Ideology and the Miracle of Confusion

So last night we watched The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology (now available on Netflix), starring the always entertaining (if not alarming) Slavoj Zizek. It’s quite a feat. He guides you through all kinds of movies, sorting through the subtexts and drawing astonishing comparisons that seem so obvious in retrospect. At the same time, you have to admit that half the time you have no idea what the fuck he’s talking about! Considering that when you do have a feeling of comprehension, you decide that the part you don’t get probably makes as much sense, he’s just ahead of you by a mile or two.

Ideology is nothing more than the ruling mythology of the time and place in which you live. For us in early 21st century USA, the reigning myth is that of individual self-fulfillment, generally through the agency of products attained, obtained, purchased, invented, used or otherwise engaged in. It could be the “app of the week”, it could be the Tesla car you drive, it could be the fitness feedback you got from your hyper-intelligent wristband, it could be the number of likes you received for that comment you made on that post that you saw. We are so very individuated that we can now construct our own unique set of fulfillments out of the cornucopia of possibilities surrounding us. Hey, why not? But I digress.

In the film, Zizek brings together several wonderful correlations, often surrounding the concept of The Other. The Other can be a positive or a negative, such as a good God or a bad apple. For example, all fears united in the figure of the shark in Jaws. Change one letter there, and you have all fears united in the figure of the Jews in Nazi Germany. It’s not a stretch at all. It makes perfect sense.

How interesting that so many different political dynasties used Beethoven’s Ode to Joy as their anthem – from the Nazis to the Stalinists to the Maoists to Shining Path to the droods of Clockwork Orange. A symbol can stand for anything, as long as it invokes a certain wordless quality that somehow unites its participants. The symbol doesn’t matter. The product is irrelevant as long as you’re buying something from the sellers.

Ideology is always hiding behind a mask. We don’t want to see that we are always buying into a myth, whether we’re right or left wing, religious or agnostic, scientific or spiritual, naive or experienced, thoughtful or carefree, you name it. There is some version of some myth that justifies our vision of self-fulfillment, and clouds the fact that we are simply creatures of this particular planet alotted a short span of time in which to do whatever it is we either can or else permit ourselves to do.

Fringe Fiction

I’ve only recently caught up with the science fiction television series ‘Fringe’ and have been watching (too much of) it the past week or so. I’ve had a number of thoughts about it, which I wanted to jot down, in no particular order, to think about some more. Among these are:

1. that the concept of parallel universes, like time travel, is absurd on the face of it. The fact is that we (in general) are incapable of conceiving of the enormous complexity of any discrete instant – especially since there is no such thing as any discrete instant, no more than you could have a “slice” of the ocean. We indulge in truisms about butterfly wings flapping but cannot truly comprehend what that means at scale. The universe is a vast quantity of “things” all changing always.

2. that the series sometimes approaches, but backs away from, genuine literary possibilities. There is the case of the scientist who cannot save his son’s life in THIS universe but is given the opportunity to do so in a parallel universe. That’s one thing, but the literary potential comes in when he and his wife face the decision of whether to keep the other boy or return him to his “real” parents. The guilt involved in this decision is worthy of a Dostoevsky, but they skirt around the edges. It’s an action show, not a drama. Drama is alotted a precious few moments on occasion but must not be allowed to interfere with, or slow down, the general excitement. (they come closest in season three, episode fifteen, when the boy insists they’re not his real parents and the mother’s anguish is on display)

3. that bad acting can do serious damage to a show. There are only a few good actors in this whole show. Two of the main three are pretty awful.

4. that some popular misconceptions – modern old wives’ tales – are impossible to dislodge, such as the notion that “we only use ten percent of our brains“.

5. there is no end to the variations on the theme of monsters among us, but it basically boils down to two types, which I call “innies” and “outies” (like belly-buttons, or introverts and extroverts, or freaks and straights, or us versus them). With monsters, “innies” get you from within (think ‘Alien’). “Outies” come at you from without.

6. that buried gems are easily re-buried if not quickly captured (such as the insight that “everything you touch, touches you” in season three episode ten). The show definitely has its moments.

7. i thought i had a bad memory! but some of these characters remember nothing of the most significant events of their childhoods. it’s a tad hard to believe.

Ether Books Contest – Winners (yo)

My flash fiction bit “Twins” won the award for Day 3 (“Risk”) of the Ether Books 8 Days of Flash Fiction competition. It was a good one, I thought. There were a lot of good ones in that competition. One of the other “winners” was one of my favorites as well, ’0 out of 10′ by Liz Hedgecock, which I’d recommended in an earlier post. Congrats to all contributors. Lots of stories worth reading.

Very few people who are supposedly interested in writing are interested in writing well (Flannery O’Connor)

Originally posted on Biblioklept:

But there is a wide spread curiosity about writers and how they work, and when a writer talks on this subject, there are always misconceptions and mental rubble for him to clear away before he can even begin to see what he wants to talk about. I am not, of course, as innocent as I look. I know well enough that very few people who are supposedly interested in writing are interested in writing well. They’re interested in publishing something, and if possible in making a “killing.” They are interested in seeing their names at the top of something printed, it matters not what. And they seem to feel that this can be accomplished by learning certain things about working habits and about markets and about what subjects are currently acceptable.

From “The Nature and Aim of Fiction” by Flannery O’Connor. Collected in Mystery and Manners.

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Review, don’t rate

In a way, publishing is like fishing for readers, and when someone leaves a review, it’s like you caught one. Reviews tell you something about the reader, it makes them a new character for your imagination to feed on. Ratings, not so much. Those numbers only tell me that someone is doing their due diligence, following the rules, believing they’re making a contribution to society. At large scale, all ratings tell you is what you already know – the thing is popular or not. At small scale, the sample size is too small, so the data is meaningless. On the other hand, reviews give you a peek inside, a slice of the mind that read your story. This is what I want to see.