segunda-feira, agosto 28, 2017

Bayes' Theorem: "Música da Sra Bach/Mrs Bach's Music" by Alex McCall, and Irini Vachlioti



I've just watched this documentary and I'm still venting... I must get these vapors out of my system!

Why are people so credulous when it comes to classical music?

It's not limited to classical music. Why are people credulous? Well, for a great many reasons. In this case we have a confluence of several:

i) Bach's works have been analysed for hundreds of years, and little new information has emerged. That means it's hard for anyone to find anything new to say.

ii) its fits a nice contemporary narrative. Unquestionably, talented women have been repressed and marginalised throughout history, and only relatively recently have they received their deserved attention. This means that the potential rediscovery of another such women fits the scholastic zeitgeist, and so attracts the attention above its actual scholarly value. Twenty years ago we'd be asking if Bach's second marriage meant he was secretly gay. So it goes.

iii) the continued fascination with postmodernism in all facets of the arts mean that strong factual evidence is not actually a requirement, and people can be published on the basis of "analysis of penmanship" - a pseudoscience that makes phrenology look credible.


Probably the best way to debunk the silly claim that Anna Magdalena was the composer would be by applying Bayes' theorem to each of the categories of evidence. I have just read a fascinating book by a retired cosmologist who applies Bayes' theorem to argue that Shakespeare was not the author of the sonnets. If I have time I might do this with the Bach example but that's for another post. For now and very briefly, one would consider, firstly, the prior probability that Anna Magdalena was the composer (this would be low, since, for one thing, she is not known to be a composer). Then consider the conditional probability that Bach would do his best work given that he is married to Anna Magdalena. Finally consider the probability that he would do his best work given that he is not married to Anna Magdalena. Now I argue that the last two likelihood ratios are roughly equal hence the posterior probability would not be raised greatly, if at all, above the prior. Of course, I have only considered one category of purported evidence, that Bach did his best work after he married Anna Magdalena, but all the indications are that if all the categories are considered they will not greatly raise the prior if it is raised at all. QED.

It's a sad reflection on the current state of musicology that, rather than exploring important questions, like Bach's influences and influences on, his methods of composition and proper performance practice, someone spends their time on this ridiculous issue. Unlike a painting, the authenticity or otherwise doesn't affect anything of substance, and in this case it appears we can never know the truth. Would it make any difference anyway? Would we play, or listen to the works differently if we thought his wife wrote them?

I'm still waiting for someone to claim Bach was an alien hominid brought to earth by Erich von Däniken's extraterrestrial-friendly Mayans to further the Illuminati's centuries-old plan for world domination in conjunction with the Vatican, Tutankhamen, Scriabin, Leibniz, Elvis Presley and/or dolphins.

And we're back to questions of authorship, did Bach's wife write this, did the Earl of Oxford write Shakespeare's plays, does Victoria Beckham design her clothes – does it matter?

For art it only matters in financial terms, a different attribution can add a million quid on a painting, it's the same object before and after. It's why I prefer to look at the art in the Museu de Arte Antiga in Lisbon, mostly anonymous beautiful objects, the artists biography doesn't get in the way of seeing or hearing the work.


Bottom-Line: Bach tapped into extraordinary mathematical interplays in harmony that stretch the ear to its limit, even now, but all somehow made sense. However, one should not confuse the structural elegance with predictability. His greatest works are characterised by a sort of perpetual harmonic bifurcation: they could at any point unfold one way or the other or slip off another through relative major/minor devices. You never know which which way it will turn, you simply enjoy the harmonic journey Bach that pioneered, precisely because of his genius. He makes the unfamiliar seem familiar.


NB: If you wish to watch the above-mentioned documentary, it's here. Word of warning: The voice-over, in some parts, is in Portuguese. I think it's still watchable for those of you not conversant with Portuguese.

domingo, agosto 27, 2017

Boxing is a science while MMA is a maul: "McGregor vs. Mayweather" Part 2



"Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing."


In Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 5 by William Shakespeare

As predicted, Mayweather knocked it out of the park. Mayweather controlled it from the 4th. The discipline of boxing is much purer than MMA and McGregor showed his novice skills early. I liked the way Mayweather just put his gloves up and went inside like a relentless zombie attack. Conor just couldn't figure that one out and had no power inside. He was drawn into a trap and he was dumb and greedy enough to fall for it. His cash mattress will cradle him tonight though, soft and luxurious enough to sooth his bruised ego. If Federer retires I’ll try to convince him and the then Badminton or table tennis world champion to play the Ultimate Tennis Match at Wimbledon’s centre court. This wouldn’t be more ridiculed than this "fight" or shall we call it scam. The only thing that made it vaguely interesting was that McGregor is younger, stronger, faster and able to verbally sell a fight, but it showed that experience, conditioning and ring craft can be more important attributes in a boxing bout.

Haha, what a pack of smart of fleecing sheep. Paid $200 m as a 5 weight world champ to beat a guy who doesn't box in a boxing match while the guy who doesn't box gets $75 m to be beaten by a guy who would never box him in the first place if it wasn't just a joke to earn folk half a billion for a half hours work. When folk just hand over that amount of money to see the inevitable happen in a silly paint by numbers fashion rich men who think the "hoi polloi" nothing but sheep to be fleeced will always exist, they'll abound in fact. And more will be created daily by folk handing them fortunes for doing absolutely zip. Well done those men. Half a billion+ to share among all, half an hour's work & some gunning in front of a press conference & there's half a billion+ lads. Well done, nice work if you can get it & have fools back it to the hilt. Last time Mayweather had to fight a guy with a bust shoulder & got $100m, this time fights a guy who is not even a boxer & he gets $200m. Great work if you can get it. But you really would have to question anyone who'd back it with their money hoping to see something other than a joke bout too secure half a billion+ from fools for half an hour's work ;)

It’s neither Mayweather nor McGregor I blame. It’s the media that sold this scam to the public as something like a regular boxing match. What next? Elton John running the 200 metres against Usain Bolt both singing "Like a candle in the wind"?

Now that it's done and dusted it is clear now how it could have been a much more interesting fight. Mayweather had a fight plan for the long haul while Conor's plan, if he indeed had one, was simply to hope that his strength and energy would last 12 rounds. It could have been much more interesting if Conor's plan was based on the much more likely scenario that his stamina could not last much more than about six rounds. This might have led to Conor adopting a 'knockout-before-round- seven' strategy which basically would mean that if that didn't work he would go out on his shield. In other words, a knock out or bust strategy. Mayweather would have been forced to engage much more in the early rounds if Conor had put his shoulder behind his punches early on. But all that is conjecture. Or maybe that was McGregor's strategy, he just couldn't deliver. He went hard at it in the first three rounds. The fourth, Mayweather had seen all he needed to and slowly started to come out. By the end of the fifth McGregor was physically spent. Mayweather just gave people a bit of value for money. He could have taken down McGregor anytime from the fifth, he had nothing left.

Bottom-line: What a farce. It was like watching a mix of Boxing and Wrestling. At one point, even the ref said "this isn't wrestling guys". I have never laughed so much watching a boxing match. Because of Conor's unorthodox boxing style Mayweather kept turning his back and Conor would resort to clubbing him in the back of his head. If this had been another boxer no doubt he would be disqualified. When Mayweather decided to up the ante, McGregor was just a punching bag. Could the ref had let it play out longer? Possibly. But McGregor was out and that would have just extended his punishment. All in all it's as the "experts" predicted- a mismatch with the boxer coming out on top. I got the sense Floyd was toying with McGregor for the people who had paid. But this is a failed experiment. A Moto GP rider won't come to F1 and blow the timing screens. Hope both sports and others learn from this.

What's next?

Mayweather vs. Sumo champ?
Myaweather vs. Wayne Rooney?
Mayweather vs. Mike Tyson?
Mayweather vs. Hulk Hogan?
Mayweather vs Trump?
Mayweather vs Oprah?

sábado, agosto 26, 2017

Boxing is a science while MMA is a maul: "McGregor vs. Mayweather"



Watching the weigh-in, it does seem that McGregor has some major and unresolved anger management issues. Did Mayweather steal Conor's bike (the shiny new red 5-speed racer he just got for his birthday), or say something horrid and beastly about Conor's Granny (so spiteful, she's such a lovely thing)? Well, what I saw was a heavily tattooed man with a semi erection screaming a lot, and a black guy, slighting shorter, smiling and appearing to enjoy himself. Did I miss something?

Another mail in the coffin of professional boxing. It long ago ceased to be a credible sport. I expect it won't be long until we see a world champion boxer fighting a kangaroo on expensive PPV all in the name of making rich men even richer. McGregor consistently appears an appalling human being, a mangled caricature of a proud Irishman, excelling both in his immense UFC talents and drawing attention for a complete absence of dignity or decency. Mayweather on the other hand, seems also a caricature of sorts, but far less horrid, far less repugnant and with a hint of dignity about him.The Irishman goes much further than puerile, benign banter for the crowd, all part of his act, but it makes the sport look like an open zoo for rabid animals. He is bringing a bad name to boxing...regardless of the result. For there has been a sense of humility, class, about most the top boxers. Hardly all of them, but many, enough to recall a different kind of behaviour outside the ring. McGregor just looks like a clown making a complete fool of himself not to promote the fight but simply because he is nuts. Boxing is a strategic as well as physical sport, I don't like mayweather but he will school this clown. It's terrible for boxing...unless Conor gets put down. If not, it really seems to soil the reputation of the sport. I hope Floyd pondered this. He can't need the money, so its pride I suppose, the chance to reach the 50, and even perhaps some form of loyalty to his fans, most if not all of whom would like to see the fight.

Regardless of how similar Conor is away from the cameras to in front of them, his behaviour serves as an example to others. People look at a champion and use his behaviour as a benchmark. Its cool to be like Conor...Why would he care? Clearly, he doesn't. Yet, true champions, in the purist sense, show respect for the blueprint of a champion they are presenting to the word, attempting to maintain the qualities of humility, respect, politeness, common decency. Those are the true greats...but again, why would Conor care? He just wants the money and the fame and in this age, to behave as he does, appallingly and grotesquely, gets him both in spades...

Conor's success is yet another testament to living in an Age where many in the West are close to brain-dead, needing bright lights and screaming more than anything else to be captivated ...some of the press conferences have appeared like a mass outing for thousands of kids with very severe learning issues...to put it kindly.

This is not really a sporting event, but a money-making exercise. A bit like freak shows from the 19th century. Oh, and by the way: watching 2 people rubbing their crotches on each other for minutes on end after a few seconds of laughable striking might be "real fighting" in someone's eyes but it's dull as hell. I'd rather watch showjumping and I hate showjumping.

Bottom-line boxing-wise: Floyd is the best at not getting hit. Mcgregor will flail around like a mad animal. He will get frustrated and Floyd will jab at will. Everyone thinks Mcgregor smashes Floyd out but I would also like to win the lottery.

It's a farce and mugs will pay to watch. Forget the fight; I heard $100,000,000 each.

quarta-feira, agosto 23, 2017

The Emptiness of Literature: "Requiem - A Hallucination" by Antonio Tabucchi, Margaret Jull Costa (translator)



“Were someone to ask me why I wrote this story in Portuguese, I would answer simply that a story like this could only be written in Portuguese; it's as simple as that. But there is something else that needs explaining. Strictly speaking, a Requiem should be written in Latin, at least that's what tradition prescribes. Unfortunately, I don't think I'd be up to it in Latin. I realised though that I couldn't write a Requiem in my own language and I that I required a different language, one that was for me A PLACE OF AFFECTION AND REFLECTION”.

In “Requiem” by Antonio Tabucchi

Affection and reflection: with these two words, Tabucchi defined his book better than any reviewer would be able to. "Requiem" is a small masterpiece of contemporary literature, from which one can only complain about one thing: it ends too soon for those who are taking delight in it.

It's a very subjective thing, but when you read something that impresses you as language, regardless of its meaning, that seems to be so perfectly expressed that no one could have written it better, that makes you want to telephone a friend at 4AM and read it aloud, then you're probably reading a great prose stylist. I also pay attention to a writer's ability to create interesting, appropriate and original metaphors, similes, etc. A few top off-the-top-of-my-head's examples of what I would call great prose stylists, really the greatest of the great, and they’d be Shakespeare, Proust, Walter Pater, Frank Kermode, Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall”, Faulkner, Antonio Lobo Antunes, Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway” and “To the Lighthouse”, William H. Gass, William T. Vollmann, Cormac McCarthy, John Donne in his sermons (which are enjoyable purely as prose), and many, many others. Again, it's all very subjective, and everyone who cares about this stuff probably has a different list. Hell, I would have a different list if I made it two minutes from now...

Having said that, let me fanboy on Tabucchi as hard as I can, and on “Requiem” in particular.

This is a tribute to the dead, a fictional Tadeus (the narrator’S best friend), Isabel (his lover), and Fernando Pessoa. But it is also a tribute to a city almost dead, the old Lisbon that the Europeanization of Portugal had been destroying. Tabucchi is passionate about ancient Lisbon and describes it with affection for the all 12 hours during which the main character goes out in search of his ghosts.

On the last Sunday of July, the anonymous narrator is reading "The Book of Disquiet" by Fernando Pessoa under a mulberry tree in a farm in Azeitão, when he suddenly finds himself at the Lisbon dock waiting for the "dude" with whom he realizes he suddenly had a scheduled appointment. The "dude" is Fernando Pessoa. While trying to figure out how to fulfill his commitment to the poet, the narrator wanders through an almost deserted Lisbon (people have been refreshing themselves on the beaches), following clues that lead him to the Museum of Ancient Art, the House of Alentejo, the Cemetery of Pleasures, Brasileira do Chiado Café and other traditional points of my Lisbon.

This is one of my favorite books. It is an anti-novel, or a perpetually-in-progress-work. Upon re-reading it, I still find it greatly disturbing, and disquieting, because it makes me reflect about life, about myself, about what is to be a writer/reader, about what is to be a human living in a world that makes little sense and that will crush you in a split second and that will never miss your presence in it. It is about temporality and “atemporality”. It is a masterpiece in prose by one of the finest writers that has ever lived. If you are in any way absorbed by Tabucchi’s work, do so in Lisbon itself - where Tabucchi's narrative feels almost palpably real in inverse correlation, or so it seems, to the unreality of his characters.

Best of all, find a seat in the Miradouro de Santa Catarina, looking out over the whitewashed walls & orange pan-tiled roofs towards the hazy Tagus, and read in the company of Reis, Pessoa, Soares, Campus, and Saramago. Later, you'll probably want to wander over to the Noobai Café for a “bica”, or an “imperial”...


Being old enough, it's impossible to me to go look for the young and the hip in Literature. I'm, however, interested in the emptiness of it, the meaninglessness of it. The void it creates. I am interested in Tabucchi's tears because I find incredible beauty in them. I'm interested in the incredible beauty that lies away from Literature - everything that is left behind. The terror it creates?

terça-feira, agosto 22, 2017

The Power of Certain Narratives: "Pereira Declares" by Antonio Tabucchi, Patrick Creagh (translator)



“[…] but I feel I must tell you that originally, we were Lusitanians, and then came the Romans and the Celts, and then came the Arabs, so what sort of race are we Portuguese in a position to celebrate? The Portuguese Race, replied the editor-in-chief, and I am sorry to say Pereira, that I don’t like the tone of your objection, we are Portuguese, we discovered the world, we achieved the greatest feats of navigation the world over, and when we did this, in the 16th century, we were already Portuguese, that is what we are and that is what you are to celebrate, Pereira.”

In “Pereira Declares” by Antonio Tabucchi.

I read this in a Portuguese translation from the Italian more than ten years ago, if memory serves me right, I haven't come across anything quite like it and I still have a place in my heart for portly, perspiring Pereira with his omelets and his quiet, but subversive, decency. This time, this wonderful translation by Patrick Creagh just made my day.

In a narrative that does not want a puzzle, Tabucchi uses a very similar resource to the one used by Isaac Bashevis Singer: that of telling alien stories supposedly collected from conversations with real people, and not hiding it in the book's writing. “Pereira Declares” is a book that walks slowly, seeking to situate the scenario through which the characters walk, without extending the descriptions but worried to leave the reader with significant details about the characters, as, for example, the custom of Pereira to take Lemonades and the same path every day. Alongside this, there is a concern for more philosophical discussions, or at least the ones that foster deeper reflections. One can use as an example both the theory of the confederation of souls and the hegemonic hegemony proposed by Dr. Cardoso as well as Pereira's trajectory. There is also Tabucchi 's sensitivity to perceive and bring to light two issues that I consider to be praiseworthy remarks by “Pereira Declares”: the portrait of the dialectic relationship between the subject and the world, and the capacity to demonstrate the darkest tentacles of the status quo – in this case, Salazar’s Portuguese dictatorship. The relation between subject and world is drawn in the contours of the historical situation of Portugal and the existential situation of Pereira. There is much of the world in Pereira, and much of the dilemmas of Pereira in the world. The tension embodied in the dictatorial political moment is experienced by the character through the psychological state with which he turns things around. The dispute between the hegemonic selves in the confederation of the souls of Pereira is the dilemma that many live under dictatorships: to stay quite in the name of personal security or to risk everything in the name of something greater? The postures in dispute within Pereira are metaphors of this state of tension, which Tabucchi was able to capture with mastery. The persona of Pereira and his psychological characters express very well this question: he incorporated a routine discipline of fearful respect, a fear hidden even in the choice of French tales that he would like to translate. And Tabucchi made this a veiled critical observation, because just when Pereira leaves aside his mediocre habits, he becomes the target of Salazar agents. The testimony of Pereira was made literature by Tabucchi, but he’s also able to extrapolate the conception of literature as an aesthetic object, reinvigorating the power of narratives as devices of reflection as much as objects and aesthetic exercises.

segunda-feira, agosto 21, 2017

Witchcrafty-Cyperpunky SF: “Killing Gravity” by Corey J. White



I am not sure which word I hate more, "badass", or "Kickass". Both, and often the situations where they are used, make me feel like we are celebrating being aggressive and mean rather than being strong.  Why is being successful always equated with winning over others? Why do people encourage someone with "go kick some ass'. Speaking for myself, I would love to make a success of things but I would rather do it without hurting any asses or feeling like my ass is "bad". And by reading some fiction I discover another negative dimension to the word, as usual, women being asked to be strong are asked to be manly. What a sad way to be a feminist. Were I a woman, I’d not aspire to be more like a man. I’d aspire to have the same rights and opportunities as a man, and to be strong in my own way. But that’s just me talking. I understand we must keep in mind that unfortunately the world we live in is a competitive and aggressive one. Whenever someone’s gets to the top it is because he/she has kicked some ass in the road. Of course, there are a few exceptions given certain conditions and circumstances. Because this is the way language develops and changes over time, just as how 'gay' became shorthand for 'homosexual'. 'Badass' might still mean something negative for men (not least because it suits some people to imply as much). It also explains why there have been so many feminist attempts to 'reclaim' words. Or is 'badass' going to join the list of Words-You-Must-Never- Use-to-Describe-a-Woman such as 'feisty'?

Is “badass” the only way to be?

No. Women are diverse that way.

The whole “women mustn't behave like men” line relies on the idea that the behaviour is innately gendered, in the same way that boys supposedly mustn't behave 'like a girl'. So by all means we should find a synonym for 'badass' that means confident, successful, swaggering or whatever. But that's matter of using a thesaurus, or just one of human behaviour, which is as confusing as Bjork sang about, rather than thinking that one side can have all the 'positive' attributes and dump the 'negative' ones on some other group. It's not a question of women behaving like men, it's a question of people behaving how they wish to behave, without reference to their sex. Some people are forceful, aggressive and competitive, whilst some people are quiet, contemplative and unambitious. You can't predict who will be what by looking at their genitals.

I remember seeing a comment from a co-worker along the lines of "If women ran the world it'd be a better place", so I mentioned Angela Merkel and Hilary Clinton, and asked if their world would really be so much better. I got the response "No, not women acting like men." The idea that holding political office is a purely male behaviour surprised me considerably.

It's a great shame that the author has so internalised sexist stereotypes about what constitutes "male" and "female" behaviour that her characters are unable to conceive displays of strength and self-possession as anything other than acting "like a man". This is the same kind of pernicious lie that is used, for example, to attack persons of colour who display academic ambition as "acting white". The reason these "badass" qualities are praised is not because they are intrinsically "male". That is a ridiculous, sexist slur, and one that utterly betrays the many women who naturally possess these qualities, not to mention the many, many men who don't possess them, as being somehow inferior or less-worthy examples of their gender. Also, the idea that they imply some "gun-toting, bullying ass-kicking" stereotype is an absurd fantasy, entirely from the author's imagination. Nobody who is praising "badass" female sports stars is doing it because they are gun-toting bullies. The very idea that they might be is delusional.

That’s why I think this is a false question. It is not about being empowered being victims, but how do we empower ourselves. I, for example, would consider a nurse who works with terminal patients a strong and empowered woman, but is she a badass? No, she is not, because her strength stems from empathy and poise. I do not understand why empowerment must be equated to ruthlessness and even violence. This unconsciously draws from the idea that feminine is somehow weak. Is childbearing and rearing something weak people do? When I see women who are single mums and work and put their kids through university, I think those are strong brave women, yet there is not a hint of toughness and disconnectedness in them, and they are also not victims at all. Think of the grandmothers of Plaza the Mayo, aren't they empowered? They are, looking for their grandchildren for 30 years, but you don't see anybody calling them that. Female empowerment in media, and in fiction in particular, is shown as women kicking ass with violence, instead of shaming whole governments and bringing people to tears due to their courage. "Badass characters", as used in fiction simply implies a healthy amount of self-confidence, and a cool and unpretentious attitude. It is a way of behaving that appeals particularly to the Western psyche. These qualities are praised not because they are "male", but because they are considered objectively praiseworthy, at least within modern western society. And, in moderation, they are praiseworthy. Of course, we should be careful not to denigrate those who do not naturally possess them, just as we shouldn't let admiration for intellectual, academic, physical or societal achievement degenerate into contempt for those who fall short. But we also shouldn't be so afraid of alienating someone that it stops us from offering praise where praise is deserved. Particularly in the case of women who demonstrate the kind of confidence and self-possession that exemplifies being a "badass". While there is nothing intrinsically "male" or "female" about these qualities, it is true that, on the whole, women have not enjoyed the same encouragement to express them as men. Now that is changing, we should not feel ashamed or worried about celebrating them when we have the opportunity.

Female badassery, in SF at least, seems to be reaching the formulaic stage that car chases and sex scenes have long since undergone, so that there's something perfunctory and obligatory about its presentation. Every time there's a fight scene in which there's a female present, novels seem to go out of their way to show that "hey look -- women can fight too!" There's also the influence of Hong Kong action flicks, in which every fight scene must be some ridiculously choreographed acrobatic and gymnastic tour-de-force in which people take multiple kicks and punches to the head, smash through plate-glass windows, and fall several stories without winding up in a major trauma unit and being paralyzed from the neck down, with major brain damage on top of it all, assuming any real person would survive such violence to begin with. I define "badass" as having the courage to be yourself no matter what. You can be a badass and also cry, falter and doubt yourself. All badasses - male and female - are whole people, with weak spots like anyone else. What makes you a badass is having the wisdom and the courage to nurture what needs nurturing. You can also be a badass for fighting lifelong battles that maybe only a very few around you are aware of: mental illness, addiction, domestic violence, poverty. We won't win the Nobel Prize, but that makes us badasses too. We wake up another morning, and some days it isn't a fight, and that in itself is a victory.

Hard SF means more that writing a story about Cowboys, or, in this case, Cowgirls, and giving them ray guns (or absolute mental powers in this case). Or producing a political drama - with aliens (it's still only a political drama). Or making a film about military conquest ... and setting it on other planets. To be true SF, a work must take a theory, observation, scientific or technological phenomenon (real or imaginary) and say "what if ... " What if the world's population rose to 20 Billion? What if the sun exploded? What if we discovered the secret to immortality - or mind reading - or AI? It's that analytical journey told through the medium of fiction that makes SF. Not some guy or girl and his or her "companion" goofing around in a police box. Too many present-day SF authors either lack imagination or feel compelled to write more "accessible" stories. Space-opera is a case in point: an entire genre created just so authors don't have to trouble themselves with thinking up any decent future science, and actually try to imagine and create future tech. Instead, they set stories in futures with less science than we have now, but still have the gall to call them "science fiction". Disgusting. What will they think up next to sell SF?


SF = Speculative Fiction.

domingo, agosto 20, 2017

2017-Sommerfrische: Der Berg und der Strand rufen


(Cascais Bay, Portugal)

Schnüren Sie Ihre Wanderschue.
Schültern Sie Ihren Rucksack.
Kontrollieren Sie noch kurz, ob das Notwendigste eingepackt ist: Getränke, Verpflegung, Regenschutz, Wanderkarte, leere Aufbewahrungsdosen usw.
Mit diesen Vorbereitungen sind herrliche Wandererlebnisse, gerade auch in den Bergen, garantiert.
Denn schliesslich sind wir in Portugal! Dieses Freizeitvergnügen, das man allein, mit der Familie oder mit Freunden ausüben kann, gehört zum typischen Portugal Ritualen.
Der Berg ruft - aber der Weg ist das Ziel. Ich habe mich entschieden. Aber zuerst gehe ich an den Cascais-Strand, eine meiner Lieblingsstrände meiner Jugend...




sábado, agosto 19, 2017

Chiastic Rhetorical Devices: “Shakespeare's Symmetries: The Mirrored Structure of Action in the Plays” by James E. Ryan



“MALVOLIO
M, O, A, I; this simulation is not as the former: and
yet, to crush this a little, it would bow to me, for
every one of these letters are in my name. Soft!
here follows prose.
Reads

'If this fall into thy hand, revolve. In my stars I
am above thee; but be not afraid of greatness: some
are born great, some achieve greatness, and some
have greatness thrust upon 'em. Thy Fates open
their hands; let thy blood and spirit embrace them;
and, to inure thyself to what thou art like to be,
cast thy humble slough and appear fresh. Be
opposite with a kinsman, surly with servants; let
thy tongue tang arguments of state; put thyself into
the trick of singularity: she thus advises thee
that sighs for thee. Remember who commended thy
yellow stockings, and wished to see thee ever
cross-gartered: I say, remember. Go to, thou art
made, if thou desirest to be so; if not, let me see
thee a steward still, the fellow of servants, and
not worthy to touch Fortune's fingers. Farewell.
She that would alter services with thee,
THE FORTUNATE-UNHAPPY.'
Daylight and champaign discovers not more: this is
open. I will be proud, I will read politic authors,
I will baffle Sir Toby, I will wash off gross
acquaintance, I will be point-devise the very man.
I do not now fool myself, to let imagination jade
me; for every reason excites to this, that my lady
loves me. She did commend my yellow stockings of
late, she did praise my leg being cross-gartered;
and in this she manifests herself to my love, and
with a kind of injunction drives me to these habits
of her liking. I thank my stars I am happy. I will
be strange, stout, in yellow stockings, and
cross-gartered, even with the swiftness of putting
on. Jove and my stars be praised! Here is yet a
postscript.
Reads

'Thou canst not choose but know who I am. If thou
entertainest my love, let it appear in thy smiling;
thy smiles become thee well; therefore in my
presence still smile, dear my sweet, I prithee.'
Jove, I thank thee: I will smile; I will do
everything that thou wilt have me.
Exit”

In “Twelfth Night” by William Shakespeare

“Chiasmus – a mirror pattern in which key elements are repeated in reverse order, either with or without an unrepeated central element (ABCBA or ABBA) – is a common organizing principle, employed both rhetorically and structurally. [..] the best-known episodes in Shakespeare’s plays, such as Malvolio’s tortured reading of Maria’s letter in ‘Twelfth Night’, are structurally emphasized in this way.”

In “Shakespeare's Symmetries” by James E. Ryan

Dear, darling Shakespeare! How long is it, how many times hath Phoebus' cart gone round Neptune's salt wash, since you gave us the bad news of your imminent demise? I have been seated here those many years, tearing, fearing, lest, at any moment I should receive the grim testimony of some ugly, unwanted newshound. But, of course, you can never die, dear heart! You have bequeathed us a canon of literary and televisual wisdom like no other, such as would take any man a lifetime to dissect and absorb. And I believe you are working on yet another volume of pretty words, of poetry. Hurry it along, Shakespeare, for I am keen to drink in thy paroles!   

Presumptuous of me, I know, but I think “Twelfth Night” was likely Shakespeare's own favourite and provides a fabulous counterpoint to “Hamlet”, which was written about the same time. I came to “Twelfth Night” late in life. I was reasonably familiar with about a dozen of the canon and decided to pick a new play and study it line by line. What a great exercise for gaining intimacy with the bard and coming firmly to grips with the language of the day, which holds one in good stead with all the plays. For me, the BBC version from about 1979, with the incomparable Robert Hardy as Sir Toby, is still the best. I urge anyone to read the play thoroughly then watch it, for it can be a bit tricky going in "cold." Even one of the actors from the recent film version said he had no idea what was going on. BTW, what turned me on to Twelfth Night was Judi Dench's affectionate allusion to it in “Shakespeare in Love”. And she should know, having played Viola onstage some years before. You can tell she loves it, too – right? Actually, Malvolio isn't the only outsider - Feste is, too. That status is commented on by others, notably Maria (unlike him, very much part of the household), and pointed up by his almost Chorus-like singing role. To my surprise, in none of the (upwards of fifteen) TNs that I've seen has he been portrayed as a disguised catholic priest, though the play, I think, gains in intensity from such a reading. Seen thus, the household is England in microcosm, its female head wooed unsuccessfully from abroad, and steering a pragmatic course between the two ideologies challenging it, embodied in Feste and Malvolio. Of course, Malvolio would hardly have lived on into the Protectorate. I wonder if Feste was ever caught and (as Maria warns him) hanged? You cannot commodify depth, unfortunately, otherwise everyone would be Shakespeare. Shakespeare's true genius is not in the intricacies of his language but in the emotions he conveys to us through his characters. It's a bit of a paraphrase of Bloom's 'Invention of the Human' argument, but ultimately, Shakespeare's language is not a genuine obstacle to that emotional connection.

This is the Shakespeare who is staged more than any other living artist annually - and, I suspect, makes far more than any other living writer per year? Shakespeare isn't just 'another playwright', he's the greatest practitioner of the English language bar none, eclipsing even Milton, Jonson, Marlowe, Webster... etc - a point that is proved by people who don't understand his works laughing helplessly when they go to see his plays. The language isn't that difficult to understand if you take the time with it, like all great things, a little work with it brings infinite rewards.

I once read the second half of Macbeth while blind drunk on a train. It was massively enjoyable. I was lost in the poetry. Thankfully I like it almost as much when sober. However, the point I'm failing to make is that without an excellent English teacher many eons ago I would not have read it at all. Like the chimney sweep point in the article she made it come alive. Thank you, Mrs. Hartnack.
The problem with the current tendency to simplify Shakespeare (at the RSC and the National, as well as more obviously at the globe) is that Shakespeare is nothing but language, spoken and acted out. Changing the language makes it less Shakespeare, and more like “Shakespeare Retold”, those nice films that recycled a few original lines along with the plots (which are mostly not original with Shakespeare). The key to understanding Shakespeare's language, if you don't know what all the words mean, is to hear and see it performed by actors who do understand it. You'll understand very well what's going on, even if you don't get every word. And the more you see and hear Shakespeare, the more his marvelously rich language adds meaning to the music. I think many people's problems with Shakespeare originate in excruciatingly dull reading in the classroom, without the context supplied by performance. It's meant to be seen in action, as well as comprehended through hearing. I had a Japanese friend who said she was so sorry for the English, because they had to readjust their language comprehension, which “furreners” like her didn't have to do when watching him in translation. The fact that he is so popular and so revered and analysed in so many countries and cultures tells us there's a heck of a lot more to him than the language.

Shakespeare remains relevant because his understanding of universals was profound, and his language remains piercingly fresh. Maybe what makes Shakespeare Shakespeare is the chiasmus or it’s the iambic pentameter maybe. Who knows? Who cares? He was a genius living at a time when the English language was still wonderfully malleable. It was an age in which the known world was expanding with the discovery of the Americas, when England was a centre of growing prosperity and technological advance - and the headiness of living in a country in such flux is palpable in the texts too. That Shakespeare was a brilliant literary innovator just isn't in doubt; you have only to read Spenser, Marlowe and Jonson to see it. They are all stupendous in different ways (I recently reread Jonson's The Alchemist and was astonished all over again), but the acuity of Shakespeare's phrases, the penetrating psychological insights in Macbeth, Lear and Hamlet, the sheer beauty and strangeness of the language and the thinking set him apart. Portuguese like me who love Shakespeare do so for the normal reasons: the vitality of the language, the brilliance of insights into human nature, and, very often, the tragic pull our natures bringing us to ruin. Thanks Mr. Ryan for giving me another take on interpreting Shakespeare. Celebrate the words, the symmetries, the parallelisms, the iambic pentameter, chiastic rhetorical devices, and whatnot. Celebrate that once there was a voice expressing the deepest fears, the greatest triumphs and the riddle of what it is to be human. Shakespeare is more important to Western culture than most of the parade of characters we see this year on our news screens. Alongside Michelangelo, Bach and Einstein the word genius can be used without fear of hyperbole.


quinta-feira, agosto 17, 2017

There Are no Golden Ages: "New Maps of Hell" by Kingsley Amis


“No wife who finds her husband addicting himself to science fiction need fear that he is in search of an erotic outlet, anyway not an overt one.”

In "New Maps of Hell" by Kingsley Amis

To put it in another context, imagine I'd be teaching F. Scott Fitzgerald to undergraduates, some of whom would be of African descent. Do we look at the casual racism found in the books and say "that's wrong?" No, we assume that everyone "gets" that it's wrong. But we look at the fact that this was considered normal/acceptable in F. Scott's day. He's still a magnificent writer, but he reflects his own era. Scott’s similar to Amis. His attitude to women is a reflection of the times. We can't shy away from that and pretend it isn't so, and we can't negate him as a writer, because of it.

Imagine yourself living in Lisbon as a young woman; wouldn’t you dread the endless comments, abuse, physical assaults that were part of your everyday experience. Maybe this young woman dreamt of buying an electric cattle prod and zapping those who threatened her. But it was the times in which they lived back then. Women had no rights in the 60s. The literature of the times, reflected that. Shall we zap Amis with a cattle prod for being a man of his time? No. First of all, I believe that all good books, whether niche or mainstream or somewhere in-between, must have an implicit message they are trying to put across, which should stick out almost like a sore thumb. That said, I in no way think this should make books programmatic. Writing a novel with the sole purpose of creating a text more politically correct than anything that has ever been written might take away, all at once, all the drama and conflict that all good novels - needless to say, I am merely expressing my own point of view here - play with to a certain extent. Secondly, SF (fantasy and science-fiction), possibly more so than any other genre, and even at their most mechanically chlichéd, are written and read not simply for "idle entertainment", but as a platform for escapism. And "entertainment" and "escapism" are definitely not the same thing. Sure, escapism includes enjoyment, but there are many other elements to it as well. (Such as creating a world that is only lineally similar to the one you attempting to escape from. Thirdly, if one raises the issue that "creators of fantasy stories [should] have the self-awareness to properly represent gender and race in their work". Whilst I agree that misrepresentation of elements such as race and gender should carefully be avoided in all forms of mass-media, I also believe that what we should tread carefully here. How, for instance, would you propose said careful representation of gender and race in fantasy texts? Would that not constrain the genre further, rather than pushing it to evolve? Also, I can easily think of dystopias (Margaret Atwood's included) where gender and race and misrepresented on purpose, and all for a good cause. (Take a world populated and ruled by physically perfect males, for instance, where restricted numbers of females are carefully kept under lock and key solely for reproductive purposes. Would a book describing such a world be encouraging development of an extremist patriarchal society, then?)

All in all, I think one tends to push the "balanced representation" argument a bit too far. What is a fantasy writer supposed to write? A book about a universe where there is a balanced percentage of elves and orcs, with a 50%-50% number of males and females in each population? And this just for the sake of keeping it all politically correct?

I think it is useful to develop a classification for relatively new genres, I just think some critics have an overemphasis on it - for me pigeonholing a book into a sub-genre is useful shorthand but also the least interesting thing you can say about it.

Thinking about gender, for example I am currently reading a fantasy novel; it is set in a grimy slum city and I have read less than a quarter of it. So far there have been about fifteen named male characters and three female (one of whom is a murder victim who never appeared in the book while she was alive. One of them is the main character's best friend's wife - she is tiny and quiet and has had about one line of dialogue. Meanwhile a squad of soldiers who all die in the same chapter; they are introduced and they're given histories and personalities and distinguishing features because obviously, the author found them cooler/more interesting to think about than a bar man's wife. I'm sure we can all think of genre books where the only female characters are the love interest and a few hookers.

I understand that sometimes books can be tedious because they fail to represent, say, women realistically and they reduce them to whimpering "angels in the house" or worse. That is, indeed, unfortunate and inadvisable. However, correctness, in this sense, would be "representing life as it actually is". Well, my point is precisely that the purpose of many, many SF works are representing the world as it actually isn't, i.e. envisioning forced situations which, as an effect, make the reader think. I am not saying authors should be careless and misogynistic (or, conversely, misandrist) in their approach. But by the same token, a forced political correctness, just for the sake of being politically correct is, I believe, misguided.

To make myself clear - yes, I believe characters should be represented realistically and convincingly. But I also think that authors should be free to represent unrealistic situations realistically and convincingly. Sometimes such situations may include gender and racial imbalance, but that is meant to be part of the story they are trying to tell.

Coming again to Amis’ take on SF’s classifications, it's more helpful to think about genres as a group of families than a series of classifications. Using that metaphor, you do away with the need to draw dividing lines, and grey areas become less problematic as you can think on them as cases of interbreeding.   

As to the “genre fiction and comfort” catch phrase, there's a case to be made for candy floss vs. more fibrous fare in every genre. SF stories are challenging to precisely the extent they challenge, subvert and change the worldview encoded in the genre's DNA. That's every bit as true in SF as it is Mundane Fiction, sitcoms, period drama, epic poetry or the pop song.

This is of course a very old debate. Tolkien and CS Lewis and others powerfully made the case for fantasy as a serious literary genre back in the 1930s. Tolkien wrote a brilliant essay called "Beowulf: the monsters and the critics" which is still relevant and interesting - the link is here: http://scr.bi/GTjcoo.

I also think no discussion on the literary importance of SF is complete without referencing the important contributions of Ursula Le Guin and Kim Stanley Robinson. Le Guin's books are a sustained examination of patriarchy and injustice and their imaginative and literary power is inseparable from their genre status as science fiction. For her, the language of fantasy is a key tool for critical understanding of the present world. I have this quote from her above my desk: "Those who refuse to listen to dragons will probably spend their lives acting out the nightmares of politicians. We like to think we live in daylight, but half the world is always dark; and fantasy, like poetry, speaks the language of the night." Well said.

Often a good indicator of "gratification" versus more challenging entertainment is the attitude towards change. I like genre fiction that embraces the inevitability of transformation - not suggesting that all change should be enthusiastically welcomed for its own sake, but recognising that change will happen, and can be managed to some extent. What I don't like is fiction about restoring an "old order" or a "natural order", as seems to be the case with a lot of fantasy (and, to be fair, probably a fair amount of space opera too). In reality there are no golden ages, there is no natural order; there is only power and negotiation and moral debate - and the future is not going to resemble the past.

And then this pearl of wisdom from Amis concerning Fred Pohl showed up: “We have now reached the point of departure for the consideration, on some detail, of the work of Frederik Pohl, the most consistently able writer science fiction, in the modern sense, has yet produced.” What? Say again? Even by 60s standards this is a rather bold statement. There's a broad range of critical approaches taken even in the relatively small pool of SF critics and academics. This kind of rhetoric when it comes to SF is a formalist approach. It's a mistake to think that the development of, for instance, a structuralist approach, invalidates prior thinking. They are different lenses for looking at a text, and they show different things. “New Maps of Hell” specifically seeks to be a kind of Structuralist approach, though it's a pretty shoddy one, because I'm not convinced, I must say, that Amis understood much of the theory he tried to use. As with so many of the most acclaimed SF novels and stories, they must stay within the small and, frankly, ignorant little realm where self-referential people just read all this and think it must be the greatest stuff ever. (And it may be, individually, for them. There's nothing wrong with that. But to make all sorts of claims about literature and theory when they don't have a wide and thorough understanding of all the multiplicities is, to say the least, silly.) One can forgive the mediocrity of academics like Amis; the rush to get published so one doesn't perish is not conducive to great thought. But for the mediocre to be celebrated as gobsmackingly insightful by onlookers suggests that the intellectual culture of the onlookers is rather shallow and self-congratulating

The narrowness of Amis’s readings and conceptions is what limits him. Different lenses are useful for different things, but no lens deserves to be celebrated if it is covered with scratches, cracks and mud. There is a distinct lack of 'literary' merit (or, at least, what today is the current vogue for literary merit) in most SF because of the scale involved. SF seems to have to be about grand scale wars or space operas, clashes of good vs evil, and enormous journeys of revelation, whereas a lot of the literary fiction today is focused on the minutiae of daily life, beauty in microcosm, the power of a single word or action or seemingly minor deed. Surely it's not too much to ask for someone to bridge this gap - for the benefit of both genres...

For many of the reasons which I have already provided in some of my other posts concerning SF (and which I will try not to repeat, since repeating myself would be tedious). At the same time I believe that SF encompasses some of the few genres where "fairness" is not always entirely relevant based on the fact that:

a. I find that often, in fantasy, the one who is guiltier of misrepresentation is the reader rather than the writer. That is because he or she may be reading racial stereotypes where the writer didn't intend them to be, out of too zealous a sense of political correctness;
b. Again, science-fiction is often based on issues of unfairness for obvious reasons.

Moreover, some writers put a lot of effort into creating well-rounded characters and balancing out race and gender representations, they still use stereotypes and tropes from time to time. And yet, all of those are used in order to advance the story and push points that are morally valid and politically correct. China Miéville plays nicely with the "white trash" guy who is actually pretty much sentimental and turns out to be the saviour of the world as we know it trope (in "King Rat"). Catherynne Valente serves a succulent array of female prostitutes (we may easily call them that) who give up their bodies in exchange for just one night of bliss (read that as you will) in "Palimpsest". And yet these tropes do what they are meant to do. They push the story forwards and they make a point.

I guess what I am saying is that there is a fine line between "do" and "don't", especially in art/literature. And it might not be such a good idea to completely try to erase the "don't".


As a provision, I would also suggest that the expectation that writers must "treat characters as statements or representatives and not as individuals" is also a presumption and taste of our own particular time, place, and culture. Why "must" this be so? Are allegorical and symbolic modes always somehow less rewarding? I think that the whole palette should be available to the writer and the reader. I also think that imperatives about making fantasy "representative" reveal the degree to which contemporary notions of Realism have saturated aesthetic discussions. Representative values and individuation are certainly not as necessary (or necessary at all) for the success of works such as Dunsany's “The Gods of Pegana”, Cabell's “Jurgen”, Eddison's “The Worm Ouroboros”, or Lindsay's “The Voyage to Arcturus”. And I would maintain that -- viewed retrospectively -- two works that I greatly admire, “A Wizard of Earthsea” and “Perdido Street Station”, now seem as much about "types" as anything else. This is not meant to mark down Le Guin or Mieville. Far from it. Rather, I think that “A Wizard of Earthsea” and “Perdido Street Station” will endure despite their politics or ideology -- which will increasingly date over time -- by virtue of their style, tone, and aesthetic achievement are given accolades within the SF community because few people there care anything about literary criticism after about 1960 (Amis book came out in the 60s). And they're proud of their derriere-garde status. It's easier for them. They can keep arguing about whether dwarves and elves are fantasy or fantastika or whatever other classification neologism they come up with to feel clever. Such criticism will never grow up until it can give up on all the categorizing and move on to something meaningful. But while the writers yearn to be back in the good ol' golden age of their youth, so do the critics, whose understanding of what literature can be hasn't advanced much beyond secondary school.


SF = Speculative Fiction.

terça-feira, agosto 15, 2017

Micro-Fiction, Text 012: "Go Team Portugal!" by MySelfie


How the crowds would roar. Like a vast wave crashing onto the shore they would rise, pink mouths stretched into a row of noughts. How many, Santa Camarão wondered. 10,000? 100,000? It wouldn't just be the ones packed into the stadium, line after line, like tailors' stitches. There would be many more watching images beamed across nations; images sent speeding into space and back, faster than the fastest athlete, as fast as thought. So, how many? Santa could feel his heart pumping, hot and quick. His time was approaching, hurtling towards him like a meteor. This was his moment: this was it. Was it fate or was it chance? His mouth was dry. He wanted to stride but his feet would only shuffle. Lisbon had changed since he was last there: taller, faster, traffic and people swarming thick. A shadow fell across his face like a slap, a ten-foot smile snatching the sun: Welcome to the Olympics, the billboard read. The windows of the buildings glinted like dark water. Unauthorised posters will be seized a notice warned. It would take more than that to stop Santa. He slipped a hand into his coat, felt the comforting coolness of the metal. He felt calmer now. The stadium entrance flashed in the sunshine, reflecting the sky; shattered pieces of blueness shimmering like splinters along the polished steel. This would show them. He walked through the turnstile. No one paused to look. No one gave much thought to Santa Camarão anymore. He gripped his bony hands into fists. There had been a time when these hands would have held back lions. He had been a giant once: legs like pistons pounding on the track, shoulders broad enough to carry an ox. But, everything was changing. Time was unraveling: hours, days, years unwinding from its spindle, drawing out his strength like a thread. And he was breaking, he knew that with certainty; slowly he was breaking. But, right now that didn't matter, for ahead where the sky arched hot and blue, his crowd was waiting. He stumbled forwards. At first no one saw, then there was a shout. A man waved, wide-eyed, frantic. Reaching into his coat Santa's fingers worked past the cool metal and grasped. Around him, uniformed men were closing in, neat like tailors' stitches, pistols glinting. But, that didn’t bother old Santa. So then, right there, he pulled. The shots were swift: faster than the fastest athlete, as fast as thought. If only he could have heard how the crowd roared. Pink mouths stretched out like rows of noughts along the terraces, and there on the track, fluttering like a schoolgirl’s ribbon, Santa’s banner of support: Go Team Portugal! Beneath its folds his body seemed so small. Against his chest his medal lay cold and smooth.


domingo, agosto 13, 2017

Progressive Rock SF: "Devices and Desires" by K. J. Parker



When Tom Holt uses his K. J. Parker heteronym, at his best, is a very good genre writer: which is not to say that genre writers can't be as good as (if not better than) their literary counterparts - but they have not been taken as seriously, which is true even now. I must admit I found Gene Wolfe's work to be good too, rather than something to be proselytised for, or raved about. Moorcock's essay "Epic Pooh" is a good analysis in some respects (though perhaps influenced by Terry Eagleton et al, and Marxist Lit-Crit in general) and admits the fact the LOTR writing is at least accomplished. Of Moorcock's work "The Dancers at the End of Time" series is both funny and readable and "The Condition of Muzak" to me seems still his best. Folk finding Peake to be overwritten just proves what sort of literary world we now inhabit: Orwell's plain English has come back to bite us on our collective arse, and we can no longer cope with sentences with sub clauses, or paragraphs full of metaphor via elision. Oh, well. It's just that when folk write stuff like "The Book of the New Sun" is the best fantasy ever written, I must assume that they haven't read much to compare it to, genre fantasy or otherwise.  No doubt all shall be well in the ground of our beseeching, if that's the phrase I'm stretching for. 

Much modern fantasy suffers from a need to be perceived as dark, and combined with a desire to out-epic the competition it's led to something of a sameness in the huge-number-of-mutilated-dead count, tougher-than-the-last-tough-guy hyperinflation, and characters flawed by their amorality or brutality (Staveley comes to mind). Parker maintains a personal scale, even though world-changing events (though his worlds always have a sparseness to them - rarely any heaving multitudes), and his characters are flawed by their vulnerabilities. There's darkness aplenty - I find more horror in his themes of erasure or corruption of identity than in how many hundreds of thousands of anonymous bodies line roads to cities (Baker, Staveley, Ryan, Cameron, etc.). This approach pays dividends in his mastery of character development. His books follow anything but an expected path - unexpected events shape characters in entirely unforeseen ways, and while that can lead to great emotional investment on the part of the reader, Parker can be bruisingly unsentimental. That’s why I say fantasy is the progressive rock of literature. It has its ardent fans who champion its cause in the face of utter derision from critics. It has its fair share of pretentious tosh but there are nuggets of excellence to be found if you look hard enough with an open enough mind, a bit like its sister, science fiction. Another factor in fantasy's 'rehabilitation' that might be worth exploring is the prevalence of fantasy in computer and video games. Why does that work so much better than, say political fiction? Anyway, from someone who has read SF (science Fiction and Fantasy) for over 30 years, I’m still surprised we can still find writers writing non-magic fantasy. I like prog rock too, naturally, but that's another story... Parker is a peerless creator of genuinely unearthly mindscapes.

The other great thing about K. J. Parker is that even with his fantasy potboilers he still entertains me with his florid use of language, the weird and wonderful names, and the little details he drops into his stories, products of his wild imagination that elevate even the most mundane tales.



SF = Speculative Fiction.

sábado, agosto 12, 2017

A 1000-Year Lineage: "Foi Deus/It Was God" by Amália





Fado makes Leonard Cohen sound like the Laughing Policeman. Steer clear of it unless it is in your blood, i.e. you are Portuguese and can trace your cultural lineage back at least a 1,000 years.

It does not travel.

Think Brazil - samba and fun! Think Portugal - fado and self imposed melancholy!

If you really want to ruin a holiday in Lisbon, visit the Fado museum at the bottom of the Alfama district.

If you want to go down this rabbit hole, rest assured the Queen of Fado was Amália, she was the genius, she invented it all: the addition of the bass guitar, the black dresses, the love for Portuguese music. Her taste was impeccable. It's just frigging unexplainable the genius of Amália. To me, Amália ranks very high, up there with Sinatra and Callas.


sexta-feira, agosto 11, 2017

The Quest for Immortality, variant no. 843: “A Calculated Life” by Anne Charnock




“’That’s the heart of the problem. I haven’t lived enough. My character is just the combination of my intellect and my faults. I haven’t had time to become more complex, more interesting. […] I’m not sure if you realize this but without my flaws I’d be pretty dull. You should know that.’”

In “A Calculated Life” by Anne Charnock


For the sake of argument let me be devil’s advocate.

The scientific materialist assumption is that the body is the primary organ and consciousness is secondary. This is not so; consciousness is the primary experience and the body and all other experiences are secondary. The body is a construct of consciousness. Forward thinking scientists are just beginning to realise this. Man might be able to prolong life but a 'machine' existence will never happen because the 'reality' of phenomenal existence is simultaneously 'real' and 'not real'. People, including scientists tend to see everything in terms of being a binary system. Yes/no, off/on, is/isn't, 0/1, true /untrue. Reality is not that simplistic. Mm, that's some good pseudo bullshit. Preventing aging is almost certainly more achievable soon than consciousness transfer, but ultimately the latter offers greater security and opportunity. Immortal DNA is all very well, until you suffer catastrophic injury or brain damage. With transferable consciousness, you get the immortality, along with the option to backup and restore in the event of a fatal accident, as well as the ability to travel at light-speed as a digital signal to be reawakened on arrival. And that's before we even get into the idea of truly inhabiting the virtual world as digital consciousness. With an infinitesimal fraction of the earth's current energy use, you could have untold trillions living in a virtual utopia, with a near infinite diversity of cultures, worlds and lifestyles. Nevertheless, is it misleading to talk about 'transferable' consciousness? What would be uploaded would be a facsimile of your consciousness. As far as the exterior world, interacting with the facsimile, would be concerned it would be you. However, it would actually be a totally new instance of you, with no continuity of your original consciousness. It's what's always troubled me about the idea of Star Trek-type teleportation - the thought that disintegrating someone in one place and then reassembling them in another, would effectively mean the death of the original, internally-experienced consciousness (although nobody else would notice or care!). Of course, it all depends on the manner of the transfer, and your outlook on identity and consciousness. Personally, I would consider an accurate facsimile to be me. A second version, sure, but I don't see that as an obstacle to identity. Once they start experiencing separate things though, they will diverge, and the concept of which is the "true" me becomes less meaningful. The continuity of consciousness is interesting; a new instance would be me, but would leave the original me intact, so from the original's POV, the copy is a clone. However, if you could first augment the brain with computers, allowing consciousness to run on both subtracts at the same time (imagine your normal consciousness, but with access to extra digital memory, for example) then you could theoretically effect the transfer smoothly, "moving" your consciousness purely into the inorganic memory. Basically, this kind of stuff will force us to challenge our ideas of self, and of identity, because we've never had cause to think of ourselves as anything other than singular beings, though observations after the severing of the corpus callosum in epilepsy sufferers has already put strain on that idea, suggesting that we are already less easily defined than we like to think (I recommend Greg Egan's SF books as a great place to explore these ideas, beginning with Permutation City).

The joy of intelligent thinking. We have it. Computers don't. Computers will be able to make decisions (and sometimes those decisions are going to be wrong), but there are so many ways in which computers cannot compete with the human. "I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do". (HAL 2001). Just look at the European Language top level C2 - "Can express themselves spontaneously, very fluently and precisely, differentiating finer shades of meaning even in the most complex situations." Being able to say things with "shades of meaning", heck native speakers cannot even do that sometimes. And when it comes to listening or reading humans can read between the lines and they can understand subtleties and nuances. Computers and robots will enhance the world - hey, they can even go to visit Mars rather than risking the life of a person - but it will take much more time before they can out think us.

Chess - Go - Tic-Tac-Toe these are games! And they have finite boundaries. Real life? Enjoy it.

Charnock plays with these concepts in a manner that felt non-gimmicky. Lots of SF nowadays feels all too gimmicky and swamped in crap. Charnock’s basic presumption is that the mind is ultimately not just software, running on the hardware of the brain. Thus, we can transfer it, duplicate it, upload it and the rest. Throughout the novel we’re kept in doubt as to the nature of the human mind. Real science has made very little headway in that direction. Some scientists and philosophers deny there is such a thing as the mind at all. They say the mind is just what the brain does. Jayna’s rebooting makes me thing: "It won't be her surely", but this doesn't even quite catch it, it's worse than that. It won't even be a copy of her. No Jayna 2. Whatever Charnock created on another piece of hardware and software - even if the constructors used another biological neural network! - will approximate aspects that we as the readers will be able to identify, but a) Jayna will never be the same, and b) point (a) does not even matter, because it won't be identical. Even if some godly creature made an atom-for-atom copy of Jayna, that's going to be another “person”. Doesn't matter that it's a copy, meaning same memories etc. From the point of creation of the copy there are two different and separate physical beings without any connection. Will there be a sequel to this wonderful novel? For the first time in many years I wouldn’t mind reading it now.
 

NB: At the end of the novel Charnock mentions Kurzweil’s “The Age of Spiritual Machines” which I read a long time ago. One word: crap! Kurzweil never gives indication of understanding that a finite but infinitely varied and magnificent environment exists in the real world, beyond humans, nor what its relationship would be to this kind of bizarre transformation. The perpetrators of this nightmare seem to be unaware that we are in the Sixth Great Extinction now and that it will include humans. One must believe these people have been in their cells with computers and chips for too long. Perhaps their whole lives. What will happen when the EMP attack takes it all down? I live in Lisbon that is so far away from this kind of isolated industrial society conceit that I can hardly believe Kurzweil understands the real world. But I tell you, in my real world, my swallows were back 2 months early…That much I know.


SF = Speculative Fiction.