Monday, July 25, 2011

Two Books: 'Far South' and 'The Tyranny of Choice'

Three books arrived today: The first was Far South from Serpent's Tail:

This looks like it could be an experience more than a book. It does not have an author but a 'voice', a UK representative, and a 'collective' of artists, writers, filmmakers, actors, musicians and dancers.

The premise is that when a man called Fischer vanishes from an artists' colony in Argentina, his colleagues call in a private detective called Perez. The book follows Perez's investigation - and he uncovers not just written material but short films, audio recordings and YouTube videos (to which there are links and QR codes in the book). Truly multimedia, then and such an exciting idea! It makes me want to grab my iphone and start on the book right now.

The second book is more conventional formatted but just as enticing: The Tyranny of Choice by Renata Salecl.

This is about how choice causes anxiety. I find it paradoxically reassuring that someone should think this idea is a suitable topic for a book - I shall explain why.

A few years ago I found myself in the supermarket for the weekly 'shop'. Life was not just getting on top of me, it was stamping on my head and grinding it and the rest of me into the ground. I stood in front of the bread. I knew I had to get a loaf and put it into my shopping basket, but I just couldn't decide what to get. The longer I stood there, the more futile everything about my life, and everyone else's life, seemed to be. I have not heard of existential angst being caused by bread-buying before but, dear blog-reader, it happened to me - and I blame it all on too much choice. It has often occurred to me since that too much choice is a great waster of time, and not very good for people that always doubt they are making the right decision about anything. So to find a book about this concept of choice, and the bad psychological effect it has on people besides me, is oddly reassuring - because it means I am not alone.

The third book a guide to Rome - but I shall leave that one until later.


Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

I agree totally with what you’re saying about choice. I recall a similar experience to the one you relate only with me it wasn’t loaves it was feminine hygiene products. I don’t recall why my wife at that time had asked me to buy them – I assume she was ill – and I certainly had no issues but she really should have told me precisely what she wanted. She did not, or I forgot, but I remember standing in front of this wall of boxes with not a clue what to buy there were so many to choose from. But it’s not just tampons these days is it? The last time I went to collect Carrie from the airport someone had left an Argos catalogue on the bus and so I picked it up and flicked through it. I’ve been thinking we needed a new vacuum cleaner for a while but I simply wasn’t prepared for page after page after page of them. Seriously, how many variations could there possibly be?

On a more serious, and literary note, I fear that we have much the same problem with books just now. There is so much choice that it is a burden trying to find a new book. I have spent three hours in a book shop and come out with nothing for fear of wasting my money on something I wouldn’t read. At the start of our relationship my wife gave me a book token (£30 as I recall) and she swore afterwards she would never do it again I fretted so much about how not to waste the money. The bulk of it eventually went on a hardback copy of Dave McKean’s covers for The Sandman a book I’ve probably not looked at in ten years. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lovely book and one she might well have bought me herself had she thought about it, but the pressure to choose made me make what was probably the wrong choice.

I used to buy books thinking that I’d get round to them. I don’t do that quite so much these days because I don’t get round to them. I want to get round to them but I can never get caught up and no sooner do I clear my feet of review copies than more start plopping through the letter box. I shouldn't complain.

Tue Jul 26, 09:45:00 am  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Ah Jim, yes - feminine hygiene products, like disposable nappies and baby milk seem to exist in an especially ridiculous variety. That would have been hugely perplexing no matter what your state of mind, and I admire you enormously going through with it! And yes, household appliances - an almost dizzying choice there again. It is pretty much wrapped up in capitalism, I feel, and this time in which we live - and just the thought of this makes me nervous. We have it too good. I can't last. It is unsustainable - part of this mad idea of borrowing on the future.

And yes, I've had the same trouble with a book token. In the end I decided to plumb for large encyclopedic type tomes I wouldn't normally buy. This was shortly before the advent of the internet and wikipedia - so again, a not altogether worthwhile purchase. Although it did appear to be at the time.

I know what you mean about reviews and old books. The pile gets ever larger - but I do have a lot of fun sorting through the pile from time to time and picking up treasures I'd forgotten I had. The thrill of anticipation returns just as powerfully.

Tue Jul 26, 10:21:00 am  
Blogger Paul Halpern said...

Very interesting post about choice. I think that the internet and modern technology, though incredibly useful, also generate anxiety through so many choices. It is like a colossal 'supermarket' of ideas and opinions. Recently, I visited the collective community of Amana, in the American midwest, in which people have chosen to live simple lives working on arts and crafts. I met a very happy tinsmith who has never used the internet, uses only a simple dial phone, and spends his days making tin cups, pots, and other household items in the style of the 19th century. Not exactly the life for me, but it shows the value of simplicity.

Tue Jul 26, 07:43:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Yes, Paul - I hadn't thought of that... the internet also adds to our woes in this regard.

That is very interesting about the Amana community. I had not heard of them, and what you say is something I wouldn't have believed earlier in life - but do now!

For the last few years I have been wondering about how to find happiness, and have come to the conclusion, at least for me, that it is the act of creating something - so your happy tinsmith makes a lot of sense to me.

Tue Jul 26, 08:24:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I seize up in the cereal aisle, Clare. Also sometimes in meats and snacks. Really, the cereal aisle is the worst. I can stand there forever trying to decide what I want to eat each morning for the next couple of weeks and be completely blank. If I'm tired, it's especially hard. Sometimes I feel I will never leave the aisle. So far, I've managed to overcome my choice inertia and not fallen asleep in the aisle. :)

Wed Jul 27, 03:31:00 am  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Heh, heh yes- cereal is another classic example - in my local store two sides of an aisle are devoted to it. Cereal companies are always trying out new combinations, and the result is usually a failure. Chocolate is a popular experiment, which never appeals to me, and also dry red lumps which are allegedly strawberries. The only way I can have found of coping is to always buy the same thing, and not even look at the rest. This works fine until my son announces that he's 'gone off' his usual- so I then have to take my cereal blinkers off and look around... Life is really too short for this sort of thing, isn't it?

Wed Jul 27, 05:03:00 am  
Blogger cromercrox said...

My confrontation with choice came when I lived in LA for three months in the 1990s and went to the local store for a pint of milk. You could have it full, half-fat, fat-free, full with vitamin D, full with extra calcium, full with extra vitamin D and calcium, full with extra calcium but no lactose, full with extra vitamin D but no lactose, half-fat with extra calcium, half-fat with extra methanol, half-fat with reduced turpentine and no iron filings etc etc. And all I wanted was a pint of milk, perhaps with a picture of a friendly cow on the front. For reassurance, you know.

Choice in baby products is more pernicious as it capitalizes on the anxieties of parents. I'm sure parents in the stone age managed pretty well without the vast paraphernalia seen nowadays as absolutely necessary for raising children.

Wed Jul 27, 12:39:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Yes, I completely agree, Cromercrox. Your point about the choice in baby products is an important one, I think... and as for the milk in that LA shop - it would be enough to make this grown woman weep!

Wed Jul 27, 01:48:00 pm  
Blogger Kay Cooke said...

Yes, I agree Clare - too much choice bamboozles. I am stymied in front of many products in Supermarkets and as a consequence, hate grocery shopping. My husband does it all now. I am happy to do everything else on domestic front as long as he does the shopping. Win for me in this world full of a dazzling array of choice. I often, often pine for a desert island style of living.

Mon Aug 01, 11:47:00 am  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Good idea, Kay! I have resorted to shopping on-line. It not only precludes the bamboozling (love that word) but I have a theory it is better for the environment too (if it isn't, I don't want to know :-))

Mon Aug 01, 11:52:00 am  

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