Monthly Archives: March 2011

Book roundup: Steampunk, Øvre Richter Frich, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Nina Witoszek

Ann & Jeff Vandermeer - Steampunk

Ann & Jeff Vandermeer – Steampunk

An anthology of some bad, some good, bookended by diametrically opposed visions of steampunk: Jess Nevins, who argues that only by dedicating one’s art to the destruction of capitalism can one do Proper Steampunk, and Rick Klaw, who says it’s all one big party so just come on in and enjoy yourself.

Recommended: No. Stories seem selected more to display the breadth of the genre than for quality.

Øvre Richter Frich – Rød tåke (1937)

Frich is kind of a cult author in Norway for his once massively popular racist thrillers about Jonas Fjeld, an Aryan übermensch who goes about beating up anarchists.  To judge from this novel, at least, Frich is to thrillers what H. P. Lovecraft was to horror: A “bad” writer with peculiar obsessions, but a compelling way of putting them on paper.

Recommended: Ironically.

Ayaah Hirsi Ali - Nomad

Ayaan Hirsi Ali - Nomad (2010)

Everything was so much easier back when oppressed third world women kept their mouths shut and let Westerners speak on their behalf.

Recommended: Yes.  It is a relief to read current feminism that isn’t an anguished search for relevance, but actually matters.

Nina Witoszek – The Origins of the ‘Regime of Goodness’ – Remapping the Cultural History of Norway (2011)

What a pleasant surprise: A look at the roots of Norway’s identity that is genuinely insightful, or at least quite interesting. Witoszek discounts Romanticism as a factor in Norwegian cultural history, and traces our identity to a meeting between peasant individualism, Christianity, and Enlightenment values – plus a dash of homegrown Taoism.

Recommended: Yes.

1950s movies marathon – part 25

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The White Reindeer / Valkoinen peura (1952, Finland, Blomberg)

It’s 1952 now in the marathon, and I find myself impatiently fast-forwarding through the same-old, same-old, even through movies I might have watched in a better mood. But that’s okay. The whole point of this project is to lean back and demand to be intrigued, to be forcefully pulled into something new, different, unexpected. Something like this, about a Sami woman who dabbles with shamanism and turns into a reindeer vampire, who stalks the snowy plains of Finland, looking for men to suck dry.  W00t?!  Yes!  Watched it all.

Ellis in Freedomland (1952, USA)

A failed salesman gets a lecture from a talking refrigerator about how to sell it.  Watched 10 minutes, then fast forwarded through 80 minutes of talking dishwashers, ovens, etc.  A suspicion creeps up on me: Is this in fact not a real movie, but a training video for dealers of Westinghouse kitchen appliances?  Yes.  Yes it is.  I feel .. violated.

Jumping Jacks (1952, USA)

Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin clearly has the potential of being funny.  But I’m a little disturbed by Lewis’s nerdiness always being presented as some sort of horrible debilitating disease that he must learn to overcome.  What is this, the 50′s?  Watched: 6 minutes.

The Girl in the Bikini / Manina, la filles sans voiles (1952, France)

There may be some sort of plot going on here, but I don’t think anyone noticed, what with (introducing) Brigitte Bardot being right in the middle of it.  Watched: 10 minutes.

.. a unique, Norwegian version of “Tao”

Askeladden is no superman – he is not even a hero in any conventional sense of the word. He is a genius in the guise of a village idiot – the only type of genius that Norwegians tolerate and cherish. His laziness is a noble, respectable laziness because it can at any time yield to feats of imagination and daring. [..] He is no saint and no philosopher. His wisest and most memorable words are: “That was really something”. He is the greatest ecohumanist in the Norwegian tradition.

Most interesting for us is the way in which Askeladden performs his various tasks in contrast to the way in which they are attempted by his brothers.  The implicit moral is that everything is possible if one does not try too hard.  The point is staying properly attuned to Nature.  Philosophically, then, the moral of Askeladden is to demonstrate the Right Way of conduct – a unique, Norwegian version of “Tao”. [..]

The principle underlying Askeladden’s behavior is wu wei, i.e. “action in inaction”, or “action in accordance with the laws of nature”. In contrast to the yu wei (forceful striving) exercised by his brothers, Askeladden practices no-striving and non-action in the Taoist sense.

- Nina Witoszek, The Origins of the ‘Regime of Goodness’, Remapping the Cultural History of Norway (2011)

Dette er en ren forretning for oss

Den amerikanske utenriksminister Henry Kissinger og sjahen av Iran møttes i Zürich den 18. februar. Sjahen kunne opplyse at Iran var villig til å erstatte den oljen Israel kunne komme til å gi slipp på ved å inngå en fredsavtale med Egypt.

Ren forretning

På spørsmål om det kunne tenkes at Israel ville få olje fra Iran som erstatning hvis Israel overlot oljekildene ved Abu Rudels i Sinai til Egypt, sa sjahen at Iran ikke brydde seg om hvor tankskipene gikk hen etter at de var lastet i Iran.  Dette er en ren forretning for oss, sa de.

Ingen boikott

Sjahen av Iran gjorde det også klart at hans land ikke hadde interesse av å gå med i en eventuell økonomisk boikott mot Israel. Iran var heller ikke interessert i å delta i en eventuell ny oljeboikott mot noe vestlig land, sa sjahen.

- Det hendte 75

Den inferiøre rases trang til underkastelse

- Hva vil De? spurte hun med en ro som nesten forferdet henne.

Negeren stanset et øieblikk. Hans hår hang om den rynkete pannen, mens en tynn blodstripe rant ned fra såret. Det var som om han i et eneste lite øieblikk følte den inferiøre rases trang til underkastelse.

- Jeg byr dem 100 000 dollars for å bringe mig bort herfra, sa hun hurtig med ånden i halsen.

Den gamle negers heslige ansikt fikk atter sitt grusomme preg. Han lo rått, og gikk imot henne med de svære gorillahendene krummet av blodlyst.

Hun bøide sig behending under hans armer og løp bak sofaen. Men hun snublet, og i neste øieblikk var negeren over henne. Hans fingrer søkte hennes hvite hals.

- De må dø, sa han hest. Hvite miss må dø…

- Øvre Richter Frich, Den røde tåke (1937)

.. og med dette forstår vi med en gang at det norsk litteraturdebatt trenger aller mest akkurat nå, som bloddråper i haibefengt hav, er en nyutgivelse av Jonas Fjeld-serien, klønete forsøkt rensket for rasistiske skildringer.  Tenk så gøy det vil bli!

The Las Vegas moment

There is a Las Vegas moment in every culture, when the electricity goes on. It represents exactly what the real Las Vegas means in the West: it is a space where you can throw off the fetters of traditional morality and values, where you can gamble and fornicate. You can indulge yourself in secret, and then sneak home to respectability. This Las Vegas of big neon lights and modern temptations that appears in every culture is something the elders and preservers of morality cannot police, because its power lies outside their understanding. This contact with modernity is a death blow to their ancient culture and the old ways of life.

Culture is accumulated human experience, an anatomy of obstacles and techniques for overcoming them. Traditional culture breaks down once that first contact with modernity is made. For next comes the radio, the TV, and the washing machine; then a rush of neon lights, cell phones, and new roads, all of which usurp the stories of the grandmothers and the elders, stories that used to hold communities together.

[..] Modernity is not a controlled zone that you can visit and then leave, then return and ask for forgiveness. Modernity is a permanent state that replaces your former outlook. You can try to fight it, but it is irresistible. It sucks in your young.

- Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Nomad

(And, of course, the internet is to the city what the city was to rural life.)

The Indelicates

Meet my favorite new band this week, The Indelicates.









Buy their albums on a pay-what-you-like model.

Book roundup: Julian Simon, Brian Aldiss, Norman Doidge, and Ken Follett

Julian Simon - The Ultimate Resource 2

Julian L. Simon – The Ultimate Resource 2 (1981/1996)

This must be how it once felt to read Darwin: If this is correct, it changes everything. Many of Simon’s conclusions are less controversial now than in 1981, but the core idea, the anti-Malthusian algorithm – it’s dynamite. Don’t experience it second-hand.

Recommended: Yes.

Brian Aldiss – Greybeard (1964)

Robbed of its ability to have children, human civilization goes mad, slowly wastes away, and dies singing “Daisy, Daisy” to itself.

Recommended: Yes.

Norman Doidge - The Brain that Changes Itself

Norman Doidge – The Brain That Changes Itself (2007)

Beware/rejoice: Your brain shapes itself by what you use it for. Also: Hey, let’s rethrone Freud!

Recommended: Partly. The science is interesting. The book suffers from anecdotes and “one idea to rule them all” syndrome.

Den Norske Turistforeningens årbok 1950

Peek into the lost world of rural Norway, before it became a zombie culture.

Recommended: Oddly, yes.

Brian Aldiss - Non-Stop

Brian Aldiss – Non-Stop (1958)

The guys in WALL-E had it easy, this generation ship has descended into outright barbarism, and is ruled by a priest caste of psychoanalysts.

Recommended: Yes, though it all falls apart in the end.

Ken Follett – Fall of Giants (2010)

The 20th century told as a novel, written so that even the dimmest of potential readers won’t feel excluded.

Recommended: No.

Instead of this, read: Michael Moorcock’s Between the Wars series.

1950s movies marathon – Best of 1951

From someone who has mostly watched movies from the 1920′s, 30′s and 40′s for the last two years, it may come as a surprise to hear that I don’t particularly like old movies.  I just don’t like them less than new movies, and when you’re trying to uncover All the Good Movies Ever Made, you have to start somewhere.  But even the best of the good Golden Age Hollywood movies can be a bit unimaginative and soft around the edges.

That’s why I love the two new kinds of movies of the early 50′s: Intelligent, even angry, “message” movies, and science fiction movies.  I’ve mostly heard bad things about 1950′s science fiction, but the only thing that is cheesy about the 1951 sci-fi movies are the effects.  Otherwise they’re everything I missed in the 40′s.

So here they are, the best (or at least pretty good) movies of 1951:

Best of the best

Ace in the  Hole


Hey everyone let’s invent the science fiction movie!


The Day the Earth Stood Still

The Man in the White Suit

The Thing From Another World

When Worlds Collide

Aspiring towards theater

Fourteen Hours

The Scarf

Aspiring towards cinema

Ace in the  Hole

The Tall Target

Aspiring towards opera

The Tales of Hoffmann

Italian movies that don’t suck

Four Ways Out / La Citta si diffende

Satirical Japanese color movies

Carmen Comes Home

The ‘other’ bin

Desert Fox

The Lavender Hill Mob

Kranes konditori

People Will Talk

Mr Belvedere Rings the Bell

The Whip Hand

The Kaiser’s Lackey / Der Untertan