living the movie
September 23, 2008, 9:49 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , , ,

(Edward Scissorshands, -, chevrolet)

Jonathan Raban is an English writer who lives in Seattle.  He wrote an article about another Englishman who committed a horrible crime on American soil, from which this paragraph is excerpted.  You can read the whole article here.

Although the story of the murder is scandalous and fascinating, the excerpt held my attention.  He describes a magical journey immigrants take from western Europe to the United States, from familiar two dimensions into hyperreal three.  Strangely, in his description, the three dimensional world many of us call home he calls disorienting, a no-man’s land, at odds with reality.  As though the media image of America is more real than actually living there.  Or as though in life we shift naturally and effortlessly between cognition and dream.

English people fresh to the United States are often shaken to find themselves in hyperreality. The landscape, so familiar in two dimensions from television, movies and print, suddenly, unsettlingly, takes on a third. From my own first visit, which happened to be to Massachusetts, in 1972, I remember the hallucinatory character of the experience: my first three-dimensional armed cop, my first American rental car, a boatlike Chevrolet (and this was the season of Don McLean singing ‘American Pie’), my first phone booth, my first cocktail in the bar of a three-dimensional Howard Johnson’s, my first freeway exit, my first white-shingled house with picket fence. Living the movie, I was in that peculiar no man’s land, half-fact, half-fiction, where I remained for weeks, and where I can occasionally still find myself after 18 years of permanent residence here. No other country in the world has quite this disorienting effect on the British visitor or immigrant, this capacity to induce a semi-permanent jet-lagged high in which the newcomer feels himself to be standing at a slight but constant tangent from reality.”

~Just Two Clicks, Jonathan Raban, London Review of Books

i’m me!
September 22, 2008, 4:00 am
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Here are the novelist Ian McEwan’s thoughts on the imagination from an interview with Ramona Koval on Radio National.  They are talking about his book Atonement which was made into a picture last year.  Although I haven’t read the book, I have a sneaking suspicion it’s miles better than the film.

I remember when I was studying literary criticism, we read an apologetic piece that claimed that literature’s use is to humanize us.  It was late in my undergrad and I was pleasantly surprised by this new idea that, beside beauty and delight, literature was useful.  It seemed to bring it all crashing down to the level of function as if literature were a machine, designed to meet some base social operation.  Some people don’t trust beauty and want everything to be understood at its basest level.  I do trust it, and somehow, the idea that literature, and by extension art, is beautiful and useful adds to its complexity – and desirability.

McEwan talks about this same idea in the quotation below.  He says imagination helps us to have empathy with other people.  Which is the same thing as saying literature humanizes.  Helpfully, he tells us what we are like when not properly humanized:  cruel and fearful.

Here is the quotation.  Read the entire article here.

My mother dropped me at the beach on her way to work. I was in North Africa. It was early in the morning. It was the Mediterranean spring and I had the day to myself. No friends—I don’t know why, that day—and I had one of those little epiphanies of ‘I’m me,’ and at the same time thinking, well, everyone must feel this. Everyone must think, ‘I’m me.’ It’s a terrifying idea, I think, for a child, and yet that sense that other people exist is the basis of our morality. You cannot be cruel to someone, I think, if you are fully aware of what it’s like to be them. In other words, you could see cruelty as a failure of the imagination, as a failure of empathy. And to come back to the novel as a form, I think that’s where it is supreme in giving us that sense of other minds.

~from Books and Writing, Radio National with Ramona KovalSunday 22/9/2002

everything we do
September 16, 2008, 1:57 am
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , , , ,

It appears these days that cracks are showing in some of our for years seemingly unassailable cultural mythologies.  Biggies like the work ethic, class and even the granddaddy time.  When you’re pulling down a big one expect a rich and unseen set of new – or in the case below – old realities to begin to emerge and take on significance.  Often a big edifice blocks something much more complex and interesting.

In the quotation concerning play and civilization below, Huizinga gently prefaces his final radical statement as if to ease us out of what we currently believe and into a new reality.  We know play, he lets us believe.  Play is that thing we did a long time ago when we were young, and even now on the weekends and after work and with the kids when there’s time.  We work and we play.  But not quite according to Huizinga.  He says that everything we do, which he reminds us is called civilization, the evidences and constructions of our lives, is play.

The spirit of playful competition is, as a social impulse, older than culture itself and pervades all life like a veritable ferment. Ritual grew up in sacred play; poetry was born in play and nourished on play; music and dancing were pure play….We have to conclude, therefore, that civilization is, in its earliest phases, played. It does not come from play…it arises in and as play, and never leaves it.

~Johan Huizinga

between two handclaps
September 10, 2008, 1:52 am
Filed under: chronotopes | Tags: , , , ,

[cries and whispers – persona – bergman]

Here is Godard’s article on the filmmaker Bergman’s techniques, particularly his manipulation of time.  Bergman isolates moments in which his protagonists make significant decisions and then expands them to film length.  In his films, flashbacks begin and end at specific points that help to reveal the thinking of the hero.  In each case, time is expanded or collapsed to reveal the heart of a person.

Godard’s image of the space between two handclaps is beautiful!  Similarly compelling is Bergman’s insistence that we must leave time, at least our normative understanding of it, in order to see the turmoil in the minds of his characters.

Eternity at the Service of the Instantaneous
At the precise instant. Bergman, in effect, is the film-maker of the instant. Each of his films is born of the hero’s reflection on the present moment, and deepens that reflection by a sort of dislocation of time—rather in the manner of Proust but more powerfully, as though Proust were multiplied by both Joyce and Rousseau—to become a vast, limitless meditation upon the instantaneous. An Ingmar Bergman film is, if you like, one twenty-fourth of a second metamorphosed and expanded over an hour and a half. It is the world between two blinks of the eyelids, the sadness between two heart-beats, the gaiety between two handclaps.

Hence the prime importance of the flashback in these reveries of solitary Scandinavian wanderers. In Summer Interlude, a glance in her mirror is enough to send Maj-Britt Nilsson off like Orpheus and Lancelot in quest of paradise lost and time regained. Employed almost systematically by Bergman in most of his films, the flashback ceases to be what Orson Welles called one of those ‘poor tricks’ to become, if not the theme of the film, at least its sine qua non. In addition, this figure of style, even if employed as such, acquires the enormous advantage that it considerably enriches the scenario since it constitutes its internal rhythm and dramatic framework. One need only have seen any one of Bergman’s films to realize that each flashback invariably begins or ends in the right place; in two right places, I should say, because the remarkable thing is that, as with Hitchcock at his best, this sequence change always corresponds to the hero’s inner feeling, provoking in other words a renewal of the action – which is an attribute of the truly great. What one mistook for facility was simply a greater rigour. Ingmar Bergman, the intuitive artist decried by the ‘craftsmen’, here gives a lesson to the best of our scriptwriters. Not for the first time, as we shall see.

Bergmanorama, Jean Luc Godard