Saturday, May 29, 2010

Sorry I've not posted anything in a while!

Have some Desultory Words of Poesy from me.

Solomon Foot of Middlebury
Steered the incorporate body to be free
Through racketing clamour and dreadful din
During the war, the wages of sin.
He taught me, hair white as proverbial ghosts
To reckon with, grapple with, hellish hosts.
The grey photographer, midst the dead
With his kit of ministerial red
Wafts peripatetically there to here
‘Two bombings we will have this year’.
The queen in fine pink, porphyry
Like a corpse beneath a cherry tree
Laughed a mad little laugh with a damasked tone
Deserting Cincinnaty the throne
Perched in the rafter of John Adams’s barn
On the holy isle of Lindisfarne.
Lin Tai Yu the vermillion pearl
Indolent in the sacred whirl
Ceremonial yet profane
Decanted the ichors from her brain...

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Short story: A Crazy Tale by G.K. Chesterton

G.K. Chesterton is a writer who I like a lot. I don't have quite as much fondness for him as I do for some other writers we could name, but I really enjoy a lot of his work and I think he was a pretty cool guy.

'A Crazy Tale' is a short story in which a young man, seemingly at random, begins telling a story that begins with him walking in a green void (before which he has no memories) and continues through a patchwork landscape of Biblical references, ideas and places from English folklore going back to the pre-Christian period, shout-outs to Lewis Carroll and Mother Goose, and vivid descriptions of pure shape and colour that in retrospect seem to bear a resemblance to how some autistic children view the world.

'With the giant was a woman. When I saw her something stirred within me lie the memory of a previous existence....Instead of killing me, the giant and giantess fed me and tended me like servants. I began to undrestand that in that lost epic of adventures which led up to the greatest event of my life, I must have done some great service for these good people....
'A new and dreadful fancy had me by the throat. The woman was smaller than before. The house was smaller: the ceiling was nearer. Heaven and earth, even to the remotest star, were closing in to crush me. The next moment I had realised the truth, fled from the house, and plunged into the thickets like a thing posssessed....I was growing larger and larger whether I would or no. I rolled in the gravel, revolving wild guesses as to whether I should grow to fill the sky, a giant with my head in heaven, bewildered among the golden plumage of Cherubim. This, as a matter of fact, I never did....
'Within a few feet of me was kneeling one of my own size, a little girl with big blue eyes and hair black as crows. The landscape behind her was the same in every hedge and tree that I had left; yet I felt sure I had come into a new world....
''They say you are the mad boy,' she said, 'who stares at everything. But I think I like them mad.''

And so on, until the last lines, spoken by the story's narrator and not by the young man telling the crazy tale in question:

'It occurred to me that the man was mad. I am almost ashamed to admit with what suddenness it came. For so long as I was in his presence, I had believed him and his whole attitude to be sane, normal, complete, and that it was the rest, the whole human race, that were half-witted, since the making of the word.'

So yeah. READ IT.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Why the hell am I even posting this? It's embarrassing that I spent so much time on something that can be very easily researched.

Although Christianity is the largest religion in the world, only about one out of three humans describes him- or herself as Christian. It thus follows that potentially two out of three or more are confused as to what it’s all about.

Key concepts

The Bible. The Christian holy text is called the Holy Bible. It is divided into the Old and New Testaments, which are further divided into between sixty-six and eighty Books, depending upon what branch of Christianity one is looking at. The Old Testament, also called the Hebrew Bible, is also a holy text of Judaism; the New Testament, also called the Christian or Grecian Bible, is unique to Christianity. For the first few centuries of Christian history the content of the Bible was in flux; since the fourth century, when Christianity became an official religion of the Roman Empire, the content of the New Testament has been a constant of twenty-nine Books and the content of the Old Testament has only varied slightly between denominations, with thirty-seven Books accepted by all as canonical. The Holy Bible was written from approximately 700 BCE to approximately 100 CE.
Theism. Theism, the belief in the existence of God, should need no explanation. It is the fundamental concept of Christianity, most strains of which subscribe to a form of pluriform monotheism. The doctrine of the Trinity states that God is three persons—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit-who-used-to-be-a-Ghost (subsequently I'll use the term 'Holy Ghost' because I like it better)—but one being. The expression of the doctrine used the Athanasian Creed (a Creed in use by the Catholic Church and widely accepted among liturgical Protestants) is:

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

My favourite books

The Makioka Sisters
Tanizaki Jun'ichirou
A slice-of-life tale similar in concept to a Jane Austen novel but in execution to a progressively-darkening Seinfeld. Tanizaki takes events such as one of the title characters playing with a rabbit's floppy ear, the family going out for sushi, a woman standing in the rain looking out over the sea following her mother's death, and a summer firefly hunt in which one of the participants has a stomach ailment and describes them with some of the most beautiful, imagistic, compassionate language in all of literature.

The Lord of the Rings
J.R.R. Tolkien
Unfortunately, the thing that makes The Lord of the Rings such a great and important work is also the thing that can make it so hard to read. Tolkien was the first major figure in literature to try to create an entirely separate, fictional universe from first principles, and thus had to frequently stop and explain what he was doing rather than focussing on plot or character moments. Enjoyment is thus highly contingent on ability to appreciate Tolkien's world-building. I, as it happens, have appreciation aplenty...

Have His Carcase, Murder Must Advertise, The Nine Tailors, and Gaudy Night
Dorothy L. Sayers
Technically these are the seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth in a series of eleven books featuring Sayers's singular creation Lord Peter Wimsey, but I'm specifying them because they are the emotional and thematic heart of Sayers's body of work, which is itself in a very real sense the emotional and thematic heart of all mystery literature. In that they actually have emotions and themes, which is more than can be said of many of the colder, almost mathematical works of the same period.

Taliessin through Logres
Charles Williams

Tanizaki Jun'ichirou

Dag Hammarskjöld

Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable

Sparkling Rain

Hana Monogatari
Yoshiya Nobuko

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Susanna Clarke

Kara no Kyoukai
Nasu Kinoko

Jorge Luis Borges

Till We Have Faces
C.S. Lewis



Saturday, May 15, 2010

A Guide to Simoun for the Confused and Perplexed

Nam Sibyllam quidem Cumis ego ipse oculis meis vidi in ampulla pendere, et cum illi pueri dicerent: Σίβιλλα τί θέλεις; respondebat illa: άποθανεϊν θέλω. –Trimalchio, from Petronius’ Satyricon.

Simoun can seem a world of gorgeous roses, then suddenly there is the stench of blood. –Nazuka Kaori (‘Yun’).

‘What I saw was terrible. It destroyed everything I believed in and everything I held dear to my heart. But that’s not what I’m afraid of.'
'Then what?'
'What I saw beyond the horror; that’s what I’m afraid of.’
‘What is it?’
‘Hope.’ –Dominura and Limone.

Simoun: genre: drama, planetary fantasy, romance; themes: transgender, religion, war

Welcome to 633 Squadron meets The Left Hand of Darkness.

On the advice of several people who are familiar with my tastes in media (a vague group that is responsible for a lot of the crazy things that I do), I have watched, and am going to analyse, a show called Simoun.
            Simoun first aired in Japan in 2006. It was noted very quickly in both Japan and the West for its intricate dissection of gendered society, as well as its incredibly thick plot, which grows organically from the characters and their morality, environmentalism, spirituality, religious fanaticism, personal hang-ups, political leanings, and social standings.


There is a world in which the standards for artistic and literary output are much higher. In this world modern writers like Neal Stephenson are considered mainstream trash. Twilight is considered so far below even pulp standards as to be unworthy of mentioning; Breaking Dawn topped at seventy-first on the New York Times bestseller chart; during the same week The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana spent its record hundred and tenth consecutive week atop said chart.
            Joel Schumacher’s film career ended after Batman & Robin, so Kinuyo Tanaka directed The Phantom of the Opera—which was her last movie before her death at the age of ninety-five the next year. Her state funeral in Tokyo was watched by a hundred million people worldwide. Phantom was a Sondheim musical. Sondheim’s generally considered one of the low-end-of-mainstream people in theatre, but that’s considered probably his finest work. Andrew Lloyd Webber got shitcanned from the musical theatre industry in the 1990s; he’s considered a one-hit wonder because of Cats.
            Britney Spears is another one-hit wonder because of ‘Toxic’ and is fading gracefully into relative obscurity, though ‘Toxic’ might be the next big Internet –roll phenomenon. Snow Patrol, Ryan Adams, The Decembrists, Franz Ferdinand, and The Killers are all extremely popular and a little overplayed. Pretentious indie people tend to be Kajiura Yuki fans. Noir was dubbed very well, aired on prime-time US television in 2002, and became the most popular foreign TV show of all time in America.
            Don’t forget that Invader Zim lasted for six seasons and is still immensely popular in syndication, Shinkai Makoto’s movies get big North American releases, Richard Dawkins’s forays into religious studies were met with schadenfreudean laughter from all quarters, Joss Whedon had the good sense to end Buffy the Vampire Slayer after four seasons and palmed off Firefly to another creative team after his juice ran out midway through Season Three, and Shark Attack 3: Megalodon is considered so bad as to be practically from another universe and worth preserving for that alone.
            After the outcry following the poor writing of ‘Doomsday’ Russell T Davies stepped down from his post at Doctor Who. The fourth season of the revived series (thirtieth overall) was the much-loved, instant-classic ‘Return of Gallifrey’ story arc penned mainly by Gary Russell, P.J. Hammond (whose enduring classic Sapphire and Steel ran for a hundred and fifty-one episodes in thirty-five serials over the course of eleven years), and Doris Lessing. The script for ‘Love & Monsters’ was considered too terrible for even Davies to use (even by him, who wrote it on a bender) and was replaced with a brilliant deconstructive exercise by A.S. Byatt.

I think I’m going to go cry into a bucket of ice cream now.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Let's Eviscerate Joss Whedon!

Joss Whedon is one of those popular writers we sometimes talk about.

He’s a television writer, mainly, famous for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, and Dollhouse. He’s an object of veneration for much of geekdom due to his Tarantinoesque knowledge of things like comics, television history (he’s a third-generation television person), and fantasy, his tendency to get screwed over by the Fox network on an alarmingly regular basis, and his general affability and accessibility as compared to a lot of other writers of cult television (I’m looking at you, Russell T. Davies).

And all of these things, especially the last, are admirable. He seems like a great guy. That being said, however, he is one of those writers who I am tired of people expecting me to like just because I like Doctor Who and anime and fantasy and superheroes, because I just don’t think a lot of his work is actually very good. For this reason, he is a rare slice of prime fodder for the first instalment in what will be my ongoing series, Let’s Eviscerate Overrated Writers.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Why Paradise Lost is so beautiful (one and a half of many reasons)

The reasons why Paradise Lost is such a beautiful piece of literature are many but, to be quite frank, have in my view been grossly misrepresented and twisted over the centuries. Blake famously said that Milton was 'of the Devil's party without knowing it', because Blake was one of those people who assumed that any depiction of the Devil as anything more complex than an unremittingly disgusting psycho killer (like the genuinely terrifying Un-Man in Lewis's Perelandra) automatically meant that the author intended the reader's sympathies to be drawn.

The beauty of Milton's Devil is that he is a hateful and horrifying figure without being the sort of over-the-top mad evil idiot so common in mediaeval art and mystery plays--the tradition where St Dunstan or St Dominic can trick him into doing household chores or pinch his nose with a pair of pliers like the Three Stooges. Real-life sociopaths and borderlines are not immediately or easily identifiable as such. The beauty of Adam and Eve is that they aren't idiots and their actions are understandable and even, yes, sympathetic--but still not portrayed as right. John Milton, unlike many great poets, actually understood how people work. The man was Oliver Cromwell's private secretary and involved in many of the great upheavals of seventeenth-century England, on at least two different sides (the parliamentarians early on and the moderate restorationists later).

The beauty of the writing has to do with Milton's mastery of English blank verse--a mastery which, speaking purely mathematically, surpasses Shakespeare's. Milton's style in Paradise Lost is a lot more formal than Shakespeare's usually is. But such formality may go unnoticed, may even put some people off. There is (or, at least, should be) nothing controversial about writing characters in an interesting way that actually makes sense.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Okay, fine, here's a poem.

A Prose Poem Written from the Perspective of the Grapes Being Squeezed by Jesus in Juan Correa’s Allegory of the Sacrament

I am aware that my only
Purpose here is to serve quietly
Allegorically as servant
Humbly for the sacrament
In agony, in blood, in tears
For the mystery of Eucharist
And with this I’m at peace.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Divine Comedy translation.

This is just my own little attempt at translating the first few stanzas of the Divine Comedy. For terza rima, the noblest Italian poetic form, I've substituted blankverse iambic pentameter, the noblest English poetic form. Enjoy!


Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura
ché la diritta via era smarrita.

Ahi quanto a dir qual era è cosa dura
esta selva selvaggia e aspra e forte
che nel pensier rinova la paura!

Tant’è amara che poco è più morte;
ma per trattar del ben ch’i’ vi trovai,
dirò de l’altre cose ch’i’ v’ho scorte.

Io non so ben ridir com’i’ v’intrai,
tant’era pien di sonno a quel punto
che la verace via abbandonai.

Ma poi ch'i' fui al piè d'un colle giunto,
là dove terminava quella valle
che m'avea di paura il cor compunto,

guardai in alto, e vidi le sue spalle
vestite già de' raggi del planeta
che mena dritto altrui per ogne calle.



Halfway upon the pathway of our life
I found myself within a dusky wood
Where the straight road had been utterly lost.

Oh, how difficult for me to say
What this wood was, wild, furious, raw,
Whose very memory renews my fear!

It was so bitter death scarce more could be;
But as some good too came of this, therefore
Shall I speak of what I found therein.

I have no memory of my entry there there,
So weary, dreary, was I at the moment
That I abandoned the straightforward way.

But after I reached the mountain’s root
Where the dreadful valley had its end
Which with fear had pierced my heart full through

I looked up, and upon its shoulders saw
Them vested with the cloak of the planet’s rays
Which guide the others right on every road.

Later, hopefully to-morrow, I'll do a post about 'Why Paradise Lost Is So Beautiful'. Hint: it's because John Milton is the baddest sunuvabitch in post-Renaissance literature. Dude's rhymes were so dope, as somebody who is decidedly not me might say.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Music gush!

Ralph Vaughan Williams (the Vaughan was part of his surname, not a given name) was born in Gloucestershire in 1872 and lived the life of the idle rich (he was a descendant of the Wedgwood and Darwin families) until suddenly in his mid-twenties he decided to go to Paris to study under Maurice Ravel. This was an unusual decision to make for a number of reasons, not least of which was that Ravel was twenty-two years old and thus wouldn't normally have been in a position to teach anyone anything. It was Vaughan Williams who saw potential in Ravel as a teacher, not Ravel who saw potential in Vaughan Williams as a student! Classical music at this point (1897 to 1899) was dominated by the legacy of the recently-deceased Tchaikovsky, who Ravel and Vaughan Williams hero-worshipped. The two of them basically inaugurated an outgrowth of the Romantics called the Pastorals that went back into the furthest reaches of Renaissance music--figures like the troubadours of France, minnesingers of Germany, and Tallis and Dowland of England--and created something that combined their favourite aspects of the Romantic period, the Middle Ages, contemporary rural life and song, European folk music, and the last five minutes of Haydn's Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra in E-Flat Major.

Vaughan Williams returned to England and began composing on his own, first producing incidental music for a Cambridge production of Aristophenes's The Wasps in 1909. This was more controversial than most incidental music for plays, to say the least, for the following reasons:

Monday, May 3, 2010

Descent into Casting Hell: Worst Production Decisions Ever

So, having nearly finished Charles Williams's seminal novel Descent into Hell, I think it's time to sit back and take stock of what I've learned.

  1. I've learned a new gauge for deciding what action to take with regards to the world at large: revolt, obey, compromise, or deceive.
  2. I've learned about the Doctrine of Substituted Love, which makes more sense than most Atonement doctrines that people actually think out beforehand.
  3. I've learned that homosexuals are capable of speech. No, seriously, at one point Peter Stanhope says 'Men can be in love with men, and women with women, and still be in love and make sounds and speeches.' It's metaphorical, and actually very progressive within that metaphor, but there you have it.
  4. I've learned some of how a community theatre works, or at least how it worked seventy-five years ago.
  5. I've learned that Lawrence Wentworth is really an incredibly unsympathetic and boring character.
  6. Most of all, I've learned that the BEST CAST EVER (Trust Me On This) for a movie option to this story is (drumroll, please):

If you can survive here, you can survive anywhere.

            SITUATION ONE
            You’re in a cave, through which a river of lava runs. In the river is a flame-retardant crocodile. On the far side is an enraged grizzly. A narrow bridge connects the grizzly’s side of the lava with your own. A sniper is at the mouth of the cave. Due to convexion, the air in the chamber will scald you alive in ten minutes’ time. You are naked, but you have a flashlight, a half-litre bottle of Fresca, and a shotgun with two rounds but no powder. How do you escape from the cave?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Short Story: 'Speaking'

For the memory of Kawabata Yasunari, written on the occasion of the thirty-eighth anniversary of his death

by Nathan Turowsky

            Lady Cranch set down her glasses, yawned, and rubbed her eyes. This was very trying for her. Nana was important to her. It was always, perhaps, unfortunate when this happened; personally unfortunate even for those who did not personally know the afflicted, for the misfortune piled like a coastal shelf and spread across the galaxy from farthest Perseus to farther Crux-Scutum. This, however, was more than she wanted to handle.
            She supposed it was one of the worse aspects of growing older, losing friends to these afflictions. She was ninety-seven years old, going on ninety-eight. Along with her thick black hair going thin and grey, and her joints getting all sticky, and the occasionally itchy bionic implants to replace parts of her withered hands and feet, and the necessity of a cane despite the painful and annoying bone-reinforcement treatments that she went in for twice a week, she was losing those closest to her. Losing parents was painful. Losing friends was in some ways even more painful, because one does not consider a friend an elder. It was entirely possible, of course, for a friend to in fact be an elder—indeed, Nana was about a year older than her—but ‘parent’ as a category was fundamentally related to the set ‘elder’; ‘friend’ was not, and it became painful at this point to think of such people suffering…this.
            ‘If your friend is suffering, it’s best not to just sigh, Rosy,’ said the man standing behind her gently.