Thursday, August 16, 2012

Internet Lovelies

 On 'what's wrong with Prometheus':
This is why doing allegory well is hard: Your story actually has to work at a second level without shattering the viewer’s suspension of disbelief on the first level. Throughout the movie, you get the sense that the authors have decided that if it works symbolically, it doesn’t need to make sense narratively.
Julian Sanchez, Link

There was a lot wrong with Prometheus. Unfortunately I've been collecting these quotes since June and my anti-Prometheus steam has run out. But basically, what Julian said. Symbolism is well and good, but if the narrative doesn't make sense then what are you even doing. (See also Monks Flying Spaceships, A Canticle for Leibowitz).

We are devolving into a nation of people who wear their lack of concern for fellow human beings as a badge of honor. Too many people are looking for ways to justify their disdain for others, and too many news organizations are fanning the flames of such discourse.
Commenter Helane Carswell, Link

There will always be non-readers, bad readers, lazy readers – there always were. Reading is a majority skill but a minority art. Yet nothing can replace the exact, complicated, subtle communion between absent author and entranced, present reader.
Julian Barnes, Link

From "Existentially-Fraught Takes On Classic Picture Books To Teach Your Kids The Meaningless Of Life Before The Internet Does":

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, You Are F-cked

Set in a dystopian future in which animals can access the internet, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, You Are F-cked tells the tale of Brown Bear, whose exorbitant internet usage gives way to his development of extremely niche tastes in music, film, literature, and food. Relating to other bears becomes increasingly difficult and tiring. He makes ‘internet bear friends’ who are moderately interested in the same kinds of media to compensate for the IRL friends he has alienated.
Brown Bear slowly gains more and more internet friendships with bears all over the globe until he stops speaking with IRL bears completely, adopts ‘freeganism,’ and relocates to a remote, sealed-off, wifi-accessible cave in Vermont, where he can comment on blogs, refresh his Facebook feed, and discover new music on Spotify uninterrupted. He slowly loses track of the days, weeks, and months, and then he dies, leaving behind his earthly possesions: several parody Twitter accounts portraying various other woodland animals and a Blogspot.
Karim Kazemi, Link

Hahhahhaahaha...oh I'm sad now.

From Italo Calvino's If on a Winter's Night a Traveler:

In the shop window you have promptly identified the cover with the title you were looking for. Following this visual trail, you have forced your way through the shop past the thick barricade of Books You Haven’t Read, which were frowning at you from the tables and shelves, trying to cow you. But you know you must never allow yourself to be awed, that among them there extend for acres and acres the Books You Needn’t Read, the Books Made For Purposes Other Than Reading, Books Read Even Before You Open Them Since They Belong To The Category Of Books Read Before Being Written. And thus you pass the outer girdle of ramparts, but then you are attacked by the infantry of the Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered. With a rapid maneuver you bypass them and move into the phalanxes of the Books You Mean To Read But There Are Others You Must Read First, the Books Too Expensive Now And You’ll Wait Till They’re Remaindered, the Books ditto When They Come Out In Paperback, Books You Can Borrow From Somebody, Books That Everybody’s Read So It’s As If You Had Read Them, Too. Eluding these assaults, you come up beneath the towers of the fortress, where other troops are holding out:
the Books You’ve Been Planning To Read For Ages,
the Books You’ve Been Hunting For Years Without Success,
the Books Dealing With Something You’re Working On At The Moment,
the Books You Want To Own So They’ll Be Handy Just In Case,
the Books You Could Put Aside Maybe To Read This Summer,
the Books You Need To Go With Other Books On Your Shelves,
the Books That Fill You With Sudden, Inexplicable Curiosity, Not Easily Justified.
(and so on.)
via Flavorwire, Link

I’m not going to have others deciding what I want to read. I mean that would be almost anti-literature. I couldn’t read something just to say I’ve read it. That would be like picking your college major because your parents want you to be like a landscape architect or something. I mean only about 20% or something of people even have a college degree. The entire point is to select your occupation, to attempt to create your destiny, and you’re just going to toss it away? You’re just going to abdicate free will? Fuck that. I’m not reading a damn thing for others. That would be death.
Sean Lovelace, Link

My mother doesn’t understand that there’s a Linksys WRT54G Router inside her home, grimly installed by my father at 5:00 a.m. one morning while she was still getting her beauty sleep in. She touches her iPad with tiny soft fingers, hitting “forward” in her email on all-things-annoying to this contributor and her only son. Now and then she gets kicked off the wi-fi network — however endearing the password named after her by my father, whose displays of love are limited in such I.T. manners — and, when I happen to be around one weekend, tells me to fix the internet. I explain to her that it’s either the router or Comcast, and that I can only help with the former. That the internet cannot be fixed, due to teens. “The internet,” she repeats.
Jimmy Chen, Link

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Wettest County in the World

The Wettest County in the World, aka The Drastic Measures Southwest Virginians Will Take To Avoid Paying Taxes.

Matt Bondurant's novel, if you can't tell from the title, is all about moonshine and bootlegging during the Prohibition era in America. It follows two sets of narratives, that of the Bondurant brothers--the author's real life grandfather and granduncles--and Sherwood Anderson, the author researching the Great Franklin County Moonshine Conspiracy of 1935. The author used stories passed down through his family as well as newspaper articles and other research to piece together a story.

At several points Bondurant stresses the difficulty of getting people in rural communities to speak about bootlegging, through the trials of the novelist Anderson in the story, and in the epilogue describing his own experiences writing the novel. I identify completely. I grew up and still live in southwest Virginia, currently about 15 minutes away from where most of the events in the novel take place. I didn't discover my grandfather was a blockade runner during the Depression until after he passed away. It had never been discussed before, especially not by him. It was only told to me as an explanation for why my father has never touched alcohol in his life. Anything beyond that is taboo territory. But I can guess at the details.

The prose in the novel is very lyrical and beautiful, and really surprised me. I suppose I was expecting something more blunt and objective, à la Cormac McCarthy. The characters may be silent, rough mountain people, but Bondurant exposes their souls in a way that's really moving. The men in the story are three dimensional, so different from the stereotypes saturating most depictions of the region during that era. The narrative structure was not as impressive, being broken up into two different (but intersecting) story lines, and bouncing around to different points in time. Anderson's narrative, while interesting, takes away from tension of the Bondurant's story, and reveals several key plot points way too early. If you want to know whether the Bondurant boys live or get their revenge, all you have to do is read the first few chapters. Instead the major source of tension is set up as the outcome of the Moonshine Conspiracy trial, which I honestly couldn't care less about.

I mentioned earlier that the "men in the story" are three dimensional. I say that because unfortunately the women are not. I was willing to overlook it, being a book focused on the pursuits of three brothers, but a few passages are forcing my hand.

Take this one, from the mind of the author Sherwood Anderson:

Individuality will pass into the smoky realm of history. The day will come, Anderson knew, when we will all become soldiers in the army of the corporate age. When he was a boy there were no autos, planes, radios, chain stores, or great bloated trusts pushing their interests around the world. Men lived free lives then... He was only trying to say that when the world is mechanized something goes out of men, something elemental is lost. The female world, on the other hand, was ascendant: the world of possessions, the material world. The female is at home among these things. Men suffered for a lack of drive, starving for the tactile world.
Oh these poor manly men, losing their elemental spirit of manness. "Men lived free lives then." Please just bludgeon me to death with a Hemingway novel and let me rise into heaven (with all my diamonds and shoes apparently).

[small spoiler alert]
I understand what he's trying to say, but he managed to use all the wrong words in saying it. There are only a handful of female characters in the novel, one being Lucy, the wife of one of the brothers. She seems to exemplify the above statement, nagging her poor old husband for silly things like 'food' and 'shelter' for herself and infant child. Come on lady, get a job! What do you think this is, Depression era America? Another is Maggie, who is independent, has a job, and uses her earnings to dress nice. So of course she's raped. The only character-building tool writers can seem to come up with these days.
[end spoiler alert]

There was one female character I was extremely interested in, the real life Willie Carter Sharpe, one of the most notorious blockade runners of the era. She's the entire reason the author Sherwood Anderson is in Franklin County, and he obsesses over her profusely. There are rumors galore about her person: she has diamonds set in her teeth, she can drive faster than anyone around, drink more than the boys, etc. So what happens when Anderson finally sees her?

The experience was a disappointing one for most, including Anderson, who saw his hopes of a great mountain heroine die with her appearance on the witness stand... To Anderson she was jowly like a bulldog and crass of language and aspect. The overall impression was more like that of a gorilla in a dress.
That's it. The end. She's never mentioned again and the novel ends. My god if she isn't gorgeous and doesn't literally have diamonds set in her teeth like some hillbilly Flavor Flav, then who cares amirite?

What I'm trying to say is a I want to read a novel all about Willie Carter Sharpe. Diamond teeth or no. 

Enough with the bad. On to the good. Here are two passages I liked:

The last of the rain, in early April, gave way to the long waste of drought, blazing blue skies, cloudless, sparkling with dust. The early shoots withered in a matter of weeks, the bony cattle following the thin licks up the creek beds, planting their muzzles deep in any soft patch of mud. Fish crowded in the deep eddies and boys waded in to grab mud cats and carp with their hands. Headlights sweeping over a field at night found them alive with glowing eyes as packs of deer came down from the mountains desperate for water, parched and defiant. The old superstitions raised their hoary heads and traveling through stands of woods in Franklin County that summer you would occasionally find a snake hanging from a tree, nailed by the head, an ancient appeal to the wood gods to bring the rains back. Fields of yellow, stunted tobacco with untopped blooms covered the county. Red clay surged to the surface through the scattered weeds, the powder rising into the air on no wind at all, like transpiration, the dry sucking up the dry, and so a fine silt of clay was worn in every crease, in the eyes of dogs, in the skillets of fatback and pintos. A matter of minutes after you swept the floor clean you could draw in it with your finger. Men stood with their hands in their pockets, heads low, scuffing their boots, dreaming of sudden, angry cloudbursts. They knew when the tobacco died the shooting would begin.

It amazed Forrest that so many men seemed to wake up in the morning needing some kind of beating or another, men saying and doing fantastic things for the sake of getting another man to smash his face. Perhaps it was the aftermath, the burning humiliation of it they sought, when the aching morning came and they rolled over in the dirt and felt their mouth for teeth or lightly touched the split ear, the face in the rearview mirror swollen and crusted with blood. Forrest figured if these men wanted it he might as well give it to them.

Liked because it sounds exactly like something my dad would say.

If you're interested, in late August the film adaptation of the novel will be released, titled Lawless. I hope you are interested, because I read the novel for a reason. I've been planning for some time to start another blog, somewhere where I could combine my love of film and literature. So that's what I'll be doing, hopefully by the end of August when I see Lawless and Cosmopolis. I'll be reviewing movies that are adaptations of literature. And probably some other things too, like comics and maybe even video games (you guys know how good films based on video games are, right?).

 So that's why I've been a little slow in updating this blog. If you weren't aware there are also adaptations of Anna Karenina and Les Miz forthcoming, so yeah, I've been snailing my way through both of those bricks. Along with Barthes' Image Music Text, for some ideas on how I can write my reviews. Barthes as applied Resident Evil: Retribution. It could work.

So in the future look for news of a new blog, or admission of my failure and laziness.