sábado, abril 23, 2016

400th Anniversary (1616-2016): "The Matrix Meets A Midsummer Night's Dream" by Myselfie

(Image pilfered from the Internet:

It's today...

For this post I really had to titivate myself. What better way to do that than to combine my two loves: SF and Shakespeare?

Read at your own peril.

Neo puts a hand to his head and touches his hair. This....this isn't
No, it is the mental projection...of your digital self. Lovers and 

Madmen have such seething Brains, such shaping Phantasies, that
apprehend More than cool Reason ever comprehends.
This_ is the world that you know. The world as it was at the end
of the twentieth century. It exists now only as part of a neural-interactive
simulation, that _we_ call the Matrix.  You've been living in a dream world, Neo.
This...is the world as it exists today. Are you sure that we are awake?
It seems to me that yet we sleep, we dream.
What _is_ real? How do you _define_ real? If you're
talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste
and see, then real is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.
Tell them that I, Pyramus am not Pyramus, but Bottom the Weaver,
this will put them out of fear.
The earth, scorched . . .the desert of the real...We have only
bits and pieces of information, but what we know for certain
is that some point in the early twenty-first century
all of mankind was united in celebration. We marveled at our own
Magnificence.... the poet’s eye turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
a local habitation and a Name. . .
A singular consciousness that spawned an entire race -then you will see, it is
not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself. If we Shadows have offended
Think but this, and all is mended: that you have slumbered here while these
Visions did appear and this weak and idle Theme, no more yielding but a Dream.

NB: Shakespeare’s lines in italic; the rest is all by Myselfie

NB: SF = Speculative Fiction.

quarta-feira, abril 20, 2016

Pictoriality as a Fundamental Way of Perceiving Reality: "Amadeo de Sousa-Cardozo" at the Grand Palais, Paris

"Odd Even 1 2 1", c. 1916
Private Collection

The bounds of space are not really dissolved.

They continue to exist and we also continue to recognize them. But where Sousa-Cardozo spreads to encompass different elements, the linguistic identity of the elements is questioned, or this linguistically identified connection is linked with its alternative. 

I see a window, I see a copying on a wall, and at the same time I see a shade of blue that links the two...to which I say it's a blue shade, without making any more distinction between the window and copying. I regard all of these alternating possibilities as equally valid. It's important to me, in a painting, that two incompatible systems mutually engage. I believe this painting's physicality is the starting point at "understanding" it, and by moving into its spatial volumes there's a guarantee that everything is rooted in negotiable reality. It's then transformed in my mind, which results in the image value. I can only first "develop" the image by leaving this physicality. 

The painting has quietened down; the strokes are almost vertical and executed side by side, all in the same width. My mind rests.

If you're in Paris, go visit one hundred and fifty works by Amadeo, one of the greatest Modernist Portuguese Painters, at the Grand Palais.

NB: Picture taken by me at Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian in December 2015 in Lisbon.

quinta-feira, abril 14, 2016

Simple-Minded SF: "The Three-Body Problem" by Liu Cixin, Ken Liu (translator)


"The thin curve [when Ye was watching a waveform on a screen supposedly from an alien civilization], rising and falling, seemed to possess a soul."

Metaphor only takes me so far...When I’m reading a supposedly hard SF book I must put into action my non-suspension-of-disbelief-hat. That’s the only way I can read this kind of SF. I’ve heard from some friends of mine, that some books are all metaphor when the physics part of them are utter crap…. Excuse me? It's like saying, "look here, this is my universe, but try not to concentrate too much on it, look at all the beautiful metaphors I wrote instead." Don’t tell me this is me being pedantic. One thing is getting the physics right from scratch, the other thing is to do the extrapolation stuff the “right” way. In this case, base physics is quite off base, i.e., dead wrong   in several key areas of the book. They’re so wrong that I only finished it because I wanted to pin-point the rest of the so-called errors. I know, I’m mean…The above-mentioned example is one of the most glaring examples. A wave form where one’s able to see something behind it just by looking at it! Even with poetical license in play, this is quite a bit of a stretch. I could mention another examples, but this one is one of the most obvious examples in showing that Cixin’s storytelling leaves a lot to be desired.

Show-not-tell is quite absent throughout the book as any good SF vintage book would. Unfortunately, this book was originally published in 2008. So we’re neither in the 30, 40 nor the 50s…It’s my firm believe that because this work was translated from “China's best SF author” by one of the well-read and writers of SF nowadays (Ken Liu) there may be a propensity to interpret poor form as some sort of interesting (aka exotic) nuance. If this book had been self-published on Amazon it wouldn't be getting any attention at all. Instead it’d be getting a lot of stick!

I'm usually not willing to roll with a lot of nonsense when it comes to a Hard SF book, and in this case, because getting the science right is at the core of it, I cannot read past the crappy science.

When I was actively reading SF as if there was no tomorrow, I’d be quite surprised to have been told that a book like this would’ve won an Hugo Award, but in this day and age this book did really win the 2015 Hugo Award! “Ancillary Justice” by Ann Leckie is another good example of crappy SF having won a Hugo Award the previous year, 2014. What’s happening to SF Fandom? Is everyone going bonkers??? A book with this kind of info-dumping to explain the key points of the plot and it wins a Hugo Award? It reads like tenth-rate Stephenson. On top of that, the characters were so incredibly flat that by the end of it I couldn’t remember any of them. Everything is so damn flat that at times I kept saying to myself: “My God, why do I keep on reading this kind of crap?” Alas, one is always on the look-out to be proven wrong. It didn’t happen once again unfortunately. I’m quite sure we won’t see the likes of Le Guin's “The Dispossessed”, Susanna Clarke's “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell”, Frederik Pohl's “Gateway”, to name just a few, in the next few years on the Hugo ballot.

2 stars only for allowing me to understand certain popular school of thoughts in China. Null stars for the rest of the book. Average: 2 stars.

NB: The Hugos’ output in this day and age 100% suck. The books are so fucking simple-minded. Worse than that, they're all simple-minded in the same way, so I’m unable to distinguish those meant for grown-ups from those meant for 10-year-olds...

SF = Speculative Fiction.

quarta-feira, abril 13, 2016

Microfiction. Text 002: "An Orange-white Umbrella of Fire Bent From the Pod's Surface" by Myselfie

An orange-white umbrella of fire bent from the pod's surface. Brown smoke curled in its wake. The craft was designed to withstand Alpha Eradini's 10-million-degree corona, though, and it survived to glide through the dense clouds of sulfuric acid and corrosive oxides in the upper atmosphere of a planet those from Earth called Eden. If it were a manned craft, the pilot would have been surprised to find the lowest layer of the planet’s atmosphere rich with oxygen. But it was only a programmed machine from a spacecraft that had recently visited this particular star system. Pressures as strong as Deep Ocean scrubbed speed. The pod nosed downward as it drew close to the surface. Its velocity was thirty kilometers per hour at impact. The ground shook. Rocks and dust flew. The pod crumpled and rolled, flipping end over end like an errant rock tossed down a hill, eventually coming to rest between a pair of basaltic boulders. The door opened and the chime rang. A delivery runner’s engine sputtered as it laboured past. The man who entered Kondati’s shop wore the orange robe and obsidian jewelry of the Quartani Council. His skin was leathery brown and smelled of banafi oil. His primaries were yellow orbs of iridescence that blinked in the shop’s dimness, and his central was a crystal blue orb high on his forehead that marked him as from the southern regions. He said the world was about to end.

terça-feira, abril 12, 2016

I’ve Been Rabbit-holing and I Just Came Out On the Other Side a Changed Man: “The Life of William Shakespeare: A Critical Biography” by Lois Potter and J. Paul Guimont (narrator)

Published 2013 (audio version, the one I’ve used; print edition published 2012).

Imagine yourself at the Globe to see a Shakespeare play, preferably Hamlet (my favourite…). Keep on imagining standing among the crowd, quite near the stage, on a rainy evening.  You look around and see people from all walks of life, from different countries and cultures, all mesmerized by the Bard's words...almost 400 hundred years later.   Imagine laughing so heartily with the rest of the audience, practically falling off your wooden chair. The actors are absolutely amazed and unbelieving at the rapturous applause they receive. You cheer them to the rafters. You start to have an inkling of how audiences of Shakespeare's own time must have received his plays. My reading of Shakespeare makes me “re-live” stuff like these. I feel his writing will allow me to deepen my own self-knowledge as well.

Just like water heated to 50º degrees does not increase the caloric intake, human thought peaks, in certain Men, to the highest intensity. Shakespeare, Rilke, Hölderlin, Celan, Kafka, Bach, Heine represent the 50º degrees of genius. In each century two or three undertake the ascension. From down below, we attempt the daunting task of following them. These Men climb the mountain with great difficulty, they penetrate the clouds, they vanish, and they reappear. They’re spied upon by us mere mortals.

What they do is was so very, very good at doing what they did, and they did so much of it so well that it really is quite unbelievable.  Their work is so good that many people do not believe that they were not touched by the Gods themselves. This is particularly true with Shakespeare. Some do not believe he alone wrote all the plays that are attributed to him, but the fact is that he almost certainly did do so, as hard as it can be to believe when you study Shakespeare.  Potter’s intertextual reading of his works shows that beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Some creative people have been so far beyond their own time that they haven't always been completely understood during the years that they lived.  Bach, for instance, was a person like this.  His work just sounds finished in a way that other works are not. It's difficult to describe, but even people who don't know much about music recognize that there is something special about what Bach did.  You can feel it in your bones. Shakespeare works the same way.  The fact that the language has changed a good deal since Shakespeare's time makes it more difficult for me to see that at first, but with some pointers, I can clear away the confusion caused by that to recognize that his work is finished and special in that same way. Shakespeare holds up a literary mirror to the face of humanity and has forced us all to stare into its reality. That's what special about Shakespeare. For those of us who like to dabble in writing stuff, Shakespeare shows what genius can do with words and characters and situations.  His works are just overflowing with fantastic little titbits laying around to enjoy, but it does require that I know what it is that I’m looking at, and for that, sometimes I need the guidance of someone who already knows how to do it. And that’s where Potter’s glimpse into the mind of Shakespeare comes in. What a wonderful “read” it was. How fortunate I am, and how grateful, that I was able to find this book. Potter was able to open up some of the most profound thoughts and meditations on Being that have ever seen/heard recorded regarding Shakespeare. Once again, that most comforting and energising feeling that "I am not alone" when I read (or listen to) Shakespeare. Potter draws upon prior texts, genres and discourses on Shakespeare, Marlowe, Johnson that I didn’t even knew existed! In this regard, Potter’s book needs several re-readings. There are textual, intertextual, and sub-textual references aplenty that will take me more than one reading to fully understand. This meant go rabbit-holing which I did...The outputs of these wonderful adventures tapped into my understanding of Shakespeare. Go figure...

I’ve read quite a big amount of books on Shakespeare. Being able to write a biography of a figure at once so well-known and so little documented must have been a challenge.  His chapter “The Strong’st and Surest Way to Get: Histories” was quite a revelation [I’m (re-)reading the Histories at the moment) as well as Potter’s insights into the relation between Shakespeare, Thomas Middleton and Jonson. And when I thought I knew everything was there to know about Shakespeare, Potter comes along and rehashes old stuff into strikingly new ways. Oh my.

It was a pleasure to travel alongside Potter on this wonderful adventure!

terça-feira, abril 05, 2016

Dass nur im Grab ich Frieden finden kann: "Poesias" by Manuel Maria Barbosa du Bocage

Published 1943.

Many eons ago, I was delighted with a book selling girl behind one of the counters in a book pavilion at the Lisbon Book Fair. Because of that I wrote a poem that I gave to her. Distant times those were. To tell you the truth, the girl did not deserve that poem, and the poem itself was not that great, well, the usual. In any case, the thing went down like this: in order to have a natter with her, I bought from her this same Bocage edition that I now got from a friend. Who would have thought that many years later I’d hold this same book in my hands? As soon as I picked it up, memories came flooding back. I still remember almost being taken from a thief as I perused books at her bookstand, touching them without really looking at them while at the same I kept looking at her eyes that could be seen from any place in the fair, as a “model like you’re…but oh sadness!”.

I can now hear some of my learned friends saying, after having read the above paragraph, “you expose yourself too much!” What they really wanted to say is, “I admire your courage.” Since I started publishing stuff on my blog, those are the kind of comments I hear more often. Who cares about what I write? No one. I’ve always believed that one shouldn’t remove the personal from the texts. That’s why I said, somewhere else, that what I write is (almost) always embedded in my own personal history. That’s what makes what I write intelligible to me.

And just because I can, below an attempt at translating the untranslatable into German of one of my favourite poems by Bocage:

“Camões, großer Camões, wie ähnlich
Ist mein Geschick dem deinen, wenn man sie vergleicht!
Der gleiche Grund ließ uns vom Tejo weggehn
Und frevelhaft dem Meer-Giganten trotzen.

Wie du am Ganges-Strome dich befandest,
Befind ich mich im Elend einer grauenhaften Not.
Ich sehne mich wie du umsonst nach eitlen Freuden
Und weine so wie du, sehnsüchtig Liebender.

Gleich dir vom harten Schicksal hintergangen,
Erflehe ich vom Himmel meinen Tod, in der Gewissheit,
Dass nur im Grab ich Frieden finden kann.

Mein Vorbild bist du, doch oh Jammer
Mag ich dir auch an bösem Schicksal gleichen,

Ich gleich dir nicht an Gaben der Natur.”

This is one of the reasons why I think German is not only the most beautiful language I learned, but it’s also the love of my life. Much more than Portuguese and English. The German language makes me organize things in my head in a way very different when compared with the Latin and English languages. There’s an enormous cognitive benefit by installing this “tool” in our brains. When installed, the doors of consciousness that open up are tremendous. I’m not only talking about the possibility of reading Rilke, Celan, Hölderlin, Goethe, Kafka in the original. The point is that what these writers put on paper are thoughts inseparable from the language itself in which they were written. No one, I repeat no one, having read Rilke in Portuguese or English has any idea what this represents in terms of the insurmountable geniality of Kafka, Celan and of course Rilke (my favourite trio of German writers). Some translations are simply ludicrous. Lately I've been on a winning streak...

Do we want to live without the real dimension of what these Men left to the world? It’s never too late. Trust me. Learn German. And now, my beloved readers are thinking, "But he just read a book of Poetry of one the most distinguished Portuguese Poets, but he's still haranguing us on the fact that we all should learn German! How can that be??" Well my friends, you should have been paying close attention to what I've been writing for almost 10 years on this very same blog, i.e., for those of you who are still with me after all are these years...

NB: "Dass nur im Grab ich Frieden finden kann." This is "Hamlet" tapping into Bocage...I won't bother explaining. Go read your "Hamlet" please.

segunda-feira, abril 04, 2016

Microfiction. Text 001: "Jagged Pieces of Light", inspired by Rajaniemi's Fiction by Myselfie

(Image courtesy : counselingcures.com via Google)
[Contact me if this photo needs to be removed]

Jagged pieces of light stream throughout the computer store front window, creeping under the doorways. They had to dodge the impact. Of light that sparks up when there’s too much avoidance. It caroms off the shelves, past the sidewalk, and landing right on a purple tiled floor. It disappears at last. Darkly with a mind that is now made up. It oozes into the color like the purple of poppy ripping. Congruous. Pieced together until it fits perfectly.

NB: Original post.

domingo, abril 03, 2016

Creating a Private Space: "Briefe an einen jungen Dichter/Cartas a Um Jovem Poeta/Letters to a Young Poet" by Rainer Maria Rilke, José Miranda Justo

Published 2016 (Portuguese translation and afterword by José Miranda Justo).

“Dieses vor allem: fragen Sie sich in der stillsten Stunde ihrer Nacht: ‘muss ich schreiben?’ Graben Sie in sich nach einer tiefen Antwort. Und wenn diese zustimmed lauten sollte, wenn Sie mit einem starken und einfachen ‘Ich muss’ dieser ernsten Frage begegnen dürfen, dann bauen Sie Ihr Leben nach dieser Notwendingkeit.”

This book has been my favourite book for twenty years or more. When I was attending the Goethe Institute I had access to its library which is huge. I could request any book I wanted, and the services of the Goethe library would provide me with it. It was literally manna from heaven...Consequently, I never had a copy for myself. Until now. This gorgeous edition translated from German into Portuguese (bilingual edition), produced something worth having. It's a fine addition to my German library at home. On top of that the translation is far from serviceable. Apart from this translation, I only had come into contact with the translation done my Vasco Graça Moura which is a different beast altogether.

I think the first time I wrote about Rilke was in 2008.  What more can I say that I haven’t said before? Apparently still lots remained to be said and written…

Rilke’s poems are considered quite difficult to translate from the German, and frankly, I even have trouble understanding them in English and Portuguese. His letters, on the other hand, are quite comprehensible and even inspirational. That's why, when given the chance, I always recommend this book to some of my literate friends. Some of them "get it", some don't. That's Rilke for you. But what shines out of everything he writes, be it in German, English or in Portuguese, rendered by anyone, is the astonishing purity and largeness of his poet’s heart, even when he's writing prose, as it's the case here. That's one of the reasons why I love bilingual editions of something that lives particularly close to my heart. I get to follow the text line by line as I think about the choices done by the translator. Besides enjoying the original, I'm able to think about the translation as well, namely about the solutions found by the translator.

What does Rilke have that other poets do not possess? Talent is not enough, and vocabulary is not enough. What about rhyming words and phrases…? What Rilke achieved and what he advises us to seek is a state of Nirvana where certain characteristics synchronize to produce a poem that is at once lyrical and philosophical, understated yet powerful, terse yet tactful, and most importantly, honest and heartfelt.

I've always read the letters as if they were already detached from the persons they were sent to, and now they can be also addressed to each one of us...

One of the most valuable lessons I took away from reading these letters more than 20 years ago, was trying to create a private space to be creative. It goes without saying that in this day and age (it was true 20 years, and it’s still true), I’ve had people trying to pry me out with “accusations” of being anti-social (“bicho do mato” as we say in Portuguese; I’m not sure about the translation, but it means something like “someone who has never seen daylight”). In creative growth I consistently run into the idea that you do that in your twenties and then you simply produce. Not so. I want to produce, and also be creative in other areas, be it in software developing, in poetry, or in prose. I still want to be creative in my old age, if I get to live that far, no matter the area I’m involved in…

And now, as Rilke said, “Und wo ein Großer und Einmaliger spricht, haben die Kleinen zu schweigen.” Therefore, I remain silent.

NB: Justo's afterword is also something worth reading. I've read a lot of Rilke, but I'd never thought about his work in those terms. Enlightening... 5 stars for the original, and 5 stars for the translation and afterword.

sábado, abril 02, 2016

How Not to Introduce a Non-introductory Topic to the Uninitiated (what a mouthful...): "Shakespeare - A Very Short Introduction" by Germaine Greer

Published 2002.

“An essential aspect of the mind and art of Shakespeare, then, is his lack of self-consciousness. Nothing but a complete lack of interest in self-promotion, from which the careful publication of Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece are the only aberration, can explain Shakespeare’s invisibility. The lives of lesser men and women, insignificant members of his own family, the actors he worked with, the politicians and courtiers he knew or might have known, have all been scrutinized minutely, their every action tracked to the find the spoor of the bard, but they have yielded all but that.”

Why did the editors of the VSI series wanted to replace this little gem of a book with the one, by the exact same title, by Stanley Wells? I’ve always wondered. I can’t even find Greer’s book in the homepage of the VSI Series!

Maybe because in Greer’s book you also won’t find an attempt at finding the whereabouts of Shakespeare. Greer only wants to commit to a description of Shakespeare’s thought, i.e, only what we can read in his works.

Comparing both books, Greer’s book is a much more scholarly study of Shakespeare’s work, analysing in detail of some of the plays in thematic chapters: “Poetics,” “Ethics,” “Politics,” “Teleology” and “Sociology.” As can already be garnered from these chapter titles, the book is written in a very academic level. Maybe it was too much for the VSI series editors, but I still don’t understand why they published it in the first place. On top of that, Wells’ book completely replaces Greer’s (including the number) in the VSI series. I think it’s all rather lamentable.

Greer’s book is erudite, scholarly and engrossing at the same time and thereby an excellent example of how to make a reading of Shakespeare in the study approachable and interesting to a wider audience. For the Shakespeare uninitiated we’d say in Portuguese, “este livro é muita areia para a a camioneta” (literal translation: “this book is too much sand for the little truck”, but what it really means is “the book is something that is just too big to be handled by the uninitiated”)…But if the uninitiated wants to use it as the beginning of the quest, I think she or he would be in for a real treat, because Greer is able to pick out single threads of his mimetic arguments along the way that I’d be able to do just by watching the plays. In this day and age, where everything is all about multimedia, one might be compelled to go 180º and start thinking that watching the plays is going to expose some hidden nuggets of Shakespearean lore. Nope. I never thought attending theatre performances of the plays is the answer to understanding Shakespeare. Why? Because they’re highly allegorical, interpretative, and sometimes exegetical, full of “misleading” stage stuff, making language irrelevant, difficult to hear and to follow. The way to go is to use a mixed approach, as I’ve outlined previously. Maybe this is your perfect companion to the House of Cards TV Series. Maybe it’s not. People who haven't read Shakespeare with care tend to make easy sloppy comparisons between his work and stuff that is unspeakably inferior to it. Some people know something about Shakespeare, and some don't. Let me say to the latter. I have watched the entire first series of “House of Cards”. I enjoyed it so well, I’ll watch the second, third, and so forth, seasons, too, but I chafe at the idea of comparing it to Shakespeare. I recently watched the video version of Coriolanus.   The similarities of this history to Julius Caesar and Macbeth are quite numerous and show the progression and growth of Shakespeare's craft quite clearly. “House of Cards” on the other hand, as good as it is, simply does not provide its creative staff the same opportunities for growth. Shakespeare's language is neither stilted nor archaic, but strikes our ears oddly because everything is stated in couplets with a very uniform meter of the iambic kind.   There are no such poetical feats in any of the “House of Cards” performances unfortunately. Theatrical elements such as the size of the cast, the complexity of the interplay between them, the advance of the narrative and the use of crowds and bit players in Shakespeare far, far exceeds nearly anything contemporary dramatists on stage, big or little screen attempt, let alone accomplish. Finally, Shakespeare is able to effect vast mood swings and convey great emotional power simply through the script without music or action to reinforce it. What makes Shakespeare great isn't his plots, many of which are not his invention. What makes him great is his taking these old tales and setting them to clever rhyme and meter, and blending fart and pee jokes with highbrow references to mythology. I am kind of surprised that people think that Shakespeare's characters are one dimensional...really Macbeth or Lady Macbeth? They are "stock' characters? Honestly, I just don't know what to say to that. Each of them has an inner life, and while representing archetypes, they are also each psychologically complex particular individuals. Underwood and his wife are fun enough to watch, but they aren't real or deep; they don't resonant that way at all. I still think that it’s irrelevant whether “House of Cards” is aiming at a Shakespearian standard. It’s all beside the point to me. Underwood's asides to the audience evoke Richard III's, which communicates pretty bluntly what the character is all about.   The lamentation that most of the characters are monsters is delivered by the characters themselves. For me the political machinations are by far the most interesting part of the show. Frank's smiley way of setting people up for a spectacular fall is fun to watch.  In Shakespeare, Richard is 100% monster.  In historical reality, the picture was much more complex, apparently because the real Richard, just like Frank, had the uncanny ability to motivate people to kill off his enemies, and in so doing to destroy themselves. 

To argue whether "House of Cards" can be compared to Shakespeare is redundant.   Of course it can - it is clearly based on specific Shakespearean characters (Richard III, Lady Macbeth, Iago).  The argument is whether it is a worthy adaptation and how it fits with other contemporary adaptations/appropriations of Shakespeare (of which there are many).  

NB: The British version was literally stunning, moving so fast and furiously, like a roller-coaster, where certain moments became indelible in ways that those who have only seen the Netflix series can only imagine. Ian Richardson and the lovely and astonishing Susannah Harker completely stole the show….