Review: The Dark Knight

Okay, so I just saw the Dark Knight, for the first time. I didn't see it in theaters for a number of reasons, and I'm glad I didn't. I'm glad I didn't give in to the hype, I'm glad I stood by my now-more-solid-than-ever convictions that it wouldn't be the end of the world if I didn't see this movie in theaters, despite what certain friends said. Partially because very few movies are that important – and the ones that are are very, very, very rarely accorded all this hype.
A few disclaimers before I launch my all-out assault. I did not like Batman Begins. Though I have a tremendous respect for Christopher Nolan, that was by no means his best work – ever, at all, in any way. That film had a number of problems which inform my problems with this film, both in character and action. Fortunately, a number of them are repaired in this film, unfortunately, many others are not, and some are compounded. Let me also say, as the harshest critic of this film I know, that even I have to admit Heath Leger's performance was impressive – perhaps even astounding. I have long approached Joker with a very different mental picture. Despite this, Leger remains relentlessly convincing. My inability to critique his performance is quite honestly, a vague annoyance to me, as I would have loved to, given all the hyperbole gushed in that area. Still, I find it delightfully ironic that the one character in the movie who doubts human nature most is the only one that seems able to restore my faith in the human ability to act. This also leads into the fact that in many respects, the best parts of this movie were the parts that were not the way I pictured they should be, but which still remained convincing – still seemed to get at the heart of this story, still seemed to exploit all the rich emotional, psychological, and philosophical material with which any such story is imbued, though it is so rarely exploited. Though I was over all expectedly disappointed with the Dark Knight, it did some things right – and it had what every movie of its kind should have – an excellent beginning and ending. It was almost a full hour into the movie before I began to notice the edges fraying, which is far longer than many other movies last for me.
The edges, however, did fray, and then they began to run out as fast as that beautiful little thread from the back of Joker's coat in the opening. And so, without further ado, the angry, grouchy part of the review where I tell you what I thought was wrong with the movie, and challenge you with Arizona stone eyes to have any explanation which would make it all right. I warn you, I'm a little angry. I'm partially angry because parts of the movie were so damnably good, and so convincing, and I wanted to like it, I really did, at times. I wanted to believe someone out there could give me a convincing, alternative version of a Batman story, and still let me believe in it. So, yes, I will be passionate. I hope it entertains - and please do take it as entertainment – don't be upset that I didn't like your favorite movie.
First, and most important (the rest are really just physical incontinuities – yes that was an intentional pun on incontinence -, this first issue is psychological, and therefore far more important to the story and the characters). Okay. Let's set this straight. Bruce Wayne is not a struggle! Batman does not want to be Bruce Wayne! He does not want a normal life! Get it right! Bruce Wayne died (spiritually) the night of his parent's murder, and he has been OBSESSED ever since with “justice” or “vengeance” depending upon which side of the law you sit on, and which label you prefer. Yes, he will not kill, but that is Batman – that is because of his parent's death – that is not Bruce Wayne. Bruce Wayne is as much of a front as Clark Kent is – even more so, in fact, because in some sense, Superman does seem to want to be Clark Kent – he does seem to at times envy the normal man, though even he knows he can never be one. Batman however, not only knows he could never be one, he does not want to be one. What is ironic about this is that in creating this “conflicted” Bruce Wayne/Batman, the screenwriters actually shot themselves in the foot because in the scene DIRECTLY AFTER he's saying he can not risk the lives of “innocent people” Batman is risking their lives by blowing up cars, plowing through a mall in a supercar (shooting in its windows with no way of seeing what's beyond) and generally being an innocent-life-risking bastard. The Dark Knight cleared this up for me. I always knew there was something wrong with portrayals of Batman in which he wants to be a normal man, but this film, like Batman Begins, reveals to me negatively where these sad attempts at character conflict spring from. Batman can not be an ordinary man – a man does not put on a bat suit and nightly risk his life just because he is rich, or even because his parents were killed – many people have to suffered that, and not been so afflicted. What is unique about Batman is that he is so struck by it, so psychologically changed, or even damaged, that he must take up this mantle himself, alone, and to do that leaves no room for hopes of a normal life, and to see that tangential, sappy hope levered into so many superhero plots annoys me. Superheroes are superheroes because something hugely unique happened – this is inescapable – they are born of alien intervention, strange experiments, or, in this case, and really only in this case, the death of loved ones. It is one of the most beautiful ironies of Batman that he who begins most human becomes, through a human action, the least human-like superhero of them all, and that is so much the foundation of his strange comparisons with his villains, especially Joker. So much for the psychological.
Now, to the other legion of swarming annoying little mosquito problems. In no particular order., beginning with something I am unsure of, but which still bugs me. Most of the time, from what I know, when facial trauma of Dent's degree is suffered, facial reconstructive surgery is undertaken as soon after the event as possible – so probably when he would be unconscious – to save further damage to the muscles, skin, etc. The longer they wait, the more scar tissue develops, the harder it is to deal with. Not a big deal, but annoying nonetheless. Like I said, mosquitos. A bigger problem (okay, this is more like a mosquito the size of an elephant) is how the heck did Joker get out of the interrogation room – sure, he's got glass to the guy's neck, but the room can only be opened FROM THE OUTSIDE, that is the POINT of a secure interrogation room. The writers even make this obvious earlier. Why the guy was in there in the first place is a whole other question. What took Batman so stoinking long in coming to rescue Harvey Dent from Joker's assaults? There's just long enough that the Joker can succeed in so much of his plan, and just short enough that Batman couldn't have come from his penthouse. Brilliant. Speaking of the penthouse, how is it that the penthouse which was, may I remind you, successfully breached by so few as five gangsters during a wine and dine fundraiser, when one would think security would be tight, why is this penthouse suddenly the safest place in the city? Why does Harvey Dent not bleeding insist on this being true, especially given that he himself was endangered there not three nights ago? Furthermore, since when is a cheap RPG (and trust me, the Joker had only a cheap RPG) enough to punch a hole in the new and improved Batmobile? And not only punch a hole, but put the thing completely out of service? An upgraded Hummer easily survives an RPG, and it is built by the lowest bidder, not by the personal servants of a multi-billionaire who cares about nothing more than his personal safety during his midnight vigilantianism. I would scour Batman Begins for film of it surviving worse, but, alas, I have neither the time nor inclination – and to those who would say “well, all it had to do was take out the tires” Watch the film! The tires are fine! The system says “massive damage” or some crump like that, and the tires aren't even deflated!
Okay, on to Batman's personal physical problems – he survives a fall from a penthouse onto a car, is landed on by a girl (who, by the way, seems entirely too uninjured – I was so glad she died) and still has breath to chat her up in a growly, breathy he-man tone, and then, woopiddy do, he's knocked out of commission for a number of seconds by a slowed crash, tires beneath him, into a yielding semi, a crash he never should have been in, because the batbike could obviously stop faster than that – he didn't have to lay it down to turn around, and besides, it was built to be able to go sideways if it needed to. Are we not paying attention to what happened when we said cut five minutes ago? The fall at the end is even better – he falls a maximum of three stories – MAXIMUM, probably less (after that wonderful “oh look, fingers loosing grip, at least he saved the kid” shot) and he's out of it enough to still be lying there, and then to be limping, when Gordon comes down, all because he didn't have anything as soft and yielding as a CAR to break his fall.
Right, onto problems with the villains and their plots. First off, wonderful job on the face for Harvey Dent – nice makeup. The voice, however, sounds EXACTLY like it did before. Let me remind you of a little anatomy – the sound of a voice is projected and formed partially by the movement of the cheek and lips. Hold onto your cheek – just hold onto it from the outside, and pull it for a second, and then try to talk – sounds different, doesn't it? And Harvey Dent, with half his face, lips, cheek, you name it, gone, sounds exactly the same. How could they miss that – making a multiple quatillion dollar movie, with so many other great, wonderfully done details, and no one says – wait a second, that doesn't sound right. Hold on just one gold picking, lambbasting, carrot and celery minute. Let's at least get this freakishly obvious piece of sound engineering right. Okay, enough of that one. What of the Joker? How does he get into the Hospital? They have cops crawling all over, and there he is, the nurses' uniform fools them? Besides that, they're evacuating, and no one takes the trouble to actually look around for the bombs? What? Gotham has no bomb squad? They don't check Harvey Dent's room? He's not even prepped to go in the evac? Furthermore, TV SHOWS SCREEN CALLS! Yet there's Joker, on the TV, at a dial's command, right away. There are hundreds of people watching that show, (if you don't remember, I'm talking about the part where Mr. Accountant (because we've never seen an evil accountant before) says he's going to betray Batman's identity) trying to call in, it's obviously almost the only thing on TV, and he gets right on? Hunh. On to the ferrys- it's the army, and they don't think to check the engine rooms before they leave AT ALL? On top of that, since when do they evacuate prisoners because of a terror threat? Okay, so I believe it could happen in a system as messed up as ours, but really, doesn't it seem just a little bit levered in, so that the movie isn't quite so dark, and so that a few people who believe in the goodness of the ordinary man, not to mention the goodness of the tattooed and physically disabled, but frighteningly strong prisoner? The worst part is there are more convincing ways of talking about the “goodness of man” there are better arguments, and there could have been better scenes, but that seemed far too much like a cop-out. And the guy (the non-criminal) who offers to do it, then can't? Entirely unconvincing, if you want my opinion, though I'm sure you must be sick of that by now. Okay, more stuff, they wouldn't let that prisoner get that close, bye the way, anyway, the “hostage” clowns could have LAID DOWN (they're hospital patients, and they don't think of this? They must have been wanting to lie down!) I know, maybe not earlier, but at least when the swat teams burst in? That's a more minor point, and I could have let them get away with it, but no, not when they're messing up like this. Even worse- perhaps the worst of all these is the interrogation room with the Joker in it - and on top of that, why didn't the cops take his makeup off? You know the first thing they'd want to do – the first step in interrogation – would easily be to deprive him of his face – to wash it off, which could have been so good, because his face could have been almost creepier without the makeup, but no, they didn't think of that, because they get paid obscene amounts of money to make mistakes.
Okay, all that said, like I said, there were parts I really liked. There were bits and pieces I thought fantastic. I wanted to love the movie – which in itself is impressive, because usually I love to hate hyped action flicks, especially ones about superheroes. I love that Batman predicted- absolutely predicted Lucius' behavior about the sonar – and I love that he thought of it, that was really, really good. The ending was great – Gordon's conclusion that Batman has to be chased is right on the money of the character and tone of the movie. If the whole movie could have been like parts of the movie, I would have been so happy, really, I would have. But it wasn't. And I'm not. So consider yourself warned, if you ask me about this movie, if you try to tell me it was oh so good, if you try to convince me that I'm wrong, I'll go down fighting. Not that it isn't possible for me to be convinced – you've seen my weapons, now, you'd better have answers if you're going to try to tell me I should like it anyway, you'd better have your own.
All this to say – the Dark Knight is not a bad movie. It is much better than the majority of movies of its type – but there are movies of another type, and it is to movies of the greater type that I often hear Dark Knight compared – but those movies are made more carefully, and with a greater thought for continuity, and it is annoying to me that these films are not recognized for being great in how they are great. If there were that recognition, maybe both action movies and the “dramatic” movies could begin to care about everything, because it is only in caring about everything – caring that every little bit of the movie is at least interesting, or helpful, or meaningful, caring that every bit works – that any movie can be, in my book, truly great, and that is why not caring enough about the details – every type of detail – is the great sin of so many works of so-called art, be they films or books or poetry or paintings or music or anything else. Oh, and if you agree with me, and want to pass along your ideas without doing your own writing, please do pass on this link to anyone else, I won't complain about free publicity.

P.S. I would be remiss if I did not thank a friend for loaning the movie to me – his action was very gracious, despite my not liking the movie.


Postcards from a time-traveling punk bunny: an opportunity for collaboration

So, I was lying in bed tonight, and I had an idea...
Well, that's not quite true. I was helping a friend move today, and I happened across a little orange book "The Book of Bunny Suicides" it proclaimed, in large and cheerful font. What a fortuitous meeting, I thought, just my sort of dark humor. So I read, and was inspired. (here's the amazon page, if anyone is interested: http://www.amazon.com/Book-Bunny-Suicides-Andy-Riley/dp/0452285186/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1230461339&sr=8-1)

So, tonight, I was pondering a few of my favorite illustrations (a bunny peppering the eye of Sauron, a bunny V-signing in a row of Nazi troops.) and pondering just how for-crying-out-loud-a-zucchini-in-a-zebra lucky that Andy Riley is, sitting around, getting paid for those odd thoughts. And I had an idea. Surely there must be room in this market for two darkly humorous bunny people.

And so, a dream was born. Unfortunately, I have neither the time nor the inclination for drawing my idea out, so, for an artist who is interested enough to collaborate, I'll split any profit 50-50. My idea is of a new world's hero, suitable for internet distribution and newspaper syndication alike (and God knows we need some better comics in the paper) My idea is simply this:

Postcards from a time-traveling punk bunny. A series of brief, sometimes one-image comics, of a raffish bunny causing trouble in different time periods, for example:

Bunny posed to strike the nose off the Sphynx
Bunny riding the head of a stampede through a McDonalds
Bunny giving Hitler the finger.
Bunny giving (insert political figure here) the finger.
Bunny rubbing himself with rosemary and garlic in front of Ghandi

We could, of course, include a number of story-telling multiple-frame comics, for example:

Bunny gets in remote-conrol plane, remote in hand. Bunny flies. Bunny waves at astonished Wright brothers, trying to get their plane off the ground.

We could also include stories from bunny's normal life:

Background noise: Brapp brapp brapp! Bunny's wife: Pesky kids on motorbikes. (next frame) Bunny: Don't worry, I installed a raised speedbump. Wife has quizzical look. (next phrase) Wife opens window, sees kid on motorbike headed toward speed bump, which is literally raised by poles at either end - to about neck level.

So, that's the idea. Any interested illustrators, please contact me: rascalyboy [at] gmail [dot] com. Inclusion of work samples, or possible mock-ups, especially of bunny-face expressions would be greatly appreciated.


To do more research on: Hope it dies with the downturn: Too many titles.

Leveraged Buy Outs, or LBO's, are something I really wish I could investigate further, especially in the form of "Juicing the Returns". Unfortunately, my personal interests, lack of resources, and lack of funding, all point to me continuing to skip across the waters of interest, wishing someone would fund an extensive search of the milky depths.
To my mind, there are few things more worth researching. I first came across Leveraged Buy Outs in the book "Ahead of the Curve" by Philip Delves Broughton, a memoir of two years at Harvard Business School. In his chapter "Extreme Leverage" Broughton describes the process by which an investor will buy out a company using borrowed money, (essentially, the lenders buy the business with then take out loans on the companies' assets in order to pay himself, attempt to load the business with as much debt as possible, until the company strips down to the bare butt naked thread of its operating expenses. At this point, the company is offered up to the public market as new and efficient, and will commonly sell back for a lot more than it originally was purchased for - sometimes three times as much.
The short term profits, and the attraction for investors, are obvious. What raises a harrowing hall of alarm bells in my mind is the simple question of sustainability - can a company that is so laden with debt, and made so "efficient" actually survive beyond that initial year of plenty - even more so, even if the company does survive, will the slightest hiccup (like a recession) send it spiraling into bankruptcy quicker than cockroaches leave a lit room?
What makes these questions all the more interesting is that there does seem to be some form of this sort of lending/buying before every major recession in our nation's history - a "debt" bubble is certainly one of the operative interpretations of the situation in 1929, the 1970's stagflation era, and Black Monday of 1987. Interestingly, leveraged buy outs "began" in the 1950's, became more and more popular through the 1960's, and disappeared in the 70's. They reappeared in the 80's, were implicated in the junk bond crashes, and went underground for a while. Perhaps the best illustration of this recurrence today is this chart, apparently from the Bank of England.

So, what do I want done? Well, first off, I'm not at all sure this is a culprit. More research needs to be done - specifically into the performance of the companies of which we speak. Even if a solid link can be made between bad performance and leveraged buy outs, and even if this link extends to the depressions and fallbacks however, I would not say the proper solution - at least the proper long-term solution, is to make some government rules about how much can be done. Rather, the solution must be to advance the learning and expected learning of investors - who must learn not to invest in such companies, companies that have been loaded with leveraged buy outs in their past. If this can be accomplished, leveraged buyouts will disappear simply because no one will buy them back, and the possible profits will be nil.

Further resources:


Literature and History in Japan

Along with attempting to organize my writing projects, in order to prioritize them, I'm going to go ahead and start writing. Right now, my essay is one about Literature and History in Japan, specifically the influence and representation of the end of WWII, and of the Meiji restoration.

For now, it'll focus more on the whole atomic issue, as that's what I've seen more of.

When finished, hopefully it'll get itself submitted to a few essay contests to line my resume.

The first paragraph runs:

Some things are only visible through distance, and some things only in mirrors. Distance, both chronologically, and spatially, has functioned as both a gear and metaphor of clarity in literature, and mirrors, even in Shakespeare, are a way of more clearly seeing our selves – of seeing ourselves differently. Sometimes, too, as we view from afar the literature of distant cultures, we may see things they themselves have no access to. Sometimes, even, we may have the privelege of seeing, in these cultures, a mirror of ourselves, either of those things we are grown too attached to, or of those things we have not, and may want to acquire.

I'm not sure how comfortable I am with the generalizations.


Is it bad?

Is it bad that I like a world in which thrown shoes can make it to top news?

I think the surreality of it hasn't even entirely hit me yet.


Two thoughts for today: Dialectic

I know people who fight against thesis, and I certainly know people who will fight against an antithesis, but does anyone (or can anyone) fight against a synthesis? If they can, is it really a synthesis? (my tendency would be to say their first argument is that it isn't)

Is there really any thesis that isn't a synthesis, and an antithesis? Ditto for the others?

My next project

Okay, so I've been thinking about my writing. I think the first thing I need to do is actually organize a list of projects I'd like to work on, before I get started on one or two...

Help wanted: solving a puzzle

So, a very evil librarian friend of mine posited a puzzle to me. Apparently, the title of a "classic" or "good" book (possibly modern?) is encoded in:

"2 (33-97)"

I have constructed a table of possible pieces of the solution, available here:


It's messy, but it's a start. Go ahead and edit it, add something, make a suggestion (you should probably do that in the comments) and best (here comes the self-promotion) spread the puzzle around. It'd be fun to see how many people get in on solving it (and it means less work for me, ha-ha!)... if you're interested, and have time.

Update: Here is the whole list, to give one an idea of the sort of solution one might want to look for: (thanks to Janet Tillman)

Here’s something to stretch the imagination and keep the ole’ grey cells from becoming soft. Enjoy!

Benevolent Moves Real Fast

1. Bye bye three minus one two limbs
2. Chronological condition that belongs to purity
3. Butcher home half of ten
4. Young raisins associated with anger
5. Pumpernickel outside Johnny Bench
6. Double murder one heckling fowl
7. Fajita wrap not sharp
8. What you hang pictures on and where lions live
9. David’s son squared
10. Felony without impunity
11. Tossed yesterday da seeing tumbler
12. Blades
13. Hubris as well as bias
14. Recline feminine Mr. un Mr. Curfman
15. Hare Race
16. Astounded purchase mirth
17. Sob the dear land
18. Ass after terre a drink with jam and bread
19. The returning to consciousness
20. Red missive
21. Male child gets up too
22. The dissatisfaction that belongs to us owns the coldest season
23. 2(33-97)
24. Consumes Fires plus Foliage

P.S. Benevolent Moves Real Fast translates to Good Books (as in “He really books”). This will help you understand the spirit of the game. One of them is Leaves of Grass and another one is Walden. They are all classic books, some might even call great books. Please let me know if you solve 2(33-97).


Paying attention producers?/ What Quantum of Solace should have been./The greatest Bond cliffhanger ever.

Okay, so, I'll admit, I haven't seen Quantum of Solace, so there may be premature judgment in the following (isn't there always?) but I trust my friends to some extent, and when they all say a sequel is crap, it pretty much cements my generally correct opinion that if X is sequel, X will suck, especially if X is written after, and by a different team than A, the “original.” This conclusion seems to have held true despite my great respect and hope for Marc Forster, Daniel Craig, and Paul Haggis (especially his work on Crash), and my hope in the greatest title I think a Bond film has ever had (and there have been some good ones, IMHO). So, believing that all these could do better, I wonder what went wrong, and pitch my own idea of what should have happened.

The film opens, after lavish, water-themed opening credits, with the last of them melting into the desert, sizzling on the sands. Bond sits in the sand, back against his car, looking into the distance. He glances to his left. Over the distant dunes, a huge procession is coming, most on camels.
We flash back to Bond searching Mr. White's house. He comes downstairs. White is tied to a chair, and has already obviously been worked over rather badly. Silently, Bond gives him a grim look, and begins to beat him again. We return, mercifully, to Bond in the desert. The caravan is much closer. We flash in and out of the interrogation of Mr. White throughout the first act, learning that Mr. Bond is contacting this caravan because it has some unstated connection with the organization “SPECTRE”, which is not stated by Mr. White, but found on a single piece of notepaper – “SPECTRE, 25.039198, 50.019979 Nov. 3?” It is there that Bond waits now. During the flashes we learn that Mr. White has been taken back to MI5 to be under interrogation there. M begins to talk to Bond about revenge. During the flashes the caravan moves closer, until it directly in front of Bond. When the caravan is half-past him, all of them stop, and Bond is suddenly covered by dozens of guns. He is entirely unperturbed. One of the men comes forward to talk to him.
“SPECTRE?” Bond asks.
The man smiles. “You don't want SPECTRE.”
“What is SPECTRE?”
“To find out what SPECTRE is, is to join SPECTRE.”
“How do I find out more?”
“Go to Dubai. SPECTRE watches over Dubai.”
“Is that where you are going?”
“Can I travel with you?”
“No, we go too slow for your purposes. You may, however, dine with us.”

Bond dines with them, and, in the darkness around the tents, drives away after the dinner. Later, in the darkness surrounding the tents, he returns, and roughs up a few young men indiscriminately, questioning them about SPECTRE. One of them, he discovers, is a disguised Estonian spy, after she repels his attacks. Her name is Maria, she's the main bond-girl for the movie. She asks to go with him. They drive to Dubai. The second act is split half-and-half between Dubai, and Moscow. In Dubai, Bond-girl tells him where he can find Mr. White's handler. Mr. White's handler asks Bond, just before he commits suicide, if Bond is SPECTRE. This puzzles Bond, and Bond, searching the handler's apartment, is taken captive by a Dubai police task force. They take him, to his surprise, before the Emir of Dubai, who takes him for White's handler, and tells him, after Bond's credentials are cleared, that SPECTRE actually works with the government of Dubai, as well as the governments of Russia, Great Britain, and the United States. The Emir also tells Bond that SPECTRE says there were indications of Mr. White's handler having connections in Moscow. Bond goes with bond-girl to Moscow, to continue to research. There we brow more embroiled in a number of suspicions and paranoias, of Dubai, of the Emir, of the girl, of Moscow, of SPECTRE.
The beginning of the third act, Bond meets a self-described “SPECTRE” agent in Moscow, who tells him that he's “Not from the government, but here to help.” Bond learns more about the apparent structure of SPECTRE, how a number of government agents work with it, but none are allowed to tell of its existence to any others – essentially, the test to enter SPECTRE is to find it. Bond and Bond-girl have a couple more adventures, she could die (she's a Bond girl, she's expendable). M starts to doubt Bond's dedication to revenge, and tells him that Revenge is a quantum of solace – the smallest possible piece of solace, because revenge is always tinged with regret. Revenge means one has power- and probably had the power to stop the thing from happening which now must be avenged.. Bond just looks at her blandly, and tortures White more. White asks Bond if Bond is looking for revenge. Bond says yes. White says, well, that's easy, for that, you need to go back to where you started. Bond girl (if alive) goes back with Bond to the desert (either way, that's where Bond goes), where he tells the nomad (still camped there) he does want SPECTRE. The nomad smiles, and they join the caravan into the desert. If we want to do a classic Bond, they are making love in a covered camel saddle, or wagon, or whatever, when the caravan stops, at the apparently empty edge of the sea. A door opens in the sand, and Bond goes in. M's voice comes on over the loudspeaker.
“You know Bond, you were right. You may not have known it, but the quantum, while it is the smallest possible piece of revenge. But quantum is also a level, and once you get down to where those smallest particles matter, the big ones don't matter anymore. In any case, you're at the right place now. Welcome to SPECTRE.”

There we go. Leaves us wondering whether M is working for the greatest criminal organization ever, leaves us with a great jumping off point where Bond starts suspecting SPECTRE, and, to M's protests, teaches M a lesson about watching her friends. At that point, one could keep creating new Bond films, or return to the originals. Remake anyone? I'll write a script if Marc Forster, Daniel Craig, or Paul Haggis contact me... :)

True enough, and most useful for its air of condemnation.

"The public school headmaster and the public school prospectus use the word "philosophy" much as Californian Valley Girls use the word "like," ceaselessly and senselessly." - Steven Fry, Moab is My Washpot, "Falling in" sixth paragraph.

The only trouble is, if they were to attempt to use it any more rarely and thoughtfully, it would only reveal, unbeknownst to them, the poverty of their thought.


Our thought for today.

You know what bureaucracy is, don't you? Bureaucracy is a way of making your rise to power so slow that by the time you have power anyone you were going to use it against is dead, and all the evils you were going to fight have been replaced. By you.


National Novel Writing Month: My Experience, and the Modern World

1. Words without thought (or other qualitative measure) are stupid and lacking in quality.
2. A high volume of production causes a devaluation of quality products in both economic and intellectual areas.
3. It is therefore the economic, social, and intellectual responsibility of everyone to strive to only produce and only reward quality – in anything we pay for or support.

If you agree with me on the above points, and don’t have much time, or don’t want to hear my conclusions from these theses, you needn’t read further.

As the few who read this blog with any regularity perhaps know, I have been participating in the National Novel Writing Month, hosted by the so-called “Office of Letters and Light.” On Saturday I “finished” with a total of 52,698 words, making me one of the 2008 “winners.” In their vapid and hyperbolic prose, the office of letters and light would like to call this a resounding victory. If my victory resounds, it is only because this victory is hollow – and that is the only reason I would like it to resound.
I will not be posting the rest of my novel on this blog. I apprehended, even in chapter 1, that this writing would not be of the quality I desired. My “novel” suffers most from a complete lack of organization – a trouble I feel is deadly to any story, especially a detective story. While there are certain passages of my novel I do like, while there are certain parts I enjoyed writing, I generally found the exercise not to be worth my time.
I find the reason this exercise was not worth my time interesting, and symptomatic of modern culture as a whole. The reason, specifically, I found this experience hollow, is that the focus of the National Novel Writing Month is entirely upon the production of a set number of words. I believe, however, that the quality of writing should never be judged or even referred to by the number of words. I believe, furthermore, that not even the quantity of writing, and especially of novels, should be judged in words. A novel is not a creature of words - this is obvious as soon as we consider collecting a jumble of words and calling it a novel. It is not a novel. A novel therefore is composed of something other than words – it is composed of ideas, and the quantity of these ideas, the number and depth of them, is the true and only quantitative measure of any writing.
Yes, one might say, but the Office of Letters and Light cannot measure that. Exactly so, and therefore, they should not encourage the production words without content. So far in 2008, according to their webpage, 1,519,501,005 words have been written as a part of National Novel Writing Month, and through the writers, the Office of Letters and Light received donations of $333,682. Needless to say, I find it unbelievable that even a small percentage of these words were produced with worthwhile content. I once had a teacher who would doubtless be happy with this result. He told us often that, to become good writers, we must write every day. I disagreed with him then, and I do so more now. If writing every day were the content of the practice of becoming a great or even good writer, romance novelists would be great writers, as they produce huge amounts of fiction every year. In any list of the most prolific authors of western literature, I would challenge anyone to actually recognize as reasonably good any but Alexandre Dumas, who ranks somewhere around 19th, and wrote many of his books with co-authors. The most prolific authors of the western world are known for novels such as “Wind of Desire” “Gathering Storm” and “Wild Bill, the Pistol Prince.” It seems to me that to encourage the production of novels in the same method as these – as Shakespeare, and later T.S. Eliot phrased “words without thought”, is not only a step backwards in literature, but literally irresponsible.
To save time, and to save myself from proving my point while making it, I will refrain from making suggestions of what might replace it, but I have thought of some which could likely be implemented with less than $333,682 (as a side note, they’re still griping that they don’t have enough money).
I would, however, like to say (at this point my complaint about NaNoWriMo has ended, and my subject becomes the culture) that I think this seems to be a symptom of much of the character of the nation today, a character which the internet makes daily and increasingly apparent. Many pundits refer to western culture as “consumption” or “consumerist” culture, but I think that in some respects, they may have the thing completely backwards. Western culture may be more dangerously “productionist” or “producing” culture. I have heard that one of the contributing factors to the great depression was that there were large volumes of low-quality products warehoused, which began to destroy the value of new production. It has been said that the current bust is deeply related to the production of houses which were assumed to have value, although there were too many houses for any to be of the assume value. Though stores were crowded, and people died, black Friday was considered a failure, because not enough product was sold – so which is there more of? Production or consumption? Of course, especially in this case, the over-production could be symptomatic of too much consumption, but, especially in the case of letters, a terrific amount is produced which is not meant to be read, largely the form of National Novel Writing Month. This production is present not only on the internet, but in Academia, where academics are pressured to (or do of their own free will) produce new books constantly repeating what they have already said, in order to satisfy tenure boards or research grants, rather than taking their time to produce really quality material.
It seems to me that this over-production, without a careful eye to quality (and it is extremely rare when quantity is raised but quality not lost), de-values the qualitative product, burying it in a huge number of suitable but low-quality replacements that consumers will consume, because they are cheap and easy, and, more so, because it is difficult to wade through the thousands of low-quality products to find one or two high-quality ones. Therefore, because no one can find the high-quality product, and high national sales are generally generated through ubiquity, there is even less encouragement for those with the ability to produce to produce a high-quality product, and the bar is lowered again. This is the system which it seems to me the National Novel Writing Month participates in, to name just one.
As an expected result of this, I will not recommend that anyone engage themselves in either National Novel Writing Month or Script Frenzy in the future. I will also recommend that if they really want to, they should be of a specific, and very rare character – a character which has more trouble writing words than planning them, and who, while they might have a refined plot, developed characters, and a host of interesting ideas, lack the impetus to actually sit and write them down. This is not my character (really? You could tell?), but to those who have such a character, I would encourage them, too, not to force themselves through National Novel Writing Month or any other means, to write, but rather, share their ideas with someone, perhaps a friend, with a gift for writing, but little gift for ideas, characters, or plots. Work with someone else. The internet is rife with the production of possibilities of social network, so network, so that you may concentrate on doing what you do best, rather than trying to do something you aren’t really excited about, and depriving someone else of the opportunity to do it. Quality is the only really rare thing in the world, and I still believe that when people see it, especially in writing and philosophy, they long to pursue it, to be a part of its production.
What shall I do? Well, first, I am going to hound a friend of mine, who is a far better proofreader than I, and has a different eye for stories. I’m going to hound him to work with me, because I greatly respect him as a thinker, and don’t want to miss an opportunity to write with him, even though that probably means we’ll disagree about a number of items. Second, I am going to focus on my short stories (since I can’t find someone to write plots for me, I’d best improve on mine) in part so that I can work on my editing, and try to produce small things of unquestionable quality. This will not be easy. Finally, I will work on another blog, the sartorial screen, which will speak mostly of the cinematic history of men’s style, something for which I have a passion, as my loving wife has often pointed out. Through these three things, and in my posts here, (which will large be concerned with the quality of my short stories and essays) I hope to pursue a quality and brevity unmatched by my previous writing, and a quantity of ideas unalloyed with the dross of vapid production. Also, I will be producing less total words. Hopefully. A higher percentage of them should be on my blogs, because a higher percentage will be readable.