Norms and Behavior

One Woman’s Quest

This is a fascinating story about a young Somali woman and her desire to sing in public after it had been outlawed.

Betsy Levy Paluck, a psychologist who researches social change, says that while we like to think that what we do is a reflection of what we think, “we’re constantly tuning ourselves to fit in with the social world around us.”

So what this work suggests is that if you change someone’s perception of what constitutes the social norm — as you convince people that the world is safe enough to sing in public even though in actual fact singing in public is incredibly dangerous — then you just might be able to move the needle on the ground. –Alix Spiegel

Action Theory Questioned

The conclusion about beliefs, norms, and behavior fascinating. I had taken a hard look at action theory in college and had fallen under the assumption that actions flow from beliefs.

But it looks like if you can change public norms, then people can behave in a way that they say they don’t believe in. This seems obvious, but it is still strange to think that norms loosen the connection between beliefs and behavior. We don’t readily acknowledge norms but are conscious of and refer continually to our beliefs.

From ZZ Packer

“Wow,” Drema said, looking up. “Why are all the stars out here? I never see stars back on Oneida Street.”

“It’s a camping trip, that’s why,” Octavia said, “You’re supposed to see stars on camping trips.”

Janice said, “This place smells like the air freshener my mother uses.”

“These woods are pine,” Elise said. “Your mother probably uses pine air freshener.”

-From the short story “Brownies” by ZZ Packer

Book Review: An Artist of the Floating World

This is a rich study of an artist. As with other Kazuo Ishiguro novels, the narrator is unreliable. The action here is in trying to figure out what the narrator believes, what’s artifice, and so how far he is lying to us and himself in the presentation of his thoughts.

This was enjoyable for me because even though the artist–a Japanese painter who served as a propagandist for World War II–technically claims that what he did was morally wrong, you feel that he cannot quite accept that. He is a stubborn, proud man. At the end, the narrator reflects tranquilly on the path his life has taken, like Mr. Stevens at the end of Remains of the Day, but here this is sinister.

“Fisherman” by Yamamoto Kanae 1904

Without fully owning up to what he did, and the consequences of what he did, as well as being cast off by a progressing society that would rather pretend those years didn’t exist, his summing up and self-satisfaction represents an revocation of responsibility. It is an revocation of responsibility, demanded by the rhythms of life, that allows for the sins of the past to be conveniently forgotten.

Book Review: 8.5/10: Ishiguro’s historical novel: Is a man a player in history or does history play him?

Here’s a good piece on the aesthetics in the book and how it is when the artist becomes political does his art degrade:


Nobel Prize for Kazuo Ishiguro

Well, the Nobel Committee got this right! Kazuo Ishiguro wins the Nobel Prize for Literature. I have been a fan of this British writer since high school. The Nobel Press Release is simply:

The Nobel Prize in Literature 2017 was awarded to Kazuo Ishiguro “who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world”.

The “Uncovered the Abyss” line shows that they must have read The Unconsoled the most unconventional and experimental of his books, which I think is one of his best. In celebration of his work, I will post some reviews of his novels here in the next few days.

Here is a link to a review of his latest work: The Buried Giant.

Halt and Catch Fire season 4 near conclusion

Halt is reaching its conclusion, but instead of settling in with a safe ending, it is pushing the series further than it has gone before. Is there a more realistic show on television than this?

The way the showrunners concluded a story line was unconventional and dazzling. Dazzling because it was quiet. It felt more like real life–reconciliation, hesitancy in opening up, satisfaction in being a part of your life–than, again, any other current television show. Can any other show blur the focus from the plot and grow stronger? People will look back at this show as this decade’s The Wire.

Literature: Escape the Prison

This is a story a cynic or skeptic wouldn’t think is possible. A Somali man in jail reads Anna Karenina and it changes his life. The man doesn’t read it strictly speaking, but hears in tapped out in a type of Morse code from an adjacent doctor cellmate and he deciphers it. And it is the features of Tolstoy’s writing–the shift in perspective of several scenes; his portrayal of the trapped circumstances of the Russian noblewoman–that wrest a pulsing empathy from this man. He regains faith in his wife and direction in his life. There is a wonderful circle of relations here between the man, the doctor, the wife, Tolstoy, and “Anna Karenina.”

Breaking down class and racial barriers, the more I think of this, the more extraordinary it is: proof that literature can change a life. Listen to the account on NPR’s Rough Translation podcast:

One Story – Journal

I have been reading more short stories lately. I took a Short Fiction online course from Jennifer Caloyeras. I have been looking over some of the links provided and have been searching out paper journals as well.

I was lent two issues of One Story, a relatively new journal / literary magazine. With its slim profile of about twenty pages, cover rich in color, crisp text, and focus–there is indeed only one story per an issue–it has a memorable design that lingers after you close the back.

They publish many new or emerging authors. A story I read “Prairie Fire, 1899” was a portrait of the lead-up and that blaze as it ripped through a Dakota frontier town. Click here for an interview with the author and a brief excerpt. Worth checking out.

Movie Review: Wong Kar-wai’s 2046

Wong Kar-wai’s 2046 is a lavish, flurrying piece on love in its dizzying expansive heights and its restrictive chambers of regret and obsession. As a sequel to In the Mood for Love, Kar-wai follows Chow Mo-wan (Tony Cheung), a journalist and a writer of romances, after his rejection by his lover Su Li-Zhen (the regal Maggie Cheung). The superstructure of the stories in this film is a science-fiction story written by the Chow set in 2046. In it, he imagines himself as a Japanese man (Takuya Kimura) stuck on a train in an endless loop; he falls for an android (Faye Wong) on board. He can’t escape, but nevertheless he doesn’t want to escape (Hotel California-style).

In the present tense of the film, Chow falls in and out of love with a frisky, petulant call girl Bai Ling (Ziyi Zhang), lands a trusting, short-lived friendship with Wang Jing-wen (Faye Wong), and relies on and almost devours another woman called Su Li-Zhen (the stunning Li Gong). Throughout his longing and feeling of loss can’t be restrained or quieted, but reoccurs in all his future relationships. In a dazzling scene, Chow pushes Su Li-Zhen to a wall with a violent, long kiss goodbye-it is as if to say this is what kind of passion I have for you (and her) but if I stay with you, I can never be content as I would have been.

Wong does as masterful job of getting those scenes of riotous feeling, angst, and regret just right. Though its sci-fi escapade seems inessential and excessive and sometimes the characters dawdle around too much (cutting down on the pace), Wong delivers another insightful, bare treatment of love.