Wednesday, 27 February 2013

The selfish 20%

I have written in previous posts that Chile is a divided, polarised nation. Although GDP figures are high (the highest in South America), this still hides staggering disparities in wealth. Wealth is ludicrously disproportionate. This is the topic I'd like to concern myself with this in post.

The democratically elected leadership of Salvador Allende created a lot of antagonism between left/right, rich/poor. This, obviously, culminated in the 1973 coup of Augusto Pinochet. Pinochet privatised education and business and established an authoritarian form of capitalism.

This structure has not been fully reformed. We now have a neo-liberal model of free markets which doesn't fail to address these injustices and inequites. In many ways, it simply perpetuates them. A social democratic system is desperately needed, more so than to merely tinker and reform the existing system.

So, because education and business are privatised this leaves wealth in the hands of a very small percentage, who are ludicrously rich. This constitutes about 20% of Chile.



And these people have all the power. They control the dreadful media, which presents a shallow and peripheral view of the world completely discrepant with reality. They are entitled to a university education, practically unthinkable for a working class citizen.

Meanwhile, the remaining 80% live modest lives. Worse still, they are often ridiculed and satirised by people in the higher echelon. They are often given the epithets 'flaite' or 'suitico,' insouciant insults which ignores their circumstances and living conditions.

And, perhaps more disturbingly, the 20% hold onto vile reactionary views. I'm sure if all this were put to such a person, they would describe it as 'naive' or 'poetry.' They wouldn't realise that by refusing to argue and construct coherent and concrete arguments that they are thinking as little as the subjects they purport to attack.

So, because these people control the media, and because they espouse fatuous reactionary views, Chile stagnates. Free inquiry cannot emerge.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Thoughts on Planet Zhelanie

Right, it may seem very crass of me - maybe even a little egocentric and shallow - that I'm about to write a small blog post on one of my short stories.

Planet Zhelanie is my favourite piece I've written to date. That's not to say that it's the most well-written. Nor that it's without its flaws. (The whole piece might just be seen as a flawed experiment.) But it's dense, seamless and ambitious. There is far too much going on in all departments. At the very least, this should be a novella, not an eight page short story. This is why I am very eager to develop it into something bigger.

The afterlife as a parallel universe

I don't adhere to any religious creed. I am Agnostic, which I think is a very healthy position to take. All imaginative visions of the afterlife have struck me as so tawdry and simplistic that it's clear that they are man-made explanations.

First of all, why does the afterlife have to take place in some kind of spiritual sphere? Do we carry souls? Are we monitored by angels? Angels?

The thought that the afterlife could take place in a parallel universe has intrigued me. (Please be aware that this is a creative conjecture, not something I seriously espouse.) The laws of physics in this universe are always the same. But in a parallel universe, could they be different? If the laws of physics functioned differently, perhaps time might as well. Let us imagine that there are a multiplicity of worm-holes etc., which might cause us to experience the same situation time and time again (with slight or drastic variants). And if time functioned differently, perhaps our cognition might be different as well. We might perceive that only a few days have passed, when in fact thousands of years have elapsed.

The nothingness of the self

"Personality is a mirage maintained by conceit and custom, without metaphysical foundation or visceral reality."- J. L. Borges

I was very influenced by an early essay Borges wrote called 'The Nothingness of Personality.' In this essay, Borges rejects the Romantic notion of an artist being a palpable presence in the text. Instead, the text must be a series of clearly defined symbols with no traceable progenitor.

The fact that I disagree with this is beside the point. (From my own experience, any piece of writing you commit to paper will have some aspect of your personality in it, even if Borges claims that the very idea of a personality is illusory!) The idea of an erased self, though, is very interesting.

I read up on Aristotle's take on the afterlife, which I'm sure Borges had read (after all, he had read everything - especially classical literature!), and which strongly relates to one of the central ideas of the piece. The Platonic doctrine, which was inherited by Christianity, maintains that you have a soul etc. and that as long as you live your life altruistically and have done good deeds, you will go to Heaven. You still have a clearly defined personality and it is this component which is transposed into a heavenly celestial plane.

The Aristotelian view is that, when you die, your personality and ego is completely extirpated. You must lose all aspects of your personality in order to subsume yourself into this celestial body. This is how Planet Zhelanie works. You must lose your ego and become a kind of cipher with no identifiable soul, character or personality. Your success on this planet is dependent on the degree to which you reduce your ego.

Great literature and Russia
Though this planet I imagine in this piece may accommodate itself to whichever individual that enters the it (in a rather cheesy way, I describe this in the story as something like 'through concentration and application I managed to crack the codes of this ambiguous planet'), the central character is an aspiring Russian writer.

Russia is a very complex country with a very rich literature and history. (Along with Aristotle, an epigraph I would like for the expanded version would be a quote from Dostoyevsky saying that no foreigner is capable of understanding the complexities of Russia.) There is a real breadth and scope to the novels of Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy and Turgenev. They have now attained canonical status. As the character develops in the planet, the greater writer he becomes, even becoming the author of both War and Peace and The Brothers Karamazov.

Hazardous wishes 

This idea of wishes degenerating into chaos was influenced by Andrei Tarkovsky's film Stalker and, to a lesser extent, Solaris. This idea might seem a little trite. But, as for Tarkovsky, it is a starting point for a number of other themes and interests.

The character's wishes include meeting his deceased father, becoming a masterful novelist and meeting his deceased wife. As explained above, he only attains any of these wishes by eliminating his selfishness and egocentricity.

Borgesian themes

The whole piece is very Borgesian. The most palpable aspect is how 'a circular temple is engendered' which produces a series of children who study a massive tome the writer has written. I guess this is a little nod-of-the-cap to the story 'The Circular Ruins.' There are also two episodes where two characters, who are each others' double, in a room surrounded by mirrors. Suggesting infinity, rather than duality.

Time

As mentioned above, time works differently in this planet. How so? In the case of this planet, time is circular. The structure of the story is episodic. There are a series of episodes where the character is under less control, followed by episodes, under the same setting, where he has more control.

Subservience, salvation and love

The character is named Igor, which I guess could be a nod to Frankenstein and symbolical of how meek and mild he is. (In fact, I chose the name because it's Russian, I only realised its significance when someone else pointed it out.) The character begins in the story as a child. He is small, weak and frequently trodden on. As he becomes older and reaches old age he practically becomes a God in the planet after writing a literary work and having fathered a whole school of progenies as a result.

After been subservient to others (other writers, his father and a double who ridicules him), Igor finds salvation through love. (That does sound lame!) So, just as in this meaningless universe where things work when love is in place, so it does in this one. He finds his salvation by meeting his wife Isla. (Spanish for 'Island' and thus connotative of salvation.)

If you'd like to read what I would call a draft version, email me at simoncangas@hotmail.com

I'd also like to point out that, if you are one of nine people to own my Confronting Reality book, that is not the current version as there are a few errors as regards wording.

Below is a 8.15 minute audio excerpt of the story.


Thursday, 14 February 2013

A better world

Fiction is a lot more interesting than real life. Aren't people in real life uninteresting? In fiction, they are interesting. Can't you get anything you want in real life? You can get it all in fiction. Isn't real life too undemocratic? It can be more egalitarian in fiction. Are you a masochist and you find real life too democratic? It can be undemocratic and unfair in fiction!

Many people assume that your true 'self' is exhibited in daily life. People claim that they only 'get to know you well' through meeting you and spending time with you. Really? In real life, you speak through a funnel. You use good manners not to cause offence. You're often play-acting. You make jokes and banter around to make friends and be popular in a community. Do you really exhibit your true self?

Through fiction, you often do. I'm not claiming that all writing has to be personal (it often isn't). But in many ways, you create a world you find superior. It's often a kind of liberation. Say if it turns out to be very dark and disturbing and you give to one of your friends to read. That person finds you to be very friendly and polite. He is surprised to find your fiction to be very disturbed and maudlin. But this fiction is in fact closer to who you really are. You haven't self-censored yourself and you are laying bare all your fantasies.

An example from popular culture are the films of Woody Allen. His films invariably involve a neurotic, nebbish character undergoing some kind of drama (most of the time of his own undoing). The character is usually an exaggeration of Woody Allen's own personality. These films are a very stylised, personalised vision of how the world should be (or how Woody Allen thinks the world should be). Innocent ditsy women go after New York intellectual types all the time. These people are always adulated for their work. These films are Woody Allen's fantasies of what he'd like the world to be like. Indulgent, true, but wonderfully liberating.

So, fiction is indeed much more interesting than real life. People are more eloquent, eccentric characters are often appreciated for their quirks and there can be convoluted narrative which can reflect our troubled consciousness. It's one of the places where people take shelter.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

The transcendental power of film

Transcendence is important to me. It's never had any spiritual connotations. So I don't do any Buddhist or Hindu 'transcendental meditation' or anything of the sort. The need to be taken to a higer state of consciousness, and being taken beyond one's usual range of perceptions, is something that ameliorates the boredom of hum-drum reality. I don't necessarily seek this through spirituality or new age philosophies; much 'art' is capable of doing just that.

For me, cinema is the medium most capable of awakening transcendental feelings. With a book, or a painting, or a play etc. you are concentrating far more to disentangle a semblance of narrative or a sequence of shapes. With cinema, this is less true. In many ways, you drift through the images and words. A cinema theatre is often synonymous with dreaming and, in many ways, that's true. The level of cognition is not as rigorous; the lights dim, you sit back and you are practically transported to a whole new realm.

The film directors who take me beyond these 'usual range of perceptions' tend to be more spiritual. These include Robert Bresson, Carl Theodor Dreyer and Andrei Tarkovsky. It's interesting that their religiosity is by no means orthodox. It's usually far more idiosyncratic and personalised. (Bresson described himself as a 'Christian Atheist', which might seem like an oxymoron to some.) Spirituality for these directors in many ways allows for 'a sense of wonder' and, perhaps more pertinenty to this blog post, unearths miraculous moments which defy logical scrutiny.

In many ways, these kinds of films centred around a 'miracle' lose their potency after the first viewing. This is probably why they don't figure as highly in the Sight & Sound polls. Unlike Citizen Kane, they aren't so technically rich and complex in a way that repays countless viewings. Films like A Man Escaped and Ordet, throughout their entire trajectory, lead to the great 'miracle.' Multiple viewings are thus rendered obsolete.

Ordet's final scene involves a dead woman lying in state coming back to life. The entire film, in a slow and methodical fashion, details the gruelling tribulations she endures before giving birth to a dead child. There is antagonism and ribaldry between this family, which is Catholic, and another protestant family. (If my memory serves me right - I might be wrong! It might be the other way round...) The couple's younger son is forbidden to date a younger girl from the opposite family. The protestant priest callously sees this woman's death as a punishment from God. The woman's husband is agnostic and rejects all these religious speculations. Another relative, after excessively reading Kierregard, goes insane and believes he is a new messiah capable of miracles.


Ordet, Carl Theodor Dreyer.

The Protestant and Catholic families congregate in the funeral procession. The son who sees himself as a messiah mutters grand words instructing her to wake up. She wakes up. The religious denominations are united and embrace one another. All rivalries dissipate. The agnostic renews his belief in God. This is an incredible and unprecedented moment because up to this point the film has played out in such a naturalistic way. There has been an emphasis on the squalor and the abject realism of these downtrodden characters. The 'miracle' indeed takes you to a higer transcendental plane.

As I said before, transcendence doesn't have to be religious! The transcendental power of A Man Escaped is alredy given away in its title. We see a WWII political prisoner who meticulously tries to escape from his prison cell. As ever with Bresson, all drama is reduced to its bare minimum. (Bresson, in fact, never hired professional actors, so as to reduce any semblance of theatricality.) No emotions are exhibited. The characters' poises are so nuanced in a way that conveys inner thought. Untypically for Bresson, this is his film with the most propulsive narrative. We have felt so attuned to the thoughts of this character, and have followed him so arduously through all his attempts at escape, that we are on the edge of our seats as he escapes from the prison cell.


A Man Escaped, Robert Bresson

When it comes to Tarkovsky, I will retract the statement that this kind of miraculous/transcendental cinema doesn't hold up to repeated viewings! His films, however, aren't entirely centred around 'one' miracle. My two favourite films of his, Andrei Rublev and Mirror, are so multi-faceted and complex that they lend themselves to repeated viewings. Although the casting of the bell in Andrei Rublev has the same quality as the two aforedescribed scenes, there have been far more layers of narrative. After Andrei Rublev's trauma, in which he renounces art, goes to a monastery and takes a vow of silence, we follow an adolescent boy who builds a bell without knowing the architectural formula (though he claims throughout that he does). There are also brilliant battle scenes with the Tartars which one can gorge oneself again and again! Mirror, meanwhile, is a film I can watch time and time again and come out enraptured. It's not a linear narrative film anyway; it's more of a collage. Its poetic quality and the beauty of the photography means that its transcendental power is more subtly expressed. The reason why it might not stand up against Citizen Kane is that it is so subjective. It lacks the kind of grandeur and universality of that film; it's more of a personal meditation.


Mirror, Andrei Tarkvosky