Sunday, March 29, 2009

More difficult texts

One of the interesting side effects about reading books on my phone is that most are part of Project Gutenberg which preserves texts which are out of print, and for the most part, out of copyright, and so I find myself reading things which were published around 1900.

Like The Name of the Rose, I always meant to get back and read G.K. Chesterton and never did. Oh, I read Father Brown, it's short and fairly easy. But not the big stuff, even though most of my heroes (C.S. Lewis, Neil Gaiman) site Chesterton as influence and hero.

And so I found myself reading "The Man Who Was Thursday," (which incidentally explained a variety of references in Neil Gaiman's works). Like TNofTR, it too seems to be a fairly straight forward mystery...and then it goes all pear shaped.

I actually don't have that much to say because I'm still not sure what to make of it. I'd love to hear some thoughts, because I know that some people who read this have read it. It is, in some ways, the anti-thesis to TNofTR, the book that proposes knowledge and reason as a solution to the dark ages, this supposes that religion is a kind of anarchy against the stifling reason of the late 19th century. A liberation and a universe that could only be opened by that first step of faith.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Have you ever seen a picture of Jesus laughing...

Mmm, do you think
He had a beautiful smile?

A smile that healed
-Why Should I Love You, Kate Bush, The Red Shoes

I finally read The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. It seems funny that I hadn't read it before now, but I remember deciding to read Foucault's Pendulum many years ago, and then being so overwhelmed that I put off TNOR.

Part of the hesitation was the existence of the movie. The movie, for various reasons, the cast, the time, was printed on my mind. I don't think that Sean Connery was particularly well cast as William of Baskerville (yes, named for both William of Ockham--he allegedly of Ockham's razor--and Sherlock Holmes) but I don't hate him in the part. He made it his.

From the description in the book I could almost picture James Cromwell in the role, but at the time the movie came out, Cromwell was best known for playing the nerd dad in Revenge of the Nerds, so probably wasn't a prime contender. F. Murry Abraham was delightfully well cast, particularly bringing the memory of his Salieri to it. He plays obsessives well.

What is certainly missing from the movie is Ecco's remarkable knowledge and description of the religious/political turmoil of the time and what it meant for the everyday souls.

As Wikipedia puts it:

The Name of the Rose, a novel by Umberto Eco, is a historical
— a murder mystery set in an Italian monastery in
the year 1327. It is an intellectual mystery combining semiotics in fiction, biblical
analysis, medieval studies and literary theory.

I didn't annotate it because it was my husbands, and I read it now, over a month ago so much I would like to point out is lost (fitting, perhaps for a post-modern novel and Eco's general points about memory and reality).

One of the central thoughts, and what prompted my use of the Kate Bush lyric above is the possible existence of Aristotle's Comedy. A work that has never been found and which forms the core of the mystery--the killing of people to prevent anyone from reading it.

The curious position of the church on knowledge is described well in the monastery's purpose--which is to copy manuscripts, but also their mission which is to hide those manuscripts which might conflict with church doctrine. One character says that the perfect illuminator would be the one who could not read, but only copies the letters--preserving the object, but ignoring the content.

And comedy, they believe, is a sin--a leading away from God, because if we can laugh at all things, we can laugh at authority--up to God himself. Jesus did not laugh, the blind librarian Jorge cries.

What is truth without context, but doesn't context shape the truth? An easier read than Foucault's Pendulum, it is still as intricate, and dare I say it, labyrinthine?


In the first part of the month, Mephisto was in the hospital, and will be on $125/month medicine for the rest of his life. Now Guinness may have diabetes with all that that entails.

Took the car in for its 30,000 mile check up--good to do, but damn expensive, and the rich wonder why the poor don't invest in maintenance.

All in all, an expensive month--husband's bonus and tax returns all taken up. And what do I cut so that I can save more to get to that mythical nest egg?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The old stuff and junk

I can't seem to get back into posting every day. First husband was sick, then cat was sick, now I'm sick. Work continues to be less than fulfilling. I have actually been somewhat productive in other ways. I've been only touching Facebook.

I made this:
It's a wall hanging for my b&w and yellow bathroom. I call it "Time in the Labyrinth." I've been collecting the scraps for years although I had to supplement with purchased fabric. The stripe at A5 and C3 came from a sink skirt in our house in western MA. The little checkerboard from a border on another wall hanging. The patterns at C6 and F3 from that purse from last year. I picture it as a sort of game. One can follow the patterns or the dark appliqued path (which is shorter but has more obstacles). One would move one or two spaces using either a coin, button, or perhaps an Othello piece.

I also made a new coat, but I have some finishing to do on it, so hopefully will have a picture tomorrow.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Social Networking, What is it For

The fastest growing group on Facebook is Gen X--those 35 to 45 finding high school friends. Twittering has become a subject of conversation as Karl Rove begins Twittering and senators were seen frantically texting as the President entered for his address.

I'm on Facebook, Twitter, Linked In and I blog. I also have a MySpace page, but I never really enjoyed MySpace. If you weren't promoting music there didn't seem to be much point to being there. The apps were hard to find and use (to me) and finding friends harder. I keep the page only because I'm following some celebrities there. Most of them are also on Facebook, so eventually I won't need the MySpace page. Facebook is terribly user friendly--it recommends friends, organizations, fandoms for you to join. Your friends tiny updates are brought directly to you as are the updates of the celebrities you follow. It's not terribly customizable, but other than that, apps are painless. Virtually point and click.

Twitter is new. To tell the truth I only joined Twitter because the app. is easier on my G1 than the Facebook app. I can link them through those fun apps and updates on one go on the other. The only problem is that Facebook always has one's name, as in "Novel is..." You can change the verb, but not the name. Twitter can be anything one wants. People write Haikus, other poetry, whole stories--140 characters at a time. There are contests for the best 140 character stories. Or stories that are serialized in these one or two sentences. And that's characters, not words or letters. Double spacing is a waste.

The mad pundits say that Twitter and Facebook will replace blogging, and it may, but I think people will still want the longer form. Many people use Twitter to update people on their blogs. As in Novel just posted a new blog. Then a link. And conveniently, one can make the link short to not use up those valuable 140 characters. I follow famous funny people and a few friends. Some people follow thousands of people, or drop in and out of conversations. This flowing stream of thoughts, ideas, trivia, mundanity. Some posts are just hilarious--Neil Gaiman always writes funny little thoughts. Most people post links to other things. And then the hope is to be "re-twittered," have people link to your Tweets.

One can agonize about the "right" way to use these new mediums (or to use them at all, of course) but there is no "right" way. It's being learned and developed each step of the way. Since I use my real name there, connecting with old friends has been ... strange and sometimes deeply enhancing. I have found people who were my best friends in elementary school. Who moved away and lost touch. I have become closer to peple with whom I was only casually aquainted. Of course, I have also been friended by people with whom I was barely friends, some I actively disliked. At first, as people generally do, I accepted every friending. But around Christmas I started unfriending people and ignoring requests from some people. Someone described it as a form of class reunion. The hearty, "Wow, how are you, you look great, what have you been up to..." followed by a, "I'm going to the bar now," or "Hey, I need to go say hi to so and so..." One is "friended" but that doesn't mean that one cares. Even worse is the friending by people one does not remember at all. The name sounds familiar and one peers at the tiny picture that one is given trying to de-age them 20, 25 years and guess who they might have been.

One friend posts cryptic messages like this, "Jason is apropos of nothing." What's funny is things for which I expect comments seldom get them, and other throw away things will get many. Most of my college friends are professors, no surprise, and nearly all friends from childhood and college have children. My high school boyfriend, who is not on Facebook, but a mutual friend is, is married with several children and is a doting father. When I heard that I was reminded of The Airborne Toxic Event lyric, "They tell me that/you're married now/well, my dear, I fear/I cannhot understand how." It seems so alien to the person I knew, but 20 years change us all.

I did not have children. I did not become a professor and I did not go to New York to act. As in most things, I veer between depression at my life choices, brought home by others actions, and the enrichment at refinding friends. It is a study, for anyone who wants to, of how we do and do not become the people we meant to be, or thought we would be. How life changes and disrupts the best laid plans, for better and worse. The thing that can never be explained to one at 18 or 20. Some people are divorced, but less than one might think.

Of course, just like a class reunion, one is hardly going to go on and say, "My marriage collapsed in a bitter divorce, I'm living paycheck to paycheck and I don't know what to do." We boost our elevator speech, and gloss over bits and we know that others are doing it too.

Speaking of elevator speeches, Linked In is the serious cousin. The one where you don't post pictures of oneself at parties with a drink in hand. You post your resume and list work accomplishments, and try to connect with as many people as possible in the "networking" sense.

If you Yahoo my name, my Linked In comes up first. Which is a good thing. The weird thing about Linked In for me right now, is trying to use it to find a job while not alerting my current employers (who are on Linked In).

So what does all of this mean--what does it add up too. Too much distraction, too much information. Well, you can always walk away for a short time. Some people join and then don't seem to check back in for months. Others seem to spend every minute finding friends and sending apps. I probably fall somewher in the middle. One Monday morning I sTwittered that I hadn't Twittered all weekend and the world hadn't ended. And a friend wrote back, "how do you know?
For instance, I can let you know that I am at the animal hospital right now with my cat. It is possible that I will get. Instantaneous messages about that. Again, though, what is it for. To be continued...

The Fine Art of the Western

The western as genre is generally a film style that you either love or loathe, and I really only gained an appreciation for westerns in film class. One must submerge/submit oneself to the archetypes presented.

My husband has little patience for them--they are stories to be watched at that is all. We ended up watching two relatively close to each other.

The first, the remake of 3:10 to Yuma was fairly straightforward--most interesting for the fine acting of the two leads who, of course, are not American. And the Western is American, although the best of them borrow from other myths as archetypes are archetypes for a reason.

The second was The Assassination of Jesse James... I can't say that I liked it. In most good westerns the landscape--the west--is a character, as real and as important as any human as cities are in the stories I mentioned below. I say West, but of course, Jesse James was from my childhood home--KC, MO area. Like a student film, we watched long shots of waving prairie grass, rolling hills, and... I didn't care. The first half of the film is unbearably boring and the last is rushed.

But what is the fascination with the Western? With cowboys and outlaws, gunslingers? Is it the appeal of the outlaw with the heart of gold? That men want to be him and women want to be with him? Or vice-a-versa as the case may be. That idea that in order to survive in an unjust world, these noble men must break the law. It was certainly enough for Joss Whedon to create his space western--Firefly. Is it part of the appeal of House? Or vampires. The new vampires, not Nosferatu, all hunger and id, but the erotic vampires of Ann Rice and Twilight who suffer torment over what they must do, and in the end are always alone.

The truth is that none of these men are actually what they seem. In reality one would not want to date a man like House, a cowboy or a vampire. Their needs, their emptiness, would be torturous and would override all else. Yet they are larger than the men in reality. Their very damage is what makes us admire them more than the average schlubs we encounter daily. John Wayne's obsession in The Searchers seems admirable. In reality we would wonder why.

Back atcha to Matt

Here's a great site that my husband found while looking for fonts--I've gotten so much from it already--worth it if only for the monthly calendar wallpapers:

What it started

I've mentioned elsewhere that I love fantastic fiction--think it the most important genre. All the same, I usually don't read just fantastic fiction. I read a lot of styles, but lately I've found myself only wanting to pick up fantastic fiction.

I zoomed through Last Watch, the 4th book in the Day Watch/Night Watch/Twilight Watch series from Russia that finally made it to America (or to Barnes and Noble) 8 months late. It was fun--not as cataclysmic as the first three, and certainly not the last book in the series, despite the title, which is a relief.

I read The Haunted Hotel by Wilke Collins on my phone. It isn't really fantastic fiction, despite it's title, and it was something of a disappointment, being merely a melodrama with standard elements of the period, and none of the skill of The Moonstone or even The Woman in White.

Then I picked up Cities, an anthology of four stories that I had bought for my husband for Christmas, only to find out that he had already read all four stories in other collections. He and I have mixed feelings on anthologies--we never agree on the editors selections. They are by their very nature uneven.

This one was unusually in that the stories are by four of his favorite authors--two who are also favorites of mine. The theme too, cities, was a theme that I find fascinating.

The first story was by Paul Di Fillippo, A Year in the Linear City. I have mixed feelings on Di Fillippo. Sometimes he's brilliant, other times I think it's too much, like Terry Pratchet or Ben Elton. The ideas are always incredible though. This was no exception. The concept was a city made up of millions of city blocks in a long thin line, one block wide. streets on either side and cross streets every block. On one side are the tracks and beyond them, "The Wrong Side of the Tracks" where the Yardbulls live. On the other side is the river with barges and boats and beyond that the "Other Shore" where the Fishwives live. When one dies in this world one or the other, the angelic (but sea smelling) Fishwives or the demonic batwinged Yardbulls and no one knows which it will be. They take one--body and all--off to their realms. In the story a junky on a stained mattress is taken by the "angels" and a basketball player turned mayor is taken by the "demons" so who can say.

The city goes on forever--no one knows how far--dialects and customs change as if the distant boroughs were other countries. Subways exist in this world, but phones don't, and beneath it all are scales which, if pulled up will leave bloody wounds in the world behind.

Our protagonist is a writer of "Cosmogonic" fiction. And here is the really interesting part of the story--beyond the startling concept--it is an examination of writing, and particularly the writing of fantastic fiction! The protagonist is constantly imagining "What ifs." What if there were worlds on globes. What if there were machines that let you talk to distant places. What if there were no Fishwives and Yardbulls--what would the inhabitants of that world think of the afterlife. Take that to all who ask writers where they get their ideas. It is not the getting of ideas, but rather the developing of them--the ideas are all around ifone simply looks with a different eye. Like here, cosmogonic fiction is considered less important, but it makes the most money. "Quotidian" fiction is the respected genre (his word, not mine, which is part of my problem with the story.)

The second story is by China Mieville who seems to only write about cities--cities as great, dangerous living things. This time he is in London, not his alternate world, but a London where the beasts have escaped the mirrors and nearly destroyed the humans. And all that the last humans can do is surrender...that's where it ends.

The last story is by one of my favorites (as is Mieville), Geoff Ryman. I am bothered by its inclusion though because it is not a story about cities--unless it is merely the soullessness of life that we are racing towards. It's protagonist is my generation X, or perhaps the one after, Y, grown old and shut in Homes by our children and grand-children, but we are computer savvy. We can still hack and monitor and do all the online things we do--they monitor the keystrokes. And a band of old people with computer skills are hijacking the personal protection systems so they attack the people they're supposed to protect. Age Rage. And age know-how. Because the person behind it is lost in Alzheimers, only before it took him he programmed his systems to control him and take him out to do the jobs--to strike back. Woah!

But for a story on cities, it would have been better to use Ryman's own 253--the story of the 253 riders on a subway train that's about to crash--each story, one page each, 253 words long. Long before Twitter's limitation of 140 characters.

The fourth story is by Michael Moorcock, and I haven't read anything by him, and I couldn't read this--it was an alternate world, a post Bush world of consumerism as religion. Patriotism as a product to be purchased. That's about as far as I got. It seemed like an interesting concept but I just could seem to follow.

Watchmen continued

When I titled that last post Watchmen started it, I was referring to a small streak in my life of reading fantastic fiction as well as starting the whole graphic novel thing (a listing of how the issues were stopped at one publisher and then continued at another is too long to go into and I'm not enough of a fangirl to tell it). One thing that did strike me on re-reading Watchmen (I first read it when I met my husband some 20 years ago--sweet singing Jesus I feel old) was the remarkable panel to panel work. Some people say that they can't read comics--they just can't adjust to the style of storytelling in the same way that some people say that can't watch sub-titled films. I will admit to having sometimes had difficulty with certain artists--Bill Sienkiewicz comes to mind. Other comic artists are extraordinary (so is Sienkiewicz, just sometimes distracting from the text) with work that could hang in museums--Jon Muth, John Bolton and the brilliant Alex Ross (who did the Obama as Superman shirt). As you can see, I'm more of a hyper-realist fan.

But to really be a comic fan, one should really be able to appreciate the way story telling in a comic is not just a story with pictures, but an integral part of the story--like the frames of a film.

The artist for Watchmen, Dave Gibbons, has given his stamp of approval to the film which is high praise, I think.

Alan Moore will never approve anything for a variety of reasons. I'm not going to touch that here.

Watchmen starts it all

Unless you've been living under a rock, or Tivo/DVR all of your viewing, you are probably aware that there is a Superhero movie coming out next week called Watchmen and you may even be aware that all the fan boys (and even some fan girls) worship this Graphic Novel (originally issues) as nearly the sui generis of graphic novels, written by the truly eccentric and prickly (literally and figuratively) Alan Moore of V for Vendetta, From Hell, and others.

I remember talking to a co-worker about V for Vendetta and saying that while my husband and I liked the movie and didn't mind the changes, the graphic novel was darker, and the friend gaping at me as if I had spoken in Aramaic--how could it be darker.

The fear is, of course, that Watchmen will not be dark enough, and my own personal fear that if it is dark enough, it will not be what most of the audience is expecting. As in this early review (it's out in Britain):
He seems angry that they aren't really "Super" for super heroes. Well, neither are Batman and Iron Man if you mean super powers and not just really good toys, lots of money and brains. What the 80's brought in comics was a realization that it was much more interesting to study the superheroes rather than just their crimes. In a way this reflected the general trend in "escapist" entertainment. Hill Street Blues was much more about the tensions in the police HQ than the crimes, and the particular tensions of being a cop were what made the show great.

Likewise, the study of the particular tensions of costumed super heroeness has become rich ground. Even Superman gets angst these days.

This reviewer seems to get it (warning--major spoilers):

What happens when you are not needed? What happens when you become a God? Are costumed heroes really just sadistic vigilantes? Are they any better than mercenaries?

Moore's deep cynicism is part and parcel of Watchmen, and I'm not sure that an audience that likes it's comic book adaptions to have a romance a la Peter Parker and MJ, and a happy ending is ready for him. Certainly V for Vendetta suffered from that, but had Natalie Portman's star power. Watchmen, with the exception of Billy Crudup (who spends much of the movie as voice talent to a CGI version) this seems populated with B-listers.

Likewise, dark as Nolan's Batman films have been, the love story and to a certain extent the surrogate fathers of Alfred and Morgan Freeman's Lucius Fox give a sweet anchor to the fact that Bats and the Joker are much more alike than unalike. Here the villains are awfully close to the heroes or vice-a-versa--and that is much more like real life.