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February 2010
 
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Sat, Feb. 21st, 2009 01:15 pm
Scotland x Japan

I've spent this week doing the final edits on my Book of Scotlands, my collection of parallel world Scotlands, due out in the spring. Some of the pieces in the book produce an alternative Scotland by taking texts I've written about Japan and changing key words so that they become texts about Scotland. The world-generative power and the interest comes in the wrongness of the scenarios that result -- a wrongness which tells you something about the real Scotland. (Why couldn't an Edinburgh tram driver value his job more than his life, jump off his tram at Restalrig, and touch his white gloves to the skip of his cap when the sea itself cries out "Thanks for your great work, Mr Tram Driver"?)

Shortly after finishing my editing work yesterday, I was streaming BBC Radio 4 live and caught the end of a strange play. John Byrne (whom you may recall as the Scottish playwright Joe and I were trying to channel on the Joemus cover) was playing a character talking about Mount Fuji. I felt like I was in a Ron Butlin short story (I used to visit Ron when he was writer in residence at Edinburgh University, and liked his disorienting sci-fi stories a lot). That, or one of the narratives in my own Book of Scotlands. The wrongness of the combination of Japan and Scotland was fascinating, and telling.

When the Afternoon Play was archived, I listened to it from the beginning. This had, in fact, been a dramatisation of a short story by Yasutaka Tsutsui, The Last Smoker. You can hear the whole thing (for the next seven days) here. And I've made an mp3 file of the most incongruous bits of Scottish-Japanese cultural fusion here:

Afternoon Theatre: The Last Smoker (extract) (stereo mp3 file, 1.9MB, 4 mins 25 secs)

Yasutaka Tsutsui specializes in sci-fi and metafiction. He seems to be as cantankerous as his character Haruki -- his website demands you apply for written permission to use any text or images from it, and he apparently went on "writer's strike" for several years in the 90s as a protest against the restrictiveness of Japanese publishers. His hatred of the media is clear from The Last Smoker's portrayal of a witch-hunting consumer magazine journalist from a Tokyo lifestyle magazine called Happymag. Persecuted by semi-fascist anti-smokers like her, Haruki wages a Mishima-esque battle for smokers' rights, ending up atop the diet building.

I'm not sure whether the radio play is good, and Tsutsui's tone annoys me somewhat. A "post-Situationist poetics of hyper-fictionality which has persistently disclosed the conspiracy between reality and fiction in the hyper-capitalist age haunted by a variety of spectacles and pseudo-events" is all well and good (that's Tsutsui's own description of what he's doing), but a lot of it just sounds like cranky, self-vindicating libertarianism to me. I know it's only a metaphor, but Japan is hardly a country where smoking is endangered, either.



I downloaded Paprika, an animated film for adults released by Sony in 2006, based on a Tsutsui novel. Basically, it's three genres (hardboiled detective fiction, sci-fi and fantasy) collided. There are lots of metafictional games going on (the plot concerns a dream machine that's fallen into the hands of a terrorist), but after a while it becomes hard to care. So many fantastical things happen, and there are so many dreams-within-dreams, frames-within-frames and mirrors pointing at mirrors, that you lose interest. It's like Superman; the hero has seemingly unlimited powers, never dies, and there's no coherent emotional core. Metafiction is, all too often, the last refuge of narcissistic authors, foregrounding themselves in the narrative and flexing their muscles.

On the other hand, visually Paprika reminded me of Akira Yamaguchi's work, which I like. And when Tsutsui's work is performed by Scottish actors, suddenly a whole new layer of metafiction is added -- one I do find it in myself to care about, because -- as I was saying yesterday -- I'm very interested in synthetic hybrid nations, and in wrongness. The motto for my Book of Scotlands is "Every lie creates a parallel world: the world in which it's true."

21CommentReply


(Anonymous)
Sat, Feb. 21st, 2009 12:26 pm (UTC)

So many fantastical things happen, and there are so many dreams-within-dreams, frames-within-frames and mirrors pointing at mirrors, that you lose interest.

Exactly my fear for your upcoming novel, but I hope I'm wrong!


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Feb. 21st, 2009 01:00 pm (UTC)

I have to say I really believe in both The Book of Scotlands and The Book of Jokes. Of course they could have been wanky and abstruse and clever-clever, but they aren't. They're highly readable, funny and thought-provoking, and I think they'll give a lot of people a lot of pleasure.


ReplyThread Parent
krskrft
krskrft
Sat, Feb. 21st, 2009 02:15 pm (UTC)

Any chance you'll be going to the US to do book promotion for The Book of Scotlands? I'm sure you'd find a ton of people interested in it. There's a much larger experimental fiction contingent, especially among young American fiction writers, than you'd think.


ReplyThread Parent
imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Feb. 21st, 2009 02:50 pm (UTC)

There's more chance of doing that for The Book of Jokes, which has a US publisher. The Book of Scotlands is published worldwide, in English, by Berlin-based art publisher Sternberg. They mostly distribute through specialist art bookstores rather than general bookstores.

The Book of Jokes will come out in the US via Dalkey, and be in general (literary) bookstores. The release is currently slated for late autumn -- sorry, "Fall"! A US promo tour is certainly possible, but nothing's planned yet.


ReplyThread Parent
krskrft
krskrft
Sat, Feb. 21st, 2009 03:18 pm (UTC)

Upon publication, you might check with Dalkey to see about setting up some readings/visits at MFA programs. I graduated from one, so I know that most programs have funds set aside for visiting writers and that sort of thing. At the very least, you'd have expenses taken care of, and you'd get to meet a lot of people in the writing community/sell a lot of books.


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(Anonymous)
Sat, Feb. 21st, 2009 12:37 pm (UTC)

Have you read Peter Carey's The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith? It is set in an imaginary world with an island state that is an Australia-France hybrid, and a superpower that is a US/Boer hybrid.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Feb. 21st, 2009 12:46 pm (UTC)

No -- it sounds good!


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Sat, Feb. 21st, 2009 01:03 pm (UTC)

...and the title is a play on The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, so there's an added reason to check it out!


ReplyThread Parent
robinsonner
robinsonner
the maven
Sat, Feb. 21st, 2009 04:51 pm (UTC)

Have you seen New Town?
http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00hq1w5/New_Town/

Its a pilot for a series but I don't think it will be picked up.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Feb. 21st, 2009 05:20 pm (UTC)

It's funny you should ask, I've spent a chunk of the day trying to install two iPlayer hacks, iPlayer Grabber and iPlayer Downloader.

You see, if you're outside the UK you can't use iPlayer. Technically, that applies to these iPlayer grabbers too, but you can configure the proxy server settings to make it look as if your request is coming from within the UK. So far, though, I haven't been able to make the programs work. New Town was one of the shows I tried to download.

The software works by emulating an iPhone, and the BBC don't make all the content available in mobile formats. That may be the problem.


ReplyThread Parent
robinsonner
robinsonner
the maven
Sat, Feb. 21st, 2009 07:30 pm (UTC)

I suppose to simplify matters where this show is concerned I would ask if you can access The Box or UKNova sites. I understand that this hack may be a mission!


ReplyThread Parent
imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Feb. 21st, 2009 08:12 pm (UTC)

I did use to be a member of UKNova, I seem to recall. That's how I managed to watch Nathan Barley in Hokkaido!


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Sat, Feb. 21st, 2009 05:26 pm (UTC)

Will your books be credited to Momus or to Nick Currie? If the latter, why? Do you see your literary persona as different from your recording/blogging persona?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Feb. 21st, 2009 06:09 pm (UTC)

They're going out as books by Momus.


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Sat, Feb. 21st, 2009 05:30 pm (UTC)

http://i7.photobucket.com/albums/y296/imomus/pornotopia.jpg

what in unholy hell were you processing when you voluntarily let yourself take this big gay picture?


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(Anonymous)
Sat, Feb. 21st, 2009 05:49 pm (UTC)

He probably did it to rile homophobes like yourself.


ReplyThread Parent
imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Feb. 21st, 2009 06:58 pm (UTC)

what in unholy hell were you processing when you voluntarily let yourself take this big gay picture?



Just read the page it was designed for:

""Explicit sexual imagery has erupted in every medium and on every surface. While there's plenty of laughing and pointing going on, hardly anyone has stopped to consider its impact." So runs the headline above the 2004 article that gives design writer Rick Poynor's new collection its title: Designing Pornotopia: Travels in Visual Culture. As a bit of a pornotopian myself, I thought I'd read it naked."


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Sat, Feb. 21st, 2009 06:21 pm (UTC)

>>>The motto for my Book of Scotlands is "Every lie creates a parallel world: the world in which it's true."

and Boris Vian would say "this story is entirely true since I made it all up".

aurelien


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pay_option07
pay_option07
Sat, Feb. 21st, 2009 09:23 pm (UTC)
Paprika

I picked up a copy of Paprika, Death Note, and Tokyo Incident, this afternoon.
I'm looking forward to some interesting reading when the book is available.


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kementari2
kementari2
The green fuse
Mon, Feb. 23rd, 2009 03:58 pm (UTC)

My anime club at college treasured a worn VHS copy of an Evangelion episode dubbed by a Scottish amateur comedy group. It was too intentionally funny to give a real sense of "wrongness," but it was a cheery mixup.


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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
craig_pulsar
craig_pulsar
craig_pulsar
Tue, Feb. 24th, 2009 10:37 am (UTC)

I'm looking forward to the book of Scotlands. An alternative universe where the biggest spectator sport is curling, where Edinburgh has a huge dome over it to keep pollution out, a country invaded and occupied by the Soviets, etc etc etc!


ReplyThread Parent