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Posts Tagged ‘Japanese’

It was inevitable really: I am now on Twitter. As an ID “AboutThisLater” is just the most salient expressions of frustration at twitter’s systemic brevity, to which I have yet to adapt my mode of thinking. But it just about sums things up: the Twitter feed is part of my balooning interest in the way people talk and how they will remember it.

Credit goes to @castophrenia, and to Gonzo wine vlogger @garyvee for his unshakeable, old-school swagger in comparing modern Social Media professionals who are developing the instinct for personal branding with mid-eighties breakout rap and hip-hop acts like the Beasties.

In his honour, and in celebration of getting yesterday’s raise paid in I went round Daimyo and bought coats, and also finally got around to picking up some Japanese maltbase blend whiskey. About to livetweet the tasting, hopefully with a minimum of pretension.

My first ever tweet, for posterity’s sake:

Man knows so little of his fellows.In his eyes all men act upon what he believes would motivate him if he were mad enough to do what they do.      –Faulkner, from Light in August.

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Also, in honour of the British Press’s current hysteria over social networking robbing young people of personal contact, I reproduce a pitch/short fiction I wrote a while ago. Essentially it’s part of my budding argument that on top of brute-force codebreaking, ARGs which want to remain relevant or just do something new should start crafting experiences based around roleplaying, communication.

It won’t appeal to everyone, just as code puzzle-solving won’t. But the guy who has to write an email and sound like an insider, or take a phone call and convince as a member of an anarchist terror cell in order to avert a tragedy… that’s a Unique Experience theat money will never buy. It really doesn’t matter how competent a role-player they are, just that it’s a nerve-wracking experience.

Thus:

Re: one last favour.

Player 1 watches the man in the ball cap. No-one else has approached
him in the five minutes the player has spent skirting the scene,
eyeing the crowds. There’s still more than twenty minutes on the
clock. The man in the ball cap glances frequently at his watch, but he
doesn’t fidget, stares flatly at the tour groups taking pictures
about him. A pro.
All the same, his stillness would mark him out amongst the tourists
even if the description in the email hadn’t been so specific. Dark
clothes and hat even in the heavy sunshine. Bulky backpack. Alone at
Boudiccea’s southwest corner, Thursday, from noon to half past. The
last contingency plan.
Player one will approach, purposefully from the front, hands free at
his sides, heart pounding. Unthreatening. Nothing sudden. The contact
will acknowledge him, will wordlessly offer him a cigarette from a
packet. The player will refuse, speaking only the keywords. Again, the
email is very specific.
“It’s a little early, don’t you think?”
Ball cap stares stonily at him for lengthening seconds. The player’s
palms sting, his lips darken, his face calm. Ball cap speaks.
“You’re certain?”
This part wasn’t in the email. The player jerks a nod, snatches at a
phrase remembered from the last week.
“Uh huh. You’re compromised at every level.”
Ball cap‘s eyes widen.
“It’s all off. You’d better go to ground. It’s all gone helter-skelter
out there.” Another alien phrase, like something overheard in another
language.
Ball cap nods decisively, glances almost wistfully around at the
square, the choiring of families, the percussions of children losing
themselves. Finally he sticks out a hand. The player takes it, toes
prickling with relief, when ball cap pulls him in for a sudden
embrace, wooden and jarring.
“I’ve been in deep for years,” he says fiercely into the player’s ear.

“It’s been so long since I’ve seen an initiate. Someone who can be trusted, who knows.” The player clamps his teeth, fighting down the urge to stiffen, suppressing repulsion. Ball cap releases, visibly embarrassed.

“Wish it was under better circumstances. It’s just… nice to know there are true believers out there after all.” He finishes in a rush. The player nods, lips tight. The contact adjusts his bag.

“You’d better split. I’ll give it a few to divide pursuit, then disappear. Again.”. He fixes the player.

“Make sure you’re not followed.”

The player nods stiffly a last time, turns and marches away, claves bounding with tension. He hears ball cap shout after him, “good luck!”. He ignores it. It’s time to get back to the office. There are still other bombs around the city, but nothing to be done. Not his responsibility. He has stopped all that could be stopped. The job is over.

Tomorrow the fact that there will be no news in London will be his
nod. His silent heroism, unrecorded and unavowed. Non-event will have
become event. The alternate reality will last for as long as the
player does, long after the game is over. And for the next few days,
without willing it, he will find himself glancing over his shoulder.

Player 2 has been watching the strange exchange. Another contact,
maybe? As the new face walks away, the man in the ball cap takes out
his phone and types a text. That’s the signal. Player 2 takes a deep
breath, adjusts his bag.
Going to an unknown number somewhere in the city, the text is just one
digit long.
‘1’
Send.

All credit to @castophrenia, my love.

p

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Transcribing my interview with stony, mottled Union leader Chris for the Community Action feature I’m working on. He reminded me powerfully of my friend Pat. I miss him.

“… you know the JET program?”

“Yeah. they make quite a lot of money.”

“well, quite a lot…”

“Well, they make more money than me!”

“Oh, I know. I’ve known everyone who’s worked for this magazine. You’re worked hard and not given all that much, right?”

“Well, I’m reasonably happy. I’ve just had a raise… Maybe I’m just misinformed… but I’m happy.”

“Well that’s the important thing.”

JETs make about 30 man/month (1 man=10,000 Yen. =around £50 when I left Britain in Sept ’08. God knows now). Non-JET ALTS make around 22 man. With my raise I now make 9.2 man. It’s an arbeito, a part-time job. But then I am still up working, and it’s just gone midnight. But then, I don’t have to pay rent. And I am happy.

are we nearly retro yet?

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Image post up at If it Has a Name, from the Nagasaki Lantern Festival.

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nagasaki manga-ka portrait sketch

There I was, peacefully pondering the remarkable level of Oedipal tension subcontext in Back to the Future 2, when we found a manga-ka doing portraits for a measly grand. Mine, as I mention on If it Has a Name, is similar to a picture of me done by some Chinese students of mine a few years ago: it seems to deeply begrudge the beard attached as an afterthought to an otherwise blank expanse of emasculate bishi features.

manga mangaka sketch bishi bishonen

manga mangaka sketch bishi bishonen

manga mangaka sketch bishi bishonen

Cho-chan (male, 22) posing for a sketch.

I’d love to write about the cultural significance of Japan’s love affair with the bishonen, the gender-ambiguous razor-jawed boy-woman. Bishi protagonists are generally the sign of weak or indulgent plotting, while as a sidekick/secondary character they generally serve to highlight the relative normalcy of the protagonist with extreme martial ability, sports, queerness or flamboyant humour, similar to the figure of the “perverted best friend”.

"What childish, infantile, immature and entirely uncreative mind could have come up with Buttlord GT is entirely out of my comprehension"

"What childish, infantile, immature and entirely uncreative mind could have come up with Buttlord GT is entirely out of my comprehension"

Compare the non-protagonist at the centre of The 10k Commotion, whose mystic bishi-abilities (especially at Dance Dance Revolution) drive the story while never allowing him much of a personality.

dynamite 10k tenkay commotion

Also compare the absent Mary-Sue poetess protagonist at the centre of Priya Sarukkai Chabria’s generation 14. The actual protagonist is both a clone and a reincarnation of her ‘Original’, whose work was so revolutionary that it threatened her post-dystopian world, causing her to be killed midsentence.

generation 14 priya sarukkai chabria

Can’t find a single better cover image, and it’s nowhere on Amazon. Best get it from Penguin India here. Extracts here.

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The clone narrator has a mutation which enables her to remember her Original and her other past lives, and her cognitive development is a combination of fan-fiction and a Bloom-style Oedipal urge towards her ineffable, genetically perfect poète fatale ancestral donor. She is urged to to become her, to recall her work perfectly, but she also wishes to slay her with her own Work, establish her own identity. It has its problems but it’s excellent psy-fi. Recommended.

manga mangaka sketch bishi bishonen

Nat with her alternate-universe femme fatale persona.

Finally, the best thing about Generation 14 so far, appropriately enough, is the epigraph. Like The God of Small Things, which Emiko kindly lent me, it’s obsessed with the multiplicity of life and hence of Work: Roy’s epigraph is John Berger, “Never again will a single story be told/ as though it’s the only one”. Chabria’s, which I will re-rob without shame for Iland, is a Leonard Cohen extract which I somehow hadn’t come across before.

Ring all the bells that still can ring.

Forget your perfect offering.

There’s a crack in everything.

That’s how the light gets in.

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Is plagiarism a problem on the internet? Well, yes. The waka I wrote at If it Has a Name is, I said, a simple sentiment in a consciously finite format, and so I find it hard to believe it has not been written before, even if it is formally incorrect: I line-break a subject particle, for instance. I don’t have the heart to google it.

Is plagiarism inevitable on the internet? Well, logically it is becoming exponentially more difficult to identify except in oneself, and so it may be approaching a stage where it exists suspended between being inevitable and being indeterminable.

As a concept, is plagiarism being subjectivised out of existence? Well, that depends on what you believe about reading the internet. Whether you believe that online people are automatically exposed to a proportionally, ideologically and stylistically broader field of reading material. Or whether you believe that online reading allows people to constrict their reading, to micro-manage their language and its signifiers. Which is the old argument about the Daily Me all over again.

Extract from a covering letter, sent with CV to a very interesting company who wanted to know applicants’ opinion about the success of one internet institution. I haven’t heard back. Oh well.

Feel free to skip.

I took every opportunity for personal research during my course to study online communications, including a course essay on the language of bias in supposedly non-ideological “News Watchdog” sites, and my thesis, entitled “The Information Sphere: Ideology and Langauge in News on the Internet”.

Inevitably, some of the ideas I formed in this thesis have been modified by the online news revolution in the late stages of the American election, and the current status of The Huffington Post is an interesting study.

In the thesis I argued that the internet does not have an inherently ‘radicalising’ influence on newsreading, as in Sunstein’s ‘Daily Me’ argument, nor does the proliferation of ‘citizen journalism’ necessarily herald the deprofessionalisation of journalism as many have argued, notably CNN’s Christiane Amanour.

This said, I did argue that because of the experience of choice in newsreading, and the increasing experience of participation, users would tend to develop ‘personal news cycles’: first referring to a small group of professional newsroom services, which are increasingly pressured to present “unbiased” newswire copy, the users then research and participate in news communities grouped by affiliation.

At the time of writing I cited Drudge, but his power as a maven ended with the election and his embarrassing himself (in my opinion) in the final weeks. The current era belongs to the more openly slanted magazine/conversation-styled Huff, and its web and talk-radio counterparts on the right wing, of which a web leader has yet to emerge.

I think Huff’s popularity is partly a result of its nurturing a returned sense of community in politics, which Drudge’s ‘insider’ aggregation approach rejects, and partly a result of its responding to a demand for personality in news content.

For the future: successful attempts to create a single ‘news homepage’ have rarely worked and will probably get rarer, and so I think Huff’s investment in for example sports and even entertainment reporting is probably wide of their core business, when specialised alternatives like Gawker are proliferating.

teenaged in the pace age

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Update: Instead of “are proliferating” I should have said “are proliferate”, though CVs in general make poor canvases for experimental adjectivism. I need to find myself a word that’s between proliferate and profligate, to describe the status of sites with a high, cultivated visibility but an uncertain readership, like Gawker or American Apparel ads.

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phillipeApologies are well and truly due. I completely failed to mention that I would be incommunicate for about three weeks while in India over Christmas and New Year.  Woops. Mea Culpa. Also Mea still untanned and sickly. Only I could go to India and return as milk-white and snotty as when I left.

India pictures over at If it has a name.

I did get some kanji work done (mostly while lying on the beach, to my immense pride). I got off the plane back in Japan time, into the snow, dragged my three-times-as-heavy suitcase all the way back to the dorm, and found out that the big test which I’d been dreading all holiday has been more or less abandoned. The language course is a bit shambolic at the moment, and from the start of next week we’re in a completely different timetable with an emphasis on conversation rather than the blind trundling ‘progress’ of working through daily tests regardless of practice.

So this is good. For me and a small-but-growing group of compatriots who work in some connection with the magazine, the next month is a chance to get some real momentum going on a couple of projects we’ve been pushing. Social Networking/ the forum and the podcast are first among these: we had a slightly disjointed but very pleasant planning meeting over dinner and talked extensively about the benefits of Flickr, Facebook and a regular Blog platform for our increasingly aged publication.

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Those projects aside, other things have suddenly appeared on the horizon. The other night I went for a drink with a very talented illustrator mate, because I’d told him I had a pitch for him. After the first time we met, we’d gone from one of us casually admitting a fondness for comics, to discussing the merits (or otherwise) of the Watchmen trailer, to talking about making a book together, in the course of two conversations.

I was going to pitch the idea for Manifest, the Vampire/Political analogy piece I wrote about earlier, but I realised as I was eulogizing and arm-waving about it that it really wasn’t in any way ready for public view. The overall concept is difficult to explain at best, and I have only the vaguest idea about characters and a general arc. I’m by no means giving up on the idea, but it will need some actual work, rather than just time spent sat on the beach thinking of cool snapshots and epigraphs and images I’d like to run with.

early_flight_02561u_2

But if I thought I had too many ideas when I went to meet him, when I finally left the bar to catch the last train I could barely fill up the pages of my notebook fast enough. He had a pitch to make as well, and within a few minutes of him introducing it we were talking almost completely in movie references and character notes, as if we’d already signed and sealed. I went home and started typing up, really enjoying working with someone else’s material.

I realised as I was pitching my own project that the excitement of collaborative comickry is this: no matter how I planned it out my work would turn into something I could never have expected. In the past I’ve always written from first concept to final draft, and sometimes to performance, in an almost complete independence. That takes a thoroughgoing confidence which I wouldn’t exactly call ‘unwarranted’, but which definitely would have benefited from seriously collaborative editing. Work alongside someone else, with similar ideas but different plans. And this friend definitely has those: best of all, he already knew, before he met me and without my having to convince him, that Porco Rosso was by far the best Ghibli film.

porco1

The ideas he threw around are clearly ones which he’s been working on for some time, and which aren’t exactly coming from nowhere. It’s a coming-of-age story really, a strong story seen in the weird diluted light of adolescence; and the fact that it’s going to be in a retrofuturist skeuomorphic ex-Atlantis won’t detract from that. Nor will the fact that I’m writing it in the only way I apparently know how: heavy with literary reference. At the moment the epigraph is from Aristophanes’ The Clouds, and I’m retraining myself from putting more reference in.

But the fun of the work for me so far is in taking characters who he sketches in skeleton (though not literally: I’ve refused to see any sketches till I work some more) and then working them out in dialogue. No matter how ‘biographical’ or otherwise the story is, these characters aren’t leaping fully-formed from his forehead, or mine. They’re coming from the needs of the story and how we both want  to make them. They’re not descending from the Clouds.

“Indeed not. These are the clouds of heaven, great goddesses for the lazy; to them we owe all: thoughts, speeches, trickery, roguery, boasting, lies, wisdom.”

-Socrates the Sophist, Aristophanes’ Nephelae [The Clouds]

Not that any story or character ever does just appear from on high. My first instinct when writing the first notes for Manifest was to ‘list’ the mood of the book in terms of references: From Hell, Red Dawn, the poetry of Christina Rossetti, de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, Stoppard’s The Coast of Utopia, Apollinaire…

In that case, the reference documents of the project what we’re currently calling Iland will be Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso, Porco Rosso, Last Exile, The Aggressive Adventures of Fearless Griggs, Johnny Crossbones

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It’s not exactly steampunk: ‘Retrofuturist’ is a useful term here. Though I suppose I could add to the above list one of my favourite pieces of “young adult” fiction ever, Phillip Reeve’s dieselpunk fairytale Mortal Engines.

2008-11-18-fuuil
Johnny Crossbones is another useful example here: in many ways it has a younger feel that its most obvious influence Tintin: it has teen protagonists, rather than the age-uncertain, perpetually boy-scout author insertion brat Tintin; it hasn’t got the clear political pugilism, nor the obsession with technology. But it does have “attitude”, and a cool, smart, surprisingly hot female lead, as compared to the bizarre adventure theme-park of Tintin’s world, utterly devoid of women or sex (other than the monstrous Bianca Castafiore).

Similarly Mortal Engines: give me the mutilated, revenge-crazed anti-princess Hester over any bun-faced Lyra, any day.

mortal-engines-wallpaper3_1024_768

There are elements of Iland that will put it on the “Young Adults” shelf. It is to be a comic, but it isn’t going to be ‘raced’ into prominence since, like Kari in Amruta Patil’s masterful Kari, it doesn’t have a Politic. It was always going to be the brilliant and issue-driven work of Joe Sacco, or Persepolis or ultimately Maus that made it onto the coveted New Release tables, rather than the uncertain fantasy of V for Vendetta or, say, Blankets.

But there’s plenty of room for a whiff of sex in this one, believe you me. I guess I should add Black Hole to the above list, as well: a sexy, cross-over comic and a coming-of-age story that made it big nonetheless (albeit with the dubious honour of having hardback editions that looked rather disguised as regular fiction, and were often shelved as such. I found one in my local library, and picked it up having seen it many times and believed it to be a novel).

blackhole

I’m certainly not worried about being taken off the shelves for including a bit of teen sexuality (of any persuasion- thanks, K). In that sense I’m very happy to have my work considered ‘Young Adult’, in the vein of Les Grandes Meaulnes or Bonjour Tristesse. Or, dare, I presume, Cider with Rosie.

Or look at the 1973 Disney Robin Hood, which I rewatched recently to discover that I knew every word from repeated childhood viewings.Yet in all those infant hours spent sat on the carpet rewatching the film, I somehow failed to notice that it’s not only basically about Emancipation and the Blues Route in the American South, but it’s also somehow a camp masterpiece. And it combines the two in a way I’ve never seen outside Betty Boop or Hellzapoppin.


Camp is a funny word in this connection. It would be a mistake to equate the Camp appeal of, say, The Wizard of Oz with the film’s complete absence of sexuality: Tintin is adventurous and sexless, but couldn’t seriously be called Camp without distending an already too-flexible term. Or maybe with a new term: Steamcamp. Hmm.

tintin

[Speaking of The Wizard of Oz, I loved Australia and don’t care who says otherwise. Though I will concede that if Baz had called the film anything else it wouldn’t have been panned. No doubt Mr. Luhrman has made his own peace with being regarded as presumptuous.]

australia_movie

I suppose I should stop complaining or pre-emptively defending my actions. No-one can seriously describe comics as ‘marginalised’ anymore: it’s just an anachronistic defense mechanism for the more fringe stuff of which the medium’s still capable. A year ago I wouldn’t have expected that I’d be seriously considering a writing or part-writing a comic as my ‘first book’, but we’ve got an exciting idea and it’s ready to go, and so am I.

After all, I’ve always wanted to work with comics and retrofutur/steam and with Atlantean Anachrotech, and here’s my chance. A moment’s research uncovers an unbelievable amount of stuff being made in the Steampunk/creative anachronism community: Have a look at Airship Pirate band Abney Park or Neverwas Haul, or Silloff’s ‘Steam Wars’ remodelling of Star Wars figures into Pinstripe/industrial aesthetic.

biker_on_bike

I’m never happy, I’m coming to realise, without a project. And apparently learning Japanese isn’t quite enough anymore. As if I didn’t have enough to be thinking about. This weekend is going to have to be a foray into job applications, in the vain hope of having a position to come home to within a media industry which seems to be eating itself. Wish me luck.

shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

you are after all quite short

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Linkerature

phillipeNew, fairly self- satisfied post up on If it has a name know it: Watashi wa kore ga tsuite nanka to itte imasu demo, chigaimasu.

I still don’t really have a proper tagging regime for either of these blogs, so even if WordPress could support cool stuff like the Wowzio tagcloud, it would be a pretty sparse cloud. At least, that was the case before Wowzio let you configure the widget to cloud words by text occurrence and not purely by tags. All the homebrew WordPress cloud formats just do it by tag, so without a lot more tagging discipline it would be useless.

After all, the only two tags I have preset for this blog are ‘culture’ and ‘technology’, and the vast majority of posts could only be accurately tagged with both. If I do say so myself.

Maybe it’s that kind of thought-dump indulgence I should be cutting down on. But then, this is a blog. Over on If it has a name know it, the only two really relevant tags would be ‘griping’ and ‘Japanese’.

not now, I’m entertaining

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