Literature : News and views about books, poems, writers. Quotes.
Updated: 1/3/09; 11:55:48.


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Sunday, March 1, 2009

Free book for you: The Crooked Letter by Sean Williams.
It seems to be a fantasy novel.
11:55:07 AM    

Some time ago Haruki Murakami accepted the Jerusalem prize for the Freedom of the Individual in Society, despite opposition as he would be accepting the prize from the hands of political authorities who are engaged in ethnic cleansing.

Haaretz: "Today, however, I have no intention of lying. I will try to be as honest as I can. There are a few days in the year when I do not engage in telling lies, and today happens to be one of them.
So let me tell you the truth. A fair number of people advised me not to come here to accept the Jerusalem Prize. Some even warned me they would instigate a boycott of my books if I came.
The reason for this, of course, was the fierce battle that was raging in Gaza. The UN reported that more than a thousand people had lost their lives in the blockaded Gaza City, many of them unarmed citizens - children and old people.

Any number of times after receiving notice of the award, I asked myself whether traveling to Israel at a time like this and accepting a literary prize was the proper thing to do, whether this would create the impression that I supported one side in the conflict, that I endorsed the policies of a nation that chose to unleash its overwhelming military power. This is an impression, of course, that I would not wish to give. I do not approve of any war, and I do not support any nation. Neither, of course, do I wish to see my books subjected to a boycott.

Please do, however, allow me to deliver one very personal message. It is something that I always keep in mind while I am writing fiction. I have never gone so far as to write it on a piece of paper and paste it to the wall: Rather, it is carved into the wall of my mind, and it goes something like this:
'Between a high, solid wall and an egg that breaks against it, I will always stand on the side of the egg.'
Yes, no matter how right the wall may be and how wrong the egg, I will stand with the egg. Someone else will have to decide what is right and what is wrong; perhaps time or history will decide. If there were a novelist who, for whatever reason, wrote works standing with the wall, of what value would such works be?

What is the meaning of this metaphor? In some cases, it is all too simple and clear. Bombers and tanks and rockets and white phosphorus shells are that high, solid wall. The eggs are the unarmed civilians who are crushed and burned and shot by them. This is one meaning of the metaphor.
This is not all, though. It carries a deeper meaning. Think of it this way. Each of us is, more or less, an egg. Each of us is a unique, irreplaceable soul enclosed in a fragile shell. This is true of me, and it is true of each of you. And each of us, to a greater or lesser degree, is confronting a high, solid wall. The wall has a name: It is The System. The System is supposed to protect us, but sometimes it takes on a life of its own, and then it begins to kill us and cause us to kill others - coldly, efficiently, systematically.

Take a moment to think about this. Each of us possesses a tangible, living soul. The System has no such thing. We must not allow The System to exploit us. We must not allow The System to take on a life of its own. The System did not make us: We made The System.
That is all I have to say to you."

Though it is a very polite critique, and he did shake hands with war criminals, Murakami nevertheless is clear about where he stands when the Zionist System is crushing unarmed civilians.

If you want to know more about the regular Israeli violence against Palestinians bookmark the site of the UN, Occupied Palestinian Territory.

A translation of this book by Shlomo Sand is in preparation. At present it's only available in French. 'How the Jewish People was Invented' is a must read.
11:49:48 AM    

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Guardian: "One of America's more prolific novelists - his latest, Man in the Dark, is his 12th, and he's no slouch as a poet, non-fiction author, screenwriter and editor - but Paul Auster is not feeling very inspired today. 'I'm completely emptied out,' he says, 'no thoughts in my head. No ideas. I am back to zero.'

If there is something getting Auster's goat, it's American politics. It was his disgust at the outcome of the 2000 US elections that sparked the story-within-a-story at the heart of Man in the Dark, about a counterfactual US where civil war reigns and New York leads a movement to form the Independent States of America.
'It's a war of bullets and bombs, whereas the divisions in the US now are similar to a civil war, but we're fighting it with words and ideas,' he says.

He can pinpoint the idea for his latest story to his 'frustration and disgust after the 2000 elections ... Gore won, Gore was elected president, and it was taken away from him by political and legal manoeuvering, and ever since then I've had this eerie feeling of being in some parallel world, some world we didn't ask for but we nevertheless got. In the other world Al Gore is finishing his second term now, we never invaded Iraq, maybe 9/11 never happened, because they were getting close to figuring it out, the Clinton people, and then the Bush people ignored all the warnings, so I think that's the origin of it.'"

Man In The Dark is a must read. It's one of Auster's best books.
10:27:01 AM    

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A picture named Hyakunin.jpg One Hundred Poems:
The Hyakunin Isshu, or Ogura Hyakunin Isshu, 百人一首、 is a collection of 100 poems by 100 different poets. About 750 years ago, the poet Fujiwara no Sadaie (also known as Teika) selected them. They are fairly chronologically ordered from the seventh through the thirteenth centuries. The poems are all 'waka' (now called 'tanka'). Waka are five-line poems of 31 syllables, arranged as 5, 7, 5, 7, 7. The simplicity and beauty of the poems is still very much appreciated in Japan and abroad.

Hokusai made a series of woodblock prints for the poems, which are shown on my website on each poem's page. They represent his own interpretation of the texts, which is focused on the daily life of the Japanese. Unfortunately not all were finished. But other artists followed suit. The poems are very popular even today, and are published, sung, and available as card games in many editions.

The Hyakunin Isshu card game set has 200 cards, 100 of which contain the complete poem in kanji, and the other 100 contain the two last lines in hiragana. The game consists in finding the matching cards. One player reads from the complete card while the others try to find the matching card first. The relevant card from an ancient set is depicted on each poem's page on the website.

The site is still under construction. New poems will be added regularly.
9:30:23 AM    

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Travels in the Scriptorium. A demented man, Mr. Blank, a war criminal on trial, tries to remember. Like us.

"The old man sits on the edge of the narrow bed, palms spread out on his knees, head down, staring at the floor. He has no idea that a camera is planted in the ceiling directly above him.

The Confederation... The Con-fed-e-ra-tion... It's all very simple, isn't it? Just another name for America. Not the United States as we know it, but a country that has evolved in another way, that has another history. But all the trees, all the mountains, and all the prairies of that country stand exactly where they do in ours. The rivers and oceans are identical. Men walk on two legs, see with two eyes, and touch with two hands. They think double thoughts and speak out of both sides of their mouths at once.
The Confederation is a fragile, newly formed state composed of previously independent colonies and principalities, and in order to hold this tenuous union together, what better way to unite the people than to invent a common enemy and start a war? In this case, they've chosen the Primitives. Land is a double agent who's been sent into the Territories to stir up rebellion among the tribes there. Not so different from what we did to the Indians after the Civil War. Get the natives riled up and then slaughter them.
What if the rumor of an insurrection is no more than a blind to cover up a far more sinister undertaking: a quiet slaughter of the Primitives that would enable the government to open their territory to white settlement, to expand the reach of the Confederation all the way to the shores of the western ocean?
Yes, Land was sent into the Territories as a double agent, with instructions to stir up the Djinn into invading the western provinces, which would unleash the war the government so desperately wants. But Land fails in his mission. A year goes by, and when nothing happens after all that time, the men in power conclude that Land has betrayed them, that for one reason or another his conscience has gotten the better of him and he's made peace with the Djinn. So they cook up a new plan and send a second army in the Territories. Not from Ultima, but from another garrison several hundred miles to the north, and this contingent is much larger than the first, at least ten times larger, and with a thousand troops against a hundred, Land and his ragtag bunch of idealists don't have a chance. Yes, you heard me correctly. The Confederation sends in a second army to wipe out the first army. All in secret, of course, and if a man such as Graf should be sent out to look for Land, he would naturally conclude that the Djinn are responsible for that pile of stinking, mutilated corpses. At this point, Graf becomes the key figure in the operation. Without knowing it, he's the person who's going to get the war started. How? By being allowed to write his story in that crummy little cell in Ultima.
That's the crucial point: a vivid, eyewitness account of what happened, with all the blame put on the Djinn.

When is this nonsense going to end?
It will never end. For Mr. Blank is one of us now, and struggle though he might to understand his predicament, he will always be lost. I believe I speak for all his charges when I say he is getting what he deserves - no more, no less. Not as a form of punishment, but as an act of supreme justice and compassion."

Telegraph: "The letter began, 'My fellow Americans, I have recently been told that I am one of the millions of Americans who will be afflicted with Alzheimer's Disease'. Ronald Reagan then went on to explain why he and his wife Nancy had chosen to go public.
The letter ended, in a style befitting the curtain call of a veteran of Hollywood B-movies, with the words, 'I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life'.
This week, we learned that Reagan's political soulmate, Margaret Thatcher, has embarked on her own journey into the sunset with confirmation of her battle with dementia."
2:10:02 PM    

Saturday, August 23, 2008

NHK: 「源氏物語」が歴史上に登場してから、今年で1000年。これを記念して、横浜美術館で開催される特別展「源氏物語の1000年[~]あこがれの王朝ロマン[~]」《会期:8月30日(土)〜11月3日(月・祝)》に合わせた特別講座を開催いたします。

Yokohama Museum of Art: An exhibition about the 1000 years old Tale of Genji will be held from the 30th of August to the 3rd of November this year.

More about the Genji Monogatari, 源氏物語.
English translation.
Illustrated text.
Modernised Japanese text.
Japanese audiobook.
1:58:58 PM    

Sunday, August 3, 2008

"This album has been written for and inspired by the English version of the book by the Japanese author Haruki Murakami (村上春樹) called 'The Wind-up Bird Chronicle' (ねじまき鳥クロニクル). Each tune corresponds to a different section of this book, but of course, you don't have to have read the book in order to enjoy the music."
10:37:04 PM    

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The toughest hurdle in learning Japanese is remembering the kanji. A new app., Kanji Go, was developed for the Mac that helps you with this task. You make vocabulary lists of the books and stories you are reading and you can make flashcards for these kanji, so you can repeat them as often as you want. And you can use the vocabulary lists other people make.
So, I wonder, is anyone prepared to make lists for 3月のライオン or コーヒーもうー杯
The only way to remember kanji is to learn them in the context of a story. I have contributed several of the vocabulary lists for the beginners level. If you are learning Japanese this is the app you need.
12:58:20 PM    

Sunday, July 6, 2008

A picture named Lion.jpg This is going to be a post mostly intended for people who know or are learning Japanese. I am not exaggerating when I say that Japanese manga are more than just comics. Most of them are very serious. Now take this one, The Lion of March or more poetically March Comes in Like a Lion, 3月のライオン、which is one of my favourites, and which I use to learn Japanese. It looks so cosy and sweet, with children and animals, but right from the start it tackles existential problems of the young. It is usual to depict persons much younger than they would appear in reality, so don't focus too much on them being kids. It's about life and the struggle to fit into society and find one's niche.
It is going to become a hit and lots of websites are popping up commenting on it.

The action is taking place in a real suburb of Tokyo. This is the official site where you can download a map of the area. And there is already a Google Earth presentation (click on the link under the satellite view) of the places the heroes frequent. Several fans, like this one, are collecting photos of all the sites. More.
Then also the Japanese chess game shogi has an important part in it (the difference with our chess is that in shogi you can use the pieces you captured). And some people are commenting on the game that is being played in the manga.
If you are intrigued, you can download the first chapter here (click on 'pdf' under the cover image).
I am sure it will soon appear on DVD as well, when the series is complete. I am eagerly looking forward to the next instalment.
12:19:24 PM    

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Free e-books.
8:50:49 PM    

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A picture named Nothomb.jpg In your dealings with Japanese firms you may run into problems. In that case you send them emails and explain the matter. But don't expect them to reply; you will have to contact them several times before someone will consider the case. The usual excuse they give after they realize you are serious is that your mail was put in their spam box.
When you don't get through after several attempts you start thinking you'd better stop emailing them before someone over there commits seppuku. Well, this is just to indicate that Japan is different, and can even be confusing.

The usual explanation for this kind of behaviour is that Japanese people don't want to offend you by going against your reasoning. However, not replying is actually much more rude than challenging your objections. In fact, a lot is pushed under the carpet in Japanese society under the cloak of politeness or propriety. And sometimes obligatory, formal politeness turns into its opposite. Japanese society can be very dogmatic, restrictive, and discriminating. People have to conform to a strict etiquette and general rules of comportment.

Amélie Nothomb is a Belgian writer who was born in Kobe, Japan, while her father was ambassador there. In 1988 she went back to Japan to work there and described her experiences in Stupeur et Tremblements (Fear and Trembling - both were expected from the Japanese people when encountering the emperor at the time when he was still considered a god). It is a devastating personal account of Japanese society, but it also shows her compassion for the people imprisoned in this system.
The level of stress is very high in Japan. And it begins very early when the children have to learn the complex Japanese language. Learning more than 2000 kanji, 50 hiragana and 50 katakana characters is much more difficult than our alphabet of 26 characters. Then they have to learn all the politeness levels of verbs and other words. Many kids are sent to cram school in the evening.
Nothomb's latest book, Ni d'Eve ni d'Adam, is about her love story in Japan. She begins with: 'Le moyen le plus efficace d'apprendre le japonais me parut d'enseigner le français.' (Translation: 'The most efficient way to learn Japanese seemed to me to teach French.') What a great, witty, writer she is.
"Début janvier 1990, j'entrai dans l'une des sept immenses compagnies nippones qui, sous couleur de business, détenaient le véritable pouvoir japonais. Comme n'importe quel employé, je pensais y travailler une quarantaine d'années.
Dans mon traité de stupeur et tremblements, j'ai raconté pourquoi j'eus peine à y rester jusqu'à la fin de mon contrat d'un an.
Ce fut une descente aux enfers d'une banalité extrême. Mon sort ne différa pas radicalement de celui de l'immense majorité des employées nippones."

(Translation: 'Early January 1990 I entered one of the seven immense Japanese companies which, under the banner of business, held the real Japanese power. In my treatise on fear and trembling I related why I had trouble staying there until the end of my one-year contract. It was a descent into the hell of the most extreme banality. My lot did not differ radically from that of the immense majority of Japanese employees.')

The Japanese are a very hard-working people, they have high standards and want to do the best they can. Sometimes this is not sufficient, sometimes they still don't fit in. In that case Japanese society can be very hard.

TimesOnline: "Japanese professionals in their thirties are killing themselves at unprecedented rates, as the nation struggles with a runaway suicide epidemic.
Newly published figures show that 30,093 people took their own lives in 2007 - a 2.9 per cent increase in a year - leaving the country as the most suicide-prone anywhere in the developed world and rendering government efforts to combat the problem a failure.

Government analysis of the figures, for the tenth year consecutive in which suicides have remained above 30,000 mark, has exposed a series of new and troubling trends: people in their thirties are the most likely to kill themselves, and work-related depression is emerging as a prime motive.

Psychologists, sociologists and other close observers of Japanese society believe that the country is in the grip of a full-blown crisis among its young working population. Experts say that high suicide rates and the recent spate of random stabbings in public places are symptoms of a malaise that the country has ignored for too long.
Mika Tsutsumi, an economist and social analyst, said that the recent stabbings in Akihabara were worryingly predictable: the killing spree for which Tomohiro Kato was allegedly responsible was, she says, driven by a sense of hopelessness in the workplace. Underneath Japanese society is concealed 'an invisible reserve army of Katos', she said.

The crisis of despair gripping young working Japanese has triggered plenty of official and media hand-wringing, though little in the way of change in corporate Japan. Wages remain low, and hierarchies rigid.
'We live in an uncomfortable and restrictive society where trivial matters are important,' said Professor Kiyohiko Ikeda, a veteran social commentator at Waseda University. 'The young feel a sense of deadlock; society does not accept minor mistakes.'"

Another writer I really love is Haruki Murakami. He is said to be very Western, but in fact he is writing about Japan and is very much embedded in Japanese culture, although he does mention Western cultural icons (jazz, literature) quite often. But he is essentially writing from a Japanese standpoint and his subject is modern Japanese society, though he is obviously trying to connect to the Western concept of individuality.
One of his most haunting books is Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. It reminds one of Kafka's Das Schloss (The Castle).
As I see it, this book is Murakami's gloomy vision of Japan. Of course, he will deny this, he is Japanese after all. His brain is Japanese and the world he describes is Japanese, though there is a relation with Kafkaian hopelessness. But it is a coming to terms of an individual with the society he lives in, a search for identity. The narrator in the Japanese original is divided in Boku and Watashi, both mean 'I' in Japanese, the first being informal and the second the usual word for 'I', something that is unfortunately lost in translation.
The Kafkaian hopelessness suffuses Hard-boiled Wonderland. In this respect it is interesting to note that for Kafka the world ended before he had finished The Castle.
Japan is the hard-boiled wonderland and some people who don't fit in are choosing for the end of their world. It's sad, but that's how it is. Anyway, I see Murakami's work as an attempt to get out from under an oppressing system and finding one's own individuality. I do hope the Japanese people will manage to find their individual way to cope.
12:37:38 PM    

© Copyright 2009 Hetty Litjens.

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