30 September 2012

Two Dreams

Filed under: Reflections — ktismatics @ 6:06 pm

Last night I dreamed that I could read without seeing the words. I could just look at something and the words inherent in that thing would appear in my mind. I was concerned that I could never verify the words I read by referring to the corresponding words on a page or on a computer screen. I woke up in an agitated state, thinking that in order to read in this way I must be blind, or else dead. I had to get up and read for an hour and a half in order to reassure myself.

After I went back to bed I dreamed that Anne and I were in a train wreck somewhere in Germany. Neither of us was hurt, nor were the other passengers in our train car. When we got off the train we could see another string of railroad cars that had been in the same accident, positioned somehow on a higher track than the one our car was on. We were certain that the people in those cars were gravely injured, but we were wrong: they were fine too. I had to go somewhere to get help, so I began to walk. Through a series of Kafkaesque misadventures in a railway station I find myself riding on a different train with a group of Germans who have promised to help me. I have no access to a telephone; I wonder what Anne, back at the scene of the train wreck, thinks has become of me. We are riding too long on this train, I’m thinking; the Germans tell me that we are approaching Belgium. Belgium? I wake up, but in my waking state I continue this train ride. The train stops; we get off; I lose track of the Germans; I fall back asleep. Dreaming again, I’m riding a different train, without the Germans. The train is riding on tracks that span a vast expanse of water. Later, a fellow passenger tells me that we’re approaching Greenland. Looking out the window I see a massive gray mountain and I know that it is Greenland.

28 September 2012

Another One Bites the Dust

Filed under: Fiction, Reflections — ktismatics @ 11:35 am

Or maybe I’ve always been in the desert, waiting.

That didn’t take long. Twelve days ago I finished writing/editing a new novel. In my self-congratulatory post I said that I expected to move straight on to the next book, which meant revisiting a text that I’d written ten years ago. That earlier book had originally been written in five parts, alternating between present and past, between France and America. Two years ago I split this book up. I took the two American parts, shuffled them around, and added a lot of new material in order to come up with what I envisioned as the first book in a series. Now for the fifth installment in the series I’ve gone back to the three French parts of the old manuscript. In reading it through I was pleased to discover that the French story holds together nicely even after excising the American “back story.” I did some minor editing and cleaned up the sutures where I’d performed my radical removal surgeries on the old text. That left me with 72K words — a bit short, but 12K longer than the novel I just finished writing. Yesterday I added a very short final chapter linking this old/new book with the one to follow. This morning I had second thoughts about the new ending, so I wrote a second, even shorter one. Then I wrote a third, shorter still. The fourth and the fifth alternative endings are each only one sentence long. I’ve decided to leave all the endings in place for now, awaiting further developments in the as-yet unwritten book to follow. The quote at the top of this post is the fifth ending, which is also the last sentence in the book.

So that’s the fifth book down, and the seventh one is already written. The one in between, the sixth book, will require more thought and the cultivation of a higher level of intensity. I’m not quite sure what I need to do to get ready for it. To tell the truth, it scares me a little.

26 September 2012

They Live by Carpenter, 1988

Filed under: Movies — ktismatics @ 8:08 am

“Well they ain’t from Cleveland.”

24 September 2012

Shock Corridor by Fuller, 1963

Filed under: Movies — ktismatics @ 2:16 pm


22 September 2012

Ostrov (The Island) by Lungin, 2006

Filed under: Movies — ktismatics @ 11:37 am

20 September 2012

The Hands of Orlac by Wiene, 1924

Filed under: Movies — ktismatics @ 9:23 am

18 September 2012

Temps Perdu

Filed under: Fiction, Reflections — ktismatics @ 8:46 pm

[Rereading what I wrote ten years ago in Nice, I remember.]

Bent permanently forward from the waist at impossible angles, their lank gray hair hanging across their faces, the two old women looked older than anyone could possibly be and still live. They held themselves up on three canes between the two of them, their contorted hands clasped together over the central cane. If one of the women fell – which seemed imminent – the other would topple over too. Together, the two functioned like a single extremely ancient and fragile creature, the last of a fabulous and archaic and maladept species that had somehow survived into another era.

“Shouldn’t we help them?” Mrs. Dervain asked; we were walking on the other side of the street.

“I’ve offered before. They always act like they don’t see me.”

“But it’s raining.”

I looked across at the Two Old Ones, who were struggling in slow motion to climb the curb onto the sidewalk. Their awkward mode of locomotion prevented them from carrying an umbrella, yet somehow they looked completely dry. I shrugged and walked on. Mrs. Dervain kept pace: I knew she thought a little less of me.

16 September 2012

Salut à Moi!

Filed under: Fiction, Reflections — ktismatics @ 7:02 pm

Today I finished the second edit of my latest novel, working title “The Courier,” which means that it’s pretty much a completed project. Sometimes it seems like my writing just drags along forever, but looking back I see that I’ve written 3 novels in the past 2 years.

This latest wave of fiction-writing began as an experiment. I wanted to reorganize, expand, and supplement what I had already written into a loosely organized series. I’d say that the experiment has been successful. I now have finished 5 parts in this series, plus half of a sixth. There will be seven altogether, comprising maybe 500K words. If I maintain my recent pace I might be finished with all seven by the end of 2013.

Given that the experiment is working, maybe it’s time to see if I can get these things published. Truth be told though, I find looking for an agent or a publisher so distracting that I can’t write. Since momentum is with me and I pretty much know how to finish off the series, I’ll probably just keep writing.

14 September 2012

Exit Through the Gift Shop by Banksy, 2010

Filed under: Movies — ktismatics @ 5:22 pm

12 September 2012

Reaching Across the Fictional Terrain

Filed under: Fiction, Ktismata, Psychology, Reflections — ktismatics @ 9:01 pm

As the time got into the fingers, hands, arms, shoulders, everywhere, altogether new relationships between chords and paths were being fulfilled now, the analytic character of my note choices, as good notes for such chords, coming under consistently thoroughgoing reformulation as a handful choosing, the song as a progression of demarcated and harmonically conceived placements becoming a rather different formatting structure.

For now I would do jazz sayings that increasingly brought my full ‘vocabular’ resources, my full range of wayful reachings, into the service of that jazz on the records, into the hands’ ways of pace-ably traversing not from route to route, but doing singings. And the language of paths and path switchings, born of my instructed introduction to jazz music and deeply intrinsic to the nature of my selectional negotiations for so long, thoroughly situated in the image-guided traverse ways of my past, must be abandoned…

For there is no melody, there is melodying. And melodying practices are handful practices as soundfully aimed articulational reaching. There is no end to ways for characterizing the ‘structure of a melody,’ given the possibilities of terminological revision, theoretic reclassification and structural analysis. But the action essentially escapes descriptive attention. If it can be said that I ‘do repetitions,’ it must then be asked: how do jazz hands behave so as to produce ‘appearances’ for a material examination by all who talk about them.

I learned this language through five years of overhearing it spoken. I had come to learn, overhearing and overseeing this jazz as my instructable hands’ ways — in a terrain nexus of hands and keyboard whose respective surfaces had become known as the respective surfaces of my tongue and teeth and palate are known to each other — that this jazz music is ways of moving from place to place as singings with my fingers. To define jazz (as to define any phenomenon of human action) is to describe the body’s ways.

David Sudnow, Ways of the Hand: The Origanization of Improvised Conduct, 1978

In my doctoral thesis I explored the ways in which expert scientists differed from novices in scanning scientific journals. Second-year grad students were as good at extracting and evaluating the information about any given research study as were the tenured professors. Where the experts excelled was in linking a seemingly wide variety of studies’ theoretical constructs and findings to their own research programs.

I don’t have much sense of gradually achieving greater technical proficiency in the writing of fiction. As far as I’m concerned, the sentences and paragraphs I wrote last week aren’t any better than the ones I wrote shortly after I began writing fiction eleven years ago. Like Sudnow perhaps, I have become better at sustaining longer coherent riffs, at “storying” across broader swathes of terrain. For me it’s not a matter of writing several good paragraphs or pages in a single burst, like a jazz improvisation. It’s more the ability to see coherent patterns across varied surfaces, to grab “wayful reachings” spanning whole chapters, sections, books.

It’s like the difference between conducting one scientific study at a time versus pursuing a coherent research program across many studies. Each study still has to be done, from beginning to end, and done well. Together the studies circle around an assemblage of linked thematic and material concerns rather than pursuing headlong the Grand Theory with monomaniacal linearity. Sometimes the circle expands; sometimes it contracts into a pinpoint focus. Individually, few of the studies approach brilliance, and some are downright pedestrian. But they all contribute to the larger program. Together they are the program.

11 September 2012

The New Neighbor

Filed under: Reflections — ktismatics @ 11:25 am

Here’s the local newspaper article with “photos courtesy Anne Doyle.”

…And now the big-city paper has picked up the story and pics.

…And now the Denver CBS affiliate is going to run the story on the 5 pm news, with pics.

…And here’s the video of the news story, with pics.

7 September 2012

Literature as Cognitive Pornography

Filed under: Fiction, Psychology — ktismatics @ 4:43 pm

Excerpted from Gregory Currie’s TLS commentary “Let’s pretend: Literature and the psychology lab”:

I do not say that the literary world is complacent about the mind. Literature loves the mysterious, the unexplained, the thought that there are deep facts not available to ordinary awareness. But it takes its lesson from the humanistic psychology we get from Freud, his rivals, successors, popularizers and distorters. That lesson has been read as an encouraging one. To understand the mind’s depth is hard and probably can’t be completed. But to make progress, we do not have to move far from literary modes of interrogation. Some myth-derived terminology, intense conversation, narrative construction: these are what we need, all amounting to a reassuringly qualitative approach. Above all, psychological depth is measured by increments of meaning: hidden motive and unconscious desire are the things we drill down into. And meaning is what literature thrives on…

One thing that psychological research these days does systematically is reduce the flow of meaning on which so much literature depends. Take that staple of literary psychology: character; character explanations are top predators in the hunt for meaning: show that someone’s action flows, not just from their wishes but from their character, and you have the best example there is, short of invoking the deity, of behaviour found to be meaningful. But a lot of evidence suggests that character plays a surprisingly insignificant role in human behaviour, which is highly sensitive to small, even trivial changes in circumstances. Certainly, our own ordinary treatment of the notion of character is close to paradoxical. We put down our own failings to circumstance, and those of others to bad character – an error as crazy as thinking that wherever I happen to be marks the centre of the universe…

Writers are rewarded in proportion to their success in capturing the bit of the market they target, and they do that by giving the people in that region what they want: thrills and the exercise of sentiment at the less demanding end, and an emotionally vivid sense of serious moral and psychological engagement at the other end (there’s a lot in between, of course). But satisfying either market (or some combination of or compromise between them) is not evidence that we have a serious claim to knowledge. Unless, that is, we have strong reason to think that readers’ emotional responses track the real causal relations between things. The evidence, however, is all against this idea. Emotions are good when it comes to forming and maintaining a relationship with your baby, but they are as easily triggered by sentimental ballads and horror movies. You might hope to find some special emotional reactions, highly sensitive to the truth about human psychology – let me know when you have found one.

[T]here is a reasonably well-evidenced relation between creativity and milder forms of schizotypy and bipolar disorder. The first of these is notable for a tendency to overinterpret the meaningfulness of things, as when a patient reads a veiled threat into a harmless conversational remark, while bipolar individuals cycle through periods of emotional distortion, alternating mania and depression. Dean Simonton, an expert on creativity, has suggested that people in the arts are more prone to such disorders than those in the sciences, and especially prone if they are operating at high levels of originality… Might great writers be better than average at using their imaginations? Perhaps they are better in some ways, sustaining imaginative activity more consistently and more productively. But it would be rash to think of them as resistant to the illusions that imagination creates for the rest of us…

Finally, note that creative writers often seem to be rather distanced from the reality of their subject – understanding between persons. “The creator rarely cares much for others” is the brutal summary of a survey in this area by Emma Policastro and Howard Gardner. It is striking that we tend to credit a certain group of individuals, prone, apparently, to over-interpreting the meaningfulness of things and to emotional disruption, with a deep insight into human nature and conduct, and are not discouraged by the fact that many of them seem to have little experience of or interest in the corresponding reality…

So here’s a suggestion about how to read the literary canon. Treat it as an exercise in pretence, accepting as a basic rule for the pretence the reliability of the point of view from which the work is given… The suggestion is that we give up the idea that what is going on in literature-land is true learning, and make do with the pleasures of pretended learning. Literature is starting to sound like cognitive pornography… At most, I am urging a clarification, a recognition that when we engage seriously with great literature we do not come away with more knowledge, better abilities, clarified emotions or deeper human sympathies. We do exercise capacities that let us explore a fascinating, demanding conception of what human beings are like – probably a wrong one.

2 September 2012

On the Doctrine of Silly Questions

Filed under: Fiction — ktismatics @ 11:31 am

Why, in Double Indemnity (Wilder, 1944), does the door to Walter Neff’s (Fred MacMurray) apartment open outwards? One answer is that, for some reason, the building was eccentrically designed. An entirely different kind of answer says that Wilder needed to place it that way so that Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) could not be seen in the corridor by Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson), and he needed to bring this about for dramatic effect. Seeking an answer of the first kind — an answer given from the internal perspective — we are asking what Kendall Walton calls a ‘silly question’. On the doctrine of silly questions, we ought not to seek an internal explanation when to do so would require us to elaborate improbable scenarios that distract us from the work’s real qualities and purpose, and where there is some evident external explanation, like the one just offered. Sometimes the identification of a question as ‘silly’ indicates, not so much a good dramatic reason, but an authorial intervention designed merely to raise our awareness of the artifice involved in narrative composition. Ivy Compton-Burnett gets rid of one set of characters by having them fall down a ravine — an intrinsically improbable event in the Home Counties, as Hilary Spurling observed. Compton-Burnett could have achieved the same effect in various, less-improbable ways, and chose this one, presumably, as a means of defying naturalistic technique. In such cases as these we are not to deny that the door opens outwards or that the characters fell down a ravine — we just should not expend energy on thinking about how, within the world of the story, this came about.

– Gregory Currie, Narratives & Narrators: A Philosophy of Stories (2010)

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