Friday, March 06, 2015

(Not-so) Miniscule Musings

  1. The flowering of Pakistani writing in English post-2000 has coincided with the most brutal and destructive period in its political history. While such exquisite writing, when juxtaposed with the banality of barbaric, homegrown militants terrorizing the nation and the world at large may seem grotesque, this apparent conflict perhaps, has contributed to making this new wave so darkly funny. The Latin American boom of the '70s and the worldwide success of Indian writing in English in the '80s and '90s fall into similar categories (the '80s being in particular, incredibly violent, unstable and in general the most depressing decade in modern Indian history). All bear the hallmarks of an elite upper class, expressing in their own unique-yet-not-dissimilar writing, their black humor laden magical realist take on the sense of general hopelessness.

    This past month NF read two fabulous books - The Reluctant Fundamentalist and A Case of Exploding Mangoes - by Mohsin Hamid and Mohammad Hanif respectively. These two, along with Daniyal Mueenuddin (whose book of short stories In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, a few years ago, had received such adulatory, gushing, cluttered-with-superlatives praise that NF was totally overwhelmed) and Kamila Shamsie (the Big Four) are among the hottest writers these days. The Reluctant Fundamentalist is exquisite, clever yet sincere; and A Case of Exploding Mangoes is just savagely, bitterly funny. 

    Cheers to more fiction from the other side of the border! Bravo, you guys!

  2. Carla Miriam Levy (aka Filmi Geek) continues to produce outstanding film reviews of old Hindi films. Here is her take on Vijay Anand's mastery of the suspense genre as reflected in two of his finest films: Jewel Thief and Teesri Manzil. Much like the super contentious, never resolved debate on who's the best: Lata or Asha (an issue very much alive even in Pakistan, as we are reminded by Mohammad Hanif in A Case of Exploding Mangoes, where this question keeps cropping up in the most unexpected circumstances), old Hindi film fans (yours truly included) have long debated on which one is the best Vijay Anand film (though a tiny minority sticks with Guide). She is unable to pick one over the other although her indecision should in no way stop you from reading her excellent review. (For those who're curious, NF's always voted for Jewel Thief.)

  3. While this must be old news, NF can't help but share it (he'd been planning to do so for a few weeks now, but reality interfered with his plans, as always). Here's a particularly juicy excerpt:

    "A Marxist group called Kakumei-teki himote doumei (“Revolutionary Alliance of Men That Woman Are Not Attracted To”) is calling on supporters to march against the [Valentine's Day] holiday in Tokyo’s Shibuya district."

    As NF quietly wipes his tears off and throws his (rather insignificant) weight behind these guys (ganbatte kudasai, you guys!), he can't but help noticing the radical way in which technology has disrupted the dating market. 

    While the norm in most societies a century or so ago had been marriages arranged by families (half of humanity still practises this custom) more material wealth, longer lifespans and emphasis on individuality and human freedom, especially in the West, have meant freedom from familial control over whom to date and/or eventually marry. 

    Until now that is.

    The incredible explosion in online dating (almost all single people NF knows are on it - apparently, from anecdotal evidence (!) this trend is more pronounced in Europe than it is in North America) and AI assisted matching algorithms has, in NF's opinion, created a paradigm shift in understanding the evolution of human mating rituals. 

    From an economisty point of view, the AI assisted dating market is much more efficient (jargonically, a Pareto superior correlated equilibrium allocation) and is clearly better than relying on (somewhat) random allocations of imperfect singnaling games played in highly uncertain conditions. However, isn't AI assisted matching and eventual marriage another form of (AI) arranged marriage, in which humans have ceded their freedom to sophisticated AIs who recommend who's better matched to whom? In this light, weren't scheming parents of old, mere prototypical, crude, highly imperfect, sometimes even spiteful matching algorithms on two legs? Is the era of arranged matchmaking back? And should we even be mourning the demise of wild, potentially risky, hormone mediated encounters with strangers?

    There is this beautiful SF story out there waiting to be written about this Brave New World. If it were the Gilded Age, NF would commission Ted Chiang to tell that story. It would be simple, it would be beautiful and it would fill you with a childlike wonderment at our current pregnant-with-new-possibilities state of affairs.

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