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Mark Bernstein

Mark Bernstein: hypertext research

Last Build Date: Sat, 3 Dec 2016 10:12:29 -0500


Daphne, Polyxena, and a long conversation

Sat, 3 Dec 2016 09:51:41 -0500


A correspondent got me to thinking about the long literary discussion and Those Trojan Girls.

The Trojan Women, you’ll remember, concerns the aftermath of the Trojan War. Specifically, what’s going to happen to the widows and daughters of Troy’s vanquished heroes? They will, of course, now be divided up as slaves and servants of the victorious Greeks.

In Seneca’s version (~54CE), Queen Hecuba’s youngest daughter is allotted to Achilles. The allotment of slaves to Achilles had previously caused a bit of trouble and unhappiness: that’s the Illiad. We are not going to stir that up again, nor sir, not even though Achilles is dead. So Polyxena will be executed on Achilles grave. It is the very definition of pathetic.

I think this can also be read as a response to the male gaze in Ovid’s Metamorphoses (<17/18 CE). There, Daphne carelessly or thoughtlessly lets herself be seen undressed, and in the end must turn herself into a tree. Daphne is the original blonde horror victim to which Buffy The Vampire Slayer responds. But Seneca is emphatic to note that Polyxena takes care, even as the priests sacrifice her, to make sure that her clothes remain demurely arranged; as a teenager she comprehends the male gaze and as an independent, strong feminist she takes steps, even in this most extreme of situations, to hold it together.

This isn’t what happens to my Polyxena in Those Trojan Girls, but I’d not thought about this particular bit of literary repartee before.

Flesh and Bone

Thu, 1 Dec 2016 17:52:52 -0500

An Amazon original series, and a fascinating contrast to another Amazon original, Mozart In The Jungle.

Mozart is supposed to be about music, but it’s really about life and the arts. At Web Science 2013, Cory Doctorow said that no one should work in the arts unless they must; that, pretty much, is the argument in Mozart. Mozart has a lot of empathy for people who don’t have that choice.

Flesh and Bone (I've seen only the first episodes) is supposed to be about dance, but it’s really about damage, about bodies and the way things go wrong. Its characters make sacrifices, but those sacrifices are to their compulsions and their fears, not to their art. Lots of the damage isn’t a choice or a sacrifice. Everyone, it seems, is more or less damaged.

It’s not exactly pleasant. The dramatic premise of the first season, apparently, places a vulnerable and sympathetic dancer into precisely the situation with which she cannot hope to cope, having been cast into a ballet about a subject she dreads under the direction of teachers who cannot fathom the difficulty. The teachers, in turn, are former dancers with physical and emotional scars accrued over decades; they cannot imagine what pain this girl could possibly possess that could equal theirs.

The whole thing balances precariously. Make this much less horrible and you're trivializing sexual trauma, abuse, and pain. Make it any more horrible and you’re appealing to sadists.

The Year Of Lear

Thu, 1 Dec 2016 14:26:18 -0500

A fascinating and detailed look at the politics of 1606 and how they impacted Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, and King Lear. In 1606, James I was trying to get Parliament to agree to uniting England and Scotland. It was a tough sell, and that echoes through all three plays. Ben Jonson did a costly, elaborate court masque to help sell it; that didn’t really work, either, but “the throne she sat on” echoes down through centuries in which masques have been forgotten. It’s fascinating how many topical references from 1606 we can trace in the plays.

Gamergate and the Alt-Right

Thu, 1 Dec 2016 14:26:56 -0500

What Gamergate should have taught us about the 'alt-right' (Matt Lees, The Guardian) Thanks, Clare Hooper!

The similarities between Gamergate and the far-right online movement, the “alt-right”, are huge, startling and in no way a coincidence. After all, the culture war that began in games now has a senior representative in The White House. As a founder member and former executive chair of Brietbart News, Steve Bannon had a hand in creating media monster Milo Yiannopoulos, who built his fame and Twitter following by supporting and cheerleading Gamergate. This hashtag was the canary in the coalmine, and we ignored it.

Yep. And Wikipedia continues to pursue appeasement.

Winter’s Bone

Mon, 28 Nov 2016 10:20:00 -0500

What a lovely book! This is the source, of course, of the superb movie that made Jennifer Lawrence a star. The book is even better; taut, lyrical, efficient. Rhee Dolly is sixteen. Her Mom is crazy, her two little brothers are too young to care for themselves, and her dad, a meth cook, has vanished after pledging their house as collateral for bail. She has a week to find him and, while nearly everyone in this forgotten corner of the Ozarks is some sort of relative, ancient family disputes mean that every hand is against her.

The Duke’s Children

Mon, 28 Nov 2016 10:16:49 -0500

Plantagenet Palliser, Duke of Omnium and Gatherum, is no longer the Whig leader or the Prime Minister. After the first chapter, he is no longer the husband of Glencora, the center of his universe and the axis around which these stories revolve. His eldest boy has been thrown out of Oxford and has entered Parliament as a Conservative. His daughter wants to marry a many who is entirely unsuitable, and this has led him into a quarrel with his late wife’s closest friend.

Note to Amazon: how does someone search for "a real, actual edition of this important Victorian classic, rather than a fly-by-night print-to-order rehash of the Project Gutenberg scan? Some readers might conceivably spring for a decent hardcover set, were there one to be found among the frauds and scams.

Soho Sins

Sat, 26 Nov 2016 13:30:43 -0500

A clever mystery that hangs neatly on a realistic postmodern peg. Amanda Oliver has been murdered, and her husband, software tycoon and art collector Philip Oliver, has confessed. The problem is that Philip is suffering from early-onset dementia, and while he sincerely believes he did murder his wife, he’s awfully fuzzy on the details. Philip’s life is messy – he had a daughter by wife #1, was divorcing wife #2, and has already proposed to wife #3. Fortunately, Philip’s art dealer has an unexpected flair for detection.

Give Me A Name

Sat, 26 Nov 2016 13:04:00 -0500

Writing a chapter for the next edition of The Tinderbox Way, I needed a bunch of fictitious names to fill a sample list of imaginary campaign supporters. My original plan was to sit down and invent names. I’ve done this before, but it can be tough work.

  • John Smith and Samantha Adams will only get you so far.
  • It’s hard, and potentially embarrassing, to distinguish an imaginary name that just popped into your head from the name of an actually famous person you’ve scarcely heard of.
  • When I make lists of names, I can’t help playing games. I was thinking of a town populated by minor characters from Trollope. Who wouldn’t want to canvass Mr. And Mrs. Grex? But this, too, takes time, and doesn’t greatly contribute to understanding Tinderbox.

So, I fired up the Scrivener Names Generator, and was pleased to find that it now generates batches of names with one click. Click! 116 names, instantly, in a nice list. Copy, paste into Tinderbox. Explode. In no time at all, we’ve got 116 people, plausible names, and a nice balance of gender and ethnicity. Here’s the first ten:

  • Arturo Ellison
  • Shannon Everton
  • Hiro Gooch
  • Hideo Lee
  • Maria Cohen
  • Lee Hasek
  • Katsumi Wileman
  • Gina March
  • Lynette Fraser
  • Courtney Wiltshire

This is not bad. “Maria Cohen” struck me as unlikely, but no one named “Mark Bernstein” is going to tell you it’s impossible. In fact, there are plenty of Maria Cohens in LinkedIn. I didn’t know that my candidate’s voter pool had quite this many Japanese-Americans, but local campaigns are like that. (Other people in my voter pool include Poppy Wimsey, Angelica van Doren, Susumu Shepard, and Josie Neruda; this town reads a lot of classics.)

Impressive example of the easy interoperability we so easily overlook.