29 April 2009

Link: Forbes ranking of the 20 Best Places to Live in the World

Go here to see the slideshow of the 20 best, ranked by Forbes.
This is pretty neat because I am looking to get out of the DC area in the next few years, mostly because I've never lived anywhere else. According to this list, I'd probably have to cross over to western Europe or Canada to achieve the highest quality of life... I don't know. Anyhow, this does not help to quell my wanderlust. I'm gonna have to take a weekend roadtrip ou deux this summer.

Back to paper-writing. I've been just cranking out the pages lately (but of course in a more artful manner than that denotes, I should hope). Oh, and somebody remind me to write sometime about how everything I read seems to converge and allude to each other and music even, music aligns in such concord to the words on the page and the thoughts that seem to emerge everywhere. Almost enough to make one believe there is a configuration natural to living or thought... But I digress; that's a whole 'nother post at least. And, o! I have some fresh thoughts on social networks online and offline to expand upon, too. Possibly also a feature post on the musical genre of "freak folk," in time. There's a lot of writing to be had here.

18 April 2009

Quotation for this lovely morning.

From an interview with Harold Bloom on the subject of reading in the modern age: "You cannot even begin to heal the worst aspects of solitude, which are loneliness and potential madness, by visual experience of any kind, particularly the sort of mediated visual experience that you get off a screen of whatever sort."

16 April 2009

In honor of tax day having come and gone:

My brother sent me this link - a visual representation of where your Federal tax dollars go. Nicely laid out, especially for those of you who grasp numbers better in spiffy graphical form.

14 April 2009

Leaving Tangier, Tahar Ben Jelloun

Likely the most notable aspect of Tahar Ben Jelloun’s newest novel to be translated from French into English, Leaving Tangier (2009), is his unique storytelling through the series of “character sketches.” People of all backgrounds and experiences and relations to Tangier are made real and alive through their speech, reflections, and cultural mannerisms. Most of their tales are quite tragic: stories of prostitution, drug-dealing, and trafficking run rampant in Tangier’s seedy coastline locale. New people are introduced abruptly; their narratives are then weaved together through the highly ambivalent relationship between Azel and Miguel, separately from Morocco and Spain, who together represent the portal city of Tangier. Leaving Tangier shows Tahar Ben Jelloun’s developed understanding of what it feels like to straddle two nations and how difficult it is to completely sever the ties to one’s homeland. His knowledge of expatriation is as vast as his characters are numerous.

In this novel of simultaneous descent and brief bouts of enlightenment, migrants are torn about their past and national identity. Azel, the protagonist, is described at one point as “street trash” by his rich Spanish “lover,” who is all too willing to take the Moroccan man’s body even without receving his heart. Their acts flow parallel to the Strait of Gibraltar, claiming the Moroccan lives that sorely strove to reach new prospects in the glamorous land over the water. Drowning becomes a purgatory move in this sense, cleansing years of raw history.

10 April 2009

Eliot for your morning, Hegel in the evening.

From the second of Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot:
...Had they deceived us,
Or deceived themselves, the quiet-voiced elders,
Bequeathing us merely a receipt for deceit?
The serenity only a deliberate hebetude,
The wisdom only the knowledge of dead secrets
Useless in the darkness into which they peered
Or from which they turned their eyes. There is, it seems to us,
At best, only a limited value
In the knowledge derived from experience.
The knowledge imposes a pattern, and falsifies,
For the pattern is new in every moment
And every moment is a new and shocking
Valuation of all we have been. We are only undeceived
Of that which, deceiving, could no longer harm.

And to somewhat clarify his meaning here (poetics must be murky; philosophy too), Hegel's owl of Minerva:
The lesson of the concept, which necessarily is also taught by history, is that only in the ripeness of actuality does the ideal appear over against the real, and that only then does this ideal comprehend this same real world in its substance and build it up for itself into the configuration of an intellectual realm. When philosophy paints its gray in gray, then a configuration of life has grown old, and cannot be rejuvenated by this gray in gray, but only understood; the Owl of Minerva takes flight only as the dusk begins to fall.

06 April 2009

Perhaps a to-do list is in order.

There's a Chinese curse: "May you find what you are looking for." And the Rolling Stones realized, "You can't always get what you want."

The implication is that nobody really wants to get what they're searching for. The drive for it arises from the ignorance that complete achievement would be crushing. Your ego would fail, miserably incapable of reconstructing itself in relation to the achievement of complete satisfaction. You'd have to then define yourself by the possessed. It's continual goal-setting for safety. Because of this, there's no completion - you can't win life. There's more to be had.

Here's the epiphany. (Yes, I prefer to blatantly over-dramatise the trivialities of my own life - I embrace this practice fully because I see we all inevitably form the centers of our relative universes anyway. So, "epiphany.")
We can't stop searching. We create our own meanings. Nihilism may work (or not, whatever - haha) in theory, but the realization that we're not going to get there doesn't mean we shouldn't start the journey anyway. Life is one grand, interrupted action and it is only assigned significance because hey, we're human. There's no reason to stop those cycles, but there is literature to make it feel valid. May you keep searching.

03 April 2009

Art Spiegelman, "What the %@$*!! Happened to Comic Books?!"

I went to see Art Spiegelman talk last night at my university. For those who don't recognize the name, Spiegelman is the author of Maus, a renowned graphic novel about his father's experience of the Holocaust which was awarded a Pulitzer Prize Special Award in 1992.

Not only is Spiegelman a talented writer and thoughtful comic artist, I was pleased to find he is also wonderfully well-spoken and entertaining as a speaker. His presentation, entitled "What the %@$*!! Happened to Comic Books?!," was fast-paced ride through the history of comics and the rise of the graphic novel in today's world. Indeed, even his manner of speech replicates the poised control of the graphic artist, who internally converts time into space in order to fill and arrange the panels properly. At least speaking for myself, I can say that Spiegelman was able to keep me absorbed in a topic I had no real interest in, as he flew through early comic history, the role of comics in newspapers, their subsequent ebb and redirection into 'comic book' form, and ending with his own place in the presently maturing graphic novel scene. He ended there relatively modestly, I would argue, for his stature both within the genre and outside of it (Time Magazine named him one of the top 100 "Most Influential" people in 2005).

I'd say I was most interested in his discussion of the aesthetics of the comic form. I was unaware of how much thought is required to lay out the page in a way that not only communicates the story in a compelling manner, but guides the reader through a sheet of paper packed to the brim with content. And negative spaces matter: with page space at a premium, an empty panel (or two, or three...) speaks volumes. Spiegelman at one point claimed, "I'm interested in what leaks outside the panels." A skilled graphic novelist will understand this. The contents on the page point to what is left unsaid - the weight behind the mere 'lines on paper.'

Art Spiegelman has recently published In the Shadow of No Towers, a graphic novel written about the events of September 11th. He has also done some brilliant and often controversial covers for The New Yorker magazine... which anyone who knows me recognizes is a personal favorite. Regardless, I would recommend reading the Maus books to start off.

01 April 2009

Huck Finn!

I've been misguided in my prior judgment of Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. As my first reading of Huck Finn, the linguistic techniques used by Twain in writing this novel emerge fresh – unclouded by a previous experience with the text – and candidly influence my perception of the book’s driving forces. I’m not sure I could have wholly appreciated, as a child, the nuanced way in which Twain is able to portray the speech of such varied dialects. Reading this novel without the background of my study of the English language’s context and development, would probably have resulted in my dismissal of it as a simple adventure story. Surely a notable relic of American children’s literature and national character, but nothing more.

Of course, that impression would be proved insufficient to judge the true merit of Huckleberry Finn. Twain’s linguistic skills are of a very high caliber, shown through his ability to methodically depict a number of American dialects in this text. The vernacular speech leaps from the pages - it's fascinating to hear it do so - and crumbles the years past between my childhood (the one without Huck) and my... post-childhood (the one discovering Huck's charms). Huck Finn is delightful because he is pure and simple in a novel that may not be quite so simple. I caught myself laughing out loud several times towards the end of the book.

And besides, who can resist Twain’s “Notice” preceding the body of the text? “Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot…”