[Film: Pontypool, Bruce McDonald, 2008]
Pontyficating:

Pontypool and its Rapid, Disappointing Ruining of an Excellent Horror Story

Introduction:

Pontypool movie poster - movie review analysis - Dr. John MendezThe low-budget Canadian horror film Pontypool is well worth watching. Its several characters are well-drawn and fully fleshed out through minimal tactics, while the premise’s in-built limitations contain new and unique elements, even to my seasoned movie-watching cynicism. But still, despite its heavy success at an early establishment of an unnerving, creepy tone in a genuinely novel context, Pontypool‘s second half tanks its tone and changed my initial opinion of the film from ‘excellent’ to merely ‘good.’

So what is Pontypool about? What makes its premise so unique? And what goes wrong for it? It is about a freshly-employed-yet-seasoned disk jockey and his finnicky, neurotic new manager at a local radio station in a small town in Ontario which gets caught in the middle of a violent and mysterious apocalyptic-style nightmare (as well as a snowstorm). And how does the film go so wrong? By transitioning from this unique and wonderful set-up into a mess of tired tropes, tone-destroying filmmaking and acting decisions, and nonsensical as well as unnecessary pseudo-scientific explanations of—and later attempted cures for—the nightmare in question.

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[Film: Pontypool, Bruce McDonald, 2008]
Pontyficating:

Pontypool and its Rapid, Disappointing Ruining of an Excellent Horror Story

was last modified: January 6th, 2017 by Daniel Podgorski

[Topics: Anthropic Principle, Logic, Physics]
Tautological Wisdom:

The Anthropic Principle, Carl Sagan, and Accounting for the Simplicity of the Physical Laws

 

Carl Sagan Sketch by M.R.P. - The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence - Brandon Carter - Anthropic Principle, physical laws

Sketch by M.R.P.

Introduction:

I should start by saying that I am well aware that Carl Sagan was not (in the strictest sense) a philosopher. His areas of expertise, as you may well know, were biology, physics, and mathematics. But he was a scientist who, unlike many of today’s most famous science advocates, had a deep respect for and interest in the humanities.

Indeed, in Sagan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book on contemporary neuroscience and anthropology, The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence, he writes (when concluding a section on the research results concerning the partial specialization of the two halves of the brain), “I think the most significant creative activities of our or any other human culture—legal and ethical systems, art and music, science and technology—were made possible only through the collaborative work of the left and right cerebral hemispheres” (Sagan 195).

And in that same book, Sagan references and engages with philosophical work by Plato, St. Augustine, Sigmund Freud, and Henry David Thoreau (among others). I have striven in this series to stress the need for mutual respect, mutual education, and even fruitful overlap between philosophy and science, and have upheld other individuals who endorse that confluence. Carl Sagan was one such individual.

Toward the end of The Dragons of Eden, Sagan engages briefly with the topic of the comprehensibility of the universe (in a passage from which I draw a lengthy quotation below). When I first read that part of his book, it occurred to me quite suddenly that Sagan, while not spot-on in my reckoning, was pointing toward a very promising low-level explanation for the seemingly remarkable notion that the fundamental physical laws strike us as mathematically simple—or at the very least comprehensible. In order to explain my interpretation of Sagan’s thought, I would like to first briefly discuss a closely related subject: the Anthropic Principle.

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[Topics: Anthropic Principle, Logic, Physics]
Tautological Wisdom:

The Anthropic Principle, Carl Sagan, and Accounting for the Simplicity of the Physical Laws

was last modified: April 27th, 2017 by Daniel Podgorski

{Guest Post} [Film: After Life, Hirokazu Koreeda, 1998]

The Wonder of Life:

How Hirokazu Koreeda Uses Narrative Techniques to Control his Audience’s Perceptions in After Life

 

(The nature of this article is such that it requires spoiling basic plot details of After Life, so you should only continue reading after this paragraph if you either do not mind spoilers or have already seen the film. – The Gemsbok)

 

After Life movie poster - Hirokazu Koreeda - restricted narration, subjectivity, objectivity

Introduction:

The meaning of existence, the value of time, and the nature of life after death are explored in countless forms of cultural production, ranging from novels to advertisements; however, one unique Japanese film called After Life takes its audience into the realm between life and afterlife.

Slated for a one week deadline, twenty-two dead clients are in search of a single memory to carry into eternity while caseworkers reproduce each unique experience onto film. By manipulating the audience’s range and depth of knowledge, director Hirokazu Koreeda successfully enlists mainly restricted and subjective narration to construct the narrative structure of After Life.

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{Guest Post} [Film: After Life, Hirokazu Koreeda, 1998]

The Wonder of Life:

How Hirokazu Koreeda Uses Narrative Techniques to Control his Audience’s Perceptions in After Life

was last modified: August 26th, 2016 by Vivien Le

[Work: A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole, 1980]
Peopling Picaresque:

On the Well-drawn Characters of John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces

 

Introduction:

A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole sketch by M.R.P. - characters, picaresque

Sketch by M.R.P.

The publishing history of John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces is a morose one to recount. In 1969, at the age of 31—after struggling for years with anxiety, paranoia, and depression, which were in turn catalyzed by the successive rejections of his works for publication by notable figures in the publishing business—Toole ran a garden hose from the exhaust of his car into an unventilated cabin, killing himself. Eleven years after his death, in 1980, Toole’s novel was published after his mother shared it with writer and enthusiastic reader Walker Percy. In time, it became an international success, and A Confederacy of Dunces posthumously won John Kennedy Toole the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1981.

I mention all of this not merely to set the scene and sow sadness, but to establish the proper context for today’s topic: the development and embodiment of unique characters in Toole’s novel. A Confederacy of Dunces is a work of picaresque fiction, meaning that it follows the wayward exploits of a singular or iconoclastic protagonist as they attempt to navigate a variety of societal strata and scenarios. Toole was himself a singular person: a gifted scholar, a witty presence, and a troubled mind; and as a result, his protagonist is perfectly drawn for his project, while all of the other characters that Toole created are equally vibrant.

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[Work: A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole, 1980]
Peopling Picaresque:

On the Well-drawn Characters of John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces

was last modified: September 1st, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski

{Guest Post} [Topics: Ethics, Philosophy of Language, Terrorism]

Testing Terrorism:

On Stephen Nathanson, Michael Walzer, and Terrorism in Relation to Conventional Warfare

 

Introduction:

Venn Diagram - Terrorism and Conventional Warfare - Stephen Nathanson, Michael WalzerTerrorism and conventional warfare are thought to inhabit two close yet separate spheres. Accolades and patriotic flags romanticize the grim reality of conventional warfare, while face masks and frightening rhetoric emphasize the deadly image of terrorism.

The term ‘terrorism’ typically elicits an intense emotional response, tainting the discussion of its ethics, and preventing understanding. The first misconception which must be made clear is that terrorism is not a separate phenomenon from  conventional warfare; terrorism must be considered at the very least an outgrowth of conventional warfare, understood as an adaptive strategy which reflects desperation.

I posit that terrorism is simply another form of warfare. If the preceding statement is true, the ethics of conventional warfare will apply to terrorism. If both conventional warfare and terrorism hold the same moral implications, one cannot discount one without discounting the other.

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{Guest Post} [Topics: Ethics, Philosophy of Language, Terrorism]

Testing Terrorism:

On Stephen Nathanson, Michael Walzer, and Terrorism in Relation to Conventional Warfare

was last modified: August 25th, 2016 by Avi Gupta