Gaia is the word for "unity-of-life-processes". The experiment here is to unify the various threads of voice and sense of self together into an undivided unity. Spirituality, economics, politics, science and ordinary life interleaved.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Thus Spoke Zarathustra: Progress and Daemonism

I was fortunate enough to turn on the radio just as Strausses' "Also Sprach Zarathustra" began. The opening never fails to send chills up my spine and bring a tear to my eye.

But it is the second movement, the Backworldsmen, which strikes to the heart of the Nietzschean. Progress, not simply as an idea, but as a daemonic force, amoral and independent of humankind, is Nietzsche's great theme for me. Nietzsche represents the singulariatian, extropian, cyberpunk views more strongly than they themselves, succeeding not only in representing the views but also the view-holders before they came into existence. William Gibson may as well be a figment of Nietzsche's imagination as a real person.

As Andre Gide says of Nietzsche, he runs ahead and beckons for you to follow. But I would add he is like the tarot card of the fool, stepping out over the precipice of a unsecured future while looking over his shoulder at the past.

The panoply of images this music brings up is also marvellous. Zarathustra is like a big "wow" at the back of everything, a soundtrack to a tremendous life. The movie 2001, of course, but also the Foundation moments, the Clarke story the 9 Billion Names of God, where the stars wink out of existence as the last name of God is pronounced.

Really, it is historiography - the way we represent human history - that really reaches for the sublime in Strauss, supported by Nietzsche. Here is the struggle to make meaning at its historical highest pitch known so far. Who would have imagined that Strauss' colonial and emperial Europe would destroy itself in an orgy of 2 world wars? From Strauss' historical point of view it is not really astonishing that the destructive daemon of Progress would demand a subcontinent's sacrifice to war.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

On the Canon of Literature

The Agon(y) of Writing.
Art is perfectly useless, according to the sublime Oscar Wilde, who was right about everything. He also told us that all bad poetry is sincere.

Contemporary writers do not like being told they must compete with Shakespeare and Dante.

What Is the Canon?
When you read a canonical work for the first time you encounter a stranger, an uncanny startlement rather than a fulfillment of expectations.

Strangeness: canonical works have a mode of originality that either cannot be assimilated, or that so assimilates us that we cease to see it as strange.

On Breaking Into the Canon.
One breaks into the canon only by aesthetic strength, which is constituted primarily of an amalgam: mastery of figurative language, originality, cognitive power, knowledge, exuberance of diction.

A critic may have political responsibilities but the first obligation is to raise again the ancient and quite grim triple question of the agonist: more than, less than, equal to? Milton simply overwhelmed the tradition and subsumed it. That is the strongest test for canonicity.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

I finally made the change...

...From Safari to Firefox as my main browser, and I feel really proud of myself.

I have been using Firefox for the marvellous add-on for several years now, while using my enormous cache of Safari bookmarks to hang out online. Tonight I figured out how to export these bookmarks to Firefox.

Simultaneously, I have been figuring out a few new and not-so-new features on this blog, which I feel proud of a little, but also a bit self-critical that I hadn't done it earlier.

I can only encourage others to make the change over to Firefox if they like the browser.

I actually prefer Safari aesthetically. Firefox hasn't the nice metallic sheen of Safari - but Firefox crashes less often.

No doubt I can alter the appearence of Firefox to suit my own tastes anyway. Now I just need to figure out how...

A Free Ebook Gift

I have been reading backwards toward Kafka, following the threads of short fiction through Jorge Luis Borges, Lord Dunsany, Edgar Allen Poe, to Isaak Babel.

This ebook is a collection of Kakfa's short stories. I could not find this collection online so I rustled it up myself. Then I realized that a fair few readers would love to have such a collection of stories, including the Metamorphosis, so I'm making it available here:

The Collected Short Stories of Franz Kafka (1.4mg)


Monday, January 15, 2007

Sensawunda and the Great Moments of Science Fiction

Sensawunda is the SF slang for "sense of wonder".

It is not enough for me to present a wonder-inspiring world. The characters that inhabit that world but also be aware of its wonderful nature, and the reader must be able to identify their own wonder at their own world, right now, in the wonder of the character.

The great moments of science fiction are the moments when the character first comes upon a wonder which - in this present time - is quite astonishing, and instead of the character accepting this wonder as "just the way the world is", he or she finds himself unexpectedly swept away with surprise and fear, not at the terrible beauty of the wonder, but by an unexpected and intimate significance which then immediately follows the appearence of the wonder. It is the heaping of internal wonder on top of external spectacle that produces the science fiction sublime.

This is the science fiction sublime mode: that, in the midst of feeling astonishment at the fruits of science, one makes a startling discovery about the nature of reality that completely transcends the science itself.

I'll give two examples:

In the Matrix trilogy, for instance, Neo entering the City of the Machines is less wonderful than Neo flying above the clouds of war and being the first human to see sunlight in centuries - the sublime here is the "seeing the light".

Or in Asimov's Foundation books, Gaal Dornick's arrival on the city-planet of Trantor is less wonderful than the fact of his immediate arrest and partaking in one of the greatest trials in history - the persecution of Hari Seldon. The sublime here is the persecution of wisdom.

In both these cases, the rhetorical device of the physical wonders - the Cities of the Machines and of Trantor - serves to displace and then paradoxically AMPLIFY the wonder felt by the intimate discoveries the characters make immediately after arriving in these places.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The year begins!

I have been feeling as if I am still waiting for this year to begin for me.

I have reread my goals last year, about a third or quarter of which I attained, and wondering about what to set for this year. I have reread my five year ideals and wondered about the lie of the land ahead of me in time, what to continue and what to stop, and what is the most enjoyable and right path to take. In the midst of all this wondering, I have been enjoying my new partner D.R. and learning to play Euchre and relearning Canasta. It's been a lovely, peaceful kind of time, and in the last few days I've been doing large cleaning projects during the days I don't spend at D.R.'s house.

Last night I visited my best buddy, DGT, and he helped me clarify what was going on.

I formed a new goal for this year. No divergence from my ideal scene, but a simpler and more primary goal comes to the fore this year:

My goal is to be balancing work and creativity the best possible way this year, so that I can enjoy working more and still write plenty of stories and a novel or three.

The year begins finally with that intention!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

I *heart* reading over Christmas

Finishing an Asimov book, Robots and Empire, concludes my 5 week reading of Asimov books, fourteen books in all around the Foundation idea.

I began with Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation – the original trilogy of classic episodic stories about the fall of the galactic empire. These stories are all ideas and talk, and almost no action, and they are riveting in their brilliance and importance. They rate at the level of Shakespeare and Dickens of great literature, rewarding multiple readings.

Then I reread Foundation’s Edge and Foundation and Earth, the two novels written much later on. They read as one novel. They are dull but engaging, in a strange way. Golan Trevise discovers and chooses Gaia in Foundation’s Edge, a rather brilliant ending; then in Foundation and Earth Trevise discovers robots, which is less interesting frankly.

I then moved onto the Caves of Steel and the Naked Sun, the pre-Foundation novels. These little sub-masterpieces are elegant and tidy, and in fact are brilliant as detective stories but a little dull and thankfully brief. Then The Robots of Dawn and Robots and Empire, reflecting Asimov’s latter longer style, are movingly constructed but again somewhat plain and narrow in their views, not broad and universal as the Foundation novels can be said to be.

I also read the New Foundation series, by Benford, Bear and Brin. The first book, whose title eludes me, is about simulation intelligences. The second, Foundation and Chaos, by Bear, develops the idea of chaos versus psychohistory. The third book really pulls the stops, taking Hari Seldon to Earth and threatening to time travel him into the future of Foundation’s Edge. Sadly, it flinches and ultimately annoys with its lack of adventure.

The beginning and ending of Hari Seldon’s life is recounted in Prelude to Foundation and Forward the Foundation. The first book is pulp, frankly, it seems to me. The second, however, is canonically Asimov’s last word. The moving final chapter is pure beauty to me.

I moved back to Dean Koontz novel’s. I read Koontz so fast that it only pays to read his work every few years to catch up with the novels. I read From the Corner of His Eye, and Odd Forever, both of which were okay.

Now I am deep into the great fantastists… Lord Dunsany, Jorge Luis Borges, and Michael Swanwick. Here are the stories I have read of theirs over the past week, in the order I have read them:

1. Dunsany, Time and the Gods. Time tricks the Gods by destroying their dream city.
2. Most the stories of Garden of Forking Paths. Tlon, Babel, Babylon, and much sublime exotica from Borges.
3. The Gospel of Mark. Rednecks crucify a young man as Christ.
4. Mother Grasshopper. Mortality comes to the surreal world that is a gigantic cosmic grasshopper.
5. Microcosmic Dog. A woman finds her New York is a fantasy and she’s actually on a space ship.
6. North of Diddy-Wah-Diddy. The train to hell becomes the site of a court case between good and evil.
7. The Mask. Weird sex corporate fantasy.
8. The Sword of Welleran. Gorgeous heroic tale of the souls of dead heroes returning to save their city.
9. The Bride of the Man-Horse. Sexy strange centaur fantasy.
10. The Gods of Pegana. Creation myth.
11. Of Skarl the Drummer. As above. Dunsany seems to like his creation myths very much!

What shall I read next? Hmmm! What a pleasure!

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