Enough Was Said T’inspire a Better Mind – On Reading The Aeneid

I have a nicely-bound, Heritage Library edition of John Dryden’s translation of the Aeneid by Virgil. I’m working my way through it, or at least the first 4 books of it, as research for the deep edit that’s going into The Meditations of Caius Caligulia before I publish it. It also makes for a fun refresh of the rhetorical schemes and tropes I studied in grad school: my notes are filled with Greek terms codified by Roman scholars.

But more than that, Dryden’s lively pentameter lifts the story. As my Latin is poor, I could not dare read the original, but this Early-Modern translation has the right archaic feel for something that, like the Iliad and Odyssey, is at least partly a funeral oration for the collapse of the Bronze Age, an event that left its echoes in Scripture as well. Virgil, long-winded as he could be, also had a marvelous sense for imagery:

And here and there above the waves were seen,
Arms, pictures, precious goods, and floating men.

Aeneid, Book I

I like that Dryden satisfies himself with the half-rhyme in order to give the second line it’s full weight: our mind can form the picture quite easily, and it gives an immediacy to what amounts to the opening scene of our story. Note something else: Virgil chooses to begin the story in media res, with Aeneas, son of Troy, already driving his fleet halfway across the Mediterranean, already on his way to become the distant founder of Rome. We then flashback to the sack of Troy by the Greeks, as Aeneas, blown ashore on Carthage, tells his tale to Queen Dido.

And had not Heav’n the Fall of Troy design’d,
Or had not men been fated to be blind,
Enough was said and done t’inspire a better mind.

Aeneid, Book II

This is a triplet, i.e. three lines rhyming, of which I have found several scattered throughout. Most of the poem is couplets, so these stand out. Given that Virgil wrote in a dactylic hexameter, this is no doubt Dryden’s interpolation, as he was well-known for throwing triplets around. Dryden has been criticized for too loosely translating Virgil, a criticism he embraced, decreeing that the poem would read too dull in English if translated to plainly. I have to say I’m with Dryden on this. Here’s another example:

We leave the narrow lanes behind, and dare
Th’unequal combat in the public square:
Night was our friend; our leader was despair.

Aeneid, Book II

The closing chiasmus is so tasty that I want to find excuses to quote it. Book II is filled with grand phrases that capture the horror that Homer finishes the Iliad before relating:

On the bleak shore now lies th’abandoned king,
A headless carcass, and a nameless thing.

Aeneid, Book II

The strenght of this couplet fills me with admiration, especially the “nameless thing”, the translation of a great and powerful man into nothing makes clear that this story is playing for keeps, and to hear the hero speak it gives him a genuine pathos. I had heard this poem sneered at in my youth, as a dull gong banging in blood. I am glad to know that, as always, “they” are wrong.

“Tenet” is Bad, “Sound & Fury” is Good

Twitter impresario Mencius Moldbugman stomps on the Last Film in Theaters with both feet.

Apparently Nolan has been utterly corrupted by his early Hollywood success and is now incapable of directing something better than mediocre (which is kind of the vibe I got from Dunkirk). Apparently Tenet is two hours of rampaging nonsense. I don’t know if that is true or not. But I’m even less inclined to see it now.

This is part of a longer Thread of Worse 5 Movies of All Time, which are also somewhat interesting, and relatively obscure, so it’s worth reading, if only to absorb another human’s thoughts about Art. 50 First Dates, is on there, and who can resist Adam Sandler films getting savaged as they deserve?

But why lament Bad Art, when we can discuss Good Art? In the next Shallow & Pedantic podcast, we’re going to be chatting about the nexus of Samurai films and Westerns, and part of that is going to be spent on Sturgill Simpson’s 2019 film Sound and Fury, which is not really a “film” so much as it is, well, honestly, this YouTube commenter summed it up best:

Have you ever wondered what would happen if a respected alt-country star went into surgery and, in its aftermath, refused pain killing narcotics and instead just took a bunch of weed?

Imagine then, in his fugue state, he decides to take a departure from country and produce a crazy good synth rock album. Now imagine he decides to have the entire album animated, writes a vague anime screenplay, goes to Japan, and has some of the top anime artists compete to see who could be the nuttiest in producing his vision. He then puts it all together in a 45 min montage that can only be described the three way love child of Heavy Metal the movie, Akira, and The Wall.

I actually thought this level of unrestrained creative expression from a popular artists had died sometime in the 1980s. Maybe it did but, if so, Sturgill Simpson resurrected it here.

Jeffrey wyshynski 2 months ago

It’s my favorite thing I’ve seen all year, and it’s on Netflix. And I don’t even really like Anime. You should check it out.

Literature in the Age of Zero HP Lovecraft

The self-described “horrorist” Zero HP Lovecraft, aka The Only Man On Twitter Worth Reading, submits to a blog interview. He has much to say on many topics, including “wokenes” and the “school of resentment”, post-modernism, “desire machines” and his own work, and a hose of others. I invite you to read it in full, but I include some choice quotations.

As I have said elsewhere, in order for storytelling to succeed, it must contain a true theory of human nature. Wokeness is a false theory of human nature.

If you read Harold Bloom, I think he makes a kind of personal religion out of the canon. He views reading it and interacting with it as the path to salvation. Criticism for Bloom is soteriology, and that is also why he is a good critic: he likes and reveres the authors he is criticizing. He is correct when he identifies resentment as the driving force behind most other critics. They tend to be people who cannot create things themselves, so they just try to destroy what others have built.

What we need is a right-wing postmodernism, one which can acknowledge the absurdities and contradictions in our epistemology and learn to flow with them, rather than against them. Postmodernists, for all their excesses, stumbled into a vein of truth concerning narratives, knowledge, subjectivity, and technology, and they used that knowledge to construct a painful but effective abstract machine of ideology, which is currently so culturally ascendant that the right is curled up in the fetal position, rocking back and forth saying “no no no, not postmodernism, no no no.”

The school of resentment is just a fancy name for women in academia. They hate Infinite Jest because loser men who haven’t figured out how women feel about their personal philosophy try to tell them about Infinite Jest in order to sleep with them, so IJ becomes a cheap litmus test for “is the man talking to me a loser?” Women hate it when losers talk to them, because it implies that a loser man thinks he’s good enough to get with them, which implies that they aren’t very hot.

I can see how someone might characterize my work as satirical. I sort of cleave to my friend @quaslacrimas definition of satire here, that in order for a work to be satire, someone has to not be in on the joke. A classic satire like A Modest Proposal is a satire precisely because it never slips the mask, and some people will take it seriously, and get angry, and a lot of the humor lies in the reaction of the people who aren’t in on the joke. That’s not what I’m doing. I’m quite sincere in what I write, though I do try to use humor to spotlight some of the absurdities that I see around me in modern, technological life. If there is anyone who is not in on the joke, it’s me.

Whether or not one agrees with his takes, they are more interesting than most of what passes for commentary, on Twitter or elsewhere. He’s a fully online writer, who mostly appears at Substack and his own WordPress site. Writing is for him not a means of making a living but an expression of his life. He’s like Delicious Tacos that way: guys who write weird tales under a pseudonym so they can keep their day job. It’s a purely artistic expression, or at most a side hustle.

Confronting the reality of writing in this century is a serious one. The Old Publishing model is dead or dying, but the New Publishing model has new problems. The Freedom to Publish has become universalized, and therefore you must yourself do market analysis and learn SEO coding. Writing is not enough anymore.

On the plus side, that means there’s an opening for originality. And by originality I mean telling the truth of the moment in a way that immediately connects to whoever happens across it. The Truth does not vary but the Moment does.

The End is Never The End: Nietzsche and the Temptation to Prophesy

Running through The Birth of Tragedy is rewarding so long as you recognize that Friedrich Wilhelm was not primarly speaking to you. Rather, like a Cassandra howling at the walls, he was denouncing the folly of his own age, which we, not living in or even properly remembering Wilhelmine Germany, have no reference point to properly understand. Hence, if one reads a passage such as this:

In no other artistic age have so-called “culture” and art itself been so mutually hostle as we see them today. We can understand why such a feeble culture hates true art: it fears that it will bring about its downfall. But might an entire cultural epoch, the Socratic-Alexandrian, have come to an end after tapering to the fine culminate point of contemporary culture? If such heroes as Schiller and Goethe were unable to penetrate the enchanted portal leading to the Hellenic magic mountain, if their braves tstrivings brought them no further than the yearning gaze with which Goethe’s Iphigenie looked from barbaric Taurus to her home across the sea, what hop remains t their successors unless that portal should open of its own accord, in a quite different place quite untouched by all previous cultural endavours – amidst the mystic trains of reawakened tragic music?

Nietzsche, THE BIRTH OF TRAGEDY, pg. 97

One comes away with laughter. Because an honest man will admit that he hasn’t the first notion what the old wierdo is agitated about. Sure, I grasp the meaning of “Socratic-Alexandrian culture”, which is Apollonian and science-bound, rational and bereft of true artistic insight, because I’ve gotten far enough that he’s explained it to me. But I’ve only red bits of Goethe and Schilling. I’m lost here. And the line about the “Hellenic magic mountain” is possibly the nerdiest thing I’ve ever read, and I’m old enough to remember Usenet.

Nietzsche writes with wonderful agitation, and sometimes good ideas float through. This is of a piece with his desire for “Dionysiac” art and everything else. You always get the idea that he’s reaching to express something he cannot quite grasp. That makes him more interesting than the turgid logorrheacs he’s reacting to.

I will say that the line about culture and art being hostile to each other puts me in mind of some of my post about Modern Art via Ruskin. I wonder, though, what the old grump would say if he was granted access to a portal, a magic time mirror, and could look at what art and culture have become, in Germany and elsewhere, in the hundred years since his death. Would he approve of the “Dionysiac” artists, consider the sledghammer properly applied? Or would he recoil in confusion? Perhaps both?

He who writes about the wide range of art and “culture” finds it hard to escape the temptation to extrapolate his present observations into world-historical trends. But I have learned that whatever I expect to come in the near-future rarely comes to pass. No doubt I am guilty of wish-casting. The thing unseen warps our clean linear expectations. We did not get hoverboards and Jaws 19 in 2015. We got handheld magic mirrors into our own yearning and the beginning of the end of the film industry.

Or maybe not. Maybe cinema changes, merges with television, becomes a combined filmic art. Maybe both decline as we lose our ability to watch anything longer than a ten-minute YouTube video. Maybe the Matrix becomes real. Or maybe a thousand other different and contradictory things happen.

The one thing the present will do is flow into the future. And whatever we see down the river is like as not to be a mirage.

Backlist Publishing News: Amazon Price Shift

Word around the internet campfire of authors is that the best place to make money, especially as a self-published author, is to have an extensive backlist. That way, when you have something even mildly successful, people will come back looking for more. As it happens, I have a backlist of self-published works, novellas mostly, but I haven’t had a hit yet, and I haven’t published anything since 2018. I’m going to change that in the new year, but in the meantime, I’m going to make some shifts to my backlist. For one thing, I’ve delisted anything that was a short story. I’ll probably repackage all the short fiction together in one collection. For another, I’ve lowered the price on all e-books to 99 cents.

Whenever I publish anything, I usually get a tiny boomlet of sales. Hopefully with what’s coming in the new year, I’ll be able to get additional sales from like-minded folk.

That means that, as soon as the new prices show up (Amazon says it can take 72 hours, but I’ve never seen it take that long), you’ll be able to get the following books for 99 cents on your Kindles:

I Am Mildly Distracted Right Now, but Also Writing.

As is the most of the country. Not the writing part, but the distracted part. Lots of things are demanding my attention, and the weight of the current political clown show casts a pall over merely creative activities. I would like to take a nap, but I am too angry.

On the plus side, I’ve returned to a project that I had almost shelved, as it features opportunities for eloquent violence. A sad tales best for winter, and now is the winter of our discontent.

It’s a Western, called Death Riding, and it’s merely a novella in a larger tale that may or may not be related to The Sword. Which reminds me, that book needs an editor. And possibly an agent.

The return of Death Riding owes itself to Pulp by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, which is a page-turner of a graphic novel, one worth owning in hardcover. It pays homage not just to Westerns but to the Pulp era, and reminds us that Westerns had a strong pulp following in those days. They could again.

Movies are Short Stories, TV Shows are Novels

This is going to seem counterintuitive, but it’s true.

A “Feature Length” film is one 60 minutes or longer, according to the Screen Actor’s Guild. Most movies are somewhere between 80-120 minutes, although some popular films, such as nearly all the Star Wars movies, are longer (The Last Jedi, the longest one, is 152 minutes, or 2 hours and 32 minutes).

So to watch a movie is to take 1-3 hourse out of your day. And that’s usually done in one sitting. Very rarely do you watch a movie, stop halfway through, and then finish the rest later. Halfway through a movie, you’re usually invested in the story, and want to watch the rest. Movies are dense, quick-structured, A-B-C storytelling. They have to be to get you to sit through them.

Short stories, are stories less than 7,500 words. That is a quick read, giving an author not very much time to:

  • Establish setting
  • Establish character
  • Establish conflict
  • Build conflict
  • Resolve Conflict

Hence, short stories are dense, leaving as much unsaid as said, and stripping everything down to the meat. There is no more description, dialogue, or anything else, than their needs to be. Raymond Carver is the exemplar of the form for this reason.

Hence, these are the forms of efficiency. You strap in and you take the ride. You expect the story to reward your attention with immediate payoff. Movies are short stories.

TV Shows, on the other hand, are episodic. An Episode is a self-contained story that takes place within a larger context. Each successive episode reveals more about the characters, because the pressure of writing demands it. Even a TV show that intends to repeat a situation ad infinitum – a “situation comedy”, for example – finds that in cannot. Each episode adds to the character.

In times past, this growth was largely incidental, a process of creating new scenarios for the characters each week. This had more in common with the old penny dreadfuls, in which new chapters were published each week, and writers paid by the word, increasing the incentive to drag out the story and add new characters. TV Shows are kept on the air until their audience starts to leave, then they are given a hurried ending that most people find unsatisfying. See everything I’ve written about How I Met Your Mother for further elucidation.

So the production of TV shows still leads to dragging plots out, but the rise of “prestige” dramas and “concept” comedies yields the concept of an overall arc over a show or a season. The whole of a TV program can now tell one long story, and the episodes are mere chapters. The advent of streaming, and therefore binge-watching, a show, correlates to this phenomenon.

The best way to think of something like Breaking Bad or Maniac is as a visual novel. The problem with this metaphor is that, unlike modern novels produced and sold as a discreet unit, TV shows are ordered by-season. This is a function of cost. A book publisher is willing to take the risk on a print run, because that’s peanuts compared to funding the batallion necessary to produce a TV show. Hence, while a novel is always finished, a TV show will only continue so long as it maintains an audience. There’s a tension between immediacy and narrative built right into the structure.

This explains the aforementioned habit of TV Shows to screw up their finales. Most of the time, as with Seinfeld, a show has nothing particular to say, and so a finale is simply a process of saying good-bye. But when there’s a concept, an overall narrative and arc, the need to give an ending reflecting an audience’s emotional commitment becomes paramount. But it’s impossible to give proper attention to everything, and the longer a show goes on, the more true this becomes. This is why the last season of Game of Thrones felt so rushed, why fans left it so unsatisfied (The tendency to gloss over realities from the published world of the books did not help). There were so many threads left hanging, so many interesting things that they could have done, but which were not.

Thus, my current mood with regard to TV shows. I’m more in a movie mood, so I can enjoy narratives properly built and executed, rather than meandering their way and then getting cut off like a sausage. I’ve born disappointments enough from the attempts to transcend the structure.

Shallow & Pedantic Episode Six: Gieger Counter

Gieger Counter Shallow & Pedantic

The gang (we're a gang now) discuss H.R. Gieger's particular brand of accessible horror-art, its origins, meaning, and influence, and about ten other subjects as our flow (and pronounciation of the man's name) keeps tacking back and forth like a whirligig in a hurricane. Good times.
  1. Gieger Counter
  2. The Brust of the Lieber Fitz-Gerald
  3. We All Shine On
  4. Mike Gets the Good Mike
  5. The Philosophy of Horror

For this episode, we’re joined by Kyrin Krause, who’s been the graphic designer creating all the covers for Unnamed Journal. Generally speaking, the more the merrier with podcasts, and we definitely had fun in our rhetorical wanderings this time.

Digital Buying is Not Buying

At least, so far as Amazon is concerned:

When an Amazon Prime Video user buys content on the platform, what they’re really paying for is a limited license for “on-demand viewing over an indefinite period of time” and they’re warned of that in the company’s terms of use. That’s the company’s argument for why a lawsuit over hypothetical future deletions of content should be dismissed.

The Hollywood Reporter, “Amazon Argues Users Don’t Actually Own Purchased Prime Video Content

This is no dubious speculation by tin-hatters. This is a legal argument Amazon made in open court. Digital belongs to the platform you watch it on. The purveyors of the content are the actual owners, and always will be. If you want to *own* perpetual viewing rights, you need to buy a physical copy.

This is just like Facebook, Twitter, or any other all-digital interaction. It’s their circus, and you’re just one of the monkeys. They will change, alter, undo any part of anything that happens in their circus, at any time, and you will have no recourse other than to leave the circus behind.

The concentration of digital activity into a small handful of web sites has given them a functional monopoly. They are going to act like monopolists, and already are. Supporting the decentralization of the Matrix is the only way forward.

What is More Boring, NPR or Sports-Talk Radio?

The significance of boredom, as a cultural force, cannot be overstated in the modern age. Our economy and culture revolves to a strong degree on Entertainment, on the manufacture of excitement and drama. When food is plentiful, and most of the necessities of life available, excitement and drama, outside of the struggle to obtain newer and better forms of these, which is itself something of an artifice, can only be manufactured, or synthesized. Therefore, the failure to create this means something. So I’m not asking the question in my headline in order to be obnoxious towards two things that I have long disdained. At least, not only for that.

I want to know, on an aesthetic level, what makes these two things boring to me. To do that we shall examine them, and to by that, I of course mean, mock them cruelly.

What NPR Sounds Like To Me:

“Hello and Welcome to Book Blab on National Public Subnambulance. I’m your host, Garn Hippleshitz. Today I’m joined by one of my five rotating co-hosts, Felecia Turnblatt, and with us, we’re very excited to have celebrated author Revna Salkanufluffluh, fresh off a highly successful book tour for her new opus, Things I Lost in My Butt, the follow-up to 2017’s Chunkugaya-Award-Winning Tell Daddy I Itch. Powerful stuff, Felecia.”

“So Powerful. So Moving.”

“Mmm, yes.”

“Mmmm.”

This isn’t a new observation about NPR. Their sacred charge to appear absolutely neutral and objective yields a vocal performance that is both deeply pretentious and soporific. Absent any video evidence of their insect-bodies emerging from their humanoid forms, we have to assume that NPR hosts are normal people. But they sound like eunuchs who couldn’t have sex if you dropped them into the middle of a Tri-Delt rager with a lifetime supply of MDMA. NPR appeals to people who stopped listening to new music in their late-20’s and believe that others enjoy being corrected.

What Sports-Talk Radio Sounds Like To Me:

“Hey, this is Norv Wankfol, on the All-SPORTS SPORTS-Talk with SPORTS. Today we’ve Got ANALYSIS and BREAKDOWNS of GAMES and HIGHLIGHTS of OTHER GAMES and questionable RUMORS and obvious TIPS for all you FANTASY players out there. I’m joined by my co-host, Scott Turdsling, who will be doing most of the actual talking, describing all athletic events using a quiver of six adjectives: outstanding, amazing, impressive, large, major, and key, while I chime in to ask for dubious predictions in order to keep the guys hiding from their bookies tuning in. With us as always is Gimp Mosely, who gets duct-taped to the telephone pole if he speaks more than twice every half-hour, as we only let him on ’cause he’s the station-manager’s nephew. Let’s just get into talking about the draft, Scott.”

“Yeah, let’s Norv. MAJOR developments at the Draft yesterday, some OUTSTANDING choices, and some AMAZING surprises. Overall an IMPRESSIVE day.”

This, it must be noted, is an entirely different kind of boring, the opposite end of the Gradient of Dull. Unlike NPR’s soulless droning, this is the boring that comes of endless rhetorical inflation of mundane events. It’s of a piece with the Weather Channel, which used to be a friendly source of local weather and nationwide radar, and is now stuffed full of sub-History Channel dramas about people interacting with extreme weather events, with titles borrowed from B-movies. I can’t tell you who sport-talk radio appeals to, as every time I try to picture someone who enjoys it, my mind touches the void. It’s all gabble and marketing under the guise of “analysis”, which is pointless, as analyzing a sporting event does nothing to change your ability to enjoy the next one. The team with the most points wins. The rest is commentary.

But as it turns out, there’s a very clear idea of who listens to Sports Talk Radio: Nerds. Sports Fans are Basically Nerds:

  • Themed T-Shirts
  • Gathering with Like-Minded Obsessives
  • Attention to Facts and Dates
  • Hatred of People Who Love a Slightly Different Version of What They Love
  • Cosplay
  • Undying Loyalty To Something That Will Never Reciprocate It

But this awareness brings new light. Sports Radio, like a Comic-Con, is boring to me because it amounts to obsessives talking about things that I have, at best, mild interest in. It’s the subject itself that loses me. It’s not anything the sports radio guys are doing. Sure, I can make fun of their witless chummery and lack of formal erudition, but that’s audience-appropriate. If anything, it would be more ridiculous to drop ten-dollar words in a discussion of a baseball game. These guys know they’re subject, they’re passionate about it, and at their best, can discuss it on a level that improves their audience’s understanding of it. My lack of interest is on me.

On the other hand, NPR is talking about things that I do have an interest in: literature, politics, art, etc. I should be a regular listener. Instead, I would rather claw my ears out. Because unlike sports radio guys, NPR hosts act as though they’re observing everything from a great height, like museum curators picking apart a thing long dead. They’re actively making interesting things boring through their performance (yes, being on the radio is a performance). And aside from introducing a few new facts or lukewarm takes into public discourse, none of them have anything interesting to say. There is nothing truly subversive or thought-provoking on NPR; it’s all Approved Narrative, Pravda read into a microphone by WASPS.

It’s one thing not to be able to interest someone in a subject despite your best efforts. It’s another to ruin someone’s enjoyment or understanding by your dullness. NPR is guilty of the latter. They are more boring. So Let it Be Written.