Beauty of Gray

Thursday, December 05, 2002


A week after we took time to give thanks for what we have, I think this questionnaire from Max Frisch's sketchbooks, 1966-71 (found on this nice website, which spared me the trouble of pulling it down off the shelf and typing it all in myself. Thanks, Douglass!) is a nice encouragement for self-reflection. It won't tell you what Byzantine emperor you would be, but you might still like it.

1. Are you really interested in the preservation of the human race once you and all the people you know are no longer alive?

2. State briefly why.

3. How many of your children do not owe their existence to deliberate intention?

4. Whom would you rather never have met?

5. Are you conscious of being in the wrong in relation to some other person (who need not necessarily be aware of it)? If so, does this make you hate yourself -- or the other person?

6. Would you like to have perfect memory?

7. Give the name of a politician whose death through illness, accident, etc. would fill you with hope. Or do you consider none of them indispensible?

8. Which person or persons, now dead, would you like to see again?

9. Which not?

10. Would you rather have belonged to a different nation (or civilization)? If so, which?

11. To what age do you wish to live?

12. If you had the power to put into effect things you consider right, would you do so against the wishes of the majority? (Yes or no)

13. Why not, if you think they are right?

14. Which do you find it easier to hate, a group or an individual? And do you prefer to hate individually or as part of a group?

15. When did you stop believing you could become wiser--or do you still believe it? Give your age.

16. Are you convinced by your own self-criticism?

17. What in your opinion do others dislike about you, and what do you dislike about yourself? If not the same thing, which do you find it easier to excuse?

18. Do you find the thought that you might never have been born (if it ever occurs to you) disturbing?

19. When you think of someone dead, would you like him to speak to you, or would you rather say something more to him?

20. Do you love anybody?

21. How do you know?

22. Let us assume that you have never killed another human being. How do you account for it?

23. What do you need in order to be happy?

24. What are you grateful for?

25. Which would you rather do: die or live on as a healthy animal? Which animal?

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 2:15 PM

Movie review: Solaris

I went to see the new movie Solaris last weekend, and it took me a while to make up my mind about it. There was a lot of good things there and I felt like I should have enjoyed it more, but was ultimately unsatisfied. The story, in brief, is that George Clooney is a psychiatrist who’s sent to a space station where weird things are happening. (Minor spoilers ahead, if you’re planning on seeing the movie.) It turns out that the local energy field there is creating clones from the memories of crewmembers, and Clooney gets the chance to be reunited with his dead wife.

Only it isn’t his wife, since it’s based solely on his memories. It exists as a real person with free will, but its past is only his perception of her. He is then faced with the choice of staying with her or leaving, and the movie presents the audience (implicitly—it never comes out and says it in so many words) with questions about the nature of individuality and identity, and the difference between the person you are and the person others think you are.

Which is an interesting area to explore, but the problem is that it’s a philosophical question. And movies are not well equipped to explore philosophical questions. Movies are good at presenting drama, not ideas. If the drama brings up ideas, it can enrich the experience, but the core of the movie is the plot. Anything else is a misuse of resources. And the plot of Solaris isn’t nearly enough to carry the movie. Very little happens, and it happens very slowly. The cinematography is great, the visuals are great, the near future vision of Earth was wonderful, but the movie is hollow at the core because there isn’t enough drama to carry it. And ideas aren’t enough for a movie.

A book, on the other hand…well that’s the correct venue to explore these puzzles. The movie is an adaptation of a novel by Stanislaw Lem, and I’d bet that’s more interesting. But if you’re interested in these questions about identity, I’d recommend a different, little known novel. It’s One, No One, and One Hundred Thousand by Pirandello (better known as a playwright, author of such works as Six Characters in Search of an Author.) It’s a wonderful little book that you can read in the time it would take you to watch Solaris, and it’s far more interesting and thought provoking, and will reward you much more than the attractive but empty Solaris.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 1:57 PM

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