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Archive for February, 2011

Song Fight!

In recent months I’ve discovered the Song Fight! site, where every week or so a title is posted and anyone who wishes has a week to record and send in a song inspired by that title. Anyone who wishes can vote for whichever songs they like as well, and the vote tally determines the victor (a system which can be easily abused, but as there’s no prize to be won, there’s little incentive). It’s a lot of fun, with a varied selection of musical styles, and it can be interesting seeing the creative ways in which people parse the titles. Not all the tracks are good, but each round usually contains at least one or two songs which I’d rather listen to than most of the stuff in the Top 40. I may in future have a quick overview of the week’s fights whenever else I post on musical matters. For today, below the cut, are my recommendation of the best from current and recent fights; YMMV, naturally.

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Our blogging schedule has me signed up for artwork production on Saturdays. I’m currently working on a couple of drawings – some for a book, one for a text adventure, one piece of fanart for a Harry Potter fanfiction (which, I think, either I or Nick will most probably be talking about more), and a couple of ideas I had for a site banner for this blog. I’m going to kick things off by presenting one of the drawings I did for a banner:

A Philosophical Refutation

Johnson refutes Berkeley's idealism

The depiction is of Samuel Johnson’s famous refutation of Bishop Berkeley’s idealism. Berkeley, a prominent philosopher, maintained that the world around us existed only in perception: ours, and God’s – a position which made it seem as if the world itself were unreal (he named his philosophy “immaterialism”, which didn’t help; I believe it’s now considered a form of Idealism) and which could easily tip over into solipsism. David Hume famously described Berkeley’s philosophy as neither admitting the slightest refutation, nor inspiring the slightest conviction. Samuel Johnson, as recorded by Boswell, disagreed:

After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley’s ingenious sophistry to prove the non-existence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it, ‘I refute it thus.’

It is not recorded, so far as I know, whether Berkeley considered himself refuted by this procedure.

I must here confess that the last time I attempted independent thought (I think it was a little over half a year ago) I came to roughly the same conclusion as Berkeley, and indeed the whole idea of idealism seems to me to be almost common sense (which is not to say that it’s actually right, or useful, or other than totally insane; common sense is very subjective, and a most imperfect authority). The issue of how mind and matter interact can be resolved by claiming that mind is an illusion or emergent property of matter, as maintained by those neurologists who sometimes speak of how the brain tricks itself into thinking it’s conscious; this seems to me a little unsatisfactory, and the idea that matter is an illusion and mind is the only reality has fewer problems. However, this is problematic on grounds religious and aesthetic: that it seemed to me to be a form of Gnosticism, which is frowned upon by all Christian authority and tradition, and which, in dismissing matter and the created world, displays a fundamental ingratitude for the world given us to live in.

I wonder now if I wasn’t too hasty. Berkeley’s idealism does not mean that objects in the world are unreal just because they are thoughts in the mind of God; it means only that reality, or the objects which possess reality, are a particular subset of thoughts in the mind of God. I am unsure if this is a position as unassailable as Hume so flippantly described, but the fact that we think of our own thoughts as unreal does not mean that the thoughts of God are unreal. (It is tempting to utter some deep statement like “God is more real than reality”, but if you were to ask me what I meant by that I probably wouldn’t be able to tell you.)

This is the site banner I created from this image (click for larger version):

Johnson refutes Bishop Berkeley's Philosophy

A Philosophical Refutation

We decided not to use this one (as the reader may see; I wonder, however, if we can use chibi-Johnson as a site mascot?), and I’ve got some other promising ideas on the way, my favourite of which I intended to present today; but alas that one’s proving refractory, and is only around 2/3rds complete. Happily, however, I had this post scheduled for next week already, so I merely brought it forward. (I have learnt from experience that art-related deadlines are very easy to miss, and thus have decided on a policy of having art posts done in advance or otherwise held in reserve.)

UPDATE: this post seems to attract a lot of search-engine hits – greetings, googlers! Alas that there’s little hardcore philosophising here to enjoy, but I hope the silly pictures amuse you.

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Storytellers

I am a very bad writer. This is not to say I write poorly, but that I write with all the emphatic dedication of a drunken traffic cop; I’m trying but probably not very hard, and I count myself a hard worker if I get a page done every other day. This is in large measure the reason I wanted to start up There Are Real Things — to get a bit of the pressure back, while at the same time having some backup to keep the blog from going forever dead. A man of high ideals who has difficulty getting to work, let us all pray to the Most High God that this will not be a dead letter at the beginning.

Anyway, as writers are wont to do, I’m always devising little tales to tell. Because my other principal project is a science fiction adventure comic about transforming superheroes, they often fall within the realm covered by that book, which I’ve tried to keep relatively broad by mixing and melding genres — as always, the art of the twenty-first century is that of reappropriation — but regardless, the tales come up, be they apocalypse and revelation or honest men trying to do good and failing. I drive myself to distraction with them; they take up my mind in my prayer, they leave me unfocused, unsettled, and insecure during mass, and they violate my dreams with their damned insistence. Maybe this is just me, and maybe everything I’ve got to say about it doesn’t hold a single drop of water. Maybe it’s impossible to universalize human experience — this has been a topic of discussion in my Problem of God class. But maybe, too, maybe everything is story, and everyone a storyteller.

I spent one pleasant afternoon combing through decades’ worth of commercials for Kellogs’ Golden Crisp, a vile cereal that tastes like burning hatred which happens to be hawked by the single greatest mascot mankind has ever devised, Sugar Bear, who is apparently the God of his world, or at least its Gary Mitchell, which is another discussion entirely. These commercials were not otherwise connected — apart from a brief narrative arc in the late 1980’s — but seemed to display a very consistent story to the character, a sort of slow corruption from a vitamin-powered superhero who protected Granny Goodwitch from evil cereal-stealing monsters to being himself the beast, now of incalculable power, vexing the same kind old lady. I don’t think any of this was conscious on the part of the various storyboard writers responsible — which would really be displaying a remarkable amount of depth for cereal commercials — but it certainly demonstrates a tendency toward narrative in the most inane activities.

Paul has long vexed me as a reader of the New Testament; I have fallen like an asteroid hurtling toward the Earth, dooming the dinosaurs, into the gravity well of the Gospels and Acts and, for that matter, Genesis. These are stories, and I can deal with stories. They flow like life, even if the only part of life they resemble is a dream, but they are something into which I can enter, which I can experience the way I experience anything. Paul writes long and supine lectures, gazing into the heavens, while God makes man from the dirt beneath Paul’s head. I always think of God as a storyteller, crafting the universe, start to finish, the more care than the greatest masters. And maybe this is why we write. Maybe we’re all, on one level or another, storytellers. Story is how we relate to a world of story; we have narratives in our heads which we use to apprehend everything we encounter. Even our rational arguments fall into a tale of some kind, some framework that makes sense of everything. Every conflict, every love, every moment falls into some tale being told.

Listen: this is a story. There was a man with two sons. One was born early, reckoned the man’s but with a slave for a mother. He had no stake in the birthright. The other, born properly, was favored and taken into the family, while the elder was cast out, a refugee and exile. They hated each other, and so did their children, on and on, down and down, even to the present day.

Listen: this, too, is a story. There was a teacher who taught in tales. He told of fullers and sowers and virgins with lamps. He taught of seed and pearls and building projects. His followers loved him but did not understand him, and so one day, he angered them, and that anger turned their love, as it does, to pure and vicious hate. They had him beaten and killed, as many spurned lovers would have done to their exes if given the chance. What friends he had left went to care for his body, but his body was not there. And so the followers of the storyteller had a real doozy to tell.

Listen: this is a story as well. There were in those days no days, so some had to be made. So Yahway in the sky, knowing days need places to be days, made land and sea and fish, bird and lion and aurochs and mammoth, and for them night, and for them day. He made it full, and yet it was empty. So he made a man, and he made a woman, and gave them everything in the world. “Fill it,” he said, “but do not pass through my gate.” And the Man and the Woman lived and were happy, till there came to them a certain snake. “You have filled the world. There are people in every land. Why shall you not take Beyond-the-Gate?” So the Woman said, “Yahway, who rules everything, and gave it all to us, did not give us Beyond-the-Gate.”  “But,” said the snake, “soon the world will all be taken, with no room left for you. You will be driven out and murdered by your children unless you take that plentiful land. Yahway would want you to thrive there.” Being convinced, the Woman and the Man passed through into Beyond-the-Gate, and found it vast and plentiful, with unknown fruits and grains, and vast seas of glimmering, golden water. So they drank and they ate of the fruit, but when they heard Yahway coming, they fled. Outside, they grew frightened and cold, so they fashioned skirts for themselves out of the reeds. And so Yahway came to them and sayd “Have you been into Beyond-My-Gate?” The Man said “No, sir.” “But your hands are covered in the seeds from therein.” And so the Man and the Woman were ashamed. “O my children!” Yahway said. “What have you done? You have eaten the fruit and so gained my knowledge, and drunken the water, and so gained my skill, but not taken the grain, and so no gained my wisdom and goodness. Begone from hearth, and fill the earth till I come with bread made from that grain! You shall toil and die and be ruled over by your chuldren. But I will not forget you.” And the Man and the Woman were cast out, and toiled, and died.

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Introduction and Sundries

As far as introductions go, it is debatable how one should begin, but I always favor the standard approach. I’m supposedly a writer, and my name is Brian, and I’ve been described as a hipster philosopher and, I suppose now, a hipster seminarian. The label is one I begrudgingly accept, because I suppose it’s as accurate as anything, although I hope I’ve avoided many of the more unpleasant associations the word implies. As far as it goes, though, it’s accurate; I am both a consummate music snob and carry a sort of smug superiority I find from which I find it very hard to divest myself. I talk like a beatnik (another, more anachronistic, or at least archaic, use of the word) and I’m a damned aesthete and intellectual. I have high ideals on which I rarely act, and I’m probably a good deal more socially dejected than I’d like to admit. I listen to only the best and most obscure bands, and I am ashamed to say I start to like them less when they get popular; this is almost certainly a reason I never got into the Arcade Fire. I don’t want to be a joiner.

For all that, though, I am first and foremost a Catholic Christian, which is, I suppose, not something many of my ilk can say, and in a perfect world, would be countercultural enough to earn me a good bit of cred. But I’ve been a Christian longer than I’ve been a hipster. This seminarian has spent a good amount of time trying to figure out what this Jesus dude wants from me, and much to my chagrin, it turned out not to be my condescending sighs. So last August, I entered into the pre-theologate for the Diocese of Brooklyn (where I lived in Williamsburg, natch, but not the cool part). So I’m studying a bunch of stuff I already knew so I can have a certificate that certifies I know it, and a few things I didn’t already know, for the selfsame certificate before I can start getting to the interesting stuff. In the meantime, I’m digging on Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin and St. Francis of Assisi and Christian Anarchism, so expect these things to come up.

Oh, hey, yeah. I’m also a writer. I used to blog over at Saint Superman, but I sort of fell out of the habit, so Nick and Godescalc and I decided to start this mofo up so that we can force ourselves back into it. I was going to start last week, but I couldn’t think of anything; some foraging through my retreat notes from earlier this month gave me some good material.

And I write comic books. I am a comic book writer.

 

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In response to a previous post by Nick, I commented unfavourably on Zack Snyder’s use of violence in movies, in a manner threatening to derail a thread about upcoming movie awesomeness onto the topic of how Zack Snyder is a psychopath. I figure it best to make a separate post about this; this is that post.

Readers may be familiar with the concept of “the male gaze”: that in movies made by men (which is most of them), the way the camera treats women reflects the way men look at women: the camera will linger on a woman’s curves and, in choosing the angles from which it perceives her, will be guided by a sense of beauty and aesthetics informed (consciously or unconsciously) by male heterosexual desire. So far, so blindingly obvious. I can’t say much about it myself, because I spent most of my life without a TV and I don’t watch too many movies, and I’ve never developed the capacity to analyse camerawork to that extent; but I’d be surprised if that didn’t happen, at least a little.

Readers may also be familiar with the film Manhunter, an excellent adaptation of the Hannibal Lecter book “The Red Dragon”, in which Lecter is played by Brian Cox. There is a scene in which Cox, in a mental institution, looks at some gruesome crime scene photos, and his eyes – briefly – flicker with interest. A lesser Lecter would have made some comment along the lines of “ooh, yeah, now that’s the good stuff”, but Cox’s Lecter doesn’t say a word about it, just carries on with his conversation. (Later, Will Graham falls asleep on an aeroplane and the case files folder spills open; a girl sitting next to him sees the same photos and starts shrieking.)

Imagine a combination of the two: a film made by a Lector-like serial killer, in which the camera lingers, briefly but noticably, on wounds, the same way the camera might normally linger, just a second longer than necessary, on a woman’s curves. And if you can’t imagine it, well, you don’t have to, because Zack Snyder has given the world the Watchmen movie.

The rest of this post focuses on the details. The reader is advised to skip unless very specifically interested in the topic. It will not be edifying. (more…)

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Music-blogging: Delirious?

Aloha.

It is Wednesday, which, on our schedule of blogging, is the day appointed for me to inflict my appalling taste in music on you all. Well may you gasp and plead for mercy! Mwahaha.

The reason I do this is because I desire to blog more about matters artistic and creative, and less about my opinions and whatever rouses me to ire. Thus I have chosen: Wednesdays for music, and Saturdays for art. The music I desire to talk about will probably be a mix of German pop, Christian rock, and the occasional English punk or Russian song; and if I can get my hands on the power cable for the mixing desk that sits to my side, I may even inflict my own dire and misconceived musical creations upon you all, until you beg for mercy. Tremble, mortals.

This week, I desire to talk about Deliriou5?, hereafter called “Delirious” for typographical simplicity. They’re an evangelical Christian music group from the south coast of England who started out as a worship band and went on to writing their own music. They have quite a large following due to the fact that they’re actually rather good – not massively innovative, but they have their own sound, and they can write a tune – and also, more notably, they sing with heart on sleeve about what moves them and what (or rather, Who) they love, namely, God. No artifice, no putting on a pious act to give the Christian music market what it wants (“mention the Name of Jesus twice every song or else!”), no covering up of doubts and difficulties and weakness; just gentleness of spirit and an attitude which makes it as natural to write love songs to God as it’s natural for others to write love songs to their mortal beloveds. The lead singer, Martin Smith, also has a lovely southern English accent.

(Numerous embedded videos beneath the cut.) (more…)

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Introduction: godescalc

this is my friendly faceHi! I’m godescalc, and I scowl at you in friendly greeting. A few introductory words may be in order.

I’m an (amateur) artist, cartoonist and musician, and a theoretical chemist by career and education. I know Nick from Ottawa and Brian from the internets, and when they mooted the idea of a group blog I volunteered to post sketches and short comic strips and suchlike. So, here I am; the provisional plan, God willing and if I live so long, is that once a week I post some picture or sketch, and also that once a week I blog about some music that I like. (My family all tell me my taste in music is terrible, but I figure I might as well get a second opinion from the internets.)

I’m Catholic, brought up Pentecostal; I switched to popery for reasons including, but not limited to, attraction to having 20 centuries of theology and intellectual ponderings to wrangle with (Pentecostals being awesome in many ways, but totally lacking in historical depth), and the fact that John Paul II went around apologising for everything he could think of that the Church had ever done wrong.

My name I took in honour of the mad heretic Gottschalk of Orbais, who terrified much of Europe and kicked off a big theological controversy in the 9th century by wandering around preaching predestination at people, like Calvin except he was a monk and wasn’t so interested in getting Christians to abstain from beer and drink only tea. (Not that tea isn’t as awesome as beer, in its own way.) Gottschalk’s the modern high german version, by which he’s usually referred to; godescalc is the original old saxon name. The “sc” is pronounced “sh”. (My real name’s James, a good English name.)

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