Harriet the Monster

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The daughter recommended it, the wife read it first, and now I’ve finished it.

Monsters.  Specifically, My Favorite Thing is Monsters.  By Emil Ferris.

It’s dark and it’s beautiful.  She draws (literally) upon many iconic images from Chicago during the 1960s, and she draws upon many of the works of art in the Chicago Art Institute.

Since I’m devoted to studying behavior, what does this monster-based thriller teach us?

Here’s where another book comes in, Harriet the Spy.

It's a classic.  Please read it if you haven't!Harriet is also out to solve a mystery.  She’s also learning about the world of adults.  And she’s also wrestling with who she is as a young woman.

The similarities end there.  For Harriet is a tame post card of last century compared to Monsters.

And that’s where our learning comes in.  The differences in the way such a similar subject is treated tells us more about what underlies society than reams of studies and surveys.  Art, done correctly, becomes one of the best ways to look into the deepest psyche of our collective soul.

And that, my dear friends, is where you can find the real Monsters.

Happy Hunting.

 

 

Pride and Prejudice: Misdirection

Magic is a most intriguing form of entertainment.  Would you ever expect to find magic in a novel?

That’s what Jane did in P&P.

Don’t believe me?

Possibly the best novel ever written.

It’s alright, it’s a crazy theory of mine.  But I’ve been getting to know Jane fairly well over the past year, and my respect for her continues to increase.

Here’s the deal.

I believe the author (Jane) created a character (Mrs. Bennet) who intentionally comes across as a silly woman intent on only one thing, marrying her daughters to good men.

Mrs. Bennet not only convinces all the other characters that she is silly, she also convinces the omniscient narrator.

“Ha ha!” you say.  “You are so silly,” you say.

Perhaps.  But consider another small piece of evidence.

Jane Austen is an incredible writer.  At least in P&P, her writing is super tight.  I swear that if you expanded her thoughts to what is considered acceptable in modern novels, you would have a book somewhere around 4 to 8 times larger.

EVERYTHING she describes is put down in words only ONCE.  The majesty of Pemberly, the mannerisms of Mr. Collins, the lethargy of Mr. Hurst.  You only get her to describe them once.  She figures you can always go back to see what she said, in case you forgot.

If you’re like me, you read the book a few dozen times.  I’m to the point where I take notes.

Oh, wait.  Here’s a surprise!  There is one mannerism, one character trait for one particular character that she KEEPS describing over and over.  Care to guess?

Yes, it’s Mrs. Bennet.  She is REPEATEDLY described as silly, unconcerned, focused on one thing only.  Whether it’s the narrator or Lizzy, Mrs. Bennet is continuously put forward as silly.

Why?  Is Jane worried that we forgot?  Is she somehow concerned that of all characters in the book she has neglected Mrs. Bennet.

No.

Like the best of magicians, she is telling us where to look.  And she keeps reminding us where to look.

Mrs. Bennet is silly, that’s where she wants us to look.

But if Jane is the magician I think she is, then we want to look elsewhere.  Because that’s where the magic resides.

And if there’s one thing I know, its …

… Never trust a magician!

Measuring a Teacher

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Have you ever argued for your best teacher?  “Mr. A was the best!”  and your friend says “Oh yeah!  And in college I remember Ms. B teaching me the most.”

Perhaps you may have debated who was greatest among classic philosophers: Socrates, Plato, or Aristotle?

It’s a fun debate, and I’ve revealed my choice earlier.  But here, I can provide us with an objective measure that we should all be able to accept.  It has some shortcomings, but every measure has benefits and drawbacks.

The greatness of a teacher should be measured by how many subsequent teachers they create.

You see, it’s not necessarily important that they teach something totally awesome, although it doesn’t hurt.  It’s not even important that we be able to understand what it is they did.

With respect to philosophy, Socrates taught Plato.

Plato taught Aristotle.

Aristotle taught, hmmm, who did Aristotle teach?  I heard that he taught Alexander the great, but Alex wasn’t exactly known for being a good teacher.  He was more of a doer.

There we have it for philosophy.  So Socrates is the greatest teacher among them.  We can debate which of them had the “best” philosophy [1] but that’s for another day.

How about something like physics?  Archimedes is easily the first in this category, both theoretical and experimental, but we don’t know if he left any teachers behind.  Tycho Brahe was a polymath that included physics, he taught Kepler, and Kepler taught Newton.  Who did Newton teach?  No one directly, as far as I know.  He did teach many indirectly, but I’m not counting that.

Einstein is one of those people who learned from Newton, Faraday, and many others.  But did he teach anyone?  Not sure.

So, are Archimedes, Newton, and Einstein still great scientists?  Of course.  But were they great teachers?

My measure says no.  Is that worth anything?

Now that is something we should discuss another day.

[1] Socrates, with Plato being a close second.  Archie was a hack who sold out for celebrity.

 

Pride and Prejudice: Omniscience

Great Novel, Great Novelist

Way back in olden times, my English professors told us about how a writer can become the “omniscient” narrator.

This makes sense, because the person telling the story is made of words written by the writer.  Since the writer is making up the story, then the omniscient narrator knows everything the writer knows.  Right?

Wrong.

In P&P, they are two very different things.  For instance, the narrator keeps telling us that Mrs. Bennet is silly, but I have found several instances where she drops the act, if only for a moment, showing that there are some brains behind that faded beauty.

You may disagree, in fact I encourage feedback for this is all good fun, but there’s a good chance you can find your own examples where the narrator doesn’t know exactly what Jane knows.  That’s Jane Austen by the way; she and I are on a first-name basis.

Some incredible literates may observe that many writers do this, now.  Perhaps there were some that did this, then.  Good point, the omniscient narrator is treated like another character.

Except that in P&P, Jane makes the “edges” of the omniscient narrator invisible.  Unless you are extremely persistent, maybe even crazy persistent (like me) then the seams become evident.  But they are easy to miss.

Jane was such a fine writer that it’s almost impossible to see any seams, any cracks, any flaws in anything.  P&P is a perfect novel in which nothing ever happens.

So the next time you come across an omniscient narrator, tip your hat and pay a quick tribute to Jane.

 

Today’s Most Influential Woman is …

It’s a few days before Easter, 2018, and as I realized who the most influential woman in the world is as of today.  She may have been influential for many days, but it’s even more so as of today.

#MeToo back in the Golden Age

Today is when a newly famous woman talks on big TV about an affair she had with this guy who is today’s President.  She’s NOT the Influential Woman.

There are lots of other women finally coming forward about what a sexual consumer and predator our president is ALLEGED to be.  None of them are the most Influential Women, either.  (Note, I believe all of them.  Why should they lie?  #MeToo)

No, the most Influential Woman today is…

… his wife, Melania.

I can’t feel totally sorry for her.  She put herself on exhibit, she “caught” him, she has her child, and she can live in her golden cage.

Yet I can notice certain great behavioral components.

Mr. President must be feeling pretty dry by now.  Let’s face it.  He’s pretty much living single, Melania isn’t going to be feeling much “in the mood,” and every move this guy makes is under a microscope.

So here’s what makes her influential.  You guessed it.  Sex.

All she has to do is say, “Do this, Darling, and you can have, this.”

Won’t work?  Check out this story involving pausing a war a few thousand years ago.  Or how about these stories much more recently, described along with a broadway musical about it.

More to the point of this site, we are doing the first extremely public experiment into the phenomenon of “What happens to Men when they get EXTREMELY sexually frustrated?”

I touched upon this a bit a long while ago in this post.  What makes today’s experiment so much more exciting is that we are all able to watch it, live.  Along the way we can have some fun.

How long has it been for Mr. President (no puns intended).

How much longer can he go without?

Can it be possible that he’s escaping to Florida and other places where he can get his “fix?”  If so, how long can that secret be kept?

I’m hopeful that Melania will keep him from getting his fix by being vigilant.  If she realizes she can be that much more powerful if he gets hungry, then that might encourage her.  Of course, the downside to this plan is that she has to, well, “feed” him on occasion, and that could interfere with anyone’s appetite.

Anyway, stay tuned, and enjoy the show.  It’s better than facing reality at the moment.