Sunday, March 28, 2004

Poor humanity, to saddle the gos with such responsibilities and
throw in a vindictive temper! What griefs they hatched then for
themselves, what festering sores for us, what tears for our posterity!
This is not piety, this oft-repeated show of bowing a veiled head before
a graven image; this bustling to every altar; this kow-towing and
prostration on the ground with palms outspread before the shrines of
the gods; this deluging of altars with the blood of beasts; this heaping
of vow on vow. True piety lies rather in the power to contemplate
the universe with a quiet mind.

This is from Lucretius - 'The beginnings of civilisation'. I couldn't help but find this quote interesting. I went to see 'Passion of Christ' last night. I don't really want to get into it but I wasn't that impressed.

Friday, March 26, 2004

Creative Sentencing

Writers are supposed to be creative in their use of sentences. But "creative
sentencing" has nothing to do with fiction. Rather, with the US legal
system. Or, well, now that I give it a second thought, if it is about the
American legal system, then it has a lot to do about fiction, doesn't it?
Taste for yourself a few examples of how they're trying to crack down crime
and misdemeanours:

1) A woman killed a guy while driving drunk. The sentence? She was required
to carry with her a picture of his corpse in the coffin at all times for the
following five years.
2) A man walked in an off-license and stole some cans of beer. The sentence?
To wear a T-shirt proclaiming he had committed the crime.
3) A woman had heavily beaten two of her four daughters with a belt. The
sentence? To get a contraceptive device implanted... "in order to protect
her unconceived children" (It's damn true)
4) A young guy vandalised a wall with graffiti. The sentence? To keep guard
of that same wall for six months. If anyone painted anything, he would have
to clean it.
5) A chap in Ohio was driving through the heart of the city centre with the
windows down and the speakers about to explode. The sentence? Believe it or
not, to listen to polkas turned up at max volume for four hours.
6) A man in his forties, father of a teenage girl, was found guilty of
disorderly conduct, including branding police officers as "pigs". The
sentence? To stand for two hours in a busy street in the city centre, next
to a 350-pound pig, especially brought as part of the ruling, with a sign
reading "This is not a police officer."
Now, how many novels and short stories can match this level of creativity?


Tuesday, March 23, 2004

After finishing the first Updike story 'The Wait' I started to ask myself what was it about Updike that I liked so much. Part of it is the humour, the humour draws you in and then you get moments when he is explaining about human nature. Part of it that the characters are so real. I almost feel like talking to them sometimes. Also the writing is very smooth and sophisticated. It flows very well and he draws the picture very well. The environment seems to come back again and you feel you are in DC airport at the end of the sixties. Part of the appeal of the last story was that I knew what Washington was like and I had a fair idea what DC airport was like.

The next story 'Bech in Romania' is about an American writer who travels through Romania. It is quite fascinating to read about Romania in the 60s. It is a bit like a communist back-water. I don't feel as drawn to it as the last story. There aren't as many moments when you get a real insight into the characters. Perhaps I just haven't read enough of it yet. There is one quite humorous part about the taxi ride to Brasov which reminds me strongly of the taxi ride to Oxapampa in the forests of Peru.

"Bech realized that Petrescu himself did not drive. He
reposed in the oblivious trust of an airplane passenger, legs
crossed, sunglasses in place, issuing smoother and smoother
phrases, while Bech leaned forward desperately, braking
on the empty floor, twitching a wheel that was not there,
trying to wrench the car's control away from this atrociously
unrhythmic and brutal driver. When they went through
a village, the driver would speed up and intensify the mutter
of his honking; clusters of peasants and geese exploded
in disbelief, and Bech felt as if gears, the gears that space
and engage the mind, were clashing. As they ascended into
the mountains, the driver demonstrated his technique with
curves: he approached each like an enemy, accelerating,
and at the last moment stepped on the brake as if crushing
something underfoot. In the jerking and swaying, Petrescu
grew pale. His blue jaw acquired a moist sheen and issued
phrases less smoothly. Bech said to him, 'This driver should
be locked up. He is sick and dangerous.'
'No, no, he is a good man. These roads, they are difficult.'
'At least please ask him to stop twiddling the horn. It's
Petrescu's eyebrows arched, but he leaned forward and
spoke in Romanian.
The driver answered; the language clattered in his
mouth, though his voice was soft.
Petrescu told Bech, 'He says it is a safety precaution.'"

from John Updike 'Bech in Romania' in Penguin Modern Stories 2

Friday, March 19, 2004

Picture a Week Just found this very good photography site.
Went into Waterstones briefly this lunchtime. I'm afraid I have to break my unofficial boycott sometimes. I think I was followed by the store detective - cool! I must look shifty!

I read a new word in Updike -- Finagle. It means to try to fiddle or get something finincially that you shouldn't. It can also be spelt phenagle. Good word!
'Magical and mundane' I read this description of Updike and it sounds perfect!

Thursday, March 18, 2004

We are still planning to move house on 1 April so the next few weeks will be chaotic and I don't know when the next entry will be!
It has been such a long time since I have had time to write anything. I must apologise for not updating my blog because I have been reading. I have been cramming the off spare moment into reading some fascinating books.

Two weeks ago I found 'Democracy in a revolutionary era' by Harvey Wheeler. I am still reading the introduction but it is quite fascinating. Especially with all the debate over constructing a democracy for Iraq and with my interest in Latin America and Africa. Democracy is not something that helps a country to grow. Democracy is an end-product. If you look at some of the great democracies in history such as England in the industrial revolution, early history of the USA. Democracy didn't really exist. It was more of a dictatorship, the rights we have today were non-existent. Democracy is a luxury, and therefore is not something desirable for aiding development. This is hopefully stuff for the devils advocate, nevertheless it is interesting because I haven't heard it before. It is assumed that democracy is the best and only way to govern. It is the 'best of a bad lot'. Even though problems in areas such as Northern Ireland, Argentina, many parts of Africa flourish in a democratic society.

Another book I picked up is a collection of short stories with one by John Updike. I am absolutely loving Updike. I never thought I would, I read it purely because I found it at random in a secondhand bookshop. It is difficult o say what is so wonderful about it. The central character is a woman who is having an affair. You seem to be able to get inside her head and sometimes it feels like you don't know what is going to happen next. Also I like the fact that it was written in 60s America. There are references to the benefits of modern living - catching flights so easily then you get 'go by air and swear'. She travels down to see her lover and now it seems they get delayed and they are in a line of people trying to pretend they are married. Here is a quote:

"She wished Harry would stop touching her; it damaged the illusion that they were married."

Also I found a new word - 'Kennedyana' or rather an old word that I hadn't heard. Something you would only find in a book published in the 60s.

Next another book and then I will explain some cool links that I found.

Pretext 7. A magazine edited by Aleksander Hemon. I was attracted to this book because I have heard a lot about Hemon and I have always intended to read his book and try to read more eastern European authors. The magazine has a wide selection of authors. I was reading a story by Clare Messud that was quite wonderful. The idea of the magazine is to find the story of people you have never met and her story does that and more. I posted part of the introduction on 'Silencespeaks' a arts forum that I have joined and I would strongly recommend that you follow the link to my (other) blog and read it. (I'm Blackdog.)

Silence Speaks

Here is a link to 'The Crimson Room'. Something that we all should at least try to do.(I will give you a hint -click everywhere!)

The Crimson Room

This is a cam in New York where, apparently, people like to meet on Blind Dates because their friends can log in and watch them. I find this whole situation quite fascinating and I have been watching this cam for a while trying to catch sight of a blind dater.

The Dating Cam

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

I've come across an excerpt from Solzhenitsyn's "The Gulag Archipielago"
(1978, Collins, vol. 1, pp. 69-70) as quoted in "Identities, Groups and
Social Issues" by Margaret Wetherell (ed) -1996, Sage, p. 157.

This brillant piece reminds me of the "chicken game" as explained in Game
Theory. It is presented in Wetherell's book, though, as an (extreme) example
of Discursive Psychology.



Here is one vignette from those years as it actually occurred. A district
Party conference was under way in Moscow Province. It was presided over by a
new secretary of the District Party Committee, replacing one recently
arrested. At the conclusion of the conference, a tribute to Comrade Stalin
was called for: of course, everyone stood up (just as everyone had leaped to
his feet during the conference at every mention of his name). The small hall
echoed with stormy applause, rising to an ovation ,three minutes, four
minutes, five minutes, the stormy applause, rising to an ovation
continued. But palms were getting sore and raised arms were already aching.
And the older people were panting from exhaustion. It was becoming
insufferably silly even to those who really adored Stalin. However, who
would dare be the first to stop? The secretary of the District Party
Committee could have done it. He was standing on the platform, and it was he
who had just called for the ovation. But he was a newcomer. He had taken the
place of a man who'd been arrested. He was afraid! After all, NKVD men were
standing in the hall applauding and watching to see who quit first! And in
that obscure, small hall, unknown to the Leader, the applause went on six,
seven, eight minutes! They were done for! Their goose was cooked! They
couldn't stop now till they collapsed with heart attacks! At the rear of the
hall, which was crowded, they could of course cheat a bit; clap less
frequently, less vigorously, not so eagerly but up there with the presidium
where everyone could see them? The director of the local paper factory, an
independent and strong-minded man, stood with the presidium. Aware of all
the falsity and all the impossibility of the situation, he still kept on
applauding! Nine minutes! Ten! In anguish he watched the secretary of the
District Party Committee, but the latter dared not stop. Insanity! To the
last man! With make-believe enthusiasm on their faces, looking at each other
with faint hope, the district leaders were just going to go on and on
applauding till they fell where they stood, till they were carried out of
the hall on stretchers! And even then those who were left would not falter.
Then, after eleven minutes, the director of the paper factory assumed a
businesslike expression and sat down in his seat. And, oh, a miracle took
place! Where had the universal, uninhibited, indescribable enthusiasm gone?
To a man, everyone else stopped dead and sat down. They had been saved! The
squirrel had been smart enough to jump off his revolving wheel.
That, however, was how they discovered who the independent people were. And
that was how they went about eliminating them. That same night the factory
director was arrested. They easily pasted ten years on him on the pretext of
something quite different. But after he had signed Form 206, the final
document of the interrogation, his interrogator reminded him: Don't ever be
the first to stop applauding!