7 Quick Takes (13/3/2015)


Over the course of 2014 I read throuh Hayao Miyazaki’s manga, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. Strangely, I failed to mention this here.

Anyway, it was interesting to see Miyazaki operating in the realm of soft sci-fi. The combination of ecological themes, political intrigue and messianic prophecy recalls Frank Herbert’s Dune books, but aside from that, they’re very different beasts. Herbert’s vision of human existence is ultimately very materialistic and Machiavellian, whereas Miyazaki’s Shintoism and usual idealism is operative here. As you might expect, I find Miyazaki’s worldview more sympathetic than Herbert’s.

A more detailed look would require, as usual, a reread, but I enjoyed it immensely, and the second half managed to subvert a lot of the expectations I had built up.


Speaking of manga, one series which I followed but for some reason never finished is Naoki Urasawa’s Pluto, which is a rewriting of the “Greatest Robot on Earth” story arc from Astro Boy. Urasawa shifts the focus away from Atom (Astro Boy) to Detective Gesicht, changing the genre into a detective story. I don’t remember much of it aside from liking it, and since I already have most of the volumes collecting dust on my shelf, it will perhaps be the next manga I take a look at.


Back in the fall I obtained a complete collection of John Milton’s poems by way of a gift certificate. I’ve been slowly making my way through it in fits and starts over the course of the school year. I’m currently reaching the end of Paradise Lost. I first read Milton’s epic as a teenager, and shortly after that lost interest in the poet.

Paradise Lost is sometimes contrasted with Dante’s Divine Comedy, them being seen as the ultimate Protestant and Catholic epics respectively. In spite of my ecclesiastical leanings, I find myself enjoying Milton more than Dante. The latter’s architectonic designs engage my intellect, but otherwise don’t move me too much. A lot of this likely stems from how Dante’s work is a medieval allegory, whereas Milton’s is a rewriting of the Genesis story as an epic tragedy (and this is where comparisons break down). Milton’s attempts at theodicy are not terribly interesting, but he does a good job of getting a lot of drama out of his cast, and I find that easier to appreciate, even as Dante’s theology resonates more with me.


One thing I’ve noticed is how Biblical and literary studies seem to have moved to opposing extremes of the spectrum. Literary theory still holds large sway over the latter field, which results in books and authors being converted into various structural patterns for the amusement and edification of a few English departments. Meanwhile, Biblical studies is dominated by the historical-critical method, which tends to bracket all considerations except figuring out the author’s intent (and possible identity), the historical context, and the redactional history of the text. There isn’t much patience for the sort of allegorical scripture commentaries you find in the Church Fathers.

The Church Fathers were operating under the assumption that the books of the Bible encoded meanings beyond what the authors themselves intended. This notion of a spiritual level of meaning is part and parcel of the Church’s understanding of the Bible, which is why the Nicene Creed can say that the death and resurrection of Christ happened, “in accordance with the Scriptures.”

That isn’t too different in form from what some literary theorists claim to be doing with their texts. The question is really whether the ontological and epistemological assumptions that you get your interpretive principles from are correct or not. In the case of Derrida, Foucault et al., the answer is generally – no.


The two of the most disappointing classes I took during my undergrad years were on Science Fiction and Graphic Novels. Actually, I think most of my deep hurting with regard to English departments can be traced back to that one-two punch, where I found myself surrounded by some of the most obnoxious classmates ever, and taught by professors who had nothing interesting to say.

And that’s a shame, as I do think that sci fi and comic books are worth being taken seriously. Compared to Shakespeare and Milton, they’re relatively uncharted territories, too.


Christopher Nolan’s space travel movie Interstellar came out a few months ago. You might think that I’d have been all over that, but I still have yet to see it. For one thing, I find Nolan’s movies  to be workmanlike, but not quite worth the fuss they get. For another, it seems to be orbiting awfully close to 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the orbit of films which attempt that almost inevitably decays, resulting in them burning up in the atmosphere.

Why is 2001 even a good movie? On paper, it sounds incredibly, indefensibly self indulgent. The best answer I can think is that it takes a genuine delight in the things it indulges in, and does a good job conveying it to the audience.

What strikes me as the most emblematic moment in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is acually the credits sequence. It features a reprise of Johann Strauss II’s Blue Danube waltz playing on the soundtrack while still, white-on-black title cards are shown. Curiously, when the sequence finally reaches “The End,” and the words fade to black, Strauss’ waltz is allowed to play to completion for a few more minutes over a completely blank screen. While other movies have made use of overtures and intermissions, I can’t recall any aside from 2001 which just allows the audio to continue for some time after the video has ceased. I could be wrong, though.

This little postlude could be seen as giving theater patrons a few more minutes to wrack their brains over just what the final twenty minutes were all about. But I tend to think of it as Kubrick inviting the audience to simply enjoy a few more minutes of the waltz. That’s why I find it so emblematic – it delights in the music for its own sake.

Why all the hard sci-fi stuff? Because it’s fun. Why does the Stargate sequence have to be ten minutes long? It looks cool. Normally these sorts of rationales would destroy a movie, but for whatever reason, 2001 remains watchable. Perhaps I am just tuned in to whatever wavelength Kubrick was operating on…


look at all this work

About Josh W

Scribbler and doodler
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4 Responses to 7 Quick Takes (13/3/2015)

  1. I also think that comic books are often deeper than people give them credit for. My father once mentioned that he talked to a professor of his about parallels between Superman and Christ. Of course, the professor scoffed at the idea of their being any relationship between the superhero and Jesus Christ. But, people’s worldviews are indeed affected by things like comic books–for good or ill.

    • Josh W says:

      On that note, it’s interesting how there’s a current trend of making deconstructionist or revisionist takes on superheroes, fairy tales and the like. One of my profs recently remarked about how cynical most of mainstream tv is. There’s a definite discomfort over having sincere portrayals of heroes, good vs. evil, etc.

  2. jubilare says:

    O_o I didn’t know there was a Nausica manga. I want to read it!

    Also, interestingly enough, though I am more Protestant, I’ve always preferred Dante to Milton… perhaps that is my liking for medieval allegory coming out. 🙂

    • Josh W says:

      The Nausicaa manga both pre- and post-dates the film, as it ran from 1982-1994. I haven’t seen the movie, but given that it was released in ’84, I’d imagine it would be interesting to see how it contrasts with the trajectory his series ultimately took.

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