Monday, October 25, 2010

Red Leaf Travelling Blues

Red Leaf Travelling Blues
By Nathan Turowsky

Allowed by the conductor to get on the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority bus despite not having enough money and being at the very edge of the PVTA service area at best, they settled down into two isolated seats at the very back, their heads resting against the cold metal behind them as they listened to the power train’s almost maternal hum. They went through the fields south of Bernardston and down the old streets of Greenfield. Past there, they crossed the big river at Turners Falls, where it fell over the power-dam in triple cataracts. South of Sunderland they got off and looked down past Amherst to the distant humps of the Holyoke Range. The hills north of the Quabbin were blazing with foliage to the east beneath the morning sun.
            ‘So what’s new with you?’ asked one of them casually, clapping her hand down on her friend’s shoulder.
            Her friend cleared her throat and said ‘Not much. Not much.’
            ‘Oh, come on. I haven’t seen you in quite a while, you know, Mattie.’
            Mattie nodded and blushed and looked shyly down at her girly little black shoes. ‘Well…’ she said, and seized up. She looked up a little—only a little. Ellie was short enough that Mattie needed only to change her gaze a tick upwards for her face to come into the top edge of her vision. It was a pretty face, firmly round with heavily-lidded grey eyes and unevenly cut auburn hair falling down to either side. Ellie had a big forehead, which years ago she had self-consciously covered with bangs. She didn’t do this any more. She looked better with the forehead visible, Mattie thought.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Facts about Revolutionary Girl Utena.

David Lynch Ikuhara Kunihiko, the anime director, was also the leader and main creator of the Utena project, which was his personal response to the lack of creative freedom he had endured while working on Sailor Moon. Utena was his brainchild and had been from the beginning.

The manga artist, Danielle Steel Saito Chiho, joined the project as one of the last members to come aboard, and she and Ikuhara clashed on a lot of the elements he had always intended to include, including the lesbian themes. Ultimately, she did what she wanted with the manga, which by her own admission sought to be a more commercially viable, mainstream work.

The manga is basically alternate universe derivative fiction of the anime, which is the original creator, Ikuhara's, vision.

So if anybody uses Saito's manga to justify theories about Ikuhara's anime, they are DOING IT WRONG.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Importance of Being Russian-American.

My mother grew up in a conservative Italian and Polish Catholic enclave in Springfield, Massachusetts in the 1960s and by her account barely came out with her sanity intact. She did like many aspects of these cultures, as do I, but right now I’d like to talk a little about why she grew up in that milieu. It would, one might think, have been equally reasonable for her to have been raised Russian-American—especially since her parents had married in the 1930s and had their early batch of children, not including her, around Double-ya Double-ya Two.

Now this was a time of a great Communist icon standing in opposition to the Church and a great Christian icon standing in opposition to the Party: Josef Stalin and Mikhail Bulgakov.

Now ironically good old 'Uncle Joe' began life as a devout seminarian in a little religious college in Georgia where he wrote love poetry and was radicalised and dropped out to become a revolutionary. When he came to power a quarter of a century later many people often don’t realise that it was over the objections of a man who wanted an admittedly more moderate communist union to aggressively attack the countries around it, whereas Stalin was content with a hardline, but regional, hegemony—such was the double-bind of the Russian thing. And just before Stalin came to power a civil war had ended, in which the West supported well-meaning but brutal and potentially even more oppressive monarchists and democrats—the Whites, who fell as much to squabbling amongst themselves as they did to the Reds.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

I will beat Bobby Flay like a MAN.

Watch this.

Notice that it doesn't specify how one is to beat Bobby Flay, just that one is to beat him.

And since he describes making an omelet as a 'flambee', it's clear that he himself has a very fast-and-loose relationship with English semantics.

Therefore, I propose to beat Bobby Flay with pistols at dawn.


Reflections on Ugetsu Monogatari. The original book by Akinari.

My favourite stories in here were what are apparently the 'usual' ones: 'The Chrysanthemum Vow', 'The Reed-Choked House' (the basis for one subplot in Mizoguchi's excellent film), 'The Carp of My Dreams', and 'A Serpent's Lust' (the basis for another subplot in the film). 'The Kibitsu Cauldron', which is apparently another highly-regarded one, I didn't quite understand and will have to read again.

'The Reed-Choked House' has a feel and aesthetic very similar to that of the film in addition to very similar events occurring (though the potter is gone for longer and Miyagi dies of unclear causes), whereas 'A Serpent's Lust' is more lustily macabre, delves with more gusto into the demonic. The woman of the book's 'A Serpent's Lust' is named Manago, not Wakasa, and is a snake demon, not a ghost. The one thing that does not change is her sympathetic and tragic portrayal.

'The Chrysanthemum Vow' is about a gay samurai who is waylaid on his way to a tryst with his lover, a Confucian scholar. The samurai kills himself and then, as a ghost or zombie (it's not really clear which), goes back to see his lover after all. The scholar then plots his revenge against the men who wronged him. It is basically Dumas's great novel The Count of Brokeback Mountain and I liked it a lot.

'The Carp of My Dreams', which has nothing to do with anything in the film Ugetsu, is my personal favourite story. It's short and sweet. A painter-monk who has spent his life rendering exceptionally beautiful and accurate pictures of koi fish is transformed into one in a dream and undergoes a harrowing experience in a net and in a sushi cookery before awakening. After this he grants life to all of his paintings and allows them to swim freely in the ponds of his monastery.

Tales of Moonlight and Rain is a great book as well as a great movie and I would recommend the stories in it to anyone who is interested in Japanese literature or the forebears of modern fantasy.

One-Act Play: Exorcising Maxwell's Demon with the Peri and the Platypus

Exorcising Maxwell’s Demon with the Peri and the Platypus
By Nathan Turowsky


The Peri, a good and beautiful fairy from Persian mythology
The Platypus, an immortal platypus
The Player, a narrator/bridge device of sorts

The Scene: Sparse, with a gate-type thing on one side of the stage. This gate is meant to represent that of Heaven.

The characters pace a bit when speaking, and occasionally talk with their hands, but rarely make defined, purposive movements. There is relatively little intonation; delivery is by and large monotone for all three characters. These are not human beings.

THE PLAYER: So, guys. Heeeyyy. Can I get your opinion on…humans?
THE PLATYPUS: They always come up with these things when the alternative is to despair of the world in which they have been floating. For so long they moved there, moved in a transparent world, reached out and touched the eternal ephemerality of beauty. They grasped out at it after it ended, without looking for something else, without making something else. They only tread a circle, entering the whirlpool.
            The problem with depicting the true nature of history is only that a map is not a timeline and a timeline is not a map. A four-dimensional object, both map and timeline, can be seen from here, our eyrie, this perch before the Gateless Gate; but they know it not. Seeing history laid out before them in its true relation to nations and tribes is not a luxury that mortals have.
THE PERI: A luxury? Why a luxury? I find the path of their lives hateful.
THE PLATYPUS: You find it hateful, my dear peri, because it is an agglutination of two separate paths. See down there?
            She pointed to a spot where two walls came together at an acute angle.
            That is some point in the 1920s. Somebody’s dying dream gummed up the works at that point. Salvation from outside history will be needed to clean up this mess, I’m afraid.
            Oy vey, it never ends.
THE PERI: I might point out, dear platypus, that the present state there is in some ways worse than before, but in some ways not really better or worse.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Big-Ass Writing Project Part Two of (projected) either Sixty-Three or Eighty-Four

Vanity of Vanities
[Day 11]

There are five types of homicide in Israel:
1. Murder - The premeditated killing of a person, or the intentional killing of a person whilst committing, preparing for, or escaping from any crime, is murder. The mandatory punishment for this crime is life imprisonment. Life is usually commuted (clemency from the President) to 30 years from which a third can be deducted by the parole board for good behaviour. Arab terrorists are not usually granted pardons or parole other than as part of deals struck with Arab terrorist organisations or foreign governments and in exchange for captured Israelis or their corpses.
2. Reduced sentence murder - If the murderer did not fully understand his actions because of mental defect (but not legal insanity or imbecility), or in circumstances close to self-defence, necessity or duress or where the murderer suffered from serious mental distress because of long-term abuse, the court can give a sentence of less than life. This is a new addition to the Israeli penal code and has been rarely used.
3. Manslaughter - The deliberate killing of a person without premeditation (or the other circumstances of murder) is manslaughter for which the maximum sentence is 20 years. The sentence depends on the particular circumstances of the crime and its perpetrator.
4. Negligent killing or vehicular killing - Maximum sentence is 3 years (minimum of 11 months for the driver). The perpetrator in this situation can expect to receive some jail time of about 6 – 12 months.
5. Infanticide - The killing of a baby less than 12 months old by its mother where she can show that she was suffering from the effects of the birth or breast-feeding. Maximum sentence is 5 years. –The Israeli Penal Code


Mary Cosgrove awoke outside in a pool of a sticky substance. It smelled strange, tangy, coppery, with a strange hint or trace of eucalyptus.
            Her head was killing her and her stomach hurt like the devil.
           ‘Ugh…how long has it been since I ate…?’ Cosgrove, dazed, pulled herself upright. She looked at her watch. It was eleven in the morning. She looked around. She was outside, in an alleyway.
            ‘Where am I…?’
            Well, this was certainly strange. Almost a novelist’s idea of what happened to people going about their lives. It reminded her of a bad mystery show that ITV had aired three episodes of before cancelling a few years ago.
            Her mouth was dry and sticky. There was a thin pap of whitish-yellow scum, presumably consisting mostly of saliva, coating her lips. She looked down. She was wearing her white seventies dress and mud-coated shoes.

…A-a-a-and then she saw the bodies.
            ‘Oh God…’ Cosgrove lurched to one side, bracing herself against the brick wall of the alleyway. ‘Oh my…oh God…’ She glanced back over her shoulder and gulped. She tasted something rank and disgustingly sour. She sank to her knees, opened her mouth again, and let slip a few spurts of light greenish-brown liquid vomit.
            There were four or five bodies as far as she could see, all of which had been shot in the chest or stomach. The stomach shots were by far fouler. Cosgrove could not bring herself to look at them directly; all she could see in peripheral glimpses were great dark yawning holes amid twisted haloes of wet redness.
            Two of the bodies had long hair, one short, and one almost no hair at all. The fifth, if there was a fifth and it was not just a detached part of one of the others, was partly hidden in the alleyway shadows.
            Cosgrove ran.
            She ran out into the street, got her bearings, and sprinted off toward Tsarfat Square. It was Thursday the eleventh of September, eleven-oh-six in the morning, and there were horrific mutilations right behind her, where she had come from, where she had got to without remembering how. The only mercy was that they had obviously been killed with a gun…Cosgrove had no gun…she had not done…done anything…
            She vomited again, right in the street near Tsarfat Square. The passers-by gawked.
            ‘I need to…need to call the Nish…’
            Cosgrove had no idea where her roommate was. She had only a vague memory of the past few days. The Nish hadn’t been at work a lot, but she hadn’t been in the flat either for great stretches of the day. Cosgrove had no idea what had happened to her explicit memory, how those people had died, or who they even were (she had not been able to bring herself to check the bodies).

Eventually she found a public phone and placed a call to the Nish’s cell phone.
            ‘Pick up…please, Nish, for the love of God, pick up…’
            The phone rang six times. Midway through the sixth ring there was a click and a low voice saying ‘Hello?’
            ‘Nish? Oh, thank the L—’
            ‘MARY!’ shouted the Nish. ‘Where are you?!’
            ‘I…I don’t know!’ Cosgrove cried. Her thoughts were out of control, her feelings coming apart at the seams. ‘I’m…in Tsarfat Square, but…there was a…’
            ‘Mary,’ said the Nish. ‘Calm down. Calm down, and tell me what’s going on.’
            ‘I don’t know what’s going on,’ said Cosgrove. ‘There…murder, there was…’
            ‘Wait,’ said the Nish. ‘What did you say?’
            ‘Murder,’ said Cosgrove.
            Cosgrove could not describe the noise that the Nish now made or imagine how she might be making it. It sounded like a wombat in heat might have. ‘I know,’ said Cosgrove, ‘right?’
            ‘What are you talking about?’
            ‘There was…a…’ Cosgrove gulped. ‘I woke up in an alleyway. Four or five people are dead.’