I recall reading Generation X when I was in Melbourne in 2002, and Microserfs at some point. (It seems I did read some more of Coupland's output but it has left little mark.) This is unfortunately a long way from those. Here Coupland is often embarrassed by his own characters: regularly a risible cliché is harried by I-take-that-back; let me make a ludicrous assertion, no, cancel that — what I really meant was something even more banal. That Solon thing, I don't get it, I don't know what the bees have to do with anything, and all that rear-loaded exposition cannot redeem this turkey from those feeble, tiresome embedded short stories! The back blurb by William Gibson tells me I should be reading Murakami instead.
For some reason the UNSW Library thought this was worthy of purchase circa 2010.
A while back Sean told me that he found last year's installment of this gig to be a blast, so I bought a ticket. In the meantime I got sick and he busted his clavicle, so it turned into a much smaller night than expected; $30 for the movie and a watery white Russian was a bit steep.
There are so many great actors in this: I hadn't previously identified David Thewlis as Maudie's friend, and I'd totally forgotten about Ben Gazzara. Jeff Bridges and John Goodman are awesome, and John Turturro's Jesus remains iconic. Still #131 in the IMDB top-250.
Alice Munro: Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, MarriageFri, Apr 19, 2013./noise/books | Link
A reviewer at the New York Times said:
That Alice Munro, now 81, is one of the great short story writers not just of our time but of any time ought to go without saying by now.
Far be it for me to argue with that. I extracted this 2011 assemblage of short stories from the UNSW Library a couple of weekends ago. All are well-constructed and written, though some extraneous detail occasionally detracts from her central points. Often she seems to be laying a platform for a pointed observation; fifty pages of setup for just two paragraphs. Her stories are about the kinds of traditional lives that I have successfully avoided up to now: everyone gets married, some get divorced, everyone has (or will have) kids, parents are careless, you can't go home again.
I might track down more of her stuff once I'm further through my current stack.
Anthony Lane gestured at Jean-Pierre Melville's Un Flic in the New Yorker recently, so I decided to seek out that director's highest-rated effort according to IMDB. This is very stylistic and there isn't much meat to it; it looks something like A Clockwork Orange without the psychedelia. If this makes any social commentary then it is much more oblique.
Late afternoon (4:45pm!) snorkel at Little Bay. Visibility was terrible so it degenerated to a paddle around the bay. The Indian summer rolls on when the rain stays away.
Having read Mueenuddin's Our Lady of Paris in Zoetrope: All Story, and Sameer and the Samosas in the New Yorker, I was glad to discover that he had a collection in print. (It does not include the latter story.) Somewhat amazingly, the UNSW Library bought this book in May 2010, which I'm taking that to mean that the budget cuts kicked in after that point, though perhaps an ethnic lit prof put in a special request. I'm fully expecting that the library will be high on the hit list following Gillard et al's shifting funding from unis to schools, which makes it so much less likely that I will renew my alumnus subscription.
Mueenuddin is clearly mining a scene he knows from the inside: the scions of the upper classes of post-colonial Pakistan, and in particular the peculiar story of his own family. All of the tales here are of the girl-meets-boy variety, and typically one party manipulates the other via sex; the remaining one or two detail even more prosaic corruption. This is observed at length by Dalia Sofer in her review for the New York Times.
The pick for me was Lily. There the boy and girl come from the Pakistani class of limitless opportunity, and so their machinations are not motivated by material desperation. I can't say it adds up to much though he writes well.
I was reminded that Iron Man 3 is coming out soon by the SMage report that the London Premiere was delayed in deference to Thatcher. This one remains full of cheap thrills. I think they should find a way to revive Mickey Rourke.
Over the past few months I have been chugging my way through the videos of this meeting of computer science luminaries. Gérard Berry is very funny. (I must watch the other videos on his home page.) Gordon Plotkin's talk is quite abstruse even by the standards of this audience. Philip Wadler shows how to run a panel. Gérard Huet and Larry Paulson give great accounts of the early days of interactive theorem proving systems, and John Harrison shed some light on what he does at Intel.
Milner's last innovation in his process algebraic tradition, bigraphs, don't look like gaining much traction from what I saw here.
Mid-afternoon snorkel at Gordons Bay, the first for several weeks due to the rain. Perfect day for it, and visibility was pretty good. I was a bit crook (with a sore throat) so it wasn't the most comfortable one ever.
Quarterly Essay #41, David Malouf: The Happy Life: The Search for Contentment in the Modern WorldSun, Apr 07, 2013./noise/books | Link
I bought this at the Bookshop before my abortive move to Canberra in March 2011, fully two years ago. Since then it has been glaring at me balefully from my bedside table; it is difficult to get into as bedtime reading, which means I have read the first section five times, the second three and the rest once while drowsy.
The first half is long on promise, riffing on various notions of happiness in western culture, and Jefferson's "pursuit of happiness" at length. I enjoyed his comparison and partial reconciliation of the Greek and Christian origin-of-man myths, and the impact on technology and rapid change on humanity's imagining of time and experience. He channels the latter through the French thinker Marquis de Condorcet, also known for his work on voting theory.
I failed to be gripped by his take on the pleasures of the flesh, or his concluding ruminations on why we in the West remain unhappy despite having our material desires by-and-large satisfied. I wondered why he didn't invoke Aristotle on this topic, for those old ideas of "the good" (lagom in Swedish) resonate with Malouf's apparent contention that happiness is some transient rapprochement between comfortable repose and the striving restlessness that forces us to seek the new. That is of limited duration and scope is surely something that can be analysed by neuroscientists; there just might be a form of happiness that is durable and never-ending, though it probably involves drugs not yet invented. That the big ideas are truly mind-blowing, and do not induce happiness in the average person, is a bit trite to observe; my search for comprehension has rarely satisfied me, let alone made me happy, but I feel it to be necessary nevertheless.
Lazily I could ask if it is really clear that happiness is morally valid; for Westerners it supervenes on many dubious practices, not the least of which is the assumed infiniteness of the inputs to the industrial machine. Is it really true that people are pursuing happiness — long work hours would suggest not — and what would society look like if they attained it? The rarity of it (and similar desired states) is a big part of what makes it valuable.
Malouf argues that happiness is unmeasurable, a purely subjective experience, and this puts it beyond the reach of statistical analysis and hence fields like economics. For him there is no one-size-fits-all account of happiness, which ironically limits what this generalist kind of writing can tell us.
There is a lengthy excerpt in the SMage. Apparently this essay has been expanded into a ~100 page book.
Finding myself unexpectedly idle last Sunday, I asked John Miller which of Ishiguro's novels I should be reading; of the thin but apparently not dire collection held by the UNSW Library, this topped his list. I could find nothing by Murakami.
My only previous experience of Ishiguro was in watching the movie of The Remains of the Day, which is something of a slow burn and fade away. John did warn me that was what he does, though he gave me hope that there'd be more burn and less fade in the written form of his works. After reading this I am confirmed in my expectation that that work would be superior in book form, and I am not at all tempted to see the movie version of Never Let Me Go.
This novel smells something like Orwell's 1984, though the ambient sci-fi dystopia is never more than a skeleton on which to hang the pointier parts of the coming-of-age story. I didn't really get into the first half or so, where the narrator and her friends grow up in some kind of English public school, perhaps because I am adverse to cliques. I did enjoy the second, which cashes in the first half with tales of there being a time for everything, and the limits of how much one can make good on what has been done before. It was a relief to read something with a decent narrative arc after too many Patrick White character studies.
That the sense of the ending is so well telegraphed makes me think that Ishiguro overvalues revelation; the shifting connections between people, the charades they play and their dimishing scope of agency dominate, as they should, and I would have been just as happy if he had spelt the central conceit out from the get go, for then I wouldn't be questioning the plausibility of it at the climax where it is really the least of anyone's concerns. (Would society really countenance much of this, especially in the post WWII era that the book transiently appeals to? For the author's purposes it doesn't really matter, but it detracts from other things that do. Ishiguro gestures at justification by asserting that a society with a cure for cancer wouldn't countenance not using it.)
I liked that there were no parents, just the creepy guardians with their ambiguous agenda. (This rules out a whole strand of a typical coming-of-age saga, which is perhaps the central payoff of Ishiguro's dystopia.) Moreover there is no exploration of the ambient culture, no-one listening to chameleonic Britpop or abetting a cross-Atlantic invasion. I had to wonder if the archetype for Tommy D. was in fact Tommy from Trainspotting: he's a bit of a lettuce.
Griffin Theatre moved their rush night ($15 for everyone; box office opens at 6pm, show at 7pm) from Monday to Tuesday due to the public holiday; in any case it was news to me. It was all last-minute as I didn't expect to be free, but even so I managed to rope Sean and John Miller along. I got there in about 15 minutes from Randwick on Betty, which I wouldn't have credited when I set out.
This is not an awesome play but some of the performances are good. It riffs on the flirt column in mx (the free commuter rag handed out at train stations; I miss so much by riding/cycling to work). A girl goes missing after responding to such a message, and the mother overplays the stranger danger card. I didn't get a sense that it had much to say.
After that we headed down Victoria road to the Thai near the corner with Liverpool (I think). We met up with Sean's aerial silks friend Lisa and drug her along.
Being presently bored with Patrick White, I went in search of the sequel to Sea of Poppies in the UNSW Library. It seems they haven't gotten around to buying it yet, though it has been out for almost two years now, and so I came away with this sci fi pulp from 1996 instead. I read it over just a couple of days.
The central conceit of this book is contained in perhaps three pages sprayed amongst three hundred, so forgive me if I hurried on past it. (Given a hefty edit this might have been a decent short story.) Roughly the plot sways between the (still) near future, Ghosh's time of writing, and a fictionalised recounting of the discovery of how mosquitos transmit malaria back in the late 1890s by Sir Ronald Ross. This got Ross a Nobel Prize. He also riffs on the use of malaria to treat tertiary-stage syphilis which later got Julius Wagner-Jauregg a Nobel. Somehow this adds up to a mechanism for transferring character traits.
The latter use of malaria to treat another disease is clearly ethically dodgy. This pyrotherapy came up in a different guise while talking to the Persians over the weekend: in contrast to the Judaic religions, Zoroastrianism holds that fire is the strongest purifying element.
With Albert at his place. I haven't seen this in an age. It's great as far as Scorcese Italians-in-America go.
Abortive snorkeling attempt with Albert at Little Bay (while Sandy sat on the beach). The water was fine and clear but full of jellyfish with angry-red inner bits that, according to Albert, do sting. (Plausibly Pelagia noctiluca.) Beautiful day for it otherwise.
This one seemed promising as it is a compilation of six short stories:
- A Woman's Hand shows White's inability to imagine women as having much of an explicable internal life.
- The Full Belly: Greece occupied by the Nazis. I found it difficult to grasp what he was getting at.
- The Night the Prowler is decent (I believe he turned it into a play) but flawed by the opening gambit being the rape of his protagonist, which severely limits where he can take things. I didn't find the arc at all plausible.
- Five-Twenty maps the decline of a couple who retire to the Parramatta Road. White is in his element and comfort zone here, just as he was in the final movement of The Vivisector.
- Sicilian Vespers was OK but didn't amount to much.
- The Cockatoos was the pick of this collection for me, with White exercising his ability to keenly observe social dynamics and pretensions. It also benefits from him not being as brutal as he typically is.
Overall this collection isn't great, if only because White cannot formulate a plot worth a damn.
Stupidly I headed out to Jenolan Caves on Easter Friday. The traffic in the city wasn't too bad but became hellish a few kilometres before the roadworks at Wentworth Falls, etc. It opened up past Katoomba, but even so what I expected to take two-and-a-half hours took three-and-a-half. This meant that there was barely time to make the 3.45pm Orient Cave tour, let alone go looking for the platypus in the river, despite it being a perfect day for it. The cave was as beautiful as ever.
An early Errol Morris doco about the town Vernon in Florida. This is clearly at the self-parody end of his genre. I found it pretty tedious at times, though the preacher really got me.
I'm a sucker for anything with Frank Langella in it, and I liked the premise of an old man training his robotic carer in his vocation. Unfortunately much of it is twee and predictable. Liv Tyler is... well, Liv Tyler. Susan Sarandon is solid in her one-note sexy librarian character.
Dana Stevens talked it up a bit too much.
Late afternoon paddle at Gordons Bay. Loads of suspended plant matter, so it probably wasn't too healthy. Quite temperate with some relatively large waves rolling in. Quite a few people. Saw a school of young gropers, I think.