Sunday, January 30, 2011

sinking to rock bottom

Whew, it seems I'm not the only one who's noticed that there's something terribly amiss in the widespread apathy, inhibited - or perhaps I should say castrated - body language, and emotional & sexual atrophy of the Japanese, especially the males, in spite of the impressive hairstyles and outfits (trying to compensate for something lacking inside?):

Only our descendants will know for sure, but we may be witnessing something not seen in the world since the slow demise of ancient Egypt — a nation expiring of natural causes. Nations, unlike people, are potentially immortal. When they die, it's usually violently. Japan may make history by its manner of leaving it. It may simply crumble into dust.... 

Of course, the young are forever astonishing the old; there's nothing new there, but generally it's youthful excess that shocks, not youthful . . . what to call it? When, as a Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry survey revealed last month, fully one-third of adolescent boys aged 16 to 19 claim to have no interest in sex, a line is being crossed that suggests not simply new developments under new circumstances but a newly evolved species. [my note: there's already a name for this new species, it seems: the 'soshokukei danshi' / herbivorous men...]

Disinterest in sex is rising in both genders of all ages, the survey shows. It was this which prompted Shukan Shincho's "rock bottom" remark. "It's true," affirms a 23-year-old male university student to whom the weekly speaks, "that many men have no interest in women. My own friends seem quite satisfied to moon over anime voice actresses and computer game characters."

When a nation sinks to that, it seems reasonable to regard the future with grim foreboding.

From Michael Hoffman, 'The decline and fall of Japan and its sex drive'
The Japan Times: Sunday, Jan. 30, 2011

Couldn't agree more, alas... [sigh]

Saturday, January 29, 2011


Giorgio de Chirico, Mystery and Melancholy of a Street

The date conjures up bitter-sweet memories. Thirty years ago precisely, the move to a new house, from an impoverished working-class suburb to a delusional middle-class one of parvenus forever carrying the poverty within.

The derelict railway station left behind, the forsaken best friend smiling and waving goodbye to the end of childhood.

The new family dog, born on that very day, and who'd stay with us for thirteen years. My constant, inseparable companion, and ever so often the only reliable friend.

The promise of a fresh start amidst the changes, soon followed by the realisation that the chilliness and immobility of the house, and of everything else, would never disappear. I'd never find a home there, a realisation that would condemn me to an adolescence of daydreaming and vicarious travelling, at once a blessing and a curse.

And later on the wanderlust, triggered by the rebelliousness and restlessness within. Changing beds umpteen times, incessantly butting heads against unassailable walls - against heartless, intractable people.

Forever searching for that which does not exist, despite the infernal inscription.

Painfully taking shape ever since, stumbling in the dark, groping in the half-light, growing, changing - and slowly learning to carry my clarity with me.

*       *       *

Thursday, January 27, 2011


One of my current research projects has led me to read extensively a genre of which I'm especially fond due to its hybridity and potential for experimentation: travel writing. And I especially like it when written by intrepid, unabashed ladies with a sense of humour.

I've just come upon this most interesting travelogue by Dervla Murphy, Muddling Through in Madagascar (1985). As I open it, I'm struck by the epigraph, taken straight from the OED entry:

muddling through: 'to attain one's ends in spite of blunder after blunder'.

Amazing indeed how certain phrases have the power to define a whole life - to define our journey through life.

This too would be a most appropriate epigraph for my own life story, were I ever to write it...

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

and yet another siren song

At this time of the year I'm way too busy and exhausted with grading, research & all sorts of deadlines looming ahead to be able to devote even a few lines in the small hours to this little corner. Yet, I couldn't resist posting this most wonderful song, with a big thanks to my dear friend Antonio for the reminder. Goodness gracious, I hadn't heard Buckley for ages!

This has also brought back fond memories of a lovely version by This Mortal Coil, which was quite a hit in the early 80s - and justly so.

Tim Buckley, Song to the Siren

Long afloat on shipless oceans
I did all my best to smile
'til your singing eyes and fingers
Drew me loving to your isle
And you sang
Sail to me
Sail to me
Let me enfold you
Here I am
Here I am
Waiting to hold you

Did I dream you dreamed about me?
Were you hare when I was fox?
Now my foolish boat is leaning
Broken lovelorn on your rocks,
For you sing, 'touch me not, touch me not, come back tomorrow:
O my heart, o my heart shies from the sorrow'

I am puzzled as the newborn child
I am troubled as the tide:
Should I stand amid the breakers?
Should I lie with death my bride?
Hear me sing, 'swim to me, swim to me, let me enfold you:
Here I am, here I am, waiting to hold you'

*       *       *

There are several versions, with different lyrics, of the song - such as this one:

Long afloat on shipless oceans
I did all my best to smile
'Til your singing eyes and fingers
Drew me loving into your eyes.

And you sang 'Sail to me, sail to me;
Let me enfold you.'

Here I am, here I am waiting to hold you.
Did I dream you dreamed about me?
Were you here when I was full sail?

Now my foolish boat is leaning, broken love lost on your rocks.
For you sang, 'Touch me not, touch me not, come back tomorrow.'
Oh my heart, oh my heart shies from the sorrow.
I'm as puzzled as a newborn child.
I'm as riddled as the tide.
Should I stand amid the breakers?
Or shall I lie with death my bride?

Hear me sing: 'Swim to me, swim to me, let me enfold you.'
'Here I am. Here I am, waiting to hold you.'

Saturday, January 22, 2011

siren songs...

Mermaids, sirens, selkies have provided endless inspiration to artists - and, in a particular, a privileged means for the embattled, fragile male ego to express its ingrained fear of female fullness and strength.

Here goes one more such expression by another favourite artist - an amazing musical revelation.

Thomas Feiner & Anywhen, The Siren Songs
(Music: Feiner, Thorslund, Tigerstroem, Sandahl)

On the last day of summer the sun shines bright
And we're walking through the woods
What if love is the greatest damn liar of all
Would you trust me with your life?

On the last day of summer the clouds are white
And I'm sitting by the lake
And she's singing my name, she's beckoning me
If I just lose myself for now
For one day

I want to drown in her precious arms
I want to listen to the siren songs
She got me down into the water
And she got me holding on

And she's floating oh so peacefully
As I'm watching from below
In the bluest water I ever saw
The palest body to be striped
By the sun

I want to drown in her precious arms
I want to listen to the siren songs
She got me down into the water
And she got me holding on

So let me drown in those precious arms
With all my untouchabilities washed away
Let me for once be lost for reason
Let me be lost
For words

From the album The Opiates - Revised (2008).

Sunday, January 16, 2011

songs of exile (3)

Estranged as I've always been from my homeland, I must confess that I have a difficult relationship with the 'national' song (or with anything 'national', for that matter), the Fado.

Yet, Amélia Muge's music, and in particular her reinventions of Fado, defy any categories, genres, styles, traditions, and passionately combine her love of poetry in the Portuguese language with a boundless musical imagination that travels along the most unexpected and unconventional routes, all over the world, from Portugal to Africa and Brazil - and beyond.

Tempestuous, frank, fiery, fierce, Muge is not for the faint-hearted and the indifferent. As she puts it in the dedication in her wonderful album A Monte (2002), she sings for 'the friends and dear enemies. Let the indifferent go in peace. This kingdom is not theirs'.

Were I to single out a song that has stayed with me over the years, it would be this O Fado da Sereia / The Mermaid's Fado, which I leave here with no further explanation - the music and the poetry speak for themselves.

Oh, and I've taken the liberty of adding a (very) rough translation of Hélia Correia's stunning poem below, with implicit dedication.

O Fado da Sereia / The Mermaid's Fado (click to listen)

Lyrics: Hélia Correia
Vocals, Music: Amélia Muge
Piano arrangement: Jorge Palma

Serei, serei a sereia
a do pescoço doirado
que no fio da sua voz
te arrastava para o largo?
Serei, serei a donzela
que em teu desejo aparecia
sempre que à noite acordavas
contra uma cama vazia?

Ai, ai, marujo, mareante
porque te foste encerrar
num barco à prova de encanto
num barco à prova de mar?
Já das rotas me apagaste
E já o teu olhar não vê
minha garganta nas rendas
que me vestia a maré

Quem me tivera avisado
que o amor de um marinheiro
é como os vícios do mar
é como o mar traiçoeiro
Que me deixavas trocada
por mulheres que a terra dá
mulheres de pernas cobertas
por balões de tafetá
Ai tem, cautela, marinheiro
que o mar é coisa ruim
e o amor de uma sereia
não vai acabar-se assim
Que hás-de vir de novo à rede
de um amor que engana e mata
que, à vista deste, outro amor
é cinza à vista da prata

Ai quem me dera que em vez
de filha do mar, me achasse
rapariguinha solteira
que nesse mar se afogasse
Ai quem me dera que em vez
de cantadeira do mar
fosse eu mulher de viela
para ainda me ouvires cantar.

*       *       *

Am I, am I the mermaid
the one with the golden neck
who would in the thread of her voice
lure you into the open sea?
Am I, am I the maiden
who would in your desire appear
whenever you woke up at night
against an empty bed?

O sailor, seafarer
why have you shut yourself off
in a spell-proof boat
in a sea-proof boat?
You have already erased me from the sea routes
And your gaze no longer sees
my throat in the lace
in which the tide clad me

Had someone warned me
that a sailor’s love
is like the vices of the sea
it is like the treacherous sea
and that you would leave me
for women who the land offers
women with their legs covered
in taffeta balloons
O sailor, beware
the sea is an evil thing
and a mermaid’s love
won’t just end like this
You will be netted again
by a love that deceives and kills
another love that, in comparison to this one,
is as ash to silver

O I wish that instead
of daughter of the sea I were
a little maiden
who drowned in that sea
O I wish that instead of
songstress of the sea
I were a woman of the streets
so that you could still hear me sing.

[Translated from the Portuguese by DK.]

the game of intolerable shame

For E., who understands, in the skin and the bones, every word of this song.

(But you'll get over it, chérie, you will. For your own good.)

Playground Martyrs
(Music: Steve Jansen  /  Lyrics: David Sylvian)

You run to the gate
but you'll be marked late
it's for your own good
it's for your own good

You're likely to make
the grandest mistakes
you suffer alone
in the skin and the bones

Let's sharpen those
new sets of arrows
for the next generation
of playground martyrs

And joining the game
of intolerable shame
'cause everyone shares
innocence of their fathers

School bell rings
single file in
trade you my
unhappily ever after

So bring out those things
to hammer the wings
of the next generation
of playground martyrs


Friday, January 14, 2011

for A., in memoriam

How uncanny it is to remember, all of a sudden, a writer-friend from whom you had been estranged for years and to learn, from his own website, that he has recently died. There is something ghostly indeed in personal diaries on the web. The boundaries you used to take for granted no longer seem to exist: distance/proximity, past/present, truth/fiction, life/death.

In the same way he had done with life, he fictionalised, poeticised his own death - to the very last words. Painstakingly, obsessively. Words almost unbearable to read now, yet so spellbinding, so desperately clinging to the last remains of life.

Despite the distance, I'm overwhelmed by a sense of guilt and regret, of having been way too unforgiving and harsh in my judgement, of not having listened enough - of having so heartlessly bitten the hand that reached out to me then.

The memory of the last time we saw each other, years ago, has haunted me ever since. Not so much the unanswered calls and messages, the unread books disdainfully kept in a plastic bag, but that pathetic, shrivelled little flower I trampled on and threw away. I would rescue and hold it close forever keenly, weren't it too late now.

In a sense, it was always too late for us, even then - and you knew it.

Stubborn as you are though, I'm sure you will be waiting for me there, in that impossible place, as you once promised.

See you there, some day.

(And yes, in the meantime I shall try myself to be those words you were unable to write, because it all ended too soon.)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

down with it

What a wonderful coincidence, to find tucked behind a bookshelf a dusty pocket notebook with this outrageous quote I jotted down ages ago.

I could hardly think of more suitable words to translate my current state of mind - and what passes for life in this land of the setting sun:

Down with a world in which the guarantee that we will not die of starvation has been purchased with the guarantee that we will die of boredom.
--Situationist graffiti
Paris, 1968.

 There you are.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

will you still be there?

As though to compensate for yesterday's ballyhoo, a quiet afternoon & eve working quietly at my desk, interrupted only by the occasional daydreaming --

Those impossible, endless journeys with you.

*       *       *

A rocky headland dreamt of.
Its road jammed with cars,
with tangled crowds, police,
authority snared in its own grip.

As dusk cloaks us I leave the road,
walk the cliff edge. Tussocks and drops.
Rock-faces in darkness. Large shadow birds.

In the distant town can we buy food?
Like refugees.         Like distant bombs.
A stumbling return. Will you still be there?

Our babe-in-arms, you, me,
us three in this bare grey landscape.
No word reaches us, not even in dreams.
As though lost and searching, almost lost.

Lee Harwood, 'Fragment of an indecipherable inscription', in Collected Poems (Exeter: Shearsman, 2004), p. 483.

Friday, January 7, 2011

I won't be disappointed

To the morbid, suicidal self-absorption of the mediocre afraid to live and love and let themselves go, the perfect antidote.

Yes, that's exactly how I feel - a world citizen.

And I won't be disappointed this time around, I won't be.

I want to feel
Until my heart can take no more
And there's nothing in this world I wouldn't give
I want to break
The indifference of the days
I want a conscience that will keep me wide awake...

Amazing song.

World Citizen - I Won't Be Disappointed
(Music: David Sylvian and Ryuichi Sakamoto; Lyrics: David Sylvian)

What happened here?
The butterfly has lost its wings
The air's too thick to breathe
And there's something in the drinking water.

The sun comes up
The sun comes up and you're alone
Your sense of purpose come undone
The traffic tails back to the maze on 101

And the news from the sky
Is looking better for today
In every single way
But not for you

World citizen

World citizen

It's not safe
All the yellow birds are sleeping
Cos the air's not fit for breathing
It's not safe

Why can't we be
Without beginning, without end?
Why can't we be?

World citizen

World citizen

And if I stop
And talk with you awhile
I'm overwhelmed by the scale
Of everything you feel
The lonely inner state emergency

I want to feel
Until my heart can take no more
And there's nothing in this world I wouldn't give

I want to break
The indifference of the days
I want a conscience that will keep me wide awake

I won't be disappointed
I won't be disappointed
I won't be.

I saw a face
It was a face I didn't know
Her sadness told me everything about my own

Can't let it be
When least expected there she is
Gone the time and space that separates us

And I'm not safe
I think I need a second skin
No, I'm not safe

World citizen

World citizen

I want to travel by night
Across the steppes and over seas
I want to understand the cost
Of everything that's lost
I want to pronounce all their names correctly

World citizen

World citizen

I won't be disappointed
I won't be.

She doesn't laugh
We've gone from comedy to commerce
And she doesn't feel the ground she walks upon

I turn away
And I'm not sleeping well at night
And while I know this isn't right
What can you do?

© 2003 by David Sylvian/Opium (Arts) Ltd.

Monday, January 3, 2011

motto for the new year

In a new year that is bound to be propitious for sea changes and turning the tables, a negative motto.

Because I do care - a lot.

*       *       *

If I don't drive around the park,
I'm pretty sure to make my mark.
If I'm in bed each night by ten,
I may get back my looks again,
If I abstain from fun and such,
I'll probably amount to much,
But I shall stay the way I am,
Because I do not give a damn.

           Dorothy Parker, 'Observation'.