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Saturday, August 07, 2004
The Memoirs of a Survivor 
What happens when the society that we know of - with all its institutions, systems, technology, knowledge and history - crumbles? What is left, when governments or the ruling class become merely (or quite aptly), Talkers - "...those people above us who spent their lives in their eternal and interminable conferences, talking about what was happening, what should happen, what they fondly hoped they could make happen - but of course never did...". What happens then to the proudly held civilisation of ours?

Anarchy, barbarism, regression, values, survival, dystopia, atrophy, nature - these are the major themes which were dealt with in Doris Lessing's The Memoirs of a Survivor. The novel is set in an indeterminate period of chaos and instability in the future, prophetic of times that might soon befall humankind. It is written in a very bleak and dark tone, and there's almost a sense of losing hope, during certain points of the novel.

We watch and see the world through the eyes of a middle-aged woman, a survivor of "it". Through her narration, we are transported to her world - where communications have failed, where there's a shortage of food supply, and where hordes of people are gathering into gangs or tribes at the pavement below to migrate to (supposedly) greener pastures, slowly turning the city which she lives in into yet another ghost town.

A girl with her pet dog/cat is brought to her one day, and left in her care. The girl, Emily becomes her link to the outside world, and we see a reversal of traditional roles as it soon becomes clear that Emily is as capable, if not better, than the narrator at surviving the harsh brutalities of the 'new world'. She soon grows up to be a young woman (a teenager by our definition), and becomes part of the life on the pavements. She falls in love with one of the young chieftains, Gerald, and takes on a motherly role to his tribe - children or other teenagers who have been abandoned or separated from their families. The writer, through the relationships between the various characters of the novel, explores the notion of love and loyalty, in times when the understanding of abstract nouns such as those have disappeared. We are in essence, witnessing a rebirth (however ironic) of the world, when all ideologies have collapsed, leaving in it, a void where humankind must once again come to terms with and conceive new understandings of reality - a period of "the ordinariness of the extraordinary".

It is a very postmodernist text, evident by the subversion of genres - fantasy and science fiction elements intertwine with realist narratives. The narrator at one point finds that she's able to cross into another realm from the wall in her living room. Here she finds fragments of the past, future, and rooms that signal of a different era, the past. She also sees glimpses of Emily's childhood through her visits to the world beyond, though the use of the word "beyond" is ironic because she's really regressing into the internal, a mere projection of the self she desires but cannot have.

Apart from that, this novel is also very critical of the ways in which we're living our lives right now. It seems to me that the writer is referring to the period which we exist in now, as the Age of Affluence:

"Of course, such contriving and patching and making do began to parallel our ordinary living, our affluence and waste and overeating, at a very early stage, long before the time of which I am writing now. We were all experts at making a great deal out of very little, even while we all still had a lot, and were still being incited by advertisements to spend and use and discard."

Rubbish dumps of the past are prized possessions during the narrator's time, and the discovery of one is almost a cause for celebration as many useful things can then be excavated from it. It really makes us reflect upon the consumerist habits that are ingrained in each of us the moment we were born. And it also makes you think the vanity inherent in human beings to put our intelligence and emotions at such high regards:

"Our emotional life is shared with the animals; we flatter ourselves that human emotions are so much more complicated than theirs. Perhaps the only emotion not known to a cat or a dog is romantic love, all pining and yearning and 'give me, give me'. What was Hugo's love for Emily but that? As for thoughts, our intellectual apparatus, our rationalisms and our logics and our deductions and so on, it can be said with absolute certainty that dogs and cats and monkeys cannot make a rocket to fly to the moon or weave artificial dress materials out of the by-products of petroleum, but as we sit in the ruins of this variety of intelligence, it is hard to give it much value: I suppose we are under-valuing it now as we over-valued it then. It will have to find a place: I believe a pretty low place, at that.

I think all this time, human beings have been watched by creatures whose perceptions and understanding have been so far in advance of anything we have been able to accept, because of our vanity, that we would be appalled if we were able to know, would be humiliated. We have been living them as blundering, blind, callous, cruel murderers and torturers, and they have watched and known us. And this is the reason we refused to acknowledge the intelligence of the creatures that surround us: the shock to our amour proper would be too much, the judgement we would have to make on ourselves too horrible, it is exactly the same process that can make someone go on and on committing a crime, or a cruelty, knowing it: the stopping and having to see what has been done would be too painful, one cannot face it."

I'm very inclined to believe that the author wants us to see that we've been placing too much importance on progress at the price of nature, which has been there to give us all that we ever need to survive since the very beginning. By forsaking it (nature) they (or we) have evidently carved a coffin for humanity and civilisation. In that way, she questions also, the existing institutions that we have in place which makes the world an ideal habitat for the perpetuations of wrong ideals.

In conclusion, this is a terribly interesting and astonishing, but difficult read. Do pick up the book if you've got some spare time to deconstruct the messages, and ponder over them after you have. Don't miss it if you do...


-All excerpts and quotes from the novel

n1kki  # 1:18 AM
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Wednesday, August 04, 2004
The KL Lit Fest: Behind The Scenes 
Dan Lim, from SunBlogs, via e-mail
---
I didn't attend ANY of the events at the KL Lit Fest (bar a few of the fringe freebie ones), But that won't stop me from reporting on what went on behind the scenes!

Alfian Sa'at [left], who ran a playwriting workshop, said the fest was "alright", and amongst the writers, Paul Bailey impressed him the most, being "quite something". There were only six participants at Alfian's workshop. Later, one of the participants emailed a poem to Alfian, which he described as "sweet" but "psychotic", where she declared her love for Alfian.

I've never read Paul Bailey's works nor attended any of the conferences he spoke at. But I do know, at the very least, he's a brilliant raconteur. He says there's always one or two loony people at these conferences and he met one on Saturday night, who wanted to sing for him. He politely declined the offer. Twice.

Lucy Friedland, one of the participants, found some of the academic jargon spoken at the conferences she attended excluded her from fully appreciating what may have been enlightening ideas and perspectives.

Riding The Nice Bus at Zouk's Velvet Underground was well-attended ("Because it was free!" - just about everybody said to me), and well executed. Most of the stories did not excite me, but they were decent nuggets of theatre, performed very well.

Songlines was entertaining (and free). The best bit was Jerome Kugan's rendition of the Salleh Ben Joned poem, Dari Mana Datangnya Cinta? (written for Usman Awang) into song, in Jerome's own inimitable style. Pang Khee Teik provided comic relief with his salacious tales of adolescent sexual awakening and cruising for boys. "Paul Bailey called me a 'reprobate'!", said Pang, rather proudly. Mia Palencia has a great voice. Pete Teo inevitably ended the night with crowd-pleaser Jesselton.

Amir Muhammad [left] had already told a bunch of us not to go for his From Script to Screen (which was free too) session at the Australian High Commission.

We went anyway and he was right: we shouldn't have gone.

Some students from The One Academy later interviewed Amir (with a DV camera - foooh, canggihlah kids nowadays) for a class project on filmmaking outside the High Commission - under very very bad lighting.

Blogger Karcy wrote that:
Salleh Ben Joned (who wasn't a panelist, but raised an interesting question from the floor) spoke about the destruction of the Malay language through an overt usage of English words
Salleh reiterated this point after The Language of Taboo forum and I believe his point was that we shouldn't unnecessarily menginkorperasikan foreign words when there is a perfectly suitable BM word.

Ken Wiwa [right], another one of the fest's guests and son of Ken Saro-Wiwa, responded to Salleh - in a nice, jocular way, I might add - by saying "You do know that 95% of English is foreign".

Lorna Tee, who managed the PR and sponsorship for the KL Lit Fest, said the fest went "ok" but that there were lots of unnecessary glitches in organisation, and more planning and thought and care for the events and writers needed to happen.

A Malaysian academic from National University of Singapore, Khoo Gaik Cheng [left] attended most of the events and she felt the Lit Fest was uneven. "The papers were not very interesting and unique. I think it was wrong to shape the fest around the issue of identity. It's done to death, and things are much more complex. The focus on identity alone could've been covered in just one or two forums."

She felt that the conferences seemed rather anglophile and still dominated by the Commonwealth. Yet there was also a kind of segregation going on which she didn't like. "Writers writing in Malay had all their events at Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka. I know DBP imposed this condition on the organisers, but it isolates them. I know DBP imposed that condition on the organisers, but it isolates them. They are unaware of what goes on the other parts of the fest and it doesn't encourage people who are interested in what goes on in Malay literature because the event is removed from the fest's (geographical/networking) centre (around the Renaissance, Concorde Hotel and KLCC area).

Khoo was unimpressed by the academic papers and forums, lamenting that the level of criticism and discourse could have been much higher. As with Alfian, Khoo was most impressed by English writer Paul Bailey: "He was funny, and he made me want to read his books."

When I asked her what was the most memorable bit about the fest, she blurted out an answer then quickly told me not to publish it. I'm a rather irresponsible and untrustworthy sort, so here it is:

"I only remembered the partying! It's the networking that was great."

Network!

graceshu  # 9:45 PM
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Tuesday, August 03, 2004
Falling In Love With Lewis Carroll 
I've known only of Alice In Wonderland from my childhood, but I've been recently reintroduced to the works of Lewis Carroll by a random friend, and these are the couple of my favourite lines from his poetry ;)

LoL! He looks dopey!Phantamasgoria and Other Poems by Lewis Carroll
Stung by his cold and snaky eye,
I roused myself at length
To say "At least I do defy
The veriest sceptic to deny
That union is strength!"

"That's true enough," said he, "yet stay - "
I listened in all meekness -
"UNION is strength, I'm bound to say;
In fact, the thing's as clear as day;
But ONIONS are a weakness."
I don't care what people say about Lewis [yes, first name basis! ;D], but I think he's brilliamt, even if he's a pothead, paedophile, mathematician, etc, all put together. Potheads can be brilliamt people too ;)

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Were walking close at hand;
They wept like anything to see
Such quantities of sand:
"If this were only cleared away,"
They said, "it would be grand!"

"If seven maids with seven mops
Swept it for half a year.
Do you suppose," the Walrus said,
"That they could get it clear?"
"I doubt it," said the Carpenter,
And shed a bitter tear.
And this, from the same poem above, probably defines my [nonexistant] social life.
"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."
^_^ I wished they taught Lewis Carroll back then in school, but maybe having the next generation of leaders being pothead-potentials didn't seem to agree with Wawasan 2020 ;)

His stuff all seems like nonsense, but in a rather fantastical, enigmatic, and abstract manner. I'd think though that kids and younger children would be able to appreciate [my dear] Lewis better, because we adults are too complicated, needing a reason, interpretation or a rationalization to every word we read.

A friend of mine agreed, saying, that when reading [darling] Lewis, it is best to empty your mind, and approach his work with as few pre conceived notions as possible.

I've also favored over my Statistics homework, The Hunting of the Snark, which was equally intriguing. But I've given up reading between the lines for perhaps a plot or a double entendre that I'm perhaps missing, or googling it up to see whether if it's just me who's not getting it, being unisel brained and all =P

I found out later that the man himself had this to say.
When he was asked what 'he meant' by The Hunting of the Snark, Lewis Carroll replied: 'I'm very much afraid I didn't mean anything but nonsense ! Still, you know, words mean more than we mean to express when we use them; so a whole book ought to mean a great deal more than the writer means. So, whatever good meanings are in the book, I'm glad to accept as the meaning of the book.
Ah, yes. Am falling deeply in love with Lewis. Too bad he's dead (1832-1898), and. Er. Am no necrophiliac. Ah, well. Will reserve said love, time, energy, and uterus for someone else as brilliamt then, I guess.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have something less sexy to do now - Statistics homework! D';

graceshu  # 12:18 PM
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Monday, August 02, 2004
Reports: KL Literature Festival 2004 
The KL Lit Fest 2004:
From gongkapas, Postcard from the KL Lit Fest Day One, of Karim Raslam, Edward Said, and newspapers.

Then there were two livejournal entries by Karcy, an undergraduate in Universiti Malaya, also a member of the Phases Young Writers. She attended three events: Women in Print, Writing Children's Stories, and something called the Language of Taboo. Her overall verdict was:
I didn't attend enough events in the KL Lit Fest to judge exactly what goes behind the scenes. But overall -

So cool factor = Yeah! Writers From All Over The World! The Celebrities of the Thinking Mind!

Not cool factor = Uhm, why aren't things according to the schedule?
She apparently turned up at the KLCC Concourse area where National Laurete (Sasterawan Negara) dialogue was scheduled to be held, but was quite dissapointed. I guess mess-ups happen. Here's her take on Women in Print, Writing Children's Stories, and something called The Language of Taboo.

Ah, well. I'd have wanted to stalk the event out myself, but I didn't manage to make it as already had plans for the weekend, and had problems sneaking out *cough* settling my schedule with the parental units.

Am waiting for aLiya to write on it though! ;D

Or maybe, anyone else? ;)

graceshu  # 11:42 PM
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Sunday, August 01, 2004
Anthony Horowitz's: Stormbreaker 
I've read spy book before but was never really a fan of the genre. Never into the whole James Bond or Mission Impossible stuff. Found them all to be a little too boring. But something compelled me to pick up Anthony Horowitz's Stormbreaker. I think it must have been the article I read about the writer some time ago. According to the article, Horowitz is a genius in writing and his style smooth. I trusted the article and got all excited about this writer.

I, who never liked spy novels, picked up a copy of Stormbreaker and fell in love with the story! It was so exciting to read!

The story is actually the beginning of a series about a 14-year-old Alex Rider who was reluctantly turned into a teenage James Bond after the death of his uncle -who incidently is also a spy himself working for the famous MI6. He was 'blackmailed' into accepting a mission to investigate a multi millionare named Herod Sayle who has graciously offered to supply every school in Britain with his own manufactured computer called the Stormbreaker (Hence, the name of the book). MI6 was suspicious of the man's activites and wanted Alex to go for a 'simple' mission. Alex is the only one who can find out the truth as all other spies before him (including his uncle) had died mysterious and 'accidental' deaths. Alex, equipped with some nifty gadgets set out on this mission. One of the inventions I found quite handy is the Game Boy that when fitted with different game cartridges functions as different things like a fax machine or a 'bug' detector device.

Overall, the story is quite quick paced and very exciting. It's a real page turner! The plot itself is laced with action and mystery! I gotta say, Alex Rider is one heck of a hero! He's the reluctant hero that never gets the credit he deserves and could be careless at times! Once, he very nearly revealed to Sayle that he was a spy! Thankfully, he has a quick mind and could cover up for himself. Of course, he's only 14 and you can't really expect him to be the perfect spy right? I mean, even James Bond has his weaknesses!

Anyhow, I finished this book next to no time and am waiting for my pocket to be magically refilled with money before I go and buy the second book: Point Blanc.

And oh yeah, even though I enjoyed Horowitz's story I don't think I'll be picking up another spy series anytime soon! Still find them all to be a little too repetitive. I mean, the plotlines don't run too far from each other and I honestly think that Horowitz is the only writer who can really deviate from the typical plot! But hey, that's only my own opinion!

Btw, the book cost RM29.90 and is published by Walker. Thought you ought to know! :D

~JL  # 2:08 PM
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