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Um.

Phatic expressions are common, but I found myself the other day thinking that we have phatic interactions — long conversations that are the linguistic equivalent of Hello, and even, whispered the least social parts of my brain, phatic social relationships.

The concept isn't necessarily a disparaging one; like any protocolar (even in the Computer Science meaning of it) activity, it's absolutely necessary, and like any non-representational activity, it can also be profoundly creative. The minor, meaningless courtesies of strangers interacting briefly for the first and last time in their lives can be very meaningful indeed, both for good and for ill.

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Ant-Man and the Wasp

It's (mostly) sweet and funny, almost an straightforward resolution/redemption arc with mild shenanigans mixed in and a rather unique McGuffin; it suffers a bit, IMHO, because some of the interpersonal dynamic stakes are set up before the movie begins, and while they make sense in-universe (and I don't oppose in media res) it does affect a bit their weight for me.

A more problematic issue, from my point of view, is that the main opponent's history could be made into a fairly workable horror story with deep political overtones (I'm considering whether to write the fic or not), and, modulo one or two choices, a sympathetic one. That's somewhat addressed in the movie itself, in fact the characters know and acknowledge that, but I was left thinking that not enough.

To put it in another way, and to be fairer to the characters: it's not a matter of they being bad, unfair people, or even of the movie being so. It's just that plot A was taking place next to a huger and more awful and darker plot B, and in some senses it felt like the camera was being unfair by focusing more on the former. Of course, then it'd have been another(s) movie.

Perhaps that's a way of framing my mild dissatisfaction: it's a nice Ant-Man and the Wasp movie, but I wish they had shot the darker and more difficult (and perhaps contextually much more important) story that was colliding with it. That said, goddess knows we need sweet and funny movies as well, so this isn't a complaint about the movie that was shot as much as about the movie that wasn't.

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Public Service Announcement

*taps mic*

Tom King is an asshole, and not in an entertaining way.

Thank you.

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Spanish Rome, 1500 - 1700 (Thomas James Dandelet, 2018/#59): Neither the Early Modern Papacy nor Hapsburg Spain between Charles V and Philip IV can be fully understood without looking at their relationship, which worked at multiple levels: After getting Naples (and then Milan), the Emperor was the strongest Italian prince, and/but needed the Pope to ensure the stability of Naples for both strategic and somewhat medieval political reasons (one of the great triumphs of the Emperor was the annual ritual in which he sent a white horse and 7000 ducats as feudal homage to the Pope for Naples). On the other hand, Imperial forces provided the bulk of the defense of Italy against the Ottomans, and/but one of the important sources of funding for their insatiable needs were the ecclesiastical taxes in Spanish territories only the Pope could authorize the King to get. On the other other hand, a lot of that money came back to specific cardinals, bishops, Papal family members, the common people, etc, in the form of pensions, gifts, donations, dowries for poor women, etc. This partial symbiosis also worked at the symbolic level, with Spanish "soft" supremacy in Rome, and their support by the Pope, raising the role of the Emperor as the Church's favorite son and defender, and the Emperor's shows of filial obedience (at least spiritually) to the Pope enhanced the prestige of the latter as well. Two interesting specific bits: the Spanish nation (in the late medieval sense) in Rome, and specially their organization into a King-supported confraternity, worked as an structurally conservative but significant approach to nation building in a more geographically although not ideologically modern sense (they were still Aragonese, Portuguese, etc., and also somewhat Roman, but to a large degree, Spanish), and canonization was a huge deal, with saints considered to be extremely powerful, useful, and prestigious "supernatural patrons"; the rush of new Spanish saints as the Spanish influence on Rome — Loyola, Teresa de Avila, Xavier — grew was neither a coincidence nor missed as an opportunity to display and enhance Spanish prestige; having grown up in a Latin American Christian society, I can attest that Catholic Christianity over here still remains very Habsburg, even as their political power went away. As the absolute and relative power of the Habsburgs waned — among other things, as teh absolute and relative power of the French, who had once been the Most Catholic, grew — this era ended. But as, I said, now without leaving its mark both on Rome as a city and Catholicism as a religion.


The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (Arthur Conan Doyle, 2018/#60): A reread.

Paolo Sarpi: Between Renaissance and Enlightenment (David Wootton, 2018/#61): So, Paolo Sarpi. I already knew (and envied a bit) his work as state theologican for the Serenissima during the Venetian Interdict (which, among other things, was a fascinating pre-modern bit of public propaganda battle; it was hilariously forbidden to talk about the thing everybody knew about). But this book looks at his whole career and published works, including his post-Interdict History of Trent and pre-interdict (and very private) Pensieri, and posits that Sarpi was basically a die-hard moral atheist who, critically and very originally for the age, didn't believe a public providential religion was necessary for a well-ordered society; unlike his contemporaries, if you read the Pensieri in a straightforward matter, and then read his later works and acts as if he were being consistent with his assertions about the necessity for dissimulation, how the instrumentally religion, while false, can be safer medicine than the too-strong healthy food of truth, and so on, then he does seem to have been working consistently not in favor or against any particular form of Christianity, nor republicanism in a form we'd understand it, but rather for purely secular authorities... At least over the long term. In the short term, he seemed more or less willing to work with whoever would help that; for him, as long as your theological opinions didn't keep you from salvation (and he seemed to be rather flexible about that), what mattered was the political consequences, if any, of them. Public religiosity, in that view, it's pretty much irrelevant to salvation, so the wise man will act in accordance to the State in those, and all, matters. It's not our view, but it's also not their view (as far as we know; it was an age that both railed against, and seemed to relish, dissimulation and masks, who seemed both fascinated and revulsed by the concept), and shares a lot with ours. Regardless of how much you buy the author's thesis, it's a must-read book if you're interested in Sarpi, and provides a great point of view to look into the late XIVth-early XIVth centuries European world of Reformation and Counter-Reformation.

Strange Science: Investigating the Limits of Knowledge in the Victorian Age (ed. Lara Karpenko and Shalyn Claggett, 2018/#61): A very interesting look at the unstable weirdness that Victorian not-quite-science, methods, topics, and approaches that aren't science as we understand it, but were in a more fluid situation then. I enjoyed the most the first chapters, specially the one about orchids as both representing and challenging not just colonial, social, and gender structures, but also ontological differences between plants and animals — including humans — and the possibility of vegetable intent, and one towards the end about pre-phonograph phonography (the path towards later phonetic notations), and the idea of the human body as a record for sound. Somewhat uneven, but the good chapters are worth it.


The Spiritual History of Ice: Romanticism, Science, and the Imagination (Eric G. Wilson, 2018/#62): Built around the topics of ice, glaciers, and the poles, it's an increasingly mystical, alchemical, and hermetic florilegium from the Classical to the Romantic writers, including Emerson, Thoreau, Shelley, Poe, and Byron. Less an analysis than an example of what it describes, you might synthesize (insofar as that's possible) its thesis as one in which egoless visionary openess to and through ice allows the perception of a non-dual universe more meaningful than the mechanicist's one (crystals as the Goethian archetype of growth, the rhythm of the universe, glaciers as non-dualistic creators and destroyers, the white mage working with those forces as opposed to the black one trying to control them, the poles as zones of ontological dehumanization allowing easier access to an underlying reality of sympathetic unity between forms). Or something; as I said, it's alchemical and hermetic as much as it is about the alchemical and hermetic traditions.

Hallowe'en Party (Agatha Christie, 2018/#63): A reread.

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Second- or third-order hobbies

It's not quite a recommendation, but I just read Madeleine B. Stern's 1953 article Sherlock Holmes: Rare-Book Collector, and although it quickly descends into annoyingly shamefaced title-dropping under a thin pretense of high-probability hypothesis, the idea of Holmes as a collector of rare books is charming, and her reasoning at the beginning of the article feels relatively solid.

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Books! (Secrets and Silence Edition)

The Politics of Disclosure, 1674-1725: Secret History Narratives (Rebecca Bullard, 2018/#51): A look at the very specific British genre of Secret Histories as derived from Procopius's secret history of the Justinian court (secret not so much because it told secrets, but because it remained unpublished for a thousand years, and meta-textually interesting in that it amended a previous "public history" written by Procopius itself). Apparently this ambiguity carried over to the British case; it was used by Whig writers to attack absolutism (the danger of "Arbitrary rule") by exposing the way public policy was driven (in pro-French, pro-Papacy ways) by Charles's erotic affairs, and later by Tory writers — e.g. Swift and Defoe, whose career as a spy I hadn't been aware of — deploying it with more ambivalent (and at least as commercial as political) ends. The book also has a very interesting chapter on how The Spectator repurposed the (politically negative) concept of "public secrecy" into a (socially positive) idea of discretion (composed in equal parts of absolute candor between close friends, and a very conventional and polite discretion in larger assemblies). All in all very interesting, and perhaps worth pondering in our current context (cf. political leaks, social networks, etc).

The Venice Variations: Tracing the Architectural Imagination (Sophia Psarra, 2018/#53): A frustrating combination of interesting observations about Venetian urban history, the practice and history of architecture, Invisible Cities, and a number of other ceteras, but embedded with a lot of (IMHO) not sufficiently grounded arguments based on the network topology and geometry of spaces and cities, as well as the "group theory" of the structure of texts; at its worst, it feels like Lacan's awful "use" of mathematics, and it eventually runs off into a combination of the obvious and the almost christological, an intellectual game that makes free verse look like some hyper-regimented version of chess.

History and Silence: Purge and Rehabilitation of Memory in Late Antiquity (Charles W. Hedrick, 2018/#54): The focus is on an inscription in a Roman monument in the late 430s, rehabilitating (sorta, the sorta being the point of the book) the memory of the elder Flavian, a Senator with a good career and reputation as a historian, who happened to throw his lot with the wrong (i.e., short-lived) usurper of the Western Empire; it turns out he became a bit infamous later on to Christian writers as the last of the active, revanchist pagans, although his motivations aren't quite that clear. Didn't keep his illegitimate consulate from being wiped from records, including that statue, and his memory being generally consigned to a damnatio memoriae. Not quite an abolitio, though, as a few decades later his son (the younger) Flavian, also building quite a nice Senatorial/Imperial asskissing career, got a rehabilitation inscribed over what was probably the erased inscription before. The whole thing is a surprisingly fertile ground for the author to discuss what in fact was and was supposed to be a damnatio memoriae (it was more about honor than forgetfulness, and never assumed to be complete), scribal and reading practices in late antiquity, the parallels in the practice of history and emendatio, the complex transition between paganism and Christianity, Macrobius' Saturnalia, and a whole bunch of slightly mystical musings about the semiotics of silence, aided by the nice coincidence that the ememdated elder Flavian was not just an historian but, as pretty much everybody in his class, including the Emperor, practiced what we'd call proofreading (like all scribal cultures, not to create a perfect text, but to patch the one he was using) and calligraphy, and that the inscription actually seems to have used that metaphor. So it's all a big ball of semiotics, memory, silence, amending texts, practicing history, Tacitus' survivors' guilt, and what not. Dry at times (and at others it breaks your heart over the difficulties of dealing with classical texts and inscriptions), but not at all uninteresting.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Arthur Conan Doyle, 2018/#55): A reread.

The Return of Sherlock Holmes (Arthur Conan Doyle, 2018/#56): A reread.

Masterpieces of Mystery in Four Volumes: Detective Stories (ed. Joseph Lewis French, 2018/#57): Quite uneven; as much as can be argued against Doyle's Holmes stories, they do have a certain quality in them that most of those who came afterward couldn't match. The capital-d Detective story isn't just about filling in the blanks.

Masterpieces of Mystery in Four Volumes: Mystic-Humorous Stories (ed. Joseph Lewis French, 2018/#58): As above, with the added difficulties that, while the detective archetype has become quite entrenched in our culture, specific forms of humor age less well, and the mystic fiction (and non-fiction) of late XIXth/early XXth century has definitely gone out of fashion (we still have supernatural fiction and non-fiction, some of it extraordinarily influential, but there isn't a line of descent, artistic or philosophical, from The Great God Pan to Harry Potter, except in the vague sense in which the British are always re-excavating and re-purposing their own, and everybody else's, myths).

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About those Legion S2 Tumblr fics...

Dunno. I was following recaps there, so I posted reactions there — at first just a bit of hand-flailing, but you know how that scales.

Anyway, this is just to say that S2 disappointed the hell out of me, and it's probably best not watched without a bit of fore-googling for trigger warnings.

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*clings to the scans*

Just reread Dixon and Grant's Robin v1, aka The One Where Tim Gets His Newsletter from the Sherlock Holmes Society but Has His Basil Rathbone Movie Preempted By Bad News, Kicks Ass In A Suit, Wears A Red Hood, Gets Into Dick and Jason's Short Pants, Has His Butt Kicked in Paris, the French Countryside, and Hong Kong by An Exponentially Worsening Chain of Ass-kickers, Intrigues Shiva Enough To Remain Alive After Saying "No" To Her A Couple of Times, Briefly Meets Ducard, and Generally Speaking, Goes From "I'm Not Sure I'll Ever Be Robin" to "Boy, I'm Already Feeling My Soul Wilting Under the Weariness of this Robin Thing, And Also Bruce Doesn't Look Saner From This Side of the Fence" In About Three Weeks.

Tim Drake: the Robin who needs a nap, like, all the time.

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The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes (Nick Rennison, 2018/#43): Don't be confused by the shared title: this is the collection of Master Detective late Victorian/early Edwardian stories compiled by Nick Rennison, not the collection of Master Detective late Victorian/early Edwardian stories compiled by Hugh Greene. Anyway, the usual suspects are there: The Thinking Machine, Dr. Thorndyke, Carnacki, etc. None of them necessarily brilliant stories (and many overlapping with the other The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes), but reliably enjoyable if the genre is among your jams.

Supernatural Sherlocks (Nick Rennison, 2018/#44): A collection of more or less Golden Age detective stories with supernatural themes (i.e., in general where the supernatural factor is true). It was a bit disappointing; either the selection wasn't very good, or it's just that the sub-genre has aged less well.

The Allingham Casebook (Margery Allingham, 2018/#45): Currently not as well-known as other Golden Age-ish mystery writers like Christie, Allingham is nonetheless quite good at it. Her Detective, Albert Campion, is a bit, and intentionally, colorless, but the cases described here are technically well done, and often focusing more on what Poirot would call the psychology of the thing.

The Return of Mr. Campion: Uncollected Stories (Margery Allingham, 2018/#46): Very uneven, and not all of the stories are detection ones.

The Freeze-Frame Revolution (Peter Watts, 2018/#47): Not outstanding, but not bad either, and definitely in keeping with Watts' concerns. I like very much how some of the biggest mysteries aren't even close to being approached; Watts' are worlds where our POV characters don't and sometimes can't know much of what's going on.

The Birth of Territory (Stuart Elden, 2018/#48): A look at the historical — and late — development of the idea of territory in Western political thought; it's not land, but rather land as both locus and object of... authority? Power? Imperium? Lots of subtle variations. I don't think the book is clearer than it could be — maybe it's as clear as it can be, given that most of the people mentioned are Antique, Medieval, Renaissance, and Early Modern philosophers, theologians, lawyers, and historians of varied skill and renown — but it does touch on a number of very interesting issues along the way. I think the short version would be that words like polis, civis, authority, pretty much anything in the political vocabulary, shouldn't really be translated without a lot of care; that straightforward translations end up being creative misreadings (so to speak) is a repeating motif. A couple of asides: In a way, cartography as technology and practice both precedes and makes possible territory as technology and practice (although you could also argue that it's territorial states who first can and want to). There's an interesting discussion about whether Romans had maps (the cartographic vs horologic space debate), quite a bit on Leibniz and Descartes among the writers I wouldn't have expected (there are not coincidental parallels between changes in how space is perceived in philosophy and science and how it's perceived in politics, and not all of those are mediated through technological disciplines), and a nice observation that the geographical logic of Lear's split suggests he had already decided who was going to get what, until Cordelia went off-(unprepared?)script. Also: the 1077 discovery of a manuscript of the Justinian Digest could very well be considered a minor, early, or preparatory Renaissance event; the impact wasn't immediate, but once they dusted it off, went through the manual, and came up with a creative translation, a complex and reputable legal system that conceptually predated the Church (or at least the Papacy) was of obvious interest to more than one ruler. Not an uninteresting book, but it does quote more than a little bit from writers that, however important for the history of Western political thought and practice, aren't necessarily compulsively readable.

Unpublished manuscript (Author name withheld, 2018/#49): Comments withheld.

Masters of Modern Soccer: How the World's Best Play the Twenty-First-Century Game (Grant Wahl, 2018/#50): A bit breathless at times, but not uninteresting. Obviously recommended if you're into football/soccer, but also for the direct look at world-class performers in a very competitive field.

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Hickman's S.H.I.E.L.D. #5

One of the most confusing mega-battles I've ever seen in comics; not because it's badly written in a technical sense, but because it's an inherently confusing setup.

I love the concept and 99% of the batshit secret history details of S.H.I.E.L.D., but perhaps I have to accept that the plot itself is both muddled and rather pointless — huge but unclear stakes, confused motivations, and no game rules.

Maybe the next issue will resolve some of this, but so far I'm disappointed. It's not worse than the average Event Finale, but the world-building, specially at the beginning, and the visuals, suggested it could be so much more. (That said, Hickman does tend to be absolutely superb at world-building and war setup, and rather wooly in his resolutions.)

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