new plotlines
March 29, 2011, 10:16 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: ,

Plot lines in contemporary young adult fiction; descriptions by Laura Miller in her essay Fresh Hell:

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins:  “Every year, two children from each district are drafted by lottery to compete in a televised gladiatorial contest, the Hunger Games, which are held in a huge outdoor arena. The winner is the last child left alive.”

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld:  “all sixteen-year-olds undergo surgery to conform to a universal standard of prettiness determined by evolutionary biology.”

The Maze Runner by James Dashner:  “teen-age boys awaken, all memories of their previous lives wiped clean, in a walled compound surrounded by a monster-filled labyrinth.”

House of Stairs by William Sleator:  “the story of five teen-agers imprisoned in a seemingly infinite M. C. Escher-style network of staircases that ultimately turns out to be a gigantic Skinner box designed to condition their behavior. “

The White Mountains by John Christopher:  “alien overlords install mind-control caps on the heads of all those over the age of thirteen.”

Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O’Brien:  the aftermath of nuclear war.

The Giver by Lois Lowry:  the drawbacks of engineering a too harmonious social order.

The Carbon Diaries 2015 by Saci Lloyd:  the consequences of resource exhaustion.

Further plots described by Miller:

There are, or will soon be, books about teen-agers slotted into governmentally arranged professions and marriages or harvested for spare parts or genetically engineered for particular skills or brainwashed by subliminal messages embedded in music or outfitted with Internet connections in their brains. Then, there are the post-apocalyptic scenarios in which humanity is reduced to subsistence farming or neo-feudalism, stuck in villages ruled by religious fanatics or surrounded by toxic wastelands, predatory warlords, or flesh-eating zombie hordes.

Fresh Hell, Laura Miller, The New Yorker, June 14, 2010


caffe gambrinus
March 28, 2011, 1:02 am
Filed under: departure lounge, the sweet life | Tags: ,

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10 dystopian novels
March 28, 2011, 12:59 am
Filed under: brave new world | Tags:

1984 by George Orwell

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

The Children of Men by P.D. James

The Crysalids by John Wyndam

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

The Children’s Story by James Clavell

The Diary of Ann Frank

Gemma Malley’s top 10 dystopian novels for teenagers, The Guardian

crisis and deviation (heterotopia 2)

This the second post on Michel Foucault’s of Other Space, 1967.  The first post is called the discovery of infinite space.

On my first day in boarding school, I was eight and, I think, brimming with expectation.  It was bright and cold and the mountain air was thin:  I was wearing jeans and a jean jacket, I could see my breath and smell eucalyptus.  We met my dorm mother, put my tin trunk in the tiny dorm room and said our good byes, my mom and I, on the narrow grassy edge between the dorm and a drop off to the lake 50 yards away.  I sat on a swing while she tidied up emotional loose ends with some questions about feelings and some advice.  And then she was gone.

My new roommate waited and we walked up the hundred covered steps through the academic quad, past the dining hall and down to the squash courts where we played frisbee.  And that’s all I remember of that day.  Someone told me I would, and perhaps should, be homesick and once or twice in the first few weeks I lay in bed, under flannel sheets and prickly black wool blankets, and tried to cry. Continue reading

the discovery of infinite space (heterotopia 1)

Heterotopias are kinds of places described by Michel Foucault in his essay Of Other Spaces in 1967.  They approximate, or maybe more accurately reflect, utopias; approximate because heterotopias exist and utopias can’t, by definition.  They are ‘outsider’ spaces, meaning they exist outside of the influence of dominant cultures or hegemonies; and the people and events in them are involved in undesirable, outsider missions.  They are places that are real and unreal at once, complex and contradictory.  For Foucault, heterotopias are places that allow escape from places that are authoritarian and repressive.

This is the first of four posts on heterotopias and based on the essay Of Other Spaces.

Galileo’s rediscovery, that the earth rotates around the sun, upended the Medieval us.   It began the inexorable smashing of orthodoxies and institutions that led to the Enlightenment and modernism.  It accomplished this because it fundamentally challenged our way of thinking about how the world works and is ordered.

Medieval space was hierarchical – celestial, supercelestial, terrestrial, sacred and profane – and oppositional and stable – urban and rural.  But Galileo’s discoveries made us believe that space is open, dissolved, infinite, and that our normal perception of place is an illusion, a shapshot in time of something that is actually – maybe slowly, but irrevocably – moving and dissolving and changing.  Nothing is fixed, there is no still reference point, the center can no longer hold, said Galilleo.

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golden mean
March 24, 2011, 10:34 pm
Filed under: the sweet life, unseen world | Tags: ,

Aristotle wrote about the extremes to which the human character will go if left unchecked.  Reason is the check, and the center column in the chart below is the desirable mean.


cowardice | courage | rashness

stinginess | liberality | profligacy

spinelessness | gentleness | rage

boorishness | wittiness | buffoonery

surliness | friendliness | obsequiousness

Aristotle, Eudemian Ethics

the guests departed
March 16, 2011, 6:57 pm
Filed under: departure lounge | Tags: , , , ,

Two possible historical outcomes:  social media is a paradigm event that has altered our lives significantly and forever; or social media is a blip on the timeline of media development since the granddaddy printing press event.  Either way, people will write tomes and many more will spill hours away chatting and posting and liking.

For the travel set, posting photos is a favorite activity.  I do it.  We used to shoot film, and develop glossies, and put them in albums on sticky card pages with filmy plastic cover sheets.  And pull them out at family gatherings or during early-on dates with new girlfriends, leaning over each other with new found fascination for far away places.

Before that, our dad’s kept slide carousel projectors in closets.  We’d plug them in on holidays and set up the the portable screen with the white scratchy surface, and mom made popcorn.  People liked it, in a way, but also there would be moans and cringing.

With social media it’s different, somehow.  It’s instantaneous and slick for starters.  Which can make a beautiful electronic conversation:  have a nice time!  welcome home!  love this shot : )  Or, it can turn into an addicting competitive game:  you safaried in Zimbabwe?  Well I swam in October in the Tyrrhenian sea!  And so on.

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madness and glory

A wallflower sits and sweats and watches the dance, all the pretty girls, the well socialized having fun.  There’s a mountain the size of life itself between the chairs ringing the hall and the throbbing boards and hearts in the center.  And any puny will that climbs it and makes it to the happy center is indeed triumphant.

Watching the religiously convicted is similar.  Something huge separates the ordinary person from the convicted.  Of course, the ordinary are convicted too, by rationality and superior processes.  Is it two camps staring with unbelief – and maybe contempt – across an unnavigable void?

Believing is an effort of the imagination; knowing is to directly experience, says Ehrenreich in her book Dancing in the Streets.  The rational believer apprehends the deity backing up and advancing in a flux of faith, doubt and negotiation.  The ritual dancer entwines with the deity in a profound and intimate embrace.

Objectivists, rationalists, inculcators of Calvanistic dread, 20th century ideologues, scientists, free marketeers, fundamentalists, social engineers, are the rational believers.  And the knowing dancers are sufis and dervishes, ritual dancers, Hindu kavadi, ascetics, mortificators of the flesh, peyote takers, speakers of tongues, the voudou possessed and Koolaid drinkers.

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a dream of New York
March 14, 2011, 1:03 pm
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: ,

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Margaret Bursa, New Local New York,

The New Local in New York creates a Landscape of Movement that takes the form of a condensed urban playground on the west side of Manhattan, overhanging onto the River Hudson. The landscape responds to the principles of the New Local in Zlín, making a shift of small town social relationships to a neighbourhood in the metropolis. This shift responds to the needs of the work-propelled urban dweller. It is also inspired by the ongoing relocation of immigrants and cultures to America, in particular Sokol, a Czech mass-exercise movement, promoting togetherness, flocking, fresh air and cultural pride.

March 12, 2011, 11:24 pm
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , ,

My name is legion:  for we are many, said the possessed man from Gadara to Jesus in the first century AD as recorded in the gospel accounts of the Bible.  Many demons, one man.  He was resigned to them and to his split nature:  I am … we are, he confesses, a man divided against himself.

We are always suspicious of the truly creative among us.  We keep them on a short leash; patronize them for as long as we can get away with it; trot them out for the sake of appearance and public trust.  But really and effectively, we cast them out.  They are freaks, and that’s how freaks are treated.

The psychologist Csikszentmihalyi — quoted below — says that creative people are adaptable and complex, qualities that don’t seem extraordinary.  But, he also says they do special tricks.  They embody extreme contradictions, for instance.  They are able to combine things that most people can’t, like thinking and doing.  Most spectacularly – and curiously – a creative person is a multitude.  Legion.

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