Page 2 of 168

George R.R. Martin is Seriously Starting to Bore Me

In the last issue of UJ, I penned an essay about how I felt regarding the end of Game of Thrones. In that essay, I argued that the spirit of Martin’s work is essentially pagan, and the influence of Robert Howard is far more present than that of Tolkein, who filled his work with a Catholic ethos. That’s not necessarily a bad thing: Beowulf is at least as pagan as it is Christian (anyone who argues that it’s basically a pagan worldview with Christian seasoning won’t get much argument from me), and it’s a rich epic. But it ends on a down note, one of death and fear and cold. So does Game of Thrones, which has its one incorruptible hero cast aside like trash, basically so the show could pull one more sucker punch.

And here’s Martin, in his notablog, barbering on about this years Hugo awards, as if anyone cares:

I am not a believer in any afterlife, and I don’t think that Gardner was either… so as nice as it would be to think that he was looking down on us from the Secret Pro Party in the Sky, I can’t.

And there you have it, really. Death is a sleep. The Void is King. Jon Snow was always going to become Nothing, because there’s nothing out there to become.

Which makes me start to doubt about his commitment to finishing. Especially since he’s teasing his fans as to the damn prequel series for HBO. In some part of his mind, A Song of Ice and Fire is already finished, and the idea of putting in the work to actually finish it feels like a gigantic slog. This whole thing was over the minute the series overtook the books.

Garbage Pseudo-Psychology? Possibly. Despair? Definitely.

Doesn’t mean I’m wrong, though.

On Aesthetics

I was inspired by my earlier post to think about aesthetics – the philosophy of art, beauty, etc.  And I did a brief perusal of the related article on the topic on Infogalactic and discovered something:

  • In ancient and medieval world, specific things were called out as being beautiful: order, form, harmony, unity, etc. This was a means of defining beauty.
  • Starting in the Early Modern period (17th-19th centuries), the conversation changed to be about “aesthetic experiences”, wedding aesthetics to rationality and science.
  • Then in the 20th century, two things happen:
    • First, we throw away the artist/author because of the “intentional fallacy”, and center our understanding of a work solely on our individuated responses to it.
    • Second, the Po-Mo’s throw away the idea of beauty itself, and everything becomes about discourses and narratives to be endlessly invoked and endlessly deconstructed

So we move from a set of idea that are clear, evocative, and can be used by a mason to build a temple, to a set of ideas that are esoteric, tendentious, and can only be used by academics to write essays. The nerds have taken over.

71ArtInutile-s
“Art is Useless. Go home.”

Some Books to Check Out

Since I mentioned it the other day, you can pick up a copy of Burke’s A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful on Kindle for 99 cents.

It looks, based on the sample, to be properly formatted, too.

Additionally, the micro-press whose podcast I’ve been following, Dead Rabbit Books, has launched their first title, Emerald City by founder Brian Birnbaum. It’s something of a social novel and something of a thriller.

Just in case you’ve got nothing to read on a Tuesday.

And Now, More Mindlessly Speculative Guff about Star Wars

First, the rumor mill: reshoots, secret cameos, six different endings, a bunch of “sources say” folderol. Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not. There’s really no way to know. Even after the movie’s out, we don’t get a lot of facts about what actually goes on in a movie shoot. Until the last Blu-Ray sale, no one wants to go on record.

Also, I’m kinda tired of the idea that it was The Last Jedi that broke Star Wars, as if the last 20 years hadn’t happened. This franchise has been coming apart at the seams for a while.

And honestly, the whole point of doing movies is to re-shoot them if you can. This is especially true of large corporate popcorn movies. Everyone with a stake gets to put their 2 cents in. It’s not inherently bad that they’re trying to please as many of the fans as they can.

Still, not a good look.

Then we’ve got completely speculative horse-puckeys about what can even be done with the story at this point:

This sounded terrifyingly plausible to me, but that doesn’t mean it’s what’s happening. My instinct says that Skywalker is going to be blandly competent and mildly forgettable. But again, this could also be wrong. Every thought and process we have about this right now is locked into essentially the same place it was in the Prequel era – Please don’t suck, please don’t suck, please don’t suck.

Because, Solo aside, they haven’t done anything to expand the universe (Solo was a good movie. It didn’t deserve its fate). It’s the same blues-vs-reds that it was before, only now it’s done with different sensibilities and feels about 20% as fresh. And maybe that’s because we’re all too wrapped up in it as fans. Fandom is inherently obsessive and perspective-warping. Turning enjoyment into devotion messes up the relationship between art and audience.

The question is, when Lucasfilm busted its ankles to profit from that devotion, and still does, do they not bear some responsibility for that skewed relationship? Especially when they feel no obligation to the art as anything other than a bland corporate product? It’s hard to find much sympathy for an organization that refuses to manage basic continuity in what’s supposed to be an ongoing story.

But again, nobody knows. And my attitude has become so clinical and noncommittal towards this, that I’m beginning to ask myself if I even care.

A “One-Woman Fyre Festival”

That may be unfair. Caroline Calloway isn’t the first person who couldn’t make a book deadline. But the disconnect between reality and InstaReality is as vast:

Caroline Calloway knew she was not who she had made the world believe she was. She had created a public image that was essentially false and, when she was required to commit this image to print — to tell her life story — she experienced an existential crisis. It was one thing to post a photo to Instagram with a clever caption (and editorial assistance from her uncredited helper Natalie), but to compile these scattered vignettes into a narrative and say, “This is my life”? No, she couldn’t do it.

And as the Brutus of her story, Natalie Beach, indicates, there’s a semblance of honesty in there, an insistence that if you just believe hard enough, it will happen. You see the same in Billy McFarland’s pathetic stance on top of a picnic table at Fyre, trying to calm a mob of hopeful glampers just beginning to realize they got hosed.

The worst scammers are those that believe their own bullshit. If Calloway had just let Beach ghostwrite the book, she’d be full of it, but there would have at least been a book. If McFarland had limited his expectations, their at least could have been a party on whatever island that was.

But their minds were warped by saturated images and SEO data. They got high on their own supply.

It’s not at all easy to write a book. I’ve done it. It’s grinding. It’s work. It’s not glamour and bon mots and artisanal pork bellies. There’s a reason writers drink.

One of the best free books about creating, Steven Pressfield’s Do the Work, reminds us that the struggle of delivering the work, or “shipping”

When we ship, we’re exposed. That’s why were so afraid of it. When we ship, we’ll be judged. The real world will pronoubnce upon our work and upon us, when we ship, we can fail, when we ship, we can be humiliated.

For some, an insurmountable bar to clear.

Originality is not Art.

All aesthetic positions are going to offend someone, because concepts of the beautiful are perpetually wrapped up in concepts of the true, and that makes sense in poets’ vomitings but not as an ontological baseline. Whether the beautiful and the true are connected in some way doesn’t really help us to define the beautiful.

The philosophy of aesthetics suffer in a different way from the post-modern inversion. A long time ago Edmund Burke took a shot at defining The Beautiful and The Sublime, and it’s so 18th century you could powder your wig with it. Make an art student read it today and she won’t be able to get past it. Feminism owns the dialogue on what’s considered beautiful, because women have historically been far more concerned with beauty, and all women today feel obligated to at least nod to feminism lest they be accused of harboring the desire to surrender their franchise or some such nonsense. And Feminists regard beauty as a conspiracy against women, because… reasons.

On top of that, the idea of objective aesthetics sounds to many people like “objective enjoyment” and enjoyment is an emotional response to something. You enjoy something. You cannot make yourself enjoy something that you do not, in fact, enjoy. The Star Wars prequels and David Lynch’s Dune are my personal evidence to that.

So aesthetics has to appeal to presuppositions about what people like. If you like horror and your wife doesn’t, then no objective statement about the aesthetic value of say, The Shining, is going to be possible between you. She might agree that, on the whole, The Shining is a better movie that Bye Bye Man, but she doesn’t enjoy either, so she doesn’t care.

Where am I going with this?

I’m aiming at the reality that art of any form needs to be some kind of communication. There has to be something that The Shining is communicating, even if it’s something as simple as dread, mystery, and heart palpitations. So the first judgement of a piece of art is how well in accomplishes its intent (here the po-mo’s shriek that intent isn’t real and there aren’t any authors, because po-mo’s are nerds who think inverting things is valuable and clever). What does it want to convey to its audience? Did it do so successfully?

The second judgement would be the relative value of its intent. This must be judged on a gradient. What Animal House communicates and what Citizen Kane communicates are vastly different, and what the latter communicates is grander in scope, so it gets taken more seriously. That doesn’t mean Animal House has no aesthetic value, or that you shouldn’t watch it (I’m not bringing in any moral objections here. That’s beyond the scope), just that it’s ambitions are obviously more modest.

But in order to say something succesfully, you must find an audience that can hear it. I may have a very clear idea of what I mean when I say “wickle-bickle-num-bum-jarf-jarf-jarf,” but that doesn’t mean anything to anyone else, so I’m failing in communication. So originality isn’t always a bonus to art. You want to be unique, because you want to be heard as you, but originality gets in the way of communication as often as not. If Citizen Kane were a shade weirder, it would not have worked as well, and it would not be as successful a piece of art, by any standard.

Art can be original. They’re not synonyms.