"A commonplace book is what a provident poet cannot subsist without, for this proverbial reason, that “great wits have short memories:” and whereas, on the other hand, poets, being liars by profession, ought to have good memories; to reconcile these, a book of this sort, is in the nature of a supplemental memory, or a record of what occurs remarkable in every day’s reading or conversation." - Jonathan Swift, "A Letter of Advice to a Young Poet"

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Holiday Movies I: The Artist

One of the best things about the holiday season is that good movies actually come out (thank you, awards season!), so although I overdosed on movies this semester, I'm taking in a few films while I'm on break from school. Here's the first of my reviews/recommendations.

The music, the dresses and hats, the tap dancing, the glimpses of vintage movie-making, the shamelessly clever imagery, the relief of letting oneself get carried away by the dramatic score, and the most talented dog you'll ever see onscreen. It was all wonderful.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

What I'm Reading Right Now: Oryx and Crake

In keeping with the thread of dystopic fiction, I'm now reading Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake, which is much more to my liking than 1984 so far.

I especially appreciate how Atwood is using childhood as a way into her own imagined future world. It reminds me a lot of Ender's Game, a great book by Orson Scott Card - I think the use of children's games, which are central to Ender's Game, is equally brilliant here. In a book that depicts the transition between a world like ours and a world that seems completely foreign (but could one day come about), children are the perfect narrators, because they are the transitional generation, glimpsing the past through their parents but moving on themselves into the future.

This book also reminds me of David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas in the way that it weaves together multiple times and in the depiction of the future as a kind of wasteland where people are ignorant - or innocent - of what came before. It's very different from the deliberate obliteration of the past in Orwell's book. Instead of the evil government blanking out and twisting people's memories, both Atwood and Mitchell create a sense of the natural erosion of the past, and I think that's a lot more relevant to the way history works (or the way I perceive it at least). Orwell's future is almost presumptuous in its suggestion that we might somehow stop history or reach the end of it. What I loved about Cloud Atlas was the incredible depiction of the cyclical nature of history. We may destroy the earth and ourselves, but time will keep happening, new life will spring up, new conflicts and new hopes. History cannot just come to a standstill. Atwood's narrator, Snowman, like Mitchell's sixth narrator, just keeps plowing on with his fight to live, and it doesn't feel like some imagined, isolated future. You know it will keep evolving (especially given Atwood's focus on genetics), and that makes it exciting and real.