Friday, March 30, 2012

What use is history? (Books - In Europe by Geert Mak)

There is no use fixating on past mistakes, some advise. Stay in the present, say the gurus. But these approaches are anathema to the human nervous system. Even basic nervous systems use sensory equipment - eyes, ears, antennae, pressure sensors - connected to a few dozen nerves to adequately serves an organism which wishes to avoid danger, find food, or reproduce. But one advantage of having a brain is that we can accumulate information about common patterns of stimuli existing in our environment, using it to anticipate what we encounter in the future. Our brain's visual system makes

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Dastardly art about the forces that spur vioence (Film: Inglourious Basterds (2009) by Quentin Tarantino)

Quentin Tarantino's use of violence in films like Pulp Fiction is supposed to be commentary on violence in film and television, but I have found them merely exploitative. This is not because media does not glorify violence, but because Tarantino's use of self-referential gestures and cute trademarks while using slaughter patently as entertainment is too cavalier. We already live surrounded by bloodshed - take the last 48 hours: with the murder of seven victims by a militant in Southwestern France and the outrageous shooting of an unarmed 17-year-old in Florida by a man claiming he was feeling threatened - I find the irony too disrespectful of lost lives. What the hell is so funny? So my own positive assessment of his film Inglourious Basterds (2009) surprised me.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Who says reading is in decline?

I was struck in reading today's New York Times that the number of pieces on reading and books must have reached some sort of critical mass. Or perhaps it was only the Times's effort to assert its own relevance?

The online edition has begun a series called Draft. It concerns the art of writing and its maiden voyage was a riffy, elegiac essay by Jhumpa Lahiri on the pleasure she finds in sentences (the written not the served kind). This was flanked in the Sunday Review by two more essays. One by Dwight Garner where the message was on the medium - what sort of reading calls for e-readers, iPads, or the printed page, he asks? He cited the recent New York Review of Books essay by novelist Tim Parks (speaking of books in the news) which championed electronic reading media as

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Heir apparent to Dasheill Hammett (Books Nineteen Seventy-Four - Book I of the Red Riding Quartet by David Peace

The first volume of David Peace's Red Riding Quartet, Nineteen Seventy-Four, is a violent thunderclap of a novel. It details the search of a rookie crime journalist, Eddie Dunford, for the murderer of a school girl in Yorkshire during the week preceding christmas. It becomes apparent to Eddie that the murder may be one of a string of crimes and Eddie begins connecting the dots between them and powerful people in business and law enforcement. Despite the fact that he has only just buried his own father, or perhaps because of it, Eddie begins a stubborn search for the truth in a world of savagery and exploitation that is way beyond his ken.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Navigating time across the abyss of loss (Books - Purgatory by Tomas Eloy Martinez)

I have often wondered what it is about living in South America that leads writers to adopt the form of magical realism. Having read Purgatory by Tomas Eloy Martinez, recently translated into English by Frank Wynne and published by Bloomsbury USA, I think that I understand.

Since the 1930s, Argentina experienced more than 30 political coup d'etats. In 1975, a military junta seized power from Juan Peron. From 1976 until 1983, in government-instigated acts of terrorism, an estimated 15,000 persons were

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Richard Powers - where fact and fiction collide (Essay - What Does Fiction Know?)

One of my very favorite writers, Richard Powers, who writes at the intersection of fiction and science, has written an inspiring essay about the city of Berlin, the unreliability of storytellers, and the place where fiction and fact collide. It is inspiring for the way it mixes personal experience, data, and artifice. It appeared in last summer's Design Observer and I link it here.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Healing a wounded nation one narrative at a time (Books - Glow by Jessica Maria Tuccelli)

There are those who say that America is unnecessarily obsessed with race, but most who make that claim would like to change that conversation. America was founded by dominating one race in order to seize their land and by dominating a second in order to support commerce. Both native Americans and those whom Americans enslaved were subjugated out of a sense of entitlement. Whites assumed for centuries that their skin color was favored by their gods and, because they were willing to dominate through violence, that what they captured was theirs to keep. America is built on a legacy of hubris and its consequences can still be felt. For a century following slavery, society was legally bifurcated so that education, transportation, partaking of daily commerce, and marriage were separate for white people and people of color. It seems disingenuous to claim, after those laws were changed under protest a few decades ago, that people of color in America should now feel the same as whites since they supposedly have the same opportunities. Even if they had the same opportunities, history doesn't simply evaporate.