There is a kind of filmmaking I’ve always been fond of, but which I nonetheless refer to as “endurance cinema.” Endurance cinema is not entertaining—iThere is a kind of filmmaking I’ve always been fond of, but which I nonetheless refer to as “endurance cinema.” Endurance cinema is not entertaining—it is grueling, often uncomfortable, and frequently boring: ten-hour depictions of labor camps and a failed escape (Masaki Kobayashi’s “The Human Condition”), forty-five minute zooms across a room (Michael Snow’s “Wavelength”), still photographs catching fire on a hot plate (Hollis Frampton’s “Nostalgia”), or deeply subliminal sensory freakouts (Stan Brakhage’s “Dog Star Man”) are typical. These films are not fun to watch. But if the viewer is able to get beyond the challenge of the experience, a different experience reveals itself, one that is revelatory and sublime. These films take us out of ourselves in a way standard narratives never can, and introduce the viewer to levels of investment and profundity as a direct result of their form, not in spite of it. These films are worth it.
Kim Stanley Robinson's work is often similar. (His Mars trilogy nearly killed me; no matter how much I delight in his scientific veracity, spending a hundred pages living through a general assembly after a revolution was taking the Gedankenexperiment a bit far.) He crushes us with detail. He makes us wait for the payoff. And wait. And wait. Yet in the waiting, we forget what we were there for in the first place, worn down as we are by the stream, and it is in this space that the reader may discover that there is something else entirely taking place—an emergent property, perhaps—that can only be observed in the totality. In this sense, his writing is a lot like life.
The Years of Rice and Salt pretends to be an alternative history. It sets up a clever premise (what would history from the Dark Ages forward look like without Europeans?) and the reader gets to play detective, sniffing out clues to how the world we recognize and this other world may overlap over time. So that we don’t need to form new emotional attachments with characters generation after the next, he employs a neat trick of reincarnation, which is by turns comforting and exhausting. But this is not what the book is about.
This book is about why we are the ways we are. Like the best novels of ideas, Robinson is able to locate the big questions in the minutae of daily life. What is science? Are these paradigms social constructions of cultures, or are we scraping against the surface of universal truths—so that the revelations and inherited wisdom attributed to one great man or another were really just inevitabilities, and only time was required for a technology to surface? One way or another, the world ends up with lenses, rules of thermodynamics, telephones. What is justice? As civilizations rise and fall, we watch the complexities of interest, resources, and accident collide, often with eerily familiar results. Islam gives birth to feminism; the Americas are devastated by contact with other peoples, but give birth to democracy nonetheless. What is revolution? At what point will we know we have succeeded? What is progress? As choice after choice leads to joys and traumas both new and repetitive, the reader is forced to confront their own life as a product of history.
Most importantly, this book is about mistakes. It is about seeing our patterns and challenges, our road blocks and frustrations and addictions and pain as a deep and holy inheritance, as gifts from the gods, given so that we may work these things out, life after life, with the same set of teachers and lovers and enemies. Our roles shift, but our souls remain intact, recognizable to one other over the centuries as we lift one another through our failures and push each other to carry on. For this reader, at least, this is a comfort: those members of my jotty who have been lost in this life, well—I will see them again in the next, where we will no doubt pick up where we left off. ...more
This is not a perfect book. After reading many one-star reviews of "The Wise Man's Fear," I have to chuckle because, in a sense, I agree with them: KvoThis is not a perfect book. After reading many one-star reviews of "The Wise Man's Fear," I have to chuckle because, in a sense, I agree with them: Kvothe is irritating. His perfection is slippery, inconsistent, and obnoxious. His humility feel staged. His sexual prowess is, well, doubtful. I rolled my eyes repeatedly - I admit it.
Nonetheless, I loved the second installment of the Kingkiller Chronicles. Patrick Rothfuss has found his voice in "Wise Man," or at least his sense of humor. While the first book was equal parts charm and pretentiousness, the second felt looser and more sure footed, as if Rothfuss were a gifted runner who, nervous about showing off his talents in the first lap, held his muscles too tense and his back too rigid. In this second time around, he lightens up considerably and the result is an easy pace and a more comfortable stride. I laughed out loud at least a half dozen times, and I am not one to laugh at a book.
The real strength of this series is the very likely way he established the conceit of magic. It feels all too possible - scientific, almost. If I had read these books as a 12 year old, I would have spent countless hours trying to train my own Alar in order to fashion a simple binding. I would have been convinced that it could happen, and as an adult reader, I am almost just as sure. Rothfuss conjures a world that satisfies all the fantasy tropes without treading too-worn paths, and yet makes that world seem only a hair's breadth away from our own, as if we were reading a lost history rather than an alternate universe. His description of the Adem made me sorry I'd stopped studying tai chi. His addict-dragon reminded me of the bears that used to ransack our town dump. The Cthaeh is the devil's Cheshire cat. Rothfuss pulls us between the Fae and the real with the ease of stepping through a patch of sunlight in the forest - all we need to do is follow.
The story-within-a-story format does its job; the foreshadowing is powerful, and provides a foil for the relentless annoyance of Kvothe's youth. His obnoxiousness seems purposeful and conscious. My only concern now is that he will not be able to finish what he's started: Day Three is coming, and the story feels as if it has only just begun. I wish Rothfuss and his editor the best - there are a lot of us out here waiting with fingers and lute strings crossed. But I'm not going to hold my breath....more
Reading Haruki Murakami is like slipping into a warm bath. There is always a stripped-down, naked quality to entering his texts, and then the pleasureReading Haruki Murakami is like slipping into a warm bath. There is always a stripped-down, naked quality to entering his texts, and then the pleasure soaks in as if through the skin. The reader is cared for, pampered. The pace is leisurely. I still cannot tell whether Murakami succeeds at what he does because he is so adept at crafting worlds with slightly altered truths to our own, or if his skill is in the sleight-of-hand he employs to distract us from the mundanity of his subjects. As in most of his work, 1Q84 employs dreams, doubles, aging women, longing, and cats to populate his fantasy. The result is unsettling, sweet, and surprisingly suspenseful. The last section (or in the paperback version, the final book) is as gripping as any thriller, even as its characters drift ever more into the sublime....more
It is becoming ever more tempting to write off the overwhelming emotional, temporal, and - I thought at the time - literary finesse that Niffenegger bIt is becoming ever more tempting to write off the overwhelming emotional, temporal, and - I thought at the time - literary finesse that Niffenegger brought to The Time Traveler's Wife as a fluke, a sudden outburst of long-percolated talent that is now being stretched thin, or perhaps just returning to its natural state, a slightly-better-than-mediocre trickle.
Or maybe I am being harsh. The Adventuress was gorgeous and haunting. She has an undeniable flair for the ethereal weird. Nonetheless, Three Incestuous Sisters left me bored and wanting. Her Fearful Symmetry seemed unfinished, somehow - not in the ending, which was strange and satisfying, but in the overall lack of polish. The entire novel reads as if a deadline had become incontrovertible and was rushed past a small, whining fleet of editors, none of whom had the chance to work their critical magic.
This is a passable ghost story, a creepy love story, and a not-so-decent novel of ideas. I was alternately bored and captivated throughout, and while the oddity of the plot twists did overcome my sense that the pacing was wrong, I left the book feeling clammy and unsettled, and not in a way that I liked.
Read it for the love and research that went into revealing Highgate Cemetery in all of its anecdotal charm, and for Niffenegger's unapologetic flirtation with incest (again). Her frank examination of the intimacy of twins is refreshing. Her caricature of Obsessive Compulsive disorder, however, seemed unnecessary and turned a sympathetic character (and an opportunity to educate people about the illness) into a freakshow. ...more
I was introduced to the work of Augusto Boal by a woman whom I admire greatly. She is a gardener, a writer, an activist, and a performer. She spent tiI was introduced to the work of Augusto Boal by a woman whom I admire greatly. She is a gardener, a writer, an activist, and a performer. She spent time in Brazil studying Theatre of the Oppressed techniques with landless workers there, and now has brought the techniques and skills she learned there back to the States, where she conducts workshops in the practice, among other things.
As an ESOL and writing teacher, I don't always make room in my syllabi for my political work. Many would suggest that I should leave those things at home; the classroom is for skills and content. However, the more I reflect on my convictions and beliefs, the more I come to consider radical practice a fundamental part of what I do, what I should do, what I aspire to do. I have recently been running up against this notion of "practice" - is it really "practice" when it is a way of life? It seems to me that practice, then, is something deeper. It becomes more like a "way," when we think of a "way" as a "Tao." It is one of the paths one can walk - either we walk that path, or we walk another, but we do not pick and choose when to be on it and when to get off, depending on the hat we wear. We simply stay on the path.
In any case, I think that radical practice - a radical path - for a teacher in my position means truly considering my students - in my case, students often considered "at-risk": immigrants, refugees, single parents, first-generation college students, minorities, individuals recently released from prison, workers without jobs - as humans, as valued, reflective, intelligent individuals with interests and a great capacity to teach and learn from one another. It means recognizing their various challenges, and celebrating and supporting their strengths. It also means trying new things.
The techniques outlined in Games for Actors and Non-Actors transformed my understanding of how to relate to a group of people. I have tried several of the games in my classes, and have had nothing but outstanding positive results, ranging from puzzled introspection leading to insight, to shrieking delight and the mad joy of freedom that comes from doing some that feels both very new and very, very natural. I am grateful for the constant reminder that, as a teacher, I must always continue to learn....more