24 July 2008


Banging my head against a brick wall would probably be a relief right now. Literally (and literarily, given the disappointments of the last couple of novels I'd been looking forward to for a while). So we'll just take a jump to the left into that wall, since it's hard to go Left from where I am...

  • Since everyone else seems obsessed with The Dark Knight, I suppose I'll chime in here with some criticism of some criticism. Tony Scott, the lead film reviewer at the NYT, is a little bit questioning of superhero movies, which is all well and good. The problem, though, comes a couple of paragraphs in when he categorizes them as "allegories." I really wish that critics would take the effort to learn what their purported "critical vocabulary" really means before mangling it that badly. Superhero comics/graphic novels (and the films derived from them) are intensely symbolic and metaphoric, but that does not limit them to allegories. The irony of labelling as "allegory" two films this summer (Iron Man and The Dark Knight) that share as a central theme the conflict between absolute and relative morals is just a bit much... and, unfortunately, the piece goes downhill from there. Thumbs down. (Oh, that's right: That phrase will shortly have less than no meaning. But I still miss Gene Siskel!)
  • Speaking of misbegotten theories, consider the disappearance of Freud from academic psychology and some other disappearing despots. Being one of those weirdoes who actually read Freud's writings instead of just warmed-over restatements, I have to say that Freud really was one of those despots... but that's a long, complex argument itself.
  • And still on the misbegotten-theories-in-the-arts kick, pay some attention to Sarah Weinman's criticism of currently-the-rage How Fiction Works. Frankly, she was much too kind to it; there is a lot of evidence against the theoretical approach underpinning that book from within the scope of what Mr Wood deigns to notice as "fiction" that Mr Wood conveniently ignored. The way I see it, if so-called "genre fiction" was good enough for Austen, Borges, Carroll, Dostoevsky, and Forster, not to mention more others than I can conveniently count (and unlike many English majors, I can count above ten without removing my shoes), the best of it is bloody well worth studying and considering for how fiction works (and, conversely, doesn't). Maybe Mr Wood really wants subject-guidance bands on books to go along with age guidance bands. Oh, that's right: He already has them, thanks to the publishers, who generally aren't listening anyway.

    Maybe that's just a relic of supply-side education theory, that treats college like a job-training course... when, in reality, it's more of learning how to learn than learning all that much of substance that will persist more than a couple of decades without significant effort at keeping current. That's really what one gets from a good college education: The skills and mindset to deal with change. Even a strictly classical education will do that! If you really want "skills," look at the way Germany has handled education since the 1950s... and then ponder why almost all Germans on the cutting edge of their respective fields partner up with Yanks.

  • I suppose I should put something IP-related in today. The C.S. Lewis heirs have won the rights to two Narnia domains in a WIPO proceeding. That article, IMNSHO, is much to sympathetic on the law to the interlopers, as the IPKat sagely purrs. In a broader sense, the problem with this dispute is the "must-defend" nature of trademark law, which in turn drives the structure and evidence in a WIPO proceeding on domain names. If the Lewis heirs had been free to give a no/low-cost license to that family with appropriate restrictions without harming their ability to charge an appropriate rate to commercial users of the mark, that would have represented the optimal solution (and remember, the license could have required a disclaimer on every page). However, any evidence of such an arrangement would be held against the Lewis heirs in a later dispute involving a more-"real" infringement.