Doctor Who

I just finished watching the 50th anniversary special of Doctor Who and I am conflicted. Actually, I was upset that they reversed the whole Time War thing. I think it takes something away from the weight of the RTD years to have made all that suffering be for something that never actually happened. The Time Lords were also presented as slightly sinister, particularly with Timothy Dalton–and what of the revelation that the Time Lords were just as culpable in prolonging the war?

Moffat removed all of the complexity in this universe. I did not really follow this season very closely, and only watched the last few episodes so I would be caught up for David Tennant’s return, but all this bluster built up from Moffat’s first episode where the Doctor refers to himself as the Oncoming Storm has turned out to be nothing at all. However many years the doctor suffered in his loneliness and guilt–all wiped away. The Pompeii episode could have never happened under Moffat.

I had these minor quibbles as I was watching, but now that I’m writing about it, the more I am convinced it was the wrong decision. And it’s such a shame that Matt Smith and the girl who plays Clara are so fabulous. Because if it weren’t for them, you would never believe their connection from the story. The devotion that Rose, Martha, and Donna all felt for the doctor–that somehow felt earned. Even the devotion of River Song. But somehow, Moffat managed to remove all of the emotional resonance from this pairing and left it all up to the actors to explain this sense of devotion.

Also, the Name of the Doctor had no resolution. Are we to just assume that once he found her in there (which apparently took no work at all), that they made it out alive? All that just to introduce the War Doctor? This attitude felt all wrong. The dislike that both Ten and Eleven felt for the War Doctor…it should have been something more sorrowful. Like they were getting a glimpse of themselves before they had to make this tough decision. The only moment that even approached that was when Clara told Eight that he looked younger than the other two. Instead they held him in some distaste, when it should have been pity for what was about to happen, and a measure of guilt and relief that it wasn’t them who had to do it. I don’t know why RTD’s stories seemed to make so much more sense than Moffat’s but somehow I was able to accept RTD’s wacky plot contrivances more than Moffat’s random, “A hole opened up and somehow all three doctors wound up together.” And the relationship with River Song was so poorly developed! All that promise from the Library episode to this?

Also, wasn’t it previously revealed during the Dalton episodes that Gallifrey and the Time Lords were not simply destroyed, but caught in a time lock? How is that any different from now? The seeds of that story had been planted long ago, and Moffat just ignored all of that and wiped everything away.

/rant over.

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Recent thoughts

I’m a bit behind in my 2014 reading goals. There’s been a lot of thematic overlap in what I’ve read so far. What can be made of these connections? Are they indicative of something deeper, something more interesting than just a superficial passing resemblance? Federici really reminds me of Munro. Her thoughts on how women are socialized to think that they love the act of providing free labor–this sort of inner conflict is what drives nearly almost all of Munro’s heroines. Sometimes it’s not even the central conflict. In Nettles, the woman mentions in passing that she and her husband divorced. One paragraph in a story about her childhood romance with Mike.

And I had moved for the newfangled reason that was approved of mightily but fleetingly and only in some special circles–leaving husband and house and all the things acquired during the marriage (except of course the children, who were to be parceled about) in the hope of making a life that could be lived without hypocrisy or deprivation or shame.

In so many of these stories, the children / family / domestic life is often in the background of whatever the protagonist’s journey is. In the story of Juliet, the times Munro focuses on family life are those moments where the main character is trying to break away from what is thought to be appropriate. Runaway. The unifying theme of the book is that of departure from the established path.

Is there anything deeper between the theoreticism of Federici and Munro’s literary explorations? Comparisons can only take you so far–the women in Munro’s stories are not activists or even Marxists. They are these people who see and absorb the world and then try to figure out how to make their way through it.

And then, I was listening to Bjork’s “Enjoy” and her line

This is sex without touching

reminded me of Munro’s “Passion” where Grace is remembering her car ride with Neil and how her memory has taken on this sexual cast, even though they were simply riding in a car.

Grace and Neil did not talk, of course. As she remembers it, you would have had to scream to be heard. And what she remembers is, to tell the truth, hardly distinguishable from her idea, her fantasies at that time, of what sex should be like.

And now I’m reading Sex Before Dawn–perhaps it was a mistake to go from Galeano to Federici to Anderson to this. I should have interspersed it with some fiction. The tone is just really jarring and casual. And while he is saying and arguing many things that I would love to believe are true, I would need a somewhat more academic resource before I felt able to defend the book, argue its claims. Just because a book is about sex and sexuality, doesn’t mean it has to read like some dude who is just talking to you.


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It’s been a long time.

I came here today because I’ve been thinking about the ways in which we process art. Some things you get immediately–others become brilliant through time. And with time, some things get less brilliant.

Things that were brilliant at first sight: Faulkner, PKD, Munro, Pynchon. Most of my favored authors are ones that needed no marination time. But lately I’ve been finding myself somehow going back to Bolano–much more than I thought I would have, when I was reading it. Whatever it was that grabbed me about 2666 was very different from the immediate … attraction … that I felt when I moved on to Faulkner. How to describe the difference? It’s like with Faulkner, the brilliance was there at first sight. I may not always understand the specifics of what he is writing, but somehow the emotions of it all are right there. That long passage in the bear–who is speaking? I had no idea, half the time. But I was still carried along, and I knew that I was feeling what Faulkner had intended me to feel. What was so different about Bolano or Mitchell? 2666 and cloud atlas in particular are two books that I was not initially impressed with that I keep returning to. It’s like the emotional content of Bolano’s words took a while to sink in. 

Anyway, these ideas or feelings or ramblings had their satisfactions. They turned the pain of others into memories of one’s own. They turned pain, which is natural, enduring, and eternally triumphant, into personal memory, which is human, brief, and eternally elusive. They turned a brutal story of injustice and abuse, an incoherent howl with no beginning or end, into a neatly structured story in which suicide was always held out as a possibility. They turned flight into freedom, even if freedom meant no more than the perpetuation of flight. They turned chaos into order, even if it was at the cost of what is commonly known as sanity. 261

I somehow appreciate this quote more each time I look at it.

I suppose I’m interested in understanding this because I remember wondering what the big deal was about Bolano after I read savage detectives. I started reading 2666 because I wanted to figure out his appeal. And I don’t even know if I can explain it now that I’ve read him and love him. There is something urgent and yet calm about the way his sentences go–the first quotation is all about contrasts and transformation into opposites. The squeezing of universal truths and experiences into the truths and experiences of one man, this individual. 

If it were possible to convey what one feels when night falls and the stars come out and one is alone in the vastness, and life’s truths (night truths) begin to march past one by one, somehow swooning or as if the person out in the open were swooning or as if a strange sickness were circulating in the blood unnoticed.  593

This quote reminds me of Flaubert:

…as if the fullness of the soul did not sometimes overflow into the emptiest metaphors, since no one can ever give the exact measure of his needs, nor of his conceptions, nor of his sorrows, for human speech is like a cracked kettle, on which we hammer out tunes to make the bears dance when we long to touch the stars to tears.

On the surface, they are about two very different things–but something about the impulse behind it–the impulse to express, the impulse to translate feelings into words, the desire to create experiences in common, to be understood by others–is the same. The limits of human expression, the way art is this thing that may arise out of oneself but is ultimately an impulse to connect with others.

Thinking about all this always gets me thinking about the purpose of my site. I have many things on my quotes site that no longer appeal to me the way they used to. Many of these were authors from high school, when I was just discovering literature. When I see them, I often wonder whether I should get rid of them. This most often happens to me on the Alice Munro page. There are a bunch of quotes that, for whatever reason, don’t strike me–yet I can’t bring myself to delete them. This is the twofold nature of my quote archive–it is both a resource and a record. If I were to pare down those things that no longer speak to me, would that make my site a better resource? But those passages spoke to me once, and even when I no longer feel the same way about a particular quote, I can always remember why I liked it before. So on one level, this archive is a compendium of my emotional history, but it’s also a way of sharing things that are meaningful to me with others. Using the words of others to try to convey the unspeakable.

Reading is like thinking, like praying, like talking to a friend, like expressing your ideas, like listening to other people’s ideas, like listening to music (oh yes), like looking at the view, like taking a walk on the beach. 350

In a way, I think that is why I like both my quote archive (my CSS site) and the wordpress blog. It might be redundant, but the blog records when I read these books. You can almost start from the beginning and look at the evolution of a narrative. There is a beginning and a progression. So at one point, I was clearly reading a lot of books on a given topic. My quote archive is flat–there’s no sense of history there, not in the same way. And I like seeing it like that as well. Categorizing everything, watching the list of authors grow, seeing who I click on more and less. My access to the quotes on my site is equalized–I am not more prone to click on one or the other more just because it was more recent and therefore further up the blogroll. And so it is more of a resource, while the blog is more of a compendium. I like having both.

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I also just raced through the DFW biography. I never quite understand biographies. Or more accurately, I find it hard to immerse myself in biographies, because I know that the biographer has to take the stand of understanding the person they are writing about, describing their thoughts and actions, but it requires a suspension of disbelieve that is hard to get past. I had this throughout with this book–I find that biographies play on that human desire to understand a life, to understand what drives people. I do feel I got a picture of DFW that corresponds with my idea of him before, but more filled out. I was less interested in his early life, but when he got to the point of Infinite Jest, I was racing through. Strangely, there was a lot of emotional characterization of DFW in the early going, but later as stuff starts happening to him, we can only really see glimpses of him via his letters to DeLillo and Franzen, for whom he may have been performing a bit in his letters. But the story was compelling nonetheless, and it was hard to avoid a mounting sense of doom as I got closer to the end of the book. I will admit to crying on the train when I got to the descriptions of his going of the nardil, and the alternating sense of hope and hopelessness that he seems to have gone through–it seemed so clear that this last manifestation of his depression was so damaging precisely because he had been doing well, precisely because he had gotten to the point where he thought he was ok. And to be confronted with such a clear sign that he was not ok, that he would never be ok, it would feel like all hope had been lost. That the future was nothing but depression, and not very worthwhile.

I had listened to the New Yorker interview with the biographer earlier, and so I was a bit skeptical. There was something about his tone. But it was easily forgotten as I got to the more interesting parts of the book. It also made me feel like I want to read the Pale King.

I think part of what I enjoyed about the book so much is that even though I’m not the hugest DFW fan — though I am a fan — is because he’s so flawed and recognizable, cliched as that may sound. I generally have no interest in reading a Pynchon biography, or many other authors who seem very put together. But somehow, DFW’s pain and neuroses and his willingness to be exposed made for very appealing reading.

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Runaway. Far and away my favorite Alice Munro thus far. The switching between perspectives and time in LeGuin’s Earthsea series really reminded me of how Alice Munro (in far fewer words) traveled the story of Juliet in her three separate stories.

Out of the stories in this book, Passion is my favorite. The way she combines that curious awakening perceiving and understanding the deep depression that lay beneath a mild surface was really moving.

She’d thought it was touch. Mouths, tongues, skin, bodies, banging bone on bone. Inflammation. Passion. But that wasn’t what had been meant for them at all. That was child’s play, compared to how she knew him, how far she’d seen into him, now.

What she had seen was final. As if she was at the edge of a flat dark body of water that stretched on and on. Cold, level water. Looking out at such dark, cold, level water, and knowing it was all there was.

It wasn’t the drinking that was responsible. The same thing was waiting, no matter what, and all the time. Drinking, needing to drink–that was just some sort of distraction, like everything else. 193

I love this quote. What she had seen was final–elsewhere she writes how his lack of hope was everlasting, reasonable, and genuine. Something about how she portrays the grief and sadness and depression of these stories is really fantastic. When I got to her passage about Juliet’s grief about Eric’s death, I was surprised at how powerful it was. How many Munro stories have I read about grief? And how many of them were moving? The answer: each and every one. Somehow in each iteration of her story, she captures some new element of an emotion she has previously covered thousands of times over. Her material is somehow so simple on the face of it–she essentially writes about the myriad different ways in which humans can relate to one another–but she gives every single one of these people and their emotions the respect and depth they are due.

Because none of her other books I read quite lived up to open secrets, I was worried that maybe the what I felt when reading that book was forever gone. But this book, each story was better than the last.

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Catching up + Ursula K Leguin

I have not updated this since March. As soon as I finish a book I feel compelled to write about it, but by the time I get to a computer, the impulse has usually been forgotten.

Some quick notes. I finished Ursula K Leguin’s Earthsea series. The first two stories, while good, seemed to have something missing from her writing that made the dispossessed and the left hand of darkness so memorable to me. The ease with which she depicts and observes human behavior that is not the norm; the light way in which she critiques things that are the norm. So, after the first two books I was not sure about continuing, but the completist in me felt that I had to–and the farthest shore was a return to what I enjoy about LeGuin’s writing. While I didn’t check the dates, I had the general feeling that from the time of her first to third book, her writing had really matured in some way, that she had found and developed her own style.

As I was reading, I thought about how this series really works as a young adult series, but also how she did a good job of writing additional stories from the point of view of new characters. And showing us Ged, or Arren, or whoever, through the eyes of this new person. And each story really built on the moral complexity of the previous story, so it was no surprise that her last story was a critique of the world that she had spent the past three books building. I saw that some readers did not care for this last book, but for myself, I found it essential that she critique this idea of wizardry, and the all-male way of it.

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Shattered Hope

Nearing the end of shattered hope. Ugh. Watching the US pressure on Guatemla ramp up, the blind belief that the US would retain some semblance of integrity, the utter complicity of the US media at the time, it really is heartbreaking. Also calls into question the strategy of seizing power. How the US and its methods are seen so much more clearly by the third world than by those who live inside the state.

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too much happiness

Not as amazed with this one as I was with open secrets. Is this because open secrets was my first full-on Alice Munro, or is it because it was genuinely better? It’s just that the last few stories have fallen a bit shy of what I’ve come to expect from her. In open secrets, from start to finish every single story was amazing. Many of them I didn’t understand initially and had to page through the story again and again, but something about the facility of the writing and the inventiveness of both her stories and her descriptions just blew me away. This time it seems a bit more rigid, perhaps even more Flannery O’Connor-esque in the dryness and the sense of gloom that seems to hang over each story, but maybe I am just in a Munro overdose.

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emerald city

Forgot how books are sometimes quick. Finished emerald city, and by the end of it, I had kind of had enough of the ceaseless nostalgia and longing. Every single story was about capturing moments in life, the ephemeral nature of our experiences, and how there is always this weird disconnect between the life one experiences and the life in one’s head. And I did think the first few stories were really good, but by the end of the collection, I felt like it became predictable. Something like when I read Flannery O’Connor, where I was waiting for someone to die in each story. O’Connor’s unrelenting grimness and Egan’s unrelenting nostalgia.

As I was reading I could also see signs of it being one of her earlier books. There were moments where I felt that things didn’t quite work, didn’t gel like they did in goon squad. I wonder sometimes how much we develop as artists. It’s not like I read Pynchon’s v and thought to myself, he will develop as a writer. Gravity’s Rainbow was just a different work. Same with a lot of my other favorite artists, be they writers or musicians. The early is just as good, if not better, than the later stuff.

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Heinrich Boll & Comedy

I started watching Louie after hearing so much good stuff about it. I only really found out about him from Parks and Rec, and then he was on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, but I never felt compelled to watch him. Now that I am, I feel like there is a really strong line that can be drawn from Heinrich Boll’s the clown and the comedy of Louis CK and Marc Maron.

These people understand nothing. They all know, of course, that a clown has to be melancholy in order for him to be a good clown, but the fact that melancholy is for him a deadly serious business, that they don’t grasp. 186

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