October 10, 2010

Dreams Stranger than Fiction

"Stranger than Fiction" (2006) is an okay film. At one level it is a love story about a nerdy tax inspector and a coffee shop owner. The tax inspector that lives for numbers and punctuality, that lives his life in a fastidious, perfectionist, a-sensual fashion wakes up to the world of cakes and kisses and he dives, into the sensual world. In this movement he is aided by the was-once-a-bit-of-a-nerd, coffee shop owner that dived herself, many years before, out of law school in the sensual-world-more-important.

At this level "Stranger than fiction" has the hallmarks of many a love story, where the impediment to love lies in the character of one or more of the protagonists. Love stories with nerdy heroes and heroines are not few in number. I enjoyed "A New Leaf"(1971) starring botanist-nerd Elaine May, and cynic Walter Matthau, athough this film tracked the movement towards love of a cynic rather than a nerd. There are perhaps even more love stories about cynics meeting their match and taking the plunge, such as "When Harry met Sally"(1989) and "Wedding Crashers"(2005). Cynics and nerds have this in common: they both don't know how to do that loving stuff. Other love stories feature a Briton, who in Hollywood are all both cynical and nerdy, such as "Four Weddings and a Funeral" and "Nottinghill," which feature Hugh Grant becoming aware of his mojo. Upping the brow-level perhaps there are love stories about idealists taking the plunge, such as "Wings of Desire (Himmel Uber Berlin)", its naff remake "City of Angels," and "The Legend of Nineteen Hundred," although in the latter case the idealist sticks with ideals rather than love.

At the same time however, "Stranger than Fiction" crosses genres, and adds a irreal, crazy, almost Matrixical alterity; the hero of "Stranger than Fiction" finds that he is the hero of a woman's novel. We see the (female) novelist fretting over ways to kill him off.

The hero eventually tracks down and meets the novelist but reading her book, he decides to run with the story, and in front of a bus to his nemisis, at which point the novelist decides to make the accident, no longer accidental, non-fatal. At this point, in her words, the love story takes that sensual realistic dive into the world of the little things. The taste of coffee and lipstick, the brush of someones eyelashes accross your cheek. Rather than the grand design, rather than the objectives, and conclusions of works of great fiction, the hero and his novelist choose the everyday.

Dead interesing.  But what of dreams?

At the same time I was watching a program on Japanese television about a lady that gave up the everyday to pursue her dreams. At 50 or thereabouts she says that we all have dreams but usually we give up on them and opt for life. She describes dreams (by that she means goals) as a bomb that we carry with us, and that most people, caught up with the everyday allow it not to explode.

At the same time again I found myself watching the concluding song to "Joseph and the Technicolour Dreamcoat" wherein we are told, "Any Dream Will Do." This recently the title of a reality TV series to find the next incarnation of Joseph on stage.

All very confusing. Is love a dream? Or does it present us with the real world? Is choosing love a cop-out or a higher ideal?

A recent survey by a student I know found that there is a strong correlation between honesty and romanticism. An unexpected result?

Posted by timtak at 06:30 PM | Comments (0)

Waking Life

Waking Life gets good reviews from "the nation's critics" at rottentomatoes.com. I confess that I fell asleep in the middle.

The film is a sort of animated sequence of interviews. Animated in the sense that the interviews which were shot with a video camera have been overpainted so that they have become the filmic equivalent of overpainted photographs. And animated in the sense that the interviews consist of someone waxing philosophical to a young, decidedly inanimate guy with a floppy centre parting.

Most of the philosophy I had heard before. These days it seems to me that the whole of Western philosophy boils down to the liars paradox. For instance Satre, as explained in an early part of the film, seems to be saying that one can not denate ones responsibility or choice because to do so would be to make a choice and thus be cretan.

However, Nathan Hawke, in a rare bed scence propounded the one theory that fired my imagination. Nathan and his girlfriend are in bed and at least one of them has been dreaming. They note how little time it takes, in waking life seconds, to dream a dream that can seem to have lasted for days. One can wake up, look at ones alarm clock, fall back asleep and to experience a dream of epic proportions, only to wake up to find that merely a few seconds have passed. They also claim that brain activity continues for between 6 and 12 minutes after - one presumes resperatory - death. They then surmise that in this time a dead man or woman would have the ability to dream, or relive all their waking life. And furthermore, the surmise, that perhaps waking life is indeed the dream that they are having on their death bed.

This theme has occured before as noted in reviews (I think I have written reviews) of Sixth Sense, Others (a sort of Sixth Sense for women) and American Beauty. These latter films suggest that the dead do go on to experience life, either believing that they are still alive (the first two) or aware that they are dead and free to ponder over their life as a whole. Waking life goes a little further to suggest that this life that we are experiencing is that dream we experience falling down through the clouds to dwell with worms and clay.

Jacques Lacan once claimed that the ego is dead. But I think that he was referring to the fact that it is a construction, a dead thing, an artifice, an sort of prosthesis to use Macluhans phrasiology.

So are we really dead already?

This notion at first blush seems merely a flight of fantasy. Even if the thesis were tenable, like the existance of an invisible odourless pink elephant walking down the street avoiding cars, there is nothing in its favour. Occam's razor would chop it right off.

However, this theory may have an advantage in that it may explain why there should be a self or consciousness.

The self and consciousness are perhaps two different problems. I am not sure. As a sort of Buddhist, I am inclined to think that they are very much intertwined. All there is is consciousness, but we posit permanence in the form of a self on this side (watching consciousness) and a world of things on the far side (that we presume gives rise to the light).

In order to link Nathan Hawke's theory to philosophy, however, I will concentrate on consciouness or the "qualia," the stuff of experience that seems to be private. There seems to be an experience of redness for instance. This experience is uterly unspeakable. I have already fallen foul of the liars paradox by attempting to mention it. I might attempt to say that where I see redess, in my consciousness, you see green in yours. But that would be unfair because redness is something that we agree on. We can not speak of our 'qualia' but it does seem that they are in some sense 'there'. It is also clear that we dream and have the ability to imagine things that are not external but have nonetheless a form of existance (under erasure).

There are some folk that would like to persuade us that all there is is the physical world. These people are called physicalists by philosophers, and behaviourists in psychology.

At the same time, a contemporary American philosopher called Chalmers wrote a paper positing the possibility of "Zombies." Zombies consciousness-less humans, in the sense of being machines that react to their environment, like a mechanical device, and live and eat and avoid danger without ever having sense perception, or experiencing this "o'erhanging firmament." The mind of a zombie or robot is, we presume, empty. Zombies just react. Thus, those that would try to convince us of the lack of a need for internality, or spirit, or a non physical world, are wrong. The physical world can not provide an explanation for the difference between us and zombies. Or something like that.

I find Western philosophy rather tedious. Responses to Chalmers concentrate upon whether zombies are concievable and whether concievablity entails that possibility. I have no idea whether Zombies could exist. I have no idea whether the ability to concieve of something entails that it could possibly exist. I think that probably, in both cases the answer is no. All the same however, I do feel that there is a problem. What is this stuff? What is are these lights, this circle of light that I am experiencing? Why is it there? Why I am I not a "dark" (not even dark, since darkness is visible as a black visual field).

Returning to "Waking Life".

The Nathan Hawke theory, that really *this* that we are now experiencing is really the reliving of a life by a dead person  provides a reason why there should be an "o'erhanging firmament," a "fish bowl," consciousness.

There seems to be some difference or distance between what we experience and "the real world". Enough at least to persuade a lot of people that there is a "veil of perception" or "qualia." While I am sympathetic to all those hard like non-Cretans, that point out I am being inconsistant and self-contradictory to speak of this the stuff of my life, I am equally sympathetic with those that say that there stuff of experience. What the heck is it doing there? Why is there something, like a dream, between me and reality?

Herein lies the utility, or explicative power of Nathan's theory. Get your hands off Occam! The postulation that we are a dead woman dreaming is not only concievable (like a pink elephant) but it is also useful in explaining the duality that many of us seem to feel.

Hold on! What am I suggesting? I guess am suggesting that a zombie, without consciousness in normal waking life, may have the ability to replay or dream waking life, and when replayed the original darker than dark reality may take on stuffness, "qualia," "consciousness". Of course on the the other hand, a life lived dark need not become any brighter when relived. But this, perhaps I should write to Chalmers, raises the question, how do Zombies dream? Do they not dream at all? Do they merely report dreams?

Well, I don't think that I am a zombie on its deathbed reliving its life. But I do think that there is something in this line of explanation. That the duality we seem to percieve may be explained in other ways than posititing a seperate realm of spirit.

Perhaps I will have another look at Waking Life. It was not that bad.

Posted by timtak at 06:29 PM | Comments (0)

Sin City

Sin City is an interesting film. I am not particularly keen on violence but I am a long time fan of Mickey Rourke and I have an interest in hard boiled, film-noir. Another thing that appeals to my structuralist mind is that is that Sin-City is in three or four parts and these parts repeat, share a commonality of structure and device. One of the minority of damning reviews of Sin City - damning of the gratuitous violence - points to one common theme: "See a pattern? Women in this movie are all whores and strippers..." That is not the only common theme.

The most interesting one for me is that all the men in the movie are talking to themselves. The three lead charters Hartigan (Bruce Willis), Dwight (Clive Owen) and Marv (Mickey Rourke) in true hard boiled film noir style spend the whole film nurdling on to themselves cynically, explaining what is going on, and making up for the lack of light. Who are they speaking to?

They are speaking to themselves and the audience and perhaps also to the woman that they love. The women that all these men willingly sacrifice themselves for (two dying in the process) are not only prostitutes, they are

(1) the targets of an enduring and powerful love that tears the heroes to pieces

(2) unobtainable in one way or another (dead, too young, past tense),

(3) the reason why the heroes die

(4) generally silent but often imagined and in one case an avid letter writer,

 (5) violent, sexually preditorial, hermaphrodite

(6) and as we have seen, perhaps the superaddressee of the film noir narration.

Why do heroes mumble themselves into oblivion for a whore-goddess of love? Why is it that, and this is what makes it so tragi-dense, the heroes half know they will never get the the whore-goddess get? Recently I have been born of a son, born on the 30th May 2006. He is called Ray Takemoto. He cries quite a lot, a plaintiff warbling cry that cannot be predicted and seems at times to know no satisfaction. Sometimes the solution is simple: Ray needs his nappy (diaper) changed or more often some of his mother's milk. Often at the same time the reason seems to be general malaise or dissatisfaction with the fact of being born to a world where he has desire but almost no power to achieve their ends. He must have quite a frustrating time. We all must have quite a frustrating time, since we are born "foetalised," weirdly incapable of even the ability to stand.

Our only defense, is our lovability and the volume and mesmeric persistence of our cries. Here in Japan they say that "crying is a babies occupation". To cut a long story short, looking at baby Ray I see Hartigan, Dwight, Marv and myself. The wail has become less of a whimper now and has taken on the pretension of gravelly, 'hard-boiled,' machismo. But it is still a long drawn out moan about how tough things are. Most importantly it seems that perhaps in all cases the hard boiled whimper is a whimper of love. But only Ray - thank you Ray - has anyone listening. Are our heroes doomed to sacrifice themselves selves speaking to the him-her fantasy forever? It is not so bad, since there is beauty in it.

Sin City was, from a certain angle, a beautiful movie. Self-sacrificing, self-narrating men, such as Fabrizio Quattrocchi (a baker from Sicily who wanted to save up to buy a house for his family but ends up narrating his own death) are indeed heroes. But who are all these violent, whoring, silent, hermaphrodite goddesses that the sniveling super-hunks of Sin City die for? I suggest, I guess, that these women are the protagonists themselves.

Posted by timtak at 06:28 PM | Comments (0)

Happiness tends to Zero

This post was inspired by the short film "Happiness Tends to Infinity," (recommended) by Yinka Selley.

I met an engineer in a design room in the Stanmore branch of Marconi Defence systems, a missile company at which I worked. The design room was a Porta Cabin and the interior decor rather bleak. The engineer sat behind one of those drawing boards equipped with a mechanical set-square-come-ruler-thing.

He moved it adroitly, across plans for missiles, I presume. Prior to working for Marconi, he had been in the Navy and had travelled the world. He had a different equation of happiness, which was based on one of Newtonfsf laws, the second I think. Newton's second law is often expressed as


or force equals mass times acceleration.

Of these the engineer equated force with happiness and velocity with materialistic states of being including health, and acceleration with changes in these states. I am not sure if how mass figured in the equation but perhaps it has something to do with attachment - the number of people with whom one shares things being a major, but not determining factor. The above equation can be rewritten as

Force = mass x (velocity2 - velocity1)/time

Which may be substituted for

Happiness = attachment x (state1 - state2)/time

In other words people feel happiness when they are ggetting thereh, but not when they have got there. Or that that states - such as being rich, being healthy, or whatever - do not himself or herself cause happiness or unhappiness. Happiness cannot be stored or accumulated. The engineerfs equation seemed quite plausible, at the time.

Bearing in mind that life tends to draw an arc, which ends in death, while on the rise our achievements bring us happiness as long as we do not achieve them, and in the longer term at least for the second part the general trend is down. Given a steady state, or one which is not changing much,

Happiness/Sadness = attachment * (state1 - state2)/time

If state1 = state2 then Happiness = 0

The engineer recommended marriage (this was the topic of our conversation, and how he had ended up in Stanmore) as a way of introducing waves (up and downs) into ones life, without which there would be no happiness, so he claimed.

Interestingly, this equation is almost the reverse of that proposed by Yinka Selley.

This does not mean that either is incorrect.

On the contrary, perhaps zero and infinity meet! In my limited experience of Buddhism the reduction of attachment is said to result in being ultimately free from suffering. This is pretty darn good. And sometimes accompanied by rapture. And, attachment and anticipation are clearly linked. I am not sure how.... perhaps attachment is anticipation frozen, or the attempt.

Posted by timtak at 06:26 PM | Comments (0)