Boeken (niet) op eigen termen lezen

How to read leerde mij dat ik boeken op hun eigen termen moet lezen. Je moet de definities die de schrijver je aan het begin van het boek geeft als gegeven accepteren om het boek te kunnen lezen. How to read zegt trouwens ook dat geen enkel boek en geen enkele lezer volmaakt is. Ter illustratie.

Marc Oosterhout publiceerde De Kunst van het Kiezen, een boek over de brands van politieke partijen. Hij begint, zoals het hoort, met zijn definities. Hij omschrijft populisme als een stijl van politiek bedrijven. Daar heeft hij niet helemaal ongelijk in, maar hij mist wat mij betreft een cruciaal onderscheid. Populisme is politiek bedrijven vanuit de stelling dat geen enkel ander instituut dan de volkswil telt. Populisten onderscheiden zich van democraten omdat ze stellen dat zij alleen de ware volkswil vertegenwoordigen, en ze verzetten zich actief tegen alles wat hen daarbij in de weg ligt, zoals rechterlijke macht, ambtenaren, de pers, en maatschappelijke organisaties. Dat is wat populisme wat mij betreft gevaarlijk maakt, dat streven naar gelijkschakeling.

En als je dat niet begrijpt, heb je bij mij je ethos als kenner van politiek verloren. Het boek is weer terug naar de bibliotheek.

Met mijn leesclub bespraken we The Road van Cormac McCarthy. Het boek deed mij niet veel, waarschijnlijk deels omdat ik het in vertaling las, en in een boek van 176 pagina’s telt elk woord. Dat je je als lezer ook in 176 pagina’s kunt vervelen, bewees dit boek voor mij. Maar er was iets anders wat me dwars zat aan het boek, of in elk geval dat me niet beviel. In de bespreking verwees ik onder anderen naar The Parable of the Talents van Octavia Butler als een boek dat voor mij veel realistischer omgaat met een half-vergane wereld. In de wereld die Butler tekent speelt het opbouwen van een gemeenschap een cruciale rol.

Pas in de trein terug realiseerde ik me wat me niet beviel in het boek. Ik geloof het niet.

Mensen zijn fundamenteel groepsdieren en belachelijk optimistisch. Het gaat er bij mij gewoon niet in dat een volwassen kerel werkelijk gelooft dat hij en zijn zoontje met z’n tweeen beter af zijn dan in een groep, hetzij met familieleden, hetzij een gekozen familie. Als het boek bedoeld was als kritiek van het Amerikaanse ideaal van de lone righteous man had het misschien voor me gewerkt. Maar op geen enkel moment wordt zijn keuze van voldoende context voorzien om hem invoelbaar te maken, wat mij doet vermoeden dat McCarthy een zo ander mensbeeld heeft dan ik dat ik me makkelijker kan inleven in een megalomane dwerg die door de ruimte reist dan in zijn volwassen verteller op aarde.

Ook dat heb ik weer teruggebracht naar de bibliotheek.

Conclusie: word lid van de bieb, dan kun je pijnloos risico’s nemen in je boekenkeuzes.

Mandatory May Defense Post

Obviously, I’m as happy as the next leftie that May and the Tories lost the UK elections. I look forward to seeing how MPs deal with the not having a majority party: it will make for a dynamic period.

People tend to blame Theresa May for that, and there are reasons to do so. When they do so using unflattering images of her, it starts to reek of sexism. Which is why I’m going to spell this out for you.

The Glass Cliff

Women are more likely to get in a visible leadership position when an organisation is already in trouble. Here’s the wikipedia entry. The term is relatively new: it was coined in 2004.

So when criticising May for scoring an own goal – and I think there’s ground to do so – remember the glass cliff. It’s a thing.

Europe: it’s kinda important

We’re back, b**ches, mutter Eurocrats across the continent. With 45 US’ians elected their worst president in a long long while. On the continent, France elected Macron who has clearly understands how to deal with bullies. Germany is currently led by Merkel.

It’s times like this that make me feel hopeful for the European project. As the US is turning into a failed state, it seems glaringly obvious that our future lies in Europe.

So the next item on the agenda: improve Europe.

Overthinking Bond

Tangent: in the cinema, we watched the trailers. The Hobbit was the first. Now, my boyfriend is not wired to obsess over stories. So he has no idea which movies and series are coming up. So about two thirds into the trailer I saw the lighbulb over his head turn on: “Hey!”, he whispered, “he’s that guy!” He meant Martin Freeman -bless his heart.

For a director who is acclaimed for making condensed stories, I found Skyfall long. At some point I was really completely done with it, and it dragged on for another twenty minutes. But mostly I enjoyed it. It kind of passes the Bechdel test, with the minister chewing out M in front of the intelligence oversight committee. It has no scenes that made me assume it was inserted to create a spin-off video game.

(contains spoilers for Skyfall and The Dark Knight)

Skyfall gives us another take on an ageing hero. M lies that he passed the fitness test, when in fact he’d failed it -both mentally and physically. Which is what reminded me so much of The Dark Knight: Batman too was supposed to be dead. Bruce Wayne was physically not up to the task anymore. Both men are shown ‘shaping up’ for the task ahead, a task it’s not sure they’re up for anymore.

Now, these two hurt supermen could be a coincidence. Or it can be either of two things. On the one hand, narratively speaking, it’s a far more interesting movie. Since we’re told the hero is not neccesarily capable of winning, the tension rises. The other…

 

Now, What Do We Do

But I’ve wondered if it may say something about the time we live in. Much of the superhero mindset is based on a very clear right/wrong dichotomy which (I guess) made sense during the Cold War. But since the Cold War, we’re confused: who are the bad guys? Who are our enemies? What motivates them? And how can we defeat them? I’m inclined to think that our stories of ageing, rusty superheroes reflect a fundamental uncertainty of our position.

I guess we now live in a more fractured world then my parents did at my age. Even if there was discord between the western nations -and I’m sure there was- it was clear that there was an outside enemy to be defeated, and to keep us in line.

I’m Bringing the Party To You

Which brings me to something I absolutely loved about this film: the fact that so much of it was set in London. Bond movies were often set in exotic locations, and of course Shanghai counts as such, as does Turkey, but most of the action is set in London and the middle of Scottish nowhere. Much of the danger no longer lies in recognisable war zones: terrorism has brought that straight to our doorsteps.

The Changing Nature of Field Work

One of the things that has changed as a result of the (ongoing) information revolution is that of field work. Fifteen years ago, communications between the field and Head Quarters were sporadic. An operative would have to be trained, briefed, and let go. In the opening sequence of Skyfall we see how that has changed: M is in direct communication with Moneypenny and Bond. She gives the order to shoot herself. The relationship between each and any HQ and its field agents has been tightened substantially. This means that agents have far less room for independent decision making. Which means we need a new personality type to do it: the ability to work with/inside/around the bureaucracy will be far more important. Another result of the information revolution is the increased importance of Q. Not so much as the Creator of Cool Gadgets For Our Hero, but as a Player In The Game In His Own Right. Another reason why it may be for the best that we have a new Q. All these things mean you can’t make a spy movie the way we did anymore, not without paying in credibility. So perhaps, Bond ageing means he’ll be replaced with someone more like Q. And more like Mallory. We’ll see.

Civil Service Note

I assumed that as head of the intelligence oversight committee, Mallory was political figure. So, when he walks in on Q and his assistants using government property to help Bond above and beyond the call of duty, I whispered to boyfriend: this is what happens when a civil servant finds out that your minister has your back. You stand tall and work twice as hard for her. The relationship between the political and civil service branch deserves a new take.

Family
Another theme that played heavily was family relations: Bond’s psych evaluation reported that he had a problem with authority (that used to be a job requirement!), based on unresolved issues with his parents. M snears at Bond that “[storing his belongings and selling his flat] is standard procedure when an agent dies without next of kin”. Silva refers to M as a ‘bad mummy’. M says at some point that “orphans always did make the best recruits.” The suggestion is that Bond’s attachment to his parents has shifted to MI6. He behaves incredibly loyal to M. He is angry at her for ordering to take the shot, but it doesn’t shake his loyalty to her, not really. The minute he sees she needs him, he returns to London. Is MI6 the only family he has?

Bill Clinton

Over at Shakesville, there were things some people wanted to say about Bill Clinton.

I’m (metaphorically) Switzerland. Have at it in the comments.

Film fest report

Recently, I had a bit of a film festival, with an epic portion of Hiddleston. Here’s the report.

On Friday I watched War Horse, BBC -Because Benedict Cumberbatch. I’ve never had a horse phase some girls have and it’s definitive: I do not have a military kink. I can watch Cumberbatch and Hiddleston in tailored uniforms and go ‘meh’. The fil was…okay. I don’t really respond to the human-horse chemistry, I supppose. The story brushes past several potentially interesting inter-human relationships, but nothing is worked out in great depth. Which is okay, but it doesn’t really work for me.

On Saturday I watched Thor, mainly because I enjoyed The Avengers so much. Nice enough movie about a Nordic god banished to Earth, where he has to learn about dignity in humility before he can return to become the new king of Asgurd. His brother Loki tries to stop him, wanting to become king himself, or rather to be Thor’s equal. Hiddleston does a great job. Hemsworth does not do subtlety, or perhaps he doesn’t get the chance. Coulson is Coulson.

Then I watched Warrior. I lent that movie because Tom Hardy is Cumberbatch´s friend and I trust Cumberbatch´s taste in general and his professional opinions in particular. He´s right. Hardy is a-ma-zing. I don’t understand why not EVERYONE has seen this movie. I saw Aronofsky’s The Wrestler about a year ago, but this is a completely different movie. The themes are completely different: estranged brother, domestic violence, generalised human inability to communicate, survivor’s guilt, loss of a parent. I’m crying again as I write this. Seriously: watch this movie. Rent it, buy it, download if you cannot afford it otherwise. Do not deprive yourself of this experience.

On Sunday I watched Hollow Crown: Henry IV pt 1 with Tom Hiddleston as Prince Henry. Loved it. I love the entire Hollow Crown series. I did struggle with the Shakepearean English, but the visuals were sufficiently supportive to be capable to follow the story. Interesting coming-of-age story, combined with a terrifying ‘behind the scenes’ of a monarchy.

Sunday evening I had a date with Darling Boyfriend: dinner and a movie. We went to see Intouchable. Which was great, because Boyfriend has long taken care of an invalided friend. And Boyfriend is not the most subtle person I know, even if he’s caring in his way. The story really resonated with him. I just fell out of my chair laughing. Really. I rolled on the floor of the cinema. I regret nothing. I loved it. Boyfriend ran his friend after seeing it, and his friend heartily recommends the movie too. Also: Omar Sy is seriously hot.

The Dark Knight Rises: I was hoping you’d go deeper.

Darling Boyfriend was spooked by the Auroroa shooting incident, so I went to see The Dark Knight Rises with my lovely friend M. Overall, I enjoyed the movie. It left me a bit frustrated and it took me a while to parse out why. So here are my preliminary conclusions.

I thought the opening sequence was awesome. I loved how being Batman has taken its physical toll on Bruce Wayne. I liked there were three women in the movie, particularly Cat woman and her obvious friendship with another woman. Did not like: there were hardly any women among the extras. Seriously, there were no women in the back ground anywhere. Not among Bane’s crew, hardly among the police crew. That left me wondering about Gotham’s reproductive strategy.

Gordon-Leavitt was a revelation as an actor and in my reading the actual hero. I loved how the regular humans, i.e. Commisioner Gordon and Detective Blake, are the actual stars of the show, doing their utmost to keep track of the bomb so they could defuse it eventually.When leaving the theatre, I was not very happy with the politics of the movie. Now, I’m not sure what to make of it. It is clear that Gotham is an oligarchy: most of the money and power are concentrated in the hands of few. There’s tough legislation to keep organised crime in check, which I do not read as something that belongs in a democracy. Due process, proper lawyers, and police procedure are important parts of the rule of law. This is flaunted in Gotham. Then there’s Bane. He is ***massive spoiler*** deputised by Talia al Ghul to burn Gotham to ashes. Talia wants to follow in her father’s footsteps. He isolates Gotham from the mainland and claims to return the city to its citizens. The audience knows that this empty rhetoric, that Bane has no real interest in doing any of that. He just needs to keep the citizens inside. He installs a reign of terror including show trials (presided over by Scarcrow/Jonathan Crane. I may or may not have Yay’ed when Cillian Murphy came on screen). The styling clearly refers to the French Revolution and the reign of terror afterwards. Nolan mentions returning to The Tale of Two Cities when developing this script. The obvious insincerity of the ‘returning the city to the people’, plus the lack of enthusiasm among the citizens to be given power over their town makes me believe that the movie is not meant to be a warning against revolutions or even against some form of self-rule.

For a while I thought Blake was meant to be the champion of democracy, as tacky as that sounds, because he and Commisioner Gordon are the ones that organise the resistance. I’m leaving aside the question whether the police force is an ideal breeding ground for democracy. Blake and Gordon were doing some form of organising for and by the people. However, Blake ends up giving up on democracy/rule of law police work -the due process, full researching all the facts, even the ones that might exonerate someone. That was deeply disappointing. I get it ***massive spoiler*** it’s meant to set him up as Robin, perhaps to a new Batman? I really think the Nolans could have dug a little deeper in the politics of this. It doesn’t have to be ‘democracy is awesome’ but now I’m a bit disappointed.

There’s another theme that was potentially interesting but disappointingly developed. Trust. Which comes in two versions. The one is a larger, social issue: the notion that when you develop a technology, somebody will find a way to weaponise it. Call it the Nobel conundrum, if you will. Wayne enterprises has developed a sustainable, clean energy source, but Bruce refuses to put it to use for the city because he fears it might be weaponised. This strategy is a failure and Bane and Thalia Al G’ul get a hold of it anyway. Bruce’s unwillingness to share technological knowlege is mirrorred in his lack of emotional sharing with other humans. He’s emotionally completely sealed off. So when he has to trust someone, he puts his trust and nucleair bomb in the wrong hands.

I’m really certain there’s something there, I just can’t really put my finger on it…