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.