Saturday, 29 December 2012

400th post

This is post no. 400. I've come a long way.

Admittedly, an awful lot of the writing on this blog has been turgid. But I think that the satisfactory posts have made it worth keeping. At least this blog has tracked how my writing skills have been honed (simpler, more elegant and less convoluted) and how my argumentative skills have improved (a bit subtler, less razor-tongued ranting).

Stay tuned for the next 400.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Utility

An entrepreneurial producer of suction, who is a Tory, publicly stated something along the lines of "Why are we funding English courses? Why does anyone need to study French lesbian vampire poetry?"

Let's play this guy's game for a while. Let's be childish. What is more important? Suction or language? Having your carpet cleaned by a new hoover? Or having people study the nuances of language, so as to improve political discourse? And any other kind of discourse?

This latest Tory government brand themselves as a useful government. Their perspective on education repels me, to put it mildly. Courses on the Humanities are looked at with an evil eye (or, at the very least, taken with a pinch of salt). University isn't there to provide a grounding in epistemology and knowledge. They're there for business courses and to churn out employable people, who will help our frail economy. How? By playing a vital role in the private sector.

The fact that, somehow, the population of the country is going to get the economy out of its slump in private business is laughable. But for these guys, the Keynesian model (which has been tried and tested - successfully!) is laughable. Somehow, we are going to get ourselves out of our misery with the help of those committed, responsible folks in the private sector! No, we cannot boost the economy ourselves by investing in growth (that will increase our deficit!). And how can we pave the way to all this? Get people graduated in business! Not only that, we have to privatise education to ensure that only those guys high, high, high up in the top help us out!

That is all education means to these people. A means to an end. They don't realise that their choices are not only useless but harmful. They're making a pig-sty of the economy and disparities in wealth are getting wider and wider and wider.

To get society in the right track, you have to open people's eyes. Whilst I am a sceptic of universities (I am, and always will be, an autodidact), I think that they enlighten the lives of millions. I think that academic rigour, intellectual curiosity, defiance and creativity are indispensable assets. Business is fine, but that is not going to change the world. (I say this without being snobbish or high-minded.) ICT (which is funded a lot) will lead nowhere. English people are hopeless at languages (yet the government believes that if we speak more languages that will help international relations!), yet those courses they are getting cut right-left-and-centre. Perhaps even more depressingly, science is not seen as an interesting subject that can enhance understanding, it just provides chemists, doctors and physiotherapists. The biggest irony about people who claim to be efficient and useful is that they turn out to be inefficient, useless and, in the larger scheme of things, pernicious.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Writers and the world

Taking into account exclusive factors (i.e. literary aspects which aren't part of the text), I think that you could divide writers into two camps: those who are 'visible' and those who are 'invisible.'

There has been an awful lot of self-promotion from writers. A lot of the time this can cloud the talent (or lack thereof) they may have.

Ernest Hemingway, for example, publicised himself as a gruff, macho guy. Yet his writing style is dull, spare and nothing to write home about. His themes are totally uninteresting. The reputation he managed to solidify, in my view, is due to his promotional stratagems, rather than the literary value of his novels.

The beatnik crowd cashed in on their chicness to sell millions of books. Jack Keroac's On the Road drew attention to the fact that it was written in a two-week frisson of creativity, preceded by seven years of non-stop travelling. It has consolidated itself as a modern classic, the only irony being that it is completely unremarkable. Similarly, Charles Bukowski publicised himself as a counterculture 'outsider,' who drank and fucked all day. His novels do, indeed, describe him drinking and fucking all day, but little more than that.

The 'invisibility' of writers used to be an integral part of an author's oeuvre. When Thomas Pynchon published V., a journalist tracked down his house for an interview. Pynchon jumped out of a window of the second floor, eloped and was never seen, nor heard of, again.There have been a number of novels bearing his name, but they appear very sporadically. They are very dense, suffused with allusions and bizarre imagery. They contain so much that many readers have felt tempted to read them as a kind of self-mythologisatising. People think that, in a Pynchon novel, lies the Pynchon persona.

Sadly, the literary 'recluse' has ceased to exist. Now, if you want to get published, you have to promote and promote and promote. If you are the shy type, like I am, getting your stuff out there is very difficult indeed. You have to go out to readings, soirees, make acquaintances with publishers and be a visible face.

Yet, being a 'visible face,' you are still visible only to a select few - the literati, book publishers and people who love to read (sorry to bitch, but they are in short supply.) In the 1960s, 70s and 80s, writers constantly appeared in prime-time TV chat shows. People cared what they had to say about the state of culture, politics and the arts. Even if this overshadowed their books (which is much, much important), these still sold in higher numbers.

All this aside, this is still bullshit. With all this, it is always difficult to gauge real literary value. Hemingway has been consecrated as a master, but his books really have little value. Often, it's those who cash in trends, or who are simply more 'visible,' who make their name.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Anarchism in the 21st century

In the early 20th century, the two most popular oppositional leftist ideologies were Marxism and Anarchism. Anarchism took a back seat after the First World War. As a stolidly pacifist ideology, it lost ground and Communism spread through vast expanses of Eastern Europe and Asia.

Since then, it has acquired pejorative connotations. Many people stress that there is more than "one" type of Anarchism. Perhaps so, but that has only been a recent phenomenon.Classical Anarchism is very clearly egalitarian, democratic and 'liberal' in the truest sense. (These meanings have often been besmirched by the failings of fiscal conservatism or neo-liberal free markets.)

When one thinks of 'Anarchy' as 'chaos', this is not at all true of the ideology. Anarcho-syndicalism, for instance, is meant to maximise order and efficiency. The presence of an overarching state can often lead to corruption, oppression and, perhaps more importantly, apathy. Libertarianism (in the leftist, not the right-wing American sense) is meant to reduce state power so as to then allow free inquiry, discussion and egalitarianism.

As such, Anarchism is direct democracy in the truest sense. With no concrete rulers, communities steer and direct society as they see fit. Instead of being oppressed by a manipulative media, people stick to Enligtenment values, become educated and make their own free choices.

And, by all means, the few times anarcho-syndicalism has been in place, it has worked. During the Spanish Civil War, certain sectors of Spain functioned effectively under this system.

With a bleak future ahead of us (economic meltdown and environmental disaster are in hindsight), this kind of society may come into being. It has certainly gained a lot more prominence, especially with the Occupy movement. If we find ourselves living in primeval swamps, and if the economic system breaks apart, national borders may blur. (National borders are not prioritised by Anarchists and, as such, the term 'Globalism' is truly Anarchist.) We may be able to regulate ourselves without government.

Friday, 7 December 2012

My favourite films of the year, '12

Here are my favourite films of the year. I also made a list of three films last year. (These were Midnight in Paris, Cave of Forgotten Dreams and The Tree of Life.) I've been following new releases quite closely now after I subscribed to Sight and Sound.

Films that narrowly missed this list were Tabu by Miguel Gomes, Amour by Michael Haneke and Cosmopolis by David Cronenberg.

The Master, dir. by Paul Thomas Anderson


I remember walking through a street in Manchester with my dad. There was a Scientology centre nearby, with a steward standing by the foyer. I loudly heckled something like (paraphrasing) "Look at that phony pseudo-mystical centre of brainwashing cunts!" This alarmed my dad who, fearing that the steward may have heard my loud diatribe, cautiously went "Shhhh!"

And this film, though it does not state so directly, follows what happens when you find yourself absorbed into that strange sect. The indoctrination therapies, the obnoxious bullying and the mandatory espousal of hocus-pocus quasi-mystical nonsense. It's little wonder that my dad was weary that the steward may have overheard my rant because, once these sly crooks set their eye on you, you're in for a whirlwind.

The film is even more heavy going, as the lead protagonist (not the master, incidentally, a disciple) is vulnerable, aggressive (The Master repeatedly calls him an 'animal') and simple-minded. He is the perfect prey for this opportunist's scheme.

The films becomes more wrenching as it progresses. We get therapy after therapy after therapy, with the disciple gasping for air. The Master, meanwhile, is constantly tested about the value of his endeavour by sceptics. He has no answers because, as a quack, he is only capable of producing vacous empty-headed babble short on either scientific or philosophical rigour. One of the many discomforting things about the film is that you somehow sympathise for him at times, no matter how facile or bullying he gets.

Finally, I'll mention that the misce-en-scene is fab - it really feels like 40s/50s America (and, later, UK). It is beautifully shot. And the performances (especially Hoffman's) are overwhelmingly good.

Into the Abyss, dir. by Werner Herzog

 Like the list I made last year, I've chosen another Herzog film. I think he's been on really good form of late.

The documentary deals with a devastating murder committed by a couple of ruffians in Texas, U.S.A. One of the criminals is ten days ahead of his sentence, looks remarkably calm, is unrepentant and denies the charges. The other convict, who genuinely exhibits feelings of guilt and remorse, gets a life sentence.

The film mainly consists of a series of interviews Herzog made with the convicts, family members, friends and witnesses. Herzog has been charged with exploiting his subjects in the past and here there are several scenes where the interviewees break out in tears.

Several ethical questions are obviously raised. How can the death penalty continue to be practiced? Are the criminals simply a result of their surroundings, having received little in the way of education? Herzog in the past has dealt with ethnographic and anthropological questions. Yet there's little sense of the interviewees being tools for a social case study. They are, on the main, seen as people who have undergone searing traumas. Herzog also completely avoids the political corruption in Texas (George W. Bush, as governor, signed off slip after slip of death penalties yet he does not figure at all in this film). What I mainly got from this film was a highly moving, emotional account of a human drama.

Nostalgia for the Light, dir. by Patricio Guzmán

Another documentary!

Guzmán apparently had trouble financing this when he pitched the idea. Astronomy, the Pinochet atrocities, the Atacama desert, Chilean history. How does it fit? As it turns out, there is no discrepancy with any of these things in the film.

There is an astronomy base in the Atacama desert, where astronomers observe the stars and record data. As this takes place, family of political prisoners whom Pinochet murdered, scour the arid surface for the remains of their relatives.

Time is a recurrent subject talked about, particularly from the scientists. The present, so we are told, is ever-elusive, as it can only be evoked through reflection. In addition to that, our bodies are made up of a great deal of calcium, which came from the stars. The astronomers are clearly searching for philosophical questions as well, something which is by no means exclusive from science. Archaeologists, meanwhile, are followed excavating relics of indigenous civilisations. The astronomers are on the look-out for figments of vast cosmological explosions that occurred billions of years ago. The archaelogists modestly admit their relics date from a few hundred years. (Interestingly, when I went to the Atacama Desert I was told by a tour guide that the Atacaman aborigines believed that the Spanish colonisers, and by extension the rest of the world, were invaders from space!)

And, perhaps more pertinently, the victims, instead of looking at the stars in awe, lower their heads to the ground in the hope they may find a bone or two of their kin.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Saimon A. King a la Marcel Proust

The carriage traversed past the slope, leading to the beckoning horizon, which glimmered incandescently like the jewellery, like the jewellery of my loved one, who swashed me with kisses and carresses, and, it buttressed a marvellous dividing-line, through which a fissure materialised, and it is these fissures which ameliorate the hum-drum reality of quotidian life, portals to a world where verisimilitude did not exist, where the world is better, and funnier, and more parodic, like Proust, because it is those rare jewels that make life living, that make you realise that you must rally on, because when love exists, matter functions, the fissures I experience with Bach, with Mark E. Smith and with the beckoning horizon which looms closer as the carriage approaches.

O-la-la, that was a crappy - and unfunny - parody!

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

The Romantic genius

As an earlier post documented, I bought a Beethoven bust. It towers above me, solemnly scrutinizing my every move and action.

I've often thought a lot about Beethoven's life and the Romantic ethos as a whole. Ludwig van made some revolutionary advancements in music. Yet he was brazen and moody. It can't be denied that he was up his own arse - pathologically.

Yet this is an integral part of his art... Beethoven, and the Romantics, tried imprinting their own personality into their art. Whether they described themselves as geniuses or not, that's what they did.

What I like about the whole Romantic ethos is the way you feel 'small' within a much 'bigger' context. Looking over a hill-top; being in awe of beautiful cathedrals; being entranced by the most amazing symphonies.

Their constant emphasis on 'the imagination' sounds great to me, too. But did this put a halt on the scientific and artistic advancements of the Renaissance?

Now that we live in post-modern times, I say that the best compromise is a synthesis of the two. We need scientists to think imaginatively and analytically. Writers and composers should also opt for a happy medium - judiciously analyse the world, structure something carefully yet always approach the two with imagination and creativity.

Don't laugh at my platitudes, Beethoven!

Friday, 23 November 2012

The hazards of solipsism

The universe we inhabit is mighty big. It is macrocosmic in scale, beneath our reach. We keep sending satellites and various other apparatuses, but it is clear than we have only dipped into its shallow surface. The universe keeps expanding and expanding beyond our reach and it is unlikely that we will have a full grasp of its breadth and complexity.

The argument the solipsist takes, therefore, is a hazardous one. It is an argument I myself have taken in the past, but it is one I am very happy to revise.

The solipsistic concept - the concept that one's mind is the only mind - is a counterproductive proposition. As soon as one takes such a stance, the whole world tumbles down on you.

Our minds are infinitesimal in the bigger scale of things. To claim that such a complex fabric as the universe is just there  to serve one individual is a mighty claim to make. It is selfish and shallow.

The solipsists in this world are the people who are damaging it. Those right-wing moguls who invest in business are solipsistic. Those people who claim that Angela Merkel is one of the most powerful people in this world are wrong. It is self-consumed business who invest in their own ventures, bringing about the collapse of the world economy.

A solipsistic stance is self-destructive. Claiming to be a solipsist takes into account the objective world. How can you live a life in opposition to objectivity when you have already acknowledged it? When you are constantly, day by day, running against it? The solipsistic thesis is redundant because it can only exist by acknowledging the argument's antithesis - the other minds.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Commemorated through words

Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme;
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone besmear'd with sluttish time.
When wasteful war shall statues overturn,
And broils root out the work of masonry,
Nor Mars his sword nor war's quick fire shall burn
The living record of your memory.
'Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity
Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room
Even in the eyes of all posterity
That wear this world out to the ending doom.
So, till the judgment that yourself arise,
You live in this, and dwell in lovers' eyes. 


Sonnet 55 by William Shakespeare

I don't make a habit of posting poetry here (perhaps I should!), but I can't think of many things as beautiful as this.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Elliott Carter (1908-2012)



This is the third string quartet by Elliott Carter, who passed away three days ago, almost at the age of 104.

It was a very well-lived life. Carter oversaw most of the twentieth century and was acquainted with the likes of Charles Ives, Igor Stravinsky and Edgard Varese to name a few. Aside from Pierre Boulez, he was quite possibly the last great modern 20th century composer to leave this world.

What I like about his music is the way the multiple layers of melodies and pitches do connect and intertwine on repeated hearings. And, unlike other composers in the 1950s (younger than himself), he sees this kind of process less as a scientific experiment than as an exercise in heightened expression.

I chose to put up his third string quartet, as it is his most assaulting and aggressive piece.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Rebellion

What is rebellion? How is one truly a rebel? I think that most people's use of this word is completely perfunctory. We are swayed by advertisements of all kinds which teach us what a 'rebel' is. Che Guevara t-shirts are marketed; suitable angry music is distributed. Is this rebellion or is it conformity?

I always remember back in school that, whenever the marginal 'nerdy' type did something mildly outrageous, there would be the sarcastic jibe "Oh, you rebel!"

Someone in my corridor last year couldn't believe that I went through a period of angst. I'm her idea of a goody-two-shoes. Mainly because I never went clubbing and always orbited around my room.

For example, whenever I've gone to classical concerts in the past, I often go there furious, angry, full of adrenaline. I half expect the audience to consist of angry young men. It's usually heaving with old ladies.

The whole idea of 'rebellion' that's marketed to us is a form of conformity. Those who are 'rebellious' wear appropriate clothing and have mohicans. They have to behave outrageously. They think that, by going through the most raucous drunken frenzy, that they are somehow usurping authority.

So, in the framework these people think in, I am a conformist. I don't behave like this. But I am rebellious in the sense that I do not give in to this type of behaviour and think it is of utmost importance to challenge and question authority. That's the essence of rebellion - challenging authority.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Impressive recent reads

The Rest is Noise - Alex Ross

 This book is a history of the twentieth century as seen through its music. It is the kind of book I've longed to read for many years. Modern classical music has lamentably had a veneer of 'difficulty' to it. Many potential listeners of the genre are scared away because it is 'too intellectual.' This is completely annulled by Ross, who writes about the difficult conceptions of these composers in an enthralling, entertaining prose. There is no dichotomy between the 'high' canon or the 'low' canon, either. Composers like Shostakovich and Britten, dismissed as kitsch by some quarters, receive equal treatment as the likes of Stockhausen or Nono. Whilst I would like to have seen more detail on Varese (who is bracketed under the fatuous futurist movement, rather than commended as the singularly great composer he really is), and perhaps less on Britten, one has to take into account that in a book like this a lot has to be left out. This is a page-turning book that brings together music theory, history and politics.

Memories of the Future - Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky


This was written in Stalinist Soviet Union and was considered too subversive to even show to a publisher. I guess that the adjective 'Kafkaesque' is totally applicable to this book - it is dark, enigmatic, mysterious and alienating. There is a divide between the higher echelon and powerless nebbish characters who are kept at bay. There is also a Borgesian tinge (the Eiffel Tower runs away from Paris, a man will only join a group as long as it's logical and a man loses his way in a room that keeps expanding into a vast black waste), but it is charged with political commentary. It'd be a little difficult to describe a lot of the pieces as 'stories' since they aren't all that compact and concise; there are a lot of digressions involving haranguing indictments of the Soviet regime. The language can be dense and many ideas are laid really thick. I am glad I picked this up from Daunt Books in London; it turned out to be a real find.

Hijos sin hijos (Sons Without Sons) - Enrique Vila-Matas

This short story collection starts with a small epigraph from Kafka: “Germany has declared war against Russia. In the afternoon, swimming." The stories situate the subjective, personal lives of individuals within the context of broader political realities in 20th century Spain. More importantly, all the protagonists are "loners" who, in their predicament, do not procreate and produce children - they march on as apparitions, the last of a kind. Several biographical elements of Kafka's life are infused into characters, but this is soon overshadowed by the ingenuity and originality of Matas' ideas. Like the Krzhizhanovsky, there are a lot of meta-fictive tropes here which are a pleasure to behold.

Blood Meridian - Cormac McCarthy

The beauty of this book is the wonderful images it conjures - barren landscapes, empty saloons, ebbing tides - through beautiful, lyrical language. It is at once cinematic yet profoundly literary. Although I think they would be considered as polar opposites by most, this did remind of J. G. Ballard at his best. The subject matter makes The Road seem tame by comparison! The novel follows a group of American men in the 1860s, who trail out to massacre Native Indians and scalp them. They first do this for profit but eventually give in out of sheer compulsion. The novel is unflinching in the repeated use of disturbing images (such as two babies' skulls being crushed). This is an overpowering, atmospheric read!

Sunday, 21 October 2012

The need for satire

Peter Cook

After years of stasis, you could say that times are now a little more turbulent. We are in the throes of a recession, needless wars have been inflicted on the Middle East and China are increasingly becoming the world's largest economy.

What often gets us through tough times is humour. Not just any kind of humour, however. When we are saturated with images of mopey politicians cavorting in front of our television sets, comedy is a useful tool. It can attack and ridicule these figures; it can satirise them.

In the early 1960s, Peter Cook was one of the main exponents of a 'satire boom'. He mimicked then Prime Minister Harold MacMillan in his very presence. Many skits and comedic sketches that satirised various aspects of English society were performed in theatres. This was humour used as a tool to challenge, shock and debase the higher hierarchy.

Whilst we do have a wealth of gifted comedians now (Ricky Gervais, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jack Dee, Johnny Vegas), their work is not really satirical. These comedians aren't really having a stab at the our rulers. Events like the Leveson Inquiry and the Iraq war certainly lend themselves to this type of humour. And whilst the satirical magazine Private Eye does sell in large numbers, it is never really in the public spotlight all that much.

There is a quality to humour that allows you to get away with murder. Whilst a transgressive novel or film may provoke death threats and the like, comedy is sufficiently subtle so as to allow this not to happen. It is frivolous, it provokes laughter but it can still make you think and question. It can be funny in an unsettling, frightful manner.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Elections

The frustrating thing about most general elections is the intractability. It is often perceived as a farcical illusion - and that is indeed what it often amounts to.

Oppositional parties rarely stand a chance. The public is coerced into voting for two dissimilar choices. Most of the time it is centrist politics, or maybe a little more to the right than that.

Should elections matter, then? To a certain degree, ironically, they do. Even though option A may not seem that different for B, the policies B promotes would actually have a dramatic outcome on the impact of world-affairs.

Take the current elections in the U. S. A. I wouldn't say the Democratic party are to my ideological liking but, by God, I am counting on them to win. Romney has stated that taxing too much is "not the right answer for America" (thus conforming to the Republican mantra - too much government is analogous with Socialism). The monetary policies Obama has made would actually help the world economy get out of its slump. The Republican model always worsens the deficit.

Not to mention foreign affairs. Romney has stated he wants a more "aggressive" foreign policy. The calamitous mess Bush and his neo-con cronies left may convince them that launching a full-frontal assault war on Iran isn't particularly clever, but tensions with China may well escalate.

So, even if one has a radical outlook on the world, however well-calibrated this outlook may be, casting a vote for a centrist neo-liberal candidate is by no means a foolish decision. In the larger scheme of things it results in a better world.

Friday, 12 October 2012

I need the eggs



"You only give me books with the word death in the title!"
"It's a very important issue!"

Annie Hall (1977) by Woody Allen

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Twenty musical artists who are the most important to me

The Fall
Captain Beefheart
Miles Davis
John Coltrane
Ornette Coleman
Igor Stravinsky
Bela Bartok
Ludwig van Beethoven
Franz Schubert

Johann Sebastian Bach
Gyorgy Ligeti
Robert Wyatt
Frank Zappa
Edgard Varese
Claude Debussy
Sun Ra
Napalm Death
Van Morrison
Maurice Ravel
Anton Webern

Thursday, 27 September 2012

National barriers

I was speaking to someone who has lived in the north of England all his life and has never travelled abroad. He told me that, if asked what nationality he'd consider himself to be, he'd be a "cosmopolite."

National barriers are breaking apart and different cultures, ethnicities and communities are intermingling at an extraordinary rate. It's little wonder that people who have never strayed beyond their country of birth appreciate this.

Someone like Dostoyevsky would be horrified to learn that I have taken a lot of elements of Russian culture and toyed around with them in my stories. A staunch nationalist, he firmly believed that one should write about one's own territory and abhorred the cosmopolitanism that prevailed in the romantic movements in France, Germany and Italy.

But that has changed dramitcally since the 19th century. The whole idea of cultivating a "national language" has all but perished and writers often cull ideas from national literatures foreign to their own.

Besides, the idea that one is completely "English" or completely "Russian" is foolish. We are all inter-bred. A DNA test would reveal that our ancestry can be located in many corners of the world. People often emigrate, settle in different countries and identify themselves with a new culture. Who's to say they can't?

This is particularly true of countries that have been colonised. Defining a "Chilean" person is very difficult indeed. The only people who could be truly qualified as such would be aborigines, but then they have interbred with Hispanic people. In middle class circles, people with German, French, English etc. roots speak with thick Chilean accents and act Chilean.

National barriers are falling apart and this is reflected through creative expression and political relations.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Essence, existence and indoctrination

I think that some of my writings exploring these issues on my blog have been a bit patchy. Here I'm going to try to clarify my views on phenomenology, etc.

I'll start by saying that the mind is a great mystery to us. We still don't have a full knowledge of its workings. Neuroscientists often accuse psychologists and the like of conjecturing whilst many psychologists claim that neuroscience is nothing more than a pseudo science. From the little I've gleaned out of all these ideas, there is a little of all of these which I intuit to be true.

I think that some of the workings of our own mind - our 'essence,' if you like - are partly innate to us. We are born with a set of attributes - intelligence, temperament, personality, etc. Each of us is born with a different DNA, so each and every one of us is entirely different, regardless of our upbringing and standing in class. So our minds, regardless of our upbringing, have propensities for different things.

From casual observation, I've always noticed that the personality of a person essentially remains the same. It is implacable right to the very end. A person might become more tolerant, have different belief systems etc., yet their tics and mannerism generally remain intact.

Every one us is born with an innate capacity to reason. For example, seminal linguist/political activist Noam Chomsky broke ground in his academic field when he pointed out that language acquisition isn't something formed by one's upbringing, we all have 'Language acquisition device' stored within our minds. Young children learn the basics, and even the nuances, of language because their minds have the faculty for this. One could even argue that the same is true for morality.

However, it is inarguable that all of us, to some degree, are shaped by our immediate surroundings. The way I see this is that this is more the case with belief systems. For example where I grew up, Chile, very few of the people I know didn't espouse the political beliefs of their parents. Religious beliefs are generally regional - sectors in such a such a continent will be Christian, over here they will be Musilim, over there Sikh, etc. People strong enough not to give into these belief systems either have had scarring experiences (being ostracized in school playgrounds, even abuse) or have simply evaluated their existence more critically and objectively.

The same is true for education. This is obvious - certain children who have been brought up precariously are deprived of a quality education whereas those parents rich enough can fork out an expensive education for their children. This also reflects the quality of a country's education - for example, free education for all, of quality, guarantees that a greater proportion of citizens will be more educated.

Speaking of belief systems, something I find abhorrent, is how often people are oppressed from having a free mind. I think we live in a society where we are indoctrinated, where injunctions are drilled into our minds. The media presents a picture of the world which is often discrepant with reality and the education system does not encourage children to inquire creatively or analytically. For centuries, this form of indoctrination has largely been religious and clerical; now you could say it is political, but is much subtler than that and it surfaces in a plethora of ways.

So, to summarise: we are all born with a set of attributes and mental capacities; our belief systems are shaped by our upbringing and life experience; and the nasty side of all this is that these beliefs can be besmirched by indoctrination (through an inadequate education system) and 'brainwashing' (through a manipulative media).

Monday, 17 September 2012

Order

We need some kind of order and classification to hold civilisation together. Without some form of systematisation, society would fall apart and would degenerate into a state of anarchy (in the non-political sense). But are human conceptions of order mere artifice? Do they reflect our own innate sense of right and wrong, or are they more to do with a tangible objective reality? What happens when human order is challenged?

Any adherent of any political ideology would tell you that their political ideology is the most effective. A socialist would say (rather erroneously) that state communism is a way of attaining true equity. A fiscal conservative would say that the better a nation's GDP performs, the better the state of being (again, rather erroneously). Likewise, adherents of different religion would argue that their moral code is the ultimate compass to control human existence.

These are systems of thought promulgated to establish either a more equal, or moral, society. From a personal standpoint, all the examples offered above do not strike me as politically or ethically viable. A socialist society more often than not results in social repression and sectarian division and fiscal conservatism leads to massive disparities in wealth. As for religion being the only moral compass, this is hugely contestable. One does not need to adhere to any thought system or sense of spirituality to have an understanding of morality. There's actually a lot of scientific research proving that religious believers actually have a greater propensity for committing crimes and misdemeanours.

We need a kind of classification in day-to-day life. A library I walk into must have its books organised alphabetically, otherwise I would spend two hours there in search of a book instead of five minutes. Supermarkets are carefully classified and organised to help customers select their product.

On a more intellectual level, we have developed a writing system and mathematical symbols for our needs in literacy and numeracy. Archaeologists looking through relics of the Mayan civilisation have discovered that, although they obviously used a different set of symbols for mathematical equations, the language is essentially the same as those used in Western and Eastern civilisations.

But whatever system we are talking about, these are all man-made. They reflect human issues or have come about as a result of some kind of social malaise that has afflicted humanity through the ages. (For example, the ardent need for a radical overhaul for many Russians came about after years of monarchic rule.)

But what happens when we challenge these systems? This often jostles and disorientates us. We have been brought up in an environment where our minds are centred around this particular type of thinking. There are some languages where, when one does not follow the rules of the game, the whole frame falls apart. This is true of mathematics - if one does not use the correct calculations, the answer will be wrong. The same is true for architecture (where a building would fall apart) and chemistry (where substances might blow the fuck up!). But this isn't true for music. Although strict rules have been laid out with regard to keys, chords, scales etc., one can quite easily ignore classicist rules and end up producing a valuable piece of music. So, do thought systems necessarily predetermine function and order?

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Nocturnal phantom


The Night Wanderer (1924) by Edvard Munch

This painting brutally evinces my darkest days.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

The library, our greatest institution


"Like all men of the library, I have travelled in my youth. I have journeyed in search of a book, perhaps of the catalogue of catalogues; now that my eyes can scarcely decipher what I write, I am prepared to die a few leagues from the hexagon in which I was born. [...] I affirm that the library is interminable." - The Library of Babel, Jorge Luis Borges

Just like the afore quoted story explores, a library is more than the sum of its parts. It is endless, voluminous and of sweeping scale and scope. Each book is different, rife with countless meanings and suggestions. In effect, it is the classification and codification of all human endeavour.

And all this is at stake, for two reason: one, the onslaught of digital technology; two, economically precarious circumstances convince politicians that, if there is one institutions that must be slashed, it must be the library.

Going digital means that all books become the same. It is encrypted, codified to the point where there is no variation amongst the items. (And in the library Borges writes about, even identical books have slight variants.) These works aren't stored, they are transmogrified into a digital medium that doesn't lend itself to public availability. The digital format is a far cry from the titanic and seamless vision Borges conceived of in 'The Library of Babel.'

All that aside, a library has been the classic tool for the autodidact. From time immemorial, it has been the most useful service for those who do not want to be sermoned but would rather learn of their own volition. Just under six years ago, I loved scouring libraries for their selections on classical music and composer biographies. These titles (which are far more specialised than works of fiction or general history) are nowhere to be found in those libraries I frequented. The autodidact must look elsewhere for these titles (i.e. the internet), but isn't it a shame that there isn't a public service providing him with such information?

I'd argue that the library is a far more important institution than a university. I say this out of pure piggishness and single-mindedness. I much prefer discovering on my own. Not just that, I prefer looking into subjects I have singled out myself, rather than having them served on a plate to me. A university allows all people, from all social standings, to develop their argumentative skills and their aptitude. That is all in good stead, but isn't it more exciting to study something that you have chosen and to work at it within your timetables and at your own pace? There are often huge gaps in your knowledge but, for the autodidact, this is the preferred mode of study.

The current ruling party in the UK is cutting down on several libraries. I won't discuss the economic flaws inherent in these austerity measures, instead I'll go through what a loss this means for us. A library is a cherished institution, dating back centuries, that provides an indispensable service to the community. If these cuts lead to the decline of libraries, then irreparable damage would be caused. Incompetent politicians and opportunistic purveyors of vacuous and empty technology will only have themselves to blame for bringing this service to an end.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

The audience

The relationship between an 'artist' (for want of a better word) and the 'audience' is very complex. It is not such a black-and-white situation. The creator of whatever object a lot of the time is doing it to please himself, yes. Eventually, however, this creator does want some sort of evaluation for whatever object in question...

I always have a hard time convincing this to people. There is a lot of ponceyness and pretentiousness about saying "I don't want to write, I have to." It does sound very far-fetched, but it is true. What I find surprising is how so many people are unconvinced by this argument. 

Is 'art' or 'entertainment' simply a commodity one produces simply to amuse others? The great tragedy about the publishing industry is that it all eventually amounts to market forces - create a product for this specific audience.

Borges said that, if the entire civilisation would perish and he were to be the the sole survivor, he would continue to write. So would I. Still, Borges said that it would sadden him if no-one were to read his work. Ditto.

I love people reading my stories and my (better) blog posts. I like sharing my creative pieces, my views on aesthetic and social phenomena as well as to put up certain aspects of my personal life. But is this all done for the sake of others?

No way. As soon as you pander to your audience, the greater disservice you are doing to yourself. 

It depresses me when people assume that writing fiction and blog posts is all about entertaining a specific audience. The audience can give helpful and constructive criticism, yes. But have you written the piece specifically for whatever sensibilities they might have?

I often find that my writings that attract less notice are the ones that satisfy me the most. There are some blog posts with few hits that I judge to be far superior to others that attract far more views. I think that, in the first few years of this blog, I made the terrible mistake of writing explicitly about my private life. Whenever I read through these writings I pretty much detest them. Most of those posts have attracted far more notoriety than the posts exploring my views on philosophy, literature, film, politics etc. Is that an indication that I should write more about myself? No, I much prefer writing about other subjects...

It's an awkward situation. When I met a follower of my writings in London earlier in the year he expressed his feelings. He studies composition at a conservatory. He was far more irresolute about this than I am. Contemporary classical music, particularly the type written in university campuses, does not fit in with any musical market or trend in the mainstream. Most people seem baffled by, and aren't likely to pursue, the dense and gritty pieces of these composers. Does this undermine their efforts? What does this say about this type of music? If there is no market for it, why do these people continue to explore these sonorities? For an audience? For themselves?

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Uncharted territory

I'll keep this one brief.

I just feel great disillusionment when no-one - or, rather, very few people - is willing to explore 'uncharted territory.' This has to be the main source of grief to me. And, as this blog demonstrates, a lot of things grieve me...

I'll probably sound very, very pompous by using my own measly stories as an example, but... I feel that my stories of late have really matured. The hard thing is getting people to read them in the first place. I've never particularly cared all that much about this in the past, but now it's got to the point where I desperately crave feedback for my work.

Looking at the world objectively, everyone has different interests. An architect may bemoan to me that no-one wants to look at designs he has so painstakingly laboured over. A mathematician would go haywire over my ridiculous innumeracy. A scientist may cover his arms over his brow over some of my deficiencies when it comes to basic scientific logic.

Still, to me, what matters most - more than the need for philosophical inquiry, which I think is marvellous - is transcendence. I think everyone has the faculty for this. Many people may be overcome by a full moon. If they are the urban type, they may prefer the sight of a massive skyscraper rather than gazing over a beautiful hill-top. We can all be transcended.

The places where I find transcendence seem to baffle most. A person once asked me, baffled, why I liked the film Blue Velvet so much, saying it was "nothing special." In a film module I took, two film students said they 'hated' (that's a really strong adjective!) The Double Life of Veronique. Seeing that they were film students, this surprised me. There are different ways to get around film-making, different ways to construct music and different ways to write fiction. Although I find transcendence in these places, it seems to irritate others beyond belief.

So, every time I explore 'uncharted territory' in my stories (and now I use this word subjectively - it is uncharted to me as I write it...) I understand that most people won't think likewise.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

How do you weigh "success"?

The commonly held view that 'success' is something to vie for really bugs me. Many times I am asked the question (and, considering that I speak to very few people, if I were a social animal I would probably be asked this every day...) "what are you going to do after university? What career do you want?" I am always far too embarrassed to say that I want to be a writer, so I just say "librarian."

Women often want men to 'grab the day' and, instead of marrying someone with an interesting personality and interesting views, they will go for someone with career ambitions. The education system a lot of the time, instead of teaching children about the value of education, will inculcate in them the need to monger after a high-paying job. This is also the attitude of politicians and people who legislate important decisions - work harder, stop moaning about our inept decisions and mistakes, make it big and be successful. The number of societal circles who believe this is limitless - we could go on and on and on.

This view of 'success' pretty much consists of the idea that you will 'play a role in society,' 'make it big' and 'earn money.' I had a squabble on the internet with some people and someone hit me back with "with these thoughts you have, you won't get anywhere." Ok, but so what? I have no interest whatsoever in 'getting somewhere'; that, to me, is completely meaningless.

In my book, I would consider something a success when I am fulfilling an interest or brining a project out to fruition. Say if I write a story I am pleased with, or if I were to complete a satisfactory novel - if I am happy with it, then I would consider that to be a success. I wouldn't care if the piece of work would be garlanded with praise by critics or academics, or if it were to sell a vast amount of copies. It has to be something that pleases me and that it's a confirmation that I have developed and matured my writing skills.

The counterargument to "success" is "happiness". To me, that is equally dubious. It does not certify quality or imagination in any way possible. Phrases such as "money doesn't buy you happiness" are completely meaningless to me. A rich mogul may have a large mansions, a number of cars, a yacht, etc. He may be happy, but so what? It is a completely superfluous happiness since he may not be getting to the core of things, nor is he accomplishing anything fulfilling in any way or form. A peasant may be living in desperate conditions and also may be happy.

In a creative endeavour - be it the writing of a novel, the study of scientific processes, the construction of a symphony, etc. - happiness means as little as success. You sometimes subject yourself to torturous agony just to unearth whatever it you want to unearth.

I would not want either of the following: have a reputable job, earn shed-loads of money and build a successful career; nor would I want to live in a comfortable house with a wife and family, settling for endless days of stupor. I would want to focus on personal projects (and perhaps a little political activism every now and then on the side), writing works of fiction and looking out for informative books. Society might view me as a 'failure' etc. but I would know that I'd be doing something right.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Thoughts on love

I remember walking through university, minding my own business, when this girl came up to me and asked "Would you like to walk over here and write what your thoughts are on love? It's a charity to raise awareness yada-yada-yada..."I felt like shooting her, though I politely declined.

At the time it sounded smalchy - it still sounds like that... I am disgusted by the notion of 'universal love', 'universal peace', etc. If there's own overriding energy I have, it's anger. I've always hated hippies for that reason; even though they claim to 'love' everything and everyone, deep down they are onanistic. They just want to have orgies. Ditto to new age mystics.

When I think of it in more detail I realise that it's not that black-and-white. I do love certain things. Though it's not 'universal' love, it's usually very specific things and entities.

In essence, matter can only work through love. The universe is a massive wasteland - masses of black matter, worm-holes forming and diffusing, etc. When 'love' is in place, things start to function, molecules begin to fizz and stars are formed. (If any Physics graduate reads this - and I know for sure that someone with an astrophysics degree reads this blog - they'd be probably dismiss this as babble. Nevermind.)

So, only when things work is love in place. Voids of nothingness lack this.

To me, this world is like a void. When I see an opportunist like Boris Johnson warming the hearts of hypocritical leftists, this angers me. When people are disinterested in what I have to say, this angers me. When I see economic graphs detailing the staggering disparities in income, this angers me.

Though I find love in remote places. I have often 'fallen in love' (I just found myself cringing) with girls I know nothing about. I know nothing about their personality, I just find their bodies overwhelmingly attractive. So I begin to obsessively think about them. They are just one person out of billions, yet my mind - involuntarily - fixates itself on them.

Yet this nebulous 'love' I feel for this seemingly - and superficially - frail person isn't in the slightest bit wholesome. It is crazy, irrational, bordering on madness. So, I don't sense 'love' in the way those hippies and new age mystics do. It's an extraordinarily aggressive feeling.

Likewise, when I hear a piece of music I like, it's not some sort of passive, gentle love. When I hear Varese's Ionisation I feel a kind of love for this soundworld. Yet, again, it's an aggressive kind of love. Perversely, I feel this for the so-called 'gentler' classical repertoire - for Bach, for Schubert, for Beethoven, etc. A rock song like 'Middle Mass' by The Fall provokes the same reaction.

The world is a void which angers me... But when I cherry-pick what I like, it stimulates me and gives me room for hope. If I had been brought around to writing something for that cheesy charity, I would have written this (in a truncated form).

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Thoughts on Tarkovsky

I will now try the impossible - try to explain, in some kind of fluid and coherent prose, why Andrei Tarkovsky is my favourite director. Invariably, when I write these kind of appraisals, I cop-out with gushing superlatives. I am going to try as much as I can to remain objective and to put my finger as to why Tarkovsky means so much to me...

Tarkovsky's role in the Soviet Union was ambiguous. Whilst not overtly critical of the regime, it is clear that his films do not align themselves with the authorities. It is clear from a film like Andrei Rublev that, for Tarkovsky, the role of the 'artist' is to create, inquire and discuss in the face of oppression. The rigid atheism characteristic of the Soviet regime was also completely discrepant to what mattered mostly to Tarkovksy - spirituality and the need for the individual to reflect on his place in Earth. Tarkovsky's films look 'inside' rather than 'outside' and, in such political surroundings, it is a small miracle that his films were made.

The painter Andrei Rublev can only create within a society in a state of turmoil. Set in 15th century Russia, around the time the country became Tsarist, it is clear that Rublev is dependant on the carnage and exploitation surrounding him to unearth his mural paintings. Continuously brooding and rationalising everything, he turns to orthodox Christianity to give him some sort of moral compass and purpose. An invasion of the Tartars, which completely devastate and maim the community he has lived in, leads him toward a vow of silence. He devotedly keeps to his word, only until the construction and casting of a bell makes him review of his decision. This bell has been built with such scrupulous craftsmanship that he is awed. It becomes clear that the creation of art, in its most crafted and disciplined form, can lead to transcendence and resolution. When the bell clangs toward the end of the film, Rublev knows it and the audience knows it.



Another clear theme that runs through most of Tarkovsky's films is memory. It is an illusory concept, often leading to grief and misconceptions. This is beautifully explored in Mirror. The structure of the narrative generally pans out in accordance with the narrator's notions of past and present. Scenes transpire in relation to what the narrator is actually going through in his everyday waking life. His tormented issues with his mother, his estrangement from his son, the fractured relationship with his wife, dream recollections, etc. All these elements ebb and flow as he tries to make sense of his broken family relationships. The narrative is seldom linear because of the wavering nature of memory and human thought. I have seen the film three times now and each viewing is different and revelatory.



Having spoken of dream sequences above, I'll just make the small remark that they are the closest I've seen to real dreams in any representational art. Some people say that the surrealist visions of Dali, Bosch, Ernst etc. are dream-like, but to me they really aren't. The dreams in Tarkovsky's films often take place in enclosed spaces and scenes often shift from one place to the other. Natural elements - fire, water, snow, etc. - often feature. (In a scene in Solaris, the protagonist visits his father, gazing into the home from outside his window pane. It is raining within the house, rather than outside. This is a warped logic often characteristic of dreams.) He certainly is a director who manages somehow to pierce into your skull. Three or four months after seeing my first Tarkovsky film, Solaris, I had a series of dreams influenced by the film's atmosphere.

A tangential theme of interest is that of the characters' wishes and what exactly these wishes mean and involve. There is often something hazardous in the Tarkovsky film about striving after an impossible goal. In Solaris, the planet where the astronaut resides in, the nostalgia for his deceased wife leads to her resuscitation. They are impermeable to one another and the film constant reminds the viewer that his wife is unearthed because of his unstable mind. The possible radiation (it is unclear in the film if this is the case) that the planet emits destabilises and fractures the lucidity and rationality of his waking thought. Likewise, in the flabbergasting film Stalker, the three characters become crazed by the toxicity of 'The Zone'. It is a place capable of unearthing their innermost wishes, but the locality drives them toward insanity. In the end, they are few yards away from the room granting them their wish, but they are unable to walk in. This is not only because it might be too dangerous, they are unable to confront the inner demons and fears that reside within their quixotic and yearning minds.



Another reason why his films mean so much to me is the constant recurrence of nature. The scenes depicting wildlife, plains, fields, swamps, forests are irresistibly shot. Tarkovsky could be considered a modernist in the sense that his films can often be structurally elliptical and theatrically undramatic. However, he is a romanticist in the way he turns to nature for inspiration and the way the reflection of nature helps as individuals and our purpose in the world. Most modernist 20th century artists turned to urbanity and the hoopla of living in a high-octane community. Tarkovsky jettisons all that and returns to the object of fascination of Wordsworth and so many other 19th century artists - the immensity of nature and the reflectivity it provokes.

His characters are often populated by children. (Most notably with the child protagonist in Ivan's Childhood.) A scene that I recall is in Mirror when the protagonist's son leafs through a large book. It seems to invoke the feeling of raging curiosity and inquisitiveness. Children feature throughout Tarkovsky's film because they know less. As a result, they perceive situations and concepts far more vividly. Too much knowledge seems to be very perilous indeed to Tarkovksy - just look at what it leads  The Writer, The Scientist and the Stalker toward in Stalker...

So, above I provided a few notes as to why Tarkovsky's films mean so much to me. These are themes that I personally connect with and inform my sense of purpose in the world...

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Party politics

There is nothing dubious about having an ideology. An ideology should not be something you choose but, rather, a label that best describes your political views. Someone that is an amalgam of two views might hyphenate two separate ideologies together. Someone who skirts all political thinking is a free thinker.

What I do find dubious is party politics. Unlike an ideology, it does not necessarily represent your thinking. Rather, it represents a cause you work for.

What first and foremost annoys me about party politics is that a member of a party will not speak for what he has to say - he speaks for his party. This strongly unsettles. There is no room for latitude. Whatever topic is at hand, you give the opinion your party has opted for. I'm not necessarily talking about politicians here, but I'm taking staunch defenders of political parties into account as well.

Those party members who do not agree with certain policies will either quarrel a lot and there will be many heated discussions. Members may simply try to "make a change" and try to work against the rules of their party, which works to no avail.

In many so-called 'democracies', the parliamentary political system seldom works fruitfully. Invariably the same parties dominate. Invariably these parties will be practically identical. It all hovers around centrist politics. As such, backlashes of extremism often surface. For example, the Weimar Republic in Germany was one of the most advanced and pluralistic societies of any day and age. Within ten years it degenerated into Nazism, the lowest humanity has ever sunk.

I saw the Monty Python film Life of Brian (which is, of course, very funny) recently and, rather than striking me as a satire on religion, it struck me as being a political satire. Particularly of the left. It is often in the nature of hard leftist political parties to bicker and quarrel mercilessly. Most socialist groups, for example, heatedly diatribe against the ruling powers but, when it comes to the crunch, they will seldom revolutionise.

What capitalist political systems often demonstrate is that they often lead to monopolies and corruption. The presidential elections in the USA cost billions of dollars, a sum that could quite easily be boosted into the economy to promote growth. The political parties in themselves do not offer solutions to the problems afflicting society. They also have a hard time legislating any policies they may have. (Such as Obamacare, something that should be an entitlement to any citizen of any country.)

As a result of all this, no real democracy emerges. Like in an earlier post I mentioned, the public is sedatised and deprived of free thought. It is the party political system and state power that prevent real democracy from truly flourishing.

Friday, 20 July 2012

My Beethoven bust!


This is what I asked for my birthday and my swell parents agreed to pay for it. It finally arrived!

I might not be a composer of any sort, but this will be my daily reminder to create!

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Writers at work

The physical experience of writing is something I like. When I'm writing a story I hit the keys with all my force. Sometimes people surrounding me in the library will ask me to keep it down. I sometimes also rock back and forth in my chair.

I'm not saying I'm anywhere near as good as the authors below - and never will be. But below are a few authors in the middle of the writing process.

 J. G. Ballard
Paul Auster

Roberto Bolano

William Faulkner

George Orwell

T. S. Eliot

John Updike

Monday, 16 July 2012

Lower-case "conservative"

The term "conservative" carries a lot of weight to it. In Britain, it conjures images of so-called "pragmatic", but uncharismatic, politicians who enforce a lot of spending cuts. In the United States, what it conjures over there is much worse. Conservatives over there believe that too much government is, by extension, synonymous with communism. There is also the new crop of "neo cons" - Dick Chaney, George Bush, Sarah Palin - who fuel corporate greed and wage wars on the "enemy."

Ok, so that is "Conservative," with a capital "C". That is the more political definition. But I believe there's a lot worth being conservative (note the lower-case "c") about.

I would say that, in many ways, I am a conservative because I want to go back to a simpler form of living. Instead of living under corporate law, I would favour a community-run society, with no state intervention - that could be seen as a conservative mentality. It's about returning to a less zealot, corporate existence.

In terms of social values, I may also consider myself a conservative. I'd like less aggression, noisiness and out-and-out stupidity. Instead of going out clubbing, rushing through the streets in a drunken frenzy, I'd like to contemplate the fields. Because the mentality people seem to go for now is just that - aggressive, drunken behaviour. Many people might see that as a "progressive" mentally. But I would rather back to a bare existence - a house in a forest, quiet, contemplative existence. Learn to live with solitude.

I also cherish human artefacts and certain institutions. There are people who would like to wipe these out. For instance, books and libraries are the cornerstones of human civilisation - the classification and codification of all human endeavour. Replace that with screens and gadgets and it ceases to have any meaning; it just becomes the same. There's a new crop of parasitic business men who think that that's too passé - screens are the way forward. I think that if libraries were to go on the brink, then that's killing an aspect of humanity.

Same goes for music downloads. People are now being brought up to look down on the more tactile experience. Owning an album or book is a remarkable thing. Having a file on a computer means absolutely nothing.

In this day and age, there is a lot to be conservative about.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

The death of affect

"I believe in the death of the emotions and the triumph of the imagination." J. G. Ballard

For a lot of people, an easy way to 'access' a film or book is through its level of emotional involvement. 19th century romances and soap-operas are successful chiefly for that very reason - people can connect to it.

I'm not saying I don't like emotional involvement - I do. What I find most fascinating, though, are fantastic worlds wherein emotion is non-existent. Worlds where concepts such as love have no place in the waking world and there is a great level of disconnection.

So, what responses do these works provoke? It'd be odd to say that it's exhilarating - that is, in effect, an emotional reaction. In many cases, ironically, it provokes just that... But most of the time it is intrigue and fascination.

Writers like Don DeLillo and J. G. Ballard, and film directors like David Cronenberg and David Lynch, I find do this marvelously. A criticism often leveled at these artists is that their dialogue is not realistic - "people don't talk like that in real life."

In these books or films, people talk articulately, artificially and stiltedly. I often wish people talked like this in real life. Instead of talking with emotional superlatives, enthusiastically or banally, I'd find it far more satisfying if people talked in a forensic, detached manner in addition to being cold and distant.

The idea that art and creative practices are for emotional liberation is highly contestable. It can consist of that, yes. But that isn't its principal function. Why should music, for example, exclusively be a release of emotion? Often it's just mechanically organised patterns. And why should a writer be a romantic tormented soul? Can't his duty be that of a psychoanalyst or scientist, analysing the world and making observations?

Someone once directly criticised Ballard about his dialogue, saying "No-one talks like that." Ballard replied "I do."

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Thoughts on morality

An innate mechanism

For centuries, people have thought that the little social harmony and understanding that existed came as a result of religious morality. The religious testaments and scriptures, or the various permutations and variations of the religions that exist around the world, were the foundation as to how humans knew right from wrong.

First of all, morality isn't something that one makes up. Knowing that you don't have to kill someone, for example, is a moral judgment. When one forges one's own system of beliefs, these are values. Religion imparts its own set of values (which I think is the wrong thing to do anyway). Most religions, though, claim to have the ultimate verdict on morality. 

Morality is an innate mechanism. Most humans know that they do not have to kill, rob, slander, etc. They know this because they have grown up, made observations and developed their own moral code. What's more is that morality isn't something that is forced upon you from an early age, set in stone. You grow up, make a few observations and then develop an understanding of right and wrong.

Public and private

There is the public sphere and the private sphere. An infringement on someone else's private life is an abhorrent thing to do. This is why, when someone is raped or murdered, action has to be undertaken to set things right.

Morality in the public sphere is a different question all together. In a creative practice, transgressions (such as depiction of pedophilia or incest) can be making points that can, in fact, broaden the scope of our knowledge. In social commentary, such as journalism, opinions which some may deem to be immoral, should be given a space in the public platform. A plural society needs a diversity of voices and opinions. A far-right politician, for example, is entitled to a column in a newspaper. (Even though I would strongly disagree with the things he says.) If his political party were to take over and try silencing everyone's opinions, then that's a private infringement and measures should be undertaken to restore order.

Personal choices

I do not have a full understanding of existentialism. I cannot even claim to be well-versed in philosophical texts. Though the idea of making a personal choice, a moral personal choice, appeals to me greatly. When the redundant religious doctrines cease to have importance, one takes a look at the world, reviews one's personal take on things and acts accordingly. This, to me, is a sensible course of action. Everyone's thought processes work differently and, thus, one's values are different. No primitive morality can prove otherwise.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

The genius of Anton Webern



I've been hearing Anton Webern for years, but only recently have I come to appreciate the true value of his music.

The way these strands of sound are sown together fills me with awe. I also love how, though this music is mathematically calculated and tabulated, it sounds as if it has been extolled from a very brooding introspective mind.

Last time I went to Chile I attended programme including a Webern piece. An old lady sitting next to me said "I could have written that." If only you knew, old lady... If only you knew.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Thoughts on time

"Clocks slay time... time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life." - William Faulkner

 The Origins of the Cosmos

The lack of proof for the Judeo-Christian mythology is abundant. As all of their claims keep getting disproven, they are in constant revision. They seek to appropriate the Big Bang, saying that it was made by God, for example. As there is extensive scientific evidence for the Big Bang, it can't be entirely ruled out. Saying that God created it is, for them, plausible because - what came before the Big Bang?

The fact that we reach to these conclusions is inevitable; human minds look for patterns. Any destabilisation of logic can lead to headaches and confusion. Human minds tend to look for linear continuity - a beginning, a middle and an end. These are typical patterns human minds look for. As such, Judeo-Christian mythology is developed.

How do we grapple with the concept of nothing? How can there have been no precedent whatsoever? The universe keeps expanding and expanding, but what of those sectors where there was no matter whatsoever?

Circularity

The idea that all activities, all taking place simultaneously at once, is, again, hard to get one's head around. How can the French Revolution be taking place if I was born several centuries later? How can the dissolution of the solar system happen if I won't be here?

The discovery of DNA could perhaps signal that we are constantly  re-living the lives of anscestors. Perhaps I had another incarnation in15th century Scotland (my father's side) whilst another kindred spirit of mine lived in 18th century Germany and read Goethe (my mother's side - this is pretty tenous, apparently one of my great-grandmothers had German heritage). Aren't we all just re-enacting what our anscestors did centuries, or perhaps milennia, ago?

Perhaps in a planet located in some distant galaxy, time is circular. Seeing that our notions of time reflect our thought processes, and the way we look for patterns, could some civilazation far, far perhaps function differently? Maybe their cognition would work differently, but what if laws of physics perhaps worked at some different level, whereby time takes different tangents and individuals do not live their lives according to past, present and future, but live in a series of repetitions (whereby certain situations repeat time and time again), time-travelling (by means of worm-holes) or parallel lives (wherer certain situations take place again with slight or drastic variants.)

Posterity

After all this talk of cosmological time travel, let's get back to the real world again. What is it that truly transcends time? I'd argue that it's literature. Journalism and political events, as important as they are, has a very ephermeral quality. That's why I dread this talk of 'relevance.' The endeavour of novel writing, for example, is a way to truly transcend time. The works of Shakespeare will last until our civilasation burns out. Likewise, if people wish to gain an understanding of totalitarian regimes, especially of the communist bent, they can read Franz Kafka. This is why literature, although it is very, very politcal, trumps journalism and political events. When it is done well, it will last all the way up to the hereafter.

All this aside, Faulkner is right. When we forget about time (as we do in our dreams, for example), that's when we really come alive. Hide that clock and immerse yourself in something exhilarating (perhaps an exciting thought) and destroy that damn clock. Destroy it.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Purveyor of filth



Videodrome (1983) by David Cronenberg

A highly thrilling film you should watch.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Sedatives

In a recent post called 'Thoughts on free expression', after declaring injustices in oppressive societies I ended up by stating that the dividing line between democracies and dictatorships are very thin. I'd like to explore that issue in this post.

First of all, I won't write this out as an assertion, I'll phrase it as a question: are most democracies and pluralistic societies living in a 'soft' form of totalitarianism? This is highly contestable. What isn't contestable, and what I will explore in this blog post, is that the mass public are sedated.

What do I mean by this? I think that most people are deprived from free choice and having an independent mind. I think this is because of the education system, the media and political platforms. They are, in effect, sedated and immunised from thinking for themselves.

Just to illustrate this, a good education system that could perhaps inject more enthusiasm into people would be more interactive and get them involved. In England, until GCSE period, 16, students are literally spoon-fed monotonous drivel. They are not encouraged to think for themselves. This is a country which has a fairly good education system, too. In Chile, for instance, it is much worse. Students are often spoon-fed monotonous drivel all the way up to the end of their universities degrees. If they can get into university, that is.

Children need a basic grasp of literacy and arithmetic. (I do not have the smallest dredge of the latter, mind you.) Then, having acquired these basic skills, they should be able to explore subject that interest them personally. So, instead of prioritising something like ICT (which the Conservative government appears to think is grand), do the following. Ask the students what they are interested in and give them books about that subject. Instead of getting an apathetic disinterested youth, you may harness a creative mind capable of thinking for itself.

The problem is that most youths aged 16, 17, 18 are not encouraged to think independently. They are 'sedated' by very bland and unoriginal syllabuses which do not make them look any farther.

The media is the biggest culprit of all, however. Let's forget education, because let's - hypothetically - conclude that it's useless. How does a youngster find information? If he has no inclination to visit a library, how does he find an interest? He either turns the television set on, buys a newspaper or uses the internet.

News Corporation has rightly come under fire recently for corruption. It is companies like these that are the prime culprits of 'sedation' and brain-washing. In the United States they control Fox News, where they implant disgusting politics into the mind of the common citizen. In the United Kingdom, they have a huge influence on the voting ballot. In tabloids such as The Sun and broadsheets like The Times, they can have a dramatic influence on who votes for what in a general election. Having consolidated ties with the Labour party, Tony Blair spent a long time in Downing Street. Once they renewed ties with the Conservative Party, they got back into power. Of course, this is by no means the primary reason why these elections turned out as such, but they have a strong influence.

Politics aside, just think of television programming and social networks. In the 1960s and 1970s, interesting and educating documentaries appeared alongside the standard chat show fare. And chat shows back then cleverly balanced light entertainment with serious subjects. Just look at the archive of Parkinson and you'll see footage of writers, scientists and politicians alongside athletes, actors and pop stars. All this is thoroughly entertaining, too.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with light entertainment. It provides a function. The trouble is when it's all someone's life consists of. People will go to a light Hollywood film and come out diverted. This is great. The trouble is that it doesn't make people focus on the real root of the problem.

A lot of the 1960s counterculture is, to me, pretty contemptible - Woodstock, casual drug-taking, hippiesm, etc. However, it's one of the few times in human history where there has been mass public awareness and curiosity. One has to remember that the sophisticates of the 1920s and late 1890s were a select privileged few. If you look at the bigger picture, poverty was rampant and people were, to put it simply, miserable. In the 1960s and 1970s, however, large masses of people took an interest in different types of music, literature, film-making, etc. whilst having an avid interest in the political side of things. Nostalgia is silly, but this is simply not the case now. That's why I think that, instead of pitying for oneself about it, one ought to take action and cause change. (Either by creative work or political activism - I opt for the former.)

The political situation in the United Kingdom at the moment is pretty torrid. There is no real variation in the political parties. I voted Labour in the last election and will probably continue to do so for the rest of my life? Why? Purely for pragmatic reasons. However, if you look at the ideologies of all three parties - Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrats - they vary little. As such, discourse in Parliament is more limited. In somewhere like Germany, meanwhile, because the way the constituency works there, smaller parties have more seats in parliament. As such, there is a wider discourse in the political platform. (Even so, this does not cause that much of a greater difference - the ruling party is conservative and is the main cause for the austerity measures being taken in Europe.) A more limited 'political discourse' means that people are given less options to take initiatives and exert themselves more.

What I see in the 'Occupy' movements does seem like a good way to remedy this somewhat. However, I still believe in capitalism. The need to repudiate that in this day and age seems anachronistic and nostalgic for a different time. Raising awareness, though, is a good thing. Stopping corruption is a good thing. What we also need is a more 'sophisticated' (so to speak) media, a more original education system and a more varied political platform. Because, the truth is, people are simply sedated. Everything they see is through rose-tinted spectacles.

Friday, 8 June 2012

A universal language?

There has always been sectarian wars and antagonisms between countries. Each country has its own separate identity and culture. What's more is that each person has his own identity and DNA.

As such, certain people would like the world to be more harmonious and homogeneous. The linguist L. L. Zamenhof devised a universal language called 'Esperanto' with the hope of achieving international understanding. The goal pretty much floundered.

Many people claim that music is a 'universal language'. Is it really? Beethoven's 'Ode to Joy' was chosen as the European Union's anthem. It sure is a piece most people have heard, and it is a piece most people like, but there must be numerous people who cover their ears when it comes on.

What is music in the first place, anyway? How do you define it? If you look at scores you can get produce a series of complicated charts, analysing harmony, rhythm, counterpoint, etc. But those are purely technical considerations. Music has to be the most ambiguous art-form. Literature, art, philosophy, film, theatre, etc. can be analysed in multiple ways for the ideas they present about the world. But music is different.

I've learnt over time that musical snobbishness is silly. Ultimately, regardless of the level of sophistication in a piece, it works by the same laws of physics. Whether it's 50 Cent or Brahms, a listener will react to it in different ways. The listener also has different expectations and different notions as to what is bad or good.

Often, when someone unacquainted with modern music runs into a Stockhausen or Boulez piece, they will claim not to 'understand' it. Ok, how do you understand a Boulez piece? Understanding something like that consists of far more than the bare listening, it requires a lot of scrupulous study. Similarly, there's a lot of pseudo-art that uses this smug justification. Someone claiming to intensely dislike a Merzbow white noise track, will receive the assertion "You don't understand it." Often, there is nothing to understand. It consists of how much or how little you put of yourself to the track.

The classical avant-garde of the 1950s systematically tried to distance itself from this notion of 'universality.' A few decades before, Arnold Schoenberg always found delight whenever audiences fled from premieres of his pieces. If all music is a universal language, that all people can understand, how can you get such vociferous provocateurs wishing to inflict discomfort on the 'lay' listener?

This idea of 'universality' can become awfully dangerous at times. The Nazis appropriated the music of Richard Wagner in their hunt of world domination. They took Wagner's much-loved operas for their own purpose and agenda. The world did not come together as a result; in fact, irreparable damage was caused.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Unity

Over the course of time, I've come to prefer something that's structured. As if it has been laboured, as if it has some sort of craft behind it.

I certainly enjoy improvisatory and aleatoric elements in music, literature and film, but usually when it's weaved into something consistent. I can like a lot of free jazz and improvisation - John Coltrane's Ascension, for example - but even something like that has a concept in its backbone. You hear 'ascending' scales and melodies appearing and disappearing and each performer is allocated his own solo. It's not that chaotic.

This is one of the reasons why I am so disheartened by most of John Cage's pieces. I recall reading a quote from Stockhausen years ago (recently I have scoured the internet on the look-out for it, but it appears to have disappeared!) about how he became disenchanted by Cage in his later years. He said it was "amazing" how someone like him could be considered a "composer." You expect a degree of "craft." Years ago, I may have strongly disagreed with this statement, but I've come to agree with it.

And I find it far more interesting to structure something. I'm not musically literate, but if I were a composer, I'd be fascinated to explore how motifs, musical themes interweave together etc. etc. I find that far more interesting than grabbing musical instruments and do something noisy with it (often based on some obscure concept). So, I would call myself a 'constructivist' rather than a dogmatist. And, if I wanted to explore noise and improvisatory ideas, I'd try to make it unified and composed.

In film, again, I am on the look-out for consistency. All of Andrei Tarkovsky's films have a sense of completion to them. Someone like Jean-Luc Godard, on the other hand, is anarchic in the worst sense of the word. A scene depicting a cafe will suddenly jump onto a scene of a motorway, with no definable correlation linking the two together. It does not feel like a finished work and scenes and ideas to not fit in together to form a cohesive whole.

To make a non-narrative film (or novel) work is a lot harder that it seems. Tarkovsky's two non-narrative films, Mirror and Nostalghia, feel 'complete.' Similarly, a lot of David Lynch's films also have this quality. A lot of the time, these different strands of narrative don't seem compatible (and they often aren't) but that is precisely the point. He wants you to look for patterns, to confuse you. But, again, it feels complete.

I find that I can't really read fiction that's really messy and untidy. I tried reading Charles Bukowski's Post Offiice, but gave up after fifteen or twenty pages. Writing can be ambiguous or unclear (as William Faulkner's is) yet still feel as if it has an overriding structre. I found that I could not immerse myself in Bukowski's book because, not only could he not string sentences together correctly, it felt as if it was banged out carelessly. It was quite painful to read as a result. Maybe that was the point,  but I didn't like it one iota.

Friday, 25 May 2012

The 'weird' label

There's a tendency to classify anything that's a little more unusual as 'weird.' Below I will explain the dangers of using such a label.

First of all, this term is used both positively and pejoratively. The trouble of using it positively is that whatever work in question becomes 'cute' and commodified. It can be nothing more than a novelty and sometimes a way of impressing others by liking something unusual. The trouble with using it pejoratively is that instead of engaging with the contents of the work, a person may instantly reject it out of fear. They do not want to tread in those waters.

Also, something may be weird, but weird to what? What's the frame of reference here? If you have been hearing 4/4 music all your life, something in 3/4 may strike you as radically avant-garde. If you have been watching hollywood box office hits, any European film may strike you as something from Venus. Etc.

The thing is that many products that people classify as 'weird' have a lot to offer and can be making serious comments on a variety of issues. For example, Trout Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart is way to often, even by those who claim to admire it, classified as a novelty record. There's enough musical material in that album to write a PHD thesis on. People will simply perceive the jagged guitar lines and abstract lyrics as 'out there' and leave it at that. Similarly, a lot of William Faulkner's techniques are there for a reason, not simply to 'confuse' or 'alienate' the reader. The mentally deficient characters like Benjy in The Sound and the Fury and Vardaman in As I Lay Dying are there to cause defamiliarisation. They create awkward constructions and unusual phrases because Faulkner is trying to understand the mind of such a person and inviting the reader to take on the challenge.

So, I think that this term can become dangerous at times. As I said before, it's either a way of proving something or rejecting what may frighten you.

Monday, 21 May 2012

"Relevance"

Something a very political person will always emphasise is the need for an article or column to be relevant. Whenever judging a novel, its merit has to be deemed according to its relevance.

I find it depressing whenever this is emphasised. What I find most depressing about is the closed-mindedness it entails. You don't see things from a wider orbit, everything is judged in accordance to a formula.

Why should politics be exclusively about current events? History has a lot to teach us. It may sound a little pretentious, but time itself is circular! It's my view that no time period should be prioritised, we should analyse all time periods with equal regard.

Also, when analysing politics this way, everything must be judged objectively. Ok, that is all in good stead, but why should that analysis be prioritised? Because a discussion where everything is looked at logically, with no personal expression, is terribly boring.

There's something terribly party political about this line of argument, too. No, I can't look at what happened forty years ago, that has nothing to teach, I'm only concerned as to what affects my party right now.

Those protests from the 1960s reek of this. Many students wanted to tear down university syllabuses because of their lack of 'relevance'. In many ways, many university syllabuses are in serious need of revision, yes. But how would these very political people revise it? They would make it about the here and now, they'd make it about how the terms and conditions of their political party.