All entries for December 2005

December 31, 2005

On Certain Other Extraterrestrials

Follow-up to On Certain Extraterrestrials from Joe's Blog of Funk

There is a planet populated by sentient beings much like ourselves.

But their language is more like code. Synonyms are few, and syntax is strict.

Talking to one of these beings can feel like talking to a computer.

There is no poetry. Their novels are far more realistic than beautiful.

But on this planet, the writers don't write words – they write music.

Music so rich and deep that it can change the way you think and feel.

To these people, music isn't abstract. It can stand for concrete concepts.

Their greatest philosophers are all composers.

And their greatest lovers are all musicians.

Images, ideas, meanings and feelings are built up from chords and melodies.

The rhythm of this music is spontaneous and impossibly complex. No human could make sense of it.

One of these people, a female, ran away from her home. She travelled for months, lost, confused.

She was sitting under a tree, eating a fig, when a light went on in her head.

Throughout the next month, she composed and recorded a short collection of music.

She sang every instrumental part and built up simple textures with digital effects.

No one knows why, but it's the most beautiful thing you've ever heard.

It was published anonymously. None of the media channels would touch it.

But it spread, like wildfire, from friend to friend.

It had the most extraodrinary effect on people.

People were selling their automobiles. Walking out of their dead-end jobs. Falling in love, running away. Starting a farm. Deserting their regiments. Reprogramming their telescreens. Refusing to pay taxes. Joining happy-clappy tambourine cults. Forming revolutionary unions.

Of course, it had to stop. First, the churches called it devil-music and held mass burnings.

Then it was made illegal. The authorities issued a blanket ban, deleting every copy of the music on every digital device, introducing prison sentences for posession.

Within a year, they erased nearly every trace of the music.

A few individuals have comitted parts of the music to memory. Some of them still choose to risk imprisonment and meet in secret. They hum together, quietly.

This planet is populated by sentient beings much like ourselves.

Their language is more like code. Synonyms are few, and syntax is strict.


December 29, 2005

Notes from talk and seminar with Cris Nash

Also: George Ttouli, Peter Blegvad, and 2nd year Creative Writing students.

Cris Nash writes books on postmodernism, such as "World-Games" and "The Unravelling of the Postmodern Mind". He talked for the first half and then we had a discussion.


Heisenberg and Godel's work in science suggests that perception and conception cannot totalise.

But postmoderns go further, and say:

who is failing to percieve?

What we may think of as our identities
are in fact products of society [and/or language]

we are in a mess without edges
over which we have no control

C20 theorists all meet at this point: Foucault, Adorno, etc.

.: postmoderns decentralise the subject
by rejecting story, narrative, and other associated notions.

Psychology is the foundation of character in realism
but Psychology is an ideology clinging to the idea of an integrated self

Subject and object exist in narrative, but not in nature

The position of postmodernism is the indeterminacy of the subject.

"the infinite plays of signification" become what literature enacts.


Literary Techniques for the Antinarrative Writer:

1 – Zooming in / out.
in: details but no totality (e.g. describing cracks in the pavement in great detail)
out: totality but no sense of subject (e.g. geneaological lists, statistics)

2 – Disrupt time, place and causality

3 – Association/negation
"The door is ajar. The door is closed."
Ambiguation, e.g. by

– making it unclear who is speaking

– breaking gramattical structure
Induces aporia, subjective sense of liberation in the face of the indecidable or paradoxical.

4 – Parataxis – missing data

5 – Infinite regress – circularity – e.g. through self-reference

6 – Metalepsis – blurring fiction and reality
e.g. characters killing the reader

7 – Non-locutionary programs.
e.g. bricolage
random generation
mathematical forms
generation based on tables
See: OULIPO

What does this effect? Without meaning, all becomes surface – pleasure, excitement.


Discussion:

[these aren't direct quotes, they're expanded from the notes I took]

Niki Seth-Smith: in the face of total linguistic freedom, there is a choice between egoism on the one hand and annihilating cynicism on the other

Thom Hutchinson: Marginal / minority lit. has a need to assert identity rather than dissolve identity. Does postmodernism have to ignore this?

Peter Blegvad: The pendulum is swinging back to narrative and realism.

Peter Blegvad: Postmodern fiction offers an experience of self-awareness rather than the pleasure of narrative
much as Eastern mysticism promised to do in the 60s

Niki Seth-Smith: similarities btw antinarrative and defamiliarising objects through meditiation

Katy Whitehead: Abrahamic religion as linear — history as truth
Eastern religion as circular — history as illusion

Postmodernism based on radical scepticism – negation.

Can antinarrative strategies be incorporated into narrative? Will this work, can it still be entertaining? Isn't it a case of chalk and cheese?


My take Re: Eastern mysticism:

Alan Watts seems to have prefigured this. He talks about the indeterminacy of percepton and knowledge but comes from a different angle. He was not a literary theorist, but an interpreter of Eastern religion for Western readers. The idea that "subject and object exist in narrative, but not in nature" is a recurring point in his books.

Postmodernists talk about "the infinite plays of signification" while mystics talk about "the eternal dance of maya".

The difference between the two might be that the religious approach incorporates an idea of (not sure how to say it) stability even within the everchanging ephemerality of reality. A Zen text talks about the Zen sate of mind being "no ceiling above the head, no tile below the feet". Yet there is also the idea of the unconditioned mind, "your face before you were born", the Eternal Way.

Wheras, to the postmodern mind, there is no stability: chaos is total.


December 28, 2005

The Wizard's Tower (fragments)

These are fragments of something that I will probably submit for assessment. It's a CYOA. I need thoughts and opinions, please!


You try the door again, tugging at the iron ring with all your strength. Juna stands back and watches, amused. “I don't see what's so funny!” you announce, indignant. “A little help, at least?”

“Didn't you think a wizard might lock his own tower?” Juna replies. You fix him with a glare. He shoots back a wicked grin. “Don't worry, Kerin. It'll take more than a rusty lock to stop us!”

You step back and watch. Juna moves forward, stretches his fingers out towards the handle, and intones: “Kah goh meline-ah luv-ah!”

You hear a low clunk come from inside the door. “A little trick I learned from the gypsies,” Juna explains. “Ladies first!”

You try the handle – the door swings open effortlessly. Beyond the threshold, there's only darkness. Good thing you brought a torch…

————
Go on to the next page.


You are sweating with nerves by the time you reach the top of the first staircase, and Juna has bound ahead. “Hurry up, Kerin,” he shouts back at you, “the wizard's treasure will be in his room – on the top floor!”

“Is it just me, or do these dark, winding staircases seem a bit… creepy?” you reply.

“All the more reason to get to the top of the tower, Kerin.”

“All the same, I think we should be careful as we go.”

You catch up with Juna, and come to a sort of landing. Stairs continue upwards. An opening, flanked by two suits of armour, leads from here onto the tower's only balcony. Juna is examining the suit on the right. "Not worth taking," you say. "I know," he replies, "it's just -"

Juna is cut short by a screech of metal on metal. The suit of armour lunges forward. It's alive!

Juna jumps back. "Tower defenses," he mutters.

The suit of armor strides towards him, backing him against the wall.

"Magical slaves," he continues. "They're powerful…"

The suit of armour raises its axe and steps forward. Juna makes a deft sidestep at the last moment, and the strike misses completely, causing the suit of armor to topple over and smash on the wall, falling to pieces.

"Powerful, but stupid." He grins. "Kerin, look out!"

You whirl round. The other suit of armour has come to life, and is lifting its mace, ready to strike!

————
If you attack the suit of armour with your flaming torch, turn to page 21.

If you try to lure it onto the balcony, turn to page 35.


The small, red book is lying under a table in a pool of dry ink. The cover is cracked and dusty. It reads: "Journal of Summonings and Bindings". Somehow, you know it belonged to the wizard. You flick through the pages – the beginning of the book is just dense, careful writing, but as the book continues, you see strange symbols that remind you of Juna's runes, and you notice that the handwriting becomes more tense, more desparate. The final page is a mish-mash of scribbling and unreadable words.

"This wizard sure was a strange character," you say to Juna, but he's elsewhere in the room and doesn't hear you. You look back at the book. Overwhelmed by curiosity, you turn to the first page and read…

The last pheasant has died. All spell scrolls have been written, the divining dice prepared. My dreams last night contained nothing of portent, and no blackbirds have visited the window this day. At midnight, I will call this shadow, and bind it. All that remains is to mix the ink.

I am exhausted to my very core – I have been writing, fevered, for these last six hours. At midnight I summoned the thing by its runic name, and used the ash staff to subdue it, though it would not stop babbling filth and violence until I compelled it to swear silence. I called it ur-hadoth, and it became cowed and silent, for in knowing its name, I knew its nature. But in its eyes I saw a challenge and a resentment, and a violent strength.

I had determined not only to master the thing, but to bind it, and this I did with quill and paper. I made it tell me each of its binding-names in the Old Languages, and how it was first birthed, and its various qualities and codes, which I transcribed carefully onto the scroll. It then began to tell me of its birth, and ascent into consciousness and life – I transcribed this too, thinking of it as a curiosity which may have use in another project. Now I see that it told me its story not by choice, but because it was compelled to. I had asked for all its names, and it had one more to tell me.

At first, he seemed to be telling me about a time of pre-material existence, in which he inhabited a place of chaos and brutality. I wrote of all the tortures he endured and inflicted – and saw how this had twisted his mind, far beyond reason. Then, he began to tell me some disconnected tales – which I continued to write down – tales from the lives of young boys, mostly, mere vignettes which were over before they began. Some boy who was spurned by his friends crushed the head of a wounded bird. Another shut his sister's hand in the door, made her scream. I have all this down in the scroll. I came to realise that many of the demon's tales were my own. In fact, as he continued, I was not dictating his words, but my own past, remembered in sudden, vivid detail. Acts of violence I had committed, when compelled by fits of rage – and more than that. All the cruelties I have inflicted on my friends, I relived. The day I cursed Kamma to her face, never to see her again. Though my eyes were stinging with tears, the shadow would not relent – I was bound now to write down every word, and remember.

He then brought me to the cliff edge, and Piter was before me, arrayed in his ill-gotten robe and carrying the ash staff. Piter who betrayed me, who used me as a pawn and kept me from the dark-texts, like a mother hiding sweets from her child. He did not deserve the staff, and the rage that killed him was just. But the creature was mocking me for it, calling me “murderer”, threatening to rush up and possess me again, as he had done all those times before. I could feel him compelling me to clench my fingers more tightly about the quill – to break it in two – but instead, I took up the ash staff, naming and subduing it thus: “Anger! I swear you again to silence!”

It obeyed me. And thus I bound my spirit of anger into a parchment scroll. I cast its ethereal body into the only place here that will hold it. It did not speak word as it left, but fixed me with a gaze of such threat and menace that it haunts me still now. The scroll is unfinished. I have five of its names – but are there others? Can I be sure that I have command yet over this shadow?

I was reminded today that not all spirits are of wrath and chaos. Not all must be caught and bound like wild beasts. And truly, many cannot be bound. The spirit who visited me today was of so deep and strong a vitality that may never be chained. I believe I was visited by the goddess Mar Eleiya, or a form of her, for she came in the form of a sea-dove to my window. She is not popularly worshiped, and some might describe her as obscure, but she has shrines amongst some people of the western coast. To them, she is a spirit of serendipity and cloudless skies.

It is hard to convey the sense of what happened today. If I were pressed, I could admit only that a sea dove with azure wingtips came and sat on the parapet in the clear day. Mar Eleiya did not speak audibly, nor manifest her power in the bending of light as demons do. But I was overwhelmed by a sense of peace, and curiosity, and potential, as if her message to me were the sheer and simple infinity of the sky. Ensconsed in my studies, I rarely notice these things. But this time I revelled in the simple pleasure of the afternoon light; the dappling of tree-shadows on the grass below; the low silence of the woodland all around. The sea-dove flew closer, right on to the windowsill, peering in at me past the wooden frame.

Then Mar Eleiya's message became clear to me. She was imploring me to wander, to take a staff and live on the land, learning from nature in the way of the wizards of old. I was shocked by the humility of this request. She did not command it of me, as any god might. She merely offered it up. And for a moment, I desired it, and was willing to abandon myself to it.

It did not take long, though, for my mind to come back to the weight of my unfinished studies – the scrolls half-written, realms of the mind yet to explore. To wander about in the forest, neglecting these duties I had set for myself, would be a betrayal of this responsibility. I remembered, then, the games of logic I played with Piter in the days when he taught me. In the days before I came to hate him. We would sit and play games with black and white stones long into the night. He would say, “a stone, once laid, cannot be taken back. It is the same with our lives. Our actions are permanent, and set the pattern for our future.”

So it is with me, now. I made a choice when I began to study the dark texts – to bring power and knowledge to myself. The pattern has already been set. So sullenly, I told her “I cannot”, and looked up at the windowsill. But the dove had already flown.


December 24, 2005

On Certain Extraterrestrials

There exist creatures who do not have music.

To them, all sound is monotone.

Oddly, their palms emit coloured light

according to the flow of felt emotions.

This is difficult to control. In formal meetings,

hands are kept clasped.

They find it very affecting

to watch such shows of light.

Special binocular headsets exist.

It is a popular and subtle form of entertainment.

But the strangest, most intimate thing

(though it is often considered to be

the preserve of only poets

and impressionable young lovers)

is for your lover to cover your eyes with their hands.

It is said, to see another's light like this

is to know their marrow.

It is known as "shrouding".

These people do not have music.

To them, all sound is monotone.


December 16, 2005

Quotes on the Wall

link

I agree with all of them except one… ;)


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