October 02, 2010

"Rashomon" and the truth of being a person

Last night I did one of those things that counts neither as a waste of time nor as particularly productive: I watched a classic movie.

The classic in question was Kurosawa's Rashomon, and, having read both stories on which this film is based — Rashomon and In A Bamboo Grove, both by Ryunosuke Akutagawa — I thought I would be in for a fairly predictable but pleasant experience. It was pleasant but less predictable than knowledge of the basic story would suggest.

The idea that there is no access to the truth, or that it rests in contradiction, may not be new, but Rashomon illustrates the principle better than many movies in the vein. The pervading ambiguity — who's good? who's guilty? who's honest? — makes the audience's detective work such a joy that no resolution is really needed; in fact the film's final scene, where the priest finds his faith in humanity restored, felt trite to me, unnecessary, even perverse in its (semi-ironic, one suspects, but that doesn't save it) attempt to change our reaction to the events depicted. There is no need for redemption in a film such as this. The notion itself seems superfluous. It is enough to be shown the weird tendency we have to construct and reconstruct events with no real reference to truth — our desire to make the truth conform to our ideals.

Rashomon's greatest strength, to my mind, is the way the characters seem plausible in every scenario enacted: no matter how incompatible the accounts given, the characters themselves remain consistent. It's masterful, but more importantly it's real; we are all contradictory creatures capable and guilty of holding conflicting opinions about everything. I haven't seen a better illustration of this in the cinema than Rashomon.



October 01, 2010

Sexual activity makes animals less anxious. This is SCIENCE.

Writing about web page http://www.medindia.net/news/Sexually-Active-are-Less-Anxious-Than-Virgins-Study-72077-1.htm

The activity called sex — the rubbing together of genitalia, weirdly generating a moment's stupidity — makes rodents feel better about the world.

Not long ago someone showed me a diagram purporting to show how much sex students typically have in a given university department. Mathematics students were overwhelmingly virginal, while visual arts students, if the diagram is to be trusted, are universally promiscuous. 

It isn't exactly a secret that sex calms people down. The feeling of peace that permeates you when you got lucky the night before is contagious, and sometimes leads to more sex, "just because," just because you seem to be totally relaxed and somehow that attracts others. To quote the article I linked, "Sexually experienced rodents also proved less anxious than virgins, in that they were quicker to chomp down on food in unfamiliar environs." I totally relate.

It was interesting, in my first year of university, to notice how few of my scientific-minded friends were bedding each other. First Year, a little worryingly, is supposed to be about drinking and sex — isn't that why your grades don't ultimately "count"? Engineering students, biology nerds and, especially, physics geeks were immersed in homework and had neither the time nor the social skills to mingle with each other, unless it was to borrow pencil sharpeners. I'm simplifying, but there's a core of truth to it, in my experience.

While I, as an English Literature student, had only a few hours of class a week — and hardly even bothered to go towards the end — my hallmates, scientists for the most part, got up early every day to attend five or six hours of lessons before coming home exhausted and cracking the books open once more. No wonder they didn't have time for doing the dirty. They were being students in the literal, not the bohemian, sense.

What does a study about the sex life of rats tell us about anxiety? Little we didn't already know. If you don't find something to screw, you get nervous, and if you get nervous, you'll scare off future partners. I wonder how active the scientists who designed this experiment were back in their student days.




September 29, 2010

Halloween Music Challenge

Today I was challenged to record a song for Halloween. I was hesitant at first — I have better things to do, like sitting around wondering whether to switch to soy for good — but I accepted the challenge in the end.

You can listen to the result here. No viruses — I promise.


Putting poetry to music is like putting music in a toaster.

I don't know how many active musicians are in the postgraduate program at Warwick, but I'm always looking for new people with whom to collaborate.

Yesterday, in conversation with one of my tutors, I got the idea to record a song the lyrics to which would be a poem by the relatively obscure American, Jack Spicer. This is the result. You can download the mp3; there are no viruses.

Putting poems to music is a great pastime. I've done it with WWI poems, Yeats poems, and a couple of poems by Alasdair Gray. So far I'm happiest with this one.


September 28, 2010

To avoid giving Ranciere the reception they gave Lacan…

They — the "big Other" — were not receptive to Lacanian psychoanalysis for decades. His reputation grew and his notoriety grew with it. In 2007, I decided to give Lacan a chance — a real chance; in other words, I was ready to make the effort needed to grasp some of the most important insights offered by Lacanianism. 

At first the silly puns and difficult prose were off-putting. I had grown up in a different intellectual world. I valued precision, conciseness. But over the last three years, my attitude to Lacan has grown much warmer than I'd anticipated. I find his teachings to be of genuine use. Difficult prose masking important concepts, everywhere applicable: a system to learn, a plugin for the thinking machine.

I have become sensitive to the issue of reception. Every time I open a book and think the author is a charlatan, I have to pause and remember that Lacan himself is, even now, seen as a charlatan by certain intellectual failures.

Take the example of Jacque Ranciere. He's everywhere right now. Along with Slavoj Zizek, Ranciere is one of the world's most oft-cited (and apparently most misunderstood) philosophers. I want to give him a chance — sadly, I can't get into his work. I once made the exact accusation against Ranciere that 'They' made against Lacan: that he was prone to verbiage because he had little of substance to say. But this cannot be true. Ranciere is taken seriouslyby too many intelligent people for me to dismiss him outright. Again, I have to be wary of not doing to Ranciere what 'They' did to Lacan: that is to say, I don't want simply to misunderstand him. So I've been reading several books, articles and interviews, in the hope of "getting it". Maybe I need a good glossary of terms. Maybe I need to try and apply his insights to my own activities.

You have to be careful not to reject someone's life-work as nonsense just because it's difficult. The difficulty, itself, ought even to be part of the fun.

I look forward to "discovering" the Ranciere I have hitherto failed to see.

Jacques Ranciere


Cup of blog.

A trend I've noticed in new blogs: Bloggers trying to justify the creation of their blogs. "I don't know why I started this blog" is a pretty typical thing to say in your first post. As though the blogger needs to explain why he's adding one more page to the e-cesspool.

Because I almost never write blog posts, and haven't done it for over two years, I also feel a weird desire to explain away what you could call the narcissism of sharing "thoughts and observations" in a public space. Despite years of posting in various online forums, the guilty feeling of trespassing seems strongest in the blogosphere. Strange self-reflexive practices emerge in the first few weeks of posting. Then the habit is lost, and you either stop blogging or you can "be yourself" at last.

When I was doing my BA I kept a silly blog for occasionally sharing interesting links. I intend to continue doing that, because it's fun. I have other motivations  — all of them narcissistic — but sharing them is pointless. There's no reason to justify a blog. I'm still trying to figure out a proper format for this thing; one possibility is to comment on books that I'm reading, but I wouldn't read that, so I can't assume anyone else would, either. Another possibility is talking about stuff that happens in my daily life, but nothing happens in my daily life that warrants blogging about — and if it does, it shouldn't be blogged about. No moaning about girlfriends here. I have a maid to do my cleaning. I play the guitar and record music. I've written a couple of novels and am working on publishing a memoir about the death of my mother. My two dogs are called Whisky and Ludwig. My former housemate is living back home now, so I may have to find a new one soon. I live on the Parade in Leam. My band is called Paris and the Hiltons, and you can listen to a song here

That is sufficient.





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