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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
11/04/11 -- Vol. 30, No. 19, Whole Number 1674
Table of Contents
Science Fiction (and Other) Discussion Groups (NJ):
November 10 (Thu): QUATERMASS AND THE PIT (a.k.a. FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH) and CHILDHOOD'S END by Arthur C. Clarke, Middletown (NJ) Public Library, film at 5:30PM, discussion after film November 17 (Thu): HOW TO LIVE SAFELY IN A SCIENCE FICTIONAL UNIVERSE by Charles Yu, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM December 8: HOGFATHER by Terry Pratchett, Middletown (NJ) Public Library, film at 5:30PM, discussion after film December 22: THE HIDDEN LIFE OF DOGS by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM
Spike Jonze Presents a Stop Motion Film for Book Lovers:
An Interactive Guide To NPR's Top 100 SF&F:
Animation Checklist (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
We saw an animated film with the characters being toucans. They are not really so different from penguins, but penguins have been used multiple times. I think someone must be using a checklist to make sure that two filmmakers do not choose too many of the same cute animals. I think that by 2014 we will be down to cockroaches and naked mole rats. [-mrl]
Same Story, Different Contexts (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
[I referred to some of this material in my recent review of the film MONEYBALL, but I thought the additional would be of interest to readers.]
Statistics is the science of taking a large number of observations, often far more than anyone can understand just by looking at the data, and presenting them in a way that is (more) easily comprehensible. One powerful statistical tool for understanding data is regression analysis. With it one can take a large volume of data and find the optimal simple formula that comes closest to explaining all the data. One Orley Ashenfelter did an analysis on wine production data trying to determine what factors created the best wine. Now there is no end of expert tasters who have their own ideas of what it takes to make a great wine. These are people who have experienced wine and each has seen what he or she thinks is the complex set of conditions that lead to great wines. People make their buying decisions based on what wine critic they trust the most. Ashenfelter knew that the experts used a lot of subjective criteria. He collected wine production statistics and the quality of the results and fed them to a computer that performed a regression analysis. In the end most of the factors proved to be unimportant. The regression analysis said it came down to this simple formula:
Wine_Quality = 12.145 + 0.00117 * winter_rainfall + 0.0644 * avg_growing_season_temp - 0.00368 * harvest_rainfall
[My source does not give the units or conversion factors.]
The formula is not intuitive. Nobody could have thought of it from the collected data. It took a computer to run some hefty computations to find the best formula. But that formula is the optimum description of what that particular data seemed to be saying.
The reaction to letting a computer predict where good wine would be produced was exactly what could have been expected. The wine experts like a single voice said that the formula was useless and laughable, and that it took an expert who could taste wine and a lot of experience to know what were the best wines. Ashenfelter used his formula to choose what the formula predicted would be the best wines. To make a long story short Ashenfelter proved that statistics trumps even expert experience.
I read this story a year or so ago in a review of a book called THE SUPER-CRUNCHERS by Ian Ayers. That book is entirely about how regression analysis is being used for real world applications. The same story has happened multiple times in different fields. If the story sounds familiar, you may have seen the film MONEYBALL. The plot is the same. What happened in wine production happened again in just about the same way in baseball.
In the film MONEYBALL, the Oakland Athletics are dying a slow death. Apparently they are strapped for cash, and in baseball having the best team is all about money. The players who look the best go after the highest salaries. Oakland can afford only second and third-rate players. Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland As. When he goes negotiating player trades with the Cleveland Indians hew sees their general manager is listening and taking advice from an over-weight young man, barely more than a kid. This is Peter Brand (played by Jonah Hill). Beane is intrigued by the question of why anyone would listen to this guy. (By the way, while most of the story is true, the fictional Peter Brand is really the much thinner and better-looking (resembling Guy Pearce) Paul DePodesta, who was a Harvard graduate, not a Yale graduate as he was in the film. But beyond that, what DePosesta did pretty much what we see in the film.) The story plays out much like it did with the wine. DePodesta championed a statistics-base approach called "Sabermetrics" to evaluate players. It uses the formula:
Runs_created = (Hits + Walks) * (Total_Bases)/(At_Bats + Walks). It is fascinating that in wine and in sports so much comes down to recognizable mathematical patterns and that a formula like the one above can be derived from the data and give results more successful.
For more information, see http://tinyurl.com/void-regression.
Use of regression analysis is still somewhat debated in baseball.
COSMIC VOYAGE (1935) (film retrospective by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: A professor, a woman, and a Young Pioneer are the first to travel to the moon in a Soviet science fiction film rarely seen in the United States. The story is only mediocre, but some of the visual effects are just stunning. The film seems to be a Soviet response to Fritz Lang's FRAU IM MOND and while it is not as effective, it provides its own rewards. Included at the end of this review is a link to Google so the reader can (probably) stream this film to a computer. Rating: unrated due to language barrier
As a fan of early science fiction films I, of course, have long ago seen France's A TRIP TO THE MOON (1902), Germany's FRAU IM MOND (1929), Britain's THINGS TO COME (1936), and the US's DESTINATION MOON (1950), each one of the first major science fiction films from of its country and each involving travel to the moon. Somehow I was only vaguely aware that there was a Soviet film that belongs on that list. That film is known in the West as COSMIC VOYAGE, SPACE VOYAGE, or KOSMICHESKIY REYS: FANTASTICHESKAYA NOVELLA, released in 1935 after three years in production. Ironically, while each of these films was from a major industrialized country, the US was the last to send people to the moon in cinema, and the first to send people to the moon in reality.
While this film was made in the sound era, released the same year as THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, it was made as a silent film, probably to save expense. COSMIC VOYAGE is an adaptation of a screenplay by Aleksandr Filimonov and Konstantin Tsiolkovsky. Tsiolkovsky was a noted rocket engineer and visionary who championed the idea of space travel in the Soviet Union. He consulted on and contributed to the project just as rocket engineer Hermann Oberth worked as an advisor for FRAU IM MOND. I will not give a detailed plot because I have yet to see a version with English-language inter-titles. (Though Sinister Cinema offers one for sale.) I watched with a phonetic knowledge of the Russian alphabet and with a Russian dictionary. However Wikipedia gives the following description of the plot: "In the year 1946, the Soviet space program is undergoing turmoil. Professor Sedikh, who is planning to lead the first manned exploration to the moon, is denounced by his rival Professor Karin as being too old and too mentally unstable for the mission. Professor Sedikh, aided by his assistant Marina and a youth named Andryusha, disregard Prof. Karin's authority and make a successful landing on the moon. Although a few problems occur at the moon, including the discovery of a damaged oxygen tank and Professor Sedikh's becoming trapped under a fallen boulder, the expedition is a success and the cosmonauts return to Moscow." [It was my impression that it was Karin who goes to the moon. It certainly is the older man. But I am hampered by the language barrier.]
COSMIC VOYAGE shows strong influence of FRAU IM MOND, the earlier and generally superior effort. Both films have a boy along, giving the children in the audience a character they could identify with. It both cases the boy is somewhat mischievous to make him more enjoyable. COSMIC VOYAGE is the first film I know of that portrays people floating in zero gravity. FRAU IM MOND acknowledges that that there is no gravity on the space ship, but provided stirrups on the floor for passengers to put their feet in to keep them from floating. COSMIC VOYAGE has the travelers having a good time enjoying floating around the cabin. The filmmakers could not do the effect accurately and instead have the actors swing from wires in arcs like the ends of pendulums. The plot is much simpler than that of FRAU IM MOND, but then the German film runs typically about 162 minutes and COSMIC VOYAGE a mere 65 minutes.
The futuristic visuals of COSMIC VOYAGE are its main attraction. The film shows immense architectural vistas, somewhat like THINGS TO COME would give us a year later. Scenes over the massive launch facility have little model cars moving to help the feel of scale. The launch facility and the interior of the space ships show a lot of steel girders to give a technological feel. The spaceships, and we see two of them, are long cylinders tapered toward the back where the engines are. Three giant fins run almost the entire length of the ship--hardly very useful for space and lunar traveling, but they do look impressive. There are several scenes from floor level of the giant rockets moving down their rails and this is one of the best effects in the film. One scene has a spaceship moving down the track directly at the viewer and does not stop until the nose of the spaceship apparently strikes the lens of the camera. The rocket is launched horizontally from raised rails, not unlike the later V-1 rocket and the ship in WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE (1951).
The crew wears what appear to be leather flight suits with matching leather headgear looking a little like early football helmets. One bizarre notion is that to protect the travelers from the acceleration of take off they are submerged in tanks of water for the launch. Generally the effects are created with models that occasionally show their true scale, but are majestic anyway. To show scenes of people jumping long distances in the low lunar gravity stop-motion photography is used. Pressure suits for walking on the moon appear much like deep-sea diving suits with additional hoses that stick out dangerously to the side. For scenes on the moon itself the foreground and background too frequently shift with respect to each other spoiling effects like that of the Earth looming in the lunar sky.
I am not sure if the musical score on the version I saw is original, but it seems to have very little original music. Most of the score is cobbled from Felix Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture and especially from Liszt's Les Preludes. It might be noted that Les Preludes was used extensively as Ming's Imperial March in the old Flash Gordon serials as well as in THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN the same year as COSMIC VOYAGE was released.
On one hand this is not a film that is very well executed, but it makes an interesting curio. It is surprising that so many years after its production there is not a version generally available in English. This certainly should be a milestone in the history of the science fiction film. With a version in a language I understood I would probably give COSMIC VOYAGE a rating in the rang of +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10, but will not because I missed too much of the plot.
There may not be a reliable source of the film on the Internet, but if one follows the Google page below (which searches for the title in Russian Cyrillic) and looks for video of about 65 minutes or more, one can see the film with Russian inter-titles. (I am grateful to Bill Higgins who discovered this arcane way of finding watchable versions of the film.)
Bill Higgins had written:
Digitized copies of the Soviet film *Cosmic Voyage*, directed by Vasili Zhuravlyov, can still be found on the Web if one searches on its name in Russian, [not reproducible in ASCII]. Three examples:
It seems to pay careful attention to the details of spaceflight, better than Western films of its era. I'm surprised it isn't better known, and it is nice to see you mention it in the MT VOID. [-wh]
TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY (television review by Nick Sauer):
TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY is the most recent season of this Doctor Who spin-off series. The show was jointly produced by the BBC and the US Starz network. This season follows the adventures of the initially defunct secret British organization known as Torchwood. They are a group whose function was/is to investigate and deal with supernatural threats to society. The series stars John Barrowman as Captain Jack Harkness and Eve Myles as Gwen Cooper.
While this would be the fourth season of TORCHWOOD, it is to some extent, a pilot season as Starz network launched this as a new series to their US audience. The show stars the two leads and a few supporting actors from the previous series as well as introducing a number of new characters played by American actors.
Being a co-production with an American company there is an obvious concern of the series being "Americanized". There were some elements clearly added for the United States audience but, the show did retain enough of its original character to be recognizable as TORCHWOOD. There were plenty of moments of the distinctly British black humor common to the show. The series also doesn't pull any punches with the cast, thus following the tradition of Torchwood membership potentially being a severe limitation to one's life expectancy.
The simple premise of MIRACLE DAY is that one day, in the near future, everyone stops dying. This is one of those things, that while sounding good on paper, leads to a lot of problems that society has to deal with. This is especially the case as this new form of immortality, like that of the Swift's Stuldbrug's, is not perfect. Unlike the Struldbrug's people do stop aging but, damage (almost no matter how extreme) to one's body is still painful and heals at a normal rate regardless of the severity of the wound. As a result, the pharmaceutical industry runs out of pain killers in record time and, diseases that were normal mitigated by being fatal now have the potential to become new pandemics as victims who would otherwise die become a new generation of Typhoid Marys. People can still die if their bodies are completely destroyed (such as being incinerated) but, they will, of course, feel every second of this death.
One of the things I respected most about this series was that it really wasn't scared to look at the ugliness that could ensue under the premise of the human death rate dropping to zero over night. Even though the resolution of the Miracle turns out to be something fantastic, the initial half of the series really feels like some very solid science fiction. There are a couple gaps of one and two months over the course of the series during which time we get to see famine, a global economic collapse, and some pretty horrific new laws passed by the world's governments.
One of the other things I really liked about the series was the non-sanctity of the main characters as mentioned earlier. The fact that you really didn't know who is going to survive from one episode to another really amped up the dramatic impact of the series. If you need the "good guys" to win each episode, TORCHWOOD may not be the show for you.
MIRACLE DAY was not without its faults. The pacing might bother some people as it can vary from episode to episode. I actually found this to be a positive myself in that I felt it contributed to the feel of the rather sweeping nature of the story line. I'm fine with a slower style of story telling myself so that probably made me more tolerant of the overall movement of the story but, if you are more of an action oriented watcher you should be warned that some of the episodes feature a more sedate True Blood style of pacing.
While overall the acting was excellent, there was one bit of characterization I found particularly annoying. The character Jilly Kitzinger, played by Lauren Ambrose, is a PR woman who comes across very much as a hyperactive caricature that is somewhat out of place given the rest of the performances in the series. I know from the excellent show Six Feet Under that Lauren is an actress more than capable of a much deeper and effective performance so, I'm guessing that either the writing or directing are to blame here.
While the overall premise for this TORCHWOOD story arc was something that hasn't been overdone there was one element of the series that was cliché enough to bother me. There is a group introduced that is your classic Illuminati style global conspiracy type organization. They are introduced fairly early on so I don't feel that this is a spoiler and while their presence ultimately didn't take away enough from the show to ruin my overall favorable opinion, if they were to never materialize again in a future TORCHWOOD series I doubt I would miss them.
One thing that did surprise me was the Doctor Who references that appeared in the series. Given that this was a "new" series for American audiences and a co-production for the BBC, I figured that this sort of dialogue would be avoided. So, I was pleasantly surprised by the occasional name drop as they appeared. The handful that were made were not plot critical elements that would be confusing to new viewers and, resulted in what I felt was a good balance for the new audience and the returning fans.
For the long-time TORCHWOOD fans I would suspect that MIRACLE DAY would be a love/hate season. I thought it was very good but, I also tend to compartmentalize the series somewhat. For me there are almost three alternate universe Torchwoods. The first two series were your standard Kolchak/X-Files type of show with the idea of keeping the supernatural hidden from the general public. The third series, CHILDREN OF EARTH, turned this completely around by introducing a very public (read: Earth-spanning) event. This shocking change of pace kind of makes me file CHILDEN OF EARTH in a different universe from the earlier TORCHWOOD. MIRACLE DAY definitely falls into this category as well but, the lack of references to the events of the previous season gave me the same sort of alternate Torchwood universe vibe.
MIRACLE DAY, to me, is the strongest season yet of the series. One of the yardsticks I use to rate this is whether I feel the need to own the series for my collection or not. While I do not own the first three seasons of TORCHWOOD, I see myself very likely acquiring a copy of Miracle Day when it becomes available. [-ns]
THE FINAL KEY by Catherine Asaro (copyright 2006 Catherine Asaro, 2009 Audible, Inc.; 12 hours, 5 minutes; narrated by Suzanne Weintraub) (audiobook review by Joe Karpierz):
I found that I was completely burned out on reading and reviewing books at the end of the Hugo voting period. I really wanted nothing more to do with either activity. I read back issues of magazines, watched TV. And then when I finally thought I was ready, I turned to THE FINAL KEY, the second book of the "Triad" duology by Catherine Asaro. I was looking for something that was more to my tastes and speed. Not set here on earth, but out there. Not something that moved at a snail's pace, but something that moved along nicely. I wanted space ships, battles, alien bad guys, and well, stuff that I like while I was growing up. I find myself doing that a lot in life, listening to 30 to 40-year--old music, getting in touch with old friends, stuff like that.
And THE FINAL KEY fit the bill perfectly.
There's a lot going on in the Skolian Imperialate. Soz is in training on Roca's Pride, the ship named after her mother. The problem is that her mother has been kidnapped by the children of the Aristo that had captured Eldrinson last book and who was eventually killed by Shannon. Shannon, after a chance meeting with the Blue Dale Archers, finds out he *is* a Blue Dale Archer, and those guys can interact with the mesh without any fancy technology. Eldrin, son of Eldrinson (yeah, you read that right), finds himself addicted to phorine. Kurj is deathly ill from some malady that is unknown to the empire. And the Eubian Concord is attacking, trying to take down the Imperialate by some pretty clever means, the nastiest of which is destroying the mesh in Kyle Space, which will leave the Skolians helpless and defenseless.
It's difficult to say much more about what goes on in this book without spoiling the plot. We do find out just why this duology is called "Triad", thus alleviating the confusion. The good guys win the day, but things have changed, as they should.
Like SCHISM, this book is all about changes and growing up. Eldrinson accepts Althor for who he is, even though it goes against every grain in his body. He also accepts that Soz, who helped save the meshes along with Kurj and Eldrinson, is going to be a Jagernaut, and a darned good one. He even accepts that not only are such things as Blue Dale Archers, but that Shannon is one.
Asaro wraps things up very nicely at the end of this book. She pulls at the heartstrings with how everything ends up, and I completely fell for it. The only thing I found a bit annoying was her handling of Althor's homosexuality and Eldrinson's eventual acceptance of it. I really felt like I was being lectured, which was a good trick considering that she talked around it without ever mentioning the word.
Finally, we get to the reader, Suzanne Weintraub. She still mangles words, and her reading is not very dynamic. I'm getting used to her, but I don't know if that's a good thing.
I'm back in the saddle for the time being. Let's see how things go from here. [-jak]
EINSTEIN'S HEROES: IMAGINING THE WORLD THROUGH THE LANGUAGE OF MATHEMATICS by Robyn Arianrhod (book review by Gregory Frederick):
Here is the most recent book report I have. I just finished a book titled EINSTEIN'S HEROES: IMAGINING THE WORLD THROUGH THE LANGUAGE OF MATHEMATICS by Robyn Arianrhod. It covers the development of physics through the efforts of three scientists who preceded Einstein and who also greatly influenced Einstein. They are Isaac Newton, Michael Faraday, and James Clerk Maxwell. Newton's accomplishments were the model or template for latter scientific theories because his was the first comprehensive math based theories of physical phenomena. His theory which concerned gravity (acting on planetary orbits and the motion of objects on the Earth) was so successful and correct within limits that it influenced many theories after it.
Many after Newton used his action-at-a-distance idea (this is how Newton explained that gravity worked on an object) to try and explain other physical events like electrical or magnetic effects. But Faraday (who was not well educated in mathematics but was a great and inventive experimenter in electro-magnetic physics) suggested that a field of force existed between the magnet and a piece of iron and that field was there even if there was not a piece of metal for the magnet to act upon. Faraday thought this was also true for an electric charge effecting another electric charge. A Newton-based (action-at-a-distance) theory would assume that the magnetic effect just traveled from the magnet to the piece of iron without any intervening field between them. Faraday suspected this field because of seeing iron filings forming curved lines of force around a bar magnet. Faraday also discovered in his experiments that electricity and magnetism were really one interconnected phenomena.
Maxwell believed in Faraday's ideas and brought his advanced knowledge of mathematics to bear on this problem. He developed and enhanced this idea with help from his mathematically educated friends into the well excepted electro-magnetic theory used today. Maxwell used the just created math of vector calculus (3D) to base this electro-magnetic theory on. Later Einstein would take this same concept of a field of force to create his theory of gravity contained in General Relativity. Einstein replaced Newton's action at a distance gravity concept with a field theory. Einstein also used vector calculus (4D) in this field theory of gravity. So this book helps to reveal how great men take the good ideas of those who preceded them and advance our scientific understanding even further. It is a very well-written book for those who want to understand how math plays such an important role in science. [-gf]
Predator vs. Prey (letter of comment by Frank R. Leisti):
In response to Mark's comments on predators and prey in the 10/28/11 issue of the MT VOID, Frank R. Leisti writes, "I wonder if the individual considered flounder fish which have both eyes on one side to be a Predator that we Prey on?" [-fl]
Mark responds, "I wonder how much she has considered the children in the 'Miss Peach' comic strip." [-mrl]
Number Shortage and IP Addresses (letter of comment by Peter Rubinstein):
In response to Mark's comments on the number shortage and IP addresses in the 10/28/11 issue of the MT VOID, Peter Rubinstein writes, "This is what IPv6 was intended to address (pun intended), although any such architectural extension will be a temporary fix at best." [-pir]
Mark Twain's Autobiography (letter of comment by Kip Williams):
In response to Keith F. Lynch's letter of comment (on how Kip Williams could have read parts of Mark Twain's recently-released autobiography many years ago) in the 10/28/11 issue of the MT VOID, Kip writes:
Subsets of the autobiography have been coming out since 1906, when Twain published twenty-five chapters in a magazine. The first book publication was 1924. Bernard DeVoto used material from the autobiography for MARK TWAIN IN ERUPTION, and Charles Neider edited another version about fifty years ago. Some of it is available at Project Gutenberg. As I say, the huge size of the newest edition makes it an uncomfortable read, even right here in my usual chair. I've found it easier to make progress in Neider's edition, a paperback in a size that actually used to seem big to me. (Ah, those simpler days.) [-kw]
Science Museums (letter of comment by Tim Bateman):
In response to Mark's comments on science museums in the 10/28/11 issue of the MT VOID, Tim Bateman writes:
[You write that] "the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago ... was not so much about the wonders of science any more. Now it was about the damage being done to the wetlands and how to conserve energy and the effects of pollution. I am sure later they also had exhibits on global warming. In short the tone had gone from seduction to sermon. ... IMAGINE IT! by Rudy Poe and Richard Tavener is running counter to that trend, trying to make science and creativity exciting again. This is a high-octane 52-minute challenge for young people to use their brains and their imagination to come up with ideas to change the world."
Perhaps to conserve energy, reverse the effects of pollution and stop global warming? [-tb]
Those would certainly be among the problems. That cannot be changed for the foreseeable future. But the approach called for in the film is less one of lamentation and more one of innovation. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I am doing the reading for a University of California at Berkeley called "Existentialism in Literature and Film" (taught on podcasts by Professor Hubert Dreyfus). One problem is that so far as I can remember, he never defines existentialism--nor does anyone else. Even Wikipedia is not very useful.
[Can anyone out there take a stab at it? -mrl]
The first book in the syllabus was FEAR AND TREMBLING by Soren Kierkegaard (ISBN 978-0-140-44449-0). Originally written in Danish, it apparently has no good translation, probably because even in Danish it is difficult to follow. (Example: according to Dreyfus, there is only one word in Danish for "particular" and "individual", which have different meanings in English. Translators have apparently been choosing one or the other English word at random.) So I spent a lot of time slogging through what-- without benefit of clear definition--he calls "knights of resignation" and "knights of faith" and it wasn't until lecture eight that things started to make sense. Kierkegaard talks about Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac, and this somehow connects with existentialism. Dreyfus finally got around to explaining this in plain(er) English as that Abraham is driven to do something that he knows is wrong, but knows he must do it anyway. It is inexplicable, and we are not to attribute this to insanity on Abraham's part, nor to some higher ethic.
For example, Dreyfus contrasts Abraham's decision with Agamemnon's decision to sacrifice Iphigenia. The latter *is* explicable--the higher ethic of Agamemnon doing what he must as a king overrides the ethic of doing what he wishes as a father. Another example Dreyfus gave (suggested by a listener to earlier podcasts) is that of Huck in THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN when he decides not to turn Jim in. Huck is not claiming a higher ethic; indeed, he says:
So I was full of trouble, full as I could be; and didn't know what to do. At last I had an idea; and I says, I'll go and write the letter--and then see if I can pray. Why, it was astonishing, the way I felt as light as a feather right straight off, and my troubles all gone. So I got a piece of paper and a pencil, all glad and excited, and set down and wrote:
Miss Watson, your runaway n****r Jim is down here two mile below Pikesville, and Mr. Phelps has got him and he will give him up for the reward if you send. Huck Finn.
I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now. But I didn't do it straight off, but laid the paper down and set there thinking--thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell. And went on thinking. And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me all the time: in the day and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a-floating along, talking and singing and laughing. But somehow I couldn't seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind. I'd see him standing my watch on top of his'n, 'stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to him again in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and suchlike times; and would always call me honey, and pet me, and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was; and at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had smallpox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the only one he's got now; and then I happened to look around and see that paper.
It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:
"All right, then, I'll go to hell"--and tore it up.
Unfortunately, most of Dreyfus's examples in the course (other than Abraham, who was Kierkegaard's original example) were people whose motivations we would now see as of a higher ethic than what they turned their back on. We see Huck's decision as the more ethical of his choices (turn Jim in or not) because we have come to believe that slavery is bad, slaves are people, etc. But Kierkegaard is attempting to justify the decision even if there is no higher ethic. He does not give God's will as a higher ethic for Abraham-- he just says that Abraham knew he had to sacrifice Isaac, and as a result, he got to keep Isaac. (This decision is called "suspending the ethical" based on some sort of "unconditional commitment.")
If existentialism leads to claims like this, I'm not surprised that no one can explain it. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers. --Francois Marie Arouet VoltaireTweet
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