Saturday, July 30, 2011

How They Drink Coffee

After a great meal at Vapiano (my favourite lunch place - not that i can afford it every day though) mr italiano and I went back to office and amused ourselves by laughing at this man in the same elevator with us:

man: this morning I was so excited to try on the new coffee machine. But there is no milk in the fridge!

as soon as we walked out from the elevator, he asked me, "Did you hear what he said?"

And we both burst out at the same time, "why is that a problem!?"

Sunday, July 24, 2011

"I am Immortality and also death"

This morning I decided to take a break from what I have been occupying myself with and to take the pleasure of immersing into a story by Borges.

It was the first story from The Aleph, namely "The Immortal" (which plays with Giambattista's argument that Homer is a symbolic character, and which goes on to suggest that Homer might be an immortal and thus might be any or every poet we ever know of). I had read Borges works (short stories, essays, parables) in a collection volume before and when I started reading "The Immortal", I remember very well how the princess receives the six volumes of Iliad from a mysterious book dealer. I was sure that I've read it before.

But the story intrigued me the same and I couldn't remember, even vaguely, what happens afterwards. I decided to read on. Soon I was no longer sure whether I really read it before. Some of the parts seem very familiar. Some of them don't ring a bell. I was totally confused. But the more I am confused, the more I am intrigued.

It was until I came across the following that I realized I have certainly read it before. I remember these quotations crystal clear:

"There is nothing very remarkable about being immortal; with the exception of mankind, all creatures are immortal, for they know nothing of death. What is divine, terrible, and incomprehensible is to know oneself immortal."

"In my view, the Wheel conceived by certain religions in Hindustan is much more plausible; on that Wheel, which has neither end nor beginning, each life is the effect of the previous life and engenderer of the next, yet not one life determines the whole... They knew that over an infinitely long span of time, all things happen to all men. As reward for his past and future virtues, every man merited every kindness - yet also every betrayal, as reward for his past and future iniquities. Much as the way in games of chance, heads and tails tend to even out, so cleverness and dullness cancel and correct each other." (such can also supplement my argument against the level of inspiration in The Tree of Life)

"Viewed in that way, all our acts are just, though also unimportant. There are no spiritual or intellectual merits. Homer composed the Odyssey; given infinite time, with infinite circumstances and changes, it is impossible that the Odyssey should not be composed at least once. No one is someone; a single immortal men is all men. Like Cornelius Agrippa, I am god, hero, philosopher, demon, and world - which is a long-winded way of saying that I am not."

But what do I know? Perhaps this is exactly a spell that Borges had cast so the reader believes he has read the story before. And perhaps he did, in his previous life, another life, from another writer, who might well be the same person. Or perhaps, he is one who had written it in the first place.

I do believe there is magic in Borges's works.

Friday, July 08, 2011

What is Time? - The Tree Of Life

While I was watching The Tree of Life I was deeply touched and in a few scenes I was even in tears - without quite knowing why. Something addresses to my deep feelings, and I am happy to conclude it as a response to the spell of the cosmic visuals and the lyrical “stream of consciousness” style together with the exceptional use of (classical) music. I also enjoy very much the "reaching up" motif (lots of stairs, shot in low angle; Brad Pitt is always climbing up or looking up) which resonates to a religious sensibility that is very common in medieval art.

I very much appreciate how Malick managed to extract the extraordinary out of the ordinary (much as in The Thin Red Line). He placed the history of this ordinary family in a context that is much larger than the time and place it belongs too; that is, in the context of the history of mankind (or some may like to call it "evolution"); of the very existence of not just men but essentially, "beings". Which leads to the realization of how ignorant men are about the meaning of their (our) own existence. I am also moved by the father-son relationship which can probably also be read as a metaphor of god-men relationship.

However, there is a part in my mind that resists this film. For me, it works on an emotional level rather than an intellectual level. It doesn’t present the sharp observation and revelation, nor the complexity and density as in 2001: A Space Odyssey (that it is constantly compared to, if not related to), in which every single image carries a meaning and is inter-connected with one and other, and in which the juxtaposition of the images (i.e. the editing) is an important means of bringing about true PHILOSOPHICAL meditation and DISCUSSION on evolution. There is little doubt that the 3 parts of The Tree of Life (beginning of time-the family-end of time) are to convey a meditation of the history of time and of mankind, but there is no strong connection among them and the images (though grandeur and cosmic and absolutely captivating) seem arbitrary. I was about to compare them to imageries in a poem - sometimes we do not ask for rationality and logic in a poem. But then, great poems do carry rich meanings through imageries and the CONNECTION of them. The fact that The Tree of Life is structured like a poem does not necessarily mean that it is sublime.

Exactly what Sean Penn is troubled by - father and son relationship suggested in the flashbacks, or the coldness in modernity suggested in contemporary setting, or both? One can easily say both, as it is quite obvious. We can certainly FEEL it but I do not see we are allowed room to THINK ABOUT IT. The transition to the last part - the end of time (is there really an end - and beginning - of time, if time is but an illusion?) or the Apocalypse or whatever you wish to call it, is quite awkward, and for me, the vision is too simple and predictable, if not harmonious, that looks more like a wishful "ending" than a conclusion after deep thought. (And come to think of it, where are Brad Pitt's Mom and Dad, and their Mom and Dad, and their Mom and Dad, and where are Sean Penn’ s kids, and their kids, and their kids…? Note I am already very lenient, I am not even asking why their images are fixed at different ages. What's the logic? OK, it is either just arbitrary or their images are fixed at their most troubled moment, or even at how they remained in say Sean Penn's mind - but sorry, do all these really make sense? Don't get me wrong, I would not ask such a question if the last part was portrayed as a sort of "internal reality"; which it wasn't.)

Perhaps my ultimate problem with The Tree of Life is that I DO NOT believe there is a beginning and an end of TIME (if not that I am not a religious person). TIME remains a concept that is elusive and enigmatic and unapproachable, if not illusionary as suggested by Borges. To contain TIME and to think that it is containable is a denial of the complexity and mystery of existence. What's great about 2001 is that it doesn't even attempt to suggest a beginning of time - it only depicts the dawn of men; and there is absolutely no end (and no ending).

Having said all that, I am still keen to watch the film again and re-think about it-if I could.