Monday, January 17, 2011


Altruism. Forgiveness. Motives.

Somehow these concepts kept showing up today, whether by choice or coincidence. I woke up this morning on the couch, fully clothed, except for my shoes. I had fallen asleep after three trials of a new (to me) cocktail called Sappho, and a review of season 1 of Archer, which I just got in the mail. There were many dishes to be washed, so I got right to work. And while I was doing that I tuned into a podcast of one of my new favorites, Radiolab. Specifically, I was listening to The Good Show, which explores the question of how to rationalize altruism with Natural Selection.

As is typical for Radiolab, the arguments were illustrated by poignant stories of research related to the question, and tales of altruism so touching I was actually moved to tears. There was a story of a college student who saved a woman who was being mauled by a bull, and another one about a man who pulled three drunk teens from a car engulfed in flames, and another one about a man who saved a stranger who fell into the subway tracks due to a seizure by laying flat on top of him while the train actually passed over!

The other side of hearing these stories is that you naturally must question your own moral composition. The problem with the question is that, as they suggest on the show, the only way you can be sure of the answer is if you've actually been faced with one of these situations.

Later this evening I made some dinner and felt the need to watch something strong. I had bought this Dogville DVD several months ago at a Blockbuster store closing because it was written and directed by one of my favorite directors, Lars von Trier. I guess I had never gotten around to watching it for one reason or another, so tonight seemed as good a time as any...

When we were freshmen, living in the dorms, I remember one night when Damian and I were rambling on, I said wouldn't it be weird if suddenly you could just see everyone without the walls around them? Like, neighborhoods, but the houses just disappear and everyone is just huddled about like they normally would be. We would all look so ridiculous! I remember years later Damian recalled the imagery, so I guess he thought it was an interesting idea. Well I'll be damned if that isn't EXACTLY what von Trier does in Dogville! Ha! So right off the bat I like this film. But it gets SO much better.

While you're watching this film, which at first seems so strange, with the set drawn out in two dimensions on the floor of a stage, and the actors walking about, other characters visible in the distance, you become absorbed in the story and the town, so that you eventually realize that your mind is filling in missing imagery exactly as if you were reading a book! Holy shit! It's amazing! Even now, as I think back about what I saw, it's as if there was so much more, visually, but there wasn't, it was as minimal as possible, but the story draws in your imagination like a book, and only the objects that are actually necessary to tell the story are present, exactly like a George Saunders story. My god it's brilliant.

The story itself turns out to be a very subtly layered tale whose symbolism become more obvious as you get to the end of the story, and the final revelation of that symbolism is so skillfully and tactfull unveiled, you just want to turn around and watch the whole thing over again. It is my new favorite von Trier movie. I want to go back and watch it again, right now, even as late as it is. I want to talk more about it, but I don't want to spoil it in case you haven't seen it yet.

After the movie I finished the frames. The large one is made from that ash wood I recovered. These ones are all bridle joints. They recall Escher's ever-ascending/descending staircase. Each of the four pieces has one end a tenon and the other end a mortise. My house is in desperate need of more pictures, but I refuse to pay money for frames when I can make them myself... but then I never make them, so here are two. They just need to have the outside edges trued up with a plane, have the groove rabbeted in the back, and be varnished... OK, I guess I'm actually about half done.


KateMadd/skmckinn said...

Man, Radiolab is absolutely the best thing ever. It has improved my life in this tiny, subtle, but immeasurably effective way:
While I'm padding about the house cleaning and sewing and doing things I can't stand to not have done like laundry and catlitter scooping and sweeping, one more time, the leaves that have fallen from the peppers overwintering in Damian's office, I can also be engaging my mind with a thematic, theoretical, epistemological fugue of narrative-based pensées...

Ahhhh Jad, Robert, I draw a heart around you in my expanded mind.

Did you hear the one about the guy in the jungle that learned the monkey warning for leopard and so could hear a leopard approaching because of the alarm, could "read" the forest? My favorite. Jesus, Radiolab is awesome.

Digitizdat said...

Ah! I love that you love Radiolab! It has improved my life in the same immeasurable way. No, I haven't! Which one is it? Must be Wild Talk. I will be listening to it soon. I think the first one I heard was Fate and Fortune, where they question autonomy. I couldn't get out of the car. Then the next weekend I heard the Falling show came on. Wow. They talk about the terminal velocity of cats. It's incredible.