Philosophy


but that isn’t what kept me legitimately busy, but what kept me really exhausted, because i was juggling spending time getting to know my uncle well, acquainting myself with my other uncle’s family and his exceedingly spoiled children, and – schoolwork! uni work, really. i just think of it as school again though, since on some days i keep hours long enough to remind me of JC back in ol’ Singapore. so i did my Ulysses close reading assignment. i realised it was my very first advanced level assignment on the morning it was due, and so duly panicked and went through an hour of frantic revision and editing and other stupidmereflections, before finally dropping the damned thing off at uni and heading down to the gold coast to join the family. spent the 3 hour trip reading Charles Dickens’s Bleak House for classes this tuesday, and i can say, with sincere and whole-hearted enthusiasm, that i’ve become a dickens fan.

i wasn’t before, simply because i was one of those asian children brought up in awe of the english language and consequently the ‘great english classics’ – so tomes like dickens’s bleak house really, really scared the crap out of me. especially with a name as uh, bleak, as bleak house. but then i got through the introductory passage on the law and court ethics of the time, and then through the first chapter, with surprising ease, and then when i met the rather farcical characters – as they were represented in their introductory chapters, at least – of sir leicester and lady dedlock, i realised i was going to be changing my mind about dickens. and fairly soon. tulkinghorne was a delight.

then i got to jarndyce! not that esther wasn’t fascinating in herself. she is, really. just that jarndyce gave me my first real – to follow popular Internet slang – LOL moment. laughoutloud moment. jarndyce fleeing out the back of the house to avoid accepting ada’s thanks was just priceless. as was his charming explanation to esther: “This, you must know, is the Growlery. … When I am out of humour, I come and growl here.

*laughoutloud*

i have little to say to people who have yet to read dickens – except that i will call them ‘people yet to read dickens’ simply because i think it almost immoral not to read a book that has been commonly held to have defined a certain part of human history. you could argue that statement, i think. i could, if i could get myself to wake up enough to tackle it.

mr vholes and his dead gloves. *laughs* and you can just hear miss flite’s manner of speaking – not quite patronising, but certainly arresting. 🙂

speaking of arguments – i was thinking to-day what a terrible public speaker i am. and in that respect, i am a huge, huge liar. i can’t begin to count the number of people i’ve met, whom i’ve since found out, thought me one of those bright and bubbly, self-assured and confident individuals who find speaking to strangers perfectly normal and perfectly easy: they are wrong, wrong, wrong. i’ve never found speaking to strangers easy, and i used to be one of the most introverted people in my class, if not my whole firstgrade level. a shier girl you could never meet. (is that how you spell ‘shy-er’?) and i’ve never gotten over it, no matter how i appear to others (you’re deceived, deceived!). take, for example, the fact that i stutter and stammer my way through anything longer than a sentence spoken in public, despite the fact that i am probably one of the more vocal members of my social ethics lecture group, and that i haven’t not spoken in a single class yet so far. nobody else, i’m sure, begins her (apparently confident) speech with a flushed face, heart beating in the veins of her cheek and neck, saliva-lumpy throat, short breaths and an inability to hold the gaze of the audience! *sigh* i’m trying as hard as i can to be comfortable with speaking in public though. after all, i am expected to pass this course, and passing means i have to do the required seminar presentation…in few weeks from now.

hm, let’s muse. i discovered my lecturer knows my name. whether that is because i’m one of the few students of chinese race in the lecture, or whether he has a knack of remembering names and associating them with faces, or whether he thinks i’m a smashing social ethics student, or whether i’m rather memorable as the stuttering but pitiably determined-to-speak student, is up for grabs. (i refuse to grab, however. refer to my refusal to speculate about freud and my uncle. same premise.) anyway, it’s still wonderful to know someone knows your name, when you didn’t expect them to, but would like them to. i’m a somebody! i have an identity, outside of my self, my immediate family, and my honorary family – that is, my ‘most dear and sweet darling’ friends, to quote esther from bleak house – i have a name, and it is mine!

seriously though, it is a great feeling to be recognised as someone individual from the pack. a wolf with a name; a leaping salmon with more pink than silver in its skin.

so enough about identity and me. besides highly recommending getting round to reading dickens as soon as is humanly possible, without too violently harming your sleep cycles, try The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton. Again, i won’t even attempt to offer a critical analysis of the book, or of why you should read this, or even of why i liked it and felt enriched (refer to David Lurie, (c) J. M. Coetzee Disgrace) by the scandals within it. there’s plenty of resources on the Net for you to get what you want. what you DO want to know from me is that, as a novice classics reader, but an enthusiastic one, i was sweetly surprised by how easy and enjoyable a read it was, not to mention rather modernist, than victorian. just look at the ending – what do you make of Newland’s ‘old-fashioned’ remark? honest? deceptive? deceiving? but perhaps one could say, confidently, that at least we readers recognise that it certainly is true, whether Newland realises it or not: he’s been living a fantasy, and consigns the rest of his life to that same fantasy. who wants to stop dreaming a nice dream?

on a more personal level, i really am enjoying my classes. i can’t imagine what my life would be like now, the way i’m so caught up with classes as it is, without literature in it. my friend, my pillow, my huggybuggysnuggly bolster, that i sleep with. you can’t get anywhere near as personal or intimate with, say, a chemistry book, or a boiled scalpel. so i’m keeping my options open for now – if i got sponsored to do a PhD in Eng. Lit, i’d happily wave farewell to the MBBS part of my course, i think. 😛

the only class i’m regretting taking is the contemp lit subject. a first year, the only first year subject i’m taking now; it’s ridiculously easy, more JC1 (first year GCE A Levels) level than uni first year. and i have to admit, i feel rather like i’ve been dunked underwater; everything is slow, fascinatingly quiet, and muted in all sorts of odd ways. there certainly isn’t the same sharp and almost instinctive debate that always comes up so naturally in vict lit tutorials.

well, i was going to go on about what else has been keeping me busy, but i’ll separate that into another post. this is enough to bore a singaporean college student in the last phase of editing her PW written report.

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so i might have mentioned that all content-confused and aimless posts like these where i basically blog to get my thoughts in order, will have the word ‘intermission’ somewhere in their titles. and for propriety’s sake – however conflicting that phrase seems in this context – the post’ll probably be written like this: carelessly. you know, sporadic punctuation, grammar, etcetera. i’ll throw in what i like, and say what i want, and hope that the more obtuse observations i make are lost somewhere in the jungle of it all – kind of like how you miss stuff that really is uber-important in ulysses. which was a delicious read, by the way. yes, i mean it. the closer you read it, the more fun it is: ‘Potato I have.’ *cackles* i mean, a potato in his pocket is a rather absurd image.

so let’s see, i’ve actually really been busy this past week or so, which explains why i haven’t gotten round to anything further than episode 3 of hana kimi JAP or the last instalment of byousoku – and i really do want to see more of both shows! but the real life thing happened, and besides, taking a break at the beach was fun. especially because this was the first time in my (fairly brief) life i spent serious time with my uncle, my dad’s twin brother… and i tell you, i need some time to think about this and what freud might say and what i don’t want to hear freud saying – what i mean is, it was pretty unnerving, and at the same time comforting, that my dad’s twin brother was so very natural to be with. without my dad actually being around, i didn’t have to compare him to anyone other than himself, and he sort of became a replacement-dad on me before i realised it. im not sure how far the fascination with him is normal of the daughters of twins. neither am i sure if he saw me as a replacement-daughter, or even just a daughterish figure, or if my treating him so comfortably, talking to him as if he really were my father, caused him to think of me as a daughter. i don’t know. all i do know is that after less than a week together, i was really, sincerely sad to see him go. and that was the first time i’ve really met him, and probably the last time for a while – i have a strong suspicion that when thrown back into our respective direct families, that ‘replacement’ relationship dissolves. oh well. a replacement serves only so long, eh? at any rate, my uncle reminded me of my dad so much i called him up to talk to him, as i haven’t done in a while.

interesting thing, father-daughter relationships. shut up, freud.

Yeargh, but I hate when you gotta get up early, you’re still sodden with sleep because you hit the bed at 3am trying desperately to finish the book you were supposed to have finished for this morning’s class, and the coffee is cold and milk is sour.

Bad times.

Anyway, I have 15 minutes to get over the immediate post-coffee jitters, get dressed, dump the dishes into the sink for when I get back, and then rush off to catch the train. All while re-reading the other book I was supposed to have finished for this morning’s second class. … … … sometimes I wonder if you really can, like my friend Hwei San says – overdose on Literature.

I remember thinking in Shakespearean English for a whole day right after mugging (studying, for you non-Singaporeans) Hamlet and King Lear one loooooong all-nighter session.

Zounds.

Yes well, I did slack around last night, which explains why I’m in such poor condition today. Though *perks up* it was really rather educational! See, I was reading Interactive Fiction (*nudges Conscience away, who mutters something about playing Interactive Fiction.*) and applying my brain to solving fiendishly difficult logical puzzles all while enriching my vocabulary. No seriously, it was a proud moment for me when I realised I’d solved Half Sick of Shadows’ All Things Devours (recognise that from the riddle in The Hobbit? Yes, it’s a text game involving time travel. Which of course, instantly acquaints you with the idea of a game that’s all kinds of hell and all kinds of fun). This is the first game, after Plotkin’s So Far, that I’ve managed to get through, using only one small eentsyweentsy hint… and all that hint was, this time, was a reminder of the fourth dimension. heh. Great game. Recommended. (Plus, female PC. Everybody wants to play a female PC. They’re like, smart and everything.)

If I have that much trouble solving interactive fiction’s puzzles, I can’t imagine what writing them is like.

Oh, got to run. Got the post-coffee toilet urge.

…I’ve never figured out quite how to pronounce the title. (****)

WHY the extra E?!

Planet-ehs? Planet-suh? … I should probably check up Planetes’ entry in Wikipedia, or look up its romanji name, but I’m currently running on preoccupied-don’t-have-the-time mode, as per my previous idling entry. Actually, it’s the:
I-don’t-give-a-damn-’cause-I-have-other-terribly-fascinating-worlds-and- imaginary-realms-to-immerse-myself-in mode, but that doesn’t give me a very flattering image.

So, I pronounce Planetes pla-nee-teeze, and a damn good manga series. I suppose I’ve always gravitated between light, comical shoujo and sober, reflective vignettes on life (Honey and Clover is kind of a mix in my opinion, which gives it double the points), and Planetes is more of the latter. It’s basically a sci-fi manga set mostly in space, lunar bases, spaceships, etc; little actually happens on earth, but being set outside of the world doesn’t make the manga any less in touch with worldly and earthly themes. The main character, Hachimaki, is a young astronaut with hopes and worries like any young man of our time, struggling to make sense of his goals and what he really wants in life. His companions also portray some of the manga’s themes, like Yuri, who faces his wife’s death in a long-ago spaceship mishap and learns to move on, and Fee, whose son causes her plenty of troubles, though possibly not as much as Yuri and Hachimaki when they crew their spaceship together collecting space junk. Even the seemingly unimportant characters are poignant in their own various ways – I was particularly touched by that girl on the moon (yes, I forgot her name) who declared that she was perfectly content to stay on the moon for the rest of her life, never seeing Earth’s luscious blue oceans, because the ocean of stars above her was all she’d ever want.

Perhaps my favourite character right now, besides good ol’ crusty Fee, is Goro, Hachimaki’s eccentric dad. His POV pages at the finish of volume 3 were beautifully touching and terse both, and his relationship with his colleagues was just so cute, I had to laugh.

Anyway, I’ve only read up to the end of volume 3, because that’s all I could manage to request from the local library before I owed too much to request anything at all. I can bet the rest of the series is every bit as good as what I’ve read so far though. Thoughtful, poignant, deliberate (but still with some comical moments), and really, really well-drawn. Love the moonscape. And there was a tree in such detail I wondered if they’d just used a camera and photoshopped it down to a sketch-like look.

****(4 out of 5)

Here’s my new theory. Forget dualism, forget physicalism, idealism, neutral monism, marxism, utilitarianism, frisson, chiffon, schism. When one writes essays, especially concurrently or simultaneously or attempts any number of essays within a short period of time which eventually leaves you with the wonderful and memorable experience of a throbbing thumping thudding headache – one is likely to subscribe to the theory of essayism. Or suffer from the symptoms of essayism. Depends on whether you think it’s a new state of mind, or a bloody disease.

Early Symptoms: persistent headaches, blurred vision, dizziness, hunger, sore wrist from resting it on table edge too long, sore back and derriere, cramped legs, fatigue, irritability, attention deficit and inability to concentrate

Mild Symptoms: migraine-like headaches, aching eyes, residual screen-shaped squares of light when one looks away from the computer, feeling of insecurity when one is not doing the essay, serious instability, acute hunger pangs, periodic shivering, numb wrist, numb back, numb derriere, numb legs, post-fatigue alertness, fits of anger, periods of apparently timeless ‘spacing out’ due to severe shortened attention span, self-hatred and guilty remonstrancing due to aforementioned spacing out

Severe Symptoms (just suffer a late mark penalty!) : Panadeine no longer works, you can’t recall what blinking feels like, the residual squares of light now have tiny patterns of shade that seem to form letters and words, obsessive-compulsive word-counting, manic spellchecking, gastric pains, deep vein thrombosis, perfectionistic tendencies, habit of speaking aloud to oneself, irrepressible desire for silence, smoking computer, rows of empty Bar Merlo coffee cups, surprisingly long hair, long fingernails, dust lining the floor around your chair…

It’s amazing how you can tell the desperate students from the diligent ones. The diligent ones do everything calmly, and usually call home or a friend just as they’re packing up. The desperate ones stare at the screen, type a little, print out a copy, scroll around the document, type a bit more, erase a bit more, print out another copy, stare at the screen, shuffle papers, and so on. The reason why some lecturers put time slots for essay submission is for those (us) desperate students. You can probably hear from the other end of the world the collective klclick of pens dropping at precisely a minute to the deadline, and then a rush of feet not unlike an elephant stampede in the ancient Thai jungles as we all rush to get our essays in the submissions box.

Though the smarter desperate students, like me, suffer a late mark penalty and hand in their work the next day.

yeah, a post without caps generally means an aimless post used for the sole purpose of emptying a guilt-ridden or distracted mind will follow below. Today that’s guilt. I’ve looked at my timetable, and while I have some few weeks to get to the final essays for each subject I’m doing, it’s really not long enough to dally about smashing empires and training soldiers like I’m doing nowadays, over at Fire Emblem Empires, and others. *heaves a sigh* Pity, because I am the favourite daughter of Indolence. I suppose I’d better get my notes arranged and files neatly aligned, and then start opening them up. … I am glad I’m smashing some of these empires though. *grin*

But anyway, I’ve been doing the midnight thing again. I call it my personal habit of walking (more…)

…not a play by literary definition, but is nevertheless about plays, and us humans, and the masks that we wear.  (****1/2)

…play on morals.

You’ll find that the novels most likely to end up in the busy reader’s good graces are those both light and comprehensive, plus a dash of spice and a whiff of the unique here and there. Such a novel is Barry Unsworth‘s Morality Play.

The story is set in the Middle Ages – I’ll admit that historical settings have always fascinated me, and I tend to favourably review books with these, but I’ll also add that Unsworth did a particularly good job in capturing the mood of the times, so if you’re wary (or weary) of historical novels, loosen your collar and set down that shield. You’ll probably also like the fact that Unsworth decided to respect his readers and write in modern English. So none of the language of Beowulf or Chaucer seeps into Nicholas’ tale; just good ol’ common English, minus modern slang and jargon.

Our narrator is Nicholas Barber, a runaway priest also a self-confessed adulterer and gamester with a little talent for sensing what might yet come, and a more than a little talent for spouting phrases in Latin. When he stumbles into a group of players, or travelling actors of the period, he asks to follow them, and they end up recruiting him as replacement for their recently deceased member, Brendan. The master-player, Martin, is an enigmatic and charismatic man, extremely talented in crafting plays, and is able to lead the players often by mere persuasion; he is also the most volatile of the players, and hence poses the most danger to them all. As they travel, Martin and the other players teach Nicholas the skills he needs to play, both overt and covert. Nicholas begins to take a real interest in playing, despite it being an activity forbidden to the members of the clergy. His first performance, in the Play of Adam, is evidence of his promise when he speaks his own lines, besides those set for him. Despite his success, Nicholas has already begun to recognise the hidden truth of the player: that he “is always trapped in his own play but he must never allow the spectators to suspect this, they must always think that he is free. Thus the great art of the player is not in showing but concealing.” Alongside this insight is Nicholas’ sense of foreboding, of Death. Having brought Brendan’s corpse along with them, the players “brought Death in to the town, so much is certain. Death rode with us on the cart, he was there in the midst of our panoply and fanfares…Certain too that Death waited for us there”.

And Death they find. The players hear rumours of the murder of the boy Thomas Wells, and that a young woman has been found guilty of it and sentenced to hang. The town seems wound as tight as the highest-toned string of a lute; tense and wary, and yet buzzing to speak of the crime. After the poor turn-out for the Play of Adam, Martin decides the only way to earn enough money for their journey to their next performance venue is to perform a play that no one knows the ending to: that is new, that explains, that reflects the present. This is a concept unheard of in those times, and so it brings a chill to Nicholas and the other players’ bones; yet, drawn by the novel idea and the prospect of great earnings, they agree to play the murder of Thomas Wells.

Yet the more they try to do so, the more they find that things aren’t adding up. Unexplainable inconsistencies and gaps in logic confront them as they struggle to structure their play. When they finally do perform the play, they draw a crowd and profit unlike any they ever received, but find themselves irresistibly driven to those gaps and holes in the real version of the crime, such that their conclusion is unexpected, even by the players, and suggests that they do suspect the true answers to the questions raised… The players get themselves increasingly tangled in a bigger and more complex play than their own, where the deus ex machina of their level is merely another ordinary player in the greater scheme of things.

…I refuse to spoil the plot for you.

Yes, this is all I’ll say. Unsworth intended the novel as a murder-mystery, and so it shall remain a mystery, until you yourself read it to the end. Rest assured that the cryptic comments in the above ‘summary’ are every bit as significant as they seem: Martin is an essential character to the plot, and there is a larger motive than what appears to be a simple murder-robbery case.

The novel’s great suspense is derived from an increasing sense of danger, and an irreversibly, unstoppable quality to that danger that resembles the coming of the end of a play – you know it comes, and this awareness grows as the play does draw to its final, as-yet-unknown end. Martin is probably my favourite character, but I was very impressed with Nicholas as narrator. Personally, narration has always been a quality that absolutely must be done right; if it fails, it means the sole link between reader and the world of the book has broken. Nicholas is one of those narrators you identify flaws in, but smile as you do so, like Holden in The Catcher in the Rye, or like FitzChivalry in The Farseer Trilogy. His innocence in life, and in the players’ realm, allows him to explain to us his insights without assuming prior knowledge, and he speaks with an endearing honesty not unlike a child’s. His ‘I’s’ and ‘me’s’ are never arrogant nor selfconscious; he seems almost to be an unintrusive first person narrator. How welcome that is!

Narration and plot themes aside, the novel’s flavour stems from the Players’ tidbit trove, i.e, Unsworth’s inclusion of peeks into the techniques and techinicalities of playing in the Middle Ages. Hand signals were particularly fascinating. I found myself actually performing some of these signals while reading on the train (who gives a d*mn about the other passengers reading their Da Vinci Codes and Shopaholics 😛 ) ; just consider this one. To signify questioning, or asking a question – head cocked to the left, right hand at waist level with index and thumb extended.

… … …

See? It felt like you were asking a question, didn’t it? *applauds* Bravo! Of course, there are more obscure ones, like the finger fluttering that Springer performs at Straw to get him to repeat the last movement, and the interlinked fingers that Martin performs to signify sexual relations with genuine attraction involved.

The danger of travelling, the constant threat of plague and starvation, the lingering smells of an unscented and unwashed town, the dress, the culture, and the other accents of the age all add to the authenticity of the historical setting. I particularly liked the description of smells – the stench of death and the particular decaying smell of plague.

Perhaps the only disappointing feature to Morality Play is the way it sometimes expounds or moralises a tad more than we need. We can see where the ideas are heading by ourselves, and suggestions always work as well, sometimes better, than outright explanations. But of course, this is a first person narrative, and Nicholas’ clerical training naturally gives him a tendency to lecture, hence the “perhaps”.

A little more about Unsworth: he’s known as a historical writer, and is twice Booker prize-shortlisted, once for this very book, and has won that Booker for his novel Sacred Hunger.

So there, Unsworth’s Morality Play. A play on justice, humanity, society, disguises, mortality… and on plays.

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