Archive for the ‘ University ’ Category

#14 Vampire Hunter D – Hideyuki Kikuchi

blahVampire Hunter D (Volume 1)Written by Hideyuki Kikuchi
Illustrated by Yoshitaka Amano
English translation by Kevin Leahy

Where to start with Vampire Hunter D?

As mentioned in my last post, my curiosity was piqued by this novel, mostly because of the illustration artist, Yoshitaka Amano. That, and I’ve always been interested in vampires, and vampire lore, and for this novel to develop on that, and include dhampirs, I figured it would be right up my alley.

Well.

It’s not that it isn’t, not per se. However, this is a strange novel; it’s set in the future, and yet because of the almost post-apocalyptic nature of human history, the way in which humans live has both regressed and progressed. It’s contradictory but understandable once explained, I suppose.

The book is both difficult and easy to ‘get into’. There are plenty of hooks to grip the reader, but the writing style itself seems clunky. In some places it seems overly convoluted and complex, and yet there are grammatical and spelling errors running rife through the 2005 DH Press edition I bought. Sometimes the writing itself seems clunky, others it’s overwrought and difficult to navigate. Now, I’m not sure whether this is due to the translation perhaps being off, or just the original writings being that way, but it was this that made the book difficult to read.

One element of this text really surprised me, in that Doris (our heroine, or damsel in distress who is more than willing and able to fight back) readily relinquishes her virgin qualities to the first Hunter that comes along that can maybe save her. There are hints at romantic possibilities throughout the novel, but nothing is ever made of them, and she is never flatly turned down. Along with other aspects of the novel, the question of Doris and D’s relationship is never truly answered, and this can be frustrating.

The most interesting thing about D is his abilities and his history, not to mention the tumour companion that resides in his right hand. Perhaps the plot of the novel didn’t necessarily call for more explanation of these things, but I would have liked to see some expansion on them, and perhaps a little more use of D’s abilities as a dhampir, as they are what truly make the novel its most interesting.

I was a little disappointed by Vampire Hunter D, I’m not going to lie (I was also looking forward to more illustrations, some perhaps in colour but I didn’t really get them), however that’s not to say I wouldn’t read more from Kikuchi’s series. Perhaps the novels mature in depth and readability as one progresses through them.

Hellooooooo?

A long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long time ago, I updated this blog. In a galaxy far away the same as your own, actually.

Anyhoo, I’m just popping in to ask for a favour from anyone still following this dusty little corner of the internet.

I’ve written a poem. Well, the bare bones of a poem. The skeletal frame. I’m not happy with it (it’s a first draft, of course I’m not going to be happy), and I feel like it’s too sappy and blah, so I was hoping you guys could possibly offer me some feedback on it. What don’t you like? Is there anything that should stay, or should I scrap it and start again? Now when I say bare bones, I mean I’ve written it, essentially, as prose. I haven’t properly considered how the lines are going to work, where there will be caesuras, enjambent, end stops, etc, whether there’ll be gaps. I want to try and fix what I have so far before I start working on that in detail.

Little bit of background information; it’s a class task. We’re to write about a place, researching it’s history so we have something to draw on. The technique I’m using is essentially different levels of what is visible. So from a certain height to a certain depth, the history in those levels, etc. Anyway, I’ll put the draft up here and hopefully someone might get back to me (I’ll send you an internet-cookie or something to show my gratitude).

Tentatively titled:  The Heavenly Prince and the Bear

You all but fell into my lap, God-sent on a day where clouds spiralled the city and knotted around my neck like a ribbon choker.

We climbed Namsan, lucky 777 high, crested its clear-skied peak to find our own space amongst millions of other stars, padlocking I’ll love you forever to the fence (but wasn’t love supposed to set us free?) and then tossing the key into a bin on the way down to the subway , the subway that would take us to Itaewon, to soak up culture like heart-shaped sponges, the subway that would take us to Jongno, to lose ourselves in the history of your ancestors, the subway that would take us to Gangnam, where I would spend my last 10,000 won bill on a cup of coffee and a one-shot espresso that would keep you up until 4am, tickling my ribs and dancing Gee until the apartment downstairs hammered on the ceiling.

Back onto the subway the morning after, always, another day another border, forever crossing the districts hand in hand. We were heart and soul, one and the same.

History repeated itself, our Seoul was sundered, fragmenting into Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla.

History repeated itself, the unification looped us until we coagulated again, until we were one and the same, heart and soul.

And history repeated itself, until the skies took my Heavenly Prince back, your work here on earth among the peons done. I thought I would remain human when you left me behind, but I reverted. Back into that shambling walking-dead, hibernating my way through parts of the year and blustering with the world on a sore head the rest of the time. No heart, no soul.

If you check out this blog post, it might clear a few things up… About halfway down things might make more sense.

#11 Jenny Erpenbeck – Visitation


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The first few pages of Erpenbeck’s Visitation have a special hook to them. They act as bait, catching us with our mouths agape as the fairytale-esque narrative unfolds. The first chapters ‘The Gardener’ and ‘The Wealthy Farmer and his Four Daughters’ are promisingly full of Grimm and Andersen style and charm. It is after these chapters though that I lost my enthusiasm for the novella, the style shifting to something a lot more realistic and confusing.

Erpenbeck has a wonderfully simple way with words although some of the turns of phrase and expressions of dialogue left me confused and out of sorts.

The main theme of the book is a house by a lake, a dwelling that stands and survives the passage of time, new families and war. Visitation is the history of this house, the lived-in-ness of its walls, its land. The house is one of the only two constants in the story, the other being the Gardener. Few people ever stay in the house by the lake for too long a period of time – because of circumstances, as the country is ravaged by war or families move apart – but the Gardener is the only one to spend the majority of his life there.

The tale was a slow read for me as I found it difficult to remain engrossed in the lives of characters who didn’t seem to stay around. Perhaps re-reading it and truly accepting the house as the character would be more successful, but considering how so much detail is given on people rather than the house, it’s hard to stick with this idea.

I, personally, didn’t enjoy this book. Others might. One thing is certain: it never hurts to step out of your comfort zone and try something new.

#10 Samuel Beckett – Waiting For Godot

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‘A tragicomedy in two acts’, declares Amazon. Well, it’s certainly tragic, that much cannot be disputed. However, I failed to find any comedy whatsoever within the pages of this stageplay. And I studied Measure for Measure (which shall, I think, take the spot as my favourite tragicomedy studied, though I despised it at the time).

It’s not possible to declare this as a piece of ‘bad writing’ because, put to the test, many of us would find it nigh on impossible to replicate this ourselves or even finish a written piece of our own. This is simply boring. It’s about men going nowhere in life and nowhere in geography. ‘Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes’ states Jean Anouilh. The ‘nothing happens’ part is right – unless Pozzo, Lucky and the boy are figments of Estragon and Vladimir’s imagination.

The text centres on ideas of existentialism but as I am a terrible philosopher, this was a little out of my depth (you do not need to understand something to enjoy it although it may help). Even without the philosophical and psychological interpretations to bulk this narrative up, I still found this a long, tedious read. The short time it took me to read dragged – and all the while I felt as though I was running in circles or in a maze, similar to Estragon and Vladimir: stuck and unable to get out.

Perhaps not my favourite piece of literature ever. I’m now waiting – not for Godot but for the hours of my life back that I spent reading this.

#9 Korean Cinema

So today I thought I’d briefly cover a few (South Korean) films that I’ve watched in the last week:

  • Thirst (Park Chan-Wook, 2009)
  • Maundy Thursday (Song Hae-Seong, 2006)
  • Haunters (Kim Min-Suk, 2010)
  • Duelist (Lee Myungse, 2005)
  • Secret Reunion (Jang Hun, 2010)

A recurring theme in four out of these five films is the actor Kang Dongwon, currently enlisted in the Korean army. Firstly, I’d like to say that he’s not just a pretty face; man, can this guy act. In the majority of these films, he doesn’t speak too much. It’s a credit to him how much he is able to convey through his eyes alone. Another actor, whom you may have heard of before, is Song Kang-ho who acted alongside Kang in Secret Reunion. You might recognise veteran Song Kangho from Thirst if you’ve seen it or, at the very least, from Park Chan-Wook’s monster epic The Host.

Each of the above films has reduced me to tears, particularly Maundy Thursday, a tale of a convicted murderer on South Korea’s Death Row, awaiting his execution. The film takes you through his journey of wanting to die and a suicidal woman with whom he grows close to, both of them meeting weekly on a Thursday in the prison and each working through their own issues. The film touches on a lot of sensitive issues (the death penalty, suicidal tendencies, forgiveness, trust and dependency) with Kang Dongwon and female-lead Lee Nayoung bringing incredible emotional tension to the screen in their performance. Although the ending is somewhat predictable (as with much recent South Korean cinema although that’s not to say this is a bad thing), this is definitely worth a watch. Just ensure you have a packet of Kleenex to one side as it’s a real tear-jerker, churning your emotions and throwing your own outlook on criminals into a perspective that you question throughout the narrative.

Haunters, Duelist and Secret Reunion are probably more approachable from a Western cinema-fan’s point of view.

Duelist is a period martial arts film with a stunning backdrop of modern music with gentle touches of traditional East-Asian instrumentals and colourful scenery, edited in an entirely fascinating manner throughout. The most appealing scenes have to be the swordsmanship display at the beginning and the final battle-scene between the lovers, although this can be interpreted more as a dance, a type of mating ritual perhaps, but a little more tender.

Haunters, also known as Psychic, is a particularly tense cinematic ride although this is eased up on by frequent interjections of humour; you probably shouldn’t laugh but you’re going to anyway. There’s also an interesting representation of foreigners in this film and it’s generally a positive one. The protagonist is best friends with two extremely fluent Korean-speaking men; one from Ghana, the other from Turkey. Surprisingly, they play a major role and it is their bond with the protagonist that helps to progress the narrative and also offer some light comic relief.

Secret Reunion was one of the most successful films of 2010 in South Korea, dealing with North Korean defectors and both North and South Korean spy agencies seemingly battling each other. It proposes an interesting tale of tentative and cautious friendship between a shamed South Korean ex-agent and a shunned North Korean spy. The on-screen chemistry between these two is wonderful whilst highlighting the problems families encounter because of the separation between the two nations. Perhaps this could have been explored in greater detail but all is forgiven when you encounter Kang Dongwon wrestling with a chicken as Song Kangho screams and tries not to crash their car… The twists at the end of this film ensure you leave on a light-hearted high, leaving you feeling mostly satisfied that, for once, a certain actor is not sticking to his convention of dying in every movie he partakes in.

I found Thirst to be an extremely refreshing watch. There are no sparkling vampires and a priest is forced to question his morals and his very nature when an accident occurs during a blood transfusion, resulting in him becoming a vampire. This is one of the most explicit films I’ve watched recently – there’s a lot of nudity and sex although, again, this is refreshing to see that vampires haven’t been toned down in an attempt to lure in a romantic teenage audience. Of course, the film does have its fair share of romance although this causes no end of trouble to the priest. The ending is satisfyingly tragic because, after all, nothing in reality is perfect and this is a trait that most filmmakers seem to forget, often ending with happy, fluffy endings, particularly in the West.

It’s hard to watch South Korean cinema without being shouldered with a lot of emotional baggage. But it is this convention that adds to its charm. Instead of the physical fear of a monster you can see, it is the psychological fear and violence in a character that brings us, the viewer, the more intense feelings of fear and, occasionally, happiness. I can walk away from films like those above feeling refreshed, challenged, happy and even emotionally drained. And I enjoy it.

Most people I speak to dislike world cinema simply for the fact that, uh, ‘subtitles equals no’. I’ve never understood this, particularly if they enjoy reading as a hobby. You read books so it can’t be so hard to read a screen, right? Since I was young I’ve switched the subtitles on, on the TV, and turned the volume down a smidgeon. With world cinema, I relish the subtitles; I am constantly adding to my vocabulary not only words from another language but also phrases. World cinema teaches me about different cultures, different life lessons, alternate perspectives. It challenges me to leave single-mindedness behind.  Exposing yourself to different genres, cultures and people can only open up an entire new world for people. This is especially true of writers. All cinema is inspirational, as are books and music, and we should do our best to consume as much of other cultures as we possibly can, even if it’s only to say that we tried it and don’t like it.

 

Questions? Leave them as a comment and I’ll get back to you 🙂

#8 Haruki Murakami – Norwegian Wood


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At first I avoided anything and everything Murakami. Everyone and their mother seemed to be reading it and I thought that I would at least wait until the hype had died down.  That didn’t stop me from passing his books in the high street book shops and wondering whether they were worth the read. Even the covers had piqued my interest but, as it was, I couldn’t really afford to spend time and money on a book when I was busy with work. Now I wish I’d picked one of his books up earlier.

By rights, Murakami’s novels should be frustrating and annoying; at first glance, there doesn’t seem to be anything particularly special about them and, even now, I still find the endings to leave far too much to be desired. There is never quite enough satisfaction in the conclusion.

That, however, is part of the charm of Haruki Murakami’s writing style though. You need to have a certain charisma to your work if you can end without closure and still have a huge worldwide readership, still desperate to buy as many of your translated works as possible.

Norwegian Wood draws on Murakami’s talent to write frankly and directly about subjects without over-complicating matters. The book itself addresses, like much of his work, the themes of sex, death and the rites of passage of growing up. Normally, such topics are taboo or difficult to engage but Norwegian Wood tackles them with a quiet sense of simplicity. There is no dancing around with euphemisms or awkward pauses. Things just simply are.

Certainly there are moments where things feel repetitive and dragged out which can potentially slow the novel down but with that comes a sense of realness; life may be fast and hard to keep up with but most of us live a life full of repetition. We do the same things every day for years upon end and change isn’t always rapid. Sometimes change never occurs at all. Murakami captures the essence of humanity and the relationships we create in all three hundred and eighty six pages of Norwegian Wood.

The novel itself has a sense of timelessness. Although it begins in 1986 and the narrator spends the majority of his time back in 1969 and the 70’s, it feels almost as if you could take Norwegian Wood and use it to describe even a current university student’s life. Though time and culture are far removed from our own, Murakami is easily able to create a universally approachable story which I was captivated by.

Although Murakami’s writing style is simplistic, it is also enigmatic. Perhaps Norwegian Wood isn’t the best example of this, however. After reading Norwegian Wood, I became enamoured by his writing and decided to pick up several more books, namely Kafka on the Shore and the trilogy of 1Q84. The enigmatic, puzzle-like quality to Murakami’s work is much more evident in these and, if you simply read them as is, they can leave you feeling more disoriented than when Norwegian Wood comes to a close. To truly appreciate his work requires returning to the text again and again, much like a film; hidden secrets and missed signals become much more obvious after repetition.

Norwegian Wood is the perfect starting point for any Murakami-virgin, not quite as full on and head-tripping as Kafka on the Shore. Proof of the novel’s success lies not only in its translation in forty languages and its impressive sales both locally in Japan and internationally worldwide, but also in the recent 2010 film adaptation directed by Ahn Hung Tran. Norwegian Wood is definitely worth a read and probably worth watching on the big screen too if the cast list is anything to go by.

Neil Gaiman on Copyright, Piracy and the Web

Click here to listen to Neil Gaiman discussing copyright, piracy and the web in regards to his own work.

Here is a transcript of the interview found here.

“When the web started, I used to get really grumpy with people because they put my poems up. They put my stories up. They put my stuff up on the web. I had this belief, which was completely erroneous, that if people put your stuff up on the web and you didn’t tell them to take it down, you would lose your copyright, which actually, is simply not true.

And I also got very grumpy because I felt like they were pirating my stuff, that it was bad. And then I started to notice that two things seemed much more significant. One of which was… places where I was being pirated, particularly Russia where people were translating my stuff into Russian and spreading around into the world, I was selling more and more books. People were discovering me through being pirated. Then they were going out and buying the real books, and when a new book would come out in Russia, it would sell more and more copies. I thought this was fascinating, and I tried a few experiments. Some of them are quite hard, you know, persuading my publisher for example to take one of my books and put it out for free. We took “American Gods,” a book that was still selling and selling very well, and for a month they put it up completely free on their website. You could read it and you could download it. What happened was sales of my books, through independent bookstores, because that’s all we were measuring it through, went up the following month three hundred percent

I started to realize that actually, you’re not losing books. You’re not losing sales by having stuff out there. When I give a big talk now on these kinds of subjects and people say, “Well, what about the sales that I’m losing through having stuff copied, through having stuff floating out there?” I started asking audiences to just raise their hands for one question. Which is, I’d say, “Okay, do you have a favorite author?” They’d say, “Yes.” and I’d say, “Good. What I want is for everybody who discovered their favorite author by being lent a book, put up your hands.” And then, “Anybody who discovered your favorite author by walking into a bookstore and buying a book raise your hands.” And it’s probably about five, ten percent of the people who actually discovered an author who’s their favorite author, who is the person who they buy everything of. They buy the hardbacks and they treasure the fact that they got this author. Very few of them bought the book. They were lent it. They were given it. They did not pay for it, and that’s how they found their favorite author. And I thought, “You know, that’s really all this is. It’s people lending books. And you can’t look on that as a loss of sale. It’s not a lost sale, nobody who would have bought your book is not buying it because they can find it for free.”

What you’re actually doing is advertising. You’re reaching more people, you’re raising awareness. Understanding that gave me a whole new idea of the shape of copyright and of what the web was doing. Because the biggest thing the web is doing is allowing people to hear things. Allowing people to read things. Allowing people to see things that they would never have otherwise seen. And I think, basically, that’s an incredibly good thing.”

I think they’re very sound words and, whilst not excusing illegal downloads and the like, there are other ways to combat music, tv, film and literature piracy and ACTA (just like SOPA and PIPA) is not the way to deal with it.

Perhaps making things available immediately, for a subscription fee, maybe, or a smaller fee than you would pay for a hard copy is a sensible answer – particularly in the current economy.

I could go on for a while about this but I don’t want to (mostly because I’m tired but also because I know feathers will get ruffled). But honestly, in this day and age, as any kind of artist, the realistic expectation of becoming a multi-millionaire off the back of one painting, one song or one book isn’t particularly high and I think some people forget this. It takes a lot of effort to create and this should be recognised. Yet at the same time, to demand such high exacting prices from those giving you their custom, their money, isn’t 100% fair. Even at university, financial aid will only get you so far in buying what you need for your course.

Anyway, /end here because I shouldn’t ramble. I only spout nonsense.