Somtimes it's really great living in the future: genetically engineered landmine detecting plants. Nothing about that sentence isn't awesome, n'est pa?
November 2004 Archives
My 26th birthday party was perfect.
Stars glittered over the Baghdad hotel where I blew out the candles on a cake decorated by my four closest Iraqi friends. We stayed up until the dawn call to prayer rang from a nearby mosque, telling stories and debating the future of a country I'd grown to cherish.A year later, only one of those friends is still alive.
The Paris Review has started putting all their author interviews online. So far, they've posted the 1950s.
One of the more persistent starved-for-content weblog memes is the random playlist. I am finally succumbing, and the world can know what it's like to wear my headphones:
- Garmana - Woeful Tone (Vengeance)
- Sophie Rimheden - Who I am (Hi-Fi)
- Calla - Fear of Fireflies (Scavengers)
- Queens of the Stone Age - Tension Head (Rated R)
- Suba - Tantos Desejos (Sao Paulo Confessions)
- Tom Waits - Picture in a Frame (Mule Variations)
- St. Germaine - Latin Note (Tourist)
- Franz Ferdinand - 40' (Franz Ferdinand)
- Neko Case - No Need To Cry (Furnace Room Lullaby)
- Philip Glass - Anthem Part 2 (Powaqqatsi)
Artists I'm surprised didn't show given how much of their stuff is on my mp3 player at the current time: Tool, PJ Harvey, White Stripes.
If you're finding yourself in need of a laugh on a foggy Friday, you can't go wrong with this. WARNING: Richard Simmons.
I just found out one of my favorite movies, Map of the Human Heart, has finally made it to DVD. That this is one of my favorite films certainly outs me as a not-so-closet romantic.
Philip Pullman on reading and democracy. This is a long quote, but I recommend the whole article:
I start from the position that theocracy is one of the least desirable of all forms of political organisation, and that democracy is a good deal better. But the real division is not between those states that are secular, and therefore democratic, and those that are religious, and therefore totalitarian. I think there is another fault line that is more fundamental and more important than religion. You don't need a belief in God to have a theocracy.
So our relationship with books is a profoundly, intensely, essentially democratic one. It places demands on the reader, because that is the nature of a democracy: citizens have to play their part. If we don't bring our own best qualities to the encounter, we will bring little away. Furthermore, it isn't static: there is no final, unquestionable, unchanging authority. It's dynamic. It changes and develops as our understanding grows, as our experience of reading - and of life itself -increases. Books we once thought great come to seem shallow and meretricious; books we once thought boring reveal their subtle treasures of wit, their unsuspected shafts of wisdom.
And we become better readers: we learn different ways to read. We learn to distinguish degrees of irony or implication; we pick up references and allusions we might have missed before; we learn to judge the most fruitful way to read this text (as myth, perhaps) or that (as factual record); we become familiar with the strengths and duplicities of metaphor, we know a joke when we see one, we can tell poetry from political history, we can suspend our certainties and learn to tolerate the vertigo of difference.
Of course, democracies don't guarantee that real reading will happen. They just make it possible. Whether it happens or not depends on schools, among other things. And schools are vulnerable to all kinds of pressure, not least that exerted by governments eager to impose "targets", and cut costs, and teach only those things that can be tested. One of the most extraordinary scenes I've ever watched, and one which brings everything I've said in this piece into sharp focus, occurs in the famous videotape of George W Bush receiving the news of the second strike on the World Trade Centre on 9/11. As the enemies of democracy hurl their aviation-fuel-laden thunderbolt at the second tower, their minds intoxicated by a fundamentalist reading of a religious text, the leader of the free world sits in a classroom reading a story with children. If only he'd been reading Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, or Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad, or a genuine fairy tale! That would have been a scene to cheer. It would have illustrated values truly worth fighting to preserve. It would have embodied all the difference between democratic reading and totalitarian reading, between reading that nourishes the heart and the imagination and reading that starves them.
But no. Thanks among other things to his own government's educational policy, the book Bush was reading was one of the most stupefyingly banal and witless things I've ever had the misfortune to see. My Pet Goat (you can find the text easily enough on the internet, and I can't bring myself to quote it) is a drearily functional piece of rubbish designed only to teach phonics. You couldn't read it for pleasure, or for consolation, or for joy, or for wisdom, or for wonder, or for any other human feeling; it is empty, vapid, sterile.
DFW on Borges (well, really on a Borges biography, which he doesn't like):
And the mind of those stories is nearly always a mind that lives in and through books. This is because Borges the writer is, fundamentally, a reader. The dense, obscure allusiveness of his fiction is not a tic, or even really a style; and it is no accident that his best stories are often fake essays, or reviews of fictitious books, or have texts at their plots' centers, or have as protagonists Homer or Dante or Averroes. Whether for seminal artistic reasons or neurotic personal ones or both, Borges collapses reader and writer into a new kind of aesthetic agent, one who makes stories out of stories, one for whom reading is essentially -- consciously -- a creative act. This is not, however, because Borges is a metafictionist or a cleverly disguised critic. It is because he knows that there's finally no difference -- that murderer and victim, detective and fugitive, performer and audience are the same. Obviously, this has postmodern implications ..., but Borges's is really a mystical insight, and a profound one. It's also frightening, since the line between monism and solipsism is thin and porous, more to do with spirit than with mind per se. And, as an artistic program, this kind of collapse/transcendence of individual identity is also paradoxical, requiring a grotesque self-obsession combined with an almost total effacement of self and personality. Tics and obsessions aside, what makes a Borges story Borgesian is the odd, ineluctable sense you get that no one and everyone did it. This is why, for instance, it is so irksome to see Williamson describe ''The Immortal'' and ''The Writing of the God'' -- two of the greatest, most scalp-crinkling mystical stories ever, next to which the epiphanies of Joyce or redemptions of O'Connor seem pallid and crude -- as respective products of Borges's ''many-layered distress'' and ''indifference to his fate'' after various idealized girlfriends dump him. Stuff like this misses the whole point. Even if Williamson's claims are true, the stories so completely transcend their motive cause that the biographical facts become, in the deepest and most literal way, irrelevant.
So the rest of October's shows:
- Tom Waits @ The Orpheum - Awesome show, despite nose-bleedish seats and some tech problems likely related to first show (uneven mix, misbehaving equipment). Marc Ribot is a fantastic guitarist. I love seeing artists with fans of all ages and style, and that is definitely the case with Waits - seniors and dreadlocked hipsters in a room together is a beautiful thing.
- Helmet - their first show in 7 years. Not so much with the wildly diverse fan base. 90% male. Hardcore mosh pit which I passed on. Ears still ringing slightly.
- Interpol @ The Commodore - fun, exactly what you'd want if you like their music. I hope they find a way to expand on their current style, which I love but can definitely see becoming predictable.
- PJ Harvey @ The Vogue - Seeing an artist at the top of their abilities is uplifiting, and this was very much the case for this show. Her band is great, and PJ was PJ. Highlight was an absolutely smoking version of 50 Ft. Queenie. One of the best shows I've ever seen.
Armed guards keep the polar bears at bay while the golfing takes place, and specialist equipment is highly recommended. Tinted goggles are needed to prevent snow blindness, and colored golf balls are advisable if you want to have a chance of making a second shot. Clubs should have shafts of steel, since graphite shatters when exposed to extreme cold and force.