Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

Happiness Redux

May 27, 2011

You remember that blog post I wrote about happiness? No? Anyway, I wrote a forum post today which was more or less a continuation of it. Being too lazy to write a proper blog post, here it is.


On a bit of a different note, the whole good emotions, bad emotions thing sounds a bit like hedonism. It’s not something I know much about, but to my understanding it says that the attainment of pleasure and happiness is what to strive for, and to avoid pain. I think that idea may have been around for a while. I also wonder about this whole culture of happiness thing I’ve heard a little bit about- apparently people prize happiness, and being happy is seen as priority. Happiness as a goal… not something that’s unheard of, but perhaps something that’s not too healthy. Again, it might be a matter of the individual.
Ah, the word “happiness” can be a bit confusing, because the English language has two somewhat similar, yet very different concepts as homonyms. Using the two Swedish words can clear up some linguistic entanglement: glädje and lycka. Glädje is an emotion; it makes me happy to pet a cat, for example. I do not believe that lycka, the sort of happiness baked into for example the phrase “the pursuit of happiness”, is an emotion, however. I believe it can be construed as, at its heart, contentment.

When yet more governments come out and say that this “happiness” should be the true goal, and not GDP (I’m very sceptical about GDP as well, though, which is hardly controversial). Bhutan would be the clearest example, but we’ve also got the Tories in Britain and of course China – which have a vision about what they call “Harmonious society”. Basically, it’s about having a “good leader, a good mother and a good worker”. Which of course sounds very similar to corporative fascism.

Now, while it’s easy to drag up “Godwin’s Law”, I don’t think this is merely guilt by association, it has a strong basis in fascist “thinking” (if that word can be used). What we must conceive of here is fascism ‘more radical than Hitler’ – ultra right as opposed to extreme right. What strikes me is how similar these “ultra right” fascists are with what we might call the hippie movement. There’s this same obsession with Eastern mysticism and paganism, the same conception of this mythical ‘nature’, Mother Earth, which is supposedly in balance, as opposed to the chaotic civilization (never mind that there have been five so-called “super extinctions” – which are just what they sound like). There was even a Swiss health resort in the interwar which was like a fascist hippie haven. It’s not strange that Hitler had a copy of Bhagavad Gita with him wherever he went.

Now, what’s significant about all the major non-Abrahamic religions/philosophies is their conception of a hierarchical society, everyone having their place in the organic whole, and the conception of time as cyclical, as opposed to linear. What’s significant about early Christianity is its radical rejection of this. We can take the book of Job as an example, by far the most awesome story in the Bible. Some have said it’s a story about the infinite ways of God, but it should be seen as a story about the impotent god. We have Job being told three different theories about why God would test him, only for God to turn up by the end of the story and basically tell him that there was no reason for it. What appears here is the conception of that of things actually not always happening for a reason – all that talk about it raining in the desert, even when there’s no one around and all that. By this incredible impotence of God, it lies the crown on the humans – the basic message is that a clean slate, radical change possible, the choice lies in your hands.

How Christianity is actually conceived of and practiced is very different in the present of course, but I believe this paved the way for much of its success. Speaking of hedonism, I’d say deontological morality is basically hedonism, in a round-about way. It lies down a set of rules which should be followed, and beyond that everything is permitted. The oft-quoted saying attributed to Fjodor Dostojevsky (actually something Sartre made up in a letter) of “If there is no God, everything is permitted” is false. To quote Jaques Lacan instead: “If there is no God, everything is prohibited. In the utter lack of objective meaning morality must be “made up”. Somewhat incisively, it can be said that the only true Christian is an atheist.

TLDR; Happiness sucks.



21st Century Stories

March 7, 2011

I read through this Let’s Play of Scratches today.

We get to follow the adventures of Michael Arthate, author of Vanishing Town, which has decided to move into a manor in the hinterlands of rural England. The original game, which is a point-and-click adventure game, the first commercial adventure game of Argentina actually, is not actually a 3D game, but pre-rendered into 2D images. The LP being screen-shot based (rather than video-based or hybrid), thus fits well.

Why I’m writing about this Let’s Play is because of how this Let’s Play spins two media – literature and video games – into something awesome. To elaborate, it has some of the advantages of both.

Like literature, one can pause and reflect on the story, inhale the atmosphere. The author of the LP manages to build on the existing story, and avoids being meta. It’s not like the fast-paced movie. As a Let’s Play, it also takes advantage of a video game’s potential for alternative ways of playing and ending – sometimes as simple as to where and when a screenshot is taken.

Unlike literature, this LP is accompanied by many more images than you’d find in any novel, or children’s book for that matter. I really like the screenshots too, the game has some really good graphics. More importants than images, however, is the music. The author of the LP has taken care to post links to handy webpages where relevant music of the game is – and has taken pains to have backup links too. The game music is really good (though I may be a bit biased, being a fan of video game music and all), and it really gives it atmosphere. You must read the LP with that music on. I’d like to see a book made of paper use such multi-media to its advantage.

It also seems that reading the LP might be better than playing the actual game. I get a bit of mixed messages. Gamespot gives the game a score of 2 out of 5 while IGN gives it 7.7 out of 10. IGN’s review seems to be the most elaborate review of the two. I’ve not played the game, and I must admit I don’t have much of a desire to play it either, but the LP, by taking out the interactivity, while still leaving some left (as in, you can read it through at your own pace, unlike a movie), actually makes the game into something different, by taking out the element of loading screens, having to figure out the vague clues to puzzles, pixel hunting, loading screens and so on. That, to me, is good.

The e-book can have much to learn by this. The current e-book is a digitalized version of the paper book, taking no advantages of the inherent capabilities of the computer, internet and so on, essentially being an inferior paper book. I’d say the authors of tomorrow should take a look at this Let’s Play, and look at the potentials of the e-book. It is ironic that something so innocuous as the Let’s Play genre (which has only existed since flippin’ 2007 – though its elder brother, the After Action Report, is substantially older) ends up being far more pragmatic than the current best-sellers.

P.S. What annoys me about the LP is that sometimes there are words spelled wrong or left out entirely – which I admittedly do sometimes. It kills the atmosphere a bit. Also, in the last chapter, the author decided it would be better to have a video than screenshots and text. Which is understandable, as I presume there’s some fast-paced action involved. The problem is that the video was erased back in 2009. I’m left wondering how it all actually ended. Still, I recommend reading the LP!

P.P.S. Blackwood Manor reminds me a bit of my house when I first moved into it fourteen years ago. Well, except mine was slightly smaller, more dilapidated and not filled to the brim with paintings and art.


April 2, 2010

Here’s a piece I wrote out of boredom today. I’ll see where it’ll take me.

It was raining. There was always rain, as far as the boy could remember. And he had been here, always, from the beginning of his consciousness. He had often wondered what the world without rain would be like. A world without rain? How absurd, a part of him thought. Considering there had always been rain, and for all he could see there would still be rain, isn’t it logical to conclude that rain is the natural order of things, of which the world couldn’t be without? Indeed, he mused, how could he even talk about “rain” as a concept? There is nothing else but rain. If words are meant to differentiate some things from other things in his head, then there would be no use for the word “rain” since the “rain” he referred to was an intrinsical part of everything.
Another part of him rose to the surface of his mind, eager to resist the the other part, a contender for the reign residing in his skull. How could he say that there couldn’t be no rain? In the house, for example, there is no rain. The droplets of rain hammer rhythmically on the roof. He could hear it, lying on his bed. But none of the drops of water could touch him. He was dry. And if he makes a shelter in the forest, a contruction of twigs and leaves, the water cannot touch the ground below. But then again, there is still rain. If one consider the world as a whole, at least the world as far as he had seen that world, then there is always and probably always will be rain.
But why, if there now was no reason for the concept of “rain” as it would be redundant, did he still invent the concept of rain? He was unsure. Truth to tell, he wondered if he had ever invented it, consciously or otherwise. “Rain” had sort of been ever-present. He could not explain it. “Rain”, like a myriad of other things, had always been there, untangible. But why? Why did he need to use words to express his thoughts? Couldn’t his mind simply just process information and reflections without the aid of words? If anything, being chained by words seemed like it was handicapping the flow that was his mind. If only it could break loose and spiral freely, unhindered by these blurbs of verbal obstruction.
“If only.”
He was startled. The use of speech had always had an air of creepiness about it. He could not figure out the use for it. Communicating with himself went easy enough without the aid of verbal language. Surely, there must be some as of yet unknown use for it? Then again, perhaps some things didn’t have a purpose, perhaps they just… were. Lots of thoughts were queing in his mind, eager to make an appearance, to have a word. He tried to organize them, bring order into the cacaphony. One thing at a time.
He tried to imagine what use he could possibly have for speech. Would it aid him in reflecting upon things, to let out whatever thought he had inside him? Doubtful. If anything, it only further pressed down his mind, since he had to try to figure out what to say, and that restrained him. Anyway, writing did a far better job. He could write down whatever was on his mind at that particular moment in time. If his mind and feelings were different by the time he had read it again, he would gain a better understanding of things. He also recognized that he seemed to forget things now and again, and writing acted as a sort of primitive method of memory storage.
Writing could be a hint in understanding the use of speech. When he wrote down things, he used different symbols representing different sounds which could be used in speech. When certain symbols, or letters as he seemed to prefer to call them, were arranged in certain ways they became words. But that didn’t explain speech, part of him thought. Thought was what writing was built on, and it was either thought or writing which speech was based on. But there seemed to be an instinctive reaction in him which questioned that writing would be above, or prior to speech. The reaction didn’t make much sense, but it nevertheless lurked in the back of his head. He tried to shake it off, and assured himself that it was an irrational reaction.
A thought which had tugged on the sleeve of his mind suddenly managed to make its presence known. It felt stark in content, as if it was forbidden to even think it. Still, it was there. He thought, what if there was another one of him. He needed only to look down to see the physical presence which was himself. Torso, legs and all. And if he looked at the mirror, he could see his own reflection staring back at him. He could concieve of there being another physical presence, perhaps another mind. Would they be able to communicate with each other by mind, or would they need to use speech or writing to communicate? Again, the thought of somebody else but him struck him as absurd. But still, there was something in him which thought it made perfect sense. The sharp contrast confused him a bit. The whole affair struck him as a bit odd. He wondered if perhaps the whole argument going on in his brain was a way for him to shake off the whole cognitive dissonance. Maybe if the combatants weared themselves out and one pure victor emerged his mind would finally be at rest and he would achieve clarity and calmness.

“No Touching” Review

February 28, 2010

If you want a generally better review, check out this blog post.

The description on the back of the book says:

Abandoned by her parents on the streets of China at the age of three, Tiffany has been adopted into a white family in San Francisco. Not only does she struggle with being the only Chinese person in a family that doesn’t entirely appreciate her, she has been dumped by all of her previous boyfriends due to her lack of interest in bed (sex is a chore to her). Being asexual with a sense of inadequacy, she strives to find that perfect someone who understands her. Perhaps she will be lucky enough to find an asexual guy who thinks just like her. Or will she have to resort to creating an imaginary boyfriend? With gripping honesty and gentle humor, this story takes us to China where Tiffany experiences her culture and rediscovers her childhood memories.

If I had to describe No Touching in two words, it would be “Idiot Plot“. The plot hangs together because everybody acts like idiots. Now, I’m not saying that this particular trope in and of itself is bad, but it sure is inconvenient like hell in a book like this.

I’m not entirely sure about the “mentioning of sex/mentioning of food” ratio in the book, but I would say that they are quite close to each other. Tiffany is absolutely obsessed with cherry pies, and goes to restaurants, dinners, cafés etc. on countless occasions throughout the book. It is to the point that my mental image is of someone who is *cough* slightly overweight. In fact, I flipped a page open at random, and surprisingly enough found a mention of food:

“Want a cookie?”
“Sure, looks delicious,” I say, reaching for one. This is actually fun. I haven’t spoken Chinese for a long time. Now I get to practice on a real person instead of classmates in Chinese school. The cookie is crunchy and mildly sweet with sesame. “This is very good.”
“You’ve never had it? Take more,” she says, handing me the bag again.
“Thanks,” I say, thinking I have probably missed out on all the authentic Chinese food and snacks growing up in a white family. I thank the old lady for her generosity. She radiates joy and ease, giving me a sense of familiar warmth as if I’m her grandchild. Perhaps this is the familial connection I’ve been missing.
“You’re just like my granddaughter. She doesn’t eat Chinese cookies, only American chips and French fries. So unhealthy and fattening. They cause sore throat,” she says, shaking her head. “She doesn’t even drink soup, doesn’t know what is valuable. Soup is most important.”

(Crazy soup lady!) As is hinted, Tiffany takes her Chinese origins seriously. Very seriously. Her family, as hinted, also takes her origins seriously and Tiffany is painted as treated inferior to her sister. One might ask why her parents adopted her in the first place. The author also appears to have realized this disrepancy, and therefore made a half-baked explanation that her parents thought they were “infertile”. Yeah. So they adopted her (not a proper biological spawn) and later discovered that oh, they really aren’t infertile after all. Tiffany also has gone to “Chinese school” (so that she may speak Chinese later in the book), but also mentions being disappointed about having no Chinese friends. Ain’t that odd.

Tiffany also happens to be utterly deranged. She has a love affair with her pillow, who she has named Aurelius. Makes out with it/him a lot, to the point where it’s starting to crack by the seams. To quote the book: “I put the pillow aside tonight. I’ve been seeing Aurelius way too much lately”. Tiffany’s a real loser, to be honest. She says that she is dumped by her boyfriends as quick as they hear she’s asexual, but I figure they probably think “oh, there’s a perfect excuse to dump that crazy chick”. Probably not the best image of the asexual. Also, at one point she lies to her date Michael about this Aurelius winning at the lotteries, and thus dumping her. She then has a lot of guilt about betraying her pillow, and promptly sleeps without it. Michael’s actually a pretty decent chap, though he had the misfortune of encountering Tiffany.

I haven’t mentioned the big elephant in the room (she also has an elephant obsession, I can add): her roommate Aaron. Aaron’s homosexual, but doesn’t have a whole lot of luck with relationships either. What really frustrates me about the character is the part when Aaron pretends to be Michael to Tiffany’s parents (no, I’m not kidding). What follows is Aaron making out with Tiffany in front of her sister to give the impression that they’re in love. And Aaron when “discovers” that he’s actually bisexual. I’m no expert regarding fluid sexuality, but I don’t think it works that way. *SPOILERS AHOY* Tiffany has sex with Aaron, who then becomes a monk.*/SPOLERS AHOY* What nonsense.

Tiffany’s sister, Carrie, seems to be some sort of warped image of a sexual. She has an undying contempt for Tiffany, for no adequately explained reason. Their father decides to send them both to China, in a vain hope of getting them to be friends. And, it actually works. Carrie has sex with this Chinese dude, too. (Told ya it’s an idiot plot.) Carrie actually says “You probably think I’m a spoiled bitch, and I am, but I have a heart too, sometimes.” Carrie declares that she intends to marry rich, and her mother wants her too as well. (This is so damn silly…)

I am utterly disappointed. I expected a decent book which would give sexuals a better perspective on asexuality, what I got was a very sloppily written book which probably is more likely to give the impression of asexuals being psycho freaks. The book wasn’t entirely crap, but it failed to deliver, and screwed up along the way a lot as well.

Hmm… I think I shall follow the example of the review I linked to in the beginning, and give it one shiny star. Though I might add that I thought it was so unintentionally hilarious, it was worth the money.