Monday, November 26, 2007

Many Meetings

Had a nicely busy last week. I'm starting to like these weekends when I'm up and about every day. Time seems to move slower then, and you experience much more.

But first, books I finished and liked.

Humphrey Carpenter - J. R. R. Tolkien, A Biography
Biographies usually don't appeal to me too much. Recently I've been enjoying them, though. You learn a lot about other people's dreams and ideas. Carpenter moves chronologically through the stages of Tolkien's life, from South Africa through the war to Oxford and Tolkien's last years in South England. If you've read the Lord of the Rings, Tolkien's biography is a small treasure chest. It made me realize that all of Tolkien's life echoes in his works (especially in LotR). Every inch of the way the Fellowship travels is an inch on the way of Tolkien's life. I find this quite amazing.
Reading about all the experiences Tolkien had in his early life was also very interesting. It's a bit intimidating to know about all the languages he taught himself even before going to University and the depth of his love for language. Then his experiences in the World War - a very short chapter, but nevertheless very shocking, especially since the book contains letters from Tolkien and his friends which reflect their feelings more authentically than a simple report could. You get a tiny sense of how crushed he must have been when he lost almost all of his close friends to the war. We probably can't even begin to imagine the full extent of what people felt during the wars. Lucky us.
Tolkien must have been a brilliant man. He had his failings (incidentally, they are sometimes described as his strengths ... shows you how subjective certain things are) and made mistakes, but it seems he usually acted with the best intent and purely out of love for his passions - an attitude that is quite inspirational. Maybe that's what biographies are for; to inspire you and give you an idea of how much can be achieved in a lifetime.

Peter S. Beagle - Tamsin
My sentiments towards Peter S. Beagle are a bit split. Watching the Last Unicorn has become a personal Christmas tradition through the years (even now that I have it on DVD and don't have to wait for December 24th to see it on TV). I probably love the film more than any other animation, simply for its underlying concepts that are hinted at, but not told, and for the ideas these concepts gave me in my childhood. And Christopher Lee's voice as King Haggard is simply wonderful.
The book, however, and other books I'd read so far by Peter S. Beagle, is a different matter. I could never fully take to the writing style. The thing I liked most about it was that it explained some of the concepts the film had hinted at further. But my heart was always with the film, not with the book. Beagle got a second chance when I read The Innkeeper's Song, which was even worse (stylistically). Good story, ideas and concepts, but the style made it very tedious for me. Then I tried his short story collection, The Line Between, of which I remember absolutely nothing.
Still, I didn't give up at that point. I just loved the film too much, and this made me want to love the author and his other books, too. So I let some months pass and gave it a fourth try. Fourth time's the charm, eh?
Tamsin tells the story of a girl, Jenny, who is forced to move from America to England upon her mother's second marriage. The family moves to a rural area into a farm house. Here Jenny begins to see the ghost of a girl, Tamsin, who she befriends. And slowly the story on the history of the farm, Tamsin's life and death and Jenny's coping with her new surroundings and family unravel.
It's the strong voice of the protagonist that made this book so appealing. From the beginning her teenage emotions draw you in and carry you through the story - from the sulkiness due to the unfairness of life up to the utter and overwhelming curiosity she displays at everything and everyone in the world, so you begin to share her interest in the farm and its history. I guess this shows you again how important appealing protagonists are (at least for me). They can kill the story or bring it to life.
Fourth chances are good. You just need to search for long enough and at some point it will click. I only needed to go through four average books to get to a sweet one ("sweet" is probably the right category. I assume the target group are children and teenagers, but I can easily enjoy it even though I'm slightly older ;)


That's it concerning books for now. On to last week's business. There was a conference on Popular Culture vs. High Culture in Salzburg from Thursday to Saturday, which I attended on Thursday afternoon and Friday morning. Special guest was John Storey, professor of cultural studies. He specialises, among other things, in popular culture, identity, consumption and globalisation. In my Pop Culture lecture in Oxford three years ago we read one of his books (I still remember most of what he wrote in it, which tells you how accessible he can make his research topics).
It was my first conference and I enjoyed it thoroughly. The topics were great. John Storey talked about the concepts of pop and high culture; another talk was on Doctor Who and its intertextuality and relation to British Culture (comparisions with Buffy, the Vampire Slayer were thrown in occasionally), and my favourite talk was on TV Judges and the Law. The talk analysed the success of courtroom shows. In one of my lecture we had discussed talkshows and their aims the week before, so I constantly compared the talkshows with the court shows. Basically, it was said that talkshows aim at establishing borders and boundaries for social behaviour. They are manufacture for consensus (Konsensmanufakturen), shown by the fact that according to surveys most of the audience (in the studio and in front of the TV) is under the impression that the show host "always agrees with me". People don't primarily watch talkshows to make fun of people's behaviour, but to be told which behaviour is acceptable and which isn't. The host is the one who established these boundaries - if one of the guests breaks through the boundaries that the show aims at building, s/he gets sent off the stage (sometimes even without applause, which tells the audience that his behaviour was utterly inacceptable and out of the norm).
In court shows, not the host but the law sets the boundaries. So in the end court shows aim at reassuring the audience that the country's law system works and is reliable. Unlike talkshows, court shows don't work in all countries, because the court system is very different in some parts. British audience never took a liking to the court shows, so they are virtually unknown in Britain. Allegedly the reason for this is that the law is always portrayed negatively on regular TV (in films, series, etc.), so the British audience rejects a TV format that is affirmative towards the law. Quite fascinating. I wonder what this tells you about the countries that broadcast court shows successfully. It seems we need (or are pressured to find) reassurance in everything - social behavour through talkshows, the law through court shows. What's next? People used to live by trial and error and the experiences of their elders for centuries, but now we need how-to's, workshops and TV shows for everything.


Friday afternoon/evening and Saturday was spent in Innsbruck, practicing Kendo, meeting many new people, learning lots and having tons of fun. Warm-ups with 18 people are just great. There's so much more energy present right from the beginning.
Sunday went by with moving stuff from Salzburg to Linz ... not fun. You realize how much stuff you've accumulated when you need to move. And the next time I move there'll be even more stuff to take care of (e.g. all the stuff that's towering up left and right of me and that I have to step over at the moment when I want to walk through my room).

And now it's snowtime! By far not as beautiful as the awesome view we had in Innsbruck on Saturday morning from our sleepingplace (somewhere between mountains, mountains and rocks), but nevertheless I love the sight of the first significant snow on Linz.


Magpie said...

I loved the Tolkien biography. I think I first came across it when I was 12 or so, before I'd even read the Lord of the Rings, and later on used it for a book presentation on the Silmarillion and my special topic for the Matura. Haven't read it since, so I don't remember much, except for a few things that made me laugh.

Anonymous said...

TV shows suc*, that's my opinion. But a very interesting interpredation of talk- and court shows you offer here!

For my part I try to avoid seeing them at all. I am quite successful as far as this is concerned, but watching TV I suppose is my biggest vice...

Although I get annoyed with these corny commercials every time it is so easy to switch this bedevilled thing on just to relax when coming home from work - or kendo ;-)
So I am doing it instead of reading a good book, doing sports or something else to relax!

Books... I suppose you know Tolkien's works very well - and so it is interesting to get to know more about this topic...

It is also true that every topic we know much about is interesting for us - otherwise we would not know so much about it ;-)

And finally: yesss, winter is approaching! I like the snow and all although I do not go skiing at all. I just love the feeling when you enter a cosy room - maybe heated by a tiled stove - after a freezing stay outside. *G*

Trying to get into my cosy bed now - I am cold now after I have imagined that freezing stay outside. Body and spirit are linked together so much!


Manuela said...

@magpie: Wow, seems like you came into contact with Tolkien at quite a young age. I wasn't even that much of a bookoholic at 12, not to mention reading biographies (only started reading a lot when I was 14/15 and biographies in the last year or two). That's great :)

@CwB: I pretty much stopped watching TV when I moved to Salzburg and had no TV access during the week. Having no access to a TV four days a week did wonders for my weekend watching habits. Still, I replaced TV with the internet, which is not that much better. My last tries to cut it down were unfortunately only marginally successfull...

I don't go skiing either - too stressful for me, with all the children almost skiing into me in overcrowded skiing areas. But I love the look of winter. And when my clothes are warm enough, going for a walk outside in some quiet area (preferably not urban) is very peaceful and calming and gives me time to think. Plus, since I don't drive a car, I don't have to start cursing the icy roads when it begins to snow (as most car owners I know do) and can fully enjoy the change of season ;)

Magpie said...

I read pretty much anything I could get my hands on at that age (still do, as a matter of fact), from comics to newspapers and my parents' books. And it's not as if I read the whole book - just enough to remember we had it, so I could go find it when I needed it.

And not having a car in winter is definitely an advantage. Every morning I sit in my warm bus with my nose in a book and laugh at the people who have to scrape the ice off their windscreens and then freeze their backsides on their icy seats. AND they don't get to read. Hah.

Manuela said...

Oooh, yes, reading on public transport is great. Nowadays I get most of my reading done on the train to Salzburg (at least the reading for pleasure ... all of my time at home is spent reading for my thesis right now).

Anonymous said...

Humpf, yeah. Now I know, why it takes me so long to read a book - because I go by car ;-)

But there are two reasons for doing so:

- It takes me just 15 minutes to reach my work. I have to admit I do not have to scrape the ice of the front window in the morning. When taking the bus the distance would be much longer and I would have to change several times. Bad connection :-(

- It would be difficult to take my kendo-bogu with me four days a week. That is of course a major problem ;-)

I never had to go a long distance by public transport regularly. But I remember some longer journeys where I was reading a book or having a nap in the train. This was a nice experience!

In summer I go to work by bike on every day without kendo-training. Unfortunately I am even then not able to read a book...


Manuela said...

Hm, bad connections are annoying. In Salzburg it took me 45 minutes to get to uni, but with only one change (incidentally, it took 50-60 minutes by foot, so you're often really better off by bike rather than public transport ... just that you can't read).

In the end, I guess it comes down to what you're used to. If I started going by car I think I'd find using public transport inconvenient, because I'd have a better estimate of how much longer it takes. But since driving never felt right to me, I'll probably never really know the inconvenience of public transport - just trying to make the best out of not having a choice ;)

But bogu is a bit of a problem here, yes. I do get a little bit of enjoyment from all the people who are giving me strange looks or asking if I do Aikido when I'm traveling through half of the city, though, and I don't have such a tight time schedule yet, so I fortunately can still afford the slow route.

Magpie said...

Biking is good too. But not for going to work - it would take the same amount of time, but being tired out before I even start to work is not a good thing, and a lot of the way is uphill. AND if I showed up by bike, my colleagues would expect me to join their yearly bike-pilgrimage to Mariazell.

And strange looks are a good thing. I love getting strange looks. Because I AM strange.

Anonymous said...

I know what you are talking of. My colleagues know that I occasionally go by bike - and so they tried to persuade me to join our "bike-events" this year. All of them were kind of preparation for the one, big tour to the GroƟglockner.

Crazy guys! But I had no time - not even once! It just depends on your priorities. For me kendo is more important - and saved me ;-)

Good night,

Manuela said...

Hehe, Kendo has already saved me from several unwelcome engagements, too. It's just a nicely simple, easy and above all truthful way to say "I can't. I have Kendo." (while I'm secretly glad because it's usually stuff I wouldn't want to do even if I had time) :D