I don’t like Zizek

Zizek mostly relies on cheap gimmicks. I can’t imagine he would be so famous without them. He references pop culture, wears casual clothing, uses blue humour, touches his face a lot, etc. It’s all pretty transparent. In an interview with Vice, there’s a moment where Zizek asks if the journalist would like some “fucking fruit juice” and it’s painfully obvious that this was something he had rehearsed in his head. A philosopher who cusses in casual conversation? Let me clutch at my pearls.

In general, I don’t care for over-confident types who feel the need to put on a show, but if you’re going to be that way, at least make it more convincing. Diogenes was a fool, but at least he walked the walk. Zizek isn’t blessed with feral wisdom, despite what the memes may say. He does eat from the bin of ideology, but that’s not a good thing.

Despite being praised as an entertaining speaker, his whole act seems joyless. I’ve had lecturers in university who could tell a funny aside or inject some levity into their classes, either because of their enthusiasm or just from being decent people. I’ve also had lecturers whose classes could be pretty boring, but I appreciated them more than the show-offs who felt the need to act eccentric in front of undergrads.

You'd think you could trust Satan-worshiping suicide-advocating heavy metal  bands. (x-post from /r/MetalMemes) : calvinandhobbes

Even when Zizek has his gimmicks to fall back on, it’s clear how shallow his way of thinking is. Take his review of The Dark Knight Rises. Most of the article is plot summary. The rest is surface-level observations. Granted, the subject matter isn’t that deep. The Dark Knight Rises is a silly blockbuster with zero subtext; there’s only so much you can say about a movie that wears its ideas on its sleeve. But you should be able to find something interesting to say. The fun thing about analysing pop culture is looking at it from a perspective you normally wouldn’t; focusing on the patterns formed by buildings in the background of a scene or the way a character’s eyes move.

At least that article is legible. Like most philosophers, Zizek is a bad writer. I could forgive his prose for being convoluted if it was poetic or something, but it’s just cluttered and ugly. (And not even ugly in a pretty way.) You might think it’s shallow of me to judge a philosopher’s writing style on how clear, pretty or emotionally affecting it is, but to me, his bad prose reveals a lot about his worldview and its limitations.

Zizek’s affectations remind me of a stroppy teenager. He likes the idea of being provocative more than the idea of actually challenging the way we think. In the Vice interview, we see that he has a portrait of Stalin in his apartment, to shock “idiots.” I doubt anyone who visits him is ever shocked and appalled by this image. Maybe some visitors would be puzzled about why he’d want to decorate his home with the picture of a tyrant (and they wouldn’t be idiots for reacting this way), but I doubt most people would give it a second glance. People decorate their homes with all sorts of tacky kitsch, sometimes ironically and other times because they like the way it looks. Is Zizek really so insecure that he needs to hang up a portrait in his private space as a statement to any outsiders who pop in? Even on an aesthetic level, this portrait makes no sense to me. Stalin was an ugly man.

Whenever he tries to get a rise out of people, he only shows his own shortcomings. For example, his thoughts on LGBT people. I don’t think he’s a hateful person, but his remarks can get pretty snide. He shows an unwillingness to understand people on a personal level, or to see things from another point of view. (Even when praising LGBT people, he can only do so ideologically.)

In this interview, he claims LGBT people are “out of touch” with the way ordinary people think; the hypocrisy and lack of self-awareness is impressive. I appreciate the interviewer for pushing back on his claims with a far more grounded, common-sense perspective on things. He tries to make a mountain out of a molehill and she isn’t buying it. He normally isn’t challenged like this and I think that’s part of why he feels so confident in making sweeping statements about things he knows little about.

I took a film studies module for my MA and in one of the classes we had to watch Zizek’s guide to cinema. I was unimpressed. What makes Zizek an authority on film? Or rather, what makes him more of an authority than anyone else? If I want movie expertise, I’ll look to Gregg Turkington.

Gregg Turkington Archives - Comedy Cake

What makes Zizek an authority on anything, really? He’s studied Lacan, but that doesn’t make him a psychologist. Would he be so confident talking about the human body if Hippocrates was his frame of reference? Theory is all well and good, but where is the research? If I were to write a paper on, say, the psychology of Through the Looking-Glass, I would back myself up with references to contemporary research and reach out to those actually working in the field. I’d still include my own speculation, but I wouldn’t pretend it was anything more than that. Zizek’s approach seems careless, just taking the easy way out.

Ultimately Zizek is harmless. His ideas are not dangerous and I doubt they’ll ever have any significant affect on the world. He’s too wrapped up in his own head to look past his nose. He is obsessed with ideology to the point that he can’t conceive of ways of thinking, perceiving or even existing that are outside of ideology.

(Sometimes people tell me that my dislike of ideology is itself an ideology. My answer to that is: no, it isn’t, because I say so.)

Reviewing movies I’ve never seen


The sun is inside the astronauts, but they have no idea. I feel sorry for HAL. He’s not a robot, but he isn’t inside the sun.


Who stalks the stalkers? That’s a boring question, so Tartovsky’s film never bothers to ask it. In a way, it reminds me of Tarjei Vesaas’ novels, with its glacial pace and surface stillness. There is a woman without a face. Or maybe she does have a face; we never see it, anyway. Maybe she put it away, locked in a safe, so the stalker couldn’t see it.

Eyes Without a Face

In this animated film, a pair of disembodied eyes float through a pale void, looking (pun intended) for a face. They never find it. Or do they? In the end, the eyes become heterochromatic and split up.


An uncomfortable tightness around the viewer’s neck.


Too sad, but without any real sadness, like the poems in The Tales of Ise.


I don’t understand why the man made of glass got broken. It’s funny, isn’t it, how in the end, the only hero in the film was Lois Lane.


The sequel to Baby Driver. With the baby now an adult, he learns to drive again. And now, without a bedtime, he can drive all night. The colours are moody but vibrant, while the shapes and motions of the vehicles seem inspired by palaeontology.

Batman V Superman

Who is V? V is somewhere in-between Batman and Superman. V is Wonder Woman. Think about it: W is two Vs. Wonder Woman is two Ws. Martha begins with M, an upside-down W.

Lain Through the Looking-Glass

I discovered Serial Experiments Lain through Alice in Wonderland. When I was a teenager, the Alice books was one of my autistic obsessions. I read biographies of Lewis Carroll, literary criticism and academic analysis of his works. I was also interested in any media that made the slightest reference to Alice, or that was strange in a similar way. My interest in Alice led in some way to many of my other interests. This includes my biggest obsession, the most perfect work of fiction in the universe, Serial Experiments Lain. So, what does SEL have in common with Alice? A lot.

Surface-Level References

Alice Mizuki, Lain’s closest friend is named after Carroll’s Alice. It’s an unusual name for a Japanese girl, something Mizuki (I’ll refer to her as this to avoid confusion) says she’s embarrassed by. More on her in the next section.

Quote of the Day | Anime Amino

In episode six, Lain speaks with someone who appears online as a grinning mouth, who she refers to as Cheshire Cat. The Cheshire Cat, who disappears in parts until only his grin remains, first appears in chapter six of Alice in Wonderland.

Serial Experiments Lain (1998): Classic horror anime - Supernatural Horror

File:Cheshire Cat vanishing (detail).jpg - Wikimedia Commons

And then, there’s the morally grey Professor Hodgeson, whose name is a reference to Lewis Carroll (real name Charles Dodgson). As far as appearance, personality and occupation go, they have little in common, but Konaka has confirmed in the book Scenario Experiments Lain that Dodgson is the Professor’s namesake.

Lewis Carroll was a Victorian mathematician, with an interest in photography, a new technology at the time. SEL is all about the effects of new technology on society, including how the screen replicates a person’s image and how that can alter our self-perception; at times, it’s difficult to separate the physical Lain from the ghostly images of her appearing online and in TV screens. Photography was an early step towards the replication and spread of such mirror-like images. The internet in SEL is a surreal mirror of reality, as is the dream-world in Through the Looking-Glass. Artwork and other ephemera for SEL is often accompanied by the phrase Close the word, txen eht nepO. The second half of this phrase is in reverse, as if mirroring the first half. It brings to mind the mirror-writing in Through the Looking-Glass, and also how in Carroll’s later series, Sylvie and Bruno, it is pointed out that “live” is “evil” in reverse. Carroll loved puzzles and word games, but SEL uses mirror-writing and the unreliability of images to imply something more unsettling.

Professor Hodgeson - Serial Experiments Lain wiki
Lewis Carroll - Wikipedia

Carroll was also a deeply religious man. While he kept this out of the Alice books, God was a massive part of his life. (According to a friend, he once burst into tears visiting a church in Russia.) The idea of God plays a massive part in SEL, though I have no idea if Carroll’s own faith had any influence on this, or even to what extent the series is influenced by Western ideas of God, but it’s interesting to note. (Also, as a fun aside, the face of Henry Liddell, the Dean of Carroll’s university, is rumoured to have appeared supernaturally at Christ Church, though his apparition was less impressive than Lain appearing in the sky.)

While he was a religious man, Carroll was also interested in the paranormal, which was popular at the time, maybe because of the new scientific discoveries being made. I have no idea if he believed in any of it, but he was curious about it, like many of his peers. Spirits, fairies, other worlds and psychic communication all had some influence on his fiction, as they did on SEL and Professor Hodgeson’s dubious scientific research.

Lain and Alice

I believe that Lain and her friend Mizuki embody different aspects of Carroll’s Alice. Lain’s similarities to Alice are more obvious. She is the “dream-child.” Lain finds herself in strange places, encountering bizarre authority figures, sometimes believing their explanations for the way things are and other times uncertain. Lain is spacy, passing through things in a hazy daze, but when lucid she pierces through all the nonsense she is told, just like Alice.

The Unconscious Connections of Man in Serial Experiments Lain | Out There  Cinema
The Pool of Tears. Chapter 2: Annotations by Jan Susina… | by Public Domain  Review | Alice's Adventures In Wonderland | Medium
serial experiments lain Lain serialexperimentslain •

As for Mizuki, she embodies the more grounded side of Alice. She is wise for her age, capable of assessing the strangeness around her in a logical way and seeing others for who they are. Still, she is a child. While not as vulnerable as Lain, Mizuki is fragile too. Like Alice, she makes immature decisions and gets overwhelmed by a strangeness beyond her control.

Serial Experiments Lain Revisited: Episode 13 (Conclusion) – Beneath the  Tangles


Wonderland and the Looking-Glass World aren’t clearly-defined fantasy worlds. They’re peripheral to reality. At the end of both books, Alice’s adventures are revealed to be dreams, but it’s never clear when the waking becomes sleeping. There’s always the possibility of overlap between the two. In SEL, the online world bleeds into physical reality, causing the two to warp and shift. The internet is not a physical place, though its existence is peripheral to physical reality. Dreams are connected to a physical part of us, just as the internet is connected to machinery, and both give us the illusion of being in another place.

Paprika by Satoshi Hon | Satoshi kon, Anime films, Anime quotes

The deep shadows with their heavy red blots, the disembodied voices heard through the air, the hum of wires and the static interference on TV screens are all reminders that Lain’s reality is not as it seems. Something is hidden underneath. Things are being altered. It’s hard to say what parts are in Lain’s head and what parts are external to her. It’s possible that Lain is God and these shifts in reality are because of her. Later on, she consciously restructures everything. In some ways, Lain is Alice, but in others she is the Red King. The world is her dream.

Serial Experiments Lain - Wikipedia
Serial Experiments Lain, Episodes 1-3: First Impressions | Yulia Ryzhik
Serial Experiments Lain: A Postmodern Classic | The Pop Culture Museum
File:Red King sleeping.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

“You’re nothing but a pack of cards!”

Eiri Masami is the Queen and King of Hearts, the Duchess, the White and Red Queens and every other absurd authority figure who tries to enforce their nonsensical rules on Alice. In the end, Lain’s rejection of Eiri’s nonsense is similar to Alice telling the Queen of Hearts and her subjects that they are nothing but a pack of cards.

You're nothing but a pack of cards!" — Illustration by John Tenniel for  Alice in Wonderland
The Call of Lain: Serial Experiments Lain Part 1 | The Critical Otaku


Alice goes through so many changes that she has an identity crisis. So does Lain. Alice talks to herself, to the point that she confuses herself. So does Lain. Instead of a single, coherent identity, their sense of self is fractured, more so as their experiences become overwhelming. Alice is worried that she will have to discard her identity completely and become a girl named Mabel, while there are moments when Lain is on the verge of becoming a non-entity or of deleting herself. There are many different Alices, as well as different Lains.

Identity - Serial Experiments Lain wiki
Advice from a Caterpillar. Chapter 5: Annotations by Kiera… | by Public  Domain Review | Alice's Adventures In Wonderland | Medium

It’s difficult to accept that your identity is uncertain. The Caterpillar is resistant to this idea. He asks Alice who she is and demands she explain herself, but can’t accept that she has no simple answers. Adaptations of Alice often interpret the Caterpillar as a wise old man, but the only useful advice he gives is about mushrooms. Otherwise, he just asks the same questions over again like a broken record, dismissing Alice’s perspective. Alice, a child, always intuits more than the adults around her and is willing to question things. Even if this leaves her more confused than before, she is at least able to notice when something is wrong.

Lain is manipulated by adults who leave her in the dark aside from cryptic hints that they’ll only give her if it suits their agenda. The adults in her life have the illusion of understanding and control, but it’s all a façade. They assert their position on things in the same way as the Caterpillar, saying things without saying anything, being opaque to hide their lack of understanding. Eiri Masami arrogantly claims that his identity as God is certain and that he doesn’t need a body. He thinks that he has it all figured out, but as Lain shows, his state of existence is just as impermanent as the Caterpillar’s.


Susan Napier has also compared Lain to Alice, describing them both as liminal girls. This liminality can be seen in how they pass through different states of reality, as well as different states of being. I think that every modern story about spaced-out girls wandering in unfamiliar worlds owe something to the Alice books, but SEL is one of the few that carries a similar vibe in its own direction. Alice belongs to the past. Her liminality is similar, but also different to Lain’s. Being liminal online or in urban Japan is similar, but also different to the liminality of old hallways and gardens.

Alice, key in hand, finds the door to Wonderland — Illustrations for Alice  in Wonderland by John Tenniel
The One and Only Ownerships of "serial experiments lain" Digital Arts |  Anique

There isn’t a point for Alice or Lain where they can say what’s real and what isn’t. It’s all tangled up. The point is never for them to figure out the one truth behind everything. They don’t need to. Even as God, Lain stays liminal, not an ascended ruler, but a ghost flitting through the gaps. Like Alice, she has to come to terms with the fact that reality is vague and confusing. Trying to make sense of it or forcing it into an ideology only makes things worse.

The White Knight

To me, the real Carroll figure isn’t Professor Hodgeson, but Lain’s dad. He’s one of the few people to make a genuine connection with Lain. He is the only family member to show her love (Lain’s mother is kind of like the stern Red Queen) and along with Mizuki, he is one of the few people who comes to understand Lain as a person, instead of speaking down to her. Lain’s dad is a little eccentric, absorbed in his love of computers, but a decent person. He is a kindly figure who appears to Lain near the end of her story, providing a gentle moment in the middle of a dark time. He is her White Knight.

The White Knight appears near the end of Through the Looking-Glass; he’s one of the last characters Alice encounters before becoming Queen. He’s a doddering old man who falls off his horse and likes to invent things. He’s not the only one to be friendly to Alice, but in a story with so many argumentative, unpredictable characters, he does stand out as unexpectedly gentle. Alice is patient with the White Knight, indulging him when he asks her to wave as he departs.

White Knight (Through the Looking-Glass) - Wikipedia

Some readers believe that the White Knight represents Carroll. I try to stay agnostic about most readings of Carroll (the fun thing about Alice is how open it is to interpretation), but this is one theory that I’d love to be true. And even if those parallels between Carroll and the White Knight were unintentional, they make sense. To me, Carroll is the White Knight. Like Lain’s dad, he gives us a moment of sweetness and human connection in a confusing world.

The Last Children of Tokyo

There’s something European about Yoko Tawada’s style. (Specifically, leaning Eastern European.) It’s hard to pinpoint what it is, but the flow of her sentences and her placement of words feel more similar to Bruno Schulz or Franz Kafka than anything Japanese. She has something in common with South Korean writer Bae Suah in that way. (In contrast, you have German writer Wolfgang Borchert, whose lonely, image-focused stories feel stylistically similar to a lot of Japanese fiction.)

Yōko Tawada (Author of The Emissary)

The Last Children of Tokyo is set in (future) Japan, but it’s not the same place evoked by other Japanese writers. Kenzaburo Oe once complimented Kazuo Ishiguro (who has lived most of his life in England) on the sense of place in his Japanese-set fiction. Tawada’s Japan seems located in Eastern Europe, not East Asia. Part of this could come from how Margaret Mitsutani chose to translate the novella, but it’s not just a structural thing. There’s something about the tone and perspective that makes it this way. Tawada does live in Germany and has studied Russian literature, so this isn’t too surprising. Her prose style isn’t my cup of tea, but I do find its defamiliarising effect interesting.

The Last Children of Tokyo is cold, but it’s not the coldness of Yasunari Kawabata’s Snow Country. It’s a little harsher, more drawn out. It does remind me of a later Kawabata novel, The Lake, because of its focus on old age, which again isn’t my cup of tea. Stories can (and should) be about all types of people and experiences, but I come to art for a sense of youthfulness. It doesn’t have to be a positive youthfulness, the sadness of old age drags me down deeper than the sadness of being young.

It’s not a bleak book, despite its elderly aching. Every country has fantastical or absurd fiction, but the way Tawada’s whimsy contrasts with her vision of an unhappy future reminds me again of Schulz or Kafka. The way she imagines these elements is fairy tale-like, but more E. T. A. Hoffmann than Kenji Miyazawa.

The Last Children of Tokyo: Amazon.ca: Tawada, Yoko: Books

Most Japanese literature I’ve read seems based on imagery, in a similar way to French writer Alain Robbe-Grillet’s focus on surface details. The exterior world is crystallised; scenes from the background/foreground are out into a prism, or framed like in the panels of a comic and often put in contrast with one another. Tawada’s approach reminds me more of another French writer, Comte de Lautremont, with the way her imagery unfurls as musings more than photographs.

Tawada seems interested in words as words, not just words to give the sense of something. The way she plays around with language reminds me a little of Lewis Carroll and Azumanga Daioh. I imagine it must be difficult to translate word games and puns, especially since Tawada is creating a new way of speaking for her future reality, and Mitsutani did a good job at putting this in English.

Harriet Lee Merrion’s cover illustration (above) also deserves praise. Her barely-visible linework and flattened perspective are somewhere between isometric diagrams and older Japanese artwork, giving us a stark and glassy city to look out at.

Yoko Ogawa

Most of the time, Yoko Ogawa’s fiction feels placeless. Readers are trained to look for landmarks to orient themselves in what they read. I think it’s important to read things in different ways; a fixed setting can help a story/reader feel grounded, but part of the fun of fiction (and art in general) is that nothing has to be fixed. Even when they’re placeless, Ogawa’s writing has a sense of place. She is similar to Tarjei Vesaas in that way. My advice to someone reading Ogawa is not to worry about pinpointing where it’s meant to be, but just to absorb the atmosphere of a nameless place.

Of her works available in English, the only one that’s explicitly Japanese is The Housekeeper and the Professor, translated by Stephen Snyder. It includes some stereotypical Japanese things such as baseball and cherry blossoms, but as background details and in a breezy, effortless way. It’s a light, gentle novella, similar to Tomoka Shibasaki’s Spring Garden or Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa. People underestimate how hard it is to write this kind of thing. There’s a difference between sweetness and glurge. It’s easy to fall from one to the other, but Ogawa handles it deftly. The happy moments and soft and endearing, while the sad moments hit deeper because she doesn’t linger on them.

Ogawa’s prose style here and in most else of what I’ve read is subdued and minimal. This sparseness could be compared to other Japanese writers (Yasunari Kawabata, Banana Yoshimoto, etc.) but otherwise I don’t think her style is necessarily Japanese. One thing I’ve struggled with as an artist is the idea of being defined in a reductive way by the place I happen to be from; this is something I want to avoid with my own work, so I keep that in mind when engaging with other people’s art.

The Housekeeper and the Professor: Amazon.co.uk: Ogawa, Yoko, Snyder,  Stephen: 9780099521341: Books

Her other works, at least in English, are darker and more ambiguous. Case in point is Hotel Iris (translated by Stephen Snyder), where a teenager in a seaside town enters into a relationship with a creepy old man. The fascinating thing about this book is that it’s told from the girl’s perspective, but she never explains anything. She doesn’t give any reason why she meets up with the old man or why she lets him do such disturbing things to her. She reacts more negatively to mundane things around her than anything to do with him. We can go inside her head but we’re never going to understand her.

I found Hotel Iris difficult to read, not just for the weird sex, but for sensory reasons. I’m extremely sensitive to certain physical sensations. Even reading about them makes me uncomfortable. There were so many mentions of greasy food, hair oil, etc. To add to that, everything about the town felt so dusty and old. As good as the book was, I gave it away to a friend after reading, because experiencing it once was enough for me.

Hotel Iris by Yōko Ogawa

The Diving Pool (translated by Stephen Snyder), a collection of three novellas, has some hit-or-miss moments, but is mostly fantastic. It has the mood of dark, long shadows in late summer. It’s similar to Hotel Iris in how subtly ominous it is and the dark subject matter it delves into. Also, the cover design is fantastic.

The Diving Pool

It’s not surprising that Ogawa would produce such disturbing work along with more gentle fiction. In some ways, it might have been more unusual if she only stuck to one extreme. Ogawa is a lot like Jim Henson or Mabel Lucie Atwell in that way. Her familiarity with both darkness and light also means she can use both, like in Revenge (translated by Stephen Snyder).

Revenge: Amazon.co.uk: Ogawa, Yoko, Snyder, Stephen: 9780099553939: Books

Of all her works available in English, this is her best. The foreboding atmosphere, the quiet switching of tones, the pared-down prose… Revenge can be read as a collection of separate stories or as a series of interconnected ones. It’s image-focused, with repeating patterns of forms, shapes and colours, implying something uncertain. It’s one of the few books I’ve read where barely any words felt unnecessary or out of place.

Sadly, I wasn’t so impressed by The Memory Police (once again translated by Stephen Snyder), her latest novel in English. It felt like the work of a different author. The prose isn’t as bare here; it’s clouded by unnecessary words. Another problem is that the book hovers between place and placelessness without settling on either. This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem, except it doesn’t work for this particular story.

The Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa

What I loved about Ogawa’s previous works is that they felt insular. Things happened without explanation. It didn’t matter how these people or places related to the wider world or how they fit into any broader context. Her previous works were vague and open-ended; The Memory Police felt more didactic. There isn’t anything quite like Revenge or The Diving Pool, but you’ve definitely read many books that tell the same story as The Memory Police.

The Memory Police would have been more interesting as a short story, maybe two or three pages long, just using the scenes where flower petals and perfume flow down the water. As a full novel, it was too focused on plot and explanation, which lessened the effect of the emotions and imagery.

The Lain Iwakura Playlist

I’ve wanted to make a Lain playlist for a while, but it’s hard to picture her listening to any music, or even seeking it out, aside from Track 44. Anyway, here’s a list of music I can imagine her vibing with if she came across it on the Wired.

Ryoji Ikeda. I think Lain would appreciate anything minimal or with a sense of order to it. Some people might find Ikeda’s music emotionless, but for Lain, who is trying to handle the disorder around her, I think it could be comforting.

Maybe she’d appreciate field recordings for similar reasons.

Recordings by Akio Suzuki and Peter Cusack are close to non-music and Lain seems like a non-entity at times.

Maybe some recordings where people are just playing around with tape-loops and familiar noises, too.

I don’t know if Lain would enjoy all of Aphex Twin’s music, but I have a feeling she’d love Selected Ambient Works 85-92.

Lain seeks comfort in soft, gentle things like her bear outfit and stuffed animals, so Lullatone would be perfect for her.

After all Lain has been through, I don’t think there’s any kind of music that would phase her. At the same time, though, I don’t think she’d be into noise or the more chaotic side of experimental music. Some people like that because it helps them deal with the chaos of being alive or the disorder inside their head, but for Lain, I imagine music would have to be something she could use to escape all of that and just zone out to. So, if she was into the more experimental side of things, it would most likely be drone and stuff like that. For example, Laurie Spiegel.

Or how about Sachiko M?

My Little Ghost is my favourite album ever so of course I’m including it here.

Tujiko Noriko is softly disjointed, something Lain could relate to.

I don’t think Lain would be a big fan of Radiohead, but there are a few tracks I can see her relating to, including Kid A and Codex.

Eliane Radigue, another drone artist.

Burial. Lain lives everything his music evokes.

The glitchier side of IDM. Oval, for example.

Old-school dance/rave/house/techno/etc. Something fun to dance to with Alice.

I always associate Lain with downtempo and trip-hop. Music she can relax to, in a sad way.

I first discovered Massive Attack thanks to a Lain AMV.

Takako Minekawa. Her music is a little strange, but mostly cute and calming.

Etsuko Yakushimaru deals with complicated, sometimes strange ideas in an accessible, down-to-earth way and her music always gives me the mood of the kind of world Lain wants to create for her friends.

Lemon Jelly. I just think she’d enjoy music that’s fun, with nothing scary or worrying about it.

Aoki Takamasa. More soft glitchiness.

Jan Jelinek. Gently mechanical.

Telepopmusik. Like with Massive Attack, I discovered this band thanks to a Lain AMV.

Boards of Canada. Maybe not their darker tracks, but I think she’d enjoy the more wistful ones.

And of course Lain would like Kraftwerk.

And I’m going to end this playlist with Delia Derbyshire, who in many ways feels like a precursor to Lain.

First impressions of Twin Peaks

I put off watching this show for the longest time because I don’t like small towns. They’re ugly. I don’t vibe with them at all. But I kept on hearing about it and aside from the setting, it did seem like something I’d enjoy. And it was, even if I had to put myself in a different mood than I usually do when I’m watching something. For a show about dreams, Twin Peaks is too connected to the physical, sensory, daylight world for me to get lost in. Usually if I want to engage with art I try to immerse myself in it, but there were so many things about Twin Peaks that clashed with my inner world that I couldn’t do that without being physically uncomfortable. So I just let it play in the background, washing around and past me. I don’t care about plots anyway so it didn’t matter if my attention wandered or I lost track of things.

You can’t always separate art into “good” or “bad” or even know if you enjoyed it, because art is just something that exists. I often hear that it’s good to step out of your comfort zone when it comes to art and try new things. I understand why it’s important to do that, but I’m at a point where I know what kind of art I’m into and I have a pretty clear idea of what I won’t like. Still, I’ll step outside of that if I think it’s worthwhile. David Lynch is an artist who I can appreciate even if he’s making something that doesn’t vibe with me. It’s hard to be critical of him just because I admire what he does and how he does it so much. There are some things about his work I don’t like, but at least those things come from him expressing his own inner world. It’s one that doesn’t align perfectly with mine, but I can appreciate it. The setting of Twin Peaks or its exaggerated emotions aren’t my cup of tea, but I can see what it’s doing and even enjoy it. (Well, not the setting. Small towns are ugly no matter what.) A lot of the things I disliked about Twin Peaks were peculiar to my own worldview and way of feeling things. For example, I hated looking at the characters’ suits and hairstyles because they made me physically uncomfortable. Even more so, I didn’t like seeing Agent Cooper’s stubble. As faint as it was, I can’t stand any reminder of shaving or facial hair. It’s outside of anyone’s control, but it still was part of my experience of watching the show.

Twin Peaks is self-aware, but not in a smug way. It’s more like how contemporary animators pay homage to rubber-hose cartoons, imitating the way they move and feel out of appreciation. This is why I could engage with Twin Peaks in a way that I can’t with most live-action TV. I hear a lot of praise for shows such as The Sopranos, Breaking Bad and Hannibal, but I find them silly. They’re not serious stories; they’re melodramas and they don’t even know it. It makes me sad that they’re often cited as the height of what TV can be when there isn’t anything quiet or subtle about them. Melodrama isn’t bad, but it’s not the ultimate form of story-telling. Twin Peaks at least knows what it is in a way that those other shows don’t and so I was able to take it seriously in a way that I couldn’t with those more “serious” series. Sometimes Lynch’s exaggerated characters are too much for me (I didn’t really like Lost Highway for that reason) but with Twin Peaks it worked and I settled into it. I hope Lynch delves more into animation in the future, because that’s a medium where characters are often defined by their quirks.

Season 1 GIF by Twin Peaks on Showtime - Find & Share on GIPHY

I love TV, as a concept. I prefer it to film. It’s more intimate. I don’t care for cinemas; they’re almost as bad as live music. (I say almost because nothing is as bad as live music, which doesn’t even register as music to me.) I love the idea of tiny, electronically-recorded stories contained (but not really) within black boxes. (I love boxes too.) I’m not the only one fascinated by this. So many people love library music, stock footage, old public-access shows, etc. Twin Peaks feels like a TV show inside another TV show. (And there’s another one contained within that.) The first two seasons felt like home movies to me. That’s partly because of the time they were made in, but I do think it was intentional that they felt like a recorded reality. They felt a little wonky and reminded me of something Tim Heidecker said about watching Doctor Who as a kid and being scared that it was all happening in his basement. The soundtrack repeats over and over in a way that uncannily reminds you it’s non-diegetic. While I liked that The Return was visually more crepuscular and stylised, I wish it had kept the repetitive soundtrack. (The music they did use was for the most part fantastic, though.)

TWIN PEAKS 1.6 - "Realization Time" ~ Dan's Media Digest

One of the cool things about watching Twin Peaks was seeing how many other things I liked were inspired by it. (Ghost Hound is basically a Japanese version of the show.) And there were other parallels that were probably unintentional but still interesting. There was something about the setting that reminded me of Richard Brautigan; I could picture him living there.

Agent Cooper reminded me of Christopher Reeve’s Superman. They look alike, have similar attitudes and bring goodness wherever they go. They even change the past to save someone they care about. I didn’t know if I was going to like Cooper when I began watching, but by The Return I knew that I did. It was heart-breaking to see how damaged he had become over 25 years. It was sad to see someone so capable become so broken. People often don’t like characters who are too perfect (it’s easy to resent someone like that) but sometimes they work. Agent Cooper is kind of like a folk hero or a character in a fairy tale; a reverse Pied Piper. The organisation he works for isn’t anything like the real FBI, or even the usual version of it you find in fiction. It’s an FBI where an eccentric agent can use Tibetan mysticism to solve murders. This all makes sense, because the supernatural events of the first two seasons are inspired by folklore. When the entities in the red room spoke and moved distortedly and served Cooper a viscous, dark fluid in place of coffee, it reminded me of the way fairies or other beings act in stories when they’re trying to imitate humans.

The Return discards most of the folkloric aspects for something more alien. It’s a nightmare that doesn’t end. Some parts of it were frustrating (too many characters I didn’t care about, aesthetic choices that didn’t vibes with me, etc.) but it worked really well as a sprawling mass of tendrils, spreading out like black coffee spilled on linoleum. Again, even though I had criticisms of it, I just really appreciated what Lynch was doing and that a TV show like this could even exist. It’s fun to see an artist be allowed to meander and experiment. In a perfect world, we’d have more TV like this. Not doing exactly the same thing as Twin Peaks, but TV that could do its own thing and go in strange directions, exploring all sorts of moods.

I’ll probably enjoy The Return more on rewatch, just because I won’t be so worried about what’s going to happen to Cooper. I know now what’s going to happen (more or less) so I can sit back and observe. There are all these little moments sunken in my mind that I’d like to revisit. One in particular is from the end of an episode, where a girl sits alone at the bar, waiting for someone, until a group of men make her get up, taking her place and she sits on the floor instead. That kind of thing happens to me all the time. It’s a situation so specific to my own experiences of feeling out of place.

It’s also the kind of thing Agent Cooper would never do to someone. Cooper is intelligent and good with people and he never acts like that makes him better than others. One small detail I appreciated was that he listened to Andy instead of pushing him aside dismissively. (He was also instantly supportive of Denise.) Andy is the best character, by the way. He’s the kind of person I want to be. If for nothing else, I’m glad I watched it for Andy. And for Denise, too. There needed to have been more of her. And of the somnambulist girl from the pilot

Breasts and Eggs, Nanami’s Egg and Angel’s Egg

‘And how exactly like an egg he is!’ she said aloud, standing with her hands ready to catch him, for she was every moment expecting him to fall.

‘It’s very provoking,’ Humpty Dumpty said after a long silence, looking away from Alice as he spoke, ‘to be called an egg — very!’

Okay, let’s take a look at women and eggs (in Japanese media).

I don’t like eggs. Not as food. On surface level, just as objects, they can be very pretty, if you ignore how yucky they are on the inside. (I have sensory issues and I can’t stand a lot of food.) It’s one of those contradictions that art is so good at exploring; how something can make you shudder while also being pretty. Georges Bataille’s Story of the Eye (translated by Joachim Neugroschal) has a moment involving an egg that would make a lot of people uncomfortable. Even with artists I otherwise enjoy, I can’t stand it when they get too physical, because, thanks to my sensory problems, I start to vividly imagine how it would feel for me to be in that situation and I become hyper-aware of any discomfort I’m feeling at the time.

The above is all just to say that, while I’m writing about eggs, I’m trying hard to only think about them in the abstract, out of context, as surface-only objects and not real eggs. Even if the media I’m looking at here reminds me otherwise.

Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami - Pan Macmillan

Mieko Kawakami’s Breasts and Eggs (translated by Sam Bett and David Boyd) is on another level. It’s immersive and dark, with the pacing of a heartbeat or a murmur. It does the difficult job of showing how harsh life in modern Japan can be without becoming too bleak. This novel is somewhere between Yūko Tsushima and Natsuo Kirino, not just in how it depicts the lives of modern Japanese women, but in terms of atmosphere and imagery. You can get lost in the narrator’s thoughts. They’re so subdued, but you can tell there are murky depths past surface level. You can tell how lonely and conflicted the characters feel, even when they don’t say it directly. When emotional outbursts do come, they are like the breaking of an egg.

As you can guess from the title, this novel goes into some uncomfortable body stuff. Its characters experience discomfort with aspects of their bodies, confused and unsettled by how they look, feel and change. This unease is palpable. I normally don’t like to be reminded of my own physicality when reading. Art gives me a way to disconnect from that aspect of myself. Despite all this, I’m willing to step out of my comfort zone when it comes to something as good as Breasts and Eggs. Maybe it’s because I could relate so deeply to how its characters felt. My situation is different from theirs, but I completely understand how alienating and unsettling your own body can be. Just inhabiting it can be traumatic.

If you’re into anime, this might remind you of Revolutionary Girl Utena. Eggs get brought up a lot. Like everything else in Utena, their meaning is open to interpretation, but an obvious one is adolescence. In one infamous episode, supporting character Nanami wakes up to find an egg in her bed. She jumps to the conclusion that she laid it in her sleep. She freaks out and worries that this makes her abnormal. We see her imagine what would happen if people found out she laid an egg. They’ll obviously think she is a space alien and socially ostracise her. Following some misunderstandings, Nanami starts to believe that all girls must lay eggs. At first she is relieved, but then starts to worry that she may be a late bloomer.

Things get steadily weirder as the episode goes on, but the events described can easily be read as a metaphor for a girl having her first period. Nanami comes from a different background to Kawakami’s characters, but when it comes to something like this, suddenly they’re on the same page. Nanami is the kind of character who wants to be seen as perfect and puts in a lot of effort to keep up that image, but no matter who you are, you have a body. Bodily functions can be unpleasant and confusing and often beyond our control. We can only do our best to hide it.

It makes sense that we’d get something like this in an anime so inspired by fairy tales. While there are some male writers associated with the genre (the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson, Bruno Bettleheim and Jack Zipes) fairy tales are generally seen as a female interest. And modern interpretations of fairy tales often dive deep into the contrast between the delicate and fragile (the eggshell) and the feral and unpredictable (the insides). On the surface, Nanami’s plight is comedic, but there’s real anxiety bubbling up and the more times I watch it, the more I see how precarious Nanami’s position is. She’s like Bluebeard’s wife, desperately trying to wash her husband’s egg/key clean of blood.

(I actually wrote an essay in undergrad that goes more into the fairy tale aspects of Utena that’s available to read here if you’re interested.)

The Consulting Analyst – Nanami's Egg – Fashionable Tinfoil Accessories

Angel’s Egg is another anime with a fairy tale atmosphere about a blonde girl who carries an egg around. As far as I remember, it doesn’t make any connections between the egg and human bodily functions, but it’s interesting that the character who holds the egg is female. I have no idea if there was anything intentional behind this, or even if the creators made some subconscious connection between girls and eggs, but even if it is entirely coincidental, it’s an interesting parallel.

Angel's Egg movie (English subbed) - YouTube

Like Nanami, the girl is protective of her egg, in case of it breaking. The symbolism (if any) is more vague than in Utena, but the egg holds meaning. It’s a precious item. Appropriately for an egg, its significance seems self-contained, like an object in a dream. Tonally, Angel’s Egg has something in common with Breasts and Eggs, especially in its use of dark spaces. Both are meandering are slow-paced. Stories like these are relief after an oversaturation of loudness in the art world; I wish we could have more media that takes its time like they do.

Angel's Egg: We all have an egg to carry | Ha Neul Seom

Aside from their fantastical backgrounds, Angel’s Egg and Utena are different in how they tell their stories, but both remind me of something: another blonde girl and an egg.

Humpty Dumpty costume for Alice | Alice in wonderland costume, Kids  theater, Wonderland costumes
Through the Looking-Glass: Chapter 6 – Humpty Dumpty | KidLit and the Word

Everything comes back to Alice. It’s debateable whether Humpty Dumpty is actually an egg, but he is egglike and in Through the Looking-Glass he does grow from an egg. Alice’s story is intentionally nonsensical and it’s important to keep that in mind, but it’s interesting to see how applicable it is and the ways it can be compared to so many other stories. When Alice is in her dream-worlds, she undergoes physical transformations, has her identity assaulted at every turn and is put into situations she barely understands. That sounds familiar.

I hate Joyce too

He has no flow. Stream-of-consciousness should feel as unexpectedly familiar as the chance meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella. Joyce’s writing is a forced flow of congested words and greasy, congealed imagery. Some people might defend this by saying he was an innovator, one of the first people to write this way, but I disagree. Even if he didn’t do it, somebody else would. You can find experimental, stream-of-consciousness writing long before Joyce. He’s not special. And many writers have been experimenting since him, and most do it better. Just look at Richard Brautigan. He puts words together like nobody else can, in a way that shows his unique way of looking at things. Joyce could never do that.

Joyce thinks that intertextuality equals depth, so he makes bad puns and empty references to mythology. Isn’t that the kind of thing people criticise Family Guy and Ready Player One for? Everything he does is forced and affected. He can’t do real feelings so he settles for melodrama. He uses too many words because that’s what bad writers do.

He tries to contain all of human experience within his work, like his art is a theory of the world that reveals some universal truth. I can’t stand this. To me, one of the best things about art is that you don’t have to include every aspect of existence. You can pare things down and make a little world of your own. It’s about interiors, not exteriors.

Alice in Wonderland - In a world of my own - YouTube

And he can’t even do the universal experience right, because his vision is so limited. He can’t see beyond the place he was born in. Joyce’s books are all about his “national identity” or whatever. This is something I hate even more than the maximalist stuff. He writes about his country as if that was something meaningful, but it’s not. It’s arbitrary. Connecting it to your artistic identity is limiting and ugly.

I already have to live in Ireland; I’m not going to read about it too. At least when authors from other places write about their nationality they have something worth saying. I might find the way Okakura Kakuzō or Yukio Mishima see Japan and their relationship to it absurd, but at least Japan is beautiful and both write about it beautifully, with actual emotion. I don’t like the idea of revering tradition for tradition’s sake, but even out of context, the traditions Yasunari Kawabata describes are beautiful.

For someone who claimed to be critical of his country, all he does is write love letters to it. The tourist industry adores him. Yes, he tries to be satirical, but that’s dampened by everything else in his writing. The least he could do is try and see the place in an interesting way, like defamiliarising it or something. But he just portrays it as the same dusty, banal country as it is in reality. I’d hate to live in Joyce’s world. None of the imagery glistens. You can’t immerse yourself in his words, not unless you want to be covered in a greasy film. There’s no emotional hook and there’s nothing pretty about it.

I think Virginia Woolf put it best when she said that he was boring and called him “egotistic, insistent, raw, striking, & ultimately nauseating.” Read her instead.

Animal Lover

This is bleak, especially considering what it follows on from. Demons Dance Alone, The Residents’ preceding album, is sad, but in a melancholy way. In its imagery and tone it has a lot in common with The Cure’s Disintegration. It’s gentle and even a little ethereal. The lyrics are poetic, but more grounded. There’s a thematic thread of lost innocence and hoping to return to happier times. Animal Lover is more like Pornography. It’s despondent and nightmarish. There’s still some innocence and delicate ambience to balance it out, but it’s not a happy album. Demons Dance Alone felt like someone trying to heal after a long period of sadness; Animal Lover is the harsh relapse. In the liner notes, there is an image of four naked men (?) covering their genitals, their heads replaced by what looks like rocks or some chitinous substance. The caption underneath says something like [t]he same old Residents. (I don’t have my copy with me right now.) You get the feeling that they’re sad, ashamed and tired.

Most of the songs tell dark, surreal stories, similar to the ones in Duck Stab! but more coherent. Most of them seem to be based on urban legends or the paranormal. Dead Rabbit Radio (my favourite spooky podcast) has reported on a story suspiciously similar to the one in Olive and Grey, but I don’t remember the exact episode it was in, so you’ll have to look for that yourself. Burn My Bones, one of their scariest songs, reminds me of the Wendigo, while I’ve heard of some cryptid sightings similar to the one in Monkey Man. There are others, including The Whispering Boys and On the Way to Oklahoma, that sound like they could be inspired by urban legends, in the same way that Saki Sanobashi sounds like it could have been a real anime. They sound eerily familiar but you can’t place why. Even the songs that don’t sound like spooky stories still feel like they could have been inspired by real events, in some bleak corner of human life. If What Have My Chickens Done Now? was based on a true story, that makes it even bleaker than it already is. If it was just imagined, The Residents must have been in a dark place while writing it.

The Residents - Animal Lover | Music Review | Tiny Mix Tapes
The Residents - Animal Lover Instrumental (2008, CD) | Discogs

Aside from the three instrumentals, every song is accompanied by a paragraph-long story in the liner notes. To be honest, I found them unnecessary. The stories are already being told in the songs and The Residents are better at expressing themselves through music. Part of the fun of listening to The Residents is that you only have a vague idea of what they’re singing about. The prose wasn’t bad, but underwhelming compared to their abstract lyrics. The only accompanying story that stood out to me was the one of Elmer’s song; it added something that couldn’t be found in the song alone and made it more interesting too.

There’s also a second disk, a meandering remix of the album called:

I stood at my window staring at an arcing streetlight.
A sudden wind made me pull my shoulders to my ears.
I pissed into the dark.
It smelled like canned tuna.
My swollen lip throbbed.
I could still taste the blood.
My eyes rolled back looking for memories.
I stopped.

I was changing details in my mind, remembering only what I wanted it to be, not what it was.
I had only a short time to do what had to be done, after that it would all be forever absorbed by my imaginary Jack.

Or just Imaginary Jack for short. It’s hallucinatory, noir and reminds me of their less structured, long-form works from decades ago.

Animal Lover is one of the last really great Residents albums. I love them, but the bleak moods expressed here seem to have gotten to them and all their most recent music sounds worn out, especially now that Hardy Fox is sadly gone. That’s understandable, though. The Residents have been around for a long time and have consistently put out so many fantastic albums. Anybody would get worn out. The fact that they made Animal Lover (and following that, Tweedles and Voice of Midnight) so late in their career is impressive.

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