Saturday, 30 March 2013

Let's Try Again

Okay, so it has come to my attention that my last joke wasn't received as well as it should've been. Maybe it was my fault, perhaps I made it a bit too subtle for you. But don't worry, I don't blame you, I know that Italian food and phonetics are a pretty heady mix. Some say it's too strong, that I'm mad for being so avant-garde, but I can't help it. I can't help how the muses choose to inspire me can I? Anyway, I'm going to try this again, but I've tweaked it to make a little bit more understandable. Here we go, Italian food and phonetics joke mk. II...

A really beautiful blonde in a red dress is sat alone at a table. She is clearly waiting for a date as she keeps checking her watch, looking at the door every time someone comes in etc etc. While she waits she nibbles on some of the complimentary bread, dipping into olive oil and/or marinara sauce. No, just marinara sauce.
A sharply-dressed man, probably wearing Louis Vuitton or Topman or something, notices she's bored and alone so walks over from the bar.
Man: I couldn't help noticing you're over here all alone.
Woman: Yes I'm afraid my fat date has stood me up. My, you are a very handsome and good-looking person.
Man: Right back focaccia (bread).

I don't want to offend anyone, but you struggled with the last joke so I'll explain it. Right, she's eating focaccia bread (the extra layer here comes with the marinara sauce. I was going to say olive oil, but obviously marinara sauce has a richer comic heritage). 'Focaccia' sounds quite like 'atcha' ('at you' said more vernacularly), so the little back and forth between the two, er, people is funny. Funny 'cause it sounds like something... or something. Something else.
Like I say, I can't help it. Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

I'm Sick Of

Kafka this, Kafka that.

But now is the beginning of the end,

I have bought
The Metamorphosis
The Complete Short Stories

The Kafkalessness will soon be at an

Let's hope for enlightenment,
For ever and ever,


Friday, 29 March 2013

I've Outdone Myself... Again

I was going to start this post by saying "I don't mean to toot my own horn but..." and then I thought, no, it's right to toot my horn. Anyone who knows me understands I'm humble enough anyway, but I can't deny a massive talent if it's this obvious can I? Quite frankly, I'm a very funny guy. You all know it. I can't help it, it's just this gift I have. Well anyway, I've got a new joke for you folks (don't mention it, please, I'm just doing it out of the goodness of my heart, no need to thank me).


Imagine the scene: it is 1970 and Sally's in the International Hotel, Las Vegas, and Elvis is on stage. He's wearing a sexy white catsuit and prowling the stage (the clothing isn't important to the joke to be fair). Sally had just had a chicken dinner (that bit's important), it was delicious. Elvis sings 'Patch It Up' and then goes offstage.

A little later, who arrives at Sally's table but The King himself:

Elvis: So, baby, whaddidyou thinka mah show?

Sally: It was good, but why were you singing about cacciatore?

I'll just wait for the laughter to die down... Are you done? Ooh no, there's another little pocket starting up... You done? Yep.
Right, obviously it was hilarious, and you don't need me to explain the joke, but obviously because I'm such an artist I find it a valuable part of my process to explore the genius of it all. Obviously the crux of the humour lies in the phonetic similarity of 'patch it up' and 'cacciatore'. It seems simple, but obviously I've made it very effective. Additional layers have been added with the tongue-in-cheek Elvis dialogue and, as you'd expect with one of my witty smorgasbords, the brilliant image presented.
Anyway, the exertion I have gone through to produce this has left me quite tired, so I'm going to leave it there. Try not to praise me too much in the comments, remember that being this funny is just natural for me and, in a sense, it's unfair to congratulate me for it.
Peace out!

Friday, 22 March 2013

Second Installment of the Babies Series

Dean Martin + Johnny Cash = ?


Jack Kerouac!
Yeah? Anyone having that one?

Langwidge Pt. 3

Here's parts uno and dos for your delectatory delight. This part is going to deal with Sapir-Whorfy stuff, a subject I'm 'not a hundred per cent on', to use the parlance of our times, but I'm going to talk about anyway. You're all bright enough to do your own research if anything grabs you anyway... Yeah one thing I forgot to mention in part two (which, incidentally, would have ended it on a rather positive and hopeful note) is that I want to learn Italian and Dutch, and if possible polish up my existing MFLs. That didn't sound so positive out of context... Oh well you can go back and read the other posts if you want.


So what is this Sapir-Whorf hypothesis and what's it got to do with my mini series on languages and translation? The hypothesis: the way we talk reflects the way we see the world (put very simply). The ramifications being, in a way, that there's no real expression we can make that hasn't been conditioned by social (and psychological?) factors. Ergo, 'pure translation' is going to be futile. If one could translate a piece into another language 'perfectly' then those two countries would be the same. And therefore have the same language. Does that make sense? Anyway, I'm not saying translation is useless, I'm just saying that the differences between translations should be celebrated in their own right.

On the whole business of 'variations'... Everything's just a variation of something else isn't it? Information goes into the brain, is mangled up by our thought processes, then reformed onto the page. The poems a Spanish person might write about a sunset (yeah, I know...) will be different to the poems a Finnish person would, and that's for a reason. So I dunno, either go back in time and be born in another country, then read the original, or be happy with the translation which will be a richly diverse and worthwhile production.

Now the usual bit: "So I'm not confident about anything anymore, I'm not sure what I'm doing or where I'm going boohoo wahwah." I'm not good enough. I don't know things. I've not done anything. I'm not even sure of the English language anymore, what's it all about? It's time to start rebuilding my life. Maybe. Pass the bricks I guess...

Erm, well I should say thanks to Miriam Meyerhoff for Introducing Sociolinguistics and maybe you should check out The Poetry Foundation, which has some lovely things about linguistics and poetry. Ron Siliman's blog has a great many resources in this vein also, such as videos of Noam Chomsky and Lera Boroditsky.

I think that's it. Sorry it was so awful. You can go now. Bye.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Langwidge Pt. 2

This part's a bit more melancholic and also doesn't come with an apology. In the first part I was talking about literary translations and some of the problems surrounding the process (that I can see, anyway. Maybe you don't have any problems with anything... good for you). What I really wanted to talk about was stuff like the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (which I'm trying to get clued-up on) and also talk about my language experiences (mainly an excuse to brag about decent GCSE grades :P ). So now that I've ruined all possible suspense, let's get cracking (don't worry, it won't take forever. Besides, there's always that little 'x' you could click in the... oh wait... no I already did that joke in the previous portion...).

Basically what I'm dealing with is a sense of mourning for my ability to speak different languages. I've had two years of Latin, two years of Spanish and five of French (since seven, five and five years respectively). Since then, my proficiency (if I can claim it so highly) has somewhat dwindled. I try and make up for it by using convoluted English words in everyday situations (I can't comment on how well that's going...), but it's not the same. I knew quite a lot about French, like how to speak in many tenses, talk about complex ideas (such as 'frogmen' - hommes grenouilles for those of you who are interested) and, much more importantly, I started to get a bit of confidence in being able to speak it. Where's all that now?

I chose not to do language at A Level. I'm not sure why. I chose subjects (like Physics) because I was interested in them, and wanted to get to know them better. But what I wish I'd have been told to look ahead to what I'd like to do with my life, rather than just what I'd like to do with the next couple of years. Physics, for me, has not only been 'too hard' but also had basically no impact on my life. Now all my French syntactical knowledge has withered, and alls I got is useless lexis (such as the word  for 'frogmen' - oh wait, I gone done that one already).

French was mandatory where I went to school from year one, but at GCSE we had to pick another (German, Spanish, Latin or Greek). I went for Spanish, as it's similar to Latin, but never took it that seriously. It was a lesson I had to go to, a qualification to get, and I didn't put as much effort in as with French. Now all I can think is, 'why did you waste that opportunity'?

At Edge Hill, my BA in English and Creative Writing involved language modules. They were richly varied, with elements of history, sociology and more, but in a sense there was too much variety and over the course of one module there wasn't enough depth in some ways (obviously they weren't designed to help you learn a language, but personally I felt a little directionless with all the slightly disparate elements that we looked at). Anyway, my point is that, again, I have a few nice nuggets of linguistic information, and I'm still interested in languages, but for the purposes of translation it wasn't so helpful (again, I'd like to stress that it was never meant to be helpful in such a way, and it WAS useful for many other things).

Now I'm in this place of desolation. I'd say it's a desert, but deserts can be beautiful. Things have withered and died and there's no turning back. It reminds me very much of Sujata Bhatt's 'Search For My Tongue' apart from the 'mother tongue' is not the 'problem', it's the other tongues (would they be called 'father tongues'? Surely not... sorry, I digress!). The tension that arises from not having a proper frame of reference for the mother tongue is the problem. How can I understand more than the (relatively) narrow sphere of English-speaking cultures without being FLUENT in another language? I've been getting very into American writers (Vonnegut, Bukowski, Kerouac) and yet what use is that for cultural diversification? Sure a lot of them are influenced by Eastern philosophies, but there's that voice at the back of my mind: if they've not communicated the original culture sufficiently then they are practically worthless. I wonder where I got that from?

Never mind, this isn't a blame game. This is a discussion (albeit one-sided :P ). Still not got onto Sapir-Whorf. Maybe next time. Thanks if you've  stuck around haha.

Goodnight. [Part 3]

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Langwidge Pt. 1

More uncertainty (sorry. I'm genuinely, really, truly sorry but you can always just click that 'x' in the top right corner if it gets too much). Us folks on the MA have just been looking at literary translations (into different languages, rather  than different genres - which I did on part of my BA incidentally), and yeah it's a very thought-provoking endeavour. The questions, tensions and problems that arise are truly chewy considerations. For example, with poetry one of the big choices you have to make is whether to keep the rhyme scheme (obviously assuming there is one). Think about it: poems that rhyme already have their nature skewed into a kind of 'taut' form, so in translation the poem is further pulled and stretched semantically just for the 'benefit' of same-sounding sentence ends. But hey, you might want that.

I found it almost... unnerving (perhaps not the right word, but I work with what I'm given) that we were talking about what amounted to a responsibility to keep the original essence of the piece intact and no-one seemed upset by it. To me it's obvious that such a perfection is impossible. The phonemes all change (so it sounds very different), the shape of the poem is easily changed, the precise meanings of individual words change (imagine translating into a language whose conceptual mapping of colours is entirely different to ones own) and so on... I think the degree of similarity is kind of irrelevant. The translation's worth as a poem on its own merit is really the only thing that should matter. Then (healthy) discussion about why certain decisions were made can arise. At the end of the day, someone else could try and translate the same piece themselves. There just is no 'right answer', and surely that's the big message? It's as liberating as it is scary, that's a message we can all dance to (ANALOGY AGREEMENT ALERT).

We also talked about 'versions' which are apparently what happens when a writer translates something 'however they want' (I won't go into why that sounds to me like a meaningless thing to say). Basically, these poems have 'very little sense of the original' and were looked down upon in no uncertain terms when we discussed them. But why? Just like memory is a creative process, surely translation cannot fail to be also. At the very least, a translator should read the original they are working on, but after that, how can we be so sure about what's right and wrong? Art is (in an overly-basic and inexhaustive description) a reforming of sense perceptions that the brain has digested, so why not read the original and then, once that experience is in the mind, rewrite whatever you think. Does it make you 'correct' if you slave over every single word and letter? Every artist has to make decisions about what they're working on and the idea is that they know why they made them and can thus defend them. That's the essence, not simply 'I wanted to make it the same'. Strive for perfection if you want (it doesn't matter that you'll fail), but also what you feel is right should not be criticised solely on the grounds of not being like someone else's opinion of perfection.

I've not even got onto the main 'meat' of what I wanted to write about: language itself. I'll be talking about tongues in the next part, hope to see you there. [Part 2]

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Could be Perfect

Well, obviously it's not perfect... The 15th anniversary of The Big Lebowski's 'release' has been celebrated recently, and here is a link to help you enjoy it, courtesy of

Personally, I'd've got rid of the parodies. I think they're pretty poor, not that funny, but then I still applaud their spirit. When in dialogue about something as great as a Coen brothers' hit, it's hard not to fall short of the mark, so good on them for trying.

I've been thinking about my favourite song from the film: it's impossible to choose. CCR's 'Lookin' Out My Back Door' is always a strong contender, but often I feel like I relate a lot to Bob Dylan's 'The Man In Me'. The psychedellic vote certainly goes to Kenny Rogers with 'Just Dropped In' (an undeniably great tune), but then what about this, this, this or even this? It's ridiculous, there are so many more to choose from too. Carter Burwell (who has inspired a major character in a short story of mine, yes it's true!) is a bloody great man, another person whose association with the Coen Bros. has helped them to their greatness.

On a side note, I think reducing an entire film to the repetition of a single word is a noteworthy enterprise. It happens twice in EW's selection, on page one (with the word 'dude') and page five (with the word 'fuck'). The rhythmic qualities of doing this create a great performance piece of poetry (perhaps!). My other fave video in this vein includes the Shortened Scarface, I'm sure there are plenty of others. Please don't dismiss it as puerile until you've had a go!

So, what shall we take from this post? That The Big Lebowski is good? Yes. That The Coen Brothers are good? Yes. That the f*** bomb is good? Sometimes. I don't know, take from life what you will. I'm not going to dictate...

Friday, 8 March 2013

What is This?

It's been common knowledge for a long time that TV is no longer the monarchy we once suspected.  When I talk about TV I talk about things that are being originally broadcast on that fucking luminescent block in your house. Not on your latptop or nothing, though it'll be available there later, no doubt. I'm talking about the 'experience' you have when you turn on your telly and flick through the channels...

What's on in the background for me right now is 'The Big Reunion' (ITV2), where bands who were too shit for the nineties have been resurrected for idiots who, in the modern world, are so entertainment-starved that they think nineties' zombies are better than anything produced nowadays. If 'zombies' actually meant 'people brought back to life from the dead' they may be right but... oh fuck it, as if you care. Put the pieces together, go on! Or find another blog... Go on...

But then, why waste time pulling apart this utterly predicatable foray into 'I'm not confident, but I'll try my best. Also, I'll try my best to seem like I like you, though I hate your guts because you're shit and I want to win' show? Any writer with more skill than I could reduce that to a much more bite-size criticism, but I'm poor. I had something I'd rather publish, but it involves a nasty character who shouldn't be named and anyway this is annoying me more at the minute...

Let's move on to the rest of the bollocks here:

At this time of night, I want someone. Just a little chat, really - a sustained conversation - or somethng like. But there's none of that anymore. I found it, maybe, when MSN messenger was about, but since then it's gone further downhill (apparently that was possible...). I turn on the telly and there is FUCK ALL to hold my attention. I could watch the news, which is as futile as voting, watch 'reality TV' which is as futile as trying to live happily, or I could even watch a film, which will not only be over half-way through but also punctuated by nob-heads in annoying adverts.

So there's basically nothing. Nothing to sustain me. But yet it's all you want to hear about. Nothing new is apparently worthy, so I should just talk about shit to do with shit that's already shit. That's what you want, yeah. Well, I'll indulge you this once, but next time you have to pay...

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

So Excited!

Ahhh I was so excited just then. You know when you go to publish a comment online sometimes, and you're given a series of letters to type in before you can post it? The whole 'prove you're not a robot' thing, do you know the one? You get them on blogs mainly... Do you know what I'm on about? They're to stop computer-generated spam and whatnot. A blog I used to get paid for writing had a few spam comments, usually about knock-off handbags and stuff. No penis-enlargement techniques, strangely. I guess they're more of an email phenomenon. Oh yeah, and those damn casinos too! I checked my junk the other day and found that I'd won £500. Normally I'd be like, 'yeah right' but since I'd entered a competition recently I checked it out. It was £500 free when you set-up an account and gamble with 'CasinoPlus' or 'MoneyX' or whateverthehell... But yeah I'm getting off track. This wasn't spam on another blog, or email junk, it's just a way of stopping the website you're on getting unwanted computer-generated messages when you comment. For all they know you could be deviant computer or something, so they have to make sure by testing you. Have you seen these things? Sometimes they have a sort-of picture of numbers, then these awkwardly printed letters. If they were put on screen in regular font, I guess a computer could interpret them, but they abstract the symbols a little, meaning only 'humans' can decipher them and type them in. Do you know the ones I mean? Often the word part of it is a kind of amalgamation of two existing words, have you seen them? They have a company that runs it, Captcha I think. See that right there is an abstraction of the word 'capture' so you get the idea. If you've not already come across them, you get the idea that they are weirding things up so humans can understand but computers can't. Do you understand? Have you seen these things, the ones I'm on about?

I had to prove I wasn't a computer today. The number picture was easy enough, but then, to my surprise, the letters had the word 'wank' in them! I was so excited. Well, it wasn't actually the word 'wank', but it looked like it because of the abstraction of it all, if you see what I mean.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Great Fun

I just finished Jack Torrance's All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy (edited by Phil Buehler), a book whose title sums up most of the content of its pages. It was great fun and an absolutely addictive read. There are plenty of SPOILERS here, so turn away now if you're planning on reading it and want to be surprised.

It has been described as a novel, which is true in a conceptual sense only. It's a novel in that it tells the story of fictional character Jack Torrance's struggle in writing the book he is working on in Stanley Kubrick's 1980 triumph The Shining. However, if you are looking at the book as written by Phil Beuhler, then it's not really a novel, it's more of a collection of conceptual poetry. It's up to the reader as to whether you want to believe it's Jack's book, or be a 'spoilsport' and see it as a pen-name.

It's a brilliant thing to look at in the context of postmodernism. It reminded me quite a lot of David Markson's Reader's Block, another work that is largely plotless and inevitably draws the reader to the process of writing (one of my 'favourite bits' about postmodernism when it's done well, a sublimation of the tackiness of the epistolic form of the long eighteenth century etc). Taking Matthew Belinkie's concern of "how difficult it must have been to write" into consideration, the overlapping text, spiralling text, circle-shaped text and others scream out a kind of frenetic energy that is very seductive. In The Shining (was it a film or a documentary?), Jack writes on a typewriter which makes the process a lot harder than modern word processing techniques. Imagining him twisting the paper round in the machine presents a strange (possibly haunting, perhaps chilling) image of the writer at work.

Also on the topic of typewriters, mistakes intentionally feature in the narrative (whether poetry or novel, there is narrative here). They form cadences and patterns, so much so that, for example, you expect "All work and no play makes Jack a dull bot" to follow "All work and no plaay makes Jack a dull bog." It's all very well treating the work as visual poetry (in fact, the overlapping text on some pages makes such a dense mess that reading it is genuinely impossible), but if you don't treat it as a novel and read it through 'properly' (i.e. word for word) you miss out. The effects are very subtle, and I for one don't pretend to be clever enough to understand them, but I have garnered meaning from them, and have enjoyed it. When 'bot' doesn't follow 'bog' on the end of the line, it has a similar effect to any work made of 'conventional' sentences (not sure how to explain what I mean! I'm tempted to say it'd be conventional if it was made of different sentences, but the whole point I'm making is that Jack's novel isn't just made up of the words 'all', 'work', 'and', 'no', 'play', 'makes', 'Jack', 'a', 'dull' and 'boy'. With typos, there's also 'mmakes', 'dullboy' and 'NO', amongst others). My capacity for explanation is insufficient, it really does need to be read to be believed.

It really is a delight. Very amusing indeed and highly entertaining. Again, coming back to the spiral page, the act of turning the book through 2070° is just so unusual. My mum, sat next to me, must've thought I'd gone mad. I think the next step would be, like the parody of The Shining on The Simpsons, to put the text in a physical space that is fixed (i.e. unable to be manually controlled), so that in the instance of the spiral format, one would have to explore it using 'bigger actions' like twirling round on the spot (seriously, imagine that much writing on the walls of a place, it'd be great. Even better than Lemn Sissay's 'Catching Numbers' which I enjoyed).

Anyways, I got the book from Blurb, check out their site if you want. I devoured it in no time and I think you'll love it if you have an interest in postmodernist literature or not. There are a number of other works based on the idea of Jack Torrance's writing, all you need to do is search 'all work and no play' on Amazon (the version I read, edited by Buehler, isn't available on Amazon by the way). I might well check them all out at some point, see what other 'editors' can do with Torrance's raw... insanity? Incidentally, some of the customer reviews of these things are hilarious, one person giving it one star because 'repeating the same sentence over and over doesn't make a book', the next person giving it five out of five because 'it's a work of unsurpassed literary genius'. Lol!

Peace out.