I’m starting to understand my own resistance to the use of psychometric tools in helping students learn (and in understanding myself): the exercise can seem narcissistic, and it can also run contrary to American cultural thinking about the primacy of change, and how important it is, and how easy change is to accomplish.
I think I’m starting to question that mythology (despite the brilliance of Office Space which should have helped me figure that out a long time ago). I have always thought that continuous improvement is the ultimate in capitalist/corporatist maintain-the-wage-slave-drudgery, but I still buy into constantly improving myself, those around me, and our culture at large.
What psychometric tools do in some ways is to challenge that myth, or at least the ease with which it is accomplished. I understand that they are mired in the idea that these sorts of tools help us improve, but I’m starting to wonder if that improvement isn’t of a hugely different type than the utopic vision that we all seem to buy into. What these tools do is help us understand just how important understanding where we are is, and how much effort any sort of change involves.
The neuroscience (what little I understand of it) confirms this view I think. I heard an audio essay on NPR last night that talked about the idea of toxic stress and how that sort of stress, especially when encountered early in one’s life, hardwires the brain. Hard wires are truly difficult to reroute, and perhaps by accepting the difficulty of that sort of task we can get a better idea of how to help others in changing even our more-easily-reroutable programming.
Edit: the toxic stress connection, I think, is a key element in connecting to questions of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation. As this article points out, there is clearly much work to be done here, but perhaps psychometric tools can help.
I discussed the Hallmark version of the ending of GoT, but I don’t think that that version is how martin wants it to go down. I wonder if he’s concerned over reaction from teevee fans, but even so, finishing this thing in a way that he wants to might well feel impossible.
I’ve blogged about it before, but Martin seems most interested in balance as the series has progressed. He’s not spent much time worrying about fantasy generic conventions (except, perhaps, to destroy them) – he seems to taking a look at looking for the source of some our current ills and seems to have located them in the move from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance in Europe, with perhaps the Industrial Revolution a logical consequence rather than dramatic breakthrough. In my reading he’s looking for some kind of balanced approach to how humans affect the web of life on this planet, and he doesn’t see us achieving that now. He’s gone back, then, in an attempt to look at ideas like magic, and politics, and our relationship to the natural world are all connected.
In this reading (and I’ll try to finish the series with it in a second), the planet uses White Walkers and dragons as the means of getting rid of us, essentially killing off the planet’s fleas. There is no dramatic John Snow and Daenerys Targaryen reunion, no Bran emerging from the cave with fireballs to defeat WW, no Tyrion Lannister putting his knowledge of dragons to work to help Dany train them and melt the ice dudes (and burn up all the wights). Instead, I’m not sure that humans even survive at the end of this series, and if we do it will be because of our warging and magical abilities somehow…
So, here are some of my initial thoughts:
- The Maesters are actually unable to help us advance. Martin puts so much emphasis on religion in this series that I think that he’s showing a time when the primacy of logic and rationality wasn’t taken for granted.
- What did you say? That’s now? Sorry..
- And maybe what’s happened is that the Maesters are simply complicated, like all humans, and have lost their way among all the various factions. I certainly don’t think that the renegade Maesters we see are going to magically save the day.
- While the song of ice and fire seems inhuman (to other fantasy fans as well as me, I’m guessing, and thus my resistance to any sort of victory by non-human forces), I think that in one possible ending dragons and white walkers simply ignore each other (although fire has always been the tool used more effectively – and far longer – than ice.
- One of Martin’s narrative strategies is to let the complications and consequences that his characters find themselves in (and often create) play out, and that approach might well mean that humans end up extinct.
- Tyrion might be the best example of this, with his supposed path to becoming a consultant and adviser. He is on a path to end up in conflict with Jaime (and his niece and nephews). And there won’t be a deus ex machina to save him.
- The big question I keep assuming that Martin will ask is something about the Earth’s defense mechanisms. Cameron does this clumsily in Avatar, but I think that Martin is way smarter than him (and more subtle and more human and developed). He’s looking for the origin of the trouble…
- He’s also fascinated by the social codes we use to help regulate anti-social behavior, and that arise because there is a need. Why the codes of chivalry, for instance? Because these savage, violent men in steel can just show up and start raping and pillaging, and we need some sort of code to check them. Who will watch the Watchmen, after all?
- The other anxiety I see is the ‘good king’ – the good kings we see are killed, and the good queen who tries to free the slaves ends up an exile. And even the Starks are odd – they haven’t always been good, and they are bound up in notions of duty to such an extent that they are ineffective).
- There is also clearly some sort of look at the idea that kings and the nobility are bound to the land. It’s nearly Arthurian, but I think that the Arthur that Martin uses here is one seen through a very specific, War of the Rosesish lens. And Martin has read Bernard Cornwell, after all.
- Another binding force are the laws of heredity and racial identity. Martin seems to delight in the polyglot that is Mereen and the other cities in Slaver’s Bay, but I’m not sure that he sees these concerns as anxieties. They might be features as much as bugs, although his turning of the Targaryens into a clan of incestuous misfits makes me think that he’s playing with something here. And he makes sure to tell us of all the problems that this sort of procreation strategy inflicts.
- Tyrion might be the example here. He is incredibly bright, sensitive, articulate, and is also not seen as his father’s success except by one very wise aunt. He is too counter to the ways that the Lannisters see themselves. The eugenics implications are frightening, and Martin knows this.
As this is getting too long, I’m going to continue it in another post.
I’ve long since given up on George RR Martin finishing GoT, and I don’t blame him – my guess is that the series has gone far beyond any type of ending that television viewers will be satisfied with. In this post I’ll try to give a guess at a couple of possible endings.
The Ending as brought to you by Hallmark
- Jaime completes his transition and becomes the head of the Brotherhood, fighting side-by-side with Brienne. They shift tactics a bit, but he ends up in the final battle fighting with Dany and John Snow against the Others.
- Lady Stoneheart finally dies, perhaps giving the last kiss to someone (Jaime?), and completing her transformation (as well as the theme of mauled humans).
- In the North, the Boltens gets theirs, and Manderley (who survives the wounding) and the rest of the Norther lords return the young Stark to the throne.
- John Snow’s recovery means that he stays Lord Commander and does not get involved in the succession. He is there to help Dany and the dragons defeat the Others.
- Mance Rayder (who sent the red letter) helps the Starks regain the throne because of their connection to the North (the importance of their blood to whatever blood magic keeps the Wall up).
- Dany kills Victarion and Euron, descending with her khalasar on Mereen just in time. She then takes their fleet to sail her and her khalasar and her dragons to Westeros.
- She meets and weds the Young Griff in true Targaryen tradition. He is already established in Westeros.
- As the Lannisters and Tyrells lose hold of the Iron Throne, Dany’s army meet them, and they fight, bloodily, but the battle breaks off when Brienne and Jaime appear with the Brothers and warn of the conflict in the North.
- The Night’s Watch, what’s left of Stannis’s army, and the rest of the North finally turn their attention to the Others, who have either breached or completely brought down the Wall.
- Arya, of course, appears in time to kill Cersei, then joins the rest of the human forces in the North. She might do some sort of trip to join Bran fight the Night King in Winterhome, or whatever the hell it’s called.
- This happnes because it turns out that Bloodraven has been fighting a long guerilla war against the Others, and now he has passed the torch on to Bran, who is equipped to fight the magic that the WW possess.
- And, of course, John and Dany combine forces to defeat the WW. The CotF, realizing that the WW are worst than humans because they can make deals with humans (see the First Men). I’m not sure that we quite get the beautiful finish at the end of LotR, but some sort of harmony sort of exists.
I don’t believe this is what Martin wants to happen, and there is too much evidence pointing to many other possibilities. I’ll go on with those other guesses in the next post.
I had a discussion with colleagues about authors that we’re embarrassed we hadn’t read, and the usual suspects came up for the young ‘uns: Milton, Spenser, Dante, and so on. Kids these days don’t read, I guess…
Having been the product of a proud liberal arts tradition I have read those folks (loved Spenser, misread Milton along with the rest of my punk rock associates, didn’t get Dante at all although I now completely understand the desire to punish one’s enemies by banishing them to h – e – double hockey sticks), but I have never read Roth, whose novels seem to always be high on the list of those-read-by-erudite-people. I’m not one of those, but I thought I’d try, so I read Portnoy’s Complaint.
I’m still not sure if that was a good idea.
I felt like the novel wasn’t written for me, at least reading it now. In 1969 it was probably revolutionary, but now it felt like a too-long Seinfeld episode, and not one of the best ones. So, a couple of quick notes:
- It felt in a sense like How To Build a Girl, a novel I enjoyed a lot more. That’s probably not fair (and thus my comment that I’m reading these too late), because I know all the music in HTBG, and while she’s unlikeable she also comes from a position that to me feels clearly lower on the cultural power scale.
- Portnoy is unlikeable, but that didn’t bug me as much as the way that Roth makes him unlikeable…the novel takes place in a psychiatrist’s office, and is one long monologue, and seems to words that I hate (the n word, the c word, etc.) and denigrate the wrong folks just to make his point. I’m not sure that any of the action actually took place.
- I suppose it’s comic, but it’s one of those that I read thinking that whoever said that doesn’t share the same taste in comedy as I do. It’s so relentlessly male (and obsessed with penises and sexual conquests) that I got sick of the narrator’s immense ego (all the while complaining that being Jewish robbed him of the ability to feel superior).
- My favorite part took place near the end, as he describes discovering that his life of debauchery has made him impotent (the final big joke, at least until the last line in which his psychiatrist says that now the session can start, apparently not having heard the previous 4000 pages). His portrayal of Israel in the 50s and 60s as the kibbutz/socialist heaven (and the type of women that that environment produced) awoke fantasies of my own from reading about kibbutzes in the 80s.
This post is a continuation of one that I wrote earlier, motivated by the idea of hysterical realism. I am looking for ways to better understand what happens to someone who inhabits a character (and if that actually does happen).
A couple of thoughts:
- Stuart Hall generally drives me a little nuts (mostly out of jealousy), but he reminded me of concepts like suture, and his attempts to differentiate identification from identity mark out a theoretical approach to how characters emerge in games that feels useful. He uses
identity to refer to the meeting point, the point of suture, between, on the one hand, the discourses and practices which attempt to ‘interpellate,’ speak to us or hail us into place, as the social subjects of particular discourses, and on the other hand, the processes which produce subjectivities, which construct us as subjects which can be ‘spoken.’
Mulvey’s insistence on the ways that films suture us into their narrative (and from the perspective of the white male gaze, a privileged and oppressive perspective is used here by Hall to speak to larger questions of identity, but if we are looking at how identity (and identification) in games becomes part of the discursive practice through which we claim identity then the connection between the two (game world and real world) feels clear.
- The moral question of how I as a player can identify with the assholes that are often lead game characters is addressed in this article by Keith Stuart writing in The Guardian. It is the type of question that led me to the co-construction questions that are troubling translators (and discussed by academics who are translators) – how do we translate for people who have committed horrific crimes?
- Stuart talks about something called narrative collective-assimilation hypothesis (his link) and how that theory accounts for folks who feel like wizards and elves and vampires after reading those texts…way too easy, but he uses it as a bit of a straw man (and hell, it’s in a psychology journal so it can’t be too far off)…
- The translation dilemma first came to me from this story about an ASL translator who “strives to be neutral” but who can’t help but think that the person he is translating for actually did commit the crime, one that he finds particularly abhorrent.
- Stuart’s article also reminded me that I had forgotten about Gone Home, especially since that game creates a beautiful environment that contributes to the ways in which the player can sympathize with the characters.
- This reminds me of the problems with trying to understand character development in either film or literature. Is Don Draper a well-developed character because of his backstory? Because of Jon Hamm’s impossible good looks and solid acting skills? Because the series can take the time to explore his multiple indentities?
- And do novels develop characters *because* of the setting? Is a character more interesting because he’s in a beautiful or terrible situation?
- This is all reader-response theory territory…