All the following resources available: GRoL include The Wind in the Willows, King Solomon’s Mines and Pride & Prejudice - I love finding on-line reading for those days when there is no work to be done at work. Reading a book looks bad when your boss walks in; reading on-line is not so obvious.
One of my favorite passages in Stuffed and Starved comes in the conclusion, when Patel takes a moment to skewer the fantasy of good consumerism:
The honey trap of ethical consumerism is to think that the only means of communication we have with producers is through the market, and that the only way we can take collective action is to persuade everyone else to shop like us. It alters our relationship to the possibility of social change. It makes us think we are consumers in the great halls of democracy, which we can pluck off the shelves in the shops. But we are not consumers of democracy. We are its proprietors. And democracy happens not merely when we shop, but throughout our lives.
But wait! there’s more!
The connection between those who eat and those who grow food cannot be measured in terms of brand loyalty points or dollars spent. To short-cut the food system, and to know the people who grow our food, is more than to broker a relationship between buyer and seller. It is to build a human contact that goes beyond a simple transaction and that recognizes certain kinds of commonality, certain kinds of subjugation, and struggles, fights, for an end to the systemic inequalities in power which shape the way rich and poor live today.
The food system, as we’ve seen, creates poverty at the same time as it produces an abundance of food. It fosters hunger and disease through its mechanisms of production and distribution. And it was forged in large measure because of the fear that urban workers and rural peasants would jump out of their social positions. That they would demand equality. The system was designed to siphon wealth from rural areas, with just enough redistributed to keep people quiet. But people acting, en masse, for equality, has been the only force that has changed the world. This is what makes food sovereignty far richer, and more enriching, than an ethical form of hedonism for those able to afford it.
Hells yeah. Patel has more on food sovereignty on his website along with suggestions for action (which DOES include shopping locally and sustainably, but doesn’t stop there).
Half the world is malnourished, the other half obese - both symptoms of the corporate food monopoly. To show how a few powerful distributors control the health of the entire world, Raj Patel conducts a global investigation, traveling from the “green deserts”of Brazil and protester-packed streets of South Korea to bankrupt Ugandan coffee farms and barren fields of India. What he uncovers is shocking - the real reasons for famine in Asia and Africa, an epidemic of farmer suicides, and the false choices and conveniences in supermarkets. Yet he also finds hope — in international resistance movements working to create a more democratic, sustainable, and joyful food system.
From seed to store to plate, Stuffed and Starved explains the steps to regain control of the global food economy, stop the exploitation of farmers and consumers, and rebalance global sustenance.
Washington Post Review:
If you think the biggest food problems you are ever likely to face are safety issues like outbreaks of salmonella (spinach in 2006, tomatoes and jalapeno peppers this summer) and the high cost of organic produce, you’re woefully naive.
Because, as Paul Roberts and Raj Patel will tell you, the food we eat is part of a global system, one made possible by international trade and transportation… Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review)
“Literature is my Utopia. Here I am not disenfranchised. No barrier of the senses shuts me out from the sweet, gracious discourses of my book friends. They talk to me without embarrassment or awkwardness.”—Helen Keller (via nihilnoetia) (via libraryland)
Note:This is the first time I’ve ever read Vonnegut. Figured it’s a good start. Maybe I’ll read Slaughterhouse 5 or something now.
“THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.
Some things about living still weren’t quite right, though. April, for instance, still drove people crazy by not being springtime. And it was in that clammy month that the H-G men took George and Hazel Bergeron’s fourteen-year-old son, Harrison, away.
It was tragic, all right, but George and Hazel couldn’t think about it very hard. Hazel had a perfectly average intelligence, which meant she couldn’t think about anything except in short bursts. And George, while his intelligence was way above normal, had a little mental handicap radio in his ear. He was required by law to wear it at all times. It was tuned to a government transmitter. Every twenty seconds or so, the transmitter would send out some sharp noise to keep people like George from taking unfair advantage of their brains.
George and Hazel were watching television. There were tears on Hazel’s cheeks, but she’d forgotten for the moment what they were about.
On the television screen were ballerinas.
A buzzer sounded in George’s head. His thoughts fled in panic, like bandits from a burglar alarm.
“That was a real pretty dance, that dance they just did,” said Hazel.
“Huh?” said George.
“That dance – it was nice,” said Hazel.
“Yup,” said George. He tried to think a little about the ballerinas. They weren’t really very good – no better than anybody else would have been, anyway. They were burdened with sashweights and bags of birdshot, and their faces were masked, so that no one, seeing a free and graceful gesture or a pretty face, would feel like something the cat drug in. George was toying with the vague notion that maybe dancers shouldn’t be handicapped. But he didn’t get very far with it before another noise in his ear radio scattered his thoughts.
George winced. So did two out of the eight ballerinas.
Hazel saw him wince. Having no mental handicap herself she had to ask George what the latest sound had been.
“Sounded like somebody hitting a milk bottle with a ball peen hammer,” said George.
“I’d think it would be real interesting, hearing all the different sounds,” said Hazel, a little envious. “All the things they think up.”
“Um,” said George.
“Only, if I was Handicapper General, you know what I would do?” said Hazel. Hazel, as a matter of fact, bore a strong resemblance to the Handicapper General, a woman named Diana Moon Glampers. “If I was Diana Moon Glampers,” said Hazel, “I’d have chimes on Sunday – just chimes. Kind of in honor of religion.”
“I could think, if it was just chimes,” said George.
“Well – maybe make ‘em real loud,” said Hazel. “I think I’d make a good Handicapper General.”
“Good as anybody else,” said George.
“Who knows better’n I do what normal is?” said Hazel.
“Right,” said George. He began to think glimmeringly about his abnormal son who was now in jail, about Harrison, but a twenty-one-gun salute in his head stopped that.
“Boy!” said Hazel, “that was a doozy, wasn’t it?”
It was such a doozy that George was white and trembling and tears stood on the rims of his red eyes. Two of the eight ballerinas had collapsed to the studio floor, were holding their temples.
“All of a sudden you look so tired,” said Hazel. “Why don’t you stretch out on the sofa, so’s you can rest your handicap bag on the pillows, honeybunch.” She was referring to the forty-seven pounds of birdshot in canvas bag, which was padlocked around George’s neck. “Go on and rest the bag for a little while,” she said. “I don’t care if you’re not equal to me for a while.”
George weighed the bag with his hands. “I don’t mind it,” he said. “I don’t notice it any more. It’s just a part of me.
“You been so tired lately – kind of wore out,” said Hazel. “If there was just some way we could make a little hole in the bottom of the bag, and just take out a few of them lead balls. Just a few.”
“Two years in prison and two thousand dollars fine for every ball I took out,” said George. “I don’t call that a bargain.”
“If you could just take a few out when you came home from work,” said Hazel. “I mean – you don’t compete with anybody around here. You just set around.”
“If I tried to get away with it,” said George, “then other people’d get away with it and pretty soon we’d be right back to the dark ages again, with everybody competing against everybody else. You wouldn’t like that, would you?”
“I’d hate it,” said Hazel.
“There you are,” said George. “The minute people start cheating on laws, what do you think happens to society?”
If Hazel hadn’t been able to come up with an answer to this question, George couldn’t have supplied one. A siren was going off in his head.
“Reckon it’d fall all apart,” said Hazel.
“What would?” said George blankly.
“Society,” said Hazel uncertainly. “Wasn’t that what you just said?”
“Who knows?” said George.
The television program was suddenly interrupted for a news bulletin. It wasn’t clear at first as to what the bulletin was about, since the announcer, like all announcers, had a serious speech impediment. For about half a minute, and in a state of high excitement, the announcer tried to say, “Ladies and gentlemen – ”
He finally gave up, handed the bulletin to a ballerina to read.
“That’s all right –” Hazel said of the announcer, “he tried. That’s the big thing. He tried to do the best he could with what God gave him. He should get a nice raise for trying so hard.”
“Ladies and gentlemen” said the ballerina, reading the bulletin. She must have been extraordinarily beautiful, because the mask she wore was hideous. And it was easy to see that she was the strongest and most graceful of all the dancers, for her handicap bags were as big as those worn by two-hundred-pound men.
And she had to apologize at once for her voice, which was a very unfair voice for a woman to use. Her voice was a warm, luminous, timeless melody. “Excuse me – ” she said, and she began again, making her voice absolutely uncompetitive.
“Harrison Bergeron, age fourteen,” she said in a grackle squawk, “has just escaped from jail, where he was held on suspicion of plotting to overthrow the government. He is a genius and an athlete, is under–handicapped, and should be regarded as extremely dangerous.”
A police photograph of Harrison Bergeron was flashed on the screen – upside down, then sideways, upside down again, then right side up. The picture showed the full length of Harrison against a background calibrated in feet and inches. He was exactly seven feet tall.
The rest of Harrison’s appearance was Halloween and hardware. Nobody had ever worn heavier handicaps. He had outgrown hindrances faster than the H–G men could think them up. Instead of a little ear radio for a mental handicap, he wore a tremendous pair of earphones, and spectacles with thick wavy lenses. The spectacles were intended to make him not only half blind, but to give him whanging headaches besides.
Scrap metal was hung all over him. Ordinarily, there was a certain symmetry, a military neatness to the handicaps issued to strong people, but Harrison looked like a walking junkyard. In the race of life, Harrison carried three hundred pounds.
And to offset his good looks, the H–G men required that he wear at all times a red rubber ball for a nose, keep his eyebrows shaved off, and cover his even white teeth with black caps at snaggle–tooth random.
“If you see this boy,” said the ballerina, “do not – I repeat, do not – try to reason with him.”
There was the shriek of a door being torn from its hinges.
Screams and barking cries of consternation came from the television set. The photograph of Harrison Bergeron on the screen jumped again and again, as though dancing to the tune of an earthquake.
George Bergeron correctly identified the earthquake, and well he might have – for many was the time his own home had danced to the same crashing tune. “My God –” said George, “that must be Harrison!”
The realization was blasted from his mind instantly by the sound of an automobile collision in his head.
When George could open his eyes again, the photograph of Harrison was gone. A living, breathing Harrison filled the screen.
Clanking, clownish, and huge, Harrison stood in the center of the studio.The knob of the uprooted studio door was still in his hand. Ballerinas, technicians, musicians, and announcers cowered on their knees before him, expecting to die.
“I am the Emperor!” cried Harrison. “Do you hear? I am the Emperor! Everybody must do what I say at once!” He stamped his foot and the studio shook.
“Even as I stand here –” he bellowed, “crippled, hobbled, sickened – I am a greater ruler than any man who ever lived! Now watch me become what I can become!”
Harrison tore the straps of his handicap harness like wet tissue paper, tore straps guaranteed to support five thousand pounds.
Harrison’s scrap–iron handicaps crashed to the floor.
Harrison thrust his thumbs under the bar of the padlock that secured his head harness. The bar snapped like celery. Harrison smashed his headphones and spectacles against the wall.
He flung away his rubber–ball nose, revealed a man that would have awed Thor, the god of thunder.
“I shall now select my Empress!” he said, looking down on the cowering people. “Let the first woman who dares rise to her feet claim her mate and her throne!”
A moment passed, and then a ballerina arose, swaying like a willow.
Harrison plucked the mental handicap from her ear, snapped off her physical handicaps with marvelous delicacy. Last of all, he removed her mask.
She was blindingly beautiful.
“Now” said Harrison, taking her hand, “shall we show the people the meaning of the word dance? Music!” he commanded.
The musicians scrambled back into their chairs, and Harrison stripped them of their handicaps, too. “Play your best,” he told them, “and I’ll make you barons and dukes and earls.”
The music began. It was normal at first – cheap, silly, false. But Harrison snatched two musicians from their chairs, waved them like batons as he sang the music as he wanted it played. He slammed them back into their chairs.
The music began again and was much improved.
Harrison and his Empress merely listened to the music for a while – listened gravely, as though synchronizing their heartbeats with it.
They shifted their weights to their toes.
Harrison placed his big hands on the girl’s tiny waist, letting her sense the weightlessness that would soon be hers.
And then, in an explosion of joy and grace, into the air they sprang!
Not only were the laws of the land abandoned, but the law of gravity and the laws of motion as well.
They reeled, whirled, swiveled, flounced, capered, gamboled, and spun.
They leaped like deer on the moon.
The studio ceiling was thirty feet high, but each leap brought the dancers nearer to it. It became their obvious intention to kiss the ceiling.
They kissed it.
And then, neutralizing gravity with love and pure will, they remained suspended in air inches below the ceiling, and they kissed each other for a long, long time.
It was then that Diana Moon Glampers, the Handicapper General, came into the studio with a double-barreled ten-gauge shotgun. She fired twice, and the Emperor and the Empress were dead before they hit the floor.
Diana Moon Glampers loaded the gun again. She aimed it at the musicians and told them they had ten seconds to get their handicaps back on.
It was then that the Bergerons’ television tube burned out.
Hazel turned to comment about the blackout to George.
But George had gone out into the kitchen for a can of beer.
George came back in with the beer, paused while a handicap signal shook him up. And then he sat down again. “You been crying?” he said to Hazel.
“Yup,” she said,
“What about?” he said.
“I forget,” she said. “Something real sad on television.”
“What was it?” he said.
“It’s all kind of mixed up in my mind,” said Hazel.
“Forget sad things,” said George.
“I always do,” said Hazel.
“That’s my girl,” said George. He winced. There was the sound of a riveting gun in his head.
“Gee – I could tell that one was a doozy,” said Hazel.
“You can say that again,” said George.
“Gee –” said Hazel, “I could tell that one was a doozy.”
“Japan lives in the future; it has lived there for a century. Hot-wired by repeated onslaughts of technologically driven change, temporally dislocated, deeply traditional yet subject to permutation without notice, we all, today, must to some extent feel ourselves to be warped, alien, disfigured. The Japanese have simply had a head start.”—William Gibson on how Japan became “the favored default setting for so many cyberpunk writers”. (via dailymeh)
Let us begin this letter, this prelude to an encounter, formally, as a declaration, in the old-fashioned way: I love you. You do not know me (although you have seen me, smiled at me, placed coins in the palm of my hand). I know you (although not so well as I would like. I want to be there when your eyes flutter open in the morning, and you see me, and you smile. Surely this would be paradise enough?). So I do declare myself to you now, with pen set to paper. I declare it again: I love you.”—
“Well, I’ve worried some about, you know, why write books … why are we teaching people to write books when presidents and senators do not read them, and generals do not read them. And it’s been the university experience that taught me that there is a very good reason, that you catch people before they become generals and presidents and so forth and you poison their minds with … humanity, and however you want to poison their minds, it’s presumably to encourage them to make a better world.”—Kurt Vonnegut (via alonzopt) (via nerdgasms) (via woody) (via hammerito) (via iguessthatscool) (via whatthevandalstook) (via libraries) (via libraryland)
Here are the rules: Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you've read that will always stick with you. They don't have to be the greatest books you've ever read, just the ones that stick with you. First fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes.
In Praise of Shadows by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki is a lovely little meditation on traditional Japanese aesthetics and how it differs from Western aesthetics. It was not, as I had hoped, about a mood I’ve been interested in for some time, mono no aware, my favorite translation of which is “beauty as an awareness of the transience of all things, and a gentle sadness at their passing”, though I cannot vouch for its accuracy. It is well worth reading, though. Quite possibly the essay is a much better use of your time if you want to understand things like wabi-sabi than encyclopedia articles or scholarly works.
Tanizaki opens by describing the troubles Japanese, including himself, have gone through to blend modern inventions such as electric lighting with traditional architecture, and how, again and again, his and others’ attempts to tastefully combine them have failed to provide either the comforts of modernity or the dignity of the past. He describes how, when he built his house, he wanted to build a shōji with paper for aesthetic reasons, but as this would cause “problems of illumination and security”, he also needed glass, and chose a hybrid with a double frame and both glass and paper. “Yet having gone to all this trouble, the effect was far from pleasing. The outside remained no more than a glass door; while within, the mellow softness of the paper was destroyed by the glass that lay behind it. At that point I was sorry I had not just settled for glass to begin with.”
From there, he jumps to an appreciation of the traditional Japanese toilet; “one could with some justice claim that of all the elements of Japanese architecture, the toilet is the most aesthetic” (!):
As I have said there are certain prerequisites: a degree of dimness, absolute cleanliness, and a quiet so complete one can hear the hum of a mosquito. I love to listen from such a toilet to the sound of softly falling rain, especially if it is a toilet of the Kantō region, with its long, narrow windows at the floor level; there one can listen with such a sense of intimacy to the raindrops falling from the eaves as they wash over the base of a stone lantern and freshen the moss about the stepping stones. And the toilet is the perfect place to listen to the chirping of insects or the song of the birds, to view the moon, or to enjoy any of those poignant moments that mark the change of the seasons. Here, I suspect, is where haiku poets over the ages have come by a great many of their ideas.
A western-style toilet (which, I imagine, is what ninety-nine point nine percent of all Japanese homes have today) is too shiny and well-lit to inspire such tranquility. Whatever its aesthetic virtues, though, Tanizaki admits that modern toilets are much easier to clean. Here he makes explicit one of his themes: in places such as a toilet, which, he notes, are viewed as unclean in the West and are shunned in conversation, “the cleanliness of what can be seen only calls up more clearly thoughts of what cannot be seen. In such places the distinction between the clean and the unclean is best lest obscure, shrouded in dusky haze.” And a little while later: “If indeed ‘elegance is frigid,’ it can as well be described as filthy… I suppose I shall sound terribly defensive if I say that Westerners attempt to expose every speck of grime and eradicate it, while we Orientals carefully preserve and even idealize it.”
Tanizaki’s main theme is, as the title suggests, shadows. Shadows are, he argues, integral to the traditional Japanese aesthetic, and in modern times, we cannot appreciate the beauty of a traditional Japanese room or lacquerware decorated with gold and silver, because these were designed to take advantage of the dimmer lighting of times past, and contain a beauty which simply does not exist in a room lit by modern lighting. To summarize his argument isn’t easy, since Tanazaki usually says what he wants to say more elegantly than I can hope to do, and the peculiar beauty of shadows runs through the entire essay, which jumps somewhat unpredictably from one topic to the next.
In the cuisine of any country efforts no doubt are made to have the food harmonize with the tableware and the walls; but with Japanese food, a brightly lighted room and shining tableware cut the appetite in half. The dark miso soup that we eat every morning is one dish from the dimly lit houses of the past. I was once invited to a tea ceremony where miso was served; and when I saw the muddy, claylike color, quiet in a black lacquer bowl beneath the faint light of a candle, this soup that I usually take without a second thought seemed somehow to acquire a real depth, and to become infinitely more appetizing as well. Much of the same can be said of soy sauce.
Traditional Japanese aesthetics as Tanazaki presents it is an aesthetic of concealment and revelation: beauty lies in revealing a little, and to reveal a little you need to conceal a lot. He does not necessarily idealize this aesthetic: “The quality that we call beauty, however, must always grow from the realities of life, and our ancestors, forced to live in dark rooms, presently came to discover beauty in shadows, ultimately to guide shadows towards beauty’s ends.” Admirably, it is not the national character or contact with some platonic Beauty ideal that gives rise to the Japanese aesthetic, in Tanazaki’s view, but simply the facts of real life and the need to create beauty out of what is, not what one desires to be.
He applies this theory to all sorts of things: food, architecture, the costumes and fashions of actors, nobles and commoners, the beauty of the jewel that “gives off its glow and color in the dark and loses its beauty in the light of day”:
Such is our way of thinking—we find beauty not in the in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, the one thing against another creates.
It occurs to me that the traditional Japanese aesthetic probably has a lot to touch those of us who fancy ourselves photographers about the use of light and shadow. There are too many good passages in the essay to quote all.
And so it has come to be that the beauty of a Japanese room depends on the variation of shadows, heavy shadows against light shadows—it has nothing else. Westerners are amazed at the simplicity of Japanese rooms, perceiving in them no more than ashen walls bereft of ornament. Their reaction is understandable, but it betrays a failure to comprehend the mystery of shadows. Out beyond the sitting room, which the rays of the sun at best can but barely reach, we extend the eaves or build a veranda, putting the sunlight at still greater a remove. The light from the garden steals in but dimly through paper-paneled doors, and it is precisely this indirect light that makes for us the charm of the room. We do our walls in neutral colors so that the sad, fragile, dying rays can sink into absolute repose. The storehouse, kitchen, hallways, and such may have a glossy finish, but the walls of the sitting room will almost always be of clay textured with fine sand. A luster here would destroy the soft fragile beauty of the feeble light. We delight in the mere sight of the delicate glow of fading rays clinging to the surface of a dusky wall, there to live out what little life remains to them. We never tire of the sight, for to us this pale glow and these dim shadows far surpass any ornament…
We have all had the experience, on a visit to one of the great temples of Kyoto or Nara, of being shown a scroll, one of the temple’s treasures, hanging in a large, deeply recessed alcove. So dark are these alcoves, even in bright daylight, that we can hardly discern the outlines of the work; all we can do is listen to the explanation of the guide, follow as best we can the all-but-invisible brush strokes, and tell ourselves how magnificent a painting it must be. Yet the combination of that blurred old painting and the dark alcove is one of absolute harmony. The lack of clarity, far from disturbing us, seems rather to suit the painting perfectly. For the painting here is nothing more than another delicate surface upon which the faint, frail light can play; it performs precisely the same function as the sand-textured wall. This is why we attach such importance to age and patina. A new painting, even one done in ink monochrome or sublte pastels, can quite destroy the shadows of an alcove, unless it is selected with the greatest care.
Tanazaki finds the beauty of carefully revealing a little in the Nō theatre:
In the Nō only the merest fraction of the actor’s flesh is visible—the neck, the face, the hands—and when a mask is worn, as for the role of Yang Kuei-fei, even the face is hidden; and so what little flesh can be seen creates a singularly strong impression.
And he finds it again the traditional Japanese fashion of covering up the body except for the hands and face, which are painted ghostly white; the eyebrows are shaved off and drawn in black, and the teeth are blackened, so as to reinforce the whiteness of what little flesh can be seen. This kind of beauty is all but lost under “western floodlights”.
In countries that enforce strong Sharia law, like some places in the Middle East today, women cover themselves up so only the face and the hands are visible, and in these countries (so I’ve heard), a glimpse of a woman’s hair or ankle can be more erotic than a nipple could ever be in the West. Whatever beauty lies in this, of course, does not defend the despicable idea that women need to cover themselves up because men cannot control themselves otherwise, and further than women who refuse to do so are responsible for whatever a man then does to them.
It’s hard to read a discussion of a nation or people’s characteristics and not find traces of nationalism or even racism. These traces are for the most part nonexistent in Praise of Shadows, but something like it surfaces in the discussion of skin color. The discussion begins innocently enough by suggesting that perhaps the beauty ideals of the Japanese ultimately stem from the color of their skin, since it is a fact that a given skin color will look great under certain conditions and worse in others. (At least, Tanazaki thinks so, and I’m inclined to agree that the purely aesthetic aspects of skin color have different properties, so some types of lighting, say, might suit white or dark or yellow skin better than others — I hope this purely aesthetic preference is not seen as racism.) But then it goes off the deep end:
These [Japanese] women were in no way reticent about powdering themselves. Every bit of exposed flesh—even their backs and arms—they covered in a thick coat of white. Still they could not efface the darkness that lay below their skin. It was as plainly visible as dirt at the bottom of a pool of pure water. Between the fingers, around the nostrils, along the spine—about these places especially, dark, almost dirty, shadows gathered. But the skin of Westerners, even those of darker complexion, had a limpid glow. Nowhere were they tainted by this gray shadow. From the tops of their heads to the tips of their fingers the whiteness was pure and unadulterated. Thus it is that when one of us goes among a group of Westerners it is like a grimy stain on a sheet of white paper. The sight offends even our own eyes and leaves none too pleasant a feeling.
We can appreciate, then, the psychology that in the past caused the white races to reject the colored ones. A sensitive white person could not but be upset by the shadow that even one or two colored persons cast over a social gathering.
Even knowing that in context, Tanazaki is talking about aesthetics, it’s hard to read the passage above and not think it reveals some kind of racism. The rest of the essay is mercifully free of judgment. Tanazaki doesn’t proclaim the Japanese way superior to the Western way, he only says that they are suited to their unique environments, and he laments the loss of the environment that allows the peculiarly Japanese form of beauty to shine. Early on he wonders: what if Japan had created its own science, its own industry? While it has, to an extent, the basics of these disciplines were modeled after the West, and if Japan had instead created a science in isolation from the West, would it not produce “no borrowed gadgets, they would have been the tools of our own culture, suited to us”?
Although Tanazaki praises the traditional aesthetics of shadows, he understands both that progress is inevitable and that the benefits of modern civilization in the end outweigh the negatives. This is perhaps best expressed with the following anecdote, from the afterword by Thomas J. Harper, one of the translators:
Mrs. Tanizaki tells a story of when her late husband decided, as he frequently did, to build a new house. The architect arrived and announced with pride, “I’ve read your In Praise of Shadows, Mr. Tanazaki, and know exactly what you want.” To which Tanizaki replied, “But no, I could never live in a house like that.” There is perhaps as much resignation as humor in that answer.
To modern sensibilities, a traditional Japanese house (really traditional, instead of what I imagine is being served to tourists) has probably become even less livable in the last 76 years. But I now want to visit and old desolate Japanese temple’s toilet and sit there, listening to the wind and the rain and the buzzing of insects. Tanazaki quotes another novelist, Natsume Sōseki, as calling his morning trips to the toilet “a physiological delight.”
“The ever expanding reach of copyright has removed more and more art and ideas from the public domain. The Walt Disney Company happily built its film empire out of folk culture (Snow White, Pinocchio) but any folk who try to build on Disney can expect a cease and desist order in the next mail.”—
This is so true. And wrong. Homage is Homage, people - get out of your small mind set!
I have this memory of being in my late teens, sitting under the foliage at university reading an article in the then latest edition of Cosmo. It was about how to pick up guys at parties, and I planned to put it to use that Friday night.
I don’t remember much of what it said - something about circulating around the room to spot and catch the eye of your target? - but that’s not the point. In the confusing gender minefield that was my early adulthood, women’s magazines were my trusty guide.
These days, I find that laughable. Because, those articles? They’re not written by experts. They’re written by writers, like me, who at best weave together their intuition, some basic human psychology and some interviews, and at worst just bang out some reiteration of what’s been said in thousands of “relationship” articles before them. They make for good entertainment, and I still can’t resist reading them, but they’re not something anyone should be basing their dating strategies on.
Still, as I wrote on Twitter yesterday, if there’s one thing worse than a vapid women’s magazine article, it’s a self-righteous former women’s magazine staffer lamenting how terrible the things are. The ladies at Jezebel and Girl With A Satchel may have been pleased, but I found it hard to get excited about former UK Marie Claire editor, Liz Jones, who wrote in the Daily Mail earlier this week about why she’s “given up on the glossy”.
That’s not to say mags aren’t worth criticising. Let’s take a quick look at some of the most common critiques:
Women’s mags promote unrealistic beauty ideals. Guilty as charged, and particularly damaging for teenagers, who are just coming into their sense of who they are, how they look, and what is and isn’t attractive.
Women’s magazines promote a shallow, consumerist lifestyle. It’s true that, as Jones argues, the clothes mags feature are almost always out of the price range of their target audience, but fashion diffuses sufficiently these days that you can always pick up a cheap knock off at Supre, Asos or Forever 21. And I see plenty of articles about nourishing the inner aspect as well. I’ll cede this one though, too: essentially, magazines are part of the consumer machine.
Women’s magazines treat their readers like they are stupid. Also true in the case of some articles, but I think this is less a function of mags actually thinking their readers are stupid, and more about the quite underrated fourth criticism that most people fail to note…
Magazines, with some exceptions, are largely uncritical. Rather than exploring new angles and questioning received wisdom, a lot of magazine articles just repackage the same old ideas in the most obvious possible ways (headlines excepted - those are usually pretty clever). And that goes whether they’re playing that smart/ethical end of the market or the, er, traditional end.
The thing is, these critcisms have been circulating for a good 20 (maybe even 30?) years. The sudden rush to adopt them reminds me of a 15-year-old girl abandoning pop music upon discovering Triple J, Zach Braff and Frankie magazine - or as @barrysaunders wittily put it on Twitter, “like a new ex-smoker bitching at her old, still-smoking friends”.
Not to mention that, to some extent, the industry has responded to them. Since Mia Freedman launched Cosmo’s “Body Love” campaign in 1997, it’s been a rare Australian women’s magazine that’s dared to publish a diet (although, yes, they do appear sometimes in veiled form). Freedman also launched a campaign on the censorship of women’s genitals (leading to airbrushing and unrealistic expectations) during her tenure. Teen magazines now let their readers know when images are airbrushed. Then there’s YEN, and Frankie, and New!CLEO, and Bust, and Bitch, and Jane (now deceased, but succeeded online by Jezebel) and Peppermint. In Australia, at least, Marie Claire serves you a slice of news alongside your fashion (I seem to recall the US version being somewhat thinner). Vogue, meanwhile, publishes some beautifully written and thought-provoking features and essays that surpass most of what you’ll find in a “serious” newspaper.
None of these magazines are perfect, and if you’re after something really meaty, you’re probably better off buying The Economist or The New Yorker. But hating on them for being light entertainment is like hating on Britney Spears for not being Regina Spektor. And we all know we can’t have that.
Really though, what bugs most about Jones’s critique is that it comes from someone who has - or at least had - the power to do something about what she’s complaining about. Sure, magazines are at the behest of advertisers, and it’s true that the most interesting ones often fold for lack of advertiser support, but if you hate women’s mags so much, do something about it. Start something of your own, whether it’s a mag, a blog, or something else (and I know a lot of people are). If you’re a journalist, write the kinds of articles you wish you could read - that ethos sums up pretty much my entire collected submissions to Girlfriend over 2006-8.
Just don’t sit on your ass and complain about it. It doesn’t make you look cool or insightful. It just makes you look tired.
The BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100.
Reblog. Bold the ones you have read, total and post.
01 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen - 02 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien - 03 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte - 04 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling - 05 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee - 06 The Bible - 07 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte - 08 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell - 09 HisDark Materials - Philip Pullman - 10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens -
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott - 12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy – 13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller - 14 Complete Works of Shakespeare - 15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier - 16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien - 17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk - 18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger - 19 The Time Traveler’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger - 20 Middlemarch - George Eliot -
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell - 22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald - 23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens - 24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy - 25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams - 27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky - 28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck - 29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll - 30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame -
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy - 32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens - 33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis - 34 Emma - Jane Austen - 35 Persuasion - Jane Austen - 36 The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - CS Lewis - 37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini - 38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres - 39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden - 40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne -
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell - 42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown - 43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez - 44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving - 45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins - 46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery - 47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy - 48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood - 49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding - 50 Atonement - Ian McEwan -
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel - 52 Dune - Frank Herbert - 53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons - 54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen - 55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth - 56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon - 57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens - 58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley - 59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime - Mark Haddon - 60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez -
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck - 62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov - 63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt - 64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold - 65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas- 66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac - 67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy - 68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding - 69 Midnight’sChildren - Salman Rushdie – 70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville -
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens - 72 Dracula - Bram Stoker - 73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett - 74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson - 75 Ulysses - James Joyce - 76 The Inferno – Dante - 77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome - 78 Germinal - Emile Zola - 79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray - 80 Possession - AS Byatt –
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens - 82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell - 83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker - 84 TheRemainsof the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro - 85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert - 86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry - 87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White - 88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom - 89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - 90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton -
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad - 92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery - 93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks - 94 Watership Down - Richard Adams - 95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole - 96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute - 97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas - 98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare - 99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl - 100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo -
TOTAL: 55. There are a few more that I started, and gave up on (Life of Pi and Cloud Atlas, I am looking at you now!)
“[Gloria Stewart] trembled. She cried. She looked at Daddy Beckett. She sobbed and coughed and stumbled over her words. Her testimony said, There is no closure. Her hatred filled the room. She saw Robbie [Beckett]’s trial. She saw him convicted. It was just a passing moment in her hatred. This was one more moment. It was nothing compared to the aggregate force of the hate she sustained every day. She left the witness stand. She veered by the defense table and looked at Daddy Beckett close up. She trembled. She walked to her bench and sat down. Her husband put an arm around her.
I never felt her kind of hatred. I never had a flesh-and-blood target.”—
James Ellroy, My Dark Places. The book is about his mother’s unsolved murder, the way he ran from her death through booze and drugs and terrible living, and his eventual return to the case to try to solve it. This quotation, on page 309 of the hardcover, had a peculiar force in context that it doesn’t necessarily have when sectioned out. That line, “Her testimony said, There is no closure,” made me suck in my breath when I read it. (via wingsandfins)