The Screenplay-novel Manifestos

Less is more vivid

Friday, July 28, 2006


I'm going to be away for roughly a week. My wife and I will be doing some travelling -- close to home and then very far afield. Hopefully my back will last the journeys.

Two links to check out in the meantime are Dan Green's The Reading Experience and Robert Nagle's Idiotprogrammer, both of whom have commentary on this site. Both raise very interesting questions of what, exactly, art is capable of accomplishing. This, it seems to me, is a particularly important issue that needs to be discussed in an ongoing way in the blogosphere, since not only the decline in book sales and general sense of crisis in publishing is of interest to writers, but the rapid widening of conflict in the Middle East creates a situation in which art's power (or lack thereof) needs to be meditated upon.

It is dialogue itself that helps illuminate what any given thing in the world is -- and this is as true of literary art as it is of other fields of human endeavor. In other words, creative people need to talk with each other about questions such as what art is capable of achieving not because there are final answers, but because the dialogue itself is also part of what art "is".

p.s. Hopefully I'll be able to continue my discussion with Dan at some point in the future, because I think there's a little confusion between us about what we mean by artists who work with both art and writing.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Fresh Eyes

Scott Esposito on reading with fresh eyes:

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to read a certain book if I had simply bought it without hearing anything about it beforehand. Would I still give it the same attention? The same patience? Would I recognize if it were good or bad? These are important questions because I pride myself on being able to tell well written, artistic books form the hack jobs and mediocrities. I think I can tell what's what, but how could I ever really know, when everything comes recommended?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Truth Marathon: A Screenplay-novel trailer

VO: We live our lives and look for happiness. That's the degree of truth that we care and know about. But sometimes truth is deeper than this. Sometimes truth is not only buried in our personal past, but the past of all the world. Sometimes the truth we have to face is that of history itself.


A young couple is kissing ardently. The male is Western: slim, intelligent-looking, but with blemished skin and a somewhat awkward and self-conscious manner. The female is Asian: flowing dark hair, high cheekbones, beautiful tawny skin. Yet while she's far more attractive than the male, there is a mute sadness to her, as if she, not he, is the one who finds day-to-day life -- the simple actions of fitting in and being "normal" -- hardest.

PAUL: [whispering] I love you.

SARAH: [not looking at him directly] Just hold me.

more here

Screenplay novel FAQs

What is a screenplay-novel?

It's a novel. But it's written in the form of a screenplay.

How did you get the idea of writing a screenplay-novel?

Over time, it dawned on me that I treated movies the way I treated novels: I would appreciate their stories in a similar way, and talk about them afterwards the way a person might talk about a novel. In fact, I do this more often with movies ... mainly, I think, because nowadays movie-watchers vastly outnumber novel readers. There are many people you can have a conversation with about a particular movie, even a very serious movie. It's a lot harder to do that about a particular book, especially if it's literary.

One "aha" moment for me was reading the published screenplay of "Out of Africa". My wife had a copy of it, and it was lying around the house. I live in South Korea, and these kinds of scripts are enormously popular here. They're marketed as an English learning tool (English script on one page, with Korean-language "key points" on the other). But as I read the script I found I really enjoyed it in and of itself. And then I thought, if this works as a book form of an existing movie, why wouldn't it work as a book form of a movie that's never been made? In other words, why not use the same combination of stills and script?

And then there's the creative process involved: Unless writing autobiographically, I like imagining scenes as if they were in a movie. My imagination seems to naturally work that way.

Has this idea been done before?

There's a long tradition of writing satire in the form of a screenplay -- you know, some imagined scene, for example, some inane conversation in the White House. And there is a tradition of teleromans in some countries. These are basically comics made of photographs, not drawings.

But there are no examples of a literary novel written in screenplay form that I've seen. At least, this was true when the idea first came to me. Since then, people have given me examples. One was a script by Michael Turner entitled "American Whisky Bar". I haven't read the book, so I can't comment on it. But some time after it was published, it was produced by CITY-TV and Bruce McDonald as a live television drama. I saw that broadcast. The broadcast was really more like a 1950s-style televised play than anything else. So I don't know if it qualifies.

Personally, I think people will come up with other examples and this will turn into a long-running debate over who was first. And I doubt it will ever be satisfactorily resolved. Instead, what I'd like to emphasize is I'm calling for the screenplay-novel to exist as a distinct form of novel. In other words, I'm hoping that many serious writers will adopt this way of writing novels -- at least, for some of their work.

So it's a good idea because it's new?

Ideas aren't good simply because they're new. I might be the first person to invent chocolate-flavoured cheddar cheese. That doesn't mean it's worthwhile. Instead, I think this idea is good because it has the potential to work. It solves problems for the writer, and solves problems for the audience. It's quicker to produce and quicker to read, yet at the same time, it keys into people's imaginations. It is a very effective way of creating the vividness necessary for a story to "work". At least, this is how it works for me. Some people don't feel the same way. For them, it's not a particularly evocative way of writing. They need more description -- both of the environment and of interior consciousness. I understand this. Because the screenplay-novel is stripped-down, it seems to have certain inherent shortcomings, one of which is less physical description and the other which is the apparent disappearance of interior consciousness.

The first quality can still exist in a screenplay novel. As in a regular screenplay, there is no necessary restriction on the amount of physical description that exists. There are simply conventions; screenplays tend to be very minimalist. However, a screenplay-novelist doesn't have to follow this convention. He or she can include as much description as he or she wants.

Evoking interior consciousness is more of a problem. Interior states of mind don't "disappear" in a screenplay-novel. Instead, they have to be evoked mainly by the characters' dialogue. (This is one reason why I tend to use more description of gestures, facial expressions and tone of voice in my dialogue than you'd find in a regular screenplay.)

The screenplay-novel form is not perfect. It has strengths and weaknesses. But let's be honest: the traditional novel has inherent short-comings, too, not the least of which is its decreasing popularity.

Call the screenplay-novel experimental literature. But it's experimental literature with practical aims.

I've read other screenplays, and they're a lot different from yours. Why?

Those aren't screenplay-novels, they're screenplays. They are meant to be produced into movies. What I'm doing here is a novel meant to be imagined as a movie.

But it's just words. What I like about movies are the pictures.

Books can contain pictures, too.

Why don't you just write a regular novel?

I do. I have. But recently I have become interested in this approach to -- this form of -- writing. It's a method of writing that works for me; that re-inspires me after years of increasing frustration with traditional literary techniques.

So you hate traditional fiction?

No. When it is well done I admire it just as much as I ever did. I have gone through cycles, of course: there have been times in my life when I hardly read it at all. And there have been other times when I read it a lot (Korean literature has been a recent inspiration). But generally for me, something in much of the traditional fiction that gets published these days has withered. I have trouble maintaining interest in it. This does not mean, though, that I have lost interest in fictional narrative overall, since movies, too, are a form of fiction.

If I were the only person who felt this way, I'd blame myself. But many people, including sophisticated people who have invested considerable energy into establishing literary careers, seem to feel the same way. So I think the main problem does not rest primarily with any one individual; it rests with contemporary fiction itself. Or to be more accurate, it rests with the contemporary institutions of fiction.

Why is this? It's not as if literary fiction has gotten worse in its totality. There is a lot of good writing out there, and often -- usually when I read something by someone unknown -- I will be strongly impressed by it. Rather, the problem seems to rest with the fiction that is being chosen by the big publishing houses, the most powerful critics, and the prize committees. Supposedly this should be the best of the best. Unfortunately, a lot of contemporary work that we are told is great is lifeless or false.

Sure. But that's just a subjective opinion. I don't agree.

You're right, it is subjective. Unfortunately, the readership of literary fiction has been declining for years, and recently this decline has become alarming. By all means, read traditional novels, and, if they move you, venerate them. But we have to face the larger cultural reality. We have to think in new ways.

So why don't you just watch movies and TV?

I like movies ... TV I'm not so sure about, although there are good programs out there.

The problem with movies and TV is this: they cost a lot to produce. No, let me rephrase that -- they cost an astronomical amount. Apart from the indie movie scene, which tends to be perpetually marginalized, no one individual can make them. They are group efforts, and while this gives them some strengths, they suffer from the near-inevitable tendency of group creations to lose any singular voice. And it's the singular voice that has to survive. It's the individual consciousness, not the group, that maintains contact with life.

And this is one of the great strengths of books: because they're relatively cheap to produce, they can still be made by individuals. (The contemporary trend toward "packaging" a book is pernicious on so many levels, as the Kaavya Viswanathan incident showed. If this scandal will be enough to stop the general trend to package books and turn even them into bland, committee-made products remains to be seen.)

Mass culture, with its converging technologies such as TV-receiving cell phones and ubiquitous WiBro reception, keeps moving more and more toward post-literacy. We are in desperate need of narrative forms that both can reach an audience but also allow the artist to retain his or her individuality. The screenplay-novel is a way of "writing a movie".

So you're suggesting we just give up? That because mass culture is so pervasive we are obligated to mimic it?

The screenplay-novel is not a selling out. Think of it this way: there are good movies. There is good TV. In other words, both mediums are capable of producing genuine works of art, despite their group-made natures. If you write a screenplay-novel, you should try to make something that also has artistic merit. Obviously, it won't have the linguistic, descriptive power of great novels. But it will have the capacity to stir people's imaginations.

And when reading a screenplay-novel, all people have to do is allow themselves to read it as a director might. This is one of the broad-based effects that movies have had on the modern mind: it is possible -- even natural, it sometimes seems -- to think "cinematically". In other words, our minds have already been conditioned to
imagine narratives as if they were movies. Maybe everyone doesn't do this. But many people do, and they do it effortlessly. In this sense, we are all directors now.

The trick is to be a good director -- an auteur, if you will. Remember that the best movies and TV are often made in opposition to mass culture. The screenplay-novel is another way of doing that.

But what about reading? If everyone is "being a director", won't reading suffer even more?

People are still reading lots these days. The trend among readers, however, is to buy more non-fiction than fiction.

What's wrong with that?

Nothing in the sense that non-fiction has always been popular, and now simply is more so. However, we still need fiction. It's not a luxury. It's a necessity, as well. Cultures rise and fall based partly on the stories they tell themselves.

I think screenplays suck. Traditional novels are more interesting to read.

Then read traditional novels. But consider the possibility that the screenplay-novel idea is a relatively new one, and part of your antagonism to them may be the result of being conditioned to read fictional narrative one way and not another. Remember that: the screenplay novel is just another form of narrative.

해미 읍성, 여름에 Haemi Fortress, in Summer (an ultra-short)


A WESTERN MAN is walking down the city's main street. To his left is the historic site of Haemi Fortress. He has a peaceful expression on his face, but from his body language we can tell he's lonely.

VO: Those were the days before I met you.

SFX: A light breeze.


The Western man sees a group of CHILDREN. They are giggling and playing with each other. Then one of them spots the man.

CHILD: 의국인! [Foreigner]

SECOND CHILD: [sing-songy] Hello!

MAN: [smiling] Hello.

ALL CHILDREN: [gleefully] Hello! Hello!

MAN: [speaking slowly] Can you speak English?

The CHILDREN suddenly start to giggle uproariously. But their amusement is more a symptom of shyness than desire to carry the game any further. They run away, still laughing.

The MAN continues walking. He makes his way through small, sad, empty streets.


The MAN enters. He is somewhat surprised to see a CROWD OF WORSHIPPERS. They are very involved in their prayers.

The MAN walks cautiously forward.



MIDDLE-AGED KOREAN MAN: 하느님! 하느님이 자를 사랑하습니다! [God! God loves you!]


The MAN is walking by himself again. He looks even sadder than before. A DIFFERENT CHILD spots him.

DIFFERENT CHILD: [especially enthusiastically] Hello!


V.O.: I don't know what it is was about that kid's voice. It got to my heart more than any church or religion could.... I heard that cheerfully demanding,
pip-squeaky voice and all I could think of was another day when the sun was setting -- a hotter day, and happier, too.

Monday, July 24, 2006


James Zogby in the Huffington Post:

A symptom of this warped mind-set is the now widely-shared and dangerous notion that has equated calls for ceasefire with weakness. In a rare display of agreement, both the White House and the Washington Post promoted this view last week. In response to a question from Helen Thomas as to why the President opposed calls for a ceasefire, White House spokesperson Tony Snow rudely thanked Ms. Thomas for what he characterized as her "Hezbollah view." Likewise, the Post editorialized that call for a ceasefire would only "reward the aggressors."

In this environment, it has been difficult to promote reasoned discourse and promote political solutions. Calls from the Maronite Catholic Patriarch to end the hostilities, or Lebanese Prime Minister Siniora who challenged the West to express outrage over the damage being done to Lebanon and the Lebanese, have fallen on deaf ears in Washington.

Even more tragic has been the total blackout of any news coming out of Gaza regarding the suffering of Palestinians now enduring their fifth week of Israeli assault.

As I have said before, no good will come of this. Absent international pressure to pursue a political solution within Lebanon and Palestine and between Lebanese, Palestinians, and Israelis, the devastation of the past month will, as in the aftermath of 1982, morph into a new and potentially more lethal extremism.

Immeasured reaction

Gideon Levy of Haaretz:

Every neighborhood has one, a loudmouth bully who shouldn't be provoked into anger. He's insulted? He'll pull out a knife. Spat in the face? He'll draw a gun. Hit? He'll pull out a machine gun. Not that the bully's not right - someone did harm him. But the reaction, what a reaction! It's not that he's not feared, but nobody really appreciates him. The real appreciation is for the strong who don't immediately use their strength. Regrettably, the Israel Defense Forces once again looks like the neighborhood bully. A soldier was abducted in Gaza? All of Gaza will pay. Eight soldiers are killed and two abducted to Lebanon? All of Lebanon will pay. One and only one language is spoken by Israel, the language of force.


Keeping Moral Legitimacy

Fred Kaplan on the new Army Field Manual: a handbook for U. S. soldiers written by Lt. General David Petraeus and retired Col. Conrad Crane:

Counterinsurgency involves rebuilding a society, keeping the population safe, boosting the local government's legitimacy, training a national army, and fighting off insurgents who are trying to topple the government—all at the same time.

As the manual puts it, "The insurgent succeeds by sowing chaos and disorder anywhere; the government fails unless it maintains order everywhere."

From first page to last, the authors stress that these kinds of wars are "protracted by nature." They require "firm political will and extreme patience," "considerable expenditure of time and resources," and a very large deployment of troops ready to greet "hand shakes or hand grenades" without mistaking one for the other.

"Successful … operations require Soldiers and Marines at every echelon to possess the following," the authors write. (Emphasis added.) They then list a daunting set of traits: "A clear, nuanced, and empathetic appreciation of the essential nature of the conflict. … An understanding of the motivation, strengths, and weaknesses of the insurgent," as well as rudimentary knowledge of the local culture, behavioral norms, and leadership structures. In addition, there must be "adaptive, self-aware, and intelligent leaders."

Meanwhile, a single high-profile infraction can undo 100 successes. "Lose moral legitimacy, lose the war," the authors warn, pointedly noting that the French lost Algeria in part because their commanders condoned torture.

This piece, incidentally, appeared on July 8, just days before the war in Southern Lebanon broke out. Since then, events have moved at such a speed that they almost cause numbness. But a few points worth making (and these are taken from media , such as CNN or The New York Times, who can't be accused of anti-Israel bias):

- Support for Hezbollah has increased throughout the Arab world.

- Most humanitarian assistance to Lebanese people has been provided by Syria (as refugees arrive there; as far as I know Cyprus mainly provides a stop-over).

- The Bush adminstration has refused to call for a cease-fire while speeding up the delivery of laser-guided bombs to the IDF.

- The IDF has been accused by the UN of attacking "excessively and indiscriminately".

The point is not that Hezbollah is better or somehow more virtuous than the IDF. Its leadership has lied about its own use of targetting civilians. The point instead is that in the period of a few weeks, Israel has done extraordinary damage to its own reputation, while the reputation of previously pariah groups such as Hezbollah has increased.

In a situation like this, emotions run so high that on certain topics rational discussion becomes almost impossible. The moral worth of the IDF vs. Hezbollah is one of these. Instead, though, I wonder how military professionals, especially in the United States, are viewing this conflict. It will almost certainly have an impact on the occupation of Iraq -- an impact that will be made vastly more complicated by the fact that Hezbollah is Shiite, and the U. S. has tended to succeed in its relations with the Shiites in Iraq. How will this change, though, when Shiites in Iraq look at the support the Bush adminstration is lending against Shiite militias in Lebabon? Again, the issue here is not the moral question of whether Hezbollah is terrorist. The issue is what the real-world consequences will be of taking sides in a conflict that is inflaming emotions across the Middle East.

In other words, how are American military professionals thinking about the possibility Israeli actions in Lebanon might doom the U. S. plan for Iraq to failure?

I'm not asking these questions rhetorically. I'm genuinely curious to find out what sort of reaction those in the military (or those who deal with diplomacy as it has an impact on the military) are having. What is their thinking? What are their views of the actual consequences the war in Lebanon will have on their own plans? Are they neutral? Supportive of Israel? Beside themselves with frustration and disbelief? They, too, are a group whose opinions need to be made known.

Differing from the official account

Mark Kaplan on conspiracy theory:

Heard the other day someone say “I prefer cock-up to conspiracy theory every time”. Really? Every time, automatically, without critical thought or reflection? How strangely dogmatic. Sure, there are crazy conspiracy theories, just as there are crazy cock-up theories. But too often, ‘conspiracy theory’ means little more than this: anything that speaks of goals, tactics, strategies other than the ones officially declared; in other words, 'conspiracy theory' as anything that differs too markedly from the official account, anything which – in an age of unprecedented spin and careful government PR – refuses to take such PR on its own terms.

Kaplan's comments are interesting on several levels. The first is that the word "conspiracy" is necessarily pejorative -- but it may simply reflect common sensical skepticism. The second is that the 21st Century so far has turned out to be a Time of Conspiracy Theory; that is, thinking of this sort has become popular. Some conspiracy theories are crazed and escapist. But others spring from a desire to discover the truth about long-buried truths. Some aspects of foreign policy include this. And, obviously, so do the actions of some militant groups.

The hidden aims of governments, groups -- all players in the political arena -- can be viewed, often healthily, through the prism of "conspiracy" ... that is,
viewing them simply to try to find out what these entities are really up to.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Peace petition

Saturday, July 22, 2006

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Throughout the Region

This story, by Neil MacFarquhar of the New York Times, covers an issue that I mentioned a few days earlier in my commentary on a recent Juan Cole article. While media have been endlessly repeating over the past few days the question of what role, if any, Syria and Iran will play in this war, what is happening in countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia may turn out to have more serious consequences for U. S. policy in the region.

DAMASCUS, Syria, July 21 In mosques from Mecca to Marrakesh, sermons at Friday Prayer services underscored both the David-versus-Goliath glamour many Arabs associate with Hezbollahs fight against Israel and their antipathy toward the United States and its allies in the region for doing so little to stop yet another Arab country from collapsing into bloodshed.

Our brothers are being killed in Lebanon and no one is responding to their cries for help, said Sheik Hazzaa al-Maswari, an Islamist member of Yemens Parliament, in his Friday sermon at the Mujahid Mosque in Sana, the countrys capital.

Where are the Arab leaders? he said. Do they have any skill other than begging for a fake peace outside the White House? We dont want leaders who bow to the White House.

The tone of the sermons suggests that the fighting in Lebanon is further tarnishing the image of the United States in the Arab world as being solely concerned with Israels welfare and making its allied governments look increasingly like puppets.

What is creating radicalism in the region is not authoritarian regimes, said Mustafa Hamarneh, director of the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan. Mainly it is American policy in the region survey after survey shows that.

The attacks against Arab leaders from the pulpit were all the more surprising because so many governments have exerted some manner of control over sermons in recent years. Dictating the content of the weekly themes is one means of preventing prayer leaders from launching into the kind of political discussions that could inspire extremists.

Here in Damascus, where the Syrian government has been trying to keep a low profile as the fighting in Lebanon surges, prominent prayer leaders focused on the need to donate generously to help tens of thousands of Lebanese refugees pouring over the border. But they also took other Arab countries to task although without mentioning by name such critics of Hezbollah as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan.



Michael Webster at Tierra del Ciego:

Lebanon has a moderate, representative democratic government and along with Egypt and Jordan, is one of Israel's friendliest neighbors. Unfortunately, Syria has too much influence in Lebanon and it's influence largely unwanted by the Lebanese. Ironically, Lebanon wants Hezbollah out of it's country almost as much as Israel does. Unfortunately, the Lebanese army is small and weak and any move they might make against Hezbollah would surely be countered by the Syrian army rolling across the border. So, if Israel and Lebanon want the same thing, why then is Israel bombing the crap out Lebanon. Wouldn't it make more sense to cooperate with them. Here's an even crazier idea. Maybe Israel along with Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon could create a regional treaty organization, along the lines of NATO. Given the largely warm diplomatic climate between all these nations for many years now, it's not something that would be impossible to accomplish.....


The child lies like a rag doll - a symbol of the latest Lebanon war
Robert Fisk in Beirut
How soon must we use the words "war crime"? How many children must be scattered in the rubble of Israeli air attacks before we reject the obscene phrase "collateral damage" and start talking about prosecution for crimes against humanity?

The child whose dead body lies like a rag doll beside the cars which were supposedly taking her and her family to safety is a symbol of the latest Lebanon war; she was hurled from the vehicle in which she and her family were traveling in southern Lebanon as they fled their village - on Israel's own instructions. Because her parents were apparently killed in the same Israeli air attack, her name is still unknown. Not an unknown warrior, but an unknown child.

True, the Hizbollah are killing civilians in Israel, but their missiles are inaccurate and the West, which has done no more than mildly disapprove of Israel's retaliatory onslaught, must surely expect higher standards of the Israeli armed forces than of the men whom both Israel and President George Bush describe as "terrorists".

The story of her death, however, is well documented.(...)

This photo reminds me of photos taken during the Korean War. But of course, it could be any modern war in which civilians bear the brunt of the violence.

Friday, July 21, 2006


The following is from Ed and it describes YouScrewed, err, I mean YouTube's attempt to slip in a "Google" -- that is, glom onto the creative work of others and turn a profit from it without sharing.

I don't want to get into a debate over whether it's using the same strategy as Google; just to point out that greed is at work. And that's too bad, because while corporate involvement with blogging/video-blogging is probably an inevitability, ripping people off isn't. When the big wheels finally realize that the rules of fair-play apply here just like everywhere else, then everyone will be happy. They have essentially good ideas (personally, my life in Korea would be much improved by a virtual library). But until they start building bridges with creators and rewarding them for what they do, they will -- well, anyway, enough said.


Filmmakers, Flashmakers and videomakers beware: PuppetVision uncovers disturbing new terms that YouTube has recently added to its site. You may want to think twice about uploading a video, because

by submitting the User Submissions to YouTube, you hereby grant YouTube a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform the User Submissions in connection with the YouTube Website and YouTube’s (and its successor’s) business, including without limitation for promoting and redistributing part or all of the YouTube Website (and derivative works thereof) in any media formats and through any media channels.

In other words, YouTube can take that video you labored over for thirty hours and sell it to somebody else. And you won’t get a cent.

Read the rest here.

Thursday, July 20, 2006


Prayer Beads

Anthony Bourdain on the situation in Lebanon and how quickly things turned:

Initially, many Beirutis were still going strong at nightclubs as jets flew low and menacingly overhead. Even that proud, famously world-weary attitude quickly changed, however, as circumstances here became even more appalling. I can certainly understand how offensive it might be to those on the ground here--or those with family and friends here--to read some of what's been posted on the other NR thread--and understand why it's been closed for now.

It is indeed heartbreaking and horrifying what has happened to this lovely country--to spanking new, lovingly restored,resurgent Beirut in particular, in only a few days of sustained and seemingly senseless destruction. A few days ago, this was a place where people were bursting with pride for the relative tolerance, progressive attitudes, and lack of conflict between groups.

I was standing with a group: a Sunni, a Christian, and a Shiite--by the Hariri memorial when the gunfire started and the Hezbollah people appeared driving through city center and honking their horns in "celebration" for the capture/kidnappings. The look of dismay and embarrasment on all three faces...and the grim look of resignation as they all-- instantly-- recognized what would inevitably come's something I will never forget.

Of the three, our Shiite security guy, a tall, taciturn man, was the last to leave us, insisiting on staying by our side though he and his family lived in the much more perilous Southern part of Beirut. After witnessing many quick telephone exchanges between him and his family, and as more bombs and shells began to fall, seeing him nervously fingering his prayer beads, we finally convinced him to leave. His house was later flattened.



At Salon, a very interesting piece by Juan Cole entitled "Israel's Maximal Option". In it, he speculates that the Olmert goverment is aiming to shift southern Lebanon's Shiite population farther north into the upper half of this (like Israel) geographically very small country.

Apart from allowing the creation of a buffer zone, such a shift would create a crisis between the Maronite Christians, Sunnis, and Druze who populate the north, and "provoke them to use the Lebanese army to rein in or destroy the Shiite paramilitary."It would also displace an entire population. In the words of Cole, "if it comes about, the forced transfer of the Shiites of the south would have several advantages for the Israelis" but "ethically, it [would be] monstrous" and, on a practical level, would be "doomed to failure".

Forced resettlement -- like any form of collective punishment -- invariably leads to a backlash. In this case, the backlash is already happening: support for Hizbollah is increasing, not lessening. And it is spreading across the region. Though Cole does not suggest the possibility directly, the concern of mainstream media with Syria and Iran's role/response to all this might ultimately pale compared to the potential of revolutionary instability in countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt where the ruling groups are turning a blind eye to the excesses in Lebanon while their populations seethe. And if the whole region destabilizes, the American project to bring democracy first to Iraq then other countries will fail.

Whether Cole's speculation will turn out to be correct remains to be seen. Possibly it won't happen. Or possibly some variation of it will happen -- after all, the shift of population has already occurred, as civilians flee to save their lives. The question, then, is not whether a population shift will happen, but whether it will be permanent. And if the latter turns out to be the case, it will have ramifications far beyond Lebanon. It will have horrible ramifications for the individuals involved, who will lose much. But it also will have ramifications for the political players outside Israel, who seem curiously unaware of where their long-term self-interest lies. As Cole concludes: "tragically, the United States, as Israel's closest ally, will also have to suffer for its [the Olmert government's] actions".

When Sad Madness Enters Childhood

The above is via Ed (in turn via Chekhov's Mistress and Moorish Girl). But pride of place, comment-wise, goes to Steve Mitchelmore at This Space, who captures something of the obtuse-yet-happy-faced quality of the early 21st Century with the observation:

We've all heard of Hannah Arendt's phrase "the banality of evil". Eichmann the bureaucrat organising from his desk other people's deaths. Now, with pictures like this one, with English comedy actress Maureen Lipman going on TV to defend the bombing of civilians in Lebanon, and the BBC being so suddenly objective in describing those civilian casualties, we should really change the phrase to "the niceness of evil".

p.s. It's worth noting that one problem with talking about the current crisis is the degree to which each side is freighted with emotion, and views criticism of what it's doing as an attack. For what it's worth, I'd like to emphasize that there is never any excuse for hatred. The anti-Semitism that unfortunately lurks at the heart of militant Islamism is as despicable as the brutality-rationalizing spin that is currently flowing from the Olmert government. It sounds corny to say it, but it bears saying anyway: if nothing else moves you to the core about this conflict, think of the kids. Peace.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

An Eerie Silence

There's been an eerie silence in litblog-land regarding the current catastrophe, er, crisis in the Middle East. This is particularly disturbing given what the likely consequences are. Already we know that the situation has worsened significantly for the entire region, no matter what your political view. And again, no matter what your view, the degree of violence that is taking place is utterly heartbreaking.

The only exception to this silence that I've come across so far has been a post at Moorish Girl. And the silence can't be indifference.
(I know litblogland is not exactly populated with people who take media and/or governmental pronouncements at face value). So If other litbloggers have something to add, then please do so.

This is a real crisis. And it will affect us all.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

FAQs and Truth Marathon links

For a post that describes what this site is all about in frequently-asked-question form, click here.

To see the screenplay-novel Truth Marathon, click here.

Geopolitical Flash Fiction

Life imitates art ... or life becomes art -- simultaneously farcical and dead-serious in its consequences.

This is the feeling one gets while watching a video that was recently broadcast by CNN.
And the video itself is like a very short narrative: an example of geopolitical flash fiction. And the fact that the piece in question comes in video form is secondary to the importance of the dialogue it recorded. It is the dialogue that speaks volumes and tells a form of “story”. I want to emphasize this point, because I have spent the entire weekend compulsively checking the news online and have also been wondering about the role literature plays in a time when the world seems to be stepping toward a catastrophe no one will be able to control. (If I find any pertinent examples of literature-about-political-crisis, I’ll add them in a later post.)

The video is entitled “The sh-t heard round the world”. It shows a short sequence of Tony Blair and George Bush caught talking into an open mic at the G8 conference. The two are talking about the current crisis in the Middle East; a crisis that has ramifications far beyond the conflict between Israel and Hamas/Hizbollah. The the “sh-t” is Bush’s expletive. (Bush: “See the irony is what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit and it’s over.")

The sub-header at the CNN homepage states, “Bush frustration sparks expletive”. The exact phraseology Bush uses is “this shit”, and what he’s talking about are the Hizbollah attacks on Israel. But when you pay attention to the dialogue, you don’t get any sense that Bush is frustrated. He’s merely speaking the way people do when they’re analyzing a situation and in the company of people they’re comfortable with. A million conversations like this take place every day—though in situations where the stakes are much lower and less hideous: for example, shop talk. How many times have you or someone you know used the phrase “this shit” to refer to some workplace obligation: a piece of paperwork you’re obligated to do, or a badly organized project you’re expected to accomplish? Instead, the one who seems frustrated is Blair.

It’s Tony Blair, with his fastidious tone and thinly concealed exasperation, who comes across as stymied. Blair wants an international peacekeeping force in Lebanon to separate the hot-heads from each other. Bush, by contrast, wants Kofi Annan to put pressure on Syria to put pressure on Hizbollah. Bush sits in his chair, spreading butter on a roll and then eating it contentedly while Blair stands to one side. The body language of the two men is as dramatically interesting as it is revealing: Bush is relaxed, chewing on his roll slightly open-mouthed while scanning the room and listening—more or less—while Blair hovers beside him, trying unsuccessfully to get Bush to focus on the international peacekeepers idea.

The two men appear nothing as much as Oscar and Felix from the Odd Couple: Bush is the relaxed and slightly piggish Oscar, while Blair is the more precise, more alert, but ultimately impotent, Felix.

The dialogue between the two men is on its surface without literary value. Yet at the same time it has literary qualities: it is psychologically revealing, it is dryly satirical, and it has all the ridiculousness and poignancy of tragi-comedy. Unfortunately, however, there won’t be a happy ending to this drama. Yet—for the time being—reality seems to be transforming itself into entertainment automatically.

[note: there's no url for this video clip. To view it, go to this story, then scroll down to the blue highlighted text.]

Saturday, July 15, 2006

It's about the Pig, Stupid

I came across the following article in the Seattle Times while following links from an article in Salon about the current crisis in Lebanon. It seemed so surreal that for a moment I thought it was a joke (it didn't help that I'd just read another piece in Salon about a blogger falling for an Onion piece). But apparently it isn't, which only adds to its effect.

Sometimes the devil -- or the apocalypse -- is in the details.

With the world's most perplexing problems weighing on him, President Bush has sought comic relief in a certain pig.
This is the wild game boar that German chef Olaf Micheel bagged for Bush and served Thursday evening at a barbecue in Trinwillershagen, a tiny town on the Baltic Sea.

"I understand I may have the honor of slicing the pig," Bush said at a news conference earlier in the day punctuated with questions about spreading violence in the Middle East and an intensifying standoff with Iran about nuclear power.

The president's host, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, started a serious ball rolling at this news conference in the 13th-century town hall on the cobblestone square of Stralsund. But Bush seemed more focused on "the feast" promised later.

"Thanks for having me," Bush told the chancellor. "I'm looking forward to that pig tonight."

This 13th-century setting and formal news conference may seem an odd stage for presidential banter. The 21st-century problems that Bush confronts often prompt him to attempt to defuse the tension in the room with a dose of humor.
Reporters from Germany and the U.S. peppered him with questions about the standoff in Iran, violence in the Middle East and flagging democracy in Russia. He answered all in earnest but leavened it all with pig talk.

"Apart from the pig, Mr. President, what sort of insights have you been able to gain as regards East Germany?" a German reporter asked.

(via Salon and As Seen From Just Above Sunset)

Baker's Five Questions

John Baker has an interesting series at his blog. It's a set of five questions that he poses to various lit-bloggers. The questions are fixed, so that makes the responses all the more interesting since they are quite varied.

To see more, click here.

A Philosopher Considers the Medium Itself

M. S. Smith on Susan Sontag:

The number of film critics who have indelibly shaped my understanding of the cinema is relatively small, maybe three or four, perhaps a dozen at the most. Susan Sontag is chief among them, though I've never thought of her as a critic per se. During a youth spent at academic institutions in Berkeley, Chicago, Cambridge (MA), Oxford, Paris, and New York, she was trained as a philosopher and thought and wrote like one. And like a philosopher, Sontag had a very precise intellectual agenda; as David Denby wrote in a wonderful summation of her love of the movies, she had absorbed the ideology of the 1960s intellectuals who wrote for The Partisan Review and then attacked their view of modernist art, partly because they had undervalued European experimentalists in film, a medium which they hardly considered worthy of attention.

It is something of a banality to point out that Sontag was a major critic, or, as the terminologie courant has it, a "public intellectual". She could be uneven; sometimes articulating new insights, other times not pushing an idea far enough. Nevertheless, it was her capacity to interest that predominated. Her book On Photography is the kind of work -- which, even though you might disagree with it or simply wish she had extended an argument further -- makes you think about the photomechanical (and now, photodigital) process of generating images as a medium. The corollary that follows from this is that when we think of a particular mode of art specifically as a medium, we are more likely to think of it, too, as a mode of experimentation.

I suppose this is something of a pet concern of mine, given that I sometimes feel the screenplay-novel idea is criticized for being too experimental or not experimental enough. It's probably worth remembering that there are many ways of experimenting, and many reasons for doing so; artistic experimentation often springs from the cultural context it finds itself in.

Experimentation is by definition an attempt to discover "newness". But that newness does not exist as an isolated (or, as they say in academe, discrete) quality. Instead, it has a relationship with the larger cultural context. In short, newness is often an attempt to redefine, and hopefully improve, the cultural context it finds itself in. Newness can co-exist with other, older cultural forms, and doesn't need to be set in opposition to them.

Monday, July 10, 2006


Saturday, July 08, 2006

Screenplay novel FAQs link -----

For a post that describes what this site is all about in frequently-asked-question form, scroll down a little, or click here.

Truth Marathon: Character Sketches -- Paul....

Drawing: Finn Harvor

[Note: the above is how I conceive of Paul, one of the main characters in my screenplay-novel, TRUTH MARATHON.]

[excerpt: Paul is going to visit his father.]


Paul walks up the front steps.


A sign, clumsily written, states: DOOR-BELL HAS CEASED FUNCTIONING


Paul knocks on the front door. No response. He knocks again hard.

SFX: Flow of traffic in the background.

Paul knocks again, now pounding with the side of his fist.

Then he bends over and opens the letter slot.

PAUL: [into slot] Da-aaaaad!

SFX: Some footsteps inside the house.

PAULS FATHER: [O.S. -- voice very muffled] Coming, coming. Hold your horses.

Slowly, the front door opens.

Paul looks at his father. He is in his mid-sixties. He has long grey hair and the craggy features of someone who has imbibed some form of addictive substance excessively. Whether this substance is liquid, powder, or simply of the mind addictive thought patterns, the narcotic thoughts of the obsessive is uncertain. Nevertheless, he looks like a recovered drunk. But he also has a strangely youthful energy.


PAUL: Pops.

PAULS FATHER: Its good of you to come.

Paul doesnt respond.

The two of them walk into the dim main hall of Pauls fathers house. It is dark and thoroughly depressing: narrow with a pastel colored paint that is so covered with grime it is difficult to tell whether it was once yellow or green; a bag of garbage that should have been taken out of the house days ago; a non-functioning cuckoo clock.

PAULS FATHER: Are you thirsty? Do you want some tea?

PAUL: Sure, why not?

They enter the kitchen. It, too, is old and depressing. But its kept in relatively clean order. His father fetches a kettle out of the cupboard.

PAULS FATHER: [cheerfully] Ive got this great root tea. Wanna try it? Its good for your spleen.

PAUL: What the fuck is a spleen?

PAULS FATHER: You know your spleen. Your gut.

PAUL: Oh. That.

PAULS FATHER: Dont oh, that me. Its a good question. Nothing to be ashamed of. Very few people really understand the functioning of the spleen.

PAUL: I guess they dont.

PAULS FATHER: Its what cleanses you. Healthy spleen, healthy body. Unhealthy spleen well, you get the picture.

PAUL: [Looking at a kettle that needs washing] Is this healthy?


PAUL: [peering into its snout] Its filthy, Dad. Look at all this weird shit inside it.

PAULS FATHER: They all get like that. Its not filth. Its minerals from tap-water. Thats why you should always distill water.

PAUL: What happened to your distiller, anyway?

PAULS FATHER: I told you. Ian stole it. Fucker.

PAUL: Oh. Ian. That was the psych patient who lived here?


Paul just smiles.

PAULS FATHER: [suddenly impatient and putting the kettle down on the counter-top forcefully] Oh, to hell with this! I need to show you something important!

PAUL: Oh yeah. How could we forget that?

PAULS FATHER: Dont be smart with me! You dont know whats going on, do you? You dont know the forces that are changing your life!

PAUL: The forces that are changing my life are lack of money.

PAUL'S FATHER: Yes! Well! That's part of it!


M. S. Smith on readers and their appetites:

Book lovers, I'm learning, are neurotic people: we buy new books even though our shelves are packed with books we haven't read; we make to-be-read lists, only to realize our reach sometimes exceeds our grasp. I picked up a copy of J. M. Coetzee's most recent novel, Slow Man, because a local bookstore had it for 30% off (though, not familiar with Coetzee, I'm not sure if it's the first of his novels I should be reading). I purchased the Penguin Classics edition of Graham Greene's The Quiet American partly because the novel's short enough to get through quickly, and the Penguin edition has a nice cover and those deckle edges that give the pages an uncut, untrimmed appearance. The publication of Jhumpa Lahiri's short story, "Once in a Lifetime," in The New Yorker (May 8, 2006) had me gunning for her Interpreter of Maladies, a Pulitzer-Prize-winning collection of stories. And I've recently become interested in magical realism and the writing of Russian novelist Mikhail Bulgakov, and so I've added his anti-Stalinist novel The Master and Margarita to my list.


Thursday, July 06, 2006

Spoken Word

Motoko Rich on the rise of the audio book:

While growing in popularity, audio books remain resolutely mass-market-oriented, and Mr. Rubinstein's nonfiction book, which sold fewer than 15,000 hardcover copies, simply had not generated enough revenue to justify the costs of producing a recorded version.

For many authors that would have been that. Mr. Rubinstein, however, was unbowed. He enlisted the help of a friend and sound-studio operator, Joe Mendelson, and managed to recruit a cast of some of his well-known fans, including Messrs. Shteyngart and Bogosian, as well as the rocker Tommy Ramone and the comedian Demetri Martin, to perform as characters in the book....

For what it's worth, I tried doing something similar after staging a one-man play entitled "The Looksist" in the late 1990s. Organizing it was harder than I thought -- even though I met several people who were remarkably generous with their time. Ultimately, what sank the project was people's conflicting schedules and the death-knell of low-budget projects everywhere: being at the mercy of other people's priorities ... just when I got the background music together, the audio person became too busy. And just when the audio person discovered the music had to be re-recorded for technical reasons, the musician was too busy.

What I remember about the project now, however, is that there is lot of creative energy that flows from doing something new. Doing new things always carries risks, one of the main ones being that others will judge experimentation as gimmicky. It isn't.

Recording "The Looksist" didn't quite get off the ground. But in the interim, technology has changed and become more accessible. I'm working on different projects now. But I still like the idea of the audio book or audio story. And one of these days I'm going to do it again.


Logic Lit.

Waggish on left-brained literature:

I work amongst engineers, and many of them are voracious readers who, nonetheless, have little connection to any prevailing literary trends. Rather, there appears to be a parallel track of literature that is popular specifically amongst engineers, which I'll call "left-brained literature" for lack of a better term. The provisional definition of the term is simply those books that fall into the category of my having empirically observed them being read by a multitude of engineers with a literary bent. My conclusions are tentative, but I think that it's valuable just to construct this sort of list.

I'm excluding all genre science-fiction from the category, because I don't find it particularly revelatory. I'm interested in that subset of "mainstream," "non-genre" fiction (these relative terms having been established by social consensus), and within that set, which novels of some notoriety and good PR happen to attract members of the engineering professions.

Waggish continues with a list of left-brain lit authors. Each author is described briefly, but Waggish sums up their strengths and weaknesses with a brilliant short-hand. Highly recommended.

To read the rest, click here

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The Taepodong Brief/Agenda/Scenario/Dilemma

At times, living in Korea is like living in a plot from a thriller or the screenplay to an action movie. This morning, it was news that, yes, the North Koreans had launched several missiles, including their ICBM, the Taepodong 2.

The Taepodong test failed. Or at least, this is what we are being currently told, as intelligence and diplomatic sources spin the story to downplay it -- just as they were spinning it to create a sense of urgency a week ago.

In any case, downplaying the test wasn't so hard to do; South Koreans have tended to tune out a lot of the geopolitical chatter they get exposed to. When I asked the students in my conversation class what they thought about the whole thing, a couple of them hadn't heard about it, and only one expressed concern.

At the same time, the stakes are high on the Korean peninsula -- they have been for over six decades now, dating back the the original division of Korea into Soviet and American "spheres". This was at the very end of World War II, and it was a time when Korea -- in its entirety -- had a chance of avoiding the cataclysm that was to follow.

That wasn't the way it worked out, of course ... and it is probably no small coincidence that the secrets that underlie what happened in the lead-up to the outbreak of war in June, 1950, are a distant reflection of the amnesia and indifference contemporary Koreans feel. But maybe we're all a little amnesiac. After all, the Korean War was the de facto beginning of the Cold War. And the Cold War was what shaped to a significant degree the "Long War" we are now stuck in.

For Koreans, the simple reality is this: the Korean War remains an open wound. But it's not just an issue for Koreans. It's an issue that should concern anyone interested in the Cold War and its fall-out.

And what is interesting about the issue from a literary perspective is that South Korea, like so many countries tht endured long periods of dictatorship, developed a tradition of truth-telling in its fiction. But all truths, it seems, still haven't been told about the war.

(To find out more, click here to read an article in the New York Times:)

Saturday, July 01, 2006

해미 읍성, 여름에, Haemi Fortress, Summer (an ultra-short)


A WESTERN MAN is walking down the city's main street. To his left is the historic site of Haemi Fortress. He has a peaceful expression on his face, but from his body language we can tell he's lonely.

VO: Those were the days before I met you.

SFX: A light breeze.


The Western man sees a group of CHILDREN. They are giggling and playing with each other. Then one of them spots the man.

CHILD: 의국인! [Foreigner]

SECOND CHILD: [sing-songy] Hello!

MAN: [smiling] Hello.

ALL CHILDREN: [gleefully] Hello! Hello!

MAN: [speaking slowly] Can you speak English?

The CHILDREN suddenly start to giggle uproariously. But their amusement is more a symptom of shyness than desire to carry the game any further. They run away, still laughing.

The MAN continues walking. He makes his way through small, sad, empty streets.


The MAN enters. He is somewhat surprised to see a CROWD OF WORSHIPPERS. They are very involved in their prayers.

The MAN walks cautiously forward.



MIDDLE-AGED KOREAN MAN: 하느님! 하느님이 자를 사랑하습니다! [God! God loves you!]


The MAN is walking by himself again. He looks even sadder than before. A DIFFERENT CHILD spots him.

DIFFERENT CHILD: [especially enthusiastically] Hello!


V.O.: I don't know what it is was about that kid's voice. It got to my heart more than any church or religion could.... I heard that cheerfully demanding,
pip-squeaky voice and all I could think of was another day when the sun was setting -- a hotter day, and happier, too.