Towards Competence, Part Three

Thanks to Audible I’ve been burning through books at a rate of knots, and though War and Peace is a delightful romp through 1900s aristocratic jocularity (so far), it’s not an ideal vehicle for interesting or useful quotations. Walden Pond by Henry David Thoreau, however, is. There’s an entire website dedicated to sucking the marrow out of his works, but one that rung my bell the loudest was this, from A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers:

I am not alone if I stand by myself.

Both message and wordplay have parallels with Sartre’s If you are lonely when you are alone, you are in bad company, and while both sentiments throw a heaped helping of disdain for their fellow mans in a lot of their work, their determination for self-reliance, mentally (as with Sartre) and physically (with Thoreau) has great value in a society that values networking more than friendship.

Having said all that, we’re still moving forward with Heinlein’s list (see the first foray for context) and the next topic demands of us the ability to work well with others:

  •  Cooperate

It goes without saying that people incapable of working with others are of little use to a society that expects a base level of civic cohesion. No matter how efficient I get with my axe, I’ll never beat a team of loggers, (especially if Santa ignores my pleas for a chainsaw and gets me a Nirvana CD again) and no matter how fast you can bake spreadsheets and mould reports, most offices promote based on the Peter Principle and therefore require you to function around and alongside colleagues well enough to assist on larger or more complex tasks to get ‘er done.

Aside from the lone wolfers out there who are either self-identified egoists or are on watch lists already, most people believe themselves able to cooperate well with others when they want to. But since we all know people who are big headed, hard headed, brittle boned or badgery, statistically speaking a fair few of us are deluded. So here are a few tips to ensure you’re as pleasant to work with as you think you are:

  1. Don’t interrupt.
    • “I’mma let you finish but” is not a good look. Even the Kanye apologists out there know this. Interrupting someone for most any reason other than one regarding imminent danger is tough to categorize as cooperative. Working together to finish a sentence is not teamwork, so check this article for tips on how to curb your chipping-in.
  2. Find someone who’s working hard and emulate them.
  3. Develop interests in the people around you.
    • This one’s a doozy and should be cultivated by everyone at all times, for a handful of reasons.
      • First off, you get to know what drives people; you wanna know why your coworker’s always humming? she’s a bassoon player and has forgotten more about late Baroque music than you’ll ever know, having transcribed a lot of her fave Scarlatti operas so she can play along. That’s dedication you can respect! and now her annoying quirks have context, and you’ve humanised a colleague.
      • Secondly, it provides an anchor point for small talk that can lead to meaningful work relationships. Knowing how much that guy you’re paired with for this project is into fantasy football is not great on its own, but hearing about how he got into it, his biggest wins, who he plays against, how he works out his picks etc can highlight genuine shared interests. If you’re into numbers games like Poker for instance, you can share stories of cracking the odds in your own area of interest while getting to know, and opening up with, this guy you’re stuck with at work.
      • Finally, it provides a learning experience that can’t be received anywhere else. You’ll never hear this person’s undoctored opinion on a matter you’ve raised anywhere else, ever. (unless they record their thoughts and present them in podcast form, like some crazed narcissist)
      • This seems a less interesting prospect than it truly is, but think about it: as individuals we are often blinded to our biases and prejudices, yet are able to see each others far better than they can. As Stephen M.R. Covey said, ‘We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behaviour.” This lack of personal objectivity can be ameliorated through discussions with people of slightly (or greatly) differing views. Having gained their insight, you’ve helped shape your own understanding as well as thrown ideas into their noggin that they also might have missed.

These methods, if you hadn’t noticed, all revolve around the premise of building a respect for your fellows. Most uncooperative moments come from a lack of desire to understand, and respect helps build that desire into interactions.

Since this point was fairly belaboured I’ll leave it there for now, and leave you with the explosive backbeats and frenetic intrumentalisms of Breakmaster Cylinder, who does the music for Reply All and is a phenom. Like the younger brother of Daft Punk who got all the handmedown Pro Tools plugins and decides to play them all at once.

Next time we’ll be covering actual Maths and stuff, but since that stuff is rough I need to bend my head around it first.

Until then.

Jozef

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Towards Competence, Part Two

I’m still in an existential torpor after seeing Blade Runner 2049. Not because of the issues it raises about the self and being, or about the individual in a collective or the place of work in one’s existence or even the ethics of giving Jared Leto ANOTHER role where he can method-act all up in everyone’s face. I’m filled with philosophical sand because in true sci-fi dystopian style, Blade Runner 2049 highlights the fears we face now far more effectively than it conveys the horrors of the future. No spoilers here, but you’ll see. Go watch it.

On with our project. Just so you’re aware, the content below depicts dead animals. if that’s not your jam, pull the cord and I’ll see you next time. If you’re willing to brave that, read on.

  • Pitch Manure

I’ll be honest, this one seemed a bit easy to begin with. You get a shovel (or spade, because they are different but equally useful here) hoist the manure from point A over to point B, and sprinkle in a manner that spreads the ‘material’ evenly. But as with all things, you can achieve Kung Fu through the application of wisdom collected by seasoned shit shovellers in days of yore. Here’s one such chap from 2015:

As the man in the hat states, the quality of the manure is important to provide ample nutrition to the area you wish to fertilize, but more than that, the supply must be ample and regular. They talk a lot about permanent solutions to these problems in Permaculture magazine, available online or in the Johnson Arms pub (don’t steal them unless you have to).

 

  • Cook a meal 

I wax lyrical on Tim Ferriss a lot, and have the majority of his books but if my recommendations mean nothing to you, here’s the entirety of one of his best books, filled with concise and delicious recipes. In addition, Tim discusses techniques, recipe creation, required tools and pantry essentials that make this book the best resource I’ve come across for learning how to cook food well.

For a more profesh-looking guide for recipes, you could go Jamie Oliver or Nigel Slater, but I’m going with Donal Skehan. Because jaysus that accent ❤

 

  • Butcher a hog

I remember, back in the least illuminated trough of my youth, reading a section of the most recent Men’s Health magazine I’d bought and brought into school which described how the modern urban professional could save time and impress (or even woo) dinner guests by BUYING A WHOLE PIG AND BUTCHERING IT AT HOME.

This concept confuses me still, and was truly baffling to my insecure, torpid and indolent younger self. How one would go about storing over 150lbs of hog (the distinction between pig and hog is made by weight, fyi) was troubling enough, but to slice up, dissect and present an intact animal just to keep your money out of Big Tesco’s hands was something I could never see myself doing. Not even to woo a dinner guest. But, just in case wild hogs are the only viable food source in the coming apocalypse, there are resources out there that can help us ensure none of that poor animal goes to waste (except the lungs. Not allowed to eat those.)

A preparatory warning: both of the following clips are fairly/moderately graphic. If you struggle with watching Holby City or Gym Fails videos, do not proceed.

This first video describes a more holistic approach: the guy has raised his hog from seed, and is invested in valuing the life he has taken. clearly, respect must be shown if one needs to consume another animal. to do otherwise is to lose sight of the violence done, trivializing the act.

 

The next video is much more thorough and visually clear: the separation of joints from fascia from bone is reminiscent of Biology class for me, and helped me keep my lunch on the inside right up until he took the face/off the hog at the end. It was truly educational, though.

 

  • The Music of Blade Runner 2049

This track, found towards the end of the film, is a prime example of the direction of the score for the entirety of the 3 hour experience. Which is to say, it’s intense in the extreme. blurring the diegetic/non diegetic distinction in a style reminiscent of Vangelis’ masterclass in the first film, but with a confidence and urgency that, in the moment, is deeply distressing. In a good way though, I promise. Watch the film!

 

 

That’s it for now. Let me know what you think of the film, I’ll be talking about it for months to come.

Until next time.

Jozef

Towards Competence, Part One

Have you heard of Robert A. Heinlein? Turns out he’s the Dean of Science Fiction writing, and has quite the library of early genre fiction. That’s a fun little factoid but what’s interesting to me is he put this quotation in the diary of one of his most enduring characters, Lazarus Long:

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

These lines have been bandied around from self-help book to Ted talk powerpoint without much of a discussion; it sounds good to be competent and versatile, so people pluck out the quotation to make the point that obsessing in one area leaves you barren in other areas of life. But from what I’ve seen, few have connected these skills to the central notion that Lazarus, and Heinlein, were actually driving at: you should be skilled at acquiring and building upon skills themselves. 

Needless to say, the more you do something the better you become at doing it. It’s the basis of any adaptive behaviour, and the kernel of truth in most proverbs – repetition is the mother of skill, for instance – so the practicing of your ability to adapt, learn and embed new skills is a good thing. Just like strength training, language learning or sight-reading music, we get better by starting small and building up our competency.

That’s my goal for the next few posts. To deconstruct these arbitrary, yet wide-ranging skills that the two-millenia-old Lazarus deems worthy for us to learn, in order to build up our capacity for retention and adaptation. The skills themselves may be useful too, down the line. who knows.

(Heinlein’s books involving Lazarus can be found here and here)

Before we begin pulling apart those required characteristics, look at Emrah Elmasli’s work for a goddamn minute:

brightwallneverwinter

Aside from having a kickass name, as all Turks do, Emrah worked on the Fable games as a concept artist, while also dabbling in character design. Characters like this dude right here, whom I aspire to emulate in literally every way:

c-c-c-c-c-c-cosplay

Check out Emrah’s ConceptRoot page if you’re into his style (he’s moved into mecha-futurism now which is ok i spose. Nothing beats a suit and fez combination though.)

With that said, we begin the gathering of Heinlein skills, starting with those quickest to grasp:

  • Change a diaper

I was frankly shocked at the military precision displayed in the resources out there that teach mothers (no fathers are portrayed, that I’ve seen. 4th wave when?) how to change a diaper. The process is also referred to in the infinitive, “to diaper your baby” which is pretty fantastic in my opinion. Anyway, let’s not hang around here too long, since it’s gross. Resources here and here seem to be most widely accepted and sensible. This page, delightfully targeted at fathers specifically, encourages warmth and affection from daddo to babby, which is the closest we can probably hope get to destruction of toxic gendered behaviour in this poopy domain.

MOVING ON

  • Write a Sonnet

Something I’m far, far more comfortable diving into, though the discomfiture for some may well be on a par with the previous point.

Turbidity aside, sonnet writing is one of the first and most powerful modes of poetry a student may encounter as they are dragged up through English classrooms. Being exposed to rhyming poetry from infancy, many scholars latch onto the sing-songy potential of the sonnet, and the fairly forgiving form is ripe for abuse.

– Since the great spectre of Shakespeare is no doubt already pulling at the corners of your concentration, we shall focus on the form that he adopted and made hay with. –

Thus, ‘The Rules’ for sonnets are as follows:

  • Of lines and syllables
    • 14 lines, split into three chunks (called quatrains), finished with a couplet, or set of two lines.
    • every line is decasyllabic.
  • Of rhyme scheme
    • each quatrain contains two pairs of rhymes. This is a requirement. The pattern between and across the quatrains and couplet are as follows:
      abab
      cdcd
      efef
      gg
    • The rhyming word in question must, apparently, be a single rhyme. Never double. (a single rhyme is where only one syllable rhymes, rather than two. so double and trouble aren’t allowed. Soz.)
  • Of meter
    • Remember Iambic pentameter? Five pairs (called feet, ‘cos there’s two) of syllables with the stress being on the second syllable per pair? that’s a thing here, though this is more of a convention than a law of sonnetry.
    • Alternatives include Trochaic, where the stress is placed up front, Dactylic, where there’s one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables (more common in old poetry, it lent itself to longer lines of around fifteen syllables per line and thereby allowed a more expansive narrative) and anapestic, otherwise known as antidactylic, where there are two unstressed syllables followed by one stressed syllable.

Wasn’t that a joy to learn? now here’s my favourite sonnet that breaks the sonnet law and should be confined to sonnet jail until such time as a group of its peers can be assembled to facilitate its sonnet trial:

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain—and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height,
One luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.

At first blush, we appear to have been robbed by Robert Frost in 1928 when he clearly wrote three of the required four lines in each quatrain then did a runner. But further investigation proves otherwise: Frost employed the terza rima, or third rhyme, popular in such works as Dante’s Divine Comedy, to (it could be argued) create a staccato, laconic set of stanzas, reflecting the introspective melancholia of the night-walking Frost.

Of course, following rules and adding up syllables will make a word pasta resembling a sonnet, but for motivating motifs and compelling ideas, you’ll have to look further afield.

 

  • Take orders

In the context of Heinlein’s quotation, this concept is likely meant to mean ‘Do as you’re told in a timely fashion’, à la military service personnel, Full Metal Jacket type dealy, but since doing as you’re told is as simple as understanding the chain of command and perceiving the steps needed in order to complete the required task, I’m going to reframe this point as a empathy-based quality.

Since the Nuremberg Defense is seen and accepted as no defense at all, doing as you’re instructed comes with the caveat that you are, above all else, an independent being with sentience and a conscience. To behave abhorrently for no reason other than you were told to is to be ethically bankrupt and not at all what we’re about here. So, to understand what needs to be done we must first question what is being asked of us.

If you work in the service industry and are being asked to serve a regular customer before others who have waited longer, the motivations of that request are clear and the consequences are broadly understood.

If, however, you are asked for something more abstract, or if the order comes down in a more oblique manner (observing a minute’s silence, or refraining from filming police on patrol, for instance) the motivations behind the requested behaviour are less concrete and the consequences for acquiescence can be ambiguous.

Grasping the desires of the authority delivering the order is clearly the key to discerning an ethically appropriate response based on one’s own moral position, but perhaps more pertinent is the fact that fence-sitting or abstaining from this engagement with orders while still carrying them out is not an abstention from the moral questions that arise from the completion of those orders.

 

Nuremberg followed by Simpsons? Seems about the tone I wanted to strike… I’ll be working through the rest of the Heinlein skills in the next few posts. Hopefully at least a couple will be of use to you. To close, here’s a jam that’s got me stuck:

So I first came across Breakmaster Cylinder when listening to the after-credits on Reply All (you should be listening to Reply All. Feels like I’ve said that before) where they created most of the interstitial musical ellipses, as well as the intro music. They did an interview with Exolymph here which gives you an insight into them as a musician, kinda, but the beats are where it’s at, obviously.

Phenomenal breakbeat-infused IDM (Intelligent Dance Music, for all you neophytes who, like me, thought music was music and had no bearing on the grey matter of the listener. You were wrong, music is elitist too) with allusions to hip-hop beats and field-recording nuggets thrown in, it’s an aural salad that is as refreshing as it is disorienting. Further listening will be rewarded, especially if you dug Clipping. since Breakmaster did a phenomenal remix of Story 2 here. 

Next time I’ll be covering manure pitching, home-cooking and hog-tying. No, that doesn’t sound like your last tinder date, don’t be crass.

Until then.

Jozef

Sailor Boys and Drug Stacks

Eight months into this year, and I’ve finally gotten around to building a journal. Luckily I only hold grudges against other people, otherwise I’d be quietly seething to myself about myself.

Journals are toted as being stellar for progression assurance; They show you where you’d been and let you track your path to where you want to go, and habits breed compliance. It’s straight-forward thinking, but my brain struggles to shimmy up and over the first few obstacle-strewn days with any new behaviour pattern. See also: this blog, which was intended to be a fortnightly thing. Regardless of the number of plates I’ve got spinning, I want to get better at spinning them so hopefully this physical, personal record will help with that. On with the show!

Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure is consistently ranked among the top 5 greatest manga/anime franchises of all time, and has enjoyed mainstream success across Japan for over twenty years. The reason? It’s bizarre, naturally, but it’s creator (Hirohiko Araki) has infused Jojo with dozens of contemporary western references, naming dozens of characters after musicians and songs popular in the west at the time of production. Whilst we may think Japanophilia is in vogue in some circles here today, there is a reason the phrase ‘Big in Japan’ was coined; Japan had a thing for our rockstars, and Araki played off of this with wildly successful results.

What that produces, especially from the second season onwards, is a Japanese interpretation of perceived western characteristics and culture, foregrounded against a backdrop of vampires, magical breathing techniques and ethereal spirit-warriors with otherworldly powers (time control? we got it. really fast fencing? We got that in spades. The ability to pull people into a videogame and if you die in the game you die for real?… Probably too much of that, to be honest)

My point is, Jojo is a phenomenon, with an art style that begs for iteration, as we see above. The progression from Muscle boy to Slender boy is also mildly interesting:

I’m a fan. You should watch it.

Find it here.

 

 

  • Touch typing

I recently humbled myself when googling something on a close friend’s PC using only my two index fingers. The look he gave me was a confluence of amusement and concern; I, like the rest of the west, spend the majority of my time with a keyboard within inches of my mitts, yet I’ve lost the ability to touch type since we were taught it at school. I suppose a combination of poor adoption in the first instance and a path-of-least-resistance style reversion due to laziness has brought me back to typing the way my mom does.

Nevertheless, i realise that to be a better person, i need to patch all weaknesses, not just the ones i can brag about fixing later. So, if you (or a friend, if you want to be coy about it) need similar training advice for those disobedient digits, this site seems to be the easiest to pick up and use, which is what we want when learning or relearning stuff.

Tim Ferriss is my hero. If you know me, you know that. He has the discipline I wish I had, the resources I would dearly love to spend and the drive to pursue things because they fascinate him that I believe I share. The first point is why he’s such a big deal for me, though.

His determination has led to uncommon results, and his documentation of those results (ask me if you want to borrow his books that can also be used as cinder blocks, such is their size) is truly inspiring to me. While I still flounder at the very, very basic dietary advice he gives (doritos and monster do not feature, so what am I to do, really.) His fitness advice, both in terms of personal mental fitness and overall physical fitness 

is based on his experiences and discussions with those who would know, but what is most valuable to me are the resources he throws out there in the course of his studies. During his study into cognitive enhancement, mostly for language acquisition and memory improvement, Tim delved into nootropics – drugs that improve cognitive function. Naturally this sparked my interest since it seemed like the best and least taxing way to build a better self. Sadly it’s not that simple, but it is fascinating. There’s dozens of sites that go over individuals’ experiences with nootropic ‘stacks’ – groups of drugs that, taken together, act synergistically and affect cognition far more effectively than when taken in isolation. Check out this forum for a rabbit hole of science, placebos, illegality and extreme caffeine consumption. It’s a riot.

  • Who’s that Genre?

 

Honestly, if anyone can help me with the categorization of this. sick. beat. then I’d be very grateful. I’m thinking of petitioning Jacob to make this the new podcast intro music, it’s that chill.

I’m taking this boat in a whole new direction from next week, things will be more concise and pithy and, importantly, more valuable as self improvement/autodidact fodder. (I’ll probably keep the music/artwork sections though. Gotta justify that Arts degree somehow)

Until then.

Jozef

 

Children. War. Wednesday.

Watching The Handmaid’s Tale, I almost forgot the story had been told in another medium first. I felt the same way with Harry Potter and with Memento, where the source material has a distinctly different character to the films that have now permeated and overtaken the images of the textual worlds. One can’t see Hagrid as anyone but a behemoth Robbie Coltrane and Guy Pearce will always be Leonard (but never Lenny).

Now, thanks to the quality of the retelling and the atmosphere with which this story is imbued, Elisabeth Moss will be Offred, even as watchers become first-time readers of Atwood’s Booker prize winning tale of oppression, domination and hereditary ownership of other people’s bodies.

But when I think of these concepts, I don’t think of Atwood’s work, or of the reworked series. I think of the phenomenal film Children Of Men.

To those unfamiliar with Children of Men, the connection to Handmaid’s Tale may seem overly overt; they both tell the story of a world without children, and both show the quiet but desperate lives of people trying to continue on with this species-ending timer running throughout every day. Yet the focus rarely lingers on this part of the narrative, for either story. Since it is a fact of life for both works, it’s only foregrounded when necessary and realistic for the protagonists to interact with it, to the degree to which they can, or are forced to.

Whereas Handmaid’s Tale describes a world where a select fertile few are forced into sexual slavery for the purpose of repopulation after what was apparently a fertility-oriented global rapture, Children of Men has no fertility to speak of. Children are gone altogether, and the film opens on a news channel reporting the murder of the world’s youngest person, who was 18 at his death. Our main character here is Theo, played by the inimitable Clive Owen (watch him in The Knick, please. Please.) who is forced to confront all manner of travails as his life and Life are thrown together, leading him down marble floors in the final bastion of fine art, as well as piss-soaked pathways in detention centers holding immigrants and dissidents for the duration.

Children of Men faces less of the personal horror that comes with a fundamental breakdown of society and more turns our heads to stare at the scale of those horrors. we see cities facing terror attacks, with dozens dead, then move to the street where hundreds of detainees are being held in literal cages on the sidewalk. moving through this space we pass thousands of Londoners, typically downtrodden but soldiering on past billboards advertising the newly legal, newly government-funded suicide pills, before boarding public transport with TVs vomiting propaganda showing the billions of people worldwide who have succumbed to the despair that inevitably comes after the realisation that this, now, is the endtimes. The casual, pedestrian pace of the escalation in scale is what makes Children of Men the better peri-apocalypse story for me (though the fact the protagonist is a bloke and the focus is less on the ownership of female bodies and more about *one man’s struggle to save the world* is probably also a part of it, unfortunately).

So if you are enjoying The Handmaid’s Tale and haven’t experienced Children of Men, it’s here and comes with my hearty recommendation. once you’ve seen it, come back to watch Evan Puschak’s awesome dissection of the cinematography, then watch it again:

 

As you should have seen in your two watchings of the film by now, there is a huge emphasis on art, pulled from multiple times and places in history. What struck me the most was the deployment of Guernica, life-sized, in the dining room scene. You know the one but here’s the specific clip anyway:

Picasso is one of those artists that scared me as an aspirant intellectual (read: prick) in my teen years. I had no tools with which to tackle his work, and nobody seemed to want to talk about what his pieces ‘were’. So i presumed it was pretentious trash that conveyed no ‘real truth’ in an attempt to protect my ego and moved on to Real Art, like Rembrandt and Velázquez and others that depicted Things instead of… whatever Pablo was trying to do with those shapes.

But now I’m a sodden 23-year old, steeped in my own ignorance and scarcely comforted by my ability to outmaneuver elderly pub patrons in debates, and I’ve come to see Picasso as an artist whose work I need to wrap my melon around in order to better grasp art as a whole. Rewatching Children of Men, I saw immediately where I should start:

 

  • Guernica and the Philosophy of Art

guernica

Handily enough, Puschek also has a video on Picasso and watching that gave me a great headstart into working through ideas pertaining to the styles Picasso moved through. Here’s the piece (with one of the best introductions Evan’s ever produced)

Working through the process as described by Evan is extremely rewarding but it wasn’t really what I wanted. As an English Major first and foremost I want to know why, as much as what, a thing is. Questions like “why is the piece in black and white, yet no antagonist group is depicted in a piece ‘about’ war?” and “why is the piece the size it is? Why not bigger/smaller?” are questions that are at once pretty hard to answer (Picasso’s dead) and pretty rewarding to think about.

Douglas N. Morgan said,

…[T]he people [Picasso] makes – while surely people and not mere symbols – are pictorial people, people to be seen and not sympathized with. as pictorial, they are not really distorted at all. They are exactly the kind of people they are created to be.

which raises further questions on a piece with clearly deformed and hurt bodies. If this piece is anti-war, but these bodies are ‘meant’ to look this way, are we to infer that some bodies are meant to be mangled by war? Would a more realist style, showing wounds or catastrophic injury, make the point better, or at least more clearly? Or is Picasso saying that these people are forever injured, battered, killed in wartime and will forever be so seen, as they are in his work? Is the damage of war to be seen as eternal in the bodies of its victims?

Aside from this, the question inevitably arises (as it arose in my nascent, yet still ignant analyses in high school) that if we spelunk this deeply into the wherefores of art’s formation, do we run the risk of breaching the level at which the artist themselves worked? When I was fifteen I asked, stupidly, whether Shakespeare really knew what he was doing when he composed the metre of his poetry, or whether it was a happy accident. In that case i was rightly dunked on, being told ‘if it were accidental, it may well be proof positive of the existence of miracles’. But in other cases the case is less clear-cut. in Guernica, the presentation of the horse and the bull has been strung out over decades to symbolize Spain, protest, integrity and unity respectively, and a myriad other concepts. Yet Picasso himself said:

…this bull is a bull and this horse is a horse… If you give a meaning to certain things in my paintings it may be very true, but it is not my idea to give this meaning. What ideas and conclusions you have got I obtained too, but instinctively, unconsciously. I make the painting for the painting.

Which, to my mind, is an oblique way of saying ‘if you come up with a smart interpretation, it’s right. if you come up with a silly one, I didn’t mean that.’

I think I like Picasso now.

  • Anyway, speaking of hidden meanings, wartime and unanswerable questions, I’ve been reading Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E Frankl, Holocaust survivor and noted neurologist. His book has been recommended by everyone from multimillionaire motivational speaker Tony Robbins to Amazon’s Father’s Day gift suggestions. here’s a segment:

Even though conditions such as lack of sleep, insufficient food and various mental stresses may suggest that the inmates were bound to react in certain ways, in the final analysis it becomes clear that the sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision, and not the result of camp influences alone.

Fundamentally, therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances, decide
what shall become of him—mentally and spiritually. He may retain his human dignity even in a concentration camp. Dostoevsky said once, “There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings.”

These words frequently came to my mind after I became acquainted with those martyrs whose behaviour in camp, whose suffering and death, bore witness to the fact that the last inner freedom cannot be lost.

I’m still reading this book and it delves into Dr Frankl’s Logotherapy fairly extensively which is far drier than the earnest and harrowing Auschwitz account, but the knowledge imparted in both sections has lived up to its recommendation. find it here. 

Since these last few topics have been fairly long I’ll hold off on spinning your scroll wheel further; next time I’ll be splashing through some stagnant philosophy (Kant, mostly, though maybe Aquinas too) in order to discuss the ethics of skillfulness, or the moral opposition to laziness, whichever sounds more ivory-towerlike.

Until then.

Jozef

Olympic-Level Bits of Tat

One of the more comforting lines from my arsenal of stolen ideas comes from world-famous, long dead artist and print maker Katsushika Hokusai, creator of the renowned and thoroughly absorbed images of Mt Fuji. It goes:

From the age of six, I had a passion for copying the form of things and since the age of fifty I have published many drawings, yet of all I drew by my seventieth year there is nothing worth taking in to account. At seventy-three years I partly understood the structure of animals, birds, insects and fishes, and the life of grasses and plants. And so, at eighty-six I shall progress further; at ninety I shall even further penetrate their secret meaning, and by one hundred I shall perhaps truly have reached the level of the marvelous and divine. When I am one hundred and ten, each dot, each line will possess a life of its own.

For me it’s impossible not be be heartened by this idea that growth will come with time and effort.  Even though it may not be true in most cases, it’s true enough to be valuable. The Japanese phrase Ganbatteusually used when a westerner would say ‘good luck’ actually translates closer to ‘do your best’ and goes some way to crystallize the work ethic of Japanese people from an outsider’s perspective. Effort, not luck or chance, wins out and is to be appreciated. Speaking of value derived from effort, here’s another heartening export from Japan:

  • Netsuke, the ancient Japanese art of hanging stuff from things

netsuke

Netsuke began as a perfunctory, pragmatic item; since samurai robes had no appreciable pocket space, samurai held their pipes, writing equipment, d20s etc in little boxes (called sagemono) which were suspended from their sashes. Tying the sagemono onto the sashes would be time-consuming and unsightly if the knots weren’t pristine, and would require more cordage to achieve.

sagemono
The more elegant solution was to connect the sagemono to a cord, the other end of which would hold something like what you see above; a peg, disc, sphere or other shaped bauble that prevented the cord from simply falling away between the sash and the samurai’s bod. This allowed for speedy removal but also allowed the samurai to express themselves (or in rather more cases, commission someone to do the expressing for them)

At the above left you can see the complete ensemble, in this case from the Edo period but likely made in the late 18th century, with phenomenal detail pushed into every aspect of the sagemono and netsuke. In this instance, the netsuke was made by ôhara Mitsuhiro and the sagemono by Koami Shinsaburo, which goes some way in suggesting the amount of labour that went into these items, and the prestige connected to the ownership of such functional high-art.

On the above right there’s a depiction of the demon-queller Shoki, bursting from his scroll to defend the owner of the netsuke and protect them from evil spirits, perhaps. As with the first example, spiritual allusions and representations of deities, characters from fables and mythological creatures were fairly common, and allowed the craftsmen to create massively diverse pieces; rabbits, frogs, children or even whole families have been immortalized in ivory and hardwood.

The reason I’m so hyped about these items should be of no surprise; it’s damn hard to make intricate pieces from wood, harder still to make them small, and harderer stiller to do so while incorporating various inlays and metallurgical techniques to, say, give a roof silver tiling or an animal mother-of-pearl eyes. It’s astonishing to me, and inspirational in the extreme to know that skill such as that has existed for hundreds of years. The industry may have died down, but the ingenuity and drive for quality are traits still shown in modern day artists who keep the craft and history of the artform alive.

For example, Tatsuya Ino‘s combination of videographic style and evident skill makes watching the process a pleasure unto itself, with the finished article seeming all the more impressive for our knowledge of its creation. That’s how I feel, anyway:

Next up:

 

  • The Olympic Channel’s video series

So naturally the legacy of the Olympics kinda requires people to still be engaged with the idea of international sport and cooperation to achieve excellence in order to work, and so far I’ve seen precisely zero engagement on that platform from non-athletes and fairweather sports enthusiasts.

Which is a shame since the video series put out by The Olympic Channel has high quality videos released every few days, showing the culture of elite athleticism as well as the physical output of those athletes. it’s fascinating stuff, but as a person more keen on working with people than working on myself, the series called The Z Team really took my eye in. It follows bottom-of-the-leaguers as they receive coaching from Olympians who walk the talk and know the sport they’re coaching in forwards and backwards:

 

Aside from these stories, The Olympic Channel website has hundreds of articles and videos on every sport in the Olympics, brimming with insight into coaching, training and performing at an international level. I’m surprised the page isn’t pushed more.

 

  • Genius is Eternal Patience – Michelangelo

I was going back over my architecture notes recently and found a pattern that I’d either forgotten about or never noticed; when talking about spaces or movements through a building, the people I worked under would talk about impressions and abstractions, “this could feel very Philosopher in Meditation, couldn’t it?” but when it came to talk about façades, particularly the newer additions to Birmingham’s walkways and public buildings, only one name was mentioned- Michelangelo.

“It’s not what Michelangelo envisioned” is a quote I have down from my second day at the firm, said on the way to work as I quizzed a junior architect about the new Birmingham library. “look up: Saint Peter’s Longitudinal” is in the margin of my notes 5 days later, when I was encouraged to be less reliant on the software to create accurate renderings of buildings we had visited.

Michelangelo was an inspiration for half the firm, it seemed, and here was me thinking he was only good for making Davids. One thing I really enjoyed when looking for Michelangelo’s works was the amount of bits and pieces we still have that give a glimpse of the process; sketches unfinished but with a hint of an idea intact that can be found extant in the building he designed or the painting he finished. It’s a pretty cool rabbit hole to fall down:

 

 

  • Listening to Paradise Lost

I ditched my Now TV account in order to remain cost-neutral when I took up an Audible subscription, a choice that made sense both in terms of content (I had finished Lost again, and zombies/American dramas do very little for me) and in terms of time: catching 15 minutes of a book on the way to work instead of listening to the same Jazz megamix feels a more productive use of the cycle’s duration.

After milling about on the site I remembered there was one book i was always encouraged to read aloud (to get the wordfeel textflavour or some such literary sommelier contrivance). This seemed to be a handy sidestep to that hassle, and thus I came to own the audiobook of Paradise Lost, by John Milton.

There may be some merit to the reading-aloud point, since Milton was blind at the time of writing and had to dictate his work, meaning he would’ve had to face the syntax ear-on. Either way, returning to the work has provided some choice quotations, such as:

The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.
What matter where, if I be still the same,
And what I should be, all but less than he
Whom thunder hath made greater?
Here at least
We shall be free…

Here we see Satan coming to terms with his Fall; realising that Hell, being a land ostensibly for him and his compatriots, is his lot to mould, he begins to make the best of it and encourages others to do the same.

This is one of the first passages Milton creates that builds on the concept of the Devil being a sympathetic, even relatable character. We see him try to rouse his friends to action with commanding rhetoric rather than violence, we see him display mental fortitude in the face of adversity but better still, we see him open a democratic dialogue with his peers to discover the next course of action. No such traits are displayed in the following book by God, who (perhaps necessarily) is inscrutable and single-minded, or by Jesus who is almost too willing to sacrifice himself for the creature who has yet to even come into existence.

Satan here highlights the power in perception, along the lines of Camus’ Sisyphus, and shows that there can only be a victor if the enemy accepts defeat. If the Devil can make a heaven of hell, even if it only is so within his own mind, he has defeated God by perverting the punishment He’s laid out. This is a skill that, if applied wholeheartedly, makes one immune to pain, loss, hunger and death itself. If the Biblical God gave us the gift of life, Milton’s Satan has given us the gift of navigating that life powerfully.

  • No Song this week, since I’ve been neck deep in the podcasts I’m behind on BUT SPEAKING OF PODCASTS

Song Exploder is the podcast I wish I was cool enough to make, and it does a job desperately needed in the music industry: it allows artists to wax lyrical on their processes and methods, machines and mechanics and gives the listeners deeper insights into how the music they love got made. Highlights in this Clipping. episode include: all of the sounds are made from field recordings?! and Clipping. set stipulations for their raps like never using first person pronouns. ever. It’s super duper cool and they’re not overly long so you can burn through your favorite artists fairly quickly then get into some new music with a newly focused ear-hole.

That’s all for now, I’m working on a longer-form piece about fasting, metabolemics and doing things because you haven’t done them before, but that’ll be out around June 25th so until then, listen to all of The Adventure Zone podcasts.

Jozef

 

Art for Art’s Ache

Evenin’!

This week is a globe-spanning sojourn to fantasy-medieval Poland, colonial South Africa and post-capitalist dystopian Japan, if you can believe it. What I really enjoy about the topics this time round is how they highlight people’s ability to get really, really into niches. Obsessing in hyperspecific areas, be that artwork or marketing or high-concept music, cheers me up no end and reminds me that people are capable of being weird in innumerable ways, which is always heartening. So, to start off, a body of work that has eaten 400+ hours of my life:

  • Art of The Witcher 3

With over 80 accolades behind it, the majority being Game of the Year awards, it shouldn’t be a surprise that The Witcher had high level artists pumping out concept work that’s the epitome of high-fantasy realism. The vivid world that CD Projekt Red created works because of the diligence of these artists and the effort they pushed into every vista and vantage point, as the discussion below evidences:

In the discussion (it’s fairly pedestrian unless you’re an architecture, videogame or landscape art nerd. then it becomes extremely enjoyable) Marta and Kacper touch on the compromises required to complete a project that has resonance with the lore of the lands while also evoking real-world art movements. references to the art-deco movement, late and neogothic architectural motifs and medieval townships are alloyed with the cultures created in-game to create new but relatable groups.

Skelliga

The region of Skellige for instance, probably named for the Skellig islands in County Kerry, Ireland, is the home of a seafaring collection of proud and boisterous clans loosely governed by a single ruler. With their longboats and war-hatchets, berserker warriors and ritual burials-at-sea they resemble mainstream conceptions of a Viking culture, yet the Skelligans have certain other religious practices, artworks and naming conventions that are reminiscent of Gaelic cultures. Norse-Gaels are likely a strong influence for this group of rowdy boys yet the intertextual links never become so overt (at least for me) that the Skelligans cease to be their own discrete faction. Take a gander at the concept art from Jan Marek below, you’ll pick up what I’m putting down:

Bear in mind that Skellige is the smallest region in the game and one of the last areas you’re introduced to. If you’re interested, here’s a free PDF of the Witcher 3 art book. They deserved their 80+ awards, for real. This game is a gem.

[Post-Script: Kotaku recently re-released a video showing how the DLC zone of Beauclair was built]

Speaking of precious materials, after a fairly lengthy stint watching one of those jewelry auction channels I was reminded that life is precious and shouldn’t be squandered with fripperies like that but also

  • Diamonds aren’t all that rare, and their value is highly exaggerated

For a great background introduction smuggled into a story about marital/fiduciary strife, I really recommend this episode of Freakonomics Radio where the history and manipulations of Cecil Rhodes’ De Beers company is briefly but powerfully highlighted. Essentially, the company was formed after the discovery of a couple of diamond mines in South Africa, and has grown to be one of the foremost players in the global diamond industry.

They got to that point thanks to Cecil Rhodes’ combination of buying up local mining operations and fixing prices for diamonds exported to the UK. Since De Beers essentially controlled the outflow of goods, they could dictate the price so long as demand remained high, which they encouraged through targeted marketing (remember Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend? Yeah.) In this way, the image of the diamond as being supremely valuable, rare and preeminent in the world of fine jewelry was propagated.

Though De Beers’ hold on the market has greatly diminished – to around 30 percent of the total diamond production industry nowadays from their previous 90 percent – their efforts in building diamonds to be investment opportunities and covetous commodities has barely budged.

  • Moving from the folly of past generations to pictures of a potential future, this article on accelerationism and Bladerunner dives so deep into post-capitalist escapism through new music genres, phobias effectively reframed as philias, understanding cyberpunk dystopias as “a panacea for America’s paranoid dreams of emasculation”. In short, it compiles and reframes Bladerunner as a way for Westerners to compartmentalize their (arguably well-founded) fears of a runaway economic system, which is pretty rad as a concept. the whole piece is fascinating, with a number of links to quality material that I could only hope to emulate here, but the kicker is this closing punch:

Techno-Orientalist aesthetics produced in this way lack an ingredient crucial to today’s increasingly xenophobic world: an openness to genuine encounters with the Other. To accelerate towards the future with fuel made from the Other is not to accelerate towards a new life, but towards death itself

Edward Said’s Orientalism is probably required reading prior to engaging with the article (and the world in general, tbh) but suffice to say, it’s a densely packed piece that rewards active reading.

  • Moving away from Vapourwave toward more uplifting Japanese Electronic music, Wednesday Campanella have been keeping me company the last few days, being variously joyous, introspective and as quirky as you’d expect from a band created from a chance meeting at a design festival in Tokyo. check it out:

I don’t have a background in electronic music, nor do I claim to have anything above what I would call an occasional recognition of Japanese, so I’m less than keen to engage in a Song Exploderesque dissection here. Still, I’m looking forward to diving deeper into this pretty exciting artist.

That’s game set match for this week! tune in next time for more unwarranted jumps into depths unknown on topics I’m digging.

Until then!

Jozef