Monday, November 23, 2009

Not Evil, Just Misguided

Me: "I don't think that I think that fictional characters are real, after all."

Headfinger: "Imaginary people are no less 'real' or 'true' than real people like you and me."

Is this a disagreement (this is an important question because Headfinger is someone I intellectually respect quite a lot and with whom, consequently, I would, in general, rather not disagree)? I am not really worried about this, as there are several of levels on which this is clearly not a disagreement. For one thing, Headfinger's statement is an assertion about the world. Mine is an assertion about my thought patterns. Both of our statements could clearly be true without any contradiction whatsoever. Moving up a level, Headfinger's statement is one of certainty - mine clearly is rather tentative. "I don't think that I think. . .?" This sounds alarmingly like that time that I told someone that I didn't think I was a solipsist. Thus, it seems to me that my statement makes it fairly clear that I'm not fully certain about my stance on this issue and thus could potentially be persuaded to Headfinger's side, even if it's not my initial intuition (all of which is true). On yet another level, Headfinger himself qualifies his assertion in his next sentence as follows: "Imaginary people are (or represent in our models, if you feel more comfortable with that) people in alternate universes (AKA independent causal domains)." Since I do, in fact, feel much more comfortable with that, I find this reassuring. Headfinger starts out his comments on this topic by stating: "Imaginary people are like imaginary numbers in a lot of ways." Therefore, just as one can take a realist or non-realist view of math, so one can take a realist or non-realist view of fiction.

The question is whether the nonexistent factual disagreement in fact masks a significant moral disagreement. Because if Headfinger believes that it really is legitimate to call fictional characters real, then isn't he calling me a demiurge? And if Headfinger is calling me a demiurge, then this is one of the rudest things I have ever encountered in my life. I don't particularly find it comforting that he is also calling himself and almost everyone else a demiurge too - that actually kind of makes the problem worse, rather than better. But Headfinger seems to see his theory as uplifting and positive, not hopeless and dismaying.

Luckily, I think I am able to resolve this dispute, as well. Because to the degree that I am extremely bizarre given my complete obsession with theodicy despite having been raised in an atheist family, it's theodicy in a specifically Christian context (despite having been raised in an atheist Jewish family). And by a Christian context, I mean that I am most interested in theodicy in the context of assertions that God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent. If I tend to think that demiurges are deeply morally faulty, my main reason for believing this is the idea that they are omnipotent and omniscient, and therefore evil must be caused by their not being omnibenevolent. If the demiurges are not omnipotent, or not omniscient, then, on the one hand, I wouldn't say that I can comfortably call them God, but, on the other hand, I feel far less inclined to blame someone who is not omnipotent, or not omniscient, for causing suffering. After all, if you're not omnipotent, you might not be able to prevent suffering from happening. If you're not omniscient, you might not be aware of suffering that happens, or you might discount as insignificant suffering that is in fact significant. Therefore, if either or both of these characteristics apply, perhaps you should think twice before you create people, but you're not directly to blame for being the sole reason for those people's pain, which it would be easy for you not to have caused. In other words, sufficiently advanced aliens are not evil, just misguided. God, otoh, has to be evil.

Now, it's possible that Headfinger is saying that I am God, in which case he is still calling me evil. However, although Headfinger may feel comfortable calling the sufficiently advanced aliens God, coming as I do from my weird Christian theodicy background, I am not comfortable with this terminology. In other words, whenever I start out with my theodicy argument, I accept by definition that God is omnipotent and omniscient. Someone who is not omnipotent and omniscient must, therefore, not be God (maybe they are a god, but they are not God). And, given that I am not omnipotent and not omniscient (and, well, not omnibenevolent, either, but I'd prefer to believe that I'm not actively evil), I am therefore not God, and thus misguided at worst, certainly not evil.

As comforting as I find this, I realize that I need to support my assertion that I am not omnipotent or omniscient (I probably don't need to support my assertion that I am not omnibenevolent). It is obvious that I am not omnipotent or omniscient in my present universe. However, if I create an alternate universe, isn't it potentially true that I might be omnipotent and omniscient in that one? Look at what I've already written: "This seems to be even more true of the characters I make up - in an odd sort of way, the very way they "come to life" in my brain, the way I have to check the actions I posit for them against the actions I can actually accept them performing, the way I don't even have to make up the plots for their stories because they make them up themselves, seems to underline their lack of independent existence from me - I think it's the way they exist so fully within the confines of my brain. They can't possibly have independent consciousnesses of their own - they don't need them! Real people can surprise me - the characters in my brain never can, because I only ever can expect them to do exactly what they would do." This seems to highlight the problem. If I know all there is to know about these people, then, to the extent that they are real, doesn't that mean that I am omniscient insofar as they, in a separate universe from my own, exist? As for omnipotence, if the things that these characters do, the obstacles they face, etc., are entirely determined by me, doesn't that make me omnipotent in their universe?

Okay, so here goes my response to those questions: the reason why it would be fair to call me omnipotent in my fictional universe is because the limits to my abilities, manifold as they are, are completely irrelevant to my fictional characters. This is despite the fact that these limitations strongly shape my fictional universes - for example, if I am unable to imagine certain possibilities, even very logical ones, I cannot create those possibilities in my universes. Nonetheless, if my limitations exist on a different metaphysical plane from my characters, they therefore cannot prove them. From a Positivist standpoint, as there is no possible experiment they could do outside the universe to test these limitations, the very concept is meaningless for them.

Okay. Now, imagine that my fictional characters develop the ability to transcend their universe (that, by the way, is what I'd call a consummation devoutly to be wished). Were this to happen, obviously they would see that I was not in fact omnipotent in my universe. But it would also change the meaning of the boundary between the two universes. Two places are metaphysically distinct only if there isn't a route from one to the other. Thus, it would no longer be meaningful to speak of their universe as one separate from mine. Instead, it would be more accurate to speak of their universe as a subset of mine, in the same way that the solar system is a subset of the visible universe. However, in this case, I am only locally omnipotent in a subset of this universe, which doesn't really count as genuinely omnipotent. After all, while one can legitimately say, "Planets are common in the solar system," this intrinsically does not equate to "Planets are common everywhere" - the solar system is not everywhere. Thus, common planets simply isn't an omnipresent phenomenon - it's just a phenomenon that's present in one particular place. Similarly, "Grace has complete power over Dogville [to give a fictional universe a name]" does not equate to "Grace has complete power over everything" - Dogville is not everything, and, not only do I know this, but the Dogvillains [ed: not a typo, just a. . . joke] are also capable of knowing this, so I simply am not an omnipotent person - I'm just a person with total power over one particular place. Thus, if suffering exists in their universe, although I may well have been misguided in choosing to create a universe, I am not evil for creating one with suffering when the alternative was in my power - because it may well be legitimate to say that, as the product of suffering myself, I am unable to create a universe untainted by suffering.

Okay, so what if, then, my characters cannot transcend their universe? Then that universe really is metaphysically distinct, and I really am omnipotent! But, in that case, I think it's meaningless/contentless to say that they are actually real. For Positivist reasons, as explored in David Deutsch's Fabric of Reality, I actually am not a solipsist - if it seems as though there are other people who are separate from myself performing various actions, then we might as well call them other people who are separate from myself performing various actions. The only way I could possibly prove that they were all in my head would be to do a little transcending of my own, wake up, and realize that it was all a dream. But the only way I could do that is if there were something outside of myself to transcend to - thus, the only times that it's meaningful to make a distinction between other people being in my head and other people being outside of my head are the times that I wake up to something outside of my head anyway, and there must be something outside of my head. If there is nothing outside of my head, then I might as well use the term "universe" to mean my head - it has basically the same meaning. But for these same Positivist reasons, if my fictional characters can't come out and interact with me, if they have no reality outside of my omnipotence, then we take away the obvious pragmatic distinction between "real" and "fictional" when we describe them as real. We might as well call characters who are in the self-contained, metaphysically distinct minor universe "fictional" and the characters in my universe "real," since there is a genuine difference between the two - whereas calling the minor universe characters "real" needlessly erases this pragmatic distinction. If we want to describe the evident and meaningful similarity between the fictional characters and the real ones, rather than erasing this distinction, we might as well just call both kinds of people "people." I think this clarifies the ways in which they're the same, but keeping the binary between "fictional" and "real" clarifies the way in which they're different.

This is important because I don't believe in philosophical zombies, and, in consequence, I think that anything that acts enough like a real person to convince me that it is real does experience suffering. However, I am more skeptical about things that don't convince me that they are real people. For example, I have nearly 100% confidence that my father is capable of experiencing suffering. I have nearly 100% confidence that my rabbit is capable of experiencing suffering. I have, although Headfinger may disagree with me, a lot less confidence that my cell phone is capable of experiencing suffering - though this is not to say that I am 100% confident that it isn't! If I created a computer program that, no matter what you typed into the prompt, simply responded, "I am full of overwhelming suffering at the sorrow of the universe," I might think it was acting like a person, but it certainly wouldn't be acting like a real person, and I would be similarly uncertain as to whether the program was genuinely experiencing suffering. As described above, if there is an inviolable metaphysical barrier between my universe and that of my fictional characters, then I do not think it is meaningful to call them real people, although they are people. This does not mean that I therefore believe that they don't experience suffering - they may. However, it does mean that I am at least skeptical about it. But if I am skeptical about their capacity for suffering, this means that I do not know whether or not they suffer, any more than I know whether or not my cell phone suffers. And this means that I am not omniscient in their universe, even if I am omnipotent. Thus, I am perhaps misguided for creating people who I believe may suffer, but I am not evil for knowingly creating people who I am certain will suffer.

But have I just proven that, by my definition, there is no God - that God, at least as I define It, is in fact logically impossible? I don't think so, but I have made an interesting discovery about my own theology - evidently I believe that God must be immanent somewhere, by definition. Any purely transcendent God would just be a god/alien to me. I can believe in the existence of a being that knows everything there is to know about everything it controls, and has complete power over everything it knows about. This being, who is omnipotent and omniscient in every universe of which it is aware, would count as God to me. Now, you could consider that God to be transcendent to some universes - for example, if there are gods in God's universe, these gods might well create other universes that are subsets of God's universe. But It has to be immanent in the most inclusive universe. If It knew about a universe where It didn't have power, or had power over a universe It don't know about, then It is not God by my definition. I suppose I can't speak to anyone else's.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

"On the Marionette Theatre" by Henrich von Kleist

I ran across this essay because, apparently, it was a major inspiration for Philip Pullman in writing the His Dark Materials trilogy. I've never read the third book of the trilogy, but I was actually far more impressed by the essay than by the first two books! To be fair, my understanding is that the third book adds a lot of thematic material that corresponds to some of what makes the essay so interesting.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Age and Identity

I often wonder about the way that some of my favorite themes and topics in fiction seem diametrically opposed to my actual experience of real life. Like, I experience time in a very linear sense - but I love narratives that tell stories out of order and sometimes even enjoy reading books out of order in order to manufacture such a chronology for myself! One of my favorite themes ever in fiction is identity - I have always loved stories about characters who aren't what they seem to be, have trouble understanding who they are, or even have several different identities. But I've always struggled with my confusion about this being a theme I preferred - I think I'm actually more straightforward than most people in my self-presentation, and I certainly have an extremely strong inner narrative of myself as a coherent personality, fiction though that may be.

Some of the stories I really like about identity have to do with age - I often enjoy stories about characters who aren't really the age they seem to be (although I feel obliged to mention in passing my utter, enduring hatred for the damn Child-Goddess Aphrael in those David Eddings books). This predilection of mine is particularly pronounced in the case of my fondness for Rin in Please Save My Earth - it's particularly good in PSME because Rin sort of is a seven-year-old kid, he's just also sort of not - and it also probably explains some of my fondness for Kira in Angel Sanctuary, since, even if he doesn't look like a child, he's still much, much older than he looks. And then there's creepy fanfic about when he was a child. It might also be one of the reasons why I'm so perverse in thinking of Thessaly as my favorite character in The Sandman.

So, over the past few months, I've quite frequently had people assume that I'm younger than I am - a college student, even a high school student. This is fairly typical, but it's getting more interesting the older I get. It's true that I didn't graduate from college that long ago, and that I haven't really had many of the typical life experiences that one normally thinks of as distinguishing a college student from an adult. Nonetheless, college is a decent number of years back for me now, and I definitely think my mindset has changed (and, yes, matured) quite a bit in those years.

I still have a very strong sense of myself as a coherent personality, and thinking about how other people mistake me for a younger person doesn't really change that, but perhaps I do actually have some connection to these identity issues now. If I wanted to, I could really be the creepy, preternaturally mature high school student that I love to read about. I am, in that way, misinterpreted by others in the same way that so many characters that I love are. I don't really have any desire to mislead people in real life, but it still seems to put me more in connection with this favored theme of mine to think that I could, if I wanted to!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Meta-Random Thought

Why is it that, when I have a random thought, it so often tends to be about Jesus?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Should Jenna Happen to Read This, it Doesn't Have to be a Rhetorical Question!

It is a testament to the match between Jenna Moran's talents and my own taste that I am quite enjoying Wisher, Theurgist, Fatalist despite my profound inexperience with formal RPGs with rules (LARPs without rules, OTOH. . .). The digression that begins at the end of page 67 is a thing of sheer beauty. It is not new Hitherby, of course, but then, what is?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Especially When There is Some Discoloration

Apparently, I have now read The Homeward Bounders sufficiently many times that I find imagery of stone anchors to be terrifying. Really. Almost unbearably terrifying.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Yet Another Actual Thought I Have Actually Had

"I really wish I understood the Christian concept of the Trinity. It might help me understand Please Save My Earth better. . . ."

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Two Thoughts on _Princess Tutu_

Superficial: Like everyone else on the Internet who has watched this anime, am now Fakir/Ahiru shipper. I wonder why that's so effective. Usually I don't wind up shipping anything, although I suppose that in general when I do it is Japanese.

Somewhat less superficial: I really kind of wonder what Rich Puchalsky would think of this anime.

I think this means I need a "Rich Puchalsky" tag. Which is obviously shorthand for something that does not have any necessary connection to Rich Puchalsky - oh well.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Train of Thought of the Day

". . .okay, so 'Vegan in Furs' and love. . . . You know how you were born from a mother? Well, it's just like that with 'Vegan in Furs' and love. 'Vegan in Furs' was born from love. 'Vegan in Furs' has love genes. And it's also sort of like Jesus. . . ."

Friday, July 10, 2009

Another Ambiguous Utopia

Most Arrogant Blog reader Abangaku writes here about "social utopias," a term which seems to enter his post by way of an article by Cristoph Tannert and Theo Altenberg entitled "Paul McCartney: Reverses and Other Advances"). I am now going to go off on a completely tangential topic to his post, but it is inspired by it, because I found the conjoining of these two terms ("social" and "utopia") to be kind of thought-provoking. I think it's partially because it almost struck me as redundant - mustn't a utopia be social, in order to be a utopia? How could one have any other kind of utopia? This is where I feel like I'm missing Abangaku's point (and probably Tannert and Alternberg's, as well), but I do want to think about utopias and society.

When I was younger, the first couple of years after I graduated from college, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I suppose you might call a social utopia, in that it was a utopian society. I was thinking about this for entirely individualist reasons, however. My basic premise was that, given that I was stuck in a menial job and wasn't sure where to go with my career, which I needed to have in order to earn money, I should first think about what I would do if I didn't need to have a career in order to earn money and then try to come up with the career that was as close as possible to that. Therefore, I tried envisaging what my life would be like in a sort of utopia where there wasn't any money or obligation for careers. I think my vision of the utopia was somewhat based on Anarres in The Dispossessed - I'm not sure what that means about me.

Ultimately, I came to realize that my imaginations about what kind of life I'd live in this utopia ultimately failed to show me much truth about the life I wanted to live without restrictions - because the social utopia itself functioned as a restriction for me. My ideal life, or at least the one that seems to appeal to me as I am the most, wouldn't be lived in my imagination of the perfect society. Rather, it would be spent flitting from society to society throughout a multiverse of infinite possibilities, always as an outside observer, never as a part. Better than any life I could imagine staying put in one place would be making a life out of traveling from place to place.

But this raises the question: does my concept of the ideal life therefore intrinsically rest upon the denial of social utopia?

Well, in answering that question, it's important to note that my vision of the perfect life is not exactly anti-social. In fact, my perfect daydream doesn't involve traveling from society to society all by myself - I would like to travel as a member of a little mini-society, one that would ideally be extremely small indeed but would nonetheless exist - and we members of this little mini traveling society would not group together out of mere convenience but would actually enhance the experience of our travels by sharing them with each other. In other words, society would be intrinsic to the experience just as much as anti-society would - ours would be a mini-society premised on our exclusion from the larger societies to which we travel but equally premised upon the existence and coherence of our mini-society.

So could you then call our little mini traveling society a utopia, a vision of the perfect society? That would solve my problem neatly - I do in fact have a vision of a social utopia, just not the one I thought I did five years ago. Unfortunately, I don't think I can straightforwardly answer this latest question with a simple "yes" - my mini-society, it seems to me, can be considered a utopia if and only if it does not depend on the existence of other societies that are not utopias. If it does depend on such non-utopian societies, then it can't be a utopia, because I think we all have a natural feeling that a society that intrinsically requires oppression for its existence, even the oppression of people outside that society, is far from perfect, no matter how nice it might be to be one of the oppressors (ESPECIALLY if it's actually the majority that's being oppressed by the minority, as in this case).

So the next question that needs answering is whether or not my mini-society does require oppression in order to exist. The easiest way to answer this in the negative would be to suggest that, even if not everybody in all of the societies could join my mini-society, they could all join some similar mini-society. Obviously, it wouldn't work for everyone to be traveling all the time, because then there would be no societies to which to travel. However, it could be feasible to imagine a situation sort of like Anarres where everyone paid the price of being in a non-traveling society sometime and spent the rest of their time traveling - everyone puts in the work of creating a society, but everyone also gets to reap the rewards of being able to travel from society to society.

I don't think, however, that this would be feasible, for the simple reason that I fear that too much traveling would ultimately destroy the coherence necessary to make all the societies the mini-societies travel to into societies in the first place. This isn't to deny that one can travel and still be very much a part of one's society. I'm clearly an American despite the fact that I spend some of my time touring other countries and have even lived in Scotland and China. But I also don't spend nearly enough of my time traveling to make it seem like an integral part of my life in the way I imagine it, and, for that matter, I already am more distant from my society than many other people who live in it. This suggests to me that either the traveling would be rather superficial and not a key part of people's lives, or else it takes up enough time and mental thought that it would lead to the blurring of societies in a way that would ultimately turn into precisely the kind of social utopia in which I wouldn't be able to achieve my personal dream. Thus, even if everyone from every society is free to travel some of the time, to take short vacations throughout the multiverse, we must still envision a division between mini-societies like mine, which spend the majority of our time in such traveling and try to do our best to minimize the influence of any one larger society and preserve our outsider status, and everyone else, who remains a solid part of their own societies, making them cohere as societies - although I should probably point out here that I don't envision some kind of bizarre stasis wherein societies never combine or diverge. I just don't want all the societies to completely cohere so that everything becomes bland and boring - change is not in and of itself undesirable, as long as it doesn't lead to a complete erasure of all distinctions everywhere.

This does not, however, intrinsically mean that I'm positing a non-utopian situation. After all, it's entirely possible that not everyone wants or needs to travel the way that I do. It's also entirely possible that there are actually an infinite variety of potentially utopian societies, especially if we posit that people are free to choose which society they live in such that utopias can thrive to encompass a variety of different ideas about what societies should be. If this were the case, it would mean that no repression would be necessary, and there would be no invidious distinctions between people. People who wanted to spend their whole life traveling could go off and form mini-societies like the one I imagine, and the people who preferred not to travel quite as much could go and form their own manifold utopias for us to travel between. This would seem to solve my problem quite nicely - no repression would be necessary, and I would still be able to fully realize my dream.

And yet I still can't help but wonder if it's really that easy, if the manifold utopias would really fulfill my dream. The reason why I wonder is, of course, because I draw on a number of different sources in coming up with my own vision of the ideal life. Part of it is because I love traveling, especially traveling in good company, in the real world, of course. But that's not all it is. I'm also drawing on all sorts of models in the fiction that impressed me as a child, whether it be The Lives of Christopher Chant or Hyperion or even The Myth Adventures of Aahz and Skeeve. But I'm also drawing on the very nature of reading fiction itself, the feeling of exploring all sorts of other societies (whether that's in speculative fiction, historical fiction, global fiction, or whatever) from a very personal standpoint. I have to admit that I love the kind of book that Farah Mendlesohn describes as immersive fantasy, where part of the pleasure of reading comes from the sense of figuring out the puzzle of where you actually are. But I also love the way that you get stakes in the fictional world through following the struggles of a character. And then I'm also drawing on the pleasurable experience of the imagination at its best - of creating new worlds - which, again, so often involves pain for the characters you create. And the experience of dreams, where often you're involved in a new society that you at once have and haven't created. And where, once again, conflict and suffering are involved.

In other words, ultimately, I'm not sure that traveling from perfect society to perfect society is really enough to fulfill my dream. I mean that sometimes, sure, all I want is the tourist experience where learning about the customs of a new place and the perhaps violent history that has been transcended now is satisfying. But I'm not sure that's all I want. I'd also like to briefly drop in and get involved in the politics of a new world (and maybe I can't believe in a utopia with politics). I'd like to see the mythical stories I read about in books or made up myself come to life. I'd like to see all kinds of events and situations that simply wouldn't happen in a utopia. My wishes ultimately seem to involve at least occasionally being a tourist, a slummer, in the problems and sufferings of others. And so I go right back again to wondering if maybe my vision is intrinsically anti-utopian.

And yet, there's a very simple answer to this particular anxiety, contained in the way I described the problem itself. Because, after all, if my model is books and video games and tv shows, dreams and the creative process - well, books and video games and tv shows and dreams and the creative process can't be anti-utopian, can they, because they're not real? If Witch Week or the Word quartets or Xenogears do a good enough job of fooling me into thinking they've created a new society, then surely I don't actually need real new societies to be traveling to? All I need is something that seems convincing enough to do the job for me as an outsider. If I never really want to be a part of any society, just to look at it from the outside, then this hardly seems to require real pain, real suffering, real non-utopians. Fake societies, fiction, ought to do the job.

But I have to admit that it still makes me nervous - that my pleasure should depend on pain, even fake pain. There's this guy, Rich Puchalsky, who is a frequent commentator on The Valve. Back when I used to read The Valve a lot, I used to find him extremely irritating, although this was now long enough ago, and I have purposefully blanked out enough of those memories, that I don't exactly remember why. He also was a frequent commentator on Hitherby, where he was much less annoying and actually usually fascinating. Anyway, Rich Puchalsky made many comments (for all I know, he's still making them) about a theory of the author as demiurge (here's an example). The theory always bothered me. A real demiurge, if such a beast exists, would be responsible for a heck of a lot of pain and suffering. But authors aren't - there's a difference between my suffering or your suffering and the suffering of characters in books. So authors must be intrinsically better than demiurges and have no reason to think of themselves as demiurges, given that demiurges are such exquisitely terrible things to be. And yet I still find myself haunted by Rich Puchalsky's theory, on a level I can't fully explain.

I don't think that I think that fictional characters are real, after all. There seems to be a big difference between what it means to be me and what it means to be Charles Morgan or Kadie or Fei Fong Wong. Surely they don't have consciousness. This seems to be even more true of the characters I make up - in an odd sort of way, the very way they "come to life" in my brain, the way I have to check the actions I posit for them against the actions I can actually accept them performing, the way I don't even have to make up the plots for their stories because they make them up themselves, seems to underline their lack of independent existence from me - I think it's the way they exist so fully within the confines of my brain. They can't possibly have independent consciousnesses of their own - they don't need them! Real people can surprise me - the characters in my brain never can, because I only ever can expect them to do exactly what they would do. That must mean they don't have minds outside of mine. And since I don't suffer when they suffer - in fact, I often take quite a lot of pleasure in it when they suffer - surely there's no mind where any suffering can be occurring? The problem seems even less in dreams. One of my best dreams ever kind of epitomizes for me the perfect dream experience. On the one hand, I was the girl who had to run away from her father and was trying desperately to escape in the secret basement and was in a panic as she listened to find out whether or not her father was chasing her. And on the other hand, I was also the writer of the story about the girl running away from her father who was carefully analyzing whether I was putting the right clues in the narrative and chuckling about the way that I had made aspects of the story that the girl herself might not have noticed potentially guessable to the reader. I was both at the same time - and so there was clearly no real suffering going on. The suffering that the girl - I - was feeling, the anxiety, was really just a tactic for heightening my experience of suspense, and an extremely effective tactic, at that. I woke up from that dream with a sense of pure pleasure.

So I'm not sure what it is about Rich Puchalsky's theory of fictional worlds as Gnostic maya that so bothers me, what it is that makes me feel awkward about my proposed solution to the problem of how to combine my vision of a dream life with my vision of utopia. Maybe it's just the psychology of it - that my happiness as a person should seem to depend on the pleasure I take in suffering, even if that suffering isn't real. I mean, I think - I hope - I enjoy the suffering, am able to enjoy the suffering, because I know it isn't real, because it's a narrative device - and yet for all that I can't get away from the psychological truth that I enjoy the suffering, that I want my worlds to suffer through problems, that "human struggles" really do equate to "narrative," to "story" after all.

And so I return to my image of narrative as "a makeshift bandage on a giant seeping wound." The reason why narrative works as a bandage for the wound is precisely because narrative and the wound are both made possible by the same fundamental fact of individual consciousness. Without individual consciousness, there is no need for narrative. But, of course, without individual consciousness, there is no need for utopia, either. Because utopias are social. Utopias are about how to better improve experience through developing societies. And "A society is a body of individuals of a species, generally seen as a community or group, that is outlined by the bounds of functional interdependence, comprising also possible characters or conditions such as cultural identity, social solidarity, or eusociality." But, as practicing Jews like to remind themselves, this is irrelevant to transcendence because God is One.

And so. . . well, I always think of myself as being on the side of those who imagine utopias, because I feel like thinking that all utopias are dystopias must be a sign of despair. Because I believe that we are far from the perfect society and that improvement is possible. Because I have an odd tendency to read societies intended as dystopias as better than our own [umm, brief completely irrelevant sidenote. . . not only is Alex Proyas directing The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag but he is also directing The Tripods trilogy?!?!?!]. Because I do believe that societies have huge effects on individual lives and that societies can change for the better and that this is an effort worth making.

But I'm still an agnostic Gnostic utopian. And that means that I need to remember that utopia, too, can only ever be a makeshift bandage on the giant seeping wound. I'd like it to be a good bandage, as good as we can make it. But there is no perfection achievable in this world.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Enabled by the Internet

Not only can you read your favorite band's daily recommendations about what albums to check out, but they are all probably available for free somewhere on the Internet.

So far, I was pleasantly surprised by Funkentelechy vs. The Placebo Syndrome - there is a very long song about meeses, and apparently I just go for songs with weird pluralizations of "mouse" - but disappointed by 24-24 Music, which was boring.

Monday, June 8, 2009

There Is No Boot Stamping on the Human Face Forever (But It Doesn't Scan!)

I love reading criticism and academic studies of literature because I love to see new perspectives on books. It is, unsurprisingly, enjoyable to read other people's views on books you yourself loved. However, it's almost even more enjoyable to read criticism about books you didn't feel so positively about. Sometimes, hearing an informed perspective on a book can help you understand what's valuable about the book; particularly in the case of classics that are part of The Canon [nb: I must always capitalize it that way. It demonstrates the tongue in my cheek.] and therefore clearly valued by a decent number of other people. Thus, I found My Antonia somewhat dull but really enjoyed being prompted by a professor to think about the role of gender and nostalgia in the text and was underwhelmed by The Return of the Native but ended up being able to write a really awesome and exciting paper about it after reading some helpful criticism.

But there are some cases of helpful criticism that are a little more weird - cases where I like a particular critical viewpoint because it suggests that I can align my personal reaction and my understanding of what a sympathetic reading would be better than I was previously able to. One notable memory I have of such an experience is that I was always disappointed by Heart of Darkness until I heard a professor talking about it in the UK university where I was studying abroad during college. Although I'd already discussed Heart of Darkness once in high school and once in a college seminar, it wasn't until I got to the UK that I heard someone suggest that the narrative sympathies didn't entirely lie with Marlow and that all of the heavy portentuousness that always irritated me about the novella could in fact be sympathetically read as over-the-top - the narrative itself was showing up Marlow's pretentious nature. I liked that reading - but why did I like it? Mainly because I had trouble taking Marlow seriously but had always felt that the narrative supported Marlow's opinion - to suddenly hear that maybe this wasn't because the book wasn't working for me but was in fact at least one interpretation explicitly welcomed by the narrative made me feel more at home with it.

I'm finding, in my reading of criticism of 1984, that much of what I'm reading has a similar effect. My initial reading of 1984 - and not just when I first read it in high school, either, but also when I re-read it this past year - tends to be that the narrative is in fact tightly constructed to show us that Oceania is a plausible society that might actually happen, that it functions as a warning - if we don't watch out, we will in fact all have to live in Oceania, and the future will be a boot stamping on the human face forever. I think a lot of the earlier responses to the novel tended to take this attitude, as well - so at least I'm not alone in my response. But, the fact is, I fundamentally don't believe that Oceania is a plausible society, and so my reaction to the book tends to be very worried and bothered - to point out all sorts of holes that prove that the narrative is wrong and I am right. A lot of the more recent responses I've been reading, however, start from the viewpoint that the text really is fundamentally a satire, and that the narrative itself, even if read sympathetically, demonstrates the unrealistic nature of Oceania. In other words, Oceania is not what the actual totalitarian governments that have existed in the world could have became or might yet still become - instead, it provides a reductio ad absurdum to demonstrate how utterly ridiculous these governments actually are. Just because O'Brien manages ultimately to convince Winston that Oceania's government will last forever does not mean that this is actually true in the narrative world - just look at how much O'Brien and the party lie elsewhere! In fact, O'Brien's very torture of Winston relies intrinsically on doublethink - as Laurence Lerner points out in his essay "Totaliarianism: A New Story? An Old Story?," O'Brien says both: "The heretic, the enemy of society, will always be there, so that he can be defeated and humiliated over again" (215) and ". . .you are the last man. Your kind is extinct. . ." (217) (ref. from Lerner 80). Thus, nothing that O'Brien says should be taken as the firm assertion of the narrative as to what is plausible for the future of Oceania.

I find this reading makes the book a lot easier to take - it provides a way to match my personal reactions of protest with a plausible sympathetic reading of the narrative. And I suppose that there's nothing wrong with that - regardless of whether or not this was the interpretation that Orwell intended, taking this stance improves the book for me and makes it easier for me to react to it. And yet, I wonder what the possibility of opening up such sympathetic readings does to my personal reactions to books. If I dislike a book, does that always mean that I am functioning as a bad reader and need to be more creative in order to find the sympathetic reading that works for me? And if it doesn't always mean that, then what's the difference between the cases where it does and the cases where it doesn't?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

A Brief Peek at the Unfortunate Connections My Mind Makes

Erika Gottlieb: "In terms of Orwell's consistent allusion to mystical symbols, the hide-and-seek between Winston and O'Brien is like the mystical 'Game of Love,' described, for example, by Francis Thomson in the Hound of Heaven, which 'shows to us the inexorable onward sweep' of God, this 'tremendous Lover. . . hunting the separated spirit rushing in terror from the overpowering presence of God, but followed, sought, conquered in the end' (Underhill 135)." (Gottlieb, Erika, "The Demonic World of Oceania: The Mystical Adulation of the 'Scared' Leader," in George Orwell's 1984: Updated Edition, ed. Harold Bloom, Chelsea House Publishers, New York, 2007, pp. 51-69)

My mind: Love games?

Old Gregg:

Thursday, May 14, 2009

_Lost_ Religion is Different from Real Religion

Many people on the Internet are kind of thinking that Esau is Cerberus. I am inclined to believe this as well.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

We Use Love to Build Kevin Barneses

Pandora just played me "I Want to Have Fun," by of Montreal. Which has the exact same melody as "The Actor's Opprobrium".

Now that, my friends, is a juxtaposition. I want to go around singing, "When one is licking the knife, it's such a beautiful sight," except it's not actually that much more funny than the actual lyrics of "The Actor's Opprobrium" without all of the context.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Not a Curse

There is no slight exhaled breath out in the vault of space.
White needlepoint stars never prick through a midnight blue sky.
Naked long-tressed goddesses can never be seen on the beach.
We do not lie surrounded by green grass to fall asleep.
No faint noise birthed from children's games can ever hold us up.
No quiet wind will ever pull us softly into darkness.
There is no city through which we can make dreams manifest.
There is no cave through which birds fly forever to the river.
There is no river through which water meanders to the sea.
There is no mountain through which earth stretches out towards the sun.
No matches ever light our hearts with thunder-fetching fire.
We do not swing, forever and ever,
Higher and higher.
We climb no ladders.
The milkmaid does not call.
No one picks up the phone.
Human voices do not wake us.
We do not drown.
Problems are salt.
Nothing is an ocean.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Halcyon Days of My Youth

Just watched some Britpop videos from Oasis, Blur, and Pulp. Oddly enough, although the only one of those bands from which I never bought an album is Oasis, it was actually Oasis that first got me into contemporary pop back in high school - I had recently read an article in Newsweek about how they were copying the Beatles, which intrigued me, and then, whilst flipping through channels on the TV, I ran into the "Wonderwall" video on VH1, which did look as though it was copying the Beatles. I liked it enough to continue watching music videos, eventually wound up seeing the "Common People" video on the Canadian music video channel a year or two later, and the rest is history.

Anyway, it's funny to watch a bunch of different videos from the different bands and compare. The Gallagher brothers tend to look as though they're copying the Beatles. Damon Albarn has a tendency to look completely ridiculous (I mean, clearly intentionally so, but still - maybe it's a preview of the aesthetic of something like "Clint Eastwood"?). And Jarvis. . . it's hard to explain, but regardless of what he's doing, he just seems to be doing it with vast quantities of charisma. Watching the "Common People" video again, I can still remember the feeling of seeing him for the first time and falling in love almost immediately. He's just as ridiculous as Damon, if not more so, but he takes it to another level. It's like the opposite of bathos - what is the opposite of bathos? And I still think that "This Is Hardcore" is a fabulous video. Jarvis is still awesome, but in a pretty different way.

Monday, April 27, 2009

How to Read Hitherby Canon

I've decided to reread all of Hitherby canon - which is just one of those things that happens. This might lead to me blogging about Hitherby, but, unfortunately, due to the way Hitherby canon is, anything I post might well have spoilers for all of Hitherby. So if you want to read these posts, I would recommend that you read all of Hitherby canon too. It is a good idea, I promise you! Jenna claims that it is a good idea to start reading Hitherby canon at the beginning; my own experience is that this is not the case, since, as with many serial works of art, the beginning is somewhat less polished than later on, plus it makes so little sense without any context that it's very difficult to get into.

My own personal recommendation is to start reading at "The Flower (I/IV)", which makes more sense and is much more engaging and also has Maya! And things with Maya are good. And then you can read the next three - they kind of get across what some of the premise is. Then read Tantalus (I/IV)" and the next three - they are somewhat more bizarre than the first set I told you to read, but they are very entertaining, and convey another rather important chunk of the premise.

Then. . . ummm. . . read these, and then this, and then this, about Mylitta and Nabonidus and Belshazzar, and then the canon entires in the Buddhism category, and then, at least if you are me, you will be sufficiently hooked so as to want to read as much canon as possible, and you will not need my guidance any longer.

Then we can talk about the key important question of why Jesus and Prometheus (and my inner Paul Fry is telling me to add Satan, but I'm not sure he's a key important question) are missing, and how creepy Martin is (look, I'm sorry, but he is creepy), and what is really going on with Mei Ming (I had this dream about Mei Ming once. . . it's a little hard to describe), and the AMAZING AWESOMENESS that is anything touching on Ink Catherly. And you can tell me who your favorite characters are. Mine are Ink because she is awkwardly similar to that character I want Rebecca Mader to play, Maya because she is Maya, the veil of illusion, and Mylitta and Nabonidus because it is awkwardly similar to my favorite extremely private id-story of all time.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Riddle-Master Trilogy

I was just thinking that one of the best parts of Patricia McKillip's Riddle-Master trilogy (which I. . . read and/or skimmed for the first time at the beginning of the year) is the part where Mordion challenges Deth and Deth is like, "Okay, so maybe I am not just completely awesome in the way I have been up to that point but am actually completely awesome in multiple ways." I like that about Deth.

Monday, March 30, 2009

I Will Post Something in March So There Hah.

Tonight I feel like I should just destroy myself
Tonight I feel like I should just explode myself

Tonight I feel like I should just destroy myself
Tonight I feel like I should just explode myself

There's someone calling my name
But there's nothing to respond
I lost so much in our collapse
Man, what little hope is gone

The voice said, "Don't worry, friend
The darkness is just a suggestion
No, don't worry, kid
The darkness is just suggestion
No, don't worry, Kevin"

Tonight I feel like I should just destroy myself
Tonight I feel like I should just explode myself

There's someone calling my name
But there's no one to respond
I lost so much in our collapse
Oh, what little hope is gone

The voice said, "Don't worry, friend
This darkness is just a suggestion
No, don't worry, kid
This darkness is just suggestion
No, don't worry, kid"

Tonight I feel like I should just destroy myself
Tonight I feel like I should just explode myself

I'm allergic to the world when we are separated
There's nothing in my heart that's worth a beating
Feeling like a Styrofoam prop ennui is eating
Oh, sure, we talk and talk and talk
But nothing worth repeating

I feel defeated
I feel defeated
I feel defeated

Now I'm OD'ing on your cocksucker blues
You make me uptight when you just don't work right
You painted my prison, now something's wrong
And I never, ever, ever wanted to write this song

I'm killing myself but it's not suicide
I'm killing myself
I'm killing myself but it's not suicide
I'm killing myself but my friends will never know
Because I've never been
Because I've never been honest with anyone

Always pulling faces from the unprepossessing places
Of the universal mind
I'm crippled by the world when we are divided
There's nothing in my heart that's worth the creaking
Feeling like a Pamplona bull that's finished kicking

Although we try to break the loop, it's always stuck repeating

I feel defeated
I feel defeated
I feel defeated

Now I'm OD'ing on your cocksucker blues
You make me uptight when you just don't work right
You painted my prison, now something's wrong

And I never, ever, ever wanted to write this song
I always thought things would change somehow
And we would start getting along but it's hopeless

And I never, ever, ever wanted to write this song
I always thought things would change somehow
And we would start getting along but it's hopeless

And I never, ever, ever wanted to write this song
I always thought things would change somehow
And we would start getting along but it's hopeless

And I never, ever, ever wanted to write this song
I always thought things would change somehow
And we would start getting along but it's hopeless

And I never, ever, ever wanted to write this song
I always thought things would change somehow
And we would start getting along but it's hopeless

Kevin Barnes (of Montreal), "No Conclusion"

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Passion Pit's Best Song That You Have Ever Heard

On Passion Pit's MySpace page, you can also listen to their song, "Better Things," which is at least as good as "Sleepyhead" if not better. I particularly like the part with the gods and the glory and the stories, and the part with the lipstick and the lipstick.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Revisionist Christian Mythology Lyrics

To be honest, I don't think that Franz Ferdinand's You Could Have It So Much Better is all that good an album - I don't intentionally listen to it very much and never have. At this point, my favorite songs from the album, and the two that I think about with the greatest frequency, are "Walk Away" and "Outsiders." I don't think of the other songs, including "The Fallen," all that often.

But when I first heard the album, the song that caught me right away and impressed me was "The Fallen." And in listening to this concert today, I was reminded of just how much I liked that song the first few times I heard it. I don't know if this particular live version is a little different from the album version, though I suspect it is, but it really sounds forceful and powerful. And the song has those revisionist Christian mythology lyrics for which I've already mentioned my fondness. I would say these lyrics are somewhere in between those of "The Fall" and "The Repudiated Immortals" - they're not particularly sketchy, but there's still something missing from the story (evidently Alex Kapranos revealed some extra-textual background when he explained that the song was imagining a specific friend of his as the reincarnation Jesus).

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Spinner's Best Songs of 2008

I spent some time this week listening to Spinner's top 25 songs of 2008. Most of them were pretty boring to me on a first listen, some of them were okay, but there were two that I liked quite a lot:

-#17: "Sleepy Head" by Passion Pit - I really like the weird noises in this song (some of them may be backing vocals, but it's hard to tell) as well as the jagged part of the instrumental. It's otherworldly.

-#22: "I'm Not Going to Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance with You" by Black Kids - This song is almost literally a Cure song with more female backing vocals and people screaming "Dance! Dance! Dance! Dance!" But, to be honest with you, I think that is TOTALLY AWESOME and ENTIRELY TO BE ENCOURAGED!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Don't Fear the Cockroach

When I read the Wikipedia article on the Mandarin version of "Dragostea din Tei," which was played quite frequently while I was in China, I thought someone had to be joking about the song being "about fear of cockroaches." But, no, this appears to be true. Oh, dear. Well, I suppose it's an extremely appropriate topic for a song in Mandarin. . . .

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Augustine St. Clare

As I have commented in the past, even in a novel written today, I think it's usually pretty easy to get a sense of which characters the narrative is favoring and which it is disfavoring. If the book ends with character X generally happy and character Y generally unhappy, depending on whether the tone at that point seems positive or negative, you can probably decide which character the implied reader is supposed to be rooting for. It's more complicated than that, of course, but it can still usually be done.

But in the classic 19th-century novel, with its omniscient narrator, it's even easier to get such a sense, because the narrator will come right out and tell you, "Yay wonderful, amazing Character X of Love!" or "Boo horrible, awful Character Y of Hatred!" This is taken to its logical extreme in Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, wherein the narrator reveals to us whether each character who dies is going to Heaven or Hell. At this point, while you can certainly read the book against the grain as described in my above post, you certainly can't deny that the text pretty well sets out for you a defined attitude on each character.

What I find amusing is the contrast between the very. . . Protestant attitude of the narrator and my own. Most of the good characters are pretty good throughout, and, believing in Christ, as they do, they shape their actions and behavior based on their sense of what Christ would want. And then there's Augustine St. Clare. Augustine St. Clare was clearly written to be an attractive, Byronic figure (he's explicitly compared to Byron in chapter 28), and he is attractive. He's also, as you might expect of a Byronic character, not an especially good person - as he himself would, as you might expect of a Byronic character, be the first to admit. He has a very high moral standard, but fails to even begin to live up to it in any way. He hates slavery more than many of the other white characters in the book, including some who don't own any slaves, and is extremely articulate on the topic, but he gets so much benefit out of his own slave-owning habits that he doesn't even free his own slaves, let alone work for abolition in any way.

Eventually, St. Clare realizes that maybe he ought to act on his beliefs (he also starts trying to believe in God, which, for Harriet Beecher Stowe, is more or less synonymous). Before he can do anything to help anyone at all, except for Topsy, he gets killed off. Presumably, Beecher Stowe does this in order to end her novel with the portrayal of the awful and not-in-any-way-attractive Simon Legree and to give Uncle Tom the opportunity for his Christ-like martyrdom. But the funny thing about the way that it functions in the novel is that it also gives St. Clare the chance to go to Heaven, because he's started trying to redeem himself and now believes in God, despite the fact that he really never did anything good to anyone and, through his inaction up until the last couple of days of his life, did a lot of harm. Nonetheless, the chapter wherein he dies is called "Reunion," because he gets to go to Heaven and be with his beloved mother and daughter again.

Thing is, I really like St. Clare. I reread Uncle Tom's Cabin this past week largely in order to read about him. I find the book enjoyable and engaging during the section set in his home and kind of boring in the parts before and after. St. Clare is great. But I have the sense that the narrator, and quite possibly Harriet Beecher Stowe as well, like him even more than I do. I mean, it's one thing to be very fond of a character who's clearly not the most wonderful of people. It's another thing entirely to be so fond of him that you give him the chance to redeem himself without in any way making it necessary for him ever to change his behavior. So. . . well. . . it amuses me.

Richard Alpert

Over the past week-and-a-half, I seem to have come to the conclusion that Richard Alpert on Lost is kinda attractive. Here are some related thoughts:

1) He is attractive.

2) His conversations (with Locke, at least) have a tendency to go something like this:

Locke: What does this compass do?
Richard Alpert: It points north, John.

Locke: You told me that I'm your leader.
Richard Alpert: Well, I certainly wouldn't want to contradict myself.

3) He is probably immortal. Anything that involves immortals is inherently a Grace-enticing thing!

4) This is a funny interview with the actor who plays Richard Alpert, Nestor Carbonell. Or, at least, there's one funny question/answer.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

I'll Dream a Nation of Me, and We'll All Live in It

From my dream journal, October 11, 2007: ". . .the actor who had played Peter in the Narnia movie was up ahead in the museum. I guess his name is William Moseley. Anyway, I was very excited, not because he had played an important character in the unmemorable movie version of one of my favorite childhood books but because, in the dream world, the Franz Ferdinand song "Outsiders" was apparently about this actor."

From the official lyrics to the album version of Franz Ferdinand's "Lucid Dreams," as written in the liner notes of Tonight: Franz Ferdinand, released in the US today and in the UK yesterday: "I'll dream a nation of me / another Narnia where we can live it."

As I like to say in these kinds of situations, be warned that the world may be destroyed at some time in the near future! But don't worry, if it is, I will save us all by effectively dreaming us into a new and better (if only slightly so) world. Then I will get abused by a misguided psychologist who wants to turn everyone grey. Won't that be fun? You should be greatful.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

All the Poets Are Ded

I like Keats. Heck, I've written two relatively decent and (if I do say so myself) insightful papers about Keats, which is more than I can say for Byron and much more than I can say for Shelley (in fact, I feel I wouldn't even know where to begin with this last).

The trouble with Keats is Keats as a person, which. . . well, I've read multiple writers talking about how, of the younger Romantics, Keats is the only one you'd actually want to know, because Keats was genuinely nice, sweet, and good. Which on a certain level is presumably true. And reading Keats' biography, or his letters, is not boring - and not just because he had interesting things to say about literature and wrote some amazing poems - since he was both a legitimately nice person and a brilliant genius in his field (and, for that matter, relatively disadvantaged), his death is quite depressing and tragic. But poets, like pop stars and politicans, don't really count as real people. And my tastes in real people probably don't run to the norm, anyway.

Shelley (as a person, as described in Richard Holmes's book) actually reminds me more of many of my friends than Keats. Probably this is a class thing, at least to some degree, but it remains true. Shelley writing that atheist pamphlet but getting kicked out of school for refusing to answer questions rather than making the "strong case" that his intellectual inquiry was, in fact, not criminal, Shelley deciding that it would be a great idea for his best friend/boyfriend to sleep with his wife, going away in order to facilitate this, and then completely abandoning the friend when he suggests it to her and she gets offended. . . these may not be paradigms of positive behavior, but they seem awfully reminiscent to me of the kind of things that happened to my friends, at least when they were young. And Shelley was, if not the same kind of intellectual as my friends, certainly a very intellectual person. . . part of the reason why I have such a hard time thinking about how to write about his poetry is because of the philosophical complexity of it. Shelley certainly had his flaws, and he obviously wasn't a nice person like Keats (hell, he apparently was, completely obliviously, not very nice to Keats himself), but I would have liked to have been friends with him, had that been possible. He would certainly have been a very interesting friend (although some evidence suggests that a friendship between us would have been difficult. Then again, this goes for Keats, in a perhaps even more off-putting way, as well.).

As for Byron as a person. . . ummm. . . he sort of wasn't. I realize that the blame for this lies somewhat on his own head, but obviously not entirely. The problem with Byron is that every aspect of his personality, including his own resistance to his celebrity, his desires to divorce himself from the characters in his poems, and even the admitted great differences between, Don Juan and, say, Manfred, has informed later writers and creators so much that it really is fundamentally impossible for me to think of him as anything other than a fictional character. Are there lots of real people like Byron? Clearly, no. Are there lots of fictional people like him. Oh my God yes. Thus, the concept of considering Byron as a potential friend seems ludicrous - it would really be like considering Cain or Manfred as a potential friend.

Everybody knows the story behind the creation of Frankenstein, but I found the story behind Polidori's Vampyre to be really. . . entertaining. So Byron begins a story and then never finishes it. Polidori, who apparently served as Byron's personal doctor largely out of a desire to give a kickstart to his career (and who was uncle to the Rosettis? Man, you think of Goblin Market as setting up a completely different tradition of speculative fiction), uses the story as inspiration for his own novel. This ends up being a story about a guy who pals around with a British nobleman who spends vast quantities of time seducing women on trips throughout Europe and eventually seduces the guy's sister. The nobleman, who is of course a really evil vampire, is named after a character in an earlier novel who is a transparent portrait of Byron. When the novel was published, somehow the magazine decided to claim that it was by Byron, thus infuriating both Byron and Polidori, who by this time really disliked each other. And apparently, all Internet sources agree that Polidori was the first to really write about the vampire as an aristocrat, thus more or less setting the tone for the entire genre as it developed throughout the next couple of centuries. I find this story genuinely hilarious. But it really does demonstrate why Byron basically only counts as a fictional character. The fact of his existence seems more or less irrelevant ;-).

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Zizek and Laibach

Here is something I wonder - does knowing more about Slovenia than I do (something which ought to be achievable with great ease) actually provide one with a useful context for Zizek and Laibach. I feel like it ought to - largely because I feel like there has to be some kind of context for Zizek and Laibach - but I know so little about Slovenia that it's hard for me to understand how it would.

I have been listening to Laibach songs today on YouTube and occasionally catching glimpses of the videos. You know it's going to be a good Laibach video if the lead singer shows up in his headdress thingy. Their cover of "Across the Universe" is really disappointing, though.

ETA: Apparently, Slovenia is the highest-ranking Slavic country on the United Nations Human Development Index. Did you know that? I totally did not know that. Watch me learn more about Slovenia!

Monday, January 5, 2009


I think I like Astaroth (in Angel Sanctuary - this is going to be an entirely AS post) - and by "like," I mean that I get reasonably excited and happy when he shows up, just like I do with characters I like for other reasons - entirely because he is hot. I mean, he only plays a significant role in ONE volume. He has an appealingly tragic backstory, but since he appears in a manga with the fundamental premise that One Above. . . is experimenting / With various mixtures of human character which goes best,/
All is interesting for him it is exciting, but not for us,"
only for "various mixtures of human character" read "various mixtures of human and angelic character and also angelic fetuses" (why do you think I said I like the plot even better than the characters?), this doesn't make him stand out in any way at all. He also doesn't stand out in terms of what he actually does with his backstory; you would expect him to be kind of evil, and he in fact is kind of evil - and not even particularly interestingly so. So all that's left is that he excites me because he is hot. Darn it.

Oh, you know who else in AS is hot? Zaphkiel! Not that that is the only reason why I like him. I like him for a LOT of reasons - he has multiple personae, all of which I like, and I particularly like the combination of them all in one person. But he is, nonetheless, hot.

I. . . ummm. . . probably shouldn't even start talking about Kira. And yet once I started writing about this topic it was kind of inevitable that I would end up talking about Kira. So, leaving aside the disclaimer about my actual reasons for loving Kira with infinite, passionate love - if anyone really wants to know why I love Kira so much, just ask me in comments - I just so happened to almost by accident be reading the AS volume wherein Kira walks around in the military uniform. Now, Kira is always hot. That goes without saying. But, man, Kira in the military uniform. . . . Like, Kaori Yuki should have had Kira and Setsuna go to military school in the beginning of the manga, just so that Kira would have had to wear a military uniform. Also, she should totally write a sequel to AS about the next great war between Heaven and Hell. Sometimes we might see what was going on in Heaven, and Raziel and Raphael and Michael and Barbiel could show up, but mostly it would be about the army of Hell, and Kurai and Asmodeus and Astaroth (yay!) and Belial and Lucifer. They would have a horrible time all working together in order to fight against Heaven. It would be really funny. Also, Kurai and Belial would tease Lucifer a lot about the fact that he was married to Arachne. Lucifer would respond by being enigmatic. But mostly the plot would be about pictures of Lucifer in military uniform. That's what I think.