Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Ingmar, Not Ingrid

I checked our Quickflix queue yesterday morning and was surprised to see that they'd sent us Persona, despite it being about twenty places from the head of the queue. Just hours later it was announced that Ingmar Bergman had died.

The other DVDs they've sent are After Hours and Ghost Dog. I hope Martin Scorsese and Jim Jarmusch have their affairs in order.

UPDATE (1/8): This is getting weird. The last DVD we bought? The Passenger.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Publishers in book rejection shock!

Everybody knows that publishing houses are staffed exclusively by idiots. To prove it, I recently copied out the first tablet of the Epic of Gilgamesh - in the original Akkadian but retitled as The Frivolity of Beagles and with the character name "Gilgamesh" changed to "John Tesh" - and posted it off to a bunch of publishers. Shockingly, not one publisher recognised this classic of world literature. One respondent suggested I read Janet Evanovich's How I Write: Secrets of a Bestselling Author to learn how to "inject some sass" into my story. Another commended my "earthy voice" but found the story dated and confusing. Still another admitted that he hadn't bothered to read my submission at all: "Might I suggest that you make use of a word processor next time? Chiseled clay tablets are unwieldy, and, I might add, hurt like hell when dropped on one's foot. Also, a living language would be nice."

The wholesale rejection of "my" book is disturbing on two counts. First, it defies belief that people employed to read manuscripts for publishers aren't able to immediately identify any given work from any point in the history of literature, even if that work has been mocked up to look like a new, unpublished submission by an unknown author. Second, it demonstrates the lack of taste that is endemic in the publishing industry. These ignorant, clerk-type people with no literary sensibilities are being allowed to act as gatekeepers, and it is impossible to get quality material through. Not only did they knock back Gilgamesh - it's only been a classic for 4000 years! - but they've also rejected my original thriller The Field of Black Cabbages: A Detective Philip Spanx Novel. Philistines, the lot of them.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Deathly Hollow

I don't give a good goddamn one way or the other about Harry Potter, but I do enjoy a spot of wilful contrarianism. The Guardian arts blog could use more posts like this one in which Nicholas Lezard throws stones at a bee hive:
Here, from page 324 of The Order of the Phoenix, to give you a typical example, are six consecutive descriptions of the way people speak. "...said Snape maliciously," "... said Harry furiously", " ... he said glumly", "... said Hermione severely", "... said Ron indignantly", " ... said Hermione loftily". Do I need to explain why that is such second-rate writing?

If I do, then that means you're one of the many adults who don't have a problem with the retreat into infantilism that your willing immersion in the Potter books represents. It doesn't make you a bad or silly person. But if you have the patience to read it without noticing how plodding it is, then you are self-evidently someone on whom the possibilities of the English language are largely lost.

This is the kind of prose that reasonably intelligent nine-year-olds consider pretty hot stuff, if they're producing it themselves; for a highly-educated woman like Rowling to knock out the same kind of material is, shall we say, somewhat disappointing.

Luckily there are plenty of commenters on hand to refute Lezard's charge of a Potter-led "retreat into infantilism":

I mean COME ON PEOPLE for Christ's sake!!! Nicholas Lizard's just jealous of JK Rowling cos he couldn't write an exciting book that people love!! I bet the books he likes are really boring like Dickens and Shakespear.
She provides fun and excitement for kids and adults alike and what's wrong with that???!

And anyone who wants to 'review' and 'criticise' her books is just jealous and sad and you should just GET OUT MORE!!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Very Little Gravitas Indeed

Despite the shrill outcry from the usual fashionable pundits and professional whingers, the controversial British documentary Down the Gravity Well was broadcast on the ABC last night. Subtitled "Exposing the lies that are keeping you down", the film argues that the theory of gravity is scientifically unsound and has been foisted upon the world by a self-interested cabal of scientists, politicians and airline industry figures. According to the film's director, former pogo stick manufacturer Marvin Bamyasi, "Gravity is the Big Lie of the modern era. It's really insidious the way kids are indoctrinated with this 'what goes up, must come down' ideology all the way through school. No wonder so few adults are willing - or able - to question the lies of the 'Newtonian Nazis'."

The ABC ought to be commended for screening this important documentary. It was thrilling to watch as one by one the sacred cows of the gravity affirmation movement were beheaded, skinned, butchered, and minced into cheap burger meat. I have long argued that gravity is merely ghost story for grown-ups, designed to drum up funding for scientists and force the rest of us to use costly forms of mechanised transport when in fact we might, were we to ignore the nay-sayers and embrace a gravity-free existence, simply float through the air like so many dandelion spores. Down the Gravity Well makes a similar point and backs it up with science so hard you could bash a gravity enthusiast's head against it until he (or she - some of the worst ones are shes) bled grey stuff from his (or her) nostrils.

To give one example, gravity "experts" claim that the gravity exerted by Earth (the name of the "planet" so-called "scientists" allege we inhabit) can be expressed as 9.8 m/s2, where 9.8 is kilometres per hour and m/s is something just as unlikely and "sciency"-sounding. Yet Bamyasi points out that even in the models used by gravity affirmationists this rate of acceleration varies depending on lattitude. It seems even the "orthodox" "scientific" "community" is riddled with doubts about the equation 9.8 m/s2, yet they have the audacity to expect the rest of us to abide by its dictates whenever we wish to fall from a ladder or catch a sack full of anvils that has been tossed from a ninth story balcony.

Down the Gravity Well is equally strong on the political dimension of gravity affirmation. In one pivotal scene, Bamyasi interviews Brian McFadden, founder, executive director, research co-ordinator, OH&S officer, and janitor of the influential think tank The Brian McFadden Institute. According to McFadden, "Gravity affirmationists are consumed by a hatred of positive vertical movement. They cannot bear seeing something go up that does not immediately come back down to their own pitiful level. The fundamental tenet of gravity affirmation is that you and I and that painting on the wall and this microphone and so on are all subject to and complicit in gravity and therefore the same in some fundamental way. You can draw your own conclusions about the implicit politics of the theory, although I'll give you a hint: communism. The fact that gravitational influence is extended to encompass non-human and indeed non-organic objects is further cause for concern. It is almost pantheistic, an irrational religious substrata to the movement's more explicit social and political goals."

A strong argument well made, but sadly the film's message was blunted by the ABC's attempt at "balance". In his interview with Bamyasi, Lateline's Tony Jones came across as belligerent and biased. At one point he challenged Bamyasi to defy the so-called "laws of gravity" without assistance. When Bamyasi proved incapable of doing so, Jones practically crowed. Yet one suspects a set-up. Bamyasi has given demonstrations of his disregard for "gravity" on several occasions, including an unassisted flight over the Grand Canyon that was filmed for a cable tv special. Plainly, his credentials are not in doubt, so the question becomes: was artificial gravity produced in the ABC studios in order to humiliate Bamyasi? Were the filmmaker's trousers stapled to the chair? Next Jones will be telling us that Bamyasi didn't make the Statue of Liberty vanish, or that he isn't married to a German supermodel! Such are the delusions of the chattering classes.

Despite Jones' antics, I reiterate that the ABC deserves every plaudit for broadcasting Down the Gravity Well. Bamyasi's film is doubtless unpalatable to many, but then the truth often is. The director's next project, a documentary refuting the existence of the Atlantic Ocean, promises to be just as contrarian, and just as powerful. One hopes that the ABC will again put its ingrained prejudices aside and allow the truth some airtime. One also hopes that Down the Gravity Well has dealt the cult of gravity affirmation a fatal blow. I write this sitting at my desk, weighed down by centuries of superstition and propaganda. Perhaps you, however, are reading it while floating around your room - around your city, your world. Perhaps you are free. And I'll bet the air really is better up there.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Book Review

The book in question is about eight inches tall and five inches wide with some three hundred and twelve pages of text, plus sundries, contained between its covers. The front cover features, along with the title of the work and its author’s name or pseudonym, a depiction of the silhouette of either an owl or a hunch-back against a grey stone wall. In the owl’s (or hunch-back’s) hand is a revolver, possibly (spoiler alert!) service issue. The back cover features an author photograph that I elected to cover with masking tape before I commenced reading.

The book is written with consummate competence. Characters are introduced and described, conversations take place, chapters begin and end with calming regularity. The main character, for whom the book is named, is skilfully drawn, although his hanging and quartering leave much to be desired. The story is well plotted and not once does the author give away the surprise ending – not even at the end.

In comparison with other recent major works, the present book is slightly less good than the one about the suburban family who are superficially perfect but in reality are a seething mess of resentment and hatred whose empty lives are emblematic of the modern human condition let’s all kill ourselves; on the other hand, the present book is slightly more good than the one about the guy who is middle-aged and going through a crisis that mainly involves having an affair with a younger woman and experiencing extended sequences of remembering stuff from his youth.

If I had one complaint about this book, this paragraph would be several sentences shorter. Despite its well-writteness, the book’s success is undermined by its author’s insistence on showing off. Time and again the reader is confronted by incomprehensible foreign words and phrases (“The maitre’d handed me a menu”; “Zis is – how you say? – most désagréable”; “Nine!”). Then there are the in-jokes and word-plays, the most egregious example being chapter eight which is written entirely in semaphore. In addition, the book exhibits a lack of heart, of soul. If only the author had followed the advice offered by his book’s title, this may have been the masterpiece of the season!

That said, the author is obviously talented and one can only imagine what his future holds. I personally envisage a steady rise to moderate popularity and critical success followed by a sudden but not unexpected fade to a lower tier where he will toil ceaselessly and fruitlessly until finally cirrhosis of the liver or some other pathetic writers’ ailment delivers him from this vale of tears into the ever-loving robéd arms of God the Almighty. But that’s just me. Maybe he’ll just win the Booker and have a whole bunch of wives.

In any event, the present book is certainly readable, provided one has the necessary level of English comprehension and a functioning eye or two. While not quite a rollicking good read it is nevertheless thought-provoking and not all of the thoughts it provokes are about the things one could be doing if one were not engaged in reading the book. It is above all a warm book, especially when ignited with the aid of matches or a cigarette lighter, and one whose wisdom and joy will fill the reader’s heart, especially if the reader happens to fall prey to an insane scientist bent on creating a grotesque human-book hybrid. In summary, this is the perfect summer read, although please note that this assessment is based on a simulated summer reading environment and may not reflect the book’s performance under actual summer reading conditions.

The Dark Side of the Moonie Wedding

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

New, funny ones

Woody Allen has a new book out. Titled Mere Anarchy, the collection has a lot to live up to considering that Allen's Complete Prose is one of the funniest books ever published. In fact it's three of the funniest books ever published.

In other news, a bunch of my/your favourite bloggers/people you've never heard of have teamed up on a new blog, Snarkeology. Go and give them some love.