... und was wirklich ist, das ist vernünftig.
A weekend in review, with books, television, and movies.
On Friday I went in to the department, picked up whatever mail I had, transferred some vidos from the departmental iMac to my external drive, and showed Vogelkopp video clips to Mark Mears.
Another purpose for visiting Van Hise was to borrow a few volumes of the Historisches Wörterbuch der Philosophie (in 12 volumes, Darmstadt: WBG / Basel: Schwabe), particularly entries on logos, ratio, Vernunft—Verstand, and Verstehen. Regarding the V entries, the section on Vernunft is huge ... it goes on and on and on. I went down to the 5th floor, put some money on my copy card, and spent about $5 killing trees. I returned to the department, replaced the volumes, chatted with Jolanda, admired Hans’ haircut, and chatted with him for a while until he needed to get work done and I needed to go do other things. He informed me that the 12th volume of the above-mentioned project has been published. He also gave me a copy of the most recent issue of Monatshefte, which—at over 220 pages!—includes eight articles on the special-issue topic Integrität.
Hans also recommended the ‘Darstellung’ entry in (volume 2?) Ästhetische Grundbegriffe, as well as Stephen Halliwell’s The Aesthetics of Mimesis (Princeton UP, 2002). We talked a bit about Goethe’s text “Einfache Nachahmung der Natur, Manier, Stil,” in conjunction with Betty Edwards’ Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. He suggested looking at the commentary/notes in volume 12 of the Hamburger Ausgabe, in which, it seems, Manier is tied / connected to the hand (versus the eye?). This led to a discussion on the concept of genius, but this is taking me too far off-topic ... for now.
I eventually returned home and returned Corina’s phone call; she was looking for an excuse to get out of her apartment (after a long day of packing, etc.) and also needed to pick up three books by Giorgio Agamban that she had lent me earlier in the semester:
Evidently the English translations are better. Eva Geulen is supposed to be an expert of sorts on Agamben, so if I decide to work with them further it might behoove me to contact her.
We ended up watching Once Upon a Time in Mexico, a film that I enjoy a great deal, but which Corina had not yet seen. It differs from Sin City (same director) in an interesting way, even though both were shot using a digital camera. Whereas Sin City, like a few other recent films, has a sort of formal perfection that almost makes it too perfect and without tension or excitement, Once Upon a Time in Mexico is a fantastic and superb mess. It is a myth-making venture, and openly so, it seems to me. From the choice of the title to the choice of shots that epitomize Mexico, from the political commentary and idealism to the depths to which corruption runs, it is about making myths, and in this regard it differs from the more character-centric Desperado that precedes it. El is introduced by way of a legend, a larger-than-life tale, and his own past is related in dreams and daydreams. Curiously enough, the only light humor in the movie comes from these flashbacks (absurd adventures, a slight nod of the head between lovers, etc.); that of the present is a more cynical, dark, and ironic.
I am not the only one to call Once Upon a Time in Mexico a sprawling mess. It is a short film at only a hundred minutes, but it feels longer. It has a grandiose scope and an almost baroque sensibility regarding its plotlines. That having been said, it is a planned mess. Little happens without a purpose, a feeling that can only been intensified upon remembering that it was written, directed, filmed, and edited by the same man (who also wrote the music). There is a parallelism involving some scenes that in retrospect provides a sort of ironic anti-foreshadowing: Agent Sands says he does not wish to see the gum-selling kid again, and see him is exactly what he does not do. Until the other night I had been blinded, so to speak, to the two competing metaphors and modes of cognition in the film: sight and hearing.
In Depp’s Sands we have a character who likes to set up pieces and watch them fall from a distance. There is Barillo’s blind assistant, who checks to see if a face is compatible by feeling it out. When Ajedrez betrays Sands, she marvels at how he did not see it coming. Her own police chief pretends not to see her raised hand so as to ignore her. In contrast Jorge talks to himself and records conversations, Billy talks in English to a young man who cannot understand him, Barillo plays the piano, once blinded Sands relies on hearing to find his targets, our mythical hero and his band are musicians, and at the end even the once-cloistered president begins to hum. The sight-hearing conflict comes down to blindness and the deceptiveness of appearances on the one hand, and music and the physicality of making sound/music on the other.
I had brunch with Sebastien, Hal, Craig, and Ken at Lazy Jane’s Saturday afternoon. The woman taking the orders was a bit more frazzled and curt than usual, even though the place was not as busy as it had been during the semester. Last week they lost/forgot my order; no such difficulty was encountered this time.
Afterward we walked back toward Baldwin and stopped at a small yardsale (student moving out and selling his stuff), and from there we crossed the street and spent some time at St. Vinny’s. After a while I ended up in the book section. I was tempted to purchase The World Treasury of Physics, Astronomy, and Mathematics, edited by Timothy Ferris (Back Bay Books, 1991) for $2.00, but since I am leaving town in a few months and because it smelled very strongly of cigarette smoke I decided against getting it, though eventually Sebastien did purchase it. I also considered Mechanics of the Mind by Colin Blakemore (Cambridge UP, 1977), which had some very interesting content early on regarding older models of the mind and cognition. I will instead look it up in the library. If they do not have it there, I can always return to St. Vinny’s, since I doubt it will sell in the next few days. Robert J. Sternberg’s The Triarchic Mind: A New Theory of Human Intelligence (Viking, 1988) was likewise interesting, but not content-rich enough to justify aquisition. I took notes from a few other volumes.
From John Gardner’s On Moral Fiction (Basic Books, 1978) we have the following comments about art, criticism, and philosophy:
Paul Snyder wrote in Toward One Science: The Conergence of Traditions (St. Martin’s Press, 1978):
The footnote at the end of the paragraph points to note 9, page 205:
I returned home after that shopping trip and got far too little work accomplished Saturday afternoon. In the evening I read through part of The Real is not the Rational by Joan Stambaugh (SUNY Press, 1986). The book itself provides a coherent if not exactly concise history of rationality, leading up to rebellions against rationality and rationalism, focusing in one chapter on irrationalism. After “The Temporalization of Consciousness” (Chapter 4) the author arrives at her goal: “The Buddhist Way.” While I find Stambaugh’s prose and analysis informative and a joy to read, her project is not my project, and this is useful for my work insofar as this book serves to illustrate the tendency to throw the baby out with the bathwater or to call for a conceptual shift (I hesitate to say paradigm, overused as that term is)—that is to say, the western philosophical project/tradition dead-ends, so we should instead look to the eastern one as an alternative.
It was reported that w00t is the “3rd Favorite Non-Dictionary Word” according to a contest. It lost to ginormous and confuzzled. More amusing, however, were certain comments pertaining to this little tidbit.
OH NO!—dictionaries will cause a faster evolution of the language! Perhaps we are ascribing too much agency and power to dictionaries. Then again, dictionaries can be used as authorities, and if we are good readers of 1984 and similar parables, then we must conclude that language and thought can be influenced in a top-down manner. Yet keeping words out of dictionaries does not cause language not to change. Cause and effect, my dear Sv-Manowar. That and correlation and a few other topics. But onward I must go ...
Alas, google had problems finding instances of nookyoulure, though Merriam-Webster Online did suggest nuclear, and at the end of that entry it was stated that:
That having been said, I, too, have issues with dictionaries being proscriptive, but unlike Capt’n Hector I suspect that I know what proscriptive means.
Saturday afternoon/evening I decided to get caught up regarding Alias and Lost. I only had one episode of the former to view, but several of the latter. There went a few hours.
The Rambaldi plot that has been growing over the course of four seasons came to a head in the latest episode, the season finale. With one Derevko sister finally dead, it appears, certain aspects of the plot now seem resolved, such as the story of the Passenger, etc. But Irina Derevko (Lena Olin) is once again alive and on the loose, and although season four was rounded out, so to speak, it ended with a massive cliff-hanger, the type that would feel like being blindsided by a car if that were not so ... appropriate? As for roundness, we began the season by bringing the sisters together, and ended it by tearing them apart; we began with the distrust of Sloane and ended with reflections on that topic and an admission by Sydney that she found one of his actions sincere; we began with Sydney’s erstwhile partner having his ear pierced by her and end with more than just a hole in his ear; we began with the death of Irina, Nadia’s desire to find her killer, and Jack’s lies, and ended with Irina alive, Nadia meeting her, and Jack having been the one duped. Jack clearly does not like being tricked, and anyone who did not enjoy Victor Garber’s delivery when preparing to torture Elena clearly is not a fan of the show.
I expect more Rambaldi next season, though I am not sure how Sloane will be re-integrated, but that hardly matters, given the promise of the cliff-hanger season ending. What I also find so nice about Alias is the way in which it can take plot elements, and sometimes whole plots, from recent (or even older) popular movies and condense them to a forty-minute episode—I say that I like this because it demonstrates how plot, understood as a story idea rather than the intricacies of action and actions, plays into so-called high-concept popular entertainment but is also so meaningless. If a forty-minute episode can deal with a plot idea better than a two-hour movie, then the plot idea, as understood by formulaic script-writers and producers and the viewing public, can hardly be the most important element of the piece. The last episode of season four borrowed from any number of zombie movies; it was a zombie-movie episode for all intents and purposes.
As for Lost, I was not disappointed. The final bit of the final episode was padding in a way, but it brought the season full-circle. The finale did not so much provide answers as wrap up topics/problems and compartmentalize them while at the same time re-focusing our attention on what could happen in the next season. Good serial writing. One strength of Lost is good writing combined with good enough acting and directing; in terms of keeping me hooked, however, it is the refusal to reduce its strangeness to a simple scientific or simple mystical solution.
Americans love simple solutions. What is, at the end, so frustrating about the films of M. Night Shyamalan, for example, is that they reduce to simple solutions; they have simple keys. They are traditional ghost stories for the most part, but his plot twists are of the boring sort.
When mathematicians study knots, they do not study the boring sort, the sort that can be untied. A knot that can be untied is not really a knot, just a simple string that has been made to look like a knot. In Shyamalan’s films one can untie the knot; once we realize Bruce Willis is a ghost, we can go back and reinterpret all the previous scenes and realize that they were just clues that we misread. Were we smarter or better informed viewers, we would have or could have read the film properly. The simple mysticism of popular television, be it new-agey or christian in perspective, is often the same. Mystical experiences fall outside the realm of science, so we learn in Miracles and Revelations, but they are reducible and easily understood—all one has to to is reject science and accept the right kind of religion. This is boring mysticism. Knot interesting
I suspect that Lost will eventually resolve its mysteries; it might become boring by resolving matters either in favor of Locke or in favor of Jack or it might provide an answer that neither saw coming (and which, hopefully, we did not either). It might also transcend its current setup and reformulate matters in an intriguing fashion. That might be several seasons down the line, if the show continues to do well. If the current producers/writers jump ship, I expect the show to sink immediately, as was the case with The West Wing, which deteriorated as soon as Aaron Sorkin left. But so far Lost has pleased me because while it keeps dropping hints it at the same time resists interpretation (unless one jumps to a meta-interpretation level and, for example, realizes how useful such a strategy is in serial writing because it keeps people hooked and brings them back for more). Simple allegories and such involving the characters’ names (and that of the show itself) are difficult to establish. One might indeed label this show, and several others like it, postmodern, but doing so is most useful if one at the same time rejects deconstruction and the claims it might make regarding the show’s meaning or lack thereof.
Today I watched the stupidest thing I have seen in a long time. Alone in the Dark, while an utter pile of rubbish, was better insofar as it did not pretend to be more than it was—rubbish.
Months and months ago I heard about What the #$*! Do We Know!?. I furthermore discovered that despite its supposed grassroots popularity, it was in fact a propaganda machine for a cult. Cult, schmult. That does not bother me that much ... once you realize what it is, it no longer effects you much, and it is possible even for cult propaganda to have redeeming features. Alas, this was not the case. I decided to view it so I could fairly judge it.
The movie’s thesis can be broken down to three parts:
These are the three main sections of the film, which combines a narrative about a deaf photographer on medications who is distressed by herself and her life with commentary by a variety of talking heads. The supposed topic discussed by the talking heads is quantum mechanics and how reality is—in reality—much different than reality as we normally perceive it.
There are nods to pro-individual/subjective interpretations against the tyranny of controlling structures (organized religion[s], everyday life, pharmaceutical companies [if one reads further literature by the filmmakers]), though the solution is in accepting another structure of thought, that of Ramtha (a 35,000 year old warrior spirit from Atlantis channeled through JZ Knight).
There is no real science in the film, and one would be hard pressed to find any specific statements about quantum mechanics—Heisenberg is invoked once, and a few vague statements are made about electrons and atomic nuclei. Furthermore the filmmakers treat everday events as if they could be extrapolated from the quantum world. On top of that, one little dipshit talking head continuosly referred to quantum mechanics as a science of possibilities. Probability is fundamental to quantum physics, but one should not equate probability and possibility, even though one might see the former as a structured subset of the latter (not all things possible are equally probable, and some might have zero probability in a given system). The choice of the term possibility was no simple error, however: it was calculated, and the reason is simple—it gives the impression that anything is possible, that there are no constraints.
In fact the show is based upon several axiomatic metaphysical concepts: the infinity of the universe, the primacy of unity, and the existence of god and spirit. These are not demonstrated at all during the course of the film, they are assumed.
On top of that we can add numerous examples of pseudo-sciences masqueraded as scientific fact in the film:
These three major scientific claims are a tied directly to the three parts of the film’s thesis: that reality is not really what we think it is, that we influence reality, and that we can therefore re-form our own reality according to our wishes/desires/thoughts. All the claims in the movie have been debunked and commented upon sufficiently already.
The movie is trash. The production values are mediocre. Only one talking head was an expert (and he later made claims of being quoted out of context), whereas the rest are basically cult members (including a priest accused of sexual abuse). Good actors are employed to little effect—the internal narrative could have made a nice short film on its own, were certain sections removed and/or reshot. Curiously enough, the metaphysics of What the #$*! Do We Know!? fits in very well with the mythology of the Star Wars universe ... which probably tells us more about the formulaic nature of new-agey cults than anything else.
—May 29 2005