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Friday Five #46

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1. What is your favorite type of literature to read (magazine, newspaper, novels, nonfiction, poetry, etc.)?

I don’t really have a particular favourite. I would indulge in every type listed here except for poetry, but that’s only because I’ve never really gotten into poetry. I have read poems in the past that I couldn’t stand, and others that moved me profoundly. For me poetry is a lot like art, more so than other forms of literature. Another avenue for me to explore, I guess.

2. What is your favorite novel?

If I have to pick just one, it would be Ham On Rye by Charles Bukowski.

3. Do you have a favorite poem? (Share it!)

I simply haven’t read enough poetry to truly have a favourite, but if I must say something, I haven’t yet read a poem by Roger McGough that I didn’t like.

4. What is one thing you’ve always wanted to read, or wish you had more time to read?

I’ve thought about taking a stab at Ulysses; and I’ve had Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States sitting here for a couple of years now, unopened.

5. What are you currently reading?

At the moment I’m half-way through Dead Air by Iain Banks. I’m enjoying it; I haven’t read a lot of his, but what I have I’ve liked.

The Spire, O’Connell Street, 04/02/03

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The Spire on O'Connell Street, Dublin

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I finally got my hands on a full version of Photoshop Elements this morning, and spent the afternoon retouching some photos I’ve been meaning to post here for a while, one of which you can see above.
I know it’s not perfect; I still have a lot to learn, but now that I’m armed with the right tools you’ll be seeing a lot more photography here in future.

Friday Five #45

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1. What is your most prized material possession?

This is a tough one. It might be better to think in terms of, say, if there was a fire in my house and I was given a short window of time to save my most prized material possessions from the blaze, in which case I would go for my CD collection, my computer, and as many books as I could carry.

2. What item, that you currently own, have you had the longest?

I think that would be my VCR, I’ve had that for more than a few years now. I tend to use home electronics until I wear them out so that, even if the initial outlay was substantial, they last for much longer than most other people hang onto them for. My last television set, for example, I had for about eight years, and only got rid of it when the on-screen display had burned digits onto the screen.

3. Are you a pack rat?

Most definitely, although I am trying to break the habit (see below).

4. Do you prefer a spic-and-span clean house? Or is some clutter necessary to avoid the appearance of a museum?

I don’t feel comfortable in homes that are so clean you’re afraid to touch anything (even the sofa, which is probably covered in clear plastic anyway), but on the other hand I do prefer an organised space, where everything is used but used with care and kept in its rightful place. In my own experience, being a pack rat I tend to accumulate a lot of stuff, assuming that I might have some use for it down the line, but I don’t like the clutter that results, as things tend to get lost that way. Minimalism, or at least the appearance of it, would be my tendency, but not in conjunction with an open-plan space; I find such environments cold, clinical, and lacking in character.

5. Do the rooms in your house have a theme? Or is it a mixture of knick-knacks here and there?

My house is a real home in the sentimental sense of the word, yet there’s no blatant overriding theme. It is really just a mixture of knick-knacks here and there, but it’s more than the sum of its parts.

Friday Five #44

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1. Explain why you started to journal/blog.

I’m not sure exactly why I started. I initially happened upon the concept of blogging sometime towards the end of 2000, and around that time I sort-of started a weblog that didn’t really go anywhere, because I didn’t really get it at the time I guess. It was some months later, after I’d started exploring the blogosphere as it was and became a regular reader of Mat’s blog, that I decided to try it again. This time, I actually had something to say, and it quickly became a habit. I love writing, but sometimes I just don’t know what to write about; the weblog is the perfect medium for people like me.

2. Do people you interact with day to day or family members know about your journal/blog? Why or why not?

Some do, some don’t. With the ones who do, most of them surf the web now and again and have some inkling of what I’m doing with this. The one’s who don’t, well, they just wouldn’t understand without seeing it for themselves, in its proper context. As far as I’m concerned, weblogs only really work as part of a greater whole; that’s not to say that only the A-listers are worthy of any concern, but isolated blogs with little or no links to the outside world are a bit pointless, really. It’s the organic nature of the blogoshpere proper, the interaction, the meta-ness that interests and excites me and makes me want to be a part of it.

3. Do you have a theme for your journal/blog?

No, I don’t. I just write what I feel. Although I am trying to shift the emphasis away from the more mundane matters of my personal life, mainly because for the last six weeks or so I’ve been spending my days reading lots, watching TV, writing in spurts, and little else.

4. What direction would you like to have your journal/blog go in over the next year?

The trend for a lot of the better weblogs I read is towards a more column-based format; indeed many bloggers describe what they do as somewhat of an online column. Parallel to this trend is the increasing standard of writing, judging from the weblogs I read regularly anyway. It really is true that the more one writes, the better writer one becomes. It’s more than true for me; I cringe when I read some of my earlier entries, which pale in comparison to my more recent attempts, and I certainly want my writing to continue to improve.

5. Pimp five of your favorite journals/blogs.

I couldn’t make such a list without mentioning Mat Honan’s blog, it being the one that got me hooked on blogging in the first place.

Instant Enemy was another excellent blog I discovered in the early days of this site; I think it was the combination of dry cool wit and toy robots that got me hooked. It’s currently on hiatus and is sorely missed.

Another is fush!, which isn’t the most prolific of blogs in terms of content, but the quality more than makes up for the quantity (or lack thereof).

Antipixel I discovered fairly recently, and was immediately drawn in by both the impressive design and the depth and quality of content.

My fifth spot is a three-way tie: Frownland, Kottke.org and plasticbag.org. Yes, I am aware that two of those three are of the blogging elite, but they’re elite for a reason: consummately professional, informative, with excellent writing, and oftentimes they do the hard work of finding new places to go on the web for us.

The weblogs I’ve mentioned here are but the tip of the iceberg, of course. Most of my other favourites are listed on my Linkage page, and I could easily spend hours hopping around the links to other blogs through them. That’s the beauty of the whole concept.

Adaptation

I had the good fortune last week to attend not one, but two free media screenings. Tuesday morning was spent watching Analyse That (the sequel to Analyse This, natch); it was nothing to write home about. Wednesday’s screening of Adaptation at the IFC, however, was a much more interesting prospect, not only because I’ve heard so many good things about it and have been looking forward to seeing it for some time.

Director Spike Jonze and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman’s latest collaboration is nearly impossible to describe without giving too much away; the best I can do is that it’s a film about a film about a film about a book. I think. If you loved Being John Malkovich you’ll definitely enjoy Adaptation, probably more than once; in more than one way it’s a direct follow-on from that film, certainly a head-scratcher, full of clever twists and tricks, and even more confounding when you realise it was based on actual events. (The publicity surrounding the film has brought Susan Orlean’s book, on which the original screenplay was based, to a whole new audience.)

Whether you’ll love it, though, is a different story. Unfortunately the film is not without its disappointments; an excellent, truly inspired first half gives way to a final act that careers into self-parody, Kaufman mocking the writer’s block of his fictional self whilst suffering from the same affliction. (He could certainly benefit from some constructive criticism.) In turn, Jonze’s direction turns pedestrian, as if he handed the reins to his AD to go skateboarding with his Jackass buddies. (Something I wouldn’t put past him, with his reputation.) As a result, Adaptation is not as consistenly enthralling as its predecessor, at times far too knowingly ironic for its own good. I couldn’t help but feel slightly cheated; I expected a magic show, but what I got was merely smoke and mirrors.

But then again, maybe I was asking for too much. I could certainly think of worse ways to spend a couple of hours – Analyse That, anyone?

Thirst for the Obscure

I came across the following quote last week in a review on the Pitchfork website:
>Rock critic Michael Goldberg recently speculated that what makes music fanatics thirst for the obscure is the desire to discover music that is “uncontaminated by the commerce machine.” This, he says, is the reason we cling to the abstract and unmarketable, the outlandish and abrasive.
That sounds like me.

Friday Five #43

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1. What did you have for breakfast this morning? If you didn’t have breakfast, why not?

I didn’t have breakfast because I didn’t wake up until 10:30am, didn’t get out of bed until some time around 11am, and decided to have a big lunch instead; a dinner, actually.

2. What’s your favorite cereal?

Kellogg’s Frosties usually, but at the moment I’m also quite partial to Cookie Crunch. So much so, in fact, that I’m going to get myself a bowl when I’m done with this.

3. How often do you eat out? Do you want that to change?

I don’t eat out very often. I’m not particularly bothered about it, because for the most parts restaruants in Dublin (even fast food joints) are expensive now.

4. What do you plan on having for dinner tonight? Got a recipe for that?

I already ate, I microwaved a mild chicken curry and boiled up some extra rice to go with it.

5. What’s your favorite restaurant? Why?

I like The Alamo in Temple Bar, because it’s in the city, because I love Mexican food, because it’s inexpensive compared to most places, and they also do deep fried ice cream. Captain America’s on Grafton Street is an old favourite as well, although I haven’t been there for quite some time; I’ve heard their malts are just to die for.

Deconstruction Revisited

I may have mentioned this before but one of the many great qualities the Web, for me, is the possibility of finding things that are far and away from what I was originally looking for; sometimes I might not even be looking for anything in particular, and suddenly stumble upon something that sparks my interest, or makes my blood boil.
I don’t know why the latter get to me so much; the Web, even more so now than ever before, is a forum of varied opinion after all. But what really irks me is when people pontificate on a subject that they really don’t know much about, other than second hand knowledge (and biased information at that), and proceed to declare their opinion as definitive.
I refer in particular to a piece discussing Jacques Derrida, and the process of deconstruction that he helped to popularise. Now the thing about deconstruction is that it is difficult to grasp. I remember spending many a tutorial arguing with my fellow students over its merits, its purpose, how to even go about doing it. If one thing can be said about deconstruction, it would be that there is always more to it than what meets the eye; this phrase in itself could almost describe its very essence.
(Before I continue, I must state that I will not be referring to the primary source material of the aforementioned discussion, primarily because it is a rhetorical rant with a heavily subjective, conservative slant by an author responsible for some suspect literature, and as such shouldn’t be used as a basis for any valid argument; criticism of this particular piece would warrant an essay all of its own.)
It seems fair to work from the beginning, and pick out some of the main points where the author appears to be mistaken. I quote initially from the second paragraph:
>Deconstructionism is the school of thought which divorces works of art from their creators and any meaningful context, then picks them apart using, in essence, personal whim and non-sequiturs. The goal of this meaningless exercise if to show that no one thing is any more meaningful or important than anything else.
This statement, in all its superficiality, advertises the author’s ignorance of the subject. Besides the fact that he gets the name wrong (there’s no -ism), he intimates specifically that a work of art is only divorced from its creator only when someone decides to deconstruct it. If he had actually read up on the subject, he would know that any work of art, any text, is inherently divorced from its creator. (One must note that anything can be regarded as a text: a work of art, a piece of writing, an event of any significance, even a lifetime; textuality is universal.)
I will admit as much that what I am writing here is inherently divorced from myself as soon as my fingers hit the keys; there is a distinct degree of separation between the original idea or thought in my mind, and my representation of this thought in this text. What you are reading here, for instance, is but the final of many drafts of this essay; I have revised the text to compensate for mistakes I have caught myself making, whether conceptual, ideological or merely grammatical. Even the gist of what I have intended to communicate has been altered, refined for the sake of clarity. Writing is an iterative process. What is written here now is a different beast from my original thoughts.
(While we’re on the subject of iteration – which for the uninitiated simply means the fixing of semantic meaning to a semiotic symbol (a word, for example) in a particular context (which explains the concept of slang) – the author has just given a perfect example of it himself, as his post has changed from the original from which I am working.)
Continuing on, we stumble upon a remarkable declaration by the author, that “deconstructionism is mediocrity”, and his subsequent reasoning:
>Because any tangent can be used in the pursuit of tearing down a work of art, the practice requires neither careful study nor accountability.
Personally, I take deconstruction to be a form of reverse engineering. Rather than tearing down, it could better be described as stripping back the layers that hide the original context of any given text. One must note here that, despite what this author might mistakenly believe, deconstruction is not synonymous with destruction. (This is a common false step for those new to the territory.) If something has been deconstructed, or disassembled, it can be reassembled; it can be reconstructed. Conceptually, there can be no reconstruction without deconstruction, so the process of deconstruction is not inherently destructive.
Hence, it could be argued furthermore that the practice does not require careful study nor accountability for there is nothing significant to be lost in any attempt. Derrida himself concedes that not every incident of deconstruction will lead us to a more original, truthful understanding of any text – in fact, some might miss the mark entirely – but that is not to say we shouldn’t bother. On the contrary; as far as I’m concerned, mediocre is a world without deconstruction.
> And the deconstructionists – not to mention the people who listen to them – never seem to realize that if nothing is inherently meaningful, then neither is deconstruction itself. The entire school of philosophy suddenly collapses, and thousands of trite, untalented graduate students end up holding signs on street corners.
This is a vivid image, it must be said, and I am sure the author was quite proud of what he wrote here; I can even see the signs on the street corners: Will Deconstruct For Food. But what the author doesn’t seem to realise – for he brings up here one of the oldest criticisms of Derrida – is that deconstruction is not a method. If it were, it would indeed be subject to itself. Rather, deconstruction is best described as a process, one that has always been and always will be. (Of course if you get down to the nitty gritty our language doesn’t do the process any justice, for any attempt to describe it is subject to the process itself, and this presumably is what gets most peoples’ goats.)
The author makes an emotionally slanted point about the dangers of deconstruction when taken to extremes. This is a moot point, since such a criticism could be applied to any school of thought when drawn to its limits. (Marxism, anyone? Or the writings of Nietzsche?) Whether a particular school or system of thought is right or wrong is irrelevant; the party to blame in such cases is not the system itself, but those who seek to exploit it for their own ends.
We come now to the author’s “primary gripe against the deconstructionists”:
>They are so very good at destroying beautiful, worthwhile things, but they are incapable of creating.
I have already explained that deconstruction does not mean destruction, so that reasoning is obviously invalid, but something else strikes me here. Perhaps blinkered by his own emotional response to the source material discussed at this point, the author appears to be making a category mistake. He purports to attack deconstruction, but what he’s really angry about are those who would twist deconstruction to suit their own agenda (as is the wont of the more extreme groups on both side of the socio-political spectrum). Maybe his vitriol would be better targeted at the teacher, rather than the subject?
To wrap things up, a final assessment: throughout this piece the author makes the fundamental mistake of interpreting his criticisms of Derrida and of deconstruction in a polarised manner. His explanation of the American feminists’ argument is evidence of this. (Whether the feminists are correct in their reasoning is beside the point; for the record, it’s most likely their not.) It is this polarisation, this binary opposition, this violent hierarchy which justifies the process of deconstruction in the first place! Of course, the author is entitled to his opinion, but it certainly comes across as more than just an opinion.
Maybe it’s my fault, judging other people by my own standards; I might have opinions or beliefs, but they are always open to challenge or speculation, and I relish the ensuing discussions – it’s the philosopher in me; no matter how life and the world get me down, they still excite me.
And maybe this is why I feel the need to challenge others, to show where their arguments are flawed, where their logic fails, and especially where their opinions are based on one side of the story, a side that merely reinforces what they want to know about something, rather than what that something really is.