What's kept me busy.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/02/27 17:30
Wow. Very work; so busy; much exhaust.
Meme jokes aside, the sheer number of things that get thrown at you when you relocate is not something a checklist can do justice to. The more you plod forward, the more you realize you've left behind or forgotten about, but plod I must.
OK, so some stuff:
Goodbye, classical music.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/02/24 14:30
For many, classical music, its refusal to engage in high-volume harangues, its reliance on aural logic rather than visual spectacle, its commitment to achieving often barely perceptible standards of formal perfection, all serves as a repudiation of late capitalism —a refuge from hideous strip malls, the 24-hour assault of advertising copy, and marketing hype. Ultimately, it is a protest against the cruder, meaner and self-destructive society we have become.
One of the usual comebacks levied at classical music's decline goes something like this: what we now call "classical" music was the "rock" of its day (actually, no, it wasn't), so this is just a matter of a market for one set of tastes driving out another. The problem with this pure-capitalism approach is that it forces us to ignore the whole wealth of understanding about music as a discipline -- an art form, a science, a whole host of other things -- that studying classical music, even if only as a casual listener, requires of someone.
Is it knowledge of details or sincerity of enjoyment that makes fans?By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/02/22 15:25
Despite being a long-standing science fiction fan, I have trouble seeing the point of knowing the finer points of Dr Who or Star Trek continuity, let alone that of the endlessly retconned comic-book superhero universes. Such things are the meat and drink of some corners of geekdom, but I find that obscure knowledge of media franchises does nothing for me at all. After all, when the actual creators don’t give the appearance of caring two hoots about continuity, why on Earth should I care?
The way I've seen it, most such trivia-collection is a sort of shibboleth to indicate one's devotion to the material in question. If you care about it, so the thinking goes, then you'll care about it to know absolutely every petty detail about the setting so that your devotion can stand up under scrutiny. Cue the tiresome discussion about "fake geeks".
You'll scare everyone off.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/02/20 10:00
On markets not rewarding merit (it's an older piece but scarcely behwiskered):
I suspect that, in many walks of life - the arts, business and finance - financial success requires a one standard deviation intelligence. Writers must be sufficiently smarter than their readers that readers feel their intelligence to be flattered, but not so much smarter that they appear weird.
This sounds like an echo of the observation I come back to far too often for my own comfort: It's the idea of the original that people respect more than the original thing itself.
I suspect this becomes proven most bluntly when it comes time to put the original thing in front of a paying audience. The more one tries to be "original", the harder it becomes to find people who are willing to meet you half-way.
Of my death, that is.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/02/19 13:00
No, I'm not dead -- I finally survived that cross-country move, from New York to Florida, and someday you'll all learn how it amounted to the most unpleasant and soul-deadening experience of my life thus far. Four weeks of living in a house with no furniture was just the cherry on top of the sundae of my nearly year-long stress rollercoaster.
Right now, I'm just grateful to be done with it, to be settled in with good people I'm close to, and to be getting back to something resembling a normal life. Protip: don't use a move-it-yourself service if you live in an area infamous for its snow, or if you have a driveway on an incline. (I had both.)
Because, that's why.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/02/12 10:00
Back when I first started studying Zen Buddhism, I found the best way to navigate some of the thornier concepts in the path was to pretend you were explaining them to someone else. I found some of this really came in handy when I did end up having to explain them to someone else, typically someone whose understanding of Zen had been shaped by self-help gurus and bad movies. The difference between Zen as it has been caricatured and Zen as it actually is practiced is only slightly smaller than the difference between John Shelby Spong and the Westboro Baptist Church.
The first thing most everyone got hung up about was the first precept, which typically gets translated something like "Life is suffering". People reject that one out of hand, because a) it sounds intractably pessimistic, and b) it's visibly wrong. If reading Richard Gombrich taught me anything, it was that a good deal of why Buddhism generally is misconstrued is because of bad translation. I don't want to make that sound like a cop-out, but it really does hold water the more I think about it: you can't talk about some of this stuff properly if you swap in language that doesn't really correspond to what's being said.
Why the way some fantasy authors hold the present in contempt should bother us.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/02/11 10:00
In an earlier post, Steven Savage pointed out in the comments how "we often find people like tech but hate modernity." I'd expand that to include generally people who live in the modern age and benefit from all of its conveniences: modern sanitation, antibiotics, good hockey teams, etc.
To my mind, the one benefit they claim most unthinkingly is that it is, I would wager, a good deal easier than ever to find a place to live in this world where you can benefit from the presence of others without also running the risk of being killed by them for no particular good reason. The presumption of peaceful living is now easier to entertain than ever before, but we're still entirely too capable of obliterating each other to start patting ourselves on the back all that fiercely -- and we only got this far because of ceaseless struggle, not because human nature automatically lifts us up where we belong.
Consequently, I find myself wondering what goes through the heads of people who live in the modern age but pretend it hasn't conferred a single real advantage upon them. No, that's the wrong way to put it: they discount those advantages. They pay lip service to them, but are clearly more interested in being the product of an age they idolize without knowing what living in it would really cost them.
I run into this a lot in fantasy-novelist circles, which seem to be peopled by a disturbing number of folks who disdain modernity not just in the technical sense (damn those iPhones!) but in the existential sense -- e.g., the idea that anything we could possibly want from the modern age is a delusional byproduct of having been born into it, or that everything we call progress is just a delusion, or any of a number of different riffs on that particular one-note theme.
Dismantling an idea this dumb doesn't take much effort; if the hypocrisy of the stance alone isn't enough, the sheer deliberate ignorance of actual history and sociology would do it. But the hypocrisy of the stance is bad enough. Most people who evince such an attitude do so because they're dreaming of a time when things would be conceivably better for them, not because things were better universally -- and I'm betting it's because they aren't really interested in how a rising tide could lift all boats.
The idea of being asked to trade today's imminent ecological collapse for yesteryear's violence and squalor isn't a trade I would want to make, but in the end I know I'm better off sticking with what I was born into and making the best of it, because it's all I've got.
The people who love what tech gives them but hate the era it produced need to choose, because they can't have it both ways. Better yet, they need to cope. The world, and the people in it, are a bigger force (and a more positive one) than they are.
What happens when the room you're in becomes a monoculture. (Fandom-related.)By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/02/09 10:00
The problem with getting a room full of smart people together is that the group’s world view gets skewed. There are many reasons that a working group filled with experts don’t consistently produce great results. For example, many of the participants can be humble about their knowledge so they tend to think that a good chunk of the people that will be using their technology will be just as enlightened. Bad feature ideas can be argued for months and rationalized because smart people, lacking any sort of compelling real world data, are great at debating and rationalizing bad decisions.
I suspect there's a name for this kind of effect: you assume that your brains have entitled you to dispense with processing evidence directly, and instead proceed to a conclusion by way of pure thought.
But in the end, this is a by-product of putting too many of the same kind of people together, period. Pack a room full of geniuses, squeeze out all the air, and their own unquestioned assumptions about things will leave them just as hamstring as a room full of idiots.
The smarter the machine, the more likely we are to cozzen up to it.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/02/08 10:00
... because computers cannot come to us and meet us in our world, we must continue to adjust our world and bring ourselves to them. We will define and regiment our lives, including our social lives and our perceptions of our selves, in ways that are conducive to what a computer can “understand.” Their dumbness will become ours.
I would argue that this has already happened -- not with the rise of Facebook or Twitter, but something that has been a hazard ever since man began to "not use technology, but live technology," as Godfrey Reggio put it. But each advance makes it all the harder to resist the temptation to let ourselves be all watched over by machines of (allegedly) loving grace.
On the use (and abuse) of wish-fulfillment in SF&F.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/02/07 10:00
The nether regions of my idea-gathering files are as disorganized as a Greenwich Village junk shop and every bit as much a source of surprises. On tidying up one such archive I found a question I'd jotted down to myself but never answered: What is the difference between fantasy and wish-fulfillment? No context, just the question, so I figured I'd have to tear into it as-is.
Definitions first; that's one easy way to set the two apart. Easy enough that it would verge on misleading, but here goes: fantasy is a genre (e.g., a reading and writing category); wish-fulfillment is an aspect of a work regardless of genre. So you can have some works of fantasy that operate as wish-fulfillment, but not all works of wish-fulfillment would end up on the fantasy shelf next to the Tolkien or the Gene Wolfe. Tom Clancy is as much a creator of wish-fulfillment as he is of thrillers.
When James Agee reviewed Bugs Bunny, it was a thing of beauty.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/01/31 19:00
This is James Agee writing about the Bugs Bunny cartoon Rhapsody Rabbit:
The best part of it goes two ways: one, very observant parody of concert-pianistic affectations, elegantly thought out and synchronized; the other, brutality keyed into the spirit of the music to reach greater subtlety than I have ever seen brutality reach before. I could hardly illustrate without musical quotation; but there is a passage in which the music goes up with an arrogant wrenching of slammed chords—Ronk, Ronk, RONK (G-B-E)—then prisses downward on a broken scale—which Bugs takes (a) with all four feet, charging madly, scowling like a rockinghorse late for a date at stud, (b) friskily tiptoe, proudly smirking, like a dog toe-dancing through his own misdemeanor or the return of an I-Was-There journalist, a man above fear or favor who knows precisely which sleeping dogs to lie about. It killed me; and when they had the wonderful brass to repeat it exactly, a few bars later, I knew what killed really meant.
I would kill, and hide the bodies in deeply inconvenient places, to be able to write like that.
More to the point, though: when was the last time you read a movie review, a book review, a review of an anime, anything that had this kind of brash panache, this sort of uninhibited gusto? Agee wasn't so much trying to review the movie as recreate a moment from it in our minds, and that is one of the most ambitious impulses for any critic to attempt, let alone, indulge in, let alone succeed at.
Science fiction, rebooted.
Other Lives Of The Mind