Tag: books (page 1 of 3)

Popular culture has become an endless parade of sequels

Once you start recognising colour schemes and sound effects, every new film ends up looking and sounding the same.

Yes, I’m getting old, but as Adam Mastroianni from Experimental History explains, there’s shifts happening in everything from books to video games.

The problem isn’t that the mean has decreased. It’s that the variance has shrunk. Movies, TV, music, books, and video games should expand our consciousness, jumpstart our imaginations, and introduce us to new worlds and stories and feelings. They should alienate us sometimes, or make us mad, or make us think. But they can’t do any of that if they only feed us sequels and spinoffs. It’s like eating macaroni and cheese every single night forever: it may be comfortable, but eventually you’re going to get scurvy.

[…]

Fortunately, there’s a cure for our cultural anemia. While the top of the charts has been oligopolized, the bottom remains a vibrant anarchy. There are weird books and funky movies and bangers from across the sea. Two of the most interesting video games of the past decade put you in the role of an immigration officer and an insurance claims adjuster. Every strange thing, wonderful and terrible, is available to you, but they’ll die out if you don’t nourish them with your attention. Finding them takes some foraging and digging, and then you’ll have to stomach some very odd, unfamiliar flavors. That’s good. Learning to like unfamiliar things is one of the noblest human pursuits; it builds our empathy for unfamiliar people. And it kindles that delicate, precious fire inside us––without it, we might as well be algorithms. Humankind does not live on bread alone, nor can our spirits long survive on a diet of reruns.

Source: Pop Culture Has Become an Oligopoly | Experimental History

My highlights from ‘Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead’

This morning, I finished reading Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, the translated name of Olga Tokarczuk’s 2009 novel, published a decade later in English.

I thought I’d share my five of the sections I highlighted, because it’s one of those books that, despite being a work of fiction, also has sections which describe well the human condition.

(I’ll also note that the book has made me more militantly vegetarian, which I didn’t see coming!)

It is at Dusk that the most interesting things occur, for that is when simple differences fade away. I could live in everlasting Dusk. (p.43)

When you walk past a shop window where large red chunks of butchered bodies are hanging on display, do you stop to wonder what it really is? You never think twice about it, do you? Or when you order a kebab or a chop – what are you actually getting? There’s nothing shocking about it. Crime has come to be regarded as a normal, everyday activity. Everyone commits it. That’s just how the world would look if concentration camps became the norm. Nobody would see anything wrong with them.’ (p.98)

For people of my age, the places that they truly loved and to which they once belonged are no longer there. The places of their childhood and youth have ceased to exist, the villages where they went on holiday, the parks with uncomfortable benches where their first loves blossomed, the cities, cafés and houses of their past. And if their outer form has been preserved, it’s all the more painful, like a shell with nothing inside it any more. I have nowhere to return to. It’s like a state of imprisonment. The walls of the cell are the horizon of what I can see. Beyond them exists a world that’s alien to me and doesn’t belong to me. (p.146)

The psyche is our defence system – it makes sure we’ll never understand what’s going on around us. Its main task is to filter information, even though the capabilities of our brains are enormous. For it would be impossible to carry the weight of this knowledge. Because every tiny particle of the world is made of suffering. (p.197)

Newspapers rely on keeping us in a constant state of anxiety, on diverting our emotions away from the things that really matter to us. Why should I yield to their power and let them tell me what to think? (p.235)

Source: Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead | Wikipedia

The End of Literary Criticism

Bizarrely enough, given where I grew up, my teenage years were spent reading all kinds of stuff that would probably be shelved under the title ‘literary criticism’, ‘hermeneutics’, or ‘apologetics’.

I don’t think that’s going away, but instead what’s changing is that books (and, more importantly the people who make, edit, and write them) are no longer seen as the gatekeepers to culture.

Complaining about the state of literary criticism in 2021 seems somewhat futile. First because literary critics have always been viewed as parasitic or, more damningly, irrelevant. Ever since there has been literature, there have been critics. And, ever since there have been critics, there have been writers, readers, and others accusing them of all manner of sins: jealousy, pettiness, poor reading, ad hominem attacks. In an epigraph to her 2016 book, Critics, Monsters, Fanatics, and Other Literary Essays, American novelist and critic Cynthia Ozick cites eighteenth-century poet Alexander Pope, who referred to “those monsters, Criticks!” But the bellyaching is also futile because, after years of being seen, in contemporary discourse, as highbrow irritants, professional critics are well on their way to becoming extinct. As Mark Davis puts it in a 2018 article in the Sydney Review of Books, “Traditional literary gatekeepers now live a kind of half-life; representatives of a zombie culture: the walking dead.”

Source: What We Lose When Literary Criticism Ends | The Walrus