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I can relate

A very good turn of phrase from The Debt of Shame:

In any case, the combination of impotence and guilt leads to shame: the sense of being morally stained by something one cannot help.

The article — on the intersection and relationship between personal shame and structural social injustice — is interesting on its own, and not a little topical.

Books! (Books and Wars Edition)

Information and Communication in Venice: Rethinking Early Modern Politics (Filippo de Vivo, 2017/#81): A look at how the Venetian (well, patrician) model of politics was based on not only political, but also informational exclusion — to the degree that even the Senate was kept on the dark about whatever the Council of Ten (or rather, the Collegio) wanted — not so much, or entirely, due to what we'd call operational secrecy, but rather because it fostered an image of rational, calm unanimity, devoid of internal conflict; it was, after all, the Serenissima. In practice, of course, this wasn't quite true: pretty much all political maneuvering between patricians took place by definition by discussing information they shouldn't have, and the physical closeness of the city meant that, literally and metaphorically, everybody overheard pretty much everything (one way in which we underestimate the impact of non-printed written material is how we've forgotten the way manuscripts could be copied fast and distributed widely very quickly, as well as the practice of communal reading, which make pretty much everybody, regardless of literacy, accessible by the written word). Venice was one of the pioneers in what we call journalism, although it was mostly in the form of paid subscriptions to manuscript avvisi, something closer to the private newsletters of experts than to public news. The fact that apothecaries and barbershops doubled as places of sociability where news were discussed, and in fact sometimes kept avvisi lying around for people to read, feels quite modern, and predates the usual coffee shop model of a public sphere; noting, though, that it was an heterogeneous "public" devoid of any political power; most "news", graffiti, etc, were created by informational specialists for and directed to patricians and other politically enabled people, not what we'd call the public. This broke down, temporarily and hilariously, during the Interdict of 1606-1607. You see, part of the legal tradition of the age was that a law, to be valid, had to be properly communicated to everybody (unilateral commands from above being the primary meaning of comunicazione)(we still do that, although the process is taken as a matter of course), and people was used to pretending not to have heard of new laws. Well, when — for the usual reasons of fights over overlapping spheres of authority — the Pope went ahead and interdicted the Republic, forbidding priest from preaching and giving sacraments. As the dispute had been kept relatively secret all along — diplomacy not being the damn plebeians' business — the Republic's counter-move was to (a) announce that, whatever crazy rumour had been going around about the Pope doing something, it was (a1) false, and (a2) invalid, because nobody had heard of it (the first direct intervention from Paolo Sarpi, consultant), (b) censor letters (and oral communication whenever possible) to prevent mentions of the interdict, and (c) threaten priests with immediate death if they complied with this thing they hadn't heard about and didn't exist. Lawyers. And in fact it did make sense contextually: the Church also played by those rules, and the immediate threat of death was considered a valid reason for priests to ignore something that wasn't a direct order from the Pope. Hence, for the first (and, in Venice, the last for a long while) time, they went public with a war of pamphlets; not directly aimed at the populace, but mostly at the priests and each others' elite, but of course echoing everywhere in a way most elite observers found quite outre (washerwomen discussing theology(!?!?)). It was all both worrisome (the Spanish not disinclined to put troops into play) and rather ridiculous for everybody (a theologico/political horde of stampeding elephants in a very small and crowded room). Anyway, when the thing threatened to go out of control in terms of people talking about things they shouldn't talk about, both Rome and Venice made peace: Venice gave the jailed priests that had been the excuse for everything to the French, who them gave them to the Pope, Rome lifted the Interdict, Venice pretended nothing had been lifted, everybody agreed that sub rosa was the best way to do this kind of thing, and it was seldom if ever mentioned in official histories afterward. Recommended, it goes without saying.

Forensic Architecture: Violence at the Threshold of Detectability (Eyal Weizman, 2017/#82): A fascinating, powerful, painstaking research and rhetorical method — putting together buildings, satellites, historical pictures and text, witnesses, geology, etc into a single representation (as coherent as the data is, but no more) — to recreate events taking places at multiple scales of space, time, and politics. The events described in the book as application cases, though, are very difficult to process at a number of levels. It wasn't an easy book to read, but definitely a worthwhile one.

Infinity Wars (Ed. Jonathan Strahan, 2017/#83): A collection of SF stories with a military (but not militaristic) bent. Unsurprisingly but disquietingly, the background of most of the is a Jackpot-ing planet (to use Gibson's term), which might be the contemporary version of what the nuclear apocalypse was up until the 80s. None of them really bad, most of them good-ish.

Memories and Studies (William James, 2017/#84): Notes from reviews, talks about other people, etc, rather than technical ones, so it's less argumentative than, at times, well, celebratory (or mourning). Still, not uninteresting, and I do enjoy James general point of view (although in issues like spiritualism he's unsettingly unsettled, and, even if a pacifist, his ideas about the "military type" as an inherently good addition to any society is, to say the least, suspect).

Sherlock Holmes in Orbit (Eds. Mike Resnick, Martin H. Greenberg, 2017/#85): Non-canon holmesiana in sci-fi contexts, as you'd imagine. A few duds, but some of the ones in the past are quite good — the contemporary and future ones tend more to the sort of ironic or humorous pastiche that's not really my cup of tea.

Bound in Venice: The Serene Republic and the Dawn of the Book (Alessandro Marzo Magno, 2017/#86): A bit hagiographical of both Manutius and Venice, and the writing is a bit hurried, but it's interesting enough, with lots of tidbits and interesting people completely new to me.


I blame Morrison for the not universal but definitely frequent depiction of Talia in contemporary comics as an unhinged, jealous ex-lover (when not a rapist) slash abusive mother. I love a lot of what Morrison did with Batman, but the Leviathan arc should've been kept between him and his therapist.

Take as an example Tom King: unless the last couple of issues of Batman have been a fake-out, his Talia is to a degree a foil for Selina's sanity, which is beneath both Talia and King. The Talia I remember might've felt heartbroken by Bruce's engagement, in that way in which you mourn again and afresh the ending of things lost gone, but that's it.

Perhaps the turning point, meta-textually, was Damian. Comic books seem to have an extremely difficult time dealing with live, sane parents not named Kent, in particular mothers. Maybe they make superheroes "soft" or something.

That would also match Shiva's case, although in her case I think it's simply that she isn't bloody enough for current market tastes. Yes, she's Death incarnate, but she wasn't edgy. She was too well centered for that. Lethal enough, violent enough, but not *angry* enough.

Thor: Ragnarok

Not unentertaining; it does do what it sets out to do, mostly, which is to compensate for the tonal misstep that was the previous Thor movie.

The most jarring part, curiously enough, was the background music during some of the epic battle bits. To my very musically inattentive ears, it was so close to Wonder Woman's that seeing Thor go Slow Motion Battle God while it played threw me off.

Although do note that this has been a week of much worrying and not enough sleep, so I might've hallucinated that.


Batman vs Two-Face: Batman 66' isn't "my" Batman, and I do find most of the dialogue slightly jarring rather than fun, but I enjoyed it more than I expected to; the movie is peppered with subtle bits of contemporary humor and, not unexpectedly, lots of heart. Once I adjusted my expectations, I had fun.

Resident Evil: Vendetta: Pretty much what you'll expect from another Resident Evil animated movie, for good and for ill. It was entertaining, and had some great Wick-style close-quarters gunplay, not to mention some rather outrageous motorbiking, but the main villain was insane in more and more disturbing ways than usual.

As a technical aside: the movie isn't quite photorealistic (and I believe we viewers are getting better at spotting CGI almost, although not quite, as fast as CGI improves), but they no longer feel entirely animated either, and it's far from the current state of the art. Once we have fully photorealistic full-CGI movies that are cheaper to make than the current human-actors-plus-CGI ones, I have to wonder whether we'll see the end, after a century or so of existence, of the superstar actor.

One one hand: why pay tens of millions to somebody when you can design a character who's just right for the movie?

On the other hand: unless studios invest lots of money to keep ahead of cheaper technology, actors people love might be the only thing a studio can have as a competitive advantage (a sort of biological franchise). CGI characters can and do repeat between movies, of course, but celebrity has a sort of post- and pseudo-regal magic that might be hard to replace or compete with.

On the other other hand: Idorus. And Batman, who's probably more valuable, over the long term, than any of the actors who played him.

So I don't know, but I think it'll be a nice scale model of how other things will work out as human- and superhuman-level technology starts eating up more high-reputation jobs.


Batman #33

Things I consider headcanonical:
  • Bruce is about five years more emotionally mature around Selina than anywhere else, so that enabled him to do something normal like trying to carve a proper space for an adult relationship in his life (that's specifically a marriage isn't the important thing to me; I'm here for the Bruce Wayne can be happish and saneish without losing his memory and growing a beard stuff)
Things I feel very uncomfortable about:
  • Where Bruce's going, or rather some ideas as to what for. Why does everything have to be so dramatic, Bruce? Isn't the bat-themed everything enough drama? (No)
Things I consider not at all headcanonical but funny enough that I'm willing to accept them as professionally published fluffy fanfic:
  • The scenes with Alfred, Ace, and the boys (minus Tim and Cass; I choose to believe they are in some mall eating too many candies instead of buying the Halloween gifts they were planning to — the Potatoverse is my Earth-0 as far as those two are concerned) are not how I'd write them, at all, but funny on their own.


Historically, medieval fairs (and thus the re-birth of intensive urban commerce in Europe) took place during religious feasts, and under the protection not only of ecclesiastic authorities, but also, and explicitly, of relics and saints, who were considered to own the lands and assets donated to each religious organization. What if this was literally true, and — in a purely Christian version of The Black Monday Murders — the invisible hand of the market was in fact a miraculous one? (instead of transubstantiation, the miracle being utility-maximizing market clearing)

In an alternate universe like this, a legal person would not only be a theological travesty (I have to side with Harold Bloom on Americans (really, Republicans) being not so much lousy Christians as belonging to a completely different religion), but also a commercial dead end. So saints, as effectively immortal and financially efficient entities, would end up owning most of the economy. Establishing a new saint would be like setting up a start-up (or getting a taxi medallion, with the Church very tightly regulating this). In a world where relics have even more of a financial impact than they did — in the real world, a "good" relic, by attracting pilgrims and donations, could save a struggling congregation, or even make it rich — the concept of "furta sacra", or sacred theft, becomes doubly meaningful. You'd notice your city's main relic was stolen because the next day the damned (pun intended) market would crash.

The financial/metaphysical Renaissance conundrum about usury would take a whole different look. Charging high interest rates would, in fact, lead you to bankruptcy, so you either go through the Jews (whose economy seems to obey different rules, in a very theologically problematic way), or figure out workarounds by trial and error (what they actually did, through wonderful and very Wall Street-like contortions with bills of exchange and other financial esoterica).

Throws a whole different light on the Protestant Reformation, by the way. Slightly facetiously (in an already very facetious post), it's something like the contemporary cryptocurrency libertarian thing... Saints and so on are paper money/government oppression, in a truly free market you interact directly with Him/It, etc. (Makes you wonder what the schism with the Orthodox Church was really about, and makes the way the European economy ended up being dominant after the massive theft from Constantinople of pretty much every relic in 1204 more of a cause-and-effect sort of thing.)

Making the later US economic dominance depend on some sort of unholy pact within a different religious framework would be the logical continuation. Note that the Pilgrims were escaping religious persecution (slash onerous taxes, like how Apple and Google are, theologically and legally speaking, Irish companies), and that, as a matter of historical fact, they did sign an honest-to-goodness contract with God, promising rigorous, saintly behavior in exchange for prosperity. Early Puritan America was a drab, brutal theocracy where God's favor was measured by how well you and your community were doing, financially speaking.

Er... Crap.

It's kind of frustrating when you start rambling about a nicely horrifying take on alternate history, and it turns out it's pretty much what they were actually doing.


Books! (Empire is a Verb Edition)

Dialogues with the Dead: Egyptology in British Culture and Religion, 1822-1922 (David Gange, 2017/#75): The past is indeed a foreign country: 19th century Britain was so stepped in Biblical culture than for a very, very long while Egyptology was about finding information about Joseph, the Exodus, etc (mirroring how Schliemann was believed to have found not only Troy, but basically the entire settings and props of the very literally accurate Homeric epic). Sometimes it was about pre-Christian prefigurations of Christianity (both occultists of the "Western school" and very traditional Christians believed this). Not a lot of attention was given to Champollion's work for a very long time. When it ceased to be about the Bible, it was because it began to be about eugenics and the entire psychosocial freakout about race. Yay.

The Gothic Cathedral: Origins of Gothic Architecture and the Medieval Concept of Order (Otto Georg Von Simson, 2017/#76): I'm not sure how canonical (pun not intended, but not regreted either) is noawadays this interpretation, but even if a creative misreading in the Bloomian sense, this is a fascinating view of Gothic architecture (in the Medieval original, not post-Medieval interpretation). The basic idea is that, mostly via St Augustine, the Neoplatonists, and a certain St. Dennis that conflated both a medieval local saint and the nearly Apostolic Pseudo-Dionysius, the basic structure of the cosmos was geometrical (in the sense of ratios), which meant musico-mathematical (in the Pythagorean sense), which meant in a way architectonical (in the Augustinan sense in which music and architecture aren't spiritual because they transmit beauty, the transmit beauty because they are spiritual); God was the Architect, His cosmos theologically transparent, the first self-revelation, before the Incarnation. In that sense, a building guided by divine proportions of geometrical nature (1:1, 1:2, 2:3, the "true measure" of the square root of two, the Golden Ratio, etc) wasn't, unlike the Romanesque case, an *image* of the trascendental (which, in the Medieval metaphysics, was the only real), but rather a *model*, and in that sense, sharing, in a way both anagogical and literal, the trascendent. Abbot Suger, whom the author grants a lot of control on the design, is told to have built theology, a phrase I like very much, where light — the least "physical" of the physical phenomena — and proportion were, well, transparently the point. By the way, Solomon's Temple was held to have been the first of the divinely inspired buildings (its measurements, as described by the Bible, of critical architectural-metaphysical (less of a distinction for them) importance). The book doesn't mention this, but *now* I get why the Freemasons traced their origins to the builders of Solomon's temple, through the Medieval ones (this is, before it got mixed with the pre-Champollion pseudo-Egyptian strain of occultism), and why they chose the compass and the angle as symbols. If you grant all of the above metaphysics (in whatever diluted or mostly-forgotten format), then the builders of Solomon's Temple had direct access to metaphysically central secrets about the true structure of the universe, some of which they could conceivably have transmitted through (anachronistic for most of the period) guilds. My impression is that by the time of the Masonic order, they had forgotten the actual theology behind the architectural metaphor, so they used whatever version of the Hermetic Misunderstanding they had at hand (I mean, the idea of macro-micro correspondences is indeed Neoplatonic, but they focused on, as it were, ideographic or linguistic similitudes rather than geometrical (in the contextual sense) anagogical relationships. Even disregarding the Pagan content, I suspect neither Sugernor Augustine would have approved of a God that were less a Musician/Architect than an Edward Nygma. It wasn't how things sounded or looked like, but how they embodied, always imperfectly, metaphysical truths (of course, this is one interpretation of one intellectual strand in one place and time; it could even not be enough to be a good partial description — but it's certainly an interesting description of a fascinating worldview, and that's enough to recommend the book).

Subotai the Valiant: Genghis Khan's Greatest General (Richard A. Gabriel, 2017/#77): A bit hagiographical, and somewhat repetitive, but it's not uninteresting, and it's inarguable that Subotain was one of the greats. It's interesting how, to a larger degree than I thought, the Mongol conquests sort of happened (e.g., the thing with the caravan which ended up with the conquest of the Khwarezmid Empire, a brutal and strategically brilliant campaign). Another thing this book reinforced for me is how, for most of history and for most political organizations, paying tribute/bribes/lunch money to each other was one of those things, and didn't seem to feel like a mortal disgrace to anybody. Plenty of ways to save face, anyway. (I do wonder if democracies are somewhat less rational in that sense.) The author claims that the Mongol operational art ended up influencing WWII Germany through the ideas they picked up from the Soviets before the war, which they learned, surprisingly or perhaps not, not from their painful history with the Mongols, but from historical research of the steppe people in their territory (which the conveniently forgot when Stalin did one of his purges). It's a somewhat tenous link, depending on the influence of specific people at specific moments, but I find it believable enough.

A Tale of Two Monasteries: Westminster and Saint-Denis in the Thirteenth Century (William Chester Jordan, 2017/#78): What the title says. Those two monasteries, playing no small role in the political and religious (not that the difference was that clear at the time) lives of England and sort-of-France, are an interesting point of view to look at those countries at that moment in time, specially because the kings of France and England at the time (two each) were devout in ways closely related to those monasteries.

The Manchu Way (Mark Elliott, 2017/#79): Elliott's thesis is that the root of the Quin dynasty's Eight Banners was ultimately ethnic: by separating physically, culturally, and economically (manchus in the banners system, i.e., manchus, were forbidden from doing anything else except official positions), they attempted to keep a separate identity that guaranteed the survival of the dynasty (initially through old-fashioned intimidation, but, as the reputation of the banners quickly went from being fearsome warriors to being lazy, corrupt, and incompetent, mostly through the fact of separation itself). It was fiscally ruinous, and to the extent that it worked it did so in a circular way: it didn't prevent Manchus from losing not only their traditional martial skills, but also even their ability to speak their original language, but eventually pertencence to the banners, and the corresponding lifestyle characteristics (none of them martial, and mostly based around the fact that their "ate the Emperor's rice"), came to define manchuness. Paraphrasing the author, ethnicity is a characteristic of how an interaction is read, rather than of a population — regardless of which the court's eventual, and futile, attempts to reduce the expenses involved went always along the lines of priviledging "blood" Manchus bannermen over Mongols, but mainly over the Chinese bannermen. All in all, a very interesting look at an aspect of Chinese history I hadn't had the slightlest knowledge of.

Spain in Italy: Politics, Society, and Religion 1500-1700 (Ed. Thomas Dandelet, John Marino, 2017/#80): A quite interesing, if diverse, set of essays about the ways Spain (or the crown of Castile, and/or Charles V/Philip II/Philip III, and/or etc) ruled over, influeced, or failed to different parts and aspects of Italy. It was all very Habsburg even to begin with: they had very different claims over Milan, Naples, and Sicily (and types and levels of influence; Cosimo I's marriage with the daughter of the Toledo viceroy was, apparently, huge at a number of levels), different rights vis a vis the Church, a complex sets of relationships with the (very varied) local societies, etc. A fun factoid: the Spanish — both the crown and the people — paid for a lot of St. Peter's as we know it. Somehow and unsurprisingly Italian tourist guides don't quite mention it.


Mister Miracle #3 is still fantastic, even when you see things coming. It's not about the surprise, it's about the walls closing in. Sometimes you see them close in, sometimes you suddenly feel a wall against your back that wasn't there a second ago. Sometimes you fail to forget you're already entombed. It's the kind of mood Dark Metal #3 tries and epically fails to conjure.

The other better-than-Dark-Metal-at-its-own-game comic from this week I wanted to mention is Michael Cray #1, which gives you the skin-crawling worst-fear-about-yourself version of a mainstay DC hero Dark Metal tries and epically fails to come up with

As both trigger warning and compliment, neither is recommended if you aren't feeling very well spoons-wise yourself (unless it sounds like it could be therapeutic)(but, really, Mister Miracle #1 *begins* with the suicide attempt of Scott Free, so keep that in mind).

The Final Deduction

I might be missing somebody, but by my count three people in the DC Universe know that it's fictional: Animal Man, because Morrison's grasp of other realities is better than his grasp of his own, Joker, because he's, by definition, insane enough (and also because Morrison), and Batman, because he's too much a detective, and his life makes far too little sense, for him not to notice.

Joker thinks this is the joke. What can possibly, in any way, matter? It's a universe explicitly build for amusement, so he might as well amuse himself.

To Batman it makes no ethical difference. "Fictional" people suffer just as much, and they matter just as much. Philosophical implications aren't a priority.

It does have tactical implications, though. He always tries to win, always thinks there's a way to win, and he even tells you, us, why: He's Batman.

We just all misunderstand what he means by that (but not the Joker, not him, Joker knows Batman knows they both know).

It's also why he feels personally guilty about every tragedy. It's his book. One way or another, Jason died *because of him*, his parents died *so he would survive them*. Joker or not, tragedy stalks him because that's the nature of the fictional world, that's the nature of Gotham as she's written, but what else can he do? He has to keep trying, save as many as he can whenever he can, plan for the fantastic because that's the kind of world he lives in, take the guilt and the pain because then, maybe, the others will be spared some of it.

Endure the nightmares, the darkness, the endless pain, the insanity, the horror of a battle he knows he'll never be able to win, because that's probably the price of Gotham's existence.


cass, can you not

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