Monthly Archives: March 2005

On tour…

Having written the first of the five essays that make up my exams this summer, I’ll be off on Easter holidays for the next two weeks touring London, Suffolk (again! Crazy!), Prague and Denmark (w00t!). Updates will be sparse here, though I’ll be posting some more pictures of Manchester, and maybe even my essay (for peer-review, obviously 😉 ). It’s on the influence of technology on Western perception of time. A usually grand topic for discussion, though I’m trying to downsize my ambitions.

I tend to write about topics that are way too big for the restrictive word limits that I’ve been imposed. That results in me trying to cram as much in information and reflection into as little space as possible. I did consider just turning ii in as a Haiku poem:

Thoughtlessly, time
stretches between waiting and action
again and again

.. ugh, it doesn’t even fit the haiku structure, but my excuse would be that it’s translated from Danish, and that it would much better sense in Japanese.

Right. See if you can do any better

Spring in Manchester

The international food night went well, though it was only the Germans who took well to the Danish cabbage (pictured behind the rye bread and the leverpostej)

Saturday was a day of glorious sunshine, happy people and ice cream. The ice cream van took a triumphant lap of victory through out the neighbourhood, relentlessly playing its theme song.

Spring had indeed arrived, as these two squirrels playfully admit.

I felt like a photographer from National Geographic, observing these rodents in their true habitat – the backyard of semidetached suburban house.

Before spring so benevolently arrived, I took a few pictures to convey some of the lovely atmosphere of the University of Manchester campus. The first one shows the loving funfair attitude of the student representative elections, with lots of homemade posters, silly slogans and inebriatedness.

The second picture shows one of the many, many CCTV surveillance cameras that cover the campus in their evil glare.

The surveillance of public life in England is scary to the point of disbelief. The new congestion charge for peak hour traffic in London is monitored via CCTV to spot cars whose number plates have not been registered as having paid the charge. These cars are likely receive a fine. There are cute little signs like this everywhere, apparently to prevent crime. If it’s supposed to comfort you that there’s someone who might always be looking..

All About Lily Chou-Chou

I haven’t actually seen this Japanese film about Japanese teenagers, their troubled life in high school and their fascinations with pop culture, but what I’ve heard of it so far makes it sound very interesting.

You are, quite likely familiar with the hype that surrounded and propelled the film “the Blair Witch Project” to fame and fortune in 1999. By deftly producing and inserting an urban legend of disappearing teenagers into the world wide web, the directors managed to generate the belief that the film was a genuine documentation of their disappearance. The three main actors were even listed as “missing, presumed dead” on various internet film sites.

In All About Lily Chou-Chou, Japanese film director Shunji Iwai, reversed the process and created a web page for a fictive pop idol – Lily – and included discussion boards that were suitably seeded with messages. He used the the resulting discussions to shape the film, and a lot of the dialog from the discussion boards apparently appears in the film.

Interestingly enough, as it often happens with fictional characters, they continue to lead a life of their own. Lily now has several albums to her name, and a guest appearance on the soundtrack to Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. 1 (though it isn’t actually on the soundtrack CD..).

It is not even the first time that an entirely fictional character has topped the Japanese charts. Back in 1996, the Japanese media company Hori Pro introduced the computer animated cyber girl, Kyoko Date who went on to have a few hits with some typically nasty Nippo-pop.

Lily’s music, on the other hand, is reminiscent of Björk, and is to fair extent based on the piano music of Claude Debussy. There is, of course, a real person behind the voice of Lily, a Japanese chanteuse named Salyu.

I find this kind of fictionalising quite fascinating, it makes it possible to create stories on a meta-level that mixes fact and fiction, real and unreal in new ways. It reminds me of the playful messing-with-the-heads-of-the-readers that Jorge Luis Borges enjoyed.

Danish visit..

Last Saturday, I had the great privilege of welcoming my mother and little sister to England. They’re here on a 7-day tour of the country, bringing with them 70 Danish high schoolers aged 17-19. My mother is a high school teacher and a veteran of many class excursions to various European countries, and she has often used her status as troop leader to bring along some of her offspring. I’ve been to Berlin, Prague and London with her in my time, my younger brother Hans has been to London, and now Anne finally has gotten the chance to go to Manchester and London.

Not that they stayed in Manchester for very long, mind you. They arrived by coach from Stanstead Airport at 5 pm on saturday and left the following morning for a cottonmill museum and then London. So I couldn’t do much more than just show them a bit of central Manchester and take the expectant high school teachers to the Curry Mile for some award-winning lamb handi at the Spicy Hut.

It’s fun showing people around, as you suddenly realise that you actually do know something about this strange place where you’ve spent almost two months now. Not that there’s that much to see in Manchester at 6.30 saturday evening (I mean, museum or architecture-wise – that sort of “culturally enlightening stuff” that you’d expect high school teachers to like), so naturally, we had to go for a pint instead.

What was especially good about a visit from Denmark was the supplies: I got lots of Leverpostej, Danish licorice, and rye bread – all of which is stuff that you for some reason cannot find in England. Some of us international students are having a proper “International Food Night” on Friday, so with my new supplies I can create at least a little taste of home. I plan to cook this to go with the ryebread, leverpostej (w/ mushrooms and bacon) and pickled beets.

Actually, I’ve been hyping Danish cabbages to all the southern europeans for some time now (all the colours: Green, White, Red.. and Brown) – it’ll be fun to see what they’ll think of it.

Cabbage Hype would actually be a good name for a band, I think. Along with Chorus Of Approval or even The Complex Concepts. I can just imagine the Cabbages playing partypunk-funk ala !!! and having a crazy hit with a song called “Too Loud, Too Dark, Too Drunk”.

gosh darn it!

American slang is really funny. Especially when they want to swear, but can’t since it wouldn’t be proper. In this case, they use similar-sounding, but inoffensive words like Gosh, Darn, Heck, Sheesh, Jeez and Fudge.

So Heck is where you go if you don’t believe in Gosh. You’re basically darned for all eternity. Jeez, you’ve really fudged the Sheesh up this time.

For some reason, it’s not dirty if you say these sweet versions, even though you’re obviously expressing and using the meaning of the Dirty Seven Words.

Interestingly, “sucks” wasn’t considered dirty at all at first. As it was just a “nonoffensive word for suction” which then started to gain a slang meaning related to fellatio. But with increased popularity and usage, it has outgrown its sexual connotations, and is now considered a a “PG“-phrase.

Actually, the American film rating system gives an idea of how bad the various expletives are. The exact criteria are not known, though some general guidelines seem clear:

– if a film uses “one of the harsher sexually-derived words” (such as fuck) once, it remains eligible for a PG-13 rating, provided that the word is used as an expletive and not in a sexual context;
– if such language is used more than once, or once if in a sexual context, it usually receives an R rating;
– a reference to drugs usually gets a movie a PG-13 at a minimum, though a few movies were rated PG for mild drug references;
– a “graphic” or “explicit” drug scene earning a film an R at a minimum;
while total female nudity is permitted in an R-rated movie, any display of naked male genitalia will (usually) result in an NC-17 rating. Non-sexual male nudity is the one exception.

It could be fun to dub a film like Pulp Fiction so that all the expletives would be substituted with these acceptable words. Of course, there’s still the graphic drug scenes, violence and sex, but at least they can’t fault the language…

Weekend at last!

Since it is now officially weekend (woo-hoo!), today’s excitement will be totally silly.

Item A: The Hasselhoffian Recursion!

Item B: New Windows Features!

By the way, have you considered how many good English words the computer business has ruined for us? No longer can you say “she has nice features” without it sounding vulgar to some degree. No longer can you say “There are bugs in the breadbox” without hinting at some part of the breadbox not working according to design – though, obviously, actual live bugs in the breadbox would be a sign of some faulty part… oh, never mind.

Telling dreams

Following the previous post, I was reminded of something else. When people talk about things they’ve dreamt, the narratives tend to be too personal to make much sense to anybody else. All the feeling and points of reference that the narrator remembers from the dream is usually quite difficult to capture in thought and story, and without these, the listeners are left at a loss.

The best telling of dreams I’ve come across is Jesse Reklaw’s Slow Wave. Every week readers send him their dreams from which he picks one to tell. This dream he turns into a four-panel comic strip. His comic strips capture the incoherence and visual magic of dreams quite well. Some of them make sense in a strangely compelling way.

Also, consider how much more willing you are to accept these strange ideas once you’re securely labeled them as ‘dreams’…

Waking up

Do you know the feeling of waking up from a vivid dream, and your entire body is heavy with sleep, yet not really tired? A mistake I often make is to go back to sleep then, trusting my body tired for a while longer. But that is not it.

It feels as if your body has been tensing and untensing again and again during your dream and now, released from that dream, your body is almost floating. A strange sense of etherealness covers you as you wake up. You feel as if you have to recover and remember your body again. You find it laden with sensations, embodied emotions that you cannot give name or reason.

Most of the time you don’t get to experience this feeling for long, most days you’re awoken by an alarm clock and forced to get up, push your dreamheavy body into action and shut the off that alarm so that you can have just another moment of peace.
Of course, by then it is far too late, your dream has been shattered, it has disappeared into the depths of your mind. Your dreams are, as Jimi Hendrix sings, “Castles made of sand [that] melt into the sea… eventually.”

Having time to wake up on your own, taking time to recover your body ever so slowly, is one of the great luxuries of Sundays. But it wasn’t until last Sunday that I realised that this rising, floating towards the surface of your dream gives you a very quiet yet fulfilling way of coming to terms with your waking body and the suddenly abandoned dream.

Lying there, your body heavily laden with the fleeting residue of the images, emotions and sensations of a dream just passed, not just your mind remembers, but your entire body does. The sensation of flying is in the soles of your feet – not touching the ground, the feeling of intimacy rest in your arms still – with no one to embrace, the images of people you may have met just once surface – and their unknown facial expressions still make sense. All this the creations of your dream.

Everybody tends to dream, though not all remember their dreams as well as they could (or should). Most feel the sensations and vague emotions and images of dream past, others feel the dream so real, that he might doubt the reality to which he wakes. The most famous dream of ancient Chinese philosophy had just that effect upon its dreamer, Chuang Tzu:

Once upon a time, I, Chuang Tzu, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Tzu. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man. Between a man and a butterfly there is necessarily a distinction. The transition is called the transformation of material things.

(Translated by Lin Yutang)

We wake, still butterflies: vividly remembering flying and fluttering, yet now unable to do so. The new, waking sensorial input of our body replace impressions left by the dream. As we once again become aware of our body, the memories of how our body acted and felt in the dream fade away. We cannot contain both man and butterfly for long.

That Sunday morning, I lay as I woke, associating freely, casually trying on different ideas, thoughts and feelings as one might try different shirts in a changing room, just to see if something in my waking memories would match those ever-fading butterflies of my dream.

In that way I might follow the stream of my dreams and carefully recover the castles of sand that washed away within. And finding these castles, I might, just possibly, find out what I dreamt that could awaken such feeling of otherness.

The dreams I hear told sound crystallized in the mind of the narrator. The dreams have gone stale with too much rational thought.
As far as I can tell, people often misjudge their dreams, and think that they can remember and understand their dreams as a whole immediately afterwards, indirectly filling the gaps to create a narrative that seems to be coherent. Dreams are very rarely coherent, at least that’s what I’ve found.

I think that that is often the trouble with the interpretation of dreams (especially the Freudian stuff): It is all about rationalizing, finding patterns and clearing up. Scouring the magic from the dream. Disciplining the dreams to a pattern of Greek myth and sexual drives.

Instead, try accessing it with that embodied knowledge of your dream that you wake up with. Feel the dream more than think it.

Dreams are meant to be felt, not necessarily understood.

Remembering the feelings you dream can help you to remember your own feelings, the importance of which is not to be understated.

Photo documentation..

Questionable photo documentation has surfaced from our night out to get football tickets. I have updated the relevant blog entry.

I can also inform you that today was the first day of spring in Manchester, with glorious sunshine and chirping birds. I decided to celebrate this by going for a jog. My first since leaving Denmark. Not having done any proper excercise for a month have really broken my form. Ugh.

Out of sorts

Yesterday, I finished reading “Nonfiction” by the American author Chuck Palahniuk.
Palahniuk is probably best known for his book “Fight Club”, a violently nihilistic and entertaining novel about young men fighting to find a meaning in their lives. It didn’t really sell well until it was made into a film starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton.

Since then he’s written several other novels and various articles in between. Nonfiction is collection of these articles. Some are interesting, some are rather boring. Palahniuk’s style of writing works well with short pieces like “My life as a dog” where he describes a day of walking around Seattle dressed as a Dalmatian (complete with big Papier Mache head), being fondled, beaten, abused and suspected by the people he meets. One of the essays even describes his minimalist ideal of writing by referring to his favourite writer, Amy Hempel. He says that after reading her short story “The Harvest”, ” almost every other book you ever read will suck.”

I’ll let you judge for yourselves (don’t worry – being minimalist, it’s not very long).

This exact ideal of minimalist, compact writing makes most of his longer articles lose a lot of their punch, which is unfortunate as he does have some good stories to tell. He writes about how he’s always taking notes, constantly adding to his catalogue of stories until he has to vent some of it by writing the stories into a book.
This constantly awareness and notetaking (mentally or on paper) is also a defining element of the anthropological fieldwork. But where the professional fieldworker tend to focus her awareness on a specific scientific object, an author like Palahniuk just look for things that interests him, that might contain a story worth telling.

Most people do this from time to time, though it’s difficult enough to find and write down these interesting things to make it a job in it’s own right. I know some anthropologists who jokingly call this focus on the unconsidered strangeness of everyday life for “out of sorts anthropology”. I’ve tried to do it from time to time, most interestingly by trying to figure out why girls wear make-up.

When you leave behind the obvious anthropological conclusion of “It’s much more complex than you’d think at first”, and just go for that tempting first thought – where it’s more your own fiction than other people’s truth – that’s where you create “out of sorts anthropology” and that’s the kind of nonfiction Palahniuk writes.