Friday, October 29, 2004

Been at a Piano Technicians Guild conference in High Point for the last two days. Fortunately its close enough to commute. I've learned a lot so far, but I'm starting to see why people hate business travel. The highlight so far was the Kawai rep. showing this video in a class on voicing. (Go ahead and ask what voicing is. I dare you)

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

There seems to be a certain sort of idiocy floating around our reading american public these days with which I am pretty well baffled. I refer to those who think that a novel which is long is badly written just for the fact of being long. I encountered this yet once again today. Just having finished Richerd Russo's amazing novel, Empire Falls, a Pulitzer prize winner, no less, I turn to to see if others were as impressed as I was. You can click on the link yourself, but I'll save you the trouble by saying that one "reviewer" thought it somehow relevant to point out that the book had 480 pages in it, and suggested that My Russo should have hired an editor. It is probably fortunate that most books are paginated as otherwise the reviewer probably would not have been able to count all the way up to 480.

I suppose this is all just part of the short attention span syndrome plaguing our once highly literate nation. Nearly every long novel I have enjoyed had gotten this treatment from readers writing reviews at amazon. For myself I always feel cheated when I buy a short book, since it seems the price per page is much higher. I guess I'm just cheap.

Anyhow, the Russo book really impressed me. My only previous experience with him was the film adaptation of Nobody's Fool, which I also enjoyed quite a bit. Russo seems to have quite a way of seeing into the hearts of his characters, and of writing about a place full of people who seem more real than the people you really know. I felt that way about Robertson Davies as well, which makes this a very high comparison in my book (so to speak).

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Looks like the anglicans aren't the only ones in the news this week.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

A Brief Word on Morality and Fiction Occasioned by Watching Ingmar Bergman's The Shame

I just want to go on the record as saying that I think that it is good for fiction to be moral. By that I mean that it is good for a story to illustrate one or more moral principles, and not only that, but that many moral principles can only be illustrated through fiction. Those of us who call ourselves Christians should be able to understand this since Jesus used stories in just such a way.

This idea is counter to much of the direction of 20th century fiction writing. I'm no expert on the history of novels, so I can only be approximate here. If one reads the victorian authors it is easy to see that the authors were promoting certain ideals. In Trollope's The Warden, e.g., the main conflict of the story circles around the idea of whether recipients of charity can or should be content with what they have received, whether it is proper to receive money for administering charity, and the corrosive effects of rumor, slander, tale-telling, etc on relationships of all sorts. Now, I have mentioned to you some of these moral questions, but they are not the sort of things that can be understood well and properly outside the realm of actual relationships. This is something fiction can approximate. By having characters with relationships to each other, with histories and places in life, one can this image how morality actually works.

Sometime around the turn of the 20th century, many novelists decided that this was not what fiction should do, that it should just picture life as it really is. Thus H. L. Mencken scoffing at the idea of those who always are trying to improve humanity. Admittedly, much of 20th century fiction simply takes a back door approach, masquerading as a "realistic" picture but working to illustrate principles the novelist has in mind, or perhaps even principles which are subconsious to the author.

Much more and more intelligent discussion along these lines can be found in Alasdair MacIntyre's After Virtue (the section on Jane Austen), and Stanley Hauerwas' essay "The Novel as School of Virtue" in Dispatches From the Front. All of this brings me back to watching the Bergman film.

Shame, or The Shame (the article is missing on the box, but included on the title screen) is a fictitious story of a fictitious war in a fictitious European country. When it started I assumed it was WWII (and certainly it has plenty of echoes of that war), but it became clear that that was not the real context. Since Bergman seems to have wanted to make a film about "war", rather than a particular war, this ambiguity was effective. It follows the lives of a young, childless married couple who are non-combatants. The film systematically tracks how the war destroys their relationships with their neighbors, with each other, their livelihood, their property and savings, and, most importantly I think, their character.

This, it seems to me, is all proper for a war film to do. This is how fiction "tells the truth" in ways that other media cannot. For me this makes Shame a better film than, e.g., Saving Private Ryan. The latter film is much more realistic, is bound to a real setting in a real time and based, if I remember correctly, on a "true story". It also illustrates some of these principles in its own way, and some others as well. But the realism seems to create some ambiguities. We all know that WWII had a purpose (defeat the evil Nazis), and thus war could be seen as an evil which must be endured to achieve that end. So perhaps the war was good. In Shame, it is never clear what the purpose of the war is, or even if there is one. This seems to tell the story of many non-combatants more accurately. They did not ask for war, did not want to participate in it, and in nearly every way were victims of forces entirely beyond their control.
Weird. Slate ran a story two days ago about who some novelists are planning to vote for. Not much worth reading there, so I won't link it. Lets just say out of about 25 novelists, 22 said they would vote for Kerry. With each novelist there was an amazon link to his latest novel. Well, some doofus went to the three Bush voters and wrote negative book reviews. All on the same day. With no comments about the books. Someone else has already pointed this out in response reviews, since it wasn't very hard to figure out.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Monday, October 11, 2004

We watched this film tonight. I have to agree entirely with the linked review, though I don't have any experiance with other Bergman films to compare with it. Certainly the most personal war film I've seen, and I think the most thought provoking.

Friday, October 08, 2004

A good 8 minute flash story about, umm, well, just watch it and see. You'll like it.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Doesn't it seem that once you concentrate on something and get it nailed dowm, everything else seems to be moving around?

We've been doing fine. Lenise's parents have come and gone and mine are staying with us for now. John sleeps often, just not exactly when we want him to. Nighttime, for instance.