The Art of Language

The study of language has always been lumped together with the arts as an academic discipline. However it is only today that I have really connected how language, specifically learning a second language is really what art is all about.

We don’t learn a second language in order to communicate or to get by in another language; though sometimes this is why people learn a language as adults. We learn a second language to discover new ways of communicating. We learn how to express thoughts and ideas in a different way and when we receive thoughts and ideas through another language those ideas are quite different.

Essentially these new avenues of expression are the function of art, to express things in ways that are outside of our everyday language, so we can see and hear things in new interesting and enjoyable ways.

Probably the closest art form to language learning is poetry. Most languages have rich poetic traditions, because everyday words are combined in new ways to express different thoughts. This is exactly what we do when using a second language. It’s like we have instant access to art by trying to express the same thought in a second language, we instantly have a subtly different version of the initial thought that can be in itself thought provoking by making us view that thought in a different way.

Everything is somehow a different world in a second language and there is of course new realms of art of writing and music to explore in that language as a speaker of that language. Strangely this art argument for learning new languages seems to be seldom used to promote language learning. It is reason enough to learn  as a bonus to being able to understand more people in their native tongue.

The differences between language learning and the other arts is that use of the second language is not usually done with the intent of producing or appreciating art. There are no great works of language learning, the process is too messy to ever be considered great art. However for the individual learner this process is very much like the mental processes involved in absorbing ideas from great pieces of art.

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My first day on the Maes

Having spent six months or so learning to speak Welsh, I was keen to go to this years National Eisteddfod. The Eisteddfod is essentially a celebration of the Welsh language and culture. It’s primary purpose is for artists to perform in competition in front of a panel of judges. In many ways it is much like any other outdoor festival, there are various stages and venues hosting a wide variety of events: music, literature and Welsh culture. So, the usual lots of fun in a muddy field, portable toilets, food and drink stalls and other commercial stands promoting their wares.

It was an amazing day out and is just very Welsh. Welsh celebrities are everywhere and are approachable and happy to talk to people. Indeed the main point of the festival, like any other festival is to chat to people and enjoy yourself. Having learnt just about enough Welsh to be able to converse in Welsh, it was even more fun to be part of this language theme park.

I enjoyed a political discussion, listened to a storyteller, listened to bands perform, bumped into so many people I know and seen more harps in a day than I have ever seen in my life and went to a harp playing competition. As the Welsh language predominates, Welsh speakers are a culture of around 500,000 people + learners, so has a vibe of inclusivity and friendliness that I haven’t experienced at any other festival, you just feel welcomed by the huge ‘Croeso’ [Welcome] in large red friendly letters. I love the harp, I think it’s an astounding musical instrument and the performer who won the competition I sat through was simply overflowing with talent and musicality.

Anyway, I’ll keep this blog entry short, as I’m going back again tomorrow to meet up with a group of fellow Welsh learners. I’m on a positive vibe, away from the all the politics and Brexit nonsense for a change!

Science is Golden

Scientists are perhaps simply people who like to know how things work. I am a scientist and I do feel a compulsion to understand how everything works. The desire to take things apart, see how each component functions, then try to put it back together again making a single change to see what happens. Of course Scientists realise that as individuals they cannot understand everything, so scientists specialise into an areas they are interested in.

Scientists go out into the world like everyone else and are often somewhat startled to realise that not everyone is a scientist. Other people often become another subject themselves to try and work out how they work, usually is some empirical way. however as human society is too big and too complex a challenge, scientists realise that society is something they can only make some progress in understanding and never fully understand.

Generally, scientists are profoundly appreciative of artists and have a huge respect for people who can transcend the compulsion to understand how things work and simply create things based on partial understandings. To the scientist this seems to be how other people function. Instead of seeking the most accurate, rational explanation possible, most people seem to be more comfortable with things that are probably true, or simply use systems that work most of the time and seem to ignore the rare situations where the frailty of that system is exposed, or explore how that is interesting, rather than how it works.

The image of scientists as the geeky obsessive with poor social skills is actually fairly accurate in many cases. This is exemplified by such popular culture television series as ‘The Big Bang Theory’, where a group of scientists struggle to interact with the real world. The problem is that scientists use scientific methodologies to learn social skills, in a social world where there is such a diversity of people and changing social values that such any understanding of social rules ends up being based on very rough, but workable approximations. Actually to develop social skills more efficiently a non-scientific approach is required, which is what most scientists try to do.

This issue has been brought to my attention through learning a second language. It is possible to learn a language in a way familiar to academics; to study the workings of the grammar, learn vocabulary, make sentences with the system, then experiment. However, to actually use the language to speak with people, to read and listen, requires understanding of how the language works in context. Often language is illogical, in any language you can construct a sentence in a sensible way, only to find that such a structure is not used by speakers. I have found a more rapid language acquisition method is to learn through how words are used and build up from an evidence base, with repetition. What this means, practically is letting go of the desire to focus on the mechanics of the language and simply use sentences that are probably correct, then correct when their failure rate is high. It’s a shockingly bad use os statistical method, but it works practically as language isn’t really trying to mislead. It is important not to try too hard to make sense of the second language in terms of the first language. I can construct sentences in Welsh from English sentences, that are grammatically correct, but are not how the language really works. it’s the need as an adult learner, to through off the shackles of the English way of expressing things that is deeply ingrained.

I am spending a lot of time listening to Welsh language radio and television. It is frustrating not being able to completely understand what people are saying. when I switch off this rational scientific desire and just listen to what I can, I can pick up the gist of what is said, expand the process of fitting in new words from context and understand more each time, without spending too much time thinking about why it works that way.

Using a non-scientific method as a tool for acquiring the ability to speak a new language is justifiable, because it is known that there is a rational structure underneath, which can be explored later, once the new language is fully bedded into the memory. However, the world of human beings seems a world where so many things happen that are not based on how things really work, decisions are not made from a scientific enquiry. Often decisions are made on the idea of systems that work most of the time, being applied to all systems. the scientific mind screams about how wrong this is.

We live in a world where the media reports such things as ‘Science say this’, or ‘Scientists say that’. Science does no such thing, the media seem to ignore the fact that all science does is attempt to answer questions to the most rigorous way possible. The answers that science provides can only be understood in the specific context of the question asked, you cannot leap from a specific case to a universal rule.

The worst example of this is the political world. Now, to the scientist, politics presents an interesting realm, politics asks questions like ‘what is the best way of running an economy?’. So the scientist then begins to think about all the various factors and competing forces, it is a very big, complex and interesting question. However the politicians of today, don’t base their decisions on the results of such enquiries. Today the political world involves the spinning of media stories, appealing to particular emotions, crass universal applying of a specific principle to the whole economy. Rarely do politicians actually make rational reasoned decisions based on evidence to increase the efficiency of an economy. This causes scientists and other rational thinkers to despair and become angry, how can people be this,well, stupid. It is tempting to withdraw back to a world where discussions lead to evidence based conclusions, where things get settled.

It is one thing to ignore how things work to to achieve a goal, such as learning to drive a car without also learning how the engine works, or indeed learning a language, it’s another thing to ignore evidence and rational enquiry and base decisions on things that seem to work well in a specific context to the huge complex system of a global economy.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s the Arts

In Terry Pratchett’s discworld novel ‘Maskerade’, a man purchases the city opera house as an investment, however he quickly discovers it is losing money, because opera not a way of making money, it is what you spend money on once you have acquired it. So, why are the arts important and why do they tend not to be supported by those on the political right?

Essentially, it is art that what makes like worth living. Once the basic requirements for existence are met, such as food and shelter, humans spend their time on entertainment, entertaining each other and participating in the process, this has occurred throughout human history. Art could also be described as a way of making sense of existence, human culture is complicated and increasingly so. Art must reflect the complexity of human existence if it is to help people make sense of their existences. Artists provide the subject matter upon which humans can use as a basis for reflecting on making sense of the world, often in a highly entertaining engaging way. As a scientist, I am fully aware of the importance of art to provide the inspiration for new ways of thinking, to enable giant leaps in understanding, as sometimes in science  you can end up going around in logical circles and it is often very helpful to look at problems you are trying to solve in different ways.

All human beings simply enjoy laughing, dancing and participating together, some of the time. This is what makes life worth living, it’s what gives quality to life, it is the antidote to a hard weeks struggle through work.

As human society has developed, people have become specialised. The product of this specialism, economic efficiency, traditionally, has been increased capacity to spend time and resources on leisure. The education of the young is, giving children the ability to learn how to function in society, the skills required to work and the ability to utilise art and leisure. So, art should always play a role in education.

Something seems to be going very wrong. This week I went to see a production by the youth theatre I was a member of whilst growing up. In a rural area it is actually amazing that this group have persisted for so long with  no funding apart from local businesses and individuals who are aware of the importance of this group to the community (some of their own children are the beneficiaries after all). What struck me was the decreased size of the audience and the size of the production had fallen in comparison to my times with the troupe. The youth theatre perform in the local arts centre, twenty years ago it was thriving, with visiting companies performing regularly to good sized audiences. However central government has cut back on such art educational activities. touring theatres are much rarer and there is no longer a local professional theatre company. The idea of going to the local theatre has dropped off peoples radar. This impoverishes the community, young people don’t get the chance to see local theatre, the youth theatre itself is no longer run by professionals, but keen amateurs. This diminishes educational oppurtunites, the ability to develop skills and self-confidence and diminishes the possibilities for looking outward to the world.

If arts funding at the grass roots, local community level is cut, as it has been, it has a knock on impact on national theatre companies and indeed television output. Instead of home grown art focused on  the local community , it is instead imported as film. It is perhaps true that younf people know more about the USA than they do about their own country, because that is where most of the art they consume comes from. Post-industrial society in Britain is somehow losing it’s ability to perform it’s own vital functions and isn’t producing anything in it’s place. The church is also in decline, once a cornerstone  of community life. As art is so important why do people seem so complicit in the diminishing of quality of life?

I have since the British general election of 2015, despaired as to the decline of British society and tried to understand what has motivated people to vote for right wing governments who seem determined to allow society to decline. It seems to come down to a fundamental difference in motivation between people of the left and the right.

To someone of the left the motivation in politics is the improvement of society, of the community of people beyond immediate family members. to build things that are of use to the community, thus enriching their own community.

To someone of the right the motivation in politics is the improvement of oppurtunities for the individual. To aspiration is to acquire ever greater wealth to enable themselves to access the needs and desires of there families. it is the perhaps the perceived status of wealth that provides it’s own satisfactions, such as finer wine, ease of access to grand opera houses and other forms of leisure.

Most people don’t think as long and hard about politics as perhaps I do. The world for most people isn’t a clear distinction between left and right. Most people are in the middle and tacitly accept general slow movements of society in general to the left or to the right, the focus is on money now there is less of it moving around

The reason the conservative government gave for recent slashing of arts funding was that the UK had to go into great debt and economic recession in order to bail out and restart the banking industry. To me, a strong society and economy would cut funding for arts and education only after food supply and shelter had been achieved (oh wait adequate housing is still an issue), but instead of propping up arts (society) the banking sector was given the funding. Actually, isn’t this a little crazy? it isn’t perhaps in the right wing agenda to support the arts, as they are less interested in a strong society, what is important to them is individuals ability to acquire and preserve wealth and ‘status’.

It is Remembrance weekend. A time when people in Britain reflect on the lives lost and suffering endured by those in the armed services. I particularly think of my grandfather who fought in the Second World War and the Death Penny I have inherited from an unknown great great uncle (to me anyway) who died in WW1. I was brought up to believe that such people gave up their energy and often there lives for the future of Britain, for the future of British society and British communities. This was the post war consensus, the idea of re-building a country fit for heroes.

Sadly it seems that such ideals as the value of community are being lost in the crazy world of modern capitalism. My advice is get down to your local theatre, have a great night out and thank those that gave their lives so you could enjoy your local community.

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London is Ugly and Annoying, Wales is Barren and Beautiful

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Ugly London, but some cool theatres

London is an amazing wonderful city, however, it is annoying and inefficient for people who live in the rest of the UK. I lived in London for four years, both loving and hating it at different times, it’s a great place to visit,, but generally rubbish and expensive (and increasingly so) to live in it and I shall tell you why.

London has an amazing amount of wonderful theatre and music. There is an abundance of hugely talented artists, performing in London, giving audiences access to great wonders, so much so that there is almost too much choice, It’s what makes living in London worthwhile.

Take last night for example. I had planned to move my stuff back to Wales, but the van hire company messed up and didn’t have a van for me when I turned to collect the van yesterday morning, so an unexpected free day to fill. So, I decided to see what was on in London last night and I found another gem.

I love live theatre and I love opera. A company ‘Opera Up Close‘, puts on slimmed down operas in intimate theatre venues, with the result that you get opera and proper theatre [ It’s not a new idea, as Mid-Wales Opera often do this sort of thing, but I’m not usually so close to the stage]. By proper theatre I mean proper stage acting, where you can clearly see every expression of the performers body, every facial expression and the glory of neck pulsations for the vibrato, the cast were involved in the plot, everyone on stage interacting and reacting to the unfolding drama. This acting is coupled with operatic singing in true ‘surround sound’. By surround sound i mean rather than seeming to come from a fixed point. When I go to big flamboyant operas, I’m usually in the cheap seats, far away from the stage, it’s still wondrous though! It really was having two of my favourite things blended together and accompanied by a talented 4 piece chamber orchestra.On balance a couple of the cast weren’t great theatre actors, and behaved as if they were in a typical opera on a bigger less intimate stage, but if it had been perfect I might well have just died of joy! The show was Bizet’s ‘Carmen’, performed at the Soho theatre, which is incidentally a really nice friendly venue.

Yet, London is really irritating. Here was a great show, with a strong cast on a Saturday night in a small venue and it was only two thirds full, although running for a month, which is quite a long run (well for non-musicals anyway!). Annoying because If this show was put on in a theatre in Wales  the audience would have been much bigger, thus it could have reached a bigger audience. In Wales everyone interested in this sort of thing would have gone to see it, rather than a portion of the London audience, which has this vast choice of other things to attend. This begs the question, Why don’t musicians and theatre companies tour the UK away from London a lot more than they do?

The answer is simple, cost. A touring company has to pay to provide accommodation for all the performers and stage management, which is really expensive, not counting the time required to travel. So ,what happens is that people in Wales (like me when i live in Wales), save up and travel down to London to see the shows, and pay for a nights accommodation in London, I usually slum it in a hostel as the only way of making the trip affordable. So the audience travel to the venue, rather than the venue come to the audience. Maybe this is a fair way of doing things, but London keeps getting more expensive. I suppose shows such as the one I went to last night can tour, because there are fewer people and less set, so if the company read this, come to Wales and beyond!

The other question is why don’t places like Wales produce more ‘home grown’ music and theatre? Well in Wales, I would suggest there is a higher proportion of people involved in local amateur productions, people enjoy art by being participants, rather than observers, in many ways this is superior.

The other issue is that young people who seek careers in the arts move away to London to hone their craft, because it is a centre for arts minded people. Artists are readily available for performance as they live a tube rides away, no need for companies to provide accommodation.

It’s not just the arts that are London-centric. It’s the British media too, the government and the economy. It’s just really inefficient having everything in the same place ion one giant world city, making that place a really rubbish place to live. Now I’m moving,  back to Wales i will really miss the chance to pop into London on the spur of the moment to catch something brilliant. I won’t miss, the faff, the smell, the crowds and the expense of it all. I know where I’d rather be! I will soon be, so I’ll probably stop ranting about how great Wales is.

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Near where I grew up, my idea of Home.

Crying at the Movies

People often bring up films they’ve seen in conversation, they often express surprise that I haven’t seen the film. So, I get the feeling that I’m missing out on a lot of great films. I do enjoy watching films, but maybe not as much as most people? Why is this?

I love live theatre and going to music concerts, much more than I like going to the cinema. When at home I prefer listening to music and reading books more that watching films. So, what is the difference, how am I different?

People often ask why I’m not terribly keen on going to the cinema. I usually respond by saying that i am tall and thin, so after about an hour i find sitting with restricted leg room gets increasingly uncomfortable. So, when I do go the cinema, I usually leave it until the last minute before taking a seat, to reduce the length of the discomfort. however at a classical music concert or the theatre, I have the same issue, but I am usually more tolerant of my personal discomfort. Incidentally,this is why I love the Proms or The Globe theatre in London, because you can stand throughout the performance.

When I was young i was involved in a youth theatre group. and we put on shows. The director once said, also a tall thin chap, that he judged the audiences by how much fidgeting there was. His argument was that the more an audience is involved with the performance, the less they fidget, I agree with this.

So, perhaps because I have a preference for theatre and music over cinema, I am more involved. By more involved I mean that I am more interested and engaged by the art on offer. However I think it’s more than just that, I am emotionally involved, I connect with the performance, I am spirited away from the real world and live with the performance and I simply don’t do that usually when watching a film.

It’s not simply the presence of live performers as I do sometimes burst into tears whilst reading a book, it is that generally I don’t connect emotionally with films.

Last night, I did connect with a film, I was in floods of tears at several times during the film. There may have been qualities of this film that other modern films lack, that the makers of the film are more part of the theatre tradition, rather than the entertainment tradition.

Perhaps it’s that many modern films to me seem to focus on entertainment, they are fast paced, filled with special effects and attempt to thrill us with their complexity, thus lacking this emotional engagement.

Whereas traditional theatre and opera, do the opposite, they simplify, they distil the complexity of the world, into a more basic narrative. Characters are not multi-faceted and complex, but simple and more one-dimensional. It is this simplification, a connection to  rawer motives, that I think enables the audience, or me anyway, to connect. It is the exposition of a simple facet, rather than an overloading of the senses with complexity that appeals to me.

The film was ‘My Name is Khan’. The film concerns how a man with Asperger’s syndrome (played by the wonderful Shah Rukh Khan) tackles the prejudice towards Muslims in a post 911 USA. The story is that the protagonist, faithfully follows his dead mothers advice that: There are only two types of people in the world, good people and bad people. His mother also requests that Khan seek happiness. So, Khan, goes to America and finds a beautiful wife (well Bollywood actresses are often stunningly beautiful anyway) and a happy life. Disaster strikes with the murder of his stepson and Khan continues to struggle to understand the world of prejudices, between Hindus, Muslims and Christians and how people respond to these prejudices with violence and become bad people.

It is simply a great film, because for all it’s fantasy and sensationalism, it is true; that we all have this continual struggle with prejudice. Connection with a truth, identified though religious practice, a play, a book, a piece of music, or whatever, somehow makes us, as humans, feel good to be alive. I seem to have found this in Bollywood films, and Western films seem to lack this quality in modern times.

Do you remember the first time?

Having just returned from my first ‘Marina and the Diamonds’ gig in my old haunt of Hackney, London. I wish to record my thoughts. I discovered the singer-songwriter Marina Diamandis  just over a year ago, what a year it has been!

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I love live music. Live music is very special. It is more ‘real’ than listening to recordings and gives the attendee such an uplifting buzz. I have loved Marina and been a fan (a Diamond) for just over six months. I think Marina is amazing because it is rare to have an artist to write such heartfelt songs about her own personal experiences. She is very special to me because I have connected so closely with those songs. It is only by writing in the pure way Marina does that this is possible. Of course everyone is different, so not not everyone will relate to the songs, hopefully there are other artists for such people who fulfill a similar role. Having now seen her live I have realised that she is an even more wonderful, talented and beautiful person than I gathered from listening to her songs/ videos/ interviews. I have such a natural high from the experience. 20150311_215054 Attending a gig as a fan and then hanging around afterwards in the hope of an extra personal contact with Marina is a really nice experience. Nice, because of the camaraderie with fellow Diamonds, in particular a mother / daughter pair, a guy who came all the way from Qatar and a girl from Liverpool. I like many others had traveled down to London, alone,  from various distances. It was great to have the opportunity to socialise with so many people who you instantly have a lot in common with. what was interesting was the diversity in people at the gig; young and old. Marina has touched and improved the lives of so many people and we all came together for a really great party. We are all different and all have problems communicating with other people who think differently to ourselves, so it’s great to find a community of like minded souls.

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After the gig, there was a large crowd of people waiting for their chance to connect briefly with Marina, far too many than she could actually have the chance to interact with. So many people wanted to connect with Marina as they have connected with her. I got the sense that everyone wished to be polite and respectful, but it is human nature that a scrum formed around Marina. Marina is so lovely that she wants to connect with the fans, sign things, have pictures taken together etc. Sometimes it’s not possible for such a big crowd to all get their moment, often the less pushy people ended up crying. Really though these people were still pleased to have been relatively close to Marina. I did get the briefest of moments, the venues security, decided that Marina needed to get away, so the interactions ended, however I followed her a little longer as I could see that she was with a couple of the people I had been chatting with, who wanted to deliver a letter to her, so had the chance for her to scribble her signature on a CD inlay card I had brought with me. Incidentally it is the first time I have done such a thing. I did feel guilty as whilst Marina was so positive it must have been a fairly harrowing experience, but Marina smiled at me, which made me so happy.

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This last year has been a very positive journey for me. Most of my life I have struggled with anxiety and scared to be myself. Seven years ago, after my mother tragically committed suicide, I went to Madagascar for three months to re-evaluate my life, because I suffered from the very same anxiety and didn’t want to die because of it. Living on a camp in a primary forest, cataloging species. This experience changed me, living in such an amazing environment, with Lemurs waking me up in the morning in my open air hammock with their ‘golden showers’.  I learnt what happiness was, to not worry and that I didn’t need to be concerned about who I was or spend so much time worrying about myself. Since then I have had many happy times, but still some anxious unhappy times. I had tried to explain my journey to various people, but no-one seemed to understand this transition I had made, During the bad times it seemed to be just in my own head, that this happiness was not real, that I was deluding myself. Then last year, Marina began releasing material for her new album ‘Froot’. She did an interview where she stated that she had made a progression and realised that bad things about herself, were not a part of her. So, something similar had happened to someone else, I at last had validation outside my own thoughts that I too had progressed to be a better way of being. Then Marina released the song ‘Happy’ which perfectly expressed my transition too. Whilst it may have been depression for Marina, it was anxiety for me, however it is a very similar progression. This is the whole concept of the ‘Froot’ album and I love it and want to support Marina for doing this. The world needs open honest artists, so many people need this external validation by connecting with something outside themselves at whatever stage of development they are at. Sadly there are not enough artists, open enough and unencumbered by the art itself or genre conventions to do it. This is why it is important to have artists prepared to express themselves. Marina’s new album ‘Froot’ is released on 16.3.15.

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So, Marina, if you ever read this. It is long and it is what i wanted to say to you after the gig, but I quickly realised that I wouldn’t have the opportunity and that it’s rather long for such a frenzied time. I wish to thank you: Firstly for favouriting my tweet about similar progression do happen to others people, that meant so much to me. Secondly, for being a great singer, songwriter, performer, artist and such a wonderful person. I am also so pleased that someone who grew up, like me, in rural Wales has found success, being themselves and doing such good things in the world. Really Marina has been the inspiration behind this whole blog and my new found freedom from fear of expressing myself.

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Teenage Fantasy

Having recently dabbled into teen fiction, I thought I’d have a bit of a look around. I believe that children’s or young adult books can produce great literature as much as any other fiction ‘genre’.  There appears to be quite a sub-genre of dystopian fantasy. When I was a teenager I read George Orwells ‘1984’, which had a profound influence on my understanding of the world, it is one of the classic dystopian novels.

I love Science Fiction. I love to immerse myself into different universes. I believe there is value in using created universes to explore concepts and also to compare and contrast such societies with the real world. There is also the appeal of escapism and anything involving spaceships! I have also identified more with SF, as opposed to fantasy. The key difference between the two genres is that in SF the worlds strive to be coherent and possible within the universe, or possible with particular defined differences. With fantasy, anything is possible, which makes for great stories, however they are perhaps often less useful as social commentary, due to not trying to be possible.

Both SF and fantasy seem to appeal particularly to teenagers. If teenagers are defined as people engaged with discovering themselves, wider society and the process of fitting in with society. Perhaps due to the pressure of the process,  a desire to escape, to create a space outside of the process is sought. Fantasy fiction can provide this.

I was interested in exploring  contemporary teen dystopian fiction, from an older perspective.  I read ‘Divergent’ by Veronica Roth. I feel that is i had read this as a teenager i would have hated it. Hated, because it isn’t a coherent universe, the society described is not possible, as such as a teenager I would have struggled to make sense of it. However, transcending this incoherence and immersing with the story allows the reader to appreciate what the novel does say, even if a fantasy.

Spoilers. The society of ‘Divergent’ is a dystopia consisting of a society divided into five factions, which are purportedly stable, as each faction offers a way of avoiding conflict, though in the novel this stability is breaking down as the factions evolve away from their founding principals. The factions  are based on five  human lifestyle guiding principals: Knowledge, Honesty, Integration, Bravery and Selflessness. At sixteen members of this society choose which faction to join. However rarely, there are ‘Divergents’ who do not have a single dominant principle and divergents are alleged to be dangerous to the social order. This idea of rare ‘divergents’ is where the coherenece of the society breaks down , as the majority of people in our universe are divergent and value more than one thing.

Nonetheless the idea is appealing, perhaps particularly to the teenager, concerned with finding themselves, how to act in society and a fear of conforming to a disliked lifestyle. Indeed, much of the novel concerns the protagonist being initiated into a different faction from her youth, where the behaviours of the faction of her youth are discouraged and new ones encouraged. Essentially some aspects of the  individuals personality are encouraged and others repressed. Thus, individuals conform to their faction, which is what most people do in the real world. For the divergents, they learn how to act as members of faction do, rather than conform. So, the novel actually, effectively explores some of the major issues of being an adolescent. It is an enjoyable, fast paced, action adventure novel.

The lack of coherence of the world still irritates me, the fantasy, the unreality. This is an objection i have towards contemporary society generally. We are offered incoherent fantasies as opposed to balanced accounts of the world. From politicians, from the news media, from the internet and popular entertainments. To be fair, these problems were probably just as bad as when I was a teenager. Perhaps I am frustrated that the world hasn’t improved, so when I discover another fantasy, rather than a thought through coherent world vision, I am frustrated. This puts me into a cynical mode, so I see how in ‘Divergent’ the story panders to the teen ‘market’, rather than as a work of art.

It is very very sad, that the world is now so tapped into commercial culture, that art, books and music, have to be ‘commercial’. so much is there a compromise between quality and commercial appeal. Yes, artists need to make a living. Yes, many artists do an amazing job of balancing these two facets of their work in ingenious ways. The problem is that the pressure towards commercialism away from value seems to be increasing.

‘We met on the train’

I attended an event in Ebbw Vale, some years ago, when the late politician, Tony Benn was touring the UK. At this event Mr Benn, described entering into a conversation with two people whilst stuck on a delayed train. During the conversation Mr Benn asked the two people how they had met, they answered ‘We met on the train’. Perhaps the romance, or at least the social leveling of sharing a train journey encourages socialising. In a sense on the train, life stops, givign people space to think and talk with people they wouldn’t otherwise speak to. However these days, people cocoon themselves with their mobile devices, carry on their lives and don’t allow the world to force them to stop.

This the principle behind the film ‘Jab We Met‘ which I enjoyed watching at the weekend. In the film two young people meet on a train and begin a journey together.  It’s a variant of the usual boys meets girl, boy loses girl, boy and girl get back together, get married and live happily ever after. I don’t watch enough Bollywood films, though people say i don’t watch enough films generally. When I do watch a Bollywood film I usually really enjoy them.

I am a bit of a sucker for trashy romantic comedies anyway. However generally I find the Bollywood ones are better than the U.S. ones. Better because partly I love the fact that they are usually musicals and that the cast may burst into a massive song and dance number at any moment, which is great. The films can make very serious social points and still provide an exhilarating happy ending. Also, the films are long enough for viewers to fall in love with the characters of the protagonists (whatever your sexuality), the audience can get to know the character and see their development through the film. The films are clearly fantasies, there is a sense of knowing that this is a fantasy story, with elements of reality, sometimes with U.S. films i feel a sense of trying too hard to be real, to make the world real and not leave room for the imagination of the viewer.

With any piece of art, the viewer fills in the gaps in there head, makes it real to themselves by adding pieces of themselves to the experience. I despair a little of much of modern culture that tries to be too real. This applies in films, computer games and indeed music, where video is provided to accompany the music. Traditional forms of theatre,  stop motion animation and old low budget episodes of Doctor Who, I love, because they are clearly leave space for the audience to say yes and make it real for themselves. This fantasy of making things real is perhaps lost in modern media, indeed works are often criticised for not seeming real enough. What I do wonder though, is where the younger generation gets to practice and develop the ability to fill the gaps and use their imagination.

Visual Personalities

I am not a very visual person. Sometimes I am struck with how much peoples different personality types influence individual understanding of the world and how others perceive other individuals. A discussion about music videos revealed how much people both create their own visuals to accompany music and associate produced visuals (music videos) with the music. This is something that I don’t do, I do not associate visuals with music. If I make a concious effort to I can, but it is unnatural for me to do this. People live in different worlds as everyone’s world view is coloured by sets of preferences determined by their personality.

I love opera and theatre, but don’t enjoy ballet/ dance as artistic expression. Why? because I comprehend how in opera/ theatre the actions of the players represent emotional states conceptually. Whereas in ballet/ dance emotional states are represented physically and visually, this I am poor at comprehending.

What was interesting about this discussion I was having was that someone asked: ‘What is your Myers-Briggs personality type?’ It so happened that questioner has a very similar Myers-Briggs type to me, yet they were a very visual person. So we created the suggestion that Myers-Briggs personality type is not associated with whether someone is a visual person.

The Myers-Briggs personality types are interesting. They offer a way of helping people understand how they are different and lead to explanations of conflicts with other personality types. for the record, I am INFJ. I strongly connect with the Introverted intuition type (IN) very weakly feeling (F) over thinking (T) and fairly weakly for Judging (J) over perceiving (P). I used to be overly concerned with people reacting negatively to me. So, being able to be free of knowing that it isn’t usually my behaviour that is the problem, but other peoples failure to understand it.

I love music, I connect with music quite deeply. When I was younger I didn’t fully appreciate, that the majority of people don’t do this. The majority of people like music, these people may need assistance of visual imagery to fully understand the music. Then there are people who don’t really get music, who probably are irritated by how ubiquitous music is in modern society. All aspects of personality exist on various spectra. I just happen to be nearer the extreme ends of the music and visual ones. The right music can help me understand a visual piece of art better.

When I was younger and more angry and cynical, I would become upset with how music is presented, particularly how popular music was a bizarre mixture of great and poor music. It angered me that music that I considered good was treated in the same way as bad music, why were music mediums such as TV/radio being poor at quality assessments, the forces deciding what music was commercially successful were themselves not musical. Of course I now appreciate that associations of music with particular visuals or social phenomena (i.e not the music itself) were what was driving this, The majority of people whose personalities were not music specialists. I have become tolerant of such workings of the mainstream world.

There is such diversity in personalities in the world and so many spectra that make each individual, a genuine individual. This diversity leads to perceivable preferences. for example, fashion is important for some people, a visual presentation of the self. These preferences will influence how individuals behave and what ideas and concepts they more strongly associate with. It takes a long time to get to know another person fully (and it’s never 100%), which is why learning to know people better is fascinating.

Yet in the world there are so many value judgements made about particular groups of people. There is much conflict based on superficial understanding of peoples motives. I appreciate that my personality type, predisposes me to tolerance and avoiding conflict. However in a more integrated world, where people are decreasing left alone to do their own thing, tolerance is becoming more important than ever.