Sunday, 25 March 2012

The professional critic

What I most like about blog writing is that it's pretty much like having your own column - all rules off the table, write whatever you want.

Yet I can't help but feel that I am partly responsible for being one of the many people pumping out garbage online... With the influx of such garbage featured in innumerable blogs, what role does the professional critic have?

That role may be eclipsed by blog writing... But for the better? Do the views of an angsty seventeen-year-old compare with those which are thoroughly researched and argued?

Of course, this isn't something I entirely agree with. I have a blog because I feel an urgent desire to share my opinions on certain matters. I do it because (oh-hum...) I 'have to.'

A popular argument is 'freedom of the press.' Many leftist critics feel that true freedom of speech is non-existent in the printed media. While a Big Brother-type monitoring of the internet may well be imminent in the Anglophone world (and it certainly is in Iran, a country, incidentally, this blog gets hits from), there is far greater freedom to express yourself online. This blog, for example, is ridden with the word 'Cunt,' something I am pretty sure would not be admissible in a broadsheet column...

My views may not be 'thoroughly researched and argued,' nor even as well-written as those of a professional critic. That aside, this blog is online for everyone to see. For better or worse.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Sex and fantasy

The Pervert's Guide to Cinema by Slavoj Zizek

Fascinating and thought-provoking.

Friday, 16 March 2012

The technological compulsion

When you sit down, with the aim of writing a literary masterpiece, it isn't as easy as it was for ol' Dickens, Shakespeare or Tolstoy. Why? There's a new addiction that in may ways works against and stifles creativity - technology.

From personal experience, there are listless times when I open a Word document with the intention of writing a story, but end up squandering it by watching videos on You Tube. (Often, rather pathetically, of William F. Buckley debates.)

This is a widespread claim many people make. Writer Jonathan Franzen literally has to lock himself in sound-proof room without any internet connectivity whatsoever. And this is certainly something that doesn't affect only the arts; many people with pre-occupations get sucked up for hours on end online when they should ideally be completing important tasks.

This is evidently a topic relevant to many youthful thinkers. Three people I met over January and February described their own frustrations about technology. Michael told me he wants to write a 'dystopian novel' on the subject; Doug talked about how we live in a high-tension society, constantly shifting from one activity to another; and Sofia said that she often likes to look out of the window on a train, instead of flitting her hands across a technological gadget.

Another striking comment Doug made was "I like boredom." I sympathise with this, and I think more people should. Just like Sofia says: looking out of a train window, looking at landscapes, instead of being sucked into technological behaviour, has its merits.

For instance, there's this bench I adore in the countryside. I was sprawled over it, this bloke walked past, saw me and sneeringly remarked "Busy, eh?" A statement he never would have made had I been fiddling with a mobile phone.

On another occasion, I was on the very same bench reading A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. A former school peer ran by and asked "So are you just chilling, then?" NO, I WAS READING, YOU CUNT.

I can't stand that attitude people have, that they think they can interrupt you if you're reading a book. It's not regarded to be that important. You'd never interrupt someone in the middle of a game of tennis, would you? Reading is as important as tennis!

Those moments of boredom, of contemplation, should not be regarded as wasteful. Next time you're sprawled on your bed, looking out of the window or travelling for endless stretches of time - don't look down on them. Switch your mobile phone, or your iPad, off and immerse yourself in that world for a little while.

Still, if all this compulsive behaviour was wiped off the face of earth, what would we replace it with? Doug astutely pointed out that there's something quite "worrying" about an elderly bearded Russian man contemplating next to a fireplace.

Besides, this blog is (for good or for worse) a result of technology. Most works of fiction are created with technological assistance. Who knows, maybe these technological gadgets will help engender a whole wave of important novels. And you can't discount all the advances science has made thanks to it...

But, of course, one can't help to feel resentment when one is magnetised to the computer screen for hours on end. This blog post, incidentally, was written whilst procrastinating writing a pressingly important 4,000 word essay...

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Cosmopolitan literature

As my short stories piled up, a (self-evident) discovery was made: all of my stories are set in foreign locations.

Trying to get my head around why this is so, I arrived at quick conclusions about my identity - am I Chilean or British? I grew up in Chile, yet my surname is King; I have bright blond hair. Yet I don't align myself with British culture - I relish every time the English football team suffers defeat.

What usually happens with my fiction is that I take what I write very, very seriously. So I philosophise about my output. I try to develop a 'literary aesthetic' and make half-baked comments about my work.

One of these half-baked comments is what I call 'cosmopolitan literature'. I love setting my stories in different locations, different contexts and different time spans.

While a couple of my stories are quite faithful to history (when I read out my story 'Perpetual Death...' to a creative writing society, the people complimented me by saying that the story really actually felt like communist Russia), I don't methodically research the setting to make it seem accurate. Why?

If you're writing an historical novel, you obviously want to research. It has to be accurate. (Still, the chances that you will make mistakes is highly likely.) I see myself as a writer of fantasy. All that pretentious talk of 'writing about the unknown' has a grain of truth for me - I set my stories in far-away locations to immerse myself in the unknown. (Please bear in mind that I cringed as I wrote that.) Fantasy is in no need of historical accuracy and anything is admissible - even anachronisms.

Also, I am someone who loves to read world literature. This is even reflected by the degree I'm studying - comparative literature, the study of translated texts. I love looking at Russian literature, South American writing, oriental fiction - you name it.

When you read through, say, a Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky novel, you are left with a certain impression of the context. What is this impression? Without reading any history books, you get a slightly vague impression. Taking that vague impression I have of those times and places, I harness and explore them in my short stories.

I am a citizen of the world. I can't stand the hippie notion of "we're all together, let's take hands and sing happy songs." But I certainly love the idea of cosmopolitanism. In San Pedro de Atacama, the Chilean desert, as I walked, mixed in with the Spanish, were snatches of French, German, Portuguese, native indigenous languages. Lovely. I, for one, love the idea of a cosmopolitan Britain. Far from thinking that it will erase national identity, a mix of cultures will never do a country any harm.

One of the criteria academic critics love applying is what 'nationality' a writer is. Language is a key component that determines this. Joseph Conrad was a Pole, but he wrote in English. I write in English, but I would detest being labelled as such. Does my writing reflect English sensibilities, though? Maybe. But I deplore the idea of setting one of my stories in a realistic version of this dull little island.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Thoughts on Barton Fink

I've seen this film a number of times and it never fails to mesmerise me. It is possibly the Coen Brothers' densest and enigmatic film.At the same time it's very, very funny. Here are some thoughts on it.

The title character, Barton Fink, is a Jewish playwright of social realism. A hyper-sensitive neurotic, his prerogative is to write plays "for the common man." But this is where the dramatic irony comes in. When in the presence of such people, he is cajey and disrespectful.

But one of the things that works most beautiful is how the Coens' show how such intellectual preconceptions can lead to grievous discrepancies. Upon the enormous success of one of his plays at Broadway, Fink moves to Hollywood. In the hotel he stays at, his neighbour is one such 'common man.'

Played by John Goodman, Barton is initially irritated by his presence as he wants to work on the screenplay he has been assigned. When they talk, Barton constatly ignores what Charlie has to say, babbling on and on about the supreme importance of the "common man."

As time wears on, they get on good terms. Barton has always thought that Charlie is a run-of-the mill hard-working guy. He has this intellectual formula he applies to these people, so he equates him as such. But he is very wrong; Charlie Meadows is a serial killer, who decapitates his victims.

Another obvious theme at work is writer's block. Barton thinks he's too dignified to sell out for Hollywood, but he does so anyway. The thing is that he doesn't realise how little talent he really has. Arrogantly assuming that he is God's gift, when he is asked to write a wrestling picture, he is unable to fulfil the requiste. He churns out another social realist drama, to the bafflement of the Hollywood hierarchy.

The film is set in the commencement of the second world war. When Charlie shoots one of his persecutors to death, he utters "Hiel Hitler." Barton of course thinks grandly of the 'common man', but he doesn't realise that, at the time, facism was wide-spread. A member of the left-wing elite, and a Jew, he obviously deplores the idea. But he doesn't realise that his great friend, the common man, is a buddy of the Fuhrer.

I can't write this post without mentioning William Faulkner. If you have read this blog in the past, you probably know I'm a big fan. His apperance in the film is something that lends it historical accuracy. Faulkner worked in Hollywood as a screenplay writer and, like in the film, was an alcoholic. Though, unlike the film, he wrote his own novels! However unfair that may seem, this once more reveals the deluded mind of Barton. For him the Faulkner character is someone to be praised and adulated; yet the reality is that he is a fraud who doesn't write his own material.

The Coens insist there is no symbolism at work in the film. Everything is there for ambiguity's sake. For me, the greatest moment is the ending dream sequence. Barton is on the beach, carrying a box containing the severed head of his deceased lover. He sees a beautiful woman walk past. "You're very beautiful. Do you work at the movies?" "Don't be silly." She kneels down in front of him, as the waves tide in. It's all strangely moving and affecting.