Posted by: Yorgos | October 6, 2011

Text 41 – The Nobel Prize in Literature

As much as I would like Thomas Pynchon to have won this year’s Nobel Prize, it seems that my wishes do not coincide with that of the Scandinavians. However, I do not want to comment on the winner and whether the poet, Tomas Tranströmer, deserves the prize or not. Apart from the random poem quoted in various websites after the announcement, I have not read him and I do not have an opinion on his work.

What I would like to comment on is the way we look at the prize, since I’ve taken part in various debates the past few days concerning the merits of the winners, the politics involved, the obsessions of the academy and so on.

First of all, the Nobel prize in literature seems to be a prize that nobody thinks highly of, while at the same time wishes for their favorite writer to win. This must be some strange psychological reaction related to the fact that our tastes and likes need to be confirmed through not only the people whose opinion matters to us, but also through those who are indifferent and have no bearing on our behavior. There is a strong possibility that I am wrong in this, but I can ask myself: Would I care if Pynchon won the prize? Of course I would, I would be glad. Do I care about some of the latest winners? Not really, no. Some of them I have never read and I probably never will. Would I think highly of the academy if they gave one to Pynchon? Not more than I do now. I have a lot of respect for them, even if it’s just for the fact that they make literature the center of attention for at least one day.

This brings me to my second point. If literature is brought to the center of attention through this prize, then what should be the role it takes up within the world of literature? Should it reward the established authors, those who have not only written good books but have also reached out to a big portion of the world’s population (Thomas Pynchon is no Dan Brown -and I’m glad that he isn’t- but all his books have been in print since they first came out. Millions have read him and many more will)? Should it give the opportunity to writers coming from places other than the mainstream book producing countries, writers who find it impossible to get the publicity (even among highbrow -as much as I don’t like this term, it is appropriate here- literature, publicity is essential) their work merits? Do politics come into place? So far the academy seems to be favoring the second option, but with a European bias. And that’s what’s unfortunate. Because if one wants to highlight the literary achievements of authors less known, one needs to look to the entire world. Sure there are Nobel laureates from almost everywhere, but the Europeans (even the last 15 years) are more.

The academy once criticized American literature about losing its connectedness to the world of literature, standing apart from the dialogue that is so essential for the literary work to progress. I agree that this dialogue is essential, but if American literature, read all over the world, is at this point, what does this say about Greek or Swedish literature, read only by few people? If dialogue is what we’re looking for, then we need to include the readers. Mainly the readers. But this means that the prize would be awarded to American and western European (read: British, French and German) authors almost every year, without a chance of opening up to new -yes, I’ll say it- markets.

I understand that it is difficult to keep this balance. As always, I have no answer to the problem, perhaps because I have not considered every aspect of it. But the question we need to answer first is: “What do we want the Nobel prize in literature to be?” The right answer might be different for everyone and it can be any of the options I mentioned above and many more. What is the answer for me? Well, I guess I want my favorite writers to be given this award as a confirmation of their art and my choices. I am interested in American literature for many reasons, one of which must be that the American culture is so prominent everywhere in the world. Does this make my wishes wrong or selfish?

As always, I welcome comments, suggestion and debate.

Posted by: Yorgos | December 21, 2010

Text 40 – A Nation in Crisis, a Nation in Depression

I don’t normally do it, but this time I will use this blog in order to express my opinion about a political situation and , particularly, the debt crisis that Greece is currently facing. First things first. Things are bad and it seems that they’re getting worse by the day. People are angry, frustrated, sad, depressed. They want something to be done, but seem to lack the courage to start it themselves. The flimsy attempts at protesting have begun not from the majority of the people, but from groups with agendas, like unions and anarchists, but at least there is some participation by other people as well. It’s not difficult to surmise whose fault this whole mess is. Bad governments and Greeks with bad mentality. Not all, but too many of us have tried one way or another to beat the system, to cut corners, to gain unfair advantages only to realize now that what we we were doing was, in fact, following the system itself. Mirrored in the governments (or perhaps pre-existent in it), this mentality was blown out of proportion, since the decision makers have much more room to act and, quite literally, steal. Actually, it seems that for a long time, the people who wanted to become decision makers were those who were more eager to gain unfair advantages, which means that the dishonest to honest ratio was much worse in politics, than in any other field. I share the sentiment in wanting to see some people put in prison, while at the same time I realize that the false prosperity we had in the past is pretty much the reason why we’re here. Governments gave away as much as they stole, a bribe of sorts to keep the people satisfied and silent, and, in our vanity, we started wanting even more, taking more loans and relying more and more on credit cards, a dangerous mix, especially when it is combined with our peculiar, self-destructing, but overall awesome, optimism.

Optimism. We Greeks are often proud of our sun. You can’t but feel optimistic when the day is nice. And the day is nice in Greece quite often. Is this still true, though? Perhaps we feel better when we see the sun shining, but do we feel good? No, not at all. As I said, people are angry and depressed, and rightly so. They are poorer and the prospects are not improving. But we are here now. What do we do? Mistakes and crimes have indeed been made and they have brought us here. What are we going to do about it? How are we going to get out of this dire financial situation?

This is where I will disagree with a lot of Greeks. I don’ t see that getting poorer is the biggest problem we have right now. My generation has been the wealthiest one ever to exist in modern Greece (let’s say since the founding of the modern Greek state in the early 19th century). It probably still is. Our parents, even, were much poorer than us and I bet that, to some people, people who can put things in perspective, complaining now makes us sound like spoiled brats, whose toys were taken away by a bad teacher. I am not suggesting that we should forget about any injustices that have been made, because we’re still better off than in the past. Not at all. What happened was unforgivable and needs to be corrected one way or another (I will talk about this later). What I am saying right now, though, is that the biggest problem is not poverty. It’s depression and fear. I will say it once more and it’s not an accident that I’ve been repeating it since the beginning of this text: People are angry and sad and depressed and frustrated. And afraid. And that is the biggest threat of all. Because being in fear means that you’re afraid to act. Being in a poor financial situation is, if nothing else, a motivator, a reason to try and remedy things, to improve them, to change them, to change yourself, in order to get out of that difficult path. Being afraid and depressed, however, is a hindrance to any progress; it’s another reason why you can’t solve your own problems, it’s the slippery moss that has formed on the walls of the well in which you’ve fallen. Let me clarify this, though: Unemployment, wage cuts, debt are all major problems which will lead many Greeks to actual poverty, will make them put an effort to supply themselves and their families with what is necessary to survive. Overall, though, these problems, this immediate threat pales in comparison to a nation in depression (in both senses of the word), whose condition will continue to deteriorate, if the change doesn’t start from its own mentality.

I see people trying to find conspiracy theories behind the crisis, plans to enslave the population of Greece and, subsequently, Europe and the world, in various hidden powers of this earth. Greed does not need such fancy explanations. There are no unknown powers that want to enslave us. There are very known institutions (because such things always surpass a person, which only has power when it finds itself in a privileged position), which benefit from keeping us docile. And I say docile, because docility can be achieved with both unfounded happiness and fear. But you can’t have one being dominant all the time, nor can you have one without the other. The balance may change, but both are needed to keep the population in check. 1984 and Brave New World are two aspects of the same coin. Fear and false happiness. Fear comes from The Cold War, terrorists, debt crisis, false happiness comes from mass culture, gambling and all the little things in life that keep us content, unwilling to try and change anything.

So, what are we to do, in the face of this adverse situation? I will not suggest that I have any solutions ready. I do know that first we need to realize that it’s not the financial aspects of the crisis that is the real threat and that the solution will come from us, not from any government. I am not suggesting a revolution; I am not the violent type and, frankly, I can’t see against whom this potential revolution can take place. If it’s the politicians’ fault, then the solution is easy: don’t vote for them again. But it’s not only their fault; we need to put the blame on ourselves as well, for electing them, supporting them, tolerating their behavior and, finally, for acting in almost the same way as them, albeit on a smaller scale. We need to change first. We had elections two months ago and the two previous governments still got the majority of the votes. We don’t learn. I can accept that the politicians belong in prison, but if we don’t change, Greek politics will prove to be like the Hydra. More of them will crop up. Besides, the leaders of the so-called protests seem to me to be made from the same recipe. We need to change ourselves and create new institutions, new ways to express ourselves and be heard. We need to stop being afraid, as long as we don’t exchange this feeling with a false sense of happiness and security.

This blog post is my contribution towards this goal, since I don’t find the will or courage to follow the protests. And maybe this is where I need to change.

Posted by: Yorgos | June 23, 2010

Text 39 – What does it mean to be a Pynchonite?

At a pub in Lublin, Poland, a large group of tourists were watching England playing against the United States. You could hear shouts and cheers or jeers at every shot, goal, or missed chance, but if you could come closer, you would listen to people talking about Thomas Pynchon. These people weren’t just tourists, after all; they were Pynchonites (or Pynchonists, if you will) taking part in a conference dedicated exclusively to one of the most important living American authors.

I was proud to be part of that jolly group, which came to Lublin to enjoy another International Pynchon Week (IPW), held every two years somewhere in Europe with the help of Pynchon Notes, a journal “dedicated exclusively to one of the most important living American authors”. I have been to very few conferences and I have spoken to even fewer: three in total. However, two of those times have been in IPW conferences and I must admit that if every conference is like that, then it’s worth being an academic.

For some reason, though, I don’t think that every conference is like that. A Pynchon conference is an anarchist conference, where, like anarchist golf, the rules are meant to be thought of on the spot, the introductions before a presentation are of the same length (a mere five seconds) for accomplished professors and undergraduate students, where each opinion bears weight, but doesn’t avoid scrutiny, where people will ask you questions because they actually want your opinion and not because they want to disagree with you in a concealed way.

To go for a drink after each tiring, yet intellectually stimulating day, meant to try to avoid talking about the one who must not be named…and to fail completely. There are jokes revolving around Pynchon that only a Pynchonite would understand and yet these jokes easily find their place among this crowd. By the way, you don’t have to be a speaker to be heard or to be a Pynchonite. If you have read him, you’re one of us (gooble gobble, we accept you, we accept you, one of us). My friend, Martin, is a prime example (he has also written a wonderful account of the presentations at the conference in his blog; unfortunately he had to leave early so he couldn’t complete the Chronicles of the IPW). He was among the crowd in Munich, where the previous IPW was held, but he voiced his opinions and they were heard; he came back two years later with one of the most interesting presentations of the conference.

I am not sure if there is coherence in this post. Its goal was to state that the IPW was a huge success. It’s hard to overstate my satisfaction over how perfect this trip to rural Poland was. Who would have thought that a conference can be more fun than a school trip and still accomplish its goals of enriching the content of Pynchon studies around the world. And when I say around the world, I actually mean it. I think Africa is the only continent I haven’t seen a Pynchonite from, but I can’t really be sure, since I don’t remember all of them.

Two years from now, the conference will be held in Durham, UK. I hope I’ll be able to be there, either as a speaker or among the enthralled crowd.

Posted by: Yorgos | January 5, 2010

Text 38 – The Cultural Pyramid

I recently read on/in The Guardian (what preposition should I use for a website of a newspaper?) this article about the impressions Cormac McCarthy had of the movie “The Road”. I’ve read the book and enjoyed it a lot (if enjoy is a verb you can use for a book so bleak and blunt) and will probably see the movie as well (at some point), but this is not why I am writing this post.

I found really interesting the fact that both the screenwriter and the director were in awe in front of one of the most important authors of the past decades. Accomplished professionals in their respective fields were afraid as much as they were respectful of the author.

This got me thinking: In an age where the book does not seem to be in the center of cultural activity, the author as a figure remains at the top of this cultural food chain, above composers, playwrights, directors and so on. The book is not as strong now as it has been for the past few centuries. It will probably never vanish, but it doesn’t have the impact it used to have; we need the moving image now to be informed and motivated, be it a documentary or a movie, which could (on a related issue) be a part of the general cultural poverty we witness every day.

In the end, however, we may not read books, but we certainly respect the author, especially if we are aware of how the various cultural products are produced. Perhaps it is the loneliness of the effort, the absurdity of the accomplishment or just the remains of the myth of the book as the container of all knowledge. It seems to me that in the world of electronics, the book can be a symbol of learning more than an actual medium of it (unfortunately). But if the book is (just) a symbol, what does that make its author? Why is he still the pinnacle of the cultural pyramid? Can she/he be some kind of meta-symbol?

I have no answers, only thoughts, but I can say that this is not the post of a pessimist. It shows that we haven’t forgotten how we got here in the first place: through books and the genius of their authors. We may have other means to transmit information now, but we haven’t forgotten where we come from.

And it also means that the supposed Death of the Author never really occurred.

After a long absence, during which a lot of things happened, things that made writing on a blog seem futile and trivial, I decided to come back to it, still with the intention of writing about media, books and art, but this time with a more personal touch to it.

This first post is about how, in my imagination only, the band called Pink Floyd wrote Time from A Dark Side of the Moon. This is a fictional piece, not in any way related to the actual Pink Floyd or the lyricist himself, who, Internet tells me, is Roger Waters (apparently – who else, right?). I came up with it, because the lyric “in a relative way” strikes me simultaneously as both odd and apt. It’s awkward, yet accurate.

If you decide to read this, please don’t try to imagine the actual Pink Floyd in this conversation. Imagine them as generic, Hollywood-movie rock stars. Why? Because it’s funnier this way. Oh, and if you think the following piece is not funny at all, then I am sorry. And another thing: The thicker the English accents, the better!

Here it goes:

The Sun is the Same, in a Relative Way, but You’re Older, or, How Pink Floyd Wrote The Dark Side of the Moon

Floyd 1: …so, after the bridge, you sing: The sun is the same, it burns with its flame, but you’re older, shorter of breath, a mo…

Floyd 2 (interrupting): “It burns with its flame”? Really?

Floyd 1: Why, what’s wrong with it?

Floyd 3: It’s ghastly, that’s what’s wrong with it.

Floyd 1: Come on, dude. It’s accurate, it rhymes.

Floyd 2: It rhymes? Since when do we rhyme?

Floyd 4 (drunk…or stoned): And since when are we accurate?

Floyd 3 (ignoring Floyd 4): Well, we do rhyme…sometimes…not very fanatically though.

Floyd 2: Granted; but it’s still a ghastly lyric.

Floyd 1 (annoyed): You said so already.

Floyd 2: I didn’t. He did (pointing to Floyd 3).

Floyd 1: But you just did.

Floyd 2: Then you shouldn’t have used “already” in your sentence.

Floyd 3: And what’s with the “but”?

Floyd 1: Whose butt?

Floyd 3: Bit of juvenile humor there, huh? I am talking about the “but” in the “but you’re older” line.

Floyd 1: What about it?

Floyd 3: Well, it implies that there’s a direct opposition between the fact that the sun is hot and you getting all wrinkly and shit.

Floyd 4: You do get more wrinkles if you stay in the sun all the time…

Floyd 3: Yes, but that indicates a causality not an antithesis. Instead of “but”, you should have used “so” or “therefore”.

Floyd 1: “But” goes to the first lyric anyway…Besides those don’t sound very good.

Floyd 2 (yelling): Neither “it burns with its flame” does.

Floyd 1 (also yelling): Why, what’s wrong with it?

Floyd 4: Deja vu, man.

Floyd 2 (ignoring Floyd 4 again): Listen, and please don’t get offended. I believe that this is the ugliest lyric you’ve ever written and it totally ruins the whole song. It cries that it was put there to fill a gap between the stability of the sun and the futility of life.

Floyd 1: Shit, man. And what do you want me to put in there?

(Floyd 1, 2 and 3 look at each other with puzzlement.)

Floyd 4 (still drunk…or stoned): You know…the sun isn’t always the same, right?………….I mean, yeah, it has billions of years ahead of him, but it will die out……………Sure our lives are like seconds to it……………….but it’s all relative, right? I mean, it has billions of years ahead of him, but it will…well…you know.

Floyd 1: So, what are you saying?

Floyd 4: I don’t know, man…………The sun is changing, that’s what I am saying. You can’t say that it’s the same, if it’s changing……..Well, you can, I am sure…………”The sun is the same”……..there I said it………..but the sun is the same in a relative way, you know?

(Floyd 1, 2 and 3 look at each other with amazement.)

Floyd 2 (to Floyd 3): Don’t say “are you thinking what I’m thinking”, please don’t.

Floyd 3: I don’t have to, you said it first.

Floyd 1: And that’s not an awkward lyric? “In a relative way”?

Floyd 2: But it’s fun-awkward. Not bad poetry-awkward.

Floyd 3: And it fits. In the grand scheme of things the sun does change, but in relation to our lives, it doesn’t. It’s accurate.

Floyd 4: And since when are we accurate?

THE END

There you have it. The few jokes in there are probably from bad sitcoms, but I had fun writing it. Comment on it if you want.

Posted by: Yorgos | February 18, 2009

Text 36 – Something Interesting

Lately, I am more and more interested in the Internet culture. I’ve been visiting forums (or should I say fora), I’ve been reading blogs and articles, browsing funny websites and so on and so forth. The terms furries, lolcats, fads, internet meme, rule 34 and others actually mean something to me. I am not proud of it, but it has happened and I accept it.

My latest Internet “thing” is StumbleUpon. It’s basically a toolbar for the web browser, which you configure according to your interests and it lets you visit random websites that are related to your interests (or were declared by their owners as related to your interest, while in fact they have nothing to do with what you like).

Using this tool got me thinking. I could fill a whole website with things I find through it without breaking a sweat. And that’s when I realized that people are already doing that. I know of a few online columns that all they are doing is give you links to interesting websites. If I had to guess, I would say that they follow a few particular websites (like wired.com for example) and then use StumbleUpon for the rest of their content.

It seems to me that what is valuable in the age of the Internet is not the content produced but the tools to make it accessible. In this situation, it is impossible to know what is original and what is not; but in the end one thing is certain: the original content is most likely made for free by end-users like you who are reading the page. I am sure that StumbleUpon has sponsored “Stumbles” (and if it doesn’t, it will soon), which bring money to it. And while it is the user made content that make it a useful and interesting tool, it is StumbleUpon and its advertisers (who have all the uninteresting content, most likely) that make the money.

In that sense, people are getting paid to write columns, which link to things they found on StumbleUpon or a couple dozens of their favorite websites. So, we have a few web pages which actually provide new content and actually pay those who create that content, a lot of free websites around the world with remarkable content and those who use various tools to link to these websites.

I am wondering if this is illegal. I know that by writing something and leaving it to the public domain means that you don’t expect any money from it, but doesn’t it also mean that no one else can make money from your own work? I presume that if this blog is a StumbleUpon destination, it is not illegal, since by using WordPress means that I agree to the terms of use, which most probably contain a clause saying that what I write here is theirs to use and make money from. But there are thousands of independently hosted websites with content that belongs to the public domain.

So, big corporations are making money from pointing to content that is not theirs and yet the same corporations (or others of the same persuasion) are suing people for piracy and copyright infringements. All these may be legally doable, but ethically they are definitely not…

Here I am, complaining about capitalism again, while I am not even that big on anti-capitalism.

Posted by: Yorgos | February 8, 2009

Text 35 – Speed Reading

I recently ran across this website (via StumbleUpon – more on this on some later post, hopefully) that was trying to teach its visitor how to read at a great speed. It also listed the advantages of speed reading over normal (?) reading.

Now, I am a slow reader; not just that: I read excruciatingly slowly; sometimes it takes me up to three minutes to finish a page. Given my chosen potential career, that can’t be good and I should start thinking of trying to learn how to read faster. This site (I can’t link to it, I never bookmarked it and I really don’t want to look for it), though I was quite skeptical about it, had me slightly convinced, until it came to a point that went something like this (this is not an exact quote: “Words are just words. In the end, it’s the message that needs to stay with you, not the words you are reading. By skipping passages you think are insignificant, you can read faster and still learn all there is to learn”.

To this I can only answer: WHAT? Words are just words and it’s just the ideas that we need to keep? That is entirely false; not just slightly false; entirely. And not in poetry or fiction; it stands for every book ever written. Mallarme had once had a conversation with a friend of his. The friend was complaining that he had so many ideas, but he can’t seem to put them to writing. Mallarme then answered that books are written with words, not ideas.

I may be reading slowly, but at least I know I will not miss a beautiful phrase, a great argument, a clever pun, an interesting allusion. These are also the things that define whether I like a book or not, not just the ideas, which are highly important, of course, but only a small element of what makes reading appealing.

So, I will continue to read slowly, 3 minutes a page is just fine for me (the book was proposing an average of one page per minute and was a promising that it could get us to 100 pages per hour). I will just spend more hours with the book, making it my company and not something that I need to get through quickly. True reading is never fast.

PS: When there’s time pressure and exams or deadlines closing in, I may allow an exception. But speed reading should never be the answer anyway. That’s the job of time management.

Posted by: Yorgos | January 2, 2009

Text 34 – Cat’s Cradle

And she went strolling up among the petrified thousands, still laughing. She paused about midway up the slope and faced me. She called down to me, ‘Would you wish any of these alive again, if you could? Answer me quickly.

‘Not quick enough with your answer,’ she called playfully, after half a minute had passed. And, still laughing a little, she touched her finger to the ground, straightened up, and touched the finger to her lips and died.

This passage if from Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle. Out of the three books I have read by him (the other two being Slaughterhouse 5 and Breakfast of Champions) this is probably the weakest, but in no means a weak book; I don’t want to go into details why it is a good book, but not his best. I am not sure I even know why; what I know, though, is that the passage above is another gasp moment. In its tragedy, it has lightness and simplicity, just like how Italo Calvino would have wanted it. I read the paragraph (particularly the second one; I quoted the first one for context) over and over again, for all the reasons that make me love a book.

I don’t want to explain what happens in the paragraph and why she (whoever she is) dies. You will just have to read the book.

Posted by: Yorgos | December 24, 2008

Text 33 – Greece on Fire…so?

Just like many other people, I have decided to write about what happened in (and to) Greece the past few weeks. Maybe it’s not what this blog is about and perhaps I don’t have any really useful insights to offer, but the Internet allows me a voice and I will use it.

Some facts first in chronological order: Policeman shoots and kills a 15-year old bystander, thinking that he was threatened. Protests and demonstrations are organized all around the country. Angry people fill the streets. Angry people, anarchists and looters start breaking shop windows and looting the products from inside said shops. Another kid is shot by an unknown person. A police bus is shot at by two AK-47s.

Perhaps not all of these events are related but they do indicate that Greece is in a really bad shape. Some half joking half serious are talking about a civil war. Nothing like that is going to happen. I am not afraid of an impending civil war.

Actually, I am not afraid of anything, as far as this matter is concerned. I am sad, I am angry, but not afraid; because it all comes down to this: the only victim in this whole situation is a kid, who died. The shop owners will be partially reimbursed, the angry people will calm down and everyone will get on with their lives a little worse than they were before. But the kid is still dead. He was not a hero, as many of the anarchists try to say he was. Being a hero means being reckless for some cause and there was no recklessness, no cause involved here. Just bad judgment, bad training and bad education. And these three aspects continued to be apparent throughout all the riots and the looting.

There are many people to blame over what has happened in Greece the past few weeks. And these people are the same both for the murder and the riots. And these are all of us; for all the reasons you and I can think of. Anarchists are not the problem; the fact that our society gives birth to people who become anarchists is the problem. Bad cops are not the problem; the fact that we hire and use and think we need (untrained) bad cops is the problem. Two sides of the same coin: our world is imperfect: some people think it needs tearing down and become anarchists; others think that we just need more order and give power to the police and the army. There is a middle ground, which is where most people are, but being on the middle ground means that you are not a person of action; I am not the person to analyze this further, I could easily be wrong about this, but it seems obvious that a change is needed. But the change doesn’t come from the middle ground, where I stand. It comes from the extremes, with which I strongly disagree. And right now the extremes can’t bring change (luckily), because not many people are at the extremes.

I wish it could all come down to the simplest of forms: Stupid policeman uses a gun, he kills a person, he gets life sentence. No reprecussions to society, nothing to be “done” about it, nothing to worry really, but be sad and, at some point, get over it. But this is not the case.

The problem is that I can’t figure out what the case is. I can’t offer a solution, no one can yet. We could bring everyone to the middle ground, I guess, but that seems like a “Brave New World” to me.

I am confused and sad and angry. And, for better or for worse, I will get over it. Only the victim’s family won’t…

But what is there to do to prevent something like this from ever happening again? Any suggestions welcome…

Posted by: Yorgos | December 10, 2008

Text 32 – Truman Syndrome

This is disturbing…

And yet, who can blame them?

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