Bits and pieces
AI, books, words and a movie
I hope this newsletter finds you well.
Today, four diverse items about two little episodes that happened to me recently, and two novels. The lastest I’ve read and one that pretty much changed my life and is getting turned into a movie.
Am I human?
I tried to log into something. I think it was Discord (I’m not really a user but the thing I wanted to check out was there. At some point, I reached the usual “are you human?” security check. I checked the button, but I guess the application still had a doubt, so it posted the usual “check the pictures” thing, except that it wasn’t the usual check the picture thing.
It was this:
“A lion with open eyes”?!?
Really? Are AI, spambots, and whatnot now evolved enough that they can recognize lions, cars, buses, planes, and traffic lights, and the questions are evolving into finding out which ones have open eyes.
A friend of mine is pretty fascinated with AI. Personally, I still don’t know what to think. They probably can be great in a lot of fields, but they’re also fucking scary. Pardon my French…
And I kinda took it personally that this application suspected that I could be an AI smart enough to recognize a lion, but dumb enough to not distinguish one with open eyes from one with closed eyes.
And then there were none
I finished reading Agatha Christie’s "And then there were none."
It was the first time I read a book from her and it was a lot of fun. What I really loved about it was seeing all the usual tropes that can be found in whodunnits, in things like the “murder parties” of my 20s, and even things like Clue in their "original version." I almost called them “clichés” except that they were not clichés at all in this book. Agatha Christie basically invented the genre, or at least gave it its narrative codes.
The book is not perfect, the second half does become a bit "predictable." Everyone is going to die eventually. And knowing that, it's a bit difficult to feel emotionally invested in any of the characters. Interestingly, the one character that I liked more than the others, turned out to be the killer. Maybe it’s a coincidence, maybe not. Maybe Christie has written that character as a bit more likable than the others on purpose? I’m not going to expand on that, it would be spoiling.
Also, the "reveal" feels a bit forced in the end, but I don't know how else it could have been done, so I’ll give her a pass...
Tiny spoiler, I'm not revealing the killer, but I'm revealing a plot device. Skip this last paragraph if you haven’t read the book.
While I didn't find out who the killer was before the end (I didn't really try, I wanted to be surprised and not overthink it), I understood that they must have faked their death at some point. And a few deaths felt a bit off. Theirs is one of them. Either that’s the weakest element of the book or the author threw us a bone and that’s actually a clue for the reader. Not sure. I should read analyses about the book one day.
This happened the other day…
White Noise has been adapted into a movie and I can’t believe it!
If you don’t know what this is, it’s a novel written by Don De Lillo in 1985. I wouldn’t say that it’s my favorite novel, it’s not. It’s near the top, though. What I can say is that it’s probably the novel that was the most influential in my life and this, in many ways.
I first read it in college, when I was an undergraduate majoring in English in France.
It basically introduced me to postmodernism and all that entails.
I read it a third time a couple of years later during my first semester in graduate school and in the US. The first ever research paper I wrote was about White Noise. I’d be curious to read it again one day, but a little scared too. We didn’t really write research papers as undergraduate students in France back then, so I had no idea what I was doing. While I’m sure I deserved the “A” that I got thanks to the ideas contained in the paper, I’m sure the teacher was being kind as far as the “research” part of it was concerned. It must be on a hard drive somewhere. I should look for it.
Anyway, this novel introduced me to postmodernism, and it basically changed the way I perceived life. One tiny example: the episode of the “most photographed barn in the world” has definitely changed the way I perceive tourism (and it somewhat prefigured Instagram).
Like many people who didn’t stay in one place throughout their lives, my life is full of left turns when I could have turned right and vice versa, and all those turns had ramifications that ended up leading my entire life in unexpected directions.
Me reading and studying White Noise is one of those turns. Because of that book, I got interested in contemporary literature and I discovered postmodernism. It totally changed my way of seeing the world. Because of that, I focused more on literature (rather than linguistics) for my graduate studies. That led to me starting a PhD in contemporary literature. That led to me moving to Paris after returning from the US. That led to me never finishing my PhD. That led to me meeting my wife. That led to me moving to Japan with two wonderful kids that drive me crazy and to the life I’m leading now.
So, yes, White Noise is that important in my life. Without it, I’m 100% I would have a completely different life (better or worse, we’ll never know).
And it’s becoming a movie!
Well, why don’t we watch the trailer now?
Am I going to watch it as soon as possible?
Am I excited?
Not really. Circumspection is the feeling I’m experiencing right now. I’m not totally sure how this book can be turned into a movie. Or at least a good movie.
The thing is that except for one big episode (the one hinted at in the trailer) the whole book is mostly people talking about and reflecting upon life and death. Literally. The main character being obsessed with death is the main narrative engine of the novel. The book is mostly dialogues. Not much is happening in it. Even the “plot” is very thin.
Could that make a good movie? Sure, it could.
It also could make for a very boring movie.
We’ll see. Hoping it’ll be the good kind and that it’ll introduce many people to this life-changing (at least for me) novel.
Alright, that’s pretty much it for today. I have barely written on my blogs lately, so no links today.
Actually, I’m not sure that format of (long?) text + links in previous newsletters really worked. I feel that some of you care for one or for the other, but maybe not both at the same time. So, in the future, I think I’ll separate texts (like today) from shorter newsletters with just links to blogs and other places.
What do you think?
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OK, that’s all for today. Stay safe and take care, and I’ll be back soon with something else.