Posted by: Yorgos | November 29, 2008

Text 31 – Getting Stuck

Writing an essay and getting stuck at the sentence “The point here is that…” is not a good thing…

Posted by: Yorgos | November 5, 2008

Text 30 – Obama As a Symbol

About 12-14 years ago, while I was still a young student learning English, I stumbled upon a quiz with a title like: “What do you think will have happened until 2020?” (it might have been 2010, I don’t remember). This quiz was probably there to teach us a tense: Future Perfect (what a lovely name for a grammar rule – and an even better one: Future Perfect Continuous), but I vividly remember one of the points I needed to decide if they would happen or not. It went like this: “An African American will have become the president of the United States”. I chose to put 5 stars to this statement, meaning that I was absolutely certain that this would have happened by 2020 (or 2010).

This question stuck to my head. How could I be so sure? There was no indication of anything like that. In my young teenager’s mind, I just wanted people to love other people, but I didn’t have that much hope in me; except for that moment when I chose to be absolutely certain about a thing that seemed impossible.

And now here we are. An African-American has become (will become) the president of the United States. I don’t have much love for the US and their imperialistic attitudes, but pragmatically speaking, in our age of media saturation and bombardment, the US play an important (perhaps the most important) role in how things evolve in this world; and I am part of this world. What’s more, even though I disagree with the mentality, I cannot but admit that they have done great things in many areas. One of them was to elect a black president, voted by whites and blacks together. This alone is an accomplishment.

Now, I don’t know Obama or what he has done. I don’t really care to be honest. I don’t think much will change in their foreign policy. I just think that he is smarter than the previous one and that instead of making both bad and stupid decisions, we will get away with only bad ones; maybe not even those; maybe we will have a streak of good admirable decisions (but what’s a good decision anyway, since you cannot satisfy everyone? I am sure that the decisions I think are good will anger lots of his supporters in the States; and I have no say in his election).

I also believe that there is a great possibilty that Barack Obama is nothing more than a media construct. I am not saying he is, but I do say it is possible. For those of you who have followed my blog, you would know that I am suspicious of media; mainstream and otherwise. Everyone should be. You should even be suspicious of this blog you are currently reading. For all I know, Obama might be a mere puppet, as many liberal and leftist voices are saying. Still, I am not saying he is; only that he might as well be.

So, why am I satisfied, if not happy? This is because, media manipulation aside, this election means that the world has some hope in it. And I am using the word hope not in the way many people do: that Obama, they say, was the right choice and people looked past their prejudices to vote for him. Not at all. I am saying that there is hope, because, even if he could be the wrong choice, he managed to win and surpass whatever racial obstacles. In that sense he might as well be nothing more than a symbol, an empty signifier of a still fragile equality.

I saw an old black man crying on TV. He was yelling “We got there”. His life might not change; his attitude towards it will. It is not enough, but it’s a start.

PS: Of course, if Obama turns out to be a mere media construct, then these hopes can turn into destructive, false ones. Let’s hope he’s not.

PPS: There are obviously a lot of holes in what I say. Constructive criticism is welcomed, so I can fill them up.

Posted by: Yorgos | October 5, 2008

Text 29 – Gasp

There are many books that I love, even more that I like, but there are few books that have made me hold my breath, or breathe heavily. These latter books, I consider to be the masterpieces of my small literary canon.

Of course, when I say “hold my breath”, I don’t mean I am reading a page-turner and I can’t wait to see what goes on next. I’ve read and loved books of such kind, but it is rarely the reason for holding my breath. What does make me gasp, usually, is a beautiful phrase or a concept, so hard to grasp, yet so real to the reader during the actual act of reading. Still, this is hardly an explanation and, to be honest, there are a million beautiful things that can happen in a book, in a page, a line even, that can make want to read the same part over and over again, just to take it in.

If I were to name some texts that have done this to me, the first thing that would come to mind are Kafka’s parables. This is one very short parable that had this effect on me:

Give it Up

It was very early in the morning, the streets clean and deserted, I was on my way to the railroad station. As I compared the tower clock with my watch I realized it was already much later than I had thought, I had to hurry, the shock of this discovery made me feel uncertain of the way, I was not very well acquainted with the town yet, fortunately there was a policeman nearby, I ran to him and breathlessly asked him the way. He smiled and said: ‘From me you want to learn the way?’ ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘since I cannot find it myself.’ ‘Give it up, give it up,’ said he, and turned away with a great sweep, like someone who wants to be alone with his laughter.

I don’t want to comment on it; that would be an analysis and that can’t fit in what I want to say here. Maybe this story won’t have the same effect to other people.

More examples of the moment that makes literature one of the best experiences our intellect can have:

  1. “The Library of Babel” by Borges; the part where he talks about the circular, never-ending book that is God.
  2. The beginning of David Copperfield and of Great Expectations.
  3. Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon; Mason’s reaction to Dixon’s death.
  4. Tonio Kröger by Thomas Mann; the last 10 or so pages
  5. The beginning of Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller
  6. Hamlet’s line: “I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself King of infinite space; were it not that I have bad dreams” (I am quoting it from memory, so I might have said something wrong).
  7. The final 100 or so pages of Dostoevsky’s The Idiot and the final 100 or so pages of Thomas Mann’s Dr. Faustus. These two novels are what turned me to literature in the beginning. The whole passages; one long breath.
  8. “The Death of Ivan Ilyich”, by Tolstoy, especially the beginning and the end.
  9. Philip Roth’s “The Plot Against America”; the part where the young protagonist realizes that he has sent his friend’s mother to her death.
  10. The joke: “He should have three votes” in the beginning of Heller’s Catch 22.
  11. The whole of Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5.

The list could go on and on. It can’t go on forever though, because that would trivialize the greatest moments of literature. The anticipation of a gasp and the reward of it coming is why I keep reading. If anyone decides to comment on this post, I would like to hear about other moments like these.

Posted by: Yorgos | September 28, 2008

Text 28 – Don’t Talk About Ecology

Nowadays, it’s fashionable for the big corporations to show off how environmentally aware they are, how “green” they have become. We all know that this is simply bullshit, but sometimes it’s just so obvious that it is.

Personally, I am not really “green”. I try to recycle a bit, but don’t get crazy if something recyclable gets thrown out. I turn off lights (but not my PC), try to remember to turn off the TV with the button, so it’s not on stand-by, try not to use too much water when I shower and that’s all.

What do the corporations do? They have little schemes to show how green they are, while on the other hand they fill the streets with power consuming neon signs and keep the lights on at their offices all the time. I am not even talking about production techniques; one way or another they have to manufacture their products, so this is unavoidable. But what about all this needless advertising, this needless spectacle, while they hypocritically claim to care about the environment? I know the streets of New York only from cinema and television, but tell me, is it really necessary to keep all the lights on all the time? It’s advertising. It is supposed to give you an edge over the competitor. If nobody does it, then the proportions stay the same…and you save money!

Anyway, this has been on my mind for a long time. We are talking about saving energy and yet what we save, we use somewhere else. There is a limit to what individuals can do and I have more faith in them and patience with them. But all those supposedly “aware” corporations are the ones who can really make a difference.

How many cities could get electricity, how many trees had to be cut in order to have the first F1 Grand Prix during nighttime? I read somewhere that there are several thousands 2000W spotlights giving light to the fans and drivers. And everyone says it looks amazing. Yes, it does, but at what cost. And if it just one race, not very important in the big picture, what kind of example does it give?

This post came from frustration. It is not entirely related to the theme of this blog and, really, I shouldn’t be talking since I am not the most concerned person out there. But maybe I’ll change; and help others change as well, in the process.

Posted by: Yorgos | September 20, 2008

Text 27 – Image

I’ve been following with interest, yet not closely, the campaigns for the US presidential elections. Even though I would prefer Obama to win (along with the rest of the world, I guess…the only ones who are not sure are the Americans), I am not the right person to say what I think about the two candidates (being a Greek and all…).

I would like to talk about an observation I made about the image and how it is formed and shaped, a process which is most apparent in the land of the spectacle, the US.

None of us has any doubts as to whether everything that reaches the media is perfectly designed and controlled, in order to present the candidate in the best possible way (of course, I am talking about the official campaigns). My thought is, however, that, if everyone is so aware that what they see is nothing but a carefully constructed image, why haven’t we got past that? Well, I think we have gone past that. What we are judging now is not how good we are made to think the candidate is, but how well he conforms to the needs of image and television. In other words, a successful campaign is not one who makes the candidate look trustworthy (we all know that it is his job to be presented trustworthy), but the one who is most successful at making him look more trustworthy. Basically, we are judging the image makers and not the candidates.

OK, maybe this is not making much sense. Maybe it’s just me and not everyone thinks like that. But knowing that a candidate will make himself look as good as possible, the difference is in how this is done. This is why small things that should be unimportant become significant. A slip of the tongue (and this can happen to anybody) is given meaning and destroys the image. We know where the candidate stands and a slip of the tongue can’t change that. And if we believe he is lying, then we will not wait for a lapsus linguae to be convinced. It all comes down to the fact that he made a mistake in front of the TV and that made him look bad. That’s where the negative publicity is based. No one actually believes those commercials, but the image is hurt, nonetheless.

In the end, the candidate is judged by if he looks handsome on TV. This has not changed in centuries, only in the old days, it was public speakers who won the attention of the crowd. Being a good public speaker does not mean you know what’s good for the public; in the same way, looking good on TV doesn’t make you a leader. And yet it is one of the prerequisites for election. And even if we are able to look past that trait of a candidate, it has become one of the things we are looking for.

One can say: “This guy is smart, knows a lot about economy and foreign affairs, unfortunately he doesn’t look good on TV”. Not being TV-friendly has a value on its own; it’s not bad because people may think that the candidate is stupid. It’s bad, because it’s bad.

I’ve said too much and this has confused even me. I hope that what I want to say shows somewhere in there.

Posted by: Yorgos | September 4, 2008

Text 26 – 15 Step

How come I end up where I started
How come I end up where I went wrong
Won’t take my eyes off the ball again
You reel me out and you cut the string.

How come I end up where I started
How come I end up where I went wrong
Won’t take my eyes off the ball again
First you reel me out and then you cut the string

You used to be all right
What happened?
Did the cat get your tongue?
Did your string come undone?
One by one
One by one
It comes to us all
It’s as soft as your pillow

You used to be all right
What happened?
Etcetera Etcetera
Thanks for whatever
Fifteen steps
Then a sheer drop

How come i end up where i started?
How come I end up where I went wrong
Won’t take my eyes off the ball again
You reel me out and you cut the string.

These are the lyrics of a very good Radiohead song called 15 Step, track #1 of their latest album InRainbows. While it is not my favorite Radiohead song, I like listening to it, because it has some interesting melodies in there (if you can call them that) and some more interesting orchestration (as always with Radiohead songs). It’s fast, it is fun (for a Radiohead song) and you can listen to it lots of times, trying to take in every little detail.

But have you looked at the lyrics? I copy-pasted the lyrics from a website, even though I believe I could write most of them on my own. As a non native English speaker, it took me a while to realize what was going on. But these lyrics are cliche after cliche after cliche. It’s like Yorke opened an Oxford Handbook of Cliches or a How to Write a Romantic Comedy book and started copying them in a semi-logical fashion.

While I am sure I can make some sense or see a pattern if I try a bit harder, does it matter. Should I make any sense? Sometimes, music is just music and you have to enjoy it for what it is and not necessarily for the depth of its lyrics. This can happen, no doubt about it, but I see nothing wrong when the lyrics, the words, the singer’s voice, all of these things are there as another instrument, as part of the orchestration. It can actually show more musical talent and music, at its best, needs no words anyway.

I am not sure if that’s the case here, but, once more, I thought I’d share my opinion.

Posted by: Yorgos | August 21, 2008

Text 25 – Digital-Natural Olympics

I only watched the beginning of the opening ceremony of the olympics. I was waiting to be impressed and indeed I was. It is simply amazing what technology can achieve these days and how man can manipulate it in ways innovative and fresh. But, as always, this is not what I want to say.

I do want to talk about the countdown with the drummers who were turning on and off the lights in order to form the numbers. The upper half had the chinese numbers (presumably) and the lower half had the western (or Arabic) numerals. But the lower numbers were formed as if they were written on a calculator, they were completely square and unimaginative. One of the things that did not have to do with any amazing new technology, but had to do with coordination, practice, effort and so on, this one thing was designed to imitate digital technology of the past century. This is an interesting contrast to the parchment that unfolded in that same ceremony, which was accomplished by advanced technologies, but it imitated (or depicted) technologies that are around for thousands of years.

It seems that the more advanced technology we get the more we try to make it look natural (see 3D graphics, for example), but at the same time the more we come to think it as natural and we try to imitate it, even without using it. Borrowing from the French mentality, I would say that something like that is at the same time a convergence and a divergence of nature and technology. I can easily see a new art movement, where the painter, for example, would only draw in horizontal lines, giving form to the image gradually, no matter if he wants to paint a portrait or a tree, so that he can imitate the way an inkjet printer works. Well, if this ever happens, you heard it here first. I even want to find a name for this technique…I’ll call it printism. We needed a new -ism anyway. We can’t have enough of them…

Posted by: Yorgos | July 21, 2008

Text 24 – Image Intertextuality…kind of

I’ve noticed that the past few years our “society of the spectacle” is becoming more and more self-referent, i.e. people in the entertainment industry are talking more and more about themselves and other people of the entertainment industry. There are TV shows which deal exclusively with what happens on TV and what how the celebrities of TV spend their time. And they are popular, so I am guessing there is a great appeal in them. People seem to like to find out what happens in their favorite medium “in depth”.

This is not the only occurrence, however. More and more movies made are referring openly to older movies and that happens rather through the characters than through certain techniques, images or allusions. A characteristic example is perhaps the movie “The Holiday” (a fun, yet forgettable movie, just how they’re supposed to be) with Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz. In this movie, there is no real need in the script for inclusion of the entertainment industry and yet there is a whole subplot which vindicates and glorifies the movie business. It seems to be self indulgent, at least, but I might be wrong. In the books I read I like them having allusions to other books I’ve read and loved, although they are hardly out in the open like that.

Anyway, the point I want to make is this: It seems to me that the entertainment industry has become a closed system and we are locked within it. When it was interesting to address everyday issues or even bigger issues of our lives, now it seems that the producers think that it is more interesting to talk about themselves. The most important social issue has become the entertainment industry. Take a look at the magazines in any British news stand. They are all talking about Big Brother and other similar endeavors. OK, not all, but most. People are more interested in the way things are presented on TV and in the movies and not about the actual things. It’s all a big trap and we’re all already in it.

Maybe things are not so bad, maybe I am judging them too harshly, who knows.

Posted by: Yorgos | July 8, 2008

Text 23 – Credibility

I’ve been reading a rather interesting book called Postmodern Media Culture written by someone called Jonathan Bignell. He obviously knows what he is talking about, he often cites and comments on the works of famous theorists and actually tries to raise a few issues like feminism and post-colonialism, which haven’t been studied thoroughly in relation to media studies. It does not matter if I agree with him or not (mostly I do), but he has obviously done a lot of research on the subject and I will probably use him a lot for my PhD.


My problem is that he can’t spell the word “Nietzsche”. I’ve seen it in the book in lots of variations such as Neitzsche, Neitzche and Nietzsche (the last is the correct one, but he used it only once). Even in the index he mentions him as Neitzche. I am sure it is no big deal and that is a difficult word to spell (it always takes me a few seconds to remember the exact sequence of the consonants), but he writes a theoretical book, with which he wants to add his own suggestions and expand the spectrum of the particular field. And if he didn’t know how to spell Nietzsche, why didn’t he look it up? In the bibliography the name is nowhere, so this probably means that he relied on citations from others to write about him (all in all, Nietzsche is only mentioned in 3-4 pages).

What I want to say is this: While a spelling error is understandable (I am sure there are some in this post), when a book that you consider important is published, you should better triple check things like that. Any word processor software could have pinpointed the mistake. Any editor should be able to see not that it is misspelled, but that there are 3 different spellings within four lines. What does this say to us about the quality of the book and the credibility of the writer? Could it have been written in haste? Did he want to make the deadlines? Was the research done in the same way? What did he omit? How many of the books in the bibliography has he actually read? Perhaps the answer to all of that is to his defense, but since we don’t know and we can’t know, the credibility of the author is, at least, fragile.

Anyway, maybe I am just complaining for the sake of complaining. According to the index, Nietzsche will not be mentioned again in the book.

Posted by: Yorgos | June 29, 2008

Text 22 – Euro 2008 disaster

In the recent football (or soccer for some people) game between Germany and Turkey, the TV signal was down for about 5 minutes and this was hailed as a disaster by…well…everyone. It turned out that it was the bad weather’s fault that millions of people around the world could not watch the game for 5 whole minutes, so you can’t actually blame someone for it. But the disaster was still there to be talked about, analyzed, lamented and whatnot.

But what was the real problem? Was it that all these people could not watch and enjoy this game for 5 minutes? Of course not. If you exclude the Germans and Turks of the audience, then everyone else was only mildly interested (even if they do claim otherwise) and quickly forgot about the 5 missing minutes. The real problem was that people were losing money. No TV viewers means less ads, less ads means less money. I will accept the organizers’ worry as legitimate. They don’t want to lose money. Then why are we so frustrated? Why are we looking for someone to blame? These 5 minutes probably saved us some money, which we would have paid to buy things that aren’t really useful. Unfortunately, we feel sympathy for the poor people who lost money. I find this frustrating.

Another conclusion I drew from this so-called disaster is that football now is nothing more than a spectacle. Well, nobody actually needed this even to realize that, but it did make it more prominent. If what happened was truly a disaster then the first Euros and the first World Cups were a complete failure, since there was no TV coverage and people could not travel across the world to watch the games, so only locals were watching them (and they don’t bring new money in a country).

Lots of consequences come into my mind. But there is no point in elaborating. The situation is already sad as it is…

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