25 February 2009

Review: Black Magic - 13 Chilling Tales

Black Magic is an anthology of short stories ostensibly all dealing with the theme of black magic, forbidden sorceries and texts, voodoo and diabolism. It does fall somewhat short of that, with one story about a mad scientist and another about a vampire. (By Nathaniel Hawthorne and Ray Bradbury, respectively.) However, those are both quite striking stories, so perhaps it's not so bad to break a little from the premise of the collection.

The other stories are grouped into five sections: Devil Worship, Witchcraft, Curses, Magic Writing and Incantation, and Voodoo. As well as the Hawthorne and Bradbury, there's entries from Algernon Blackwood, H. G. Wells, M. R. James, Avram Davidson, and Theodore Sturgeon. Of particular note are James' "Casting the Runes," a nicely atmospheric tale of supernatural vengance, and Davidson's "Where do you live, Queen Esther?," which reflects that author's talent for mixing the fantastic and everyday to stunning effect.

I also quite liked Margaret Irwin's "The Book," a tale of a cursed object leading to a man's doom; the story uses a rather novel approach towards the first symptoms of the curse. Blackwood's "Ancient Sorceries" was nicely atmospheric, though the end explained the strange phenomena in a way that felt a little too pat. (I would have prefered it a little more ambiguous.)

As with all collections, some stories are stronger than others, and if I had to pick a low point, it'd be "Cheese" by A. E. Coppard, which seemed like it should either be funny or scary, but didn't manage to do either quite right.

I wouldn't recommend seeking out the collection, as most of these stories could be found elsewhere. But if you ever run across this little bit of pulp in a used book store, it's definitely worth a look.

23 February 2009

Review: Seven Gothic Tales

The label Gothic can mean many things, encompassing the suspenseful realism of Radcliffe's Udolpho, the surreal Orientalism of Beckford's Vathek, and the sexually-charged diabolism of Lewis' Ambrosio. (And that's just considering works prior to Mary Shelley or John Polidori!) Isak Dinesen (aka Karen Blixen) creates her own little corner of the Gothic, one that does not shy away from the supernatural but is more interested in people and their relationships than rattling chains in a cobwebbed corridor. Like many Gothic works, it features stories of people trapped within prisons, sometimes physical, but just as often social or psychological. Overall, I'd say this is a book that merits rereading, as only the most perceptive reader will pick up on everything the first time around. Even so, there were definitely some stories that stuck with me.

"The Deluge at Nordenay" is the story of four people trapped in the loft of a barn during a flood. The story takes place over the expanse of one night, during which the waters continue to rise and the four do not know if they will live to see the morning. Though resigned to their fates, they decide to spend the night telling stories. The two younger storytellers narrate their experiences of struggling with identity, of struggling with forces outside their control to exist in the world as they would choose. The older woman of the group tells of her own life and the choices she made. And then the last of the group, a religious scholar, tells a very odd tale of Peter a few days after the Crucifixion. All of it forshadows a rather interesting surprise near the end of the story.

"The Old Chevalier" is a pretty brief story of an older man recounting an experience when he was younger. He met up with a curious young lady and spent the night with her. Though the experience stayed with him, he did not see her again for many years. When he does finally encounter her again, it is a brief but haunting encounter.

"The Supper at Elsinore" features a ghost, much like that other story set in Elsinore. This ghost, though, is that of a brother come to visit the two sisters he left behind in his career of privateer, pirate, plantation owner and trader. Though beautiful and smart, the two sisters have grown into spinsterhood, always wondering about the fate of their brother. The meeting of the three allows for a final and melancholy reckoning regarding their respective fates.

"The Dreamers," like many of the stories here, incorporates storytellers and their stories into the narrative. Three men--two middle eastern, the third European--are on a boat together, sharing stories about how they have come to be on that boat. The European tells a story about how an obsession with a prostitute in Greece caused him to break off an advantageous betrothal, and how the prostitute vanished on him one day. Later he meets two friends, who have astonishingly similar stories to tell. There are some elements--mountain chases, a Wandering Jew--that almost make this story a Gothic parody, yet it also succeeds quite well on its own tragic terms.

"The Poet" is a bit of a misnomer, since the story actually has two poets. (A discrepancy which is likely intentional.) One, older and wealthy, takes a younger poet and an orphaned dancer in under his care. After realizing that the two may be falling in love, he decides for his own, not entirely cruel, purposes to marry the girl. This drives the young poet deep into despair, though he attempts to hide it. The love triangle ends, as they all do, rather badly.

These are quite moving stories of entrapment, identity, escape--all the Gothic mainstays--told through the marvellous talent of Isak Dinesen for creating a character, a place, or a situation with narrative finesse.

18 February 2009

Review: Del amor y otros demonios

Del amor y otros demonios is the story of Sierva Maria de todos los Santos, whom GGM introduces as based on a macabre story and an old legend. The macabre story is the opening of an old crypt, which reveals a skeleton of a young girl wrapped in her long, red hair. The legend is one told by his grandmother of a young girl with long hair who performed miracles but died while still young.

Sierva Maria is a young woman born of a loveless marriage in colonial-era Colombia. Neglected by her parents, she is raised by the family slaves and grows up more comfortable with their language and food than with that of her own purported social class. One day at the market with the woman who raised her, a rabid dog bites her on the ankle. So begins the worst of her troubles. Shortly, she is declared demonically possessed and taken to a nunnery to have the demons exorcized.

The question of demonic possession is left intriguingly ambiguous. While it seems quite likely that the church elders are overreacting, strange things do seem to happen around Sierva Maria. Sierva Maria begins to have an unexpected effect on the scholar priest who's come to help her, which of course only emphasizes the question of what sort of demon is possessing her.

Though a quite moving novel, I have to admit I didn’t enjoy it as much as some of GGM’s other works. The family history is somewhat less captivating than in Cien años de soledad, where it took on an epic, almost mythological, feeling. Nor does it have the intense focus of Cronica de una muerte anunciada, with its sudden and shocking act of violence around which the rest of the plot turns. Even falling below the level of those two works, it is still a captivating and lyrical work, and I would certainly recommend it.

17 February 2009

"The Red Moon" by Roberto Arlt

Nothing foretold it that afternoon.

Commercial activities unfolded normally in the city. Waves of humanity swarmed in the crystal doorways of vast commercial establishments, or they paused in front of windows that occupied the length of dark streets, splashed in the smells of oilcloths, flowers or victuals.

The clerks, behind their crystal sentry boxes, and the rigid staff supervisors in the carpeted vertices of shopping centers, observed with careful eyes the conduct of their inferiors.

Contracts were signed and debts were cancelled.

In various parts of the city, at various hours, numerous couples of young men and girls swore eternal love to one another, forgetting that their bodies were perishable; some vehicles incapacitated careless strollers; and the sky, beyond the tall metal crosses painted green which held up high-voltage cables, was turning an ashen gray, as always happens when filled with watery vapors.

Nothing foretold it.

At night the skyscrapers were illuminated.

The majesty of their phosphorescent facades, incised in three dimensions over the foggy backdrop, intimidated simple men. Many developed an unreasonable idea with respect to the possible treasures concealed behind walls of steel and cement. Lusty watchmen, in accord with the received rules, in passing frequently before these buildings, carefully observed the wainscoting of windows and doors, lest there be abandoned there some infernal machine. In other places could be spotted the shadowy silhouettes of the mounted police, holding the reins of their horses and armed with holstered rifles and guns which fired tear gas.

Fearful men thought, “How well defended we are!”, and gratefully looked upon the sheathed mortal weapons; on the other hand, those tourists which cruised along made their chauffeurs stop, and with the tips of their canes pointed out to their companions the luminous names of faraway corporations. These gleamed in interminable staggered facades, and some delighted and prided themselves upon thinking of the might of their faraway homeland, whose economic expansion represented filial joys whose name was of necessity spelled out among the clouds. So high were they.

From elevated terraces, so high it appeared that one could touch the stars with one’s hand, the wind broke off snatches of blues music obliquely cut up by the gusts of air. Porcelain Bulbs lit up aerial gardens. Confused among the foliage of expensive vegetation, controlled by the responses and vigilant gaze of the wait staff, danced the elegant idlers of the city, young men and women, flexible from the practice of sports and indifferent from familiarity with pleasures. Some resembled butchers encased in smoking jackets smiled insolently, and all, when they spoke of those below, appeared to mock something which with a blow from their fists they could destroy.

The old men, arranged on chairs of Japanese straw, watched the blue smoke of their cigars or let pass across their lips an astute frown, at the same time that their hard and authoritarian gazes reflected an implacable sense of security and solidarity. Even among the buzz of the party it was impossible to imagine them less than presiding over the round table of a directorate, in order to approve a leonine loan to a nation of Arabs and mulattos, below whose trees ran veins of petroleum.
From inferior heights, in streets deeper and cloudier than canals, circulated the roofs of cars and streetcars, and in excessively illuminated places, a microscopic multitude caught the scent of cheap pleasure, going in and out of the gangways of cheap dancehalls, which vomited incandescent atmospheres like the mouths of tall ovens.

Up above, in oblique directions, the structure of skyscrapers detached itself from the greenish or yellowish skies, cubic reliefs, superimposed major over minor. These cement pyramids disappeared upon the extinguishing of the splendor of invisible luminous billboards, later they would newly appear as super dreadnoughts, creating a perpendicular and tumultuous threat of maritime warfare upon lividly lighting up among the mists. It was then that the strange event occurred.

The first violin of the Jardín Aéreo Imperius orchestra was about to place upon his music stand the score for the “Blue Danube,” when a waiter handed him an envelope. The musician rapidly tore it open and read the note within; then, glancing over his lenses at his comrades, he deposited his instrument on the piano, handed the letter to the clarinetist, and descended swiftly down the stairs that gave access to the stage, searching with his gaze for the exit to the garden, and disappeared via the service stairway, after trying futilely to call the elevator.

Upon observing the unusual and disrespectful conduct of that man, the hands of various dancers and their companions ceased as they brought glasses to their lips to drink. But, before the bystanders could overcome their surprise, the man’s example was followed by his companions, for it was seen that one after another abandoned the box, looking serious and somewhat pallid.

It is necessary to observe that despite the haste with which they executed these acts, the actors revealed a certain meticulousness. The one who stood out the most was the cellist, who enclosed his instrument within its case. It produced the impression that they wanted to signal that they were declining some responsibility and were “washing their hands.” Thus it was described later by a witness.

And if it had been them alone.

They were followed by the waiters. The public, mute in its astonishment, without daring to speak a word (the waiters in these places were quite robust) watched them remove their service frocks and toss them contemptuously on the tables. Upon observing that the clerk without bothering to close the register abandoned his tall seat, The service foreman doubted and, quite disturbed, joined the fugitives.

Some wanted to use the elevator. It didn’t work.

Suddenly the lights went off. In the shadows, next to the marble tables, the men and women who until a few moments ago debated between the subtleties of their thoughts and the delights of the senses, understood that they should not wait. Something was happening which paralyzed the expressive capacity of words, and then, with a certain fearful order, in an attempt to minimize the confusion of their escape, they began to descend silently down the marble stairs.

The cement building filled with buzzing. Not of human voices, since no one dared to speak, but of rubbing, rattling, sighing. Once in a while, someone lit a match, and throughout the snail shell of stairs, at different heights along the wall, moved silhouettes of twisted backs and enormous fallen heads; meanwhile in the angles of the walls the shadows fell apart in leaping irregular triangles.

No accident was recorded.

Sometimes, a fatigued old man or a terrified dancer would let themselves fall to the edge of the stairs, and remain seated there, with their head abandoned in their hands, without anyone stepping on them. The multitude, as its diffident presence on the edge of the marble could be guessed, traced a curve next to the immobile shadow.

The watchman of the building, during two seconds, lit up his electric lantern, and the circle of white light allowed him to see men and women, their arms indistinctly clutching each other, descending cautiously. Those who went near the wall had their hands resting on the banister.

Upon arriving at the street, the first fugitives eagerly sucked up long breaths of fresh air. Not a single light was visible in any direction.

Someone scraped a match across a metal grate, and then discovered in the thresholds of certain ancient houses, creatures seated there pensively. These, with a seriousness inappropriate for their age, lifted their eyes to those elders who illuminated them, but they did not ask anything.

Out of the doors of the other skyscrapers poured out a silent multitude.

An older woman wanted to cross the street, and tripped over an abandoned automobile; further on, some drunks, terrified, took refuge in a tram car whose conductors had fled, and so many, temporarily winded, allowed themselves to fall on the granite strips which marked off the street.

The immobile creatures, with their feet raised next to the borders of the thresholds, listened silently to the rapid footsteps of the shadows which passed in stampede.

In a few minutes the inhabitants of the city were in the street.

From one point to another in the distance, the light bulbs of flashlights moved irregularly as fireflies. One curious and resolute individual attempted to light the street with an oil lamp, and behind the pinkish glass screen the flame went out three times. Without humming, a cold wind blew, heavy with electrical charges.

The multitude thickened as time passed.

The shorter shadows, quite numerous, advanced within the other less dense and taller shadows of the night, with a certain automatism which made it understood that many had just left their beds and still maintained the incoherent movement of those half-asleep.

Others, in turn, grew unsettled by the fate of their existence, and silently marched towards the discovery of their destiny, which they guessed as rigid as a terrible sentinel, behind that curtain of smoke and silence.

From frontage to frontage, the width of all the streets that ran east to west was occupied by the multitude. This, in the darkness, created a denser and darker cover which advanced slowly, akin to a monster whose particles are bound to it by the panting of its own respiration.

Suddenly a man felt something tugging insistently at his shirt sleeve. He stammered questions to whoever was doing that, and when no reply came, he lit a match and discovered the flat and shaggy face of a large monkey which with fearful eyes appeared to interrogate him regarding what was happening. The unknown man, with a shove, separated himself from the beast, and many who were near him noticed that the animals were free.

Another identified various tigers mixed in among the multitude by the yellow stripe which sometimes glowed between the legs of the fugitives, but the beasts were so extraordinarily unsettled that, upon flattening themselves on their stomachs to signal their submission, they blocked the march, and it became necessary to expel them with kicks. The beasts took off at a run, and as if some order had been given, took their place at the front of the multitude.

They moved forward with their tails between their legs and their ears pressed to the skin of their skulls. In their elastic advance, they would turn their heads upon their necks, and their enormous phosphorescent eyes stood out, like spheres of yellow crystal. Despite the slow walk of the tigers, the dogs, in order to maintain position with them, had to move their legs briskly.

Suddenly, above the cement water tank of one of the skyscrapers, the red moon appeared. It looked like a bloody eye coming unstuck from the straight line, and its magnitude increased rapidly. The city, also reddened, grew slowly from the bottom of the darkness, until fixing the balusters of its terraces at the same height that filled the descending curve of the sky.

The perpendicular planes of the building fronts reticulated the tarry sky with scarlet alleys. Upon the staggered walls, the reddening atmosphere settled like a mist of blood. It seemed that above the terraces a terrible god of iron should have appeared, with his bowels cast in flames and his cheeks bulked up with a butcher’s gluttony.

No sound was heard, as if one of the effects of the vermillion light was that the people had been struck deaf.

The shadows fell, huge, heavy, cut tangentially by monstrous guillotines, on the marching humans, so numerous that shoulder to shoulder and chest to chest they filled the streets from beginning to end.

The irons and cornices projected parallel black lines at different heights into the depths of the vermillion atmosphere. The tall windowpanes gleamed like melting sheets of ice behind which fires blazed.

In the terrible and quiet luminosity it was difficult to distinguish the feminine faces from the masculine. All of them appeared equal and shadowed from the anguish of the effort they made, with their jaws clenched and their eyelids shut tight. Many wet their lips with their tongues, for they grew feverish with thirst. Others with the gestures of sleepwalkers placed their mouths on the cold cylinders of mailboxes, or on the rectangular vents of electrical transformers, and the sweat ran in thick drops down their faces.

From the moon, fixed in a sky blacker than tar, came off a bloody and thick slaughterhouse emanation.

The multitude did not in fact walk, but instead advanced in ebbs, dragging their feet, supporting one upon another, many half-asleep and hypnotized by the red light which, shining from shoulder to shoulder, made the dark recesses of eyes and rotten profiles deeper and more astonishing.

In the cross streets children remained quiet in the thresholds.

From the tumult of the beasts, enlarged by the horses, the elephant had broken away, and with its soft bustle raced towards the beach, escorted by two colts. These, with their manes in the wind and their lips turned towards the dazzling ears of the pachyderm, appeared to whisper a secret to him.

By contrast, the hippopotamuses at the head of the vanguard, gulped with fatigue at the air, gathering it with blows in the hollows of their armored snouts. One tiger rubbing its flank against the walls advanced reluctantly.

The silence of the multitude began to become intolerable. One man climbed a balcony and placing his hands in front of his mouth like a megaphone, shouted hysterically:

--Friends, what’s happening, friends! I don’t know how to speak, it's true, I don't know how to speak, but let's come to an agreement.

They filed by without looking at him, and the man, drying the sweat from his face with the shaggy top of his arm became mixed up in the crowd.

Unconsciously each of them brought a finger to their lips, one hand to their ear. There could now be no doubts.

In a distance blocked with fire and darkness, more shifting than an ocean of burning oil, the metal structure of a crane whirled slowly on its axis.

Obliquely, an immense black cannon placed its conical profile between earth and sky, spat flames and receded along its carriage, and a long whistle crossed the atmosphere with a steel cylinder.

Beneath a red moon, blocked by vermillion skyscrapers, the multitude let out a cry of fright:

--We don’t want war! No…, no…, no!...

This time they understood that the fire had broken out across the entire planet, and nobody would be saved.

16 February 2009

Arlt and his red moon (an introduction)

From my understanding, Roberto Arlt is considered an important figure in Latin American (particularly Argentine) literature but is not widely known outside that realm. Of all his works, only two--The Seven Madmen and The Mad Toy--have been translated. (Curiously, Los Siete Locos is only half of a story; that Los Lanzallamas, the second half of the story, has not been translated must make for a frustrating experience for the non-Spanish speaker.)

He's not generally considered a fabulist, more a student of Dostoyevsky than Poe, but the realism in his work can feature such strange elements as to seem more surreal. The Seven Madmen, for example, features a terrorist named The Astrologer, who plans to set-up prostitution houses all across Argentina to fund building of poison gas factories with which to take down the government.

(And on a brief side note, I considered comparing Arlt to Lovecraft. They were both autodidacts and outsiders who crafted their own unique literary styles. Of course, Arlt was the offspring of immigrants and Lovecraft thought himself something of a blue-blood, but the contrast only makes things more interesting. Mostly, though, I think I was pondering some mash-up tale where El Astrologo gets his hands on that Necronomicon in the UBA library. I'll leave it at that, though a little more on HPL later...)

As far as I can tell, his short stories have sadly not been translated. I first discovered "La Luna Roja" in a small collection of his short stories. From what I understand, it's a characteristically fantastic story for him, but one whose atmosphere of dread is quite palpable. The story moves from a somewhat mocking view of the city to a few strange incidents. People are out on the streets walking, though its unclear to where, in a way reminiscent of the prose poem Nyarlathotep. I won't reveal the end, since you'll have the opportunity to read it for yourself.

So, here I present my translation. I won't claim it's particularly good, since I don't really have much experience in this. On top of that, I found Arlt's Spanish somewhat idiosyncratic, probably not the kind of thing for a beginner to translate while trying to preserve both tone and coherence.

One last note: I'm not really sure about the legal status of this translation. Since Arlt's short fiction is up on the web, I figured that at worst it's technically a violation but one that's not being enforced. (Incidentally, you can find his stories here and the original to this story here.)

So, to follow is The Red Moon. I hope that I've done it justice.

12 February 2009

Kali, Lovecraft, and Simmons (not Richard or Gene)

For a more straightforward review of Song of Kali, check the 999 Challenge Blog.

As I mentioned before, my first encounter with Kali came when I was learning about Thuggee to write a roleplaying campaign. Since the Illuminatus! Trilogy (which I was drawing on) featured Satanism, I figured I had found my perfect devil stand-in. I knew that drawing an equivalence between Kali and Satan was rather silly, but I figured 90% of 19th century Europeans wouldn't sweat the difference, so if the Satanists turned out to be Kali worshippers, it would make some degree of sense. (At least within the sort of paranoid, over-determined world of conspiracy theories.)

So, the concept that portrayals of Kali and Kali worshippers in the Western media have been a little on the unfair side has never been surprising to me. I'm not faulting Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom here, whatever its shortcomings as a movie. Since Indiana Jones is an homage to 1930s adventure serials, it seems fair that it relies on some rather archaic or incoherent portrayals of India and Hinduism.

In my review of Song of Kali, I mentioned Dan Simmons verging on racism (or Eurocentrism or Orientalism or whatever you want to call it) and felt that deserved a little more explanation. I am, however, going to veer off a little into some thoughts regarding the horror/spiritual nature of the Goddess Kali.

Because what surprised me on my recent read of the novel was that despite the amount of research that Simmons put into the novel (judging by the collection of facts and quotes) he seems to stick with a one-sided, dated portrayal of Kali. Kali is a fairly rich figure, one whose appearance and attributes vary quite a bit depending on the nature of the devotee. (I recommend David Kinsley's work, such as this essay.)

Not that this makes Kali unsuitable as the bogeyman in a horror story. In fact, I rather think there's some similarities between the sort of spiritual reality that Kali implies and some of Lovecraft's fiction. Quoting Kinsley in Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine:

There is an insistence in Hinduism that the world as it appears to us is a show, that there remains hidden from our normal view an aspect of reality that is... shockingly different from our ego-centered way of apprehending it.

The Mahavidyas... are awakeners, visions of the divine that challenge comfortable and comforting fantasies about the way things are in the world.

Based on that quote, I'd say the biggest distinction between the above and the sort of truth presented in Lovecraft's fiction is that the Tantrica believes that it's ultimately positive to see reality as it is, whereas nothing good ever comes in an HPL story from learning the truth. But ultimately, whether you're gazing on Kali or Cthulhu, I would argue, you're going to get a big batch of truth that is going to unsettle you.

Simmons opts for a simpler portrayal, where Kali alone embodies "the dark underside of an essentially benign universe" (emphasis mine) and "the focus and residue of all the atavistic urges and actions which ten thousand years of conscious strivings had hoped to put behind." Kali here doesn't represent uncomfortable but necessary truths (as in Tantra) or even terrifying but unavoidable truths (as she would if she were a Cthulhvian figure) but a straightforward adversary, the personification of everything we would be better off without but sadly can't entirely eradicate. (Towards the end of the novel, the protagonist begins referring to her as "that bitch," which pretty much sums up the reductionist view presented.)

Of course, if it was only the portrayal of Kali, it might be a missed opportunity but hardly racist. However, Simmons seems to use Kali as a stand-in for Indianness, its primitiveness and barbarity. In its horror aspect, the novel sometimes channels Lovecraft, both for its atmospheric settings and in its notion of non-Euclidean spaces. Unfortunately, it also seems to channel Lovecraft's distaste towards teeming hordes of brown people. In setting up the battle lines between good and evil, Simmons makes it clear that Indian culture stands on the wrong side.

Early on, the protagonist contrasts his wife Amrita's memories of India as a place of "cluttered cheapness of everything" with their current home, which is "as clean and open as a Scandinavian designer's dreams, all gleaming bare wood, comfortable modular seating, immaculately white walls, and works of art illuminated by recessed lighting."*

This contrast of the Western, orderly and good with the Indian, chaotic and bad reaches its peak intellectually about halfway through the novel. The protagonist is sitting down for tea with an Indian writer, who browbeats him into accepting that his horror at the poverty and squalor of Calcutta are do to his own Western prejudices. Then, Amrita, who is Indian-born but Western-educated, interrupts by arguing that Indian culture is utterly dysfunctional. Hers is the last argument. The Indian author has no further arguments, at least none that are shown.

One other detail is worth mentioning in why I think the novel presents an unfair picture of India. Simmons starts each chapter with a short epigraph. Most of these are from Indian sources, often describing the horror of Calcutta. But once the worst tragedy takes place and the survivors must move on and find redemption, the epigraphs switch over to Yeats. This coincides with the image of a terrible and degrading India which can only be escaped in the safe and orderly ways of the civilized West.

Alone, one of these elements--the reduction of Kali to bogeyman, the portrayal of Calcutta as fundamentally horrifying, the arguments about Indian culture, the shift of poetic sources--wouldn't make me think that Simmons is working from his own prejudices. But they consistently create an impression of India and Indian culture as backwards and brutal, something to be avoided, as contrasted with the humanistic, orderly ways of the West.

I'm not really looking to castigate Simmons for his politics, just elaborate on an aspect of the novel that made me uncomfortable. I'd be curious to hear from anyone with any thoughts, even if it's just to call me a PC thug.

*I was surprised at the extent to which reading this description of their house brought out my inner Tyler Durden. Was this image of smug first-world wealth meant to make the principals sympathetic, and if so, why did it so make me want to see them taken down a notch?