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 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 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?