Today’s meeting will be about who we are. I thought we’d do this icebreaker using Dr. McCoy’s catch phrase from the original Star Trek. I have prepared name tags for this purpose.
Today’s meeting will be about who we are. I thought we’d do this icebreaker using Dr. McCoy’s catch phrase from the original Star Trek. I have prepared name tags for this purpose.
An essay I wrote for the Logicomix sac in mainstream english. Not perfect but could be useful for others studying the graphic novel in the future. -Jason Li
Albert Einstein stated that “As our circle of knowledge expands, so does the circumference of darkness surrounding it.” In the graphic novel Logicomix Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos Papadimitriou explore the life of Bertrand Russell’s “epic search for truth” and its effects. In many ways the novel tells the dangers of chasing logic in a chaotic and inexplicable world. Many individuals who continue down this difficult path surrender to mental illness. Furthermore, by committing their lives to hard work, they not only expose themselves to disappointment but also then find it hard to maintain close relationships. However, Logicomix also suggests that the pursuit of logic is not necessarily perilous as fame and satisfaction can be gained. Therefore, while the authors clearly warn against the dangers of devotion to the pursuit of order, they also suggest that there are certainly hidden benefits.
One of Logicomix’s main themes is the dangers of being involved in the quest for logic. Those who are involved in this pursuit are obviously deep thinkers who question “even what every child knows.” This different view of the world and constant questioning can lead to madness. Cantor is one such victim. He is depicted in a, presumably mental hospital with the frames featuring dark colours and strong contrast creating a sense of gloom. The rain during the scene also foreshadows Cantor’s madness as it represents the countless thoughts pounding constantly in his brain. Cantor’s work with infinity, something “you cannot count” seems to be the direct cause of his mental state, as his brain cannot cope with trying to use logic to explain everything about such a complicated subject. Frege is similarly damaged. His “rigour” and intense constant concentration on logic leads him to believe that Jews are “undermining the nation’s foundations.” The colouring of the frames is also very dark. Moreover, the fact that the window frames of his study are highlighted suggests he is imprisoned by his own obsession. The large bold font in phrases such as “THE DANGER IS TOO GREAT!” and “THE JEWISH ONE OF COURSE!!!” as he frowns angrily through gritted teeth and thumps the desk, seems to suggest that he has lost his senses and that his obsession is totally illogical. He is also depicted as obsessed by his wife, as shown by the fact that he is scribbling busily and surrounded by piles of paper. Looking Russell observes “logic is a tool…you can use it to cut bread with – or kill” it is clear that the novel is suggesting that mentally disturbed academics can actually be dangerous for society as a whole, since Frege seems to be supporting the eventual genocide of Jews in the Holocaust. In this way, Logicomix shows the dangers of pursuing logic for society as a whole.
There also seems to be dangers in becoming so obsessed with pursuing logic that relationships suffer. In order to achieve goals, hard work is necessary, but people must also face competition and devastating failures. During Russell’s career, he is constantly aware of competitors. When he attends a talk in Paris with “everybody who was anybody in mathematics” his entire competition is laid out in front of him, placing him under intense pressure. At this point, he feels it is necessary to work harder as he sets out with “fiery, though rather misjudged, optimism, to write” a book following his return from Paris. The detrimental effects of pursuing logic can be clearly seen when Russell decides to write the “Principia Mathematica” with Alfred Whitehead. Believing that “hard work was all” that was needed, they take “ten years to complete the first three volumes.” They even live together “to gain more time for work.” Yet, despite all these efforts, their work is a failure. The publishers could not “find a single reader to evaluate the manuscript” and leaves the two with an ultimatum to either publish if they “pay for the printing” or not publish. The rain and grey colour of the outside world represents the disappointment and sadness of the two men which the artists also show through their slouched bodies with shabby clothes, silence and emotionless faces. Russell’s time and effort into building “foundations for logic” is also challenged and dismantled by his student, Wittgenstein who writes a book contradicting his teacher. This event leaves Russell terrified at the possibility of “total annihilation of his life’s work” as Wittgenstein’s work gains influence. Wittgenstein’s decimation of Russell’s work echoes the way Russell himself took apart Cantor’s set theory with one paradox showing that however successful an academic is, he can still be challenged. Thus, Logicomix warns about the hard work and commitment required to work towards an intangible result, and the failures along the way.
Additionally, Doxiadis and Papadimitriou suggest that chasing logic obsessively can destroy relationships. When men devote their every living moment to their quests, they inevitably have no time for their wives. Women are depicted as secondary to their husbands, with no real input or thoughts of their own. They are just left alone, and seemingly regarded as a mere inconvenience. Frau Frege is clearly frustrated with her situation as seen by her tired facial expressions and having to tell Frege when he has enough flowers, living with a man whose rigour and absent-mindedness strains their relationship. A concerned Alys witnesses Frege’s eccentricity and later remarks that she “wouldn’t want to be the great man’s wife.” Although Frege’s marriage stays intact the same cannot be said for the Russells. His decision to “uncover the treasures of logic came at a price.” Russell’s obsession with logic has visible impacts on his relationship with Alys. One such occasion is when she kindly asks Russell if he would “require anything” and he snaps back with “peace from further interruptions.” She is diminished in the background and seen with back turned symbolising how unimportant she has become to her husband. When the stress finally boils over at Whitehead’s house, Russell releases his rage against the long-suffering Alys, insulting her as “a total ass” and claiming that he is “sick and tired” of her. The red walls in this scene represent Russell’s anger and the abruptness of the fight that separates the two forever. After this divorce, his marriage to Dora also fails as he moves “out of Beacon Hill and his marriage with Dora.” A result of a fight which was because of his obsession with trying to give his “own children an ideal education” and selfishness seen when he doesn’t care about his baby’s crying and leaves Dora to check.He later concedes that his quest deprived his children of both “home and parents.” By focusing on these marriages Logicomix highlights the danger that relationships face when a man commits to logic.
On the other hand, the text also suggests that minds can never stop enquiring and the pursuit of logic can achieve fame and satisfaction. Even as a child Russell has an inquisitive mind. From just one “unearthly moan” Russell’s “eagerness to know” drives him to investigate. This curiosity extends into his adolescence as he challenges a professor at Cambridge University on the definition of “infinitesimal”. His “thirst for knowledge did not diminish” and is one of the main driving factors in his quest. Russell’s discovery of a paradox existing in the idea of sets is portrayed in five frames showing his deep thoughts and shock when he makes the discovery which “made him an overnight celebrity mathematical circles.” The wall in the background changes in turn with his surprise showing his sense of satisfaction in the discovery. His holiday in Wales shows what the pursuit of reason gives him. Rather than be worried about his dark past, he is ready to battle against his “old enemy irrationality” and pursue the “natural harmony of Reason.” This section of the novel is filled with greenery, flowers and birds and an entire page devoted to Russell standing arms outstretched and shouting at the beauty. He describes himself “strong enough to cry out” as he could he could finally “turn [his] back on [his] dark legacy. Here the authors show that the pursuit of reason allows Russell to move forward in life. Furthermore, despite his failures he becomes a highly respected “philosopher, mathematician and above all, great logician.” The audience’s clapping indicates how respected he is, something he may not have achieved had he not pursued his quest. Therefore, the novel suggests that although that pursuing logic can have rewards.
Clearly, Logicomix offers a variety of messages about the effects of pursuing logic. Extensive thinking can lead to madness, no guarantee of results from hard work and difficulty in maintaining a close relationship. Despite the dangers, fame and satisfaction can be gained and minds cannot stop enquiring. The dangers of pursuing logic in a chaotic world is clear but there are benefits which come out of the inevitable chase.
Great meeting today. Thank you to everyone who participated. A special thanks to Will Lim who spoke to the group about perspectives in writing. Here’s a snippet of Will’s talk. Just brilliant, Will! I have deep respect for your talent and depth of knowledge. Thanks for sharing, and thanks to everyone who took part in the conversation.
There is a very good book in our library called Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau. It contains the same story written in a wide range of styles. It even includes pig- and dog-latin!
For a writing activity this Friday I’ve pulled out some of the styles and whacked them into a slideshow. I’ve also written a short piece in the ‘notation’ style which is the first one in the book. The idea is to look through the features styles in the slideshow below – or ask to look through the book (which I am holding onto at the moment) write the ‘notation’ story below in one of the styles. Have fun!
Exercises in style – Raymond Queneau – My example for the exercise:
In dining hall, during lunch. A student possibly in year 10 whose blazer is too tight but still done up, the white of his shirt visible between the buttons. He is eating a sandwich, possibly ham and cheese. Students walking around, chatting, eating their lunches. Someone runs past the aforementioned student and bumps him so that his lunch falls to the floor. The student wants to shout out but the running student is gone. He bends to pick up the sandwich but it’s too late; it is squashed under the feet of rushing boys. He swears under his breath. His is unhappy but not used to standing up to others. He sees a friend and goes over to him, hoping to get some sympathy.
Two hours later he is daydreaming in class. In his dream he defends himself against all the unjust bullying and accidents he’s experienced. The teacher calls his name twice. The second time he looks up and says, ‘Pardon, Miss?’
A huge thanks to Zac and his co-captains, Will and Eeshan, for today’s first meeting for the year. Brilliant job, I think you’ll all agree. Welcome to you all, especially the new year 9s, and hope you enjoy this year. I’m pretty excited about it, and I’m looking forward to seeing this little writing community evolve.
Hopefully everyone enjoyed the writing prompt – it’s fun having everyone write from the same prompt within a time limit. Those of you who were generous (brave) enough to leave your writing with me for blog publishing, here they are. Zac and Will did a great job of emphasizing the value of feedback in the process of writing, so these are obviously short sketches and not polished pieces. The pieces are nameless but if anyone wants me to add their names, let me know and I’ll edit the post. By the way, reader, bear in mind that these were written quickly with no drafting process, and I’ve transcribed them without any editing. Keeping this in mind, and the fact that, given more time, everyone would have fixed up things like tense consistency, etc., it’s great to see the blog as a place to share the process of writing. Feedback is most valuable during the process, and not so much once the writing has been completed.
A man walks into a bar and sees a teenage boy with filthily combed-over hair and large black glasses nervously take a seat. The boy looks around nervously, as though to check that nobody knows that he should not be there.
“How’s school going, son?” the man asks, sitting next to the boy and swivelling, brimming with confidence.
“Do I know you?” the boy asks, all traces of his former nervousness gone.
“No, because this is not competition writing”, the man replies, standing and moving quickly to the door, a gust of cold winter air the only sign that he had ever been there. Time’s up!
A man walks into a bar and sees a stout tradesman sipping his Jack Daniels next to his usual red stool. His fluorescent uniform and shaggy beard prompts a roll of eyes from the approaching man, Jeff.
“I’ll have the usual, ” Jeff says to the bartender as the tradesman leaves.
“Don’t worry about it,” the bartender says as Jeff slipped a finger into his pocket. That nice man’s got you,” she explains. Jeff screws his face up in astonishment, then… Time’s up!
A man walks into a bar and sees it’s out of business. There were no customers entering or leaving apart from Mike. He was an alcoholic and a usual at the bar. The bar had a long counter in the centre and seats and a stage to perform. Mike had a friend who was also a saxophone performer. He would greet him every time he was there but today Mike only saw the waiters. Mike walked towards the stage and noticed a $100 note jammed between the door to backstage. Mike reached forward to open the door and noticed the knob was burning hot. Slowly he opened the door and there he saw a blazing fire with a trail of money leading outside the window. Time’s up!
A man walks into a bar and sees …
The well known tune of “Amazing Grace” rung through his ears. He had just got off the train from Hamburg. He wasn’t from Hamburg. He turned up in Berlin one day under the guise of a tourist. Olive skin, thin and straight dark brown hair, impeccable German with a light Munich accent. He had been all around Germany, and Austria, Russia, Britain, France, Nepal, China, Japan, India. He looked no older than 25. He dressed like a classic Turkish street ruffian. His physique imposing, his eyes colder than ice. He was on the most wanted list for reasons unknown to anyone.
He walked down the cobblestone. It was late – there weren’t any cars. The shadowy character walked into the bar, and he finally found what he had been looking for for the past 16 years. 2015 Competition Writing. Time’s up!
A man walks into a bar and sees some familiar faces chatting happily and accompanied by a beautiful woman he doesn’t yet know. Evading being noticed, the man hastily walks towards the bar, takes a seat and orders a gin and tonic. As he takes his first sip and sees the group out of the corner of his eye, memories come gushing back. Little P. playing with his new train model, signing father’s day cards and sporting a look of disappointment. He was now bigger than the man himself and sported a smart sports coat and pale grey shirt. He saw his beloved D, their futile fighting and ultimate split. The man stared into his glass, wondering how he could have ever let go of those he once held so close to his heart. Wiping away a tear, the man nervously approached the table. He could not tell if their faces were from mere shock or disgust. Time’s up!
The ambiguous figure lumbered across the silent darkness consumed by rigid shadows of his surrounding cityscape. The eerie night engulfed by the faint humming of the lean and fatigued street lamps, a dying light flickers and fades in the distance. Shadowy sign whose light pierces through the abyssful oblivion of night. One could barely make out the facing “Bar” which looms on the sign. Suddenly a towering shadow floats past the beacon of guidance and the torch in an atmosphere of ominous obscurity. A soft creek echoes through the Time’s up!
Michael Pryor’s Extraordinaires 1: The Extinction Gambit has just been recognised as a Children’s Book Council of Australia Notable Book. Well done, Michael! I asked Michael (on Facebook) if he would contribute something for our blog, and he’s kindly shared his top tips for fantasy writing.
Top Tips For Writing Fantasy
I was going to call this ‘Golden Rules for Writing Fantasy’ but I wasn’t happy with
the ‘Rules’ part. Rules are a problem in Fantasy because when imagination is king, anything
is possible. So as Captain Barbossa said about the Pirates’ Code, these are more guidelines
than your actual rules.
Tip 1. Do all the other stuff really well.
Fantasy writing is tricky. You’ve got to do all the fantasy stuff – invent new worlds, create
bizarre creatures, imagine mighty magics – but you also have to do all the things that make
for standard good writing. You have to have interesting, complex, motivated characters. You
have to organise your plot so it unfolds in a logical but engaging way. You have to make your
descriptions colourful and vivid. You have to put your words together in the right order so
they make sense.
Many would-be Fantasy writers spend all their time on the Fantasy side of the equation,
creating a world full of elves and dragons and high enchantment, but don’t pay enough
attention to the basics of good writing. Don’t be like that!
Tip 2. Choose a setting.
Many Fantasy stories are set in a world that’s roughly like our European middle ages in, with
castles and knights and long horseback journeys. But Fantasy can be much more than that.
Remember: History is the Fantasy writer’s best friend. Cast your eye over history, find an
interesting time and place, add some magic and Bingo! You’ve got yourself a new world for a
Tip 3. Choose your type of Fantasy story.
Is it There and Back Again, where your characters start in this world, somehow go to a
Fantasy world, then return (The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe)? Or is it a full-on Fantasy
world and the whole story unfolds in this Other Place (The Lord of the Rings)? Or do fantasy
characters/creatures intrude into this world and adventure ensues (The Alchemyst)? Or would
you like a combination of some or all of these?
Tip 4. Get your Dialogue Level right.
If you have a story set in an old-fashioned society, full of kings and queens and swords and
armour, make sure the characters speak appropriately.(Don’t use ‘Okay’, for instance.) But
don’t overdo it, either. Having your characters spouting off ‘Forsooth’ every second sentence
gets a bit boring.
Tip 5. Think hard about magic.
Magic is almost essential for a Fantasy story. In fact, I can’t think of a Fantasy story that
doesn’t include some sort of magic. But magic is a real challenge for a Fantasy writer. All
of your carefully constructed plot falls apart if the reader says ‘Well, why don’t they just use
magic?’ to get themselves out of the dungeon, slay the dragon, find the treasure or conquer
the Evil Overlord.
So how can you include magic and have all the good fun with it, without letting it spoil your
story? Answer: magic should have some limits. Remember Aladdin? He only had three
wishes. Imagine if he had limitless wishes. All his problems would disappear and we’d have
no story. So if you include magic in your story, you have to figure out a clever way to limit its
use. (Magic can only be used once a day. Magic can only be used at night. Magic can only be
used by red-headed people on Tuesdays.)
I’m sure this will be appreciated by keen fantasy writers. See his post about his recent book award on his website here.