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Science Fiction (Sci-Fi)

Science Fiction (sci-fi) is a genre of literature, TV and film sometimes trivialized by art snobs and the literary establishment.

Critics say science fiction characters are wooden, two-dimensional “cardboard cutouts” rarely developed in the manner of, say, a Holden Caufield (J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye) or a Hagar Shipley (Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel).

Some sci-fi writers accept this criticism, saying the medium began as an exploration into the human imagination rather than as a commentary on the human condition. But H. G. Wells, George Orwell and more recent authors like Frank Herbert (Dune), Ursula Le Guin (The Dispossessed), Kurt Vonnegut (Cat’s Cradle, Slaughterhouse Five) and filmmaker Stanley Kubrick’s intense rendering of Arthur C. Clark’s 2001: A Space Odyssey have helped to change the face of sci-fi. In fact, William Shatner, who plays Star Trek’s Captain Kirk, says that a good science fiction story must be grounded in distinct human experiences.

Gonzo Bonzo adds:

If you’re looking for some good science fiction focused on characters, you’d better read some of the novels from Robert Silverberg. Dying Inside, which is about a telepath in an early 70’s NYC, who’s losing his power, or Man in a Maze talks about the first astronaut ever to meet alien lifeforms, who comes back being unable to hide his feeling and emotions to his fellow humans, and who chose to exile on giant maze. Book of Skulls is also a good example of human centered SciFi, with very complex and multi-dimensional characters.

In more recent efforts authors like Jeff Vandermeer, Vernor Vinge (with his wonderful Rainbows End), Paul J.McAuley, Iain M.Banks, China Miéville or Ian R.McLeod are good examples of what SciFi is these days. » Source

Deutsch: Science fiction: Start- und Landeplat...

Science fiction: Start- und Landeplattform in der Stratosphäre, Zeitungsillustration von 1953 Svenska: Science fiction: Start- och landningsplattform i stratosfären, tidnings-illustration från 1953 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Despite condescension from some literati who think they know best, sci-fi finds itself in a unique position to explore unconventional ideas that the worldly wise regard as ludicrous and unworthy of attention.

An historical example of a truly great sci-fi visionary is Leonardo Da Vinci (1452–1519). Leonardo worked as a military engineer and inventor in Italy. He was venerated in France as a genius and some of his more imaginative sketches depicted flying machines, robots, a tank and submarines. But Da Vinci kept many of these innovative sketches secret, probably to avoid ridicule.

Sci-fi may still encounter a similar kind of prejudice, but the runaway success of J. J. Abrams’ Star Trek film and the recent hype around Star Wars: The Force Awakens indicates that the so-called “cultured” and “cultivated” out there may just be jealous.

And who can say – other than for themselves – what’s treasure or trash?

Related » Abyss, Alien Possession Theory (APT), Borg, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Asimov (Isaac), Cylons, Hal 9000, Lewis (C. S.), Lexx, The Matrix, Occam’s Razor, Parallel Universes, Roberts (Jane), Star Wars, Tek War, Temporal Paradox, Virtual Reality, Sci-fi, Myth and Many Possible Worlds

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Sublimation

Freuds influence? by Great Beyond / Tony Case via Flickr

Freud’s influence? by Great Beyond / Tony Case via Flickr

Sublimation is talked about by some thinkers as if it were an actual fact. But the only real fact is that it’s a theoretical process outlined in Sigmund Freud‘s psychoanalysis.

With sublimation, instinctual and antisocial impulses of the id are redirected toward non-instinctual, symbolic forms of behavior or expression. The redirection of the id’s antisocial desires apparently depends on a certain degree of ego development, and is usually understood to fall within socially acceptable channels, such as the arts.

When art is displayed and accepted in a public space, either officially (as pictured right) or subversively (as with graffiti), sublimation becomes a social-psychological and not just an individual dynamic.

According to Freud’s daughter, Anna Freud, sublimation is a defense mechanism. And again, this process of making the scary safe can occur on a personal or societal level.

Related Posts » Ashram, Bruce Cockburn, Displacement, Myth, Reaction Formation, Symbols

English: Sigmund and his daughter Anna Freud N...

Sigmund and his daughter Anna Freud Nederlands: Foto van Sigmund en Anna Freud, op vakantie in de Italiaanse Dolomieten (1913) Česky: Sigmund Freud se svou dcerou Annou (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

References

  • Charles Rycroft, A Critical Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, Harmondsworth: Penguin 1977, pp. 159-160.

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The Abyss

Topiel aka Abyss (1917). Russian poster (via Tumblr)

The idea of an abyss (Greek, abyssos, Latin abyssus) or bottomless pit is found in most cultures, cropping up in myth, legend, folklore and the arts.¹

In biblical Judaism the abyss lies deep within the earth, a place where evil spirits of the dead are banished (Job 32:22, Psalm 6:5, 143:7). Whereas in ancient Greece the majority of the dead retire to a gloomy underworld, an abyss of “shades” where they are punished for worldly sins.

The ancient Greeks talked a lot about the underworld but the idea of heaven was not well developed. Only a few ancient Greek heroes pass on to the auspicious Blessed Isles.

However, after the 5th century BCE the belief that the dead reside among the stars appears in Greek thought. But this differs radically from the concept of heaven as articulated by Jesus Christ.

In Hindu lore, a popular version of the Ramayana epic portrays the heroine Sita being consumed by a great opening in the earth. And the Druidic tradition tells of evil foes tumbling down into bottomless caverns. Likewise, the biblical Satan is bound by an angel and cast into a bottomless pit (Rev. 20:3).

The Romanian scholar of myth and religion, Mircea Eliade, says that myths about “binding” evil beings are quite plentiful. It’s as if the evil ones must be bound up by chords or some magical force to prevent them from destroying everything.

In the Beowulf myth, an evil water-troll is slain in her underwater lair by use of a magical sword discovered by the hero, deep under the water’s surface.

Mircea Eliade

Mircea Eliade (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

More recently, Victorian Fairy imagery depicts watery underworlds inhabited by ghoulish beings, from which fairies are protected by dwelling, often sleepily, within a sort of magical cocoon.

New Testament (NT) accounts of an abyss refer to a hellish region from which a wild beast emerges to temporarily destroy prophets after they have completed their mission. The Abyss in the NT is likewise described as a prison for evil spirits (Luke 8:31; Rev 9:1-2; 11; 11:7-8).

In the modern era, the invention of the bathysphere and the submarine opened the door for pulp fiction and Hollywood “B” movies about underwater horrors.

An underwater abyss is also found in the widely respected science fiction film, The Abyss.

Sci-fi also depicts the abyss motif in outer space. In several episodes, Star Trek Voyager’s Captain Janeway stands perilously above an almost bottomless cylinder within a Borg ship.

Likewise, Star Wars‘ Luke Skywalker perches on a ledge over an abyss in the evil Emperor’s Death Star. And Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace is chockablock full of strange subterranean beings.

In psychoanalytic terms, Freudians tend to see the abyss as a symbol of the mother’s womb or the tumultuous forces of the instinctual id.

Jungians tend to regard the abyss as an archetypal image of the collective unconscious.

Regardless of the psychological school or religious group one adhers to, generally speaking it seems that a fear of total destruction coexists with a hope for victory over, and order arising from, the dark chaos of the abyss.

Twilight Zone episode “The Shelter” (1961).

As Rod Serling put it in the close of the 1961 Twilight Zone episode “The Shelter,” in which apparently normal American neighbors go beserk during an atomic bomb scare:

For civilization to survive the human race has to remain civilized.


¹ Actually, the idea of the abyss runs throughout most aspects of modern culture, to include comics and gaming. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abyss


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Glamour

Macbeth and Banquo Meeting the Witches on the ...

Macbeth and Banquo Meeting the Witches on the Heath, Chassériau 1855 via Wikipedia

The root of the word glamour (or glamor) comes from the Scottish glaumour (a corrupt form of grammar) and the French grimoire

Glamour originally refers to knowledge of the occult, such as the questionable art of black magic found in the Middle Ages. This could have involved magical spells cast by witches to make ugly persons or things appear beautiful.

Interestingly enough, the three witches in Shakespeare‘s Macbeth (1603 and 1607) proclaim that the young Scot will become Thane of Glamis.

While there doesn’t appear to be any strong etymological connection between glamis and glamour – especially since the first (surviving) written appearance of the English word glamour is 1720 – it’s possible that Shakespeare is playing on known words² that hadn’t yet been written. Or possibly he was intuiting future usage (after all, many creative geniuses do seem to get glimpses of the future).

Glamis hath murdered sleep, and therefore Cawdor Shall sleep no more, Macbeth shall sleep no more!”³

While this connection might seem a little far fetched, maybe it isn’t. Scholars suggest that the three witches use their otherworldly wiles to subtly tempt Macbeth through prophecies of worldly power and glory.

While the witches do not tell Macbeth directly to kill King Duncan, they use a subtle form of temptation when they tell Macbeth that he is destined to be king. By placing this thought in his mind, they effectively guide him on the path to his own destruction. This follows the pattern of temptation used at the time of Shakespeare.4

In any case, Macbeth’s worldly success didn’t do him much good. He ended up beheaded and his name became “a hotter name than any is in hell.”5

¹ “glamour | glamor, n.”. OED Online. December 2011. Oxford University Press.

² Just as modern writers make a play on, for instance, history and herstory.

³ http://nfs.sparknotes.com/macbeth/page_58.html

4 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glamour_%28presentation%29

5 http://nfs.sparknotes.com/macbeth/page_208.html


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Iago

Shakespeares Globe by Kieran Lynam

Shakespeare's Globe by Kieran Lynam via Flickr

Iago is William Shakespeare‘s devilishly clever ‘sour grapes’ character in the tragic play Othello.

Passed over for a promotion in the Venetian army, Iago gets insanely jealous of anyone with anything and plots and schemes his chilling revenge through lies and treachery.

Through his deceits he exemplifies intelligent evil at its worst.

After manipulatively tricking Othello into murdering his wife, Desdemona, Iago is finally discovered and, in the compelling BBC TV production of the play, goes to his grisly fate cackling with maniacal glee. Iago is content with the knowledge that his hideous revenge has been secured, despite his captor Lodovico’s decree, The time, the place, the torture,—O, enforce it!

The Bard adds:

It is interesting that, while we learn about Iago’s “fate,” we do not actually see him punished (on stage, that is) which Shakespeare could have easily arranged (given the number of fights and deaths in the play). So, in one sense, evil incarnate goes unpunished before our eyes. The question, of course, remains–why?? » See in context

Ari Moore adds:

I disagree that Iago was “evil” – there are numerous allusions in the play to his being impotent, ferociously intimidated by what he believed was Othello’s superior sexual prowess. I don’t know if that makes him “evil” so much as misguided and unable to deal with life in a healthy way. » See in context


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Keats, John

Nymans Garden-Ode to a Grecian Urn. A daffodil...

Nymans Garden-Ode to a Grecian Urn. A daffodil crowded English garden, by Francois Thomas via Wikipedia

John Keats (1795-1821) was a London-born English poet who, after being introduced to Romantic poets by Leigh Hunt, gave up a medical career to devote himself to verse.

Hunt published Keat’s first sonnets in the Examiner in 1816. Keat’s early work was regarded, even by himself in due time, as somewhat “mawkish and slipshod.” But his La Belle Dame Sans Merci and various Odes, such as Ode to a Grecian Urn, successfully adapt the Shakespearean and Petrarchian form of the sonnet.

To Autumn is often regarded as a masterpiece of English lyric poetry. For mythographers, Keats’ interest lies in his extensive reworking of classical Greek themes: Hyperion, Apollo, Ode to Psyche and the youthful Endymion, in which he pursues the ideal of pure beauty.

Refusing an invitation to spend the winter of 1820 in Italy with the Shelleys, he nonetheless borrowed enough funds to travel to Italy with a young painter in the following September. Shortly after, he died of tuberculosis in February at Rome.

Keats’ Letters were published in 1848 and 1878.

Related Posts » Byron, George Gordon Noel


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Lewis, C. S.

C. S. Lewis' house (The Kilns)

C. S. Lewis' study by Mike Blyth via Flickr

C. S. Lewis (1898-1963) was a British writer and Cambridge professor of medieval studies who underwent a profound conversion to Christianity. His popular books include The Screwtape Letters (1942, where a senior and junior devil correspond on the topic of how to destroy souls), The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950, which has becomes a beloved family classic), and Surprised by Joy (1955, where he advocates a kind of Christianity inclusive of personality traits).

In Surprised by Joy Lewis says the Christian still enjoys sports and, speaking for himself, other pursuits like the study of Greek mythology. This view of Christianity radically differs from other paths, Christian and non-Christian, that try to eclipse, deny or eradicate worldly desires.

In The Four Loves (1960) he makes useful preliminary distinctions among affection, friendship, romance and selfless love. Lewis also delved into science fiction with Out of the Silent Planet (1938). And he offered a Christian response to the realities of suffering in The Problem of Pain (1940).

Related Posts » Agape, Eros