Saturday, April 19, 2014

Mind modelling

As you may have noticed, in general members of book clubs regard the characters inside books exactly the way they regard the characters outside books. The facts that the former are made of the alphabet and the latter of muscle, tissue, and bone are of little relevance.
— from The Summer without Men, by Siri Hustvedt.

Science backs this up. It's the same brain centres lighting up in response to a stimulus, whether in the world or in our minds.

This is the essence of a short online course I recently completed, and it's a curious serendipity that I was concurrently reading a novel that addressed the same concept within it.

By the age of 3 or 4, we develop a theory of mind, applying the sense of our own personness, to others, real or fictional, in order to understand them, to fill in the gaps.

Real life is good experience for understanding and appreciating literature; and fiction can be good practice for real life.

Certainly the girls attending the narrator's summer poetry workshop learn this lesson.

The Summer without Men was not the book I expected it to be. Having read Hustvedt before, I knew it wouldn't be chick lit. There's some angry feminism about it, not all of which I agree with.

The narrator's a poet, an academic. As much as she references Kierkegaard, I never fully warmed to her.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Reading Gabo online

The Handsomest Drowned Man In The World
"even though they were looking at him there was no room for him in their imagination"

Light Is Like Water
"Household objects, in the fullness of their poetry, were flying through the kitchen sky on their own wings."

Tuesday Siesta
"She bore the conscientious serenity of someone accustomed to poverty."

A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings
"a Portuguese man who couldn't sleep because the noise of the stars disturbed him"

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Transcendence of form

Beethoven's music is Hegelian philosophy: it is at the same time truer than this; i.e., it contains the conviction that the self replication of society as something identical is not enough, indeed, that it is false. Logical identity as the esthetic and produced domination of forms is at once practiced and criticized by Beethoven. The seal of its truth in Beethoven's music is its suspension: the transcendence of form, through with form for the first time achieves its inner meaning. The transcendence of form is for Beethoven the portrayal — not the expression — of hope.
— T.W. Adorno, as quoted in Hegel — Purpose, Results and the Philosophical Essence, by Scott Hornton, in Harper's Magazine.

I've just finished another online course, this one exploring Beethoven's piano sonatas. I've learned quite a bit about the structure of Beethoven's music, and about the historical context for all the rules he was stretching to breaking point. And I've come to some understanding about some of the elements that attract me, about why I love Beethoven so much (even though I wasn't especially familiar with his sonatas before taking up this course).

I got to realizing just how modern Beethoven is, and it got me thinking about Kierkegaard and the crisis of modernity, and I started drawing connections, and recognized an ironic stance in Beethoven's work, how self-reference can only come from self-awareness, how he could be said to be composing metamusic. Beethoven of course precedes Kierkegaard, but Hegel would've been all the rage, and Kant: "The moral law within us and the starry heaven above us!" — which Beethoven had scrawled in a notebook. The music is becoming. And Beethoven is infinite.

And in writing my final assignment, I found scattered across the internet evidence that others have thought as I have. A reassuring thing.

And I am reminded to pick up Thomas Mann again. I must read Doctor Faustus.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Life has taught me to understand books

Learning to Read

If I had to look up every fifth or sixth word
so what. I looked them up.
I had nowhere important to be.

My father was unavailable, and my mother
looked like she was about to break,
and not into blossom, each time I spoke.

My favorite was The Iliad. True,
I had trouble pronouncing the names;
but when was I going to pronounce them, and

to whom?
My stepfather maybe?
Number one, he could barely speak English –

two, he had sufficient cause
to smirk or attack
without prompting from me.

Loneliness boredom and fear
my motivation
fiercely fueled.

I get down on my knees and thank God for them.

Du Fu, the Psalms, Whitman, Rilke.
Life has taught me
to understand books.

Franz Wright

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

I am resplendent in divergence

The end is the best part. After the stop. I love the end. Sometimes I start chanting that bit spontaneously. "I am resplendent in divergence." It's a holy thing.

I've been looking for this song forever, because upon a time I owned it, on vinyl, and I think of it often, every time I encounter a new ism. Surely my vast knowledge of isms can be traced back to this song. I learned more isms than any 12-year-old ought to know. I developed a weird interest in the Great Schism, and also the teachings of Nestorius. I think solipsism may still be my favourite, though, because it was my first.

Sometimes when I hear bells, I say, out loud, "Bells! I can hear bells!"

Nobody ever gets the reference, though, with my chanting, or the bells, or the diction of various isms.

Having seen Divergent this weekend with my daughter, I am now, of course, resplendent in it.

Thank you, Internet, for restoring this divergence to me.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

We are all comic characters

Lola's eyes gleamed with pleasure and interest as she listened to my tales of the cosmopolitans, all of them true but all fictions nevertheless. Shorn of intimacy and seen from a considerable distance, we are all comic characters, farcical buffoons who bumble through our lives, making fine messes as we go, but when you get close, the ridiculous quickly fades into the sordid or the tragic of the merely sad. It doesn't matter whether you are stuck in the provincial backwater of Bonden or wandering down the Champs-Élysées. The merely sad business about me was that I wanted to be admired, wanted to see myself as a shining reflection in Lola's eyes.
— from The Summer without Men, by Siri Hustvedt.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Closing the circle

The Circle, by Dave Eggers.
I mean, all this stuff you're involved in, it's all gossip. It's people talking about each other behind their backs. That's the vast majority of this social media, all these reviews, all these comments. Your tools have elevated gossip, hearsay and conjecture to the level of valid, mainstream communication. And besides that, it's fucking dorky.

Like, smile, favorite, zing, tweet, thumbs up, vote up, recommend, pin, forward, plus, doubleplusgood.

Recommended for anyone who has ever tweeted, messaged, sent an email, answered a customer survey, reviewed, commented, posted a status update, joined a community.


Society buys into the idea that ever increasing levels of "transparency" are of ultimate benefit to all. The Circle implements what sounds like great ideas at first — politicians that wear cameras on them at all times, criminals that are easily identifiable in a crowd, children that can never be abducted because they are instantly trackable via GPS, etc., — but along the way, all personal freedoms are one by one jettisoned, and the reader is faced with seeing (literally) what it would really be like to be at all times monitored, and "known" by anyone else who wanted to observe what you were up to.

So Many Books:
The Circle was a page-turner, the horror of watching Mae get sucked into the hivemind is delicious.

Betsy Morais: Sharing Is Caring Is Sharing, The New Yorker
But even without the searing wit of "1984," the book is capable of landing on point—when it's at its most irksome. Where "1984" has the vigilant Police Patrol and Thought Police, "The Circle" has SeeChange and Clarification. Surveillance isn't a bad word; it's a gift, even a human right.

Margaret Atwood: When Privacy Is Theft, The New York Review of Books
The nineteenth-century art critic John Ruskin—who famously said, "Tell me what you like and I’ll tell you who you are"—viewed bad taste as a moral offense, and the young Circlers subscribe to this dogma: nothing gets you the brushoff more quickly than a pair of uncool jeans. Utopia, it seems, is an awful lot like high school, but with even more homework.

Ellen Ullman: Ring of Power, The New York Times
She is more a high school mean girl than an evil opponent. Perhaps this is what Eggers wants to say: that evil in the future will look more like the trivial Mae than it will the hovering dark eye of Big Brother.