Sunday, June 17

Less Alive?

I don't know why it happens.  It happens every now and again, as though my subconscious was having a conversation about me behind my back, and I accidentally overhear.  A couple of days ago, I had a totally random thought that, for an instant, made me quite concerned.  

SUBCONSCIOUS:  You spend your life reading - delving into someone else's life.  Does that mean you are less of a participator in your own life?  Are you less alive because you escape from your life into dream worlds?  

I hardly knew where to begin in my mental argument against this appalling thought.  Almost as soon as I thought of it, though, my brain swelled up with responses.  

Maybe I do spend a lot of my time living other people's lives through books.  But I ask you the same question that I asked myself.  Have you ever felt less alive, less connected, less human after reading a book?  

Reading gives you a way out, temporarily, from your own troubles.  Escapism.  Perhaps if your entire life was built around this escapism, my subconscious might have had a point. 

But reading is not purely escapism.  It is also interpretive.  By living that story, by becoming connected with that character, you learn something either about yourself, or the world, through the reflection of that story.  Literature is not only a doorway, a portal from our world to another.  It is also a mirror, in which we see ourselves, slightly changed, maybe reversed, but there all the same.  It is a new perspective.  It is fodder for deep rumination, for the digestion of new wisdom and understanding.  

If I had never read a book - if you had never read a book - what sort of person do you imagine you would be.  Think of all the things that you have learned from books.  Think of the people you have met, and the experiences you have had, and then, all the epiphanies, revelations, realisations that you had because of something  you read.  Real incredible life revelations.  

Reading may grow you up mentally - make you wiser - but spiritually, it keeps you young.  You know and have felt things that other people your age have no understanding of.  But you are also more childlike: a wonderer who revels in the beauty of language and of the world itself; a dreamer who can pull the wisdom of a thousand bed-time stories out of their sleeve to decorate their imaginings.  

What on earth was my subconscious thinking, when it asked me if I was less alive because I lives in books.  No.  You probably have a million things to add to my revelation.  No.  We are much much more alive.  

Monday, June 11

First Glimpse at the Great Gatsby

O glorious day!  The Great Gatsby trailer is finally out!  I am excited and delighted by the crisp, atmospheric beauty that reels through the entire ad.  I think, somehow, that we shan't be disappointed!

Sunday, June 10

Pavlov and his Dogs

A little while ago I believe I mentioned that I had an assignment for English that consists of me having to write a narrative intervention (short story that fits into) Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.  I just finished it, and I wanted to share it.  The point is to provide a new social or historical context to the novel while foregrounding the themes of the book.  I have based it around the idea of Neo-Pavlovian Conditioning.  

Pavlov struck the bell with the little hammer.  Just as he had predicted.  His triumphant smile bordered on incredulity and with an exultant swish of his lab coat, he spun to face his colleagues. 
 “Gentlemen, today you witness a great development in neurological science,” he declared, flourishing the bell like a Greek tragic hero.  “You have seen the result of successful behavioural conditioning.”  The small gathering applauded with exuberance, and he grinned even more widely.  “Let us not forget to reward our canine companions for their role in this discovery,” he said.  A dish of meat for the dogs. “The reward system!” Pavlov announced.  “By striking a bell when feeding the dogs, I have caused them to create a strong neural link between the sound and the food.  Thereby, they now hear the bell alone and salivate in anticipation for their minced meat.   Their reflexes have been manipulated!” A great success for science!  The hero had conditioned his dogs to salivate on command.  What a simple concept, yet so exciting.  What might the hero do next? 
The spectacle in the Neo-Pavlovian Conditioning Rooms of the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre had invigorated the throng of students.  What a privilege!  Like so many sheep, they bustled after the Director, absorbedly scribbling in their note-books. 
 “That,” the director peered philosophically over his shoulder, “is a great triumph of modern science.”  The students scratched into their note-books: that is a triumph.  “It’s incredible that Ivan Pavlov himself could not see the significance of his discovery.”  He took the concentrated silence of the scribbling students as an invitation to continue with the lecture.  “Conditioning was first used many decades before the time of Our Ford.  Pavlov was only interested in using it for meagre things… like teaching his pets to perform tricks.”  He shook his head regretfully.  “So inconsequential.”  The students, shocked, shook their heads and wondered how could one limit such a powerful tool for such trivialities?  In their note-books: old dog, new trick.  
“You see,” the director continued sententiously, “Pavlov had no interest in the good of society.” 
The scientific minds departed from Pavlov’s laboratory in a swish of white coats and an academic creak of patent leather.   They would talk about this for months.  Pavlov took up his note-books, the bell, papers and pencils, and descended to his study.  As he drifted about the room, smiling, tidying, he humoured his little habit of reciting the Greek alphabet to clear his active mind.  Alpha.  He brooded over his desk with his back to the door.  Beta.  The sound of shoes on the stairs, heavy and slow.  Gamma.  Predatory; the bristles of grey hair on the nape of his neck stood up. 
 “Delta,” said the intruder.  
“Epsilon,” continued Pavlov, and he turned to face a deep-chested Russian man in his thirties.  The Soviet had strongly marked features and an attitude that denoted patient determination to achieve some inimical goal.    
“Excuse me, sir.  I am not free this evening,” Pavlov said shortly.  “Today’s Monday.  Perhaps tomorrow morning, then, in the parlour, I can see you-.” 
 “You will see me now,” the Soviet overruled him with an intense tone.  “This matter is of great consequence to yourself, as a scientist, and to the stability of our future world.  I recommend you listen.”  Pavlov cleared his throat and sat down, patiently, heroically. 
 “My research will not be used by Communism,” he declared.  The Soviet did not blink.  He replied, low, dangerous.  
“You knowingly limit your research to trivialities when it has the potential to benefit all of society.  Why stop at pets, when human beings will respond to similar conditioning?  If certain people liked or disliked certain things-.”  
“You would be reducing them to pets!” Pavlov shouted.  “It is against human rights.  My research is not about control.  It is about reflexes and the brain.” 
 “If we controlled reflexes, we could control society, tailor the likes and dislikes of the people so that everyone is content.  Stability is the ultimate goal.”   
“What is your proposition?”  
“You will lead the Soviet Union’s new regime of behavioural conditioning experiments.”  The Soviet’s face was deadpan. “You are mistaken.  I will not,” Pavlov replied.  The tragic hero waited.  “I have won this battle, sir.”  The Soviet nodded and silently exited the study. 
“We won the war,” the Director continued, and checked to make sure the flock of students still followed. “Pavlov could not stand in the way of progress.  Our scientists saw the potential in Pavlov’s discovery and began to condition human beings through a system of punishment.  Indissolubly wedding fear with books and so on, as you have seen today in the case of the Deltas.  It has been a huge success, and is a key to social stability.”  The students smiled at each other, simply happy to be a part of the excellent present.  What a privilege! 
Pavlov’s wife was woken up early on Tuesday morning by the peal of a bell.  Surprised to find her husband was not in bed, she went to draw the blind and gasped when she saw his four dogs roaming loose on the street, and the words burnt into the front lawn: welcome to the brave, new world.  No one could find him. 

Tuesday, June 5

Juggling Juxtaposition

Though it succeeded in confusing almost my entire English class, I really enjoyed Aldous Huxley's use of juxtaposition in Brave New World.  I've never experienced anything quite like it before, and it opened a door to so much reflection for me, not to mention inspiration.  I thought it was definitely worth mentioning if only because of how unusual and just... cool it is.  

In Chapter III of Brave New World, Huxley intertwines four narratives: 

1.  Mustapha Mond lecturing a group of students at the Hatching and Conditioning Centre,
2.  Lenina and Fanny having a gossipy conversation,
3.  Bernard Marx overhearing a conversation in the men's room, and
4.  A loop tape which is played while children sleep to brainwash them.

While these narratives interrupt each other only infrequently to begin with, as the chapter goes on, they begin to jut in every couple of sentences or so, until each sentence is a separate narrative.  Practically everyone in my English class managed to get confused, but for someone who actually reads more than one book a year, this chapter was exciting.  These narratives, which were seemingly unrelated, when cut and pasted together in this format, juxtaposed, you can see the links that Huxley was encouraging us to make.  It was like swapping attention mid conversation to another discussion on the other side of the room, only to realise that they are talking about the same thing.  

I have decided to use the same technique in my narrative intervention for the exam.  Having never had the opportunity to juggle juxtaposition like this before, I am excited by the possibilities it offers me to emphasise my point.  I will probably end up sharing the finished story with you, but if you were interested in reading the chapter and experiencing the effect of juxtaposition for yourself, you can find it here:  It really it worthwhile!

Sunday, June 3

The Fourth Teenager Milestone

I reached yet another teenager milestone today.  I have a humble collection of teenagery accolades now.  

  1. I have my learners license.  
  2. I have died my hair red (a while ago, and it washed out after a week so please don't worry!)
  3. I slept in until after 12:00pm. 
I now have a fourth to add.  I was at a friend's birthday party slash sleep over last night, and after a long night of SingStar, lemonade, chocolate cake, pizza, and sparklers, I pulled my very first all-nighter, sitting up to talk to my friends until 6:15 am when the sun finally rose.  

I am quite proud of my achievement, though I have absolutely no intention to ever do such a hideous thing again.  I experienced a dark hour at about 2:00 am when I was sure I would fall asleep, but after that, I went on happily, and have continued to be ordinarily happy all day, without any over-tiredness which I dreaded.  I will be enjoying an early night tonight to compensate, even though I don't feel tired yet.  I consider the whole thing an immense success.