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the seventh sally

Died yesterday, Stanisław Lem, the Polish science-fiction writer best known for his book 'Solaris' and its film adaptations by Tarkovsky and Soderbergh, was really a philosopher in sci-fi disguise.

Take his short story 'The Seventh Sally', published in 1974. An anthropomorphic and very vain robot named Trurl designs a miniature kingdom as a gift to an exiled, despotic king. When Trurl's friend Klapaucius learns of this, he is horrified:

"Trurl, how could you have done such a thing?"

"You must be joking!" Trurl exclaimed. "Really, the whole kingdom fits into a box three feet by two by two and a half... it's only a model..."

"A model of what?"

"What do you mean, of what? Of a civilization, obviously, except that it's a hundred million times smaller."

"And how do you know there aren't civilizations a hundred million times larger than our own? And if there were, would ours then be a model? And what importance do dimensions have anyway? In that box kingdom, doesn't a journey from the capital to one of the corners take months - for those inhabitants? And don't they suffer, don't they know the burden of work, don't they die?"

Trurl defends himself by arguing his creation is just a simulation, a programmed model. But Klapaucius insists it's real:

"Prove to me here and now, once and for all, that they do not feel, that they do not think, that they do not in any way exist as being conscious of their enclosure between the two abysses of oblivion - the abyss before birth and the abyss that follows death - prove this to me, Trurl, and I'll leave you be! Prove that you only imitated suffering, and did not create it!"

This, of course, Trurl is unable to do. In fact, this was the whole aim of his design:

"Try to understand, there was no other way to do it! Anything that would have destroyed in the littlest way the illusion of complete reality would have also destroyed the importance, the dignity of governing, and turned it into nothing but a mechanical game..."

When Trurl and Klapaucius finally set out to save the kingdom, they find the miniature civilization has already evolved, grown out of its box and killed their tyrant king, whose head now orbits their tiny planet...

(From the collection 'The Cyberiad'. Reprinted in Hofstadter and Dennett's book 'The Mind's I'.)

Update: The Dutch documentary 'Victim of the Brain' (1988), besides lengthy interviews with Hofstadter and Dennett about 'The Mind's I', contains a curious dramatization of 'The Seventh Sally'. It's online in full.

chasing phantoms

A very fitting final Ro Theater production of both director Guy Cassiers (of Proustian fame) and actor Joop Keesmaat, 'Hersenschimmen' ('Out of Mind') is an enthralling, melancholy play about memories and forgetting.

Hersenschimmen - 1

'Out of Mind' (apparently this is the accepted English translation of 'Hersenschimmen', though it strikes me as poor; something like 'Chasing Shadows' or 'Phantoms of Mind' would be closer) is the theatre adaptation of the classic book by Dutch author Bernlef.

Its main character, Maarten Klein, suffers from Alzheimer's disease, and the play follows the process of his mental deterioration, made all the more painful by the presence of his wife (played by Katelijne Damen), who has to witness it all, from the first trivial absent-mindedness to where he starts calling her "mother" and finally doesn't recognize her at all anymore.

Hersenschimmen - 2

Adding to the outstanding performances of the two main actors, this process is visualized in a powerful, trademark Cassiers combination of stage design, video projections and soundscape. Especially during the second half, we enter Maartens head and see his world disintegrate. At one point he and his wife dance (he thinks it's Liberation Day, 1945) and the furniture around them starts to float. After this, the scenery slowly falls apart, leaving him on an empty stage, alone and utterly lost, chasing the last phantoms of his memory...

Rare goosebump theatre -- what a loss Cassiers is leaving.

factotum

After Mickey Rourke in 'Barfly', who would attempt to revisit Henry Chinaski, Bukowski's legendary alter ego? The answer is Matt Dillon, in Bent Hamer's adaptation of 'Factotum'. And the result is surprisingly good, if Bukowski's episodic skid row tale of drinking, writing and getting fired from odd jobs is your thing.

Factotum

The film stays close to the novel, with voice-over narration as well as songs based on Bukowski poems (by Dadafon singer Kristin Asbjørnsen). It works best as an offbeat comedy, with great performances by Dillon and Lili Taylor, though stylizing the down-and-outness away from too much sleazy grittiness and avoiding the overly painful. That is, except for its end statement:

If you're going to try, go all the way. Otherwise don't even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives, jobs. And maybe your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery, isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance. Of how much you really want to do it. And you'll do it, despite rejection in the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you're going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods. And the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It's the only good fight there is.

Btw, interesting to see how so many American underbelly-exposing Bukowski adaptations are done by non-Americans:

compliment spam

Argh! Heavy comment spam attack tonight. Is 53 in 14 minutes a record? Probably not. But the annoying thing is you have to weed them all out manually, which is kind of an uphill battle against automated spammers.

On the other hand, i don't think i've ever gotten so many compliments in 14 minutes. For the record:

This site is a lot of fun very well designed.

Your pictures are great.

Very interesting and professional site! Good luck!

I like your website alot...its lots of fun... you have to help me out with mine...

Hey man...sorry I missed the party.

Update: After two more days of constant spamming from Priscillas, Jeromes, Laurettes and the rest, i've resorted to installing the Pivot-Blacklist for "military grade protection against comment spam, trackback spam and referer spam". Let's see if that helps any...

Up-update: Not a single spam comment has gotten through since installing Blacklist! It overwhelmingly outweighs the minor nuisance of having to fill out an extra field in the comment form. (Btw, the answer is 'maps'!)

who knows where the time goes

Many versions have been recorded of the song 'Who knows where the time goes', written by Sandy Denny and sung by her on the Fairport Convention album 'Unhalfbricking'.

But the most memorable one must be Nina Simone's live version, if only for her whispered musing on "what is this thing called time":

You go to work by the clock, you get your martini in the afternoon by the clock, and your coffee by the clock, and you have to get on a plane at a certain time, and arrive at a certain time. It goes on and on and on. And time is a dictator, as we know. Where does it go? What does it do? Most of all, is it alive? Is it a thing that we cannot touch, and is it alive?

The song, including introduction, can be heard in the film 'The Dancer Upstairs'.

ce qui dit la pluie

The extensive Toulouse-Lautrec exhibition at the Kunsthal in Rotterdam of course features many of his famous litograph posters for the Moulin Rouge and Parisian stars of the fin de siècle like Jane Avril and La Goulue.

His intimate paintings and drawings of prostitutes (from the time when he lived in a brothel) are a bit underrepresented. But then there are many of his lesser known drawings and sketches, some of which are little miracles of simplicity, capturing a scene or character in just a few lines and an occasional dash of color. Examples are 'Ta Bouche' and 'Ce qui dit la pluie'.

Toulouse-Lautrec - Ta Bouche

Toulouse-Lautrec - Ce qui dit la pluie

Charming, too, are his illustrated invitations and menus for private dinner parties. Such as 'Dîner des Tarnais'.

Toulouse-Lautrec - Dîner des Tarnais

An awesome, reportedly complete archive of 370 high-res Toulouse-Lautrec works can be found here.