Over the past few weeks I've enjoyed the BBC series "Coupling" on Hulu.  The concept is three women and three men dating and hanging around in a bar. The humor sometimes falls into men-and-women-are-like-cats-and-dogs, but there are plenty of sublimely ridiculous moments. Some are one-off, jokes for their own sake, while others escalate in fine sitcom tradition to reappear in the climax of the episode. The result is less like "Friends" than "Arrested Development."

Concurrently, though separately, I've been catching up with Jurgen Habermas, a German philosopher perhaps best known for his concept of communicative rationality. The idea, as far as I can tell, is that rational commentary is created by dialogue between people. In other words, to meet the standard of rationality, it's not sufficient that I observe something about the world and report it to other people. Rather, if I'm talking with someone else and we both fully understand something and agree with it, we've created a bit of rationality in the world.

Another way to explain this is to take Jane in "Coupling" as a counterexample. She's perfectly rational according to some conceptions. Her conclusions proceed logically from her premises, even inexorably. And her premises are always sincere, and usually comprehensible in themselves (as when she explains that she eats meat, despite being a vegetarian, because being vegetarian doesn't mean you don't eat meat). However, she seldom achieves consensus over the validity of her claims, as seen in the short collection of clips below. From the Habermasian perspective, Jane is an irrational human being. The fact that the other characters consistently perceive her irrationality (despite being farcical themselves) suggests an underlying sympathy with Habermas's ideas.

 
 
In keeping with yesterday's theme of physical mutability--last night I caught a new production of "The Incredible Shrinking Man" as part of Austin's FronteraFest. The production used puppets, animation, live music and live actors, presented as shadows projected on a screen,

This is the closing monologue from the film:
 

"Muto"

01/28/2011

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At last night's Teleportal they screened this cool piece "Muto" by Blu, an anonymous Italian graffiti and video artist. As you can see this piece is actually a series of--it must be thousands of paintings, photographed and animated. The result subverts expectations of size and interaction. Really cool:
 
 
On the ways states excel and the Challenger explosion. Also, a story in this week's issue on colonias on the border.
 
 
Nothing like a critical evaluation of Jane Eyre to get the internet commentariat going. Sebastian Faulks, in the Telegraph:

Jane Eyre is a resilient woman, of higher moral calibre than Becky Sharp, but her happiness, and her psychological “completion”, seem to depend on her securing the love and companionship of another, Mr Rochester. All her battles from the orphanage onwards, with whatever doughty and feminist intelligence they are fought, are presented as leading to this one end.

I haven't read Vanity Fair, so I can't comment on Becky Sharp, but that's not how I remember Jane Eyre. As Laura Miller points out at Salon, the book describes "not Jane's quest for love but her assertion of her autonomy in a world that regards her as entitled to none."

In this respect, I would point out that Jane Eyre also has an autonomy edge relative to Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice. When confronted by Lady Catherine de Bourgh about her suitability for Mr Darcy, Elizabeth's response refers to family identity--"He is a gentleman, and I am a gentleman's daughter." When similarly confronted Jane asserts herself based on her own character and actions.

Seriously, though, who are these people? The Telegraph also has an article today entitled: "Why I no longer worship at the altar of Robert Burns."
 
 
I don't want to jinx us, but it may be dying down for the year?

My arsenal: Zyrtec, Claritin, Benadryl, Sudafed (sometimes all at once), plus raw local honey, local beer, Neti pot, and Tree Mix from People's Pharmacy. When I bought the latter, I asked about side effects, and the naturopath said, "There are none. That's what's so great about homeopathic treatments."

If all else fails, Plan B: there's nothing to do but take a vacation from Texas. It's for health, right?

In the meantime, I invented another emoticon: :*(
 
 
 
 
From Nora Ephron's latest, I Remember Nothing:

I marched on Washington to protest the war in Vietnam. This was in 1967, and it was the most significant event of the antiwar movement. Thousands and thousands of people were there. I went with a lawyer I was dating. We spent most of the day in the hotel room having sex. I am not proud of this, but I mention it because it explains why I honestly cannot remember anything about the protest, including whether I ever got to the Pentagon...

Norman Mailer wrote an entire book about this march, called The Armies of the Night. It was 288 pages long. It won the Pulitzer Price. And I can barely write two paragraphs about it. If you knew Norman Mailer and me and were asked to guess which of us cared more about sex, you would, of course, pick Norman Mailer. Ho
 

Room

01/21/2011

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Like Aristotle, I'm a fan of confined narratives, so I was excited to read Emma Donoghue's new novel Room. The novel is narrated by a 5-year-old boy, Jack, who lives with his mother locked in a soundproof shed. She was kidnapped and installed there at age 19; he was born two years later, and as the novel opens, as far as he's concerned, everything beyond "Door" is Outer Space.

(Minor spoilers ahead.)

The first half of the novel meets the dual challenges: sustaining interest in a small child's narration, and in dramatizing the details of room (in the acknowledgments the author thanks her brother-in-law for his "unnervingly insightful advice on the practicalities of Room.") The middle passage of the book is both frightening and affecting. I was really rooting for the details of police work. It assuaged some of the frustration I accumulated while watching The Wire.

The point, I think, is that people want to revert to their conditions of comfort and control, even when those conditions are horrifying and the control isn't theirs. (Or as a pretentious TV pundit puts it: "The inner child, trapped in our personal Room one oh one.") Both Jack and his mother flail when separated, but his mother has it particularly hard; she has to take control, whereas he only has to receive it. "You know who you belong to, Jack?...Yourself," the child is asked. His unspoken response: "He's wrong, actually. I belong to Ma."