‘Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand’ by Primordial (2011)

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This post is quite unique, not only because it is Litflick’s first post on the lyrics of a music album, it is also the first time that Yours Truly ventures into the Metallic pastures of critical music-listening. Due to these firsts (and the fact that university was eating up most of my time), this post is long overdue. Apologies are due to my good friend (and awesome music journalist) Mark a.k.a. Angel – but who should also be thanked for getting me to listen to some metal in the first place…

Scary album artwork

‘Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand’ by the Irish metal band PRIMORDIAL is an intriguing album from 2011; not only because of the epic style of the narrative it builds, but also because the narration is done rather well indeed. Sure, some lyrics are of a higher standard than others – but all in all, it’s a pleasurable experience to read through the texts.

Primordial bandmembers looking surly

One of the key reasons for this, I think, is that the subject matter tackled is intellectually engaging and requires some level of attunement to intertextuality. The opening track – ‘No Grave Deep Enough’ – is a shining example of this (click here for the full lyrics).

Immediately on the first read, echoes of John Donne’s ‘Sonnet 72‘ came to mind. Continue reading

Short story: The Ring of Fire

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This is just a teaser of a short story I wrote about a year ago; the very opening. Will post the rest in segments (if I pluck up the courage to share it with the world…). Hope you enjoy it!🙂

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THE RING OF FIRE

At that moment he existed in terms of a billion cells surging in instants, forming the outline of his physical body. He was feeling the blood thumping against the globular whites damming his skull, and his ears were ringing…as a telephone would in the old days. The kind you had to twist round to dial a number, and when somebody called you, the ringing would fill the entire house, searing through your head, setting you pulse on fire, until you were propelled to the machine and – just when you couldn’t take it anymore and your eyes hurt – you picked it up in anticipation.

Hellooo?! – she said, mocking him, her tone inflecting appropriately. I didn’t realise you were that stupid.

He was aware of the way her face contorted in mockery, and the sound waves as they reached one complete oscillation through one unit of Time. But he couldn’t decode any of this. It was all white noise.

Meanwhile, the woman was flailing her arms about like a windmill, orans-like, and her bracelets chinkled and shimmered together as a wind-chime. The spectacle distracted him.

‘Sorry’.

He blubbered it; it shot out of his mouth without warning. He didn’t know what to do, but he was relieved. Out of the myriads of words he could have possibly spouted, ‘sorry’ was often received more favourably (he found).

She was taken aback and her eyebrows perked up in a flicker of surprise. Just for a split second, he thought he had done something wrong (again). Then the corners of her mouth drooped down somewhat hyperbolically, only to transfuse – midway – into the lovechild of a grimace and a smile.

Well…okay then – he heard as the nonchalant shrug of her shoulders defined her collar bones, framing her sequined shirt. Thanks, I guess.

She was gone in a whish of spangled auburn hair. Thomas was left in the company of Dante, immortalised as he was in sticky papier-mâché, missing a nose. He realised now that his fingers had glued themselves inextricably to the big table too, and he slowly twisted the laurelled head 360 degrees before he heard the satisfying smack of independence.

 

[TO BE CONTINUED]

Happy Bard-day!

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LOOK INTO HIS EYES.

As you can probably tell from previous posts on this blog such as this one, I am a kindled follower of Sweet Master William.

This year, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust is commemorating Shakespeare’s birthday with big celebrations.  As part of this, they are inviting bloggers  to commemorate this giant literary figure by “posting during the week of April 23rd to tell the world how Shakespeare has impacted their lives.

My first ‘proper’ encounter with Shakespeare came at school at the annoyingly grand old age of 13. Yes, I’m aware this isn’t old old, but I do beg you dear Reader – if you’re a parent or teacher, or can influence what some child reads in any way, make sure they become acquainted with him earlier. Alack, my childhood was devoid of sword-wielding.😦 Continue reading

Meet John Doe (1941)

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Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream starts off with the two pairs of Athenian lovers whose love is prohibited from flourishing. Here, the atmosphere is appropriately sombre. Even an element of ‘anguish’ is elicited from the audience as the play progresses, the surreptitious fairies work their magic and exacerbate the confusion on stage.

'Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing' by William Blake (circa 1786)
Pencil and watercolour on paper, 475 x 675 mm

Michelle Pfeiffer (Titania) & Kevin Kline (Nick Bottom) being awesome

Were it not for Bottom’s antics and his delusions of grandeur (Act I, Scene ii … HI-LA-RIOUS, you’re welcome), there would be very little to make us chuckle in this realm conjured up by one of Shakespeare’s most fantastical of comedies. Is it Bottom, then, that makes this play a comedy?

Traditionally, a comedy is called as such because it ends happily. The main ‘problem’ is resolved, the lovers are re-united – ‘all’s well that ends well’… What Bottom actually provides is comic relief and farce.

Such, I think, is the situation that Frank Capra’s 1941 film ‘Meet John Doe’ presents. Although the final few minutes provide the happy ending through a somewhat forced coup, the film deals with real and serious issues throughout. Indeed, the protagonist, John Doe, is presented as being not only a symbol of the collective society, not only a fictitious creation of Ann Mitchell (the newspaper journalist ), but also a real person (actually called John Willoughby).

By acting as a kind of everyman, Doe successfully represents ‘every man’ and functions as the character Everyman does in the ‘Morality Plays’ of the Middle Ages. However, John isn’t a fighting against his own vices, he is ironically fighting against the vices of a society whose individuals he represents.

Continue reading

The Great Debaters (2007)

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“S’pose you didn’t have nobody. S’pose you couldn’t go into the bunk house and play rummy ’cause you was black. How’d you like that? S’pose you had to sit out here an’ read books. Sure you could play horseshoes till it got dark, but then you got to read books. Books ain’t no good. A guy needs somebody-to be near him. A guy goes nuts if he ain’t got nobody. Don’t make no difference who the guy is, long’s he’s with you. I tell ya, I tell ya a guy gets too lonely an’ he gets sick.”

Chris Jack as Crooks (The Dukes, Lancaster)

Racism in early twentieth-century America is described in terms of pathology by Crooks – the man of colour, with a literal and symbolic crooked back, in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Crook’s sentiments expressed here reveal elements of the soliloquy in them because they offer a fenestral glimpse into the character’s bare soul. Like so, reading becomes almost tantamount to voyeurism; Crooks’ intense pain is coated only by the incumbency of discourse which is “all in a vele of silke and silver thin”1. Yet, paradoxically, such moments are often the most memorable ones in literature, for they present characters affirming themselves by unashamedly presenting extremes of human emotion and/or philosophy.

“Now, gods, stand up for bastards!” – Edmund 2

“Better to reign in Hell,  than serve in Heav’n.”  – Satan 3

It is ironic therefore, that in  their aloneness in the text, characters reveal their true social selves. Crooks’ aloneness makes him lonely. But it is ironic as well that a character like him – rejecting literature and books in this passage – should be given his voice in Steinbeck’s novella.

The protagonist of Denzel Washington’s  The Great Debaters (2007) – James Farmer Jr. – is similarly well-acquainted with books, and like Crooks he rejects them at one point. Like Of Mice and Men, this film is set in the time of the Great Depression in the US, when the American Dream was shattered and satirised by bleak reality. Spiritedly acted by Denzel Whitaker, James Jr. still dreams of being chosen for the Wiley College Texas debate team by the inspirational Professor Melvin Thompson (Denzel Washington). This plan not only conforms to his studious nature, but also had the benefit of potentially bringing him closer to the beautiful, older and dignified Samantha Booke (Jurnee Smollett); she ends up being the first female in the College debate team. But as Robert Burns puts it in his poem To A Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough – the inspiration for the title of Steinbeck’s aforementioned novella – “the best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley”. James Jr. does get hand-picked by Professor Thompson, but – like the valiant Red Crosse Knight in The Faerie Queene – he has to go through a purging pilgrimage of sorts to arrive at his Holy Grail…in his case:  the Wiley vs. Harvard debate. These tribulations include being rejected by Samantha for another member of the debate team, seeing two team-members having to leave the team at terrible timing, and having to have an argument with his conservative father – Dr. James Farmer Sr. (Forest Whitaker) – in an attempt to cover Tolson’s Communist activities. Most scarring and demoralising of all however, is the racism he has to endure for being African American, and the savage lynching they witness halfway through a car journey.

Strangely, but also predictably enough, this lynching proves to be a valuable personal experience to draw from in the

The debaters and the professor (left)

Harvard debate. Debate competitions are remarkably similar to the soliloquy format alluded to earlier, and in this sense they can be very dramatic. Eloquence, lucidity in arguments, confidence and convincingness are rewarded – and can there be a language be more powerful than, ironically, the language of the opressed and the disenfranchised? The importance of language is eloquently presented through the discourse of the film itself. In fact, one of the most memorable quotes from the film is the motivational, question-and-answer mantra that the Professor drums into the minds and hearts of the students. Rather less highlighted in the film, I felt, was the dangerous terrain between mantra and propoganda; the latter being equally detrimental to the individual and the community, even if the ideology behind it is a positive one. The Wiley chant goes as follows:

Melvin B. Tolson: Who is the judge?

Debaters: The judge is God.

Melvin B. Tolson: Why is he God?

Debaters: Because he decides who wins or loses. Not my opponeent.

Melvin B. Tolson: Who is your opponent?

Debaters: He does not exist.

Melvin B. Tolson: Why does he not exist?

Debaters: Because he is a mere dissenting voice of the truth I speak!

The communal feeling of the African American community that Washington presents to us is a vibrant, earthly and wholesome one. Perhaps one of the devices in the film that projects this most effectively is music. Composed by James Newton Howard, the music seems to act as another voice in the polyphony of the debate. This is reminiscent of the narrative voice in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart which, although being omniscient, still manages to translate the communality of the society.

The inspirational story that the film narrates becomes even more persuasive in its message when one considers that it is partially based on the true story of the Wiley College debate team, and that the real James Farmer Jr. actually went on to debate with Malcolm X, and win. While The Great Debaters does come across as overtly ‘polished’ at times, it does have the power to engage the viewer, raise awareness and make a case for tolerance and equality.

Yesterday, January 15, was Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Apart from remembering the accomplishments of this great person, I think it is also worthwile to cherish and positively exploit the power of language and debate. To mark the birthday of MLK, the King Center has made 200,000 of his papers freely available online. Have a read, watch the movie, and be inspired to act! 

Watch the trailer here:

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1 Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene, Book II, Canto xii.77

2 William Shakespeare, King Lear, Act I, Scene ii

3 John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 1, line 263

‘King Lear’ by William Shakespeare

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I wanted to upload this photo of a painting I started working on last July. I finished the bulk of it in 1 week or so, then I recently found it again and decided to ‘polish’ it a bit – and here’s the finished piece!🙂 Continue reading

‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’ by James Joyce

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“Wolsey died in Leicester Abbey

Where the abbots buried him.

Canker is a disease of plants,

Cancer one of animals.”

This little ditty is from ‘Doctor Cornwell’s Spelling Book’; a book which, as its title suggests, is there for young children to learn their spelling. However, already at a tender age, Stephen Dedalus – the Artist and protagonist of the novel – acts in the spirit of his (sur)namesake and, like the Ovid’s narration of the myth of Icarus and Daedalus, he ‘flies above’ the literal and the common. For Dedalus, “they were like poetry but they were only sentences to learn the spelling from”.

This is Stephen’s constant predicament in the real world that Ireland presented to him. This is the world of Charles Stuart Parnell, Bishop Lanigan and Terence Bellew MacManus. For this reason, Stephen famously supplicates: “Old father, old artificer, stand me now and ever in good stead”. Stephen’s affiliation with a higher power seems to form part and parcel with his artistic sensibility, and it can be understood in Stephen’s

Parnell - "the uncrowned king of Ireland"

Parnell | "the uncrowned king of Ireland"

contemplation of the priestly vocation. Like the priest, the artist ‘transubstantiates’ the mundane into the divine; and therefore, one can understand the lure of this life for Stephen. What is perhaps slightly perplexing is the role that the hell-fire sermon of the Jesuit plays in the narrative structure. Dragging on for several pages, this fervent sermon successfully reaches its aim of leading all the boys to confession. However, it can be taxing on the reader and it can also be too unattractive a diversion from the main plot. Having said this, by the end of it, I felt so immersed in the supernatural world it conjures up that that the resulting effect was almost one of being purged by the language itself.

Continue reading

‘Things Fall Apart’ by Chinua Achebe

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Appeals to the past are among the commonest of strategies in interpretations of the present.” – Edward W. Said

A cursory glance at unnervingly creative means of propaganda, ranging from Nazi archaeology to Mugabe’s retelling of history via “catchy jingles” on radio, supports Said’s claim. Too often, history finds itself being moulded into an ideology and vice versa.

Perhaps partly because of the reliance of history on our collective memory, the thought of this manipulation scares us – and rightly so. The implication is that in changing history, those in power to do this are also changing us. We can agree that this is a dishonest and self-servicing act. Yet, must the same moral condemnation be applied to literature which “appeals to the past” – as borderline fictitious as that may be – to suggest “interpretations of the present”?
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The Terror (1963)

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“Perhaps we are both mad.”

In Gottlieb’s Hitchcock on Hitchcock, the Master of psychological thriller films explains that for him, “suspense does not have any value if it is not balanced by humour”. This is very true of The Terror – a 1963 horror movie produced by Roger Corman. Although, to be honest, I strongly doubt Corman intentionally set about creating the humorous element of pastiche present in the film, which is rather carelessly highlighted by the disjointed cast… Yet, perhaps because of the truth in Hitchcock’s insight, The Terror delivers regardless. Continue reading

‘Riders to the Sea’ by John Millington Synge

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‘Good artists copy. Great artists steal.’

Thus goes an oft-quoted dictum in academic circles. A Google search reveals it to be attributed to different people including Picasso, T.S. Eliot and Steve Jobs. Yet, regardless of who uttered it, I find myself agreeing with its sentiment because it rings true. Precisely because of its spirit, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the figures mentioned nicked it off each other in the first place…

As cliché as that statement sounds, the truth in it lies in the accepted concept of the ‘appropriation’ of artistic ‘convention’. Writing ‘degree zero’ – Roland Barthes tells us – is virtually impossible to create. Authors continually feed off the prescribed notions of the genre and form they are writing in; the discourse associated with ‘types’ of characters; and also the language which has been handed down to them. In my opinion, it is the clever use of this which makes Synge’s Riders to the Sea so powerful and poignant for the short, one-act play that it is.
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