I cannot travel anymore – books for short trips

I cannot travel anymore – books for short trips

‘I cannot travel anymore’ would be the next book to read. I would read it within a day or two: as long as a short trip for work usually lasts, or equal to the free time saved for reading when away for longer (work/duty) trips. It is a good title; a statement that shocks in real life. People ask immediately why. What to give as main reason: the physical strain (including the recovery time that becomes longer and longer), the shattering sense of loneliness among familiar faces (never managed to beat this one), the dislike of hotel rooms with their zombie tidiness, the limiting of the vital space within the frames of a suitcase and a crummy airplane seat, the food mostly under the acceptable standard (note: I like simple food), the goodbyes to loved ones, the current readings that must stay at home because of their volume and weight.

‘I cannot travel anymore’ does not exist as book title yet. I’ve had to do with other (more imaginative) titles, this recent period.

Here is a short selection of five:
A General Theory of Oblivion (2015, in EN) by Jose Eduardo Agualusa, an Angolan writer, famous (of what I read) and really special in his writing style and story building. I bought the book at Eason in Dublin; read it that evening sitting in my dorm bed and at the airport the next day before returning home.
The last days of New Paris (2016) by China Mieville, an English writer of fantasy fiction but also of history related to Marxism and the October revolution; here dealing with Surrealism and its role in history, with artists and Nazis in exploding encounters. I bought the book at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam on my way to Athens; read it during the trip and one night in the Athenian heat of August (air-co on of course).
Swing Time (2016) by Zadie Smith, an English writer famous enough not to need introductions I think. This one is about the inevitable crashing of lives no matter what the predictions or the first indications might be. But, open as an artwork, others have read in it tales about friendship and such which is indeed the first level of the story. I bought it also at Schiphol airport on my way to Marrakech for a conference job; read it there and then in between work, dinners, talks, and through hours of sleeplessness.
Batavia’s Graveyard (2002) by Mike Dash, a Welsh writer of history. This is a scholarly publication with 100 pages of annotations and a full bibliography; yet an absolute page turner. It is the story of the Dutch ship ‘Batavia’ that left Holland in 1628 and shipwrecked a few months later onto a group of islands off the Australian west coast. The mutiny that followed, the killings, the living conditions on and off the ship(s), the scum of the earth that manned the East India ships and populated the colonies, and the retribution by the authorities: exciting by itself and told by a fantastic writer, all into it! I bought the book at the American Bookstore in The Hague and read it on my way to Kassel; a road trip this one.
The Red and the Black (1830) by Stendhal, the classic 19th century French writer, yes. Where did this come from, one would wonder. Well, apart from doing a refresh of early readings, I wanted to read through a good account of ambition and hypocrisy, together with love affairs with a purpose, horrendous (real) love entanglements, and the all-time hopelessness of those lacking social/cultural/financial capital. I bought it online and read it somewhere between Athens and Amsterdam. Though reading it in English was difficult, I found, cause the long sentences of the French language sound awkward in  English, the tone was well transferred.

Since the fall of Napoleon, all appearance of gallantry has been severely barred from provincial manners. There is fear of being deprived of one’s post. The scoundrels seek the support of the Congregation; and hypocrisy has made most wonderful progress even in the liberal ranks. Boredom redoubles itself. There remain no other pleasures but reading and agriculture. [p. 52]

P.S. Dedicated to all those who travel more than often, with admiration for their physical strength.

highway_dream_rain_web
‘Highways and a dream: on wet roads’, oil on canvas, 100 x 150 cm, 2015

 

 

 

 

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Dublin in lost mode

Dublin in lost mode

You know that a city is a welcoming place when you can enjoy a long walk in lost mode without much; not afraid to take the wrong turn; no (terribly) wrong street to step foot on nor too long a distance to deal with.

Dublin is such a welcoming place: in the centre, despite the hordes of tourists (with the drunkenness and whatever else that often brings in the need for paramedics), in the high neighbourhoods with the coloured Georgian doors and the classy galleries, and just the same in the working class streets where you smell and see in full: open air food markets, small eating places, basic shops of anything, people doing their thing and letting you be.

No, I am not idealizing it as it is not a harmless joyful city; the word ‘disparity’ is here again more than obvious, just like in most of our cities; soup for the poor and homeless, high art for the delicate souls. Still, Dublin manages to keep it down to earth (no lepricorns  here).

The deep green colour is beautiful and heart breaking; the soups have a distinct blunt taste as if grandma made them (delicious); the dark beer flows and the rain falls whenever it pleases, and you can count the drops one by one.

 P.S. Getting lost with a smart phone in your hand is the easiest thing, trust me!

Dublin_rain

 

The authority of the button

The authority of the button

 

Introduction no 1

Being, or not, a person who doesn’t like to be told what to do is of no importance; we all succumbed at some point to the button. Being aware, or not, of when the delirium started is of no importance either. At present, the button is triumphing.

The authority of the button in practice: you do when you press it. Yet, this authority goes beyond the physical action on to the power exercised on thought and will of each one of us.

The following text was a brief comment, expressed rather as a question, that was published in a closed wiki last year (2016) as assignment in the course ‘Media Philosophy’.  It refers to text as this was the subject of the study; but the visual and the arts are in the same stream.

The comment: the authority of the button

[…] in text-related technologies, we can take as example the structure of the digital text with its multilevel linking; all with the use of the button and the necessary user’s action of clicking.

The button is a technological device that entails simultaneously the option (free choice) and the command (authoritarian behavior). In these two contradictory traits, the first lays the foundation for the second to establish itself. A technology with innate capacity for organizing power and authority seems the only option in a democratic society; seemingly, the authority is diffused to the people that use this technology.

The use of the imperative form, either friendly as in “join, share, like, etc.” or service oriented as  in “listen now, download now, go there now, etc.”, and of course more directly commanding as in “buy now”, would not be accepted otherwise; not in politics, nor in social life. Instead, because of being essential to the structure of the specific technology, and through its material carrier, the button, the command has been accepted as normal. In its turn, the authoritarian behavior exercised on individual level, shifts the limits of acceptable authority that can be imposed centrally.

The question arises: is the authoritarian tendency innate to humans so that the central power contains it as much as the technology that they produce?

Introduction no 2

The button has been a peculiar element of modern times. It has been the focus of awe and of mockery since the moment that its use left the industrial terrain and spread in to everyday life. Between Chaplin’s uncontrollable machines in his movie Modern Times (1936) and The Matrix (Wachowski brothers, 1999), buttons became an accessory in the hands of literally everyone.

One push further, the statement ‘Never send a human to do a machine’s job’ (The Matrix) moved from the sphere of the joke to the common belief.

P.S. 1 I had a hard time in the Univ when omitting the conclusion/closure bit, faithful to the inconclusiveness of art. Cause, apart from believing in this as the only possible free area, I considered all my writings as being part of my artistic practice (no conclusions, only open space). That is why this blog post has two introductions; one to start and one to finish, with the question in the middle.

P.S. 2 The front image is a detail from a textile work of mine titled ‘The memory of a nebula’; embroidery with some padded parts.

KAPNISSI_06
‘Do not press’ – acrylic on canvas, 1998

 

Hedonism and the rest

Hedonism and the rest

Away with hedonism and the rest.

The problem with being against everything is that you slide down the whirlpool of being against yourself; and there you often find the start of your whirlpool too. I have a mind trained to make unusual connections, the ones that art permits and reveals to its disciples. This kind of mind is pleased whenever the web of links shows anomalies, like clots, stretches, or a hiatus.

The book ‘Against Everything: On Dishonest Times‘ by Mark Greif (London-New York: Verso, 2016) is a collection of essays that present in a cool minded way an array of protests. With the voice of a young man and a scholar, the author carefully unfolds on the dissecting table the passions of age groups, style groups, class groups, and the philosophies whereupon our world of today is lingering.

I had to show how every commonplace thing might be a compromise. [p. xi]

Why is it that I thought that this is also a common place, a common knowledge? Is it because of a nearly compulsory critical thinking or because of catching a big shift (or rather its final twist) at its start? Didn’t we see the aesthetic hedonism (the idea that aesthetic value resides solely in a thing’s ability to give us pleasure) taking over within the establishment of consumerism (triumphant for everyone’s consent); these two together eliminating life as we knew it, to the extent that things must be explained as before and after? The author searches the origins of today’s hurtful structures in a depth of more than a century when putting forth the authors Thoreau and Flaubert, and the derailment of the notions of aestheticism and perfectionism.

In the nineteenth century, Flaubert and Thoreau foresaw mud where others saw a perfectly rewarding way of life. Today we’re up to our eyes in it. [p. 88]

This is included in one of the interim chapters sharing a common by-title ‘The meaning of life’. There are four such chapters. Here is where the specific leads to the general, a contemplative step back is taken for viewing the structure with the aim to word it.

Part III of this series is titled ‘Anaesthetic ideology’. Within a few pages, Plato and Aristotle are put on the table, in connection to experience and non-experience, or restriction of it, with mentioning of Socrates and Diogenes the Cynic and the concluding presence of Epicurus. The Epicurean bliss is then connected to the apatheia (no passion, or better not responding to the world’s mud) of Epictetus, in the quest for absolute freedom, in which case self-ending is an option. Both sides of anesthesia (non feeling) are referring to pain. They are like the operas of Richard Strauss where the happy parts are the same hysterical scream as the tragic parts (an amazing thing). That is because despite all, you want to be here.

The sad truth is that you still want to live in their world. It just somehow seems this world has changed to exile you. [p. 227]

Philosophy does help us find a position, see what we do and maybe why; see also why we feel guilty and whether there is anything we can do to improve all that.

The essays look at subjects partly of our lived youth and further, carrying a question mark (with a kind of sympathy or inevitable association?). Radiohead, punk, rap, a good historical account of the hipsters (had no idea), teenage bodies of grown-up women, the fitness (have tried and failed; my body is a stoic philosopher on this), reality tv, and some sides of American reality which we can read only with the cognition (I’m afraid).

Decomposing things in present tense and in writing is interesting indeed, and wise. Surely wiser than counting the number of ‘NOs’ you’ve said in practice.

P.S.1 Epictetus was a presence in my youth, through the writings of Jason Xenakis who followed the path of self-determination to the end. I recently came across this essay: The post-existentialist neo-stoicism of Jason Xenakis and the stoic theory of suicide. 

P.S.2 Whatever happened to aesthetic beauty as the condition where the content falls into the form without flaw (in the same way that the soul falls into the body in/through martial arts and such)?

IMG_7522

Digital analysis of a blog

Digital analysis of a blog

What can distant reading say about a blog, when we know its theme and we follow it either from the author’s side or that of the reader? What is expected from a digital analysis of a non-commercial blog?

There are numbers and ratios retrieved, and lists of words (the most commonly used) as well as links between them. There is a web revealed and a mapping done. The analysis is both quantitative and qualitative, the two tightly correlated.

A good number of digital analysis tools for texts have been developed and are in use the last 10-15 years. Those who have more understanding of such tools set themselves the terms of the analysis, to some extent; for ex. which common words (a, the, and, etc.) to exclude when composing the word frequency lists. This is not an impossible task, it takes however a lot of work and a brave brain squeeze. Though I find something intriguing to it, I don’t feel that brave to meddle with commands, expressions, and you name it. I have done it, and even got some result. But, the ratio (!) of success towards failure is a negative figure. A simple job can be done with the ready-to-use free online tools, like the Voyant tools, and such (with thanks).

Summary of the five most recent posts (here seen as a ‘corpus’):
This corpus has 1 document with 5,077 total words and 1,541 unique word formsVocabulary Density (ratio found by dividing the Total Words by the Unique Words): 3,30 (not too bad) [see literary examples: Vocabulary Analysis of Project Gutenberg].
Average Words Per Sentence: 22.3
Most frequent words in the corpus: art (49); artists (33); artist (23); like (22); work (20); blog (15); authority (13); time (13); words (13); life (10); sea (10); book (9); march (9); music (9); way (9); world (9); april (8); arts (8); comment (8); january (8); p.s (8); people (8); read (8); status (8); books (7); don’t (7); end (7); essay (7); facebook(7); film (7); google (7); irony (7); kapnissi (7); kind (7); leave (7); linkedin (7); loading (7); market (7); order (7); pinterest (7); poetry (7); posts (7); reddit (7); september (7); share (7)

By this, the theme of the blog is already set, with a little surprise in the mention of the ‘sea’. The social media presence was inevitable, as they make part of each blog post (that is why I did not remove these words/ names) even though not in the actual text. While here we see about 50 words, in the visualization with the name cirrus we can view many more words in one look; I set it up to retrieve 150, so this is what this cloud-like word list shows:

cirrus_blog_150words_01

Quite interestingly but not a real surprise, the word ‘depression’ pops-up as a prominent one, yet not as prominent as the ‘sea’, or ‘music’. And it is possible to go even further and expand the viewing of the words used in this part of the blog, in this beautiful arch, which works itself linking word for word in a rhythmical progression:

arch_blog2

As artists, we find and we make links between whatever lies in this world of ours. Words are more specific in this, that is why they are regarded as more appropriate for conveying meaning and for transferring knowledge (make a note for another post, though just one will not be enough for this topic). Digital analysis tools also find links between words in the analysed text. The result of such a search can be presented for ex. like this:

links_blog

In a very quick viewing of this visualization, the word ‘status’ is linked to the word ‘artists’, the ‘artist’ is linked to ‘authority’, and ‘art’ is linked to the ‘artists’, to ‘history’, and to the ‘market’.

Reversing the findings, what is not there also says something about the analysed text. In this case, what is absent are the names of people, and specifically of (famous) artists.

Text analysis tools give a variety of options for breaking down the text into its components and re-composing it in an untangled form. The new forms, rather in plural, are untangled from whatever we have in our mind regarding the text(s). However, these tools also entail to some extent the choice for manipulation (of input and result). This makes the analysis a game, which seriousness lies upon you. A lot of responsibility again; here is a knot representing the vicinity or correlation (not clear) of the words ‘art’, ‘artists’, ‘work’, ‘authority’, and ‘time’:

blog_knot

I must say, that the first time I saw a visualization of a data set (or of a text, not sure) I was so impressed that since then I look for such things, mostly with the artist’s hat on. There are sophisticated people out there that can make real use of the analysis tools, systems, methods, etc. I am happy I managed to take a glimpse (and, I have some fun ideas…).

P.S. Text analysis and visualization are not necessarily connected. They can also live apart. Visualization lives in science and in art, and relevant studies can be done in either field. Here is someone who combines both; have a look, there are interesting things in here: http://manovich.net/

 

 

 

 

Authority and the Artist, with irony as safety belt

Authority and the Artist, with irony as safety belt

The noise of time, by Julian Barnes
Vintage, 2016

I read the book twice; at first reading I could not hear the voice of the author, otherwise clear and solemn. The narration is in third person going through the life of the composer Dmitri Shostakovich. It is a fictional biography where while the facts may be deriving from research, the thoughts can belong either to the hero or to the narrator; the latter as most probable. It is a difficult book to enter. It seems fragmented and the time and place give away the drama. Yet, we don’t realize the volume of the drama unless we read through to the end. The noise of time talks about two themes: the artist in front of the authority, and irony in the life and work of the artist. For those who go through life as artists, or see artistic expression as an essential human trait, these are painful matters and unsolvable. Barnes has a remarkable sensitivity for the fate of artists, expressed often along the way; here, he turns the knife in the wound, masterly.

Life was the cat that dragged the parrot downstairs by its tail; his head banged against every step. J.B.

Wherever there is a monopoly established for art matters, the same motif is repeated. The monopoly draws a line of rules and separates those included from the excluded. And whenever there is state control to art matters there is artists’ persecution. Physical bodies may not be imprisoned (when not) but emotional worlds are destroyed, identities are annihilated, intellectual dreams are crushed. Totalitarianism disguised as a liberal state’s policy is in many aspects worse than totalitarian regimes. Because here any sense of solidarity is evaporated onto a surface of freedom. The artist is alone in front, or within, the ‘creative industry’ and guilty towards everyone and everything. ‘Independent committees’ follow similar patterns. There are keywords to be checked, like ‘political’, ‘dialogue’, ‘message’, etc., and a style to be detected as (currently) ‘innovative’, ‘interactive’ and most of all uplifting (and consequently successful in societal terms). Authority knows how to entrench what is acceptable and present it as the boundary-breaking art of today.

Khrennikov had an average ear for music, but perfect pitch when it came to power. J.B.

The three times that the authority talks to the artist, position him towards his work and his colleagues whether he likes it or not.

First, the artist is a victim. Tortured in real, living his precarious life (some stop or are stopped here).
Then he is a traitor. This is the phase when solidarity is dangerous because the artist may lose the crumbs that the authority feeds him. So, either he does not speak up for his colleagues (and his ideas), either he denounces them (even with some guilt).
In the end, he is an accomplice, and still a pawn (pawn-king, pawn-horse, …). This last phase is combined with the authority’s honours and tangible benefits (stardom, professorships, chairmanships, and financial comforts).

If the intention of the author was to defend Shostakovich and even more his music, he does give thumbs up on his wish to have his music be heard when the noise of time will have been drowned. We, are grateful that it does. For, music (and art for that matters) has a value in itself. No matter what authorities want us to believe, that it must reflect socio-political issues and relevant ideas (always to a certain direction of course). Music made on these prerequisites is mainly marches and guerrilla songs, or the non-poetical song of the authority. Shostakovich’s music was accused by the authority as ‘non-political and confusing’, addressed to the bourgeoisie and to the intellectual elite.

Then irony comes in, as the means for preserving one’s self and what you love, a disguise used ‘to smuggle things past the wrong ears’.  Irony is when you say something meaning something else; those who can listen understand. And in the same time, you save your life and you protect whatever precious. It is a way of cheating preserved for poetry and the arts, and for a specific kind of intellect. Not for the kind that grows close to authority. But, ‘there are limits to irony’. In which what you do in the end becomes what you are. The defendable joke becomes a degraded identity. Either way, in the end, you lose.

He wrote music for the ears that could hear. And he knew, therefore, that all true definitions of art are circular, and all untrue definitions of art ascribe to it a specific function. J.B.

P.S. We may have more to it if we transpose the story to present time (take it as an irony); check the art world, the creative industry, the authority full of itself as it is.

File 26-03-17 16 57 43

 

Ordering books and combing the sea waves

Ordering books and combing the sea waves

This happened.

I was trying to order the books I had recently read; at first only mentally, as the physical order did not seem so imminent. Or was it a matter of difficulty in combining the idea of order with any kind of action? Order in action holds a sense of compromise, an aroma of conservatism, a swamping in conformity. Nevertheless, sometimes the rigidness of all that can be a safety net for the high flyers or an air bag for the perpetuate thrill seekers, if you wish.

Still, the idea of ordering my books did not even pass the mental phase; it rather provoked a self-annihilating categorization. Like trying ordering the sea waves according to those that reach the shore – the accomplished ones – those that vanish before the end, and those that seem to turn back to the main sea-mass without achieving anything individually.

Combing the sea waves is the picture I see when thinking of ordering books. Less importantly, this is also the urge I get (to comb it) when looking at the sea; even more when the capacity for getting any pleasure of it is dimmed down (the idea itself that the sea is a panacea oppresses me; certainties of any kind look like whirlpools; conclusions point to rooms without windows, etc.).

But, back to order and ordering books: If you can comb the sea waves even mentally, it is worth trying ordering your books.

p.s. All objects of awe, just to name music, writings, and the sea, cause the sharpest pain in periods of sinking.

p.s. 2 Please, don’t send me algorithms (poetry is always welcome)… (but can it categorize?).