Monthly Archives: April 2011

Fonds d’écrans élégants

Faire de son bureau virtuel un endroit tout à la fois accueillant et propice au travail est une tâche ardue. Après avoir rangé les icônes traînant partout, il faut encore choisir un fond d’écran. Les photos de parcs naturels ou de prairie verdoyantes nous invitent souvent à la rêverie et nous empêchent de travailler. Les gouttes de rosées glissant sur un pétale de fleur, quant à elles, deviennent très vite agaçantes. Se passer de fond d’écran et opter pour une jolie couleur unie ou un dégradé n’est guère plus satisfaisant.

Fonds d'écran

Heureusement, il existe une collection très complète de fonds d’écran tout à la fois amusants et simples sur Simple Desktops. Je vous invite à explorer ce site, il y en a pour tous les goûts. On y trouve du “pixel art” mais aussi des lignes plus fluides, des fonds d’écrans bicolores ou des œuvres exploitant toutes les couleurs de l’arc-en-ciel. Certaines œuvres font référence à des géants de la peinture comme Magritte, à Super Mario Bros, à Tron ou encore aux Beatles.

Starting

I’ve received all kinds of papers clamouring I must move on from college. There was the diploma, then the grades and now an official notice of ex-matriculation. It is beginning to sink in now. I’ve been talking with different people who are in this position. Anxiety creeps upon us all in similar ways. For many, myself included, a reluctance to start seems to be part of the problem. As a service to myself and others, I decided to write about this.

“Can’t start until I finish ?!”

First of all, I have a hard time getting rid of the idea that I am supposed to find the overarching theme of my life before starting. To find the overarching theme of my life before starting would make my life tidy and clean. Since it is impossible, adherence to this belief just threatens to weigh me down and make it boring. Yet, youngsters looking online for guidance on how to lead their lives are deafened by personal branding experts screaming: “plan, be consistent and brand yourself”. Can’t start anything until I figure it out, I thought. But these pieces of advice aren’t practical — and certainly worth nothing if you haven’t started yet.

When I discovered 5by5′s interview show: The Pipeline, I listened to people whose work I know and admire like Liz DanzicoDerek PowazekMerlin Mann and Scott Beale. Their paths aren’t straight and most of the time, Dan Benjamin, the host, can’t sum them up into elevator pitches. So much so that it has become a recurring theme at the top of the show. Now, I realize that most admirable people can not define what they’re about in a few words. They look ahead and don’t have preconceived narratives into which they mush their lives.

To start is a transitive verb

So, it became clear that I was over-thinking. All these questions weren’t getting me any closer to my goals. For example, I thought about my master dissertation proposal for years — without starting to write it. Then the deadline came into view, I had to submit a proposal. It had obvious flaws but the feedback helped me to refine it. The second time, it was accepted. I had made all kinds of promises in this proposal that I had to keep in my dissertation and I was scared. At the end, the dissertation looked different from what I had daydreamed about when I hadn’t been writing obviously. I am happy with it though.

You can’t project yourself to the end before starting. We, starters have to start and not let ourselves be discouraged by our bruised perfectionism. Merlin Mann talks eloquently about starting: in “Doing Creative Work, With All Due Respect To The Seduction Community” and in the accompanying blog post. As he explains, starters don’t need advice, better tools, tips & tricks or systems. All these things only provide ways to rationalize your fears and barriers that keep us from starting. Instead of butchering his thoughts any further, I advise you to listen to him.

As a first step, I have re-started this website. Hitting publish is still as uncomfortable as it was to send the flawed proposal for my dissertation. Each post which makes it to the web is a small victory. For now, however, it isn’t the shipping that counts but the starting…

Life in Perpetual Beta

Life in Perpetual Beta is a forty minutes documentary produced and directed by Melissa Pierce. It explains why planning is overrated, emphasizes the importance of enthusiasm and how seeking discomfort is a good strategy. No longer can we take our lives backwards: decide where we go and figure out the steps that will lead us there because everything changes all the time. It is best explained by Melissa Pierce herself (emphasis mine):

It is exploring the cultural shift that technology creates as it enables people to live more passionate, less planned livesLife in Perpetual Beta was made by the same principles it explores, all aspects of the film were crowdsourced on social networks, from who to interview, what to ask, camera crews and how to pay for production.

Even if I’ve had access to the web from the age of thirteen or so, these ideas still feel counter-intuitive. I needed to see this. I am glad Melissa Pierce produced it and shares it on the web.

Notes on duty and the pursuit of glory in The Epic of Gilgamesh

I’ve loved The Epic of Gilgamesh ever since I read it first in French a few years ago. Recently, I bought Andrew George’s Penguin Classics edition (from which all the references are drawn). I am by no means a specialist of Gilgamesh since my research in secondary literature wasn’t formal nor complete. These notes concern my interest in the story’s structure and characters’ motives. In this post, I will argue that the tension between duty and pursuit of glory plays an important role in the Epic. Moreover, this idea permits me to better understand other elements of interest.

The beginning of the epic presents king Gilgamesh as threatening social stability: fighting against young men and exercising droit de seigneur on young women. The gods are looking for a way to stop Gilgamesh from raping women and killing young men, so they create Enkidu to “let him vie with him, so Uruk may be rested” (MB Ni, 4). The effect of the encounter is a shift in focus from the pursuit of pleasure to the pursuit of greatness. Having “formed a friendship” (Yale, 18) with Enkidu, the king expresses the desire to kill Humbaba to achieve fame (Yale, 17). The text is damaged so it is hard to tell how exactly the shift occurs.

One thing is certain, however, even distracted from the cities’ young men and women, the king’s will is still bent towards destruction. His plan is to kill Humbaba and obtain cedars. When they return, after refusing to marry Ishtar for reasons that fluctuate from one version of the story to the next as we’ll see later, Ishtar releases the bull of heaven to kill Gilgamesh and destroy the city. Gilgamesh and Enkidu kill the bull of heaven. As a result, the gods want to break their duo by killing one of them. Their council is not recovered in the standard version. It is known through Hittite prose only and their motives are still unclear. I’d argue that having killed the forest’s protector and the bull of heaven, they have begun to threaten stability on a new scale. While Gilgamesh’s previous behaviour was hurting the city, his later behaviour threatens the stability of the whole world.

The emphasis some adaptations put on the destruction of the forest emphasize this last point. The text doesn’t put a strong emphasis on the number of cedars they bring back to Uruk. Our present concerns with the environment, however, prompt contemporary adaptations to portray it as deforestation. The adaptation from the Marionettes de Genève that I saw a few weeks ago certainly did and Izumi Ashizawa mentioned ecology as one of the themes of her productions.

Parallel to the shift from the quest of pleasure to the quest of greatness that I mentioned earlier, some critics argue there’s a shift in the king’s attitude towards his governing duties. Even if many critics seem to think so, it is hard to tell from the standard version, whether or not the king’s encounter with Enkidu makes him suddenly aware of his subjects’ needs. Before his combat with Enkidu, the epic doesn’t give much detail about his governing style apart from his passion for sex and violence. After he forms a friendship with Enkidu, he is portrayed as caring for the city even though he engages in a quest for personal glory. When he leaves to hunt down Humbaba, he doesn’t simply abandon the city but gives instructions for its governance. The epic puts a strong emphasis on the religious duties of the king. Later, when Uta-napishti patronizes the king, the temples which he left without “a provisioner” (X 288-89) are among his concerns. However, it would be difficult to argue that Enkidu’s arrival in the city makes the king better.

When Ishtar tries to seduce him and threatens to distract him from both his duties and his quest for greatness, he refuses to marry her. In the standard version, he refuses because her lovers suffer horrible fates when she finally turns against them. Another version offers other reasons for his refusal. In the poem “Bilgames and the Bull of Heaven”, the reasons have less to do with self-preservation and more with his duties towards the city in general and the temple in particular. She tells him that she will prevent him from going “to [her] temple Eanna” and “to render verdicts”. The king’s speech mentions his duties in maintaining the temple among the reasons why he refuses her. He says: “Let me catch wild bulls in the mountains, let me fill your folds! / Let me catch sheep in the mountains, let me fill your pens!”. The king can not, therefore, devote himself entirely to a domestic life and even if he could, he wouldn’t choose to do so with Ishtar who makes her lover suffer.

In both the standard version and the Sumerian poem, the vengeance of Ishtar is primarily directed towards Gilgamesh. Yet, she unleashes the bull of heaven on Uruk, it devastates the city-state and kills citizens. In a reversal of the king’s attitude at the beginning, she pursues her own pleasure at the expense of the city which worships her.

The king’s second departure from Uruk can be interpreted as more selfish than the first and they need to be contrasted. The first time, he gives precise instructions on how to rule the city in his absence. The second time, influenced by grief over his friend’s death and fear of his own, he wanders the wild immediately after the funeral. Eventually, he fantasizes about immortality and traverses both the known and the unknown world to Uta-napishti’s abode. He fails to achieve immortality and comes back to Uruk empty handed. When he returns, however, he plans to serve his community and get a name for himself at the same time by building the city walls. Therefore, the conflict between his duty and his own desire for renown is resolved.