28 August 2007

This is what I look like in the Simpsons' World

Erm ... it's not quite similar, actually ...

23 August 2007

Vatzlav 2007 สัต(ว์)บุรุษสุดขอบโลก

Despite my mad schedule full of bureaucratic shit, I still managed to find some time to watch a play. Well, let me admit that thanks to my sacred job as a brainwasher, they gave me free tickets to watch quality plays once in a while.
This time they chose to do a remake of Slawomir Mrozek's Vatzlav (or สัต(ว์)บุรุษสุดขอบโลก in Thai). It's another quality political satire that is somehow timeless and so true. Despite its original setting in Poland, this reinterpretation didn't seem out of place at all in Thailand.

(If you don't know anything about Thailand, here are some useless facts: Thailand is a small yet weird country in South East Asia, currently under the control of the army who don't understand aesthetics. Thailand is also a magical country where politicians or presidents come and go as easily as rain and sunshine. Thailand also sees the greatest quantity of constitutions (I think so far we have 18 of them.) Also, national holidays come and go. The nearest example was this Monday! The government suddenly proclaimed that the 20th of August must become a national holiday, to the delight of students and bureaucrats like me. Well, I couldn't complain, could I?

Like their rendition of Animal Farm, this play is kindly contextualised by the director and some of the scripts have been tailor-made to suit the Thai public's tendency for quick jokes and good puns. Our exiled prime minister is of course inevitably linked to Count Bat himself, who lived on the blood of poor people (well, what a poignant metaphor). Thank god they didn't try to find a square-faced person to take this role, as in Animal Farm. Of course, poetic justice rules as Count Bat is brought to pay for his cruelty.

Quite touching is the figure of Oedipus, who tries to uphold the moral code, yet ends up being beaten and gang-raped in a carnivalesque ending by military-like tribal people (or tribe-like military people, if there's any difference). The usurpation of the whole island by the military at the end, I'm sure, would cause chest pain for many viewers.

What I gained from this play are as follows:
(1) desire is good -- the example is Countess Bat, who falls in love with a bear, of course as long as your desire doesn't violate other people's rights;
(2) desire is natural -- those of us who repudiate desire are terrible and cruel, lacking in good taste;
(3) desire is human -- without desire, you cannot be labelled human;
(4) desire is necessary -- it's normal for all of us to want something, to need something, because it's the human condition.
Hmmm ... I reckon we're treading into the sphere of freedom-loving, pro-West ideology once again.

This positive view of desire is crucial to the understanding of the play, as its central meaning rests on the conflict between justice and desire, as it were. Justine, the personified character of Justice, is represented as an innocent, beautiful yet idiotic woman. Due to her symbolism, she's portrayed to be too angelic, too clean to reside in this 'shitty' earth. The earth, by contrast, is rather the carnivalesque space full of activities, both benign and malign, but one sees the desire machine at work behind the 'progress' of humanity.

I wouldn't dare say more, otherwise you might blame me for spoiling the ending and stuff, but some part of the play do touch upon a very sensitive topic, especially the figure of Genius. I don't know whether it's intentional or perhaps it's my misunderstanding. But somehow signs and symbols can be reinterpreted, abused, and exploited to serve various ideologies.

This is once again a fragmentary review of the play, which I rather keep to myself. Those of you who read this review in secret please go to see the play for yourself. It's really thought-provoking and funny. (Most of the people laughed, especially towards the ending, but I on the other hand found it really deeply tragic and shocking -- as it's so true ... too true I think I'd rather stop here.

15 August 2007

The Orange Girl ส้มสื่อรัก

First of all, I need to confess that I didn't plan to buy this little novel. When I went to Esplanade last week, I bought a couple of Buddhist guidebooks as gifts for my Mom and my colleague and found out that if I spent just a hundred baht more I would get a B50 voucher for my next purchase at B2S. Greedy as I was, I decided to buy this latest translation of Jostein Gaarder's novel without much hesitation.

I read his Sophie's World and was amazed at how original and refreshing his approach to philosophy was. I imagined him to be a kind, warm person. Of course he did come to Thailand and did come to Chula to give a talk. Sadly at that time very few people read him, but quite a handful of people that day was a glimmer of hope! Of course I managed to secure his autograph on my Sophie's World purchased at Asia Books but soon after that one of my lecturers borrowed it. There's no due date at the back so she probably wouldn't return it soon (especially considering the fact that she borrowed this about ten years ago!). Well, Gaarder, if you're out there somewhere, please take heed of my plea -- come back to Thailand again, especially to Chula, and give me your precious autograph once again. This time I'll make sure you sign on a hardback so that it's worth your journey. (Needless to say, last time it's just a paperback as I was broke being nothing but a poor nerd.)

Erm ... what was I going to talk about? The Orange Girl ... ส้มสื่อรัก -- that's the Thai name of this novel. I'd recommend this book for those of you who are NOT cynical, especially those of you who haven't read or been corrupt by Murakami or other contemporary writers setting out to make the worst of our living condition or making alienation a thing of beauty, aestheticizing it to the extent that those who want to be fashionable need to go out looking lonely and lost like Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation, either with a laptop in Starbucks or with a rucksack in Nepal or Tokyo. With Gaarder, you need to believe and have faith. I do love reading this book and it proved to be a good read during the long holiday where I was supposed to take my Mom out somewhere (as it's Mother's Day in Thailand).

The plot is classic: a young boy reading a memoir of his dead dad as part of his rite of passage to adulthood. Even though I found this pretty banal, Gaarder managed to turn banality into a narrative sublime, with food for thought scattered throughout the narrative.

For fear of spoiling, I'd better not linger on the main question of the whole narrative that the boy needs to answer his daddy. But it does make me think hard and Gaarder really touches upon the essence of Western philosophy and way of life here, especially in terms of desire, which is quite different from that of Buddhism. As opposed to Western metaphysics, Buddhism prefers us to cut down on desire as part of the process to Nirvana (i.e. the state of nothingness). Life on earth is part of Samsara that humans need to leave. Desire is the cause of pain and hence it should be eschewed. I personally have yet to decide on this crucial question, but one thing that I've come across is the fact that one needs experience to be who one is now (read my entry on The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). Without life how can one appreciate Nirvana? Without suffering how can one appreciate the curb on desire? Without desire, how can one enjoy the state of sufficiency? Taking this line of thought, I think life is a 'transitory' stage whereby people need to go through with the main purpose of reflection and contemplation. Without life, one cannot have any experience to reflect or contemplate upon to gain access to the next stage.

Once again my book review has turned into something else, more monstrous and uncontrollable. How sublime!

05 August 2007

The Novel That Has Hands นวนิยายมีมือ

I believe it's time to review a Thai novel after loads of international films. I've also been wavering whether to write in Thai or English, but for the sake of consistency, I stick with the latter, only for the plain reason that I want to practise writing in this language for now.

This novel with such a strange name is written by a writer whose pseudonym is even stranger -- 'Round Finger' or นิ้วกลม in Thai. I must confess I was first attracted to this little novel thanks to its gorgeous cover. It's a story about a writer who needs to come to terms with the loss of his girlfriend, who presumably disappeared in the tsunami incident. The influence of Haruki Murakami is patent and obvious as the writer takes great pain to mention the name of the Japanese writer on almost every page. Most of Murakami's famous motifs -- the alienation and loneliness in the cityspace, the disappearing woman, the coincidence that triggers an encounter and a separation, the unexplained disapperance, the fetish of certain body parts -- can be found here. Those who love Murakami's weird novels and short stories will not be disappointed, I can assure you.

But it's my personal belief that Mr Round Finger (คุณนิ้วกลม) is perhaps more indebted to an invisible writer whom he never mentions as the influence is perhaps too powerful. (This perhaps merits a psychoanalytical study of the all-too-powerful father figure, too powerful to mention, but everywhere such influence is pervasive.) This writer is Italo Calvino. I don't know whether the author has read Calvino's fiction, but its similarity between his text and If on a winter's night a traveller shouldn't be ignored. The play of the levels of textual reference is worth noting: there is an interaction of at least three worlds, that of the writer, that of the reader, and that of the main character. This interaction also entails a philosophical dimension, when the author makes us contemplate on such issues as fate and free will, especially that of the character to detach himself from the dictate of the writer.

Even though Mr Round Finger tends to present a positive ending in which one can choose to be what one wants, but hey isn't this conclusion IRONICALLY ANOTHER COMMAND OF THE WRITER. This logical twist may undermine a lovely message at the end of the novel, but it may show how at the end of the day if an author chooses to discuss fate and fatalism and such like in his/her novel, the author still commands, as he's the GOD of that world. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I simply don't think that there's a possibility to let characters control their own fate without the author's intervention.

Maybe (this is just my presumption, ok?) the act of writing is simply a way for a (wo)man to express his/her megalomaniac wish to become omniscient, yet pretending to be humble to erase him/herself from the text. But the humbler s/he becomes, the more insidious this will appear. Hence, I prefer the fair play whereby the author admits his/her desire to be GOD, and plays with the fate of his/her characters accordingly. (This political correctness (his/her; s/he) starts to make me tired!)

This is why in Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveller the burden is entrusted to readers, as readers can actually interpret and reinterpret what the writer says in whatever ways they want. Maybe the only way to 'kill' the writer is to give birth to the reader. Maybe Roland Barthes is wrong when he mentions about the death of the author, as if this figure just withered and died out of his/her own accord. No, somebody needs to 'kill' the author, deliberately and violently too!

Well, shit happens when I write reviews. I start with something, and end with another. But at least you get something, right? Or perhaps you yourself the reader need to 'kill' me first before you can get anything out of this.