22 November 2014

Poetry and apocalypse

A few weeks back when the movie Ouija was being advertised, I became curious where the word came from. Apparently, ouija (which I grew up pronouncing as wee-gee for some reason and can't not say it like that) has the improbable etymology of either ancient Egyptian for "good luck" or a combination of French "yes" and German "yes".

While scanning the Wikipedia article, I saw that the poet James Merrill wrote a three-part epic apocalyptic poem, generated from ouija board seances, called The Changing Light at Sandover. The three books, published in 1976, 1978, and 1980, span 560 pages. They were published together with a short coda in 1982 and won the National Book Critics Circle Award the next year. My last attempt at long difficult reading, Joyce's Ulysses, failed, but I had to get this. I have not yet started.

Somewhere I saw Sandover compared to T. S. Eliot's apocalyptic 1922 poem The Waste Land so I ordered the Michael North edited version when I ordered Sandover. I've so far read this short, barely 15-page poem three times and have started picking through the 300 pages of reference material including Baudelaire, James Frazier, Aldous Huxley, and Herman Hesse. Dedicated to Ezra Pound, it reads like infinitely more accessible Pound. I've read a few sections out loud and felt that added much. One connection that bubbled up while taking in Eliot's bleak imagery was Godspeed You! Black Emperor's album F# A# Infinity. I listened to this back in July 2010 and may need to revisit.

File under synchrony: since purchasing The Waste Land, I've been barraged by random references to Eliot and Pound.

posted by sstrader at 10:41 AM in Language & Literature | comments (0) | permalink

5 October 2014

Roman Jakobson's functions of language

Intrigued by the concept of phatic expressions: messages whose only purpose is to confirm the channel is working. The canonical example is when we walk by someone and say "what's up?" No information beyond mutual acknowledgement is communicated. There is a related, nuanced concept called backchannel that represents speaker/listener confirmation. When one person is monologuing, the listener is seldom completely silent. To confirm that the messages are being received (and understood), the listener will nod or punctuate with "yes" or "go on". It's almost impolite not to make such statements, and this ties back into the idea of the phatic as "social grooming".

Moving one level up from phatic, we can see how such statements fit in communication as a whole via Jakobson's functions of language. The framework for these functions are the elements of communication:

Roma jakobson theory.png
"Roma jakobson theory" by Artist2426 - Own work. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Different functions of language will emphasize the different elements in the diagram above. Phatic emphasizes the channel. Here's the diagram amended with Jakobson's functions:

Daniel Chandler's Semiotics for Beginners has a good table mapping the element, function, and an example for each. Modified here:

Element Function Use Example
context referential imparting information It's raining.
sender expressive expressing feelings or attitudes It's bloody pissing down again!
receiver conative influencing behaviour Wait here till it stops raining!
channel phatic establishing or maintaining social relationships Nasty weather again, isn't it?
code metalingual referring to the nature of the interaction (e.g. genre) This is the weather forecast.
message poetic foregrounding textual features It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven.
posted by sstrader at 10:36 AM in Language & Literature | comments (0) | permalink

13 September 2014

Smart watch

When the Moto 360 came out I was trying to find a reason to get a smart watch. Can't really justify it in any way but that nagging desire will still be there. It'd be nice for notifications while riding the Vespa, and if it stored audio w/out the phone I'd love to use it for jogging music. Or, better yet, if I could just swap my SIM card and stream music.

Our office watched the Apple event (insert joke about Chinese sponsorship and/or U2's corporate sycophancy here) and was unpleasantly shocked at how their watch was both retro-futuristic and cluttered. The Moto 360 looks much nicer: the outside is timeless, and the screens are simple. Others have noted this odd reversal of expectations. How did Apple get it so wrong? Either way, they have enough of a following that the game is on.

Here are some notable articles on the adventure:

posted by sstrader at 12:22 PM in Home Network & Gadgets | comments (0) | permalink

31 August 2014

Where was I?

Cinema: Army of Darkness at Plaza Theatre the 8th of last month and Texas Chainsaw Massacre the 22nd of this month. TCM reminded me of movies from the Drive-In Cult Classics collection that I had picked up back in 2011. At times, the movie was a crazy assault to the senses: abrasive soundtrack, exaggerated malevolence. Guardians of the Galaxy at the beginning of the month (!!!). Must go see it again.

Music: The Musical Box performing Selling England by the Pound at Variety Playhouse the 24th of last month. Great follow up to seeing them do Lamb Lies Down on Broadway January of last year. Was blown away when the lead singer started the narrative that I knew would lead in to Supper's Ready. Really just a wow night, and ended at The Vortex in L5P with death metal fans from a show at the Star Bar.

musical box ticket.the-musical-box.selling-england

Travels: Lake Tullahoma, TN the weekend of July 18th. Fourth annual trip to St. George Island the end of July. Second semi-annual trip to Lake Keowee the weekend of August 15th.

lake tullahoma st george lake keowee

Started new job in Buckhead on the 4th! Commute is now Marta and reading or Vespa-ing on nice days.

posted by sstrader at 5:00 PM in Cinema , Concerts , Where was I? | tagged drive-in, st george island | comments (0) | permalink

10 August 2014

Upstream Color and Under the Skin

I just discovered the YouTube channel "Understanding Art House" by Nerdwriter1. There're only two videos out, but those two are the excellent Snowpiercer and Under the Skin. Here's the video for Under the Skin:

After watching it at Landmark, I was reminded of Shane Carruth's equally abstract Upstream Color from last year. Both struck me as simple stories told in an un-simple manner; each using its own visual language. Upstream Color, at its most basic, could be viewed as the story of woman whose life is destroyed, willingly, by drug addiction. The men from the bar who feed her the drug are merely manifest agents of her own desire. They drain her bank accounts and sell her possessions as she would. The latter half of the movie is her struggle through recovery by partnering with a fellow ex-addict. The pig farm maps to their contrasting impulses of desire and structure.

Under the Skin represents the lead's development over time with how she relates to partners. First from having power without empathy as she lures and desiccates others. Then to a series of conversations and examinations that softens her relationships, which then leads her to live with a man who treated her kindly. That relationship ends as she is reminded shamefully of her past alien-ness. She finally shuts herself off from others, feeling unable to connect, and becomes a victim of that isolation.

That said, there's always an unfairness to analyzing abstraction as absolute metaphor. The imagery in each film is resonant precisely because it works beyond language. Neither film needs to be mapped to a traditional narrative: their internal structures are expressive enough.

posted by sstrader at 8:58 AM in Cinema | comments (0) | permalink

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