Posted by Roberto Macedo Alves on Jul 20, 2009 in Rants
Do Diário de Notícias de hoje, uma citação do Provedor do Ouvinte: “Vivemos muito na sociedade do prazer, do passatempo. As pessoas consomem mais o fait-divers e o banal que as diverte”
Podia estar a falar da sociedade apresentada por Huxley no seu ADMIRÁVEL MUNDO NOVO, mas infelizmente, está a falar da nossa sociedade contemporânea. Huxley escreveu o avisoe em 1931, nós não lhe prestamos atenção…
From our local Newspaper, a quote that says “We live in a society of pleasure, of pastime. People consume the fait-divers and the banality that entertain them“
He could be talking about the society that Huxley presented in his BRAVE NEW WORLD, but unfortunately, he was talking about our contemporary society. Huxley wrote the warning in 1931, we didn’t pay attention…
Posted by Roberto Macedo Alves on Apr 26, 2009 in Polysyllabic Spree
When I was younger (probably 11 or 12 years old), I was terrified of many many things. Due to my reading habits, there were several “larger-than-life” threats that seemed to hang over our heads like Damocles’ sword. Not the usual scary things that kids usually fear.
One of the stories that terrified the shit out of me when I was a lad, was “The Scarlet Plague”, a short story written by Jack London (that can be read for free in the Gutenberg Project).
That short story terrified my 12-year-old brain in a way few things did. It begins in 2072, when James Howard Smith, a professor – one of the few survivors of the “Scarlet Plague” tells his grandsons (a group of savages) how civilization was in 2013, when the plague (pandemic?) hit our civilization:
“‘The fleeting systems lapse like foam,’” he mumbled what was evidently a quotation. “That’s it—foam, and fleeting. All man’s toil upon the planet was just so much foam. He domesticated the serviceable animals, destroyed the hostile ones, and cleared the land of its wild vegetation. And then he passed, and the flood of primordial life rolled back again, sweeping his handiwork away—”
So, many years later, every time I read the atrocities we were doing to the environment, I remembered Jack London’s story and a cold shiver went through my spine. We were screwing Mother Earth all over, and she could attack back with some uncontrollable disease… That scared me more than the creatures under the bed or aliens or monsters or ghosts that my friends said they were afraid of. What were those compared to the Scarlet Plague?
Obviously, when I was a child, I was a nerdy avid reader, so I read so many things that these primal fears suddenly vanished and were replaced by new stuff: like the “King of Terror” arriving from the skies in 1999 (thanks to Nostradamus’ Prophecies), or the possibility of an asteroid hitting earth (when I read how Dinosaurs died), or the appearance of extraterrestrial beings with superior technology (because of Wells’ War of the Worlds) and even Nuclear Holocaust (when I read a “Health Encyclopedia” my parents had at home, that being printed in the height of the cold war, included lots of information about preparing for Nuclear Catastrophe – and I was already thinking which place in my garden would be best to dig the Nuclear Shelter and how could I convince my parents to pay for that). Yes, my imagination used to be full of scary stuff most of the time, so full that Jack London’s scarlet plague went often to the back of my memory, only to be occasionally remembered:
“The world was full of people. The census of 2010 gave eight billions for the whole world—(…). Mankind knew a great deal more about getting food. And the more food there was, the more people there were. In the year 1800, there were one hundred and seventy millions in Europe alone. One hundred years later—(…), at 1900, there were five hundred millions in Europe—(…). This shows how easy was the getting of food, and how men increased. And in the year 2000 there were fifteen hundred millions in Europe. And it was the same all over the rest of the world. (…) yes, eight billion people were alive on the earth when the Scarlet Death began. “
Occasionally, when I read about the world population, I grab London’s book to compare his fictional data with the real stuff. In the year 2000, the population of Europe was 728 million or something, not the scary fifteen hundred millions Jack London wrote about in his fictional story. Whew. His estimates are still exaggerated right now, considering that probably right now world’s population must be some 6,7 billion or something. But every time I read about the world’s population, I would go back to London’s short story, and wonder what would happen if civilization ended and suddenly some strange disease stroke. After all, there could be an incubation period with no symptoms and we would never know:
“Yes, that’s where I was. A man did not notice at first when only a few of these germs got into his body. But each germ broke in half and became two germs, and they kept doing this very rapidly so that in a short time there were many millions of them in the body. Then the man was sick. He had a disease, and the disease was named after the kind of a germ that was in him. It might be measles, it might be influenza, it might be yellow fever; it might be any of thousands and thousands of kinds of diseases.”
“Now this is the strange thing about these germs. There were always new ones coming to live in men’s bodies. Long and long and long ago, when there were only a few men in the world, there were few diseases. But as men increased and lived closely together in great cities and civilizations, new diseases arose, new kinds of germs entered their bodies. Thus were countless millions and billions of human beings killed. And the more thickly men packed together, the more terrible were the new diseases that came to be. Long before my time, in the middle ages, there was the Black Plague that swept across Europe. It swept across Europe many times. There was tuberculosis, that entered into men wherever they were thickly packed. A hundred years before my time there was the bubonic plague. And in Africa was the sleeping sickness. The bacteriologists fought all these sicknesses and destroyed them, just as you boys fight the wolves away from your goats, or squash the mosquitoes that light on you. The bacteriologists—”
“In spite of all these diseases, and of all the new ones that continued to arise, there were more and more men in the world. This was because it was easy to get food. The easier it was to get food, the more men there were; the more men there were, the more thickly were they packed together on the earth; and the more thickly they were packed, the more new kinds of germs became diseases. There were warnings. Soldervetzsky, as early as 1929, told the bacteriologists that they had no guaranty against some new disease, a thousand times more deadly than any they knew, arising and killing by the hundreds of millions and even by the billion. You see, the micro-organic world remained a mystery to the end. They knew there was such a world, and that from time to time armies of new germs emerged from it to kill men. “
And every time I reread the story, more scared I was, after all, this story told about one of our primal fears: we could already have some fatal disease and not even know about it. After all, some strange new disease sounded more plausible than octopus-like aliens with tripods. With Star Wars and Star Trek and all the alien-related entertainment, aliens seemed less and less scary… Until I saw Ridley Scott’s ALIEN on TV and I was reminded of how terrifying aliens could be.
Now, with news about the H1N1 virus started to invade our TVs and computers, my old primal fear about a scarlet-plague-like thing resurfaced. And for a short while, during this morning, I was monitoring every news website I could: CNN online, CNN via Twitter, Reuters, Yahoo News, the CDC website, and Twitter – reading stuff with the #swineflu hashtag. Suddenly, there was information everywhere, including a very useful map indicating the spread of the disease! and a What’s new page in the CDC website with last minute information. Oy. While reading all that stuff all over, all the bits of information that were popping, I thought again about “The Scarlet Plague” and the story that Professor James Howard Smith was telling to his savage grandsons:
“We talked through the air in those days, thousands and thousands of miles. And the word came of a strange disease that had broken out in New York. There were seventeen millions of people living then in that noblest city of America. Nobody thought anything about the news. It was only a small thing. There had been only a few deaths. It seemed, though, that they had died very quickly, and that one of the first signs of the disease was the turning red of the face and all the body. Within twenty-four hours came the report of the first case in Chicago. And on the same day, it was made public that London, the greatest city in the world, next to Chicago, had been secretly fighting the plague for two weeks and censoring the news despatches—that is, not permitting the word to go forth to the rest of the world that London had the plague.”
But this overload of information is scary – suddenly the media seemed to be more and more alarming, showing us lots of mexicans with surgical masks (but then, TV news want us to STAY TUNED, so it is natural that it tries to capture our attention with powerful images and video footage), and stuff like twitter seemed to be spreading rumors and theories and alarming unverified information (adding to all my old fears and paranoia) – so, I stopped reading everything and following everything. It was too much, unverified and scary. I decided to focus on some useful resources (like the Mashable HOW-TO: Track swine flu online) where they said that “there’s likely to be much concern on social networking sites about public health incidents, it’s important to keep things in proportion, and go direct to the sources of news rather than spreading panic”. Good point. After all, it is very easy to be scared following Twitter updates, as it was perfectly explained here.
So, during the day, my childhood fears about the Scarlet Plague surfaced for a short while – and excess of information only worsened those. But there are differences between excess of information and useful information and it is really easy to forget that notion when we live in a peek-a-boo world, as Neil Postman said.
Posted by Roberto Macedo Alves on Oct 4, 2008 in Comics
Yesterday, I was rereading the Fantastic Four written and drawn by Walt Simonson, when I saw among the story pages a movie ad that just rekindled many memories. Suddenly, I remember a lot of the things I was reading / listening / watching during that year.
First, the Walter Simonson Fantastic Four, still printed on that nice, smelly, cheap newsprint. It didn’t have the allure of the John Byrne era, but it had a fantastic sense of wonder I haven’t felt since that era. And I wouldn’t feel that again until the Waid/Wieringo era.
So, we had the Fantastic Four traveling through time and visiting alternative realities – and fighting Josef Stalin, that was still alive (!) and riding a gigantic transformer-like robot. And lots of ads for crappy video games with lots of platforms! Yay! Wrath of the Black Manta.
In 1990 I was really (eagerly!) expecting the Dick Tracy movie, with Warren Beatty and Madonna. I was expecting a fantastic, witty, intelligent and exciting story, like the comic strip that Max Allan Collins was writing at the time. It was such a powerful comic work that I was eagerly waiting (and collecting) the sunday pages with the Dick Tracy stories. There were many stories from the Collins era (with memorable foes like Putty Puss, Haf and Haf, the return of Pruneface)… but what I really remeber from 1990 was the “nightmare machine” story:
In 1990, I discovered Sergei Rachmaninoff, with the Preludes (op 32), played by Lilya Zilberstein. But I never bought any other CD with a recording by her. Actually, I don’t remember if I heard about her at all, but I loved the subtlety of the fingerplay.
Among many things I remember from 1990, I was reading reprints of the 1960s and 1970s Spider-Man work from Stan Lee and John Romita, reprinted in the portuguese comic “A teia do Aranha” (the Spider’s Web). I was also reading the portuguese edition of the “Complete Robot” by Isaac Asimov, with the unforgettable robot stories with robopsichologist Susan Calvin.
So many nice memories from 1990. Nice, fun days. And you, dear reader. What were you doing in 1990?
Posted by Roberto Macedo Alves on Sep 7, 2008 in Polysyllabic Spree
Quotes of previously read stuff continues, while the new scanner doesn’t arrive. Today, Rainer Maria Rilke, writing about Love:
“To love is good, too: love being difficult. For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation. For this reason, young people, who are beginners in everything, cannot know love: they have to learn it. With their whole being, with all their forces, gathered close about their lonely, timid, upward-beating heart, they must learn to love.
But learning time is always a long, secluded time, and so loving, for a long while ahead and far on into life, is – solitude, intensified and deepened lonenss for him who loves. Love is at first not anything that maens merging, giving over, and uniting with another (for what a union be of something unclarified and unfinished, still subordinate -?); It is a high inducement to the individual to ripen, to become something in himself, to become world, to become world for himself for another’s sake; it is a great exacting claim upon him, something that chooses him out and calls him to vast things. Only in this sense, as the task of working at themselves (“to hearken and to hammer day and night”), might young people use the love that is given them. Merging and surrendering and every kind of communion is not for them (who must save and gather for a long, long time still), is the ultimate, is perhaps that for which human lives as yet scarcely suffice.”
Continuo com as citações de coisas que li previamente, enquanto o novo scanner não chega. Hoje, é a vez de Rainer Maria Rilke, que escreve sobre o Amor:
“Amar também é bom: porque o amor é difícil. O amor entre dois seres humanos: esta é provavelmente a mais difícil de todas as nossas tarefas, a maior e última prova, o trabalho para o qual todos os outros trabalhos são apenas preparação. Por esta razão os jovens, que são ainda inexperientes em tudo, não podem conhecer o amor: têm que aprende-lo. Com todo o seu ser, com todas as suas forças, concentradas no seu solitário, tímido, palpitante coração, eles devem aprender a amar.
Mas o tempo de aprendizagem é sempre um processo longo de clausura. Assim, para quem ama, durante muito tempo e pela vida fora, o amor é solidão, isolamento por aquele que ama, intensificado e profundo. O amor não é no início aquilo que se chama dar-se, unir-se a outra pessoa (pois que sentido teria a união de algo não esclarecido, inacabado, ainda subordinado-?); é um chamamento para que o indivíduo amadureça, para que se torne algo em si mesmo, para que se torne mundo para si e pelo outro; é uma grande exigência que lhe é pedida, algo que o escolhe e o chama para coisas vastas. Apenas neste sentido, tal como na tarefa de trabalhar em si mesmos (“escutar e martelar dia e noite”) os jovens deviam usar o amor que lhes é dado. A fusão com o outro, a entrega de si, toda a espécie de comunhão não é ainda para eles (que deverão durante muito tempo reunir e guardar), é algo de acabado para o qual talvez a vida humana ainda não seja suficiente.”
Posted by Roberto Macedo Alves on Sep 4, 2008 in Polysyllabic Spree
Today I am feeling too tired to blog about anything… so, I am going to quote.
And the quote comes from the foreword of Neil Postman‘s book “Amusing Ourselves to Death“:
“Neil Postman contrasts the world of George Orwell’s 1984 and [Aldous Huxley's] Brave New World: “What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we
would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us” (Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death, 1986, foreword).”
Quoted from the Perichoresis Blog
And now I wonder if we are not just getting dangerously close to Huxley’s fears… Or maybe I am just feeling pessimistic today.
Posted by Roberto Macedo Alves on Sep 3, 2008 in Polysyllabic Spree
Herbert George Wells said that “The old-world teachers and schools have to be reformed or replaced“.
I was not sure the man was being an extremist when he wrote that. Until now.
But today, I had this strange experience with an old-world (young) teacher, that showed me that Wells, in 1935 was right. And Wells in 2008 is still right.
Today I was talking to a small group of young people about “Os Maias“. This can be considered by many as one of the crowning achievements of Portuguese Literature.
This book is just too fascinating to just describe it in a few words. It would be like saying that “The Godfather” is a movie about the mafia. Under the soap-opera-like plot, we have a criticism on the Portuguese Identity, a precise analysis about what was wrong with the country 100 years ago (when the book was written) – and the tragic realization that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Anyway, I was explaining to young people how fascinating this book was, how the brilliant Eça de Queirós (the author of the book) makes us think critically about ourselves as Portuguese, and how sometimes he just manipulates the reader. I am still talking about that when the young teacher responsible for the group says “I hated that book when I had to read it in school“.
I was like “I would have been less offended if you just farted noisily right now, lady”.
And then I thought about the Herbert George Wells words I talked in the beginning of this post, about how the world needs to get rid of the old-world teachers.
I am not criticizing ALL teachers. I know many great, inspired, BRILLIANT teachers. Those who can shape and improve young minds and change them forever – for the best.
But for one of those brilliant inspiring teachers, there is probably a dozen like this “I-hated-Os-Maias” lady.
We don’t need a revolution in education (ok, maybe we need that) – we need much more than that.
How can we complain about the “new generation” with some poor teachers like like this “I-hated-Os-Maias” lady?
That’s enough for today. Good night.
Posted by Roberto Macedo Alves on Aug 30, 2008 in Polysyllabic Spree
Sometimes I enter a meditative state
, and go to reread books I’ve already read, and are underlined
This time, the book revisited was (again) Douglas Coupland’s “Generation X: Tales for an accelerated culture”
And even if the book is pretty plotless, the characters are interesting and sort of likeable, despite the apparent vacuity of them.
Suddenly, in this book, Elvissa (one of the characters) asks to Tobias (the yuppie) something that left me thinking:
“When you die and get buried and get to be floating wherever you go, what is going to be your best memory from Earth?”
Tobias, doesn’t understand, and Elvissa elaborates:
“What is the moment that for you defines what is to be alive in this planet? what do you want to take with you from here?”
Yet, the yuppie doesn’t understand. Elvissa continues:
“I want to hear about a tiny moment of your life that proves that you are really alive”
And that is really an AMAZING question.
I thought about that, and curiously, I couldn’t find a definite answer. There are several wonderful moments that I can consider my best memory from Earth. All of them too private to be shared here. But it was an amazing question, nonetheless.
And you, what is the moment that for you defines what is to be alive on this planet?