The Good Within

At the end of the yoga session today, my instructor, an elderly lady, had this to say, as we were getting up from the shavasan.

“आपल्या आतल्या परमेश्वराला नमस्कार करा, दुसऱ्यांच्या आतल्या परमेश्वराचा आदर करा”

(Pray to the god in you, and respect the god in others)

Let’s keep aside for a moment the duality (unwittingly?) implied here — for the God in each one of us is supposed to be the same — because that wasn’t the point, just a convenience. After all it’s easier to see a God in ourselves, but so much harder to see one in others. So let’s just gloss over that for a moment. Let’s also gloss over the, almost radical (as Douglas Adams first put it), atheism of yours truly, and the irony of someone like that quoting this. But this simple advise carries such a deep wisdom.

So let’s peel away the religious layer, because however it may make it easy for most (religious) people to grasp/follow, they are not needed to make sense of this (and may even distract from groking [1] the underlying thought). For what exactly is a God within us? Isn’t it that innate frame of reference with which we judge our actions? Our moral compass — something as unprovable as God? Or to put it very simply, with an extra ‘o’, the good within us?

What better way than to remind oneself of the good within us and other, every now and then, and see beyond the petty vices? If I could just ask myself, “If you do this, would you think better of yourself, or worse?”, every time before I did something, and only did that (with obvious exceptions where mortal danger forbids it, or in general, one is not courageous enough to risk something) which made me think better of myself, I know I’d be a lot happier, lot saner, lot calmer person. And yet, I don’t. Not even half as frequently as I’d like.

Similarly, if we just kept the “best within the other” in our mind as we interact with them (again, there are trade-offs I agree, especially with a lot of zero-sum games and dove strategies not being optimal in iterated prisoner’s dilemmas [2] that life throws at us in heaps), we’d be all that, and more (happier, saner, calmer, …). And yet I don’t. I let the petty distract me, take me over, enrage me, blind me, make me just a reflexive automaton.

We don’t need Gods within to make us better people. We need to trust the good within us.


[1] Grok: A word coined by Robert A. Heinlein for his 1961 science-fiction novel Stranger in a Strange Land. (from Wikipedia entry: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grok)

[2] Highly recommend Richard Dawkin’s Selfish Gene for a detailed discussion of Prisoner’s Dilemma and Hawk/Dove strategies.

La La Land: The Glorious Mess We Make

Damien Chazelle’s La La Land begins on a freeway, in the middle of a massive traffic jam, and suddenly people are out on the road dancing. A few minutes later, the song over, everyone’s back into their cars, frustrated/honking, and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is in a car behind Mia’s (Emma Stone), honking at her as the jam opens up, but she’s busy reading her audition script, and they give each other middle fingers, as they go there own way.

For the next two hours or so, La La Land takes us back and forth into those two worlds — of dreams and reality, effortlessly moving from one to the other, blurring the borders. It’s been described as a musical, and it is, in a way, but not in the traditional sense. Chazelle who gave us a extremely tightly woven Whiplash has taken all sort of liberties here. Songs linger a bit longer than one is used to. Closeups last longer than is strictly necessary, but richly paid off, thanks to the two lead performers. Side cast is side cast, with no effort made to develop any other character, and it really doesn’t matter (just like Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson in Lost In Translation needed no one around them, really).

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The story is simple love story between two struggling artists — Mia an aspiring actress working in a coffee shop (yes, very cliched but works), and Sebastian, an aspiring Jazz pianist — both trying to find out if they have it in them. As they inevitably fall in love, it all merges, professional dreams and life. They change each other, grow with each other, just to find that all of that comes with a bill (or a check, as the Americans would say).

Dialogues are absorbing, so are the lyrics. The colors are terrific. You savor frame after frame, assuming this can’t be bettered, but just as the two characters keep on saying about view of a lovely valley, “I have seen better”, another frame comes and proves it possible. Cinematography is exquisite, continuing with the recent Hollywood trend of using movies as a way to express love of a city (like Begin Again’s love affair with New York). And the chemistry is intoxicating.

Mia: It’s pretty strange that we keep running into each other.
Sebastian: Maybe it means something.
Mia: I doubt it.
Sebastian: Yeah, I don’t think so.

In a scene early on Mia tells Sebastian, “I hate Jazz”, hoping to get that out of the door, because she knows what it means to Sebastian, a Jazz purist of sorts (she doesn’t know it, but earlier on, when his sister suggests him to meet a girl, he asks if she like Jazz, and when the answer is negative, he goes: “but what will we talk about”?)

“What do you mean you hate Jazz?”, he wants to know, and proceeds to initiate her (and the audience, in case they share the feeling) into it. He doesn’t, as she is expecting, fly off the handle, but just wouldn’t accept the it’s true (how could she?) But as he tells her about it, he also tells her regretfully that his beloved Jazz is dying, “but not on my watch”, he boasts. What Jazz is to Sebastian, the musical seems to be for Chazelle – a dying art form that he wouldn’t let die on his watch (even Sebastian’s words for to Mia when she wonders if it’s just a pipe dream she’s chasing – “It’s conflict, and it’s compromise,  and it’s very exciting”, seem to be said to himself, as much as to Mia) .

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La La Land is about Jazz, about magic of films, about arts, drama, and such dreams of the ones stepped in in performance arts, but what it is really about is underlined by Mia, in one of her auditions, when given a free hand, as she breaks into a song, that goes:

Here’s to the ones who dream,
foolish as they may seem.
Here’s to the hearts that ache.
Here’s to the mess we make.

That in nutshell, is La La Land — a story of dreams, and costs we pay to achieve them.

“Where are we”, Mia asks Sebastian,  later on.

The emphasis is on we, not where. There are  no easy answers here. Even as La La Land keeps on giving us glimpses of dreams, it stays rooted to reality. And in that sense, it isn’t a musical of 40s or 50s. Just like Whiplash, where excellence is never detached from the price of achieving it, there are no easy resolutions here either. But by the time the end credits roll, it doesn’t matter. What matters is the glorious mess we make, those of us who dream.


PS: A note on the lead actors. Emma Stone, who impressed in Birdman is  fabulous here. Mia is meant for her. Ryan Gosling is more than competent — given the meatier role. And the music is fabulous, Jazz and all – what lovely theme that by Justin Hurwitz, something right up there with the best. What more can one ask of a movie? I watched it in a theater with 15 odd people, mostly bored, and disappointed. Maybe for those of us who have grown up on the Bollywood flavor of magic, this is underwhelming. But if you’re ready to step out of your comfort zone, do watch this love affair with dreams. Maybe, it’ll rekindle some lost one of yours too.

Pulp Poetry: In the Fifth …

[Only for Pulp Fiction fans, the rest may OD on it]

In the fifth your ass goes down

In the fifth, your ass goes down
the fifth is just ’round the corner
sometimes, you open the door
and life stands there
with a barrel of a gun
pointed at you
and if you surprise her
she shoots you

In the fifth, your ass goes down
yes, I know you want to choose
mainly because
you want to believe
you can

that’s pride, fucking with you
fuck pride
for, pride — He will tell you —
only hurts
it never helps;
especially not
in the fifth
when your ass
goes down

but then He lies…
what He means
is this:
pride is only for those
who decide
who’s ass
goes down
in the fifth

and if it’s your ass
that’s supposed to go down,
you swallow your pride
or be prepared
to run
to survive,
you’ve to run with your pride

yes, Zed is dead, babe
Zed did not realize
that you don’t
mess with those
who decide
who’s ass
goes down
in the fifth

Zed was a character
but that doesn’t mean
he had character
in fact
he was
a filthy animal

What you don’t like this?
English, motherfucker
do you speak it?
say what again?
I dare ya
I double dare ya

Anyways,
I don’t even have
an opinion;
I’m sorry
did I break your concentration?
But you see
we have a Bonnie situation
and the fifth,
it’s just round the corner

In the fifth,
your ass goes down.

The Importance of Zadie Smith

I fell in love with Zadie Smith, the writer, with her very first book that I read. It was On Beauty. A book which in all fairness wasn’t an original story, as it was loosely based on E. M. Forster’s Howard’s End. I didn’t know it back then. And when I finally read that one, I still loved On Beauty more. Since then she’s one of the few writers I have been stalking [1], literally, I mean. I mean, not literally. Literarily. But there is no such word. Long story short, I was eagerly waiting to lay my hands on Smith’s latest book, as soon as it was announced, having already consumed all her previous novels, and an excellent essay collection “Changing My Mind”.

The novel Swing Time takes its title from an eponymous 1936 musical. At the heart of the novel though, are, like any Zadie Smith novel, relationships. This time, between two girls growing up in the London’s housing project, the unnamed narrator, and her friend Tracey; and then as their paths diverge, between the narrator and Aimee, an older singer/celebrity.

The two girls, who have come together thanks to their love for dancing, aren’t really rivals in that department because while Tracey has natural talent for dancing, and looks like is destined for big things, the narrator has doesn’t have any gift, rather is born with a flat foot, and at the very start, the dance teacher has gently but unequivocally made it clear what she cannot achieve with it. But while the friendship flourishes based on this common love, it’s not a relationship between equals, and the narrator is under the spell of a confident and willful Tracey.

In fact this power equation doesn’t change even with Aimee, for whom the narrator starts working for as an assistant, after  a rather disastrous first  meeting. Ironically she is chosen to work for Aimee for speaking her own mind, not caring for her celebrity status.

The story moves from London, to US, to Africa and is structurally Smith’s most complex plot till date, as we move between different timelines, and different geographies, having to hop on and off different trains, rather suddenly, yet smoothly. In terms of characterization, Aimee comes up as a bit of caricature, or a collage of different contemporary artists, and their eccentricities. And the novel suffers in terms of Smith’s primary competency of sketching the characters through their interactions with each other, one on one, mostly, in those parts with Aimee in the picture. But then again, large part of this timeline is with Aimee only as a ghost figure, as the narrator explores life in a small African village while setting up and monitoring a school for young girls, a pet project of Aimee for a brief time.

Arguably, Smith has achieved so much with two of her first three novels — a brilliant debut in White Teeth, and a rich and complex On Beauty — that she is always going to be judged for what she didn’t write. And somewhere, she seems conscious of it in both NW, and Swing Time, trying to do more than the kind of storytelling that her first three books do so well. But I for one am not complaining. Because to an extent this started at On Beauty itself. Only it does the tightrope walking between story telling and philosophizing/cultural-dissection so well that it seems easy enough to repeat, especially for some like her. But of course, it’s enormously difficult. Especially with weight of expectations on a relatively young shoulders. And yet Zadie Smith does it well, again and again.

On the backdrop of the not-so-linear stories of Swing Time, are nuanced explorations into various tricky human subjects – racism, identity, privilege, ambition, friendship, philanthropy and cultural appropriation, dysfunctional homes and virtual homelessness, hurt and shame … To even conceive of an edifice that could hold all this together is a itself a challenge beyond many. That Zadie Smith does take that challenge, again and again, is why she is such an important writer to have among us.


[1] The term “stalking” in this context is not mine, but a friend on twitter used it to denote my excessive obsession with David Foster Wallace. When I complimented him for that term, he said it was used by his friend who happened to be a self-confessed DFW stalker. Incidentally the other writers (apart from Zadie Smith and DFW) I’ve been stalking are: Orhan Pamuk, Amitav Ghosh, Alexander McCall Smith, Hermann Hesse, and Umberto Eco.

 

 

 

Unbearable Lightness of Silence

I

These awkward silences
don’t feel sorry about them
they’re just a reminder
that we need to tune better;
that awkwardness
is just a discordant note
a note misplaced.

if at all
we should be awkward
about forced conversations
something
we’ve been trained
to feel natural,
comfortable about

the two of us
we need to practise
our timing
of silence,
that is all

II

Who are these people
who leave a thank you note
on your doorstep?

are they “your people”?
are they us or them?
do we even know?

they’re not trying
to be kind
because why would they?
it’s not like they know you
or you them
they just stopped
at your closed door
and left a bunch of flowers
because they cared
about something
you said, or did, or made
something that touched them

not because you are
their brother, sister,
friend, teacher,
whatever;
so I ask again,
are they,
“your people”?

III

The unbearable lightness
of silence
of power failures
of no network access
of a book forgotten at home,
it weighs on us
because in that moment
when it happens,
we’re there,
in the moment

but
what really is weighing
us down —
the information noise
the constant agitation
petty debates
allegiances to party lines
substance free addictions
warning sounds of distractions
need to belong
need to be seen liberated
the dogmas and the isms
tyrannies of loves and hates —
isn’t unbearable
because we’re never
in the moment
to feel it

Stardust Memories

Yes we’re all made
of stardust
but it’s the stardust
that is tired
after traveling forbidding
cosmic distances;
stardust
that’s long since cooled off,
robbed on the way
of the last bit of energy

stardust
that’s a forgotten legacy
of an exploding sun;
the residue of a failure
glorious in death,
but glory does not survive
the cold inter-space travels
on dull, semi-dead comets
and uninhabited planets
a game of pass the parcel,
changing form
without will
without ambition
without a plan

Instinctively,
we aspire to be stars
but we’re afraid to burn
the stardust that made us
only remembers
that a star is as ephemeral
as a flower
when one looks back
with hindsight
of a cosmic scale;
that star-ity
is a humble reminder
of near-permanence
of failure

Yes we’re all
made of stardust
but we’re not stars
we’re cold, calculating,
and immensely lucky
arrangements of stardust
on improbable islands
of cold starstuff,
who need someone else
to burn
to shine
to explode spectacularly
just for us to be born

 


Title is lift-off of Woody Allen film that I’ve yet to watch, strangely.

Photo Credits: Atul Sabnis.

 

Review: Dear Zindagi

When I watched Gauri Shinde’s debut movie, English Vinglish, I had zero expectations from it. To be fair, I was in fact afraid I’d be bored. But I was rather charmed in the end. It had its moments. And I could keep my cynicism aside for those two and something hours. With Dear Zindagi, I was already sold, because I do like Alia. Especially after Highway (and that forgettable Two States, in which she managed to shine through the unadulterated crap somehow).  And Gauri Shinde had done enough in her earlier movie to merit a watch.

Did I like it? Yes. Was it a great film, no. I don’t think I was expecting great. But what works here, are a couple of very good performances. Alia just seems effortless as Kaira, totally owning the character, to use a contemporary phrase. SRK as Dr. Khan is closer to Kabir Khan of Chak De than his usual over-the-top character portrayals. Yes, he cannot entirely let go some of the exaggerated head nods and the likes, but I’d rather see SRK like this than when he is running that stupid rat race with Sallu and co.

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The story is quite straightforward. Kaira, a cinematographer, is living the coveted modern life, unmarried, with career aspirations, affairs, and partying. Her relationship status, in Facebook style, would be “it’s complicated”, as she’s involved with her co-worker Raghuvendra (Kunal Kapoor), even as she is dating someone else — the relationship does not survive, and as she doesn’t want to take the other affair to a more serious track, Rahuvendra decides to move on (in a rather strange, unconvincing manner, for the convenience of the plot), just after she has to move back to her parent’s house in Goa for a month thanks to her landlord evicting her on short notice. It’s there, post the breakup (that really wasn’t, because there was no real relationship, just a possibility), that she has to confront the demons in her past/mind, as she , something the hatke psychologist Jug — Jahangir Khan — helps  her identifying, and coming to terms with.

Shot beautifully, with teasing glimpses of South Bombay and quite an eyeful of Goa, the story unfolds at a nice languid pace. Alia is as perfect casting choice for Kaira as could be. Significant part of the movie is in the counseling sessions (indoor and outdoor) with Jug, and those are its better moments (yes it’s a significant violation of “show don’t tell”, but still). The biggest success of Dear Zindagi for me is that it even attempted to chew into this territory, and did a decent enough job with it. Besides, the drama genre in Bollywood is typically filled with melodrama, and there is no space for a more nuanced dialog, which is abundant here. Kaira’s character seems very real and very contemporary. And there is no KJo style gloss to smooth out every hint of texture. Okay, not a lot, just some.

Of course Gauri Shinde is no Anurag Kashyap/Tigmanshu Dhulia. The script is rather weak. Last 20 mins or so really adds nothing, even undoes an otherwise mostly-relate-able/believable narrative. The side characters are quite of the cardboard variety, serving a purpose, or just about it. For those used to better “serious” (not necessarily in content, but intent) cinema, even from Indian directors (Kashyap/Bharadwaj/…) it does seem a little hollow or scratching the surface, while those used to Sallu style instant gratification (I’m assuming, because I frankly don’t understand that shit at all) will find it a little of a drab drag. But between the two ends lies a not-so-narrow niche where some directors seem to be making a play (Zoya Akhtar, Farhan Akhtar, Imtiaz Ali, to name a few), with varied results. And Gauri Shinde surely has the eye on that niche, with two of her films, and deservedly, I’d say.

The thing is, this could have been something really really good with some tight editing, some more depth, a little less pulp. But as it stands, it’s still quite good — worth a watch with all its shortcomings.

What works: lead performances (specifically Alia), cinematography, feel-good, flow, little touches here and there, subject.

What doesn’t: over-closure (I’d say just stop 25 minutes to the stop line and you’ve got a much better movie), weak supporting characters (and hence performances),  a bit shallow (the side effect of feel-good at all costs), the script could have been tighter, a bit preachy. Music is utilitarian, nothing I’d listen to again.

Overall: 3.5/5.


PS: The featured image is a still from the film, and not my own photograph as usually is (with the exception when I borrow one from Atul Sabnis).

Save Me!

sos

I want to send an SOS
just to see
who comes to rescue me;
but the childhood stories
of the boy who cried wolf
hold me back

What if I used up
the one shout
that I had earned
to break the trust?

But I’d be lying
if I said, that is what
stops me,
for these stories
with their obvious morals
always hide something,
the sub-text, if you will
a covert message for those
who really want to see

For what we worry
is not, wasting our
one real chance
but finding out
that no one will come,
that you we never
had a chance

The Thin Ice of American Dream

Dear America,

I guess you’ve realized by now that the rest of the world cares far more about you than you do about it. Yes it’s unrequited love on most part, except for the cases where it actually has seemed like getting reciprocated, only to find out in due course, that love isn’t same as being used. Our dear neighbor, for instance, knows how that feels. Being used, being owned. But then I digress.

You must be wondering, in those few moments when your narcissism is dampened by some internal crisis — everyone is supposed to have those, right? — what have you done to deserve this interest? On a remote chance that you actually have wondered, let me spell it out for you. Again, I not being you, I could actually be wrong. But let’s use the trick that one uses while watching movies: suspended disbelief.

It’s strange. I give you that. From the vantage point of any neutral observer from distant lands, the choice you have today is curious: xenophobia, racism, sexism, authoritarianism, pathological dishonesty, every-kind-of-bigotry, combined with the exact same virtues of capitalism — incompetent fool inheriting wealth and using every trick in the book to serve self-interest — on one end; and systemic corruption, political establishment at it’s ugly best,  a will to get power-at-any-cost, on the other end. Yes, I give you, that the choice is not pretty.

And consider us, sitting outside. A part of us should ideally be saying: “God knows, they deserve Trump. Why should only the rest of the world suffer? Let ’em Americans suffer a bit too. Or a LOT”. But seriously, you know what, we still wish you well. I know you’re baffled about that, so let me, as I promised I would, help you with that.

For the greater world out there – especially the non-European world, which you guys fondly call third world, and which you guys sometimes bomb into the stone-age, in an effort to make lesser humans there understand the value of western democracy, which is on trial today (or tomorrow, for I still haven’t adjusted my mind clock to account for your DST); America is land of dreams. I know, I know, it’s not your fault, that we choose to believe in a myth that you beamed into our bedrooms, via your terrifically talented media, that sold us this post-racism, post-sexism, post-feminism, post-religion, post-xenophobia, land of equal and abundant opportunity, where everyone has a chance to move up, and reach the top. You even had a serial about a white guy with a white girl adopting two really cute black kids, and another one about a quaint little town of Rome, Wisconsin,  where an ethical and upright white police chief, a Jewish defense attorney, a black public prosecutor, a white judge, all lived happily ever after, dealing with issues of prejudice, and ethics, and morality, and religion with adult, almost saintly, composure. You had your legal dramas, where the underdog won, more often than not.

You had your first amendment holding up a mirror to the third world, which could not even dream of that. You had your non-hierarchical, talent always prevails, kind of corporate setup with written ethics, and all. You had your diversity programs, and anti-hate-speech laws, and what not. You made us believe, that maybe, just maybe, it’s possible to create just societies by creating right legislature, and by making sure it’s enforced correctly, by sticking to democracy at all cost, because, in the end, it will help in the triumph of the right (not the political, or religious, just the right), and the just.

And for this, we looked away when your foreign policy made sure that much of this dream is denied to parts of the world where your “strategic defense interests”, or oil, or ideological interests, mandated you to start and sustain wars, which your non-privileged foot-soldiers fought, while the privileged dunked drafts and became Presidents, and trumpeted glories of American penchant for freedom in the larger, third-world. When your unholy alliances supported or replaced with another/worse dictators, provided weapons for most wars fought anywhere on the earth, killed unarmed civilians and tagged them “collateral damage”, supported dangerous religious extremists/terrorists, supplying them with  weapons and intelligence, all for balance of power in your civilized world, then killed some of them and made America safe again. We looked away, because, in this seriously screwed up world, we needed to believe in a myth, to survive, and to become better.

If you should go skating
On the thin ice of modern life
Dragging behind you the silent reproach
Of a million tear stained eyes
Don’t be surprised, when a crack in the ice
Appears under your feet
You slip out of your depth and out of your mind
With your fear flowing out behind you
As you claw the thin ice

The Thin Ice, The Wall* by Pink Floyd

Today, you’re an inch away from taking away even that myth. So you see, why we care?

We care, because we don’t want the thin-ice to be broken, and for us all to fall into an abyss from where there is no return. We care, because we want to believe, that a better, more equitable, more just, more humane, less suspicious, more embracing, world is possible, if we all, to borrow Rushdie’s words, concentrated a little. But then again, don’t let our expectations of you hold you back from the path of self-destruction. Maybe we need to see that abyss under the thin ice, and to find new beacons, more worthy of that title. Maybe you showing the world your real heart is what the world needs — for its been blind to it so far, despite all you have shown us. Maybe you need a president that truly symbolizes you. Maybe you really need Trump.

With Love,

from the-third-world


[*]: Not that Wall

Tools Are Us: aka “The Frankenstein Chronicles”

Louis Sullivan, considered by many to be the father of Modernist architecture, is attributed to be the originator of the phrase “Form follows function”, although the principle itself is quite ancient. Just like Architecture, and Industrial Design, “world wide web” has gone through waves of design philosophies, and thanks to Google’s groundbreaking clean design when it landed on the scene, that seemed to be following the modernist adage to the letter, look and feel of web-pages saw a major shift to more utilitarian design rather than (most of the times) one based on gaudy aesthetics (or anesthetics, really) that the early visual web (anyone remembers the grotesque Altavista and clone pages?) epitomized. But forgive me if I’m erring on (or overly simplifying) the web design history, as I’m sure I am, given that I’m no expert there (or anywhere). The point is, from Yahoo/Altavista to Google, and ironically from Google’s own (although acquired, not created) Blogger to WordPress (ha, couldn’t resist that!), and so on, blogs/webpages have been moving to a cleaner, efficient, functional designs.

Yes, there is a point that I’m actually driving at. We’ll come to that. Recently, Atul Sabnis at Gaizabonts, who has been responsible for many posts on this blog — by providing subject matter directly/indirectly — wrote a post (yes, Atul, I’ve been very careful with blog and post differentiation lately) which I read on my phone. Then, in the usual blogger’s spirit (a, no doubt, vanishing trait, for better or for worse), I wanted to comment on the post. Now, remember this: I’m actually quite used to browsing, even reading short-to-medium length pieces on my phone. And still, I found it not very easy to find a way to comment on this post. Also remember this: Atul isn’t exactly a “form over function” kind of guy, rather the opposite, and is much more likely than the average Joe (including yours truly) to choose templates with a consideration for things like “ease of doing comments” (ha! couldn’t resist that, either.) So I don’t think it’s a problem with that one template problem. Yes, I went and checked my own blog and a few others, just to be sure. Yes, it’s not very difficult to do, but the thing is comments section isn’t in the prime real estate of the posts anymore. They have been relegated to the afterthoughts section.

Sign of times, yes. The fact is, these days, most people do not read blog-posts on original blogs, but are led there from twitter/FB/. Which means that, a lot of time people comment right there, if they do comment that is — because not many have time to write comments these days (except for those who we wish rather didn’t have the time for that: a human derivative species identified with a mythical animal that has brain the sign of peanut and body the size of gorilla, whose name starts with a T). So much better to RT/forward, press the like/love button. Yes, I’m a bit of an old-fashioned guy in these matters. While FB comments are good to have, if the alternative is no comments,  the problem with them is that they are for a subset of blog readers. Yes, point could be made that it’s thanks to FB/SM that those comments are even made and/or visible to more people than would be possible in the pre-SM era of blogs. Fair enough. Still, I prefer those comments on the blog, where there is a common audience, possibly interested in those comments. But maybe that’s just me.

***

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Our relationship with technology is interesting, to say the least. We crave for the fruits, however forbidden, but are always afraid that they may come with a hidden price-tag (or snake, to use well understood imagery). Scientists, especially those in love with gizmos are rarely presented as dependable, responsible, members of society. They are, at best mostly harmless geeks, and at worst blind-to-anything-but-the-possibility-of-innovation mad scientists who are tools at the hands of someone who wants to destroy something, or rule everything. Basically, unwitting, or uncaring agents of the power hungry. This, of course, gets worse if the object of their creation is capable of wielding power by itself (himself? herself? do anthropomorphic machines have gender?) and not through human proxies. That explains the obsession with the concept of Frankenstein, that has been portrayed in various incarnations, in popular literature (and even cultish, dystopian science fiction) and movies. We live in the dread of the Frankenstein. Even a more benign one, that may just take away our jobs, not necessarily our lives.

***

Still, we love tools that these inventors, technologists, mad-scientists invent. We adore them. We need them. But tools use us just as we are using them. They change us. Tools are like memes. They need to change us for their survival.

How we think, how we write, how we speak, how we express, this all is shaped by the tools we use. Even how we read, how we consume, how we listen. Between the stimulus and response is you, say some of the self help gurus. I agree. But sometimes between you and the world there are tools. And they change your response. They can even change the stimulus, in route, to get a different response.

Our fear of Frankenstein is both paranoid-ly unreal, and almost instinctively right. Frankenstein isn’t one machine turned rogue. Frankenstein is every tool/machine that changes us, by bits and pieces, even imperceptibly. It’s through us that tools rule us. By making us constantly aware of the here and now, social platforms are making us turn away from the sublime, and the timeless. By making us aware of the power of likes from complete strangers, social platforms are making us conform to the standards of faceless strangers. By making it easy to like a post, and harder to comment, blogging platforms are changing us into hit-and-run readers.

The lunatic is in the hall
The lunatics are in my hall
The paper holds their folded faces to the floor
And every day the paper boy brings more

— Pink Floyd, The Dark Side of the Moon (Brain Damage)

The Frankenstein is here, and now. And it’s us, not the tools and machines we invented.

***

The origin of the “Frankenstein” is curious. The first novel, by Mary Shelly, has Frankenstein as the creator of a “monster”, not the monster itself that it later started to be associated with – to the extend that Cambridge Dictionary has this entry:

Frankensteinnoun 

something that destroys or harms the person or people who created it:

Example: “In arming the dictator, the US was creating a Frankenstein.” 

Wikipedia entry from Frankenstein (novel) has this interesting tidbit:

Part of Frankenstein’s rejection of his creation is the fact that he does not give it a name, which causes a lack of identity. Instead it is referred to by words such as “wretch”, “monster”, “creature”, “demon”, “devil”, “fiend”, and “it”. When Frankenstein converses with the creature in Chapter 10, he addresses it as “vile insect”, “abhorred monster”, “fiend”, “wretched devil”, and “abhorred devil”.

And so the nameless creature,  has actually managed to steal the identity of its creator, and in all probability will outlive its creator — who has become nameless, identity less. Because now the creator is any man, while the creation is Frankenstein.


PS: This curious inversion, is an apt parallel to what I said up there: “[Frankenstein] is us, not the tools and machines we invented”. Till I looked on Wikipedia for origins of Frankenstein, after I wrote those words, I was blissfully unaware of this inversion — I assumed that Frankenstein is actually a fictional monster, not its creator!