21 December 2012

Part of a Winter Solstice Story

Filed under: Fiction — ktismatics @ 9:37 am

Anyway, the Fenimores, Mr and Mrs Fenimore, I say, Mr Fenimore is really pioneering. He’s small and slim, but always looks as if he’s setting out on an adventure with an imaginary hiking stick in his hand.

I know the type, Paula says.

He takes over the after-school chess and judo clubs, I say. He starts up an after-school cookery class and takes a lot of flak for being a man who runs a cookery class. Mrs Fenimore helps. She always helps. She is always there helping, she’s a shy person who smiles a lot, while her husband, whom she looks at with eyes full of a sad, hopeful love, runs the school clubs, and not just those, he forms a neighbourhood wine club where our parents and the other neighbours who don’t have kids go to the Fenimores’ house to taste wine, Mrs Fenimore puts invitations through everybody’s door, smiling shyly if you look out the window and see her on her rounds. JACK AND SHIRLEY FENIMORE INVITE YOU TO A SPECIAL WINE TASTING. Loads of people go, all the neighbours go, my mother and father go, and they never usually go to anything. They’ve never done anything like it before. Then everybody talks about how nice the Fenimores are, how much they like the Fenimores’ house, car, garden, cutlery, design of plates. Then the Fenimores organize a theatre visit. JACK AND SHIRLEY FENIMORE INVITE YOU TO EDUCATING RITA AT THE EMPIRE. Everybody goes. JACK AND SHIRLEY FENIMORE INVITE YOU TO A MULLED WINE EXTRAVAGANZA. JACK AND SHIRLEY FENIMORE INVITE YOU ON A SOLSTICE ASSAULT ON BEN WYVIS.

Assault on Ben who? the man (I’ll call him Tom) says.

No, I say. Ben Wyvis is a mountain. Ben is a Scottish word for mountain.

Yeah, I know, I know that, Tom says.

You don’t know nothing, Paula says. You didn’t know what angora was a minute ago.

Anyway, I say. About twenty of us, who’ve all lived under Ben Wyvis for most of our lives and have never been up it, seven or eight adults and the rest kids my age, some younger, a couple of older ones, get into a minibus the Fenimores hire, because Mr Fenimore’s just got his minibus driving licence, and drive to the foot of Ben Wyvis to see how high up it we can get on the Sunday before Christmas, December 21st, a gloriously sunny Sunday, bright and crisp and blue-skied.

And then what happens?

Oh, okay, I get it, it’s a game, Tom says. Okay. You get to the top and you have the most fantastic party and you kiss your first boy up a romantic mountain on the shortest day of the year.

The minibus breaks down, Paula says. You never even leave the neighborhood.

Halfway up the mountain, I say, the sky changes colour from blue to black, and half an hour later it starts to snow…

– from “Present,” a short story by Ali Smith in her 2008 collection The First Person and Other Stories

18 December 2012

The Perfect Christmas Gift?

Filed under: Culture, Reflections — ktismatics @ 9:11 am

From the Denver Post:

This weekend set a record for all single-day background check submittals in Colorado for potential gun purchases, according to Colorado Bureau of Investigation officials.

The first day after news of one of the worst mass shootings in America, when a gunman killed 20 children and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., requests to buy guns in Colorado surged.

A total of 4,154 background checks were submitted on Saturday, said CBI spokeswoman Susan Medina. Those figures topped the previous greatest number of background checks on Black Friday this year, when 4,028 were processed.

The surge after the massacre surprised CBI officials, who said the office wasn’t adequately staffed to deal with demand. The situation soon created a backlog and increasingly long wait times for potential gun buyers waiting for check results.

So many background checks were submitted the process that normally usually takes minutes turned into wait times of more than 15 hours… By Sunday, the wait for a processed background check grew to 18 hours, Medina said. By Monday afternoon, it took longer than 21 hours for a check to be processed.

Richard Taylor, manager of Firing Line — which bills itself as Colorado’s largest gun shop and has been active since the mid-1980s — said the store had never been as busy as it was over the weekend, and times for a background check to be processed proved it.

“It’s just been crazy,” he said. “I’m surprised the system didn’t crash, it’s been so busy.”

The rush began Friday afternoon after news of the Sandy Hook shootings broke, Taylor said. Customers coming to the store speculated on how laws could change in the aftermath while browsing the store’s selections, he said.

Assault-style rifles were the most popular gun over the weekend, Taylor said.


15 December 2012

The Bisexual Allure of Objects

Filed under: Culture, Language, Psychology — ktismatics @ 2:14 pm

To test whether grammatical gender really does focus speakers of different languages on different aspects of objects, we created a list of 24 object names that had opposite grammatical genders in Spanish and German (half were masculine and half feminine in each language), and then asked a group of native Spanish speakers and another group of native German speakers to write down the first three adjectives that came to mind to describe each object on the list. The study was conducted entirely in English, and none of the participants were aware of the purpose of the study. The question was whether the grammatical genders of object names in Spanish and German would be reflected in the kinds of adjectives that Spanish and German speakers generated. All of the participants were native speakers of either Spanish or German, but both groups were highly proficient in English. Since the experiment was conducted in English (a language with no grammatical gender system), this is a particularly conservative test of whether grammatical gender influences the way people think about objects.

After all of the adjectives provided by Spanish and German speakers were collected, a group of English speakers (unaware of the purpose of the study) rated the adjectives as describing masculine or feminine properties of the objects. The adjectives were arranged in alphabetical order and were not identified as having been produced by a Spanish or a German speaker.

As predicted, Spanish and German speakers generated adjectives that were rated more masculine for items whose names were grammatically masculine in their native language than for items whose names were grammatically feminine. Because all object names used in this study had opposite genders in Spanish and German, Spanish and German speakers produced very different adjectives to describe the objects. For items that were grammatically masculine in Spanish but feminine in German, adjectives provided by Spanish speakers were rated more masculine than those provided by German speakers. For items that were grammatically masculine in German but feminine in Spanish, adjectives provided by German speakers were rated more masculine than those provided by Spanish speakers.

There were also observable qualitative differences between the kinds of adjectives Spanish and German speakers produced. For example, the word for “key” is masculine in German and feminine in Spanish. German speakers described keys as hard, heavy, jagged, metal, serrated, and useful, while Spanish speakers said they were golden, intricate, little, lovely, shiny, and tiny. The word for “bridge,” on the other hand, is feminine in German and masculine in Spanish. German speakers described bridges as beautiful, elegant, fragile, peaceful, pretty, and slender, while Spanish speakers said they were big, dangerous, long, strong, sturdy, and towering.

– Boroditsky, Schmidt, and Phillips (2003), “Sex, Syntax, and Semantics.”

10 December 2012

Pickpocket by Bresson, 1959

Filed under: Movies — ktismatics @ 11:01 am

pick lift

pick drop

pick hands

pick faces

9 December 2012

An Overheard Business Conversation

Filed under: Culture, Reflections — ktismatics @ 8:37 am

[This is the abridged version.]

“That’s so unfair/unprofessional/unjust/sleazy/mean/backstabbing/reprehensible!”

“It’s just business.”

5 December 2012

The Mailmen of Truth

Filed under: Fiction, Ktismata, Language — ktismatics @ 11:16 am

The unitary or dominant way of thinking is that of a generalized hermeneutics, a hermeto-logy… The unitary philosopher (the philosopher of Being, then of Difference) was always a representative, emissary, and civil servant of the Postal and Telecommunication ministry; a transmitter and decoder of hermeto-logical Difference; an agent of postal ingenuity. He exploits confusion, the ambiguity of the secret and of censure. Nearly all philosophers were the mailmen of truth, and they diverted the truth for reasons less to do with the secret that with authoritarian censure. Meaning, always more meaning! Information, always more information! Such is the mantra of hermeto-logical Difference, which mixes together truth and communication, the real and information. The most extreme version of this hermeto-logical ambiguity is the Hegelian and Nietzschean principle: the real is communicational, the communicational is real. it is in the omnipresent effectivity of communication that hermeto-logy itself deteriorates.

– François Laruelle, “The Truth According to Hermes,” 2010

This is important to me, but I can’t tell you why.

Okay fine, I’ll say a little bit about it. I just read The Infinities, a John Banville novel narrated primarily by the Greek god Hermes. He is the divine messenger, interpreting the gods to men and vice versa. But at some point Banville’s Hermeneutical narrator acknowledges that, for the gods, watching mortals engaging in the material world is like looking into a mirror: try to reach in, to make direct contact, and the mirror breaks. Even for this narrational Hermes, then, the world of men is sealed off from the gods. This got me thinking about the other Hermes, Trismegistus, the purported author of the ancient esoteric Hermetic Texts. Was he god or man? I don’t know. He is credited with using his alchemical knowledge to make an airtight seal on a glass tube, hence “hermetically sealed.” Plato alleged that some Egyptian temple contained a secret library of Hermetic texts dating back 9 thousand years. I don’t know much about his writings, but I presume that this other Hermes claimed access to hidden knowledge. Evidently Banville’s hermeneutical narrator didn’t have access to the hermetic keys for unlocking the material world.

It turns out that I recently finished writing a novel called The Courier, about a guy who transmits packages and messages. I didn’t explicitly link the titular character to either Hermes, but he is both. As carrier of messages he is a hermeneutician; as one who does not break the seals on the messages he carries he is hermetic.

Yesterday I happened to come across Laruelle’s essay; I know it was referenced by one of the theory blogs, either Agent Swarm or An Und Fur Sich or Ecology Without Nature or Archive Fire. Laruelle’s idea of the philosopher as general-purpose hermeneutician, as “mailman of truth,” suits my fictional Courier nicely. Earlier Laruelle writes:

Next to the unitary and authoritarian Hermes, there is another Hermes. He defines the essence of truth as a secret, but as a secret that in order to exist and to be made known needs none of the light of logos, none of the tricks of meaning, the strategies of interpretation, the horizons of the World, or the transcendent forms of appearance. Truth as secret exists autonomously prior to the horizontality of appearance. The secret enjoys an absolute precedence over interpretation; it is itself the Uninterpretable from which an interpretation emerges. It is the invisible that has never been visible because it is known from the outset to be invisible. The essence of the secret does not reside in a rupture or redrawing that de-limits presence via some kind of withdrawal or “retrocession.” That the secret has never appeared in the horizon of presence is simply an effect, the effect of its positive essence.

And that works for my Courier too, in his hermetic mode: some parcels can never be opened. Not that I necessarily believe that Laruelle’s discussion of truth is itself true…

2 December 2012

Holy Motors by Carax, 2012

Filed under: Movies — ktismatics @ 6:06 pm

Getting my own numerological obsession out of the way… Early in the film Oscar asks Céline, his chauffeuse, if he has a lot of appointments scheduled for the day. Nine, she tells him. But at this point Oscar has already had two appointments. So I counted them myself:

1. Hotel portal into movie theater
2. Exec leaving big white house with children and guards on the roof
3. Beggar woman
4. Point-light CGI dance…

motors bend

5. Beauty and the beast at photo shoot…

motors eyes

6. Father retrieving daughter from party
7. Entr’acte with accordions…

8. Murder at warehouse
9. Murder at cafe
10. Old man dying in bed
11. Musical interlude with Kylie Minogue…

motors roof

12. Home with chimps

One could split a couple of these appointments into two separate scenes, but each of the 12 requires Oscar to assume a different persona. Between appointments he is Oscar, riding in the limo getting ready for his next appointment. But is this the “real” Oscar? Or as limo-rider is he again playing a role? Surely he is, since it’s this role — Oscar as performer doing a variety of gigs — that holds the whole movie together. Make it 13 appointments then.

But what about the last scene, the titular scene, when the holy motors, the limos, are all gathered at the garage? Oscar isn’t in this scene, but like the interior of the limo, the garage is a setting that frames the whole movie. The cars are lamenting the lost age of the “visible machines” like themselves, the “holy motors,” replaced now by the unholy and invisible machines of CGI and the backroom banking mechanisms where the movie deals get done and the appointments get put on the books. We infer that Oscar too is a holy motor, a visible machine, a live actor, and that his time too is coming to an end. So this nostalgic garage, populated by no living humans, is a kind of mausoleum. We’ve had scenes shot in graveyards, we’ve seen Oscar killing his own double, twice, we’ve seen Kylie either suicided or playing a suicide, so this comically mournful scene of reminiscing limos is the future unreality toward which the rest of the movie points.

So let’s make it 14 appointments, the last one with Oscar absent except in postmortem spirit. And voilà, we have the fourteen Stations of the Cross, with Oscar playing the role of Jesus and the garage playing the tomb, the Fourteenth Station. And the limos are like the angels in the tomb, ready to bring Oscar back from the dead again tomorrow. I believe it was the Entr’acte that tipped off this idea for me, since it’s played inside a cathedral like a liturgical procession, and all of those old French churches have the Stations lining their walls.

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