felis_ultharus: The Pardoner from the Canterbury Tales (Default)
So, yeah. Among the books I have on my pile to review is the strangest thing I've ever read - and I speak as a fan of manga, and someone who's read Beautiful Losers, Nightwood, and parts of Finnegan's Wake.

I'm talking about The Malleus Mallificarum, of course - the greatest witch-hunter's manual of the Middle Ages.

Maybe again the Burning Times? Plus, there's no good answer to the question, 'What does a witch do with stolen body parts?' )

So, yeah. A useful historical text, and good for any writers trying to build a realistic Middle Ages. I wouldn't exactly recommend it as pleasure-reading, though.

In infinitely more pleasurable entertainment, I saw the Scott Pilgrim movie last night with good friends. I'll talk more about the series when I get to reviewing the graphic novel, but I will say this - I'm startled by how well they adapted such a potentially hard-to-film work.

I wasn't thrilled with the choice of actors - I was sceptical more for their appearance and voices than their acting talents - but they all interpreted their parts excellently. Kieran Culkin made a (surprisingly) perfect Wallace Wills.

The ending hadn't been written yet when the film was made. The graphic novel ending is much better. But that's a very high bar and the movie was still really, really good. I highly recommend.
felis_ultharus: The Pardoner from the Canterbury Tales (Default)
So I just read American Gods, being the last geek in the world not to have read it.

At first I was disappointed with it. The plot seemed unfocused and rambling. About halfway through, it turns out that a lot of the aimlessness was misdirection, and he brings it to a brilliant reveal-type conclusion -- very Rowling-like, when Rowling is at her best.

So it was a brilliant plot. And a fun read. Most of the characters were interesting and fun. Too bad that in order to make his thematic arguments, he pretty much has to build a whole universe out of straw.

Review continues, with spoilers -- a long review because it hit a few nerves )

Wow. My reviews are getting longer and longer. Could it be I actually miss English lit? These things are turning into term papers. Of course, I couldn't say most of that stuff in a term paper.

I still recommend the book. It's entertaining. It just gets messier and messier the more you think about what it's trying to say. Another bad habit I carry over from English lit, although maybe a good one for my own writing.
felis_ultharus: The Pardoner from the Canterbury Tales (Default)
So I just finished Reinventing the Sacred by Stuart Kauffman. Kauffman is a biochemist and biophysicist at the University of Calgary with a master's in philosophy from Oxford -- impressive credentials for the author of this book, which argues for the non-deterministic complexity and creativity in nature as an alternative both to deterministic/atheistic science and religion.

It's an interesting introduction to some of the weirder and more wonderful aspects of science. And I sincerely do hope that he manages to make a dent in determinism and reductionism, which have done so much damage to the world. Here he follows in the footsteps of giants like John Ralston Saul and David Suzuki here.

But, largely, it's a failed book. If he'd taken an additional degree in military history, he might have known not to open up a war on two fronts, especially if you only understand the enemy on one flank.

I'll try to make this as un-dense as possible, and hope it's of some interest to some of my readers. )

My next read is Apuleius's Golden Ass I suspect my review of that will be a lot shorter, and I hope that the above wasn't all that bad.
felis_ultharus: The Pardoner from the Canterbury Tales (Default)
I haven't been online much. I've mostly been working on writing -- with two edited copies back from editors. I've also been working on financial stuff, putting in extra hours at work, and what little time I've had to myself has been mostly playing Okami and reading Stuart Kauffman's book, Reinventing the Sacred.

Kauffman's been on radio shows studiously misrepresenting his book. He talks about it as if he's trying to bridge the gap between atheism and religion with some kind of third way. Actually, he's an atheist who's arguing that classical science has gotten a lot wrong, but that doesn't mean there's (in his words) "a Creator God."

Kauffman is a University of Calgary professor who wears three hats -- biology, physics, and philosophy. He's clearly a genius in some ways, which only means that his failure to prove some of his points is more disappointing.

I'll save a full description for when I finish the book. But I just wanted to say that his arguments that consciousness is real and not an illusion generated by neurons is itself worth the read. He argues consciousness is Copenhagen-interpretation quantum -- acausal, probabilistic, nondeterminist, and not limited to matter or algorithms. This is how he tries to recuperate agency and free will without recourse to a god.

I haven't finished the chapter on "The Quantum Brain," but I'm waiting to see how he deals with certain problems raised by his (quite good) arguments on the subject. I'll see how he deals with these (or doesn't), but my suspicion is that he may have opened the door wider than he intended, and let divinity in through the back door.
felis_ultharus: The Pardoner from the Canterbury Tales (Default)
I tried writing a long entry about an epiphany I've had around the concepts of morality and moral relativism -- how being exposed constantly to moral relativism during grad school made me realize that there is such a thing as good and evil after all, even if Western Civilization has gotten morality completely wrong for the past 2000 years.

I couldn't find a way to get my ideas out, though, except to say that the desire to do good is a basic human drive, not a mere overlay of civilization, and that progressives have a moral obligation to speak up in favour of basic principles of equality and human rights, and fundamental human dignity.

I wanted to say, too, that moral relativism has made us hesitant and overcareful when it comes to asserting that right, and made us doubt ourselves. But all societies have a moral centre, and by abandoning it, we've left the ground wide open for the religious right to assert their brand of morality in its place. It's permitted them to have a monopoly on the language of good and evil.

I tried to develop that, but I couldn't get it out right.

So, yeah. This is all really heavy, so here's the funniest article I've found in a long time in The Onion. Though maybe I just find it hilarious because I was preached to by fundamentalists a lot in high school.
felis_ultharus: The Pardoner from the Canterbury Tales (Default)
You know, Irving Layton was an egomaniacal misogynist who slept around on his wife, couldn't decide if he was the ├╝bermensch or the messiah, was a prophet of Nietzschean cynicism, and spent his life resenting Canadians partly because we were the only people who read him, and he wanted to be noticed in some bigger country he thought mattered.

His poems regularly portray ordinary people (i.e., those who aren't Irving Layton) as annoying insects, too stupid to understand him, or live a real life.

He's also a damn good poet, so his work is enjoyable nonetheless. Sometimes it includes an interesting idea that doesn't just backtrack to the all-consuming sun of his ego.

So far, the most intriguing poem I've found is "On Seeing the Statuettes of Ezekiel and Jeremiah in the Church of Notre Dame."

It captures his bewilderment, as a Jewish man, as he comes across statues of Hebrew prophets in a Catholic basilica, pressed into the service of a religion they would never have recognized.

It is kind of creepy, when you think of it. It's one thing to borrow a deity from another religion -- no one can say for sure that such a relationship isn't real.

But to borrow a saint or prophet -- a person -- to your religion after their death is a little like the way Mormons baptise their dead ancestors and relatives.

I guess to me it strikes me as kind of spiritual necrophilia -- a dishonouring of the dead, a violation because the dead cannot consent nor refuse. I'd never want to be converted after my death by anyone.

It'd be like dying a second time, to have my views distorted after death to serve someone else's belief system.

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September 2011

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