Junger’s Tribe had me reading quickly and holding my breath, hopeful that maybe he had discovered some fundamental truth that we have been missing. I’ve backed off from that a bit after giving his premise some thought, I’m of the mind that perhaps the answers he offers are too idealistic for where we are now. Not that he actually offers answers…
- As a well-known war correspondent (and producer of the film Restrepo, which if you haven’t seen it you should), Junger has spent a lot of time traveling to war zones. In this book, he makes an argument based on these experiences, one that comes perilously close to a grand global theory and that also does a bit of idealizing of pre-modern cultures.
- That said, the arguments he makes are powerful ones, and they feel intuitively like they address big issues. He speaks especially coherently about young people and their integration into adulthood, describing how difficult that is in modern society.
- His big argument is that one of the main glues to any society is a sense of shared purpose. He feels that modern society does not allow us to feel this, and he has a lot of evidence.
- Finally, before this becomes too much of a book report, he talks about the ways in which we as a culture send incredibly awkward mixed messages, vilifying someone like Bob Bergdahl while letting the financiers who created the disaster of 2007-8 not only go unpunished but also reward themselves handsomely.
- There are many pieces to this that I want to believe, and I think I’ll keep working it around in my head, but I am leery of any grand narrative that relies too much on what feels like not-very-complicated looks at our evolutionary history.
I read this immediately after finishing 99 Stories of God, because I forgot how much I admired Williams’s non-fiction. I was first introduced to it by an essay she wrote on hunting, in which she unabashedly talks about hunting as killing, and piles up animal corpses in an attempt to try to make the costs of hunting clear.
I’m more than a bit pissed at myself for just now discovering that Joy Williams writes fiction. As I noted in my post about her spiritual commentary 99 Stories of God, I knew her as an essayist, so finding her fiction has been both really cool and really frustrating. The frustration is all directed at myself.
- One of the fascinating things about her characters are how, when we as readers only hear their internal dialogue, seem to poised precariously on the tip of the abyss, but upon talking with their comrades they are reeled back in. I guess I could read this as an attack on the seeming placidity that conversation provides us – a way to pretend that we’re all okay – and that would be defensible.
- Instead, though, conversation – witty, humble, and humane – serves as an anchor, a way to pull those folks back from that abyss and ground them in the human. It’s not always the best of the human – dialogue in this novel does not save young women from the predatory desires of older men, for instance – but the grounding is unflinching.
- Oh, and by the way – who saves those young women? Themselves…as it should be…
- This novel doesn’t really concern itself with the idea of being saved or redeemed, however. The only character who sort of gets redeemed is the big-game hunter Stumpff, whose museum of his trophies gets taken over as a sort of hospice by Emily, an eight-year-old. His fascination with her and her cause results in him firing his taxidermist and driving Emily around town as she carries out her mission of mercy.
- It’s far more interested in the line between the quick and the dead. It features a mom ghost who is anything but motherly, a nursing home of sorts that denies people the right to die with dignity (our first view of it is as the head nurse washes down a patient who is strung up like an animal and who keeps screaming “I want to go home!”
- The border she’s elucidating has lots of components, and she treats animal deaths as seriously as she does human ones.
- As with 99 Stories, this one will come up in my own head again…
Since I became an adult St. Patrick’s has been my second favorite holiday (following closely after Halloween, of course), so spending the most recent St. Patrick’s Day in Rome was a bit odd. Nonetheless, I managed…
This memory comes up because we saw Flogging Molly and the Dropkick Murphys for my partner’s birthday. We had a blast, of course, but watching all the kilts reminded me of my own St. Patty’s Day in Rome this year. So, some observations about this and that…
- I’m still unsure how people could sit at this concert, but then it is northeast Ohio and the crowd was overwhelmingly white. We found a crowd of folks who were up and jumping around and dancing, so we fit in nicely in our small corner of the world.
- Kilts are cool, Irish flags are cool, and the adoption of Irish identity as an underdog felt awesome.
- I even saw a pink “Union Thug” vest button, and the Murphys unapologetically acknowledge both their working class roots *and* the privilege they have in having family who told them to go for their dreams, a pretty capitalist message just one that resonates with American blue collar dreams.
- The fact that the Murphys call themselves “working class” rather than the usual American sobriquet of “blue collar” also steps them outside of mainstream American dialogue about class, and perhaps helps them keep a punk street cred that draws a line straight to the Clash and before…
- I wonder if the folks who were just there for “Shipping Up to Boston” – at least a few of whom had the alt-right Don’t Tread on Me slogan somewhere on their person, another confusion about class conflict and history – were confused by anti-war songs like “Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye” and the iconography of empathy for the oppressed that play deeply into the songs of both groups.
- I know they were confused watching me dance…they seemed to prefer the fist pump of a metal show. I’m old though, and have only seen the Murphys at Warped Tours, so moving just feels like something we should do.
- Finally, my own St. Patty’s Day story of Roma…
- I roamed the city on St. Patty’s drinking a pint or two at every Irish pub I knew of in Rome (and there are lots, because Americans like Irish pubs) in honor of my own Irish roots. As I roamed, I texted with my partner (yay for lots of data!) and enjoyed the sites and sounds of Rome even while it was being invaded. Finally, I headed for the last stop before walking back to Termini.
- It was getting later in the day, so the clientele had changed. No longer were the pubs full of older Americans, but instead younger ex-pats from the UK and Ireland were spilling out onto the streets.
- I started to go in for my last pint, but I noticed the signs out front, in English, announcing that this pub was showing the Scotland vs. Ireland rugby game.
- The door was guarded by two sets of very large young men. The first set asked me who I was rooting for – I said (because I’m quick like that) that I was a quarter Irish.
- The second group jumped in and said he can’t come in – he’s rooting for Ireland! I then announced my last name, which placed me firmly in neutral territory.
- And a fine ten minutes of rugby it was…
I spent time at Romics 2018 yesterday, letting my phreak phlag phly. Thoughts and pics below:
- This was a huge event, and I’d love to know attendance numbers. Trenitalia was clearly ready, as they were checking bags and had extra personnel on hand to do crowd control and navigation.
- As I was searching for the train platform that I needed to find to get on my train from Roma Ostiense, I looked about a bit frantically (I didn’t waste time waiting for trains) until I saw a bunch of Final Fantasy characters hanging out on binario 12. Ah, my people…
These are not Final Fantasy characters, you doubters.
- I’m excited about the future for these folks, even if I wish a bit more analysis went on. I don’t long for the days of 47 of my best friends going to a comic-con, and listening to dramatic appeals, spoken as if from a lonely Arctic outpost, for somehow finding more attendees before comic-con died.
- We are clearly beyond those days.
- The mix between enormous corporations and small, local entrepeneurs, artists, and craftsfolk is fascinating. The cottage industries that have grown up around Star Wars, for example (full disclosure – I think Star Wars sort of sucks, as the series in my mind consists with one exception simply of morality tales set in space), have become full-fledged in ways that make me think of the ancillary industries that support old industrial plants. Without the support of specialized tool-and-die manufacturers, and problem-solvers from the outside, the auto and other industries would not have been as adaptable or flexible as they would otherwise have been.
- The failure of that system in the 1980s became evident when we visited the Papal Palace at Castel Gandalfo and saw the former popemobiles, a subject I will blog about in a future post.
- The level of attachment to something like Star Wars is worthy of lots of academic work and conversation among scifi authors (and it is, as witnessed at pop culture conferences and the loathing shown SW by the cyberpunk crowd).
- There were lots of institutions selling their academic wares here as well, including our friends at Vigamus. The academics were all visual arts-oriented, with little devoted to helping develop story-telling. It’s an interesting phenomenon to me, as game developers constantly talk about how they can’t find good writers, and yet I rarely see resources devoted to helping writers develop their craft. I hear the same thing in web content development…sounds like a project I should investigate.
- I was particularly interested in the ways that VIGAMUS had set up their space – they had a Dinosaur Jr. cover band (really) playing when I first walked by, but they had also brought a couple of old arcade games for folks to play, and they had a couple of gaming PCs fired up with older versions of some of the games that I saw people cosplaying – final fantasy, zelda, myst, and so on. Smart approach, I think, to getting people involved in the history of gaming. Perhaps that’s the best way to help gamers both casual and hard-core become more invested in approaching their diversion of choice from a more analytical perspective.
- I’ll write more about this in future posts…there was an entire exhibition hall devoted to e-sports (league of legends and FIFA soccer), and I’ve got a few words to say about the art on display as well…
…so little time. On our site director’s recommendation I went to visit the Centrale Montemartini, a former power station converted into a museum that contains artifacts from several Roman sites. The idea is brilliant, and I had a blast, aided by the presence of dozens of high school art and design students who were working in groups analyzing the designs in front of them.
- I took no pictures, mostly because there were always hordes of those students around and I’m not interested in violating Italian privacy laws, so I am pulling a couple from the google.
- The contrast between the industrial machinery (and what was required to produce it) and the estates of wealthy Romans made me think about the ways that contemporary archaeological cycles are receding rapidly in the amount of time it takes for them to become ruins. This plant was commissioned in 1912 – to what I’m sure was a lot of hoopla – and yet it was worthless by 1963. The ruins that are planted in the space that come from republican and imperial Rome span hundreds of years, a time that saw very little change in technology. A sign of modernity and progress becomes just another relic, and the cycle from innovative technique to ruin happens increasingly quickly.
- And of course the fifty year cycle is no more, as the compelling archives at the Learning Games Initiative in Tucson demonstrate. Fifty years ago in computer history has us still using vacuum tubes and punch cards…
- The museum added Pope Pius IX’s funeral train in 2006, a beautiful contrast or update to the Roman funeral markers present.
- The train, much as the power plant itself, is a marker of a very specific time, one that starts shortly before WWI and encompasses the technological horrors of WWII (as well as the beginning of the Cold War). The oddity seemed particularly clear in some of the added showy touches, ones that feel in direct contrast to the Roman practicality of depicting hunts and showing piety to the gods.
- It also struck me how unconcerned the Romans seemed to be (which may be pure bravado) about the nearness of chaos. There are satyrs fighting sea dragons next to men and dogs hunting huge boards, and the two seemed juxtaposed with little concern for the differences in space and time.
- On the other hand, the power plant is full of ways to prevent chaos, at least in the form of an explosion. Dials and gauges are everywhere, and even the location is designed to mitigate damage as it was placed outside the walls, outside even Testacchio, which was (and still is, mostly) blue-collar.
- There is no searching for the origin point for the Romans – they live it. It’s only us relatively moderns who desperately try to find out where we came from.
We are here…a couple of quick pics and then a rumination…
There was a bit of gentle mockery about the shower, and it reminded me of some of the general lassitude of us as Americans. Europeans are much more conscious about their use of natural resources, which is not a mystery, and although this group didn’t do it I’ve heard other groups complain about short showers, with the if I can pay for it then I can do it mentality. Of course, we really can’t, but that’s hard for us to understand – we don’t carry water from a river or lake, we don’t worry about whether drinking it or consuming it will give us a nasty disease that kills us, and we don’t have to put in the work to make that water hot. Hell, we don’t even have to worry about the infrastructure to get the hot water to us.
These are easy observations to make, and I think I’ve been beaten to this particular epiphany (some guy named de Tocqueville had a word or two to say about this I think). But I wonder sometimes if I shouldn’t celebrate this lack of intentionality as a triumph of American marketing. Somehow we have become convinced that burning up as much of our planet’s resources as possible equates to freedom, and the marketers who started doing that for real in the Mad Men days has gone all in by convincing Americans that this sort of freedom works in politics as well.
Damn, that was well-played. Too bad those folks couldn’t have used their powers for good.
Yep, that’s the obvious title, but the HUMAN+ exhibit left me a bit on edge, and White Zombie is the perfect music for that feeling. In combination with Altered Carbon, which I’m watching now, the future is definitely not bright.
- This a conversation I’m pretty firmly enmeshed in, but seeing this on display felt creepy. The way that the display is set up – walking us from the hey, how cool is this (prosthetics and their ability to help people lead ‘normal’ lives) to its finish in urban foragers trying to figure out ways to get calories from the various substances that will be left over after we have completely despoiled the planet was a little brutal.
- It moved very quickly from those feel-good stories to pictures of surgery on folks wanting to become even more cyborgian, and the bloody tissue was a pretty effective segue.
- The exhibit invoked the uncanny valley in a bunch of ways, from rows of robot eyes looking at us as we walked past to feet that did not conform to our expectations to a machine that was rigged to constantly run stress tests on itself. My guess is that few games have ever reached this place as successfully as this exhibit, which was not all that interactive.
- Again, the start was designed I think to lure people in (there were even freaking TED talks fer crissakes), but I’m not sure how well that strategy worked, as it felt as if there were a lot fewer folks at the museum’s end than had started it.
- Those urban foragers just might appear in a short story I’m trying to get published…