Friday, 30 December 2011

The value of the 19th century novel

I've gone on record on this blog of saying that most 19th fiction is worthless and kitsch. The only novelist from this period I haven't derided is Dostoyevsky.

But then Dostoyevsky is a different kind of writer - he prefigures the existentialists and the nightmare visions of Kafka.

But the fact is that even the tamer, more conventional writing of the period is of worth and can teach a whole lot to any budding writer.

Even the equivalent chick lit of that time. I mean there's a lot of passion to Wuthering Heights - and it's genuine, heart-warming, involving even if you're a cynical male...

And that novel is one of many that's finely structured. WH may be an odd example in that is a sort of Pandora's box story-within-a-story, but the A to B novels of the day, be it in Balzac, Zola, Tolstoy or Stendhal, have merit... They are finely written, descriptive and have one aspect that lacks in today's serious fiction - it reflects their time of production.

A lot of the social realism in those novels are mirror images of the time the writers were writing in... Stendhal, however soppy a lot of his romances are, give a real vivid impression of 19th century society. The post-modernist trickery of today's fiction is more interested in the idea of meta-fictional illusion by reminding the reader that he is reading a work of fiction... Either case, neither social realism nor meta-fictitious narratives are the one-and-only way to write fiction, but both are equally valuable.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Sensory and cognitive perceptions in music

The Double Life of Veronique (Kryzstof Kieslowski, 1991)

For a film module I'm taking I did a presentation on this clip. I touched on several themes, but something I covered that I'd like to explore in further detail here is a theme of 'universality' and its relation to music.

Double Life is a film Kieslowski made in the wake of a realisation that his storytelling gifts were universal. He realised that he didn't, he said, make small 'provincial' films but that his films moved hearts from across the globe.

The film features the same person, Veronique/Weronika, or far more arguablytwo 'soul mates', who make different ethical choices. Both are musically gifted and when Weronika has a chance to be a lead singer in a choral piece, because of her frail heart condition, collapses and dies. Veronique, having a presentiment or fear that this fate awaits her, pulls out of music.

So, using this clip, I argued that people from all walks of life react similarly to the same piece of music because it is a 'universal' language. I argued that music could be seen as more sensory than cognitive; you 'feel' it far more than 'think' through it.

In hindsight, I realise that this isn't entirely true... It's just that, because of my lack of technical musical knowledge, I see music as some sort of ineffable language that can't be explained nor elucidated...

But is music really a 'universal' language? This may seem odd coming from an ardent fan of classical composers like Xenakis and Varese and dissonant rock performers like The Fall and Captain Beefheart...

That's why many of the post-war composers were accused of 'elitism' - producing material that could only be heard and understood by small groups of people.

Kieslowksi used music to represent this interconnection between cultures, to bridge a gap between eastern and western Europe. People can be united by the 'Ode to joy', but would the blaring sounds of Varese's Ionisation really do the trick? ...

Yet, still, for me, listening to modern classical music is a sensory experience. Never setting my eye on the scores of these pieces I just listen to the sounds and try disentangling the musical activity. This still isn't cognitive - I'm not exactly using my brain to decode intellectual processes... I'm basically reacting very emotively to something that was conceived in a very methodical and intellectual manner.

And to place all this together is in itself a mathematical discipline. The school of serialism and many other forms of modern composition use procedures that are cognitive... But when I hear music by Webern and Berg I'm not able to distinguish all this - I react to it through sheer intuition.

Whilst listening to music is principally, though not always, a sensory endeavour... the argument I made in my presentation is arguable. The Third Reich appropriated Wagner in their pursuit of world domination, but did the whole world come together as a result? No.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Why the political and metaphysical are intrinsic

In a childish post I wrote a couple of years ago I wrote that 'reality is fiction and fiction is reality,' but then argued that reality must be distorted at all costs and that it's unnecessary to follow political events.

A perceptive comment left by Doug said the following: "The metaphysical and the physical are one and the same. I do not feel this requires a dismissal of political events. I do feel that it does lend itself more to certain political leanings for a variety of different reasons."

Either way, both are unavoidable. The mind is at once controlled by politcal beauracracy and unconscious impulses. Rejecting one or the other is denial.

Political machinations are the foundation for everyone's lives. I wouldn't say that it's vital to keep a close watch on the current political events, but important decisions reached at the commons have a direct or indirect effect on other people's lives. It certainly isn't foolish to have political inclinations.

And the political has an intrinsic relationship with the metaphysical. For instance, the films of Kryzstof Kieslowski recurrently feature the theme of destiny and the synchronism of human emotion. These are metaphysical themes influenced by philosophical texts. Yet the destinies of these characters are at once determined by politcal undercurrents and their own free will.

Blind Chance

Take his film Blind Chance. The film sees Witek chasing a train, foreseeing three possible outcomes: he cathces it and works as intelligence for the communist government; he misses the train and becomes a dissdent; he crashes into a train attendant and he decides to continue his medical studies, living an apolitcal life.

It certainly was audacious to make this film under the communist regime, but that's beside the point: this film is a composite of metaphysical elements and political. Witek has existential dilemmas that he attempts to confront, which are determined by the repression of the communist order.

If one is able to gauge an idea of the metaphysical, a good and common example is the dream life of an individual. The political climate no doubt influences the outcome of a dream - especially if it's communist Poland or the Soviet Union - yet at the same time the so-called 'unconscious' of an individual has an inverse function: it determines the choices we make, the way we behave, and it moulds our society.

How does the agenda I had three years ago reflect this? How does one 'distort reality'? The distortion of reality is certainly something I continue to be interested in, but is completely irrelevant to the 'reality is fiction and fiction is reality' argument. Reality and fiction play off one another - the distortion of reality is an entirely different endeavour that would require an entirely different blog post...

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Review #26

Memorias prematuras (Premature Memories) by Rafael Gumucio

A descendent of the political left, Gumucio found himself exiled from his own country, Chile. This, his first novel, charts his experiences abroad as a coming-to-age story of his place of birth viewed from afar.

What I think makes the whole thing effective is that it is narrated from the point of view of a child. Gumucio is not really evoking but almost transmitting his experiences, or 'recording' them, from the very instant.

The character aspires to be a 'genius' within a world lacking in culture, but his own limitations counterabalance against that, which leads to feelings of impotence and self-loathing.

And the novel's frequent shift to adulthood gives it a sense of reflexivity that sheds light on these 'premature memories'.

A very entertaining read and suitable for any kindred spirit who lives in Chile and has felt distanced by the country's disparity and class system.


I copy and pasted this from my GoodReads account so that I can get all the procrastination out of my fucking system and to finally focus on my essay!

Friday, 9 December 2011

Two masters

Jorge Luis Borges and J. G. Ballard, c. 1971.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Oh fuck...

One 2,000 word essay due in for Wednesday...

Another 2,000 word essay due in for the following Friday...

Haven't started either.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

My favourite films of the year

I'm sure there's a plethora of young directors doing all sorts of interesting things and making 'advancements' in the film idiom as it were, but I ain't checking them out... The films I have seen that most impressed me were by three old 'masters': Woody Allen, Werner Herzog and Terrence Malick.

Midnight in Paris

I saw this at a cinema in Buenos Aires, an experience which shaped a short story called '8 PM in Buenos Aires'. I was giggling and smiling throughout the entirity of this. A young Hollywood hack wants to get into serious novel writing, starting a book about someone who runs a nostalgia shop in Paris. He is a fanboy obsessed with the Parisian literati of the 1920s and, hey ho, as he walks through the Parisian streets a time warp materialises, Woody doesn't explain how, and he arrives at 1920s, meeting all his literary idols - Hemingway, F. Scot Fitzgerald, Gertude Stein among others! In my story, I walk out of the cinema and meet all my Argenitnean literary heroes! It was kind of funny that, when I saw this at the local cinema here at the university, not a student was in sight - heaving with old fogeys. For them Allen is an object of nostalgia, the very thing the film (very light-heartedly) lampoons. This has to be his best film in many, many years.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Herzog acquired special permission to go into the Chateu Cave, home to the oldest cave paintings on earth. I didn't see this in 3D (it was a free screening, so I guess I shouldn't complain...), but it was still absolutely remarkable. With his classic wry humour and poetic insight, Herzog narrates these truly astonishing and historic paintings. Ever the anthropologist, there are numerous interviews with experts which delve into the living conditions of these prehistoric men. "These are the first examples of prototype cinema," Herzog says. However bizarre its ending (Herzog latches on a 'postscript' about albino crocodiles), this is still an enthralling mesmeric experience. To think that it may have been even more extraordinary in 3D!

The Tree of Life
Pretentious? Check. Humourless? Check. A lot of whispering voices? Double check! Malick has been given full rein to indulge himself as much as he can, but the thing is that this is the most ambitious and complex film to hit the multiplexes since 2001. And once more, like the Herzog, I didn't see this in its full glory. A film of such grandiose proportions should really be seen at cinemas but, alas, I went to Chile whilst this was screened in the UK. And it was just about to be shown in South America just as I came back here! So I had to comfort myself with the DVD. This really reminded me of Tarkovsky Mirror, a sort of autobiographical mosaic/cine-poem... It was beautifully shot, not to mention the fascinating recreation of the genesis... The ending I found rather beautiful, however sentimental many would accuse it of being. Few worldwide multiplex films have so many early walk-outs, but then few are this beautiful. What the hell is this all about some may ask? The answer is: everything starting from time immemorial!