You, the Living

One of my favorite films is a little-known Swedish tragicomedy called Songs From the Second Floor, made by first-time director Roy Andersson in 2000. His ostensible sequel (there’s supposed to be a trilogy) was released in 2007 but still not widely available. This second outing is entitled You, the Living (Swe: “Du Levande”), named after the Goethe quote that opens the film: “Be pleased then, you the living, in your delightfully warmed bed, before Lethe’s ice-cold wave will lick your escaping foot.”

An equally appropriate (albeit less high-brow) quote could’ve come from Woody Allen at the beginning of Annie Hall where Alvy Singer says life is “full of loneliness, and misery, and suffering, and unhappiness, and it’s all over much too quickly.” Suffice to say, Andersson’s outlook is bleak and misanthropic to the core. Which makes me think of Michael Haneke, since I also just watched The White Ribbon, the punishingly dark winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year. But if I’m going to sit through such misery, at least Andersson delivers with a mordant wit and deadpan humor that keeps You, the Living afloat.

And unlike Haneke’s, in Andersson’s films if there’s anything unwatchable it is only on-screen for a few minutes. You, the Living is composed of 50 absurdist vignettes, all filmed in one take and almost always using one fixed camera. Like Songs From the Second Floor, the film’s occupants are primarily ashen, lethargic, and mostly anhedonic. Some characters pop up in multiple segments, but often the individual stories have next to no connection to one another. Most of the pieces deal with life’s humiliations in one form or another, although You, the Living is still lighter and more accessible than Songs From the Second Floor. In my favorite storyline, a girl named Anna is approaching despair over her unrequited love affair with a band’s singer. Even her dreams mock her, in what has to be one of the most beautiful film sequences I’ve ever seen:

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What Gorgias Would Say to Sisyphus

On Sunday the pastor at Christ Church preached on kairos and God’s time; specifically, the notion of the kingdom of God as “already and not yet” simultaneously. While I don’t disagree, I want to offer another take on kairos and the personal importance of that word to my own philosophy.

For this I draw on Gorgias of Leontini, one of the most underrated ancient philosophers (unfairly maligned for over 2 millenia because of Dumb & Dumber, ie Aristotle & Plato). From Gorgias and the Sophists we get the concept of the “kairotic moment,” loosely meaning “seizing the opportune opening.” Originally a sports term (archery), the Sophists applied it to rhetoric to mean the key moment in a debate when you trip up your opponent or drive him into a logical corner.

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Books Read in 2008

I tried to read a book/week again, which seems very reasonable, but fell short once again. I’m about halfway through a dozen other books, which I’ll probably just finish & count for ’09. Under each category, they’re listed in the order I read them. Incidentally, the first book I read in 2008 was The Audacity of Hope by Mister Obama. (more…)

“Literature is a way of (not) telling secrets”

“If I have a taste for the secret, it clearly has to do with not-belonging; I have an impulse of fear or terror in the face of a political space, for example, a public space that makes no room for the secret.”
– Jacques Derrida, A Taste for the Secret (59)

We stumble in, half-drunk already, half-dead already, ready for night and ready for day. Don’t you see there, the Stranger in the back, always in the back? Is he unlike us, more like Derrida when he uncovered the reason, the fear and terror of the public space? Not (mostly) shame and guilt, the secret is undoubtedly more intimate. His secrets are personal – “coextensive with the experience of singularity” – the singularity of self. And these are the secrets: how he crosses his legs, folds his arms, squints his eyes, touches his hair, taps his fingers while reading. Who can tell, who can know? Ritual discontent, on display. Hell is other people, says Sartre, for their unrelenting gaze. The Stranger reading, only aware of self and book, the play of words and words of play. Isn’t this where the fear is introduced, the moment he feels the gaze of the other, our violent on-looking, his self-conscious realization of himself as Stranger alone in the back, yes alone, reading alone? Self as seen by other, either disdained or patronized by other, by us? What other reaction, in the face of the gaze in public, is there but existential terror? Indulge him, despise him, this is not Everyman, his name is Difference. His demand is too great: close your eyes.

Little Bit of This & That

Some dude named Brady built a home-made flamethrower… you know, just in case he needs to pillage a conquered village later in the week.

Remember The W’s and their song “The Devil Is Bad?” It earned them a RIAA-certified platinum record for being on the Wow ’99 compilation (sadly, I’m guessing 70% of my readers have owned that very disc). Valentine Hellman, the W’s sax player, decided to try and play the platinum record with amusing results. I’ve decided that anybody who’d put their Dove awards above the crapper is alright by me. I’d love to hear more about his days trapped in the CCM underworld.

How much money would it take for you to kill a puppy with your bare hands? Best video I’ve seen in a while.

I grabbed desktop wallpaper from this site that has a few good photos of Philippine beaches. Might see something you like if you’re pinoy.

Lastly, a few funny poker shirts

Sometimes I’m a dork and notice philosophy in pop music that, probably inadvertently, serves as a nice slogan. For example:
The lyric “There is no you, there is only me,” from the chorus of “Only” by Nine Inch Nails pretty well sums of solipsism.

Or contrast these two:
Essentialism: “Be Yourself” by Audioslave
Anti-essentialism and/or existentialism: “Make Yourself” by Incubus

Notes from Underground

Just finished reading Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground, a phenomenal work of literature and art. This sums up my feelings for the Underground Man quite nicely:

“…The underground man, while writing his Notes, is looking over his shoulder at you, the reader, telling you he doesn’t want your pity or your understanding. As if he were engaged in polemics with a cunning and vicious enemy, he wants to shock and annoy his reader. Yet, at the same time, he seems to want to impress you…”

From this analysis

What I like about that quote is because it’s exactly how I feel… shocked, annoyed, and impressed with the Underground Man. I am amazed at how much I am like him while simultaneously hoping I am not, nor anyone else is, truly him.