18 September 2016

Parallel (time) Lines

I have had an evening (early morning, really) of sci-fi, but in looking back I found that on this date in history, I was thinking apocalyptically as well.  Just a short while ago, I was writing about how future progress (toward a Star Trekkian world) required a historical or apocalyptic break.

Now watching in the Star Wars Universe (The Force Awakens is on Starz! of all places), and it seems that TIM! (Domhnall Gleeson, it turns out, is this fellow's name - but to me he's always a Tim) is an actor portraying a First Order leader.

It's odd hours - so thoughts are hard to coordinate - but 8 years ago today, we were heading into what was a historic election.  We're on the precipice again today.  And whatever happens, this election will be historic as well.  Assuming one of the two major party candidates wins 270+ in electoral votes: either 1) we'll elect the first woman to the presidency, or 2) America will elect a fascist regime - and a historical moment will be upon us.

"We can't keep"... is the theme here.  It seems that Hillary will most likely be elected, and though I don't expect I will vote for her (Green Party currently holds my vote unless Hil starts changing her tune), I will be happy when she wins.  And that win will continue the path of incremental, mildly left-leaning progress.  And I think that means a slowed-down, incremental move toward economic and ecologic disaster. 

It's hard to think historically and think well about the present - that is, I know intellectually, that Western humans need a breach in order to regulate.  Changing tactics (re-instituting a progressive tax system, joining the rest of the world with a single payer health care plan, cap & trade {or any number of ecological half measures}) won't fix the world.  There needs to be a shift in strategy.

04 July 2016

Celebrating American Hope

In anticipation of the upcoming release of Star Trek Beyond, and in celebration of America's birthday, I'm going to start another stroll between now and July 22nd (or so) through the dozen films of the Star Trek universe.  Star Trek: TOS will be 50 years old this September, and in that half a century, the world has changed.  Has moved on, one might go so far as to say.  The American outlook has shifted to one of cynicism.  The Reagan-era brought with it a seemingly ingrained mistrust of government - and the Great Recession, Anonymous, Edward Snowden & WikiLeaks & Occupy & Bernie movements have engendered a new parallel mistrust of institutions of all kinds, governments & multi-national corporations and massive NGOs.  These two mistrusts appear on the surface as countervailing forces - one liberal and the other conservative; the one side clearly hails from well outside the establishment, while the other feels ensconced in the corporate, media and government elite establishments.  In fact, these 'sides' are the same force, but they've been harnessed and messaged toward separate ends.  But that is a story for another day...

Source: Twitter (@starTrek)
In these 50 years, Star Trek's enduring hopeful vision of a future, where individuals are free to explore and enact their own chosen lives and livelihoods, partnered with institutions that work to improve and expand on those individuals' interests, has changed and grown up, but remained steadfast.  It's easy to sit in our cynical seats to the world's history and read Star Trek as a naïve vision of the future, particularly in the wake of dystopian science fiction and horror.  How can a world that can imagine The Walking Dead also see Star Trek as an equally viable (which is to say fantastical, but usefully so) future vision?

So, our walk begins in 1979, with:

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) - dir. by Robert Wise (7/4/16)

The first movie is, admittedly, a bit of clunker.  It's not to say that there's nothing redeeming about it, it is, in the end, a good story and a product of its time.  Much of the film stands as a late-70s, hi-tech art piece: reveling in the special effects technology of the time, an exposition of time and narrative in film (long 2001-style sweeping scenes which amounts to five minutes of parking a goddamn shuttle craft).  At one point, during the closing confrontation scene on the bridge, Bones walks in, a few lines of dialogue are said (none to him or by him) and plot points furthered and he walks back out.  Overall, it's a classic part of the franchise, with a few themes and questions, in particular V'Ger's ultimate (and eternal) question about the nature of existence.  After completing a centuries-long voyage to complete her prime directive (learn and report back), V'ger has amassed vast power and intellect and become sentient.  That sentience has the burden that (sometimes at least) goes with it of questioning of its own purpose.  Are we here, knowing that we're here, only in order to complete our directives (be they biological, tribalistic, or capitalist, etc.).

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn (1982) - dir. by Nicholas Meyer (7/6/16)

The best of the movies with the original cast, and may be the best of the bunch.  A classic villain returned, Shakespearean-worthy revenge plot.  Wrath of Kahn sets up the Trilogy, which stands at the heart of the first six movies.  Each of the second, third, and fourth movies are distinct stories, but serve the dual purpose of returning Kirk, in a round about way, from admiralty back to captaining the Enterprise and also to begin the tradition of destroying Enterprises, and starting a line of Enterprise A, B, C, etc. 

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984) - dir. by Leonard Nimoy (7/10/16)

This film explores the quiet space that religion and mysticism hold in the Star Trek universe.  In the later series, there were episodes focused on Bajoran and Klingon (and occasionally Vulcan) rituals, but other than as a plot device (e.g. so Kirk has to fight Spock!), the original cast didn't have much time or interest for old-time Federation religions.  The plot brings Spock back from death, reborn thanks to the technological marvel of the Genesis device.  After Kahn, though, the battle against some Klingons - even led by one so charismatic as Christopher Lloyd - is something of a letdown. 

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) - dir. by Leonard Nimoy (7/11/16)

This was hands down the most popular of the Star Trek movies to date.  I say this with no statistical or research backing whatsoever, but a firm confidence that comes from it just making sense.  It was an attempt to make the Star Trek characters and universe relatable by bringing them into our own time.  An ecological fairy tale (or folk tale or fable), we get to see our beloved characters stumble around naïvely, clearly not understanding the complexities of modern times.  Really, it's an indictment of capitalism - the silliness of our everyday lives in comparison of work of real importance.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989) - dir. by William Shatner (7/15/16)

Such a strange mess of a movie... It pleases me to know that at 50, I'm not the only one whose working on this project and as I've come to expect, EW has written the apt re-review of the fifth installment.  I started the re-watch of number five assuming that I hated it... Because I remember being told that it was awful, and disliking it on the first go round.  Now, when I watch it, I can't quite tell if I love it or hate it or both...  It's a classic adventure - and the religiosity that may once have offended me, has more of a new age feel (epallan pronounces it newage to rhyme with sewage)... The concluding scene with a conversation with god is at first presumptuous (writing dialogue for god, that is), but at second glance, it's just about exactly right and how that conversation will eventually go.  A throw-back to the TV series episodes where the crew encountered other human gods (e.g. Apollo) and demystified them.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) - dir. by Nicholas Meyer (7/16/16)

This is a great conclusion for the original cast (with a coda in the first next generation film).  It's a story about the place of old people in politics.  Set against the end of the Cold War in our century, the big picture story is almost a direct historical mirror - the dismantling of the Klingon Empire while the Iron Curtain was coming down.  What's more interesting, I think, is looking at the inner Federation political conversations throughout the film.  It's really more a film that reflects our current political moment (not so much Trump/Clinton or Sanders/Clinton, more the aging Republican Party and finding its place in the new world).  Again, Star Trek is an overly-optimistic rendering, but there is an acknowledgement that old folks and an old political way of thinking is on its way out.  Michael Moore posted a recent letter about why Trump will win, and a key piece is what he calls "The Last Stand of the Endangered White Male" - overcoming 240 years of American history... I think the future - both Star Trek's and America's - is an undiscovered country, but the frontier is shrinking and we're starting to traverse it.

Star Trek: Generations (Star Trek VII) (1994) - dir. by David Carson (7/18/16)

It's a bit of a fun romp.  It's not a great movie.  It's good, sorta.  If I'm not much mistook, it's our only trip aboard the Enterprise B, with Kirk's apparent death saving the ship on its pre-maiden voyage.  The plot centers on access to a wish-granting natural phenomenon called the Nexus.  However, the plot of this one isn't terribly captivating.  It's more of a pageant opportunity for our Next Gen friends to traipse in to a new adventure.  Really a glorified episode (maybe a two-parter).

Star Trek: First Contact (Star Trek VIII) (1996) - dir. by Jonathan Frakes (around 7/20/16 & again on 9/20/16)

This is sorta the best Star Trek movie ever.  Fundamentally, the most amazing bit is the last moments of the film when the Vulcans, having landed on earth to meet a newly warp-capable species, are frakking mortified to find themselves hanging out with the dregs of the earth... of all earths really.  I feel like there's more to say in my chronology post of Star Trek

Star Trek Beyond (Star Trek XIII) (2016) - dir. by Justin Lin (8/2/16)

This third step through the alternate timeline starts out with Kirk casting about a bit for the what it all means and what he's supposed to do with his life (so say we all).  The film is action-packed (I don't mean that as a good quality), but the villain, Krall, is interesting in the fact that he is deranged lost Star Fleet captain whose crew are intent on revenging themselves upon pretty much everybody.  Of note is the reconnecting of the two timelines - as Krall's ship is from the era of the Enterprise TV series (which also appears to be the era of the upcoming Star Trek: Discovery series.  I'm still a little ways away from catching up to this series on my chronological run-thru (tho this project has helped!), but I think now (as it turns out!), my plan is to be able to watch Discovery in "real time".  Overall, the latest movie was fun, but not too important.

Sometime recently, with all the 50th Anniversary look-backs and the new movie look-backs for Star Trek, I read someone comment that Star Trek is first and foremost about the series.  The movies were fun events, and reaching a (slightly) wider audience, but the shows did the real work of Star Trek.


04 June 2016

Re-Reading Epic

I'm less (not fewer) than 200 pages from the end of Stephen King's The Dark Tower series, and have come to the point where I find alternative activities (like blogging!) to curtail my progress. To savor and let it last a while longer.

I've been here before, but everything I read is more, "oh, yeah, that's right…" rather than deeply familiar. Many of the narrative turns and wrinkles have been complete surprises to me this time around.
Source: newsroom.unl.edu

I've also been here before regarding this line of thinking. In early 2015, I finished Roger Zelzny's The Chronicles of Amber (http://bit.ly/rnJ-reRead) and while it was the first time I finished* that particular epic, I was reminded then of the time I finished re-reading Lord of the Rings, and even wrote a poem about the experience for a college creative writing course. 

(If ever I am able to locate said poem, I'll post it here. Not because it is necessarily worthy of consideration {I am a piss poor poet, and I know it}, rather perhaps procuring this particular piece has the potential to portend a perpetual path of pontification - probing which probably produces pitiful results - but perhaps it's possible to produce a pattern of thought on my pontifical path.)

Re-reading beloved epic works has a certain melancholy joy to it, because it harkens back to the first time, but also forebodes - I may well never tread here again.  You tend to savor, and if you do come back to these parts again, know that you'll be looking back to now - so make it something worth looking back on. 

*Zelazny wrote a series of short stories, companion pieces to his Amber series, which I have, but have yet to read.  Allowing an epic to linger (or languish) by not quite finishing is a great pleasure, always having a little more ahead of you.  Personally, I currently haven't finished The Chronicles of Castle Brass (on of Moorcock's Eternal Champions Saga), The Chronicles of Narnia, Marvel's The Dark Tower comics (ongoing), The Walking Dead comics (ongoing), Token's Middle Earth writings (these are just the ones that I came up with off the top of my head - i'm sure there are many more).

06 May 2016

On Travel and Tourism

I am on vacation.

I am traveling. I’m taking a trip. Playing tourist. I will be out of the office starting on Monday… I am staying at… Going away. Touring. Doing a little sight-seeing. Going abroad. Taking some time (off). Visiting.

It seems to me that there is some important weight, some cache, for how we describe (or are described) ourselves when away. “I love to travel” has to be an almost ubiquitous response to any conversation that arises on the subject (unless you’re a happy contrarian, like Woody Allen, who proudly never leaves the island of Manhattan*). To not proclaim to be interested in travel is to risk being perceived as provincial or uncultured. Of course, there are a lot of socio-economic assumptions wrapped into this line of thinking – and others have done much of this thinking already, most notably, Dean MacCannel's work: The Tourist.

In the course of my week away, it occurred to me that a large part of the attraction of traveling for me (whether abroad or an hour out of the city) is to help strengthen the muscle that has to do with imaginary thinking. We took a day sail (a day motoring, really), and passed by a massive freighter in the port that was being loaded with shipping containers. As we passed, I looked up at the bridge of the ship, 100 or more feet up from the deck (I am a bad estimator, but it seemed quite far), and I wondered about the life of someone captaining or serving on that vessel. I thought about what sequence of choices in my life might I have made to land myself in Aruba, working on a boat, and waiting for it to be loaded and weigh anchor (way anchor? whey anchor? not a boat guy, clearly), and be off to Fort Lauderdale, or wherever our next port of call would be. I also thought about the arbitrariness of our station in the world – the blind luck (not saying whether good or ill) of being born in Wisconsin in the year 1978. And the ease with which the former sequence of choices might have been lightened – made more probable – were I born in Aruba or Fort Lauderdale or Monrovia…

In classic RPG-ing, a player chooses a class or profession for her or his character – a bit like we do in life – based on strengths and weaknesses, and preference. Almost invariably, a player also goes on to select his or her race (human, elf, dwarf, etc.). This has always struck me as a bit out of place (though fine, of course, for a good bit of fun – convention gaming and what not). Gary Gygax’ Dangerous Journeys is one of the only games I know where players roll to determine their birth (if I remember correctly, even their birth order – that game has a lot of tables). Now, for some, developing a character back story is half the fun of gaming (for non-gamers, imagine the amateur thespian who created the four-page back story for his or her one-line character in the high-school musical… for non-gamers who’ve also never been a part of an amateur theater production, you have missed much in your life…), but playing the arbitrariness – experiencing the thrown-ness^ of your life (real or gamed) – is a gran part of the payoff of traveling (and of gaming, I would argue).

We went to a bar called Charlie’s in San Nicolas, Aruba. It’s a great bar, and an average tourist trap. Famous for having been family-owned for over 70 years, it used to service (along with the rest of the red light district where it finds itself {stattfinden is amongst my favorite German verbs, because it embodies Heideggerian German, and German itself strikes me as a language that was constructed by great thinkers more so than it is a derivative of the Indo-European languages that linguists would have you believe}) the refinery workers – first for the American company that ran it (and built the ghost town Sero Colorado for its workers), and now for Valero (a company whose origins is just a google away, I’m sure).  We had a couple of drinks, and looked at the museum of left memorabilia for a short time, and then headed down to Baby Beach for the afternoon.

It seems to me, though, that the way to experience Charlie's is as it was intended.  You should go to Charlie's, a little after lunch, with the full intention of spending the whole afternoon there, getting drunk, talking with tourists, bartenders, and locals alike.  There was a man sitting at the bar, holding fort (holding forth?), occasionally singing and riling up the crowd.  We called this man Sam, because we'd read a book, An Island Away,^^ in which he'd seemed to appear.  It seems to me that to really experience Charlie's - to travel there, as opposed to be a tourist there (although I am disinclined toward this distinction) - is to while a way the afternoon, make friends (because what else are bars for?), and be a part of the collection, at least for a time.  Now, most likely, you've got a week - maybe two - in Aruba, and spending a whole day getting drunk and chatting folks up seems bit of a waste of your vacation...

But I would say that perhaps this is in fact the purpose for your trip.  The reason to travel.  It is the hardest and the easiest thing to do - to put yourself in someone else's shoes, and methinks our time on earth is better spent trying to inhabit those shoes - in your mind if you can't in actuality - for a moment, an hour, two weeks, or the rest of your life... whatever it takes... to better understand and appreciate our present condition.

I had thought to write about Recalibration Travel Narratives - travelogue stories where someone commits to walking away from their life for a time - in this entry, but I've rambled further than I thought I might. I thought these RTN would, perhaps, a way to distinguish the traveler from the tourist... again, not something I'm actively engaged in, but something worth reflecting on I think.

Another time for the RTN...  Now, hit the road.

*Note: Non-New Yorkers will be quick to celebrate this mentality, because – it’s New York, and where else would you need to go? – but that logic only holds if you’re not from a place, and are celebrating a distant locale, a ‘travel destination’.
^Note: For those of you playing along with Roman Numeral J Bingo, you can mark Heidegger off on your boards, if he appears there… “that’s Heidegger, Heidegger, the sunshine vitamin…”
^^Note: Finally, I think I've found a use for my goodreads account.  To track all of the books (not many, but a good sum over time) that I don't ever finish, but may eventually decide to do.

17 April 2016

Walkabout (and sneeze-about)

Just in the midst of a rare sneeze-fest (8 or so in the last 90 seconds)…

Enjoying some sunshine in the backyard. Alongside an almost depleted rum and coke (Cruzan, because #AvenueLiquor wasn't stocking Barbancourt - I always prefer rhum to rum) 

So nice and warm today. And going to be hothot in Aruba in early May. 

A nice book and a friendly walk-y day. (Walked to McDonalds for hangover breakfast, and walked to Brig's to deliver Boots [aka Dog Terrorist] home). 

Not eating, but feeling peckish. 

20 February 2016

On Eco

This morning I learned that we lost a great literary and philosophical mind with the passing of Umberto Eco at 84. 

I have long been a fan from afar of Eco's, never someone I would list as my favorite author, but formative in my early academic thinking, particularly his beautiful book On Ugliness, which is an embarrassment of richness of images and ideas on our relationship with ugly things (death, bodily functions, horror, etc.)

His loss is sad, but go forth and embrace all of his work and thinking...

I'm revisiting my favorite work this morning:

The work is a curation of passages from literary and social theory works alongside beautiful images from classical and modern art, architecture, and ephemera centered on a specific theme.  Eco adds editorial remarks in each section.

Of particular interest is the chapter on the Uncanny.  The thinking on that concept and in that chapter was fundamental in my academic thinking on Gunther von Hagens' BodyWorlds exhibition.  The artistic presentation of death is an exquisite example of Freud's and Eco's discussion of the concept of the Uncanny (unheimlich).  Presenting a thing that is, inherently, familiar (our own bodies) in a way that causes discomfort, uncertainty questioning what we know we know.

I highly recommend picking up a copy.  Go borrow it from your local library!

28 December 2015

Monuments of Future's Past

In the midst of Icepocalypse 2015: Midwest Edition - a lazy day and evening, featuring some bad-TV watching, some less-bad TV-watching, some reading, and a movie - some deep thinking about bad art has ensued.

There's evidently a movie called A Little Chaos - I think it's the 2nd in the Alan Rickman Rose Trilogy* (first was Blow Dry {dir. Paddy Breathnach}, unless I missed something).  On this new film (came out in 2015, who knew!?), Rickman takes the directorial reigns himself, and crowns himself king (Louis XIV).  My general rule regarding movies that pop up on premium cable, Netflix, or On-Demand, is that if you haven't heard of it, you can probably stay away.

In this case, I will say Chaos is worth an exception to my rule.  The premise of the movie centers on the construction of the Gardens at Versailles.  The silly premise has to do with a lady gardener (imagine that! in France, in the 15th Century!) who challenges the status quo at court.

I have not been to the Gardens (perhaps I will visit soon on my fancy new treadmill!), but the film had some anachronistic elements (and I apologize, i'm going from memory and sense here, not from rewatching) not in the plot but in the filming.  In the shots and composition. 

And those shots and that composition gets one thinking, not so much 500 or 600 years, but 500 or 600 years into the future, and legacy, namely, what we leave behind.  That is what A Little Chaos is really about.  Sometimes weather, and natural phenomenon give us a glimpse into this thinking.  Major events (hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunami) can give us immediate and obvious examples of what the future may well hold.  300 years of "time equivalences" pass by in a matter of minutes or seconds or hours of destructive power. 

So too, even a bit of odd or strong weather, can offer us smaller glimpses if we know how to look.  Take a walk outside after there's been a sizeable blizzard or during a rain storm, or walk around on an extremely cold day for your area.  Watch the corners of your perception and see things (for it's mostly things you'll see, few people) anew.  There's an abandoned, moved on quality to them.  What folks you do encounter (not in your own neighborhood, mind you) will be over-warm or over-cold.  Warm because they're lost, and feel desperate lucky to have found ye (for some reason, this blog post is coming through in my head in Calla-speak, say thankya); cold because they feel desperate, and fear (oddly) that you plan to take what's his.

These are moments - interstices - when time has grown thin, and we can glimpse what this space might be like in 200, 500, 1,000 years.  We, in the U.S.A. are 10 years away from living in a country that is a quarter millennium old.  To us, this seems a surprising development, and quite a very long amount of time, and it feels natural, to us, to assume that while the USA of 500 or 600 years from now, may look very different, and be very different, the USA will be, naturally. 

We always build, always create, as if we are permanent.  What Rickman's little film helps us see through to, is imagining what these spaces of ours will feel like when they are existing in another world.  His King Louis was building a grand garden for a history of perpetual royalty.  Half way between that construction and where we stand today is the Age of Revolution, and the world changed unexpectedly. 

Just imagine what will be halfway to that next era, looking back at us... Or mayhap, we are that halfway point.

* The Rose Trilogy is an as-yet-completed (and unacknowledged) trio of movies starring (or possibly involving, depending on what we decide the 3rd movie is) Alan Rickman, where the image of the rose is invoked.  The 1st (again, unless someone has one I missed, and we can be done with searching) was the hairdressing competition movie, Blow Dry, in which Rickman reveals a long-hidden tattoo of a rose on the bottom of his foot.  In A Little Chaos, King Louis is sneaking about out of disguise, and runs into his gardener (Kate Winslet) - they discuss roses, and Kate later uses the Four Seasons Rose as a tet-a-tet to put the king in his place.

* * *

In a strange oddity of coincidence, I started this post in late December - when was actually holed up in blizzard! - and since, sadly, dear Alan Rickman has died.

For someone my age and filmic disposition, I doubt Rickman was a favorite actor**... But he was for certain a known actor, and perhaps even a well loved (or well despised) one.  He was Hans Gruber, the first fun terrorist of the 80s.  And he played the Sheriff of Nottingham in a Bryan Adams video vehicle film (but truly a coming of age piece for us cuspers). 

Rickman was a wonderful villain actor - later embodying all that we loved to hate about Snape - but it was in his smaller, simpler roles that I think he really demonstrated why he was truly great at what he did (he was an actor...).  The doofus husband that he plays in Love Actually is a perfect example - he's not a bad guy... he's just a schlub.  And when a schlub is offered the chance to be a stud, inevitably, he takes it. 

Rickman is an actor who embodies the (possibly apocryphal, and possible entirely made up by me) story that Harrison Ford tells about his early days in the business.  A big-shot (director? producer?) allegedly told Ford that he would never be a movie star, because he didn't have that star quality.  The big shot tells Ford that when Cary Grant (this name is grabbed at random, but it stands in for some household name actor from days of yore) first walked onto screen, even though it was just a small role as a waiter, Big Shot says, "you saw him walk onto screen, and you knew! right there, that There!, there is a movie star".  For deadpan (in my memory of this telling), "I thought the point was that when he walks on to screen you're supposed to say, 'there is a waiter'".

It is a good story, and characterizes Rickman's acting perfectly I think.  He wasn't always likeable, nor always laughable, nor always anything.  He was what he was meant to be.  And it's a shame to have lost his craft.  I am sorry for it.

** Since the dawn of J, I have felt that the concept of "favorite" was fraught.  I have never really thought that I have what I would call a favorite actor.  Although, JP once told me that Paul Bettany was his favorite actor, which struck me as an odd choice at the time, but the more I learn about Paul Bettany, and the more I encounter  him, I find it to be an inspired choice.