Empire's greatest-movies list is skewing unpleasantly towards spectacle and superficial fanboyism.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/05/31 10:00
Today, I get angry. I might even aim to misbehave.
/Film is reporting about the latest Empire Magazine greatest-movies-of-all-time poll, and god help me but I feel like the results are proof of malevolent alien intelligences tinkering with human memory.
"The most shocking dystopian novel is the first one you read..."By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/05/28 10:00
Dystopian novels portray a society, usually of the future, that has arrived at the destination we’re all headed for if we don’t change now. The great dystopian novels and the scary developments they portray convince us of things that are all too possible in the society we live in, if we hadn’t spotted them for ourselves. The most shocking dystopian novel is the first one you read, when the whole idea of the arbitrariness of human arrangements comes over you, with the realization that the future is contingent on the present, and can be affected by something you do or don’t do now.
The review in question is of Chang-Rae Lee's On Such A Full Sea, which I haven't yet read but which I understand is in something of the same general vein as books like Cormac McCarthy's The Road -- an ugly future as depicted by an author nominally best known for avowedly literary work. But this line from the review caught my eye, especially the bit about how the most shocking of dystopias is the first one we run into.
Or, how I do what I do when I do what I do.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/05/27 10:00
Normally I don't do these kinds of tag-you're-it blog games, but I got tagged by Steven Savage, for whom I would carry a back-box of Gatorade through the Sahara on hands and knees. The way this shtick works is, you get tagged to answer four questions. To wit:
So, let us begin the beguine.
When John Zorn and Bill Laswell joined forces, the results were nothing short of seismic.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/05/26 10:00
John Zorn is arguably one of the few people who has done something with jazz that isn't redundant or insulting ever since Miles Davis hung up his machine. Execution Ground is an exhibit A for why: he's fearless. Who other than Zorn would have the nerve to pair up not only with Bill Laswell -- whose career has hopscotched between jazz, downtown New York avant-gardism, and psychedelic dreamtime world-music -- but with Napalm Death drummer Mick Harris? And not as a stunt, either, but because Zorn sees and hears things in the way folks like Laswell and Harris work that deserve more than just marginalization, ridicule, or sniffing dismissal.
Oh yeah, here I am again. What I've been up to.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/05/25 10:00
Well, I think most of the dust has settled by now.
For those not fully in the know, I've spent approximately the last ten to twelve months of my life relocating from the New York area to the Space Coast (near Cape Canaveral) in Florida. This involved selling my house -- no, first fixing my house, then selling it -- then trying to extract a shipping container from my driveway in the middle of some of the worst snowstorms in years, then driving two-and-a-half days cross-country with my wife and two cats, then spending a few months encamped with the in-laws while house-shopping, then getting said house moved into and furnished.
I told myself I'd know it was over when I found myself once again seated comfortably at a desk in my office, typing -- and so here I am, doing exactly that while no longer being surrounded by moving boxes. So that bumpy phase of my life is as over as it gets, I suppose.
Why combining one thing with another should be about producing something greater than just the sum of its parts.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/05/12 10:00
What I termed the serial thinking or the general serial form in the fifties, or what I designated as musical through-organisation then, has by no means been forgotten or become superfluous. Rather, it has been integrated into a more comprehensive concept: integrated into the musician's mental armament. It is now applied in such differentiated areas, that it can no longer be identified only in the domain of material (or in the characteristics of the sound). Today such terms as serialist, or through-organisation or general serial form are applied to entire style aggregates. It is possible. for example, to imagine the conception of modulating an African style with a Japanese style, in the process of which the styles would not be eliminated in order to arrive at a supra-style or a uniform international style - which, in my opinion, would be absurd. Rather, during this process, the original, the unique, would actually be strengthened and in addition, transformations of the one into the other, and above all two given factors in relation to a third would be composed. The point is to find compositional processes of confrontations and mixtures of style - of intermodulations - in which styles are not simply mixed together into a hodge podge, but rather in which different characters modulate each other and through this elevate each other and sharpen their originality. In my opinion, that is the problem since circa 1960, not only in the field of music.
Emphasis mine. Hymnen was composed between 1966 and 1967, which (in my view) was at the tail end of the time when the high arts were still taken seriously by laypeople as a place where genuinely new and interesting things could happen. The problem is of course not the arts themselves, but us, our own stagnancy, but that's its own argument for later.
It's the real, not just the fantastic, that is most alluring in a fantasy.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/05/11 10:00
We live in an age of invented, alternate worlds. Tolkien’s Middle-earth, Rowling’s Hogwarts, the dystopic universe of “The Hunger Games,” the places where vampires and zombies prowl: These places are having their day. Yet in spite of the vogue for fantasy fiction, in the finest of literature’s fictional microcosms there is more truth than fantasy. In William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha, R. K. Narayan’s Malgudi and, yes, the Macondo of Gabriel García Márquez, imagination is used to enrich reality, not to escape from it.
I never got around to writing about this before (an impending move will knock all thoughts of "getting caught up" clean out of your fool head), but Mr. Rushdie echoes one of my own long-running sentiments with this one. It's not that the vampires, zombies, and hunger games are lesser for being fantastic, but that any of those things can be made greater by dint of a more complete understanding of the world we do have.
It's not the fantastic alone that enthralls us, but the way we connect with an identifiable human being who is also reeling in the face of that fantasy. It's not Middle-earth that enthralls us alone, but the process of Frodo and Bilbo Baggins encountering it. It's not the Death Star, but Luke Skywalker going up against it. Not Panem, but Katniss; not the amusement park, but Chihiro. It's the human that's the most real of all, and real in the most important way.
Fans owe it to themselves to understand why they love something, and not be satisfied with mere self-flattery.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/05/02 10:00
Slightly older, but still worth commenting on:
... there's a dark lining to this silver cloud - Orci is sticking with Star Trek. The guy is a big Trekkie, despite his personal philosophies being an absolute affront to the memory of Gene Roddenberry, and he's still working on the third film. But worse, he's pushing hard to direct the movie.
Emphasis mine, because it illustrates something I always find fascinating about fandom: what to think when someone is a fan of a piece of material, the philosophy of which could not be more dissimilar to the fan's own thoughts or behavior.
Dead is forever, but it's also not the end.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/05/01 10:00
Here is one common counter-argument to the notion that death is simply a transition to a hitherto unknown form of existence:
"You're just changing form" -- This argument has its roots in new agey concepts that borrow liberally and inaccurately from dead religions and a Dummy's Guide to Buddhism. In various forms it states that what constitutes the essential "me" will continue in the redistributed particles that formerly comprised my body. The problem: no mechanism for this association has ever been established. ... The precise thing I'm attached to is my train of thought and my ability to experience sensory input. There is no other "me" that I care about, because that's the only part of me that cares about anything.
This is a tough one to tussle with, because on a factual level, he's right, and in most of the discussion I've encountered with Western Zen Buddhists (and even a few non-Western ones), there is no question about the finality of death. Some people question the point of having such a worldview since it provides you with no real comfort anyway -- you're dead, but at least the bits of you that were once you are still floating around through the rest of the universe for all time. Oh, thanks; that just puts me right at ease.
Science fiction, rebooted.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind