24 December 2007

Myths Demystified

Merry Christmas everyone! It's Christmas Eve today and I haven't done much but reading my students' work. I'm not going to write any reviews today, but will set out to demystify some of those beliefs that we've heard so many people say. The source is from Bangkok Post (Sunday 23 December 2007).

Here's the list:

(1) We need to drink eight glasses of water a day.
(2) Reading in dim light is likely to damage your eyesight.
(3) Shaving makes hair grow back faster and coarser.
(4) Eating turkey makes you drowsy.
(5) We use only 10% of our brain.
(6) Hair and fingernails continue to grow after death.
(7) mobile phones are dangerous in hospitals as they interfere with medical equipment.

All these are untrue! This comes as a blessing on Christmas Eve, as I can't drink eight glasses of water, but rather prefer to drink eight cups of coffee instead.

Now I'll list another 7 myths that turn out to be true:

(1) Reading someone else's blogs means you're nosy.
(2) Writing too many blogs interferes with my work.
(3) Interesting people don't write blogs; they socialise.
(4) The film Love of Siam can turn straight people gay. Being gay has never been so cool. Mom, I want to be gay and lonely ...
(5) Cats are dependent, needy, and greedy. They want someone to be next to them all the time!
(6) Life has never been fair. Sorry, folk, that I am too lucky sometimes. Also, sorry to hear that your life is shit.
(7) My attempt to get rid of my cynicism fails miserably.

Have a great time this Christmas and hope you'll come back and secretly read my blog again. Let me thank your whole-hearted attention for the whole year with this lovely image of Santa, who is not quite amused.

17 December 2007

Senza Sangue ไร้เลือด

Senza Sangue is another quality novel from Alessandro Baricco. Thanks to its size, I managed to finish it all in one day despite many visits from both my students and colleagues. I even took it to the office loo and read it there when nature called -- sadly the toilet seemed an intellectual sanctuary in this case.

Like Seta (or Silk) and Novecento (or The Legend of 900), Baricco manages to convey eloquence through reticence. The novel itself is divided into two parts, one happening long before the other which acts like an aftermath. It entails how a woman needs to come to terms with her horrendous past, in which her father and her brother were mercilessly killed, presumably as an act of revenge.

It probably is not too illogical to label Senza Sangue a holocaust novel, in which a wartime experience or consequence comes back to haunt the characters. In this case, the female victim's life is turned upside down because of that cruel homicide.

Baricco's decision to divide the novel into two parts is a poignant narrative strategy, as it raises questions as to how one rewrites or revisits one's own trauma. In this novel, we see how this woman Nina struggles to come to terms with her trauma through silence and willful non-communication, strategies which function as self-defence mechanisms for her. She is portrayed as 'without blood' partly to reflect how the past experience and the trauma have dehumanised her, reducing her to a machine. Yet, through Baricco's skillful descriptive rendering, one can also feel her loneliness, her need to reach out, her longing to be human, and these fragile needs are subtly hidden.

In the first part, while Nina is the victim, Tito is the perpetrator. In the second part, there is clearly a role reversal. When Nina meets Tito once again many years later when Tito is a lottery seller, she has too many questions to ask, most of which of course do not receive proper responses from Tito. We also see Tito hurt by this kind of inquisition, as a period of many decades has rewritten that past for him, and it turns out he finds some of his actions absurd. Their dialogue and silence are a gem that is worth scrutinising. Of course, Tito is also hurt and lonely.

Towards the ending the development of their relationship has become something that I really cherish, as Baricco sweetly portrays both human weakness and strength (or its pretension) through their actions and reactions.

I think this novel is better read more than once and the more you read, the more you'll be drawn into the abyss of human emotional complexities. I surely will pick this novel up again and enjoy its subtle messages hidden under a simple disguise.

10 December 2007

10 Things I Adore About CSI

CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) is on cable every Wednesday and every Sunday on AXN Channel. Needless to say, I get hooked to the show, so much that on Sunday I don't do much but laze about and wait for the three-hour CSI omnibus. To my knowledge, there're three CSIs: Las Vegas, New York, and Miami. I love the plot of CSI: Las Vegas the most, love the cast of CSI: New York the most, and love the editing and bossa-nova atmosphere of CSI: Miami the most.

Well, to begin with, I don't think I can actually list ten reasons why I adore this show but I'll make an attempt nevertheless.

1) Contrary to what the majority of CSI viewers may think, I believe that CSI is a kind of romance. It's a detective romance whereby every crime is eventually solved. I love to watch it partly because of this almost always 'happy' ending, in which all evidence nicely leads to a culprit. There's no evidence excessive as it always turns out to be relevant. Watching the show thus gives therapeutic (or hypnotic) effect, as it implies that everything can and will be solved in due time. In reality, it's surely not what happens. Cops are normally badly paid and they surely are not a bunch of clever people, like the CSI teams. Evidence can be tempered with and corruption abounds. It's interesting to see that the show itself tries to downplay these two significant, yet highly complex, factors that can affect the search for the culprit. So yes I love to watch it as it takes me away from the complexity of the real world where culprits still get off scotch-free and cops are still not as efficient.

2) It's not too long. Each episode lasts about 40 minutes, the period I find perfect for viewing and understanding such a complicated plot. I need to confess that sometimes I find watching a two-hour feature film such a commitment. I'd rather watch 30-minute Simpsons, as it's more digestible and I can resume doing other stuff, such as washing dishes, ironing, stroking the cat, or all three together. Also, watching films also means writing more entries in this blog -- another commitment. With CSI, I don't need to write any more apart from this one. :)

3) Most characters are good-looking. I don't know why but maybe it's linked to my first point about romance. As CSI is a kind of romance, no one expects it to abide by all rules of the real world. With this point in mind, the producers decide to spruce up their shows by making most team members good-looking, especially in the CSI: Miami, where the cast (well, apart from Horatio Caine who sports too many wrinkles) seems to parade out of fashion magazines. Of course, this contrasts nicely with the real world, where normally in police stations you don't expect to see any good-looking people, but burnt-out, jaded police officers with pot bellies.

4) Poetic Justice. Everyone who commits a crime is punished. In the CSI world, moral rules are very effective and karma seems to be always at work. Bad politicians get punished and thrown to lions (well, this is a bit exaggerated) and most of these criminals are greedy, corrupt, and evil. They don't normally show the case where murderers are mothers who innocently commit a crime in order to protect their children. This will be too complex and the audience will sympathise with the criminals. No good. The audience needs to hate the criminals and they need to be penalised. Complexities of intention are downplayed, especially when these entail the 'bad' status of the culprit.

5) All three CSI teams are colourful race-wise. They're from all over the place: black, Hispanic, Chinese, you name it. But of course it'd have been nicer to have some disabled people there too, like some smart alec in a wheel-chair who can answer every question and behave like an oracle decipher at Delphi. I know I'm going too far but from my experience most of the representations of the disabled swing between two extremes: the miserable victim and the wise hermit. Well, at least having the teams multiracial is acceptable, but what I still find awkward is that the team leaders of all three are still white men. Maybe the teams themselves signify the US of A, where the leader of other colours is still an unthinkable choice.

6) The body. The show is both frank and manipulative when it comes to portraying our body. Dissection is normal but we are shown only certain parts of the body. Reproductive organs are still under-represented. But the show does raise questions about our emotion invested in seeing our body so frail and defenceless. Also, we are not shown the inside of the body, as much as the outside. Cuts and wounds are normal, but we are not just as much allowed to see the damage done to internal organs or bodily fluids associated with body dissection. I guess the show both problematises and reinforces our abjected feeling towards the body.

7) Most deaths are extraordinary. Some die crucified, some die jumping out of the balcony, some die with part of their head ripped off, some die on the spotlight. Of course if deaths are normal, no one is going to watch it. We all would like to know why these eccentric deaths occur. Apart from that, some events in the show are extremely improbable yet possible too, like three identical twins try to kill a man for money. Of course I find this hilarious, but who'd have thought much about it? It's a romance anyway.

8) I seem to gain a lot of knowledge of chemistry, like if you combine nitrogen and potassium you'd get blah blah blah ... well, to tell you the truth, I don't remember much of this knowledge. But the show is full of them, some of them so fantastical that I don't know whether it's true or just a make-up to make the show interesting. But anyway, if you like to get an A for your chemistry subject or to find a good way to kill your friend, this is the show to look out for.

9) I want to be good after watching the show. After seeing Horatio Caine strutting about like a hero in Chinese action films, I am inspired to walk like him with a fire bomb detonated in the background, to talk with honeyed eyes to a victim, or to finish talking in mid-sentence not caring whether my interlocutor understands me or not and then walk away (but don't know where to!). I confess that of course I lie when I say this, as CSI: Miami seems to make this stylisation excessive and put the character of Horatio Caine on the brink of stupidity.

10) Even though the show does glamorise crimes, it does also glamorise the search for a culprit. By making their DNA tests and scans something of beauty, the show gets across the message that the police will get at you eventually. Of course many deaths are portrayed in aesthetically beautiful positions (like in quality paintings or like deaths caused by Hannibal Lector) and it may not be too far-fetched to say that they aestheticise the crime by making it beautiful and sublime. But unlike Hannibal Lector's series, they aestheticise the hunt too, how the teams rationalise, using the existing evidence to find the culprit. The harmony of teamwork is also a beauty too. I think in this lies the show's responsiblity for creating the moral sense in the public (even though I do admit that they exploit the representation of crime a little).

So here is the list of ten reasons why I adore the CSI. I don't mean that CSI is excellent in all counts but these ten reasons are what makes the experience of viewing the CSI valuable: it's an experience of learning more from life, art, and artistic perception in general, using the CSI as a channel.