Sunday, February 27, 2005

"The soul is a terrible reality...It can be poisoned, or made perfect."

Today I finished Dorian Gray and there was this one passage that stuck out to me. “The soul is a terrible reality,” Dorian asserts. “It can be bought, and sold, and bartered away. It can be poisoned, or made perfect.” What struck me about that sentiment was the very last word—can a soul be made perfect? My reaction was no, of course not: there’s no such thing as perfection, is there? and also it seems that even the action of altering oneself (“made perfect”) would itself make the soul, or the self, imperfect.

Two examples came to mind. The first is the fact that people who make Persian carpets—and I assume that this applies to other trades as well—they spend huge amounts of time and effort in creating them, but they always make some small intentional error in the carpet because nothing they make can be perfect; only God is perfect. (Incidentally, my sister used this idea to good advantage a couple years ago when she had to make a complex Islamic mosaic for history class: when she turned it in, she included a note to the teacher that explained, well, according to ancient tradition, only God is perfect and as such, any mistakes in her mosaic were of course intentional. She got a 100.)

The second example is the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, which states that the action of observing affects the result. What I was trying to say before was that one cannot make his soul perfect, because “perfect” implies an immutability—or imperturbability?—of sorts; maybe a soul could be perfectly itself, but then any tampering would make it imperfect… I seem to be going in circles here, and I’m only making vague sense even to myself. I’ll cut myself short, then, but I’ll probably ponder this later. Hm.

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On an entirely different note, I finally got around to watching the trailer for A Scanner Darkly, and it looks fantastic; what a weird and great animation technique. (My only complaint is please, Hollywood, stop casting Keanu Reeves in these sci-fi hero roles—we don’t like him!) Scanner is obviously based on the book by Philip K. Dick, a man who rather fascinates me. The only book of his that I read was Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? a couple years ago (it was great; much better and more layered even than Blade Runner, which was based on it), but tons of sci-fi movies have been based on his material, from the fun Minority Report to the terrible Paycheck. The best part is, Philip K. Dick was never famous when he was alive; he wrote for pulp sci-fi rags and churned out stories and books like a machine…now he’s a bona-sci-fi (get it?!) superstar.

This got me thinking about other great sci-fi movies; even with the obvious ones (Star Wars, The Matrix, ET), my list didn’t have too many movies, but those movies I did think of were all much more thought-provoking and, well, cool, than a lot of my other favorite films. Gattaca was great because that’s the kind of thing that could actually happen, to a lesser extent, in our society in a few years (well, that and because of Ethan Hawke). Logan’s Run was too silly-retro for me in general, but the ultra-hedonism of the society in it was a neat idea. Then there are Kubrick’s sci-fi-but-really-something-else-entirely films: Dr. Strangelove was a sci-fi satire, 2001: A Space Odyssey was a sci-fi…trip (Hal reading the astronauts’ lips is one of the creepiest scenes in film, I think), and A Clockwork Orange was a sci-fi dystopia. But all three incredible. Then Blade Runner I mentioned before (though again, the book was a lot more interesting) and finally, best of all, that Metropolis movie I’m always raving about. So there’s a top 10 for you (or top 12 or top 9 or 11, depending on how you count and whether you include the not-stellar Logan’s Run). But anyway, another topic without a real conclusion…do you guys have any sci-fi favorites that I missed?

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Ah, I just was looking through my Moleskine for, ahem, material, to see if I could save this post from going down the drain (perhaps it’s already a lost cause?) and I found this hilarious part from Dorian Gray (I know, I can’t let go!), one that actually made me laugh out loud. So to set the scene, Dorian Gray is very guilty, for he just murdered a man and successfully covered it up. He’s chatting with his unsuspecting friends Lord Henry (aka Harry) and the Duchess.

“‘It is an annoying subject,’ broke in Lord Henry. ‘It has no psychological value at all…I should like to know some one who had committed a real murder.’

“‘How horrid of you, Harry!’ cried the Duchess. ‘Isn’t it, Mr. Gray? Harry, Mr. Gray is ill again. He is going to faint.’

“Dorian drew himself up with an effort, and smiled. ‘It is nothing, Duchess,’ he murmured; ‘my nerves are dreadfully out of order. That is all…I didn’t hear what Harry said. Was it very bad? You must tell me some other time…You will excuse me, won’t you?’”



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