Reverse-Engineering Persona

January 24, 2010

If you’ve ever had to write an essay about something seemingly meaningless, you probably know how this works. You pick a thought (the more unlikely the better), connect everything to it (the less obvious the connections the better), and make sure to overlook anything that goes against your “theory.” Does this projection of meaning onto chaos sound like what art critics do?

All is well until you start believing your own words. That is what happened to me, and I am open-sourcing some of them here, for the whole world to point and laugh and maybe even plagiarize. This story is about Bergman’s Persona and a certain Andalusian Dog, so if you haven’t seen those species yet, come back later.

Persona: the metafilm

An unwanted child, an insecure man, an arrogant genius, Ingmar Bergman directed what could very well be the most cryptic movie ever made. Persona is painted in two layers: a foreground that makes sense on a background that mystifies. The upper stratum is Alma’s story of self-acceptance, of coming to terms with her dark side. The backdrop is Bergman’s meditation on cinematography.

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Paper Towns

January 9, 2009

papertowns-rightJohn Green’s latest and greatest novel. After an inspiring debut and a less relatable second novel, Paper Towns was a very pleasant surprise. It is definitely the best young adult book I’ve read this year; and it will be interesting to see if another will take its place as the year unfolds.

In the first part, the book takes us on a dizzying to-do list of adventures (I tend to like novels that contain lists). It promises to be a page-turner with tons of fun and no  deep moral. But the second part makes a character disappear, veering away from such a prediction completely. There is a lot of meditation on understanding other people, and in particular, on misimagining others by seeing them as idea[l]s.

The hunt for clues left by the missing person continues almost until the end, making this another novel for whose answer-in-the-lack-of-answers ending I feared. Although the characters do finally reunite, the message Green sends out is not one that inspires comfort. Basically, he puts Maugham’s tower of brass into words intelligible to the impatient Google generation. True and complete understanding between people is impossible; you cannot be someone else.

The novel ends with a brilliant metaphor about human suffering and understanding.

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