Thursday, December 14, 2017

Inuyasha and the Feudal Period

A blast from my middle school past, Inuyasha, defined a young me.
Back in my adolescence, I, like many young males, loved Anime.

Okay, honestly, I didn't so much "love it" as I enjoyed watching it-- I wasn't exactly what you would call an "otaku"; at the time, the plots seemed so deep and mature and the music-- all of which I couldn't understand-- seemed profound in its quasi-existentialist sensation. For a while, then, one of my favorite shows was Inuyasha, a program about a high school girl who falls into an ancient well on her family's property and is transported to the feudal era.

Thinking back to the show now, I am struck at the plain historicism.

Although the viewer is never told the specific date of the feudal period, as far as I am aware, the feudal period itself is unremarkable all the same. In all the episodes and films, hardly anything is made of the feudal period; since most of the time, our young protagonist is able to freely crisscross the time-periods, the show never ventured into the territory of what would happen if a modern girl had to live in a pre-modern world.

Peasants live in shaggy huts; folklore inspired monsters roam the lands, and life is generally simply bleh. Under siege by demons and an acute lack of technology does not make the period a very fun place. So, while the show reinforces the blasé "the medieval period was all around terrible" cliché, it also relies heavily on the Twain-esque technique of churning out plot by relying on the good old "what would happen if this [modern item] was introduced to the feudal period?" line of thinking.

I am not an expert of Japan's feudal period. Strictly speaking, I am not even sure if this period is what we would even call "medieval" since there is some debate to that term when applied internationally. All the same, though, I feel that the show could have drawn more from the feudal period; for all the episodes and sub-plots, most of the content boils down to travel here, sight this demon, encounter the antagonist, rinse and repeat. Along the way you see the kind of architecture one would expect, but nothing in the way of concrete feudal history. It feels lacking; it feels like being in an amusement park where every ride is the same except for minor variations.

Maybe I am not giving it a fair shake. I admit that it has been years since the last time I seriously considered or even watched an episode. Maybe the show actually has a deep connection to the feudal past of Japanese society and I, in my distance and ignorance, have merely overlooked it.

All the same, though, right now, at this moment of ignorance, I appreciate the fun the show gave me when I was young, but now see it has some striking limitations.

(Have you watched Inuyasha? Do you know about the Japanese feudal period? Please, comment below and share any thoughts you have on it with me and see what we can parse out together!)

Monday, December 11, 2017

Let's Read: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (Ch.26)

You may remember a few chapters back that Protag-Man was going to travel incognito and live among the people to gauge their life. You only may remember it because it hasn’t happened yet. Sad to say that it won’t happen in this chapter either. More diversions. Though, Arthur is certainly struck with the idea. So, that’s something, at least.

“There was a very good layout for the king’s-evil business—very tidy and credible. The king sat under a canopy of state; about him were clustered a large body of clergy in full canonicals. Conspicuous, both for location and personal outfit, stood Marinel, a hermit of the quack-doctor species, to introduce the sick” (205).

                So, this segment of the book is all about how every so often, the king holds this ceremony to heal the sick; what’s remarkable about this is that the sick really do get healed, though it is presumed to be through placebo than divine miracle.

                Lots of meditation in this chapter: in this part, the meditation is on how the king stops being king essentially when he is unable to cure the sick. This part, then, is just a rumination on how Protag-Man sees the healthcare system of the early medieval period (though, again, this is a period which is temporally disjointed as stone castles exist and those definitely didn’t exist in the early middle ages). I guess it is interesting but not really noteworthy, not enough to ponder.

                Why is this described as the king’s “evil business”, though? Like, that doesn’t make any sense. They are calling on God’s divine power to heal, so why would it be evil? Are they referring to the sickness?

“So I had privately concluded to touch the treasury itself for the king’s evil” (206).

                At these healing events, the king hands out coin necklaces worth about a quarter of a dollar. It has to do with how the patients are healed. Sounds pagan, which is pretty cool, as it hints at history where many Anglo-Saxon pagans actually had a fusion of traditional paganism and Christianity.

                Protag-Man, then, does some fancy-swanky calculations to make it so the king saves money while handing out these gifts. It amounts to creating nickels and allowing the currency to be inflated a bit; this doesn’t have an adverse effect, though, because the monetary gifts handed out here are not going to be spent. So, it balances out.

“[Taxes were] exactly distributed among them (the population) that the annual cost to the 100-millionaire and the annual cost to the sucking child of the day-laborer was practically the same—each paid $6” (207).

                Though it is progressive by today’s standards, which means that Twain is referencing a king of social-democratic reformism, it still sounds like the day-laborer is getting the short end of the stick. When a damn millionaire only has to pay six bucks in taxes while the struggling worker must pay exactly the same, you know who the system works for—the capitalists.


                The plot gets back to the healing hoedown. Protag-Man gets bored and looks out the window. There, he sees a boy selling the first newspapers. He buys one and shows it to the priests to liven things up. Obviously, the priests are weary but bewildered and Protag-Man is in heaven since he is basking in the glory of introducing technology to the savage. Really, not much more than that happens. He acknowledges that journalism needs to improve then the chapter ends.

                And so, part five concludes. Finally.

                I’m going to be honest: it is getting tedious to read this book. You’ve probably noticed this with how I am been being curt and skimming content, reducing commentary to the most relevant. I’m just getting bored with how the novel is written. Even though it was fun and lively at first, the basic formula is starting to wear on me; it amounts to Protag-Man being smug and full of himself, introducing technology, having people marvel at that technology, while every once in a while, having to defend his position or go on a quest. It’s been predictable and not really that entertaining to comment on.

                That is why I am taking a break from entries in this Let’s Read series.

                I’ve decided to return to The Once and Future King Let’s Read. It has been a long time since I did anything in that series and I think it is high time that I return to it. I will return to Twain’s text; when I do, I will likely cover multiple chapters at once in an effort to excavate the text and make each entry more lively. But, for now, I am pleased to return to White’s grand story.

                See you soon!

Friday, December 8, 2017

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (Second Impression)

It has now been just over a year since I first read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

Though much has changed in that time, not the least bit the number and focus of projects, as well as my own specific niche in medievalism, some things have remained unchanged; one such thing is my appreciation for this story.

Gawain's story remains rich and detailed. After all, this was what led me to initially begin work on Enchanted Assemblages. As my first readers will know, originally, Assemblages was to be an adaptation of Sir Gawain, not this original story-line encompassing several texts. So, what, if anything, has been revealed to me in these subsequent readings? Have I gleamed anything worthwhile?

I'm not going to claim anything profound. Meaning, I'm not exactly on pins and needles with a breakthrough concerning the text's alleged mathematical structure. But I have perceived the malleable nature of the narrative.

During my time with Gawain, what I noticed about the text was how well it lent itself to adaptation. As I brainstormed projects of possibility, ways to engage the text, my findings were that whether I had planned to Adapt Gawain into a screenplay for a teen drama or into an interactive Click Adventure, the story still worked. Well, I might add.

I could go into the numerous figures in literary theory who have postulated on mythos, semiotics, and narrative building blocks, but I won't because I don't want to bore you. But, the reality I found during my pontification of the text was that it simply worked in a wide variety of genres; the Green Knight could easily be translated into any number of adversarial figures while Gawain the typical hero or lone wolf; Gawain's sojourn in the castle? Well, that easily lends itself to a comedy, complete, even, with Queer hilarity on linguistic misunderstanding. I could go on but I don't want this post to be overly detailed (perhaps later I will share a more detailed explanation). The point is, Gawain's narratological building blocks easily morph into any number of contemporary events, scenarios, and archetypes. And because of this, it takes my breath away.

That's pretty much it. I haven't thoroughly studied Gawain so I can't really say much more. I've read the footnotes, re-read the plot, and found the flexibility of the narrative itself, but haven't yet launched into an academic reading of the text where I engage with scholarship. I will save that for another day.

In the meantime, though, Gawain continues to excite me and someday, I will perhaps pay homage to this text; creative project, paper, dissertation? Who knows.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Let's Read: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (Ch.25)

After the rival had been dealt with, Protag-Man moves forward to discuss boring matters with King Arthur. Meaning, grants.

“When the king traveled for change of air, or made progress, or visited a distant noble whom he wished to bankrupt with the cost of his keep, part of the administration moved with him” (192).

                I like this because it is historically accurate and a nice bit of attention to details. It also manages to preface the oncoming critique of wealth concentration.

                But most of the chapter is benign. Though there is a rousing nice condemnation of the aristocracy and the comparison of them to slaveholding, this is nothing we haven’t seen before. Delivered in a section ranting about Arthur’s legal decisions, it is a radical republican position in an age of racist democrats. Nothing unique to it, then.

                After a long rant on the nature of democracy in relation to classes—again, nothing we haven’t seen before—Protag-Man pontificates upon how to form a better standing army. Essentially, his idea is to concentrate more power in his hands by forming a new system of military rank where the nobles are given free reign but lack control and where the commoners do the heavy lifting; it is more complex than this but the idea, I think, is to essentially distract the nobles by appealing to their egos while a more equitable republic is gradually born. It seems audacious but whatever, little different from the other things we have seen.

                Really, nothing much else happens in this chapter than that. It is long and drawn out but other than a bunch of gabbing about Arthur’s stubbornness, nothing much comes of it.
I guess this edition was less a "let's read" and more a summery. Better luck next time!

Saturday, December 2, 2017

"The General Prolouge" and "The Physician's Tale" Audiobook Review

Everyone knows Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales.

Students of all ages, professors, historians, and more all have endeared and studied this novel of pilgrims one-upping each other in a tale-telling contest. Obviously, numerous audiobooks for it exist. Because it is a public domain text, everyone who thinks they have a voice worth hearing has made their recordings of this classic tale.

But sometimes you want something more than mere amateurs. Sometimes you want a professional-- this is where this Naxos edition comes in!

With every word and line measured and carefully rehearsed, the Naxos edition is well worth the price tag. Hearing the beautiful lines carefully enunciated will give raise to passions of textual appreciation previously unthought-of of while listening to the screeching of low-budget productions.

But, the real draw here is the dual nature of this edition: although Michael Maloney's recitation of the modern verse translation is well built, the true draw here is Richard Bebb recording done entirely in middle English.

This middle English recording is particularly useful if you are a student of middle English and would like a phonetic guide, a short indication that your own pronunciations are on the right track. Other than that, the middle English rendition is great for connecting to one's past and hearing that past come to life in an all too literal manner; to think that you can hear Tales spoken as Chaucer himself might have recited them is truly hair-razing.

Now, it should be mentioned that this CD only covers two of the tales: The General Prologue and The Physician's Tale. Both are recorded in modern and middle English, so though you need to be mindful of the translation you use if you wish to follow along in a book, you are not going to get the entire novel recorded from this single product.

As I said before, though, the expertise behind this audiobook-- Derek Brewer-- make the entry point well managed in my opinion; it is reliable, academically sound, and educational if you need it to be, but it is also fun and easy going if you simply want the modern translation. All in all, though it may be hard on the wallet, this dual-translation edition should be in any medievalist's collection.

CD1: 1:76:17
CD2: 2:62: 12
Total: 2:18:29
Product Link:

Note: you may be able to find a CD copy on Amazon as that is where I found my own hardback version.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Let's Read: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (Ch.24)

Riding on high from his stunt with the well, Protag-Man decides to tackle a new project.

“According to history, the monks of this place two centuries before had been worldly minded enough to want to wash” (180).

                As readers will remember, the last time a bath was built the well ran dry due to improper engineering defects. This time, though, with Protag-Man’s colonialist smarts, the well can provide for the bath without sin effecting the cast. Cool beans.

“In two days we had it all done and the water in—a spacious pool of clear pure water that a body could swim in” (181).

                I can only imagine the smell. These monks are described as having so much dirt and unwashed couth on them that they are literally black and brown with waste. It sounds disgusting; the abbot, meanwhile, hadn’t had a bath since he was a boy, so this bath honestly seems like the best thing to happen to these people since colonialism arrived; it is also at this point that I wonder if Twain is satirizing colonialism or subtly endorsing it because there seems to be a disconnect.

                Protag-Man gets sick briefly but recovers fast. When he does recover, he goes out on a small expedition to travel and live among the people. He wants to understand them on their own level. This doesn’t quite pan out, though, as Protag-Man encounters a rival magician which he must set out straight, least his own reputation sours.

                Not really a whole lot happens. Protag-Man talks with Clarence some about affairs in Camelot over the telephone: King Arthur is traveling to the recently restored Holy Fountain and a standing army is being raised, though not with West Point graduates and so Protag-Man is upset. Fairly benign events; his rival magician, meanwhile, is simply a charlatan who pretends to know what international royalty are doing at any place in the world.

“The third day’s report showed that if he kept up his gait he would arrive by four in the afternoon. There was no sign anywhere of interest in his coming. [. . .] Only one thing could explain this: that other magician had been undercutting me, sure. [. . .] Observe how much a reputation was worth in such a country. These people had seen me do the very showiest bit of magic in history, and the only one within their memory that had a positive value, and yet here they were, ready to take up with an adventurer who could offer no evidence of his powers but his mere unproven word” (190).

                This is funny. Primarily because Protag-Man is complaining about himself. Really, when you invest so much time and energy in legitimating sleight of hand tomfoolery, don’t be surprised when some pretender comes along and steals your show; to the commoner, all magic must be real after such a voracious display by Protag-Man, so why, and better yet, how, would they know fake magic? So, yeah, Protag-Man is really just pissing and moaning about the conditions which he himself have made; sure, he may be inching closer to a scientific framework, but in the here and now, he is still supposedly a magician.

                Regardless, Protag-Man sets the faker right with a well-placed betting game of where King Arthur is traveling. Fun but boring.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Me Raving: Pilgrim's Prize

As everyone with an interest in medieval literature should know, Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales are among the most treasured pieces of medieval literature.

Telling the stories of a group of pilgrims traveling to the holy shrine of Canterbury, the pilgrims, from all different social groups and classes, rest at an inn. The host of the inn, meanwhile, says that the pilgrim who is able to tell the best tale will win a fabulous prize. Intrigued, the pilgrims take turns telling stories, each story an attempt to "one up" the previous tale.

Though unfinished in Chaucer's life, the Tales remain an endearing piece of literature.

Unfortunately, though, we do not see much attention paid to Chaucer today. Sure, he was his occasional appearance in film-- like in A Knight's Tale-- and the even rarer moment of glory in literature, where his work is adapted into the steampunk aesthetic, such as Clockwork Lives, but other than those few instances, few people in the modern interact with Chaucer's seminal work.

This is why I was so enthralled to see The Canterbury Tales reenacted on Pilgrim's Prize.

The idea behind this endeavor is simple: student and lovers of literature, as part of a course, came together to recreate the modus operandi of Chaucer's book: each told a tale and then the next would try to one up that tale. Using a wide range of multi-media and online resources, the students and lovers created a dazzlingly range of texts ranging from Harry Potter fanfiction to short films. It truly is an impressive range and one needs to read some tales for yourself before drawing your conclusions.

So, I encourage everyone reading this to check out the link below for yourselves and then check back here and post your comments.