Saturday, January 13, 2007
Spazztacular

My body seems to be in open rebellion. A couple of days ago, while engaged in my normal activities, I felt a bit of thickness in my head that felt very much like an incipient cold. There's one going around, and it seemed like I might be due since it's been well over a year since I last came down with anything. So I went home and got comfortable in the hopes of heading the cold off at the pass -- one day of rest at the beginning, I hoped, might forestall a week of misery.

I woke up yesterday morning with a clear head and no sign of sickness. "Hooray!" I thought to myself, "now I can go out and get a whole lot done!" Then I jumped out of bed, and my back whispered ominously, "think again." I could barely stand up straight for some new, unfamiliar, clutching pain in my lower back. Sitting down was almost as bad. Bending over was the worst. So I spent the whole day yesterday with my back locked in full-on spasm. At least, that's what I'm interpreting it as; I've never actually had this happen before. All I know is, it hurts, a lot. I guess I threw my back out with all that... rest.

It's not much better today (though the pain seems to have migrated a few inches toward my head), so once again I'm going to spend as much of the day as possible in repose with my books in the hope that if I give my back a break now, it won't ruin my whole week.

I am bored utterly out of my skull. So, naturally, I've started thinking about things.

I've been spending a lot of time lately thinking about the future of my medium -- not only film, but documentary film specifically. In my more pessimistic moments, I'm tempted by the thought that cinema is nearing the end of its evolution -- which on some level is silly, since art as a process is never finished, it just undergoes occasional phase shifts into new forms. On the other hand, cinema is increasingly extending and evolving into gaming and interactive forms, to which it bears as close a relationship as it does to photography. Gaming obviously lends itself naturally to fiction and fantasy; can it also be bent to serve nonfiction? Is it possible to create a documentary game? Assuming it is, would anyone be remotely interested? Could the interests of documentary be served by interactivity (or as well, but differently) as they are by film? What would the standards of documentary be in a form where almost nothing is taken directly from reality? Or is that question borne only of my own limited preconceptions?

None of it has any real bearing on anything, at least not for the time being. I'm just perplexed by the fact that I can't easily imagine any way in which my favorite cinematic form could be easily adapted to an intriguing new medium; is it possible that nonfiction forms will be left behind as the province of obsolete technologies? Will it be abandoned to photographers and authors and filmmakers while younger generations turn their attention to artificial worlds? (More pointedly, will they even make a distinction between reality and artificiality?) But then, surely a good story still transcends the limitations of any medium?

My favorite documentary subjects are stories in which ordinariness is revealed as epic, allegorical, even transcendental. I'm drawn not so much to amazing tales as I am to the beauty of the mundane, the small lives that turn out to be profound when re-examined by different standards. It is, for me (as always) a case of being so taken by my amazement at what really is that there seems to be little reason to lean on fiction. Interactive forms clearly possess some powerful tools -- but how would you go about redirecting those tools towards transforming someone's perception of reality?

I get stuck on these kinds of thoughts, but I never seem to reach any conclusions. I have this comforting fantasy that one day all of the fragments of ideas I've collected over the years will suddenly integrate themselves into one staggering realization, the big creative insight I've been working towards my whole life. If I have one big intellectual gift/liability, it's the willingness to allow things to remain unresolved -- I pick up a shiny new idea and make note of it, give it some thought, and then put it aside for the day I understand what to do with it. I've got a whole metaphorical junk drawer full of these things saved up now, I'm constantly looking for more, and I still have no idea what to do with any of them. What my great aunt Mary Louisa did with trinkets and baubles, I do with ideas -- I horde them.

My current thing is quantum physics; it is, to say the least, some tricky shit. And obviously I'm only dabbling, trying to get a better grasp on the core ideas, which is hard since I've resigned myself to the fact that my post-simian brain just isn't designed to cope easily with some of these concepts (it rejects nonlocality completely -- but I reassure myself with the thought that Einstein never got it, either. I think this is an instance where hallucinogens might have some very practical applications.) But that in itself is an interesting thought -- to play with holding an idea in your mind which has been proven true but which conflicts with everything you "know." It's kind of fun to try to wrap your brain around something it can't ever completely understand in the accustomed way.

And I've been thinking that I'd like to have another go at math at some point. I never got as far with it in school as I'd have liked -- I did okay through the beginning of high school, but then it all fell apart. I ended up in a truly backwards algebra II class in Arkansas, and subsequently I ended up taking trigonometry at three different high schools. Every class was at a different point when I joined; I asked my teachers for help, but each of them, realizing they'd basically have to start over from the beginning, wished me good luck and sent me away. I never did understand what was going on. Add to that the pressures of the enormous chaos I was coping with at home, and math was always going to be the first thing to give way. Calculus was doubtless within my abilities, but given that I was now essentially two years behind, I didn't have the foundation to do the work. And without calculus, doing meaningful work in college was out of the question. So mathematics and I parted company just when things were about to get genuinely interesting.

So I understand the idea that mathematics can be creative and beautiful, but I've never had a chance to see and understand that beauty for myself. And I think I'd like to, and I think I can do a lot of the work on my own (especially now that MIT is, for all intents and purposes, teaching higher mathematics online for free.) I'm fascinated by the thought that creativity and reason aren't mutually exclusive after all -- I've grown so tired of the assumption that art must always be accompanied by irrational thinking and some amount of woo-woo. Reason and rational thought are also major aspects of human experience, and as such, must also be appropriate subject matter for art, right?

I was annoyed beyond belief last year by a class about "creativity" into which I was drafted as a friend of the teacher (though I ended up not having to take it, to my relief.) The content of the class was heavily focused on the ideas presented in What the Bleep Do We Know? and The Power of Now. (In case a certain friend of mine, who loves The Power of Now, is reading this -- I'm sorry, I know how much it means to you, but I don't think I've ever read a steamier pile of bunk in my life.) I just found the whole idea so insulting, not only to my intelligence, but to the concept of art itself -- that willful misunderstanding of reality was somehow "better" for art than was a disciplined examination of the same reality. There's room for subjectivity and fantasy in art, of course; but to deny reality even on an intellectual level? It seems like a recipe for alienation, and sure-fire method to divorce art from anything like real life -- which in turn means a divorce from relevance and meaning.

Like I said -- I have this comforting idea that one day all of these bits of ideas will merge into one key insight. But today I'm just playing with random thoughts.

Sweet Jesus, I'm bored.
1:12 PM ::
Amy :: permalink
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