Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Style Proceeding from Substance

I want to say that style should proceed from substance, but I do not know precisely what I mean by this.

Imagine a blog written on the topic of French Cuisine that featured a background of a .jpg of homeless man repeated across the Y Axis along the top. This style is utterly irrelevant to the content of the blog - it would be a bit of surrealism or an attempt at being 'random,' and nothing more.

But when we see American twenty-somethings wearing a hooded sweatshirt with a fleur-de-lis on it, well, no one thinks that is surreal.

If I stamped my hands on the keyboard to produce nonsense text, well, we would think it odd that text was produced that communicated and symbolized nothing. But a screen door with metal twisted into curls symbolizes what exactly?

Perhaps you will object that it is just a bit of decoration and it was not intended to show or tell anything and that expecting it to show or tell something means I do not understand the goal in which it was created. This brings me back to what I said initially, I want to say that style should proceed from substance. Perhaps what I mean by this is that there should be no decoration that lacks relevance.

That is, it makes sense for a man with the last name Murray to have metal bars welded onto his screen door in the shape of a letter 'M.' It makes less sense for someone named, say, Dunahue. It makes sense for a church to prominently display a cross on top of their building, but a steeple is empty decoration*, style that does not proceed from substance. Look at this blog itself - I chose the Awesome Inc. template because it was pleasing to my eye and because I prefer white text on a dark background, but why are there diagonal lines streaking down the background? What do those indicate? Celebrate? Dedicate? Why are they there? Only to be pleasing to the eye?

Is being pleasing to the eye enough?

This may be a matter of personal preference. I prefer a thing to be functional and without decoration if I can not find some significance to the decoration. But then in the case of a question-mark, letters, flowers used as symbols, flag colors, and ninety-percent of band logos, the symbols themselves are arbitrary and only later receive significance from the nature of what they decorate. This means a bit of style may not proceed the substance, but later takes part in the substance.

So, for the moment, I conclude only that decoration without meaning is, to me at least, ugly and unwelcome.

*the historical use of the steeple has given the steeple significance; no doubt there is also some other deeper meaning that someone more familiar with church architecture could highlight. My example should still be illuminating if it is taken in the understanding in which I wrote it.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Beer and Media

Earlier this month I wrote Digestion of Media which theorized that what makes us play a song repeatedly is an attempt to wrap our minds around the features of the song that are both appealing and new to us, making repetition of music a race to make the sound boring.

Now I want to talk about beer.

Specifically the kind of beer that arrogant bastards drink.

Now, Arrogant Bastard Ale is not what you would call "pleasant," but that does not mean that it is not the greatest beer I have had in my relatively short life as a consumer of lightly poisoned bread water. This notion is, I think, baffling to many and outright nonsensical to others. I will say that Arrogant Bastard does not exist to please your taste buds, now drink it. Arrogant Bastard will make you glare at me with confusion and anger as though you thought I was someone you could trust and then I poured a bottle of the devil's piss in your glass and grinned as you drank it. Now go drink it.

Why do I say that Arrogant Bastard is unpleasant and you should drink it anyway? Because it will remain outside your comfort zone. It engages you when you drink it. I am not a heavy drinker, I can not sit down and discuss the way the hops complement the beer's dryness or anything of that sort, but I can tell you that drinking Arrogant Bastard is an experience that engages you with the beer. If you can get out of the mindset that the pleasant is all that is worth seeking, then you will be able to appreciate Arrogant Bastard's ability to keep you from growing bored with it.

In this way, I present a counter-point to what I said in Digestion of Media. There is difficult music being produced and there is music being produced that is easy to the ear. What do I mean by difficult music? I mean music that does not necessarily sound good on the first hearing, something that you have to ease yourself into and learn to appreciate slowly. It is music that does not allow you to quickly digest it and reach the point of boredom. It is also music that does not exist solely to bring you pleasure, it draws you out of yourself, it asks you to meet it halfway rather than meeting you where you are.

I, for one, don't really listen to difficult music. I suspect that anyone reading this is beginning to wonder if I'm not describing something that doesn't exist. For that I advise finding a genre of music that lacks widespread mainstream appeal, one that is largely alien to you, and then reading the way its fans describe it. Perhaps I am letting myself be duped, but when I do this I get the impression that they're seeing something that I'm not seeing. I get the impression that there is a learning curve, but once you get past it you find something that can be investigated and digested slowly without drying up quickly.

Much like Arrogant Bastard demands your attention, at least if you're willing to buy another bottle even after overcoming that first sip.

This calls for a judgment, because there are two explanations that come to mind. Perhaps this is all smoke and mirrors; maybe Arrogant Bastard is just a bad tasting beer that prints labels suggesting that the deficiency is with the drinker instead of the beer, and some idiots buy into the advertising because their trying to tickle their pride, and likewise the somewhat obscure genres of music are just sounds that are not suitably capable of tapping into human psychology and physiology to deliver the kind of widespread satisfaction that top-40 songs can. Alternately, maybe it is true, and maybe chasing after what is pleasant to us is a way of confining ourselves to our comfort zones and trying to avoid experiencing and digesting that which is difficult to us in our present state.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Art and Life

If we say that art is a reflection of life, how can we avoid saying that life lived is superior, more substantial, than art appreciated?

Here I do not advance anything factual or ask for an intellectual judgment. Instead I ask, don't you feel that the living of a life to be a more momentous thing than the appreciation of works of art?

In practice perhaps we see the greatest works of art and our participation in them to be a reason for continuing to live; there may be times when we see in art a kind of a salvation and a kind of purpose around which we can organize our lives. I too sometimes feel this way. But when I cut down to the central notion, I always find that I can not place art above the genuine article. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Dark Knight Rises, Fear, and Humanity

Perusing different blogs and articles written around the time that The Dark Knight Rises came out, I noticed that some writers complained that the movie seemed to turn the progress of the trilogy backward to force Bruce to learn the same lessons all over again. I agree that it would make for a less exciting and less interesting movie if this were the case, but I think that the actual lesson Bruce had to learn in the last movie was not only different from what he learned in Batman Begins, but actually contradicts and - through that contradiction - fulfills the trilogy by marking the true death of Batman and the true rise of Bruce Wayne.

In Batman Begins, Bruce is initiated into the League of Shadows, an order that relies on the killing of fear within themselves so as to better utilize the fears of the citizenry of decadent cultures in the course of dismantling their civilizations. Bruce has to confront his own fear to be inducted as a member of the League; upon leaving the League, Bruce utilizes their tactic of using his enemy's fears to turn the Batman symbol into something larger than life to wage his war on crime.

The key here is that Bruce had to rise above his own fear. We see when he was a child that he was a very fearful child, particularly of bats. When Bruce returns to Gotham we no longer see any fear left in him. As Scarecrow's fear toxin shows, there is still fear within Batman, but Batman rises above Bruce Wayne's fears for the sake of his city.

In The Dark Knight Rises we see a Bruce completely lacking in fear, or anything else for that matter. Bruce's identity as Batman has been retired and his driving desire as Bruce Wayne - Rachel Dawes - was taken from him by the Joker. He wastes away in his mansion, waiting to die. As Bane says, "you don't fear death. You welcome it." Batman no longer rises above Bruce Wayne's fears, rather, Bruce Wayne no longer has fears.

In the prison, Bruce consistently fails to make the climb to the top of the prison. In a move that I'm sure we all saw coming a mile away, we see that it is the rope that is holding Bruce back. The fact that he could always try again kept him from having the inner will to jump the distance. As the exchange between Bruce and the Blind Prisoner shows,

Blind Prisoner: You do not fear death. You think this makes you strong. It makes you weak. 
Bruce Wayne: Why? 
Blind Prisoner: How can you move faster than possible, fight longer than possible without the most powerful impulse of the spirit: the fear of death. 
Bruce Wayne: I do fear death. I fear dying in here, while my city burns, and there's no one there to save it.  
Blind Prisoner: Then make the climb. 
Bruce Wayne: How? 
Blind Prisoner: As the child did. Without the rope. Then fear will find you again.

The lesson Bruce learns in The Dark Knight Rises is the value of fear within oneself. Without fear and without love, Bruce becomes a living corpse wasting away in his mansion. Once he is broken by Bane and left in the pit, he still has love compelling him forward to save Gotham City, but he has no fear. He is not yet human again without repulsion as well as attraction. Once he makes the climb without his rope he rediscovers his fear and thereby once again becomes fully Bruce Wayne and is therefore able to fully become Batman once again.

Whereas the trilogy starts out with Bruce having to escape the power of fear, the trilogy ends with Bruce relying on the power of fear. The ending especially draws this out - Bruce would have been happy to die at the beginning of the movie, but by the end his will to live is strong enough that he allows Batman (who is a symbol and who dies insofar as people recognize him as dead) to die while he moves on to live his life as Bruce Wayne.

Whatever the other faults of the movie, I have to say that rehashing old lessons and arcs is not one of them. Bruce's arc in this movie follows from the arcs of the previous movies, completing and fulfilling them.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Something to Consider on an Individual Meaning of Life

My worldview involves the belief that there is no absolute objective meaning to human existence that human beings will encounter and recognize as such. My worldview also states that we should be hesitant about creating meanings of life for ourselves because creating our own summum bonum creates a model of life that does not reflect the variety in both ourselves and the world.

However, I wonder if we might not conceive of an individual meaning of life differently. Rather than a highest good to aspire to, or a best activity to be engaged in, or the best character to model ourselves after, what if we simply conceived of the meaning of life as being whatever infuses our every act and every contemplation with a sense of worthiness. That is, the meaning of life is whatever makes you say 'this is worth doing' whenever you reflect on the various games and activities you happen to be a part of.

This is something to perhaps contemplate further.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Political Reasoning and Cultural Conflict

All political reasoning is of this general form:

Given that we agree that X,Y, and/or Z are valuable and worth pursuing, the evidence suggests that policy A is the best attainable policy for promoting X, Y, and/or Z. This is my evidence. Now join me in supporting policy A.

True political reasoning is, truly, reasoning. It is a job solely of seeing how elements relate to one another. Reasoning in an of itself can not dictate a course of action, that reasoning requires value judgments to be made as well. Only once people are on the same page with regard to what is desirable can policy questions become mere questions of science and the relation of elements.

Culture conflict is what occurs when one party considers X valuable and the other party considers Z valuable. Or more likely, when one party values X and Z but holds X in higher regard whereas the other party places Z before X in their own hierarchy of values. Science and reason have their place in such a conflict, but they are secondary to the primary difficulty of getting the two parties to agree to which values they are going to pursue in what proportion.

The way to deal with this situation is a little reasoning, a little negotiation, a little compromise, but at its essence, through sheer conflict. Both sides must try to force their way via the mechanisms of the political system and amassing the collective wills of their power bases. To expect unity and understanding between the two parties is to misunderstand the nature of the divide between them.

Consequently, to produce converts, one must not target the mind of his mark, but rather the heart. Steer his will in another direction, arouse a new desire in him. You can fine tune his efforts with reason, but the efforts gain their general direction and their force from his will.

We can complain about the absence of rational discussion in national, political discourse, but that betrays a misunderstanding of what is most fundamental to agreement.  

Thursday, March 21, 2013

P or O

GF: Okay, I have a blog for you to write, it's gonna be a good one....

Which letter is superior P or O? I think my entire approach to ethics and aesthetics can be illustrated by this question, not that I really need to illustrate it again, but it is a joy for me to do so and it's my blog so I can illustrate it as many times as I want, damnit!

At first blush someone is likely to ask 'what does it matter?' This is not as frivolous a response as it sounds, we'll come back to it shortly. Secondly someone will probably shrug and say 'which one do you like better?' This response sets up a criteria for superiority, implying that whichever letter fulfills the criteria is the superior letter. If you happen to like P more than O then P is better than O and vice versa. You could then apply this criteria in passing judgment on the entire alphabet if you so chose.

The question that can here be asked is, why should be use that criteria? Or, more properly, what is it about that criteria that makes it the criteria for absolute superiority? Because the question was not 'which letter is superior, relative to your personal feelings,' but rather, 'which letter is superior' – question mark, full stop. The question does not provide us with a criteria or a schema in the context of which we can measure the two letters superiority to some goal or desired virtue.

Perhaps instead of saying, 'which one do you like better?' we could instead ask 'which letter is simpler?' In this case O is clearly superior to P because O consists of a single rounded shape whereas P is a rounded shape attached to a vertical mark. Now perhaps we ask, 'which letter most clearly makes itself known,' in this case P is superior to O because an O can easily be mistaken for a 0 whereas a P is pretty clearly a P.

In the light of both of these criteria the question of which letter is better is not subjective and it is not arbitrary. The matter can be studied and the conclusion can be demonstrated with rigorous proof. It is not my opinion that O is simpler than P, it is a fact; it is also not my opinion that O is more ambiguous than P, this too is a fact given the existence of the number 0 as a feature of human communication. What is my opinion is the fact that we should utilize the criteria of maximized simplicity or minimized ambiguity to determine superiority. That we should use this criteria can not be shown with any kind of proof and likewise can not be critiqued by any kind of counter-proof.

Now suppose that someone comes along and says, 'language does not simply exist – it exists for a reason. And upon recognizing the reason for language's existence we will also recognize what makes for excellent language and what makes for poor language. In addition we will see which signs within the language excel as signs and which signs serve their purpose poorly. The extent to which P and O fulfill their role in language's purpose will show their absolute quality.' Perhaps the person saying this will appeal to God's intention in creation, or he will appeal to humanity's collective intention in creation, or perhaps he will point to the workings of the universe that necessitated the creation of language. It does not matter, what matters is that he identifies absolute quality as being bound up with purpose and intention.

As a brief aside, one could say the same thing about human lives relative to the meaning of life.

So now the question is simply what purpose does language serve? Language serves to communicate. This is why we make speeches and write books, to communicate with others. Therefore the absolute superior between O and P is whichever most aids in communication, in this case, P, because P is a consonant and its usage needs to be made clear whereas O is a vowel and situations wherein it is used can be roughly inferred from the consonants surrounding it, so P is absolutely superior to O.

Perhaps a neuroscientist, an anthropologist, a linguist, or an analytical philosopher might critique my statement on language's purpose, but on the whole I think most would get on with the idea that language originated as a method of communication. However, just because it originated as a method of communication does not mean that it can not be used for other purposes. Suppose a man comes along and says that he uses language to build a reflection of the world and he does not give even a wedge of a rat's ass if anyone, himself included, can understand the reflection he can created. Then suppose another man comes scatting along and says that he just pours nonsense into a microphone to make people feel things, he doesn't really communicate any ideas with his use of words.

Communication loses its claim as the sole use of language and along with it goes the claim that aiding in communication is the absolute quality distinction of signs. It becomes another available criteria to be chosen or disregarded.

To be chosen or disregarded – on what basis? I imagined earlier that someone's first response to the P or O question would be 'what does it matter?' Now I have imagined up some possible criteria that people could propose to judge between P and O, but the choice of criteria has always been arbitrary. That remains the case, but even if we allow for that arbitrariness, what in practice determines what a person would choose as his criteria? The answer is, of course, what matters to him?

What is his mission? What does he care about? What is he pursuing? Now, which criteria helps him attain the object of his game? So poets will say O, because O is symmetrical and can be used in their poetry to indicate wholeness or, in some cases, vaginas, and their criteria is whatever allows them to enrich their works with meaning. And pub owners can say P because they own pubs and they want to use alliteration in naming it, such as Patty's Pub or Pete's Pub; their criteria is whatever is most likely to stick in people's minds. Political memorabilia manufacturers can say O because our president, whose support and detraction among the populace is their meal ticket, is named Obama; their criteria is whatever allows them to develop quick ways for people to tell the person driving behind them who they voted for in 2012. People racing to the restroom while texting would surely say P because it's just that much easier to type “i have 2 P” than “I have to pee” and their criteria is whatever allows them to remain connected to their circle of friends without creating a warm wet spot on the front of their pants.

In situations where people are largely indifferent, then a judgment on the two is impossible. But oftentimes a person who is nearly always indifferent to the question will on occasion find himself in a game where the difference between O and P actually matters to him. The question does not contain the criteria for determining superiority, which may lead one to believe that it is asking for absolute superiority. It may ask that question, naturally, but it shall get no adequate response because human beings do not have a means of determining absolute superiority. In actually the criteria for determining superiority is found in the recipient of the question in his present situation with his present needs.

So when a person responds with, 'what does it matter?,' you know that he does not have a criteria according to which he can think about the question. But if you ask and the man thinks for a moment and then gives you an answer, you know that he may have real genuine reasons for answering the way that he did.

So we return to the question: which is better, P or O?


Because P looks kind of phallic and I don't want to carry the connotations of choosing a phallic letter over a vaginal one.


Well, seeing as today is my day off, I decided it was finally time to make my own tumblr for the purposes of documenting my progress on my ridiculously long Batman story project. Presently I'm trying to approach the story at a leisurely pace, hence the tumblr will make it easier to view the entire endeavor as a unity once the whole thing is complete. Besides that, I figure I can fill it with whatever observations I'm having on the story as I'm writing it.

My present blog will remain my main blog, of course. Only matters pertaining to the story will be relegated to the tumblr.

Is it 'tumblr?' Or do you capitalize it? I'm not quite clear on the etiquette yet....

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Stoic Impulse

I imagine the impulse that stoicism (a la Marcus Aurelius, anyway) proceeds from is aroused when a man has a desire for one thing for which he is prepared to say that he would devote his entire life. He speaks and says that there is one thing by which he will judge his every virtue and determine his every action and his entire life will be one of servitude to this one thing.

And then he wakes up and prepares to work, but can not focus because of hunger, so he spends an hour cooking and eating breakfast. Then he heads off to resume his work when he starts talking to his wife about their home and what they need to do to maintain it. Then just as he is ready to begin his day of service once again, he realizes that his head is not in the right spot yet, so he resolves to read/watch TV/play videogames/jerk off until he has the peace of mind needed to pursue his goal resolutely.

He speaks and says that there is one thing by which he will live, and then he lives to the contrary.

None of the things he does throughout the day satisfy him in a deep way – that is for the one thing. But when it comes time to pursue the one thing and he finds that his heart has shifted, that there is something else he wants first. His heart is tossed about and does not stay the course, which leads to self-loathing because he is himself what stands in the way of what he loves. So he becomes a stoic, imposing his love on reason and nature by declaring its value to be based in fact rather than based in his will, because he can not trust his will to remain steady.

If he does not pursue the one thing he will remain unsatisfied; but the one thing has only truly captured a fragment of who he is, the real power and drive focuses elsewhere.

So he beats his body and accuses all the parts of himself that have real drive and focus of being carnal or base and elevate the part of himself that loves the one thing and makes it into a reason, a mind, or a soul. He allows the flesh to be stronger in force so long as whatever loves the one thing is qualitatively better. Then he turns on his own flesh, demanding that it live according to reason and cut the world into ribbons to ensure that it is not charmed or enchanted by anything that is contrary to nature (contrary, that is, to the one thing).

This I say is the impulse that stoicism proceeds from: desire to ascend to a height tempered by the self-doubt that arises when one regularly disappoints oneself.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Why Ad Nauseum

Ask 'why' and I can give you a 'because.' Upon submitting that 'because,' you can demand an additional 'why.' There is nothing that ensures that this chain must eventually break. There is no clear terminus, you can always keep asking 'why?' So what will make you eventually stop? What will satisfy your need to keep asking. Only that you will eventually be satisfied. Not that the answer will ever reach a point where is has conclusively settled the matter, only that the questioner will eventually come to value the air they use asking more than they value the asking of the question.

There is a purpose for asking why, but you must understand to what end you ask the question and what the answer means to you, that is, how it will change your course of action. If you ask it simply to dig to the bottom, eventually you will hear, 'it just is!'

And then you'll probably ask, 'why,' won't you, shithead?

Friday, March 8, 2013

Digestion of Media

I have noticed as of late that whenever I cycle through my phone to choose music to listen to, I invariably tap the "Recently Added" button and choose from among the first ten or so songs. I have also noticed that whenever the player moves beyond my most recent additions, my finger starts pressing the skip button.

I remember being in early High School and getting excited whenever Sublime's Wrong Way or Date Rape came on the radio. Then I remember later in High School listening to Nirvana songs over and over again. Then I entered college and began listening to Rammstein's singles. Rarely will my music player land on a Sublime, Nirvana, or even Rammstein song without my ears itching to hear something else.

I wonder if my interest in a song, or more properly my boredom with a song, has nothing to do with the traits of the songs themselves and more to do with the novelty of the song. Perhaps what keeps my attention is the extent to which the song lies outside what I am used to, the extent to which the song has not been already digested.

Imagine it in this way. You encounter a new sound, a new arrangement of instruments, a new combination of tone, accent, and emotion in a voice, and if it has an initial appeal to you, you begin playing it in your head if not playing it through speakers. You begin wrapping your mind around it, you begin making it more and more familiar to yourself. This may take a long time, it may only take a few weeks, but in time you find that whatever it was in the song that fascinated you begins to fade.

I submit that the fascination arose because there were characteristics in the song that stood outside of you. The song left impressions that were unfamiliar, perhaps only a few unfamiliar impressions in otherwise well-traveled territory. If those impressions struck you as lovely, then you are driven to consume them. Paradoxically you want to end what makes those elements interesting: the fact that you have not already made them a part of yourself.

Fascination, in this conception, is the feeling one gets when they find something outside themselves that they want to add to themselves. Contempt, then, in the usage of "familiarity breeds contempt" is the feeling one has when one encounters something with nothing new to chew on.