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Blog by Ina Centaur » hamlet


The Tragedy of Edgar Sawtelle

Written by ina on Tuesday, 20 of January , 2009 at 2:14 am
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While many mediocre stories have used the crutch of recycling a famous plot, I honestly believe the forced adaption of Hamlet was the greatest tragedy in The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. [Then again, I read it in part because it’s a Hamlet-derivative (and fiction of that nature is a requisite on my reading list), and in part because it’s a top 10 New York Times Bestseller. Though it butchered the story, I suppose the forced adaption helped marketing.]

Until Part III, the story was largely extremely pastoral–which could be insanely boring to some, but then, that was the nature and substance of the story–the “personality” of the story, so to speak, was slow and lumbering and went about (in horrid depths) pretty much everything about Edgar and Trudy. I think I might have been content reading a long drawn-out “slice of life” novel that just went about the everyday more-or-less eventless (other than farm stuffs) lives of these people and their amazing (but fictional) dogs — dogs smart enough to read sign language. I truly grew to love these characters, although the novel dragged on, and unlike other novels, I never shed a tear for any of them (even when pretty much everyone dies in the end–it’s a Hamlet-wannabe, you expected that!). The sudden change in Part III with the forced “inciting incident” of Edgar (Hamlet) discovering the death of his father being foul play — a needle, as delivered by his Uncle Claude — left a bad taste in my mouth, and after that, my goal was just to finish the novel to find out what the hype is about and to experience the whole thing to formulate my version of what’s wrong with the novel.

Suffice it to say, the novel’s popularity has probably less to do with the writing and more to do with its subject and its rather unique setting–the hundred acre woods, the farm of the Sawtelles and their very specially-bred dogs, and the remarkable boy who can’t speak (but can hear) but manages to communicate and bond with these dogs — and the reader — on a decently deep level. (Again, it’s not a profound level in that I didn’t cry in his demise–or that of any character’s. Edgar had “bartered with his own life” to be with the people he loved–and I was like, “Oh, well, that seems like something a confused teenager might conclude at.” I didn’t cry. And I’m horribly sentimental. So, the novel didn’t quite pass in the emotional dept.)

There are scenes in the first part of the novel that are memorable because of their clearly supernatural aura; it’s a realistic setting thus far, and yet you have characters who seem not just creepy but of-an-inhuman-wisdom like Ida Paine. And there’s the eerie symbolism like the appearance and death of the wolf pup, buried next to Trudy’s stillborn. And though it’s a farm, little is mentioned of the death of the dogs on the farm, and yet death is nearby. The portrayal of Trudy’s wish for a child is made even more poignant with the scene with that trail of blood from the bedroom to the bathroom, where she and her stillborn sat in the tub soaked in blood–it could have been taken from a horror story, and yet you can see it from her perspective and also the human beauty in the tragic scene. And Edgar’s birth, her distress at the docs not finding anything wrong with him, and yet Edgar being unable to speak though he had all the physical wirings for it. You can sympathize with the characters, and though nothing really happens to them until the last third of the book, you’re kind of happy just reading about them.

The novel’s portrayal of the perspective of the dogs is poetic and nearly brilliant. Almondine’s view progresses from that of a naive dog to that of a truly poetic being in her finale. She has a tendency to try speaking to inanimate objects; before Edgar’s arrival, she’d tried asking these objects for the secret they seemed to know - and which is revealed to her on Edgar’s arrival; and in her finale, knowing Edgar had gone, she’d tried speaking to the angry “traveller” (car).

The novel has these uncanny sparks of symmetry: the two graves that preceded Edgar’s birth and the two graves that preceded his death ; cars as being vessels leading to trouble in Claude’s driving lesson and then Henry’s drive to town ; Essay’s reluctance to be cowed by danger in both the tornado and fire scene, but only relents when she realizes in the latter, it’s Edgar’s choice.

(The POV of each Hamlet-canonical analogue is also interesting. Possibly helpful in studies of those characters (especially for theatre) as a different and specific modern-ish persona to explore each character analogue. Especially the likelihood of Hamlet being a delusional teenager who’s talented in expressing himself in words, and yet can’t quite communicate his inner depth to the people closest to him. Hamlet, Prince of Denmark = The Tale of Edgar Sawtelle Analogies: Almondine = Ophelia ; Trudy = Gertrude ; Claude = Claudius; Dr P = Polonius ; Glenn = Laertes ; “Call of the Wild [what reclaims the dogs, or the Sawtelle Legacy] = Norway; “Sawtelle Farm” = Denmark; Starchild Colony = England ; Forte = Fortinbras; Essay = Horatio ; Tinder & Baboo = Rosencrantz & Guildenstern [?])

I guess the novel regains its own “self” (somewhat?) in the end, when the Sawtelle dogs run free after Edgar’s passing. That they were tied to Edgar, that Forte represented the wild, and Essay, the link.

But, the novel isn’t poetic enough to pass as a poetry novel, and parts of it (the parts that dragged, the parts that seemed jarringly non sequitur — as if another writer had taken on the job without reading the beginning) just screams out, “I NEED TO BE EDITED (and swiped and torn apart)”–so ultimately, the reading itself was a tragedy. I’m sorry. But, at least the dogs are out and free - and we’ll always love the dogs.

Category: Reflections, theatre

Ephemeral Life

Written by ina on Saturday, 14 of June , 2008 at 9:33 pm
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I’m thinking of the RFL prom - the immersive virtual prom event on Second Life created by the passion of numerous designers, to benefit ACS through Relay for Life. I’m also thinking of data loss, oil paintings, and quantum mechanics… the ephemeralness of everything coherent.  

A younger me used to find it apalling and infuriating that great canvases of oil paintings would burn in a building fire. And be lost forever. I used to regard cases like that with the naive innocence of someone with too much pride in her own era’s distinction. I’d scoff and think — had they done that digitally, it would exist forever. And yet…

The great works of art from the ancient past will outlive the great works of this era. Modern art is relative, and in the eye of the beholder. Digital data is ephemeral. Hard drives fail, CD’s fail, DVD’s fail, flash drives get lost. Simulators on Second life get wiped because their maintenance fees are far too great.

It’s amazing the amount of passion and love people put into Second Life - and the beauty of some of the work is just wow… The insane amount of time and tendency to details the creator puts in… just defies good reason… especiallly when the details won’t survive after its creation - the creator, galvanized by more things to create would never look at it again… the detail, being to subtle and fine, would get overlooked by others, especially when there are a thousand others. (”The greater you are, the less of each of your works.”) And yet, I guess the only thing that really matters is the experience. There’s no gaurantee that the end product will survive or what sorts of freak accidents would prevent it from successfully reaching its destination. It is as Eshi says. It is all about the process of creating it. It is not about the end product, and yet the process of creating it is often unbearable in the horrible way - and while creating it you’re thinking about the end product. But, in the end, it is only about you. There’s a high chance no one will see it beyond you. And a high chance you’d never look at it after you’re done with it. It’s the process, and yet…

I guess that’s why in the middle of my personal life experiment in Second Life I start pursuing live theatre. I’d always strayed away from it after I “developed” my philosophy of life. Really, I studied physics thinking that knowing physics I would be able to understand everything else, and that really wasn’t it. Philosophy was more rhetoric and tenure politics than truth. And bioengineering was just unrigorous physics and luckiness. I used to pity people who spent their time doing art and that sort of stuff, since I thought they were so deep into their own niche they were “shallow” — savants, in a way… and yet, what I wanted to be was a savant too, actually a savant polymath, if that makes sense… Anyway though, live theatre is often not recorded not because of technical reasons but because of politics - recording rights and all. In Second Life, live theatre can’t always be recorded “live” because of lag and “ruthing” and gray-unrezzed-textures - they often render the view not as optimal, and a substantial amount of postwork becomes necessary. Thus, in Second Life, you’re lucky if you see things “in the eye of the creator,” textures rezzed and sculpties rezzed and everything as beautiful as intended.

The other element of a live event involving multiple people is that it isn’t always easy to get all of them together simultaneously. Some things only happen once in a lifetime - once in all of creation and existence. The extreme amount of anti-entropy required and butterfly effect and the mess that might precipitate an event. It’s a miracle it happened. And even if the medium has limited reach due to technological lackings… I guess I was lucky to have taken a part in it.

And then back to data. The loss of it. The capital necessary to maintain it. And even then there’s the possibility of these digital bytes succumbing to its own butterfly effect as random cables suffer random effects to sudden blow up a huge data center. I’m thinking about the no-cloning theorem in quantum computing. And I’m thinking of paintings, the massive oil canvases. They can’t really be cloned either - taking a photo just isn’t the same, and even so-called restorations where a lesser paints over the work of the master…

But I’m thinking about simulators on Second Life again, and the beautiful things created on them… and then destroyed on them because of the cost to maintain these simulators. It’s just such a pity when copying data is so easy in other digital mediums, and yet so hard in the infrastructure of Second Life. Why isn’t there an for Second Life?

I dunno, I guess I have a super-weak weak spot for beauty. If told that the only way I can immortalize beauty if only for the span of another’s lifetime were to lose my own, yet pass on what transpires of it, I would… You live and then you die.

Category: Reflections

Guts and Bull to Get The Word Out

Written by ina on Saturday, 10 of May , 2008 at 10:43 pm
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 If Michelangeo painted the Sistine Chapels anywhere but in that one well-funded church endeavor, it would be akin to a tree falling in the forest with no one to hear it.

I think I have discovered that it’s not the beauty or merit of a piece that gets it the support it needs, but the level of publicity it attains. Having to both self-publicize, direct, and produce a piece makes it triply difficult – and funding as well is enervating. It takes precious life from art — and I do mean that both ways. After giving out a funding spiel describing SLSC initiatives, all I want to do is log out and poof — literally. And having to self-publicize just means I can spend that much less time on the actual art itself. Which defies the purpose of working on my own project…

If Michelangeo painted the Sistine Chapels in the streets of Sicily, people would walk all over it, and its colors and vibrancy would be stolen on the soles of countless travellers.  

In school, I used to think that missing an earned point there and here due to random grading errors didn’t matter. That was also what the prof’s said. But, the truth is that a few points missed here and there add up. It’s like in an old friend’s reminisces of AP Spanish, where extra credit was granted “randomly” to students who shout out “pointa, pointa!” for answering random hodge-podge. And in the end, it was this one extra credit point she missed that made the difference between an A and a B. For her, it meant losing out on being valedictorian. Microecon is life, really. A dollar saved here and there every day multiplied by 356 days becomes a size-able fortune. Similarly, being unlucky enough to receive grades on the borderline for dozens of courses, and not having the heart to fight for the next…

And then there are stories that you’d think were published on The Onion, rather than CNN, that, although AP-style, is just so full of… story. Take this one, for example, where a judge is accused of falling asleep during a trial, requiring treatment like a queen, among other things… and the fact that she can still stand all that personal invective-type drama against her really does illustrate an extremely strong character. 

It really is all about the guts and bull to fight, to get the word out.

Category: Reflections

Yes, we will take advantage of the Globe for the Mousetrap!

Written by ina on Sunday, 20 of April , 2008 at 6:13 am
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The latest revised version of the script is here:

And as you can see we’re going with a somewhat creative approach here, as well as accounting for SL’s lack of facial expressions on avatars… People in the foreground are generally not facing the audience… And although Hamlet has his back to the main view, there will be people sitting in side galleries who do see his face. So, in this way, it’s more democratic with respect to the audience sitting in the round and the various directions people are facing.

slsc act3 scene 2 blocking diagram

Category: Projects

POV of a Virtual Theatre Director

Written by ina on Monday, 10 of March , 2008 at 2:15 pm
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Live theatre is — by nature — temporal. Although it’s guided by the playscript, as implemented in the director’s vision, what goes on during showtime is quite often spontaneous, and in some cases filled with so many surprises of serendipity or misfortune that nothing appears like anything the director had in mind. But, the magic of it all is that even if the theatre burns down or if a backdrop collapses on an actor’s back… everything always ends up “right”… from one POV at least!

Virtual theatre in a MMOG is all that — and more. You have the advantage of a potentially infinite and globally unrestricted theatre, but technical issues on serverside, clientside, and yourside make the combination something of a blender jumble.

In a virtual theatre set in a platform like Second Life — which, because of its general nature and free-range customization appeal, suffers from significant performance issues when more than two dozen avatars are in the same locality — issues such as sim crashes, viewer crashes, ruthing (when an avatar’s appearance reverts to the default avatar), attachments being misplaced, textures not loading, prims not loading, local lighting being too local, collisions going berserk, and lag… often occur!

Although my test system should be more than sufficient to view Second Life, the actors all appear horribly ruthed for every single performance (even the ones where we didn’t pack the house). I can only imagine that the audience might end up suffering a different or worse POV due to system differences — but, then again, our strategy thus far has been to keep publicity inworld… such that those who visit are well aware of the quirks of Second Life, and would understand that it’s the platform collapsing as we all attempt to gather there at one point.

In a Second Life theatre set in the intersection of four-sims (currently, that is the only way to hold a large event on one location, as each sim is limited to 100 avatars), there are also problems with simcrossings. For a round theatre like the Globe, audience members may get “eaten by prims” as they cross sim borders, due to physics oddity. This bug should really *not* be an issue, as a virtual world whose “safe lands” to walk on spans only 256×256m2 … is a small world indeed! (Please vote here.)

The SL Globe Theatre is set on the intersection of sLiterary, Primtings, Skin City, and Shakespeare, and is home to the SL Shakespeare Company. It has an entire sim dedicated to the stage (and VIP audience members), and thus has an audience capacity of up to 300, supporting up to 400 local avatars.

Now, when a sim crashes, it basically looks like 1/4 of the Globe is gone. And it’s not always obvious that that’s what happened. You’d think it’s because your viewer spontaneously derezzed the view further than a certain viewdistance, but when you see ocean instead of land — the vast emptiness of an area once teeming with green map dots on the minimap makes it evident that the region has crashed.

Time is an interesting complication to get straight and universal for a medium accessible to an international audience. Daylight Savings Time, especially, becomes confusing when different regions of the world observe it differently or not at all! We had scheduled 10 runs starting on “SLSC Thursday,” but skipped Wednesday (assuming it might be downtime Wednesday), but I’d forgotten that the 10th and closing show occurred on DST… until the day of the show.

Second Life Time is actually PST or PDT, when DST is observed. But, those across the pond apparently don’t observe DST until more than two weeks after California switches over. Interestingly, we had a crowd arrive at both the 3 PM PDT and the 3 PM PST. We thus ended up doing an “encore finale” at 4 PM PDT (the old 3 PM PST), where we had the voice director do a speaking cameo for Francisco, after spontaneously upgrading the old Francisco to Horatio (who could not make it to the 4 PM). We also had a missing Francisco for the 3 PM, and had the Ghost voice out the role of a visual truant Francisco.

Chaos? No, but there does exist method in the madness… The only sane way to accept it all is to keep an open mind — and to take it all… passively, as accepting of everything as you can.

And, of course, we didn’t get to sign a restrictive license from DPS where we aren’t allowed to deviate from script. The advantage of performing a play written by a guy who’s so set for posterity there are (literally!) busts of him ubiquitous… and especially when we’re not certain if the plays we have are accurate per se, and when we’re pretty sure his players improv’ed their way through… is that when all else fails… the play is free to become truly live… temporal and spontaneous as the spoken word.

In closing, I’d like to address the cynics who believe that this endeavor is in vain, both because of platform and nature of the medium. While I’m well aware that there are plenty of greenscreening technologies that interface, in real time, real actors with virtual sets, the beauty of having a theatre in a virtual world is that… the theatre is actually *in* a world. I think that distinguishes a play from something seen on a 2d screen — you can see it at various angles if you tilt your head a bit… or a much wider angle if you become restless and start pacing through the seats. And, when it’s over, you can continue to “live” in the virtual world knowing that you’ve just attended a major Shakespearean production… perhaps with your virtual family or with friends separated by great spans of space and time. Although you’d view it using a technological interface (and, perhaps, with your view limited by this interface), it’s immersive, and you’re a part of it.

(Cross posted at Hamlet Production Blog - Ina Centaur Blog doesn’t allow commenting, but feel free to comment on the other blog)

Category: Amusing, Projects, Reflections, machinima

The First Playbill says it all for Scene 1 Extended…

Written by ina on Friday, 15 of February , 2008 at 12:29 am
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Category: Projects

Get thee to a nunnery, modern implementation

Written by ina on Monday, 11 of February , 2008 at 1:15 am
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If Hamlet were to say, “Get thee to a nunnery” *today* to Ophelia… she might try googling it up only to find the complete dearth of info on the process. In this day and age, when one can almost always find a “step-by-step how to” or “dummy’s guide” to practically everything, with searches like “joining the army”, “joining the zombies” or “joining the __,” how interesting is it to chance upon a search with no pre-existing guides. One wonders… is this truly the path less taken? The googling turns up a page on TSUM and a number on Kidman’s possible Australian nunnery, which accepts married women.

TSUM describes a monastery in Tibet that until recent times were below minimum living standards, unable to properly shelter and feed its monks and nuns until recently, when some donation spiel started. Apparently, most of the nuns came from situations prone to domestic violence, and thus the path to Dharma is advertised as the better path.

A search for “Australian nunnery” yields more results on Kidman’s potential joining the nunnery, and also a Nunnery Hotel whose rates come with free food. Apparently, monastery hotels are now the rage according to CNN. But, hotels are brief escapades. What of longer stays — say, lifelong ones?

Searching for “how to join a nunnery” yields results about how Bhutan didn’t used to have nunneries, but now has 13. There’s also this other girl’s blog about her preference for cloistered life.

One wonders if it’s just a googlian conspiracy for the peculiar lack of guidance on joining a nunnery. The other yields this as the first link for a search on “joining a nunnery.” And again, you get the idea that nunneries are badly kept places, where the nuns all starve. :-X And yet, another yields this as one of the top results.

Tibetan nuns seem like wonderful people, and they know these finger tricks.

In conclusion, I’d say that a modern Ophelia would be thoroughly confused at finding out *how* to join a nunnery. NASA may even have to issue out another RFI.

Category: Amusing, Projects, Reflections, Reviews

Who is Ina Centaur?

A 25-year old American polymath of Taiwanese ancestry pretending to be old and Caucasian in Second Life. Semi-retired independent scholar also dabbling as an independent artist in new media, particularly theatre and the humanities—notably Shakespeare. Programmer, playwright and novelist. Formal academic background in, philosophy, and bioengineering.

This is largely a personal blog which isn't always up-to-date. There's no one definitive way to stalk me ;-).