Category Archives: dreams

“Amrita” by Banana Yoshimoto: Tokyo pop culture and Magical realism

Amrita is the latest book I’ve finished. What a trip! It’s sort of difficult to pin this one down. All of Yoshimoto’s books read like the dairy of a Japanese high school girl or college student. What keeps her work from becoming another piece of YA (young adult) kid’s stuff is her fascination with death and the psychological depth of her characters. This is her longest novel, weighting in at 366 pages. Something told me there was a special reason behind the extended length of this book. Her other works are much shorter. It sat in my library for months. I’d pass it by wondering if it was the right time to pick up Amrita. My assumptions were correct. Amrita was a bomb of a book that went off in my brain.

The story is told form the first point perspective of a young Japanese girl, Sakumi, who lives at home with her family. The death of two family members greatly impacts everyone. Sakumi later suffers a serious head injury in which she loses her memories. Piece by piece she stumbles upon her old life. This sounds like the plot line of a stereotypical daytime TV drama but Amrita is anything but shallow. The characters are flesh and bone. Even people who only make brief appearances have a complete life of their own. What is so interesting about this book is the strong supernatural element in the book. Everything will seem entirely normal and then something surrealistic will occur, but it will happen in a way that’s eerily believable. It is a place where telepathy and the ghosts of the deceased are just the tip of the iceberg. Yoshimoto weaves a tapestry of reality, and then stretches it until the threads begin to bust. This is Magical Realism.

Amrita was a very enjoyable book that reads very modern despite being almost 20 years old. Sometimes I feel that her writing is better geared towards women readers because of her feminine style. When you read Amrita, you are in the mind of a young Japanese girl that thinks and talks like one. The quality though, is that of an experienced young writer. I believe Yoshimoto wrote this around the age of thirty. The greatest quality of this book is the voice. It is soft but strong. The story puts Sakumi through a lot of pain. The agitation in her soul is clearly reflected in her literary voice. Her inner strength is remarkable. What keeps the Amrita universe going is love. Whether it’s being shared between family, friends, or lovers, love is a central theme in this book. Yoshimoto’s genuine understanding of love allows her to create and destroy it as she wishes. She uses it to paint a sublime canvas. Magical, is how I describe Amrita.

You don’t have to be familiar with Yoshimoto’s older works to fully enjoy this one. Do not hesitate to experience the life contained in these pages.

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“Hard boiled wonderland and the end of the world” Japanese cyberpunk with a noir twist

Prepare to trip balls.

Murakami Haruki’s Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World is imagination dynamite. The story opens up with a sci-fi, noir attitude told from a Japanese perspective. My immediate impression was, “This is gonna cool,” and it was. Haruki throws a bit of everything into the pot: surrealism, mystery, metaphysics, magical realism, to name a few. The story itself is one of the most strangely unique I have ever read. I think Haruki enjoys messing with our heads. He’s aware of the tired-out clichés and sets you up to believe you know exactly where the book is heading, then busts your bubble and blows your mind. For a book that was written back in 1985, it reads like a bestseller hot off the press. If Franz Kafka was into cyberpunk, occasionally took hard drugs, and reincarnated as a Japanese man, he’d probably write something like this.

The story is such a bizarre odyssey that I wouldn’t dare spoil any of it for you. I can’t even tell you the general plot–it’ll ruin the surprise. I’ve read some reviews of this book, and all I can say is that I’m glad I read the book first and avoided the spoilers. It does have some hardcore cyberpunk elements and Johnny Mnemonic did come to mind–but was much more than that. The book has an amazing sense of duality. When you first come across this, you’ll wonder what the hell is going on. As the story progresses, Murakami weaves a dangerously magical world that breaks the spine of traditional modern writing. It’s a gritty fairy tale that you’ll fall into like a deep well. His use of Gutter Surrealism is masterful. This review is vague, and I apologize. But once you begin Hard boiled Wonderland and the End of the Word, you will see my intentions were sincere. Murakami drives his imagination like a stolen car in this book. I suggest you get in and enjoy the ride.

The end of this book stunned me. It was the type of conclusion that sort of breaks your heart and leaves you with the feeling that a longtime friend and lover had disappeared from the planet. I’ve taken reconciliation in the fact that Murakami’s other works contain the same magical nature I was introduced to in Hard Boiled Wonderland. I loved this book and I hope this review inspires you to read it too. Despite Murakami’s international acclaim, he remains largely unknown to American readers. This I cannot accept. Magic Realism of this caliber should be shared to everyone. Let’s all trip out together.

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Bill Nye the Science Guy and the Call to Reason

William Sanford “Bill” Nye (the Science Guy) released a bold video entitled “Creationism is Not Appropriate for Children,” in which he confronts the idea of Creationism and the denial of evolution. He makes his argument that, “Evolution is the fundamental idea in all life science…” and that, “When you have a portion of the population that doesn’t believe in that, it holds everybody back, really.”

Hot off the press.

This short video hit a nerve, immediately getting millions of views. And the reason is not because the evolutionists finally had someone cool to rally around; it was for Bill’s message against the strange American social movement of anti-reason, a philosophical way of life that allows people to deny anything that contradicts their world view, no matter how reasoned or obvious. It’s a movement currently spearheaded by groups such as the Tea Party, a grassroots movement primarily for closet racists that can’t stand the fact a black man is president and see Mexicans as a problem, all the while hiding behind a brittle mask of patriotism. There is also the extreme right-wing Christians who wish to bring about a Christian world order and are so disconnected from human suffering that they’d support a man with the character of Todd Akin whose views on rape and women fit right at home in the dark ages. Their agendas are not based on sound reason or even humanitarian ideas. When you take away the rhetoric they are driven by simple ignorance, hate, fear, and intolerance.

Personally, I’m big on freedom and so I encourage people to believe whatever they choose. But this movement has gained enough momentum to cause detrimental effects at home and abroad. It is a cause of impassioned fanatics who don’t understand what’s going on because they are encouraged to dismiss information as they see fit. This jams the inner working of progress with wasteful infighting that has no end because it does not rely on basic logic. This has grown beyond a tactic of rallying people to cast their votes for a certain party. We are entering a psychological climate that is retrograding and self-destructive in terms of our intellectual and humanitarian advances.

 

I could be guilty of seeing more than Bill intended, but it was his closing statement that leads me to believe I’m not too far off, “And I say to the grownups, if you want to deny evolution and live in your world, in your world that’s completely inconsistent with everything we observe in the universe, that’s fine, but don’t make your kids do it because we need them. We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future.”

The rational thinkers need to make their stand too. We can’t just sit around and watch this backwards social movement tear everything apart. The earth is flat, manifest destiny, government leaders of divine choice, racial inferiority, denial of evolution and the effects of pollution on our environment are all ideas rooted in the tradition of embracing ignorance. I encourage more people continue to take an active stance in the name of reason, and thus spark an inward revolution that will create a condition favorable for the cultivation of our minds and life.

 

Photo Credits

http://scienceprogressaction.org/intersection/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/fakepost3.jpg

http://other98.com/

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Gutter Surrealism and Punk culture

I want to write about Gutter Surrealism and its relation to Punk culture. The reason I want to address this is because Gutter Surrealism is heavily influenced by the madness and beauty of punk culture. First of all I want make it clear: I’m not a punk and I’m not trying to pass for one either. Gutter Surrealism is its own legitimate movement seeking to cut out its own path. But there’s a lot of similarities the two have in common; a spirit of DIY (do it yourself), liberation, anti-authority, high energy, anti-mind control, you get the picture.

I’ve always been fascinated with the underdog. It’s a personal thing of mine. Whenever I watch a youtube video of someone running away from the cops, I instinctually cheer him on. The news actors (I only use the term “reporter” when connected with real journalists. Everyone else is just an actor) can say whatever they want about the guy. In that moment he’s the hero to me. After they catch him, he goes back to being just another ordinary baby killer or whatever awful thing people tend to become. I’m not saying all underdogs are criminals because that’s obviously not true. But if you’re an underdog yourself, you’ll quickly learn the law is not on your side. You become suspicious of anyone in power.

It was while I studied Art History and Theory at SDSU, that I became convinced that throughout history, weirdos were always more interesting and imaginative than normal people. It was around this time that my younger sisters were fully immersed in the underground punk scene. They started telling me about these things called “sewer shows,” which are hardcore punk rock performances literally down in the sewers. The whole idea was surreal, I had to check it out and so I tagged along. The experience was amazing. Mosh pits, people were throwing up graffiti murals, hardcore punk rock music, booze and herb everywhere, everyone having a good time. It was a different world down there. I got smashed off a box of wine and thrashed around in the mosh pit. Some guy even had a homemade flamethrower strapped to his back. He was guiding people through the darkened tunnels with gigantic fireballs.

CA sewer show at secret location

The whole event opened my eyes. We’ve been conditioned to always ask for permission. This group of people circumvented that whole process and made it happen. What hit me the hardest about being down there was the overwhelming sense of freedom. You could do anything you wanted to and were encouraged to. But there was always a base level of respect maintained. People got stupid, but not that kind of stupid. If somebody was an anger junkie, they’d step in the mosh pit and go insane. What I’m saying is that there was a place for everyone. The only time I got negative vibes was after we returned to the city level. Some Neo Nazi mistook my shaved head for being one of him. Besides that, it was beautiful. Yet, the fact that you gotta go hide in the sewers to enjoy music and be free, said something to me about how we live. The message isn’t a 100% clear to me, but I felt there was a definite connection between that subculture and Surrealism.

It’s been said, that the only place we are ever truly free is in our dreams. We can be and have anything we want. The world is yours. As the saying goes, “In your dreams.” Yes, exactly. But what happens when we want to take that freedom that is in our head and move it into reality? That’s where things get complicated. In the world we live in, real prime freedom costs money. Not everyone can afford that pure uncut freedom, but everyone wants to get high off it. If you’re rich then you can afford the freedom to do the most bizarre things and get away with it (just look at R. Kelly). If you’re poor, then you make it happen any way you can.

It was through this shared love of real freedom, by hardcore punk and surrealism that “Gutter Surrealism” was born to me. The term “Gutter Surrealism” came to me after I finished writing Blubber Island. I did a Google search and found only scant remarks. I’m still looking for other Gutter Surrealists in all forms of art. My longtime  friend Cahnan Hickey (bassist of California Punk band Corpspazm) describes G.S as “trashy and mind bending.” I know he gets it. I’m including this bit from Blubber Island which I believes captures the poetry of G.S,

“He took the last drag and flicked his burning cigarette over the edge. At that moment, a strong wind picked up, and the smoking butt flew away like a bird set free.”

It’s about seeing beauty in the ugly things, yet they always remain ugly. Click here to read an example of Gutter Surrealism.

Photo Credits

Dali Photo from: http://tracyinthestars-tracyinthestars.blogspot.jp/2010/08/rebirth-of-salvador-dali.html

Corpspazm Photo http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/corpspazm