Umberto Eco’s “How to recognize a porn movie” (From the 1995 book ‘How to Travel with a Salmon & Other Essays’)

I don’t know if you’ve ever happened to see a pornographic movie. I don’t mean movies with some erotic content, a movie like Last Tango in Paris, for example, though even that, I realize, for many people might be offensive. No, what I mean is genuine pornoflicks, whose true and sole aim is to stimulate the spectator’s desire, from beginning to end, and in such a way that, while this desire is stimulated by scenes of various and varied copulations, the rest of the story counts for less than nothing.

Magistrates are often required to decide whether a film is purely pornographic or whether it has artistic value. I am not one of those who insist that artistic value excuses everything; sometimes true works of art have been dangerous, to faith, to behavior, to current opinion, than works of lesser value. But I believe that consenting adults have the right to consume pornographic material, at least for want of anything better. I recognize, however, that on occasion a court must decide whether a film has been produced for the purpose of expressing certain concepts of esthetic ideals (even through scenes that offend the accepted moral view), or whether it was made for the sole purpose of arousing the spectator’s instincts.

Well, there is a criterion for deciding whether a film is pornographic or not, and it is based on the calculation of wasted time. A great, universal film masterpiece, Stagecoach, takes place solely and entirely (except for the beginning, a few brief intervals, and the finale) on a stagecoach. But without this journey the film would have no meaning. Antonioni’s L’ avventura is made up solely of wasted time: people come and go, talk, get lost and are found, without anything happening. This wasted time may or may not be enjoyable, but it is exactly what the film is about.

A pornographic movie, in contrast, to justify the price of the ticket or the purchase of the cassette, tells us that certain people couple sexually, men with women, men with men, women with women, women with dogs or stallions (I might point out that there are no pornographic films in which men couple with mares and bitches: why not?). And this would still be all right: but it is full of wasted time.

If Gilbert, in order to rape Gilbertina, has to go from Lincoln Center to Sheridan Square, the film shows you Gilbert, in his car, throughout the whole journey, stoplight by stoplight.

Pornographic movies are full of people who climb into cars and drive for miles and miles, couples who waste incredible amounts of time signing in at hotel desks, gentlemen who spend many minutes in elevators before reaching their rooms, girls who sip various drinks and who fiddle interminably with laces and blouses before confessing to each other that they prefer Sappho to Don Juan. To put it simply, crudely, in porn movies, before you can see a healthy screw you have to put up with a documentary that could be sponsored by the Traffic Bureau.

There are obvious reasons. A movie in which Gilbert did nothing but rape Gilbertina, front, back, and sideways, would be intolerable. Physically, for the actors, and economically, for the producer. And it would also be, psychologically, intolerable for the spectator: for the transgression to work, it must be played out against a background of normality. To depict normality is one of the most difficult things for any artist – whereas portraying deviation, crime, rape, torture, is very easy.

Therefore the pornographic movie must present normality – essential if the transgression is to have interest – in the way that every spectator conceives it. Therefore, if Gilbert has to take the bus and go from A to B, we will see Gilbert taking the bus and then the bus proceeding from A to B.

This often irritates the spectators, because they think they would like the unspeakable scenes to be continuous. But this is an illusion on their part. They couldn’t bear a full hour and a half of unspeakable scenes. So the passages of the wasted time are essential.

I repeat. Go into a movie theater. If, to go from A to B, the characters take longer than you would like, then the film you are seeing is pornographic.

Advertisements

The fire you rubbed left its brand on the most vulnerable, most vicious and tender point of my body. Now I have to pay for your rasping the red rash too strongly, too soon, as charred wood has to pay for burning. When I remain without your caresses, I lose all control of my nerves, nothing exists any more than the ecstasy of friction, the abiding effect of your sting, of your delicious poison.

Ada or Ardor – Vladimir Nabokov

Kafka on the Shore

Lost opportunities, lost possibilities, feelings we can never get back. That’s part of what it means to be alive. But inside our heads – at least that’s where I imagine it – there’s a little room where we store those memories. A room like the stacks in this library. And to understand the workings of our own heart we have to keep on making new reference cards. We have to dust things off every once in awhile, let in fresh air, change the water in the flower vases. In other words, you’ll live forever in your own private library.

Haruki Murakami

“The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit” by Sherry Turkle

Extract from the book “The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit” by Sherry Turkle (Chapter 6. Hackers: Loving the Machine for Itself, p.185)

Bibliographic Record

Turkle, S. (2008). The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit (20th ed., first edition published by Simon & Schuster, Inc., New York in 1984). Cambridge, Massachusetts. London, England: The MIT Press.

Date a girl who reads

“Date a girl who reads. Date a girl who spends her money on books instead of clothes. She has problems with closet space because she has too many books. Date a girl who has a list of books she wants to read, who has had a library card since she was twelve.

Find a girl who reads. You’ll know that she does because she will always have an unread book in her bag.She’s the one lovingly looking over the shelves in the bookstore, the one who quietly cries out when she finds the book she wants. You see the weird chick sniffing the pages of an old book in a second hand book shop? That’s the reader. They can never resist smelling the pages, especially when they are yellow.

She’s the girl reading while waiting in that coffee shop down the street. If you take a peek at her mug, the non-dairy creamer is floating on top because she’s kind of engrossed already. Lost in a world of the author’s making. Sit down. She might give you a glare, as most girls who read do not like to be interrupted. Ask her if she likes the book.

Buy her another cup of coffee.

Let her know what you really think of Murakami. See if she got through the first chapter of Fellowship. Understand that if she says she understood James Joyce’s Ulysses she’s just saying that to sound intelligent. Ask her if she loves Alice or she would like to be Alice.

It’s easy to date a girl who reads. Give her books for her birthday, for Christmas and for anniversaries. Give her the gift of words, in poetry, in song. Give her Neruda, Pound, Sexton, Cummings. Let her know that you understand that words are love. Understand that she knows the difference between books and reality but by god, she’s going to try to make her life a little like her favorite book. It will never be your fault if she does.

She has to give it a shot somehow.

Lie to her. If she understands syntax, she will understand your need to lie. Behind words are other things: motivation, value, nuance, dialogue. It will not be the end of the world.

Fail her. Because a girl who reads knows that failure always leads up to the climax. Because girls who understand that all things will come to end. That you can always write a sequel. That you can begin again and again and still be the hero. That life is meant to have a villain or two.

Why be frightened of everything that you are not? Girls who read understand that people, like characters, develop. Except in the Twilight series.

If you find a girl who reads, keep her close. When you find her up at 2 AM clutching a book to her chest and weeping, make her a cup of tea and hold her. You may lose her for a couple of hours but she will always come back to you. She’ll talk as if the characters in the book are real, because for a while, they always are.

You will propose on a hot air balloon. Or during a rock concert. Or very casually next time she’s sick. Over Skype.

You will smile so hard you will wonder why your heart hasn’t burst and bled out all over your chest yet. You will write the story of your lives, have kids with strange names and even stranger tastes. She will introduce your children to the Cat in the Hat and Aslan, maybe in the same day. You will walk the winters of your old age together and she will recite Keats under her breath while you shake the snow off your boots.

Date a girl who reads because you deserve it. You deserve a girl who can give you the most colorful life imaginable. If you can only give her monotony, and stale hours and half-baked proposals, then you’re better off alone. If you want the world and the worlds beyond it, date a girl who reads.

Or better yet, date a girl who writes.”

by Rosemarie Urquico (posted originally on Facebook)

The Little Prince, extract from Chapter IV

The Little Prince (1943), original title ‘Le Petit Prince’, by Saint-Exupery, translated by Katherine Woods

(drawings by Saint-Exupery, found here)

I have serious reason to believe that the planet from which the little prince came is the asteroid known as B-612. This asteroid has only once been seen through the telescope. That was by a Turkish astronomer, in 1909. 

On making his discovery, the astronomer had presented it to the International Astronomical Congress, in a great demonstration. But he was in Turkish costume, and so nobody would believe what he said. Grown-ups are like that…

Fortunately, however, for the reputation of Asteroid B-612, a Turkish dictator made a law that his subjects, under pain of death, should change to European costume. So in 1920 the astronomer gave his demonstration all over again, dressed with impressive style and elegance. And this time everybody accepted his report. 

If I have told you these details about the asteroid, and made a note of its number for you, it is on account of the grown-ups and their ways. When you tell them that you have made a new friend, they never ask you any questions about essential matters. They never say to you, “What does his voice sound like? What games does he love best? Does he collect butterflies?” Instead, they demand: “How old is he? How many brothers has he? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make?” Only from these figures do they think they have learned anything about him.

If you were to say to the grown-ups: “I saw a beautiful house made of rosy brick, with geraniums in the windows and doves on the roof,” they would not be able to get any idea of that house at all. You would have to say to them: “I saw a house that cost $20,000.” Then they would exclaim: “Oh, what a pretty house that is!”

Just so, you might say to them: “The proof that the little prince existed is that he was charming, that he laughed, and that he was looking for a sheep. If anybody wants a sheep, that is a proof that he exists.” And what good would it do to tell them that? They would shrug their shoulders, and treat you like a child. But if you said to them: “The planet he came from is Asteroid B-612,” then they would be convinced, and leave you in peace from their questions.