All entries for October 2010

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.




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