Who is the next Natsume Soseki? Scholarships and the Japanese people

This year is the 100th anniversary of the death of the Japanese novelist, Natsume Soseki.

Until recently he had been featured on the Japanese one-thousand yen banknote (about USD10). He had studied in London on government scholarship for two years from 1900. This month the Soseki Museum in London privately run by Ikuo Tsunematsu, a scholar, will close this month on September 28th.

1000_yen_Natsume_SosekiIn 1999 I came on a Japanese government scholarship to Japan to study Japanese Literature. There is nothing better than being given the opportunity to learn. I had always wondered why the Japanese government spent so much money on foreign exchange students like me but gave next to nothing to its own citizens. They should be giving out scholarships like they did during the Meiji Period (1868-1912) to people like Soseki. They should be making the next Soseki, Kafu and Ogai instead of doling out to others who may not stay in Japan, but they don’t. Japan really has a lot to lose by not nurturing its own talents.

Man vs. X … The language of literature

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Grant Snider has come up with another great comic summary of life. This time his attention is turned to literature and the concept of conflict within it at different stages of Western culture. Check out more of his work here.

Finnegans Wake, Joyces Wake, Me-s Wake

I finally found (and puchased) a copy of Joyce’s Finnegans Wake in one of my local bookstores. I had not want to purchase it online because book hunting is so much more fun.

In putting into my library database I had found even the LibraryThing community could get it wrong. The listing was

Finnegan’s Wake

which is not correct, of course.

The title is Finnegans Wake where multiple Finnegans wake up (evidenced by the loop from last sentence back to the first opening sentence), and not the wake of Finnegan. It is indistinguishable when pronounced much like difference and Derrida’s play on words differance.

Exposure to Language

“Reading is more important than writing.”

— Roberto Bolaño

Without exposure to a language one will never master it. That exposure can come in many forms but the best form is culture. Culture and language are essentially the same thing. There will be no language if there is no culture the opposite is also true. So to understand a language, its nuances, meaning and usage one needs to be in contact with the very space of it. Otherwise it will ring false, be inauthentic.

Tie Fighters and cultural unconsciousness

tie_fighterI spend a lot of time thinking about language, even when buying presents for my kids.

This year I got the Lego Tie Fighter for my son (deep down the toy is for me but I believe we have kids so that we can continue our childhood into adulthood).

For most of my life I have thought why George Lucas and his cohorts should decide to call it the Tie Fighter instead of the H-wing Fighter. Afterall, the rebel fighter is called the X-wing Fighter because of its shape.

My conclusion is this: the H-wing Fighter just doesn’t sound good. There is nothing unconventional about the letter ‘H’ (X is such a rarely used letter it makes it sound mysterious). But the question is why ‘Tie’? My theory is that is looks like a bow tie and a Bow Tie Fighter will not cut it either. So the shortened form Tie Fighter sounds cool even though it has nothing to do with its function.

If this be the case then the name betrays its twentieth century roots. I mean I don’t see Darth Vader, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Luke Skywalker or Yoda sporting one in any scene.

In short, in the very distant future in galaxies far far away bow ties are out.

Our Fictions

Why are we — as a species — so hopelessly addicted to narratives about the fake struggles of pretend people?

Good question.

We are a strange species. Our access to the thoughts of others has given us morality. It gives us society as we know it. Without this ability we would not be much more than just another animal. Stories are a way to access other people’s thoughts. In this sense we should be careful about what and how we read.

Literature, second language, authenticity, passion

I have fond memories of my undergraduate days as a Japanese major.

To me they were exciting times. The world was seemingly spinning at a furious pace. The people I met were doing things, going places. My future was ahead of me.

My future now, of course, is still ahead of me (metaphorically, can it be nothing other than ‘ahead’). But it is different, still exciting, perhaps a little more focused and a little less uncertain. Twenty years down the road and I have made more progress (alas! a little slower than I would have liked) towards my goal as an academic. Continue reading