Archive

Archive for April, 2010

al Jazeera English can be as daft as anyone else. Volcano song with uke

April 20, 2010 Leave a comment

lovely discussion of Pokemon “evolution:” Wooper

April 19, 2010 Leave a comment

Wooper is an axolotl, sure. But did you know axolotls only metamorphose when traded?

Power, sex and relationships in Men Who Hate Women

April 18, 2010 1 comment

On the topic (all over the amazon message boards) of Blomkvist’s womanizing ways, of whether he, too, “hates women,” I think this is a fundamental misunderstanding, and I think a way into what the point of the book is. Because I believe it has one, and it’s not the serial killer plot.

Larsson presents Blomkvist and Salander as people in two different power positions as a means for having a discussion about power, and about the circumstances of power in particular between the sexes, and around sex.

Blomkvist represents a perspective of privilege. He’s used to being in charge and he generally gets what he wants: his relationship with Berger is a sign of his making his own rules – so what if she’s married? Berger, her husband and Blomkvist all consent, and it works.  He drifts in and out of the office, writing what he wants. When he’s offered a job he has to be persuaded to take it, even though he has no other immediate prospects: he never tries to impress anyone, never sugar-coats anything, because it is up to other people to engage him. And as a result he leads a fairly lonely life and hasn’t seen his daughter in years. He is, most of all, unused to being victimized. Even when he has to go to prison it’s a sort of holiday.

Salander on the other hand is scared of institutions and authority, used to victimization, and has no socially legitimate means for getting what she wants, so she refuses to engage or resorts to violence when pressed. When Blomkvist breezes into her apartment we see them contrasted: he is confident, engaged, ready to get into a power tussle. She is discombobulated, and takes her usual refuge in withdrawal.

But the 2 times Blomkvist is victimized he behaves like a victim; he accepts domination and plays along with the dominator’s script, while when Salander is victimized she goes silent, she fights and she gets revenge.* Salander understands the stakes. She knows what it means to be weak in the world, without friends or support.

Regarding sexual relationships, Blomkvist’s chief characteristic seems to be that he’s not interested in power or commitment on sexual grounds. That’s why he can have an on-again, off-again relationship with Berger and Cecelia – in fact, why Cecelia is initially attracted to him, and why she later has to separate, when it turns out that’s not what she really wants. It also seems to be why Salander has sex with him: he is a cipher, a non-actor in the link between sex and interpersonal relationship. They can have sex without getting tangled up (or so she thinks). But power always creeps in; it always conditions the circumstances of the sex. Blomkvist tries to use his quondam relationship with Cecelia to get her to answer questions. Salander gets sex from Blomkvist partly by threatening to withdraw her help in the investigation. Only Blomkvist and Berger manage to separate sex and power, but their asexual power struggles are epic, and involve some behindhand dealing.

So no, I don’t think Blomkvist is supposed to be one of the  “men who hate women,” even though he doesn’t seem to engage much with most of the ones he has sex with. I think he’s supposed to be a facilitator in the narrative for women who have been hated, to draw them into the story. He’s supposed to be a safe, or at least low stakes, place for them to come to, a respectful, reciprocal partner. But then there’s that privilege, underneath it all: he can afford to walk away, he can afford to give it up, to be alone, to cast off power because he resides in power. Salander can’t make the same choices without hurting herself badly, because of where she is, her social position, her paucity of social connection. So like Siddharta Gautama, he can afford the gesture of renunciation, resignation, but like Joan of Arc, she cannot ever lay down her arms.

* Incidentally, “withdraw, regroup, and counterattack” is a piece of advice given explicitly in the Koran for dealing with setbacks. Salander in some sense embodies Jihad.

Taft on voting rights (in this case, for women)

April 18, 2010 Leave a comment

WIIIAI has a fascinating piece on the news 100 years ago: Pres. Taft talking about the prospects for women’s suffrage. I say it’s fascinating because it seems to point up a whole bunch of ideas that only seem to occur to people when they consider themselves to be outside the group they are discussing. This, I think, is the urge to nationalism and tribalism that comes from without – a topic that I haven’t seen discussed in nationalism scholarship, which seems mostly to be about the feelings of gemeinschaft or gesellschaft experienced by those within a group. Here:

every set of individuals who are similarly situated in the community, who are intelligent enough to know what their own interests are, are better qualified to determine how those interests shall be cared for and preserved than any other class, however altruistic that class may be.

Fine: if you have rational subjects, let them look after their own affairs. Very non-paternalistic, except for the rational bit, which excludes Hottentots or any other uneducated, altogether unintelligent class. But let’s leave him to his racism and see what he has to say about women.

…the class should as a whole care enough to look after its interests, to take part as a whole in the exercise of political power if it is conferred. Now if it does not care enough for this, then it seems to me that the danger is, if the power is conferred, that it may be exercised by that part of the class least desirable as political constituents and be neglected by many of those who are intelligent and patriotic and would be most desirable as members of the electorate.

See, I wasn’t so worried about this dividing people into classes stuff before, but he we have the very basis of us and them. And they, as a whole, should behave uniformly in a way pleasing to us (or me).  Hm. Tell me, do we do that? As a whole? Or do we tolerate dissent?

If I could be sure that women as a class in the community, including all the intelligent women most desirable as political constituents, would exercise the franchise, I should be in favor of it

So much here. That intelligent… desirable thing is an essay on its own. But let’s stick to the first classification: He says, so if gave you people the vote, all y’all better use it, see? Like if we gave you hospitals you’d better make sure everyone uses them, too.

And then it just gets bizarre; he says it’s successful when it doesn’t make a difference, that it might work OK in the country, but cities are different (!!?!??). And he concludes, as if it had anything to do with these other bits of moonshine; So you just tell the knitting circle: everyone gotta show up and let us know they insist on the vote.

My first thought is how this would sound if you applied it to other classes – say, all men, or Jews, or Arabs, or supporters of an Irish republic. And my second thought is that that’s exactly how we still treat every group we can identify as being different from ourselves. That one of the really pernicious things about nationalism, or rather this larger classificatory impulse that defines us and them, is that having allocated an imaginary unity to them, it then treats that imaginary unity as an actor, a disciplinary institution, a whip. And it is the outsider’s gaze that invents this whip, that gives it a niche, and power and a voice. That demands head-men and spokesmen. That will construct for itself, without any help but much more often with the merest skeletal and wilfully misunderstood bit of local assistance, a whole imaginary edifice of control, and then imagine that that imaginary edifice is being responsible, is accurately representing its constituents.

And then I think about Iraq (where, it seems, none of the lessons of Afghanistan were imagined to be relevant). And I think about what we call representative politics in general. And it occurs to me that I’ve been making a basic mistake, all these years, in who I thought the ideology of democracy was supposed to be for. I always thought it was aimed principally at “the people,” but now I’m suspecting it’s actually aimed at the politicians.

So I’ve finally finished Men Who Hate Women and…

April 18, 2010 Leave a comment

First, when did amazon start putting movie trailers on their book pages? When I was a wee one we used to talk about how film adaptations were killing reading. Perhaps that’s not true, but it still strikes me as strange, and maybe a reason for booksellers not to be integrated media companies.

Second, I’m perplexed. Genuinely. I had been secretly hoping that there would turn out to be nothing to the mystery, or that the mystery would turn out to be something completely different from what I thought. No. It’s a serial killer. Although he confesses he’s a serial kidnapper first and foremost, and only incidentally a serial rapist, and then the killing is a kind of tidying up. OK. So you deal with him, and then there’s the aftermath – because we still haven’t figured out the actual plot that brought us here, so that’s a nice coda and it lets us have a happy ending. Fine, I’ll indulge an extra 20pp for that. All very tidy, and fairly efficient if you’ve been moving at Tolkien speed.

What’s that you say? There’s still another 50 pages left? The Scouring of the Shire, perhaps?
No. It’s sort of tidying off loose ends. You see, we got involved in all this through a whole other story, and that’s unresolved. So we have to… sew it up quickly using the extensive pipe already laid? No, sorry. Leave it dangling for a sequel? Ha, ingenious! No. Tie it into the main narrative using pipe we hadn’t previously noticed? Um, no. Write a whole extra novella about international finance capers with a sting operation that has zero suspense because the one being stung knows nothing about it and the protagonists have superpower hacking abilities? Yup.

Really, these are rookie mistakes. And I’m not surprised Larsson made them, because after all, he was writing for his own entertainment and never submitted his manuscripts to a publisher. But why would they get through to the published work? And why would that work be lapped up by an international audience, and made into a movie?

This is one case where I sincerely hope the movie isn’t too faithful to the book.

How I wish I could speak Japanese to understand Pokemon Sunday

April 18, 2010 Leave a comment

So all these guys seem wildly excited that Pokemon black and white are in REAL, PROPER 3D! like PC games since 1995 or so, except with sprites. Not quite like the Lego Indiana Jones titles on the DS, though, which are just about as 3D as the wii titles. Curious.

Pokemon seems to exist in a strange parallel reality, where graphics still exist, but they’re a decade or so behind everyone else.

opposites imply

April 5, 2010 Leave a comment

“bleeding-heart liberal” is supposed to be an insult, but what is its opposite? Stone-hearted conformist? Bloodless miser?