Naturally Born

I have a dubious relationship with contemporary art. By which I mean that I generally dislike all contemporary art, but as a general concept I love it. This is essentially due to the notion of alchemy – turning the ordinary into something extraordinary or using it as a means of representation for something greater than itself.

The best contemporary art exhibition I ever saw was at the Baltic in Newcastle around 2005.

I used to have a poster of this on my bedroom wall when I was 18.

It was an exhibition of the work of Edward and Nancy Kienholz. It was a collection of free-standing environmental tableauxs. Kienholz’ assemblages were of found objects – the detritus of modern existence, often consisting of figures cast from life. It was vulgar, brutal, and gruesome. The idea was to confront the viewer with questions about human existence and the inhumanity of twentieth-century society. This was largely achieved. While on one hand these were mostly a graphic and almost Ballardian commentary on the nature of the American dream, there was also The Hoerengracht. On the surface, this was Kienholz’ visual representation of Amsterdam.

As you walked through The Hoerengracht, full of garishly lit alleyways and tacky, seedy, run-down rooms, the joke was that by viewing the exhibition, you became part of the grungy, sordid, voyeuristic spectacle.

I was reminded of this tonight as I was watching Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers. I honestly think it’s one of my favourite movies. It is so good on every level: amazing cinematography, editing and storytelling. It is all here. If, as a career path, Kienholz had opted for film-making rather than creating tableauxs, I suspect you’d end up with something fairly similar. A movie that starts by driving through a psychotropic collection of images of America, but is set up and presented in such a way, that the viewer is watching Mickey and Mallory watch a movie. So you in turn become part of the spectacle, because what you have here from the off the is a the story that is overtly built around cinema as a medium.

I suppose you could do a negative reading of this movie in which it is simply an extended bit of nasty sadism and torture porn, but that would lead to an interesting commentary in itself, as the year this movie was released, 1994, was the year the World Wide Web was born. In the movie itself, there is a very clear link between sex and television in terms of the depiction of Mallory’s abuse at the hands of her father. As the World Wide Web is still being born, we’re at the point in history where the link between television and pornography is still growing, and hasn’t yet been usurped by the internet. It’s ’94 and we have VCR, which means that television isn’t just simply a broadcast medium but a medium of storage and replaying. Which means, of course, that it’s possible to have pornography on it. In practice, though, most of the pornography that could still actually be easily obtained at the time was scarcely what you would consider pornography by 2018 standards – it was mostly soft-core titillations. More common throughout the rise of VCR was cheap, dirty, and violent movies, dubbed ‘video nasties.’ So in turn, the movie is at once transgressing against these kinds of ‘video nasties’ of the eighties, while alluding to the every increasing public fascination with celebrity, sex, violence and what is to come in the form of the internet. Interestingly, in terms of sex, celebrity and video, arguably the most famous example would arrive the following year in the form of the Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson sex tape, when the medium would reach its zenith (nadir?). Natural Born Killers is a fascinating insight into this time period, as it stands at the precipice of a new era. This isn’t actually a film about two mass murderers. It’s a film about us and how we consume media, and how in turn a veritable buffet of mindless sex, violence and celebrity becomes a consumer product. Like Kienholz’s tableaux, and this is evident from the very first shot of the movie, through viewing we become part of the spectacle.

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For things to remain the same, everything must change / BlacKkKlansman

I was interested to see BlacKkKlansman. It’s an interesting take on a real life story. Being a Spike Lee movie, it’s a quirky, well made movie. It is essentially Mississippi Burning millennials. I found the parts effectively equating David Duke with Donald Trump to lack any kind of subtlety and to be fairly trite and predictable in what was an otherwise good movie. Unlike Duke, Trump is not an ideologue. That said, Duke has also had the savviness at several points throughout his career to try and disassociate himself from extremist groups in a less haphazard than Trump’s blundering comments on Charlottesville for example. Sadly, as a result, most people will just take this at face value as being an anti-Trump movie, rather than look at the interesting things this movie has to say about heritage, the nature of extremist groups and the relationship of those groups within a form of material dialectics, where extremes breed extremes as a reaction to said extremism. This has historically always been the case. If we look back across the last century, second World War fascism was given rise as a reaction to communism in Eastern Europe, or in Britain, Thatcherism and the rise of the individual was a reaction to the power of the trade unions.

It was Hegel who first propagated the theory that would come to be appropriated, developed and known through a man who should never be mentioned in polite civilised society as the materialistic conception of history. It simply means in laymans terms, that the economic, or broadly speaking, the trade conditions existing in the world, determine the way in which the production of wealth must work. One could also pontificate, that this ‘working out of production’ goes so far as to even determine what the social, ethical and religious considerations shall be. However, it is recognised that economic conditions don’t stagnate, they are always in a state of evolution. Inevitably, they will come into collision with the previous social, ethical and religious state of affairs. What we will consider the previous state of affairs however, will not simply die and go away without a struggle, consequently react, in doing so, limiting the extent of the material evolution which is going on. At the risk of leaving myself open to objections, I have given this principle as fully as I can, within a short space in order to provide context and a background.

So in BlacKkKlansman, at the start of the movie, when Ron is sent undercover, Spike Lee effectively sets up the movie by foreshadowing and explicitly displaying that the Black Panthers – as a reaction to white oppression and historical injustice – are proposing a form of reaction that is every bit as violent and as extreme as the ‘program’ that will be put forward by the KKK throughout the movie. This is made even more explicit throughout the movie through the use of Ron’s Jewish coworker Flip going undercover in the Klan.

This subsequently leads to probably the best and most understated moment in the entire movie, where Flip discusses with Ron his Jewish identity. Flip is a non-conforming Jew, while Judaism is his heritage, he tells Ron he has never even had a Barmitzvah. Infact, in practically every sense Flip has never actually lived his life as a Jew, he has effectively spent his entire life essentially conforming more to a form of white Anglo-Saxon culture – the same kind of culture the Klan seek to affirm through their opprobrium and hatred of blacks, Jews, Catholics and other minorities – and only as a result of the opprobrium and hatred of the Klan towards Judaism, does he begin to come to terms with his own Jewish identity.

This is actually something I’m entirely familiar with. Coming from an Irish Catholic background, truth be told, I never actually gave a shit about my Irish heritage,  the Irish question or Catholicism in any practical sense until I encountered hatred towards the Irish, Catholics, was called a ‘Fenian bastard,’ and was told by a group of people with a UVF flag that they’d happily kill me because I’m a ‘taig.’

While somewhat ironically, Irish Republicanism actually has its roots in the protestant reformation, modern Irish Republicanism shares a curious relationship with the American black civil rights movement. After the partition of Ireland into two mean-spirited states, Irish nationalists in the north were subjected to gerrymandering, deprived of the right to vote, deprived of jobs, housing and opportunities and in every sense were subjected to gross inequalities simply because they weren’t protestants. In the 1960’s, inspired by the civil rights protests Irish nationalists in the north of Ireland began protesting against the inequalities, as a response from the Protestant and unionist communities, rioting began, Irish nationalists were burned out of their homes and driven from their communities, and it was from this that the Troubles began. The Provisional IRA were born out of a necessity to defend the nationalist communities. So it’s interesting to see the correlation. That’s why I always find it hilarious that late 20th century Irish politics is put down to religion. Catholics, Protestants, religion doesn’t come into it. I aways think of the scene in the ornate garden in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Part 3:

The most important scene in Godfather III is Michael’s conversation with Cardinal Lamberto. Walking by stone pillars and fountains surrounded by pigeons, Michael explains his Vatican problem to Lamberto. Agreeing how this is scandalous, the priest reaches into the fountain and pulls out a stone. “Look at this stone,” he says. “It has been lying in the water for a very long time. But the water has not penetrated it.” He breaks the stone open, showing it to Michael. It’s dry. Michael motions into his pockets, then pulls them out, unsteady. Lamberto continues. “The same thing has happened with men in Europe. For centuries, they have been surrounded by Christianity. But Christ has not penetrated it. Christ does not live within them.”

Lamberto is describing more than Catholic Europe; he’s explaining Michael to himself. As Lamberto outlines Christendom, Michael collapses on a bench and loosens his tie. He whispers that he needs some candy or orange juice. Coppola begins this conversation in a full two-shot, then slowly moves in on Michael as he falls, not cutting away while he struggles to keep his breath, diminished to a child in oversized adult clothing. The candy and juice is quickly brought out, and Michael thirstily, with uncharacteristic desperation, quaffs the juice and shakily tears open the candy wrappers, eating ravenously, some residual pulp on his lip. He reaches to the Cardinal’s arm. “When I’m under stress sometimes this happens.” In the same way that John Cazale’s depiction of mental shame is achingly real, so is Pacino’s depiction of diabetic affliction. Lamberto points out that afflictions of the body and the soul are connected. “The mind suffers…and the body cries out.”

Or as Michael will later say, “For things to remain the same, everything must change.” 

INTJ Cinema

Prior to doing my post on James Joyce which I alluded to in the last entry, I thought prior to getting into that it would be interesting to have a quick look into MBTI and INTJ’s and how they are portrayed in cinema and other media.

I don’t think it’s actually worthwhile spending much time trying to ascertain the types of fictional characters. For a variety of reasons, and often in order to serve the narrative the  type you ascertain for any character could and will often fluctuate quite dramatically in order to serve the purposes of the narrative. This is a portentous way of saying fictional characters usually don’t reflect how the overwhelming majority of people behave in real life. However, it can be fun as an exercise and as discussed here it can be instructive as one means of gaining a broader understanding of authorial intent, directors, producers and a meta-understanding of the work, and so on. When thinking about how I was going to go about doing this post, I considered a few different options but having mentioned INTJ writers and directors previously, I thought it would be interesting to look at another one: Christopher Nolan.

I got thinking about how in many Nolan movies, they’ll be laden with INTJ characters and even minor supporting characters will often be only slight variations of this theme – I mean, that’s without even going into Inception (I will at some point do a post on this), which is literally a love note to introverted intuition. INTJ’s as introverted intuitives want to dwell in the subconscious. The whole debate about whether the totem falls at the end of the movie is to deftly miss the point. It’s immaterial. The subconscious and its many layers is to the INTJ as real as outward physical reality.

At the very least, you’ll find them to be predominantly xxTJ. As an example, I was considering how Nolan’s vision of Bruce Wayne/Batman is rather unsurprisingly an INTJ. Suffice to say, Nolan’s Batman is big on symbolism. He wears the Bat-suit, here reimagined as military gear – a super-flexible lightweight armoured fabric, to be a symbol and an idea. The crucial abstraction is that this Batman isn’t so much fighting actual criminals as fighting the idea of crime and fear.

So we have a character that is an abstract symbol fighting abstract ideas. For any talk of gritty realism, the only thing that is really grounding Nolan’s narrative in anything resembling reality is an underlying theme that social problems are best solved by the intervention of powerful and virtuous rich men. Suffice to say, I’m not much of a fan of Nolan’s neo-liberal politics in these movies, but we’re about to get on to addressing why this is important.

It seems futile to put off getting to Heath Ledger’s Joker. My reading of the Joker is that he’s also an INTJ with Ni gone awry. For what it’s worth, there is a really good reading here which has him as an ENTP and makes a strong rational argument as to why. Still, as I said at the beginning of this, MBTI typing fictional characters is a futile but fun exercise useful mostly as a means of ascertaining meaning to authorial intent, it’s interesting what the Joker tells us about Nolan. Nolan’s Joker is interesting in that he offers an actual ideological difference to Batman. Batman represents a world ruled by militarised power wedded to an incorruptible symbol, The Joker represents on one level what is ostensibly Nolan’s view of the left: that they stand in opposition to his primary world view, intent on tearing it down, but they don’t actually have anything tangible and constructive to put in its place. Hence, ‘Some men just like to watch the world burn.’ Interestingly however, this isn’t necessarily the critique that it appears on the surface. Certainly when you consider this in juxtaposition with The Joker’s experiment: the schmaltzy sequence with the two boats, this actually posits the suggestion that the Joker is at the very least redeemable. Further to this, Gotham, as imagined by Nolan, actually makes a strong case for anarchism. When the world is wholly corrupt and the only apparent alternative is violent authoritarianism, burning it down is an entirely rational response. The sensible points of disagreement with the Joker are thus over his tactics, not his goals. Still, Nolan’s conservative instincts prove too strong, conservative and thus the second part of Nolan’s trilogy ends with a defence of the importance of mass surveillance when implemented by suitably benevolent overlords. It was never going to pay off the possibilities of this Joker. However…

At the tangential level, this trilogy is an unruly mess. The Joker actually pretty much represents the structure of the trilogy in macrocosm. By the final movie Nolan simply loses control of it all and it becomes a sprawling tangle of competing ambitions that doesn’t know what it wants to do even as, if at any given moment, what it’s doing, it’s doing well. This is unusual for Nolan, as generally his movies will employ a puzzle-box structure, operate across multiple frames of reality, or in the case of Dunkirk utilise a non-linear narrative structure across three separate timelines. (That last link about Nolan’s work is a fun read. It is basically INTJ life in a nutshell. ‘A common theme… is the conversion of people themselves into puzzles … for its audience to solve.’ Not that this is in anyway what this blog does or attempts to resolve.)

As mentioned at the start of this, MBTI is not something that can deftly and cleanly profile fictional characters. As fictional characters they will generally have to at some point defy the archetypes they represent or more accurately they will fluctuate into other archetypes in order to serve the purposes of the narrative. (An interesting example of this in other media would be Doctor Who. The actual archetype of the character due to its conceptual nature on paper is INTP, yet the character in practise has been practically everything but. However, I would speculate that this is because Doctor Who has never had an INTP show-runner. I would be curious to know how many INTP’s actually watch Doctor Who without considering the whole thing to be silly. Personally, I primarily enjoy it as it is a format that conceptually lends itself to telling absolutely any story, and thus being a story about telling stories. I also like it as conceptually lending itself to being a show about ideas. I’ve never had any interest in it from the atypical sci-fi level as I cannot for the life of me understand how you can illicit any kind of enjoyment from listening to someone reel off nonsensical technobabble and scientific sounding phrases which make absolutely no sense at all.)

Nonetheless, this is definitely the case with Bane, who at once takes up a role that much of it seems on the surface to have been intended for Heath Ledger’s Joker, instead we’re left with a character who shifts from a freedom-fighter with an elaborate plan to a qlippothic brute to an anarchic revolutionary to the archetype of the most tedious totalitarian scheming villain depending on which narrative purposes require serving at the time. This is the most profound example of why typing fictional characters doesn’t work. Sometimes they are just, like this, composites of various archetypes designed because circumstances dictate them necessary such as in this instance of Heath Ledger’s Joker no longer being an option, and/or it’s a more expedient way of handling logistics or moving the narrative along with out to much fuss or otherwise completely fucking up the pacing.

No less telling is the characterisation of Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman. This is interesting because I think how men write their female characters is probably just on some level reflective of how they see women in general, and provides some indication as to what they consider to be their ideal partner. I’m a big fan of Anne Hathaway and her performance here, nonetheless, the actual character itself at once demonstrates the same basic revolutionary instincts as Bane, proclaiming early in the film that “There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you’re all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.” Thus, her arc offers a secondary engagement with the politics of a violent overthrowing of the rich. Taken this way, her story ends up being firmly against class war, her early politics from early in the movie abandoned in favour of running away with a billionaire at the movies end. Like Nolan’s own instincts across the three movies, conservatism wins the day. While the composite archetype of Catwoman is pretty much anything but, if we were to look at Catwoman as something of a Mary Sue, you’d be left with thinking that Nolan’s ideal partner is somewhere between independent and idealistic and ruthlessly pragmatic, like, oh, I dunno, say, an ENTP.  Who knew that’s what INTJ’s were into.

An Exploration of Extroverted Intuition

There are two versions of this post. This one mainly focuses on aspects of the nature of extrovert intuition which is a function of ENFP, INFP, ENTP and INTP according to the Myers-Briggs Types Index. The other post is more functional and says many of the same things, but is looked at in conjunction with an exploration of introverted intuition. This post is more fun and will explore extroverted intuition via a detour into Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1972 film Solaris, and the first season of Hannibal (2013) which I’ve recently started rewatching.

Time is a perception, a way of organizing and understanding through units that divide and compile the universe into sometimes arbitrary formations. Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky explored temporality in a manner not unlike Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark who, just moments after seeing his father’s ghost and realizing the earthly and spatial planes are not aligned, observed, “time is out of joint”. Given the perceptive nature of time and its relation to space in cinema, more than merely time is out of joint in film; the spatiotemporal form remains displaced, illusory, assembled through the filmmaking process of image-making and editing.

Hannibal is a fascinating TV show and other than borrowing the names of characters and some tropes, it bares far less practical resemblance to much of the subject it borrows from than you might expect. I am happy with this. I can’t actually think of anything worse than trying to redo ‘classics.’ Bryan Fuller decides to inhabit the space Hannibal exists in, and tell a completely different story with different characterisations, even if most the names within this space stay the same. Curiously this isn’t something he does with American Gods which would also be interesting to look at, but I’m happy to assume for the purposes of this that American Gods by Neil Gaiman (INFP) is told through the lens of Shadow Moon (INFP) so for Fuller, he has an easier relationship with the original text and therefore doesn’t have to take as many liberties with the source material to relate it to himself and subsequently tell the story he wants to tell. I’d go as far as postulating that, although I have never read a single Thomas Harris interview, (but a few books amounting to a few hundred thousand words which to varying degrees outline your interests, preferences, desires, hopes, dreams and what makes you tick is the next best thing) other than being aware that he is a novelist who has wrote a grand total of four novels in the past 37 years, and the last two appear to have came out of nothing more than pure pragmatism because they were going to make new Hannibal Lecter movies post Silence of the Lambs whether he’d wrote the source material or not, and due to the fact that his novels are vaguely surreal, deal in symbolism and intellectual games, it makes him by my reckoning, almost certainly an INTJ.

Fuller as an INFP (dominant function: introverted feeling, auxiliary function: extroverted intuition) opts to tell this story through Will Graham who appears at once doubly opposed to Hannibal (Just for those keeping score, Mads Mikkelsen’s Hannibal is an INFJ whereas Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal in keeping with Harris’ source material is a cunning INTJ).  So from the outset, we have on one level, Hannibal as the creator in that he commits art murders, whereas Will, is the detective interpreting those murders and is therefore the critic. On the other hand, it is Will who is presented as the imaginative figure, whereas Hannibal is reduced to a responsive role, reinterpreting other people’s murders. Will Graham is a classic INFP. It doesn’t really come as much of surprise as characters in fiction will often be reflections of their creators. (As an aside,  for quite a while, I’ve wanted to do a blog with meta-readings on movies that people think are bad, as often the meta-readings will provide a really fascinating contextualisation to the movie. The Godfather Part 3 and its correlation with Francis Ford Coppola’s career being probably the ultimate example. Also going back to the previous proposition about the correlation between creators and their characters. Although Mario Puzo created The Godfather, Michael Corleone especially in The Godfather Part 3 is very much a reflection of Coppola. Literally to the point Michael Corleone’s daughter and sister are Francis Ford Coppola’s actual daughter Sofia Coppola and his sister Talia Shire.  I know little of Puzo. There is a parallel with Thomas Harris in that his involvement in the screenplay for The Godfather Part 3 came about out of pragmatism as the movie was being made, with or without him. Frankly however, there is a number of ways you could read into that.)

Fuller makes an interesting choice to position Will as on the autism spectrum. This is an interesting move with regards to his stated skill of empathy. In practice the show plays more than a little fast and loose with what exactly it is that Will does. As an INFP what Will obviously has is what most would call: extroverted intuition, so it’s interesting how Fuller chooses to frame this within the narrative. To serve the narrative however, it doesn’t actually serve much purpose to call it this, and we also have the conceit that: neuroatypical people are good at understanding other neuroatypical people, just as neurotypical people are good at understanding other neurotypical people, so we will go with empathy.

There is however an interesting oscillation between framing it as empathy and imagination. On the surface these are two very different things: empathy is perceptual, imagination creative. The division is readily healed by looking to William Blake on the subject of imagination. For William Blake, imagination is a faculty to be added to perception. It is the fact of man’s imagination that creates abstraction and order over the dead-eyed, vegetative world of nature. Imagination is thus more real than mere perception. It a higher order of the cosmos.

Or, to highlight James Joyce’s Ulysses and Stephen Dedalus’ theory of Hamlet, which I have also linked at the beginning of this blog:

Stephen mysticises the process of fatherhood and, as was commonly done by Renaissance writers, apparently makes the maternal link the only certainty:

Fatherhood, in the sense of conscious begetting, is unknown to man. It is a mystical estate, an apostolic succession […] .Amor matris, subjective and objective genitive, may be the only true thing in life. (p.266)

The artist, however, has the power to ‘weave and unweave his image’. Artistic creativity/paternity is here presented as a kind of potential auto genesis:

When Rutlandbaconsouthamptonshakespeare or another poet of the same name in the comedy of errors wrote Hamlet he was not the father of his own son merely but, being no more a son, he was and felt himself the father of all his race… (p.267)

This is not the traditional kind of bardolatry but there is a belief in a somewhat transubstantiating power behind artistic creation. Here is a fantasy of redemption and freedom from both biological and metaphorical parental authority. Stephen makes Shakespeare ‘Himself his own father’ (p.267); by aligning himself with Shakespeare he reveals to us his own desire, and by implication Joyce’s, to be free of the fetters of origin. Stephen in Portrait declares: ‘When the soul of a man is born in this country there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight. You talk to me of nationality, language, religion. I shall try to fly by those nets.’ Ellmann highlights how focused Ulysses is on confronting issues of origin and paternity:

A theme of Ulysses, Joyce intimates, is reconciliation with the father…Insofar as the movement of the book is to bring Stephen, the young Joyce, into rapport with Bloom, the mature Joyce, the author becomes, it may be said, his own father.[27]

The crux of Stephen’s theory is that all art is autobiographical.

Within the context of Hannibal, this adds an unsettling light to what Will does. If the empathy that he brings to crime scenes is an act of imagination then the resulting sense of design must belong to Will, not the killers themselves. Will creates a higher structure out of the victims before him, and this structure proves more real and more powerful than the killing on its own. Going back to the nature of the show that Fuller has created, and Will and Hannibal’s relationship, on a basic level this can be read as a crude and obvious comment about the relationship between art and audiences, but it has many other implications that are both more interesting and more disturbing.

There is another interesting thing happening at the same time from not just an aesthetic standpoint. Hannibal has extremely distinctive establishing shots. These are as important as the richly saturated colour palette in creating its distinctive atmosphere. The time lapse establishing shots, with clouds whizzing overhead, frame what happens as taking place outside of time, in a fractured dreamscape. Fractured time is a recurring motif in the show, where it serves to indicate the blurring of internal and external landscapes.

Further to this, when you combine the particularly outlandish murders of the first season in conjunction with the gothic dreamscapes, it only serves to solidify the total unreality of the show. Simply put, this clearly isn’t happening in the real world. This will be something interesting to explore as the show progresses, Will’s empathy is stretched to breaking point and Will’s internal world begins to collapse.

Many of Tarkovsky’s characters and settings inhabit time, but they do so in dreamlike or even imagined landscapes that have no precise orientation within logical space, what for Deleuze might be represented by a “chronic non-chronological order”. Tarkovsky often wrote about the philosophies of Heraclitus or Arthur Schopenhauer in relation to time, though he did not adhere to a consistent time-philosophy for himself. What remains consistent in every Tarkovsky film is not a philosophy about time, but rather the profound treatment of time as a factor in both his formal and narrative approach, and his visual treatment of time in slow movements and pensive, unhurried shots. Tarkovsky also wrote extensively about time in texts like Sculpting in Time and Time Within Time, where he links, albeit without a steady application of his ideas, the notion of time and space “out of joint” but having a shared pattern or togetherness, associating such ideas through what has been described as “meaning-laden images whose meanings are elusive”. Whether he successfully or clearly communicates the potential metaphoric or symbolic meanings of his images remains the responsibility of the viewer to determine.

What did Schopenhauer say about dreams? I recently watched a show on Netflix called ‘The Power of Myth’ which is a series of discussions with the acclaimed mythologist Joseph Campbell. To quote Campbell:

“When you reach a certain age,” and he (Schopenhauer) wrote this when he was in his 60s or so, “and look back over your life, it seems to have had an order. It seems to have had been composed by someone. And those events that when they occurred seemed merely accidental and occasional and just something that happened, turn out to be the main elements in a consistent plot.” So he says, “Who composed this plot?” And he said, “And just as your dreams are composed by an aspect of yourself, of which your consciousness is unaware, so your whole life has been composed by the will within you.” Then he says, “Just as those people whom you met by chance became effective agents in the structuring of your life, so you have been an agent in the structuring of other lives, and the whole thing gears together like one big symphony,” he says, “everything influencing and structuring everything else.” And he said, “It’s as though our lives were the dream of a single dreamer, in which all the dream characters are dreaming too, and so everything links to everything else, moved out of the will in nature.”

That’s a beautiful idea. It’s an idea that occurs in India, in the image of what’s called the “Nee of Indra” or the net of gems. Where it’s a net of gems where every gem reflects all the other ones. And they also have the idea of a spontaneous and simultaneous arising. Everything arises in relation to everything else, and so you can’t blame anybody for anything; it’s all working around. It’s a marvelous idea. It’s as though there were an intention behind it, and yet it all is by chance. None of us has lived the life that he intended.”

To take another detour, I can frequently become completely disconnected from my body, I’ve missed flights, I constantly day-dream, an ability to make order out of chaos doesn’t mean I’m organised. My friends are for the most part other n types. Genuinely, I much prefer other intuitive types for the unconscious sense of comfort, instant recognition and mutual understanding. There is something of an instant click. This may be sometimes the case for other intuitive types too. I recall an INFP friend who had been off work for some time actually insist that she be not separated from me at work on the basis I was the only one who got her. I basically spent most of my twenties pondering the dynamics of social interaction, yet still, any friendship or relationship I might have is determined by any one of three factors: I stumble across another n type and there’s an instant click and sense of mutual recognition. A determined ENFP folllows me around long enough that I effectively give in and accept we’re in a relationship. This is effectively what happened with my ex, this was a person who despite the incessant red flags would ring me constantly and literally invent drama as a means for having a conversation. This included claims prior to us even meeting such as ‘I’ve been arrested.’ It doesn’t exactly take a genius to figure out this was absolutely fucking flagrant bullshit, and you wouldn’t be ringing someone off a mobile if you were under police custody, followed around half-an-hour later by, ‘The Garda have released me.’ I mean, anyone in their sound mind would have distanced themselves from someone like this, but that rather discounts that an intuitive such as my ex could basically have me smitten by giving me a constant stream of problems to solve (even though we both knew most of these were actually fucking fictitious) along with a predilection for having lots of sex. I’m a person who generally speaking solves the proverbial rubix cube pretty quickly, so there’s something both depressing and intriguing that my own ‘rubix cube’ was, ‘make up problems for this person to thrive on solving’ and ‘he really likes sex.’ There’s something of a generalisation about ENFP’s  that they’re air-heads. Personally, I’ve found on multiple occasions that this is generalising, while on one level true, really does them a grave injustice. I’ve often found myself in relationships with this type where I would actually consider myself vastly more intelligent than they are. What this discounts is that this type has a powerful extroverted intuition and you’re left with the sense that while on paper you might be more intelligent, this is a type that at their best seems to innately and instinctively know all of the important things in life. At their most turbulent, although they possess extroverted intuition as their primary function, their are similarities with Jung’s description.

Stephen says bitterly, “It is a symbol of Irish art. The cracked lookingglass of a servant.”

Sometimes through the cracked lookingglass you see reflections of yourself. Through the cracks there is a mutual recognition. Here was a person who would muddle through life, who was absolutely terrible with money and possessed little to no sense of organisation, with only what appeared to be miraculous good fortune protecting her life from becoming absolute chaos at every turn. Possibly the most acute depiction I’ve seen of this is in the Netflix show based on Douglas Adams’ ‘Dirk Gently‘ (in keeping with earlier in the blog, click the link just for fun) about a “holistic detective” (ENTP in the book although in the show, Samuel Barnett’s actual portrayal is actually far closer to being a re-enactment of Matt Smith’s varicoloured version of Doctor Who (ENFP) than being reverential to the source material) who makes use of “the fundamental interconnectedness of all things” to solve the whole crime, and find the whole person. The characters are imbued with such a sense of randomness, that for a show that at its core is a mock up of a detective show, you’re less concerned with the nature of the ‘crime’ as you are just bewildered that the characters actually somehow manage to not die (I mean I should clarify here that there is a fundamental difference between ENTP’s and ENFP’s of whom we are in the midst of addressing. They are similar enough as to be in the same neighbourhood, but different enough as to be two contrasting architectural styles. Douglas Adams was an ENTP as were his characters: Dirk Gently and Zaphod from HHGTTG, and there’s something to be said for the fact that a big theme through Douglas Adams’ work is that his idea of hell is petty bureaucracy. So yes, there is a big difference between an ENTP and an ENFP). Undoubtedly every flag indicated this would be a deeply unhealthy relationship. Every single aspect of this woman’s life was dictated by what most people would observe to be complete randomness of chance. I first saw her on a dating website. Having been on this particular website for a number of years and having observed the kinds of people who gravitate to this particular dating website, or at least through my own bias the people I mostly notice, this woman is not the kind of person I would have expected to find on it, let alone send a message to. The only reason I actually did was because I thought her eyes had quite a startling resemblance to another woman I had previously dated. This is generally speaking not remotely how I choose potential mates. Of all the dating websites in the world, like all things in her life, there is no reason I can possibly discern as to why she would have been on this particular one, other than absolute chance. I often pondered how she had actually found that website. In the entire time I knew her, I can scarcely recall a time she even looked at the internet. Her haunts onto eBay and other websites I do recall were like almost everything else in her life. Chaotic, haphazard and usually ending up in some kind of unusual drama. Buying a template to make a dress instead of the dress she actually thought she was buying. Or buying things that she could barely afford which would turn out not to work, or where the novelty value would quickly wear off. I recall her spending months trying to claim a refund for a broken violin that turned to have been imported from China. Hers was an all consuming passion. She was a nurse. She would ring me when she woke up. She would go to work. She would ring me on her break. She would go back to work. She would ring me on her lunch. She would go back to work. She would go home and ring me again. She would go and sit with her family. Or visit her aunt or cousins or her friends. Her whole waking life was consumed by constant interaction with people. She wasn’t the type of person who would actually stop and think. I could never imagine how she had ever found it. She wasn’t someone who looked for the answers to her life’s questions in Google: How do I get out of debt? How do I use eBay properly? How do I stop getting pulled into disciplinary meetings at work? Or, how do I find a boyfriend? Where do I find a boyfriend? First you’d actually have to stop to actually ask yourself something akin to these kinds of questions. She never did. She was a person who was oddly compelling. From a rational perspective the most remarkable aspect was that she somehow managed to maintain anything vaguely resembling a functioning life at all. Jung said:

This attitude has immense dangers — all too easily the intuitive may squander his life. He spends himself animating men and things, spreading around him an abundance of life — a life, however, which others live, not he. Were he able to rest with the actual thing, he would gather the fruit of his labours; yet all too soon must he be running after some fresh possibility, quitting his newly planted field, while others reap the harvest. In the end he goes empty away. But when the intuitive lets things reach such a pitch, he also has the unconscious against him. The unconscious of the intuitive has a certain similarity with that of the sensation-type. Thinking and feeling, being relatively repressed, produce infantile and archaic thoughts and feelings in the unconscious, which may be compared with those of the countertype. They likewise come to the surface in the form of intensive projections, and are just as absurd as those of the sensation-type, only to my mind they lack the other’s mystical character; they are chiefly concerned with quasi-actual things, in the nature of sexual, financial, and other hazards, as, for instance, suspicions of approaching illness. This difference appears to be due to a repression of the sensations of actual things. These latter usually command attention in the shape of a sudden entanglement with a most unsuitable woman, or, in the case of a woman, with a thoroughly unsuitable man; and this is simply the result of their unwitting contact with the sphere of archaic sensations. But its consequence is an unconsciously compelling tie to an object of incontestable futility. Such an event is already a compulsive symptom, which is also thoroughly characteristic of this type. In common with the sensation-type, he claims a similar freedom and exemption from all restraint, since he suffers no submission of his decisions to rational judgment, relying entirely upon the perception of chance, possibilities. He rids himself of the restrictions of reason, only to fall a victim to unconscious neurotic compulsions in the form of oversubtle, negative reasoning, hair-splitting dialectics, and a compulsive tie to the sensation of the object. His conscious attitude, both to the sensation and the sensed object, is one of sovereign superiority and disregard. Not that he means to be inconsiderate or superior — he simply does not see the object that everyone else sees; his oblivion is similar to that of the sensation-type — only, with the latter, the soul of the object is missed. For this oblivion the object sooner or later takes revenge in the form of hypochondriacal, compulsive ideas, phobias, and every imaginable kind of absurd bodily sensation.

The last time I saw her was not long after she’d returned to Ireland she was admitted to the CUH in Cork. She asked me to come see her. I did because it seemed the right thing to do. I took a flight over to Dublin and got the night bus up-to Cork from the airport. I arrived in the early hours and stayed the night with her. In the morning her cousin – the only member of her family to actually visit her – turned up and berated me. I left and went to check into the hotel. She phoned me and said to come to the hotel and stay with her again that night. I did. We walked from the ward to the chapel. I said to her that I didn’t think churches or chapels were necessary. If God is everywhere, why then do people confine God to lone, insular spaces and then act as if God doesn’t exist once they have left those spaces? She said this was a wise outlook but there is still a comfort to be found amongst other people, in these small spaces, secluded from the rest of the world. I stayed until morning and never saw her again.

Solaris exists on several spatial, temporal, and fantastic levels at once and, as Bould notes, while watching the film, it becomes “less important (or possible) to distinguish reality from imagination than to manage the various levels of memory or fantasy.” Tarkovsky uses images to transcend space and time, to render the elusive connection between the human mind and an alien planet whose consciousness invades the film’s characters. 

Deleuze believes that only lesser films contain time-images set only in the present; superior films employ time-images that exist on multiple planes at once, representing a convergence of past, present, and future in a single shot. From Kelvin’s memories to the manifestations of the alien planet, much of Solaris dwells in the boundless, unconscious, and otherworldly spaces that Deleuze yearns to see, often representing them in both formal and metaphorical terms that enable equally boundless contemplation.

Favourite Movies: Alphaville

  
“Machines generated new problems. Problems the human mind couldn’t solve.”

In the first part of an ongoing series about why Jean Luc Godard is a genius, this is about one of the most stunning and engrossing movies I have ever seen. Alphaville. A science fiction film without special effects. Set in a dystopian world that looks identical to Paris and takes us on a visual tour around some of the cities early 1960’s modernist architecture. A movie that is also part Chandler, part film noir, part Orwellian nightmare with a dash of Louis Ferdinand Celine and Jorge Luis Borges.

We meet the leading man Lemmy Caution, who looks like he’s walked out of every Bogart movie you’ve ever seen. He has a look of steely determination. It’s the classic 1960’s movie archetype of a man with purpose. When accosted by a beautiful woman (a level three seductress no less), she’s not given so much as a first glance let alone a second. This is a man with a job to do and he’s intent on doing it. You got this in the early Sean Connery Bond films before the role was ultimately softened and Bond was made to atleast exchange a glib or flirty one liner with the woman. Here, it is the textbook Gregory Peck determined scowl and an assertive “Clear off.” Also on another note writing a hard-boiled character like this also produces stronger women characters within the story as a result, as the women have to be actually y’know relevent and play a part in driving the story forward rather than just eye-candy for the leading man or there to engage in a bit flirty banter or provide a shoulder to cry on, such is the case in most modern movies.

I digress. This is is such a fantastically shot movie and the strength of Godard is in the confidence he has in his actors and the rare ability to just put the camera down and fix a scene where there isn’t actually a lot happening. Few directors can do this. The best recent example of such quality directing would be Steve McQueen in Hunger when he sets a camera on Fassbender and the priest for twenty minutes and lets the dialogue unfurl. There’s no reliance on providing constant stimulation to the viewer and changing frame every two seconds to maintain engagement. Having the confidence to do this is rare and not only does Godard have faith in his actors, he trusts his viewer. As a result, his movies play out to their conclusion with pretty much all violence and nudity left to the imagination – and the end result is actually all the more satisfying for it.

It’s the simplicity of the movie though which provides the most satisfaction. Taking a familiar concept such as the hardboiled detective story and then setting it against an innate threat which is actually probably more pertinent in the current day and age than it was in the sixties. The nacent threat is a technocratic society where lives are controlled by machines and the people are systematically conditioned in semantics (see:  modern PR, marketing, media or as it’s sometimes known, propaganda).

One of my favourite concepts:  The bible prevalent in every hotel room scene, in what is a lovely twist is actually a reguarly updated dictionary where words are removed and made obsolete whilst more appropriate words are freshly added. This builds on one of the most frightening parts of the movie: In attempting to control the limits of thought, the manipulation of language is perhaps the most foundational tool of all, for an individual can only think in the vocabulary available to them. In colonial societies the effect of this has been devastating. By suppressing language you suppress culture and identity. I have wrote about this previously, Alphaville takes this concept to its extreme.

In what is an inverse allusion to Camus’ The Outsider, the idea is to create a logical society free from emotion. This is actually very much pertinent to the kind of secular and self-defined rationalist society desired by many atheists and humanists these days. In reducing everything to scientific lines, we’re left with a Christian society sans God, ran on terrifying technocratic lines for big business and profit. Although the great tragedy is that no-one will actually know what money is for, as we got rid of all abstractions: poetry, art, music along with irrelevant distractions like kindess, affection, love, friendship in the process. Fortunately, as the movie helpfully explains, there is no reason to ask “why” we should or should not have such things, just say “because.”

The villain of the piece: the machine if you wish to rationalise, is actually a light and a fan with an eery low pitched croak. If you wish to be more abstract and upto date, you can imagine it’s the eyestalk of a French speaking Dalek. However, to look at this rationally or abstractly actually does a disservice to what manages to be massively unnerving. Presenting   a quasi-ominiponent menace controlling everyones thoughts and aspirations in a fashion that everyone can strongly relate to makes it horrific and a brilliant piece of film-making. Tremendously done.

In the Heart of the Sea. Review.

One of my favourite – and one of the most beautiful – books I’ve ever read is Leviathon, or the Whale by Philip Hoare. It’s a stunning portrait of the authors obsession with these mastadons of the sea. Whales possess something of a mysterious aura, perhaps more so than any other creature of the deep. Mesmerising and intelligent, the book enshrines the terrible beauty of man’s relationship with the whale. The depth of the writing justifies the mystique which we hold the leviathan.

I was pleased to see ‘In the Heart of the Sea.’ An enchanting dramatisation of the story that inspired or perhaps preempted Moby Dick. Whilst I didn’t think the movie lent itself well to the 3D format and wasn’t without its flaws, I was still perhaps a little disappointed to see such a low turnout for such a movie. 

‘In the Heart of the Sea’ tells an enormous story, one that can most certainly be described as an epic. From director Ron Howard, whose previous work includes Apollo 13 about a group of men stuck in a capsule in outer space, this movie is bigger. There is a massive performance from Chris Hemsworth. Engaging and engrossing, embodying everything we expect of the archetypal mythic hero. There are also a number of other standout performances including that of Benjamin Walker who I thought had good chemistry with Hemsworth.

Perhaps in trying to tell such a story in two hours, some of the suspense and tension is lost. Ironically, the role of the white whale is perhaps the least satisfying aspect of the movie – becoming an inconvenience and distraction from some terrific human drama being played out between Hemsworth and Walker. The inevitable shipwreck at the behest of the whale within the scope of the movie is almost superfluous. The ship could have ran aground or been hit by a meteor, the whale is a minor detail. Jaws this is not. On some level this is a disappointment, as the role of the leviathon in such a movie should be to enhance the tension and drama to truly Odyssean levels. I think the movie also suffers from the backdrop of the story being narrated through a world weary Brendan Gleason to Ben Whishaw’s (who is ostensibly in every movie this year) Melville, who in turn is taking pointers for Moby Dick. Whishaw in particular does nothing to enhance or move the story forward. His performance is particularly flat in a movie which ultimately relies on the fine acting driving it. 

Without this Treasure Island-esque narration – which let’s be real is a writing cop-out and/or a director not having confidence in the story he’s telling – and rather, had Howard invested the screen-minutes between Gleason (who I usually like) and the woeful Whishaw in building the tension on the ship towards the encounter with the leviathon, whilst utilising the  tremendous acting talent at his disposal, this movie would truly have been an epic – in the cinematic sense – for the ages, rather than one that tries to do a little too much in two hours.

I’d associated Hemsworth with the Marvel: Thor abomination. With Thor of course being retconned as an alien rather than a Norse God, so the retarded American Bible Belt wouldn’t be offended by the notion of other deities. He really is a talent though, hopefully they’ll put him in a few more serious films to showcase his abilities.

Unforgiven

A prostitute is disfigured by a cowboy after laughing at the size of his manhood. The local sheriff is perceived as being lenient on the assailant after he demands only that the local brothel-owner is reimbursed for his ‘lost investment.’ The prostitutes collate their capital and offer it as a reward to whoever murders the assailant and his cohort. 

Will Munny is a retired assassin and windower living on a failing remote pig-farm with his two young children. He’s approached by a boastful young gunslinger which leads him to set off in search of the reward…

Unforgiven is a spectacular treatise on the American Western, capitalism, law, feminism, justice, youth, folly, growing old and the value of human life.

There are enormous moral questions raised throughout the film. The role of the prostitutes in events extends far beyond patriarchal ownership. It leads us to look at the nature of modern capitalism where the employee is reduced to a functioning asset of the employer with an effective shelf-life, with the state having a protective interest only as far as capital is concerned. Rather, the person is not protected by the state, capital and investment is. 

The ultimate question in the fashion of Peckinpah’s love of world weary loners is to display the aging reformed gunslinger, who aspires to do the right thing in such a world of nihilism and brutality that we must question if there is such thing as decency, a moral life beyond an abstract ideal and whether such things are even possible? The tawdry implications of such questions are not limited to the periodic Western.

There are no easy answers.

The Highest Grossing Box-Office Movies Ever.

There has been a lot of hype and speculation about how the new Star Wars movie will perform at the box-office. What records will it smash? Will it be the biggest of all time?

Frankly I doubt it. However, we can ascertain a few things from the highest grossing box-office movies of all time.

Avatar was terrible. The success of it was down to innovation in 3D. People love 3D, it’s tremendous. Any successful box-office movie has to be 3D and must in turn serve to enhance the 3D spectacle.

Looking further down the list, we see people also like to watch dinosaurs, ships and Leonardo Di Caprio drowning.

There’s some tedious Marvel superhero stuff, Harry Potter and Frozen.

If I wanted to write a box-office smash, I would write a story about a young woman who has magical powers – which she is intensely frightened of – travelling onboard a ship with her pet dwarf. She meets an enchanting rogue who seeks to find his father who has absconded to Iceland, which is where the ship is headed. In the meantime, a deranged Leonardo Di Caprio has created a race of dinosaurs upon the ship which rapidly spiral out of control after being injected with growth hormone (probably stolen from the lab of Tony Stark or some shit). He seeks to take them to the new world. In the interim, he uses his dinosaurs to take control of the ship. The young woman is saved from a velociraptor, although badly injured after her dwarf nobly sacrifices its gender neutral self and with some help from the rogue. After moving her to safety, the rogue seeks to fight the dinosaurs who are slaughtering everyone onboard armed only with a pump action shotgun which he has been hiding. The Remington pump is symbolic of his dark, morally ambivalent past. A fight ultimately breaks out between the rogue and Leonardo Di Caprio and Leonardo Di Caprio ends up drowning. However the rogue is mortally wounded in the process. He seeks out the young woman to bid his farewell, then dies. The tragedy of this causes the young woman to unleash her power which destroys the dinosaurs and the ship, but saves civilisation from being overrun with baby Tyrannosaurus Rex’s.

This is human drama.

The Revenant

The Revenant is an upcoming 2016 Western from director Alejandro González Iñárritu. We can see from the trailer which features some exquisite cinematography, the almost always tremendous Tom Hardy, Leonardo Di Caprio being savaged by a bear and most crucially a soundtrack by Ryuichi Sakamoto that this is the best movie of next year and will win many awards. 

2015 has been a great year for cinema, all because of Mad Max: Fury Road, which is the greatest movie of all time. It features an inspiring soundtrack, although it could’ve been better if Ryuichi Sakamoto had composed it. It also includes the most unsurpassed chase sequences in the history of film and a flame-thrower wielding guitarist riding a mobile death concert. 

I am hoping for a year of innovative film-making to try and reach the bar of cinematic creativity set by movies like Mad Max. The Revenant looks to be a good start. 

C3Po Must Die

Some thoughts from the Force Awakens screening: 

Daisy Ridley is exceptionally strong. She is the standout performer and she salvages some of the overacting from others through the strength of her own performance. She’s extremely engaging. It’s no exaggeration to say she is by far the best thing about this movie and the only cause for optimism going forward. The only thing you’ll really remember down the line about this movie is how awesome Daisy Ridley’s character is. Maybes her and Chewbacca shooting people and blowing things up too. A tremendous talent.

C3P0 is irritating. He just ruined the emotional impact of Han meeting Leia again. He should be decapitated, the irritating bastard. Seriously, he is the worst character going. After all the heat that Jar Jar Binks gets, they persist with this? For the sake of moviegoers, I sincerely hope they get rid of him before the next movie by having him fall into a blender off-screen. Sadly having Kylo Ren or any of the main villains murder him, would have an adverse effect and only aid their popularity. He is that loathsome. He doesn’t even serve any purpose. He’s a translator, great. The new main protagonist can speak alien languages and talk to the metal beeping ball, so he’s an irrelevant piece of shit.

Not that the other droids don’t continue to be an irritant, atleast the beeping ball served some functional purpose in the context of the plot, now that purpose has been served, please move on. 

Another thing that irritated me was how much Poe the pilot overacts at the beginning. They could have left him dead, rather than leave it basically unexplained how he’s still alive and somehow swiftly got off the planet without anyone noticing which niggles me more than it probably should.

The CGI for Maz and Stoke/Snoke/Spoke was overkill. I prefer real people or even puppets, I don’t like to feel like I’m watching an uninteractive video game. I liked Domhnall Gleeson’s character, as an understated villain. He actually has a lot of promise and I personally thought was probably more effective than Kylo Ren. 

Kylo Ren is effectively a cross between a polished up Anakin on steroids and a low rent Alan Rickman from Harry Potter. There’s massive development required for the character going forward in order to build him up as someone who will hold interest and be a sound adversary over the course of three movies. An emotionally unsound foe who has already been bested by the main protagonist in the final battle of the movie doesn’t carry much hope. In hindsight they should have had the fledgling Rey struggle against him far more and have her be somewhat overpowered, or threatened. I say that even as someone who loved the sequence where she gets the lightsabre. In the context of a trilogy though, try imagining the original Star Wars movies if Luke had been an untrained farm boy with potential beating the much more experienced and ‘powerful’ Darth Vader senseless in the first movie. Where do you go with that? Darth Vader certainly wouldn’t have been seen as a persistent, engaging threat. We already know unless something happens to give Kylo Ren the upperhand, Rey already has his number and is a more powerful jedi, without any training. If you haven’t seen the movie and don’t want spoilers, don’t read this last paragraph.

The movie is still a distinct improvement on the last three prequels. Where it ranks with the originals is difficult to say. It’s a tour de force in its own right and Daisy Ridley deserves huge recognition. It’s a welcome return to simpler story-telling and escape from the overbearing, convoluted nonsense of the prequels which was bizarrely coupled with a confusion over whether Star Wars was for children or adults. Of course, Lucas ultimately concluded Star Wars was for eight year olds, because eight year olds are really drawn in by ridiculous political machinations. Not to mention the abundance of characters no-one gave a shit about. JJ Abrams and Disney atleast deserve credit for not being drawn into Lucas’ later films’ awful formula.

I had serious concerns about killing off Han. Some of this was alleviated by a reasonably passable handing of the baton to John Boyega, who gave a sound account of himself. Nonetheless, I still have concerns going forward. I am interested to see the development of Rey and where they’re going with her character, however. She is the saving grace. Although you’re still left with the over-arching sense that the Star Wars universe now basically centres on an incestuous family feud.

For an order such as the Jedi who are supposed to be the magical upholders of peace and happiness in the universe, we’re kind of getting to the point where we’re all thinking, you know, this Skywalker dynasty are a lot more hassle than they’re worth and the universe would’ve been better off if they’d never existed. Although it transpires incestuous family feuds are the hot cinema theme of this winter. They did the same with the James Bond movies too, where it turned out all the bad shit in the world, terrorist attacks, massive death tolls was just a conspiracy being driven by his step-brother with a major grudge. I don’t know how much capital is in having huge cinematic heroes as people the universe could really do without, like an inverse It’s a Wonderful Life, but hey.