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.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Thoughts on Chilean society

I feel a strong attachment to this culture and its people. At the same time, I feel that the political situation there is just as vital to follow as what goes on here. Yet, by the same token, there's a lot to Chilean society that discomforts me, which I'll write about below.

Something I covered in a recent post is the class divide. Well, now I'll personalise that subject a little more. Having grown up amongst upper-middle class communities in Chile, there's a lot there that, to me, speak in volumes of the faults of humanity as a whole.

Knowing some of these people personally, I have fond memories of my childhood. Still, when I think back to the system in place there, of these people's beliefs, I can't help but feel resentment.

First of all, a heck of a lot of people of fascist in the truest sense of the word. (Some may not even be apologetic about this.) Many people genuinely believe that if Augusto Pinochet hadn't intervened in 1973 with a coup, Chile would be living under communism. Ok, if you know anything about Chilean culture you'll, for sure, find this laughable. But, even if this were true, how would it justify mass torture and murder?

And many of these people don't realise how lucky they are. Just one mile away from their luxurious houses, painstakingly maintained by poorly paid maids, live the working class in ramshackle homes. Whenever I pose this type of statement to these people, I often receive the answer (no kidding!) "they're just lazy."

One person who shall remain nameless told me he sees "no sense" in the current student protests because, the fault isn't in the education system, it's attitudinal. There's nothing wrong with the staggering disparities, he says, working class people are simply lazy. There's nothing wrong with education, those people are simply not motivated.

I couldn't help finding this ironic. This is a kid who lives in the high hills of Santiago, Las Condes, and literally does nothing all day. What's more is that he has had the luxury of going in and out of university three or four times. Other people, with just the kind of capabilities, can't get in at all. Why? They do not have the money for this kind of education and, more importantly, they haven't been sufficiently educated. Often, with the same amount of credits as an upper-class kid, a student from this social standing is deprived from the opportunity of a university education.

What I find more depressing is how none of these people see the historical moment just served to them on a plate. These protests are crying out for reform but the government is too incompetent to do anything about. And the small portion who support this government (a mere 27%) are too blind to see the truth and too stubborn to hear their arguments.

Why, then, has all this come to place? Instead of living under communism, with no coup, Chile would have gained far more. It may sound obvious, it's ABC, but it has to be said. The system put in place by Pinochet has not been revised since 1990 (by a centre-left government who were lethargic about it and now by a centre-right government who are too clownish to act upon it). These people I've written about above can't reason about this because of an ideology passed onto them from their parents. They've inhertited unquestioningly, without seeing the bigger picture. Insulated, repressed and homogeneous, they live secluded in their little communities, as they selfishly take advantage of these resources. And those protestors? Oh, just communists. Just look at their Facebook and Twitter pages and they'll eloquently let you know.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Don't try to convert me

I have always had my principles and I am very stoic about people trying to change my attitude. Always. For example, I remember a football match where my friend's dad organised special VIP tickets to get into the dressing rooms of the opposition, Colo-Colo. I thought it'd be blasphemy to go in and refused. Angered that my friend would go in, and cheer at their goals, I remained outside. Later on I denounced him as a "traitor."

Almost fifteen years later and this person is very insistent that I should change. In many ways, he's right. In many ways I cannot go on like this. I understand that I have to make compromises. All these years of solitude have begun to take their toll on me. For one thing, I'd really like to meet a girl I could connect with. But, once more, I understand that this demands making compromises. In the first place, to lure a girl, I have to talk to her -  and impress her with vain behaviour. Yet I don't like vanity and this is something that's painfully evident when you meet me - reflected by my awkwardness, the negative impression I air and it's even reflected by the clothes I wear.

Once more, because of my stoicism, it still bothers me when people insist that I should change. That I should go out every Friday night and get hammered, that I should listen to contemporary popular music, that I should be more 'tolerant', etc.

And what irritates me more than that is when people claim that I'm trying to prove something. I really aren't. I don't pursue my interests to be 'different' - I have a genuine appreciation for them. The thing is that I don't go from door to door, like a Jehovah's witness, instructing people to read Nabokov or Borges. I don't meddle with other people's lives and wish that other people would not meddle with mine. That's what bothers me when people try 'converting' me.

Though I understand that I do need to make compromises. These compromises don't consist of anything special, they consist of small sacrifices to gain small things - going to university so that I can earn a decent living later on, taking a plunge by going to a bar so that I can find a 'girlfriend'...

My friend's mother told me "you should get into the system." I really don't want to do this; I'd suffer if that were the case. I was within the system until the age of fourteen or fifteen and it was so stifling that I simply had to get out. For me it would like living under communism or being a devout Catholic.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Thoughts on free expression

In a pluralistic society, free expression and diversity of opinions should be optimised. The need to silence and repress these opinions is the hallmark of any totalitarian regime.

When Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses was published, a Fatwa was issued against him and he had to go into hiding for several years. While Rushdie is critical of the fascist Islamic groups in Islam, there was no intention of blaspheme in the book. Below is a video of Christopher Hitchens airing his opinions on the matter.



Still, I will go further, insensitivity should never be a valid reason to censor and silence supposedly bigoted opinions or novels. When a Catholic nun claims to be offended by Ken Russel's The Devils, or when a Muslim is aghast by a cartoon defacing his religious leader, why should they declare that that opinion must be silenced? Don't they, in turn, become bigoted?

The need to transgress is integral to any 'artist' and the need to provoke is vital for any columnist. In another Christopher Hitchens video I saw someone he debated claimed that (paraphrasing) "In an auditorium full of people, a member of the audience should never stand up and shout out FIRE!" Hitchens replies "you should not use such a bullshit example."

Indeed, the need to derail, disorientate and jostle people is, once more, absolutely vital. Don't forget that Galileo, despite the precision of his calculations, was shouting out FIRE. When society continues on the same single-minded course, provocation is essential for progress. By provocation, I don't just mean the simple need to shock, but the airing of remarkable discoveries. These discoveries are often contrary to a society that holds them in contempt, but they are able to lead us to become more aware of ourselves and, indeed, more pluralistic.

Whether it's Venezuela or Ecuador, where newspapers are shut down for criticising populist governments; or North Korea, a secretive totalitarian state that literally starves its people to death; or Syria, a country that kills its citizens for daring to believe in the idea of a democracy; or Iran, where the internet and other media outlets are constantly supervised... These are countries with grievous flaws that need to be criticised  - and any attempt to do so should not be met with sadistic bullying...


Though, of course, are all pluralistic countries really that better off? What's the difference between democracies and dictatorships? Are the citizens of Western Europe, U. S. A. and Japan really not just automatons? The media outlets and various kind of institutions often try to drug citizens with various kinds of sedatives - television programming, routine jobs, etc. - until they are immunised. Not that different from the kind of apocalyptic visions that Huxley had in Brave New World... And, in such a society, are journalists really able to express their opinions? Are people, like in Brave New World, labelled and compartmentalised by institutions and just sedated by various forms of entertainment?