… and anti-culture


Thnking and feeling

Wabi Sabi compares and contrasts English-speaking and Japanese anime fans:

  • English-speaking fans tend to approach an anime series through the application of reason and logic. Japanese fans tend to approach an anime series through the application of emotion and feeling.
  • Research on topics like historic background, mythical symbolism are more common with English-speaking fans. If something is unclear, the tendency among English-speaking fans is to look it up, write it up and serve it up, whereas the tendency among Japanese fans is to let it pass.
  • You may call it the Rational Western Mind at work: on top of research, English-speaking fans like to take a body of details and develop theories of how these details are connected. After gathering the who, when, what, where and how, English-speaking fans want to know the why. I must say – although I frequent Japanese and Chinese fandoms as well, the most interesting analysis I have ever read all come from English-speaking fans.
  • The creative genius of English-speaking fandom lies in identifying and decoding of the elements of an anime. The creative genius of the Japanese fandom lies in fanart.
  • English-speaking fans are more sensitive to plot holes (ie. gaps in cause and effect), anachronisms (ie. failure to align time and space in the correct order) and supernatural intrusions into the material world (ie. the X factor that upsets the chain of causation). Many times have I seen English-speaking fans spotting obvious and not-so-obvious plot holes and anarchronisms which go unmentioned in the Japanese fandom. Also, English-speaking fans tend to react negatively towards the supernatural elements unless they see a good reason that justifies the incorporation of the supernatural. The dividing line between the supernatural and natural worlds do not seem to be as clearly marked for Japanese fans.
  • *****

    … and speak in a demure whisper

    Until recently, “maid cafés” have been a peculiarly Japanese aberration. But now they have crossed the Pacific. If you are in Toronto, you can visit iMaid Café. (Update: Or maybe not, now. Their website is gone.) Curious fact: some women really do want to be maids, or at least wear maid outfits:

    Her employer says that when he interviewed women for waitressing jobs, some said they would work for free, just for the chic of wearing the uniform.

    At least they are wearing clothes, unlike some people who should know better.


    From MamaT comes word that Terry Teachout is leaving Crisis magazine in part because “American filmmakers are now making so few movies worth seeing.”

    I find it difficult to understand how any intelligent, cultivated person could be a film reviewer, but I imagine it’s possible if you genuinely love the medium and make an effort to find the good movies that don’t get wide release. What I really don’t get is how anyone with even minimal intelligence can stand to be a teevee critic.


    Incompetent marketing, not cultural differences

    Here’s another asinine article on manga and anime in the USA. I’d prefer to ignore it, but this paragraph requires comment:

    Hayao Miyazaki’s 2001 anime masterpiece “Spirited Away” … grossed more than $250 million in Japan, but even though it made many American movie critics’ best-of-year lists, it barely limped to the $10 million mark at the U.S. box office.

    The reason Spirited Away only made $10 million in the USA is that Disney did its damnedest to kill it, giving it a minimal release and no advertising. I caught it in the theatre only because I was actively looking for it. It’s amazing that it made any money here at all, given how deeply Disney buried it.


    All Together Now

    I wondered recently if there is, in fact, any shared culture left. As late as the 19th Century, possibly even during the first half of the 20th, you could assume that any educated person would know his way around the Bible and Shakespeare. Not so in 2005; nowadays you can’t be sure that even English majors have actually read King Lear, and politicians aren’t sure which books of the Bible are in which Testament.

    Nevertheless, I thought of three items that I’m confident most intelligent people will have read, heard, or watched, and remember well enough to catch allusions to them:

    The Lord of the Rings (if you grit your teeth and count the movies as well as the books)

    Monty Python’s Flying Circus

    Beatles songs

    (It’s possible that there ought to be a movie (Casablanca?) or a teevee series (The Simpsons?) on the list, but I see few movies and don’t watch televison at all (at least not American teevee), so I can’t say.)

    This gives us mythology, humor and something to sing. Is this enough to base a culture on?


    The end of literacy?

    An interesting question on Ballet Talk

    I was talking to two friends this week, teachers in different fields, at different universities, one (a man) in English and the other (a woman) in art history. Both of then taught classes that were overwhelmingly female. Not just a plurality, but a landslide — only one, two, three men in classes of 20 and 30.
    They did not think this was odd.
    When did this happen?

    And an observation:

    From what I’m seeing these days, teenage boys and college students don’t read books, period.

    Is it, in fact, true that young men no longer study arts and letters? As I recall, back when I studied English my classmates were roughly evenly divided between men and women. (Men did predominate in Math classes, though there was always more than a token sprinkling of women.) In dance classes I usually was the only male, as you would expect, but in music classes again my classmates were evenly divided.

    The second comment is too sweeping a generalization; I can think of several young men who read a lot, and you can find some on my blogroll. But men who read for pleasure have always been a minority. Has there really been a significant decline in reading during the past decade or two?



    Dale links to an interview with Sandra Miesel in which she discusses Catholics and Science Fiction: How can SF&F uniquely convey Truth? What do you think is the proper approach toward SF&F?

    Miesel: SF & F asks: What if? By taking us “beyond the fields we know,” it can pose important questions with special vividness:

    What is the meaning of Life?

    What does it mean to be human?

    How can we relate to intelligent non-humans? To Nature?

    What aspects of the human condition are permanent and which changeable?

    What makes a good society? A bad one?

    What if history can turned out differently?

    How would the human race react to an unprecedented catastrophe? To a marvelous invention? To an alien environment?

    And SF & F can do this over larger stretches of space and time than mundane fiction does….

    Read the whole thing.

    By the way, what Dale says about The Man in the High Castle is absolutely correct.

    To Dale’s and Sandra’s recommendations I would add Gene Wolfe’s The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories and, if you have a few months to spare, The Book of the New Sun.


    The Chronicles of the Surrealist Sportsman’s Club

    There is a long list of out-of-print books and records that I want to read or hear, and I periodically check to see if any have been reprinted. Once in a rare while the search pays off. For instance, I finally have a copy of John Bellairs’ second book, The Pedant and the Shuffly, first printed in 1968 and missing from the Wichita public library for at least ten years. Here are a few items that I would really like to see in affordable editions:

    Peter and the Wolf, with Wendy Carlos and Weird Al Yankovic. The lowest price listed at is $169.60.

    Falling up the Stairs, by James Lileks. Lowest price: $84.

    And in particular, The Exploits of Engelbrecht, by Maurice Richardson. Although it’s listed at, it’s not available there. (It can be had from British sources, but at an expense beyond my budget.) I learned of its existence in Fantasy: The 100 Best Books by James Cawthorn and Michael Moorcock, who label these stories about a dwarf surrealist boxer “Damon Runyon gothic”:

    He was the rough diamond of the Surrealist Sportsman’s Club, some of whose clientele could have given your average Thing a nasty turn. His most memorable bouts found him wildly overmatched, in the manner of Popeye but without the spinach. Surrealist Boxers customarily fought against clocks and assorted amusement machines, but the Dwarf took on all comers, from Apparitions to Zombies.
    Culture occasionally prevails over muddied oafishness, though Opera and the Drama are attended by perils unkown to patrons of the South Bank. Plant Theatre productions demand, at the very least, endurance. The New Forest’s
    King Lear, with a cast of oaks, has been on stage for 5,000 years and the curtain is not yet. Some of the more susceptible members of the audience are rooted to the spot.

    David Langford reviews Engelbrecht here:

    Fifteen sporting episodes explore suitably weird pastimes. The great Witch Shoot at Nightmare Abbey would be all too politically incorrect nowadays. A surrealist golf match around the world (“Par is reckoned at 818181”) is enlivened by a most dubious hole-in-one. In the angling championship whose greatest prize is the giant pike that ate the Bishop of Ely in 1448, little Engelbrecht distinguishes himself brilliantly as the bait.
    One particularly crazed cricket-match features a literal demon bowler (kept in a well-stoked furnace between overs), against whom Salvador Dali bats, unsuccessfully, with a chest of drawers.

    Addendum: A friend notes that you can often find out-of-prints books for lower prices than’s at such sites as AbeBooks, Alibris and BookFinder, and that eBay is also a good place to hunt for obscure items. Still, when you consider how much utter garbage is published today, it’s a scandal that it is often so difficult to find interesting books and music that don’t have WalMart potential.


    Sophisticated ignorance

    Leo Wong quotes Robert Conquest:

    Literature exists for the ordinary educated man, and any literature that actively requires enormous training can be at best of only peripheral value. Moreover, such a mood in literature produces the specialist who only knows about literature. The man who only knows about literature does not know even about literature.


    True to life

    How a magazine photographer captured the essence of a typical teenager:

    I also used to think that accompanying “non-model” shots for magazine stories about “ordinary” people were true-to-life. Then, my daughters and I were photographed for a story about professionals working part-time for Kiplinger’s magazine a few years back. The photographer wanted a “typical” teen’s room, so I figured the girls’ rooms would be fine. DD had beautiful dance posters all over her room and had “sorta” picked up—not enough, much to my chagrin. Non-DD’s room was as usual—very picked up, neat and full of stuffed dogs and marionnettes. The photographer decided DD’s room was best for the photos. She then pulled clothes out of drawers and closed them so the clothes were hanging out (which I must admit is a more typical look for DD’s drawers); removed the beloved ballet posters and replaced them with—OH NO!!!—BRITNEY SPEARS posters that photographer had with her. She also flipped through some teen magazines in DD’s room and ripped out a few other pictures of various “teen” heartthrobs. By the time she was through setting the photo set, it no longer resembled DD’s room or personality at all.
    DD was mortified to have Britney Spears on her wall and took to sulking (photographer was thrilled to have a moody teen–honestly, she LOVED that and took individual pictures of DD). Britney came down as soon as the photographer began packing her stuff.


    Now I’m mildly curious about Lost:

    At one point, someone will pick up a copy of the novel The Third Policeman by the late Irish writer Flann O’Brien. The cover will be seen for about a second, ABC confirms….
    It will be featured at a “key moment” in the show, Craig Wright, who co-wrote the episode with Javier Grillo-Marxuach, told the
    Chicago Tribune. Wright also said anyone familiar with the book will “have a lot more ammunition” in dissecting Lost plotlines.

    (Via Absinthe and Cookies.)

    I doubt that I actually ever will watch Lost, but I hope that the glimpse of the book cover will pique some interest in Flann O’Brien, one of the craziest writers of the 20th century. At Swim Two Birds is his best-known novel and a Certified Postmodern Classic(TM) (it’s worth reading, nevertheless), but The Third Policeman is his strangest and my favorite. A quick google didn’t turn up much that’s useful about O’Brien; a couple of introductory articles can be found here and here.

    (Later: If I were feeling mischievous, I’d note that O’Brien is the missing link between James Joyce and R.A. Lafferty, and that The Third Policeman is the demonic inverse of Haibane Renmei.)