Saturday, July 24, 2010

Limbo



This game is wonderful. It only takes three to four hours to beat (you know... depending on how clever you are when it comes to physics-based puzzle solving) but those three to fours hours are very satisfying. Like Portal and Braid, Limbo demonstrates that some of the most innovative and intriguing game development is happening in small studios and on small projects.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Thomas Hardy's Wessex

"In these Wessex nooks the busy outsider's ancient times are only old; his old time are still new; his present is futurity." - Far from the Madding Crowd

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Cor

"Except the Lord of heaven create new hearts in us, of our selves, we have Cor nullum, no heart; all vanished into Incogitancy. Except the Lord of heaven con-centre our affections, of our selves, we have Cor & Cor, a cloven heart, a divided heart, a heart of Irresolution. Except the Lord of heaven fix our Resolutions, of our selves, we have Cor vagum, a various, a wandering heart; all smoaks and Inconstancie. And all these three are Enemies to that firmness, and fixation of the heart, which God loves, and we seek after."

- John Donne

Part-time this summer, I've been helping to edit and prepare the texts of a number of John Donne's sermons for digital editions. It's been a very interesting and enjoyable task. I've scanned  400 year-old books, edited the scanned images, run the images through OCR (optical character recognition), edited the transcriptions, and turned them into XML documents for web distribution. I've acquired a number of skills I wouldn't have otherwise developed. And, of course, I've had the opportunity to read Donne's sermons. The summer has been good. 

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Scarlet Letter (excerpt)


Lillian Gish as Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter, 1926.

A lane was forthwith opened through the crowd of spectators. Preceded by the beadle, and attended by an irregular procession of stern-browed men and unkindly-visaged women, Hester Prynne set forth towards the place appointed for her punishment. A crowd of eager and curious school-boys, understanding little of the matter in hand, except that it gave them a hold-holiday, ran before her progress, turning their heads continually to start into her face, and at the winking baby in her arms, and at the ignominious letter on her breast. It was no great distance, in those days, from the prison-door to the market-place. Measured by the prisoner's experience, however, it might be reckoned a journey of some length; for, haughty as her demeanour was, she perchance underwent an agony from every footstep of those that thronged to see her, as if her heart had been flung into the street for them all to spurn and trample upon. In our nature, however, there is a provision, alike marvellous and merciful, that the sufferer should should never know the intensity of what he endures by its present torture, but chiefly by the pang that rankles after it. With almost a serene deportment, therefore, Hester Prynne passed through this portion of her ordeal, and come to a sort of scaffold, at the western extremity of the marketplace. It stood nearly beneath the eaves of Boston's earliest church, and appeared to be a fixture there.

The Scarlet Letter, by Nathanial Hawthorne

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Wings of the Dove (excerpts)

Girl in White Resting on a Sofa, by Alfred-Emile-Leopole Stevens

There was something deep within him that he had absolutely shown to no one--to the companion of these walks in particular not a bit more than he could help; but he was none the less haunted, under its shadow, with a dire apprehension of publicity. It was as if he had invoked that ugliness in some stupid good faith; and it was queer enough that on his emergent rock, clinging to it and to Susan Shepherd, he should figure himself as hidden from view. That represented no doubt his belief in her power, or in her delicate disposition to protect him. Only Kate at all events knew--what Kate did know, and she was also the last person interested to tell it; in spite of which it was as if his act, so deeply associated with her and never to be recalled nor recovered, was abroad on the winds of the world. His honesty, as he viewed it with Kate, was the very element of that menace: to the degree that she saw at moments, as to their final impulse or their final remedy, the need to bury in the dark blindness of each other's arms the knowledge of each other that they couldn't undo.

  *****
He watched her, when she went her way, with the vision of what she thus a little stiffly carried. It was confused and obscure, but how, with her head high, it made her hold herself! He really in his own person might at these moments have been swaying a little aloft as one of the objects in her poised basket. It was doubtless thanks to some such consciousness as this that he felt the lapse of the weeks, before the day of Kate's mounting of his stairs, almost swingingly rapid. They contained for him the contradiction that, whereas periods of waiting are supposed in general to keep the time slow, it was the wait, actually, that made the pace trouble him. The secret of that anomaly, to be plain, was that he was aware of how, while the days melted, something rare went with them. This something was only a thought, but a thought precisely of such freshness and such delicacy as made the precious, of whatever sort, most subject to the hunger of time. The thought was all his own, and his intimate companion was the last person he might have shared it with. He kept if back like a favourite pang; left if behind him, so to say, when he went out, but came home again the sooner for the certainty of finding it there. Then he took it out of its sacred corner and its soft wrappings; he undid them one by one, handling them, handling it, as a father, baffled and tender, might handle a maimed child. But so it was before him--in his dread of who else might see it. Then he took to himself at such hours, in other words, that he should never, never know what had been in Milly's letter. The intention announced in it he should but too probably know; only that would have been, but for the depths of his spirit, the least part of it. The part of it missed for ever was the turn she would have given her act. This turn had possibilities that, somehow, by wondering about them, his imagination had extraordinarily filled out and refined. It had made of them a revelation the loss of which was like the sight of a priceless pearl cast before his eyes--his pledge given not to save it--into the fathomless sea, or rather even it was like the sacrifice of something sentient and throbbing, something that, for the spiritual ear, might have been audible as a faint far wail. This was the sound he cherished alone in the stillness of his rooms. He sought and guarded the stillness, so that it might prevail there till the inevitable sounds of life, once more, comparatively coarse and harsh, should smother and deaden it--doubtless by the same process with which they would officiously heal the ache in his soul that was somehow one with it. It moreover deepened the sacred hush that he couldn't complain. He had given poor Kate her freedom.

The Wings of the Dove by Henry James

Monday, July 12, 2010

Epoch

I used to review movies here. The reason was simple. For years, for almost as long as I can remember, I had been committed to the idea that films are art, that actors are artists, that directors had something important to say and that whatever it was they were saying was worth listening to, or at the very least worth analyzing. From Cronenberg to Kurosawa, from torture porn to historical drama--from sci-fi to horror to romantic comedy to nearly everything I could get my hands on--I watched it all. I was large in film. And I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the wonder, the amusement, the excitement, the arousal. I took it as a whole, as one amalgam, one attempt to trace the boundaries and fill in the gaps of the human condition. And all the while, I brought what I hoped was a dedicated critical eye. I didn't submit to film; I submitted film to judgment. My dedication to film grew from the same root as my dedication to literature: a desire to understand, and to sympathize with, the human.

I haven't reviewed a film here in almost a year. The reason was, again, or at least at the time, quite simple. I was busy. I had begun my graduate studies, see. Suddenly I didn't have as much time for old hobbies as I would have liked. I suppose that, like I did with other interests, I could have made time, rescued time, snatched time for movies. I didn't. I didn't even try. I didn't because what I'd discovered was a gradual departure, a sort of out-growing, that has made a new epoch in my life. There is a rift--and a rift that at this time I see no chance, or even desire, of bridging or repairing--between what I want from art and imaginative creation and what Hollywood, as a mythic whole, as an institution, as a collection of individuals artist working together, can offer.

As film gradually began to occupy less imaginative space for me, several developments within Hollywood itself enlarged the rift, made it more pronounced, made it a chasm. It was at first only an imaginative rift: I simply wasn't interested, either on an intellectual or entertainment level, with what was being released this last year. Never before had I been so disinterested in film. From Avatar to The Hurt Locker and even A Simple Man... I simply didn't care. It all looked boring. It all looked contrived and manipulative. I had better things to do. But then it wasn't just an imaginative rift that separated me from film. It was a moral and spiritual rift. When in horror I sat and read the list of names of Hollywood elites, filmmakers I'd dedicated time and mental space to, who had signed a petition to release Roman Polanski and absolve and forgive him for the the 1977 drugging, rape, and sodomy of a 13-year old girl--names such as Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, Michael Mann, Wes Anderson; when I realized that people whose art I'd admired pretended to think their art and their status entitled them to a few liberties such as the occasional bit of forced anal sex with a minor; when I heard people like Whoopi Goldberg attempt to defend Polanski and say it wasn't "rape-rape" because, c'mon, the 13-year old drugged girl was just asking for it, and besides, Hollywood is "a different kind of society" that "sees things differently"; when I read, and realized, and heard all this, everything changed. Hollywood revealed itself. Perhaps not in a new light; perhaps it had always been like that, embracing a double standard and indulging in the worst forms of amoral transgression; but it was a a new light to me. Or maybe it was a light I simply didn't want to see it in or could until now ignore.

Today, Swiss authorities, who had been holding Polanski under house arrest until he could be extradited to the US, decided not to extradite and to release him. He's now free to do whatever he wants. Hollywood is quietly celebrating. And I'm done.

I'd always dismissed comparisons between Hollywood and Babylon, or things like that, as alarmist, if not ridiculous. I don't know now if Hollywood actually is Babylon. Perhaps it is. That seems likely. Who else but Babylon could give a standing ovation to an unrepentant child rapist? Whatever Hollywood is, however, I've turned away from it. I've turned my back on film. It will never be for me what it once was. It's not as if I'll never watch a movie again. That would be an absurd thing to say. But I'm now much more aware of the disconnect and the deeply distressing hypocrisy that separates what a film seems to be about and what a director or actor thinks and says. It may be helpful to trust the story and not the teller. Actually, it would be really helpful right now. I wish I knew nothing of the personal lives and opinions of the men and women who have produced so many of the films that I have loved. But I do know these things. I know them because Hollywood hasn't even tried to hide them, has been proud of them, proud of their moral deficiencies. Super-producer Harvey Weinstein defended Polanski and said that “Hollywood has the best moral compass, because it has compassion.” Its compassion, however, lies with the rapist and not the raped. And when the difference between the story and the teller is that enormous, it annihilates, at least as far as I'm concerned, the value of the story.

The strange thing is how easy film is to walk away from. I'm not distressed by this. This isn't a Lenten act of self-denial. My waning interest in what film can offer, combined with a new and ugly insight into the heart and mind of Hollywood, has made this an easy break, has made Hollywood a dead thing to me. It has simply ceased to hold any imaginative grasp on my mind.

That's okay. I have better things to do.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Daniel Deronda (excerpt)

Could there be a slenderer, more insignificant thread in human history than this consciousness of a girl, busy with her small inferences of the way in which she could make her life pleasant? -- in a time, too, when ideas were with fresh vigour making armies of themselves, and the universal kinship was declaring itself fiercely: when women on the other side of the world would not mourn for the husbands and sons who died bravely in a common cause, and men stinted of bread on our side of the world heard of that willing loss and were patient: a time when the soul of man was waking to pulses which had for centuries been beating in him unheard, until their full sum made a new life of terror or of joy.

What in the midst of that mighty drama are girls and their blind visions? They are the Yea or Nay of that good for which men are enduring and fighting. In these delicate vessels is borne onward through the ages the treasure of human affection.

Saint Cecilia

Sainte C├ęcile, by Adolphe Lalyre.

Cecilia was the daughter of a senator, and a Christian. She was married by her family to Valerianus, a virtuous pagan. On her wedding night, however, she told him that she was betrothed to an angel who would guard her body and virginity. Her husband, probably frustrated by this, because Cecilia was very beautiful, and also probably wondering whether Cecilia was entirely sound or not, reasonably asked to see the angel. Cecilia told him to go to a certain street, and he obeyed. There he met the Bishop Urbanus, who converted and baptized him. Maybe Valerianus hoped this would satisfy the angel and he'd be able to sleep with his wife. However, he returned to Cecilia and an angel, perhaps Cecilia's betrothed (but perhaps not), appeared to them and crowned them with roses and lilies. Valerianus never slept with her. Cecilia remained a virgin. Instead, Valerianus and his brother, who was also converted and baptized, dedicated themselves to Christian service, supporting the poor and burying martyrs. This of course attracted the wrong attention, and Valerianus and his brother were arrested, tried, and sentenced to death. However, and this must have infuriated their persecutors, they converted their executioner, who instead of killing them decided to die with them. The three of them were martyred together, and Cecilia buried all three in a single grave. With her husband and brother-in-law dead, Rome came after the virgin herself. She was arrested. She made a glorious confession of her faith. She was sentenced to death. She was to be suffocated by steam in her own bathroom. But though they super-heated the room beyond what is humanly endurable, she was not hurt. She did not die. She sang. Terrified and enraged, they sent in an executioner to cut off her head with a sword. Perhaps he was too scared to do it properly; perhaps no amount of strength would have been enough. But the executioner attempted three times to cut off her head. Three times he sunk his sword into her neck; three time he was unable to sever her head from her body. Terrified, he left the virgin drenched in her own blood (he had cut her, after all; he had mortally wounded her; but he couldn't cut off her head) and fled. They didn't try to kill her again. She lived three days. She saw her family and friends--they came to visit her and comfort her as she died. She sang. I imagine it was very quiet singing, whispered maybe, a trembling song falling from her lips in perfect harmony with her faith. She dedicated all her money to the poor. She left her house, where she had received her martyrdom, to be a church. She finally opened her eyes for the last time, looked at her friends and family, closed them, whispered one last trembling song of faith, and was translated to heaven. Urbanus buried her with the bishops and the confessors because they knew she was a saint. They could see. Much later, when her remains were discovered and removed as relics to the church dedicated to her, it is said that she held out three fingers on one hand, and one on the other, three in one, a confession of the Trinity. Because she sang, she is the patron saint of musicians and is often depicted playing an instrument.