Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Regarding the Pain of Others

Susan Sontag's "Regarding the Pain of Others" was an interesting book if not a bit repetitive. Her particular writing style threw me a bit. It's not that it was hard to comprehend exactly just more that it seemed like a stream of consciousness and is hard to understand her position, the fact that she talks about not being sure herself doesn't help. I felt more inclined to come to my own conclusions, something sadly a lot of books don't do. A problem in the literary and academic world in general is the writing style of "this is my opinion and anything else is wrong".

Two particular things in this book stood out to me. The first one was at the beginning of chapter five when she says, "Peace is the norm, if an unattainable one. This, of course, is not the way war has been regarded throughout history. War has been the norm and peace the exception." This brought back memories of discussions I have had about such ideas, war in ancient times versus now. It is a concept that fascinates me, how can society as a whole (there are always exceptions) completely change its attitudes about war over time to the extent that they are opposite. I'm not saying either way is right, because in general when there are two opposite sides of an issue or argument the middle ground tends to be right.

Think if you will solely on the concept of fighting and violence. Today we are raised from birth that it is a bad thing and we are discouraged against it in all it's forms. The first time we naturally lash out in violence it is reprimanded, even in the verbal form of questioning one's parents for the first time. I think arguing is simply fighting with words. As we get older we are only more conflicted when we see examples of commendation for bad things if they are in the right context, it is acceptable to fight if you are in a ring. Or it is acceptable to kill or steal if it is for your country. It becomes no wonder we are so psychologically messed up as people in this age. Constantly being told not to do things but seeing others rewarded for doing them in the right setting. You can't fight but if you are in a ring with an audience you can get money and a shiny belt. This leads to my own little theory on what is fundamentally wrong with people today.

We tend to actively forget if not outright deny the simple fact that we are animals. That is all we are, animals with a god complex. In ancient times people were brought up learning to fight, being taught to wield a sword before the age of ten. The Spartans, an extreme example I admit, would take young boys and throw them into the wild and if they were strong enough and in a sense animal enough they would survive and be welcomed back as a true Spartan. While it is true modern science and engineering have made it unnecessary to have these abilities it has denied us a central part of our nature. We are violent creatures with a pack mentality occasionally taking precedent over our instinct to survive. This is a cynical point of view but I'm saying this is what we naturally are, the way we are raised sways our natural instincts to ridiculous amounts.

This leads me to the next part that stood out. She talks about our desensitization to violent images because of films, T.V., comics, games, etc. I don't agree with this. Many people have blamed violent films and games as causes for people doing violent things. This is the biggest load of B.S. I have seen in a while and the biggest cop out ever. A comedian put it best when he asked these people, "What violent video game was Hitler playing exactly?" There has always been violence and there always will be. These kinds of films and games allow people to quell these natural violent urges so that they don't take them out on real people. The only ones who aren't are the ones who were already mentally or emotional disturbed to the point they just as likely would have done it anyway. Relating to and getting into the characters, even more so with games, allows us to vicariously live out and do things we would never do in real life to satisfy that deep buried urge. She mentions a woman living a town over from one that was being bombed and she saw it one the news and the flipped the channel. People tend to ignore that which doesn't directly affect us.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

I had heard a lot about this film for a while and had never gotten around to seeing it. The first thing I noticed was that it was directed by Michel Gondry, which surprised me because until then I had only heard of him making music videos. This was apparently his second film. I think one of the things that stuck out was that it was twisted. That is the best word I can think of to describe it. I mean Patrick uses personal effects and memories of Clementine about Joel to get her to go out with him, Howard erases Mary's memory and keeps her working for him after their affair, and Mary and Stan are getting drunk, high, and having sex practically on top of Joel, and above all the idea of removing and entire person's existence from your mind is pretty twisted all by itself. Most movies today don't have the courage to go away from happy and mainstream and show how truly screwed up people can be.

Someone in class had mentioned how horrible it was for Howard to keep Mary working for him after their affair and erasing her memory. I'm not saying it isn't I just think that from what the movie says we can't be sure why he did it. I think that his motives for keeping her employed were bad but there are different levels of bad. I don't for a second think he didn't want to ruin this nice young woman's career; I don't have that much faith in him. Instead of the power trip it is quite possible he did it as a form of test or reminder. I could see him keeping her as a show that he can control himself and he doesn't want it to happen again so he will test himself and keep her around to show his fidelity. I didn't say it was smart, but neither is cheating in the first place. The other is slightly more complicated that everyone might not get, guilt. Some people, when they do something bad they tend to overreact and decide to punish themselves, i.e. self flagellation. Sometimes they will keep something around or on their person as a constant reminder of their guilt and past transgressions. It's not that they take pleasure in it exactly but because they feel they deserve it, to never be able to forget or live down the things they have done. Regardless of the reason what he's done is wrong and even depending on the reason slightly obsessive and psychotic.

After watching the whole movie it really made me think. I curiously tried to put myself in that position of erasing my recent ex from my memory and then meeting them again and getting that tape of all the bad things about the relationship I had said. It frightened me a bit to be honest. To put it simply the end of the relationship was long drawn out and bad, it led to my insight into the self flagellation guilt tendency that some people have (take that as you will). Looking back on it I see that if it didn't end badly it wouldn't have ended because we were both too comfortable, imaging if Clementine wasn't outgoing, she and Joel would have stayed the "dining dead" as he called them. The thing that frightened me was that I could imagine myself in that situation not really remembering that it was bad but for the best and purposefully making the relationship last by avoiding the causes of it's collapse. I simply reminded myself that's not possible and it wouldn't happen even if it was.

Mental and emotional scars and pain are what makes you who you are, in my opinion, more so than most other memories and experiences. Marriages and children are a few of the exceptions, but even then losing them can change you more than they did in the first place. I had mentioned it in class but the adage "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" seems to me to apply very aptly to mental and emotional pain. At first I thought that since you can't really die form that kind of pain there are certain exceptions to that adage but then again after certain traumas emotionally and mentally you might as well be dead. It is a scary thing to look at someone who is essentially dead inside, to see that nothingness. Since in those situations it essentially does kill you they aren't much of exceptions. The most basic way I have seen this in action was when people who in general haven't had too many problems growing up, whether it be deaths or abuse, tend to over react to minor problems or issues compared to those who have had problems. To quote the comedian Chris Titus, "Once you've driven a drunk dad to mom's parole hearing what else is there." I tend to put people into one of two groups, fucked up, and fucked up and functional. With exceptions most people are fucked up and not all of them are functional. Ironically enough the ones that pretend to be normal and have no problems are usually the ones with the more disturbing and deep seeded issues that they keep hidden. Not everyone will understand this theory but it really is too hard to explain, some people will get it immediately and others won't.

In general I liked the movie and while it seemed depressing at the end that they were destined to repeat the same mistakes I think it is not a lost cause. Just by the fact that they have what went wrong the first time they can seek to change. If Joel was less Stoic and Clementine less impulsive is putting it lightly they could be a happy couple. A little counseling might not hurt either.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


...I said people never cease to amaze or amuse me and I stand here living proof. Only now did I realize I misspelled my blog title "Brain Droppings" as "Brian Droppings". I'd like to pretend that's the first time I've misspelled my name and Brain but it's not.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Pain: The Science of Suffering

This is a response to Pain: The Science of Suffering by Patrick Wall. Overall I like the book, it had more interesting concepts and new approaches to others than boring rehashing of common concepts and occasional medical blather. There were a few instances where he mentioned a few things and didn't mention them again, such as physical pain versus mental or emotional pain.I was curious to see how he would tackle such an issue with a medical background but he didn't really. He mentioned the mental and emotional outcomes of pain but not the type of pain caused by strictly mental or emotional means.
The medical side of pain is something I know all too well. Two of my siblings were born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta or O.I. and I was shuffled in and out of hospitals along with them, be it simply because my mother couldn't do anything else with me and my other siblings or because they were debating a bone marrow transplant and I was to be the donor. My sister was born with it and died at the age of two while my brother just recently turned thirteen. She was unlucky enough to be born at a time when it was still new and not well understood while he has benefited from the vast improvements in treatment and general knowledge about it.
It is usually summarized as "brittle bones disease" and depending of the type the person can break bones, generally arms and legs, constantly from birth unto adulthood. being around that type of medical environment as well as recently volunteering at hospitals I consider myself fairly well versed in that aspect of pain but this book shed more light on the actual biology of it. The way he talks about pain and the different parts, i.e. the whole mechanical concept with stimulus and response, was fascinating. Certain chapters such as "your pain", "other people's pain", "pain with obvious causes", "a 'normal' pain response", and "private pain and public display" were familiar to me while still offering some interesting insight. The most interesting chapters were probably "The philosophy of pain", "the body detects, the brain reacts", "pain without a cause, and "the placebo response".
The philosophy of pain reminded me of some things I've have read on philosophers such as Descartes, dualism, and the differing opinions on how the mind works especially with the body. It really makes you think how we have changed our opinions about so many things throughout history and then always claim we have the right idea but to this day no one can say for certain how the brain really works in total. The body detects and the brain reacts did away with what he calls the common myth of how pain works that I had originally held. The thing that stuck out the most (I'm not completely sure if it was in this chapter but I think it was) was the distinct types of stimulus cold, heat, pressure, and chemical. It was interesting to think that all stimuli fall into those categories.
Pain without a cause was enlightening because it showed that not only do lesser known ailments such as Trigeminal Neuralgia, Fibromyalgia, or myofascial pain syndrome have no known cause but also common things such as headaches, backaches, and repetitive stress injury. I was also surprised to learn the origin of the word migraine from the French demi-craine, meaning "half the head". I always like to learn origins of commonplace words or sayings. The Placebo response was something I had heard of and knew the gist of but I had no idea how powerful the mind really was in terms of controlling the body. I knew that the idea of getting better and the assumption that something will make you better can in and of itself make you better but I didn't realize the extent to which it can. I think Marcus Aurelius said it very well if not best, "You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength."


I am not much of the blogging type. I generally keep my thoughts and ramblings to myself or the people I know that still care to listen to them. I created this blog for HON 389, a class I am taking that is a seminar on pain. The title of the blog I took from George Carlin's book Brain Droppings, it is an interesting term for random thoughts. The name I chose to use "Darkly Dreaming Dexter" is the first in a series of books written by Jeff Lindsay and the base for the Showtime series Dexter. Dexter is a mild-mannered blood spatter expert for the Miami PD and also happens to be a sociopath serial killer who kills serial killers. Like Dexter I find people fascinating and they never cease to amuse/amaze me, my own self included.
Before you get worries unlike Dexter I am not a sociopath or a serial killer and I certainly don't work for Miami PD. I am an average college student who can be a slacker on occasion but I am an intellectual at heart. I love reading, T.V., movies, plays, pretty much anything that has an interesting story or new information. I pride myself on having the second most trivial and obscure encyclopedic mind I know of, the first going to my Dad. Best example of this is watching a T.V. pop culture trivia show where the question asked is who is Oscar the Grouch's girlfriend. My dad answered without hesitation Grungetta. We all look at him in disbelief and assure ourselves he must be joking when the host of the show confirms he is right (like I said "trivial"). Right now the most random obscure thing that comes to mind is that the youngest female recorded to have given birth is a 5 year old Peruvian girl.
As far as generic information goes I am a junior at the University of Hartford. I am a film major and my main focus is screen writing. I have always loved writing and making stories ever since I was a kid. It got to the point I came to an understanding, I want to be a writer but I can't write. By this I mean my grammar is nothing short of atrocious and while I consider myself a great storyteller, by means of creating characters and their interactions, I can't write the out that well. I've gotten better and am a decent writer now, not great but decent.
I'm from Boston born and raised and yet up until two years ago never had any trace of the accent. From spending so much time in Hartford away from it and then being immersed in it again I go back and forth. If I'm watching a movie set in Boston, with a lot of people talking in the accent, or talking to some friends or family from home I will start to slip into it unconsciously (which I've been told is quite amusing to watch). While I'm not much of a blogger I get into certain writing moods and tend to ramble, this introduction is proof, and go off on long diatribes.