The Kafka Museum Visit

November 16, 2016

As I was reading about the route Kafka used to take everyday to school accompanied by the family chef, suddenly the strains of HaTikvah was heard. It may not be much of a surprise since Kafka was known to have wanted to make aliya, the strange thing is that barely passing 8 bars, the music deviated from what I know so well. It then became apparent that this is not the Israeli national anthem, or a remix of it.

Recalling that the music of HaTikvah was adapted from some pretty pedestrian folk tune, I went to the Wikipedia page in hope of finding some confirmation that the presently playing piece was also a derivative of the same source. There, the name Smetana struck me familiar. Wasn’t that splendid hall where I listened to that underwhelming concert inside the municipal house called Smetana Hall? – It’s probably not the Prague Symphony Orchestra FOK’s fault, but my insisting in going to the concert after a whole day’s hike to blame. Now as the second movement of Smetana’s symphonic poem set, Vltava, greets me again, my hypothesis is validated. For some time, I enjoyed the discovery of the hidden links between these initially unrelated dots scattered all over my trip. But it seems to be a well known fact domestically.

Now as I think of it, isn’t it most suitable to choose this piece of music for that short film of Kafka’s Prague? On one hand, the HaTikvah-like melody alludes to his Zion heart, on the other, a Czech rendition reflects his cultural identity. By the way, this is not the only occasion where the museum designers show genius choice of music. Firstly I was met with some non-trivial ambient music in the introductory part. And close to the end in the literary analysis section, some spooky metal sounds are heard accompanying Kafka’s hand injury drawings made for his insurance company, creating a creepy absurd space. I would say the museum is quite experimental sonically and visually.

They also offered scholarly and deep interpretations for Kafka’s work, which were difficult to chew. To be honest, when I read Metamorphosis, I hardly saw anything beyond the storyline. But I’ll have plenty of chances to read between the lines now that I bought a set of three books compiling Kafka’s short stories from the museum shop – almost as impressive as the Autechre EP box that I got at the live show!

On a somewhat remotely related note, the nude with arms raised (and armpit hair exposed) by Pablo Picasso actually reminded me of George Samsa’s sister at the end of Metamorphosis, stretching herself to receive the infinite generosity from the sunshine as much as she could; her parents suddenly realize that here is a full fledged young woman ready for the future. This is not to say that I finally start to whole-heartedly appreciate that drawing. Although admittedly, Catherine’s explanation helped a lot towards that end. She says naivism tries to unlearn the academic training and focuses on the essence of what one wants to convey through childish paint strokes. In this particular drawing, I indeed starts to see the innocence, youthfulness and all the signs indicating the fresh positive, instead of singling out the grotesque squiggles supposedly representing her hair and hands. We also agreed that his intentional neglect of making her face pretty and leaving the natural underarm as is were an explicit challenge to typical modern viewers such as us, who are knowingly but irresistibly conditioned to popular media dictation of what is considered to be feminine beauty.

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From Forrester’s World Dynamics

September 18, 2016

The first half of the book is roughly a documentation of the model being simulated. I didn’t complain because of an early warning that conventional birth control will prove to have little effect on improving the final undesirable equilibrium compared to that without, a method I had imagined as a silver bullet to today’s major world problems.

In the result discussion chapter, I found out I wasn’t entirely wrong about my favorite method. The usual birth control programs do not set a constant birth rate, but which is subject to influences from other variables such as material standard of living, pollutions etc, manifested by their corresponding multipliers. That’s why the simulations faithfully report that with a transient rise of standard of living following a birth control policy, the incentives for increasing birth rate becomes even stronger. This result forces me to clarify myself that what I actually mean by birth control is to set a rigid birth rate independent of other system variables, which might require something like the womb system in Ergo Proxy on the implementation side, as my totalitarian nature quietly creeps up1.

Another thing I shall bear in mind is that there are other modes of disasters that cannot be suppressed by reduced population alone. In fact, the author views capital investment and pollution as primary leverage points and birth control the secondary tool – not the other way around as is my belief. I never really understand what capital investment means as I never comprehended money and its movement. Let’s say that it’s directly associated with industrialization. Then based on the assumptions of this model, the simulation result indicates that fewer people does not lead to hampered capital investment. Consequently pollution comes out to be the destroying force. Therefore birth control even in my stricter definition is not the silver bullet. A comprehensive program exercising self-restraint on multiple fronts including not only reproduction but also economic development, emerge as an attractive idea.

Recall that this is the state-of-the-art in 1970, it amazes me to see that people today are still spouting the ugly idea that technology is the savior of mankind. And I’m more ashamed of myself than amazed at them that I didn’t see the fallacy until the book clearly spells it out. In contrast to this indifference that new insights were received with, ancient ideas such as self-discipline have never been adopted by the mainstream either. I see traces of environmentalism in Greek mythology already, as the Greeks were temporarily confined in a small world centered around Greece so the transition from golden to bronze ages mostly as a result of human multiplication were perceived; certainly there were a couple of great Chinese thinkers who ages ago saw through the vanity of the rushing and blindly excited expansionists, tech-enthusiasts, growthists2… Oh yeah, there certainly is a possibility that we can escape from the confinement of the earth and continue to grow in some other earth-like planets. But it’s exactly those who insist in letting expansion go unchecked and willingly accept the consequential rising violence and danger of war as fated – some of whom by the way I personally know (!) – that are diminishing this possibility of space exploration by diverting huge funds to the defense causes. read more …

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Gone On the Road

July 7, 2016

Finished On the Road by Kerouac*. Throughout the majority part of the book, I wasn’t particularly interested. Rundown shacks, ragged lives and beaten souls everywhere. My skin turns greasy automatically when imagining walking in their shoes. On top of that was a not-so-friendly language wielded only by college dropouts – I’m not referring to the tech nerds – a bizarre consequence of street talk coming from a mind drenched in years of literary activities. On the other hand, I didn’t get particularly bored either because, as it was my book on the road as well, I only turned a few pages while waiting at a bus station.

But towards the end, somewhere before the Mexico trip, I had become fascinated by Dean’s madness. He “digs” whatever he sees with attention of monstrous intensity like laser beams; every trifle that is going on around him warrants his equal devotion; only he could see and let the godsent revelation flood through him and eventually reach us like a torrent. The outward manifestations are constantly sweaty face, bulbed eyes, throbbing veins, rubbing of his belly and a finely selected vocabulary of “Yass, yass! Wow! Man! Phew!” ranging from howling to moaning. It would have seemed pretty dumb in the beginning, but now that his contagious spirit makes sense to me… Yes, only Dean can “dig” the way beyond what the word itself intends to mean.

Just as I thought by now I was fairly used to the gross ways of life they are leading, the tropical bug T-shirt episode pushed it to a newer level. But the Mexico trip really had me hooked – it’s really not at all about those drug and sex thingies, but the thoughts that emerged from a fierce spring that never runs dry: how they make of the landscape and various people they met – something that never happens to me when I am traveling**. At the height of it, I was informed that the awful Dean left the fever stricken Sal. And shortly after was their last meeting. Friends that had done so many crazy things together could just part forever like that without a warning. In contrast to the frantic rushing, the final few words sound markedly quiet, poignant as though they were written down after days of meditation. And then, profound sadness engulfed me.


* James Zabiela was the one who introduced this book to me.
** Because after all, I am of an entirely different breed

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R+7

July 6, 2016

More than a year ago upon first hearing it, I was taken aback by the chiptune-like arpeggio in the opening track but subsequently discovered the sparkling loveliness adorning the rest of the 40 minutes. The impression still persists. But somehow the light of the gems suddenly was able to pierce through my heart as I picked it up again, perhaps because my BoC fever has finally receded to a healthy level.

If Boards of Canada evokes imagery of my world view and abstract emotions, then maybe R Plus Seven by Oneohtrix Point Never is more like a personality portrait. Be it an individual track or the flow of the entire album – if there exists in it such a thing as a flow at all – unexpected turns of events or an abrupt abortion of an ongoing theme can occur anytime anywhere. And of course it never happens in an unpleasant way –

After the ostentatious opening, ‘Americans’ brings twenty seconds of calming air from a distant afternoon playground before a rapid change of focus on a secret garden rising out of a fresh downpour. The dazzling young green rocking up and down as dewdrops roll off is my first favorite melodic moment. I could stare at this for hours but no lingering is allowed. A long interval of fast-forward with space warping and human voice jittering throws me onto the clouds and left me gradually descending into the world of Botanicula, where the sap running through the transparent leaves resonate with peculiar little creatures making their own noises. The unique signature of choral elements in R+7 is notable for the first time. At first, one bright-eyed creature sings a note or two and immediately disappears to give way to another. The tiny random contributions thus piece together rhythmic patterns that friskily hop into different keys.

All that vanishes before my eyes and a short practice session ‘He She’ makes the transition to a hushed ‘Inside World’. The female vocal has a sparse but coherent line accompanied by broken pieces of sounds. It feels as if hearing my cell splitting and blood circulating with slight irregularity. Then comes the gliding waves gently pushing me to the realm of mind. It too is so brief that soon the first theme returns again.

And before I am drowned in my inner bodily reflection, ‘Zebra’ lashes out its briskness at full force. The first theme is repeated for two minutes with naughty brass and joyous choir scattered around before it breaks down and comes back to a state of ‘Inside World’. Fragmented electronic church bells sway in the ambiance; random horn melody wanders aimlessly further and further away. And then a prolonged pause. read more …

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Rojus

March 19, 2016

Overtime I am conditioned to the muted colors of Čiurlionis’ paintings.

It gives off a dreamy air like in Miestas [135], a white city shrouded in the late afternoon haze, which a moment ago I took a glimpse while in sleep, but now the memory fades further and away so that what remained are only the milky tone and a blurred architectural form. Yet these things I will soon lose hold of forever too.

Or it evokes other-planetly imageries as in Pasaulio Sutvėrimas [69], chiefly due to the warm color tone but also because of the peculiar structural orderliness — the almost repetitive pattern displayed by the growing things. The crystal growth over there also leads to flowering and fruit bearing; when the time is ripe, the fruit of crystallization falls to the ground into gleaming fragments, accompanied by silverly clinks (La Planète Sauvage). This low saturation could also represent a chaotic beginning of nebulous void, from which distinct thoughts emerge and disappear in the form of symmetriads, asymmetriads and mimoids (Solaris).

More often, when it comes to the religious themes, the obscurity corresponds to the inexplicable part of the primeval yearning for worshipping. In Himnas [16], thick clouds briefly break apart, letting through rays of sunlight onto the distant horizon that dispel the gloominess. A natural wonder alluding to a divine existence somewhere over the clouds, a path leading to eternal happiness whose entrance no mortals can reach. In Praeitis [81], the colossal slab that marks sunrise seems to embody ritualistic spirits in the innocent ages (even though the Macedonian sun has evidently become a cliché by the time I finished the book). And a recurring motif is the eagle messengers out of the west [82, 142], bearing blessings from the lords and disseminating hope among the mundane world.

Even a soulless person such as myself can be a bit shaken by such awe-inspiring depictions. It makes me ponder whether the urge of worshipping is a conciliation between the desire of perfection and the knowledge that it’s beyond reach. Or if it stems from their weaknesses of the constant needs to be loved, to be watched over, to anchor their inner selves at some secure place however their lives might float around.

There are numerous other examples that are more explicit on this theme. Especially towards the end, the perfect hierarchy of the universe in the artist’s mind is entirely revealed [212 – 214]. However, as I have never made peace with the rule that the last movement of a musical piece always has to climb to some apex, it also dazzles my eyes to see all that grandiose and overflowing bliss on the canvas.

Of course for me, a charming painting does not speak to me without an admirable painterly effect. Unlike the obelisk cypresses seen elsewhere, the austere Mountains and Cypresses in [39] become abstracted by only wild curves and color stretches that begin to flow and intertwine; the Winter forest [101] I’d rather consider it to be a collection of rare white leaf samples against an amiable backdrop of cosmic latte; the midnight Forest [161] wakes up to be a lively band of naughty ghosts, whose playful silhouettes can be dimly discerned under the sleepy stars; a rather brooding sort of Stillness [43] whose disquiet is betrayed by the disturbed water and air.

The overall experience browsing through Čiurlionis’ paintings is that of a positive buoyancy concisely summarized by Rojus [177], originating from a mind constantly exploring the infinite forms of beauty of the world as its wings grow ever broader.

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