Archive for June 30th, 2008

Synergy between science and poetry

June 30, 2008

Grrlscientist reviews Chris Norment’s deliciously titled Return to Warden’s grove: science, desire and the lives of sparrows:

This well-written book is a brilliant synergy between science and poetry. It describes the author’s highly personal journey to establish a connection to something beyond himself, to discover his intellectual, emotional, and spiritual “far country” in a world that felt less and less familiar and welcoming for him. But this book is also about the process of doing science, particularly the type of science that focuses on patiently observing and recording the details of the lives of animals in their natural environments — a dying “breed” of scientific inquiry in a high-tech world filled with cell and molecular biologists, it seems.

From at least this quote from the book that Grrlscientist highlights, it is not just the title of the book that is delicious:

One of the things I loved most about this book are the beautiful descriptions of those fleeting moments that I also experienced during my own dissertation work, the depth and richness of those moments, along with the intensity, the sheer poetry of his revelations;

Listen. When I cup a small bird in my hand and feel its heat, feel the thrum of its fear and the tiny pounding of its heart against my palm, it is impossible not to wonder. Or when I look into the umber silence of its eyes and imagine the paths of light and chemicals that bind us together (cornea and lens, retina and optic nerve, sodium and potassium, brain and neural network), it is impossible not to wonder. And when I am done with my measurements and I have written down the last of the numbers, I will open my hand, as if in supplication, and the bird will rise into the air. Then, too, it is impossible not to wonder — about the arc of its flight, the way in which the barbs and barbules of its feather vanes interlock, the lightness of its bones and very being and, most of all, its completeness. Connected as we are by the paths of history and genes — stasis and change, extinction and speciation, and the tangled necklaces of adenine and guanine, thymine and cytosine — it is still impossible not to marvel at its sheer otherness, and the way in which it makes its way through the world. [pp. 7-8].

I certainly would love a copy of the book — if it is available here (which I doubt — even the best book shops in Bangalore were not even aware of The brief wondrous life of Oscar Wao, the last time I checked).

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Diaz on GTA IV

June 30, 2008

Diaz reviews GTA for the Wall Street Journal (link via Maud). Apart from the immediacy of Diaz’ prose, which I have come to enjoy immensely, there are also some weightier issues that Diaz deals with — like art, and what it does to people and so on:

GTA IV sucks you the hell in but its narrative doesn’t move me in any way or shake me up or even piss me off. I get madder when I crash my car in the game than when Niko makes a stupid decision in the cut-scenes (the movie-like interludes that players don’t control). GTA IV for all its awesomeness doesn’t have the sordid bipolar humanity of “The Sopranos,” and it certainly lacks the epic flawed protagonists that define “The Godfather” and its bloodier lesser brother “Scarface.” Successful art tears away the veil and allows you to see the world with lapidary clarity; successful art pulls you apart and puts you back together again, often against your will, and in the process reminds you in a visceral way of your limitations, your vulnerabilities, makes you in effect more human. Does GTA IV do that? Not for me it doesn’t, and heck, I love this damn game.

If “Battlestar Galactica,” a show on the Sci Fi channel for God’s sake, is able to create characters as compelling and troubling as race traitor Gaius Baltar and tackle issues as profound as genocide and religious fanaticism without once losing its thrill-factor, GTA should be able to do the same. Niko, as a character, doesn’t surprise, and the choices he confronts don’t make me want to put the game on pause in order to mull things over; they don’t implicate me or reveal me in any way.

For me, GTA IV is more an example of our evasions as a culture, more of a fairy tale, more of a story of consolation than a shattering cultural critique or even, dare I say it, great art. GTA IV is a game that allows you to forget how screwed-up and complicated things are in the real world; it could have done more, it could have put that screwed-up complicated world front and center.

The real world is currently the hardest, most troubling piece of real estate around, and even GTA IV, which wants to dial everything up to 11, can’t, to paraphrase Hammer, touch it. Doesn’t make the game any less worthy or awesome. GTA IV doesn’t have to be “Moby-Dick” or “Beloved” to be the Greatest Game of a Lifetime or even to be worthy of discussion.

What’s interesting though is that GTA could have been exactly what some folks are claiming it is. For all its over-the-top aberrance and brash transgressiveness, GTA IV doesn’t really wrestle with the radiant feverish nightmare labyrinth that post-9/11 America has become. Which is too bad. When you’re as lost as we are in this country, maps, no matter from where they come, are invaluable. It could have been that popular art blade that cuts through all pretensions and delusions; it could have been the map that we’ve been needing. But for that to have been possible GTA would have had to have put a small portion of the people playing the game at risk of waking up, even if only for a second, from the dream that is our current world.

Rockstar Games could have had a field day with Niko as immigrant, Niko as veteran from a war that was screwed up from the start, with Niko as aspirer to an American Dream that might never have existed in the first place. It wouldn’t have taken much to have made some plot alterations, to have had Niko ducking ICE special agents, to have had him actually struggling to get the girlfriend of his dreams, robbing, stealing, killing in order to dress up to local standards, or to end the game with Niko being deported back to Europe. Any one of these narrative additions would have made Niko’s journey and his successes all the more poignant, all the more surprising — would have put a face, a very real, hard face on the American Dream, which for many aspiring Americans, throughout our country’s long checkered history, is a nightmare.

Take a look!