La Cérémonie des adieux

This week John and Alicia Nash died. The flow of news about the incident and reactions to it were filtered and mediated through the movie and book of Nash’s life. The handle is understandable as a key for anyone to connect to the news.

A few days later looking over the Internet for more reactions and comment, the trope had not really moved, or altered. Academic and economics writers gave potted introductions to Nash’s significance, with overt, or some implied reference to the epithet, ‘beautiful mind’.

Adjectives can be difficult creatures. The use of prepositions in other languages is more opaque, yet the application of an adjective can be deterministic.

Mathematics and logic need analytical insight, rigor and creative intuition. Precision, exactness, and other related words are attributes necessary to do the task. In logic valid arguments are occasionally described as beautiful, more as a superlative to express how competent and well-structured the result is.

Following from the films on Turing, and recently on Hawking, I read an article which asked if dramatists, and their industry, were faithful to the subjects and their work, or whether they had simplified a life’s work relative to an emotional story. I’d agree with that view, no more so than in the unreliable film of Nash, which could not explain the Nash equilibrium correctly.

For some reason repackaging the complex, difficult, angry, contentious, spiky, obsessive combative, aggressive and anti-whatever is a prerequisite to make scientists, mathematicians presentable. It’s not just physicists or mathematicians with quirks; composers such as Chopin, Porter, Beethoven and Wagner have all been sanitized, deracinated; turned into misunderstood unfortunate, individuals who are stereotypes of lonely genius, a nineteenth century platitude of creativity.

The book Simone de Beauvoir published to remember Sartre’s life is the title of this post. It is about the last decade of Sartre’s life. It is honest and clear and erases mediated perspectives of Sartre. In time, perhaps, a similar clarity will amend common representations of Nash.

©Copyright Guy Cranswick 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Shellfish

Technology has really disrupted so many businesses and photography has taken a knock with the selfie. Last year I took photos of my bookshelves and, inadvertently, may have cost a photographer work.

But on a wider scale, the selfie is much more unsettling.

One of the most popular books released this month is Selfish, a collection of self-portraits. It sold nearly 2000 copies in the first week. Quite an achievement, and from an author/photographer who previously broke the Internet, apparently. Superlative is the currency of such people.

Anyway, a book concept, if it may be called that, in which the subject is photographed in different states is truly Warholian: repetitive, banal and beyond normal egomania. Like Warhol, it almost needs to be spoken of in a high flat, somewhat vacant voice, uninflected, as if reciting foreign vocabulary and having no sense of what any of it means.

How the owners of this work like it, could be a micro-study. It’s to be hoped that the book has basic ‘how to use’ instructions: operations on opening and closing the book, booting-up and powering-off, turning the pages, and so on. Managing new technologies can be quite complicated for a neophyte.

If a book of selfies can turn a dollar it gives me an idea. It depends on brand confusion, that is, when a brand uses an idea or name that is vaguely similar to another well-known brand. It typically results in litigation with cease and desist orders because the opportunistic brand is selling in the same category as the dominant one.

There are no legal ramifications in my idea because my book will be 365 pictures of shellfish: oysters, crabs, mussels, lobster, that kind of thing. It’s not kosher – literally not – but there’s no comparison between a sunburned woman’s face and shrimp nestled on ice with lemon, parsley and tartar sauce. But if positioned well, buyers might snap it up.

©Copyright Guy Cranswick 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Dominoes

The fortieth anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War passed last month. In looking back one fact is curious: the key policy argument for prosecuting the war began as a metaphor.

In 1954 Eisenhower gave a speech and to explain a complex situation on the other side of the world, he used a very good image of dominoes as countries falling under the grip of international communism. The image of falling dominoes is concise. It’s not clear whether Eisenhower invented it or a speech-maker gave it to him.

Despite its appeal it’s quite obvious that it’s a weak argument. It is a fallacy, the slippery slope fallacy to be precise, and yet this metaphor seems to have solidified from the authority of its originator into a policy and later into a fully formed strategic rationale to pursue military objectives.

The links in the formation of policy from the original speech may be much more complex than this sketch – but so far I haven’t discovered them. Even so, it’s quite possible that the connections are that facile. Politicians are not adept logicians and political debates rarely, if ever, succeed on the basis of demonstrating logical gaps and flaws. Many other leaders accepted the domino theory, but we may surmise it was not because they believed it was valid in the logical sense.

The causes of the First World War are normally characterized as tenuous considering the consequences. In the months leading to that conflict it started as a scramble for glory, adventure, and a means to settle long running disputes. Of foresight, there was none.

The greater irony in all this is, that at the time of the Cuban missile crisis, Kennedy was reading Barbara Tuchman’s superb, The Guns of August, which covers the first months of the First World War, and he was troubled by the consequences of decisions committed in August 1914. He feared similar outcomes in 1962 should he and Khrushchev make the wrong choices.

As it was the world escaped from the missile crisis and Kennedy went on, by all accounts, to widen US engagement in Vietnam, decisions based on a policy that was founded on a metaphor.

 

 

©Copyright Guy Cranswick 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Three (four) characters

There are three characters in The Hidden Bend. There are four actually, but the fourth is a memory, and with the memory, a voice from other times.

The book started with the mother, Nastasiya, a Ukrainian woman who brought up a child alone and has a successful business. Her life is a struggle, from her lowly background, her lack of education, to her relationships with men and her business success which she has built up through determination and hard work. For Nastasiya, everything is a battle, the world is out to cheat her, and it’s only her wits, her single and strongest ability, which can protect her.

The second character that became fundamental to the novel is a soldier. He is young, just twenty years old, and he has been fighting for years in a war of revolution that, as the book starts, is over and he is part of the victorious army gone amok in the capital city. He is unnamed and remains without a name. Why that was choice was made I can explain later but through the novel he changes as circumstances dictate: from a soldier to a farmer, a mechanic and fisherman, and other roles too. He is always becoming another person, he is an optimist, always able to make the best of his situation.

The English businessman, Piers, would seem ill-fitted to this book. Where the soldier and the Ukrainian mother encounter one hardship after another, Piers has everything: family, wealth, status – all the things that ought to make him happy. Despite all that he is discontented. He suffers from excess, from a life that is too easy, that he has hardly had to work for anything he could not reach anyway. His ailment is common in the developed world.

The fourth character is Yeva, Nastasiya’s daughter. She is bright and on a scholarship to an American university to study computer science. She is in Nastasiya’s mind, she talks to her mother, reminds her mother of their life together in a small flat in Kyiv; she is the most important bond Nastasiya has, and its Yeva’s memory that comforts and supports Nastasiya through her time in New York.

©Copyright Guy Cranswick 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Sheer Exploitation

On the 20th anniversary of the web, Tim Berners-Lee remarked that he was surprised at the number of cat pictures online. His statement shows that technology is used in ways that inventors cannot always foresee. Marconi never imagined news and entertainment on the radio; nor did the motion picture pioneers foresee long form narratives.

Anyway, as I said in this post a cat visits me regularly. And as cats are popular content it makes sense to exploit their appeal, so here she is again.

cat_web

©Copyright Guy Cranswick. All Rights Reserved. 2015

Inspiration and origins to The Hidden Bend

The novel began with another story and a moment.

The first was the story, The Nine Avenues. The short story comprises three distinct sections about unnamed men driving down, a trunk road. Each man, each story, is connected by a different angle and relationship. The first man is distressed, fleeing from something; the second man is bitter and unhappy with his, presumed, wife; the third is a boy, riding in the back of a car while his father drives and his mother, sitting next to her husband exchanges ordinary everyday talk. The boy observes the landscape and his parents and speculates on his life as a mature man.

How, precisely or even mechanically, the narratives in The Nine Avenues link to each other is not immediately clear, not even to me. In my mind, any link is similar to that of a musical composition whereby seemingly incompatible harmonic elements connect through chord progressions and, as such, each element coheres to the whole.

Around the time that The Nine Avenues was written there were news stories about people who had suffered great loss. This was not long after the financial crisis when there frequent stories of vaporised expectations. Many people had lost their security and had been betrayed. Financial losses and strained circumstances are one type of burden; the particular news stories that echoed with me were more essential.

“It was my good fortune to be deported to Auschwitz…” is how Primo Levi started his preface to If This is a Man. The opening causes a strained smile, an acceptance of the terrible things that can occur, of how people can overcome them, or, as Levi explains; how he learned more about himself and humanity in all its forms, in the camp.

These thoughts stayed with me for several months and then, later, gelled into ideas. The real consideration is how to make something into a book: an idea is a start, but not generally enough in itself, and there is much more to develop. That part takes time and a blank page and pencil to make notes, drawing lines between thoughts and crossing out dead ends.

©Copyright Guy Cranswick 2015. All Rights Reserved.

New book – The Hidden Bend

My novel, The Hidden Bend, will be published by Neverland Publishing Company, LLC.

The novel reflects on three lives and the individual struggles of each character, whether tragic, mundane, or even humorous, that are a part of life.

The Hidden Bend begins in an Asian city as dawn breaks on a new day: victory day, after a civil war. A young soldier lies asleep huddled on a verandah. While the city wakes, the battles and hardship he has endured with his comrades in the long war are all behind him. The new day is when his life starts.

Over the Atlantic, single mother Nastasiya is on a plane heading to New York but her excitement is tempered by nervousness. Her anxiety is more poignantly revealed – she is going to collect her daughter’s remains.

In the fog in the south of England, Piers, a successful businessman is driving his car too fast. Life is sedate and he drives recklessly to feel alive to feel experience again. His secretary reminds him of an evening appointment at an art gallery. That evening, at the gallery he is fascinated with the art, which surprises him, and when he meets the artist, he finds her intriguing and seductive.

The soldier, mother and the businessman are on the threshold of a new life, and each is as distinct as the life they knew before. From the first episode, their stories are told in their way, through their eyes, as they navigate the time they live in.
For the soldier it is to build a shattered society and return home, to find peace, and make a family, in the name of his country’s dignity.
For Nastasiya, the mother, it is heal her grief and salvage something of hope within the living and to claim a purpose even though the main reason for living has gone.
For the English businessman it is to answer an intuitive question, one that is too abstract to ask, one without a ready answer, but which is as basic as living through each day.

The novel will be available in early 2016 in print and electronic editions. Over the coming months I’ll be sharing more about the book, its background and the characters. There’ll be some developments online to coincide with the run up to the publication.

©Copyright Guy Cranswick 2015. All Rights Reserved.