Monday, December 26, 2011

On Manicheanism

Saw The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo a couple of days ago. I gotta admit, it was surprisingly well made. What stood out in the film is the overly moralistic tone of the story. I guess there is something about good/evil dichotomy that makes us feel comfortable.

What matters instead is the division of the world into good and evil, a division that begins with splitting sex into positive and negative experiences, then ripples out from that in fascinating ways [...] It is the ingenuousness and sincerity of [Stieg] Larsson’s engagement with good and evil that give the trilogy its power to attract so many millions of people.
The Moralist by Tim Parks

I think of a few major problems when we think too much in terms of narrative. First, narratives tend to be too simple. The point of a narrative is to strip it away, not just into 18 minutes, but most narratives you could present in a sentence or two. So when you strip away detail, you tend to tell stories in terms of good vs. evil, whether it's a story about your own life or a story about politics. Now, some things actually are good vs. evil. We all know this, right? But I think, as a general rule, we're too inclined to tell the good vs. evil story. As a simple rule of thumb, just imagine every time you're telling a good vs. evil story, you're basically lowering your IQ by ten points or more. If you just adopt that as a kind of inner mental habit, it's, in my view, one way to get a lot smarter pretty quickly. You don't have to read any books. Just imagine yourself pressing a button every time you tell the good vs. evil story, and by pressing that button you're lowering your IQ by ten points or more....
from Ben Casnocha's post on Tyler Cowen's Talk

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Quote of the Day

The way to test a great work of art is to ask how it survives decontextualisation, transposition into a new context. One good definition of a classic is that it functions like the eyes of God in an Orthodox icon: no matter where you stand in the room, they seem to be looking at you. For instance, by far the best cinema version of a Dostoevsky novel is Akira Kurosawa's The Idiot, which is set in Japan after the Second World War with Myshkin played as a returning soldier. The point is not simply that we are dealing with an eternal conflict that appears in all societies but that, with each new context, a classic work of art seems to address the very specific qualities of that epoch.
Slavoj Zizek on the new adaptation of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus

Video of the Day: Did Coffee Fuel the Age of Enlightenment?

Tour de France Moment of the Day: TDF 2010 Stage 17 Finish

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christopher Hitchens: A Man of Letters

My intellectual hero Christopher Hitchens passed away. His courage, wit, intelligence, and sense of humour will be greatly missed. May your writings and moral force continue to inspire us.

"A life that partakes even a little of friendship, love, irony, humour, parenthood, literature, and music, and the chance to take part in battles for the liberation of others cannot be called 'meaningless' except if the person living it is also an existentialist and elects to call it so. It could be that all existence is a pointless joke, but it is not in fact possible to live one's everyday life as if this were so."

"I shouldn't be in these gardens?" Who the HELL are you? I think you're about as smart as you look! You're about as smart as you look! I shouldn't be in these gardens, what! You see what brain rot - you see what brain rot descends on people. Unbelievable!
typical Hitchens... :)

Addendum: Andrew Sullivan remembers Hitch
Christopher Buckley's tribute to Christopher Hitchens
My favourite Hitchens video

Postscriptum: Hitch-22 was the best autobiography I read last year (here's an excerpt). The prose flew like river, yet every single word hit right on the spot. I gotta admit, I really had hard time putting it down - even during my finals week :)

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Saturday Night Music

"Цагаан цайлган сэтгэл шиг
Цасан цайдам алсалж
Өврийн илчээ цантуулсан
Өвлийн тал минь цавцайна аа"

I wonder where has all this great aesthetic sensibility gone. I guess sometimes in culture, as in economy, we regress.

Addendum: Lunch with the FT: Donald Keene

Yasunari Kawabata (try Snow Country), Yukio Mishima (The Temple of the Golden Pavilion) and Junichiro Tanizaki (The Makioka Sisters) all worried that their country was beginning to lose its soul and, in their different ways, tried to rescue and to memorialise it before it got ravaged, so to speak, by the west.
+ Tyler Cowen on whether we are stagnating aesthetically