The Castlevania animated series on Netflix was a hoot. You might be surprised to know that I have some thoughts…
- The animation felt very old school, which makes sense since the series is based on the legendary game, which dates back to 1986 and pixels. The series riffs off the Belmont family’s obsession with killing vampires, and features (sorry for the spoiler) the death of Dracula.
- It doesn’t move as fast as modern series – we spend almost an entire episode, for instance, in the Belmont family archives, watching as Sylpha (mage/scholar for those keeping score at home) learns the spells that will transport Dracula’s movable castle to their location.
- The setting is all quasi-legendary, and as always I wonder why the creatures of hell have to wait for Dracula to want revenge for the death of his human wife at the hands of a corrupt bishop to start wreaking havoc on the villagers, who seem pretty poorly equipped to handle any of this.
- There’s a lot of looking in this for a pure church, and that search for purity and its origin drives the narrative. Even Dracula couldn’t help searching for the return of the purity of his love for his wife, and it’s the world-destroying anger that unleashes his search for revenge.
- Belmont plays the last son of a storied family character to the hilt, complete with drinking far too much (and getting beaten up by townspeople) when he’s not actively engaged.
- His story is an interesting take on the hero legend – his flaws are not the stuff of legend, and his skills are more of the super-hero variety. I’m guessing that this portrayal points to a mesh point (a liminal space worth investigating) between the heroes of games and the heroes of, oh, say 10,000 faces.
- The gore in this series is epic. It’s billed as for adults only, and that makes perfect sense. We see people (and monsters) get killed in all sorts of horrible ways, and the spilling of blood by the animators takes on the aesthetics of the poetry of kung fu movies.
- For all that gore, there is absolutely zero sex. We know that Belmont and Sylpha will hook up by the end, but it’s a chaste, subtle pairing, one in which we never even see them kiss. Not pairing sex and violence feels pretty un-American, and I’m okay with that.
I met with college friends in State College for a weekend dedicated to basketball and, uh, sophisticated adult beverages, and found a new favorite bar: Zeno’s Pub. It’s not just me who thinks so, either…
The clock reads “Ready for a Reading, the friendly beer for modern people.” If you know what this means please tell me, because I have no idea.
I got a bit giddy when I heard the music, as the song being played was by the Black Angels. The bartender engaged when I made some weird little noise of recognition, and when I mentioned that I found out about them through Spotify (which isn’t cool I’m guessing), she affirmed my nerdiness by noting that she saw them with the Black Keys. She had no idea who the Black Keys were.
Are they fascist-lite too?
In case you were wondering, PA has a Pantera tribute band. I had no idea this was a thing.
Vintage posters speak to a different age, one with fewer mortal sins…
As if life isn’t short enough, I’m almost done with my re-read of the Malazan Book of the Fallen series. Toll the Hounds is book number eight…
- I often think of fantasy as an attempt to rewrite origins and ideals. Tolkien, for instance, wants to go back and rethink history from a time when kings could perhaps be convinced to be virtuous, the Good King imagined as a starting point from which our own culture can derive in a more just and humane way, one that cleaves closer to an image of a just and good godhead.
- A Song of Ice and Fire, as I’ve discussed elsewhere, attempts to revisit European culture by rethinking our relationship with the natural world. It starts at the Enlightenment, which is pretty bold on Martin’s part but not out of character…
- The MOBTF views this rewrite differently, which isn’t surprising. First, I think that Erikson and Esselmont’s universe starts its rewrite from the place in which humans create cultures, of any and all sorts. They’re not interested in only doing part of human history – instead, they often take us back to our Cromag roots. Talk about having large huevos…
- Secondly, their revisit looks at what we think of when we think of first principles. I’ve written an article on this look in terms of war (and whether or not it can be just, a cultural construction if there ever was one I think), but I always think of it as the MOBTF creates its incredibly complicated and sort of irreverent pantheon of gods.
- Authors definitely have obsessions. Tolkien feels very Catholic in his obsession with suffering, and Martin’s obsession with food highlights his fears that we are destroying the natural world. Erikson’s obsession seems to be with domiciles, whether for travelers or for of the common city variety. We do not see much in the way of farm houses (they’re occasionally destroyed as they sit in the path of war) but we do see lots of city apartments and mansions (and even a palace or two).
- My guess is that this has to do with the one first principle that they try to examine, which is the place of love alongside all the pain and misery and war and casual death. Erikson in particular isn’t sappy – he has children both do and suffer some horrific things – but he does occasionally portray a scene in which a stable family manages some peace and love.
- He also spends a lot of time on city life (which I think lends to the Dickens vibe I get from this series). I think I could write reams on this, but I’ll save it for my next post on a piece of non-fiction based in Detroit…
- This series has forced me to rethink how I read fantasy (and maybe more) – my normal process looks like this:
- I try to find the overlying theme (redemption, balance, etc.)
- I try to find the main concern – approaching fascism, with the only option being a good king, approaching planetary degradation caused by climate change, with the diminished presence of humans being the only option, etc.
- I try to find the origin point that the authors want to rewrite
- I’m pretty confident that none of these strategies work for this series (nor do they work for Jemisin)
Notes for this one take the form of a series of quoted passages. Short comments follow. Since I’m trying to keep these sort of short, another will follow shortly.
- Quote #1 – “show me a written history that makes sense and I will show you true fiction.” (66)
- Heh – Erikson perhaps doubts the-history-from-one-perspective that is the purview of most fantasy (and most history as we learn it).
- Quote #2 – “Memory fails. For ever doomed as we seek to fashion scenes, framed, each act described, reasoned and reasonable, irrational and mad, but somewhere beneath there must be the thick, solid sludge of motivation, of significance, of meaning – there must be. The alternative is…unacceptable” (196 – Duiker thinking about his failed attempts to write the story of the Chain of Dogs)
- So much of this series posits whatever forces of good that do exist as hopeless, doomed-to-fail bulwarks against chaos. Duiker represents Erikson’s desire to say how impossible accurate history is to write, an admission that always reminds me of the first season of The Wire, in which the ensemble that created and produced that series somehow made a bunch of arrests of drug lords and some of their most trusted lieutenants feels like an absolute failure.
I should probably be embarrassed that I have to read these texts twice, but the Malazan Book of the Fallen is worth the second read. Thoughts below, although they take a bit of a whole series look and are very much inside baseball if you haven’t read the series:
- Power is embodied, channeled, and somehow tapped into by mages, shaman, and warlocks. It’s also accessed by warriors, card-game players, and gods who were both created that way and ascended.
- I create this list because I’m struggling trying to understand the mechanism by which anyone interacts with all this energy. Do some folks have some sort of physical, biological connection? Do some of us have a wifi brain stem, one that is stirred by concentrating intensely (thus the physical exhaustion)? Are they somehow sending out a radio signal, perhaps from sort of transmitter organ or brain stem?
- And the warrens are a channeled form of older energy – Kron provides the structure, the channels, as somehow part of his body
- So what the Crippled God is trying to do is not destroy the magic in the warrens, but to destroy the warrens themselves, releasing the chaotic energy in its more original, primal form.
- Essentially, the Crippled God has been called to this world by warlocks/mages, came unwillingly, and has since been crippled and chained. He lives in constant pain, and will not heal (I guess).
- So his motive is burn it all down, tear everything apart…
- Finally for this entry, I’m curious about the Azath as well. I think they’re almost like growths, organic or mineral, that have arisen naturally (based on the laws of the world) to trap or hold chaotic, world-destroying energies…
- In this context, Iscarium becomes clearly a metaphor (and the uber-Jaghut)
- and dragons are scary, terrifying, and still incredibly dangerous, but they’re not nuclear bombs, as we see a couple of them get killed in this book.
- I wonder if that’s what the fall of the Eleint is about, as Soletaken (shift-shapers) stole dragonly powers…
- esp. since we see so many of them wounded and chained…
I became sort of familiar with Moretti’s theories about distant reading and the Literary Lab he co-founded while trying to wrap my mind around how narrative works in video games. His work seems particularly appropriate to understanding how the changes that occur in our emotional responses to narratives in games (in contrast to films and literature) happen, and the unapologetic digital humanist in me thinks that Moretti is onto something, even though that something will necessarily be a bit long in coming…and, if we do it right, will never be completely concretized.
Distant Reading itself is a collection of essays that he has published as he tries to understand how literary forms change as they move across cultural lines. He eschews close reading for what he calls distant reading, mostly because he’s trying to find a way to understand cultural forms as organisms that are affected by the environment in which they find themselves. My synopsis does not do his thinking justice, and I’d urge you to engage with his theories on your own, but the tl;dr version is that he’s wrestling with some huge problems for analysis here, and I think that he’s not trying to fit literary scholarship into a methodological paradigm so much as he’s trying to determine what methodology best helps us understand literary narrative, style, and affect (among other attributes) .
Thoughts on Moretti:
- I was pleasantly surprised when I saw him citing Stephen Jay Gould in the first essay. His look at literature from the perspective of cultural evolution and world system theory fits neatly with my own world view, although I can understand why some folks would find it off-putting.
- Close reading is still important, and I think he does some of that with his analysis of titles in the last essay. I get his frustration though – I feel the same when talking about games, as I know that (with apologies to Jean Genet) every time I choose one game to look at I’m ignoring a dozen others.
- He makes some really interesting observations while doing this form of analysis, observations that imply more of an interest in close reading than I think he sometimes gets credit for. His look at the use of subordinate clauses in the construction of narrative, for instance, allows him to argue the ways in ways in which narratives move forward and backward in time. Subordinate clauses ask us to prioritize action, and writers can use them to get us to look at the action ahead.
- Others have discussed this as well, but the particular lens through which he looks – large chunks of stories that have adopted another cultural’s form – makes this look especially useful, I think, from a literary critic standpoint.
Lydia Davis’s The End of the Story made me question a lot of the things I think I know about story-telling and narration. There is almost no dialogue in this novel, very little description, and it takes place entirely in our unknown narrator’s head. In fact, it’s a story about writing a story, and I’m sad to admit that I rarely enjoy that type of novel because they often feel like exercises in ego.
This novel is anything but that.
- In some ways this novel feels like Davis is sort of revealing some of the narrative tricks that novelists use, perhaps because as a short story writer she’s messing with a form that she’s not invested in…
- More likely, she’s carefully identifying the lens through which she both reads and writes, being transparent in a way that feels somewhat deliciously uncomfortable…
- This narrator thinks herself brutally honest…but she’s also not all that self-aware.
- It’s not like she’s an unreliable narrator, exactly, but we get clues as to why she’s not necessarily seeing the world as it is…
- And I think that she also *knows* that she’s missing cues she should be picking up on, and that knowledge drives her obsession (or is driven by it)…