Listen to the music: Just call me Joe

26 11 2012

Where’d Joseph Arthur go?

I coulda sworn I had a cd or two by the guy, but I look at my list of pop music and stolen pop music and he’s nowhere to be found.

Did I own him, then get rid of him? It’s just possible that before I left Somerville I sold or gave away some cds that I didn’t listen to, and thus removed him from my database, but.

But, goddammit: Did I really erase him from everything?

Dammit. Maybe he wasn’t stolen, maybe I bought him post-burglary, then got rid of him pre-Brooklyn, so there’s no record of him ever having graced my collection.

It’s not so much that I miss him—I remember a distinct “eh” upon listening to [pause while I look this up] Big City Secret—but that I’m unhappy that I’m messing with my own memory.

Shit, I do this with books, too: My database is only for current books, not every book I’ve ever owned.

That’s fine, actually, that I don’t obsessively track everything I’ve ever had (just the books and music I do have. . .), but, jeez, this is how I end up gaslighting myself.

Hmpf.





All hail Sorn!

16 06 2010

In the midst of praising Sorn for supplying me with a boatload o’ book recommendations on my Medieval-Modern Musings page, I was going to gripe, ‘That man needs to get a blog.’

Only he already has one: Nonsensical Reality.

I ‘met’ Sorn on TNC’s blog, where he is a regular and thoughtful presence. I put in a request for reading recommendations and, well, look at his comment on the MMM page, and you’ll see what I got.

Until I happen to buy him the line of drinks I owe him for his suggestions, I can at the very least plug the blog of this restless and reflective man.





On the road again

14 12 2009

The Road: The movie.

Eh.

Yes, our misanthropic cohort couldn’t wait until Christmas for the end of the world, so we trekked to a theatre Friday night and watched the man and the boy dodge cannibals and falling trees.

*Oh, have I mentioned there will be spoilers? Because there will be spoilers.*

There was no real change-up in the ending, although director John Hillcoat did end it a bit short, with the boy meeting the family, and his assent to travel with them.

Ct. was ticked at this. It’s a fucking Hallmark card!

I said, Ct., have you ever actually read a Hallmark card? Because while the movie ended on a less grim note than the book, it was still pretty fucking grim.

But I see her point: in uniting the boy with the family, you’re left with the sense of some possibility. In the book, however, there is none. There is only what is lost:

Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed mystery.

I know of at least one person who thought the ending of the book was hopeful. Hopeful? I asked. How on earth could it be hopeful when everything is gone and not coming back?

The boy meets the family, she said. And the fish.

The fish are gone. Gone: could not be put back. Not be made right again.

Anyway, back to the movie. I think the problem is that the only folks likely to see the movie are those who’ve read—and liked—the book, so we’re all watching the movie with the trajectory of the book in mind.

And, frankly, not much happens. The movie is juiced up a bit with color-ful flashbacks (intrusive in the gray movie tones in the way they’re not in the book: the color and light really do overwhelm onscreen), but, really, it’s a road movie with only a vague destination and in which the main purpose is merely to remain alive.

Scratch that: It doesn’t really fit the conventions of a road movie, precisely because there is no real destination and the flight of the father and son cannot really be characterized as a ‘meaningful’ journey. They’re on the run (or walk, as it were), staying alive just to keep staying alive.

Yeah, there’s that talk about carrying the fire, and some Christian imagery and words (in both movie and book), but the man stays alive to protect the boy, and the boy stays alive because he’s a boy.

The road is a trope for the road itself, a question of why live, at all?

Well, that’s another post, I guess, and one for which I’ll have to haul out my Camus.

Back to the movie: Because so little happens, but what does happen matters so much, you end up scrutinizing the screen so that this even or that can be checked off. Hillcoat cuts one notable event and substitutes another (pointless) scene in its place, but the rest pretty much unfolds as in the book:

  • Shoot the cannibal? Check.
  • Share meal with old man? Check.
  • Stupidly enters basement? Check. (And not nearly as awful a scene in the movie as it was in the book.)
  • Starve? Check.
  • Find underground cache? Check.

Et cetera.

What would it have been like to have seen the movie without knowing what would happen? Without turning your face sideways as the man enters the basement? Without knowing about the ship and arrow and the family and endless gray?

What would it be like to watch it not knowing how bad things are, and how bad things will remain?

The problem of foreknowledge is always an issue with book-readers who watch book-movies, but because The Road is so much about the stillness and the terror and not much else, the problem is exacerbated. With a book busier in plot, character, and backdrop, there are more pieces to juggle and interpret, more for the viewer to see and miss and absorb.

It’s not that The Road isn’t complex, but it is in many ways ‘merely’ a contemplation of the endless, horrifying, present.

That could work as a movie, but not, I think, if you’ve read the book first.

Especially not this book.





Fly into the sun

18 11 2009

Could you tell my post last night was dashed off?

I was thinking Oh, man, I gotta post something. What? What? Then I did the dishes, which apparently put me in mind of the apocalypse.

As I told C. in the comments (who corrected an author error in the post: Clarke, not Huxley, wrote Childhood’s End), I was so lazy I couldn’t be bothered to tab over and look up various movie titles on IMDB.

Pitiful.

Thus, an elaboration on yesterday’s post, as well as an important qualifier.

The elaboration

C. astutely noted that I included dystopias with my apocalypses. So true. I guess  I tend to think that any dystopia worth its salt was preceded by some kind of apocalypse, but they really ought to be separated.

Had I been engaging anything other than minimal brain power last night, I would have figured this out in my (minor) deliberations over whether to include Brave New World. I did not, because, as I noted in the comments, the shift into Fordism seemed a kind of progression, rather than break, with what came before.

My list was also quite sloppy: I Am Legend popped into my head, then popped right back out. (I saw the Charleton Heston version, and parts of the Will Smith. In either case, definitely apocalyptic.) And I couldn’t remember the name of that damned book with the conch and boys and Piggy, and so left it off. (Golding’s Lord of the Flies. I thought there was mention of an a-bomb at the end, but it’s at the beginning.)

There’s another book, too, listed at the back of the paperback edition of The Gone-Away World: Kevin Brockmeier’s The Brief History of the Dead. It veers between an occasional (and thoroughly enjoyable) nasty humor and genuine pathos. More light than heavy.

I’d count Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, too, if only because of the threat. But I didn’t include Max Barry’s Jennifer Government because, if I remember correctly, that society arose more like Huxley’s Fordist scheme than through anything apocalyptic.

And I missed the whole field of Christian apocalypse, a.k.a. the Rapture. Now, there is a very good movie called The Rapture (David Duchovny, Mimi Rogers), but that’s a Hollywood film, as opposed to a Soon-To-Be-Coming-To-An-Earth-Near-You True Believer flick. I used to be a regular imbiber of TBN and CBN (wacky evangelistic fare), and they’d regularly show rapture films. Don’t know the name of a single one.

I do know, however, The Omega Code (produced by TBN and starring Kirk Cameron), which is  basic Bible-code Armageddon. And, of course, Jenkins & LaHaye’s Left Behind series. I tried to read it, but couldn’t get through even book one. I have a high tolerance for this stuff, so you know it’s bad. (But if they make a movie of it—have they made a movie of it?—I am so there.)

There are likely many, many more of this subgenre that I’m missing.

I also overlooked the Mad Max movies. I liked the second one, Road Warrior, best, but the first and third aren’t bad. And I have the sense that those crazy Danes probably have a bunch of apocalypses hidden in their Danish libraries. (Don’t know why I have this sense; just do.)

Well, I’m counting on C. to come up with a proper doom list.

Now, the qualifier.

None of these books or movies are based on historical events. Some of these may speculate on a future which could become history (got that?), but in no case are these movies or books based on anything which has actually happened.

No Holocaust. No Hiroshima or Nagasaki. No Native American genocide. No historical genocides, period. No plague, flu, smallpox, etc. No Mt. St. Helen’s or Vesuvius or Tambora or any actual natural disaster. No Chernobyl.

No event in which actual human beings experienced their own version of the apocalypse.

I don’t put these events off-limits, not by any means. A good book or movie is a good book or movie, and I think all of the stuff of our lives and deaths is there for the taking.

But I don’t include these in my apocalypse list.

There is a glee in thinking of how the world might end, how humans might respond—wondering how I would respond—to total disaster, precisely because it is so speculative. Look at all the possibilities of our end!

Possibilities. Not certainties.

In historical ends, there is a certainty, the most significant of which is the certainty of actual human suffering and death.

Again, a worthy topic of fiction. But not of glee.

 





Burn baby burn

18 11 2009

I fucking LOVE apocalyptic movies!

Death! Disaster! Mayhem! Whoo hoo!

And if they’re religiously themed? Even better.

Now, I define apocalyptic broadly, to encompass existential ends, partial ends (of countries, cities) as well as the mere possibility of world’s end.

Oo, world’s end—let’s see, Childhood’s End, an Aldous Huxley (Arthur C. Clarke—h/t C.) novel about—yep—the end of the world. Read that one (the, uh, first time) in high school.

So let’s extend the love for all things apocalyptic to novels, as well.

It should go without saying that these movies/novels are often awful. Children of Men was a very good movie (and so-so novel), but that, I think, was an exception.

Terminator 2 was pretty good, but really, really, really long.

Terminator? Okay.

Terminator 3? Okay. (I missed Linda Hamilton.)

Terminator 4? Umm, is that on Hulu? Maybe if I ever sign up for Netflix. . . .

Goofy apocalyptic is good, like Independence Day. Or what was that movie with Tommy Lee Jones and Anne Heche about the volcano in Los Angeles? Goofy is what it was!

And certainly better than the Pierce Brosnan volcano flick—which, while it had Linda Hamilton, did not have Sarah Connor.

So, too, with Deep Impact Armageddon (Bruce Willis/Ben Affleck comet movie) and the Morgan Freeman/Tea Leoni comet movie (Deep Impact). You’d think the Freeman/Leoni duo would kick Willis & Affleck’s asses, but, no: Deep Impact Armageddon wins by goofiness.

Prophecy, with Virginia Madsen and Christopher Walken—really, you have to ask? Christopher Walken! And bonus with angels and Satan and stuff!

Much better than End of Days, with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Too stodgy.

The Ninth Gate? Not really world-ending, but really fucking weird. And Satan and stuff.

Stigmata? Not really at all, but it had visions and angels and stuff. And Gabriel Byrne.

Waterworld? Nuh. Kevin Costner, not in his lovable-crank personna (Bull Durham, Tin Cup), but just annoying crank. But Dennis Hopper was fun.

Day After Tomorrow? Please. (And while I’m certainly willing to watch bad bad-end movies, I’m not willing to pay 12 bucks to do so: 2012 will have to wait.)

War of the Worlds? I have the Tom Cruise version stamped on my brain. Too muted. And Tom Cruise. . . .

Oh, and On the Beach. Odd, but great. The first half is a bit of a caper flick, with Fred Astair and Ava Gardner (man!) and stiff-and-honorable Gregory Peck, but still (SPOILER), no relief: everybody dies.

The Day After played on t.v. in the 1980s, to much hue and cry. I saw it again a year or two ago, and while it was mighty cheesy, still.

Testament was not cheesy. I still (mis?)remember the scene in which Jane Alexander is sitting in next to sun-filled window, sewing, her face determined. It’s only in the voiceover do we learn that this is a shroud for her daughter.

28 Days Later gave me nightmares for a week—then terrified me out of sleep six months later.

Didn’t see 28 Months Later, however—tho’ if it streams on Netflix (if I ever. . .) then, maybe.

I should catch up with all the old George Romero flixs. While I’m not a big horror fan, zombies work.

World War Z, by Max Brooks. Have you read it? A fine bit of reportage. Sparked an unfinished bit of writing from me, on the ethics of zombie-killing and -experimentation.

Margaret Atwood has written a number of apocalyptic novels, although these tend toward collapse-apocalypse as opposed to war/violence-apocalypse. Oryx & Crake was hilarious and cold—just right; her new book elaborates on the O&C theme and is, according to a number of critics, better than the original. Hmpf.

And then, of course, The Handmaid’s Tale—I’m currently using that in one of my pol sci classes. When I polled the class on when/whether they would try to escape the totalitarian Republic of Gilead, most of them were of the I’d-wait-it-out variety. Really? I all-but-yelped. Only one student was with me: as soon as we lost our jobs or our money, if not sooner, we’d be gone.

Turn me into an Unwoman—no suh!

Gone-Away World, by Nick Harkaway. What? You still haven’t read it? Honestly, what’s your excuse?

There’s more, of course. Fahrenheit 451. Don DeLillo. The Plot Against America. Walker Percy. Peter Hoeg. Jose Saramago. 1984. A couple of Marge Piercy’s. A couple of Mary Doria Russell’s. William Gibson.

Science fiction? Speculative fiction? Whatever. If the earth is in peril/ends, it’s in.

C. was going to start an apocalyptic book club at the bookstore, but a necessary manager bailed. Still, I’d expect that she’d have even more to offer.

And, again, quality is not really the point, here. Even the books or movies I slagged I’d still (re)read or watch (again).

The point is that they are 1) fiction; 2) fun! and/or terrifying!; and 3) the world ends!

Should I mention that a number of us have made plans to see The Road Christmas night?

The director had better not make it ‘inspiring’. . . .





The sweetness follows

29 09 2009

Sweet.

That’s what I thought as I closed Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees. Yes. That was sweet.

Reminded me of Bagdad Cafe. Also sweet. A small movie with CCH Pounder and Marianne Sagebrecht, set in a (surprise!) cafe in (suprise!) Bagdad, Arizona. Sagebrecht’s character (and a suitcase) is dumped on the side of the road by her husband, so, being the good stoic German woman she is, she grabs the suitcase and tromps her way to CCH Pounder’s motel-and-truck stop.

There are gentle laughs at the expense of ethnic stereotypes (angry black woman, hyper-organized German, lazy Indian), and not much happens, beyond the blossoming of friendship and the unfolding of life. Much like in The Bean Trees. Immigration looms around the edges, and there are spikes in each story, but even the desert, the flowers win.

Slight, I guess. I mean, how seriously can one take a piece of art that doesn’t involve blood and misery?

Consider Maira Kalman. She posts a words-and-pictures column monthly at the New York Times (scroll all the way down the link provided, below, for previous installments), and while the columns often take up serious matters (slavery, war), there is a gentleness in her touch.

Whimsical. Yes.

Consider her latest post, For Goodness’ Sake; she offers photos from a sanitation plant in Greenpoint, and notes that After dark, the plant looks like something out of ‘The Arabian Nights,’ thanks to lighting designed by L’Observatoire International.

Makes me want to trek to Greenpoint (the G line!) to see a. . . sanitation plant!

She can’t be serious. Can she?

Small. Slight. Sweet. Whimsical.

That’s not art, is it? If it makes you feel—mm, what’s the word?— good, it can’t be deep. Hardly worthy of attention, right?

Right?





Free free, set them free (pt II)

19 08 2009

When we last left off, we were discussing the difference between free and, well, not-free. . . .

More to the point, while we humans may generate bits, we ourselves are made of atoms. However useful may be the comparisons between one’s genome and the bits and bytes of computing, our genomes require us to take in a certain amount of energy (in the form of calories, a.k.a., food) in order to function. And in order for these genetic information processors to receive their requisite amounts of energy, some other genetic information processing unit (gipu) must grow and deliver said energy to a location wherein multiple gipus may—wait for it—purchase said energy for their use.

Information may be free, but food isn’t. And for one to acquire such food, one must be, yes, paid, for one’s work. This payment, of course, also allows for the purchase of such old-economy items as a home, clothing, car, bike, beer, and computer, electricity, and broadband connection.

Thus, while I may blog for no payment, I don’t rely upon this blogging to pay for the rest of my life. And while WordPress may recoup costs by placing ads in my blog (as, for example, my e-mail providers do with my messages), that I neither pay nor get paid doesn’t mean that money isn’t changing hands somewhere up or down the line.

So how do I get paid? By absorbing, rearranging, and delivering information, i.e., I teach. And as much as I enjoy teaching, if CUNY wouldn’t pay me, I wouldn’t be doing it. In other words, I distinguish between a hobby (blogging) and wage-labor (teaching). Were such wage-labor to disappear, so too would would the hobby.

In other words, if I don’t get paid, I am unable to support my life—as in lifestyle, or, at the extremes, the biology itself.

Thus the basic question: if the economy is to be based on free, how is anyone to live?

Marx noted that capitalism required its laborers to be sustained, however minimally, in order to be able to work. (Corpses tend toward absenteeism.) Among the elements of the allegedly-inevitable crisis of capitalism would be the immiseration of the proletariat below the level of sustainability.

Some capitalists have made a similar observation. Even that old anti-semitic bastard Henry Ford  got one thing right about the labor force in a capitalist economy, namely, that if you wanted people to buy your product, you had to pay them enough to afford it. With this insight, he married two essential elements of any economy—the dynamic of consumer supply and demand for products, and the role of labor in creating those products. (In so marrying these elements, he highlighted the dual role of the laborer as both producer and consumer, creating a sustainable form of consumer capitalism that Marx did not foresee.) Capitalism in particular relies upon the differential between the cost of production and the price for the products for the creation of profit; thus, price must more-than-cover costs for profit to be generated.

Anderson breezes past all this. It is fashionable to discount the role of labor in production and to focus exclusively on supply and demand, such that the price for a product is allegedly solely based on s&d and bears little relation to labor costs, but:  no labor, no product. If labor costs didn’t matter, corporations wouldn’t bother to move production overseas in order to drive down those costs.

It’s one thing to engage in a hobby, which presumably one finds pleasurable, for free; it’s quite another to slog through a pile of exams or operate a punch-press or make caramel macchiatos for caffeine-crabby customers for free.

Oh, but manufacturing and retail are so atom-based, so they don’t count (I don’t know if Anderson has anything to say about teaching or medicine or law—rather significant information-based professions). But if this is a truly new economy, then how does one account for such atom-based activity? And given that the bit-based economy requires the presence of such atom-activities, wouldn’t this new information economy be better understood as the icing on the, ah, old capitalist cupcake?

Or is what’s new the notion that we are to labor for free? The costs of producing, say, an investigative report or song or book are completely discounted because the production itself doesn’t matter; what matters is the selling of that product. Thus, a band doesn’t tour to promote their music, a band promotes its music (for free) in order to sell the product (the band itself, on tour).

Again, the selling or trade of a product is a part of any economy, but in order for such trade to become or remain sustainable, it must have some positive relation to the costs of production. Metallica and Madonna have become sufficiently well-known commodities that they can, in fact, sustain themselves  through the sale of themselves, i.e., touring, but how can the unknown band or musician  support themselves outside of such a profitably virtuous circle?

What, posting on YouTube and blogging and Twittering one’s way into fame? Nothing against YouTube or Twitter—and hell, I’ll drop my anti-Facebook stance and throw that in the mix as well—but if everyone is using these fancy bits to generate publicity for themselves, how the hell is one supposed to distinguish oneself well enough to launch that profit-generating (and atoms-based) tour?

Do you know what musicians (and actors and writers and dancers and artists) are called in New York City? Waiters, baristas, teachers, and temps. Our vocation may be in the arts, and we may put a great deal of work into our vocations, but until we get paid for it, it ain’t wage-labor. Which means we have to find another way to pay the rent.

It’s not as if Anderson doesn’t make some intriguing points about third-party payment for certain technologies, and, in this Wired article from 2008, he notes that time has its own costs (although he doesn’t go so far as to make the brilliantly original observation that time is money, perhaps because he’s trying so hard to get away from money). And he notes in this article that ‘free’ is distinct from ‘cheap’ in psychologically important ways. (I won’t comment on this latter observation because 1) I fail to understand what’s new or particularly significant about this observation and 2) he does apparently expend a fair amount of energy in the book explaining what is new and significant about it. Plus, this post is already too long.)

But allow me one last jab. In the Wired article Anderson quotes Milton Friedman’s adage that ‘there’s no such thing as a free lunch,’ but then goes on to wonder if so-called traditional economics doesn’t have it wrong. Thus:

a free lunch doesn’t necessarily mean the food is being given away or that you’ll pay for it later — it could just mean someone else is picking up the tab.

Exactly. But there’s little new or innovative, much less revolutionary, about this kind of economics, not least because  usually you do, somehow, pay for it later, as, say, in the expenditure of your time viewing or listening to advertising—or, as broke young hotties looking for a sugar daddy or mama learn, in some other atom-based way.

And if you don’t? Say it with me: It’s not free; it’s freeloading.

Ain’t nothing new about that.





Free free, set them free (pt I)

16 08 2009

This is not a book review of Chris Anderson’s Free.

Mainly because I do not want to pay for Free, but, given what I’ve heard him say repeatedly on various radio talk shows, I’m not at all sure I want to read it.

That said, I’m an academic, and what’s a Ph.D. for if not opining on something about which I know little?

Anderson’s basic argument is that technological innovation has reached the point of near-vanishing costs, such that information (in a variety of forms) is, essentially, free.

In the book excerpt available at Scribd, Anderson notes the early adventures of those who would sell Jell-O and Gillette razor blades. They couldn’t, in fact, sell the products, so they gave them or something associated with them away for free or at a steep discount:

Thus was born one of the most powerful marketing tools of the twentieth century: giving away one thing to create demand for another.

The key, for Anderson, is not that the freebies were used to entice people to pay, but that they were, in fact, free. Thus, in the brave new millennium, free takes its rightful place at center stage:

This new form of Free is based not on the economics of bits, not atoms. It is a unique quality of the digital age that once something becomes software, it inevitably becomes free—in cost, certainly, and often in price. . . . The twentieth century was primarily an atoms economy. The twenty-first century will be equally a bits economy. Anything free in the atoms economy must be paid for by something else, which is why so much traditional free feels like bait and switch—it’s you paying, one way or the other. But free in the bits economy can be really free, with money often taken out of the equation altogether.

Sounds good; too bad he’s wrong.

You see, Anderson isn’t really arguing that all information will be free—just that you, the consumer, won’t have to pay for it. While that might seem to be free, it’s actually freeloading. Because you’re freeloading off advertising (i.e., information paid for by, say, a corporation), this is unlikely to offend anyone’s (be they from the left or the right) sensibilities. And since the advertiser knows that she’s paying for you to look [for free], she’s not offended, either; in fact, she’s counting on you to look.

Win-win, right? Hell, I watch shows on Hulu (finally caught the last few episodes of Battlestar Galactica last night), and have no problem with the few ads which pop up at the beginning or in the midst of the shows. I can watch or look away or get up to grab a beer or popsicle. Whatever. They pay, I play.

But is this sustainable? Maybe. But if Hulu or the producers which supply it with content can’t make money from it, it’ll go away. I may not pay, but damned well somebody has to.

Malcolm Gladwell has already written a much-cited & -linked takedown of Anderson’s argument, noting

Free is just another price, and prices are set by individual actors, in accordance with the aggregated particulars of marketplace power. “Information wants to be free,” Anderson tells us, “in the same way that life wants to spread and water wants to run downhill.” But information can’t actually want anything, can it? Amazon wants the information in the Dallas paper to be free, because that way Amazon makes more money. Why are the self-interested motives of powerful companies being elevated to a philosophical principle?

(I’m not much of a fan of Gladwell’s—his m.o. is to take note of a particular behavior or set of behaviors in a specific context, then generalize this behavior beyond all context and, often, reason—but perhaps his glibness is a perfect match for Anderson’s own shallowness.)

But let’s say that Anderson deals with all this in his book, and is able to delineate how this model is qualitatively different from, as opposed to a simple iteration of, the old (twentieth century! atoms-based!) model.

And this is where I want to stick the knife in: into that alleged gap between the atoms (material) and the bits (information). For one, as Gladwell so ably points out, bits rely on atoms:

“The more products are made of ideas, rather than stuff, the faster they can get cheap,” [Anderson] writes, and we know what’s coming next: “However, this is not limited to digital products.” Just look at the pharmaceutical industry, he says. Genetic engineering means that drug development is poised to follow the same learning curve of the digital world, to “accelerate in performance while it drops in price.” But, like Strauss [who thought electricity would someday be 'too cheap to meter], he’s forgotten about the plants and the power lines. The expensive part of making drugs has never been what happens in the laboratory. It’s what happens after the laboratory, like the clinical testing, which can take years and cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Hulu may provide free-for-me viewings of Buffy, but it relies on my having purchased a computer, reliable electricity (which in turn relies upon coal, nuclear, or hydro energy, delivered through cables, etc.), and decent broadband services. None of which are free.

Next: capitalism! labor theory! cupcakes!





Like paper in fire

13 08 2009

‘Do you ever read any of the books you burn?’

Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury. Not until today, in my forty-rdth year—have I read Fahrenheit 451.

It’s a very good bad book.

Not a very bad good book: It’s not very bad, and it’s not a good book. No, it’s a very good bad book.

Very good: The idea itself, that fire fighters are there to burn, rather than to prevent burning. The burning of books itself is not, unfortunately, original, but the premise startles.

Bad book: Speeches! The speeches of Captain Beatty and of Farber and Granger and Montag himself. (Clarissa ex- and declaims, but her thoughts wander rather than congeal into pontification.) What is this, an Ayn Rand novel?

No, thankfully, it is not. For one, it is much shorter and, two (because of one), you don’t get the bullshit characterization you find in Ms. Rand—where all the heroes are trim and handsome, and the bad collectivists shifty and flabby.

No,F451 is not a tour de force of characterization, either, but you need only latch on to Montag enough, be captivated by Clarissa enough, to care as you careen through the plot.

And the plot is basic: thinking is bad, and reading, because it prompts thinking, is bad. Since thoughts are evanescent, and errant thoughts tough to track down, the government has to make do with the destruction of the proxies of thinking, i.e., books. Since few people care either to think or to read, the majority are more than happy to turn in those suspected of harboring the printed word.

And when Montag himself begins to wonder what it is he’s burning, well, that’s when the fun begins.

There’s much for a crusty lefty to love—his take on the barbarity of this thrill-seeking culture, its disdain for individuality and creativity, the ever-present demands for greater distraction—and, for that matter, much for a crusty righty to love. If you love books, and think that thought matters,F451 will satisfy your sensibilities.

It did mine. But it also didn’t tell me anything that I didn’t already know. Book burning: bad. Stupefaction: bad. Intellectual endeavor: good.

It’s a tract. A mighty fine tract, but what makes it a mighty fine tract also makes it a bad book.

A very good bad book.





God: Gotta love ‘im!

6 08 2009

Just finished GK Chesterton’s Orthodoxy.

Summary: I believe what I believe. Christianity is true because Christianity is true. Non-Christian perspectives do not make sense from a Christian perspective.

Uh-huh.

Orthodoxy is one of those books oft urged on non-believers as a way of allowing us to make sense of, and perhaps, bring us to, faith. It’s not quite an exercise in apologetics, not least because its argument, such as it is, is less about proclaiming and defending the doctrines of the church than in ridiculing alternative beliefs: His critiques of contemporary thinkers are scattershot, mixing and mashing them up so as to be better able to dismiss them all as incomprehensible, and his discussion of doctrine is almost non-existent.

No, the book seems more a matter of Chesterton explaining himself to himself, a turn-of-the-century version of the Talking Heads lyric Well, how did I get here? As such, it’s a kind of brief theological psychology, with reason dragooned into the role of the therapist.

Read this book if you’re interested in Chesterton, or if you particularly enjoy the alleged wit of reversal, along the lines of ‘you think A is B, but B is A.’ O ho ho! Imagine an entire book of such bon mots:

Descartes said, ‘I think; therefore I am.’ The philosophic evolutionist reverse and negatives the epigram. He says, ‘I am not; therefore I cannot think.’

If the apple hit Newton’s nose, Newton’s nose hit the apple.

If Nietzsche had not ended in imbecility, Nietzscheism would end in imbecility.

And on and on, epigram substituting for argument.

Allow me my own: I came looking for the argument from the man, but found the man in the argument. Alas, biography is not philosophy.

See, that’s not so hard now, is it?

Perhaps I should give the last word to the long-departed Mr. Chesterton (substitute ‘book’ for ‘novel’):

A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.








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