Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Undying in My Mind

I have a lot to say and no time to say it in, but I just want to lay the thought that's particularly wanting to come out:

This year's Yuletide fics on Dalemark aren't all that great (one of them has extremely powerful form but less interesting content, and the one with potentially interesting content isn't all that well-written), but they were good enough to induce me to spend the weekend re-reading Dalemark. Now, Navis is BY FAR my favorite character in Dalemark. Navis is one of my favorite characters EVER. He is (sublimely) competent, sarcastic, romantic, and good, and this is not a combination that you usually get. But one thing that reading these Dalemark fics and then re-reading the books themselves has revealed to me is that, much as I love Navis, I feel like we have enough of his story that I'm not necessarily so eager for fic about it. I mean, I'll read it if it's there, and I'll be happy, in the way that I get happy when I'm reading about one of my favorite characters. But I don't feel like there's that much missing from my understanding of Navis that fic can pleasantly fill in. The books give us practically his entire life story.

But what I really want is Duck fic! Lots and lots of Duck fic! Duck is quite an intriguing character (a very bright star in the sky where Navis is sun) and, unlike Navis, has vast quantities of stuff to be filled in. I want fanfic about what exactly went on between Duck and Eleth and why she decided to claim that the One was Noreth's father and how Kankredin got to them all. I want fanfic about what happens after Crown of Dalemark when Duck has all of his power back - how exactly do Undying spend their time when they're bound as gods - Duck must be; he admits to being the Wanderer - but no one believes in them anymore and they've spent centuries without most of their power - Duck seems to have an even harder time dealing with his situation than Tanamil (maybe that's why he called himself Tanamoril), and I'd like to know how that goes in the modern world. And fanfic about the original Enblith the Fair and how Duck (and Tanaqui? And Robin, maybe, although that's only implied, and the answer seems kind of obvious.) first learned he was Undying and maybe even about the Adon and Manaliabrid, although that seems a bit presumptuous - well, I'd like to know about Manaliabrid in general. We don't get enough of her. But anyway, more Duck! I particularly like the way he doesn't show any emotion except for politeness, except that Mitt irritates him (obviously, Duck knew about the prophecies about Mitt and saw him as the competition; the point of the very first scene in the book, which doesn't necessarily even need to be there otherwise, is that Duck really dislikes Mitt; by the way, in terms of Navis being better than Duck, note the difference between the way he treats Noreth/Maewen as competition and the way Duck treats Mitt) and he's kind of quietly happy when he thinks that his daughter cares about him, and then he gets about as immature as possible when he finds out that she's actually dead (he certainly seems to realize right away that she must be dead, given how incredibly upset he is). There's something very interesting about immortality there, I think. Several of the Undying - Old Ammett and Tanaqui in particular - seem to be able to appear with multiple ages - why is Duck always young? I mean, maybe he is just because that's how he wants to present himself at the times we see him in the book, but then why doesn't he have to shave when that makes Navis suspicious?


Okay, hopefully that lays that a bit.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Amusing Thought of the Morning

Wait, which song is that part in, again? You know, the part that goes, "I'm searching for the context, not finding it."

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Do All Your Shopping. . . at Wal-Mart!

I think that I will forever regret that I was not one of the children in the choir singing "The Most Unwanted Music." Seriously, to have been partly responsible for this would have been such an honor.

Monday, December 15, 2008

In Case You Didn't Know

Why you should read Angel Sanctuary

Reader (Etc.) Response Theory

One of the formative experiences of my youth was getting into an argument with other people at my high school summer camp over George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss. Everyone else argued that Maggie Tulliver was a very sympathetic character; I protested that I found Eliot as a writer to be very manipulative (a point on which I haven't changed my mind; I had the same reaction to Adam Bede 8.5 years later) and that her attempts to gin up sympathy for Maggie made me inclined to rebel. My memory, though it may be somewhat distorted, is that even the professors running the class were kind of aghast that I was unable to just "enjoy the novel" without analyzing it; sure, later on, after finishing the book, it was a good and respectable thing to consider what the author had apparently been trying to do, but when you were just reading the book for the first time, in order to get as much pleasure out of it as possible, you should ignore that kind of thing and just react, without having these bizarre meta-reactions.

Well, later on I came across this attitude as the anti-English department attitude - people should just enjoy books, all of that analysis just gets in the way. I'm unable to buy it, just because I can't imagine turning off that analytical part of my brain. I'm not trying to claim that, on my first reading of a book, I ever do an in-depth, sophisticated reading of it that remains my stable critical attitude towards the book. But, let's face it. My reaction to narrative is inherently an active one; I can't even imagine what it would mean to passively absorb a story. Reader response theory appeals to me to the degree that it assumes that the reader is always playing a role in creating the story, because that's very true to my experience. I'll finish a book and just KNOW things about the characters that the author never bothered to say. And, furthermore, I'll also always come out of a story with a double sense. Ignoring the authorial intent issue for now, let's just say that I come out of a story with two reactions - on the one hand, how did I feel about the characters, plot resolution, setting, etc., and, on the other hand, what would a sympathetic reading of the story have to say about the characters, plot resolution, setting, etc. Sometimes, to be sure, those two reactions are more or less synonymous - but even then I'm consciously aware of the synonymy!

As with Maggie Tolliver, these perceptions quite frequently focus on characters. Sometimes I'll find myself disliking a character that I feel the story itself wants me to like. And sometimes I'll find myself adoring a character where that adoration doesn't feel sanctioned by the story. The latter situation happens to me a lot with Dave Duncan books. Most recently, I read his novel Demon Sword (published under the pseudonym Ken Hood). The hero of the novel is a young guy named Toby, and there's a significant secondary character named Rory. Throughout the novel, Toby has a very vexed relationship with Rory. Rory often treats him badly, and Toby dislikes Rory on first site (later, it's suggested that he subconsciously realized that Rory was a romantic rival for the female lead when they first met). On the other hand, Toby also recognizes many good qualities in Rory and occasionally has moments of showing great respect for him. One assumes we're supposed to root for Toby, based on the fact that he's the hero of the book, makes mistakes but often triumphs, shows a consistent and at least somewhat laudable morality, and, in the climatic moment of what seems to be a fairly light book, triumphs. Thus, Rory is presented ambiguously throughout. Finally, in his last few appearances, it's revealed that, despite his many positive characteristics, he really is a fundamentally lousy guy; he's willing to leave Toby to his death in order to get money and the girl. The structure of the story makes me assume that the reader is being led to repudiate Rory, just as Toby's loyal supporter Haimish ultimately does. And yet I found myself unable to do so. I'm strongly inclined to forgive Rory for his admittedly horrible behavior towards Toby, because I just found him more likable throughout the entire book than I found Toby. So, even though the structure of the narrative made the hero quite obvious, as a reader, I had to ignore that and pick my own, somewhat more flawed, hero.

Actually, despite my divergence from the planned narrative, my reaction to Demon Sword was very positive; I enjoyed the book and didn't really feel bothered that I differed from the narrative's perspective! My reaction to Final Fantasy VII in this regard is more problematic, however. At least Rory is legitimately ambiguous throughout the book. But with FFVII, up until the end of the game, I was convinced that the narrative was setting up redemption for Sephiroth. He did some pretty bad things, to be sure. But the game seemed to stress that he had been lied to all his life, had been manipulated, had never really had any chance to understand goodness. At one point, the protagonist, Cloud, comes to the conclusion that all his life he had taken physical strength as the only means to gain respect and that he's now realized the problems with that attitude; since he specifically considered Sephiroth to be a model of physical strength, I really believed that this scene was set up for the end of the game, when they would reveal Sephiroth's strength to be just as much of a pose, hiding the abused, unloved boy within. I played the game with my brother, and when he told me that we were up to the final dungeon, I didn't even believe that was possible, since the whole part of the game that came after Sephiroth's redemption was yet to come.

Well, Sephiroth, rather famously, was never redeemed. And that struck me as very different from Rory's situation. In Rory's situation, although I liked him a lot more than the narrative seemed to, his ambiguity throughout the book seemed to justify both the narrative's negative end to his story and my own more positive stance. But, in FFVII, I never felt that the narrative was ambiguous. I was expecting the narrative to agree with me. And it was a real shock and disappointment to find that the narrative really didn't.

On the other hand, those stories where the narrative and my own perceptions seem to be in sync can be really powerful. This is probably at the heart of my deep, abiding love for Please Save My Earth - there, the story has some very ambiguous characters whom I love. The suspense of the narrative for me comes from the way it often seems to skirt the edge of throwing off them off the cliff - in reading it, I can't help but feel nervous - what if the narrative ultimately presents Shion or Rin as ultimately evil? But, in fact, the narrative always comes right back and reasserts that my positive understanding of the characters is right! It's a very empowering story for me to read; I love the delicate dance between the possibility that my interpretations ultimately won't be justified and the constant clues the story provides that they will be.

I'm thinking about this in the throes of anticipation for Lost - which I really am very excited about ;-). I feel like my perception of Sawyer might be like my perception of Shion or Rin - an ambiguous character, whom the story often seems to risk presenting as fundamentally problematic, but one in whom my deep faith will probably be justified in the end. And Ben Linus is another case entirely - an ambiguous character whom I find enjoyable to watch as a mostly bad guy, with a few good sides; I'm not on Ben's side, but I enjoy watching him and continuing to not be on his side. I hope the narrative doesn't end up justifying all his actions, but I find him fun to watch nonetheless. But Kate is more of a problem for me; she's an ambiguous character who the story seems to think is more justified than I do. The key difference between Sawyer and Kate is that Sawyer doesn't think he is a good person for having committed horrible acts; he does some pretty bad things, but he doesn't like himself for them and doesn't really expect anyone else to like him, either, because he doesn't think he deserves it. The narrative in that sense helps to exonerate him; it suggests he has at least the possibility of some day making up for his errors. And I'm in line with the narrative. But Kate is presented as a heroine, someone whom, while we're supposed to doubt her, we're also supposed to root for. However, she never shows the same kind of self-doubt or remorse as Sawyer; she expects other people to like and respect her despite the horrible things that she's done. The narrative seems to think that it's exonerated her, at least to the same extent that it's exonerated Sawyer, but I can't go along with it. That's the main reason why her character really gets on my nerves.


Interesting conjunction of artists I like -

Ray Davies - "The Tourist"

Diana Wynne Jones - Dark Lord of Derkholm

I wonder - is the moral ambiguity of tourism more of a British theme than an American one? If so, why? I suppose it's likely that more British people have experienced tourism outside their own country than Americans; this website gives a source, apparently now defunct, claiming that 34% of American adults have passports, whereas British tourists don't need passports to see a large number of other countries, including some which are certainly poorer than Britain.

Two Quotations I Like

1. "In the traditional Confucian interpretation of poetry, such imagery of the distant beauty personified as the moon can be read as the exile's longing for the imperial court. Naturally, other more erotic and metaphysical interpretations are also possible."

---Footnote on "Red Cliff Rhapsodies, 1 and 2," by Su Shih, in The Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature, ed. Victor Mair

2. "The laughter of Voltaire, the hatred of Swift were assertions of vitality and the instinct to live in us, which continually struggles not only against evil but against the daily environment."

---V. S. Pritchett, "1984," in Twentieth Century Interpretations of 1984, ed. Samuel Hynes

Monday, December 8, 2008

Interesting Women Or Men

I don't actually read Questionable Content per se, but it's one of those comics that I don't enjoy enough to read the full archives but do enjoy enough to look through occasionally. I spent the night a couple of nights ago reading it and enjoying the odd psychologies of many of the major characters, and it got me to thinking. You couldn't really call QC a harem comic in the way that I understand people call Megatokyo a harem comic (nb, I have never read Megatokyo myself, so this is just hearsay). Sure, I guess a large part of the comic at first was about the fairly average, socially awkward guy who had two girls who were interested in him, but there are far more characters than that, most of whom aren't interested in him, and the situation with Marten's love triangle has been at least temporarily resolved for quite a while. At the same time, I feel like QC has something in common with a harem comic, in that the male lead is a socially awkward guy who has girl trouble, and this is his main personality characteristic, and, as for the rest of the characters, the interesting female characters seem to strongly outnumber the interesting male characters. The most memorable characters in QC seem very definitely to be Faye and Hannelore, and, after that, the more memorable characters generally seem to be the women rather than the men. It's difficult to count this or quantify it, but I know that in reading the comic I always find myself looking out for the strips that involve the women and mainly only being interested in the men in terms of the way that they're relating to the women.

The interesting thing is that QC is a strip written by a heterosexual guy. This seems to fit with the idea of harem shows in anime, which are generally shows with one average guy picking from a large number of attractive women and are definitely aimed at (heterosexual) men (I enjoyed Tenchi Muyo, along these lines, since two of the characters in it reminded me of the same one of my favorite imagined characters that the actress who plays Charlotte in Lost could play). Azumanga Daioh, a manga/anime with a grand total of one male character (who's somewhat peripheral) was originally written as shounen. Meanwhile, there are reverse harem shows for (heterosexual) girls, featuring, of course, one average girl and the heaps of men she encounters who fall for her, things like Fushigi Yuugi. There are also more borderline cases - Fruits Basket has plenty of female characters, but my experience in watching it was that the writers of the anime directed most of their attention towards the men and the one female lead, although I don't know if this is also true of the manga or not. And of
course there are cases like Gundam Wing, where a show that was originally aimed at boys has a huge fanbase of women and girls attracted by the cast of attractive men with very few women involved to distract them.

I don't claim, of course, that these tendencies are universal, but I think it's interesting that they do exist in some mediums. Certainly my understanding is that Western comic books, mostly aimed at a male audience, tend to mostly focus on their male leads and mostly mistreat their women. And, although there are certainly reality TV shows aimed more at one gender than another, I feel as though scripted American TV shows probably don't have the luxury of narrowing their audience in that way. On the other hand, does Lost actually have more interesting male characters than females? That tends to be my sense of the show, but, if so, it hardly seems to be because the show is largely aimed at women (and the main showrunners are male).

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Brief Comments on Jarvis Cocker

It is not the case that I have never been attracted to a man with a beard. That having been said, this is NOT a good fashion choice, Jarvis!

Apparently, Jarvis also recently did a lecture on song lyrics: notes here. It doesn't dovetail neatly with my own musings on this topic (the things we agree on are more or less commonplace), but the examples of bad song lyrics are funny. And I really liked this quotation from some guy called Alan Watts: "The task and delight of poetry is to say what cannot be said, to eff the ineffable, and to unscrew the inscrutable."

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Hey, This Post Needs a Title!

If you go to here and use the password "qilak," you can see three special features for Lost - some stuff from the Season 4 DVD, mainly focusing on Kate (including an interview with her actress and someone else talking about the actress), an interview with the actress who plays Charlotte, and a scene from the first episode of the next season, featuring Kate. I definitely like getting these updates through the e-mail, and they serve their intended purpose of getting me even more excited than I already was for the upcoming season. But I do feel slightly bemused by that particular set of special features.

I mean, okay, I like the actress who plays Charlotte, mainly because she has the perfect looks and, in the first episode in which she appeared, the ability to portray the perfect personality, for one of my favorite imagined characters. I've never before really seen someone who looks so close to the way I've imagined one of my made-up characters in my head, and the fact that she played a character who at least originally displayed a similar personality to my character makes it more exciting. Still, I think we can all agree that Charlotte is very, very, very far from the most interesting character on the show. . . .

And then why do both of the other two features have to focus on Kate? I mean, okay, I admit to being biased here, because Kate is my least favorite character. But I don't think I'd mind if they had one feature about her. But Lost is obviously an ensemble show. It seems really strange to devote two of the three features to the same character and then one more to a really minor character.

Oh, well. I suppose that at least this way I can hope that next time all three of the features are devoted to Sawyer or Desmond. . .

The Old Scottish Gentry

So apparently the Marmalade were Scottish, too? Huh. Who knew?

Monday, December 1, 2008

This Post Is Not Stalinist!

Franz Ferdinand's next album, Tonight: Franz Ferdinand, will be coming out in the US on January 27, 2009. At their Myspace page linked above, you can hear the two songs that have thus far been released from the album, "Lucid Dreams" (on the record player) and "Ulysses" (although apparently "Lucid Dreams" will be quite different on the album).

Lyrically, there are some interesting connections between these two songs. "Ulysses" makes reference, surprisingly enough, to Ulysses, but "Lucid Dreams" makes reference to Ithaca. This is enough to make a naturally synthetic mind such as mine see a vivid connection.

"Lucid Dreams" seems to be a song about a world traveler; the song name-checks not only Ithaca but also Istanbul, Alexandria, and Germany, as the narrator explains that he "skate[s] on the world tonight." But the excitement of world travel doesn't hide the anomie underneath, as the singer complains about his "aimless love" and feels "hollow" because he "may never know if there is some great truth or not." The excitement of being able to go all over the world, of being rootless and untethered, is intimately tied to the sorrow of having no specific aim (how can one have a landing place if one doesn't have a starting place?) and not having any one grand truth to tie oneself. The answer to the traveler's issue seems to be to invite a loved one to travel along with him; after asserting that "there is no nation of you, there is no nation of me," the singer claims that, "in lucid dreams," the two of them can find "our nation."

"Ulysses" has to be a song about a world traveler, simply by virtue of being called "Ulysses" ;-). Although the song's lyrics aren't quite as evocative as those of "Lucid Dreams," they do seem to focus on somewhat similar themes - once again, we have a traveling narrator ("walk twenty-five miles") undergoing a variety of experiences ("I've found a new way"). Although the references to travel are less blatant than in "Lucid Dreams," that title does make it hard to avoid noticing them. There also seem to be various references to jaded anomie - the singer wonders "what you gotta disdain," complains, "I'm bored, I'm bored, c'mon, let's get high," and discusses "that heart that grew cold." And then the second section of the song kicks in, and the ultimate message is not only that "you're not Ulysses" but also that "you're never going home." And so, once again, we have an untethered traveler who can't ever return home and is thus doomed to suffer boredom and purposelessness.

I don't know, of course, whether any of the other songs on the upcoming album will pick up these themes. But, since I think they're kind of cool themes, I definitely hope that this turns out to be an album based on a modernized version of The Odyssey, focusing on the twin pulls of the excitement of being a citizen of the world versus the importance of roots and a sense of home. These are, after all, themes that Franz Ferdinand might be particularly well-suited to explore. I mean, yes, any popular band is going to be able to explore these themes, because world traveling and the inability to really put down roots in a community kind of go with the job description. But look at Alex Kapranos's biography - here's a guy born in England to his English mother and Greek father (who changed his surname - why? To sound more English?), spending most of his childhood summers in Greece, and then moving to Scotland as a kid. He describes himself as possessing "English looks, but Greek temperment." And he's written a song, which, as far as I can tell, is about the the anglicization of successful Scottish people. So. . . he certainly seems to be just the right person to create songs, based on a classic work of Greek literature, focusing on the tension between cosmopolitanism and a strong sense of nation. Furthermore, it's not just Alex - guitarist Nick McCarthy, though born in England, grew up in Germany. So the band as a whole probably has a good understanding of this tension.

Anyway, I'm all set to be disappointed. But if it does end up happening the way I've laid it out, you read it first here!

I Go on an Anti-God Rant

Stanley Fish on Paradise Lost:

"To say that a 'mortal taste' brought death into the world is to say something tautologous; but the tautology is profound when it reminds us of both the costs and the glories of being mortal. If no mortality, then no human struggles, no narrative, no story, no aspiration (in eternity there’s nowhere to go), no “Paradise Lost.”"

The phrase "the glories of being mortal" seems to edge awkwardly close to theodicy. In being mortal, we give up "eternity," but we accept in return the glories of. . . well, it isn't immediately obvious that "human struggles" are a source of glory, I should hope, so let's go with "narrative," "story," "aspiration," and "'Paradise Lost.'" Except I'm going to leave out "aspiration," too, because it seems like a different issue. So, anyway, this seems to me to be a distillation of a fairly common theodicy - we have "free will," whatever that means to the theodicer (I guess that's not a word, but it should be), because the possibility of evil somehow allows for more satisfactory narratives. If there was no evil, no struggle, no aspiration, there would be no stories, and this is the moral justification for our incredibly imperfect world.

Now, instinctively, it seems to me that this assertion is actively offensive - who could possibly assume that we can take "narrative," "story," and "'Paradise Lost'" as an acceptable replacement for all of the holes in the world? And yet how can I reconcile my instincts with my strong sense that I am alive purely and solely because of art and to a large degree because of narrative art? When I'm asked what I would do if I were certain of never again being able to enjoy art (imagine God coming down and telling me that that was it, I had my fun and now it's over), I reply simply enough - I'd die. There wouldn't be any point anymore. Nothing else I know of has made life worthwhile in the way that art does.

But, although on the surface this may seem like an interesting question, I'm not sure to what degree there's really a contradiction involved. Obviously, as someone who didn't create the world or my outer circumstances, I've decided that the world that I found myself in is worth living in despite its massive imperfections (actually, "decide" isn't really the right term there, as I haven't made an active choice - it's more a basic, inarguable premise of my consciousness. But I suppose in not committing suicide I at least passively make a decision to live every waking moment of every day.). But that doesn't mean that it's morally right of someone else, some theoretical God, to put me in a position to have to make the awkward choice between continued flawed existence or throwing the baby out with the bathwater. A Kantian and a utilitarian might disagree on the accurate moral choice to make when the evil supervillain threatens to kill everyone in the world if you refuse to kill five innocent people. But I think they can both agree that the evil supervillain is both evil and a supervillain. Both of them would prefer to live in the happy shiny world without supervillains, where we can academically discuss these choices without actually having to, you know, make them.

And so, oddly enough, despite my the primacy of my love for narrative, my sense that it's what's keeping me alive, I feel as though this is merely a makeshift bandage on a giant seeping wound. It works, and it keeps me alive, but it's much better not to be wounded in the first place. Honestly, anyone who creates a world that incorporates consciousness shouldn't make it so that any one, separable, distinguishable pinpoint, not even something so lovely and beautiful as art, is necessary for consciousness's acceptance of life. Conscious beings should, in the ideal world, accept life as a good in itself. If mortality makes this impossible (as Fish suggests when he admits that being mortal has "costs" - you're already making a moral mistake when you're imposing costs on people, because then you're setting them up in a position where they have to choose between either living with the costs or else missing out on the glories) then there shouldn't be mortality - I'd rather be consistently happy with no literature than happy for a brief time with literature. And what if consciousness cannot be happy with literature, and literature cannot exist without mortality? Well, in that case, we're accepting the premise that consciousness in and of itself implies lack, that consciousness itself is the wound, that consciousness and satisfaction are mutually incompatible. In that case, you know what, it's not worth it to create consciousness.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

I, Too, Have Heard the Drunkards Howl

Remember how "when I get new music, I always listen to it, many times, because I tend not to be able to successfully evaluate my attitude towards a song until I've heard it many times?" Another set of songs I've been listening to recently is a fanmix for Hexwood that someone posted at the LJ DWJ community. I don't love any of these songs, although most of them are okay. I'm also less than convinced I see a strong connection between any of the songs involved and Hexwood - I can see a few themes that seem to come out in several of the songs, but they're not really themes I see in Hexwood.

Anyway, among the songs is one by a singer named Jolie Holland called "Stubborn Beast." You can download it at the above-linked LJ site, or read the lyrics here. The song is not at all my kind of music - it sounds like a country song. But I do like the lyrics - as a stubborn person myself, I'm fond of artwork about stubborn people ;-). In fact, it reminds me a little bit of Trigun, as one of the things I like so much about Trigun is Vash's incredible stubbornness ("sullen songs" is wrong, but "my misery and the source of my pride" is totally right!).

Anyway, the funny thing is that most of the time when I hear this song, I'm not listening closely to the lyrics and just hear the part about the barn being on fire, so what it really reminds me of is As I Lay Dying. I'd write a lengthy, fascinating discourse on the many deep connections between Trigun and William Faulkner that this reveals, but alas, no.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Bah-Bah-Bah BAH BAH

Last night, I saw a friend of mine playing keyboards in a band. I've never seen a rock performance by any of my friends before; it was fun. For one song, my friend basically got to play a waltz by Bach (I think he said), so that was one of the most enjoyable.

I have to admit, I really like synths, and I'm glad that when I went to see this performance from a friend of mine, he happenened to play the keyboards. Sometimes, I have trouble figuring out exactly what the guitar part is in a song, but I'm usually able to recognize the synth part really easily. Of course, the part of any song that catches my attention the most tends to be the vocals (hence my fondness for pop music over classical), but, next to that, the synths make a big difference for me.

Coincidentally, after my friend's band played, the venue happened to play "Common People." It was extremely exciting for me; "Common People," after all, is the first contemporary song I ever really fell in love with, way back in eleventh grade. Furthermore, I would say that Candida Doyle's synth playing is one of the key elements of Pulp's style (and something I really miss on Jarvis's solo release). Pulp went through different stages and never only performed one style of song. Candida was good throughout all of this, but I have to say that the swirly synth sound (that's how I think of it) that she produces on "Common People" and similar tracks (the short, poppy, disco-y 90s Pulp tracks) seems to be fundamental to my idea of Pulp. When I think of what makes Pulp Pulp, next to Jarvis's singing, it's Candida's swirly synths.

Bonus Completely Unrelated Pulp Video:

Everyone should watch the spoken word version of "Babies!" Even though it is completely unrelated!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Varied and Intriguing, Attractive, Profound, and Full of Charm

Why do I love shoujo manga so much? I think part of the reason is that shoujo manga is the only form of narrative I've ever encountered that seems to be particularly directed towards an audience with my tastes, an audience, that is, eager to focus on the story's nominal villain and actively preferring to accept as lead love interest characters from whom, one presumes, we would run screaming were we ever to encounter them in real life - an audience, in short, that loves to sympathize with the devil (sometimes quite literally).

Long before I ever discovered shoujo manga, when I was first exploring my odd attraction to evil, guess which devil I sympathized with? As a teenager, particularly when I was around fourteen or fifteen, I was pretty darn obsessed with Mick Jagger. I even based one of the novels I wrote in high school around a character whom I explicitly conceived of as Mick Jagger (despite it taking place in a fantasy setting, he was the lead singer in a traveling rock band). And, even at the time, I was well-aware of that interest and attraction as at least somewhat drawing on his menacing, somewhat evil reputation. This was a man who sung songs from the point of view of the devil and songs about violent revolution, as well as a guy famous for his presence at a homicide and poor treatment of women. All very appealing to my tastes (for whatever reason it is that I have these bizarre-but-apparently-quite-common-among-Japanese-teenagers tastes to begin with).

But, at the same time, there was also another side to Mick Jagger that I was aware of even as a teenager. As wild as his image in the 60s seemed to have been, I read books (in particular, this one red book about the British Invasion, a treasury of information, that I later convinced my brother to steal from the school library. Alas, I don't remember its name and don't have it readily to hand. It was a really amazing book; it's where I first learned that the Beatles wanted to make a movie version of The Lord of the Rings with John Lennon as Gollum, and EVERYBODY needs to know that.) and articles talking about his other identity, as a middle-class economics student, polite and softly-spoken, with a real head for business.

You might think that this would be something of a turn-off, given the qualities that had attracted me to Mick in the first place. But, in fact, I found that this two-sidedness made him all the more fascinating. It was intriguing to think of him not as a diabolical, satanic figure, but as a business-savvy guy who created the diabolical, satanic image in order to make money. In a way, that was even more evil than my first image of Mick, because it was manipulative and deceitful. As I mentioned earlier, "I always like to think about people who are pretending to be other people; it's one of my favorite topics." Combine this with my fascination with evil people, and you'll see that I find manipulation to be an ideal topic!

I've been thinking of all this in part because someone put a Rolling Stones CD in our car, which makes me think nostalgically of my long-dissipated obsession, but also because I'm in the middle of reading Newsweek's series about how Obama won the presidential election (start here). This may seem like a weird topic jump, but bear with me. The articles focus a lot on Obama's "no drama" qualities, and his general nature as a cool, controlled character. I was particularly intrigued by the description of the aftermath of his big speech on race. Obama obviously cared a lot about the speech - he basically wrote it himself and spent days working on it. But, at the same time: "When he walked backstage at the Constitution museum, he found everyone in tears—his wife, his friends and his hardened campaign aides. Only Obama seemed cool and detached. The speech was "solid," he said, as his entourage, tough guys like Axelrod and former deputy attorney general Eric Holder, choked up."

Obviously, Obama does not have a publicly "evil" image. In fact, he draws on the exact opposite idea - he is a symbol of aspiration, of hope. People talk about how he inspires them to be better, to dream of a better America. And I certainly don't think Obama is actually evil (although I don't actually think Mick Jagger is evil, either). But I have to admit that, even now, I still find the concept of a controlled, unemotional person who is capable of inspiring huge passion in others - someone who uses his own image to manipulate others into having a certain response - to be hugely attractive. I'm not obsessed with Obama like I was with Mick, but I do see a kinship there. I'm not sure if I'd want to be friends with someone who seemed so completely unemotional; I might find it offputting or even a bit frightening. But I really like having this figure in public life; it makes him seem so intriguing. In reality, I hope that Obama is "varied and intriguing, attractive, profound, and full of charm" because he is authentically good, or at least (because that seems like a tall order) authentically decent. But as far as the aesthetic interest of Obama goes, I can't help but think of him as fictionally evil ;-).

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

List of References to Publications and Photography on Skeletal Lamping


1. "I'm the motherfucking headliner." - "Wicked Wisdom"

2. "All I care to hear: elitist's commentary about some faded press limited edition" - "Wicked Wisdom"

3. "Then I was wrapped in discourse with a magazine reader." - "For Our Elegant Caste"

4. "I wanna write you books." - "Gallery Piece"

5. "I read his journal. It was very revealing." - "Beware Our Nubile Miscreants"

6. "I know from past experience he never takes it easy on his readers." - "Mingusings"


1. "Now I'm viewing my memory reel in reverse, scrolling back to come to feel your whether-then." - "An Eluardian Instance"

2. "I check my shutter speed, my aperture, my domino, can't focus, can't stop staring at the face I used to know." - "Women's Studies Victims"

3. "I only photograph my fascinations till the stress of the flash makes them fade." - "St. Exquisite's Confessions" [Note: A really good line, by the way, and generally applicable.]


1. "I'm the kind of mannequin that cheats and opens its eyes to the ladies of the spread." - "Women's Studies Victims" [Note: "Ladies of the spread" must mean centerfold models, yes?]

2. "I read it with my head open or only slightly cracked. Somebody else will have to close it when I'm done, make the most out of the visuals." - "Women's Studies Victims"

3. "It's time to get to know the article that you'll be stripping. Ladies of the spread, you better keep my secrets in that perfume poodle head." - "St. Exquisite's Confessions"

There isn't really a point to this list; it's a motif I've noticed without really having much of an idea as to what the point of the motif is.

The Greek Chorus of My Skull

The most recent Of Montreal radio appearance confirms something I'd heard already - "Triphallus, to Punctuate!" was named after something having to do with ancient Greek theater. Consequently, anything that follows is pretty clearly more about my reaction to the song lyrics than authorial intent, but, hey.

As far as I can tell, "Triphallus, to Punctuate!" is the only song on Skeletal Lamping that includes any end punctuation. And it's an exclamation point. Is an exclamation point phallic punctuation? Well, it's more phallic than a period or question mark. As an adolescent, I dreamt yearningly of a visit from one of my favorite imaginary characters. I frequently wrote (in car windows, on pieces of scrap paper) "[Her name] wuzn't here!!! (yet. . .)." The three exclamation points after "here" were a vital part of the phrase; in fact, I'm still in the habit of carefully making sure, whenever I use multiple exclamation points in any other context, that I'm not using three. And so I can't help but think that a triphallus that punctuates is three exclamation points, signaling the arrival of my own personal Messiah -

And right there we fall into my Lacan obsession. Wikipedia says, "The Name-of-the-Father is the fundamental signifier which permits signification to proceed normally." This makes it kind of synonymous with the phallus; a Lacanian Wiki explains that the phallus "is a particularly privileged signifier because it inaugurates the process of signification itself." The Lacanian Wiki points out that "the rexpression [sic] is. . . a semi-humorous religious allusion." Which seems obvious - "the fundamental signifier which permits signification to proceed normally" is your father the father in Freudianism, God the Father in religion. So a Triphallus is the Trinity.

This could easily be just a joke - like my Christian/history of critical theory joke - Q. What is the definition of the sublime? A. Jesus necrophilia! But it's a little more infuriating than that, because of the religious allusions that do make it into the body of "Triphallus, to Punctuate!" (the lyrics here aren't, IMHO, entirely right, but they'll do, and I like that website). "The senseless killings gifts God gives us have no one to love them?" What are these "senseless killings gifts?" What do they have to do with God? "Damascus blade" is obviously NOT a religious reference - only coming so soon after the mention of God, it really makes me wish that it had something to do with Paul. I can't think why it would - Damascus blades are, like, a thing, having nothing whatsoever to do with Paul - but I wish I were wrong. And then "heaven's patience glaring down at us, filling your womb with black butterflies?" It's like a creepy birth of Jesus story. Jesus is black butterflies, and God isn't very happy with Mary? And then maybe the black butterfly Jesus is the senseless killings gifts God gives us? And then what? Is there a way you can fit the chorus into this story? Maybe it's Joseph singing to creepy alternate Mary? After all, Joseph supported Mary back before she ever became famous, right? He waved her flag when no one else did, didn't he?

Anyway, I guess there probably isn't a coherent way to interpret the lyrics to this song as having to do with Christianity. But I can't help but try. I blame Xenogears. If it weren't for XG, I wouldn't immediately think Christianity whenever I hear "phallus." Surely?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Cast it to Dogs

Apparently, this year's Yuletide Obscure Fandom Fanfic Exchange isn't including Angel Sanctuary as one of the nominated fandoms. That's really too bad - I've always enjoyed the AS stories on Yuletide and feel, as much as one can feel possessive about a fandom when one doesn't interact with it in any way, that it's one of my fandoms. For that matter, in those rare moments when I'm vaguely tempted to participate in Yuletide, it's one of the only fandoms where I can actually think up an idea for a story request (Alexiel and Madhatter. Ideally with Alexiel as Jesus. Literally, I mean, because it's heavily implied in the manga.).

So I was a little irritated to see the lack of AS this year, and, oddly enough, assuaged my irritation by going to fanfiction.net to see if AS was really no longer an obscure fandom. There were a decent number of stories, it's true, but, more surprisingly, one of them actually piqued my interest. "Cast it to Dogs", by "Acey Dearest," was really surprising good, in particular for a fanfiction.net fic. Part of the appeal, however, is probably just that it deals with Kira's relationship with his father, which is actually the reason why I came to like AS in the first place. I watched the DVD of the (fairly awful) anime adaptation of the very beginning of the manga because someone who seemed to have tastes fairly similar to mine had talked about the manga, was pretty bored most of the way through, but was interested enough in the story about Kira and his father to go and check out the rest of the story on the Internet. And then - bang! - I was caught.

I love AS for a lot of reasons - I would say that, despite my eternal adoration of Kira, I actually like the plot even more than I like the characters (unlike, say, Please Save My Earth, which I love primarily because of Shion and Rin and only secondarily because of anything else). It's so chaotic and crazy, a whirlwind, and every strand, even the ones without Kira (or Zaphkiel, as my second-favorite character) has its own appeal. But Kira is, nonetheless, very definitely my favorite character. Consequently, I love his story in the manga, and I love fanfic about him that reminds me of how appealing he is in the manga. A lot of the fanfic about him are romantic (well, this is fanfic, after all), which is fine with me. I don't particularly mind him with Kato, although that's not so interesting to me, and I love reading fanfic about him (in any incarnation) and Setsuna or Alexiel. A large part of his attraction in the original AS is his relationships with Setsuna and Alexiel, so stories putting them together really evoke the appeal of the character very well.

But this story struck me on another level - it brought back to me the very first aspect of the character, indeed, the very aspect of AS at all, that really drew me into the manga. Reading the story, even if it wasn't necessarily that great in myself, I was filled with that sense of awe that I feel in the presence of a really touching tale. I wouldn't say that the relationship between Kira and his father is central to AS, or even to Kira's character (his relationships with Setsuna and Alexiel are obviously FAR more significant). But it is nonetheless a really powerful and moving story that was my first taste of Yuki Kaori's ability to take her often very silly material and make something powerful out of it, and so I really appreciate Acey Dearest for reminding me of something that I really care about.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Varieties of Avoiding Experience

On the subway the other day, I happened to be sitting next to a man who was reading, of all things, an essay about Henry James. Moreover, the angle was such that I could easily read over his shoulder. The essay was not, as I was sort of vaguely hoping because hey, wouldn't that be neat, from a book about Henry James. Instead it came from a collection of essays called Ground Zero by a writer named Andrew Holleran. The basic argument of the essay about Henry James was that he was not an active homosexual, even if he had homosexual inclinations. This may be a somewhat outdated argument, but the part of the essay that interested me the most was only partially related to the argument, anyway. There was a very nice quotation from William James, which, regrettably, I don't remember well enough to find on the web. I can paraphrase it, though - the basic point was that William felt his brother intentionally avoided half of human experience (and we can all guess which half) precisely because of his extremely deep sensitivity to experience.

I read that and felt a deep sense of resonance - it's a story that appeals a lot to me, the overly-sensitive person who is detached precisely because she or he feels more deeply than everyone, whose distance is properly understood as caution. Now, many Henry James stories end up being about detachment and distance. There's "The Beast in the Jungle," with John Marcher, "the man to whom nothing on earth was to have happened," The Aspern Papers and its narrator who winds up giving up the great scholarly ambition of his life out of fear of an (admittedly extremely unattractive) woman, the end of The Ambassadors and Strether's ultimate return to America in the conviction that "to be right" he must not, "out of the whole affair, . . . have got anything for" himself. And, of course, we, the somewhat educated readers of these tales, see the common theme and James's own life as reflections of each other; it's hard to imagine that a securely partnered James would write the same fictions that the real James did. That's not to say that these stories really reflect the story that we like to tell about James - his characters don't necessarily seem to be detached out of caution in the same way that we say James was. Nonetheless, whatever the in-story reasons for their detachment, the ultimate reason for their detachment seems to be a response to their creator's own detachment. James gave himself to his art, the story goes, for whatever reasons, but that art is consequently precisely the art a guy who gave himself to his art would write. Art and life intertwine - James wrote the kind of stories that he wrote as an expression of the kind of person that he was.

And yet, along with this story, there's another one. Because there's another member of James's family who has written some deeply resonant words, and that's James's beloved cousin, Minnie Temple. Minnie was, famously, the basis for a number of James's most famous female characters, including The Portrait of a Lady's Isabel Archer and The Wings of the Dove's suggestively initialed Milly Theale. James quoted a couple of her letters in one of his autobiographies, Notes of a Son and Brother, which were quoted in turn in my Norton Anthology edition of The Wings of the Dove. James himself introduces the letters by writing "that she might well have found the mystifications of life, had she been appointed to enjoy more of them, much in excess of its contentments. It easily comes up for us over the relics of those we have seen beaten, this sense that it was not for nothing they missed the ampler experience, but in no case that I have known has it come up for me so much." He goes on to quote the letters precisely with the intention of proving his cousin's fundamental unsuitedness for life.

Minnie wrote to James, apparently, to express some of her unpleasant feelings about her sister's marriage. Marriage seemed like a huge step to her, one that one ought not to take unless certain that the circumstances were precisely perfect. The key part of her key letter explains: "We must be true to ourselves, mustn't we? though all the rest of humanity be of a contrary opinion, or else throw discredit upon the wisdom of God, who made us as we are and not like the next person. Do you remember my old hobby of 'the remote possibility of the best thing' being better than a clear certainty of the second best? Well, I believe it more than ever, every day I live. Indeed, I don't believe anything else - but is not that everything?"

Minnie's story, then, is another resonant story of distance. Minnie did not live a deeply connected life because she died, of course, but James mentions his feeling that she had to die, would have been stymied by life if she had lived, precisely because she was holding out for "the remote possibility of the best thing." These words certainly remind me of the Isabel Archer who turns down Caspar Goodwood and Lord Warburton, never even gets started with Ralph Touchett, and "often wondered, indeed, whether she ever had been, or ever could be, intimate with any one. She had an ideal of friendship, as well as of several other sentiments, and it did not seem to her in this case—it had not seemed to her in other cases—that the actual completely expressed it. But she often reminded herself that there were essential reasons why one’s ideal could not become concrete. It was a thing to believe in, not to see—a matter of faith, not of experience. Experience, however might supply us with very creditable imitations of it, and the part of wisdom was to make the best of these." Isabel, Daisy, Milly, these female characters of James's - perhaps they differ from his detached male characters in their greater longing for connection and their seeming capacity for it - but, they end up much like the male characters end up - ultimately detached, not in a solid connection.

So we have two stories, two models inspiring James to write about the kinds of characters he did - his own model, and the model of his beloved cousin. It can justifiably be argued that his male characters and his female characters were different - that he was his own favored archetype for the former and Minnie the archetype only for the latter. And yet, the common thread of detachment - such a draw for this reader, at least - that thread weaves its way through both kinds of characters. Ultimately, then, did James see something of his cousin in himself, something of him in her? Was James's particular interest in his cousin stimulated by an emotional as well as a blood kinship? How can we connect these two stories, these two very different motivations for one theme that passes throughout all of James's work?

Friday, October 31, 2008

No Time for a Real Post Today

. . . so instead, I'll just comment that apparently the room for nursing mothers at my office is called the "Wellness Room." Kind of vague, hrm?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Always Stuck Repeating

The of Montreal blog posts links to two new interviews today. Both focus on mention Kevin's ambition to write songs on Skeletal Lamping that differ from the standard pop template, "something that was constantly shifting, constantly changing, with no rules and no limitations, no structure really...." The interview with The Toronto Star even features Kevin saying, "I know people don't want this record, really – I can tell by most of the reviews. Everyone seems so befuddled. Some people are actually pissed off. `How dare he make this record? Obviously, he can write pop songs. Why is he doing this?' It's absurd, the reaction, when people are given something that is complicated and unconventional and exceptional. They don't even know what to think of it." A statement which is totally true - I've seen reviews along those lines.

So maybe now is the time to mention that I just don't think Skeletal Lamping is all that weird. I don't know. I mean, yes, some of the songs really differ from traditional song structures, like the opener, "Nonpareil of Favor." That song basically follows the structure ABCD and is legitimately unusual. But there are also several songs that seem to mostly follow a standard verse-chorus structure, maybe deviating from this slightly at a couple of points, but not to any genuinely unusual extent. "An Eluardian Instance," "Triphallus, to Punctuate!," and "Beware Our Nubile Miscreants" all strike me as fitting to at least some extent to the standard pop song verse-chorus template, and are three of the most immediately catchy songs on the album, presumably because of this; first single "Id Engager" fits into this category as well, which is, again, presumably why it was chosen as the first single. Even the lengthy "Plastis Wafers," which certainly doesn't fit the standard template, actually starts out with an ABCABC structure, enough to make the song's catchy "chorus" get stuck in my head, at least, even if it moves on to different places from there.

Furthermore, even when it comes to the album's more unusual songs, intellectually, I certainly notice the disorienting effects that Kevin and his interviewers are talking about, but, viscerally, I don't feel like what I'm listening to is particularly bizarre. I don't know. Is there something unusual about the way that I listen to music? I don't feel disoriented at all, and I'm not sure I feel like listening to Skeletal Lamping is different from listening to any other reasonably good album. Does anyone else in the world feel this way? Or is there really something I'm missing?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Lack of Need for Words

A long time ago, at summer camp, someone discussed the topic of "should we think of song lyrics as poetry?" I like song lyrics, I like poetry, but, much to my surprise, I decided that, no, we shouldn't think of song lyrics as poetry. This isn't to argue that song lyrics cannot be effective poetry, but I feel like this is something totally irrelevant to whether or not they are effective song lyrics.

Recently, I've been thinking of this because I've found myself with the CD Firebrand by a capella filk group Sassafrass. When I get new music, I always listen to it, many times, because I tend not to be able to successfully evaluate my attitude towards a song until I've heard it many times. I was a little biased against "Firebrand" for irrelevant personal reasons, but now that I've listened to it a few times, I think that I am legitimately not too fond of this CD. Oh, sure, I get songs from it stuck in my head, but you get songs from anything stuck in your head if you listen to them enough. I can't imagine ever thinking that I want to put on a song from this CD to listen to in the future, however, or even thinking about it much after I stop listening to it.

I'm reasonably sure that the CD doesn't work for me for a pretty simple reason - I don't particularly care for this kind of music ("folk in style with Renaissance elements"). On the just-linked website, the group gives some fairly valid reasons for their lack of interest in doing the more typical pop-based a capella songs, which I totally understand, but I'm just more interested in that type of a capella. I'm not good enough at dancing about architecture to explain my taste, but I'm conscious enough to be aware of it. So this is music that fundamentally bores me, and that would be why I'm not so fond of the CD.

But I'm also interested in my reaction to the lyrics. The lyrics, mostly written by the group itself, are not your standard pop-style lyrics, either (as to be expected from a filk group). And, to my mind, at least, they seem to be particularly poetic lyrics - often narrative poetry, going into great detail on various stories, but sometimes more lyric poetry. What makes me feel this way? Hard to say (I'm not an expert on writing about poetry, either - even in my academic studies, I'm pretty much a narrative girl rather than a form girl), but I think it's the sheer complexity of the lyrics. Listening to the song isn't enough to get all of the meaning out of it - you simply need to read the lyrics to follow along (and I feel like I'm missing a lot from those songs where the group hasn't published lyrics on their website yet). It takes time to process them (an exception would be "A Proper Mermaid Tale", which has clever, funny lyrics that are simple enough that you can probably get the joke just from listening to the song).

Some of these poetic lyrics aren't particularly interesting, good or bad. So "Toys for Big Kids" has lyrics definitely more complicated than those of most songs I listen to, but, ultimately, I think they're pretty disposable. I wouldn't be interested in this poem, but I wouldn't hate it, either. Some of them are a little worse, like "Somebody Will," which seems irritatingly preachy - I wouldn't want to read that poem.

But the one that interests me the most is "Fall", because I actually really like these lyrics. Of course, I would - they're revisionist Christian mythology lyrics, and I'm pretty much a sucker for revisionist Christian mythology. I really like the lyrics as a poem, and the fact that I like them does improve the song, in the sense that, when this song comes on, I kind of want to listen to it, to hear the story again. As a poem, these lyrics are at least as good, if not better, than Kevin Barnes' lyrics to "The Repudiated Immortals," a song which, similarly, seems to have something to do with revisionist Christian mythology.

Now, if you read over the latter, you'll notice the definite difference between Sassafrass and of Montreal. "Fall" really does tell a story. It's a narrative poem. "The Repudiated Immortals" seems more like an abstract painting - a couple of lines that gesture at a deeper meaning. I don't really know what the scenario behind the lines is; I just have a sense of a couple of scenes. I'm not sure how you'd evaluate it as a poem, without music. You might not look at it twice. But the music for "The Repudiated Immortals" is much more appealing to me than the music for "Fall," and that makes a difference. The music and the lyrics for this song really work together in a way that I'm unable to perceive them doing in "Fall" - the sketchiness of the lyrics means that the music is able to fill in the holes, and the lyrics add the slightest dash of representationality to the music, and it's just much more powerful (for me) than the combination of music and lyrics in "Fall."

So that's why I'm not interested so much in evaluating song lyrics as poetry - because, for me, the best song lyrics combine with the music to create an aesthetic experience that would be lesser with either part left out (my favorite example here is Yoko Kanno and the Seatbelts' "Call Me Call Me," with lyrics by Tim Jensen - I once had a major epiphany in part caused by the combination of music and lyrics in this song). I think it's awesome that Sassafrass could write a really good poem, like "Fall," and I respect them for that, but, as lyrics go, I'd take "The Repudiated Immortals" any time!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Need for Words

I was just having a conversation with someone about Hatikvah, which reminds me of one of the funniest things ever. Unfortunately, you need to be a DWJ fan to find it funny, so I'm just going to have to write about it here.

So, DWJ has this book, The Magicians of Caprona, featuring a tune to which no one knows the correct lyrics. Eventually, it transpires that it's vitally important to find the correct lyrics - this is the key to saving the entire city of Caprona. The whole plot of the book is thus directed around the search for the lyrics to this tune.

I don't think it ever occurred to me that DWJ might have a particular tune in mind, but, in this interview with Judith Ridge, she mentions that, in fact, she was thinking of Smetana's Vltava from Ma Vlast. In fact, the inspiration for the book was her feeling that the tune of Vltava needed words and didn't have them.

But, as it happens, Smetana didn't actually make up the tune himself; he got it from a very old folk tune that also happens to be the source for the melody of Hatikvah. I guess this tune has had lyrics set to it before, but, right now, the most obvious counter-example to DWJ's anxiety about the lack of lyrics to the tune is the Hatikvah. Which means that really, all throughout The Magicians of Caprona, the characters were really looking for the Israeli national anthem to save their city. It also sort of half-implies that the city-state of Caprona, for which the song is a kind of anthem, is in fact Israel.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Consummation Devoutly to be Wished

I am a girl who loves her sleep. I've been known to spend well over 12 hours in a row in bed, even when I'm not sick, and the majority of that time isn't while I'm awake, either. Moreover, I don't really look on that as a problem or flaw - I actively desire sleep. It seems like a really good way of spending my time!

My best friend has queried me about that a couple of times, asking me how I could possibly enjoy sleep so much when I don't experience anything whilst asleep and even asking me once why, if I enjoyed sleep so much, I didn't just commit suicide and be unconscious forever. I've answered her in a couple of ways, pointing out that, while I don't experience dreamless sleep, I do experience (and enjoy!) being half-asleep and having dreams. I think these are more or less the appropriate answers, although, obviously, even if I did enjoy being unconscious more than anything else I do (and I don't even enjoy being half-asleep and having dreams more than anything else - narrative art still wins), I think I could still legitimately argue that it's worth not committing suicide, because just because something is one's favorite activity does not mean that one would be happiest doing only that activity. And death is pretty much ONLY being unconscious, forever.

I was reminded of these conversations by this Scientific American article about "why we can't imagine death" (which I found a link to at yhlee's blog. The article makes the point that we can't experience "dreamless sleep," so that it doesn't help us to imagine death. Obviously, therefore, whatever it is that I mean I love when I say "I love sleep" isn't the dreamless sleep. And I'm willing to admit that it's the periods of distorted consciousness - the dreams and the half-asleep bits - that I love. Sleep, therefore, contra my best friend and Hamlet, is not as good a metaphor for death as we might like - in fact, we don't really have any great metaphors for death, because no experience is like no-experience. This makes it kind of hard to look forward to death, even though I can empathize with the desire to avoid life-as-we-know it (although I admit that I've never actually been suicidal, so I'm not sure what suicidal people actually feel).

That having been said, I do spend a perhaps inordinate amount of time thinking about what kind of experience would be my ideal, if there were limits on me except for those of my imagination. I come up with various ideas, and most of the time the one I'm about to mention isn't actually my favorite, but sometimes, especially when I'm feeling particularly melancholy (or creative!), it seems extremely tempting: not to die, but to sleep, and, yes, indeed, to dream, forever. Some of the most pleasurable days I've had in my life have been those where I spend the day in bed, alternately thinking about my favorite stories, dreaming, and having that no-experience dreamless sleep. I couldn't possibly desire dreamless sleep forever; it's a contradiction in terms. And I know that it's impossible to spend a lifetime in bed. Most of the time, I don't even want to. But just because it isn't really my ideal and couldn't be achieved even if it were doesn't mean that it's not more desirable than this existence (I feel this way about some supposed dystopias, too. They may not be the utopias they pretend to be, but they're still better than the real world as we know it!).

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Confusion Creeps Inside Me!

Yoko Kanno is one of my favorite musicians of all time - but, yesterday, I found a message board post listing examples of how she's plagiarized other musicians. I'm not quite sure what to think about this.

I'm not quite sure how accusations of plagiarism work in music, for one thing. What's the difference between the similarities between "Hello I Love You" and "All Day and All of the Night" on the one hand, and those between "My Sweet Lord" and "He's So Fine" on the other? That YK's "Call Me Call Me" uses some music that sounds exactly identical to the Verve's "Bittersweet Symphony" is obvious as soon as you listen to the two songs, but I've never thought of it as plagiarism - the songs otherwise strike me as very different, and I love "Call Me Call Me" as more. But it's true that if it were a work of literature, that one line would be enough to make it plagiarism and to affect my attitude towards the literature. I guess because of the generally contentless nature of music, my attitude towards melodies is generally different.

Another issue is that the most obvious, blatant, and thorough piece of plagiarism that was reported, YK's "Mushroom Hunting" and DJ Food's "Let the Good Shine", can't possibly have bothered DJ Food too much, as they ended up remixing one of Yoko Kanno's songs after the publication of "Mushroom Hunting." So that makes me wonder if there's something more behind this story that we don't know about yet.

And then the third thing is that even if this is, really, as bad as it looks, well, I've gotten a lot of great music out of the situation that I wouldn't have heard of anyway. Perhaps the best plan for me to make is that someday, I'll buy all of this music that I've discovered through Yoko Kanno, from its original creators. For example, yesterday, I listened to the first movement of Steve Reich's The Desert Music. This is a piece of 20th century classical music, not at all the kind of thing I normally pay any attention to. But I really enjoyed it - as much as I enjoy the YK song, "Powder," that sounds like it. It's hard to be angry at Yoko Kanno for introducing me to this music, but it might be good to tip Steve Reich a few bucks, if he's the one who actually created it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

I Go on an Anti-Humanity Rant

There's a certain train station bookstore of which I have very fond memories. It's where I bought PKD's A Scanner Darkly and a really good book of Ted Sturgeon short stories. Recently, I happened to be passing through that train station again, and I didn't have enough to read for the trip ahead, but there wasn't anything nearly as tempting in the bookstore this time. I wound up buying City of Ember, which I knew I'd heard of because of the current film, but which I was also pretty certain I'd read about on Farah Mendlesohn's blog. Unfortunately, while I had remembered correctly, what I hadn't remembered is that Farah hated the book. Whoops!

I wouldn't say that Farah's quibbles weighed on me as much as they did on her, although they did, I think, make the book feel more childish. But I'll tell you what bothered me at the end of the book. In a fairly unsurprising plot point, it transpires that Ember, the underground city, was founded by people who were afraid that all of humanity would die out. They built the city and sent a group of elderly people and babies to live there so that at least one small sliver of humanity could survive. This is explicitly stated - "it's supposed to ensure that, no matter what happens, people won't disappear from the earth" (259). However, they deliberately asked the elderly people not to reveal anything of human culture to the babies, "so that they feel no sorrow for what they have lost" (260).

Okay. So that point is clearly necessary for the plot of the book to work - you need the people of Ember to be completely ignorant in order for there to be all the exciting revelations of things like boats and candles to people who've never even heard of such ideas before. But, to me, at least, this seems to kinda sorta negate the purpose of having Ember in the first place. First of all, it seems ludicrous to me that the babies would feel such sorrow at all. They might vaguely miss having the lives of their caretakers, but it's very difficult to feel such profound and deep sorrow over the absence of something you've never personally experienced. I often think that there are elements of life in the past that sound entrancing or desirable, but, if I've never experienced them myself, I don't really feel strong emotions about it.

But, leaving that aside. . . I don't see the point of saving humanity if you're not saving human culture, too. I see the value of saving individual human lives. We like humans, we like it when they don't die. And I see the value of saving human culture. Human culture is great! It's what makes life worth living. But I don't really see the virtue of saving humanity as anything other than a necessary aspect of saving human lives and a potential vector of saving human culture. If all of humanity were to die out, I think the particularly undesirable aspects of that would be: A) if it involved lots of people dying, not just lots of people not being born, and B) that no one would be able to appreciate or carry on human culture. I don't think the mere fact of this species not existing any more is so drastic - that's simply something that happens to species eventually.

We aren't told, in this book, what disaster exactly threatens the world at the time of the foundation of Ember. I guess that's explained in the prequel. And if it turns out, in that prequel, that Ember was immediately necessary in order to save actual human lives, I can accept that motive for the founding (although I still think the killing off human culture stuff is ludicrous and unnecessary). We should totally take drastic steps to save human lives! But if there wasn't any immediate threat, and the goal really was just to save humanity, then I'll be kind of pissed off. What makes us so great? Well, the culture, of course. But apparently Jeanne DuPrau isn't convinced. . . .

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Passage of Time

I don't actually read xkcd on a regular basis, but every once in a while my best friend points a specific strip out to me, and I read it. This strip is about Burma-Shave. Why did I get a joke about Burma-Shave? Because of a much older joke about Burma-Shave - from a Mad Magazine from the early 60s, one of the many that I used to read every single time I went over to my grandparents' house as a little kid. Remembering that reminds me of how important Mad was to me as a small child - not only did I obsessively devour 60s Mad magazines at my grandparents' house, but I also spent my time reading the more recent vintage in the children's section of the library every single time I went to the library. In retrospect, this is kind of strange - I probably knew very little about the pop culture of either the 60s or the 80s, so I doubt I got a lot of the jokes in either subset of Mad magazines. And yet I sure enjoyed reading them! I haven't even though about Mad in years - at some point, I read all of the ones there were at my grandparents' house, and I started actually caring about picking out my own books to read at the library (before that, while I sat reading magazines, my parents would pick out books for me). It's always slightly disconcerting to remember how something that was very important to you at some point in your life drops out of it almost completely. Or, at least, I find it so. It takes me a lot of time to realize that I no longer love something qute as much as I used to, because I find it so difficult to admit!
This is a really appealing interview with Georgie Fruit (not Kevin Barnes, Georgie Fruit). Or, at least, it appeals to me. Georgie Fruit sounds suspiciously like Achewood (n.b., I do not read Achewood, but I know enough about it from my brother to be able to tell). I like what he has to say about Kevin. One assumes that Kevin was ventriloquizing Georgie Fruit again. . . . I would love to talk about myself from the perspective of another persona, but I don't feel like there's much room in my life to do that. A lot of artists whom I'm very drawn to have interests in Dissociative Identity Disorder (off the top of my head - Philip Dick, Jenna Moran, Tetsuya Takahashi, DWJ, and Kevin Barnes all seem to fit the bill). I'm always curious as to why, given that it's something that I find almost impossible to imagine for myself. I always feel pretty secure in my identity and selfhood - so I'm not sure why I love so much to read about the experiences of people who don't, why this, in particular, should be a theme that appeals to me so significantly.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


Apparently, some of the designers of Xenogears (including Kunihiko Tanaka and the awesomeness that is Yasunori Mitsuda) have put out a game, entitled World Destruction, in which the protagonists' goal is, in fact, to destroy the world. Also, one of the playable characters is a pirate teddy bear.

I suppose I will never play this game, but that's probably okay. There is no way that it could possibly live up to that description. No way.

Anyway, this news requires a song. My brother made up this filk when we were playing Xenogears together, and it's just too appropriate. Sing along, now. . . "Destroy the world. Make it a better place. . . for me. There are people dying. . . so it's a better place. . . for me."

Friday, October 17, 2008

Lack of Sleep Makes Me Post More (and Other Things, Too)

I just muttered something under my breath and then noticed, after the fact, that it had been half in Japanese, half in Chinese.

Keep in mind that I only know Japanese from anime. . . .

Quick Question-I-Had-at-Work Post

It's kind of a commonplace of discussion about the history of Western thought that we have this religious/Platonic idea running throughout it that consciousness precedes the external world - an idea that has had many permutations of varying levels of interest. However, leaving aside the truth or falsehood of the concepts that consciousness in general precedes the external world or some form of Platonic/Wordsworthian barely-remembered reincarnation exists, surely our actual experience of our individual consciousness that we can actually remember tends to suggest that this one thing does, in fact, come after the external world. Like, there's this big world with a lot of stuff in it that seems to have been around for a while, and, while our experience of consciousness is obviously guided by various mental constraints that allow us to learn, surely every actual experience is new to the individual mind (and it's not like we have memories of some other experiences that are no longer happening to us). So why is the idea that consciousness comes first so prevalent? Does Freud talk about this?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

I Was Going to Write About Iceland Last Week, but I Didn't Have Enough Time, so This Is Still a Purely Of Montreal Blog

I listened to this BBC interview/performance with of Montreal. It was interesting, because I felt a little embarrassed while listening to it. The interviewer obviously knew nothing about the band, and I suppose I just felt a kind of sympathetic awkwardness - I would feel so embarrassed if I were supposed to be somewhat well-known and got interviewed by people who knew nothing about me.

I have, of course, been reading and listening to a bunch of of Montreal interviews lately, some of which have been heavily criticized by fans of the band. In general, though, the interviews I've read and heard seem to involve interviewers who know quite a lot about the band's history and background (example of a radio interview here). I feel like it's not so awkward for the band members to answer a question about a potentially touchy issue like Kevin's creative domination of the band when everyone's starting from the awareness that that's true. Even if the question is hostile, the interviewer and the interviewees all know what the situation is, and the interviewees can just casually deflect and say something along the lines of: "We know you think this is bad for us, but, just like we've said a million times before, no, we don't mind it." But I feel like the situation is different when the interviewer really genuinely believes that maybe everyone in the band takes a creative role. I feel like the answer to this question in the BBC interview was more awkward for Kevin to give, because the person asking the question isn't starting from the premise of knowing anything about the band. Even in bands that tend to have one dominant creative force, they usually aren't as dominant as Kevin, who basically makes the entire album himself and only gets the band to play on the live shows. So I feel like Kevin would have to really shock the interviewer if he was to give the whole truth - which is why he kind of hedges in this interview, at least in my reading of it.

Maybe this is actually perfectly comfortable and non-awkward for Kevin, since he's presumably at least somewhat secure in his decisions, as, one would hope, are the rest of the band. But I'm not. If I were to start a band, I'd feel really, really weird about saying, "Okay, I am going to define the sounds of these songs precisely, and your only job is to recreate them when we do a tour." Our perceptions of bands are shaped by groups where often there's a dominant creative force but all of the other members at least get to play their own instruments and affect the sound that way. I'm hardly trying to say that I think Kevin is wrong in what he does. Actually, I think he's a brilliant genius and that if this is the best way for him to make music than, Jesus, he should go for it, and I'm glad he's found a bunch of people who are happy to support him. But I think it makes me feel slightly insecure, because it's out of the ordinary, and thus I feel embarrassed for his deviation, even if he doesn't, and even if I support him.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Just Wanna Play with You

I don't know why I love listening to pop music so much, but I guess one reason why I love to go to pop music concerts it's because it's an accepted space where grown adult people act completely ridiculous and over-the-top. And I don't mean me - I mean the performers. I love the way they behave completely differently from what we would expect of ordinary people - they way they are putting on a performance that has only a fairly tenuous link with reality.

One aspect of pop music as performance that does seem to carry over, every so often, into the music itself is the idea of singer as playing a role. For whatever reason, first-person confessional is by far the most common mode for pop music lyrics. I think that listeners and songwriters definitely realize that this can easily be fictional; although many of the songs I listen to apparently refer actual events in the writer's biography, many of them don't, and the same is true for people who listen to very different music than I. Nonetheless, even when writing about fictional events or emotions, the writer still tends to use "you" and "I." But some writer/performers take this a bit further and end up constructing an entirely fictional character whom they explicitly play on the stage, and who has at least something to do with the lyrics they write. The most famous example of this is, of course, David Bowie and Ziggy Stardust.

I find this fascinating - but then, I always like to think about people who are pretending to be other people; it's one of my favorite topics. For over a decade now, I guess, I've been creeped out by the actual song "Ziggy Stardust." Bowie, singing this song onstage, was performing in the role of Ziggy Stardust but somehow simultaneously singing a song from the first-person point-of-view of another character ("we were Ziggy's band" clearly indicates that the singer is a member of Ziggy's band, not Ziggy himself). The lyrics of the song, to at least some extent, involve the narrator expressing his somewhat ambivalent feelings towards Ziggy - but the person singing the song is in the role of Ziggy himself - Ziggy is ventroloquizing his own band members' somewhat negative attitudes towards him! I just find that soooooo creepy!

Right now, Kevin Barnes is taking on the role of "black she-male" Georgie Fruit. And yet we know this is just a role - I don't think he's constantly playing Georgie Fruit the way Bowie probably was always playing Ziggy in that stage of his career, and certainly not all of the lyrics on Skeletal Lamping could possibly be Georgie's. I continue to find this role-playing fascinating. In particular, at the beginning of "Death Is Not a Parallel Move," Kevin sings? raps?, "All of my thoughts come from a foreign host. I feel just like a ghost." The rest of the song would seemingly be sung from Kevin's own point of view - Kevin must be addressing his family when he sings "lille venn" - it apparently means "little friend," a term he commonly uses when singing about his family, in Norwegian, his wife's native language. But surely "all of my thoughts come from a foreign host" must be Georgie talking? After all, it's Kevin's body and brain that are the foreign host for Georgie, and it's Kevin who's actually the creator of the Georgie persona. A casual listener might think that the line involves Kevin expressing his anxiety about his thoughts coming from Georgie, but this seems highly implausible to me, as Georgie has no actual body of his own. And so we come across something as creepy in its own way as what David Bowie sung in "Ziggy" - Kevin is ventroloquizing the fictional Georgie Fruit's discomfort with their* own fictionality, their own forced binding to the body and mind of Kevin Barnes. And yet it's Kevin who's creating that very dissatisfaction! Fascinating!

First Actual Post

This post is about politics!

Well, maybe it's actually about of Montreal.

So, today, John McCain said this:

I think he is ignoring the wisdom so well-expressed by Kevin Barnes:
"This life is not a prison. We are always free to go, any time."

About Me

Now that I've introduced the blog, it's time to introduce myself.

I am in fact female, but I'm ethnically Ashkenazi, not Irish. I'm far closer in age to Bryce Dallas Howard than to Nicole Kidman. I've lived most of my life in the American northeast, which is where I live now, although I've spent half a year in Scotland and a year in China. At the time of writing, I work at an extremely menial job in publishing; I'm hoping to be an English teacher next year. I have an MA in English. I am pretty far left, politically, for an American. I have been in love with many works of art and the city of Edinburgh but never with a human being.

The rest of this post is just a list of art that is very important to me now or has been in the past:

Authors: Diana Wynne Jones, Henry James, Jenna Moran, Dave Duncan, Theodore Sturgeon

Books (by other authors): Please Save My Earth, Angel Sanctuary, Valis, A Scanner Darkly, Absalom, Absalom!, Giles Goat Boy, The Great Gatsby, "Death in Venice"

Bands: Pulp, Yoko Kanno and the Seatbelts, Belle and Sebastian, of Montreal

TV Shows: Blackadder, Red Dwarf, Mulberry, Trigun, Buffy, Angel, House, Lost

Webcomic: College Roomies from Hell!!!

Movies: Dogville, Badlands

Video Games: Final Fantasy IV, Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VII, Xenogears

Poems: "The Second Coming," "The Book of Thel," Prometheus Unbound

I guess that's it for now - anyway, hopefully that gives you at least some kind of guide.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Welcome to My Blog

Hello! Welcome to my blog!

The basic idea behind this is to serve as a response blog. I am hoping to post my responses to things that interest me here. I tend to be more interested in art than in life; thus, more of my responses will probably be to art than to life, although this is a prediction, not a rule. In particular, I like the narrative arts and music, so I expect to focus on those areas. Again - prediction, not rule.

What kind of responses can you expect? Fundamentally, I think they'll end up falling somewhere in between "review" and "paper." I don't generally enjoy writing that's focused entirely around whether or not I enjoyed something - that kind of evaluative text doesn't inspire me to think about the kinds of topics I like to think about. On the other hand, if I wanted to write analytically deep, impersonal academic papers all the time, I'd get a PhD, not write a blog. Thus, I have no intention whatsoever of concealing my likes and dislikes. The closest match to the kind of tone I'm going for is probably Micole's blog - she ends up writing more reviews than I really intend to, but a post like this (warning, Angel Season 5 spoilers) is a good example of the kind of writing I'm interested in. But I'm also interested in incredibly short posts that just comment on something amusing to me!

In terms of audience, I'm going to be writing posts with the idea in mind of talking to mythical people out there who share all of my interests but do not personally know me. Obviously, no such person is likely to exist. However, there are definitely real people out there who share some of my interests but do not personally know me. Therefore, if anyone outside of my family ends up reading the blog, I fully expect it to be people who just wander in for a single entry that they happen to find because they're looking for the topic on Google (there is a sad lack of blog entries on Dave Duncan's Man of His Word series, for instance) and then wander out again. That's fine! I'm happy to have long-term readers but don't demand them; I would be very cheerful indeed to have a conversation with someone about something we both like to talk about, even if I never hear from them again.

The combination of the preceding two paragraphs should help to explain my spoiler policy - expect spoilers on any topic I discuss. I'm writing responses, for a hypothetical audience of people who also want to respond to whatever it is that I'm responding to, so the more we can discuss details, the better. I will try to provide tags for each post that detail what I'm talking about, though, so, if spoilers bother you, check the tags. If spoilers don't bother you, that's fine, too!

Finally, this is a pseudonymous blog, for largely psychological reasons - I feel more comfortable making my likes and dislikes very clear and expressing my analysis when I know that no one is going to be judging me for it. As I've already said, I don't intend to engage with whatever I respond to on a purely intellectual level, but I don't feel comfortable publicly fangirling too much, either. I'd rather you think about the writer of this blog as Grace Mulligan and not as me. Otherwise, I don't think I could post.

Next post will be about me, so if you're interested in what kind of things I'm liable to post about, you can get a list of my interests, there.