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Clarissa's Blog

An academic's opinions on feminism, politics, literature, philosophy, teaching, academia, and a lot more.

Archive for the day “May 14, 2011”

Jo Nesbø’s The Snowman: A Review

The inexplicable success of Stieg Larsson’s mysteries is the best thing that has happened to Scandinavian writers since Selma Lagerlöf. Larsson’s untimely death left a void that publishers are trying to fill desperately. Scandinavian names, long descriptions of cold weather and depictions of carnage in Sweden, Norway and Denmark are suddenly in vogue. Since many Americans are a bit confused on where Sweden is actually located, all European mystery authors are experiencing a surge of interest in their books.  

As you can see from the cover of Jo Nesbø’s The Snowman, this author’s publishers are doing all they can to milk Stieg Larsson’s fame for all it is worth. This, however, is something that, in my opinion, this author doesn’t need. This book is very good. Its only defect is that it is too drawn out. In his zeal to create as many twists to the plot as humanly possible, Jo Nesbø goes a bit too far and creates a 100 or so pages somewhere in the middle of this long book that feel quite redundant.

If I had to compare Jo Nesbø’s style of mystery writing to another author’s, I would say he bears no similarity to the weirdly boring Stieg Larsson. Rather, Jo Nesbø is the Norwegian version of Michael Connelly. (Connelly apparently agrees and has published rave reviews of this writer’s work.) Nesbø’s protagonist called Harry (sic!) Hole is a police officer on a mission. He is also a lonely drunk and a die-hard romantic who gets treated badly by the woman he loves. Nesbø isn’t nearly as good as Connelly in creating a complex and richly-layered protagonist. His Harry looks a little cartoonish at times. He is much better than Connelly, however, in writing the ending to his mystery. Connelly’s endings tend to be much too abrupt. This gifted writer doesn’t seem to realize that you cannot announce the culprit’s name on the last page and just be done with it. The laws of the genre require that after the culmination there should be a winding-down period where the readers are offered an explanation of either what drove the murderer to commit the crimes or a description of the deductive process of the detective that resulted in solving the mystery. Nesbø’s ending is absolutely perfect.

The Snowman is a serial killer mystery. In the novel, Norwegians seem quite frustrated with the fact that they alone, of the three Scandinavian countries, have failed to produce a serial killer of their own. There are other cute moments in the book that have a very specific Norwegian flavor. See, for instance, the following passage that would have Ayn Rand die all over again were she around to read it:

‘It’s a very small shop. We don’t have many customers. Almost none until the Christmas sales, to be honest.’‘How. . .?’‘NORAD. They support shops and our suppliers as part of the government’s trade programme with Third World countries. The message it sends is more important than money and short-sighted gain, isn’t it.’

This is, of course, a very dangerous game that the third richest country in the world (after Luxembourg and Qatar) is playing. Oil comes and goes while people who have been corrupted by such ridiculous handouts remain.

There are some sparks of wisdom in this novel that I wanted to share with you. One of the characters says, for example:

Our generation has turned itself into servants and secretaries of our children. . . There are so many appointments and birthdays and favorite foods and football sessions that it drives me insane.

Anybody who has observed the frantic scrambling of the Western parents to organize endless play dates and activities for their children will have to agree with this observation. 

I enjoyed this book quite a bit and recommend it highly. Of course, it didn’t hurt that snow was mentioned pretty much on every single page making this summer heat somewhat more bearable.
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>More on the Neighborhood Dogs

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The summer is here with a vengeance. We are at +35C every day. This means that I run the danger of having my blood pressure shoot up. This happened to me last summer and I was completely incapacitated (although not prevented from blogging) for almost six weeks. So this summer I’m trying to avoid a hypertensive episode by taking very good care of my health. One of the things I do is walking 10 miles a day. And, as usual, the nasty neighborhood dogs try to do all they can to scare innocent passersby away from the street.
Today I was walking around the neighborhood when a neighbor’s dog spotted me. Thank God in heaven, this particular dog was on a leash because it pretty much flew up into the air when it saw me and started barking so aggressively that one would think I’d just drowned her puppies right in front of her. 
“Oh, don’t worry, she just loves you to death!” the dog’s owner informed me with a beatific smile.
“Whose death?” I inquired as I ran away.

Philosophy As a Way to Work Out Your Worldview

I wrote before about my deep interest in philosophy and reader el asked me to elaborate on the reasons why I’m so interested in it. I have to confess that my engagement with philosophy is purely utilitarian. As hard as I tried, I haven’t been able to become interested in whether things exist outside of our consciousness of them, what apperception means to Leibniz as opposed to what it means to Kant, how the ontological  concept of substance developed from Plato to Hume, and how Dasein is different from Existenz.

Of course, you need to be familiar with the boring basic concepts of philosophy before you can proceed to the really fun stuff. It’s the same with all branches of knowledge. You need to spend hours memorizing Spanish conjugations and cases when the Subjunctive is used before you can start talking to people, watching movies and reading books in the language. Philosophy has a language of its own, and it needs to be mastered if you want to begin to approach the works of the leading philosophers of our times. The reason why I have put myself through the aggravation of deciphering Kant’s and Heidegger’s mind-numbing texts is that philosophy provides the best short-cut to a deeper understanding of how things work, how societies operate, and what motivates people than any other field of knowledge.
The kind of philosophy I’m most interested in is the one that lies in the crossroads between philosophy itself and other fields of knowledge. Philosophy and political science (Ernesto Laclau), philosophy and psychoanalysis (Julia Kristeva), philosophy and film studies (Slavoj Zizek), philosophy and social studies (Zygmunt Bauman) offer insights into subjects that are central to human existence. Trying to create one’s own worldview without using the ideas that thinkers have developed over the entire course of our civilization’s existence is similar to finding your way to the Americas without relying on the maps and the technology that we have today. Of course, you could find a couple of rusty caravels and just sail in an undefined direction hoping to arrive at the New World eventually. Or you can buy an airplane ticket and let the advances of humanity take you there much faster and easier. An airplane ticket is costly and so is the understanding of philosophical concepts. But both are worth the price.

>Philosophy Conference, Update

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So remember that conference on philosophy that I was dying to attend? My talk proposal has been accepted! Thank you everybody who encouraged me to apply even though I do not specialize in philosophy and have had no formal training in the discipline. I’m extremely happy that I didn’t choose the safe bet of a conference in my field where everybody gets accepted and instead went for something much more difficult but a lot more fun.
I will blog about my debut as a philosopher at length.

>Even in the happiest marriages. . .

>. . . there are moments when you’d rather be anywhere rather than in the matrimonial bed.

P.S. Four “boring” reactions and one “appalling”? The post is less than 1 line long, people. How bored can you get with it? 

Movies I Actually Love, Part I

I have mentioned time and again how much I dislike cinema. It pretends to be art but almost always fails to live up to the claim. As entertainment, it is too authoritarian for my taste. There are, however, several films that I love and consider to be as close to works of art as any movies can be. Here they are in no particular order.

1. Before Almodovar sold himself out to Hollywood and started churning out idiotic tear-jerkers of the Hable con ella and Todo sobre mi madre variety, he was actually a great movie-maker. What Have I Done to Deserve This? (1984) is, in my opinion, his greatest work. Every frame, every move of every actor, every single word are absolutely amazing. I really wish we could have the early Almodovar back, but obviously that’s not going to happen.
2. Before Javier Bardem sold himself out to Hollywood and became the new favorite lap dog of the egregiously untalented Penelope Cruz, he was one of the most gifted actors of his generation. Mondays in the Sun (2002) is so professionally and beautifully made and Bardem is so incredibly good in it that I can’t stop watching this film. I’m now on my second DVD because I watched the first one so many times that it became useless.
3. El verdugo (1963) or Executioner by Luis Garcia Berlanga is a classic of Spanish cinema. It is a very quiet, low-key portrayal of how easily and casually one can slip into performing acts of atrocity in the most mundane way possible. In many ways, this film is very symbolic of what the entire XXth century has been like.
4. In case you think I only like Spanish-language movies, you are wrong. Crash (1996) by David Cronenberg (not to be confused with a 2004 film by the same name) is a brilliant movie. It has been criticized by prissy viewers and film critics. Nevertheless, it is one of the most insightful cinematic analyses of sexuality that I have ever seen. The movie’s tone is subdued to the point of being flat which is precisely what makes it standout against the background of regular Hollywood concoctions that attempt to deal with sex. Hollywood film-makers and audiences are so terrified of sexuality that they talk, cry, babble and prattle it to death.
5. As I said many times before, nobody knew how to make movies like the Russians. It’s very difficult to choose one film that I consider to be the best among the incredible production of the Soviet filmmakers. I guess, Unfinished Piece for the Player Piano (1978) has got to be the winner from the Soviet epoch. The film is based on a play by Anton Chekhov. Chekhov is obviously a genius and making a film based on his work is a huge challenge. Nikita Mikhalkov, the director, used to be so good that he created a version of Chekhov which is better than the original. This is also the only film where Mikhalkov delivers a great performance as an actor. (His acting talents are extremely limited but here he was really good.) Forget about the plot of this movie, just observe how beautifully the director creates the ambiance. The actors are phenomenal, as usual in Soviet movies.
6. From the post-Soviet era, I recommend Heart of a Dog (1988). This movie is based on a novel by one of the greatest Russian writers of the XXth century, Mikhail Bulgakov. Once again, as amazing as the novel is, the film manages to be almost as good. Unlike the previous movie I listed here, I don’t think this one exists with English subtitles. Which is a shame because non-Russian movie-lovers are losing out on something huge here.
(To be continued. . .)

>Osama’s Porn Collection

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No matter what religion a fanatical fundamentalist belongs to, he is still going to turn out to be a damn hypocrite. I’m sure that after all their sex scandals, Evangelicals are happy to know that they are not alone amongst the most fanatical representatives of world religions. It might even turn out that Osama’s porn collection overlaps with the ones enjoyed by the most rabid preachers of Christian virtue. Here is an article about the porn that was discovered in Osama’s compound:
The pornography recovered in bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, consists of modern, electronically recorded video and is fairly extensive, according to the officials, who discussed the discovery with Reuters on condition of anonymity.
If bin Laden hadn’t gotten himself killed, he could have easily run for office as a Republican candidate. The guy was obviously hypocritical enough for that. 

>Obama and Osama

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I understand that it’s easy to make a mistake and confuse the two names but people really should be more careful. I almost had a heart-attack when I saw the following in my blogroll:

So, Obama is dead.  Which is to say, he’s a martyr.  Of the many gifts the US gave him in his life, and they were many, this may be the last one.  Some say he didn’t want to be martyred, at least not right this moment, and no doubt that’s true.  But the difference between seeking martyrdom and not minding that much exists.  He didn’t really go that far out of his way to avoid death.  He could have shaved the beard, had some plastic surgery and disappeared into Indonesia.  He would never have been found.  His compound was not heavily guarded.  Bin Laden need never have been in the line of fire.

It’s only when I got to the part about the beard that I realized whom the author of the post was actually referring to.

>Responses to Blogger Meltdown, Part III

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And here is the funniest part of the responses to the Blogger malfunction. I now present to you the Blogger conspiracy theorists:
I’m beginning to become very worried, I suspect the problem cannot be fixed and soon Google will announce it can no longer continue with the Blogger service due to a fatal system error.  Blogger is better than Gmail and Google search combined. Blogger is better than sliced bread!!!!!! Blogger is the best thing in the world. DON’T SCRAP BLOGGER!

So beware users if you ask to many Questions of post that you should look for alternatives Your acount gets suspended

Google = Enron

I saw someone’s post about the eBlogger has been sth like hacked / blacklisted regarding security reason (in US)

Google is slowing trying to get control out from bloggers. 

Either Google is incompetent, or, the CIA is mucking about with Blogger because there have been so many posts on the CIA’s psy-op in Abbottabad in Pakistan

I have two blogs.  One of them is on a topic some would consider controversial.  It will be interesting to see what, if anything, happens to my blogs or others that are deemed “controversial” or “sensitive.”

And this is Blogger’s official response that is either a deliberate pun or an explanation for the ineptitude of Blogger’s employees. 

Blogger:

Thanks for your patience in the mean time.

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