Twisted by Jessica Zafra – Pumping irony since 1994

How a shut-in became Marcel Proust. If you’ve been trying to write a novel for years, this is a comforting read.

May 23, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Books


“It All Comes Together”
How did Marcel Proust become a great writer?
By Roland Barthes

What is at play in this change is, as I see it, the following: all Proust’s writings preceding A la recherche are, to some degree, fragmentary and short—short stories, articles, scraps of texts. One has the impression that the ingredients are present (as we say in cooking), but the operation that’s going to transform them into a dish hasn’t yet taken place: it’s “not quite there.” And then, suddenly (in September 1909), “it all comes together”: the mayonnaise thickens and it’s just a question of gradually producing more and more. Moreover, Proust increasingly works with a technique of “adding in”: he is constantly reinfusing food into this organism which now begins to thrive because it is well set up. The physical writing itself changes: admittedly, Proust always wrote “at the gallop,” as he put it (and that manual rhythm is perhaps not unrelated to the movement of his sentences), but at the point when A la recherche takes off, the writing changes: it “tightens,” “becomes more complex,” and overflows now with energetic emendations. To sum up, a kind of alchemical operation occurred within Proust during that month of September which transmuted the essay into a novel and a short, discontinuous thing into a long, sustained, and fully formed one.

Read the Barthes essay at Lapham’s Quarterly.

Better Call Saul Season 2: Jimmy tries to think inside the box, kicks through the box.

May 21, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Television


Jimmy is a master of the shortcut, the quick fix, thinking outside the box. The problem is that the law, by definition, is a box. Resourcefulness and inventiveness, the qualities that make him a good lawyer, are the same qualities that can get him disbarred. But Jimmy gives the legal profession a serious try, actually landing a cushy job that gives him corporate housing, a car plan (Heart-rending moment when he says goodbye to his crappy old jalopy) and on a whim, a cocobolo desk. He does it for a girl. Inside that sleaze is a romantic who wants to be a better man in order to deserve the woman.

Read my TV column The Binge at BusinessWorld.


May 20, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Books


X-Men: Apocalypse is expressionism, with mutants

May 18, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Movies


What else can you do with the superhero movie? The Russo Brothers made a 1970s-style conspiracy thriller (Captain America: Winter Soldier), then an excellent fight movie that was really about friendship (Captain America: Civil War). (And friendship is worth fighting for, even more than money or power.) Bryan Singer has made a movie that recalls the German expressionist classic, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. With mutants. An excellent stylistic choice, because how else are you going to portray telepathy? Voice-overs get tiresome after a while.

Cerebro looks like this image from Metropolitan

Major roles in the X-Men series have been recast, bringing the movies closer to the comics—hushed chorus of “It’s the Phoenix” from the next row. (They’re going to have to recast Wolverine soon, even if Logan is very old, if only to minimize the ick factor when the love triangle comes around.) Granted, any heavy in armor could’ve played Apocalypse, but Oscar Isaac continues his attempt to be in every movie ever made. The regulars—James McAvoy as Xavier, Michael Fassbender as Magneto, Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique, Nicholas Hoult as Beast—reunite to battle the world’s first mutant, who is disappointed with the state of humanity in the 1980s and plans to destroy everything and start over. I guess he saw the hairstyles. Evan Peters as Quicksilver gets another amusing music video, and a reverse Luke-and-Vader scenario.


Since the first X-Men adaptation, also directed by Singer, the history of the mutants has been conflated with the Shoah. The resonances are very loud in Apocalypse, where Magneto returns to Auschwitz. Erik, what makes you think you can pass for normal? Darling, we’re freaks.


Now What? (Or, It’s culture, stupid.)

May 17, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Current Events

Leo Abaya 3
Rigodon, an art installation by Leo Abaya showing the presidents of the Philippines as players on a chessboard.

The people have spoken. Democracy has won. Why, then, have you fallen into this deep funk?

It is not simply that your candidates lost. In truth you were not that attached to them, but the options were limited. Over one hundred million Filipinos, and that is the prime selection. But that’s a topic for another time.

You can easily get over your candidates losing. It’s harder to deal with the fact that many of your assumptions about your country, your colleagues, even your friends, are wrong. (By “friends” we mean the family you choose for yourself, and not the millions you interact with in the social media.) You thought you agreed on basic principles—human rights, women’s rights, etc. It turns out that these may be set aside “for the greater good”. Are you so disconnected from your people that you do not understand this clamoring? Do you not understand your country?

Read my column at

“There is a brief time, between waking and sleep, when reality begins to warp.”

May 16, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Science

Spread from Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Book

There is a brief time, between waking and sleep, when reality begins to warp. Rigid conscious thought starts to dissolve into the gently lapping waves of early stage dreaming and the world becomes a little more hallucinatory, your thoughts a little more untethered. Known as the hypnagogic state, it has received only erratic attention from researchers over the years, but a recent series of studies have renewed interest in this twilight period, with the hope it can reveal something fundamental about consciousness itself.

Traditionally, the hypnagogic state has been studied as part of the sleep disorder narcolepsy, where the brain’s inability to separate waking life and dreaming can result in terrifying hallucinations. But it’s also part of the normal transition into sleep, beginning when our mind is first affected by drowsiness and ending when we finally lose consciousness. It is brief and often slips by unnoticed, but consistent careful attention to your inner experience after you bed down can reveal an unfolding mindscape of curious sounds, abstract scenery, and tumbling thoughts. This meandering cognitive state results from what Cambridge University researcher Valdas Noreika calls a “natural fragmentation of consciousness” and the idea that this can be tracked over the early minutes of sleep entry is the basis of recent hypnagogia research.

Read The Trippy State Between Wakefulness and Sleep by Vaughan Bell in The Atlantic.

Here’s a clip from Michel Gondry’s The Science of Sleep starring Gael Garcia Bernal.