Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Even Shakespeare's Not Perfect: A Review of 'Timon of Athens' by William Shakespeare

Even geniuses need to redraft. Shakespeare was a jobbing writing, so I imagine he had to pick his creative battles, and Timon of Athens was not one of them. Narrative rules of thumb exist for a reason. Rules such as: ‘If you have a character arc, don’t give the first half to one character and the second half to another.’ If you start a play with a character learning to hate all humanity because a few people have wronged him, and you end the play with a character learning to put his hate away when he realises that those few people don’t equal all humanity, then you should ensure they are the same character. And if you are going to have a character realise that not all people are despicable, you should obey the parroting of creative writing manuals, and show us these non-despicable people, rather than just telling us they exist.
There is a rich Athenian called Timon, who gives much charity, gifts, and feasts. He is popular. It has slipped Timon’s mind that he’s paying for these charities, gifts, and feasts with debt. Because Athens has no credit rating authority, Timon’s creditor’s come calling long after he’s lost all ability to repay them. Believing his past beneficiaries will become his present benefactors, Timon asks his friends to bail him out. They refuse, given it is a very large debt, which is primarily his fault. After throwing rocks at his ‘mouth-friends’, he moves to a forest, where he moans about how terrible people are to every passer-by. Meanwhile, an Athenian general called Alcibiades tries to appeal the death sentence of a friend who killed a man in a pub fight. Alcibiades is refused, banished, and so decides to bring an army to destroy Athens. Meanwhile, Timon dies off-stage. In the end, two senators surrender to Alcibiades, and convince him not to kill everyone.            

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Creative Destruction: An Exegesis of Friedrich Nietzsche's 'David Strauss, the Confessor and the Writer' (1873 essay)

Friedrich Nietzsche’s David Strauss, the Confessor and the Writer is not really about David Strauss. The polemic’s target is first mentioned ten pages in, and nowhere in the introduction. Nietzsche’s focus is the difference between productive thinking and lazy thinking, or in his terms, the difference between ‘culture’ and ‘cultural philistinism’. The cultural mind seeks to improve itself, to seek that which is good outside of itself, and weed out that which is bad within itself. The cultural philistine’s mind, however, believes it does not need to improve itself, for everything within itself is good, and thus needs no weeding, while everything outside itself is misguided, and thus deserves no seeking.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

The Rhetoric of Mass Murder: An Analysis of 'Fantastic Planet / La Planate Sauvage' (1973 animation)

Content Warning: Discussion of genocide; full plot details

Some works of art aim only to leave the audience with a feeling. Characters, story, aesthetic, all elements become secondary and instrumental to producing a state of mind. Fantastic Planet is about genocide, and, more strikingly, the mindset needed to commit genocide. The film guides the audience to, for even one small moment, adopt this mindset, and then realise with horror how easily they adopted it.

On the planet Ygam, the gigantic Draags treat Oms (humans) as animals. The Draags either keep Oms as pets or exterminate them as vermin. One pet, named Terr, flees into the alien wilds, dragging behind him a Draag education headset. Finding a ‘wild’ Om tribe, he gives them the Draag headset, allowing Oms the knowledge to escape Draag oppression.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

When Conscience Slept: An Analysis of 'Purple Noon/Plein Soleil' (1960 Film)

Spoiler Warning: This will reveal the entire plot of the film, and by extension the plot of the source material, The Talented Mr Ripley

Purple Noon is a work of amoral art. A rare film that playfully imposes judgement on its characters and events, not even on its central murderer and identity thief, Tom Ripley. Any praise or blame you may direct at Tom is very much your own morality, your own judgement, cast like a pebble to skim on an uncaring sea.

Tom Ripley wants what Phillipe Greenleaf’s got: money, luck, a life of leisure in Italy, and a beautiful, if too forgiving, fiancé, Marge. Of all the men in the world to be so blessed, why did it have to be the self-centered, cruel Phillipe. Tom seems fine, basking in the spillover of Phillipe’s decadence. But then, on a boat trip with Phillipe and Marge, things take a turn. After Phillipe and Marge get into a fight, she disembarks at the docks. Tom and Phillipe sail off alone. Phillipe’s luck runs out. Tom doesn’t just want Phillipe’s money, he wants it all. Tom stabs him in the chest, and throws him to the sea. Tom steps into Phillipe’s emptied life. He forges signatures, passports, and romances Marge. Living with Phillipe’s name and money, Tom gets by swimmingly, until one of Phillipe’s friends, Freddie Miles, realizes the man living at ‘Phillipe’s’ apartment is not Phillipe. Tom bludgeons Freddie with a stone buddha. Even this second murder doesn’t sink Tom. To ensure his good life, Tom steps back into his old identity, but not before sending Phillipe’s ‘suicide note’ and all of Phillipe’s money to Marge, and trying to marry Marge. Tom lays in a deck chair, safe in the knowledge the law has no lead on him. And Tom would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for Phillipe’s corpse getting stuck to the hull of the boat Tom was trying to sell.   

Friday, 1 September 2017

‘I’m Sure You Don’t Like Hurting All These Nice People’: An Analysis of Katie Skelly’s 'My Pretty Vampire' (2017 Comic)

[CW: References to sexual assault, murder, abusive relationships.]
Spoilers: The entire plot will be revealed.

‘Coming-of-age’ doesn’t generally mean killing spree. But adolescence means breaking free, expressing who your truest self is, and Clover is a vampire. In the process of finding herself and overcoming trauma a lot of people will die.

Clover wants to leave home, live her own life. Unfortunately for her, her brother Marcel is an incestuous bastard who keeps her locked in their castle. Unfortunately for the world, she’s a vampire hungry for human blood. She escapes her brother’s clutches, and hightails it to the city, killing this person and that, stopping only for sunrise. But there are people following her, a P.I. Marcel hired, and an Order of animal-headed figures. 

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Nature, Lacking Tooth and Claw: A Review of Algernon Blackwood's "The Dance of Death" (1928 Short-Story)

In The Dance of Death, Algernon Blackwood uses the supernatural to express platitudes. A modern man, a modern-deskbound-man, yearns for rugged nature. Mr Browne’s nine-to-five deadens him, you see. Blackwood does not redeem this trite setup with nuance, character depth, and/or Weirdness. From respect to Blackwood, an acknowledged master storyteller, I was tempted to uncover layers of irony, to find, beneath the naïve protagonist’s thoughts, a subtext criticising the protagonist’s naiveté. But no, The Dance of Death depicts a love of nature held only by those who have never met nature.

Mr Browne loves nature. He saves up, from his stultifying desk-job, so he may retire to a life among nature. His doctor’s diagnosis, then, comes as quite a shock; and a shock is the last thing he needs, what with his weak heart. Living among nature would be far too strenuous for him. Even dancing must be undertaken with care. He attends that night’s dance hesitantly and sadly. Then he sees a woman, Miss Issidy, a woman none else seem to see, a woman more like a forest sprite than an urban dancer. He dances with her, and she reveals she knows him, and was waiting for him. We zoom out: Browne died on the dancefloor from overexertion. His boss is glad to be rid of him. 

Sunday, 9 July 2017

An Ape is an Ape is an Ape: An Analysis of Kafka's 'A Report to an Academy' (1917)

Trying to adopt another culture is difficult. Trying to adopt a different species is damn-near impossible. Kafka talks about the former through a fable about the latter. An ape assimilating into humanity allegorises a person of one ethnic background assimilating into a different culture. This person may mimic every behaviour and internalise every value, but at some level his audience will only see this person’s origin.

Red Peter – Peter to those who respect him – is an ape. An academy has invited him to talk about life as an ape. As Peter’s has no memory of his ape-like days, he hijacks the engagement to talk about how he became human. Captured in the Gold Coast by a hunting party, and imprisoned in a cage on a boat, Peter needed an escape. Ape-strength could not break his cage, and even if it could, a bullet would be his reward. The only way out, he realised, was to become human. Through a vigorous apprenticeship under his shipmates he learnt how to smoke, spit, and drink. He continued his education on dry land, employing five teachers at the same time to help him reach the level of the ‘average European’. With humanity under his belt, he took a job as a variety performer, the only job available to him outside the zoo. But as he says to the academy, he does not seek their approval. Through his narrative, he only hopes they understand him.