Deconstruction for Beginners: A Cheeky, Clever Primer on Derrida’s Infamous Idea : THE FRONT PAGE ONLINE

We hear the word just about everywhere - deconstruction - but what does it mean? Jim Powell's book, Deconstruction for Beginners, explains.

My review here: Deconstruction for Beginners: A Cheeky, Clever Primer on Derrida’s Infamous Idea : THE FRONT PAGE ONLINE


quick review: Ultraviolet

Underappreciated and often unfairly maligned by critics, Equilibrium remains even today a b-movie in the best sense of the term; a compelling cult object. Writer/director Kurt Wimmer successfully brought together a solid cast (Christian Bale, Sean Bean, Emily Watson) in a dystopian sci-fi actioner notable for stylish set design and inventive fight scenes (including the nifty imaginary martial art of “gun kata”), enough to justify considering the word “visionary.” Some called the script a derivative cheat, but I see a skillful synthesis of various influences and ideas from classics including 1984 and Fahrenheit 451. Crucially, the film works because the narrative is clean and the characters are sufficiently developed to give us reason enough to care.

So what happened with Ultraviolet? Structured like a video game and stylized like a comic book, we get occasional flashes of the architectural vision Wimmer is capable of wielding so effectively on the screen. The sets and costumes offer compelling modern imagery boosted by genuinely nifty sci-fi ideas like dimensional collapsing technology that works like a TARDIS or a magic bag from Harry Potter. But the fight scenes are repetitive – the title character, Violet, too often begins circled by her faceless enemies – and often jarringly edited to confusing effect. Hopes of seeing more gun kata are dashed by the lack of cleanly defined action. Distressing, however, is the script, which fails to come together on account of an inarticulate and unimaginative plot, sparkless characters furthered hindered by uninspired performances, and a tendency towards explanation rather than demonstration. If Wikipedia is to be believed, the film suffered tremendously from studio interference, the scourge of writers and directors everywhere. Wherever the failure lies Ultraviolet is a barely watchable mess of film whose potential is largely unrealized.


Tales from the Dharma Test Kitchen: Right View

Every Friday evening at their Santa Monica location, the Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society offers the Dharma Test Kitchen – a meditation and discussion dedicated to exploring how we can apply the Dharma to our everyday life. What works? What doesn’t? This is an informal chronicle of my ventures into Dharma practice.

In Buddhism, the 4th Noble Truth – or, as Stephen Batchelor would call it, the 4th ennobling Truth – is known as the Eight-Fold Path (to the cessation of suffering/stress/difficulty). Last Friday’s topic was the first element of the path: Right View, which could also be called “effective” view. In essence, this refers to seeing things as they are, unclouded by the delusions we cling to.
As an example of Right View, the teacher assigned us a meditative listening exercise in which the goal is to listen to someone speak without speaking in return, thinking about what you’re going to say next ,or engaging in the usual head-nodding and uh-huhs that come with conversation. The point is to listen with the utmost attention. We paired up to answer in turn the teacher’s question: what keeps up from seeing the truth/things as they are?

My partner’s answer was fear, both in the obvious sense that we tend to be afraid of seeing things as they are and in the unusual sense that fear can be a motivating factor towards becoming more mindful. Although I’m not sure I fully grasp how that works, it’s definitely an interesting idea worth refining.

My own answer was two-pronged. First was reactivity, our tendency to react to people and circumstances without awareness or thought. Someone says something and you instantly get angry or sarcastic because you perceive their words as insulting or demeaning. But is that response based on truly confronting the situation as it is or are you just lashing out reflexively based on your perception of the situation? This isn’t, incidentally, to create one of those philosophical conundrums that comes out the binary of opposition of reality versus perception. Rather, it’s simply to ask whether we react to a situation based on our assumptions, moods, past histories, relationships, and so on instead of the very thing we’re reacting against. And that’s assuming we even know what it is we’re reacting against and, crucially, whether we even know that we’re reacting at all.

The second prong I semi-coherently proposed (it’s hard to improvise without forethought) was the notion that it’s not just our own reactivity that keeps us from the truth, but our own socio-politico-cultural environment. We live in a society that is explicitly based on deception and illusion. Superficially, we could point to advertising and marketing that trade on selling products by associating them with lifestyle qualities – suddenly, penis enhancement doesn’t come from a link in an eMail but from the local car dealership. But the issue goes much further to the operations of media, politics, everything. We don’t trust politicians because electoral campaigns are more about telling people what they want to hear in order to get their votes. (As B.C. creator Johnny Hart once put it: Election Promises - n. If swallowed, induce vomiting.) Journalism has become corrupted by the profit-driven mandate to entertain consumers. The list goes on.

The common denominator, however, is the same: Wrong View, or a failure to see things as they are either because we don’t want to see them, we are afraid to see them, or we are dissociated from the world through the endless saturation of mediated symbolism (what Baudrillard refers to as simulation.) And the solution? Cultivating Right View to the practice of mindful awareness.


The Old Settler: Beautiful Theatre at the ICT Long Beach : THE FRONT PAGE ONLINE

The Old Settler
by John Henry Redwood

Directed by caryn desai [sic]. Starring Veralyn Jones, Ryan Vincent Anderson, Tarina Pouncy and Karen Malina White. On stage June 3 through June 26 at International City Theatre in the Long Beach Performing Arts Center. For tickets and more information, call (562) 436-4610 or visit www.InternationalCityTheatre.org

"Offering a masterclass in how to stage the big issues of being human in a world that is often unfair — without resorting to mallets or rhetoric — The Old Settler is a richly written, character-driven piece from which audiences can infer a number of emotional insights. The glib might conclude that, as the old joke goes, youth is wasted on the young. "

Read the rest of my review here: The Old Settler: Beautiful Theatre at the ICT Long Beach : THE FRONT PAGE ONLINE


quick review - Firefly and Serenity

Joss Whedon is one of those unfortunate talents who attracts sabotage, either in the form of studio interference or his own propensity to devolve a perfectly good concept into cheap comic book shenanigans. Witness the decline of Buffy and Angel into cartoonish nonsense in their later seasons. (For proof, consider this: invisible Buffy having sex with micro-chipped Spike.) And Dollhouse, his most recent attempt to launch a TV series, failed even before we point out the derivative stock Whedonesque characters and Eliza Dushku’s inability to perform her role’s personality-of-the-week gimmick. Give credit, or blame, to limp writing in the service of an unserviceable concept – programmable people for hire – as the deadly knock to the head.

Along with Fox’s unwise decision to start the series off with an episode other than the stage-setting pilot, it’s no surprise that Whedon’s other TV series, Firefly, ended up overlooked and relegated to the fringes. Even the movie continuation, Serenity, wasn’t enough to rescue Firefly from the abyss of cultdom. Yet – surprise, surprise – the series turns out to be superlative television and Whedon’s best and most mature work, despite a series concept that, however titillating as an artistic vision, is an oxymoron at best. Although presented as science-fiction in western garb, Firefly is, by Whedon’s own admission, bereft of the scientific and technological speculation that gives science-fiction its name and purpose. What we actually have is a western stylized with the trappings of futurism, which means that the series cuts itself off from the storytelling possibilities that come with asking, and answering, the great “What If.” The good news is that the characters and stories are Whedon’s most compelling, funny, and dramatic. Favouring the slower pace of the thoughtful Western, Firefly is comfortable with gradually deepening characters through moral quandaries and other challenges in a lawless “space” frontier. One has to wonder, though, if the series may not have benefitted from its short lifespan, thereby avoiding the fate that befalls overstayed welcomes. At least the strong film sequel Serenity provides a satisfying measure of closure for this noteworthy genre-bending effort, without shutting the door on future stories.