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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Taking sides in ASOIAF

If ASOIAF is indeed structured like Ragnarok, on which ASOIAF is obviously based, what are the two forces that will clash in the end of days? Given the complexity of the struggles in the series, it's hard to believe there are only two sides in this apocalyptic conflict. But, two is the smallest number possible in a conflict, so it's best to start from this assumption.

Participants on Side 1 with decreasing certainty: Dragons, all Targaryens (excluding Blackfyre offspring?), Grand Maester Marwyn, magic, red priests (Melisandre, Moqorro, and Thoros), the god of fire R'hllor, maybe the reborn Azor Ahai (Jon Snow?).

Participants on Side 2 with decreasing certainty: mainstream maesters in the Citadel (who may have caused the extinction of dragons), House of Lannister (especially Jaime), by extension Brienne?.

If we go by the Ragnarok theory and assign the role of Tyr to Jaime Lannister and Fanrir to Bran Stark, then all Stark children would be on Side 1. That seems to tip the balance a bit too much to Side 1, as clearly the Children of the Forest and the Three-Eyed Crow would clearly be on the same side as the Starks.

One wild card so far is the Night's King and his army of the Others. It could be on either Side 1 or Side 2. Logically they would be on the opposite side of Dragons, ie, ice and fire are opposites. However, an argument can be made for their being on the same side as the Children and their invasion threatens Lannisters' rule. Or perhaps they are on neither side and is a force onto itself.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Duke, Capote, and Thoughts on Biography

There is something in the format of the conventional biography that leaves me unsatisfied, like an itch that refuses to be scratched. Teachout's biography of Duke Ellington certainly left that impression on me. Re-watching the biopic "Capote" again reminded me of this thought. The director of the movie, Bennett Miller, seems to have a fascination with real characters and his two subsequent movies were also biopics of sort: Moneyball and Foxcatcher (about the Dupont heir who murdered a wrestler).

While re-watching the movie, I looked up some stuff about Truman Capote's own stab at nonfiction in the form of "In Cold Blood" and discovered (perhaps not surprisingly) that he had made fabrications of his own and afterward vehemently defended the veracity of his accounts. In In Cold Blood, he is said to have "invented" a form of writing nonfiction, in which the author recounts real people's actions and thoughts known to only themselves, as if the author were with them in those past moments. Should I believe the author? That is the question. Indeed I am usually suspicious. The author can only base such narrative on his subject's confession. There may have been witnesses to someone's action, but the thoughts and motives are entirely invisible. In recalls, the power of deception and self-deception cannot be underestimated. Everyone is an unreliable narrator of his own history, especially his own thoughts.

Given the vast capability of self-deception, the human mind is by nature and by default untrustworthy. Autobiography is in many ways even more unreliable than biography. The problem is that the extent of deception, intentional or not, is unknown. Perhaps my problem is that I carry an expectation that I should learn something about the subject I'm reading about, but the biography leaves me with more questions than answers and a sense that I'm no closer to the subject than I was before I started reading. Not that I didn't learn a thing or two about Duke Ellington's limitations as a composer from the biography, but an assessment of his place in musical history is hardly what I wanted to know in the first place.

Sometimes I wonder if a person is able to truly understand another at all. When the end was near, Maugham's secretary found him frantically burning his private letters. Perhaps he needn't have bothered?

With biographies I remain unsatisfied, but perhaps that is inevitable.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Andrew Wyeth Exhibition: Windows

Wind From the Sea
National Gallery of Art 最近在展出 Wyeth 作品。前些年在费城的时候看过很全的 Wyeth 作品展,但是记忆中仿佛没这次这么震撼,也不知是因为年纪和心情不同了呢,还是因为题材不同。Wyeth 的画至少有两类,有人的和没人的。这次展出的全是没人的,而且仅限于含“窗”元素的画。基本上他的所有的无人画都非常特别,有人的画反而没那么强烈的意向和震撼。除了窗子之外,他常常画挂在那里的衣服(尤其是大衣和睡衣),扔在那里的靴子,旧的,有历史的,既暗示了人,但又点明人的“不在”。

这次展出的画很多是他在邻居好友 Olson 姐弟俩的农场取材,农场和农屋相当破败,画中有很多油漆剥落的窗框和门板,快要散架的家具,破成一条一条的窗帘,之类的物件。色调大多很暗淡,少数画相对明亮,但是总体感觉很悲凉。总之,让我联想到的都是 shadows, death, decay 这里的词儿。

展览的文字介绍说,Wyeth 被艺术评论家定性为过气的写实派。美国画家仿佛玩抽象有点力不从心,除了 Jackson Pollock ,其他有名的抽象画家基本都是欧洲移民。有点影响的美国现代画家都是在写实上另找出路。Roy Lichtenstein 玩漫画,Andy Warhol 玩照片/名人,Edward Hopper 看着象杂志插图。不是说他们不好或不够高级,而是指出他们都选择了非抽象的道路。

Wyeth 也是通过写实主义打通了另一条路。他说自己的画表面上是实物,实际上是结构和线条。从这个角度来看就可以发现他的画的结构常常跟 landscape 或者静物画的传统不太一样,切入的角度不太传统,直线条远远多过弧线,而且常常使用门或窗代表的框架切割画面。

By presenting a sort of intermediate form between realism and abstract, he seems to make an argument about why abstract arm works on people. In the meaningless and unrecognizable lines and shapes and colors we recognize faces, objects, animals, and other familiar items. It really would be meaningless if our human brain is incapable of seeing a face in the cloud or a dancing man in a piece of root. Abstraction works only because it suggests something real and remembered in our mind. So here it is.

And then he goes one step further. His semi-real world/semi-abstraction hit me with a visceral force more violent than either realism or abstraction, and my gut reactions were primarily dark and frosty, such as sadness, loss, apprehension, mystery, and a vague horror. It seems to argue that seeing a human face or a scene of human action on the canvas is as distancing and safe as seeing lines and shapes and blocks of color. Somehow the imagination is most tickled when you suggest but do not show the presence of people. Perhaps it's his experimentation with the power of suggestion. The effect is eerily powerful.

Wyeth's vision has been unrecognized and misunderstood by critics, perhaps because of his choice to stay rural, away from New York City and from self-promotion.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Julius Caesar

Just finished reading the play. It's very gripping. Yes, gripping as a thriller.

Of course even in his time the audience already knew Caesar was stabbed to death on the Ides of March, but the stabbing was not the climax of the play. Heck, Caesar isn't even the main character, despite the title. No, the lead is Brutus, only Brutus, the guy who chose wrong and paid for it with death, and we are made to feel that it wasn't his fault. By the time he asked his deputy to hold the sword so that he could run on it and kill himself, I had that tingle that reminded me of reading the chapter in which Ned Stark was beheaded. Oh you good, noble, stupid, heroic, exasperating man! Damn you, Shakespeare! 

Sometimes I wonder if he actually preferred writing historical plays than the more conventional comedies and tragedies. In historical plays he could fully unleash his power of ... AMBIGUOUS CHARACTERS! In historical plays he was much less bound by the labels of good guys, bad guys, and a moral to take home with ya conventions and expectations. He could do whatever he wanted with history, except the recent history that would affect his relationship with the Crown. The symmetry of madness and revenge in Titus Andronicus. The hero we despise in Coriolanus. No wonder history is the place to learn the real nature of people. No wonder those who immersed in history (like Shakespeare and GRRM) can become truly ruthless to stale sentimentality. 

I often think of Coriolanus recently, and civilization's relationship with violence and war, and masculinity and it symbols, and of course "the people", aka "the mob" sometimes. "The mob" also looms large in Julius Caesar. One of the most poignant and scary and funny --- all at once --- scenes is Mark Antony manipulating public opinion. It gave me the chills. What's more, he mocks them but he never judges! Who does that? Who else can do that?! 

On to sequel, Antony and Cleopatra. 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Ripper Street

The most distinctive feature of the series is, oddly enough, the dialogue. With Cockney accent, characters talk like ... no, not Shakespeare, but, uh, the King James Bible. The effect is very weird! I can't get used to it. Everyone talks like that, even the American gangster/surgeon/medical examiner and the prostitutes. So weird!

Although the plotting is pretty weak, it does have some interesting elements, mostly related to technology of the time, ranging from moving photographs to highly efficient explosives and poisons. Besides I can listen to Mcfadyen read the telephone directory for hours (or the King James Bible).

Also a lot of familiar faces from the Game of Thrones series: Jerome Flynn (Bronn), Iain Glen (Jorah Mormont), Michael McElhatton (Roose Bolton), and Ian McElhinney (Barristan Selmy).

In Season 1 Episode 7, a whiff of Deadwood suddenly breezed into the series, which makes me wonder if the writers were inspired by Milch's profane poetry (rather than King James), scrubbed mostly clean for BBC.

And who saw we in the very last episode in Season 1? Hodor! Hodor! Hodor! (And he speaks! Full sentences!)

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