Fever dream

21 05 2017

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“Fever Dream” is the woozily disorienting, and quietly terrifying, English language debut by Argentinian author Samanta Schweblin. A five star read.





HK: visual culture

7 05 2017

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Above, works from Tokyo illustrator Saki Obata at Wanchai’s Odd One Out, and below, the dreamy hyper-colour-saturated Hong Kong of local illustrator  penguin lab.

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Philosophical

7 05 2017

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Men Without Women

6 05 2017

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It has been a depressing few weeks for gay rights, with an ongoing witchhunt in Chenchnya leading to the imprisonment, torture and murder of gay men while closer to home, an Indonesian university successfully banned any gay people from attending. But there is also hope, this week arriving in the form of an English translation for the lovely, heart warming comic “My Brother’s Husband,” aimed at educating a mainstream heterosexual (Japanese) audience on homosexuality.

You can order it here.

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Also out of Japan this week, though not at all gay-related (despite the titled) is Harumi Murakami’s latest!





Dispossessed

18 04 2017

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Ursula Le Guin is my favourite sci-fi writer. Her immaculately-constructed worlds echo the goals and ghosts of the 1970s – feminist worlds, planets riven by capitalist-Communist cold wars, anarchist moons, environmentalist Vietnam War parables set in outer space – works of speculative anthropology as well as fiction, imagining how things could be.  Her writing is immersive, brimming with rich details as well as fully realised characters. “The Dispossessed” tells the tale of twin planets Uras and Anarres, the latter an outcast society on a barren world which operates without laws or governments as a kind of whole-planet kibbutz, fiercely protective of its non-hierarchical way of life. On its parent planet meanwhile, the wealthy “West” and authoritarian “East” fight proxy wars in developing countries and governments seek to oppress liberty, whether in the rich countries or the poor ones. A visitor from the egalitarian moon of Anarres must decide how to engage with this world or if it is best to leave it all alone and hide in isolation.





Human

8 04 2017

I finally finished the thrilling “Sapiens: A History of Humanity”, a book bursting with strange facts and thought-provoking ideas. Among these: can we measure happiness? If not, how can we measure the success of civilisation? Are we happier than our forebears?

The author, Yuval Harari, answers that we may (or may not) be happier since we abandoned life as hunter gatherers, but when animals are taken into account since the advent of the agricultural revolution, the sum of unhappiness on our planet is greater than ever before. Does that make it a failure?

Elsewhere, he ponders immortality, positing a belief in our finite existence as cultural and religious rather than biological. Scientists have shown our body is made up of thousands of systems which could potentially fail, causing death. But one by one, we have made huge progress in finding these “fixes”. What really is standing in the way of us, one day, soon, finding the final solutions to all of them?

Harari argues powerfully that “progress” – a belief in the ability to make life better – is a concept not shared by all cultures, but one which now powers the modern world (generally for the better).

And along the way he throws in some tantalising historical factoids and perspectives; one is that our Earth was once home to hundreds of “worlds” – human communities who believed themselves alone and unique on the planet, whereas over thousands of years we have inexorably become linked together into one giant Earth-sized “world”.

He wonders what would have happened had Manichaeism, an extinct religion which once flourished from China to North Africa, beaten Christianity to become the new favourite of Rome two thousands years ago. How would this have influenced human thought and morality?

And he relays the fact that aluminium, now used to wrap sandwiches, was once one of the most expensive substances on Earth and that at one infamous banquet Napoleon and his guests of honor ate with aluminium utensils while the second-rank guests were forced to make do with forks and knives of pure gold.

A lot to learn, and a lot to think about.





Cavemen and Kristen Stewart

27 03 2017

My twin obsessions this week, oddly, were Kristen Stewart in the strangely luminous “Clouds of Sils-Maria” and prehistoric man, courtesy of the surprise hit book “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.”

My curiosity for Olivier Assayas’s “Clouds of…” was piqued by the rave reviews for his upcoming “Personal Shopper” (for which I had snagged tickets at the Hong Kong International Film Festival) and which also starred his (rather unlikely) new muse, Kristen Stewart.

The formerly much-derided Twilight star has been amassing accolades. I have seen her variously described as “the greatest actress of her generation” and “a star for our times.” I didn’t get it. What was the buzz about? But halfway through this movie, which I had originally found slight and rather dull before it totally sucked me in, I twigged. Stewart is a naturalistic actress par excellence. She doesn’t look like she is acting. So at first I took her for granted – where were the virtuoso emoting I associated with “great acting”? Where was the transformation?  She looked like she always does, shaggy dark hair, stumbling over her words, willowy frame in clothed in grungy lesbian-chic. But then I realised that despite that, this character isn’t HER. She is a multimillionaire, not Julian Binoche’s ambitious assistant in the Alps, and the fact that I had forgotten that shows what a great performance it was.

“Sapiens” was also something of a revelation. The book, by Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari, traces humanity from its origins to the present day. Powerfully written, Yuval kicks off with the sensational reminder that although today there is only one human species, used to thinking of itself as the pinnacle of all evolution, we know that once we shared the world with at least six other human “species” – the homo erectus and Cave of the Red Deer people in China, the dwarf-like homo floresiensis of Nusa Tenggara, the Denisovans in Sibeia. the neaderthals in Europe…. The book claims that humanity’s “original sin” was perhaps the genocide of our brothers and sisters, leaving us alone as the sole surviving humans on the planet.