Monday, December 30, 2013

Year-end Clearance

… life is a series of people wanting to be touched, and of people making big bad mistakes in the name of lust.   ~Maria Alva Roff
Lately, numerous and varied cultural artifacts have been impinging on the Professor’s suggestible cerebellum. The pine-paneled garret which is Flippist World Headquarters has been filling up with works about Philosophy, Art, Iceland and Women. I’m going to open the mental spigots and let impressions flow out in a chaotic torrent. Bear with me if you find this post lacking coherence.

My bathroom book of late has been The Oxford Illustrated History of Western Philosophy edited by Anthony Kenny, a reasonably concise summation of the last 2500 years of “Western Thought” or, as I would have titled it, How We Got Into This Mess. All the great philosophers are studied, all are found lacking and yet, strangely, political systems have been built on those inflexible ideas. In an oblique way that book dovetails with another book I recently read: The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Taleb, which deals with improbable events and their consequences. Taleb, a financial analyst, posits that current “risk-modelling” is based on logically false premises; that isolated and unpredictable events have more important consequences than does historical analysis. Extinction events (meteor impacts, super-eruptions, thermonuclear war) have more long-term impact than the usual cyclical upheavals of existence. Setting up financial systems with players “too big too fail” ignores this phenomenon, not only doing nothing for stability, but actually insuring a more devastating collapse when a rare “black swan” event does occur.

A conversation I was having last year in a Reykjavík bistro had turned to blogging. Silja, my companion that afternoon, had asked me how my interest in Icelandic blogs started and what were some similar themes I found in them. I mentioned that all of those blogs were written by women and that although most of them were Icelandic by birth, each of them had spent part of their childhood abroad. They each felt, to varying degrees, estranged from the Icelandic culture. Most of them, at one time or another, had suffered with “commitment issues” with men, although I said that didn’t think that was related to Iceland as much as it was a commonality of “Generation X”. I recently re-read the book of that title by the Canadian author Douglas Coupland and although the book is old enough to drink, its themes of alienation still seem as relevant today as when it was published.

It would be a mistake to read too much of Coupland’s anomie into any specific blog (conflict is necessary in almost any literature, satisfied people make lousy writers), most of those Icelandic bloggers we discussed that day have made significant changes in their relationships in the nine years since I discovered them. Their sometimes amazing stories have been recorded for posterity on the internet; some of these bloggers have even made the transition to the physical reality of a book. Alda Sigmondsdóttir, blogger and professional writer, has even published four. Her latest, Unravelled, is a tale of personal and political intrigue. I haven’t read it (yet) but it has been getting good reviews.

A book which I have read is Maria Alva Roff’s incendiary 88 (her second.) Having actually spent several hours in intense conversation with her during the time she was writing this book precludes the chance of a dispassionate review. I’ll just say that reading this slim volume is nothing like a genteel browsing through a personal memoir, it’s more akin to diving into a psychological mælstrom. “Alva” taps into some very deep primal forces in an internal monolog which takes place in the span of 88 days, the time between her reaching the age of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s death to the “end of the world” as predicted by the Mayan calendar. The numerology is explained in the link; not knowing it might throw an unprepared reader for a loop—not that that is a bad thing! You can order it through this link. To see Maria in her element, on the receiving end of some “touching” (at 1:11), click through to this video. Maria was also recently featured on BBC radio talking about women in government (starts at 10:35).

In the book Maria touches upon being a single mother, a theme which has been haunting me of late. Films as disparate as Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief, Ben Stiller’s new The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (great Iceland scenery) and most of the Wes Anderson ouvré use missing or remote fathers as a central plot device. Grace Kelly’s character in Thief is searching for a father-figure (Cary Grant) as much as she is a lover. Stiller’s Walter Mitty character has not only suffered the loss of a father but he finds himself enamored of a single mother and her son. Wes Anderson’s most recent film, Moonrise Kingdom, has an orphan and a girl whose father is estranged to her as motivations for the action. At my own family Christmas gathering this year there more single mothers than those who were married, a situation that would have been almost unthinkable in my youth. Where are the men? What is the philosophy behind that situation?

So, what does all my this rambling mean? Things change. Philosophy, the tenets of which civilizations are built upon, has changed, albeit slowly, over the centuries, often with unforeseen consequences. Modern life has increased the rate of this change, but the needs of the human organism haven’t kept up with them. There is a true revolution in human communication going on, however. My medium of choice, blogging, has been declared dead on more than one occasion but blogs still persist, at least as a personal platform for short-form essays and stories. Interpersonal communication is threatened by instant media such as Twitter and Instagram, while the Facebook juggernaut seems to be losing steam. Peoples’ tastes change but very little culture ever really disappears, at least within a human lifespan. Those marginal aspects of culture just get smaller. The coming year finds FITK as another blank slate. I have no grand design, much less any short term plans. I may revisit my fiction (a sequel?), and certainly will continue the photo-illustrations, but as far as written content is concerned it will be anything goes; as it has been so it will continue.

Thanks for stopping in–regulars and lurkers–and a very special thanks to all those who have inspired me in the past and continue to do so. And here's a toast to those isolated and unpredictable events, as well as of those mundane, all those things which make life the miracle which it is. Þetta reddast.

By Professor Batty


Blogger Jono said...

As a loyal FITK follower since '06 I will remain curious. You have never let me down.

Anonymous Andy said...

You photos are magnificent; your prose always entertaining... looking forward to 2014!

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Happy New Year, looking forward to your words of wisdom in 2014.

Blogger Professor Batty said...

Thanks again, see tomorrow's post for more on the subject.

Blogger Iceland Eyes said...

Wow, thank you SO much for your words, Professor! You've very succinctly described what was definitely a wild ride to write. Looking forward to reading more of your fiction!

Blogger Professor Batty said...

I can't think of a comparable work to compare it to! I'm working on the new "novel" right now.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for recognizing the lurkers.

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