21
Feb
18

Dear Cyborgs by Eugene Lim

I recently read Dear Cyborgs by Eugene Lim. I got it as a recommendation from a friend who described it as comic books meets philosophy. I don’t know if I really agree for two reasons. My first reason is that its not really philosophy. Or, let me take that back. The characters are definitely discussing philosophy, but its not what I think of when I hear “philosophy.” This is more my fault in having a limited view of that word rather than any problem with the book, but I think it’s more accurate to say that the book is about authenticity and resistance. Again, these ARE philosophical topics, but just not ones that I think when I think of philosophy, for better or worse (and probably for worse that I assumed these topics were not on the agenda — I thought metaphysics or something like that).

My second reason for questioning the description of “comic books meets philosophy” is that there are not really comic books but more James Bond-y stuff. Now, this is not to say that James Bond is not comical in some ways since its sexist and stereotypical and pretty boorish, but it’s not really what one thinks of when one thinks of comic book characters. It’s more secret agent than X-men.

As for the substance, there is some good stuff. I learned something really interesting about Kim Jin-Suk, who was a South Korean labor activist who decided to protest by living in a box suspended by a crane. This really happened! And Lim is right I think to see some serious metaphorical and allegorical potential to this little vignette. Indeed, a lot of the book centers on protesting and resisting commodification and oppression. Some of those themes didn’t really nail me with a fresh take or inspired conclusion, but I think I might have been reading a little fast to get everything, but then again, it may just be that the book has some weird breaks in the narrative that doesn’t inspire too much hunger for its details. Kind of “meh plus” in my system of ratings.

Some good writing though. Here’s a funny quote (loc 966 on kindle, whatever page that is).

The president, several members of Congress, and two Supreme Court justices had had their emails and drives compromised. In addition to the usual infidelities and sex-trafficking, the drug habits and corporate kickbacks, it was deemed most embarassingly revealed that these politicians were atrocious hobbyists. Several of them wrote confessional poetry, two were authors of soft-porn fan fiction, and the president himself painted psychoanalytically revealing self-portraits in which he unintentionally confessed he was a child-man, a buffoon, manipulated by devious puppet masters.

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11
Feb
18

The Dark Dark by Samantha Hunt

I just finished the Dark Dark by Samantha Hunt, which is a collection of short stories, some of which I think are meant to be related to the others. I thought some of the stories were utterly bizarre, but hey, that’s literature. On the plus side, I thought some of the stories were moving and interesting. That’s also literature.

If I had to say what the theme of the stories were, I would say something like “women as hormonal beings.” But this encapsulation is deceptive because it makes it sound like the book is about stereotypes that “women are emotional.” No. The point of the stories is to try and give voice to the experience of being embodied as a women, and thus trying to appreciate feelings surrounding sex, birth, marriage, and so forth in a way that is true to life and in a way that reflects on and challenges the dismissive way that a dominant male culture has tried to think about these things or portray them.

08
Feb
18

Neil Richards Intellectual Privacy

I recently read Neil Richard’s book called Intellectual Privacy. I waited a week or so to write this post because I was busy doing some writing. Ultimately, I think that this is one of the better privacy books that I’ve read. It’s not a popularizing book, but its not pure scholarship either. Somewhere in the middle. What I like about it is that it assumes that what is important about privacy is the way that it lets us be free-thinkers. The rough idea of the book is that law based on privacy should not prevent the spread of private information, because doing that interferes with freedom of speech. Instead, privacy law should make sure that persons don’t have their private information found out in the first place. But there is a lot in the book about why it is our viewing, reading, thinking records that should be the focus of legal privacy protection. I’m not sure about the last part even though I think the core of the moral value of privacy has to do, as I said, with free thinking

22
Jan
18

The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov

I found out recently that Isaac Asimov wrote a TON of novels. Like more than 400 is what I read in the amazon book I receive. That is absurd.

Also, I recently read his self-professed FAVORITE story, called “The Gods Themselves.” It was pretty good. It has some barely disguised russian words in it, and the story itself is very philosophical. The plot structure is very odd and kind of exploratory in a certain sense, though there is an issue that has to be resolved (and one might say, an enormous one). The story is, if one had to summarize it, about the factors that interfere with human rationality and judgment.

16
Jan
18

TV shows in the streaming age: e.g., the Killing

I’m currently watching the Killing. I really enjoyed the first season, but I’m now on the second season, and a familiar problem has cropped up, which is that the plot has slowed to a crawl.

For the whole first season, there are good twists and turns and the feeling of a real detective caper. But then, amazingly, one finds out that the season finale doesn’t resolve the murder and that the single murder is not just the basis for season 1, but for, as far as I can tell, all the seasons. This is done, I think, because TV shows are becoming long form media events. Movies too are becoming heavily sequelized — look at Star Wars and Marvel. Both involve multi movie franchises in which movies are committed to in advance to fill out narrative arcs with same actors over 5, 6, 7 and more total hours of screen time. This tendency makes superhero movies more like comic books, with continued evolution and cross pollination, and I really enjoyed the way the first avenger movies came together. TV shows follow in this mold. A season can be watched (‘binged’) at once and the total screen time can be more than 7 total hours. The stories that are told on screen are getting longer and longer.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, but I have noticed that it leads to a predictable form of abuse, which is that shows try to draw themselves out to fit this new style. I watched the Americans and really liked it, but I had to stop because it endlessly teased some kind of revelation on the part of the Soviet spies who are the main characters: would they defect? Would they see the hypocrisy of the Soviet Union (even as they clearly saw the hypocrisy of the U.S. during the 80s). It’s an interesting premise, but not one that the show, it seems, is ever willing to resolve or ultimately address. It seems that many shows take the same form of setting an interesting premise, pursuing it well, but then just willfully drawing it out, giving crumbs of the plot in an endless twisted series of episodes.

Take, for example, the Killing. There are twists, and they are well done I think, but then the twists keep coming as many parties are first spotlighted as very likely criminals and then conclusively resolved as somewhat surprising additional evidence exonerates them. The pattern is too easy and it quickly starts to feel repetitive. Not only does this meta structure of: new suspect, pursuit of new suspect, eventual exoneration of new suspect, start to feel stale and forced, but on a more micro level, each episode seems to take more and more detours. To spend more and more time with family drama that becomes melodramatic, repetitive, and does not advance the plot. Many scenes do not show the characters in a new light or as evolving, but as fighting the same old battles, on new terrain.

I want to find out what will happen in the show, but I also feel that I’m getting trapped in a kind of alternate, melodramatic dimension in which everything happens slowly and with more angst and feeling than any story has a right to command.

12
Jan
18

today I’m a bike commuter

Today is the first day that I went to school by bike. The average commute is about 20 minutes long according to the census. My commute is a little longer at 32 minutes (timed exactly so I know how much time I have in the morning). I also drive pretty hard so this extra time is probably corresponding to an even slightly greater distance of my commute (4.5 miles).

Interestingly, census data shows that men commute to work at a greater rate than women, even though men and women walk to work at roughly equal rates. Not sure what the explanation of this is — maybe women are expected to appear more proper at work, which precludes biking (sweating, dust, etc.) Or maybe some women are towing kids along to day care and so forth and this is impractical on a bike. Interestingly, on my commute I saw a couple biking to work, and the dad was carrying two kids in a front bus construction. However, he pointed out to me that he had a motor helping him, which could, with better batteries and electronic motors, be an option for more people.

05
Jan
18

Coda: H.P. Lovecraft

I wrote about HPL here, and I tried to give a summary of his brand of horror/mystery. From reading stories, I think that the feeling is one of a tentacle on your skin or the feeling of a bizarre creature lurking just below the surface of a lake — the feeling evoked perhaps, by the JAWS movie poster that shows an innocent swimmer and a shark just beneath the water. Though, for Lovecraft, a shark would be too brutely and familiarly savage and not extradimensional enough.

*Spoilers Follow*

In any case, I finally finished At the Mountains of Madness, and though this story is often cited as among Lovecraft’s best, I actually found it something of a let down. The arctic setting of the story is well done and it’s interesting that there are two experiences of cosmic horror (usually one protagonist kind of goes it alone in experiencing the terrifyingly weird). But the story seems excessively long at some point in documenting the civilization that the adventurers come across. Also, the actual moment of confrontation, where the adventurers meet an aggressive cosmic horror is so brief and does not feel as chilling as some other encounters, though I have to say the writing that describes the creature is pretty well done — the beast is compared to a kind of tentacled subway barreling down a narrow chasm at the heroes, with its face/maw as the front of a train in those iconic scene where on is bearing down on an innocent on the tracks. Still though, I think the world building is done better in the shadow out of time.

There is also an interesting posting that I came across here, exploring the relationship between H.P. Lovecraft and video games. The analysis is rich, and it’s written by a dude who consults about the philosophy and literary aspects of video games for a living. Wow!  He makes the point that Lovecraftian horror is about the possibility that humans could exist “side by side” of eldritch creatures of enormous complexity and power and simply not know it, just as a sunflower lives side by side humans and yet has no inkling of their power and sophistication. I think this point is nice and accurate. There is the idea in Lovecraft that we are rubbing shoulders with bizarre space creatures and ancient fungal jellies all the time and yet we are blissfully unaware of these interactions.

But the blog also says that Lovecraftian horror is about the meaninglessness of our choices in such a world. That I am less confident about. The author of the blog is talking about Lovecraftian horror in the context of a video game called Bloodborne that I have not played — because I think I would be too terrified to play it — but is by all accounts a great game. So, his point about the meaningless of actions might be about Bloodborne as an extension of Lovecraft — fair enough — but as a commentary directly on Lovecraft, I wonder. Specifically, I think that Lovecraft is not trying to say our lives are meaningless because elder creatures lurk all around because the creatures do not “run” our lives. They do not control us and indeed in many stories they need humans to release them or acknowledge them. Thus, there is a role for human reason/actions to play in the universe of H.P. Lovecraft.




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