Thursday, July 31, 2008

I'll be taking Zombie Lit as an elective for my PhD in Horribleness

Haiku are easy
Unless your brains were eaten
By the living dead.

From Boing Boing (with an additional recommendation from my fellow zombophile Aunt Laura)

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Losing Love's Labor on the Eastern Front

Last night I went up to Boulder to see the Colorado Shakespeare Festival perform Love's Labour's Lost. I had read the play previous to seeing it, and I was sure that they would make significant changes because the original text relies heavily on topical humor and wordplay that a contemporary audience simply won't get when it is performed. Also, it would be quite long if it was performed without any cuts, and it's quite tough to get audiences to sit through anything that goes over three hours. One consequence of the cuts (I suspect I was the only person in the audience to even notice) was that they chopped up some of the sonnets and made a mess of the iambic pentameter. I know that the typical audience member would struggle to even notice it, and I would have forgiven them that change if they hadn't made other choices that were far more questionable.

I knew ahead of time that they had chosen to set it in America in 1917, and I gather that the decision to set it on the verge of one of the two world wars is relatively common for 20th century productions, and it provides a useful way of framing the ending, which turns the traditional ending for a comedy on its head. I didn't object to the decision to change the setting, but I was quite curious to see what they would do about the scene in which the four lords disguise themselves as Russians to come woo the ladies, only to have the women outwit them and make them the butt of the joke.

It's no problem in an Elizabethan setting to play the young men in Russian garb as straightforward ridiculous comedy, but I was curious to see what the director would do about the fact that image of Russians in 1917 was something quite different from simply being goofy foreigners. To my great disappointment, they did nothing to address that issue, trusting that the historical ignorance of a typical audience would allow them to get away with it. Judging from the laughter of the rest of the audience when they came out in fur caps and did the stereotypical Russian dance, the director didn't pay a price for dodging the hard questions raised by that choice of setting, which made it all the more disappointing.

The other element of this production that I had a real problem with was that the cuts ended up taking much of the life out of the role of Rosaline. Their Rosaline was an actress with auburn hair, and rather than put her in a black wig or have her dye her hair, the director completely cut everything about "black" Rosaline. In and of itself those cuts didn't disrupt the plot, but together with some of the other, smaller cuts to her wordplay with Berowne, the result was that her role was reduced to the point that she no longer stood on the same level with him. Among the lovers, the King, the Princess, Rosaline, and Berowne are clearly the primary characters, but the balance of the play falters when one becomes secondary to the other three.

On the whole I did enjoy it and didn't regret going, but that was largely because of the fine job that the actors did (the actors who played Costard and Moth were especially good), and in spite of the poor choices the director made.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Introverts and separations

The realization that my summer is rapidly drawing to a close has resulted in a lot of aimless wandering through the goody-filled halls of the Internet, and today I came across an old article from The Atlantic that does a better job of expressing what it means to be an introvert than anything else I've ever read on the subject. Now if only there were a way to make extroverts realize how true it is...

I've also been following the horrified responses to recently upheld law in South Dakota that forces doctors to read a scripted statement (which was written by the legislature and has an only tangential relationship to science and reality). Even before you get to the free speech problems and the garbage science it is based on, the statement has a serious problem with basic logical coherence. As pointed out in the Human Nature blog on Slate, if a fetus is "a whole, separate, unique, living human being" then nobody needs to worry about getting an abortion, which the state defines as "the use of any means to intentionally terminate the pregnancy of a woman known to be pregnant with knowledge that the termination with those means will, with reasonable likelihood, cause the death of the fetus." If the fetus is already whole and separate, then who could think that there's a reasonable likelihood that removing it from the womb would cause its death?

Friday, July 18, 2008

I love books (and hilarious online video thingies)

I've been meaning to check out Goodreads for a while now, and this evening I finally got around to it (along with discovering the delightful online series The Guild). It would be madness to try to go back and write reviews for all of my favorite books, but there are a some books that are too dear to me for a simple star rating to suffice, and I'll cross post them here (I'm also filling in some of them with past posts from here in which I talked about books I'd read).

Ender's Game (Ender's Saga, Book 1) Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
Ender's Game captured elements of my childhood that no other work of fiction (or anything in any other medium) has ever presented in a way that felt believable. There have been countless works in which I sympathize with the protagonist, but the character of Ender captured something about me that I probably couldn't even have articulated before I read the book.

Dune (Dune Chronicles #1) Dune by Frank Herbert

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
The sublime is a pretty elusive quality, but my definition has always been closely tied to a sense of transport. A truly sublime work of art is that which transports me out of myself, and Dune is one of the few books that achieves that rare feat. The rush of ideas in the passage describing Paul's emergence into his power managed to produce in me a visceral sense of vertigo. It's hard to imagine a more compelling example of the power of fiction.

Paradise Lost (Penguin Classics) Paradise Lost by John Milton

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
Milton's masterpiece is not only the greatest epic ever written in English verse, it has actually had significant influence on the way that people think about the Christian mythology. In my conversations with mainstream Christians, the things that they say about things like angels and Satan are much more consistent with the way that those concepts are depicted in Paradise Lost than how they a represented in the Bible.

His Dark Materials Trilogy (The Golden Compass; The Subtle Knife; The Amber Spyglass) His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
This trilogy starts off as a seemingly simple jaunt into the realm of adventurous fantasy, but the intellectual depth quickly reveals itself. Few books even attempt capture the agony of the conflict between romance and responsibility, and of the few that try, it's rare to see an author avoid the slippery slope of melodrama. The worlds that Pullman conjures are magnificent in and of themselves, but his true achievement is that he captures the joy and pain of growing up without romanticizing childhood or looking down on it.

View all my reviews.

Also, if you haven't checked out Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, what are you waiting for? Act II is up now (and is even more super-awesome than Act I). Even my friend Ben, who hates musicals, loved it, so nobody who is reading this has any excuse for not checking it out this weekend while it's still available for free (magic word!). I'll be done with my MA soon, so you'd better take my advice lest you find yourself on the wrong side of a guy with a PhD in Horribleness (I hear Duke offers five years of funding).

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Dr. Horrible!

Watch it.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Geeking out on the work of pre-theoretical knuckle-draggers

I started reading Neal Stephenson's novel Snow Crash this weekend and finished it earlier this afternoon. Part of what I enjoyed about it was that it played around in the territory of genres like cyberpunk without setting down its roots in them.

Because of that interesting feature of the novel, I was all the more intrigued when I came across a post on Boing Boing with this video of a recent lecture by Stephenson on the topic of literary genres.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Learning from movies

This afternoon I went to see WALL-E, and I was quite pleased that it managed to live up to the elevated expectations that I had as result of all the good reviews and positive word of mouth. To make a movie about a trash robot, and to do it without any dialogue for 90% of the movie is an unimaginably bold move for a Hollywood film of any sort, but Pixar has proven their brilliance once again by crafting a touching and thoughtful film that is a stellar example craftsmanship in cinema.

It's not giving anything away to say that it has a surprisingly subversive message about how our wasteful consumer culture is destroying both the planet and the human race. The movie makes its point seamlessly, without any blunt didacticism, and it's hard to imagine a more compelling way to communicate concepts of conservation and good stewardship of the Earth. Unfortunately, the power of the film's impact on me made it that much more depressing to see that it did not penetrate the minds of my fellow movie patrons, who engaged in the typical movie theater behavior of leaving all of their scattered trash behind for someone else to clean up. If a film like WALL-E couldn't get people to change their behavior, it leaves me with little hope that we'll be able to achieve a happy ending of our own.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Speaking more than one language? How un-American!

In an especially idiotic expression of xenophobia, a school-board member in Louisiana objected to the use of a few sentences of Vietnamese directed towards their parents by the co-valedictorians in their graduation speech. He has also put forward a policy proposal to forbid the use of any language other than English in graduation speeches.

That sort of foolishness is appalling no matter where it comes from, but it's especially ridiculous when it comes from a part of the country that was originally settled by French-speakers. But wait, there's more! Not only does the location have French roots, but the school-board member in question has that decidedly non-English last name of Pitre (for extra bonus fun, look up what that translates to in English).

There is one possible bright side to such a policy, as it would save audiences from any more commencement addresses peppered with little bits of Latin. Anyway, who would ever want to graduate Magna Cum Laude when you could graduate Mega Super Awesome instead?