I’m Voting for Dukakis

Donnie DarkoDonnie Darko is an awesome movie. I like it more and more every time I watch it. I like movies that leave out a whole lot of the thought behind the main idea. All the work put into coming up with an idea is just background. It makes the story more intriguing and fun to think about.

There are some interesting questions that have occurred to me about the movie: Why does the author Graham Greene figure so prominently in the movie? His name didn’t necessarily have to come up so often. Has anyone read any of his stuff? I’ve wanted to, because Shusaku Endo, a favorite author of mine, has often been compared to him.

Donnie’s school is interesting. It’s a Catholic school, but its religious nature is never explicitly highlighted in the movie. The movie in general seems somewhat God-less, but there seems also much that lurks beneath the surface…

By the way, the ideas of time travel in the movie and other materials released with it are pretty mystical-sounding. What exactly does the spiritual have to do with the story of the movie?

And who the heck is the fat guy in the jogging suit??

Maybe I should watch it with the director’s commentary on.

The official Donnie Darko page is pretty fun. Check it out.

The Whole Human Being

Maya AngelouI’ve never been very interested in Maya Angelou; she’s just never come across my path, literarily speaking. Similarly, I haven’t gotten much into podcasts, but both interests were sparked last week as I listened to an interview on KCRW with Maya Angelou. She and the host of the show have some interesting conversation about American culture and about her life, but it really gets good at the end. Her last statement about literature is so great, and she goes on to talk about what truth is, and how universal it is. It’s great. The following is one part of her final monologue about literature, but you should really hear her say it. Very poetic, and poetically delivered.

I think that literature at its best is where we are all tending, wending our way to that human condition, the honesty of the human condition, that can be found in literature. And sometimes what we have to do to get there is to divest ourselves of pretentions and attitudes and posturings and preenings and you come to a place where you can read James Baldwin, whether you are asian, or Spanish-speaking, or white, or black, or Jew, or Muslim, you can read Baldwin or Edna St. Vincent Millay; you can read Norman Mailer, or Amiri Baraka. You can read Singer, Barshevis Singer, or Nawal Al-Sadawi, or Kobo Abe or Confucius, and say, ‘This is the truth. It’s the human truth. I was not a Spaniard in Spain during the civil war. My real name was not Garcia Lorca, but he told the truth. That is the truth. I was not in Ireland. My name is not Sean O’Casey or Edna O’Brien, but that is the human truth.’

Podcast of Bookworm interview with Maya Angelou on iTunes

KCRW’s podcasts

The Insidious Grammatical Effects of the Cyber Experience

Anyone who hangs out with me often enough probably knows one of my pet peeves is grammatical mistakes. A specific subset of this pet peeve category, however, infuriates me to no end: that of published and even codified bad grammar.

For example, it’s pretty much become acceptable in the written media to omit the last comma in a list of words. A grammar textbook should tell you that if you have a list of three or more words, you need to have a comma after that second-to-last word; simply having the conjunction “and” there is not sufficient. This really annoys me because of the way I read in my mind. When I come upon the last two items, in my mind they appear to be one item in the list joined together by the conjunction “and,” because there is no comma separating them.

Anyways, the Internet and the technocracy is adding a whole new twist to this. Part of the problem is that these technocrats are actually creating new words that will eventually find their way into the dictionary. If you know any techno-geeks, this is a scary thought, because you know they all are horrible at grammar (probably because they were busy playing solitaire on their notebook computers in the back rows of their high school English classes).

One techno-snafu in the semantic part of things on the Internet is the now ubiquitous verb “login.” It, of course, has become the verb form of the noun “login” (the name you use when you log in to a computer system). The word is rapidly replacing the now archaic (but much more sensible) verb phrase “log in.” It drives me nuts when I am told something like, “You may now login to the website.” Out of spite, as I read it to myself I pronounce this abomination of a verb with the noun pronunciation (the verb “login” is still pronounced by most like “log in”) in order to remind myself how ridiculous it is. (Notice, of course, what is I assume to be the verb “login” to the right of this very page. I’m going to need to change that! It’s a template, not my fault!)

I am loath to even mention the now-emerging (and even worse!) verb “logout.” Ugh!

There was a new grammatical abomination that I had just come across on the Internet that inspired me to write this post in the first place, but in my outrage I have forgotten what it was. I’ll update this post if I remember it.

In spite of my absurd lapse in memory, a point still remains: publishing is now oh so much more easier to do, now that we have the Internet, and this is bad news for language purists such as myself. However, I have a weird flipside take on the whole thing as well. (I’m a man of contradictions, I admit it!) A living language seems to develop and evolve out of bad grammar and so-called “street language,” which is really fascinating. I guess the Internet and technology are playing their part in that when we see the word “login” used as a verb. So I think there’s some kind of balance that should be maintained. We English teachers of the world should try to hold the line as much as possible, while at the same time this living language will develop in the conversations (as well as UI design and code) of the language-butchers who are the movers and shakers of our cyber society (as well as all those people in the real world).

Language is fun.

Have you noticed any grammatical mistakes or misspellings (ketchup or donuts, anyone?) that are now becoming mainstream and you are just pissed off about it? Or do you want to remind me how psychotic I am? Please leave a comment and let’s chat!

iPod, Therefore I Kill

I wonder, is there ever a point where a company can be held to be responsible for making something so good that people would kill each other over it? Tragically, this is what apparently has happened in New York. A fifteen-year-old boy stabbed twice in the chest by a sixteen- or seventeen-year-old boy upon refusing to give up his iPod. Children killing each other over iPods… reading the story makes me nauseous.

“Teenager slain for iPod, police say”

UPDATE: “Jobs calls family of stabbing victim”

Attn: Myspace Flannery O’Connor Haters

This blurb is written in response to remarks made by some students of mine on one of my students’ Myspace pages about Flannery O’Connor, one of the greatest writers America has ever produced, in my opinion. My Myspace page, in case you were wondering, can be accessed by clicking here.

What’s depressing, what’s very saddening, is that so many people in this world, even many who say they are Christian, go through this life totally unaware of God and God’s miraculous work that occurs every day around us. These people are totally unaware of that Reality that could actually give them purpose. All too often, it does not even occur to them that there is something very important missing, because they do not even possess the faculties for self-examination. If they did, they would realize there was something gravely wrong about their lives.

O’Connor once wrote about the idea that writers are expected to be generically “nice,” or, to use the more common misnomer, “compassionate”:

It’s considered an absolute necessity these days for writers to have compassion. Compassion is a word that sounds good in anybody’s mouth and which no book jacket can do without. It is a quality which no one can put his finger on in any exact critical sense, so it is always safe for anybody to use. Usually I think what is meant by it is that the writer excuses all human weakness because human weakness is human. The kind of hazy compassion demanded of the writer now makes it difficult to be anti-anything.

What is cool is that O’Connor actually is compassionate to her characters (but in a biblical, as opposed to a “hazy,” sense), which is a shocking idea to us if we have only given her stories a cursory reading. They are populated with the kinds of people I described above (think of Ruby in “A Stroke of Good Fortune,” for instance). The compassion on O’Connor’s part is the imparting of what she calls “grace” to these characters. This “grace” is the destruction of these false selves that most of us erect. It reminds me very much of Paul’s quite violent image of our redemption: crucifying the old person, dying to the flesh, and arising to new life (cf. Rom. 6.3–6 and Gal. 5.24, among many others).

In “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” the grandmother is the recipient of grace at the end. Before, she was not only annoying and selfish, she was also dishonest to others and even to herself. After shooting her, the Misfit makes a very telling remark: “She would have been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.” There are people who are like that!

Flannery O’Connor considered her work to be concerned with “the action of grace in territory held largely by the devil,” as she put it. I love it, because even though it’s grotesque and exaggerated, it’s real! This world is violently twisted and distorted. People, created in the image of God, have become mere mockeries of that original image. They do not even have an awareness of the Deity that permeates every part of their being, to the last strand of DNA. God’s grace is something that goes far beyond our mushy conceptions of “the conversion experience.” It is a powerful and irresistable force. If the Kingdom of God were just lovey-dovey, it could easily be written off, and so the devil wishes to make it. And so do many Christians believe it to be.

O’Connor had a true vision of what is at stake here in this world. She looked unflinchingly at those who populate it, and saw that indeed we are in “territory held largely by the devil” (cf. Eph. 2.1–3). So give her some grace, yeah? There’s way more to her than is at first apparent. The hope that we have, in O’Connor’s fiction and in our existence vis-a-vis the Divine (every human being, regardless of who they are), is that God is powerful enough to redeem us. The violence to who we have made ourselves to be that we experience is scary and often ugly, but it’s necessary, and (dare I say it?) a good thing! Ask any former coke addict who has experienced God’s deliverance. It’s not pretty, but it is beautiful

Check out this essay. It’s really good, and I got some of the quotes I used here off of it.

Swear to Me!!!

I’ve just returned from seeing Batman Begins for the second time. (That’s why I didn’t answer your call, Steffany!) An excellent movie.

After talking a little bit about it with my parents as we returned to the car, I think why I like it, and perhaps even what makes it unique among all the Batman movies (not just the last two crappy ones), is its faithfulness to the central ideas of the Batman mythology: righteousness as opposed to falsehood, justice as opposed to vengeance, protecting life rather than exploiting it, and of course the idea that good guys can be freaking awesome and freaking scary!

It’s popped into my head that it might be fun to just write a Batman story and maybe turn it into a graphic novel, just for fun. (Not to sell, DC Comics lawyers!!) There are so many great ideas to play with…