are offered the entirely unsatisfactory answer, at the point they are able to be born of womb. Huh? Really??

From there, we are headed down the all-too-familiar story of protecting the Chosen One who can unite the rebellion against the oppressive regime, while the baddies who want to find her to exploit her for the powers of evil. Yadayada Sigh.

The ending is still also bugging me. The film's spell started to unravel for me when “dying for the right cause is the most human thing you can do” woman turned up (I thought that assertion, assuming you agree with it, should have been something that K realised for himself) and I didn't feel anything when K died. Which was a proper shock, a nasty "is that it?" moment. And once the unraveling started, things like the appearance of another Rachel during Deckard's interrogation just seemed slightly silly / self-indulgent, even though it was something that someone as unhinged as Wallace would do. It destroyed my hope that the role of Deckard + references to "Blade Runner 2019" would be minimal and subtle. And after that, fading interest / involvement meant that the action set-piece at the end was just that. The only part of the finale that worked for me was K's realisation of what Joi really was (or might have been), and that worked because I had fallen for Joi too / had started to believe that she was more than a mere program (but humans and replicants are mere programs too etc.), and the contrast between his developed Joi (possibly the best thing and the best performance in the film) and "blank" Joi was startling. I wondered if that scene would have worked better as a death / final scene (with "you are a real normal Joe" being this film's iconic line").

Bottom-line: Didn't want or expect Deckard to survive. Didn't want or expect to have the identity of the child to be revealed. Didn't want or expect them to be reunited etc. That's just where I thought the film was going; I didn't have a different story in my head at the beginning. I'll have to watch it again and see if I connect with the ending more, might be worth it just for transition where the embers from a fire turn in to lights in windows...After just one viewing I think the movie should have been about much much more.

quarta-feira, outubro 11, 2017

Human Interconnectedness: "A Nest of Vipers" by Andrea Camilleri

Why is Catarella allowed to have any part in the operation of the station? He'd be an encumbrance even if moved to toilet-cleaning duties. Why does Montalbano never seem to have any means of communicating with the rest of the force on him? It's not that he can't get a signal since he's never shown to try! Why does he appear to operate outside the rest of the force in his own time and to his inclinations? He's more like a private eye than a policeman. Catarella is almost certainly a “raccomandato”, i.e., someone who got his job thanks to connections rather than going through a rigorous interview and testing process (in Portuguese would be harder to translate; I don’t there’s a noun for that; for the action, yes; it’s called “meter uma cunha”, meaning literally “to pull strings for somebody”). It happens an awful lot. But Catarella does crack computer codes, week in week out, so he's good at something!

The Catarella thing is very much a reflection of the spirit of Montalbano’s books... He's there because he's loved, not because he's good. I remember one of Camilleri’s novels where a lawyer, I think he was called Leone, complained to Montalbano about Catarella's telephone manners and Montalbano got annoyed and defended him. It's about the laxness of process and the human interconnectedness; it's about peasantry rather than urbanism. Catarella is one of the running themes that leavens what might be a depressing view of Mediterranean corruption and violence. Irritating he might have been, but he has by now become a welcome feature.

I myself find the chauvinistic attitude towards women a bit cringing but then again, it does reflect Italian society. I know, by the way, I am not Italian. I’m Portuguese, but the Mediterranean culture is still there. There is also a whole sphere lost in translation. The characters that speak only in dialect and the socioeconomic layer hidden to the English-speaking public. Also, many jokes are translated as they can but often, are totally changed as they are untranslatable. It's such a good representation of the idyllic dissonance of Italy (and the Mediterranean culture in general). 

I really enjoy Montalbano, especially in the Summer. Once upon a time I had a German teacher who also spoke Italian and she kept telling me that much of the humour and charm is in the use of Sicilian dialect; which of course is lost on me (I can pick up lots of Italian, but Sicilian? No way! It’s another ball game). She suggested that we only catch the slapstick or obvious comedic sketches and that there was a much richer seam of humour and intrigue that had been lost in translation. To command only three languages, Portuguese, English and German, is really a pain in the proverbial place (I know; it sounds like boasting, but it really isn’t…)

segunda-feira, outubro 09, 2017

The Glamorisation of Suffering: "City of Stairs" by Robert Jackson Bennett

When is it necessary to kill a character to get a point across? I’m thinking about Vo here. By the time we get to the point when things get moving, I’ve already seen how damaging his religious upbringing had been to him. I've already seen how it had wreaked him and how this agony had shaped him into the character’s he'd become. I got that; bumping him off does nothing to further highlight the deed, nor to bring forth the message I got from killing him off. His death is just lazy writing. In fact, his death serves no narrative purpose and hence, it saps the very directive it was supposedly delivering. People don't just suffer in a void. Not all pain leads to tragic and abject death. Such “glamorisation” of suffering is a method to avoid endorsing and responding to that suffering. When everyone dies, it's sad, but we aren't called upon to answer for how we or our society has contributed to their suffering. We ache and move on. Nothing we do can change the fact that they are dead, and we have no impetus to change our ways because that impetus has ceased breathing. But when there's a living person staring you in the face, you are forced to acknowledge and come to terms with the reality of that person and how their suffering takes place in your world. This state-of-affairs is not so much with the Urban SF writers themselves as it is the culture of apparent "laziness" that they seem to have inspired (e.g., Grimdark comes to mind with so many bad imitators out there).  All good writers tent to spawn lazy imitators. They also can have beneficial influence on serious, hardworking younger (or unborn) writers. Bad writers tend to only spawn other bad writers. It was ever thus. Perhaps that's what young writers are trying to achieve. They want to write in a way that matters. They confuse style with content and relevance. It takes years and years and years to be able to put a decent sentence down, but often they just look at you like you're a complete c**t, mostly those people who talk about writing! One thing I would add, is that a writer needs to be able to write in the third as well as first person. It is very easy for writers to hide incompetence in the first. Not so much in the third. In the third everything comes to light.

What this novel reminds me of is that moment in 1976/77 when established rock musicians realised that punk was here to stay - what, no more 15-minute guitar solos based on Bach fugues? Where is their sense of tradition and craft? Where indeed? Picasso, Braque, etc. did the same in the visual arts with cubism shooting mimetic art out of the water - yes, nowadays people draw and paint even though they have no years of experience drawing from plaster copies and the life model. Admittedly a knowledge of what has gone before SF-wise can be advantageous, but we don't have to construct beautifully crafted sentences to write clearly of our experiences and lives, or engage with a reader. Personally I prefer passion, commitment, and humour to craft and tradition, but I am merely a consumer and not a clever author.

There's also that tale about Picasso (it could have been van Gogh - but it still makes my point) that once paid for a meal with a drawing. After said meal he took the landlord aside and drew for him a bird in about four or five swift strokes. The landlord was aghast: "call that a painting! It's just mere brush strokes!" Picasso took the landlord back to his atelier and showed him hundreds upon hundreds of drawings of the same bird, the same brush strokes, the same swift, perfect execution. What may look like it breaks the rules with passion and flair and humour was created after painstakingly learning its craft.

You can learn your craft and still be new and fresh. The space that SF literature occupied has changed, there are other games in town (movies, TV Shows, etc.). Should a SF writer ignore the past? My position is simply that our language is ours to do whatever we want with, but it does matter what anyone has done with it beforehand. I can't imagine a rejection letter from a publisher : “Dear Mr. Antão, you obviously haven't read Shakespeare...” And me thinking, oh shit, I knew there was something I missed!

It's not elitism; it's just an intrinsic belief that writing is a craft that must be learnt. I find very irksome the countless writers I read who eschew the building blocks of language and still think they can play with form and structure.

And though I'm somewhat illiterate, I'd like to presume that Bennett is as good a SF writer as we humans have produced so far.

SF = Speculative Fiction.