Aug 092013

Interesting enough to watch the next season.

My favourite moment of the season was in the first episode when Sherlock, trying to catch a taxi, pauses and pictures a map of the city to figure out how the car will have to move through the one-way streets and then sets off on foot to cut it off. That’s smart.

Aug 082013

Why does Hypertext have to become the means of narration?

Can’t it be a thing that contains and organizes and links bits of narrative?

Aug 072013

The density of language, the intensity of tone, and the paucity of action define Deadwood for me. I’m on edge, missing stuff and yet nothing is happening. This season I realized how much this show is about politics: fighting for and allocating power in a field with multiple independent actors. It is smart, exciting, and exhausting.

Aug 062013

“Darwin’s achievement was in showing how evolution operated without reference to any direction or end state”

John Gray, “The Real Karl Marx” NYRB LX.8: 39

Aug 052013

Thinking a bit more about Carr’s point regarding unnecessary communication

Carr notes that realtime communication makes courtesy distracting and annoying insofar as we think of communication in machine terms, i.e. in terms of efficiency. Citing T. Adorno he writes that:

To dispense with courtesy, to treat each other with “familiar indifference,” to send messages “without address or signature”: these are all, Adorno wrote, “random symptoms of a sickness of contact.” Lacking all patience for circuitous conversation, for talk that flows without practical purpose, we assume the view that “the straight line [is] the shortest distance between two people, as if they were points.”

When I first wrote about Carr’s idea, I responded in terms of Yuri Lotman’s notion of an implied audience. Thinking about my family’s chat groups, I suggested that a lack of courtesy can at time imply and, thus, create intimacy rather than distance or efficiency.

Since then I’ve been thinking about other contexts and the way a lack of courtesy can reflect something other than an economic approach to sociality. Specifically, I wonder if part of the issue isn’t that with texts and social networks and even email and various chat protocols, we are writing and we lack the skills and conventions to do so.

In the world before the telephone, correspondence was written to a person but was often understood to be at least potentially public. Letters were shared. They were sometimes saved for later publication in memorial or historical volumes. Writers made letters within these expectations and had forms and language suited to a double-address as simultaneously intimate and formal (and thus acceptable if public). Likewise, they had the language and forms necessary to speak in letters formally to strangers.

We do not have the forms available to use today. Few of us are practiced in writing publicly. We speak, we aim for authenticity and we thus find ourselves standing in the public-square-become-the-internet embarrassing ourselves and annoying others by writing “authentically” and “intimately” before strangers. Or conversely, writing “economically” to intimates.

To rework Carr’s example: the annoying text that says “thanks!” will be annoying to a stranger or mere acquaintances—perhaps as Carr suggests because its is inefficient—but perhaps because it is too intimate. Formality is demanded. But what is the formal expression of “Thank you” in a text message? I don’t have the answer but that is my point: this question of written form is the problem, not the tech. And if “Thanks!” is annoying between friends–and it can be annoying–how much of it is simply chatterboxes will be chatterboxes? Another problem with undeveloped language forms rather than tech.

My point: I think we are unpracticed with writing. We have lost the skill. A generation that didn’t write letters because they could telephone, now have to write and to teach the young how to write and we are lost.

Aug 052013

Last winter as I was watching a lot of crap superhero movies, I wondered what could possibly interest me about them. This spring I had an idea related to genre and my dissertation of all things.

My thinking, sketched out, is that in generic films, everyone knows what to do. The props guy, the editor, the sound people. Everyone already knows what the film should be. So a director, Joss Whedon for example, can just say “I need X” and person A will know what X is without much direction. Whedon–a fan of the genre–can simply enjoy and cheerlead and brainstorm as the people around him make the film. And so, genre manages the production. In a sense, genre is the direction.

So what’s Whedon’s contribution? Writing. He creates the situations that offer and legitimate generic pleasures as enjoyable and again-new.

Thinking about superhero films generally, I think that, for me at least, they foreground this specific writing task and, thus, focus my critical attention. I don’t really care very much about the effects or the situations or whatever. I watch and I am thinking about:

1. the choices made in adapting the source

2. the system of motivation and stakes devised to move the action

3. how effective 1 & 2 are in normalizing the rest of the film’s work

In other words, I think the superhero movie–which I am more or less sick of now–served as a kind of controlled experiment about the topic of my dissertation while I was writing it.

I suspect that these films may offer a similar focus to other viewers interested in other things.

Aug 052013

Word list made while reading Quiet.

  • unambitious
  • quiet
  • too influenced by the people around you
  • pleaser
  • always got a book
  • The choice between reading and living

Three calls to action:

  1. stop madness of constant group work
  2. unplug and get in your own head more often
Aug 042013

Not much to say about the movies I’ve seen in the past few months. The worst of the lot were just loud and shiny, exhausting. Logging them in a batch.



The Best of the Lot

Hannah Arendt

A film dealing with a non-dramatic but fierce intellectual conflict. How do you represent a fight that happens in writing between people who compose their words sitting alone and still in their homes? The film doesn’t shy away from showing the stillness. The actress creates intellectual depths. The dialogue offers exposition deftly without condescending. An exciting movie.

Man of Steel (first twenty minutes)

The opening segment of this movie—which offers up a completely imagined alien world ripe with imagery and symbolism and is wonderfully free of geek-dream, Marvel Universe-style exposition—is pretty much the best thing I saw all summer. It is also better than most of the science fiction movies I have seen these past few years. The view-screen technology was interesting and new. Better still, the mammalian insect mount—a live animal, a biological presence in a highly advanced technological culture—and the way the ships echoed this biological model suggested an entire way of life in miniature. Quite an achievement.


Completely Good

Louis Cyr

The ellipses make the narrative work. A scenic biography that moves confidently through the life. 

World War Z

An old-fashioned quest narrative. The narration could have tracked travel using the map device from The Raiders of the Lost Ark without ruining the tone. CGI and frantic violence were there at the beginning but the movie kept toning the noise down after that, finding drama and tension in slowness and silence. The best blockbuster of the summer. (Book log here.)

Children of Men

Beautifully shot and moving vision of a near-future apocalypse. A nice companion piece for teaching The Road.


Completely Okay

The Kings of Summer

This film is about the moustaches. The mystical snake-charming coming of age moment—save the girl!—feels off key but actually shows the movie’s cards. This hour and a half is a wish: “please please please make me an old-fashioned man, tough, competent, primitive and unemotional. So my dad will love me.”


…sur fils plutôt que père.

The Man of Steel (Everything after the young Clark saves the bus)

This movie slowly descends into the mud of too-loud sound design and pointless CGI stupidity. There is plenty here that, I suppose, looks cool—if cool is determined in your belly and scrotum and is pronounced “Awesome”—but nothing makes sense. How much does Superman weigh? Because in this movie, his Mass x Speed = enough force to destroy a mountain. Cool? Maybe but it doesn’t make sense. He takes off in flight and leaves a crater beneath him every single time. Cool? Maybe, but who wants a local hero that destroys your streets every time he moves from one place to another?

In other words, the already exaggerated-out-of-all-reasonable-proportions source story is being even further exaggerated until the whole exercise—and it becomes an exercise in sound and animation—becomes self-defeating. The “realistic” special effects create a completely non-sensical image of our world that is so unreal that you can’t care. Worse, it makes judgment—and important part of narrative—impossible: in what universe does it make sense for a woman looking at a city reduced to cinders (literally) say “he saved us”? I mean what exactly has been saved? And what happened to heroes who prevented damage? There was a time when they did that.

Thought of in another way, the movie suffers from the increasingly common problem a filmmaker setting up a strong opening, that either establishes a sense of place or a strong character or a particular mood, but then has no idea where to go from there. To often, sensation and excess are offered up as if they amounted to narrative resolution.

People laugh about the obligatory happy ending in Classical film, but I’m a bit nostalgic. Today, Hollywood has no idea how to end movies.


Time Wasters (Unless Seen on hot day to have air-conditioning)

The Great Gatsby

Iron Man 3

Star Trek: Into Darkness

Aug 012013

…We need by an effort of the mind to elucidate our own feelings. At present our sympathy and our judgement are liable to be on different sides, which is a painful and paralysing state of mind. … We need a new set of convictions which spring naturally from a candid examination of our own inner feelings in relation to the outside facts.

–John Maynard Keynes

 Keynes: Know Thyself  August 1, 2013  Tagged with: