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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Daenerys Targaryen and Elizabeth I

From Dany's point of view, Daario is perfect for her at this particular point in her life. Setting aside his seductive looks and the overt physical attraction between them, he is in fact an extremely nonaggressive man. He is aggressive in battle but not at all interested in politics or power. His sexual pursuit of her is completely devoid of any political ambition. He doesn't want anything more than sex from her. Can we say the same for any man around Dany? No one except the Queensguard Barristan.

A young woman in the position of power in a patriarchal society is sitting on a barrel of dynamite. The subplot of Dany in Meereen, if we put aside the hot-button slavery thing, is clearly modeled on Elizabeth I. (It's so obvious that I have not recognized it until now.)

Let's not forget the motif of ASOIAF: Why would this person do that person's bidding? Why would anyone obey another person? When it comes down to it, Daenerys Targaryen is no more than a 13-year-old girl with three dragons she can't even control and eight thousand unsullied soldiers. Why would anyone do her bidding? Because her dragons would roast you if you run away? Why would anyone listen to and obey her? Because she can pay you gold and gems? Dany is surrounded by men, all of whom think they can do this job better than she. The only thing standing between them and her throne (a mere slab of stone) is her dragons and the tenuous bloodline that isn't worth much nowadays. Even if they let her sit there, a man can gain real power and rule through her via marriage.

Obviously, that was why a lot of men wanted to marry Elizabeth and she played the virgin game brilliantly to keep herself in power. It didn't matter who she married. Any man she would have married --- no matter how loyal and devoted and submissive he appeared --- would instantly become a threat to her, simply by the fact that he is a man and she is a woman and everyone would obey him more readily.

Anyone sitting on the throne is at risk, especially when love and sentiment and sex are mixed into the business. Even for men. Some Chinese emperors were known to execute their concubines as soon as they gave birth to a son, because they feared that the mothers would grab too much power through their sons, as history had warned with examples.

Queens are inevitably even more vulnerable to the influence and control of their lovers and husbands. This is extremely dangerous. This is why Daario is perfect, while Jorah Mormont bad news from the start (Robert Dudley anyone?). Most readers don't seem to understand this issue, including the TV screenwriters, and interpret these relationships through the rosy lense of "luuuurrve." This is naive. Kings and Queens do not stay in power because they trust people around them who just happen to be completely loyal at heart and madly in love with them. When it's about a king, people at least vaguely realize that power and politics are at play. When the story is about a girl queen, all they can think about is "Who loves her more?"

(Oh and BTW I am totally turned on by that thing Daario does with his dagger. The TV Daarios are completely missing the point.)

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Trope

This is one trope that I thought I would not get tired of, but right now I'm afraid it might be wearing thin for me, after seeing the thousandth police detective/inspector/lawyer/other kinds of crime solver with a completely screwed up life. He works too much. He has an addiction (drinking, gambling, sex, drugs). He is self destructive. He alienates family and friends around him. He has a boatload of psychological baggage and/or memories of trauma. Solving crime is the only escape and redemption ...

I have read and seen so many of them. From Kurt Wallander to Harry Hole to Clive Owen in Second Sight to Jane Tennyson in Prime Suspect. Lydia Chin might be a well-balanced young woman but she is plagued by an unrequited pining for her hopelessly dysfunctional partner Bill Smith. My God there are so many of them. I just finished the Australian series Rake. It's pretty well written, but almost entirely focused on the lead character's self-created problems. 

The only detectives with a happy family are Maigret and Ray Curtis in Law and Order --- Wait, even Curtis had a brief moment of crisis brought on by his excessively gorgeous looks. But at least he reconciled with his wife. 

Ah, right now I appreciate Law and Order so much for keeping the recurrent characters' personal lives complete off screen! So what if Jack McCoy has no time to date any woman outside of the DA's office. I don't care! I don't want to hear about it! Thank you. 

Connexions: Star Wars and GRRM, etc.

A few weeks ago when I tried to find some analysis of the mysterious and baffling novella "And Seven Times Never Kill Man!" by GRRM, Google turned up a series of articles about how George Lucas "stole" an illustration for this story to create his Chewbacca. The case originates from and is convincingly argued here by Binary Bonsai.

The illustration on the cover of Analog (July 1975) was by the famed sci fi artist John Schoenherr, who also did the extremely influential illustrations for Dune.

Star War's art designer Ralph McQuarrie mentioned being given a sci fi magazine cover by Lucas, which significantly helped define the image of Chewbacca during the pre-production for SW.

Of course, besides the appearance, there is probably no thematic correlation between Chewbacca the character and GRRM's novella. It couldn't anyway, since the script for SW was probably finished when the novella was published. However, Elio Garcia, the host of and the authoritative living encyclopedia of all things ASOIAF, noted an obvious parallel between the story and a key plot in Return of the Jedi. (Alas, Elio is not an encyclopedia of SW and mistakenly called Ewoks as Wookies.)

The story of Ewoks strongly echos that of the Jaenshi in "And Seven Times Never Kill Man!" The Jaenshi is a kind of intelligent non-human species living on a jungle planet. The illustration by Scheonherr above is a Jaenshi.

Analog describes the story as "realities of a very rigid society conflicting with what looks like a pushover primitive tribal society; and we find out where the strength really lies." Yes, the Jaenshi don't have screechers, laser handguns, or blast cannons. They are clearly based on all the pushover tribes that have been colonized throughout human history. Such encounters of civilizations have served as the inspiration for many such stories. No wonder the story resonated with Lucas. I agree with Elio Garcia that Lucas was probably influenced GRRM's story, consciously or unconsciously, when he wrote ROTJ's Ewok story line, which was written in the early 1980s.

Perhaps ROTJ tries to rewrite GRRM's bleak story and fulfill our own dream of the underdogs beating the big bad wolf. I can understand this urge. The same routine is recycled once again a couple of decades later by James Cameron in Avatar. Of course, Avatar also more substantially ripped off Disney's animated movie "Pocahontas", as illustrated by someone apparently named Matt Bateman. But still. The connection to ROTJ and Ewoks is there too.

I do wonder if Cameron has read "Seven Times" though, because Avatar also lifts a certain mystical "collective consciousness" that was hinted at in the story. OK, perhaps such a concept need not come from GRRM. Isaac Asimov described such a planetary consciousness in his Foundation series known as Gaia (written in the early 1980s). This series eventually merged with his Robot series. Similar ideas may be widespread in the sci fi community. In GRRM's story, however, the planetary consciousness is not at all clearly described. In fact he worked really heard to conceal it. Still, in Avatar the natives prayed to and connect to the trees, which is not unlike the Jaenshi priests rubbing their godly pyramids. 

Anyway, regardless, all of these examples of a non-human and possibly collective consciousness represented in different ways by GRRM, Asimov, or Cameron (but not Lucas) may have come from an original source. The oldest source I can find is Solaris by the Polish conceptual sci fi writer Stanislaw Lem. Solaris was written in 1961 but translated to English only in 1970. Surely at least GRRM and Asimov would have been exposed to it. The mysticism in Solaris in some ways must have also influenced GRRM. Comparatively, however, GRRM is more earthly and humanistic. In 1975 he was not yet 30 and I doubt he can ever be as detached or philosophical as Lem is. His satire of militarism, religious fanaticism, and egoism is evident in "Seven Times." He must have been thinking of the Vietnam War and the conservative political forces at the time. (Ironically, 40 years and a few more wars later, the American conservatives remain much the same, thus keeping the story as fresh as it was then.)

Both GRRM and Lucas were of the Vietnam War generation, so it might be another reason the story left such an impression on the latter.

On a side note, although we humans instinctively reject the idea of a collective consciousness outside of our own consciousness, how could we know for sure? Much convincing argument has been made about the illusion of free will. If the Greenseer is able to reach anywhere in space and time and all creatures and minds, how could we ever tell what is our own mind and what is that planted by the Greenseer with the old gods? (Readers of ASOIAF would get this reference.)

Friday, September 26, 2014

GRRM, Taoism, Ragnarok

One of George RR Martin's novellas has haunted me since I read it first. Well, actually, most of the novellas of his have haunted me with some specific ideas or an indefinable feeling.

I decided to re-read this novella, "And Seven Time Never Kill Man!" (title referencing the Law of the Jungle by Kipling). I was completely baffled by the mysterious events that seemed to end in no ending when I read it. Then I read an analysis of the novella online by cantuse, who compares some elements and themes with those in ASOIAF. He makes a lot of sense and I am glad it finally helps me get into the story, including the ending.

If cantuse is correct that the Old Gods and Children of the Forest are analogous to the forces like the Jaenshi and their pyramids in ASOIAF, it would then confirm another interpretation of ASOIAF (by Dorian the Historian) based on Ragnarok of the Norse mythology, which claims that the central struggle in ASOIAF is not the various noise of wars, kings, dragons, and politics, but rather between the giants/jotnar/old gods and the gods/men/modern world. And the endgame is Ragnarok, in which the world ends in ice and fire and sinks into the sea.

Also coincidentally, both cantuse and Dorian pointed out from two separate perspectives (Taoism and Norse mythology, respectively) that the struggle is not one of good versus evil in the conventional and Christian sense. Both Taoism and Norse mythology refuse to label one as desirable or good, and the opposite undesirable or bad. Rather, the struggle and the opposition between forces are what makes the world go around and change and maintain a dynamic balance. Yin and Yang. After nearly all gods and men die in the apocalypse, or rather Ragnarok, a new world subsequently emerge from the sea. In ASOIAF, the last book is titled, A Dream of Spring.

The Christian apocalypse is a close-ended conclusion. God arrives on earth from heaven. All dead are resurrected, and the last judgment is passed on everyone. Souls then go to their respective destinations for eternity. The Taoist and Norse apocalypse, however, are cyclical, not unlike Buddhism (although I don't know as much about it). Life must emerge from and coexist with death, and light with darkness. They are two sides of the same coin and cannot be separated from each other.

The Others are widely assumed to be "evil" by the fact that they invade and kill humans, but GRRM gave some hint that they may be no more than a natural phenomenon or another species of the old world. He also said that the frozen wilderness beyond the Wall is vast, bigger than Canada. Natural forces are not evil or good except in man's mind.

I highly doubt whether GRRM will make this ambivalence explicit in the ending of ASOIAF, but I am increasingly convinced that it is what he intends.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Shakespeare & Oedipus Variations

Sometimes I wonder if Shakespeare was the real inventor of psychoanalysis and Sigmund Freud just kind of repackaged his insights and sold to the world.

I have always found Freud's argument that Hamlet is driven by Oedipus Complex unconvincing. In fact, Freud's argument that Oedipus is driven by Oedipus Complex is pretty unconvincing, too. But then I am not a son, so what do I know?

But I can't help but pick up a related but different type of parent-child tension in Shakespeare's work: Father-daughter relationship, namely the father's possessiveness of his daughter and jealousy toward her husband. To prove this point, I have numerous examples from the plays, and every one of them is a lot more solid than Hamlet's desire for his mother.

1. Othello. The play opens with Desdemona's father, Brabantio, raging on the news that she had just eloped --- in the middle of the night! --- to marry the Moor. He was so angry that he asked the Duke of Venice to punish Othello for his unlawful seduction. When that didn't work (because Venice needed Othello to defend the city against enemies), Brabantio parted with his new son-in-law with a bitter warning: My daughter has betrayed me. She's gonna do the same to you some day.

2. King Lear. Cordelia was his favorite, as everyone knew. As soon as she said, once I get married, I will put all my love in my husband, no longer in you, he flew into a rage and threw her out of the house. Well, can it be any more obvious what the problem is? 

3. Hamlet. Polonius kept warning Ophelia to stay away from that rascal Hamlet. He may be the prince but he's bad news. In a most overtly suggestive scene, Hamlet killed Polonius. We are led to believe it was an accident, but given the way they both had been fighting over Ophelia, a deadly confrontation would probably have been inevitable.

4.The Merchant of Venice. OK, here Shylock's anger and revenge were mostly directed at Antonio rather than the guy with whom his daughter eloped. Nevertheless, between the money-related hatred and the loss of his daughter, the latter seems to the real reason that tipped him over the edge.

The pattern is so obvious that it's becoming a motif. Shakespeare was clearly preoccupied with the sticky and uncomfortable position fathers might be in when their daughters come of age. Isn't it curious and revealing that Freud himself theorized that it is the child who develops a sexual attraction to the parents, but never mentioned the sexual rivalry fathers have against their sons-in-law and mothers have against their daughters-in-law? Especially when we consider the rampant family problem for daughters in Victorian societies.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Finished Othello

The final two acts are so intense that I stayed up till 1:30 am to finish it and couldn't sleep for hours afterward. OMG. Don't read any abridged, watered-down summary of Othello. Read the real thing. I was out of breath. It's a thriller. A great thriller even by today's standard. The climax, yikes, is as fast paced and heart pounding as them car chases and explosions in a Henning Mankell or Jo Nesbo thriller. Considering that we are told right from the start who the murderer is and exactly how he's done it, the climax is pretty mind blowing. 

I will need to write and think some more to sort out my thoughts about it. One of my immediate impression though is how much sex it has. Nobody does it on stage, of course, but there is an unusual amount of naked discussion and allusion to sex and the psychological minefield around it. So intense. So fucking intense. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Reading Othello (TBD)

I am only in the middle of Act 2, but interesting impressions are taking shape. This is fascinating. I must think on it some more.

And, of course, the Othello-Iago pair of characters are psychologically almost the same as the Ned Stark-Petyr Baelish pair. I'd bet all ten of my toes that George R R Martin based his version on Willie's version, which is another indication that he really, really read the plays, not just read the summaries of the plays. Martin's knowledge and understanding of Shakespeare is clearly first hand, because all the common summaries and judgment of major Shakespearean plays out there are completely useless and irrelevant and wrong. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

'Splainin Shakespeare

Incidentally, I did some explaining of Shakespeare last weekend during lunch with Mr. S. He enjoyed watching the plays with me. "For example, the movie we saw together about the Roman General," he mentioned. "It was pretty exciting and twisty." I was reminded that we saw the movie version of Coriolanus together, the one starring Ralph Fiennes, Vanessa Redgrave, and Jessica Chastain. "But I don't get why in the end he didn't invade Rome with the enemy army. He almost won. Why did he stop and get himself killed? It doesn't seem to make sense."

I explained how I see Coriolanus' motives. He is the ultimate Mamma's boy. He became this super-macho warrior general for his mother, because his mother wants him to be a hero. All his life he's tried to live up to his mother's expectations. His mother wants a strong and famous son in her life, so he becomes her fantasy. When he comes back to Rome, his mother wants him to move up in the world and campaign for the Senate. This would boost her vanity. He hates politics and the people, but he agrees to beg for votes from the citizens he despises. All for Mommy! So when Mother suddenly reverses all the rules she's instilled in him and begs him not to invade Rome in the end, he is totally fucked up in the head. What to do? He's obeyed Mother all his life, usually against his own well-being. He doesn't know what's good for himself. He hasn't got the practice. So he obeys Mother again, one last time. And, isn't it fucking ironic that this super-macho representation of extreme masculinity is but an artificial creation of female fantasy (or more likely pent-up female sexuality, considering that Coriolanus' mother is a widow)?

"Does that make sense?" I asked.

"Well, yeah." He said. "Now that you've explained it."

Orwell vs Tolstoy vs Shakespeare

By pure coincidence I happened upon George Orwell's critique of Leo Tolstoy's critique --- well, more like a hit job --- of Shakespeare.

Out of curiosity I dug up Tolstoy's essay on Shakespeare. As a blindly devoted fan of Shakespeare, I chuckle at Tolstoy's incredulity that sounds pretty familiar. I must have seen similar complaints elsewhere, or heard the wailing from high school students who are forced to read Shakespeare: "Why is this considered good? It's not even English! It doesn't even make sense! It's not realistic! Why do you all love him?!"

What is rather incredible is that such whining comes from Tolstoy in his seventies, after a lifetime of watching people and living life, not from a teenager who hasn't known what a mess family can be and how life is always full of shit that you can neither solve nor escape.

In his essay, Orwell ruthlessly pinned down Tolstoy's unconscious sore point with Shakespeare, namely Tolstoy's self-aggrandized pursuits late in his life is a parallel to Lear's idiotic choices. No wonder he was especially disturbed by "King Lear." This painfully accurate insight made me laugh so hard that my stomach hurts. Tolstoy complains that Lear's decision to give away his kingdom in exchange for guaranteed love and adoration from his daughters is ridiculous and unnatural. Well, one does not have to look too far for a real-life example of someone who gave away everything he owned in exchange for love and adoration from not only his family but the entire country, so obsessed he was with becoming Christ himself. Isn't it fucking hilarious? Oh the irony is killing me! With laughter! 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Two Sleepy People by Fats Waller

好可爱啊,我真喜欢 Fats Waller 写的情歌小曲儿。Two Sleepy People 就是一个典型。

Sunday in the Park With George

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat

I saw the Sondheim revival by Signature Theater yesterday with a friend. We started talking about how some of the music is intended to imitate George Seurat's pointillism, ie, using "dot dot dot" in his paintings. Since we had been discussing choreography in figure skating before the show, my friend and I began to bounce around ideas about how one would do a "dot dot dot" impression on ice with skates. Quick turns on one or both feet, maybe, like Scott Hamilton used to do. I suggested a series of little hops, perhaps on toe picks. Most humans have a bit of synesthesia, which allows us to mix media (visual, auditory, and movement) and use symbols. (BTW, the female lead character's name is Dot, clearly not an accident.)

It is something only Sondheim can pull off --- A musical with almost no story, which is essentially a meditation and dissertation on the creative process, composed with a pile of dots and points and a collection of little anecdotes and episodes. Nevertheless there are bits of character details, which makes me suspect that he and James Lapine wrote up a whole other book on all the characters and their relationships and a full profile for each one with all their complexes ... and 99% of that has been left out of the musical. Note how Sondheim refuses to paint George Seurat as a stereotypical misunderstood genius who was wronged by people around him. No no no. The two Georges in the show both have their flaws and strengths, opposite as they are. Sondheim treats them both with compassion and tenderness, but never indulgence or victimization. While he is sympathetic to Seurat's inability to express his feelings, he does not diminish the humanity in the ordinary people around the genius, like the long-suffering model/lover Dot ("There is someone in this dress!"). So good. So good!

The theme song "Sunday" is, according to Sondheim, written as one big, circular sentence.

["Order, design, tension, balance, harmony"]

Sunday, by the blue purple yellow red water
On the green purple yellow red grass
Let us pass through our perfect park
Pausing on a Sunday

By the cool blue triangular water
On the soft green elliptical grass
As we pass through arrangements of shadow
Toward the verticals of trees

By the blue purple yellow red water
On the green orange violet mass of the grass
In our perfect park

Made of flecks of light
And dark
And parasols

People strolling through the trees
Of a small suburban park
On an island in the river
On an ordinary Sunday

And yes, the songs in the musical are all damned un-hummable.

The Last Jedi as a Spiritual Descendant of ESB

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