peteg's blog

Salman Rushdie: Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights.

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. Continuing my recent digging through Rushdie's oeuvre, I thought I'd try his latest novel. Unfortunately this one is even worse than his immediately previous effort, which at least had the benefit of some kind of historicity. This outing is something of a retread of his biggest success, Midnight's Children, but ruined with a comic book (or comic-book movie) structure: too many characters too shallowly drawn, so many useless; a trivialization of the universe of morality; thinly-masked lifting of current-day events and culture; ultimately too repetitious and just not funny. He paints New York City in grand Tom Wolfe style. Again he fails to rise to his own standards by not increasing the scope of the imagined world.

Some minor observations: Zabardast, while being an "awesome" sorcerer, is not Slartibartfast: even the iPhone knows the latter. Dunia sometimes appears as Christ in her indiscriminate affection for (some) humans. It is unclear why she is deemed "good" (apart from fighting for humans) or that she is a reliable vehicle for the side of "reason" as Rushdie presents it. No-one, apart from the gardener Geronimo, creates much of anything. Sex strikes are certainly in fashion.

Marcel Theroux.

Knight of Cups

/noise/movies | Link

A new Malick, and so I had see it. This dreams pretty much the same impressions as To The Wonder while being even more internalized. The occasional bouts of cinematographic beauty are due to Lubezki. Christian Bale is going through some existential crisis which involves many, many women and much idle debauchery/consumption, none of which really engages him. Perhaps Bale was as bemused as the audience. Imogen Poots channels PJ Harvey in The Book of Life, and Portman McAdams from To The Wonder. More twirling, but in Los Angeles this time, and not the fields of gold of American myth. The message of the movie as I understand it is: have a baby, get over yourself.

A. O. Scott. Anthony Lane.

Batman v Superman

/noise/movies | Link

With Tigôn at a small theatre at CGV near the airport, 2pm. 105kVND each. The sound was poor so I missed almost all of the expository dialogue; the locals, of course, could read the subs. Approximately as bad as the reviews suggested, and I doubt anyone could follow this without knowing pretty much how it had to go. The vibe was entirely deus ex: give up, puny human, unless you too can avail yourself of inherited wealth or alien technology, preferably both. People are only good at base conniving.

A. O. Scott. Sam Machkovech.

Inside Out

/noise/movies | Link

Yeah, a Pixar animation from last year. Notionally the young girl Riley (looking a lot like Marissa Mayer) is driven by a coterie of five emotion-personalities. I don't think that (all of) those emotions are canonical, or even interesting. (Where is fascination ala David Bowie?) These inhabit headquarters, which struck me as being the I/O tower in Tron. I didn't recognise Kyle MacLachlan as Dad. The credits were the best: the bus driver is all Anger (which is easily the best of Riley's emotion-personalities too), and nothing is driving the cat.

Dana Stevens got right into it. Is she really saying that this reductionist trivialization of emotion is somehow the height of insight?

Sonia Shah: The Fever: How Malaria Has Ruled Humankind for 500,000 Years.

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. I found this via a don't-read-it review of Shah's new Pandemic. (Reviewer Laurie Garret is a fellow science/health journalist and has similarly done the TED circuit.) Abigail Zuger's review tells you all you need to know; in summary it's good, and from here down I'm just picking nits.

Malaria apparently has a complex yet robust lifecycle that has resisted all sorts of efforts at eradication. This suggests it is worth looking at from a systems point-of-view. Shah canvasses only some of this in a single chapter, and even graphic-phobic me would have benefited from a diagram. I would also have liked to hear more about how the disease plays out in humans, for my main fear of it is the possibility of permanent brain damage.

Much of the latter parts of the book are straightforward rants against celebrity helicoptering (e.g. Bono doing a George W. Bush-style victory declaration) and cyclical funding for science (go tell the Australians). Her reasoning becomes unhinged at times; take this, for instance from the final chapter:

The entire economy, it is said, would have to break down in order for malaria to resettle in developed nations such as the United States. And yet mosquito-borne West Nile virus and Japanese encephalitis have spread unchecked. In 2002, California had a single case of West Nile virus; in 2003, there were three, according to the Centers for Disease Control. By 2004, there were 779 cases nationwide; in 2005, 873. In 2008, there were more than 1,300. The economy survives, despite it.

Malaria is probably not sexy right now.

This book somewhat reminded me of Pisani's, but does not exhibit the latter's hands-on insider knowledge. Shah notes the potential synergies between HIV and malaria.

/travels/2015-11-Vietnam | Link

The plan was to sleep on the train from Nha Trang back to Hồ Chí Minh City, but some people broke the Ghenh Bridge at Đồng Nai. Coverage:

Salman Rushdie: Step Across This Line, Collected Nonfiction 1992-2002.

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. I bought a hardcover of this when it came out back in 2002 or so. Since then I've really gone off Rushdie; the two novels he subsequently published were quite drecky. I have yet to read his memoir Joseph Anton or the recent Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights.

Here Rushdie is the king of the false dichotomy, and engages in so much, too much, tedious self-aggrandizing. He is, as always, at his best weaving in the classics, but also often terribly blinkered and uninsightful. His absolutism and inability to engage with Amartya Sen-style multi-faceted identity is particularly on display when he talks about Peter Handke (essay from May 1999), who is surely capable of capturing beauty whatever his political leanings. Similarly for religion.

To re-read this now is to be reminded of the halcyon days of the late 1990s, when the (Western) world seemed to be heading in a more peaceful direction, fueled by post-Cold War optimism. Tony Blair was still somewhat decent, and the aspirations for peace in Palestine not completely stymied. Musharraf stank, yet to become indispensable.

The best parts of this book are some of his essays for the New York Times. On Faiz Ahmed Faiz:

He loved his country, too, but one of his best poems about it took, with lyrical disenchantment, the point of view of the alienated exile. This poem, translated by Agha Shahid Ali, was put up on posters in the New York subway a couple of years ago, to the delight of all those who love Urdu poetry:

You ask me about that country whose details now escape me,
I don't remember its geography, nothing of its history.
And should I visit it in memory,
It would be as I would a past lover,
After years, for a night, no longer restless with passion,
With no fear of regret.
I have reached that age when one visits the heart merely as a courtesy.


/noise/movies | Link

With Tigôn. I last remember seeing this in Melbourne with Hui Nie, and perhaps I saw it at the cinema back in 2001. Still rated #75 in the IMDB top-250.

Chicken Run

/noise/movies | Link

With Tigôn, over several nights. It's a lot more straightforward than I remember, but just as funny.


/noise/movies | Link

Spike Lee goes to Chicago and tells the locals how he wants it to be. Yes, it's a reworking of Lysistrata by Aristophanes, and somewhat muddled therefore. Cheerfully, brashly crass and sometimes fun.

Manohla Dargis. Salamishah Tillet.

The Revenant

/noise/movies | Link

With Tigôn, who wanted to see it on the strength of Leonardo's Oscar. #152 in the IMDB top-250, but not destined to stay long, I'd say. It seemed to me that Tom Hardy eclipsed Leonardo just about always. Domhnall Gleeson was far less irritating than usual, and actually came across as a substantial character. The cinematography is the best part of it; Lubezki once again, in the mode of his The Tree of Life. As far as raw material goes, Iñárritu had it better with last year's Birdman. I note James Packer executive-produced this; whoever selects films for him to sponsor is doing a stirling job.

Bear Story

/noise/movies | Link

With Tigôn. A beautifully rendered tear-jerker that won the Oscar for best short animated film.