quarta-feira, março 29, 2017

Anything Goes: "The Cambridge Introduction to Postmodern Fiction" by Bran Nicol

Postmodernism scrutinizes the accepted ways of producing art and finds new ways to portray interesting things. Without this approach everyone would still be scratching stick men onto cave walls. In a world in which change happens so fast, it's useful and important to think in terms of what changes, why it changes, and how the change helps or hinders us. Having said that, and in the long run, post modernism is as irrelevant as any other “ism”, all of which had their own junk philosophies to contend with, what matters at the end of the day is the content of art and how society or an individual responds to it that matters. Sadly post modernism could have provoked a radical and revolutionary response to society but its adherents proved conservative, more interested in money and their careers to make any meaningful art. So unlike so many “isms” whose adherents created great works in spite of a particular ism´s junk philosophy, post modernism hasn´t produced many works of literature worth remembering. Postmodernism is not throwing a whole lot of weird stuff together and seeing what craziness happens. This, however, is what a lot of people, including artists, curators, critics, and journalists who all should know better, think it is, This "anything goes" postmodernism is what winds people up and makes them say 'That's not art!' as if there's something which art ought to be. Postmodernism should scrutinize the accepted ways of producing art and find new ways to portray interesting things. It's not an era, it's an approach that asks 'Is the way we make art/literature/film etc. the only way?' Some things that are called postmodern are rubbish, no doubt, but then a lot of things that aren't called postmodern are rubbish too. Postmodernism in the arts is what people produce who grew up in modernism, but are now bored either with modernism itself, or with the idea of modernism. They express this boredom either by breaking a few modernist rules and "referencing" or "appropriating" non-modernist sources, or by simply asserting that their perfectly modernist products are actually postmodern.

In Kant's time that dogma was usually of a religious type. In our time, it's more likely to be of a scientific, or rather scientist type, e.g., that neuroscience and evolutionary theory prove that competition, rather than collaboration, is the natural state of mankind. And that therefore Darwinian competition is self-evidently the best way forward for both individuals and organisations, whether they be (free) schools or global corporations. The political right hate postmodernism because it's inherently critical of this kind of traditional dogma and regularly refers to late capitalism, as if it's on the verge of collapse, which it probably is. The political left hate it because postmodernist thinkers regularly view the left's founding ideology, Marxism, as one of the Utopian but perniciously misguided 'grand narratives' that has tragically blighted millions of people's lives. People don't like exposing their most deeply held and bred-in-the-bone beliefs to skeptical doubt and interrogation, so no wonder postmodernism has become such a whipping boy for both the left and the right. To use postmodernist philosophy as a tool you have to be skeptical of post modernism itself, something one seldom witnesses of post modernists. If you believe in postmodernist philosophy is to be intellectually dishonest, which I suspect most post modernists are. You certainly see the cynicism in postmodern visual art where irony is the excuse for lack of belief in the artist and a perpetual excuse for rubbish. Postmodernist architecture is really neo-modernism, modernism without the belief in modernism. One also gets the impression from postmodernist novels of a lack of belief in the story/narrative being told, which is fine if the irony and jokes are good enough but they seldom are. Even from the supposed good authors, you don't so much escape into another world as laugh at the world half constructed with one foot in and one foot out. Though I see postmodernist fans claim a lot to be post modernism that I would argue isn't. To me, postmodernism is more like punk, more an attitude than a philosophy, something that makes you stop and think, reassess before moving on. Postmodernism is intellectually tiresome and I came to that conclusion when I read a postmodernist text deconstructing physics. Well, even Portuguese intellectuals when they jump off a very tall building are subject to gravity and will fall at 9.8 m/sec/sec. Maybe when they splat on the ground, they will realise we are all subject to the same physical laws.

And here’s my attempt at being postmodern as well…

A dire jump-out from a cul-de-sac?
A big Yippy-eh! Mixed with a "couldn't care less"
(Oh yeah! a huge ego trip as well...)
The thing is, I do not recall anyone involved at the time being able to construct a solid profile or solid comprehension of the postmodern tag... it was a big, huge stream, some swimmers ahead of the rest, but not everyone trying to, consciously, have good ropes to hang from...
Am I implying almost everyone could not make much sense of it and followed and enjoyed?
Yes, indeed!
Spot-on on the mockery!
As often, we could be picked by today's distance and perspective...
Long time no read, no hear no see. I like the Nicol’s book. Was busy and I sold a Painting!
Envious Artists told me Overpaid....
I replied Oversexed and if you do not Go Overyou.
To those who tried to call me and got the answering machine it was a Joke....
Sincerely Apologies.
For the record
Peep. If it is the P.M. tell him I will call back. If it is, someone else tell them to F.O....

Sorry. Silly me, forgot to Change the Voicemail. Long Time as well no hear of Spielberg's Work. Looking Forward to.

segunda-feira, março 27, 2017

An Old-Fashioned Thriller, but What a Thriller: "Kolymsky Heights" by Lionel Davidson

I’m not much of a classic thriller reader myself but I loved that icy photo on the cover. That was what drew me in! "Kolymsky Heights" really is a cracker. Page turning narrative, and the writing of place is superb; Davidson takes me to the Siberian wilderness every bit as much as any travel writer ever has. This is my first novel from him. I came across this first novel, from a friend of mine. Davidson has two deep traits: how sentences and how characters work. Both are deployed superbly in the Story: the syntax drew me into the very thought processes, what it is to be the fascinating characters he depicts. It’s old-fashioned in a good way, it’s full of drama and adventure, exotic locations, goodies and baddies, as every spy Book worth its salt should be. For most of the books I read, I always write lots of notes to allow me, later on, to breeze through the review. That’s close reading for you! This time round, I didn’t write a single line. And that is actually not a bad thing. This is a no-nonsense story. Davidson did not try “Literature”. As I said, Davidson wrote an old-fashioned thriller, but what a thriller. Basically, he is telling me a story by the fire. With a beginning, a middle and an end. And it's relentless. There is no time, no space or no will to force the narrative. Everything just flows. The style is as dry as they come, with the exceptions of a few cold jokes. Every word, every chapter, every paragraph’s sole purpose is to advance the plot, with a supreme kind of efficiency, ruthless like the main character. Once I started, it was impossible to put it down, in case I’d miss something. And the details are everything. Johnny Porter is nothing if not a very meticulous man (step aside James Bond). His journey starts with a preparation where, during months; on top of that, he has to refresh is Russian and Korean, learn the way a merchant boat is set in order to prepare his "legend", memorize every tiny scrap of information found and prepared for him in order to successfully infiltrate the mysterious Soviet laboratory which might explain the unexpected failures of Chinese rockets...  But of course, after any preparation, comes the moment when the man has to improvise. The plot is just plain crazy, bursting at the seams, but it works like a charm. Who would have thought I’d ever give 4 stars for a spy Fiction book of the thriller variety? Every aspiring writer should read it in order to see how to master storytelling and the subtle art of details which make any story believable. A brilliant work. 

sábado, março 25, 2017

Navel Gazing Novel: “Central Station” by Lavie Tidhar

"The Shambleau called Carmel came to Central Station in spring, when the smell in the air truly is intoxicating. It is a smell of the sea, and of the sweat of so many bodies, their heat and their warmth, and it is the smell of humanity’s spices and the cool scent of its many machines."

In “Central Station” by Lavie Tidhar

This is a navel gazing novel; a friend of mine would say it's a novel about the human condition. Back in the day, this was the stuff that interested me less. But they say SF at its best is allegorical and because contemporary versions are all about we live in navel gazing times, this one was much up my alley. Quoting from “Blade Runner”, in one of the most wonderful Roy Batty lines, just so you know how geeky I am: "I've felt wind in my hair, riding test boats off the black galaxies and seen an attack fleet burn like a match and disappear. I've seen it...felt it!", one can sense what makes us human even in a SF milieu. This existential part is what makes the genre so appealing to me. I wonder when they will do a film based on Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars stuff? It has to be high-quality to do justice, casting & special effects both, so it’s going cost a bunch, also there are some themes they might not want to show the masses at this stage, perhaps that is some factor why, surprisingly, they haven't tried a film yet... big bucks to be made though if they do it well! How will you cram, what, 1500 pages of well-crafted prose into 90 minutes of Hollywood glitz? We all remember what happened to e.g. "Dune" when they tried that.

Even if we ignore ancient stories that could be categorised as SF (e.g. guy goes voyaging for golden fleece, gains it by sweet-talking girl for advice on how to avoid the guardian monster, marries her and has children, ditches her and sacrifices their children to escape, wife becomes justifiably homicidal and wreaks vengeance from a dragon-drawn chariot...) and go straight for the academically agreed "first ever" science fiction story - Frankenstein, or a Modern Prometheus - it's generally been about the characters. For every 9 books of the Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus (did someone think Asimov?) variety there's a “Venus Plus X”. And here we are, decades later, still making the "but then 90% of everything is crap" protestations, and still fighting the critical ignorance that insists that SF is all about rocket ships and ray guns. Of course a lot of it is. For the same reason that you recognise the names Jackie Collins and Dan Brown - because schlock sells. I'm just pointing out myself that "new wave" was a term used to describe the type of SF going way back to the 60s and that nothing really has changed since - there still remain new SF books worth investing the time taken to read and those that make you wish you hadn't. There are still those that examine "the human condition", some that contrast by examining "the non-human condition" and those that ignore both to concentrate on the technical issues. And in each of those groups, the same old 90/10 ratio of crap to gems. The same as every other branch of any other art. SF has long been about the human condition, I dare-say since it was ever a 'thing' and before, men have written about what it is to be a man/woman. I would say most things SF presently use it just to fill plot holes - star trek had its “treknobabble”, but it also explored humanity, something modern SF shows seem to barely acknowledge. Heck, even Terminator 2 plucked a few notes in that regard, besides being a brilliant action film. Yeah, come to think of it plenty of 90s SF films had a bit of the old existentialism going on, “Dark City”, “Contact”, “Matrix” (first one, just about) - I have a terrible memory and can't recall any more off the top of my head because I’m getting senile due to old age… I've watched “Arrival”, and the bulk of the film’s juicy stuff came from the book, i.e., a language expressing thoughts/meaning all-at-once, and the relationship with time being a very interesting theme. We're fast approaching the singularity though; population, productivity, consumption, identity; so who knows how we'll handle the future. Man was not born to be idle, and there's a lot of idleness approaching, and idle hands are the devils workshop. These questions, they're age old, really, aren't they. SF with outer space settings is a fraction of that genre. Much SF takes place in the future here on earth. That’s why Tidhar’s novel came as total surprise in this day and age of contemporary SF. This is my first Tidhar, but I suspect that all of his novels may have existentialist themes to them. I'm not exactly sure what the true premise of this book is, except that it's no longer difficult to imagine some of the fiction in SF and that the struggles of book’s characters now seem oddly familiar to me. Every single story in this book’s tapestry has a subtle human angle: The greatest dangers for Jews and Arabs in this novel are not each other, but “strigoi” humans with vampire-like power; at the Central Station, ethnicity, religion, race, technology, and virtual reality rub elbows; descriptions of fantastical aspects of the future seem like references to completely commonplace occurrences...sublime writing. SF with believable characters with complex emotional lives driving the plot. Wow, if only someone had thought of this before of course; there is a lot SF that has unrealistic characters driven by the needs of the plot, but that describes all fiction. The all-over-the-place plot will not be to anyone’s tastes, even to the SF hardcore fan. One of the most interesting aspects of the book is that Tidhar refers to so many classics in SF, yet he chose a structure for his work that not many of those writers would have considered. It's a work in constant dialogue with the genre but not afraid to go off the beaten path. As such it is not a book for everyone, but if one likes a book that is a bit weird even by SF standards, “Central Station” might be your thing. Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

SF = Speculative Fiction.

sexta-feira, março 24, 2017

Constipated SF: "The Iron Tactician" by Alastair Reynolds

Good SF ultimate goal must always be about the human condition. Literally. Always. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein arguably kick started the genre - a novel by a sex-positive teenage feminist in a corset, which tackled the question of what it means to be human, and how we connect with one another, and whether an individual can develop empathy or a moral compass in isolation, without family or society. Sf, as the genre of big ideas, and the genre that actively tackles universal questions of self, of society, of philosophy and religion and the nature of reality (yes, all of those…). It's who we are now, as well as how we might find ourselves living in the future - and that's always, always been the case. It's Margaret Atwood and Iain Banks and Arthur C Clarke and George Orwell and Octavia Butler and Robert A. Heinlein and Kurt Vonnegut and - well, all the damn classics. Hell, even “Star Trek”, cheesiest of pop culture staples, was absolutely tackling questions of civil rights and social justice on a weekly basis, under the pointy ears and sparkly moon rocks. It's always been about the characters, whether framed by technological innovation or political or geographical changes. Unfortunately the human condition does not inhabit this work by Reynolds. Reynolds is still confusing mass-market space-opera with SF. SF has always been about humanity dealing with hypothetical situations: you only have to look at the works of writers like Philip K. Dick or the above-mentioned Kurt Vonnegut to see that they are writing solely about the human condition. That’s what makes SF appealing to me. Reynolds sometimes is able to break the mold. No this time. All the characters are stereotypical in the extreme. Reynolds should think about way the Ferengi alone are depicted in Star Trek, e.g., the barkeep's put-upon brother who plots against said brother, and who eventually finds his own path, the mother who repudiates convention by her choice of clothing (wearing some) and by doing a "male's work" in finance, and the nephew who rejects Ferengi hyper-capitalism and joins Starfleet. We sense something profound wanting to come to the fore. The only I thing I felt when reading Reynolds was constipation. I know Reynolds is able to write much better than this, namely about relationships, reaction to change, questioning morals, and considering alternatives in a SF context. It's just a shame that Reynolds sometimes outputs crap like this.

SF = Speculative Fiction.

quarta-feira, março 22, 2017

Micro-Fiction, Text 005: "The English Fry-up" by Myselfie

Word of caution: Not for the squeamish.

He'd been in Texas for the last seven years and had sorely missed the greasy delight of a proper English fry-up. Today his long wait was over and he could finally enjoy the breakfast of champions.
No black pudding to be found in the entire state, however there were three rashers of proper bacon, two fried eggs, a dollop of baked beans and a generous handful of slimy mushrooms. The sausage was a watery frankfurter rather than a proper banger but he didn't feel up to complaining. At least it was easy to slice with the plastic knife provided.

Two hours after breakfast he was calm as they attached the electrodes to his wet-sponged temples. His body convulsed against the leather straps in the chair as the switch was thrown. The breakfast ingredients inside him sizzled for the second time that day.

NB: Sorry Bookstooge.

terça-feira, março 21, 2017

Feckless Writing: "5000 Words Per Hour - Write Faster, Write Smarter" by Chris Fox

I spend “a lot” of staring-off-into-space time doing stargazing...and find it leads not only to better scenes in my reviews, but to literature work that really hangs together. I used to write 1-3,000 words a week in my reviews...but then I felt I spent my life editing. Now, I become very suspicious of myself once I go over 1,000 words at a sitting, but that's just me. I support my writing habit by doing these posts...a process that has made me more careful than most people with 1st drafts...I've become pretty clear about what I definitely “don't” want in my posts. And yes, that slows me down. It just doesn't slow me down as much as having to decide at some later date to junk 50 or 100 words here or there. But, starting out, I too encourage people to write & write & write. Well, “marinated scenes” are indeed an important key no matter what.

This post on the 5-WPH-book that you’re reading right now made me try writing while walking. I’m still not ready to invest in Dragon yet, so I just used Google Voice to dictate an email to myself on my phone, then copied and pasted into Scrivener when I got home. I walked and talked for 10 minutes, then went in the house and set the timer to edit for another 15. I didn’t stop when my timer went off, but finished the section I was working on. It’s still a rough draft for sure, but I got 1075 words out of about 40 minutes of book reviewing writing – way faster than anything I’ve done up to this point, and I definitely hit that sense of flow. Yeah, word counts over 4K are only possible with dictation, and that’s entirely out of the question for me as I’m never alone when I write. 3.5K are well within reach for a good typist. I could do that, but only if I took dictation. My top speed for drafting a bunch of posts right now is 1.6K. I’d be ecstatic if I reached an average of 2K.

When I type, I automatically correct, even though I know it's not a good idea since it disrupts my thoughts. When, however, I write longhand in my online journal I don't stop to correct anything. Any mistakes there, are mostly due to the incongruities between my native language and the learned ones (English and German).

Because of this book, I got to talking with a guy about self-help books. I got the feeling that with a "Self-Help" Book, guys feel emasculated because the idea is that they want to appear to everyone, including themselves, as all together and in control. To have a "Self-Help" book takes away the stoic nature of the male and puts a kink in the dominant nature of the guy. Since girls tend to self-reflect, something that has evolved over time to match their ability to attract (they naturally will preen and try to make themselves better), it doesn't affect them to use a "self-help" book. With a guy who internalizes problems, it is harder to do. Guys, by nature, something that has evolved over generations, are more likely to ignore issues because they must appear strong and in control to play a more dominant role in society. I think it is stupid on the guy’s part though. I asked a she-friend of mine what she thought about it. If a girl wants to suggest a self-help book to her boyfriend, the best way to do it is to offer it subtlety as a gift to better each other and to cooperatively go through it. Not to shove it in the guy’s face, because he will "lose face" and reject the offer…

I always thought a self-help represented a weakness in one's foundation, physical or emotional. To me, understanding and change should come from within or in response to your experiences, not from others; if you require supplementation from someone else then you are admitting weakness. What's to say of someone that can read a simple book or have a simple conversation and have their perceptions changed to any worthwhile degree? A wise/experienced man will take someone else advice, and think it over before coming to the conclusion that it is feckless or useless. A person with a good foundation has such a strong foundation that they can admit weakness and overcome it, and not allow it to eventually overcome him/her.

In other words: Why commit a crime, to experience the pain and suffering so that you can gain "strength" in experience, when you can take someone's advice or writing that says the same thing?

domingo, março 19, 2017

A Xanax and a Shot of Whiskey: "Published. The Proven Path From Blank Page to Published Author" by Chandler Bolt

A few years ago an unknown girl from Belfast (the name eludes me at the moment) started writing a short parody of 50 Shades of Grey called 50 Shades of Red White and Blue as a joke for her friends on Facebook. After one week the word had spread and she had grown to a huge number of followers. During the second week she increased the number of followers. At the end of the second week she self-published an eBook on Amazon UK and sold a huge amount copies on the first day jumping to the top 10 in the paid Kindle store. I don’t know what number she sits at in the paid Kindle store now (many authors don't reach this even with a professional marketing campaign). All this came from a free Facebook account and a bit of “good writing”, this is the power of social media in the publishing world today.

I'm inherently skeptical of these "No. X in the Kindle Store" claims; simply making an initial impact in a crowded category is entirely possible through impulse purchases. True success, if one is reducing everything to financial terms, is in sustaining this success. To use generic terms - being a high-tier brand in the short term (No.5 in category within the first week, say) is no measure of long-term success or indeed any measure of success at all; category ranking only becomes interesting on timescales of quarters at the least or years. I know it's slightly different in terms of books and albums, but the theory is there; who cares if someone gets a bit of initial buzz? The proof of the pudding is whether that buzz and interest can be sustained. In consumer brand terms, strong single-year growth following a product launch is one thing. Sustained high growth, or just sustained high sales ahead of the competition, is a mark of success. I really find it hard to understand why "being more egalitarian and open to submissions" inherently has come to mean "being easier" - it's a complete misunderstanding of the results of openness. You're increasing competition which means you have to be even better to stand out. But as I believe and have said above, attitudes will change. Probably, many of the people going it alone will write it off as a failure and the bubble will fade - not the entire industry, just this inflated estimation of it. When realism sets in, what will probably occur is the expected outcome (reasonable choice, the best gaining widespread attention) since there is no longer the pressure for results that the media bubble is looking for. At the moment, selling the story of someone who did well is useful because it supports the belief that the system works. That said, here is a ridiculous idea that I'm sure will end in tears and Armageddon, but might make a few people happy in the meantime; a "what are you writing" thread to go alongside the "what are you reading" one. It would have to be strictly moderated just to keep it readable and reasonable; perhaps even to the extent of a recommended pro-forma post (something like "Title and Synopsis (25-150 words or so) - and most importantly, no direct referral links. Anyone who reads it would probably be savvy enough to subsequently search for the author online and find the place to buy the book. However, were this introduced, it should coincide with a moratorium on the part of aspiring authors on posting their referral links and synopses anywhere else! I've always imagined published authors standing shoulder-to-shoulder on a very small stage, trying not to fall off and occasionally holding out a hand to pull someone up and join them. Though I don't have statistics I think the stage for self-published authors is much smaller per capita, and a lot of them seem to just want to get onto the Amazon platform for the sake of it rather than give better stories to the world. That's called ego, and the fact that so much of it is based on plugging your work to "friends" and asking them to spread the word or even giving your books away as a promotional ploy, says enough about the process. As a writer friend of mine once said, "I don't read books that people give me." Nobody with any kind of personal or professional integrity would ever consider plugging their books constantly, whether in person, or through other media. It's vulgar and egotistical. Again on the platform thing, part of the problem is that 'being published' was elevated to mean a lot more than it should. The explosion of self-publishing, where everybody can be published, has blown that cachet out of the water (which I suspect is why it attracts a lot of scorn from already 'been published' writers). This is a good thing. The goal shouldn't merely be to be published, it should be to be read, to be remembered. Being published is just a delivery mechanism. The harsh truth is no one is automatically entitled to make a living as a writer, or a painter, or a musician. These are activities human beings have happily done for entertainment, without recompense, throughout history. It's hardly surprising only a very select few (and often not even the best) have been able to earn enough to make it their sole source of income. As for eBooks being a tech bubble, it’s a fallacy of sorts. A bubble is over-investment based on speculation. Self-publishing requires minimal investment, and the stock market and investors aren't required. There is nothing that can burst, so there is nothing that can be lost. There is only the gradual global acceptance of eBooks as Amazon and others move into more and more territories. This isn't a gold rush, with finite wealth to be attained. This is quite simply an easy way for writers to directly reach a worldwide audience. Not everyone will get rich. But good writers, who keep at it, have a long time to find that niche audience that will support them. EBooks are forever.

Bottom-line: Nobody cares. And twitter and Facebook is so flooded with self-marketers, you need a Xanax and a shot of whiskey just to check your twitter anymore. It's mind boggling .... I think I would rather write my books, buy them myself to make me feel better, and just read them over and over. Ah... the ultimate self-promotion. Plus, that whole "tell your family to go post good reviews to trigger Amazon sales" doesn't work when you write humorous erotica in the south. Old Aunt Bertha would have a heart attack if she knew I’d written a dirty book… Good luck to all other self-published authors, and as this posts suggests and implies... Don't quit your day job.

quinta-feira, março 16, 2017

Cultural Chicken Soup for the Soul:"An Experiment in Criticism" by C. S. Lewis

Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege, of individuality. There are mass emotions which heal the wound; but they destroy the privilege. In them our separate selves are pooled and we sink back into sub-individuality. But in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like a night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.

In “An Experiment in Criticism” by C. S. Lewis

Anarcho-punk, extreme literature..... Beware the coming revolution.

All the best writers are anarcho-punks:

-          JJ Rousseau: A Discourse On Inequality
-          Thomas Payne: The Rights Of Man
-          Mary Wollstonecraft: A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
-          Victor Hugo 'Les Miserables' set in the French Revolution in Paris.

Dostoevsky wrote his first novel 'The Poor Folk' aged 29. This resulted in him and his 3 co-radicals being sentenced to death by firing squad in the main public square in St Petersburg by the Tsar who was offended by their revolutionary contents. At the last second the Tsar commuted the punishment to 4 years hard labour in Siberia. Two of the writers went mad from this sadist act, but Dostoevsky kept on writing about being on death row, psychological torture, his time in jail and did so for the rest of his life. Orwell. 'Homage To Catalonia' set in Spanish Revolution in Barcelona where anarchists fight fascists.

The close reading of novels (not, interestingly, poems, stories, plays or biographies/general non-fiction) has come up glancingly in similar pieces over the last two decades. It's easy to interpret it as resulting from a generalized cultural anxiety over the apparently luxurious (or frivolous) apportioning of several hours and days for contemplation of long-form fictitious narratives with no obvious social or 'self-improvement' benefits, at least none that can be vigorously attested to. Add that to an increasingly competitive cultural scene, where every new TV show from singing to putting up wallpaper takes the form of a contest, and you have this weird impetus to 'prove' the practical and moral worth of an essentially solitary pursuit by subjecting it to blatantly unaesthetic and unhelpful criteria, where a reader is essentially apologizing publicly for an activity that can never be made socially correct - it simply isn't in the nature of concentrated reading. While speed-reading as a technique has been overvalued by diagnosticians (time-maximisation combined with cultural chicken soup for the soul) and clearly has its roots in the alleviation of guilt rather than the apprehension of art, it does have a legitimate tether to breathlessly enthusiastic page-turning, where either personal enthusiasm or the “skimmable” nature of the writing itself encourages faster than usual reading. But novels are neither instruction manuals nor paper-bound substitutes for TV, and the speed and quality of attention implicitly demanded by them cannot conform to the expectations of demonstrable expediency demanded by extra-literary considerations. In short, I can't reasonably claim to another person that the reading of a novel over two or twenty hours of your valuable time is a socially defensible act, precisely because novel-reading falls deliberately outside such parameters. I do find myself doubting the legitimacy of the things I used to read, and having published poems for a few years in the last decade I include my own efforts. I hope neither were ‘all bullshit’ as I sometimes tell myself nor I think I'm just wrongly attuned right now. Maybe the machine in my hands at this moment in time is involved, or the heavy breakfast I didn't go near in my 20s.

Back in the day I tended to read very fast, because I was a book glutton, i.e., I’d devour books. It can be great but it can also be a curse. A good book is over too quickly and I’d miss layers and complexity. I’d compensate by rereading books where I pick up things I missed on the first read. Grinding through exams at college left me with an overwhelming desire to get acres of really enjoyable fiction out of the public library and gorge on it until I had cleared my head of everything to do with the syllabus. For me, it's 'hearing' the words in my own inner voice, as if the sentences are being spoken out loud. If I skim over words, they're somehow lost. I've only got hold of the text in a generalised, floaty way. If I'm reading a classic and I begin to 'float', I realise that I'm 'reading without paying attention' in my inner voice and calm myself down so I can connect with each word. (Otherwise, what's the point of reading well-crafted text?). It's easy to skim across the surface. It's like pacing yourself for a marathon! Too fast and you'll get lactic burn and die. Too slow and you'll won't get momentum going. I start slow and build up my pace can be reading 60-80 pages a day in the main sections.

After a meaty epic, like “Crime and Punishment” I’d purposely like to blast-read through something pulpy or non-fiction like an appetiser for the next course. It helps my mind relax and reboot so I do appreciate the benefits of reading quickly, for people who are mentally tired or maybe have less time have. A lot of modern literature embraces that reality.

terça-feira, março 14, 2017

#ITHINKICAN: "Antologia do Poesia Fã Clube Novembro 2016" by Several Authors

NB: Antologia do Poesia Fâ Clube Novembro 2016 = Fan Club Poetry Anthology November 2016

I doubt anyone else is going to review this poetry book (it’s in Portuguese, not counting my three contributions in English, and it’s poetry), so I thought I’d do it. The problem with reviewing a book with something of mine inside is that it's impossible to get any distance to it. So some of the time I'll rejoice, and some of the time I'll whimper, but I'm afraid that's unavoidable. Beware.

I do agree that reading is suffering as a pleasurable activity. It seems possible though that one of the reasons for this push away from a literary (and literate as some rather startling surveys have suggested) society is that people have a damn hard time finding their niche (Rilke for some of us...) when it comes to reading even though we know where we stand when it comes to religion, politics, music, and even debates on what is and isn’t art. It's almost as if there was some obvious and oppressive majority (our friends) to either instill their taste preferences in us or push us to rebellion through the "TURN THAT SHIT OFF!" gratification system. I doubt most of us (beyond the really hideously sheltered or those raised under horrifyingly religious parents) ever had our parents aware enough of what we were reading to get to the point of telling us to "put that fucking book down and get some fresh air, you pasty hobgoblin!" 

I had the terrible fate to grow up with parents that were actively involved and supportive of my creativity. In case you are wondering that is, indeed, another way of saying I was raised on my own preferences, as well as letting my air grow very long by age 15. So, it took me a long time, and even a 12 step program that my nihilistic ego couldn't allow me to cross the threshold of (if I'm powerless I'm clearly not culpable for my actions) before I was challenged enough to really find writers who did it for me, and not like that awful "well we're married and marriage is forever so we might as well try and fornicate since it's always going to be like this because we signed up for it" did it for me, but instead that whole "YOU'RE GOING TO FILL RUBBER SHORTS WITH COTTAGE CHEESE BEFORE URINATING ON A HOBO!? How did you even know I was into that?" doing it for me. It also took a fair amount of excess and to realize that some folks (rhymes with where-o-whack) were paid for a whole lot of crap while others were paid crap for a whole lot. 

As much as it is reasonable to assume that most people are going to give themselves literary “reacharounds”, that doesn't mean that we should discourage a project that, at its core, is designed to challenge people to shit or get off the pot. I have no doubt that countless friends/husbands/wives/educators/editors/pet cats/photocopy lab-monkeys have suffered at the hands of un-tweaked or barely hammered menu-shits, but since when does having occasional shit-storms ruin anything for anyone? How many times have people stopped going to the movies because films got shitty, contrived, or flooded with awful half-conceived or just straight up aborted and hardly edited ideas? Oh right, never, fucks sake there are still people arguing that the X-Files 2016 edition was a good idea. Shouldn't this same model of human behaviour be applied to writing and readers, or have we all dismissed "Twilight" so soon... For those of you skim-reading, I think writing is just as positive as CouchTo5K, in that it encourages people to stop talking shit and actually get something done. Completing couch to 5K doesn't mean you are going to start looking for endorsements from Nike for most folks, nor does it mean that most poetry contest winners will suddenly think themselves our generation's Rilke (although that bearded fuck sure could write some run-ons) what it should, and I believe DOES do, is simply encourage that inner #ITHINKICAN and push it to a resounding #IACTUALLYJUSTDIDTHATYO! and in a fading economy with post-secondary education not only meaning less on the employment field but apparently providing no statistically significant gains to critical thinking skills. I think encouraging people to try something they love and will take personal pride in regardless of its money-making or value-providing assets is a good thing. 

This book an example of that, if writing poetry is your thing.

quinta-feira, março 09, 2017

Seeing Comes Before Words: "Ways of Seeing" by John Berger

“But because it is nevertheless ‘a work of art”’ – and art is thought to be greater than commerce – its market price is said to be a reflection of its spiritual value of an object, as distinct from a message or an example, can only be explained in terms of magic or religion.”

In “Ways of Seeing” by John Berger

“Original paintings are silent and still in a sense that information never is. Even a reproduction hung on a wall is not comparable in this respect for in the original the silence and stillness permeate the actual material, the paint, in which one follows the traces of the painter’s immediate gestures. This has the effect of closing the distance in time between the painting of the picture and one’s own act of looking at it. In this special sense all paintings are contemporary.”

In “Ways of Seeing” by John Berger

I find it strange when someone tells me they’re attached to a certain painter and that painter in question is a genius; the definition of 'genius' is fairly broad, so one person's definition might not be another's. I haven't fully formed my argument, haven't pin pointed what it is that niggles at me. I think essentially the problem is that I attach 'genius' in other areas of human endeavour such as science or music or literature, to advancement. To pushing forward into new frontiers; to problem solving, to presenting the world in a different way. I suppose Cubism might meet those criteria, but a lot of Picasso's work seems purely derivative of existing art work and artists (e.g. Duchamp, Cezanne, Matisse, and especially African art and children's art) and he worked backwards into flatness, primitivism and naivety. He was certainly innovative and good at seeing and pulling together different visual stimuli into new combinations. Science too builds on existing knowledge, but what Picasso did would be equivalent to throwing out the entire body of scientific knowledge and methodology and declaring that the earth is flat, the moon is made of cheese, there are green fairies all around us, and then being declared a genius. Maybe his genius was having the audacity to toss everything aside and adopt novelty and an 'anything goes' attitude as the basis of some of his flung-together art, which is still the philosophy we have today, for good or ill. I am, of course, always open to having my perspective changed. And still regarding Cubism and Cezanne, back in the 90s there was a huge exhibition of Cezanne at the Tate in London which I saw. One thing was clear as I walked round the exhibition, Cezanne couldn't draw and not even paint very well. What he appeared to have done was develop a style that masked his deficiencies, which led him to his seminal work, the landscapes that influenced Braque and Picasso. It was one of the greatest unintended jokes of modern art, an artist who couldn't draw or paint having so much influence on later artists. Then came the bathers and confirmation that Cezanne really was a ham fisted artist. I don't mind the opening up of the definition of art - art anarchy if you like - if only it didn't coexist with the highly hierarchical art world with its demigods like Cezanne, where value is constructed largely through external values, because 'traditional' aesthetic parameters were destroyed. If I say art = infinity, then all subsequent art is merely infinity + 1?

My pet peeve is still the interpretation of Picasso as a genius. He was mainly an insider and most artists who get known are insiders. Anyone who has been to art college (I haven’t) knows that if you didn't go to a college of renown the chances of success are stacked against you. Added to that, the chances of you getting an exhibition are minute if you are not seen as a social equal to the movers and shakers of the art world. Success in the art world is not about quality, it is largely about who you know, connections. In that world, the internet and networking with others outside the art world is much more attractive. I remember a friend of mine who attended an art college saying that a lecturer kept on telling the students about how many geniuses were missed by the art world because the art world didn't look for geniuses because it was not interested in art, it was instead interested in personalities and products to sell. Having spent many years in the art world in Lisbon, London, Paris, and Madrid, all I can say is, how right he was. The art world isn't interested in art. It’s interested in selling stuff…

Now that I bashed Picasso and Cezanne, I’ tell you who I really consider to be a genius, painting-wise. Bosch! People like to say is he was a “'medieval genius'.  Bosch was certainly a 'genius' but there was nothing 'medieval' about either his art or the city in which he lived and worked. He was a brilliant innovator in so many ways - his landscapes fully equal Leonardo's, his figure drawings are superb, and his rendering of materials like glass is absolutely unprecedented anywhere (and certainly nothing to equal it was achieved in Italy), while his command of perspective was astonishing, stretching from brilliant still-life, close-up details literally to infinity. Furthermore his works were being collected during his lifetime in Venice - which was one of the most artistically sophisticated and advanced cities in Europe. No, Bosch was definitely one of the greatest and most innovative of all artists and the idea that he was some kind of mystical medieval genius should be buried once and for all. I’ve said my piece. Now I rest in peace.

terça-feira, março 07, 2017

5th Commandment: "The Crime of Father Amaro" by Eça de Queiroz, Margaret Jull Costa (translator)

Re-read Project. Read originally in Portuguese in the 80s in my Eça de Queiroz phase.

“Her old religious devotion was reborn, full of sentimental fervour; she felt an almost physical love for the Church; she would have liked to embrace and to plant lingering kisses on the altar, the organ, the missal, the saints, on heaven itself, because she made no real distinction between them and Amaro; they seemed to her mere appendages of his being.”

In “The Crime of Father Amaro” by Eça de Queiroz, translated by Margaret Jull Costa.

I remember my feelings when I first read it. My take now is quite different.

For starters, let me just state that I was raised a catholic and I'm still a practicing one.

Since the 80s I learnt a few more things along the way, namely that the first pope (Peter) was married and so were many subsequent ones. In the Greek Church, parish priests are required to marry, primarily to head off problems like the ones depicted in this classic of Portuguese literature. In 2 Corinthians, Paul says it is better to marry than to burn with sexual desire and risk "fornication". This biblical injunction was one reason the protestants dropped the requirement like a stone. The original reason for priestly celibacy is that priests were handing down their offices to sons, taking them out of church hands. Concubinage was winked at partially because any children would be illegitimate and thus could not inherit. The pope who declared celibacy the rule was warned about the problems it would generate, which we see to this day. I no longer believe "The Crime of Father Amaro" was an attack on Catholicism, neither to Catholics in general, but as an attack on corrupt people and corrupt institutions. The priests are human beings; therefore, some are better persons than others. But the truth is that most priests have to live in a world of hypocrisy and power. And as everybody knows: "Power corrupts". I am not saying that the whole of the Catholic-Hierarchy is full of hypocrite people, but that several of them succumbs when faced to the power and wealth. What I am saying is nothing new or a revelation by any means, it happens since ancient times, not only among Catholics or Christians in general but among ANY members of ANY institution where power and ambition are present. That means: Everywhere... from politicians to priests thru entrepreneurs and military. Corruption is everywhere as the opposite: well-intended people.

I've known despicable people who are Catholics, Protestants, Jews or Buddhists or atheists and good people from any religion (or without religion) as well.

The usual take on this movie is "corrupt (catholic) church exploiting its followers, in a world where God is absent". This makes sense if you are an atheist or agnostic, but not otherwise. If God is ever-present in our daily lives, he must be given a role in this book. The Bible has many stories where the Lord uses temptation to judge and strengthen the character of his servants. Mortals use their free will when faced with temptation. Those who fall are sinners and God will punish them, but also forgive those who repent.

How does this fit with the story of "The Crime of Father Amaro"? Father Amaro is a young promising servant of God, however he is also weak: he is lustful, and his rapid career has made him inclined to pride/vanity. The Lord chooses to try the character of his servant, by tempting his lust with (the also lustful servant) Amelia. Amaro falls, partially because of his weak commitment to abstinence ("I was forced to"). Amelia herself falls, but also commits the sin of trying to seduce Amaro away from his vocation. Amaro resist this, thus proving worthy of God's trust. Amaro is a sinner, but he doesn't repent. Thus God tries him (and Amelia) a second time, this time on the 5th Commandment. Although Padre Amaro is the instigator and accomplice, he tells Amelia in front of the church altar, that she must use her free will. She does and violates the 5th commandment. For this God punishes her with death. Amelia's death is also the instrument God uses to punish Padre Amaro, who finally admits his sin and repents. The Lord tempted, punished and forgave Padre Amaro.

In the end, from a spiritual perspective the book is a strictly moral story about the faith in God. Amaro keeps his and proves worthy and Natário loses his and are condemned to eternal damnation. From this point of view, only an atheist could see this film as an attack on the Holy Roman Church. Father Natário is truer to his faith than either Brito or Amaro. Father Natário can turn away from the Church without turning away from God. Not once does he imply that it is God who wants him to leave his people, that it is God forcing him to make a choice between reassignment and excommunication. He knows full well he is up against the Bishop, not God. He chooses his honest mission rather than give in to the Bishop.

The Catholic Church is hardly "God's sole appointed representation on earth" ... even in a small country village where someone like Dionisia can raise a crowd to attack the "heretic," there are still many who can see the small-mindedness of that "one true religion" idea. Certainly someone as intelligent as Father Natário would fall into that group. If anyone deserves to go to hell, it’s probably Padre Amaro. Amelia's sin was one of desperation, while Amaro's is one of selfishness. Who is the one who commits the bigger sin, the desperate mother who kills her child, or the person who urges her to do so? We all have moments of desperation. Thankfully, most of them do not lead to the death of another person, but Amaro was hardhearted in his treatment of Amelia and his child. His punishment is that he has to live with the blood of Amelia and their child on his hands.

Of course, the politically correct response to my comment is "well, if Amelia had access to legal abortion, she would not be dead". Yes, and if all cliffs and bridges had protective railings, then any desperate mothers who wanted to push their children off them would not be at risk at falling off themselves. The clue is not to facilitate abortion, but to counsel those desperate enough to consider it.
On a side note. I'm so sick of people that would love to tell a a writer how to make his/her books. SO WHAT if they don't tell all the sides of a story? Would the Wizard of Oz be a better book if we spent book time exploring all the positive contributions flying monkeys or munchkins make to society? No! SO WHAT if it blasts something about your particular group? People of all religious groups do and say horrible things. There should be more movies that dare to say and do the things that people do in real life. Priests rape, deacons kill abortionist, abortionist kills fetuses, Jews kill Arabs, Arabs kill Jews, Americans kill anything they can get away with, particularly each other, and kid-show hosts have child porn. Life just sucks sometimes so would you mind:


and let the rest of us enjoy learning something.

Even if I hated this book (which I didn’t; on the contrary), I’d have to stand up for it because if I didn't, then we’d have lost a little more freedom and even that is waning by the day.

domingo, março 05, 2017

A Strangely Claustrophobic Experience: “How Proust Can Change Your Life” by Alain de Botton

“To make [reading] into a discipline is to give too large a role to what is only an incitement. Reading is on the threshold of the spiritual life; it can introduce us to it: it does not constitute it.”
Quote from one of Proust’s books, In “How Proust Can Change Your Life” by Alain de Botton

“Even the finest books deserve to be thrown aside.”
In “How Proust Can Change Your Life” by Alain de Botton

I read Proust's masterpiece back in the 80s when I was attending the British Council. I still remember all too well one particular hilariously snippy Monty Python sketch (“the Summarize Proust Competition”). Back in the day, I too wanted to be able to rub elbows with the elite intellectuals who mocked Proust, so I picked up the first of three volumes (the weighty Moncrieff editions) and got started. The first few pages were tough going, but soon I became mesmerized, then I fell in love, and by the end of the summer I was tucking flowers into the plackets of my trousers and wearing bows in my shirts. Oh childhood! Swann's Way is the swiftest, plottiest volume in the monster, with “Un Amour de Swann” a little novel in itself, with a beginning, middle, end, and all that sort of thing. Originally drafted in a mere three volumes, the “Recherche” grew as Proust re-Proustified the later volumes while waiting for publication; many readers have wished that that long mini-book could be recovered. The pace picks up again in the last volume, which the author's death prevented him from reworking, so that a dinner party—one of the greatest scenes in all literature, by the way—takes only a few hundred pages to describe, what with the jolts of consciousness with which Proust bracketed it, while the first half of the volume is impossibly brilliant about the first World War without ever leaving Paris. It's best to have time for such idleness, best to be so besotted with the possibilities of literature that you love rather than loathe the lengthiness; which is to say that you need to encounter Proust at the right time of your life and possibly even the right place, so that Proust's times and places become yours. I’ve been avoiding re-reading Proust. More than 30 years later should I re-read him? My advice for those of you who haven’t read it yet. I hope that luck will be yours; without it, the task may prove impossible. If you find yourself fatally at a loss to know what and why you're reading his work, check out Samuel Beckett's slim monograph; for all its showy intellectuality—it's a youthful work—it's still the best compass for getting across that ocean. De Botton’s attempt is not the best way to go about it. I also recommend the Proust Screenplay by Harold Pinter, which accomplishes the amazing feat of boiling the whole thing down into a 90-minute screenplay without losing any of the flavour. When I felt lost at the beginning of my first reading of Pinter's work, revealed the whole structure to me and enabled me to carry on. Reading De Botton’s book, full of Proust’s excerpts, proves that I’m still finding reading Proust a strangely claustrophobic experience. I got the overwhelming impression of a man who observes, dissects and minutely describes life, but perhaps forgets to live it? As a reader, I feel the novel takes me over. There is no room for separate interpretation or thought. Proust leaves no margin for error. It's a bit like the difference between watching butterflies fluttering in a meadow and having them pinned and labelled, dead, on a board for inspection.

When someone asks me why I read so much, and why “I don’t think for myself”, I always like to refer them to this quote by Proust:

‘The mediocre usually imagine that to let ourselves be guided by the books we admire robs our faculty of judgment of part of its independence. “What can it matter to you what Ruskin feels: feel for yourself” […] There is no better way of coming to be aware of what one feels oneself than by trying to recreate in oneself what a master has left. In this profound effort it is our thought itself that we bring out into the light, together with this.’

sábado, março 04, 2017

Ad majorem Dei gloriam: "Silence" by Martin Scorsese

I wonder if the script and movie could have done more in the way of character development, especially regarding the protagonist. While viewing the film, I thought that the Andrew Garfield character's struggle with his conscience and deeply-felt religious convictions did not feel as organic, naturalistic, and credible as the Garfield character's somewhat similar struggle in Hacksaw Ridge. Martin Scorsese is certainly a subtler filmmaker than Mel Gibson, but Silence is so concerned with its ideas and themes that perhaps character development and narrative flow lag behind. That said, those ideas and themes are quite fascinating—and chilling. 

And most modern cinema, for all its action and fireworks and slow motion people flying away from explosions and such...is oh-so-very boring to me....There is nothing more boring to me than a sustained 20 minute action scene.... 

You don't have to be religious to appreciate this piece of art or the ideas it conveys. There are no particular supernatural elements to the film, and it doesn't treat the supposed existence of God as matter-of-fact. But I think you'd struggle with it if you despise and disrespect the religious, because it would then be hard to empathise or even sympathise with and understand the protagonists' circumstances. It's less about religion and more about the tests of faith. Would you let others suffer for you? Would you symbolically reject your faith to prevent that suffering? The priests genuinely believed they were doing good by spreading what they perceived to be the truth. One can argue about the wisdom or "misguidedness" of such a pursuit, but I don't see how anyone can describe it as 'evil' or simply part of a consciously imperialist desire to make Japan exactly like Europe. 

This movie is a "meditation". I think labeling it as a "religious" or "Christian" film, not that there's anything wrong with that, but it's why a lot of people will pass on the film, why the film doesn't have a wider release, and thus is why society is so ignorant: because they pass on the chance for meditation. You can meditate without involving religion. I saw this film very differently. This film tries to recreate the conflict between religion and culture. There's nothing inherently wrong with that premise, but by positioning a religious padre as its moral center and its protagonist, it portrays the indigenous cultural leaders as the murderous villains. The protagonist's faith is tested repeatedly and his resistance to apostatizing is the main conflict in the film. That's where I believe the split in the audience is. If you see his faith as something important, then the suffering is meaningful. If you don't find his mission and faith to be meaningful, his words are sanctimonious, judgmental and irritating. 

If people choose not to see Silence because of its strong religious themes, you can't fault people for having different beliefs. If you didn't want to watch a Muslim, Buddhist or pagan film because it doesn't align with your ideology, there's nothing wrong with that. As long as you understand the differences it's okay to pass on a movie. That doesn't make one ignorant. This movie doesn't necessarily have to be a religious movie. It could be about control or freedom. The government wants you to act they how they want you to act. They want you to conform to their way of thinking and not have the freedom to think as you wish. The religious part of the movie could be substituted for anything. Democracy, for example. Or the religious part could be seen as a deviation away from the culture of the nation. Reminds me of 1984. 

I feel the priests were right in stepping on the symbolic "their way of thinking' plaque in order to save lives. And the guy that constantly wanted to be forgiven, yet renounced his faith at every turn could be the devil. Or he could be confession itself. 

And the silence. Silence from anything you think you believe in. Doubt. Ambivalence.

Sadly, Hollywood is mostly only interested in appealing to fanboys which is why we get so many comic book movies and why a director of Martin Scorsese's stature had to wait 30 years to make something else. I understand the need to go to movies to escape the craziness of the modern world, but when there is so little room for thoughtful movies that require thought for longer than 10 minutes after the closing credits have begun things have gone too far in one direction. I thought it was a very somber and contemplative film, as well as a rewarding one that never truly demonised the Japanese inquisitors, nor entirely venerated the actions of the European priests, asking interesting questions about the spread of certain faiths, how it can thrive in some societies but struggles against the cultural traditions and practicalities of others, and the righteousness, or otherwise, of the people seeking to spread their faith, and what they believe is the 'truth', to other communities. I also felt it ended on a hopeful albeit bittersweet note on the abiding faith and individual's strength of belief, even in a society that has relentlessly sought to knock it out of them.

NB: Scorsese he's a hardcore catholic, like myself. In fact, I don't believe we can separate good art from religion, otherwise, we couldn't enjoy a large percentage of art. It is religion but it also offers really great discussion on faith and sees perspectives of the various factions offered in this film. it's also very beautiful to watch. So, if you can leave your prejudices at home, you may have a rollicking good time. if you just can't stand religion. then watch a good documentary that doesn't have any religious influence.

sexta-feira, março 03, 2017

50K or bust! : "No Plot? No Problem! A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days" by Chris Baty

“Anyway, whenever people express their reluctance to invest time in something that won’t have proven results, I ask them what they do for fun on weekends. Invariably, the time they spend running around on basketball courts, rearranging Scrabble tiles, or slaying video-game monsters is not done in an effort to make millions of dollars from corporate sponsorship. Or because they think it will make them famous. No. They do it because the challenge of the game simply feels good. They do it because they like to compete; […] because it feels really, really nice to just lose themselves in the visceral pleasure of an activity. Novel writing is just a recreational sport where you don’t have to get up out of your chair.”

In “No Plot No Problem! A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days” by Chris Baty”

In the last few years I’ve read at least one book a week. Back in the day the number was two books a week.  And yes I haven’t read Twilight yet. Have you? THAT, my dear, is the drivel that you would expect from us non-professional WriMos. I’ve been working on a SF novel since, I don’t know, ages, and if it never gets published I will be fine with that because it's for MY enjoyment and satisfaction that I could do it... Every moron seems to think that we're all illiterate Neanderthals who maybe can read Dick and Jane and Dr. Seuss, but I've read Canterbury Tales in the Middle English, Beowulf in Olde English and Shakespeare in Elizabethan English...Like to see YOU try that! Until you've actually sat down at the keyboard with music blaring from your speakers, commiserating with your fellows about how to write a particular scene, then you know what it means to undertake this journey of discovery. Research shows that Opinions are like A-Holes...everyone has one. Is my WriMo work this year bound to win me the Booker, Pulitzer and the Nobel Prize for Literature and place me in the same category as Stephen King and J. K. Rowling? Gee, it'd be nice, but no, probably not. Almost certainly not. So why is that a problem? Along the way, you’ve forgotten (if you ever knew) that one learns as much from one's failures as from one's successes -- probably more. It’ll help me learn more about plotting and structure, about voice and dialogue and about how to create characters. Just in case you're not sure, those are all good things. In addition, I have structure and support and, since I intend to complete it this year, it will also help me develop discipline in my writing. Those are also good things, just in case you're not sure about that, either.

50K or bust!

NB: I am participating in the WriMo for the first time this year. I’m sure I’ll be learning so much about my writing style and genre and learning about myself through some of the characters I write. As for my novel, I doubt it will ever see the light of day. But I know it will force me to spend an hour and a half a day putting words on paper, and that process with shake loose the seeds of a thousand other stories, and I suppose everyone is entitled to their opinion. I’ve trouble seeing that endeavour as a wasted effort in my development as a writer, regardless of what dark, mothballed fate might await the result (as soon as I'm finished cannibalizing it for use in future works).

quinta-feira, março 02, 2017

Micro-Fiction, Text 004: "The Poster" by Myselfie

The underpass is vacant apart from a solitary figure headed directly toward her. A woman around Rachel's own age, and not too dissimilar from how she looks.
'I see you're not taking the advice,' the police officer says nodding to the wall. 'The poster. We're advising young women to be careful not to walk alone when they don't have to. He's killed three.'
'I'm sorry, I didn't see it. I'm only headed around the corner,' Rachel replies.
'I'll walk you along. I hope you've been watching the news.'
Out of the underpass now, Rachel learns a lot about the officer. She learns her name, that she's part Irish, that she isn't a natural blonde, and the police are no closer to finding the monster.
Rachel also knows that there are no cameras here, nor are there any cameras within a square mile of this alleyway. She remembers from the maps that decorate her basement flat.
It's how she's gotten away with it for so long.
She hasn't planned on it tonight, but the night is so young and crisp and the porcelain flesh of her new friend so inviting, she doesn't see any reason why she can't play.
She reaches into her jacket pocket and thumbs the icy blade it shelters.
This will be fun, she thinks.

And again, it is.

quarta-feira, março 01, 2017

Markov Chains and Hamlet

Lately I've been feeling adventurous and that got me thinking programming-wise. Is it possible to write a play like Hamlet by using Markov Chains?

Yes! There's a cheating way of doing that by using Markov Chain text generator.

It works more or less like this:

1. Take some text as input (e.g., the complete works of Shakespeare).

2. For every distinct word in it, determine what words follow it, and with what frequency.

3. Pick a word to start with -- e.g., choose one at random from all the words that start sentences.

4. Randomly choose a word to follow it, using the frequencies found in step 2.

5. Randomly choose a word to follow that, again using the frequencies from step 2.

6. Carry on in this vein until you reach a predetermined length.

The result can be surprisingly convincing, but can also include utter gibberish.

You get better chances of getting intelligible output by

- increasing the amount of input text;

- in step 2, determining what words follow each distinct pair (or triplet, etc.) of words.

--- The Library is total and ... its shelves contain all the possible combinations of the 20-odd orthographic symbols ... that is, everything which can be expressed, in all languages.” ---

This is exactly what the Internet of the future will be, once the extraterrestrials all over the universe and our, and their, computers fill it up with every conceivable thought, nearer and nearer to what we could call a God mind -- every conceivable novel theory, nonsense, mathematical, chemical or other formula. In short, the intellectual reflection of the universe. And, best if all, with a kick-arse "find" function. We will now it all just by willing to know it.

The digital expansion of pi is conjectured to contain all possible sequences. If so, given some suitable alphanumeric coding (e.g. 01 = A, 02 = B, etc.) pi will contain all possible statements of any length, just like the (infinite) Library of Babel. So it would contain the full text of Hamlet, the full text of Hamlet with the word "Hamlet" replaced throughout by "Larry Grayson", the proof (in French) of the Riemann Hypothesis, a recipe for "Filhoses" (a Portuguese delicatessen) using toenail clippings and earwax, and this comment followed by a thousand other comments saying how marvellous a person I must be for mentioning this. Infinity is a great place to massage ones ego.

And low and behold on wall 3, shelf three, volume 22, page 71, end of line 16 in Hex: