Saturday, August 02, 2014

Novels Aren't Selfies

'Identification with a character is one of the pleasures of reading, or of watching movies, or of seeing plays, though if it is where one’s engagement with the work begins, it should not be where critical thought ends. The concept of identification implies that the reader or viewer is, to some degree at least, actively engaged with the work in question: she is thinking herself into the experience of the characters on the page or screen or stage.
'But to demand that a work be “relatable” expresses a different expectation: that the work itself be somehow accommodating to, or reflective of, the experience of the reader or viewer. The reader or viewer remains passive in the face of the book or movie or play: she expects the work to be done for her. If the concept of identification suggested that an individual experiences a work as a mirror in which he might recognize himself, the notion of relatability implies that the work in question serves like a selfie: a flattering confirmation of an individual’s solipsism.'
Rebecca Mead, 'The Scourge of "Relatability".'

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Something Has Been Lost

That bare yellow sky.
Those rolling rounded hills.
That first footprint.
Those first words for the ages.

That frail craft, bright in the distance.
Those tracks leading away from it.
That feeling that everything has changed for ever.
That something has been broken.
That something has been lost.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Mirror In The Sky

A book by Stephen Webb with the somewhat cumbersome title If the Universe Is Teeming with Aliens - Where Is Everybody?: Fifty Solutions to Fermi's Paradox and the Problem of Extraterrestrial Life tackles the enduring question first posed by Enrico Fermi: our galaxy is big and old and should be teeming with alien civilisations - so where are they? Webb's book is a fun and thought-provoking read (he provides a handy link to a document summarising his ideas here), but why stop at fifty answers? Why not five hundred, five thousand, five million?

The thing about aliens is that the only thing we know about them is that we don't know anything about them. We don't even know if they exist (Webb thinks that they don't). Recent research explores the possibility of detecting alien civilisations by the air pollution their industries create. It's kind of boggling that we actually have the technology to do this right now, although it only works for planets orbiting uncongenial white dwarf stars, and there might only be a small window of opportunity before the aliens either clean up their act or are strangled by their own effluent. And maybe, unlike us, most civilisations are too smart to produce air pollution in the first place, or perhaps most never go down the industrial road.

When it comes down to it, the question isn't 'why aren't they here?' Instead, it's actually 'are they anything like us?' Could we recognise them, and would they recognise us? If a lion could speak, we would not understand him, but if he sang we might recognise it as song. We hope that aliens might share something with us: music, mathematics, Marxism, motorways. When we search the sky for signs of life, we're really looking for a mirror.
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