Conrad should be known for more than 'Heart of Darkness'. As good a book as it is, it shows only a minute glimpse of what he is capable of. The delicaConrad should be known for more than 'Heart of Darkness'. As good a book as it is, it shows only a minute glimpse of what he is capable of. The delicacy, humor, wit, and sheer beauty he shows in this collection marks him as one of the most talented writers of his time, and with one of the most unique voices.
I at once compared him to Chekhov, for he shares with Chekhov a remarkable psychological insight, and hence is capable of constructing characters by merely hinting at notions and moods, or by what he doesn't show us. It is this deft characterization that allows realism to equal the strange vitality of truth, recalling that 'fiction' need not mean 'falsehood'.
But then it shouldn't surprise that Conrad has something reminiscent of Chekhov, as he was born in the Ukraine, and was familiar with the same tradition of stories, and storytellers, as well as the bittersweet, resigned humor of Eastern Europe. But that is not all there is to Conrad.
Along with the patented despair of the great Russian authors, Conrad possesses a lightness, a bawdy, earthy amusement, something that approaches wit, picking up the story and bearing it along, without crudely driving it, like some French oxen. Like Dumas, pere, Conrad is capable of writing an adventure, a story which ties together the improbable, the unfortunate, the miraculous, and the disastrous into something grand and amusing and ridiculous, but not without a touch of humanity and pain. But then, Conrad left the Ukraine at 18 to join the French merchant marine, so it should hardly surprise us that he picked up something there of wit and joie de vivre, even as he picked up the Gallic tongue.
Yet he wrote his stories in English, and his stories were not without an English touch. After all, he bears comparison to Haggard, Stevenson, and Melville, but more than them, Kipling. There is something often small and precise, undaunted about his characters that is British, and he writes of Horror like a Victorian, of the overawing force of the sublime.
But why should that surprise us? After all, he left France to join the English merchant marine, picked up a new language, and sailed up the Congo river in Africa for them, and by this point, he was a man of forty who hadn't written as much as a short story.
In Africa, he experienced a kind of Hell on Earth, a place of true demons, of suffering, of things unimaginable. Like Dante, he descended, ever on, and saw for the first time the terrible depths of the human heart. And he emerged.
Yet never the same, he had gained some insight, or lost some ideal there, and in all the future, could only see the world as a strange, tinted place, a satire, a place where pains and joys were small, yet refused to be overshadowed.
Perhaps it was here that he found his greatest talent: the ability to feel great beauty and great terror in every thing, every man, every sunset, every gust of wind and gesture. Conrad will surprise you. Not merely with his amusing, fraught characters, eccentric, varied stories, and moments of amusement, but with sudden, poignant, insightful visions of the world, visions both unerring and vast.
In a moment and a turn of phrase, Conrad suddenly opens the soul, and a deep sigh flows from the page like the breath of the Earth, a sigh of love that has seen love die, and a thousand times. There is something in his voice, something that is not merely Russian, or French, or English, but which moves between them, and rises above him, and is his voice, and his alone, and forever.
It is not ungainly, or unfamiliar, and yet it is not quite like anything else. It is not merely the English of the unpracticed man, or the knowledgeable foreigner, but of the man who has come to terms with his new language late, and comfortably, and who saw it for the first time with lined eyes.
They meet as two old people meet, already grown, already whole, and become lovers because it is easy, and it is pleasant. The laughs they share, for there is no reason not to, the pains they do not need to share, because they both know them well, already. He does not forget his past loves, nor does he pine for them. He loves now his new love, yet not simply because she is new....more
Nothing better represents Caesar's understanding of how to play upon the hopes and joys of man than the fact that he was able to turn a few hundred paNothing better represents Caesar's understanding of how to play upon the hopes and joys of man than the fact that he was able to turn a few hundred pages of troop movements into a thoughtful, engrossing narrative. We read not only Caesar's thoughts and intentions in the work, but also gain an invaluable view of Roman politics. In his own words, Caesar sets the scene for the events which soon overtook the empire and captured the imagination of western literature for thousands of years to come.
If the secret to enjoying Tolkien is skipping all the poetry and troop movements, I never thought this reflected poorly on poetry as an art, but I must admit I never realized that there was an art to the military memoir to reflect poorly on. I shall have to do my best to remedy this, though whether there are accounts which equal Caesar's in elegance and focus, I remain in doubt....more
From a consummate genius; developer of PCR; a bit of a strange man. It was lovely to see a person with a passionate and intelligent vision of the worlFrom a consummate genius; developer of PCR; a bit of a strange man. It was lovely to see a person with a passionate and intelligent vision of the world, whose sense of joy and rationality led him down unexpected and influential paths; one of which led to a Nobel Prize. Unfortunately, there is also a cautionary tale in this: that no matter how ensconced one is in the rational process, it is easy to be 'caught up'.
Mullis reference several drug-based and sober experiences which support certain beliefs of his in ESP and extraterrestrials. Now, let me for a moment state that my skepticism comes not from a disbelief, nor of a desire to disprove. Quite the opposite: the reason I am a skeptic is because I deeply wish such things to be true. It is often difficult to deal with the wanton desire to believe, especially amongst close friends and lovers; not because it seems ignorant and conflictive, but because it so closely mirrors my own desires.
However, there is another desire in me which burns hotter: a desire to move toward the truth and not to lose myself in the ease of disillusionment. Hypocrisy and belief for the sake of identity are entirely destructive and selfish acts, and despite seeming harmless, have long-reaching ramifications.
Mullis, despite his vast knowledge of the scientific method and of what must be shown and indicated, nevertheless falls into an easy comfort with coincidence and possible-self delusion without recognizing the simplicity with which the human mind may bias itself.
Then again, there is a point where one takes scientific opinion (and even knowledge) and fortifies them with a staunch sense of belief that turns science into a pointless belief. Science is what it is because of what can be proven or disproven by any of its participants, not by the odd politics and personal opinions which fence it in.
Of course, Mullis seems to have pulled in the other direction; and in his defense, he relies ever on the position of unknowing to hedge himself. However, his enthusiasm and wonder cannot but show the ease with which we may send ourselves on way or another on the barest of evidence and the vastest desire that It Be So.
Boring Prose sprinkled with the kind of sensationalism that can only come from a man with the hubris to change his name from Chris Robinson to AugusteBoring Prose sprinkled with the kind of sensationalism that can only come from a man with the hubris to change his name from Chris Robinson to Augusten Xon Burroughs.
I wanted this to be a one-sentence review, because that's all it deserves, but I just can't: XON!!!??? FUCKING XON!!!???? WHERE IS MY GODDAMN INTERROBANG!!!!????? JUST CALL YOURSELF XENU FOR SHIT'S SAKE. CHRISTING FUCKBELLY TURDSQUABBLE....more
Adams was an amazingly humorous fellow, but it can be easy to forget that the source of his humor is always surreal profundity. It's as if he sees a cAdams was an amazingly humorous fellow, but it can be easy to forget that the source of his humor is always surreal profundity. It's as if he sees a completely different world than the rest of us, but one which looks precisely the same. In this book (out-of-print when I found an editor's proof copy) Adams takes that hilariously disparate view and directs it like a spastic and noodly laser at the mis-management of our natural world. There is a reason that Richard Dawkins recalls Adams so fondly as a compatriot in the fight for reason. Adams is as honest, sublime, and disarming as ever.
I personally don't believe in a static view of nature. Extinction--even mass-extinction--has been a constant theme throughout prehistory. Humanity isn't even the first single species to cause the mass extinction of a huge variety of animals: algae did it millions of years before humans even existed.
Animals compete for the same resources, and whenever there are changes in the environment, be they geographical or climatic, there are going to be extinctions as different species come into contact in new ways. Despite what a lot of badly-researched sci fi might tell you, evolution is not a process of improvement: no species is any more evolved than any other species, each species has simply evolved in different ways to meet the requirements of a different ecological niche.
The coelecanth was a fish that first crawled out of the water hundreds of millions of years ago, and which we assumed had gone extinct until one was caught in 1975. That fish's descendents eventually produced the first lizards, which produced the first mammals, which produced the first primates, which eventually produced human beings. Yet, just because we evolved from the lowly coelecanth does not mean that we are 'more highly evolved'--stick a human being and a coelecanth in the middle of the ocean for a few days and it should be clear that we are just evolved to do different sorts of things.
Part of the reason we're experiencing high rates of extinction right now is that there are more species now than at any other point, and a huge number of those species are extremely specialized to a certain type of lifestyle, meaning even a small adjustment in their environment is likely to drive them to extinction. Mr. Tibbles was a naughty cat: he hunted an entire species to extinction by himself. This was the Stephens Island Wren, a flightless bird which had evolved to live on nothing but the algae that accumulated on the rocky island.
This is not evidence that Mr. Tibbles was more evolved than the wren, because Mr. Tibbles, left alone on the island, couldn't do what the wren did: survive off the island's resources. The reason cats, goats, rabbits, and pigs have been successful when introduced in new areas is because they are generalists, not specialists. They can survive in a wide variety of environments even when they are not the animal best-suited to that environment, because in times of change and upheaval, generalists outperform specialists.
A group of scientists were testing the behavior of flies and discovered that if the flies entered an area and there was no food there, almost none of the flies would ever return to that area. Then, the scientists began to wait until the flies had checked an area, and then put food there after they left. Within a few generations, the flies who returned had been much more successful, and so their offspring predominated. Now nearly all the flies would return to the same areas, again and again.
Yet, when the scientists reset the test to the original conditions, the specialized behavior died out, after only a few generations, because spending the time and energy and brain space on that behavior was just not worth it. It's the same reason that isolated bird populations tend to become flightless: flight is great for moving around and escaping enemies, but it takes a lot of energy to maintain, so if all you have to sustain you is algae, and there are no predators to flee, you might as well drop the showy flight thing and use those calories to keep your body warm and alive.
One of the great benefits of this process to humans is that all of those horrible, terrifying treatment-resistant diseases we have produced by overuse (and misuse) of antibiotics are highly specialized, and so, if we just drastically reduce antibiotic use, normal, generalist strains of e. coli will drastically outperform specialist, antibiotic resistant strains and drive them out of the ecosystem, which is exactly what has happened in Scandinavia where antibiotic treatment reduction is already in place.
No matter what humans do, we won't wipe out life, and we won't 'destroy the environment', we'll just change it. There are bacteria that live on radioactive rods in the middle of nuclear power plants, and on boiling, magma-fed vents at the lightless bottom of the sea, and there are even bacteria that can live in a sterile, sealed container eating nothing but solar radiation. Sure, we could change the environment so much that we would kill off all the large animals, including ourselves, and most plants, but something else will just survive and take over. The Chernobyl site is now one of the most lush and wild natural preserves in all of Russia.
There is no single, static way for the world to be--the environment and the animals that live in it are always changing, and to some degree, humans complaining about the extinction of certain specialized animals is like an old person complaining that the world isn't 'like it used to be'. Just because the environment was the way it was when humans evolved, that doesn't mean it is the only way for the environment to be, or that it won't change, or that change is bad, or that we should or could stop that change.
But we should ask whether we want to destroy ourselves, whether we want to set up an environmental system that favors superbacteria and destructively invasive species, because in the end, it's not about the world, it's about us and what we have to live with. The world will get along fine without us, after all....more