Even with limited options, nevertheless, we can change

Charlie Jane Anders’ writing craft book Never Say You Can’t Survive isn’t a philosophy book, except that, well, take a look at this. Here, she talks about how characters can change. As writers and readers, we view their fictional world from the outside, and we also see that they have free will. Maybe we see things about the characters that they aren’t aware of about themselves. When the character has fewer options, they — and we — might perceive their situation as worsening. Still, despite their limited options, the character can change. Almost always, a breakthough is possible.

Here are three brief passages from the book:

“Fiction can work all kinds of magic during horrendous times: inspire us to resist evil, expose the reality of the world, create empathy, and help us to understand complex systems from a vantage point that could be hard to reach in nonfiction. But the most powerful thing that fiction can do is show that people can change, and that we all have the potential to be different. That’s where I get a lot of my hope when everything around me feels hopeless.

* * *

Almost every story is some mix of character stuff and plot stuff, and the mix can vary from page to page and chapter to chapter. Character is action: people aren’t just a collection of feeling and opinions and habits, but rather the sum total of all the choices they take. Meanwhile, even the plottiest plotfest needs to have characters who we root for, or else none of the secret codes and countdowns will matter worth a damn.

* * *

I increasingly find it helpful to think in terms of ‘options become constrained,’ rather than ‘things get worse.’ It’s not so much that the situation deteriorates — it’s more like doors are slamming shut, and the protagonists have fewer and fewer courses of action open to them.”

— Charlie Jane Anders, Never Say You Can’t Survive: How to Get Through Hard Times by Making Up Stories, Tordotcom (2021), Chapters 8, 9, 10

I appreciate philosophy wherever and in whatever format it appears.

Sunday’s Sermon: Professor Douwe Stuurman

historyRemembering Stuurman

“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy: they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” – Marcel Proust

RUSSELL: Douwe Stuurman?

HARDIN: Well, he’s one of a kind. He was one of the spearheads of the movement to keep this [UCSB] a small liberal arts campus. He was, as you know, at Oxford–a Rhodes Scholar–and very much a lover of humanities in a traditional sense. I don’t know how one could summarize him. You know plenty about him anyway. He’s quite unusual.

It is appropriate at this time of year to think back on the year and all of the years that have slipped by so quickly, and it is appropriate to begin with a Proust quote, for the subject of this remembrance was a great Proust student: Douwe Stuurman. University of California Professor Stuurman. My MA advisor for my degree in English. A man who influenced generations of students in his long teaching career. A mentor, teacher, friend.

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On Meaning

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  • Conrad’s intention.
  • In the center is Kurtz’s “The Horror; the Horror”;
  • Marlow’s telling of the story;
  • Then the audience on board the ship who have listened and reacted to the story;
  • The outer circle is the community of readers/critics of Conrad’s novel who interrelate;
  • Finally the story’s meaning to the larger society.

On Meaning

haloRecently I have been listening to audio books in the gym while I work out. It helps to pass the time in an other wise boring activity (row, row, lift, lift). Currently I am listening to a fine reading of Conrad’s “The Secret Sharer”. It is a fascinating story. [BTW, the best free source for audio books]

In his “Heart of Darkness” Conrad has his narrator say:

“The yarns of seamen have a direct simplicity, the whole meaning of which lies within the shell of a cracked nut. But Marlow was not typical (if his propensity to spin yarns be excepted), and to him the meaning of an episode was not inside like a kernel but outside, enveloping the tale which brought it out only as a glow brings out a haze, in the likeness of one of these misty halos that sometimes are made visible by the spectral illumination of moonshine.”

What do you think this comment says about the meaning of “yarns” in general?

[In the picture the halo around the moon is where the meaning is to be found.]

RAT BEACH

 A great story. Personal note: I enlisted in the USMC at 17 for the next war.

When I was seventeen, bravado, mingled with what must have been a death wish, made me enlist in the officer-training program of the Marine Corps. Since those in my age group were considerably too callow to lead troops into battle, it was decided at the Navy Department that we would be sent to college, where, as book-toting privates, we would gain a little learning and seasoning, and also a year or two of physical and mental growth, before our fateful collision with the Japs.

Read here.


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Camus

More than fifty years after Algerian independence, Albert CamusAlgerian Chronicles appears here in English for the first time. Published in France in 1958, the same year the Algerian War brought about the collapse of the Fourth French Republic, it is one of Camus’ most political works—an exploration of his commitments to Algeria. Dismissed or disdained at publication, today Algerian Chronicles, with its prescient analysis of the dead end of terrorism, enjoys a new life in Arthur Goldhammer’s elegant translation.

“Believe me when I tell you that Algeria is where I hurt at this moment,” Camus, who was the most visible symbol of France’s troubled relationship with Algeria, writes, “as others feel pain in their lungs.” Gathered here are Camus’ strongest statements on Algeria from the 1930s through the 1950s, revised and supplemented by the author for publication in book form.

In her introduction, Alice Kaplan illuminates the dilemma faced by Camus: he was committed to the defense of those who suffered colonial injustices, yet was unable to support Algerian national sovereignty apart from France. An appendix of lesser-known texts that did not appear in the French edition complements the picture of a moralist who posed questions about violence and counter-violence, national identity, terrorism, and justice that continue to illuminate our contemporary

Book Review: Algerian Chronicles
Book review:  By Phillip C. Naylor

Sunday’s Sermon

world_religion2Though we can’t prove the existence of one (or many) god(s), we can provide evidence for the power of religion. For good or for evil, faith factors into our everyday lives in one way or another. We’ve evolved to believe. But it is also clear that extremist beliefs can have terrible consequences.

I won’t go through a list of the evils that religion can support or contribute to, for all you need to look at for a history of evil is most any “holy scripture” describing “holy” wars and destruction (the one I am most familiar with is “The Book of Judges” in the Hebrew Bible). Or, your daily newspaper or twitter feed.

Here are several articles: (Yes, there will be a quiz! Smile)

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