Friday, April 30, 2010

Bordentown: The City at Dusk

As you may know, I live in an actual city on the physical face of the Earth. I say 'city' because it's incorporated as a city, but in reality it has 3,953 people, covers only one square mile, and in general bears more resemblance to either an East-Coast St Petersburg or a less screwed-up Arkham than to Boston, Philadelphia, or New York. It's called Bordentown and it's in central New Jersey, on the Delaware River just south of Trenton, the state capital, facing a very beautiful part of Pennsylvania called Bucks County.

For those whose experience of New Jersey is limited to the Chemical Coast or the shore points where hypodermic needles come in with the tide, it may surprise you to know that the 'Garden State' nickname is not entirely a lie. While I am a New England boy born and bred, and will be returning to college in New England soon if all goes well, I do have to stick up for, if not New Jersey, at least Bordentown, which I really do love living in. If only it could be magically moved from beside the Delaware River to beside the Connecticut--say, where Turners Falls is now--I could quite contentedly spend the rest of my life here.

Here are some pictures, a series tentatively titled 'The City at Dusk'.

At least it's not the infamous Afghanistan strategy chart

(Click to enlarge)

This sprawling chart I drew for my mother in an attempt to give her a brief lesson in the history and subgenera of fantasy, mainly literature but also venturing slightly into your more screen-based storytelling media. She thinks that I should make a project out of this, go into more detail, maybe address more sci-fi and horror, end up with something like Jack Black's (the character had a name, but all Jack Black characters are really Jack Black) chart of rock history in School of Rock.

I'd like to do this, but what do you guys think? Is anybody angry because I listed Vonnegut as a sort of urban fantasy? Should I have downplayed the link between Edgar Rice Burroughs and C.S. Lewis? Am I evil for focussing too much on the English language? Are my 'antecedents' completely off-base.

Come into my world I want to know what you people think!!!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Public Service Announcement: Anthony H. Chambers's translation of Arrowroot

It has come to my attention that Anthony H. Chambers's translation of Arrowroot, by the great Japanese author (and beloved of my literary heart) Tanizaki Jun'ichiro, falls prey to the common modern Western temptation of downplaying supernatural elements in Japanese literature due to cultural unfamiliarity with how it works. While I can understand the desire to make the work more 'accessible' (whatever that's supposed to mean nowadays) to readers in countries where it isn't generally assumed that foxes can take human form and have genetically normal human children (which unless I'm gravely mistaken is currently pretty much every country other than Japan), I feel that IF YOU CAN'T HANDLE JAPANESE FOLKLORE, YOU SHOULD NOT BE IN THE BUSINESS OF TRANSLATING JAPANESE LITERATURE OR TEACHING IT TO IMPRESSIONABLE YOUTH. Even at a school like Arizona State, which is apparently where Chambers teaches.


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Blindness of heart, pride, vainglory, and hypocrisy, oh my!

An Open Letter to Richard Dawkins

Dear Sir,

I note, with some dismay, that your book The God Delusion has sold many millions of copies worldwide and won some critical acclaim. I say ‘dismay’ not because of any ill-will towards you personally; while my outlook on your personality is rather dim given what I know, I am the first to admit that it’s hard to judge the character of somebody with whom one has never interacted from three thousand miles away. Indeed, I wish you personally the very best, as far as that goes.

I say ‘dismay’ rather because—and I think you’ll agree with me on this conclusion, though obviously not on the reasoning—in my view your book’s considerable success is a symptom of astounding philosophical illiteracy in our society.

Monday, April 26, 2010

National Poetry Month

The village has disappeared in the evening mist
And the path is hard to follow.
Walking through the pines,
I return to my lonely hut. 
The rain has stopped, the clouds have drifted away, and the sky is clear again.
If your heart is pure, then all things in your world are pure.
Abandon this fleeting world, abandon yourself,
Then the moon and flowers will guide you along the Way.
--Ryokan Taigu

Ryokan was a monk who left his monastery after a many years, when the master died. He was offered the abbot's seat, but instead went on a pilgrimage wandering all over Japan. In his middle age, he came back to his native village, and spent the rest of his life there, living in a cottage in the mountains. He meditated, danced for food, played games with local children and geishas, and composed spontaneous poems. In his old age, he met a nun named Teishin, and they fell in love. They exchanged many poems.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Does Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who pass the Bechdel Test?

So far, ‘Moff Time’, the most recent season of the staggeringly long-running British science-fiction series Doctor Who now run by Steven Moffat, has had four episodes: ‘The Eleventh Hour’, ‘The Beast Below’, ‘Victory of the Daleks’, and ‘The Time of Angels’. When Moffat took over from Russell T Davies, there were some concerns raised about Moffat’s gender politics and competence writing female characters. Moffat got his start with the children’s drama Press Gang in the early nineties and then moved into broad, mediocre sex comedies before finding his true calling: scaring the everloving crap out of the younger generation of the United Kingdom. This history, plus some unfortunate statements that he’s made in interviews, gave rise to a legitimate concern that his tenure on Doctor Who would have far more problems with gender politics than Davies did. Since Davies had already racked up an astounding track record of genderfail in his own right, this was seen as a huge, huge potential problem, particularly since the show revolves around the dynamic between a sequence of mostly-female characters and an extremely powerful male character, the Doctor.

With these concerns in mind, I think that a good way to gauge Moff Time so far is to apply the Bechdel Test, a series of criteria enumerated by the lesbian cartoonist Alison Bechdel. For a work to pass the Bechdel Test, it has to (1) have multiple female characters who (2) talk to one another about (3) something other than a male character. I’m not going to sift back through the entire history of Doctor Who gauging the series’ entire forty-seven-year history and then comparing it to the last four episodes. That would take too long, although I can say off the top of my head that the 1963-5 run with William Hartnell, Carole Ann Ford, William Russell, and Jacqueline Hill produced by Verity Lambert and the 1987-9 run with Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred produced by John Nathan Turner had pretty good Bechdel Test scores and the 1971-3 run with Jon Pertwee, Nicholas Courtney, Katy Manning, and Roger Delgado produced by Barry Letts had pretty poor ones. The Hartnell-Lambert period benefited from having two female leads, the McCoy-Turner period benefited from having a companion who coded as lesbian, and the Pertwee-Letts period suffered from having a relatively large cast of dynamic male characters and only one prominent female one.

Not to be taken especially seriously.

Oh, Szymon Wyrda. The post-Polish Idol years have not been kind to you.

Szymon Wyrda, for those poor benighted souls who have yet to bask in his unparalleled beauty, was a runner-up in Idol’s first season back in 2002. He is a vocalist and poet with some genuine talent and an ego approximately the same size that his country became after King Jadwiga married Grand Duke Jagiełło of Lithuania.

In a recent interview Mr Wyrda made very explicit his opinions on legal issues of copyright as they relate to a Web-dominated age. His views, perhaps a bit surprisingly given the well-documented tension that often exists between creators and publishers in matters of copy and patent, are intensely in favour of continued protectionism on the part of the industry. ‘Music piracy’, Wyrda said, ‘is more evil than killing people with a gun.’

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Between the Squirrel and the Convenience Store: Williams Atonement

Dear reader, I am currently a little over halfway through Charles Williams's novel Descent into Hell, which means that I've just got past the chapter titled 'The Doctrine of Substituted Love'. This chapter, and the idea to which its title refers, are rightly among the most famous aspects of Williams's thought (though, as with all things that involve 'Charles Williams' and 'fame', this is a relative superlative).

In the book, the Doctrine of Substituted Love works like this (WARNING: Spoilers for a book published in the 1930s): Peter Stanhope, the author of a play in which young Pauline Anstruther is performing in the role of a tree, takes her aside and asks her what is always bothering her during rehearsals. She tells him about her doppelgänger, which she constantly lives in fear of meeting in the street and which she has seen many times since her childhood. Stanhope then tells Pauline that he will be afraid of her doppelgänger, and thus she need not be. Pauline doesn't understand what this means and so Stanhope invokes Galatians 6.2: Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. The scene reads, in part, as follows:

Arakawa Under the Bridge: First post with actual content

If comedy is supposed to be about taking human misery and tragedy and glorifying and healing it by making it a source of relatively guilt-free joy and pleasure, it was only a matter of time until a romantic comedy in which one of the principals is an insane homeless woman who lives under a bridge showed up. Arakawa Under the Bridge, the latest anime from director Shinbou Akiyuki, is that romantic comedy.

First poast

This is a first post!

If you are able to access this you either know me from somewhere else and have followed a link that I gave you or you have stumbled here inadvertently somehow. If you fall into the former category I'd appreciate some indication as to what sort of things you'd like to see me talk about. Obviously I'm going to be talking about books a lot, and about the world a lot, but I can get more or less specific because I'm not doing this for some sort of onanistic self-gratification but because there are apparently people who wanted me to get a blog and care about what I have to say about stuff.

Currently I have the following things on my table:
  • Finish reading Descent into Hell and read the other Charles Williams novels that I have.
  • Read the following books for my current writing project, because I actually bother to do research: Popol Vuh, Atlas of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, The Media Relations Department of Hizbollah Wishes You a Happy Birthday, The Sacred Scriptures of the Japanese (Post Wheeler's attempt at translating the Kojiki), The Hopi Survival Guide, Journey to Ixtlan.
  • Give some serious thought to starting the Unabridged Fucking Genji (hereinafter UFG) that I have.
  • Do more painting.
  • Continue watching Arakawa Under the Bridge and wondering whether I'm supposed to feel bad about myself for this.
  • Keep trying to get people into Kara no Kyoukai, Simoun, and Doctor Who.
Here we go!