Saturday, December 21, 2013

Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? (movie review)

My daughter was the prime instigator in our seeing this one, at Living Room Theaters, not far from Powell's downtown.

Chomsky and I are contemporaries, though we've not met in person.  I've got him linked into my writings on the web in a suitable context, given where AFSC was politically.

There's lots I don't know about his philosophy or world view, and this animation, kind of like Khan Academy on steroids (not intended as a sleight to either), was quite informative, as well as fun.

I hadn't realized to what an extent he's an anti-representationalist, like Rorty, which makes him very on board with Wittgenstein.  The generative grammar phenomenon is true to life:  a small enough rule set snowballs into a seeming infinity of permitted possibilities, like the game of chess (so many games, a tree).

That the animator is also working in his second language, French being his first, provides some of the humor, and other pathos.  And it's relevant because communication is after all the topic.

This is one of those films to be quoted as we develop our ability to quote films more seamlessly within our writings and other films.  A resource.  In the sense that a book is a resource.  Because the man is right there and it's an interview, you get a lot of autobiography.  Michel Gondry did not waste Chomsky's time, given this little gift of a film.  I don't think Ali G. (Sacha Beron Cohen) wasted his time either -- that was only a short exercise.

Chomsky stresses the importance of the concept of "continuity" in "identity".  Subjectively, we're more like getting film clips and assembling them mentally.  The salt shaker is seen in many shots and is assumed to be a persistent object.  

Our systems break down in the face of too much unaccounted for swapping, i.e. if she's really her twin and this really isn't my laptop (I'm thinking of that time Patrick was flying to HQS and was already in his seat when we realized (with a little help from the police) that he had the wrong computer, due to a mix up at security...), then we realize we have lost the thread of the narrative and our current reality unravels.   

He stresses how tenuous it all is, and how words coexists with discontinuity, a swiss cheese of possible holes.  Another way of saying it maybe:  cogitation itself provides much of the continuity.  Language is a glue, not a mirror.