Tuesday, October 18, 2011

On Enjoying Walden Two

       I read a couple of blog reviews on Walden Two, because I’m afraid I’m a horrible blogger and thought they might steer me in the right direction. To my surprise, all of the reviews I found were negative.

                There seemed to be three main reasons for not liking it.

1.       The book was just a medium through which B.F. Skinner expressed his views on behavioral psychology. It was too technical, and should have been an academic paper.

                I understand this point of view, but here is my issue with academic papers: They stay within academia. Had B.F. Skinner made Walden Two a paper instead of a novel, it probably would have been buried under a pile of other, more recent papers on behavioral psychology - forgotten to the world. And more importantly, it would have never reached the general public.

                All of the reviewers agreed that even if they thought Walden Two sucked, Skinner’s views were still interesting. Becoming aware of interesting ideas is an excellent reason to read a book.

                And aren’t most books mediums through which writers express their views? Skinner was certainly more direct than most writers, but this unashamed candidness was new, not unlikable.

                2. Creating an actual Walden Two isn’t possible because X, Y, and Z.

                Walden Two isn’t possible. Neither is the complete totalitarianism in 1984, or Hogwarts in Harry Potter. It’s fiction. This argument probably comes up with Walden Two, and not with my examples, because Skinner’s novel did sound so much like a debate in which his ideas ultimately triumphed. Some readers may be peeved by the unfairness of this - it's like playing a chess game with yourself and celebrating when you win. But does it matter? Even if Walden Two isn’t possible, the book is still useful for pointing out flaws in our society and providing a refreshing point of view.
                Reason 3: Too much bantering.
                Okay. This one I must agree with.

                I found this book to be thoroughly enjoyable. Certain lines made me crack up, and I developed a particularly odd crush on the haughty protagonist and creator of Walden Two, Frazier. Because some 90% of the text was dedicated to discussing the community in minute detail, it seemed unusually realistic; I felt very much a part of it. Also, it's triggered an interest in political philosophy. More on this later.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Walden Two: Art of the Plotless Novel

             Walden Two has become one of my favorite books. It’s pretty much a long conversation, mainly between three charming people, and it describes days where they do nothing but eat breakfast and look at art and argue incessantly and wash windows. It’s excessively pleasant. I like this “plotless novel” thing. I bet Harry Potter would have been more fun if there was no Voldemort, and it was just about a boy hanging out in a castle with his friends.

                It’s a very stress-free experience. I’m not reading to get to an ultimate “point.” I’m reading because it’s nice. I wish life was as plotless and pleasant as Walden Two. In fact, I wish the entire world had more things in common with Walden Two. 

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Walden Two: First Thoughts

                I’m reading Walden Two. I wasn’t planning to compare Walden Two to Brave New World, but that was before I came across this snippet:

                “… Once in a while we manipulate a preference, if some job seems to be avoided without cause.”
              “I suppose you put phonographs in your dormitories which repeat ‘I like to work in sewers. Sewers are lots of fun,’” said Castle.
                “No, Walden Two isn’t that kind of brave new world,” said Frazier.

                So yeah. Skinner obviously intended that to be a sign.
                When I read Brave New World, I praised Huxley for being so creative in his introduction of a foreign society. He showed us a new world by giving us a tour of it. Skinner does the same with Walden Two.
                 Frazier, the creator of the utopia, is showing the narrator and his companions around the community, and has been for about 50 pages. I would not doubt that Skinner was inspired by Huxley’s tactics; literature is a cyclic creature. Inspired things become inspirations, ideas are recycled over millenniums and centuries and decades.
               Ah, literature. Muses inspired by muses.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Horror and Consent

Last night I clicked on a random Youtube link that I thought was going to be a music video. All was well until – halfway through the video – my laptop speakers emitted a scream and a gruesome picture popped up on my screen. I jumped out of my seat like the coward I am.

Har har har. Very funny prank.
After a few minutes, though, I was left feeling …sad. I had been all snug in a sweater and earmuffs, and that video robbed me of my serenity. It killed the Zen.
It got me thinking about different types of horror. Why is it I like reading H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe and R.L. Stine, etc., but I can’t stand when things pop out and give me a cheap scare? I realized that it’s a matter of consent.

Before I start Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or Lovecraft’s short story The Nameless City each Halloween, I am preparing myself for something spooky. My mind dips in and out of the words at will, embracing the mood the stories induce. I control how far I’m willing to submerge myself, how much of my emotions I’m willing to invest. If a horror story ever goes too far – like some of Edogawa Rampo’s stuff, for me – then I can stop. Close the book. For as long as I am reading, the writer has my full consent to scare me.  I actively choose to mull over their words and conjure dark images in my mind; with the aid of those words, I create my own demons.

When it comes to movies or, with my example, stupid Youtube videos, scariness relies upon shock tactics and visual aids. And with shock tactics, there’s not enough time for consent. Where literature is scary because it puts your own mind in control, and then attempts to inspire the darkest parts of your inner self, this is scary because it makes you feel powerless.

I am not putting down scary movies or anything else. I’m saying that this is why I love horrific literature. It’s more tasteful, to me. And it allows me to feel all Zen in a sweater and earmuffs while also being terrified that misanthropic gods are hiding in my shower or Dracula is climbing up to my bedroom window.

With that said, I will soon be reading The Halloween Tree and Something Wicked This Way Comes, both by Ray Bradbury. The latter was suggested during my giveaway. Happy almost-Halloween!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Running into October

I open my door. My bare arms are exposed to the cool autumn air. It's the coolness, and not the calendar, that makes me aware of the passing of time.

I am struck with a sudden euphoria: It is autumn; the air is clean and crisp; pumpkins abound. The October spirit takes me, and I go for a run.

Running is a form of worship. If it's not, I've made it one. Running is my only form of worship to every god or goddess or kami of nature out there. Thank you, deities! Thank you, thank you, for the wind against my face and the pounding of my soles against the earth and the sky above my head!

In my small town no one is out past 9 and as I walk my ruminations are interrupted by the sounds of televisions and the flickering screens that shine through the shades of the neighborhood windows. It would be okay if my thoughts were interrupted by the sounds of families conversing with one another. My thoughts aren't as important as familial interactions. But it's always television. I feel like I'm Leonard Mead from Bradbury's The Pedestrian*, and I even get that dystopia feeling, where I start to imagine that the government is watching me and thinking me queer.

When I run, I feel rebellious and free. Dogs bark to the clapping sound of my sneakers - I never claimed to be graceful - and I send whole blocks aflutter with the distress of the canines. Porch lights inevitably go on and there's always that one loud, male voice that tells the dog to shut up, or - my favorite - shouts, "WHAT IS IT, SPARKY? WHAT IS IT?" and I think, "It's me! It's me! I'm alive and tangible and you're acknowledging me! and isn't it so good to be alive?" And I feel real sneaky, because no one knows I'm there or that I'm thinking that thought. I run on.

In Japanese Shintoism, shinpu or divine winds mark the comings and goings of kami, gods or forces of nature. When I run, all wind is divine wind and the kami can be felt everywhere.

Happy autumn, everyone. If you haven't, consider reading Bradbury's excellent short story, The Pedestrian. A PDF version of it can be found here: http://mikejmoran.typepad.com/files/pedestrian-by-bradbury-1.pdf

Ray Bradbury and Concise Writing

So your faithful blogger has not picked up the Inferno or La Vita Nuova since she last wrote about it. She gives you no apologies, because she thinks people apologize too often on the Internet.

And now, on the greatness that is Ray Bradbury:

There's nothing I like more than terse writing. All unnecessary words have been snipped away; none of the sentences are weighed down by excessive verbage. Whole works remain lean and smooth. Precise writing reveals lucid thinking from a writer, and in this way Ray Bradbury is, if I may say so, a most enlightened writer. He must think very lucidly indeed to write an opening sentence like this:

One minute it was Ohio winter, with doors closed, windows locked, the panes blind with frost, icicles fringing every roof, children skiing on slopes, housewives lumbering like great black bears in their furs along the icy streets.

One sentence, and about seven stellar images flash across my mind. Whew. And the next sentence:

And then a long wave of warmth crossed the small town.

Taken out of context, that sentence may not seem so nifty. But notice its contrast with the length of the first sentence; consider that Ray Bradbury, despite the opening paragraph only being one sentence, felt compelled to begin a new paragraph; appreciate the 'And then' beginning that immediately gives the sentence a definitive tone. Now the sentence is nifty.

Needless to say, I'm enjoying The Martian Chronicles immensely. I'll have more thoughts later, but I wanted to update. I like placing myself in the shoes of an admirable writer, trying to figure out why they phrased their ideas as they did. I like considering details of written works and acknowledging that each detail is the result of a conscious decision from the writer. Ray Bradbury started that second paragraph so soon for a reason - in this case, to show how significant that sudden warmth was (or, specifically, the cause of the warmth - a rocket's launch).

In short, I like taking things apart and putting them back together. I don't know if anyone will ever want to read a blog that consists largely of this type of word appreciation, but hopefully there is someone.

Until next time, happy reading!