Saturday, March 26, 2016

In Praise of Commercial Culture

Vishwas R Gaitonde is on top of NF's next great writer-to-watch-list. Read his magisterial, epic-in-scope, gloriously erudite essay that just takes your breath away: Viewing Narnia Through A Hindu Lens, in which he interprets the classic in terms of Advait Vedantic philosophy - biblical homilies sprinkled uniformly by the Christian apologist CS Lewis notwithstanding. An enviable achievement indeed - highly recommended! 

Praise be, to a host of new, exciting magazines that continue to feature such astonishingly high quality long form journalism, in particular, to the The Mantle and Inference. The latter for example, published an awe-inspiring essay by the mathematician Gregory Chaitin about his project of empirical mathematics, which essay he begins by way of Leibniz, followed by Popper, Imre Lakatos, Turing, Godel and others along the way to conclude that mathematicians should study mathematics with an empirical state of mind, and points to P ≠ NP, cryptography etc. as problems where this attitude has shown success. Among ye old reliable, The Caravan and The Believer continue to impress.

While the publishing business continues to adjust to the rude reality of the internet (though witness the continued success of The Economist and FT), for the readers-as-consumers group, times have never been better before! 

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The (Abstract) Horror, The (Abstract) Horror

It's really heartening to witness the slow, searing brilliance of It Follows and Under the Skin. Both films belong solidly to the indie-arthouse-horror category and while the arthouse-horror label is old (think Eraserhead), its indie interpretation makes for compelling viewing. Again, while it's not a new thing altogether (think Blairwitch Project) and other equally powerful films that fit the label have been made in the recent past (think We Need to Talk About Kevin), their distinctively original take on classic horror tropes made a fan out of NF. Both films eschew cleverness, metafictional commentaries etc. (cf. the really funny Cabin in the Woods for a contrast) to focus on what's really important - mood, atmospherics, stylization and an unapologetically arthouse, indie outlook.

It Follows is about the girl whom It is Following after she contracts It from a boyfriend - an abstractification of the exclusive, animal horror felt under pursuit. The premise is intriguing, especially the notion that It may be passed on to others. Transference is not enough though, for once It is finished with someone, It relentlessly pursues the one who originally passed It on; and while reviewers have seen it as an allegory for the AIDS epidemic etc. (which make more sense once you see the film); NF likes the film the way it is - ambiguous, pretty and abstract. 

Under the Skin goes even further as a self conscious arthouse feature. It follows Scarlett Johansson as she prowls about Scotland seducing gullible men. The weather's grey, the palette lush, the style highly formalist. The ritualistic seduction is eerie, ambiguous and surprisingly beautiful. (If you think you know the Scarlett-Johansson-as-seductress trope, watch this film for a rude shock.) The pursuer's humanity is suspect, though a chance encounter makes her ignore protocol and become curious about humans; whose humanity or lack thereof she discovers by the end. What's under the skin is that matters in the end. Or does it? 

Another aspect worth mentioning is the stunning, discomfiting soundtrack (Mica Levi of Micachu and The Shapes fame) which segues seamlessly with the primal dread each frame oozes. NF awaits Jonathan Glazer's next with bated breath!

Bravo you guys!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Beautiful Mind...

... is alive no more. Lloyd Shapley gives up the ghost. Here's The Economist's obituary

Eerily enough, NF had let loose his wagging tongue singing praises for his "men proposing procedure" matching algorithm, a mere hour before he read of his demise. A good omen that. A tiny tribute this.

The redoubtable Aumann is our last man standing. May he stand long. May he stand last.

Update: Hilary Putnam's no more either. The ides of goddamn-you-March. Boo.