28 February 2008

Dekalog Jeden by Kieslowski, 1987

Filed under: Christianity, Movies — ktismatics @ 10:04 am

dek1 witness

dek1 phone

dek1 sister

dek1 compglow

Gifted Program in Imperial Russia

Filed under: Fiction — ktismatics @ 5:15 am

[Here’s a brief fugue interlude from The Stations, a novel I wrote I guess four years ago now. The sand does slip through one’s fingers in this dream within a dream…]

From the morning of his birth the Outlier was destined for destruction.

History, once a chaotic rumbling beneath the wheels of God, now generated its own motive force. Reaching upward, Western man had grasped reason; reaching outward, he had fashioned a civilization with force and precision. Deeper and deeper God withdrew; the intense longing could not be satisfied. A jilted lover, Western man grew cold, disciplined, aggressive. He cast his lecherous eyes toward the East.

Prostrate in her hysteria, Mother Russia knew the ecstatic pain of her lover’s brutal embrace. Would he never satisfy himself upon her? Farther east the contemplatives, impassive in their superior stillness, leered enigmatically: they would not approach her. In panic, she cast her pleading and beautiful eyes to the West. Again she would be ravished, even as she gave birth to her own death.

The only male heir would perpetuate the dynasty into the next generation. And yet he would not. The autarchy, collapsing into itself, was also being crushed from without. Worst of all, the heir was a bleeder. From his grandmother Victoria, through his mother Alexandra, he had inherited a blood twice rare, imbued with the strength of the divine right of kings and with the weakness of hemophilia. He would not escape his fate.

The Identifier envisioned a different fate for the boy. By revelation of the Law of Opposites, he knew that God’s strength was revealed in weakness. By inclination and self-discipline he had become the weakest of men, the Debauched One. Was this not why he reflected ever more brightly the flame of God’s forgiving grace? We see in a mirror dimly, said Paul. Even so, that which appears to man as the abyss the Identifier knew to be the reflection of heaven. The deeper he delved, the higher would be his exaltation. The inner transfiguration shines through the corruption of the outer man.

In the Identifier’s light, the young Tsarevich’s weakness likewise reflected its opposite. By divine sanction the holy blood of the tsars had been contained in an exquisitely narrow channel. The people, drawn by its pulsing power, felt their own insignificance. The greater the exaltation of the ruler, the more ruthless his despotism, the closer does he bind the people to himself, to the God on earth. Behind the wall of paranoiac fear crouches the oblivion of the Divine.

In his wanderings through the world, the Identifier beheld a new way opening before him. He, the forerunner, would pull the people of his land through the constricted opening. It was the way of the Spirit, of the plenitude of God within, of the emergence of the God-man. So in heaven, so also on earth: the Father lives in the Tsar; the Son, in the Church; the Holy Ghost, in the People. Now, as the corruption of the Last Days descended, the glory would at last be revealed in it fullness. The church strayed from the true path; so would the Son be glorified. The tsars looked to the West for their ideas and their wives; so would the Father be glorified. The peasants lurched toward nihilism and debauchery; so would the Spirit be glorified.

The God of Russia had never gone far away. He lived in the icons, in the priests and in the words they spoke, in the Name Itself. He lived in the tsars and, through their blood, in the children of the tsars. He lived in the hearts of the people. Now, in these Last Days, the inner work of transfiguration was being accomplished. The Identifier felt himself being changed, sanctified. The filth of his outer man testified to the purity of the godhood within. To his own amazement, the greater his outer corruption, the more powerfully the Spirit worked through him, out of himself and into others. Through his voice, his gaze, his touch, his seed, women and men experienced the inner birth of the Spirit. By his very repulsiveness he was drawing all to himself, creating more beings like himself.

Returning from a pilgrimage of base sanctification, the Identifier walked north and east, traversing the ancient lands of the Asian conquerors, of the Babylonians, the Medes and the Persians. As he crossed the Tigris and stood among the ruins of Nineveh, the ancient Assyrian capital, he knew what must be done. Cloaking himself with all the vilenesses of the ancient heresiarchs, he felt surging within him the power to imbue his people with the blood of God. He diverted his course westward. The Debauched One, the Identifier, had begun another pilgrimage, this time to St. Petersburg.

* * * * *

The boy, the Outlier, sensed the warmth emanating from the strange presence of the holy man. Poorly dressed, ill-mannered, loud and putrid, the Identifier seemed to occupy more space than any other ten men, more space even than the boy’s own father and mother, whom he knew to be God’s very presence to the Russian people. The monk was kind to the boy, strong but never stern, protective yet playful. The stories of his wanderings captivated the boy who, despite royal privilege, had never set foot outside the palace grounds.

Rumors of the unspeakable circulated throughout the courts. The Identifier spent hours in seclusion with the boy, who bore within himself the foreordained destiny of his people. The tsarina, having lain herself down beneath the unholy one’s enchantment, had already ceded her authority. She was afraid; she was enthralled; she was doomed.

Having penetrated the holy of holies, the Identifier exercised the powers granted him, powers which, through years of depravity, he could now reveal in their fullness. It was for this end he had been prepared.

Already the boy possessed the double power within himself; the exquisite pain and the calamitous triumph had been bestowed upon him. In the deformed joints and the hemorrhagic disgorgements, the Identifier could decipher the very word of God. It was a word of perpetual sorrow and eternal ecstasy, enshrouded in regal and priestly vestments. The veil had been rent asunder; the blood sacrifice was being offered. It had only to be accepted. New Jerusalem would descend from the heavens; the mortal would bleed into immortality. By his stripes we would be healed. Ascending the throne, the Outlier would exchange his earthly diadem for a crown of golden thorns. In his reign of a thousand years, the light and the blood, the word and the power, would pour forth to every corner of the earth. Even now the afterbirth was being disgorged. Mother Russia would be delivered of new heavens and a new earth. Soon all would be revealed, by the most unlikely of messengers.

* * * * *

The filthy monk proved nearly impossible to kill. He swallowed poison enough for ten deaths, yet still he ate and drank lustily. Some foully potent immunity had lodged itself within him. His eyes, brilliant and perverse, penetrated the hardest soul. He knew things; no man could know such things. He was thick, under protection, depthless. He was beneath human; he was beyond human. When at last the holy madman’s veins were emptied upon the palace floor, it was the blood of the nation that the assassin’s bullet had spilled.

And the boy, the Outlier? He had become nearly transparent; the porous membrane of his fragile humanity let everything out, let everything in. The royal blood, imbued with the corruption of power, had already been commingled into the blood of the millions, and they had been changed. Insistently, at last irresistibly, he had been flooded by thoughts, words, sentiments: the gush of a sprawling and corpuscular humanity. Though the chamber of his isolation had been transported from the opulence of the imperial palace to the filthy cellar of a proletarian hovel, the Outlier could not survive the deluge.

In the end, it took nothing at all to kill the boy.

26 February 2008

F*O*O*J Questionnaire 1.0

Filed under: Fiction, Psychology — ktismatics @ 11:16 am

In light of my less-than-gratifying introduction to the school gifted program here in town, I’m thinking about starting a local chapter of the F*O*O*J (Fantastic Order of Justice — see this post by Shaviro for background intelligence). My hypothetical job in the F*O*O*J is to be “the Dr. Phil for the extraordinarily abled” among the high school artsy/intellectual set. I need a superhero name, of course: Dr. Brain is taken, and so is Dr. Sinthome. But wait… I’ve already got a secret identity: Ktismatics. I think for this gig I’d become Dr. Ktismatics.

On my walk this morning I realized I ought to have some means of identifying potential F*O*O*J members. I don’t think I want to administer an objective test of superhero-hood; instead it should be a self-selection screening tool, to be completed in secret, the results revealed to no one. Now it so happens that I used to write questionnaires for a living as part of my ordinary identity, so I figured I ought to be able to come up with something. Here are some possible questionnaire items that have come to mind so far. They’re all yes/no questions.

* * *

1. Do you have a superpower (e.g., ability to fly, ability to make yourself invisible, ability to detect hypocrisy)?

2. Do you ever worry that maybe your superpower controls you?

3. Do you have a nemesis or archrival?

4. If your archrival were eliminated, would you look for some other villain to take his or her place?

5. If you couldn’t find another archrival, would you have to create one?

6. Do you sometimes wonder whether your archrival is really a projection of yourself?

7. Do you assume an ordinary identity (a “Clark Kent”) in order to disguise your superhero identity?

8. Do you ever wonder whether your ordinary identity is more “real” than your superhero identity?

9. Do you ever have internal dominance wars between your ordinary identity and your superhero identity?

10. Does your ordinary identity ever get the urge to “out” itself, thereby revealing your secret super-identity to the world?

11. Do you have a secret weakness (a “kryptonite”)?

12. If you overcame your secret weakness, would you have to find/make another one to take its place?

13. Do you sometimes wish that your secret weakness would be discovered, thereby rendering you powerless?

14. Do you believe that your greatest archrival is The Enemy Within?

15. Do you believe that a disability might actually be an extraordinary ability in disguise? (E.g., autism is actually the secret power to recognize the irreducible otherness of other people.)

16. Do you believe that you can lose your superpower?

17. Do you ever wish you would lose your superpower?

18. Do you ever think that you’re a fraud, that your superpower isn’t so super after all?

19. If you were destroyed or rendered powerless by your archenemy or your secret weakness, do you believe that your superpower would leave your body and find someone else to possess?

20. Do you ever wonder if you might be a fictional character?

21. Do you believe that other people with superpowers are the only ones who can ever really know you?

22. Do you find yourself competing with other “extraordinarily abled” people?

23. Do you sometimes wish you were the only “extraordinarily abled” person on earth?

24. Do you believe that with great power comes great responsibility?

25. Are you ever tempted to turn your powers against the world of ordinary people, squashing them like bugs?

* * *

Okay, that’s it — the first draft, version 1.0. Do any of these questions seem particularly good/worthless for identifying potential F*O*O*J members? Do any other good questions come to your mind? How should the questionnaire be scored?

25 February 2008

The Color Purple by Spielberg, 1985

Filed under: Movies — ktismatics @ 8:00 am

It’s easy for me to see white racist stereotyping in this movie, even if the book was written by a black woman. Is it a distortion imposed by Spielberg on the source material, or Alice Hoffman’s unrecognized “integration” into dominant cultural biases? Or is it my patronizing white eye distorting what the writer was trying to show me, feeling smug that even if she couldn’t see her own subjection, I could?

So, here’s the scary Daddy, cold and dark, keeping an eye his daughters — guess who’s the father of the pregnant girl?

Purple birth

And here’s a nice father-and-son scene. The old Daddy, a gleam on his shoes, gazes down on his shiftless drunken son, just another piece of trash littering the kitchen floor, just another farm animal. The place has gone to hell since the little woman left him, and so has he.

Purple trash

Here’s the jazz diva coming home to Jesus and Big Daddy the preacher, the whole juke joint parading in behind her. He’s a clean and stern and straight Daddy, but his heart melts when his girl comes up the aisle to meet him.

Purple church

24 February 2008

On Getting It Up

Filed under: Psychology, Reflections — ktismatics @ 9:25 am

(I first wrote this as a comment on the Body Double post, but I’ll go ahead and give it its own place of consideration separate from the movie.)

The advantage of neoliberalism and its optimistic decide-plan-act psychological underpinning is that it establishes a basis for me to ACT without having to worry about whether I’m my own agent or the puppet of either larger or smaller forces that control me without my being aware of it. In a structuralist world I constantly have to turn the hermeneutics of suspicion not just on everyone else but on myself: why do I want to do this, what makes me want it, etc. So finally I say fuck it, I’m doing this thing anyway because I feel like it, or think it’s the right thing to do, or whatever happens to be my motivation. And as soon as I walk out the door I find myself surrounded by strangers who also have to DO SOMETHING in order for my own project to succeed. So, do I rely on their kindness, turning my ass to the sky and hoping they like what they see? Or do I rely on the passivity of strangers, forcing my project up their asses whether they like it or not because they don’t have the strength or the will to resist?

In my experience, being a Blanche DuBois and relying on the kindness of strangers is a recipe for failure. Most strangers aren’t actively mean; they’re mostly indifferent. It’s that very indifference which makes them vulnerable to aggression and salesmanship: they want to participate in action, but passively, as part of the audience or the mob. Appealing repeatedly to their kindness often brings out the passive-aggressive sadistic impulse in them: fine, if you’re going to keep offering your ass, I might as well stick something in it, since there’s no demand that I return the favor.

Is this binary the only possibility? No, there’s also withdrawal, the refusal to engage as either top or bottom. I put my project out there and it stands alone as mute testimony to my impotence to get/force anyone to notice. This I think is my usual position. I expect people to see my project and to respond to it, without anyone shoving anything up each others’ asses. And what I find is that people do not respond, that passively indifferent self-absorption is the characteristic stance of the stranger.

The ideology of immanence — Deleuze & Guattari’s rhizomes, Hardt & Negri’s multitude, maybe also Agamben’s whatever-being (haven’t read it so I don’t really know) — relies not on the kindness of strangers but on their resonance: that they will pay attention to what’s going on around them and engage proactively and cooperatively and creatively in what draws their attention. But everything clamors for the strangers’ attention. A lot of cultural products demand only a passive assent, facilitating the agglomeration of isolated individuals who together constitute a marketplace or an audience. Immanence seems to demand too much of people — it demands that they be not just consumers but AGENTS. Bending over and inviting my ass for penetration lets them be agents, but at my expense. Making them bend over while I shove my product up their ass, maybe using a little butter and soothing words to make it slip in smoothly, making the consumers believe they’re experiencing anal orgasm while I’m the only one who’s getting off? Or better yet, just shoving it in and letting them get off of the pain? Tempting, but I don’t think I’ve got the temperament for it; besides, I object on ideological grounds.

Dejan said it, and I admit it: I’m like Jake in the coffin in Body Double — paralyzed, can’t get up out of my coffin. But this whole identify-with-the-sadist strategy of getting it up is neither how I want to proceed nor how I believe I ought to proceed. What else? Optimistic decide-plan-act, carrying a stick of butter around with me at all times? Making more of a concession to the marketplace, spreading my cheeks in a really alluring fashion? Fuck if I know what to do. But it’s the question, because I know the kindness of strangers is not to be relied upon.

20 February 2008

Rouge by Kieslowski, 1994

Filed under: Movies — ktismatics @ 8:47 am

“Be sad. Sadder. Think of something awful. There.”

“I knew it was a joke. I could see you laughing.”

“Talk to me like yesterday.”

“You’re naked in front of the mirror. But for someone else, not for me.”

rouge billboard2

“Go see this man. Tell him someone listens to his conversations. While you’re at it, tell him it’s me.”

“What can we do about it? Why are you so quiet? Does this remind you of something?”

“I know the weather all over Europe.”

“We have nothing on him. He never takes risks.”

“Here’s his phone number. If you feel like saying mean things to him, don’t hesitate.”

“Van den Budenmayer. Did I pronounce it right?”

“Before you left, you mentioned pity. Afterwards, I realized it was disgust.”

“Leave. It’s your destiny.”

“Deciding what is true and what isn’t now seems to me a lack of modesty. Vanity.”

“You won’t go to court. Justice doesn’t deal with the innocent.”

“I feel something important is happening around me. And it scares me.”

“She was blond, delicate, radiant, with a long neck. Her clothing and her furniture were all light-colored. In the foyer there was a mirror in a white frame. It was in that mirror, one night, that I saw her white legs spread, with a man between them.”

“Maybe you’re the woman I never met.”

“At first, I wanted to kill him. I would have, if it would have changed something. Now, he was waiting for my verdict.”

“Steve Killian, English citizen, barman on the ferry.”

– screenplay by Krysztof Kieslowski and Krysztof Piesiewicz

18 February 2008

Body Double by De Palma, 1984

Filed under: Movies — ktismatics @ 3:29 pm

bdouble vampire

bdouble voyeur

bdouble mirror

bdouble drill

Call Me a Pessimist…

Filed under: Culture, Psychology, Reflections — ktismatics @ 12:19 pm

This isn’t really a post, but rather a copy of correspondence. For those of you who have been following along with the comments on the Le Ballon Rouge post, I’ve been trying to figure out whether there’s any room for me as a psychological practitioner among high school students. I attended a presentation by Terry, the local school board’s resource person for “gifted” students, then went to a parents’ group she facilitates that focuses on the Social and Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG). Among the handouts was a short essay based on Martin Seligman’s idea of “learned optimism.” Seligman is regarded as the guiding light behind the widespread enthusiasm for positive psychology. I won’t be attending any more of the meetings, but I thought I’d throw my two cents’ worth by writing a fairly non-controversial, non-cynical response and emailing it to everyone in the parents’ group. I had a couple of responses from Terry but nothing from anyone else. Here’s the correspondence. Call me a pessimist, but I’m thinking I’m not likely to get many referrals from her or the SENG group.

* * *

Dear SENG members,

I enjoyed participating in the gifted parents’ meeting Wednesday night. Unfortunately I can’t make any more of the meetings due to family scheduling conflicts. However I wanted to comment on one of the handouts, called “Optimal Development and Performance: The Role of Explanatory Style.” Maureen Neihart, the author of this paper, makes a case for learning to become more optimistic:

“Since studies indicate that pessimists are less resilient, more depressed, and achieve less in their lifetimes than do optimists, it is important that we shape and maintain an optimistic style. We can promote emotional health, social competence, and high achievement in our children by teaching them to think positively about day-to-day events in their lives.”

Not to be a wet blanket or anything (lol), but Neihart doesn’t mention the research demonstrating that people already tend to be overly optimistic. In many areas of our lives we underestimate risks and overestimate the likelihood of success. People expect to live longer than average, underestimate their likelihood of divorce, overestimate prospects for career success, and so on. Even Martin Seligman, the guru of learned optimism, acknowledges that optimists are less realistic than pessimists. Now I don’t doubt that optimists are more fun to be around and that they’re more likely to build enthusiasm for their projects. On the other hand, would the USA have gone to war in Iraq if the American politicians and public had been a little more pessimistic and spent more time looking at the odds of success and the costs of engagement?

Neihart observes that pessimists tend to overemphasize the permanence and pervasiveness of negative events: everything is going wrong and it’s never going to change. Being somewhat of a pessimist myself, I have to admit that this sort of global negative assessment of the world isn’t realistic: everything doesn’t really suck all the time. However, I still think it and say it sometimes. Why? I suspect it’s because I’m aware that something is wrong that’s being brushed under the rug. Others aren’t taking my obstacles and disappointments seriously enough — maybe I’m not even taking them seriously enough. So how do I call more attention to these problems? I dramatize their permanence and pervasiveness. See how big this problem is? NOW will you pay attention?!

If my daughter tells me about how everything is terrible, she’s a worthless person, etc., my first reaction is to downplay her problem: it’s not that bad, it’s not that big a deal, you’ll get over it, etc. This might be a realistic response, but it also surely minimizes or even trivializes her subjective experience, as Sheard acknowledges on the last page of her paper. If my kid is making such outlandishly grand pessimistic statements, she must want to call my attention to something that’s bugging her. I have a sense that it would be better to acknowledge just how sucky this thing is first, and hear all about it. I might not even have to go through some sort of reality test with her after that, since mostly what she wants is to be heard. And I don’t want to minimize what’s bugging her even after the storm has calmed down: after all, we’re biased toward being too optimistic.

Americans are overly optimistic, but there’s still been a huge increase in depression over the last generation — what’s up with that? But that’s a whole nother topic. Thanks for your forebearance with my long-windedness. Thanks again for letting me come to the group.

John Doyle (parent of Fairview 9th grader)
* * *

(To whole group)

It’s great to have your thoughts about the article, John. A dialogue about this, and other articles, helps all of us understand our own personal beliefs more fully.

I have used Seligman’s attribution questionnaire with my high school TAG students for a few years now, and it always provokes an interesting discussion about pessimism, optimism, realism, choice, personality, genetics, environment, the ability to change, and much much more. Seligman does mention that it’s quite probable that pessimists are more likely to be realists, than are optimists. However, it’s hard to convince optimists that they need to become more pessimistic in the hopes that it might make them more realistic.
My students that have tested highly on the optimist scale are without a doubt happier, more content individuals. The students that have tested highly on the pessimist scale frequently want suggestions on how to change their outlook. They recognize themselves as “the glass is half empty” people, and many don’t like that about themselves. I had a student announce to the group one day, “I’ve been critical and frustrated a lot and not particularly nice to a lot of people, and I just want to make an announcement that I am going to try to be less critical and pessimistic in the next few weeks.” He made a real effort, and he succeeded. In fact, at the end of 3 weeks, the students spontaneously gave him a round of applause when he walked into the room because he had been much more pleasant to be around. He smiled for the first time in months.
So… I believe it is much harder to convince our children/students that becoming more optimistic is a negative thing. For this young man he gained higher social satisfaction and higher personal satisfaction. It’s been a year now since his experiment, and being more positive just comes more naturally to him. In fact, it helped him get through a very disabling medical condition he had to overcome. He is, without a doubt, happier with his “new” image.
Of course, being overly “anything” is not necessarily the best way to be. Being “overly optimistic” might be similar to sticking one’s head in the sand. Not a good thing. Being “overly pessimistic” is also not the best way to be. Can we agree that, on a continuum, there might be an ideal range to fall under, and it’s not near any extreme?
If your daughter tells you how bad life sucks and she is miserable about something, the right approach is not to deny what she’s feeling, you’re right. First we need to validate our children’s feelings, then talk about options. I just had an episode with my 16 year old daughter last night where the best response to her frustrations about gymnastics was to simply sit next to her on the couch, hold her in my arms, and let her cry. When she was feeling better we discussed her possible options for the situation. However, if I had downplayed the problem and told her to “suck it up, that’s what athletes do” and that she didn’t have anything to cry about, she would feel that I “didn’t understand.”
We have to listen not only the words they are saying, but to the emotions they’re displaying, as well. That’s how we know how important something is to them. In this way, we’re not trivializing anything, we’re being realistic, AND we’re offering to help them brainstorm some ways to make the situation better. That’s respecting them, and the situation, and trying to help them reach a resolution.
By the way, I don’t agree that Americans are overly optimistic. In The Optimistic Child, Seligman talks in depth about his theory of why there are so many more depressed people now, compared to before the 1960’s. It’s an interesting theory. I’d be curious to know what you think if you get a chance to read it too.
Thanks for your ideas, John. Reflection is always highly valuable for a discussion group. Anybody else out there who wants to throw in their two cents worth?


* * *

(To whole group)

Thanks Terry for your thoughtful reply to my comments about optimism, and mostly I agree with what you said. I hope I haven’t put myself in the unenviable position of having to defend pessimism. I would surely fail to be persuasive, thereby reinforcing my own pessimism about being able to change people’s opinions.

You mentioned Seligman’s The Optimistic Child — the description on Amazon says this:

“Seligman discounts prevalent theory that children who are encouraged by others to feel good about themselves will do well. Instead, he proposes that self-esteem comes from mastering challenges, overcoming frustration and experiencing individual achievement.”

That sounds right. A few months ago I read the summary of an international study looking at math achievement test results and students’ confidence in their mathematical ability. Ironically, those countries whose kids had the HIGHEST average achievement scores also had the LOWEST math self-confidence scores. Maybe excessive self-confidence can get in the way of working toward mastery. Incidentally, I’ve seen some evidence contradicting the contention that adolescents are experiencing a big rise in depression compared to prior generations. Apparently depression is more prevalent in adolescence, then tends to decline with age. So researchers who look at a cross-section of the population and see a lot of teen depression might infer a society-wide change that’s more a life-stage thing. It’s also the case that depression is more likely to be diagnosed now that antidepressant medications are on the market.

Yesterday I came across an endorsement of sorts for pessimism [note to ktismatics readers — thanks to Gerry Canavan at Culture Monkey for links to this and other essays by and about Dick]:

“The authentic human being is one of us who instinctively knows what he should not do, and, in addition, he will balk at doing it. He will refuse to do it, even if this brings down dread consequences to him and to those whom he loves. This, to me, is the ultimately heroic trait of ordinary people; they say no to the tyrant and they calmly take the consequences of this resistance. Their deeds may be small, and almost always unnoticed, unmarked by history. Their names are not remembered, nor did these authentic humans expect their names to be remembered. I see their authenticity in an odd way: not in their willingness to perform great heroic deeds but in their quiet refusals. In essence, they cannot be compelled to be what they are not.

“The power of spurious realities battering at us today—these deliberately manufactured fakes never penetrate to the heart of true human beings. I watch the children watching TV and at first I am afraid of what they are being taught, and then I realize, They can’t be corrupted or destroyed. They watch, they listen, they understand, and, then, where and when it is necessary, they reject. There is something enormously powerful in a child’s ability to withstand the fraudulent. A child has the clearest eye, the steadiest hand. The hucksters, the promoters, are appealing for the allegiance of these small people in vain. True, the cereal companies may be able to market huge quantities of junk breakfasts; the hamburger and hot dog chains may sell endless numbers of unreal fast-food items to the children, but the deep heart beats firmly, unreached and unreasoned with. A child of today can detect a lie quicker than the wisest adult of two decades ago. When I want to know what is true, I ask my children. They do not ask me; I turn to them.”

This quote is excerpted a 1978 essay entitled “How to Build a Universe that Won’t Fall Apart Two Days Later,” written by Philip K. Dick. Dick was probably schizophrenic and certainly a substance abuser; when you read his science fiction you immerse yourself in a variety of unstable universes where pessimism is the only realistic response. Would I look to Philip Dick as a role model for my child? He probably wasn’t a very happy man, and he wasn’t really a great writer; still, he could see things that others can’t. Hmm, seeing things that others can’t… sounds like hallucination, a symptom of psychosis. But Dick could also show these paranoiac and distorted universes to his readers. Some people can probably never see what Dick shows them — they might be more well-balanced, more optimistic, more successful, less prone to depression. But people who can see often regard Dick as someone who looks behind the cheerful facade of everyday society to some darker truths. I suspect that Philip Dick is one of the few writers high school boys will read without it being assigned by a teacher.

I think about the assigned readings in my daughter’s freshman English class — 1984 by George Orwell, poetry by Edgar Allan Poe and Sylvia Plath — and I ask her: would you say Orwell is an optimist or a pessimist? Pessimist, she says without hesitation. Poe? Plath? The same. I suspect all these pessimistic writers, Dick included, would have fit into the “gifted” category. Being way out on the right tail of the statistical distribution means a kid can excel where others must struggle to attain mediocrity — this should instill optimism and self-confidence. But sometimes being gifted means being able to see things most other people can’t see. If this kind of gifted kid tries to show others what s/he sees, s/he is liable to meet with outright rejection or, perhaps more likely, blank stares. The easier, happier path might be to forget these troubling visions and join the rest of the world. If, though, the kid can hang onto these visions and maybe get one or two others to see them too, s/he might be able to do something exceptional with his/her gift without having to sink into the deeply pessimistic funk that probably plagued people like Dick, Poe and Plath.


* * *

(To me personally)

This quote, from your response, is the reason I speak to parents about encouraging their children to take healthy risks. It is from taking risks and accepting challenges that true growth occurs. In fact, decades ago, millions of dollars was poured into schools in California to raise the students’ self esteem. Teachers were trained to praise their students without abandon. The study backfired when self esteem actually dropped, rather than increased. It was then that Seligman wrote this quote:

“Seligman discounts prevalent theory that children who are encouraged by others to feel good about themselves will do well. Instead, he proposes that self-esteem comes from mastering challenges, overcoming frustration and experiencing individual achievement.”
While I agree that this following quote is true in cases of ethics and morality, I do not agree that it should be encouraged when applied to academia or social circumstances:

“The authentic human being is one of us who instinctively knows what he should not do, and, in addition, he will balk at doing it. He will refuse to do it, even if this brings down dread consequences to him and to those whom he loves. This, to me, is the ultimately heroic trait of ordinary people; they say no to the tyrant and they calmly take the consequences of this resistance.”

Looks like no one else in the SENG group was willing to take the time (or the risk) to become a part of this conversation! Good luck with your future pursuits, and in the meantime, enjoy a couple of extra days with your daughter.


15 February 2008

Blanc by Kieslowski, 1994

Filed under: Movies — ktismatics @ 10:05 am

blanc statue

blanc binoculars

blanc comb2

blanc ring

13 February 2008

Le Ballon Rouge, 1956

Filed under: Ktismata — ktismatics @ 8:37 am

ballon old lady

9 February 2008

King of California, 2007

Filed under: Movies — ktismatics @ 1:35 pm

California Coke

I have no idea who Michael Cahill is, other than that he wrote the screenplay for and directed this movie. Though it’s not a great movie, I did find myself thinking about it when I woke up in the middle of the night. What I liked was its sense of topography. It’s about a teen-aged girl and her crazy dad (capably played by Michael Douglas), who hatches a scheme to dig up a cache of Spanish gold buried somewhere under the L.A. suburbs. Equipped with maps and surveying equipment, he starts retracing the trail of some Spanish conquistador, reluctantly aided and abetted by his sane and responsible kid. They find rocks on a golf course with etchings that match the marks recorded in the Spaniard’s journal, they use a rented backhoe to dig up potsherds in a new housing development, they mark off distances inside the Costco store. The crazy dad ends up jackhammering a hole in the Costco display floor and, using scuba diving equipment he finds in the store, he plunges into an underground river in search of the buried treasure.

California Dishwasher

It sounds like some kind of slapstick adventure, but the idea of remapping the territory of a legendary old Spanish version of California still laid out right underneath the engineered suburban grid really appealed to me. That and Evan Rachel Wood, playing the daughter, who gave a remarkably expressive performance in what’s intended to be a very square role.

California Gold

3 February 2008

Videodrome by Cronenberg, 1983

Filed under: Movies — ktismatics @ 10:05 pm

“I live in a highly excited state of overstimulation.” Nicki Brand

“The television screen has become the retina of the mind’s eye. That’s why I refuse to appear on television, except on television. O’Blivion is not the name I was born with. It’s my television name. Soon, all of us will have special names, names designed to cause the cathode-ray tube to resonate.” Professor O’Blivion

videodrome o’blivion

“It’s just torture and murder. No plot, no characters. Very, very realistic. I think it’s what’s next.” Max Renn

“You know, in Brazil, Central America, making underground videos is considered a subversive act. They execute people for it. In Pittsburgh, who knows?” Max

“Watching TV will help patch them back into the world’s mixing board.” Bianca O’Blivion

“I am my father’s screen.” Bianca O’Blivion

“My father has not engaged in conversation for at least 20 years. The monologue is his preferred mode of discourse.” Bianca O’Blivion

“The battle for the mind of North America will be fought in the video arena, the Videodrome. The television screen is the retina of the mind’s eye. Therefore the screen is part of the physical structure of the brain. Therefore, whatever appears on the television screen emerges as raw experience for those who watch it. Therefore, television is reality and reality is less than television.” Professor O’Blivion

“I had a brain tumour. And I had visions. I believe the visions caused the tumour, and not the reverse. I could feel the visions coalesce and become flesh, uncontrollable flesh. But when they removed the tumour, it was called Videodrome.” Professor O’Blivion

“It bites. Isn’t that what you said? What kind of teeth do you think it has?” Bianca O’Blivion

“My father helped to create Videodrome. He saw it as part of the evolution of man as a technological animal. When he realised what his partners were going to use it for, he tried to take it away from them and they killed him, quietly. He became convinced that public life on television was more real than private life in the flesh. He wasn’t afraid to let his body die.” Bianca O’Blivion

“I believe that the growth in my head, this head, this one right here… I think that it is not really a tumour, not an uncontrolled, undirected little bubbling part of flesh, but that it is, in fact, a new organ, a new part of the brain. I think that massive doses of Videodrome signal will ultimately create a new outgrowth of the human brain, which will produce and control hallucination to the point that it will change human reality. After all, there is nothing real outside our perception of reality, is there? You can see that, can’t you?” Professor O’Blivion

videodrome video slot

“Hi. I’m Barry Convex, chief of special programmes. I’d like to invite you into the world of Spectacular Optical, an enthusiastic corporate citizen. We make inexpensive glasses for the Third World and missile guidance systems for NATO. We also make Videodrome, Max. As you know, when it’s ready for the marketplace, things will never be the same again. It can be a giant hallucination machine and much, much more.” Barry Convex

“It won’t hurt you. You might slide in and out of a hallucinatory state afterwards. If you do, just relax and enjoy it. It will soon go away. But for now, you might find a little S&M will be necessary to trigger a good healthy series of hallucinations. That’s why our show is so strange. It’s the effects of exposure to violence on the nervous system. It opens receptors in the brain and they allow the signal to sink in.” Barry Convex


“You’ll forgive me if I don’t stay around to watch. I just can’t cope with the freaky stuff.” Barry Convex

“Well, here we are at last. Right where we ought to be. On Videodrome. What are you waiting for, lover? Let’s perform. Let’s open those neural floodgates.” Nicki Brand

“North America is getting soft, patrón, and the rest of the world is getting tough. Very, very tough. We’re entering savage new times and we’re going to have to be pure and direct… and strong… if we’re going to survive them. Now, you and this… cesspool you call a television station… and your people who wallow around in it and your viewers… who watch you do it… you’re rotting us away from the inside. We intend to stop that rot.” Harlan

“Videodrome is death. That’s better. So much better. It’s always painful to remove the cassette… and change the programme. But now that we have… you’ll see that you’ve become something quite different. You’ve become the video word made flesh.” Bianca O’Blivion

“Death to Videodrome. Long live the new flesh.” Max Renn

videodrome suicide

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