At some point, I'm really hoping to surprise everyone by bringing this ol' blog back to vibrant activity again. We'll see if 2023 is the year for that. Soon, I definitely plan to complete the "New" Glass Bead Game that I started in... um... December 2021.
For now, I've got two parallel quasi-reviews to share in this post. I feel like the two things I'm discussing -- the 1981 movie My Dinner with Andre and Erik Hoel's 2021 novel The Revelations -- sort of rhyme with one another in some abstract analogical way. I'm definitely recalling the late Charles Cameron's concept of "Double-Quotes" here. After both, I'll muse about the why and how of this pairing. But first, let's get to them:
Dinner #1: Andre and Wally
A few months ago, I recommended this iconic 1981 movie to a friend. I'm forgetting the key detail of why I thought this particular movie was the ideal thing to recommend at the time, but I haven't forgotten her response: it was a strong dislike of, and visceral aversion to, the guy who did most of the talking: Andre Gregory.
Okay, that meant I had to rewatch the whole thing, then. I idolized this movie when I first saw it in my mid-20s. I remember being kind of envious of the life Andre led. Spiritual experiences that make you feel truly alive? Hey, I want that. Seeing through the hypocrisy and shallowness of the world? Yeah, man.
But now, in my mid-50s, I definitely saw it with new eyes. I got the feeling Andre was leaving out some key details -- like, how okay was his wife with all this spiritual gallivanting? It really looked like he was describing a combination mid-life crisis and nervous breakdown. Despite the guy trying to get away from it all, it still really seemed like he retained many of his upper-class NYC pretensions. "40 Jewish women?" The suckling teddy bear? Blech. If you don't know what these phrases mean, please don't feel the need to find out.
After talking through those weird experiences, Andre pivots onto a tangent that could only be described as self-loathing and resentment. THEN it's all the fault of a shadowy dystopian government or something? Our man Vizzini eventually gets up the gumption to poke some holes in the most excessiest of Andre's excesses, but it still doesn't shift away from the overall feel that the audience is supposed to end up nodding along with Andre anyway.
Now, I'll say, starting around 1:22:40, there's a bit that still enthralls me. Andre gets optimistic about rebuilding the human spirit on a small scale. Repairing the world through art and constructing a new language of the heart. His focus on movements like Findhorn pointed me in some inspiring directions, back in the day. But I think one can work to build these kinds of things without all that other self-indulgent crap. :-)
Dinner #2: A Neuroscientist's Paean
Right around this time, I was in the middle of reading Erik Hoel's newest novel. I admit to being suckered in by the author's Substack post about the publishing process... which maybe was his secret plan all along to boost readership. I'm still not 100% sure about whether I can actually recommend this novel to others, but I can try to say some spoiler-free things about it.
There were things that definitely weren't my cup of tea. The main character was unlikable, somewhat by design for sure... but the author was also going for some undiagnosed mental illness that made it a bit hard to step into his P.O.V. The main female character seemed to be a bit of authorial wish fulfillment (brilliant scientist... but with a history as a fashion model...) There was ample discussion of the animal research done in the neuroscience lab, which carried definite squick factor.
However! Hoel's choice of narratorial voice was nothing short of fascinating. I don't think I've seen "omniscient third person" done so... omnisciently! We spend a lot of time in the main characters' heads, but we randomly bop into the heads of a dozen others, and also into the "heads" of some animals, plants, and inanimate objects. And those unannounced "bops" go deep, even if they're brief. All befitting for a novel about consciousneess, I guess. At one singular place in the book, the narrator pivots briefly -- but hard -- to second person. That kind of floored me.
Hoel also drops adjective non-sequiturs, about once per page, which often had me scratching my head. Why that word in that place? Again, because everyone's thinking about consciouness and the mind, these often feel inexplicably right.
About the actual content of the characters' discussions about consciousness... interesting to say the least. I prefer the times when they're just talking to one another about these ideas, rather than when the main character is just thinking about them. (The Joycean stream of consciousness has a bit of an undertow.) For a few months after finishing the novel, I was continuing to follow up on various bread crumbs of theories and ideas on the internet. The author based some of it on his own experience as a neuroscientist, and he knows academia, for sure! So, while it maybe wasn't everything I hoped it would be, I'm still glad I read it.
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So, why this pairing? Both the movie and the novel are about people who think deeply about what it means to be human in this modern age. They both ask tough questions about how we can better understand our inner natures to figure out how to live better. But they also both show (maybe unintentionally?) how we can never fully purge ourselves of the full range of foibles and rough-edged imperfections that make us human in the first place.