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Spoilers

Introduction to Harry Potter and the Deathly HallowsHarry Potter and the Deathly Hallows opens, or more accurately is preceded, by two poems. The Libation Bearers by Aeschylus, and More Fruits of Solitude by William Penn.
The Libation Bearers Oh, the torment bred in the race, the grinding scream of death and the stroke that hits the vein, the haemorrhage none can staunch, the grief, the curse no man can bear. But there is a cure in the house and not outside it, no, not from others but from them, their bloody strife. We sing to you, dark gods beneath the earth. Now hear, you blissful powers underground— answer the call, send help. Bless the children, give them triumph now. —Aeschylus More Fruits of Solitude Death is but crossing the world, as friends do the seas; they live in one another still. For they must needs be present, that love and live in that whch is omnipresent. In this divine glass they see face to face; and their converse is free, as well as pure. This is the comfort of friends, that though they may be said to die, yet their friendship and society are, in the best sense, ever present, because immortal. —William Penn (read the full poem at PoetSeers.org)
I think that tells us more than enough about this final instalment in the Harry Potter series... Anyone doubting J.K. Rowling is a real, or serious author, should put that poorly titled book away right now. Any author who can quote Aeschylus, let alone has even heard of William Penn (one of the founders of Quakerism and namesake for the state of Pennsylvania), is worth all the pounds in the Bank of England. I must say I am tiring of prose somewhat—the writing of it that is—for tiring of its reading would be a strange thing to say indeed, 607 pages of The Deathly Hallows still to be turned. Prose is so precise, and therefore so unimaginative. You can joyfully throw precision out the window with poetry—although in the reading that is, definitely not in the writing, which requires an act of concentration at least deeper, if not stronger than in prose. With poetry you can let your imagination paint the words, and the lines in between. I have been writing prose almost non-stop for a year now—the first substantive piece of writing in my entire life (Airport Anxiety) written a year ago during a visit to Japan, and am starting to tire of it’s up and down, black and white limitations; it’s tendency towards haranguing and shouting, as compared to poetry’s soft whispers, varied meanings. Perhaps this is why I had a recent piece of writing declined for publication (Miracles out of Mountains out of Molehills); the editor said obliquely, and not completely helpfully, that he preferred my more simple, straightforward stories. Not so simply, I am growing tired of words in a straight line, trying my best to break them apart gracefully. There will probably be some dreadful experiments to come. I wrote my first poem in about a decade earlier this week—a rush of emotion-bourne words born upon listening to a song, and staring, at the same time, dream-like into a photograph. I then, by habit now an unrestrained shaper of prose, began to prune and rewrite, to my later regret. It will now probably not see the light of day. Ever the melodramatist, I dare saw I am really only a little tired of prose. No doubt, to either benefit or regret, I have thousands of words inside me left. And thousands more to read in The Deathly Hallows. I still haven’t made it past the opening poems...

Going Potty for Harry Potter

Harry Potter movie stillAs I write, the seventh and final Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, has just gone on sale. Here in New Zealand, readers are queuing in the mid-winter, mid-morning rain, while in Potter’s birthplace the young and often not so are lining for their copies at midnight. No matter where it is bought, or read, I suspect all will be up the following night reading—if the non-stop, reading-marathon intentions of one fourteen year old acquaintance are anything to go by. I will be buying my own copy shortly, avoiding queues but paying a few dollars more at a reputable small bookstore rather than loss-leading chain, because I am difficult that way. I can afford to be so precious. A friend who can likewise afford to buy The Deathly Hallows at whatever cost is not going to—he just called to request first place in a fast-forming queue for my own. While J.K. Rowling—or publisher Bloomsbury as well for that matter—definitely do not need his money, neither in truth does he—and in a fit of self-righteous indignation at his Scrooge-like spirit, on a day that for many is akin to Christmas, I will be lending The Deathly Hallows first to another, a friend and family who can only afford one copy. Although 47 years old, I suspect my friend will be reading book borrowed before two desperate daughters. Harry PotterI came to Potter later than most—the week before book four, The Goblet of Fire was first released. Harry had somehow passed me by—on a broomstick perhaps—and an argument could be made that this self-created, purveyor of “high art” resented jumping on a bandwagon not his own. Whatever the reasoning I soon made up for lost time, lost an entire week to Potter-mania in fact. Book one, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was bought on a Monday; a day and sleepless night later I was back for the second and third instalments; by the end of the week—sleep deprived but thoroughly entertained—purchased the fourth on first day of release, devoured it in a single sitting on barely noticed intercontinental plane ride. As much for my own benefit as for anyone else, and by way of jogging out of shape, at times “potty” memory, here is a quick recap of the books to date, my read-just-a-single-time fleeting impressions, and several predictions for the final book soon to be acquired.
  • Favourite book to date Book five: The Order of the Phoenix. Aside from the brooding, introspective first two hundred pages, this is my favourite book of all—albeit followed closely by The Prisoner of Azkaban, The Chamber of Secrets and The Philospher’s Stone in that order. My least favourite was the most recent: The Half-Blood Prince; which to this occasional literary critic appeared narrative and enjoyment constrained—too transparent, perhaps necessary plot machinations to set up a series finale; major plot workings clunking away at the expense of telling a story. Like millions of distraught readers, I resented the beloved Dumbledore dying in this book—admittedly a twist I didn’t see coming—but will claim some after-the-fact prescience on the “Is Snape evil or really evil?” revelation—Rowling had been signaling this change of allegiance since the beginning of book one, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
  • Favourite character It’s a toss up between Ron and Hermione—the latter is always the most interesting, not to mention most intelligent; the former—along with assorted siblings always the funniest. It is in many ways a shame neither were raised with a fortunate lightening shaped scar.
  • Least favourite character Harry. Really—if Harry is still brooding and being a boring teenager in The Deathly Hallows I may just start skipping pages. Get over yourself Harry—grow a backbone along with a few more inches, or I’ll soon be cheering for (heaven forbid) Draco Malfoy. Funnily enough, and I know I’m quite the snob, mine is the firm opinion that Harry’s screen alter ego, Daniel Radcliffe, can’t act his way out of a paper bag.
  • Predictions Rowling has revealed two major characters will die in The Deathly Hallows. I doubt one will be Harry—even though it would be the most shocking ending in all of literature since novelist Yukio Mishima fell upon his own samurai sword. Harry dying would also for the majority of readers be more than unsatisfying, and I do not get the feeling J.K.Rowling, unlike Mishima, is a literary sadist—or intent on ruining the childhood of millions. Snape is a definite option for death however—and you just know he has it coming. Likewise He Who Can’t Be Named—how can the series possibly end without a kill or be killed, good versus evil, mother of all showdowns? At longer odds for untimely character assassination are Ron or Hermione—major, beloved characters, but each in the end narratively dispensable.
Predications now aside, I beg to be excused. I have a book to go and buy.

Through the Google Glass

hepi-ichikoIt is a constant joy, near form of poetry to read the search engine phrases that, month after month, click after click deliver readers to this site. Like absolute strangers on a train, mundane queries like“sensitivitytothings.com” and“really good writing that I will bookmark and read every day” sit alongside absolute gems—pennies from internet heaven too precious to ignore: “canada state electronic flash churches,” “delusions electricity sensitivity” and “i afraid of three things.” Admittedly one of those phrases might be made up... My site statistics tell me the most visited post on this site is the deliberately surreal, first exploration of search engine serendipity, Follow the Rainbow, a post inspired by one vistor’s mind-blowing, reality confounding search phrase,“Seeing a rainbow in your living room means what?,” which to consider the irrational rational, abandon serendipity for cause and effect was one assumes ipso facto attracted to these pages by Sri Chinmoy’s intriguing explanation of the spiritual significance of rainbows. The cause, rather than destination of this seeker’s query however is a matter for speculation—but I hesitate to ask for a serving of what they are having. I can’t say with certainty why other people enjoyed Follow the Rainbow, but for its author it was most enjoyable to write. An exercise in chance, serendipity and the random, it was written during something of a dry spell—inspiration, ability for anything structured or thought through lacking. So often the portrait of an artist as a procrastinator, I have literally dozens of pieces on the table at any one time, awaiting inspiration or moment of clarity for completion, sometimes comprehension; yet find it usually the unplanned, unstructured I enjoy most—probably the reason why so many remain unfinished. Like a fickle child, I am all too easily entranced by the latest shiny, flashing toy. Now hopelessly distracted, viewing and reviewing my search engine phrases once more, shall we follow the rainbow again? “john gillespie” john gillespie mageeTopping the list of Google queries, admittedly by margin smaller than people you can fit into an average car, is“John Gillespie.” Hmm, that name does sound familiar... Long in search of the true John Gillespie, I hope dear Google user you also found what you were looking for; but should you have been searching for the University of California biologist, failed Republican Congressional candidate from the year 2000, a London based actor, the Canadian hair transplant surgeon or artist from the nineteenth century, I’m little worried—it seems aside from the politician, my namesakes are all worthy of the seeking. Especially so John Gillespie Magee, Jr, whose all too brief 19 years crash-landed in a 1941 spitfire accident over Roxholm, England, yet lives on in a poem said to be a favourite amongst astronauts and aviators, quoted by a US President following the Challenger Shuttle disaster:
High Flight Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings; Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds, —and done a hundred things You have not dreamed of—wheeled and soared and swung High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there, I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung My eager craft through footless halls of air.... Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace Where never lark nor even eagle flew— And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod The high untrespassed sanctity of space, Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
This John Gillespie would almost bargain a fiery, cockpit leaping death to have written that...

Kokoro No Tomo (bosom friend)

Yukio Mishima and Donald KeeneEighty-five years old next week, Donald Keene is a man described as having done more for Japanese literature and culture than anybody in the world. A former wartime translator, author of 25 books in English and 30 books in Japanese, he is Professor Emeritus of Japanese Literature at Columbia University and holder of eight honorary degrees. Serious credentials in anyone’s book. Yet despite eminent qualifications, I have to confess that it is only Donald Keene’s status as friend and translator of writer Yukio Mishima that piqued my interest in him. I doubt he would be offended—he is I am sure long resigned to being known for his connection to the most famous, perhaps infamous Japanese author of the twentieth century.
About midnight on the night of the incident, the telephone rang in my apartment in New York. The call was from a Yomiuri reporter in Washington. He informed me briefly what had taken place a few hours earlier in Tokyo and asked my impressions (kanso). I was too stunned to make a coherent reply. The telephone rang all night long, from many Japanese newspapers and magazines. Each asked the same question, and I gradually grew more articulate in my response, until I felt as if I were reciting lines from a play.
As is obvious from his output and recognition—the first non-Japanese to receive the Yomiuri Literary Prize and only the third non-Japanese person to be designated“an individual of distinguished cultural service” by the Japanese government—Keene is a fine writer in his own right, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading the following account of an attempt to rewrite Mishima’s modern No plays for their first ever staging outside of Japan:
The producers were unsuccessful in raising the money, with or without strings. They decided that the problem was that the three modern No plays they had chosen for a program were too similar in tone, and suggested to Mishima that he write a modern Kyogen to be played in between“Aoi no Ue” and “Sotoba Komachi.” Mishima was aware of the difficulty of preserving in a modern adaptation the humor of Kyogen, which depends so heavily on exaggerated gestures and inflexions of speech. He decided nevertheless that it might be possible to make a modern version of “Hanago,” with the daimyo of the original changed into an industrialist and Tarokaja into a butler. The Zen meditation scene could be rewritten as yoga, then popular in New York. Finally, knowing of my special interest in Kyogen, he asked me to write the“kindai kyogen.” He recognized that certain passages in the original, quite normal expression in medieval Japan, would not be tolerated in a modern play. For example, when the master threatens to kill Tarokaja if he does not obey his command, this would not seem comic to a modern audience. On the other hand, Mishima thought that when the daimyo's wife threatens to beat Tarokaja if he does not reveal why he was sitting in meditation, this was amusing and could be retained. Even today a woman carried away by anger might say the same. Mishima gave various other tips, but I was unable, even with great effort, to do what Mishima always did so easily. I tried everything, even making it a comedy in the manner of Moliere and giving the characters Greek names. Nothing worked. I confessed my failure to Mishima, who thereupon bought a notebook of the kind American junior-high school students use and wrote a modern Kyogen, based not on“Hanago” but“Busu.” He dashed off the manuscript at full speed, changing hardly a word. The producers attempted to find backers with the new combination of two modern No and a modern Kyogen, but they still had no success. This time they decided that the problem was that Americans did not like one-act plays. They asked Mishima to rewrite three of his modern No plays as a single play. I thought this was virtually impossible, even for Mishima. The plays have entirely different characters and atmosphere. How could he join them into a single play? But Mishima was so desirous of seeing the plays performed in New York that he did the impossible: he made one play of the three plays. He gave the new play an English title with a double meaning—“Long After Love.”
One of only three people to receive a personally addressed farewell letter from Mishima, Keene is frustratingly reticent in his recollections of his friend of sixteen years, and understandably defensive. He describes himself as not a“kokoro no tomo” (bosom friend) of the writer, who from the outset of their friendship made it clear that he did not desire what he called“sticky” relations—the sharing of vulnerabilities or emotions.
We did not share secrets or ask each other for advice. We enjoyed meeting and conversing, whether about literature, the state of the world, or mutual acquaintances. It was also a working friendship. I translated not only Mishima’s serious works of fiction and plays but also amusing essays he wrote for American magazines. Our relations were always rather formal. This was mainly my doing. He once asked that we drop polite language and talk in the informal manner of old friends, but I found this difficult and somehow unnatural. I did not grow up in Japan and had never talked Japanese to my family or to classmates. Calling Mishima kun instead of san would not have made me feel any closer, and might have sounded affected. Mishima, noticing that I did not respond to his request, never again asked me to speak more informally. Although we were unquestionably friends, his politeness was unfailing and extended to every aspect of our relationship. He was my only Japanese friend who always answered letters promptly. He was never late for an appointment. When he invited me to dinner, it was invariably to a fine restaurant, even though I often suggested we eat in less expensive places. His conversation gave me greater pleasure than any meal. While eating, we laughed a great deal. Sometimes his laugh rang out so loudly that other diners in the restaurant turned in our direction. Yoshida Kenichi once said that Mishima laughed with his mouth, but not with his eyes. Perhaps this was true, but sincere or not, Mishima’s laughter was infectious. In the summer of 1970 Mishima invited me to Shimoda where he was accustomed to spend August with his family. He normally worked on his writings every day from midnight to six, slept from six to two, then went to kendo practice or to some gathering until it was time to return home and start writing. He spent little time with his children, but he made up for the neglect by devoting to them the month of August. I almost cancelled my trip to Shimoda because of a painful attack of gikkuri-goshi (slipped disk), but I was instinctively certain that Mishima had planned every moment of my stay in Shimoda from arrival to departure and I could not bear to upset his plans. On the train I debated whether or not to mention my gikkuri-goshi, but when I saw him on the platform, sunburned and cheerful, I decided I would act like a samurai and keep the pain to myself. We had lunch at a sushi-ya. Mishima ordered only chu toro. Afterwards, I was able to guess the reason: he had no time to waste on lesser fish. That evening we were joined by the journalist Henry Scott Stokes who later wrote a book about Mishima. Mishima took us to a restaurant where lobsters were served out of season. He ordered five dinners for the three of us. When the five dinners appeared, he ordered two more, not satisfied with the quantity. I thought this was peculiar, but no doubt he wanted to be sure we would have our fill of lobster at our last meal together. The next day Mishima and I went to the hotel pool. He did not enter the water, but he was pleased to display his muscular body. We talked about his tetralogy“The Sea of Fertility” that was approaching completion. He said he had put into the work everything he had learned as a writer, adding with a laugh that the only thing left was to die. I laughed too, but I must have sensed something was wrong. Violating our pledge not to discuss“sticky” matters, I asked, "If something is troubling you, why not tell me?" He averted his glance and said nothing. But he knew that three months later he would be dead.
I’m going through something of an extended, on again off again Mishima phase at the moment—an interest encouraged by his sensitivity, aesthetics, effortless writing ability and preference for action over ideas; utterly discouraged by his fascination come obsession with violence—if read literally. Yet in reading about Yukio Mishima I have inadvertently discovered Donald Keene—writer of some of the most lucid, insightful commentaries in existence on his tragically flawed friend, but much more than that as well. Keene’s fascinating essays on Mishima form only a small part of Chronicles of My Life in the 20th Century, a series of forty-eight, serialised installments written just last year; each well worth reading aside from their compelling insights into a most famous author.
I have often regretted that I haven't kept a diary. A diary would surely help me to recapture much of the past. But perhaps it is just as well to have forgotten so much. If I remembered everything, I would recall things that frightened me when I was a small child, teachers I disliked at school, friends who I thought had betrayed me, people I loved who did not love me. No, it is probably better not to try to remember. I hope that this chronicle, for all its deficiencies, has at least suggested how one human being spent an essentially happy life.
The following is one of my very favourite passages, admittedly from only a very small sampling of Chronicles of My Life in the 20th Century, yet more than adequate representation of the author’s life-long pacifism and love of Japan—either of which are enough to make me his kokoro no tomo, and unabashed fan:
One day I noticed a large wooden box containing captured documents. The documents gave off a faint, unpleasant odor. I was told that the little notebooks were diaries taken from the bodies of dead Japanese soldiers or found floating in the sea. The odor came from the bloodstains. I felt squeamish about touching the little books but, carefully selecting one that seemed free of bloodstains, I began to translate it. At first I had trouble reading the handwriting, but the diaries, unlike the printed or mimeographed documents I previously had translated, were at times almost unbearably moving, recording the suffering of a soldier in his last days. Members of the American armed forces were forbidden to keep diaries, lest they reveal strategic information to whoever found them; but Japanese soldiers and sailors were issued with diaries each New Year and were expected to write down their thoughts each day. They were aware that they might be required to show their diaries to a superior, to make sure the writer's sentiments were correct, so they filled their pages with patriotic slogans as long as they were still in Japan. But when the ship next to the diarist's was sunk by an enemy submarine or when the diarist, somewhere in the South Pacific, was alone and suffering from malaria, there was no element of deceit. He wrote what he really felt. Sometimes the last page of a Japanese soldier's diary contained a message in English, asking the American who found the diary to return it to his family after the war. I hid such diaries, though it was forbidden, intending to return the diaries to the diarist's family, but my desk was searched and the diaries were confiscated. This was a great disappointment. The first Japanese I ever really knew were the writers of the diaries, though they were all dead by the time I met them.

Related Posts

So he goes

Kurt Vonnegut died several days ago. I was planning to write something in commemoration, and have been staring at a New York Times Books section obituary-commemoration piece for several days now to this effect, but the shameful truth is I have never actually read one of his books, and thus am poorly qualified. There is a list, a long list of things I must do before I too pass on, and reading Kurt Vonnegut has been added to it, but until that time there are many people far more qualified to comment and commemorate—people who have not only read this great modern American author but have actually met him, including writer Dennis Perrin of Red State Son (“Beneath These Hideous Screams Lies A Love Supreme”)—his subtitle alone makes him deserving of further investigation. Along with the trackback, sense of being informed by association and a new appreciation for a writer I haven't read, I will also steal a YouTube video link from Dennis’s site, and the assertion that Kurt Vonnegut was an atheist who believed that instead of the Ten Commandments, public buildings and courtrooms should display the Sermon on the Mount, surely reason enough to display same here:
The Beatitudes from The Sermon on the Mount “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven; for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.”
Related links You can also read an account of Kurt Vonnegut’s last public speech here.

Writing Peaks

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C9kejvxRokg Sensitivitytothings.com hit the big time recently, or at least its author thinks so, his review of David Lynch’s Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness and Creativity being published by blogcritics.org, and from there syndicated to outer space, or at least anywhere under roof, stars and internet connectivity. David LynchI may be highly susceptible to faint praise, but am wearing proudly two comments posted by blogcritics editors G.L. Hauptfleisch and Natalie Bennett, who commended my first submission as “Nice review, well expressed” and “This article has been selected for syndication to Advance.net, which is affiliated with newspapers around the United States. Nice work!” respectively. Thanks for that—I do appreciate being appreciated. You can of course still read the review here, but I’ll forgive you if you want to read it there: Now that I mention it, it seems I have an excuse to post another clip from David Lynch’s alternatively sublime, alternately surreal Twin Peaks, a rare moment of beginning of the 90’s television lucidity so out of the ordinary it might not be entirely of this world...

Fishing with David Lynch

David Lynch's first film, Eraserhead (1977), a dark, disturbing and deeply surreal exploration of the directors own subconscious, was initially pronounced as un-releasable upon completion, but in short time became a cult classic and critical success, launching Lynch to the forefront of avant-garde film-making and earning him the favour of Stanley Kubrick, who proclaimed Eraserhead one of his all-time favourite films. lynch_catching_the_big_fish.jpgThirty years later David Lynch is still exploring the sub-conscious, and unusually for a notoriously private director who refuses to discuss the details of his plots or their meanings, has written a book about... himself. Not a traditional biography mind you, but a surreal, whimsical exploration of his own consciousness. His legion of fans would expect nothing less. In Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity, David Lynch puts aside his filmic quest to get inside the viewer’s head and lets them instead inside his, an invitation almost as rare as a ticket to fiction’s Wonka Chocolate Factory, and possibly just as out of this world.
“When I first heard about meditation I had zero interest in it, I wasn’t even curious. It sounded like a waste of time. What got me interested though was the phrase, ‘True happiness lies within.’ ”
So begins Catching the Big Fish, and from the very first page, as though entering a state of deep meditation, ordinary reality is left—along with one’s shoes—at the door. A practitioner of meditation for twenty minutes, two times a day, for over thirty years, Lynch invites the reader on a mind-altering journey, expounding upon his commitment to Transcendental Meditation and the powerful creative wellspring it has provided him in 85 alternatively light and lofty chapters, many in koan-like form. Citing his daily sessions of silence and inner happiness as essential to the creative process, one can only wonder what kind of films this director might have made otherwise—Academy Award nominated Blue Velvet (1986) among the most disturbing, unsettling films of all time. Catching the Big Fish is a blend of thoughts and themes, sometimes random like a stream of consciousness, or the analogy he personally prefers for creativity, casting a hook into a bottomless sea, and melds biography, film analysis, philosophy and spirituality with a heart on sleeve sincerity, narrating the author’s passion for charting the world of dreams and ideas and rendering them unto action. Few probably realise that this famously reclusive director is putting his own money into establishing meditation centres around the world, or that he has founded the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and Peace to further his meditative ideals. A little like a rare sighting of the Loch Ness Monster, any public appearance of one of the greatest American directors of modern cinema is compulsory viewing, or reading in this case, and whether or not you are ready to tread the same waters, Catching the Big Fish is worth at least a dip.