Foundations

Foundations

We have new poetry, fiction and a screenplay this month at Spinozablue. Donal Mahoney brings us the first two, while Charles Tarlton brings us the last.

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Speaking of film, Martin Scorcese pens a wonderful essay in the latest New York Review of Books, entitled The Persisting Vision: Reading the Language of Cinema.”

A short excerpt:

“Or consider the famous Stargate sequence from Stanley Kubrick’s monumental 2001: A Space Odyssey. Narrative, abstraction, speed, movement, stillness, life, death—they’re all up there. Again we find ourselves back at that mystical urge—to explore, to create movement, to go faster and faster, and maybe find some kind of peace at the heart of it, a state of pure being.

But the cinema we’re talking about here—Edison, the Lumière brothers, Méliès, Porter, all the way through Griffith and on to Kubrick—that’s really almost gone. It’s been overwhelmed by moving images coming at us all the time and absolutely everywhere, even faster than the visions coming at the astronaut in the Kubrick picture. And we have no choice but to treat all these moving images coming at us as a language. We need to be able to understand what we’re seeing and find the tools to sort it all out.

We certainly agree now that verbal literacy is necessary. But a couple of thousand years ago, Socrates actually disagreed. His argument was almost identical to the arguments of people today who object to the Internet, who think that it’s a sorry replacement for real research in a library. In the dialogue with Phaedrus, Socrates worries that writing and reading will actually lead to the student not truly knowing—that once people stop memorizing and start writing and reading, they’re in danger of cultivating the mere appearance of wisdom rather than the real thing.”

 

I just finished rereading Isaac Asimov’s Foundation, the first book in the trilogy. I had forgotten how concise and spare it was, how Asimov never wastes a single word. It’s something I aspire to in my own work, the latest being a first attempt at a Sci Fi novel. Spareness and brevity not for the sake of it, not to be a part of some minimalist school, but to capture the moment quickly, lyrically, muscularly and then move on.

In Foundation, Asimov utilizes a theme that seems almost universal — something that fits quite well when your book deals with galactic empires. Death and reformation. The dissolution and rebirth of empires fascinates, and it can be done going backward in time or forward. The idea of succession to a crown, or to a vision — scientific, ethical, religious — is tremendously appealing. Adhering to a dream that has its roots generations or centuries or even thousands of years before provokes the imagination and adds a wide array of colors to life and our musings. To live for something, especially when that something persists through time, across the ages, adds an intensity and complexity that resonates and provides the ground for successful art. It’s perhaps the closest we get to a sense of immortality, and may be the chief reason for the appeal of such book series as The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire).

Logically enough, to match the persistence of the story across time and space, we have a series of many books, or dozens of television episodes based on those books, so the reader and the viewer stay with the characters, themes and visions across their own sense of time, albeit compressed. It is a wonder of the human mind that we can make sense of this, this radical distortion of time and space, and desire more of it.

We face time, head on, in a way unlike any other animal — as far as we know. No other animal faces its own mortality, or perceives the passage of time, which is why no other animal creates art or religion, the two greatest gifts and results of that confrontation. The idea of working toward a greater future, based upon the preservation of something beautiful and brilliant from the past, its extension, its expansion, can make it at least a little easier to cope with the knowledge of our guaranteed demise.

 

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