Day: May 22, 2008
Ted Goranson considers the treatment of science in these movies:
In this first one, the scientist believes that if he understands how life works, he can heal the sick. He is a doctor, a medical doctor and studying what wouldn't be out of the ordinary today or even then. Only the experiment was unusual and grisly, messing with corpses, but even that isn't very far from ordinary.
In this second one, the nature of science has changed radically. A different writer, but the same filmmaker. It's no longer a quest for discovery; now the experiment has taken priority. We've added a new scientist, one clearly and visibly deranged. He's interested not in the discovery of the principles of the cosmos as they touch on life, but on the creation of artificial beings.
This time, the science is changed again. Now the scientific notion is back on discovery, but it's not about life from the human perspective. Now it is more cosmic, more celestial and yes, even godly. The son — who is smarter than his dad — knows that what his dad thought was the power in lightning was REALLY cosmic rays. They are the source of all life. So it isn't merely a matter of humanity, it is a matter of understanding god.
In this fourth one, we go through yet another change in how science is handled. Once again it shifts from the cosmic to the ordinarily human. It's about brains doing science and science on brains. We are reminded that the original scientist was not misguided, it was just his stupid assistant who made the mistake of using a "criminal" brain. Otherwise, all would be well. The doctor this time is a brain healer, and he has guess what? A dumb assistant who makes a critical mistake in substituting brains.
Also interesting is this observation about science in cinema from the post on the first film:
Science, and especially mathematics, is extremely cinematic to the people doing it, but I know of few films that seem to capture it well. The cinematic path seems to be through technological gizmos, and I think we have James Whale to thank for that. The lightning business wasn't central in the book... So it is something of genius to choose all those flying, vertical, sparking things. You can sense the energy. It's literally light, and the motif of light and dark in several literal and metaphoric threads throughout works with that.
Blogs and Literary Criticism
A salon-like discussion of the "demise" of literary criticism on Salon (subscription prob. required):
Louis Bayard: The problem with arguing for cultural gatekeepers is that, if you're a professional critic, you inevitably look self-serving -- "Hey, that's my job!" -- and yes, elitist -- "Don't try this at home, guys." I myself don't have any particular training or qualifications to be a reviewer, other than my own experience as a reader and writer, so I feel silly arguing that someone else isn't qualified to deliver an opinion. And believe it or not, I've learned things from Amazon reviews, from letters pages, from literary blogs, from all sorts of non-traditional outlets. The quality of writing is certainly variable, but then so is the quality of traditional journalism.
Laura Miller: I don't think there's a real causal connection between the blogosphere and the withering away of newspaper criticism, actually. It has more to do with the economics of newspaper publishing and management and editors feeling that criticism is disposable because it's not reporting, which they see as a newspaper's core product.
I think of blogs not as alternatives to reviews or essays, but as a forum for short items, news and remarks, as well as links and responses to longer pieces posted on the sites that commission them. I could be wrong, though, as I'm not really a reader of blogs. I have a hard enough time keeping up with the book review sections of the New York and Los Angeles Times, the New Yorker, the New York Review of Books, Bookforum, the Atlantic, Harper's, TLS, the New Republic, etc., as well as the British newspapers like the Guardian and Independent, which I read online. Yet even in those publications I often find that the pieces I'm excited to be reading are the exception rather than the rule. I'm all for cultural gatekeepers because there's way more out there than I have time to read and it's not always easy to find the best of it.
One feels kind of sorry for Laura Miller, who isn't a bad critic, having to slog through all that gatekeeper criticism that she doesn't like when she could just google around and find out what people are saying about books she's interested in (or that she doesn't know about yet). A critical eye for the Web is far more valuable at this point than having the stamina to read every established organ from the last century.