Nietzsche’s Mustache

Nietzsche's Mustache

“Knowing one’s ‘particularity.’ — We too easily forget that in the eyes of strangers who are seeing us for the first time, we are something completely different from what we consider ourselves to be: usually nothing more than an eye-catching particular determines the impression. Accordingly, the most gentle and fair-minded person on earth can, if he merely happens to have a large mustache, sit, as it were, in its shade, and sit calmly – ordinary eyes will see in him the accessory to a large mustache, in other words, a militaristic, quick-tempered, under certain circumstances violent character — and they act toward him accordingly.” ~ Nietzsche, Friedrich. 2011. Dawn. Trans. Brittain Smith. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 210.

Picture Perfect Apocalypse

Drawing from internet l33t speak and such classics as A Canticle for Leibowitz and Dr. Strangelove, Romantically Apocalyptic is as absurd and disturbing as it is sublime and darkly funny. Using a mixed medium of photography and digital art to remarkable effect the webcomic follows the post-apocalyptic lives of  “zee Captain”, “Sniper” and “Pilot” as they try to survive the many dangers of our radiation engorged future, be they humans, mutants, aliens or otherwise.

In any event, worth a look.

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Black Metal Meals and Other Food for Thought

Considering myself more of a scavenger by nature than anything close to a proper chef I’ve nevertheless become intrigued by the various gimmicks that cooking shows employ to attract an audience to a delicious, if sometimes tedious aspect of daily life. It started with Iron Chef, the Japanese cooking program that combined zany melodrama with all the intensity of a samurai showdown. For all of its importance, and all that we eat, we don’t spend a great deal of time thinking about food, our relationship to it or where it comes from. It even seems a rarity when we get the chance to really try and enjoy a meal with the epicurean zeal that can turn an unreflective necessity into a truly pleasant experience.

Again, however, Japanese culture presents some interesting exceptions, in Anime, where so often the motivation of main characters is driven by the basic necessity to eat (a comparatively rare motivation in most western cartoons), to the comedic excesses of the movie Tampopo (A “ramen western”, and possibly the strangest Japanese film I have ever seen), to the austere rituals surrounding tea ceremonies and the preparation of Sushi, and especially that dangerous favouret, Fugu.

The above clip is likewise on the odd end of things, combining black metal aesthetics and intensity with vegan meals. It is silly, and hopefully enjoyable.

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Harvie Krumpet and a Touching Nihilism

Harvie Krumpet was my introduction to the works of the Australian animator Adam Elliot and since then I have seen everything youtube has to offer and have just had the pleasure of seeing Mary and Max, which recently won an award at the Sundance Film Festival. There is a strangely warming nihilism in Elliot’s works. Bad things happen, good people suffer and we are more often than not lonely souls, but life goes on and we make the best of it while still finding some humour in the absurdity of it all. I’ve been asked a few times what I find so morbidly warming about these narratives.

While nihilism is generally seen as a crippling kind of despair, and indeed certainly can be, there is also a tradition of “merry nihilism”, seen in such classics as Tristram Shandy, and now is almost ubiquitous on television with The Simpsons and its many descendants. As part of this there is also a kind of touching nihilism. In Robert Heinlein’s novel Stranger in a Strange Land, the protagonist, a human raised by martians, finally understands why we laugh after watching a series of random and unfair acts perpetrated on monkeys by other monkeys in a zoo:

“I grok people. I am people… so now I can say it in people talk. I’ve found out why people laugh. They laugh because it hurts so much… because it’s the only thing that’ll make it stop hurting.”

“I had thought — I had been told — that a ‘funny’ thing is a thing of a goodness. It isn’t. Not ever is it funny to the person it happens to. Like that sheriff without his pants. The goodness is in the laughing itself. I grok it is a bravery . . . and a sharing… against pain and sorrow and defeat.”

Perhaps I have not yet given proper answer to those who think it a morbid fascination, but it certainly looks like the beginning of something more than a mere denial of the world in all its seeming randomness.

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The Soviet Block

Despite myself, being Canadian, I still feel a strange resonance with Russian culture and history. Perhaps its the snow, the Montreal-based film “The Trotsky”, or the socialism, or maybe even the chronic angst that emanates from nations in constant danger of fracturing, physically and psychologically because they simply don’t make sense. Probably the last one, though.

Does Putin worry me? Yes. In general the political situation in Russia has been frightening and difficult for at least the past hundred years, but the sense of identity and history to emerge from this maelstrom is quite remarkable. From Mendeleev to  Dostoevsky, from Rasputin to Nabokov, and many more if you also include the Russian diaspora. As readers of this blog have noted, I’ve also had an illiterate eye on the occult art emerging from this corner of the world.

In any event, here are some resources to delight and terrify.

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Flanders and Swann

I first came across the British comedy troupe of Michael Flanders (1922-1975) and Donald Swann (1923-1994) when still a fairly young child, and quickly grew to love the humour of their songs. It’s somewhat akin to Monty Python’s Flying Circus in style, absurdist, erudite, and often very human. Swann was a linguist, and on occasion this would show up in their songs, such as the Greek “Old MacDonald”, “To Kokoraki”, the Russian “In The Desert” and others. Flanders was also unusual at the time because he was one of the few popular entertainers who was essentially wheel-chair bound, having contracted polio as a child.

Their political songs and jests at the expense of the norms of society are certainly worth exploring, for such gems as “The Reluctant Cannibal” and “Sounding Brass”, and their ever-educational introduction to thermodynamics “First and Second Law”, which you can hear above, is one hip way of learning physics.

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Fishmen and the Fascination with Plushie Evil

The cultural currency held by the writings of H.P. Lovecraft can be seen no more clearly than in the industries that have been built around parodying them. Cthulhu for President? Christmas Cthulhu? The plush Cthulhu I gave to the son of a professor friend of mine? There seems to be no end to it. Yet as banal as it sounds, these running gags of ours may tell us more about ourselves than we have ever imagined.

For your own Cthulhu: