Sunday, December 30

Christmas 2007

I always give a lot of books because I have found that I am pretty good at giving books.

For father I picked up Motherless Brooklyn because father is from Brooklyn and a fan of Hammett, Chandler and the like. The fact that father may soon be motherless played no role in my selection and I was pleased that he did not ask whether it had. I also gave him The Great Escape: Nine Jews Who Fled Hitler and Changed the World because it has become something of a tradition for me to give the man a book with Hitler in the title every Christmas. I then purchased Absurdistan because, while he is something of a Holocaust scholar, father does enjoy funny stuff.

For mother I picked up a pair of George Pelecanos novels, Hard Revolution and The Night Gardener. Pelecanos is no doubt a little grittier than what mother is used to, but he writes and produces for The Wire and mother loves The Wire. Also gave her Black Swan Green, Blood Meridian, The Beggar Maid and No One Belongs Here More Than You because she'll dig 'em.

For brother I got The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2007 because it's just about the only book you can get the guy to read. Must be something about that title. Forever the iconoclast, brother apparently delights in making this yearly offering his only required reading.

For brother and girlfriend, two foodies nonpareil in my social circle, I picked up a smörgåsbord of books: The Ethics of What We Eat, The Tummy Trilogy and The New Yorker Book of Food and Drink. To give a foodie a book on the ethics of food seems a bit like giving a sports fan a book on the meaninglessness of sports. "Yeah, yeah, I get it. Now lemme go enjoy my veal chop/ballgame in peace." Nevertheless, I hope they read it.

John Maxwell Coetzee


Is the Internet destroying our culture, or is it just annoying our snobs?

Reason Magazine reviews Andrew Keen's The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet Is Killing Our Culture
Keen’s depressing book laments techno-utopianism, free content, and the rise of citizen journalists, filmmakers, musicians, and critics as cultural arbiters. It is a book, in other words, of spectacular elitism.

Keen, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur turned full-time critic of user-generated Internet content, argues that our most “valued cultural institutions” are under attack from the hordes of lay hacks, undermining quality content with garbage. His central argument is—to pinch a word he loves to use—seductive. He’s right that the Internet is littered with inane, vulgar, dimwitted, unedited, and unreadable content, much of it fueling outrageous conspiracy theories, odious partisan debates, mindless celebrity worship, and worse. And then there’s the stuff that’s not even entertaining.

Keen refuses to confess that there’s even a smattering of intellectually and culturally worthy user-driven content online. If you do find something decent in the “digital forest of mediocrity,” he attributes it to the infinite monkey theorem: Even simians, if permitted to indiscriminately hit a keyboard for an infinite amount of time, will one day bang out Beowulf or Don Quixote. (Silly me, I was under the impression that monkeys had hatched the idea for VH1’s Scott Baio Is 45…and Single.) Apparently, these monkeys are discharging so much free content into the cyber-strata that they threaten to bury culturally significant work, dilute good craftsmanship, and cost me, a journalist and “cultural gatekeeper,” my job. So I guess I’d better take Keen’s thesis seriously.

Thursday, December 13

La Jetée

I'm only about 45 years late on this, but La Jetée, a sci-fi/philosophical film essay constructed almost entirely of still frames, just blew my mind. Here it is now for your viewing pleasure...

Check out the Criterion Collection DVD for a La Jetée/Sans Soleil double-feature.

Wednesday, December 12

Sight & Sound

Pitchfork's Top 50 music videos of 2007

Thoughts upon (finally) completing Part I

Fyodor strikes me as a significantly drunker and significantly more sinister version of David Brent. The buffoonery, but more specifically the penchant for starting on a path of falsehoods and then compounding his misstep with each sentence becoming more cringe-inducing than the last. And then, once he has finally back himself into a corner, blurting out the most caustic utterance possible and passing the conversation to his adeversary (for it is always adversarial with Fyodor) by way of a verbal hand grenade.

I am bothered by Ivan. With Fyodor, Dmitri and Alyosha I kind of feel like I know where the stand; I have at least some understanding of their motivation. Ivan has been sitting on the sidelines a bit and he remains a puzzle. He concerns me.

The narrator fascinates me. His disdain for Fyodor in the early pages is one of the early highlights of the book for me. But thus far I have found the narrator to be inconsistent in tone and in allegiance. As Part I wore on it seemed as though he was growing fonder of Fyodor and increasingly unsure of Alyosha. It’s interesting to think about the identity of the narrator. Not necessarily pinpointing one specific individual, but rather considering their sex, their class, their age, etc. One assumes Dostoevsky never identifies the narrator.

I have a feeling that the role of women in the book is going to be an interesting topic for discussion. Dostoevsky has tidily cleared out the mother figures and to this point in the novel left us only with Grushenka and Katerina Ivonova, two females of rather limited virtue. But then again, compared to the Karamazov clan the female personages appear downright saintly At the close of Part I we have the emergence of Lise. Who at present seems to be little more than a prop to lure Alyosha from the monastery.

There is much more to say but it grows late. Perhaps we can build om this and get things percolating.

Tuesday, December 11

Talks and Homilies

"Much on earth is concealed from us, but in place of it we have been granted a secret, mysterious sense of our living bond with the other world, with the higher heavenly world, and the roots of our thoughts and feelings are not here but in other worlds. That is why philosophers say it is impossible on earth to conceive the essence of things. God took seeds from other worlds and sowed them on this earth, and raised up his garden; and everything that could sprout sprouted, but it lives and grows only through its sense of being in touch with other mysterious worlds; if this sense is weakened or destroyed in you, that which has grown in you dies. Then you become indifferent to life, and even come to hate it. So I think."

Here's the (important) note on this paragraph in my edition: "Victor Terras rightly considers the passage to be 'probably the master key to the philosophic interpretation, as well as to the structure'" of B.K.

Take that as you will. It's also pretty bad-ass.

Friday, December 7

The Panamanian Canoeist?

Sounds like a best seller to me! The Guardian discusses how the hyper-reality of fiction techniques has transformed the way we consume the news:

Norman Mailer alluded to this blurring in a 1960s phrase about "the novel as history, history as a novel", while the French thinker Jean Baudrillard, with his theory of "hyper-reality", argued that humans, unable to make sense of the complexities of the modern world, experienced real events as if they were fantasy. Yet such ideas - as the concept of Burn's novel acknowledges - have now truly found their time.

The obvious temptation is to blame journalism, and it's certainly true that these blockbuster news stories are partly shaped by the fact that today's journalists (in print and television) have much more space and much less fear of legal censure than did their predecessors. But I think the news increasingly feels like a novel or screenplay because so many people now live like figures in fiction, defining themselves as "characters" within what artistic criticism calls a "structured narrative".

The Grand Inquisitor

If you're not familiar with the Temptation of Christ, as I wasn't, this should help out with the chapter.

Thursday, December 6

Where we're going we don't need roads

There's a meaty post waiting to be made about why science fiction is accepted as a mainstream film genre but founders as a disrespected literary genre. Whether we measure in box office returns or critical acclaim, science fiction on the big screen sits atop a lofty perch. Certainly it is a visual genre and that plays a big role in all of this. But how 'bout this, the film goer and the film critic are less self-conscious than their bookish cousins. What I mean to say is, the film world is much more open to embracing a popcorn flick than the literary world is to acknowledging the value of a page turner. Movies are meant to fun, books are meant to work. Or so seems to be the position of any literary rag or book review section you'll pick up. It's a bummer, man. Anyway, a Brit wonders Why don't we love science fiction?
The point is that [science fiction] is, in fact, the necessary literary companion to science. How could fiction avoid considering possible futures in a world of perpetual innovation? And how could science begin to believe in itself as wisdom, rather than just truth, without writers scouting out the territory ahead? Which is why this widely despised genre should be read now more than ever.

Wednesday, December 5

Well hello, hello, hello!

The Brothers K read-through is officially underway! It seems like everyone who's definitely participating (Ben, Mike, Ryan, Ravi, Bryan) finally has a copy of the book. Might there be two more (Cat?, Brad?) joining us? We shall see.

I think people are about evenly spaced out between just (re-) starting and up to 250 pages in, but it doesn't matter all that much, yet: it's hard to talk about the book until you have a good foothold. I may post my own thoughts on The Grand Inquisitor chapter (from my understanding, the most famous chapter in all the book, and one of the more important chapters in literature, period), at some point in the near future, and then everyone can read it when they've gotten there. That's a good idea, actually: if you have thoughts on the chapter, just make a post with the chapter name as a title and people will know whether to read it or not.

Happy reading,


Tuesday, December 4

I will be the turtle. Who is the hare?

Has everyone enjoyed the journey thus far? I have made it just into Book II. I think I need to go back and re-read the beginning to remember who everyone is. Bros-K is so Russian!

I bought a copy from Dave's Olde Book Shoppe down in Hermosa Beach. It seems to be the nearest independent bookstore near me. I like it. My book is a 1919 Modern Library publication, the first edition of that printing. It's small, bound in blue cloth, with thin translucent pages like a bible.

I don't think I'm ready for any substantive discussion, but those of you who are a bit speedier, have at it!