Sunday 28 December 2008

Messiah Of Evil (1972; Dir: Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz)

A rather effective little creeper with an eerie atmosphere, weird happenings, some wonderfuly bizarre sets and just a little splash of gore here and there. The oddly-monickered Arletty, a Nico-esque blonde with a rather European accent goes to the town of Point Dune to find her father. Dad's an artist; he's retreated to Point Dune to paint, stopping now and then to send his daughter letters that have been getting stranger and stranger lately.

No less strange than his house in Point Dune, a gloriously eccentric artist's nook done up with some very creepy trompe de l'oil paintings of escalators going nowhere, crowds of vaguely menacing people and so on. Even stranger are his journals, which unfold a Lovecraftian tale of creeping horror and inhuman posession.

In fact, shades of Lovecraft loom large over the plot, which bears more than a passing resemblance to 'The Shadow Over Innsmouth'. Still, the treatment is quite different in tone and setting from a HPL tale, and despite occasional infelicities of dialogue and acting, this is a rather succesful horror flick. Just about the only thing that refuses to resolve into any sort of sense is the opening scene that bears no connection whatsoever to the rest of the movie. What was that all about? Maybe they just had some extra footage from a failed earlier project and decided to bung it in? Who knows!


Friday 19 December 2008

I tried to listen to Chinese Democracy.
A few things got in the way.
The music. The lyrics. The vocals.

Thursday 18 December 2008

in which he decides to be cryptic

I, the hanged man. The smile on my lips.

As far as I can piece it together, here's what I read this year, in no special order, and with a few especially good graphic novels thrown in:

  1. Station Island - Seamus Heaney ***
  2. The Collected Poetry of Alan Ginsberg ***
  3. Marcovaldo - Italo Calvino ****
  4. The Enigmatic Lett - Georges Simenon ***
  5. Love Of Seven Dolls - Paul Gallico ***
  6. Pictures Of Fidelman - Bernard Malamud ***
  7. On The Road - Jack Kerouack ****
  8. The Heart Of The Matter - Graham Greene *****
  9. Beowulf - Seamus Heaney Translation *****
  10. Lord Jim - Joseph Conrad ****
  11. A House For Mr Biswas - VS Naipaul ****
  12. The Power And The Glory - Graham Greene *****
  13. The Culture Industry - Theodor Adorno ****
  14. Mythologies - Roland Barthes *****
  15. Venus In Furs - Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch *****
  16. The Collected Father Brown - GK Chesterton *****
  17. The Pickwick Papers - Charles Dickens *****
  18. Nicholas Nickelby - Charles Dickens *****
  19. The Day Lasts More Than A Hundred Years - Chingiz Aitmatov ***
  20. The Magic Mountain - Thomas Mann *****
  21. Doktor Faustus - Thomas Mann *****
  22. Death In Venice and other stories - Thomas Mann *****
  23. Zot! - Scott McCloud *****
  24. Tomorrow In The Battle Think On Me - Javier Marias ****
  25. Written Lives - Javier Marias *****
  26. All Souls - Javier Marias ****
  27. Madam Crowl's Ghost And Other Short Stories - Sheridan Le Fanu ****
  28. Carmilla - Sheridan Le Fanu ****
  29. The Ceremonies - TED Klein **
  30. Shadowlands - Peter Straub ***
  31. Snow Country - Yasunari Kawabata *****
  32. Thousand Cranes - Yasunari Kawabata ***
  33. Austerlitz - WG Sebald ****
  34. Red Lights - Georges Simenon ****
  35. Maigret and the Ghost - Georges Simenon ****
  36. Nip The Buds, Shoot The Kids -Kenzaburo Oe ****
  37. Great Apes - Will Self ***
  38. My Idea Of Fun - Will Self ****
  39. The Book Of Disquiet - Fernando Pessoa *****
  40. St. Lucy's Home For Girls Raised By Wolves - Karen Russell **
  41. Goldberg: Variation - Gabriel Josipovici ***
  42. Mr. Norris Changes Trains - Christopher Isherwood *****
  43. Goodbye To Berlin - Christopher Isherwood ****
  44. The Lambs Of London - Peter Ackroyd ***
  45. The Eagle's Throne - Carlos Fuentes ***
  46. The Old Gringo - Carlos Fuentes **
  47. Sentimental Education - Gustave Flaubert *****
  48. Family Matters - Rohinton Mistry ***
  49. The People Of Paper - Salvador Plascencia **
  50. Gentlemen Of The Road - Michael Chabon ***
  51. The Virgin In The Ice - Ellis Peters ****
  52. The Solitaire Mystery - Jostein Gaarder *****
  53. The Black Dossier - Alan Moore and Kevin O' Neill *****
  54. The Rabbi's Cat 2 - Joann Sfar *****
  55. Klezmer 1 - Joann Sfar *****
  56. Onitsha - JMG Le Clezio *****
  57. A Life's Music - Andrei Malkine *****
  58. Ilium - Dan Simmons ****
  59. Good-bye - Yoshihiro Tatsumi ****
  60. The Street Of Crocodiles - Bruno Schulz *****
  61. Snake Catcher - Naiyer Masud *****
  62. Essays In Love - Alain De Botton **
  63. Written On The Body - Jeanette Winterson ***
  64. Kappa - Ryunosoke Akutagawa ***
  65. Three Men In A Boat - Jerome K Jerome ***
  66. Hot Water - PG Wodehouse ***
  67. Money For Nothing - PG Wodehouse ***
  68. The Illustrated Man - Ray Bradbury *****
  69. Inside Mr Enderby - Anthony Burgess *****
  70. Enderby Outside - Anthony Burgess *****
  71. Mozart And The Wolf Gang - Anthony Burgess *****
  72. The Magician - Somerset Maugham *****
  73. Sweeney Astray - Seamus Heaney ****
  74. Mysteries Of Winterthurn - Joyce Carol Oates ***
  75. Candide - Voltaire *****
  76. Zadig - Voltaire *****
  77. Seven Days At The Silberstein's - Etienne Leroux ***
  78. Selected Essays - John Berger ****
  79. The Legends Of Khasak - OV Vijayan ****
  80. Lock 14 - Georges Simenon ****
  81. A Man's Head - Georges Simenon *****
  82. The Collected Ghost Stories of MR James ******
  83. The Collected Poetry Of Cavafy ***

Bit of a slow year, but I'm learning to accept that my pace of reading has slown down a bit with all the tribulations of adult life and whatnot.

I think it was pretty cool, and not really unwarranted, the way that bloke threw those shoes at that fellow. And it's a fucking shame they had to break his bones in retaliation.

Go on, report me to the police.

Tuesday 16 December 2008

ILIUM by Dan Simmons

Most excellent.

I like SF, and I like much of what gets lumped under the rather stuffy title 'classic literature'. Clearly, so does Dan Simmons. Set in a very distant future, long after both AI and posthumans have emerged, this novel contains three main storylines, all of which eventually intersect.

First, there's a group of languid, pleasure-seeking old-style humans living on old earth, all their needs taken care of by mechanical servitors left for them, presumably, by the posthumans. Upon completing a century of life, they are supposed to ascend to the orbital rings where the posthumans reside, and join them. A small group of old-style humans decides to find out what's really going on in those orbital rings. Which, as it turns out, involves Prospero and Caliban from Shakespeare's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'.

Simultaneously, a group of AI robots left to pursue their own ends in the Jupiter moon system note anomalous amounts of quantum acitivity on Mars, and launch a mission to find out what is going on. Among them are Mahnmut, who is obsessed with Shakespeare's sonnets, and his friend Orphu, who prefers Proust.

Oh, and there's the Olympian gods too, who have all the powers ascribed to them in Greek myth. Only, it seems they can't see the future, so they've brough back a bunch of scholars from the future to confirm if the events taking place as they observe and interfere in the Trojan war correspond with Homer's account.

Simmons has pulled off quite a coup here. His novel bristles with the up-to-the-minute hard sf concerns about posthumanism, quantum science, AI and so on. At the same time, he's found a way to bring in heroes from antiquity and great works of literature from our past and use them illuminate what our future might be like.

ILIUM is the first part of a duology. The second is OLYMPOS, which I'm currently reading. There is so much left over to be tied up in the first book that I think the two would best be considered as one long story split into two books.

Wednesday 10 December 2008

oh dear

“Buying books would be a good thing if one could also buy the time to read them in: but as a rule the purchase of books is mistaken for the appropriation of their contents.” — Arthur Schopenhauer

Monday 8 December 2008

Another delectable look at Jewish life by Joann Sfar. 'The Rabbi's Cat' books concentrate on the experiences of north African jews, this book looks at jews and other outcasts in pre-WW2 Europe. A rag-tag group of runaways, outcasts and wanderers fall in together and become a klezmer band, playing Jewish folk music. The usual understated explorations of big topics, and Sfar's gloriously free-flowing line. There's a delightful afterword. Can't wait for the sequel!
Delectable is perhaps the last word I'd use here. Haunting, more like, or disturbing. This third collection of Tatsumi's work show both his art and his stories become more incisive and telling. The first story, 'Hell' tackles the demons of Hiroshima - and they're not the demons you'd expect. The title story is another highlight, if the term can be applied to anything so bleak and sordid. Elsewhere, the mood can get a bit too heavy and the stories a trifle repetitive, but when it works it's brilliant - a scathing portrait of humanity's urban misadventure.

Thursday 4 December 2008

things that don't happen

Why is it easier for the Batman to defeat the entire JLA than the Joker? Discuss amongst yourselves quietly.

Wednesday 3 December 2008

So a bunch of people on the face books want the corporates to start a leaderless movement. Other than mass overconsumption, that is.

Monday 1 December 2008

As usual, now is a very good time to read this.

Tuesday 25 November 2008

The Day Of The Triffids (1962): This movie really should have been a lot better. All the nuance and most of the menace of Wyndham's novel is drained away as a steel-jawed alpha male wanders about saving everyone's ass, incidentally crossing the English Channel by car. That's just the way steel-jawed alpha males who save everybody are! Meanwhile another steel-jawed alpha male, locked in a lighthouse with a screechy blonde wife, discovers a cure to the triffids! Oh, yay! Oh, piffle! The novel is really much better.

The People of Paper by Salvador Plascencia (2005). Also should have been a lot better. The author has some nice notions - a delightfuly loopy alternative Mexico/Calfiornia with origami surgeons, mechanical tortoises, a paper woman, a baby prophet and so on and an initially good way of working themes of human loss and suffering into his whimsy. Then it goes all top-heavy with metafictional excess and adolescent angst over losing some chick. Maybe when Plascencia gets over Liz, or whatever she's actually called, and the Catholic church, and his own cleverness, we'll get a really good novel out of him instead of this often magnificent failure.

The Virgin In The Ice by Ellis Peters is just as good as it should be, which is to say, excellent, character-driven comfort food for the traditional mystery lover. Which would be me. I've always enjoyed reading about the 12th-century monk Cadfael's exploits, and it suddenly strikes me that I really ought to get the whole series. It's ideal for a rainy day, or those long, lazy sunday afternoons.

The Solitaire Mystery by Jostein Gaarder was much better than I was expecting, although, to be fair, I really had no idea what to expect. I love the way the author weaves together a Pirsigish journey of a man and his son across Europe, albeit more lucid and wide-ranging, although possibly less original in philosophical content, with a truly weird and wonderful fantasy narrative. You'll never look at the joker in a deck of cards, or indeed, at a deck of cards the same way again. Some would even claim you'll never look at the world the same way again, and this book certainly does infect one with a certain sense of wide-eyed wonder, not without a modicum of critical thinking behind it.

Thousand Cranes by Yasunari Kawabata is just as good as Snow Country, which is to say brilliant, if a bit shorter.

That is all for now.

Tuesday 18 November 2008

Last weekend, many Indians were all agog over the planting of our tricolour flag on the moon. It's a rather depressing sign of our continuing inability to think globally in a universe that continues to be vaster than any of our fleeting cultures, tribes or nations. It's a shame that no one's hoisted this flag there yet. Beautiful isn't it? Brings a tear to my eye.
(Found here.)
'Dated' is perhaps the lamest thing you can say about a book, movie, painting, song or poem. Of course it's dated; everything's dated, everything's a product of its time. Calling something dated only calls attention to how embedded you are in the matrix of your own non-privileged point in space-time; it only shows you up for the dated relic of your own time that you are.

What an odd concoction. The gazeteer at the end of Vol. 2 suggested that Moore was tired of the whole Victorian secret history adventures format and possibly wanted to apotheosise the cast and be done with the League. Instead, a sequel, where a randy, rejuvenated Mina and Alan run around some sort of post-Big Brother England reading about their escapades over the past century in a series of clever pastiches (of Shakespeare, Wodehouse and the Beats amongst others) and finally escape to a kind of metafictional paradise, The Blazing World.
Cripes, it's weird. At least Mr. Moore seems as jaundiced about doubleoh seven and his thuggish ways as I am. And possibly it requires a kind of genius to re-invent Billy Bunter, the owl of Greyfriars, as a rather pathetic old figure of tragedy.

Friday 14 November 2008

There's this thing called the Charter For Compassion going around. I think it's nonsense. Fundamentalism and intolerance have always been religion's most faithful attendants and no amount of feelgood whitewashing will erase that.

ETA: '...prayer really is the lowest form of literature. Desire and flattery are nowhere sung so nakedly.'- Don Paterson

Wednesday 12 November 2008

gnome more

Garden gnomes banned from church cemetery because they are 'unnatural creatures'

I think I just had an irony overdose.

Incidentally, I suspect my wife would gladly offer our garden as a refuge for homeless and cast-out gnomes. Heck, it might even bring down real estate prices in our neighbourhood!

Monday 10 November 2008

Fleeing from yet another colossal shitstorm, John Constantine falls in with a commune of back-to-nature mystics in Thatcher's England. Like a lot of Jamie Delano's Hellblazer run, it gets a bit over-written at times, and a lot of the layouts are pretty confusing, as if Mark Buckingham hasn't quite figured out how to master the sequential bit of comics art yet. The story itself is pretty cool, even if it dwells a bit too long on pagan revivalist rituals in Scotland. There's a rather cool engine of horror, so to speak, at the heart of the story that would work even without the social trappings. Much else in the story is a product of its time, which is fair enough, as it was written as a political and social satire - as much of Delano's run was. I think the series lost a lot of British-ness at later points, but on the other hand it did so under some very capable writers, so there's your classic half-full, half-empty comicbook fandom quandary.

The main part of this tpb is given over to Constantine's discovery of a serial killer called The Family Man, and his pursuit of the killer in vengeance for his father's death. There are other odds and ends fitted in, possibly to make volume, which I seem to remember being chucked in at the end of one of the other tpbs as well, so it isn't the most cohesive collection around. Still, it's good to see the whole of the Delano run finally being reprinted - a few years back Hellblazer fans were convinced this would never happen.

Again, there's some good stuff (Constantine senior calling his son a 'cheap, flashy little crook'), some suitably creepy stuff, a bit of overwriting and odds and ends of social satire (including a rather more benign take on soccer fandom, which shows up to much more sinister effect in Son Of Man, I think). As Constantine himself says, he's used to dealing with demons - humans are a bit different, so it's a nice touch seeing Johnny boy grappling with a non-supernatural demon for once, although I find the whole treatment of the serial killer psyche rather by-the-numbers and trite.

Friday 7 November 2008

My grandfather used to wake up at 4.30 every morning, meditate and then make coffee. This routine was repeated at 3.00 PM, when he woke up from his afternoon nap.

He made the best cup of coffee ever. Hot, sweet, strong. I used to tell him we should go into business and open a coffee stall. If there are gods, they're probably hovering around the kitchen door right now, waiting for him to pour out coffee for them. After which he'll sit them down and tell them how they can re-engineer their vahanas for better fuel efficiency.

Wednesday 5 November 2008

Whose power shed round him in the common strife,
Or mild concerns of ordinary life,
A constant influence, a peculiar grace;
This is the happy Warrior; this is he
Whom every Man in arms should wish to be.

My grandfather is no more. These are lines from Character Of The Happy Warrior by William Wordsworth, one of his favourite poems. RIP.

Tuesday 4 November 2008

'And now it is all no more than a dream dreamt by Geoffroy Allen, in the night, next to Maou sleeping. The town is a raft on the river, where the oldest memory of the world is flowing. That is the city he wants to see now. He feels if he could just reach that city something would cease in the inhuman movement, in the slipping of the world towards death.'

-JMG Le Clezio, Onitsha

'He scarcely recognised himself in this moment of return. He was someone else. 'A man,' he thought, 'lying beside a window in an unknown house, in a village he could never find again on a map, a man who has seen so many people die, who has killed so many, who almost died himself and now observes this slender crescent moon in a milder sky.'

-Andrei Malkine, A Life's Music

Wednesday 15 October 2008

The Eagle's Throne by Carlos Fuentes.

In the year 2020, the Mexican president decides to defy USA with a couple of defiant policy declarations. In retaliation, Mexico's communications networks, provided by contractors who are fronts for US government departments, are suspended. In the ensuing confusion, Mexico's top politicians and king-makers revert to the written (or recorded in some cases) word to communicate with each other. The big topic of the day, of course, is who will succeed to the presidency when the incumbent's term ends 4 years hence. A variety of colourful characters conspire and counter-conspire to ensure that they, or their choice of candidate, will be the next to occupy the eagle's throne.

The epistolatory novel is not a common form anymore, and Fuentes strikes what I think is a delicate but functional balance, giving the correspondents subtle shades of difference in tone of voice while maintaining a certain uniform frame of references and allusions that makes for a cohesive read. After a slow, stage-setting start, the often melodramatic events start piling up. There are betrayals, unexpected alliances, sudden reverses and equally abrupt victories along the way.

So far, so good - this book functions quite well as a political thriller with literary aspirations. Some of the political insight is acute, some of it (such as Fuentes' characterisaion of Bush Jr's administration as one run on the basis of opinion polls) less so. Fuentes left the world of politics and diplomacy behind to devote himself to literature, so many of the observations on politics in general and Mexican politics in particular do carry a certain weight and interest.

At the very end, though, the novel suddenly finds its emotional centre in a very unexpected, completely peripheral character. It's this final statement, I think, that elevates the novel to something more than a formally unusual yarn of political scheming. I also found that, somehow the characters had come vividly alive in my mind, to the extent that I missed being able to read about them the evening after I finished this book. Not an entirely succesful book, I think - there's a bit too much soap opera in here - but certainly gripping and thought provoking.

Tuesday 14 October 2008

Flaubert's Sentimental Education was all about a conceited ass with a smattering of Wertheresque angst who goes on to ignore the great events of his times, aware only of his own vanity as reflected in farcical forays into public life and business and a series of grotesque love affairs. No one else comes off especially well either, and the ones who do seem to have a smideeon of humanity either die, or subside into lives of bitter failure. Not very optimistic, then.

The Eagle's Throne by Carlos Fuentes was surprisingly gripping for what is mainly a political thriller.

Japan's Gonin-Ish is crazy and very cool.

Tuesday 7 October 2008

Lives Of Others is painstakingly crafted and intensely sad. It's also perhaps a bit naive, but wouldn't it be nice to believe for a moment?

Monday 6 October 2008

Dickens looms large over Rohinton Mistry's Family Matters. The melodramatic plot twists, the plethora of impossibly picturesque secondary characters, the constant teetering on the brink of sentimentality. Mistry is great at tugging at the heartstrings, and there are times when he goes a bit too far to make that violin weep. The tragedies and deaths are piled on as he tells us the story of a Parsi family in 1990s Bombay, grappling with the decline of their patriarch, Nariman Vakeel and their own individual choices, mistakes and conflicts. Some of the characters are quickly cast aside to be caught up with later as Mistry's narrative meanders from one focal point to another, sometimes seeming to lose touch with the rest of the story. Some of the actions his characters take seem dictated by the need to set up dramatic plot points rather than as a result of consistent character development.

And yet, despite all this, Mistry gets through to those heartstrings. I found myself caring about the people in this book, identifying with them and rooting for their family to reconcile and overcome its difficulties. In some ways they do - and in others, the final outcome is left hanging. The more things change, the more they stay the same, and Mistry leaves with a family in an uneasy state of harmony, held together by love and loyalry but with the cracks of dissent and prejudice still showing. In the process, Mistry in a somewhat slapdash manner also manages to paint a picture of Bombay, of its teeming masses and the many currents and counter-currents of hostility surging, sometimes more overtly than not, through them all.

I think what works in this novel's favour is that Mistry's compassion is real, and he writes about what he knows. In some ways this book is the anti-Naipaul. Mistry writes with a similarly crowded, often caricatured 19th-century model of the novel in mind, but where with Naipaul sheet talent compensates for a certain cynicism, it's Mistry's humanity that made me forgive his sometimes shaky novelcraft. Much the same way as the occasional, disarming, flash of humanity makes you forgive the teeming urban hells of India for their many failings.

Wednesday 1 October 2008

Where is the titular snow country of Kawabata's 1948 novel (original title: Yukiguni)? Is it the snowy western region of Japan, a haven for vacationing men on the lookout for hot springs and compliant geishas, or is it a cold, perhaps numb place somewhere within the characters in the novel?

If that seems like a rather pretentious way to start this off, I'll apologise for my ineptness, and point out that I'm trying to mimic something Kawabata does remarkably well throughout this novel - to weave together descriptions of the surroundings the main character finds himself in with descriptions of his mental state and interactions with the people around him - and to somehow make each a metaphor or complement to the other. Don't take my word for it. Read the excerpt in my previous post and see for yourself.

Small shifts in atmosphere, in emphasis, in tone of voice or choice of words, outlined against the contantly shifting backdrops afforded by the picturesque snow country resort town and its inhabitants take on great significance in this most subtle of novels.

With both grace and economy, Kawabata unfolds the story of Shimamura, a wealthy dilletante from Tokyo and his liaison with Komaka, a geisha in the hot springs resort he visits. Shimamura is taken with Komaka's innocence and simplicity; yet unwilling to fully believe that her professed love for him is real and not the pose of a geisha, or indeed that any sort of reciprocity beyond a never-defined, sporadic relationship without even the status of patron and favoured geisha is possible between them.

Both of them are, in some way, empty people, pursuing what Shimamura thinks of as wasteful effort. Shimamura, at one time a well-regarded commentator on Japanese dance and expected to soon enter into the fray himself finds his hobby getting too real and transfers his scholarly attentions to western dance, despite never having seen a ballet performance, and refusing to see ballets put up by Japanese troupes. Mountain climbing, another hobby of his, is also seen as a classic example of wasted effort - once you reach the top you have climb all the way back down again. Komako reads everything she can get her hands on, from classics to trash, and keeps a record of it all in a diary that she has been maintaining for years. She doesn't try to analyse what she reads, or impose any quality control on it - she just reads omnivourously and keeps a record of it. She teaches herself to play songs using sheet music, with no exposure to actual peformance practise, creating a naive and affecting but essentially quaint and insular art of her own.

Between them are many shadows and obstacles - Shimamura's own wife and family back in Tokyo, Yukio, a man whom Komako claims to have been engaged to, and for whose sake she has become a geisha and Yoko, a girl who bears some undefined relationship to this man, and is posessed of a beauty that increasingly haunts Shimamura.

The tension is intense, and grows with each visit Shimamura makes to the snow country resort and Komako. Things have to come to a head, something has to be resolved - but they won't as long as Shimamura and Komako stagnate in their uncomfortable relationship, afraid to take it to the next level or to make a clean break. Finally, there is a stark, haunting resolution brought about by events beyond their own control.

A very elegant book, written with great feeling for visual richness and emotional depth without exessive verbiage. Despite the differences in culture that made some of it hard to understand at first, the universal appeal of this story shines through in the end.

Tuesday 23 September 2008

'It was a stern night landscape. The sound of the freezing of snow over the land seemed to roar deep into the earth. There was no moon. The stars, almost too many of them to be true, came forward so brightly that it was as if they were falling with the swiftness of the void. As the stars came nearer, the sky retreated deeper and deeper into the night color. The layers of the Border Range, indistinguishable one from another, cast their heaviness at the skirt of the starry sky in a blackness grave and somber enough to communicate their mass. The whole of the night scene came together in a clear, tranquil harmony.

As she sensed Shimamura's approach, the woman fell over with her breast against the railing. There was no hint of weakness in the pose. Rather, against the night, it was the strongest and most stubborn she could have taken. So we have to go through that again, thought Shimamura.

Black though the mountains were, they seemed at that moment brilliant with the color of the snow. They seemed to him somehow transparent, somehow lonely. The harmony between sky and mountains was lost.'

- Yasunari Kawabata, Snow Country. Translator: Edward G. Seidensticker

Monday 22 September 2008

'I would like to carve my novel in a piece of wood. My characters—I would like to have them heavier, more three-dimensional ... My characters have a profession, have characteristics; you know their age, their family situation, and everything. But I try to make each one of those characters heavy, like a statue, and to be the brother of everybody in the world.'

- Georges Simenon. More here. (caution: pdf)

'..if I am walking through the city and look into one of those quiet courtyards where nothing has changed for decades, I feel, almost physically, the current of time slowing down in the gravitational field of oblivion.'
'No one suspected that it was some part of himself that he had nearly struck when he had raised his fist, or that it was something of his own past which he outfaced in the prisoner's eyes.'

Wednesday 17 September 2008

Nip The Buds, Shoot The Kids by Kenzaburo Oe.

Set in the second world war, this novel follows the fortunes of a group of teenaged reformatory school boys, evacuated from the city and dragged about the countryside until a village that will take them in is found. When they are finally taken in, an outbreak of disease causes the villagers to flee, leaving the despised group of boys trapped in their abandoned village. The boys try to carry on on their own, and make a stab at building a life and society of their own. Then the villagers return, and the high-handed brutality of the adult world re-establishes itself.

It's a very short but vivid and intense story which doesn't flinch from dealing with violence or sexuality. It's been compared to The Lord Of The Flies, but if anything is the exact opposite, with the despised children attempting to live a decent, fulfilling life in the absence of adults, and being plunged back into a state of abject captivity when the adults return.

I felt the book suggested that the war had completely compromised the moral authority of the adult world, and only those who were not a part of it, either because they were children, refugees or deserters, had any chance of rediscovering what it meant to be human. Everyone here is more or less corrupt here in direct relation to their degree of assimilation with the adult world.

A very bleak and haunting little book.

Tuesday 16 September 2008

Do not read, as children do, to amuse yourself, or like the ambitious, for the purpose of instruction. No, read in order to live.
-Gustave Flaubert

That's what.

Sunday 14 September 2008

Great Apes by Will Self.
Listen up, you yahoos, there's nothing here Jonathan Swift hasn't already said. But Self's tale of a man who wakes up one morning to find himself a chimp in a world of sentient chimps is certainly the coked-up, post-Beat version of the old satirical trope for our times. Lovingly scatalogical depictions of chimp social behaviour hold a funhouse mirror up to our own human foibles, all sorts of linguistic virtuosity and detailed research is aired and several nice satirical barbs fired. The sheer depth and pungency of Self's thorough imagining of a rather more interesting planet of the apes and his often manic prose style make up for the fact that it all peters out to a rather weak end.

Saturday 13 September 2008

Twenty years from now they'll be singing they were singing that they were singing sweet home Alabama all summer long

The only stupider than Kid Rock paying homage to a Lynyrd Skynyrd chestnut by ripping it off and changing the lyrics, while sucking all the guitar jamming and sense of groove out of it is people singing along to said song.

Dude, you're singing along to a hit song about singing along to a hit song.

Just consider the hall of mirrors of utter pop cultural vapidity your life has become. Try suicide. I urge you.

Friday 12 September 2008

Fernando Pessoa's The Book Of Disquiet is getting to me, despite my smug assumptions - I'd thought I was too evolved from the gloomy cuss state to totally appreciate the book's unrelenting pessimism and ironic self-regard. But there are virtuoso passages of rare lyrical beauty, observations that must resonate with the experience of any hapless denizen of any city and, most incredibly, butterfly-delicate states of mind and shades of thought captured alive. I'd quote something, but then I'd wind up typing in entire pages.

I'm stretching out the last few chapters of Dr. Faustus. I'm not sure Leverkuhn's life is quite the perfect metaphor or parallel to Nazi Germany's disastrous Will To Power; does a lot of it hinge on how literally one takes the pact outlined halfway through the book? Because, to my mind, that is clearly not intended literally, and is a part of Leverkuhn's own severe, almost masochistic attitude toward himself.

Wednesday 10 September 2008

Pal Anoofa on Bangalore: 'That city is dying the worst kind of death. And people want to dance'.

Monday 8 September 2008

Karen Russel is two or three lexical generation ahead of me. Neologisms like 'tankini' throw me for a loop, not because I can't back-engineer them and figure out what they mean but because they seem like words from a future generation of speakers to me, inhabiting as I do a word world where the Beats and Joyce still seem pretty radical. I'm often overwhelmed, and frankly unable to swallow some of her more sesquipedlian feats of language virtuosity when placed in the mouths of juvenile narrators.

Also, perhaps it's all a bit too modern American for me. Modern America is the least interesting country in the world, because the most ubiquitous and attention-demanding.

Thursday 4 September 2008

A perceptive essay on Mann's Dr. Faustus and Kafka's The Castle, written in response to new translations of both novels issued in the late 90s.
'Kafka's art of understatement complements Mann's art of grandiloquent, self-consciously outdated overstatement in parody of traditional modes. But at bottom an underlying common sense of modern need can be discerned in The Castle and in Doctor Faustus. Kafka's K. and Mann's diabolically gifted Leverkuhn are seeking to restore some kind of contact to a realm that transcends the alienated materialism and conformist mediocrity of middle-class life.'
'Mann, of course, continued to write in the parodic mode after Doctor Faustus. Though he was able to imagine the breakthrough into new forms, he did not achieve it.
When Kafka finally ascended into the canon of modern novels, after World War II, Mann, Hesse, Broch, and others tirelessly praised him as the figure who had broken through into a mythic expression of modernity.'
Another interesting essay on Dr. Faustus.

Recently, an apartment complex in Whitefield was innundated by waters rising as a result of the freakish rains that have been lashing Bangalore. The residents were evacuated, with the exception of a friend of my wife's. This woman has pet animals at home - cats and a dog - and as they could not be evacuated as well, elected to stay in her flat (fortunately well above the flood waters) and make do with stored groceries until the waters receded and normal life could be resumed.

She spent a whole weekend alone, except for her pets, in her flat, with no electricity and dwindling supplies. A reporter from the Slimes of India spoke to her, but chose not to mention her predicament in the published coverage.

I can't help but wonder how different it would have been if she hadn't been a slightly dotty cat-and-dog-lady but someone whom the Slimes could embrace as one of their own, a happening citizen of the hip new India everyone loves and wants to a ticket to. What if it had been a dj?

I can see the headline...

Heroic dj wishes Bangalore could party longer

DJ NoVein, a resident of the XYZ Apartment Complex in Whitefield, is stranded in his flat, trapped by floods, with only his collection of rare house music CDs to keep him company. 'Some guys came to rescue me but they wouldn't take my CDs so I stayed here, man. This stuff is priceless!' NoVein earns an honest living playing tracks from these CDs to sweaty partylovers in the clubs and pubs of Bangalore. Leaving them at the mercy of looters would not be an option for this hardworking presser of the play button.

'I've got my stash with me so I'm okay,' he says, referring no doubt to a treasure trove of his favourite Saif-style Lays chips, 'but some JD would be nice,' he adds with a boyish grin. Always a paper with a will to support a deserving cause, the Slimes has set up a fund to help buy NoVein that bottle of Jack Daniels. A team of ardent socialites has been despatched by car to deliver this all-important life saving cargo and was last seen taking a detour towards Hoskate for herbal diversions. In the meantime, NoVein urges his fans to be calm, and says 'Man, I can't wait to get back to the party! Pity it has to end at 11.30.'

I've been dipping cautiously into St. Lucy's Home For Girls Raised By Wolves by Karen Russell, and it's a slog. The stories often wind up being quite memorable and even moving, but the writing style is a bit of a pain. I suppose it's just too jumpy, modern and perhaps too American for my more sedate Old World tastes and pedantic ways. I suspect that I might have embraced this book quite enthusiastically about a decade back, but one's arteries do begin to harden with time.

Far more in keeping with my emerging taste for sedateness, pedantry and a touch of well-applied pomposity is Thomas Mann's Dr. Faustus, which I am already halfway through.

Tuesday 2 September 2008

Books read recently:

All Souls by Javier Marias. A multi-layered novel of a Spanish academic adrift in Oxford, which he finds, is a town outside time, frozen in treacle. It is from the perspective of a man who has since moved on, whom 'time has caught up with' that he looks back on his intrigues, affairs and obsessions in the ancient university town. More than just a novel on academic life in many ways, among them the brilliant analysis of the source of Arthur Machen's unique horrors, the juxtaposition of two ideas which taken seperately are not horrific at all, but when put together can evoke horror by their association. It's an idea that applies to a larger context than the creation of uncanny stories, like everything in Marias' TARDIS-like novels.

Goldberg: Variations by Gabriel Josipovici. 18th-century English country gentleman Westfield, a self-appointed philosopher, is plagued with insomnia. He engages Samuel Goldberg, a Jewish writer, to read him to sleep. Somehow the assignment changes in nature, and Goldberg is expected to write an original composition to lull his patron to sleep with each night. The 30 chapters of this book are nothing so straightforward as the stories Goldberg might write - instead, they're meditations on the process of storytelling, on the past and how it touches the present, on art, music, literature (especially the warhorses of the western canon) and philosophy and the relation they might bear to wisdom. Good stuff, very elegant and economical in style and packed with substance to mull over. In a way this is the sort of allusive, nuanced, symbolic and formally ambitious book that's tailor-made for me to enjoy. And I enjoyed it.

Mr. Norris Changes Trains and Goodbye To Berlin by Christopher Isherwood. Linked in setting and several characters, Isherwood's 'Berlin Novels' are really a novel and a collection of linked vignettes and short stories. 'Mr. Norris' is the story of a rather pathetic, yet unscrupulous conman who plays out his convoluted, doomed tricks - they really seem more like the gambits of some misguided, compulsive entertainer than the shrewd strategems of a criminal - against the backdrop of a Germany on the brink of the Nazi era. 'Goodbye' is a more or less autobiographical portrait of the growing tensions in Berlin, among the politically involved, the opportunistic and the just plain hapless natives and expatriates. It's the portrait of the end of an era. Both books are memorable for more than just the context that gives them their initial interest.

The Lambs Of London by Peter Ackroyd. Perhaps the most satisfying novel by Ackroyd I've read since 'The Last Will and Testament of Oscar Wilde'. It's about Charles and Mary, their strange, bookish, lives and a young man who forges Shakespeare documents and a play and the obsessions that drive literary endeavour. 'The Clerkenwell Tales' was a bit disjointed, and 'The House of Doctor Dee' didn't quite pull off the mystical leap, but this one is a perfect miniature (read it on a sunday afternoon, if you can, with a ginger kitten worrying at your toes) with much going on.

Maigret And The Ghost by Georges Simenon. Another one of Maigret's excellent novels about the Parisian inspector Maigret. The sensational crime involves art treasures, intrigue, forgery and a doomed young artist. The matter-of-fact way in which Maigret goes about resolving the conundrums ground the story in everyday realism in typical Simenon fashion. Madame Maigret finally gets a more prominent part, and finally gets to have a lunch date with her chronically overworked husband. A nice touch.

Wednesday 27 August 2008

'Machen had been a Welsh minister's son who went to London and lived alone for many years, nearly starving, haunted by fantasies of weird pagan rites and longing for the green hills he'd left behind. Lovecraft, in a survey of the field, had praised him highly.'
-T.E.D. Klein, The Ceremonies

...the Welshman Arthur Machen, that fine stylist and strange narrator of subtle horrors, who, in a survey carried out during the Spanish Civil War amongst fifty British men of letters, was the only one publicly to declare his preference for Franco's side, perhaps merely as an affirmation of his affinity with purest terror. Despite his reputation, his books are not easy to find in English, particularly in the old editions prized by collectors...'
- Javier Marias, All Souls, translated by Margaret Jull Costa

Passages randomly reached in close succession in two books I'm currently reading. Compare and contrast.

Tuesday 26 August 2008

A bunch of godsucking muckers burned down an orphanage. Because it was run by people from another religion. You can't make this stuff up, folks. And here I thought the theist contention is that atheists can't be moral because morality has to be divinely derived. Well, jumping juggernauts, Godman, tell me where's divinely-ordained moral in in this story?

Thursday 21 August 2008

resignation revelation

I am trying hard

not to let this

undermine my sense of duty

and find myself confronted

with the question

: what's that?

Bugger. This ain't half bad.

Wednesday 20 August 2008

I've read all the stories except the title story in Death In Venice And Other Stories by Thomas Mann, one of several similarly titled collections issued by various publishers - a Bantam classics edition, featuring translations by David Luke in this case.

Most of these are earlier works, written before or not long after his first novelistic success gave his career as a writer some stability. It seems to have been an uncertain time for Mann, and this is reflected in the stories. Each one of them seems to contain an alter-ego who reflects some aspect of Mann's immense self-doubt - a pathetic cripple, a naive puritanical idealist, a drunkard who is disgusted with the blind, unthinking vitality of those around him, a dilettante who realises that, having turned his back on society, he can lay claim to no place of his own as long as he fritters his talents away and shies from fulfilling any potential he may have, a writer who claims that writers can never share in the feelings and experiences they write about, and who longs to do so nevertheless.

Mann falls into whining self-pity at times, especially in 'Tonio Kroger', but there's a touch of irony to balance it out ('don't you think...that my eloquence today is worthy of Hamlet?'), or a surprisingly even-handed look at the opposite side of the conflict, as in 'Tristan', although these could be elaborate signs of self-loathing too. Mann, one senses, was not the sort of man to be content unless certain of his own importance.

It's all thought-provoking stuff, and psychologically admirably accurate and honest. Mann is best at describing music or states of mind, tormented or harmonious. He's not bad at visual description, but I think the former areas were his real forte. He's even aphoristic at times. Check out these lines from 'The joker:

There is only one real misfortune: to forfeit one's own good opinion of
oneself...The fact is that everyone is too busily preoccupied with himself to be
able to form a serious opinion about another person...lose your complacency,
once betray your self-contempt and the world will unhesistatingly endorse it.

All that's left is to read 'Death In Venice' itself. More on that later.

Thursday 14 August 2008

She's gone. A year and three months was all she had. The end came quietly, she lay as peaceful as if just sleeping. Goodbye, little baby Thora.

meem me me em ee

Copy the list below.
Mark in bold the movie titles for which you read the book.
Italicize the that you’ve watched.
Tag 5 people to perpetuate the meme.

1. Jurassic Park
2. War of the Worlds
3. The Lost World: Jurassic Park
4. I, Robot
5. Contact
6. Congo
7. Cocoon
8. The Stepford Wives
9. The Time Machine
10. Starship Troopers
11. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
12. K-PAX
13. 2010
14. The Running Man
15. Sphere
16. The Mothman Prophecies
17. Dreamcatcher
18. Blade Runner(Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)
19. Dune
20. The Island of Dr. Moreau
21. Invasion of the Body Snatchers
22. The Iron Giant(The Iron Man)
23. Battlefield Earth
24. The Incredible Shrinking Woman
25. Fire in the Sky
26. Altered States
27. Timeline
28. The Postman
29. Freejack(Immortality, Inc.)
30. Solaris
31. Memoirs of an Invisible Man
32. The Thing(Who Goes There?)
33. The Thirteenth Floor
34. Lifeforce(Space Vampires)
35. Deadly Friend
36. The Puppet Masters
37. 1984
38. A Scanner Darkly
39. Creator
40. Monkey Shines
41. Solo(Weapon)
42. The Handmaid’s Tale
43. Communion
44. Carnosaur
45. From Beyond
46. Nightflyers
47. Watchers
48. Body Snatcher

Tuesday 12 August 2008

A science fiction fan with nothing to adore.

'Why does speculative fiction — which could be about anything, anything, anything — revolve exclusively around battles, stereotypes, and reactionary politics?'

You could answer that it doesn't. But it mostly does. Take a look at the Baen catalogue for instance.

Saturday 9 August 2008

Sahg II and Ogre's Plague Of The planet - 2 super new stoner releases that are keeping my mp3 player clean and green. Sahg is like a more psychedelic SHeavy. Ogre is bits and pieces of Iommi worship, NWOBHM pomp and prejudice and a wonderfuly MPD'd vocalist. Find 'em and freak out.

Thursday 7 August 2008

I watched The Spiderwick Chronicles last night. Many things about it were good, especially the boy who acted as twins. It certainly had its moments, although I'm a little tired of how much the unhappy family has become as much a cliche as the happy family once used to be. It's all borrowed energy - once children's fiction resonated by reflecting the picture-perfect family people aspired to. Now it tries to get that same resonance by superficially mirroring the rather more screwed-up families many people actually live in. I don't feel a lot of thought goes into it. One more absentee father in a Hollywood kid flick isn't going to redress society's ills in any case.


Heinlein day at the SF forum where I am an absentee space ranger much of the time. The usual encomia to his no doubt efficient, absorbing prose, exciting adventure plots and canny gadget speculation.

Also some amount of glorification of his philosophies in the later works, retreating back to the same old 'don't mix up the man and the ideas in his books' defense when his glowing depictions of incest, paedophilia (yes, people, it is paedophilia even if the kid is a teenager and the abuser is a parent or frendathefamily) and general sexual licence, to say nothing of a tacit promotion of private eugenics projects, overwhelm any other considerations much of the time.

Heinlein fans need to have their cake and eat it, it seems - praise him for the ideas they can get you to admit are rather interesting, and then dissociate him from the unsavoury ones calling them 'thought experiments'.

Hey, exploring the psyche of paedophilia was a thought experiment when Nabakov wrote about it. Once. If he'd spent the rest of his life writing novels in which, amongst everything else, a horny old academic lured an underage 'nymphet' (a ghastly concept to somehow normalise wanting to fuck a child, and one that I hope Nabakov himself never subscribed to) away to a life of sexual slavery, I think we'd be well justified in questioning his proclivities as a person.

The fact is, his later works are so full of questionable content (I'm not even going to get into his unique passive-aggressive sexism here) as to ovverhwelm any value they might serve as a 'masterly deconstruction of the absurdities of western culture and society'. Anyone can say what's wrong with a clearly flawed system (I live in a flawed system, too, so I know). But Heinlein doesn't stop at that, and it's hard to assume that such polemical books are not prescriptive in nature, just as, beyond a certain point of reader awareness, it's impossible to read Chesterton's Father Brown mysteries purely as detective stories and wish away or ignore the Catholic apologism, or to read Orwell's Animal Farm as a jolly anthropomorphic romp.

Towards the end of his career Heinlein was asking some really vital and penetrating questions. One of these, for instance, was: what can be done to get rid of the terrible consequences sexual prudery and repression have on human beings? His answers, consistently, are not as good. In this case: do away with all taboos and restrictions and let whoever do whoever as long as they all agree (and they will since all taboos have been done away with, and if they still feel a qualm, we'll seduce them into it) and, if consanguinous or non-eugenically optimum, we'll use the morning after pill. But don't worry, the rugged man of action won't need to bother about all that. Because birth control is a *girl's* job, boss.

Does that sound like a cruel caricature? Well,that last sentiment was actually uttered by a character in Heinlein's I WILL FEAR NO EVIL. Yikes.

The larger question here is, do we want to be oblivious readers, readers who let author take us by the hands and lead us, merrily skipping, into any morass or thicket, blithely whistling disclaimers when the path meanders through suspect areas, and praising our exceptional good fortune when occasionally it doesn't? I think we owe it to ourselves to keep things honest and read with open eyes, as it were.

Elsewhere I am arguing against claims that Arthur C Clarke somehow embraced religion towards the end of his life. Just because the man was suckered in by Buddhism's surface layer of common sense doesn't make him a flaming theist. He requested that there be no religious rites at his funeral, after all.

So all in all, it's pretty clear what I am. I'm a puritanical atheist. Who knew?

Tuesday 5 August 2008

Laws you should know about: 1

The Karnataka Preservation Of Trees Act

With effect on and from the appointed day,notwithstanding any custom, usage, contract or law for the time being in force, noperson shall fell any tree or cause any tree to be felled in any land whether in hisownership or occupancy or otherwise, except with the previous permission of the TreeOfficer

Where permission to fell a tree is granted, the Tree Officer may grant it subjectto the condition that the applicant shall plant another tree or trees of the sameor any other suitable species on the same site or other suitable place withinthirty days from the date the tree is felled or within such extended time as theTree Officer may allow.

9. Planting of adequate number of trees. (1) Every owner or occupant of a landshall, within a period of five years from the appointed day or within such extendedperiod as the Tree Authority may specify, plant trees so as to conform to the standardsprescribed by the said Tree Authority under clause (c) of section 7.(2)If in the opinion of the Tree Officer the number of trees in any land is notadequate according to the standards referred to in sub-section (1), the TreeOfficer may, by order giving a reasonable opportunity to the owner or occupierof the land of making representation, require him to plant such trees, oradditional trees, as the case may be and at such places in the land as may bespecified in the order.(3)The owner or occupier of the land shall comply with such order within thirtydays from the receipt thereof or such extended time as the Tree Officer mayallow in this behalf.10. Planting in place of fallen or destroyed trees.- (1) Where any tree has fallenor is destroyed by wind, fire, lightning, torrential rain or such other natural causes, theThree Officer may suo moto or on information given to him, after holding such enquiryas he deems fit, by order, require such owner or occupier to plant a tree or trees inplace of the tree so fallen or destroyed, of the same or other species the order.(2)The owner or the occupier of the land shall comply with such order within thirtydays from the receipt thereof or such extended time as the Tree Officer mayallow
Karnataka will use a tough law relating to organised crimes to deal with terrorists in the wake of the July 25 serial blasts in India's IT hub.

The law, which came into force in December 2001, allows arrest without warrant, up to six months detention without court approval and does not provide for bail. While the minimum punishment under it is five years in jail and a fine of Rs.100,000, the maximum is death or life imprisonment and fine.


Make up your own title for this post. You can use some of these words and phrases: 'erosion' 'civil liberties' 'human rights' 'slippery slope' 'first step'

Thursday 31 July 2008

I've been listening to some Steve Reich lately. Conditioned to expect extended melodic and harmonic development and a diversity of themes in the music I like best (apart from blues, where the stuff I like best is basically the same 12-bar boogie going on and on and on) I find myself grappling with this music a lot. It substitutes layering and slow, phased variations for the qualities I'm more used to listening for. In a sense it has links to the drones of Carnatic music, without the virtuoso improv layered over those drones, and I can begin to trace how this music has had an impact on people whose music I do like and respect, like Robert Fripp or the drone metal movement. It's very krautrock, too, although that seems to have been more a parallel development. This interview with Reich is a really good ear-opener as well.

Monday 28 July 2008

Thomas Mann may have been self-important and arrogant - qualities for which he is given short shrift in Javier Marias' excellent, opinionated collection of literary thumbnail sketches, Written Lives - and perhaps entirely too aware of the character of certain of his books as 'important novels'. As far as I know none of these qualities preclude him from having actually produced work worthy of his sense of importance.

It is tempting to call The Magic Mountain an allegory. The characters seem to depict clear-cut schools of thought - Settembrini, the revolution-mongering, humane, austere humanist, Naphta, the reason-denying, reactionary, voluptuary mystic, Clavdia Chauchat, the apposite, alluring feminine sprite, Joachim, the duty-bound honourable, one-dimensional soldier, Meinheer Peeperkorn, the charismatic, conservative, romantic man of action, to say nothing of Hans Castorp, the willing pupil, the tabula rasa on which time and history will write their testaments of conflict and doom.

Mann himself notes with approval a comparison made in the critical literature to the grail legend. And indeed, Castorp is in many ways the archetypal holy fool on a quest perilous. But it is also a portrait of a specific moment in time, peopled with realistic characters and settings. So this is not the never-never land allegory of the fabulist. Instead, it is a novel which dares to make the claim that its characters and its little incidents are not just themselves but indicative of larger themes and currents as well.

The events of The Magic Mountain take place in a world on the brink. There is a struggle between 18th century humanist values and an ages-old yet brand-new radical retreat to the familiar fundamentals of a pre-Enlightenment hegemony of febrile mysticism. Europe stands at a crossroads, worked upon by opposing forces, clinging to opposing views of the past, torn between opposing views of the future, and it only takes one act of violence to signal the plunge into decades of world war, interrupted by uneasy peace in the 20s and 30s, and ended only when new, non-European forces were to take control of matters and shape a world that would bear little resemblance to the verities of imperial Europe.

It's not an unrelievedly serious book though. Mann initially planned it as a satire on life in the many sanatoria of pre-world war Europe, and there are scenes where a certain antic humour intrudes. And while, much of it is dominated by discussions between Castorp and his many would-be mentors and advisors, there is also a sequence of action that has great symbolic consequence, as Castorp wanders lost in a snowstorm and falls into a dream that may well contain the central philosophical message of the book. Even if much of the book is talk and exposition, there are, in addition to this sequence, perhaps another three or four memorable scenes in the usual sense that mark important beats in the story and phases in the argument.

It is almost impossible to summarise this book in any but the most rudimentary way. I won't even try. And while it might seem that the conflicts epitomised here belonged to a specific period of time, the fact remains that in a world where the forces of reaction and retreat still strive for the upper hand over humanity, nothing contained herein is in any real sense outdated. And yes, pompous though Mann may or may not have been, his characterisation of his novel as one that needs to be read at least twice seems justified. That's certainly what I intend to .
Seems like a good site. Art, music, literature, film, theatre reviewed reasonably responsibly.

Thursday 24 July 2008

Shostakovich's 5th is thought to be his symphonic masterpiece by many - but, listening to it with apocalyptic gyrations and final dystopian slumber of the 4th resounding in my mind's ear, it seems like a step backward. On further consideration though, it isn't. It's a step sideways, which is why it dissapoints at first, but not a step backwards at all, which is why it eventually wins me over. The opening has a solemn sense of purpose that doesn't suggest cringing populism so much as a wiser, veiled sense of purpose that has a stength of its own.

Art finding its own voice within strict limits is always fascinating - hence the appeal of sonnets, haiku, miniatures, black and white photography, silent film, 12-bar blues songs. How much more fascinating when these limits are imposed by politics not form or technology and enforcable by pain of death or disgrace.

I watched Ed Wood Razor Hands. I mean Sweeney Wonka and Cannibal Pie Factory. Er, that is to say Sweeney Todd. There is much gleeful slitting of throats, but neither Polyhymnia nor her defunct sister Aoide have visited their blessings on the lead actors, which makes the whole point of a musical somewhat moot. Depp's singing is weak and not even particularly enthusiastic, despite which he doesn't even manage to reach Oasis levels. Tim Burton's Corpse Bride is a little better, but her constant look of vague unease made me want to offer her a good laxative and a joke book to read whilst perched on the bog. Things all look very intricately gothy in trademark Burton fashion. It's a wicked story about sad, mad people and Burton is finally unable to relish the ghastliness of it all enough, trying to fit in his usual premise that the weird, morbid, gloomy people are in some way better, even when, as in this case, they are total psychopaths. Next he will officiate at the canonisation of the Sawney Bean clan. Lookitup, won't ya.

Wednesday 23 July 2008

I wouldn't say this is on par with Don Rosa's The Life And Times Of Scrooge McDuck, but it certainly is one of the best Disney graphic novels around. It could have worn its theme (family loyalty) a little less prominently on its sleeve, but one assumes Disney product is created keeping in mind a very young lower age limit for the target audience.

In other news, the UPA government has failed to fall, which is not particularly something that brings me to despair, but isn't especially a joyous moment either. And no one knows what the new killer deal is all about, still. Ho-hum.

Tuesday 22 July 2008

CINEBOOKS, a British publisher, has recently entered the market here with affordable reprints of various Franco-Belgian comics, although the quality of translation sometimes leaves much to be desired. Still, I've discovered some good comics:
YAKARI: A native American boy who talks to animals and his adventures with them. Great art, closer to Uderzo's style, charming stories.
YOKO TSUNO: A Japanese electrical engineer has Tintinesque adventures. Tightly plotted, exciting, clean-line art.
BLAKE & MORTIMER: Exploits of a pair of British adventurers. Very Herge-like art. Gripping adventure stories, somewhat cramped layouts and verbose exposition notwithstanding.
THORGAL: Absolutely stunning art. A long-running series about the Viking Thorgal and his adventures, with elements of myth, fantasy and SF. Ranges from the whimsical to the epic, very original and well worth a look.
GREEN MANOR: Perhaps the best of the lot story-wise. A series of chilling little tales centred around a Victorian 'murder club' and its members.
PAPYRUS: Adventures in ancient Egypt. Suspense, mystery and a touch of magic.
THE FASCINATING MADAME TUSSAUD: A partly fictional tale of the waxwork lady's eventful early life.
They have many other titles as well, including Iznogoud, Lucky Luke and French Biggles comics. There were also French Famous Five comics at one point - I wonder if these will be reprinted? (Incidentally there were British Famous Five comics as well, some of which I am pretty sure featured art by John Ridgeway and possibly Steve Dillon.)

Friday 18 July 2008

There is music I can live without for the rest of my life.

I think I can survive without ever hearing a single song from Dark Side Of The Moon ever again. It will be alright. I will live. I have lived without hearing a song from The Wall of my own freewill ever since my second year in college, when a tape player chewed up my cassette. I might want to listen to Piper At The Gates Of Dawn now and then. I have the CD.

I never need to hear anything by U2 ever again. I never did in the first place, but Achtung Baby had me going for a while. Now, it's okay. I don't even feel a pang knowing I shall never wilfully listen to 'Whose Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses' again.

I am letting go of The Downward Spiral. Pearl Jam's Ten. Temple Of The Dog. I think I can go through life without hearing a note of Megadeth ever again, although I feel a pang when I think of So Far So Good, So What or Peace Sells. I never really needed to hear Oasis, and I refuse to do so again. After years of thinking of Desire, heard on a long lost tape, as an essential, I bought the CD and found that I could survive without any of it, except maybe Isis.

I am discarding the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I never listened to Coldplay anyway. I want to cling to REM, but maybe I should be brave and rip that scab off too. Certainly no Counting Crows anymore.

There's more music I could probably discard and never feel the loss. Doing this helps me clarify what it is that I can't live without ever hearing again. Although, of course, I would live even if.

But most of all I love to hear the music I've never heard before in the music I've heard so many times before . I think that's how I decide what not to discard.

Thursday 17 July 2008

I just found out that there is a Bird Hospital in Delhi, near the Lal Kila, run by Jains. A friend once took a wounded squirrel there - they treat squirrels too, it seems, although they have been known to act snooty about birds of prey. Someone's even written a poem about this hospital.
Elizabeth Hand remembers Thomas Disch.

Thursday 10 July 2008

Oh crap.

Thomas Disch is dead.

I've only read 334. It's brilliant. Dehumanised residents in a high-rise housing complex, it's you and me and everyday life in the later Roman Empire. So much more prescient than Heinelein and maybe even Dick. An SF writer who wrote for grown-ups. Farewell.

Tuesday 8 July 2008

I went by your father's shop five years ago
To get a new pair of spectacles
Your father was friendly, and polite
A real old-fashioned Mangalorean gentleman
He told me square frames suited my face

I dropped in again three years back
And your mother sat in his old place
Told me he was no more
But I suppose you'd already know that,
If you can know things

I visited again two years ago
Because a friend had opened shop in the same building
And your father's shop was closed down
Everything was gone
The shelves, the frames, the posters, the sign

Once you told me about a giant lens your father had ordered
I don't remember if anyone knew why
But it was a source of joy and pride to him, and to you
So I'll imagine you, with him
In space
Gazing through the lens
Aim it over here. No, a little to the right. See? This is me, waving.

Your pal,

Monday 7 July 2008

Even after a person
is gone from this world,
people often tend
to remember birthdays.

They say: today is
the birthday of someone
who would have been
so many years old.

So just in case you're
not around next year:
happy birthday.

"Happy Birthday" by Thomas Ligotti

Monday 30 June 2008

Kodai odds and ends

Back from a holiday in Kodaikanal, where I began by walking, rowing and enthusing and then transited to sleeping, reading and eating once the initial thrill wore off. I need about three days to work off my need to be out and about and soak new experiences in while on holiday. I haven't been on a holiday longer than three days in a long time.

It's good having one's own house, garden, enthusiastic cooks and boat. The burdens of ownership do little to undermine the advantages. Club membership is less salutory. Yes, it gives one a place to rest away from the hoi polloi, but the colonial survivals - the dress code that one may innocently run afoul of without even wanting to, and the ghastly trophies of the subaltern's need to asassinate gallant tigers, stalwart bison, frantic foxes and fleeting deer - these are things I could have done without. Shameful that the 'Indian Club' is still a small, frugal affair in comparison. We are all Indians now, the old 'European' club should have amalgamated with the native establishment a long time ago. Although in fact, I find that the latter was established in the 70s.

The amount of filth generated by even the tiniest human settlement in the Palni hills is mind-boggling. You'd think every little hamlet on the roadside was subjected to 12 hours of strafing every day, to see the piles of debris strewn everywhere.

An old notebook of my grandfather's, the gleanings of 'a snatcher-up of unregarded trifles', full of literary musings and story-kernels. What people used before blogs were made.

Graffitti seen near the lake, possibly inscribed by a disgruntled International School student: 'Fuck Mr. B'. Mr. B, your unpopularity is legend.

The local Tibetan community took a day off from selling sweaters and running hotels to clear a section of the lake of filth and reeds. The Israeli community manifested only in the form of occasional bearded types whizzing by on bikes, clad raver-hippy style. I never did get a chance to deliver my anti-Zionist tirade.

Several volumes of Soviet science fiction in the bookshelves in the house. Oddly, I'd brought along Chingiz Aitmatov's 'The Day Lasts More Than A Hundred Years', a book which partly fits the same category.

Familiar places change forever, not always for better; but are always new and wonderous when rediscovered with someone else. I'm glad that someone was you.

Friday 13 June 2008

won't someone please think of the children?

(Text on hoarding: Introducing the lightest school bags, for guilt-free mums)

Monday 9 June 2008

desperate times on avenue road

Seen this saturday. Schools are re-opening, but only one shop on Avenue Road, Bangalore's text book bazaar, had this year's books. A hoard of anxious parents and somewhat less actual schoolchildren than you'd expect queued up outside, while the other shops, like the one pictured above, had to sadly turn customers away. A boy approached me, offering to get text books for me - at a 'special' price of course - but I had other things on my mind.

Wednesday 28 May 2008

Re-reading GK Chesterton’s Father Brown mysteries, it is incredible how little like genuine detective stories and how much like Roman Catholic fan fiction they sometimes seem like. The rationalist who kills a wealthy man who is planning to donate millions to the Roman Catholic church, instead of a dozen frivolous, trendy cults that pose no real challenge to rationalism, the daring crook who is brought to repentance by the humble priest who speaks to him of his soul. And the priest himself, Father Brown, who, despite all his bumbling and apparent harmlessness, possesses a shrewd understanding and deep knowledge of the ways of human wickedness – it’s all so much manipulation. Taking refuge in fiction and characterization, Chesterton places a number of time-bombs in his stories, stuff that might manipulate a vulnerable mind towards the Catholic creed, and away from doubt. Things like this remarkable statement by Father Brown:

"Sleep!" cried Father Brown. "Sleep. We have come to the end

of the ways. Do you know what sleep is? Do you know that every

man who sleeps believes in God? It is a sacrament; for it is an

act of faith and it is a food."

What, if anything does that even mean? By creating a false identification between faith and a natural physiological process common to humans and animals alike, Chesterton is attempting to make the believer, or wannabe- believer, liken the lowering of guard to find refreshment involved in falling asleep to the similar lowering of pride to accept spiritual reinforcement associated with the sacraments of his church. I call bullshit. Sleep is just a fact of life like farting and sweating, and only sacred in the sense that everything in creation is sacred to the true believer, which is circular reasoning at best.

GK doesn’t resist the easy canard of the apologist either, the old accusation that the atheist point of view somehow makes the world empty and mechanistic:

A vast heave went over Flambeau's huge figure. "And now I

come to think of it," he cried, "why in the name of madness

shouldn't he be all right? What is it gets hold of a man on these

cursed cold mountains? I think it's the black, brainless

repetition; all these forests, and over all an ancient horror of

unconsciousness. It's like the dream of an atheist. Pine-trees

and more pine-trees and millions more pine-trees--"

Well, of course, the atheist’s universe is empty - empty of the sort of meaning a theist wants to find in it. That hardly means it has no room for wonder, diversity and even the secular magic of natural selection.

There is a certain sympathy with socialism in some of these stories, but it is with those aspects of socialism that are in tune with Christian ideals, and hence a sympathy that again glorifies the church that GK has this great hard-on for:

"I won't have you talking like that," cried the girl, who was

in a curious glow. "You've only talked like that since you became

a horrid what's-his-name. You know what I mean. What do you call

a man who wants to embrace the chimney-sweep?"

"A saint," said Father Brown.

"I think," said Sir Leopold, with a supercilious smile, "that

Ruby means a Socialist."

Ultimately, though, the only source of revelation in these stories is Father Brown, and, similarly, the only source of meaning in GK Chesterton’s world is the church. All his brilliance, style and wit cannot change the fact that he began each story with this pre-ordained conclusion in mind and went on to create a loaded game where his side could win each time without examining anything but a caricatured version of the other side.