This post is, in a way, a continuation of this review I wrote some time ago about the social screensaver The Endless Forest and the art of purposeless gaming. I won’t go into all the details of how the TALE of TALES project is all kinds of marvellous and then some, but I will go on to sing the praise of “pointless games”, so to speak. Of course, you could argue that all games are, in one way or another, pointless and a great way to waste your time, gloriously managing to fail doing anything productive by the end of the day. But there are those games that perfect the art of time-wasting and bring it to a philosophical, almost religious, I might say, epitome. Those games with no or very few rules, dead-end outcomes, and where there is no way to win or to lose. There is only the play, endless, bereft of apparent motives and goals. I find those games hypnotic and perfect.
And since now is the time for smartphone apps and, consequently, wasting money on illusions (read: “smartphone games”), I present to you the one illusion I would spend money on. There is an online version of it, as well, and that one is free to play. Otherwise, you may download it onto your smartphone of choice for $2.99 only. It was released in 2010 AD (dei gratia) and it is called, tellingly enough, Vanitas.
The game features a small wooden box, populated with three random objects. Some of the objects you might chance upon at any given time include: a feather, a die, a nail, a bird skull, a stick, a tiny (literally) bound tome, a soap bubble, a ripe cherry, an acorn, a ladybird (which will fly around sedately for a while and then drop dead), a snail, an egg, a key. In short, it is reminiscent of a child’s secret “treasure box”, where you might find anything, from a decayed milk tooth to a fragile insectile corpse (I should know, I used to a have a mighty collection of random stuff). You may interact with these object, but they will never affect one another and it is only seldom that your interaction with them will produce a visible change. Sometimes, you may get melancholy background sounds, which are mildly startling when they do happen. The game instructions encourage you to “Pause for a moment. Reflect.” Or sometimes, if you should happen to find “three identical objects” in the box and as a consequence you are awarded “a gold star on the lid of the box“, you are encouraged to “consider how lucky you are“.
The official info page for Vanitas boasts:
A memento mori for your digital hands.
To lift you up when you’re feeling down. And drag you down when you’re up too high.
Oscar Wilde would have been proud of this app. Hell, he would have given up on writing The Portrait of Dorian Gray just to play this game. All day long, every day. Actually, I would go so far as to claim that, had Wilde been in possession of a smartphone equipped with this exquisite piece of artistry, it might even have saved him from prison.
Yes, I believe I might invest in an app, just this once.
Gothic Lolita. I’ve been chewing on this for a while, wondering if I should or shouldn’t venture to write something about it. This usually happens when a certain topic is very dear to me, and I don’t want to cause it any kind of injustice. But this time, in particular, I’ve had several serious doubts. For one, I know there are many dedicated lolita bloggers out there, who have long been part of the fashion and the lifestyle, and they’ve surely written everything about lolita that anyone may wish to know. There are forums, groups, video blogs and oh so many other online outlets gathering information and sparking discussion about lolita. I have never taken part in any of them. So what could I say that has never been said before? Nothing, I’m sure. And yet, I feel there are a couple of points that need, and I stress, need to be reiterated, for the good of the “lolita community” (and here, I mean “community” on a purely abstract level, as a sort of all-encompassing lolita sorority, stretching far and wide through the power of Internet).
But first of all, for the sake of those of you reading this who may only be familiar with Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita” – this is not what I will be talking about in this blog post. (Actually, I might touch upon that too, but let it be understood from the get-go that in this case, the nymphettes and the lolitas are not precisely synonymous, though they are both ultimately just as contentious.) So, what is lolita and where does it originate? Again, I will not pretend to be any kind of authority on this, but I still believe that my ongoing – shall I call it – obsession with the topic, allows me some pretty solid insight into the matter. Lolita, then, is a Japanese street fashion evolved into a full-fledged subculture. Originally, it is supposed to have been inspired by depictions, in popular manga and anime, of female characters, childish in appearance, wearing decorative frilly dresses and sometimes large head bows or headdresses, largely reminiscent of the styling of antique porcelain dolls and children of the Rococo and/or Victorian era. These characters were termed “lolita”, which is itself what the Japanese call a “gairaigo”, i.e. a word borrowed from a foreign language (in this case, English) through transliteration. (It is probably important, at this point, to keep in mind that not all terms adopted through transliteration keep their original meaning, as Japanese has a tendency to import words in a haphazard fashion, often modifying their initial sense unscrupulously.)
This first inspired the emergence of Visual Kei/Visual rock on the Japanese
rock scene, i.e. rock singers dressed to impress; and although this may appear to be a very similar feat to Western “Goth rock” displays, in many ways it is not. Yes, Visual Kei does have numerous Goth elements, but in many cases (especially true of early j-rock bands) it has the added element of “porcelain doll”-ness or childishness, looking more like undead Alices in Underland than anything else. This, of course, was ultimately copied by the fans, and so lolita, slowly but surely, became a Japanese street fashion. Many things ensued: a nefarious quarterly mook (combination between a book and magazine), the Gothic & Lolita Bible, popularising the fashion; pop culture and fashion icons, like the mysterious Mana-sama (of Malice Mizer, and lately of Moi dix Mois), gender-bending rock star who started his own gothic and lolita clothing brand (Moi-même-Moitié); and, of course many many more clothing brands specialising in lolita were born in the Japanese fashion market (metamorphose temps de fille, Baby, the Stars Shine Bright, h.NAOTO, Mary Magdalene to name some of the most important).
Unsurprisingly perhaps, this Japanese trend soon spread out, not only to other Asian countries (like Hong Kong and South Korea), but most prominently, perhaps to other continents, especially Europe, North America and Australia (don’t quote me on this, though). As a result of this expansion, gothic lolita (or, to give its full correct title, Elegant Gothic Lolita) surpassed the condition of “street fashion” and was claimed by many as a viable lifestyle and mentality (escapism is largely invoked), and was elevated to the rank of subculture. Alternative fashion and culture blogger La Carmina describes lolita as essentially a mix of “kawaii” (Japanse for “cute”) and “kowai” (Japanese for “scary”), thus both liking it to Western Goth style and differentiating it from Western subcultures, though some Internet culture Goth icons (such as Jillian Venters , better knows as the Lady of the Manners of Gothic Charm School) tend to claim lolita as an integral part of the current Goth scene. This view is largely controversial, especially because the style, as it grew, also developed several branches, differentiated through their particular colour schemes. Thus, we have:
gothic lolita (black and white clothing, sometimes only black – kuro loli, or only white – shiro loli);
sweet lolita (pink, baby blue, yellow, and generally bright colours and girlish prints, featuring cupcakes, lollipops, carousels etc);
classic lolita (closer to gothic through its sobriety, it is very elegant and perhaps closest to Victorian-style dresses; it plays with darker colours, like maroon, garnet and navy blue, or dusty pastels, like beige, off-white, and pastel violet);
casual lolita (a more toned down version, not as dressy as the other styles and more easily adaptable to every-day needs);
erotic lolita or ero-loli (a more fetishistic version, playing on the alluring display of corsets, petticoats and stockings and eliminating the modest and conservative elements of the style);
and, finally, kodona (the male version of lolita, using traditionally “boyish” garments, such as trousers and vests).
And this is lolita in a nutshell. Now, all of the above may seem like too much detail to some of you, and a waste of space, but, I assure, it is entirely relevant to what I am going to say. Firstly, because through its variety of styles and its gender-bending permissiveness, lolita appears as an attractive channel for more outside-the-norm, mainstream-challenging creativity. “Creativity” is the key-word for me there, so please bear it in mind. Secondly, because the very “labeling” of styles within the larger theme of lolita can be, in fact, destructive and stultifying. I’ll return to that in a second. But before I do that – I feel I need to elaborate a bit on the criticism aimed at lolita. Sometimes, lolita is seen as being too feminine, and reinforcing traditional, constrictive elements of style (corsets or dress shirring imitating corsets, petticoats, girdles, even the dresses themselves), and thus essentially anti-feminist despite itself – see Moye Ishimoto’s spoof article, “Actual Great Moments in De-evolution: Gothic Lolitas”. This, of course, triggered the “feminine is not anti-feminist” response from the lolitas:
Response which is, in fact, sustainable, since lolita, through its anachronistic aesthetics, aims, allegedly, to challenge mainstream fashion and, implicitly, mainstream labeling of women and men alike, thereby undermining “the establishment”. The other prominent criticism of lolita was inspired, in fact, by its association with Nabokov’s novel and also with the Japanese concept “lolita complex” or “lolicon”, determining a person (usually male) with an unnatural fixation on young girls and/or boys. This view implies that lolita (which has attracted acolytes of both sexes, from teenagers to people in their ’30s or ’40s) is a largely fetishistic display, encouraging, through its childlike, costumey-innocent aesthetics, dangerous paedophilic tendencies. Members of the lolita community have reacted defensively to these implications (one example here, extensive discussion on the LiveJournal Lolita Community here), repeatedly stating that the aesthetics of the lolita subculture and the implications of Nabokov’s “Lolita” have absolutely nothing in common. As an aficionado both of Nabokov and of Japanese lolita, however, I often find myself asking: “is that really so?”. And with the risk of offending some lolitas, I do have to point out that there is actually no other possible source for the term “lolita” than Nabokov’s much discussed novel. That is not to say, of course, that endowing the lolita style means to encourage sexual abuse of any kind; to the contrary. Nonetheless, I can’t help but observe that the aesthetics itself is inherently fetishistc. In an academic article on the lolita subculture – “Undressing and Dressing Loli: A Search for the Identity of the Japanese Lolita” – professor Theresa Winge (specialised in topics like cosplay and subcultures), notes that:
By exploring the relationship between Lolita and kawaii, it is possible to understand aspects of Lolita that go beyond the Nabokov character, living doll, sexual fetish, or transnational object.
Lolitas out there, don’t take me wrong, but lolita is fetishistic. Nabokov or not, and letting alone the “flirty young girl” attitude, the artificial display of innocence and the “I’m actually a living porcelain doll, don’t touch me” attitude imply a fetishistic (though in no way mainstream) approach to fashion and a – because escapist – “Peter Pan complex”– defined outlook on life. (To which, to make matters clear, I hereby subscribe.) I don’t see why this view should be rejected so virulently. It is, ultimately, an “I don’t care about your rules” attitude. Subcultures are all about that.
But, believe it or not, I digress. My ultimate purpose, in writing this post, is
this: to challenge the existent lolita community. When I first discovered lolita – which, I stress, was pretty late, I was about 15 or 16, in 2004-2005 – I saw it as the most subversive and creative possible means to express myself. With the exception of this lone page, there was pretty much nothing about lolita, and although I loved the style, I had to apply all my creativity in order to adapt it to my daily shenanigans. By comparison with the “online scene” today, there was none of that commercial elitism: “the lace on your dress has got to be antique”, “your skirts must come from Japanese brands only”. Lolita was still, I believe, more of a frame of mind and a general aesthetics than a “hermetic society” conditioned, quite frankly, by how much money you manage to spend on the clothes. I suppose that is, after all, the trouble with all subcultures. They start as statements and devolve into fashion fads.
I have never participated in a lolita forum or online group. The reason why is because, although lolita has gone a long way in just a few years, it has become elitist from the wrong – and by “wrong” I mean “commercial” – point of view. Sure, it’s nice to save money for all the pretty dresses, but it should not just be about that. It should not mainly be about that.Lolita, the way I see it, should be about encouraging personal creativity, and not how much money you earn. And a too extensive labeling of lolita – see above – ultimately means that you are not allowing for diversity, and you are keen on assigning each lolita in part a tiny, restricted place in the “community”. That is not as it should be. Welcome originality. Welcome creative effort. (This sounds like an ad, but nevertheless…) I feel like I cannot stress enough how much I deplore seeing a premise with such wonderful potential go to waste.
Signed: A Lonesome Lolita
When I was about 4 or 5 years of age, I stumbled upon a cassette tape in my dad’s vast collection. I don’t actually remember how it happened, or why it was that that particular cassette piqued my interest – after all, there was nothing especially attractive about it at first sight. Except, maybe, the small picture of a long-haired man picking wildly at his guitar. It may have been that, or it may have been something entirely different which I can no longer remember. Be
that as it may, I had learned how to use my parents’ huge cassette deck – they still have it, but I have successfully managed to break it in the meanwhile – so I decided to play that tape. On max volume. (I’ve always had a “thing” for blasting my music out loud – it just doesn’t feel the same if the volume’s turned low.) I loved it. From the very first, I absolutely loved it and that cassette tape became my favourite – and it stayed like that for many years. The songs were all in English – it didn’t matter that I couldn’t understand the language at the time, to me it was as though I were listening to magical chants. My theory is that my early love for the songs on that tape tipped the balance and gently helped me become who I am today, because most of the songs on it stayed with me even though I wasn’t aware of it. The cassette had the cheesiest title ever – Super Rock ’85 (produced by Atlantic Records and “made in Singapore”) – and it was a compilation of allegedly some of the best rock songs of said year. Who decided which songs to include and based on what criteria is completely beyond me. Anyway the choice of songs and bands now seems pretty limited and perhaps not as brilliant as it could have been… The track list was as follows:
1. Teacher Teacher – 38 Special
2. Had A Dream – Roger Hodgson
3. Hammer To Fall – Queen
4. We’re Not Gonna Take It – Twisted Sister
5. Ruby Tuesday – Nazareth
6. Heaven’s On Fire – Kiss
7. Don’t Let It Go To Your Head – Xavion
8. Hell Is On The Run – Jakata
1. Morning Dew – Blackfoot
2. One Man Mission Of Love – Jim Capaldi
3. On The Dark Side – John Cafferty
4. I Can’t Hold Back – Survivor
5. Ten American Girls – Bolland
6. Don‘t Wait For Heroes – Dennis De Young
7. Girls With Guns – Tommy Shaw
8. Foolin’ Around – Freddie Mercury
Regardless, back then I loved the mix, and I still do right now. I had forgotten about the tape for a loooong time, but a few months ago I stumbled upon it again. Nostalgia ensued. I proceeded to look up all of the songs on online, and although I initially couldn’t find them all, listening to as many of them as possible together made feel as happy and carefree as when I was 4. I looked up and downloaded as many of the songs as I could. Between then and now I lost some of them. I enlisted more capable help, and finally managed to gather them all. I just wanted to share the original compilation, because I’m sure many of those bands/singers have now fallen prey to oblivion, and I find that heartbreaking. I’ll admit I like some songs more than others – Teacher Teacher, Nazareth’s fantastic cover of Ruby Tuesday, I Can’t Hold Back – but I do believe that all of them are worth a listen.
I’ve embedded my playlist below, and here I go, sending it off into the world!
It doesn’t often happen to me to feel the need to slice open my heart on a public surgery table, but since this little space is (arguably) as much of a private affair as it is an “all welcome” things, then I allow myself, every once in a while, to rant and rave. The issue at stake here? Something that’s always on my mind, in one way or another: homes. As a foreign student learning and living in a country other than that which I was born in, I often get to ask myself, in-between one flight and another, where, exactly, is my home?
The conclusion being: neither here nor there. This might strike many as a sad thing to say and even sadder thing to believe, but to me it is neither sad nor disconcerting. To me, home is not and cannot be a place, not even when that place contains people and things you love. To me, home is necessarily a frame of mind, a combination of circumstances leading to the feeling of home. This feeling, this frame of mind, happens to me randomly, in various places and at various times. Not being one who – despite the obligatory tos and fros between my native country and the country where I study – travels overmuch, I still consider myself, in many ways, a nomad. A spiritual nomad if you will, a mindset nomad, maybe, but nonetheless a traveller, always on the run, never troubling to settle down – simply because settling down is impossible.
Can’t come home,/ No one wants you once you’ve gone – I once, when feeling rather melancholy and unsettled, used these lyrics from Woodpigeon’s “Home as a Romanticized Concept (Where Everyone Loves You Always and Forever)” in a status. A well-meaning friend immediately jumped to the conclusion that I must have had an argument with my parents over Skype and that they probably told me to never come back home or some such nonsense. Of course, nothing was further from the truth. I felt slightly guilty then, but I still couldn’t help but believe in the truth contained in those two lines. You see, it isn’t that people will up and tell you to your face – “You’ve left this country, you’ve left all of us behind, we don’t want you back” – no, they probably won’t even think something like that, ever. Still, there are the changes and the subtle rifts. Once you leave, contact is lost, even in spite of daily video sessions or whathaveyou. People change, they move on, you yourself change, evolve, start thinking differently. And in the end, even though you still love everyone and everyone still loves you, there are gaps in your relationships which cannot be filled in and which become permanent. That is why home is, to me, necessarily a frame of mind which appears randomly: because those splits and changes are forever; even the spaces you love (or you once used to love) change and grow without you. You become a stranger.
And all of those are reasons why I am perfectly happy moving back and forth, between one place and another, physically as well as mentally. Since time cannot be arrested, it is much easier to make a home out of a flow of experiences, of hellos and goodbyes said to old and new acquaintances, of fears and challenges and shifting beliefs. Because a home built that way cannot topple and fall, it can only grow and grow some more. I wonder if all nomads feel the same.
You will, I hope, forgive me, as in spite of our being in the midst of Christmas celebration, I will entirely ignore Christmas in this my blog update. It’s not that I dislike Christmas – much to the contrary, in fact – but I won’t just blog about it because it’s “the season”. Instead, I’ll talk a little about something that’s strangely near my heart: liminal spaces. I really, really like those spaces of transition. They give me a sort of giddiness, especially places like airports, train stations or coach stations. Simply feeling the buzz, getting immersed in the atmosphere of comings and goings, the continuous flux of people – all of these give me, more or less, a feeling of “belonging”. Which is, I’ll admit, most weird, as this seldom happens when I’m at home, or at uni, or anywhere else. At the same time, this love of mine for liminality might also be one of the many reasons behind my taphophilia. And I’m also attracted to quiet, abandoned places that look almost as if they were caught in an eternal state of limbo. It’s like they’re waiting to be populated, to throb with life, but at the same time they reject anything but dust and silence.
Well, anyway, I’ll take this opportunity to share some more photos of the city and some of those liminal spaces with the world. Please excuse the poor quality, they are all little frankenphotos taken with my mobile camera.
Here, I would have added a fabulous quotation about liminal spaces and cities, but I find myself too tired, for once, to look it up. Maybe some other time.
That’s the thing with the winter holidays: I never seem to be in the mood for “merry-making” when Christmas is just around the corner. Of course, that’s explainable, as I’m mostly up half the night every single night doing random stuff. Mostly, I’m supposed to be “working” (whatever that means), but what I end up dong is take random photos…
… reread passages from books that I’ve loved…
She had that cajoling voice, the voice of temptation that all women have at certain moments, a voice like a crystal glass ringing in an ever-widening, swirling nimbus of sound in which the man is caught up, yields and lets himself go.
~ Georges Rodenbach, Bruges-la-Morte
… and then write poems based on the shape and feel of words levitating in my foggy brain…
The Voice of Temptation. The Attic by me, of course
The voice of temptation,
Caught listening at the door,
Is now hung in the attic
But it doesn’t mind:
The view is nice
And you can hear
All the rattling bones
From up there.
You can even see
All the houses of the city
Lined in broken rows
And filled to the brim with people –
They all look thin and black
From up there –
You can almost taste
The melt and decay
Riding high on the midnight breeze,
Feel the sun burning the moon
Little by little.
“I’m not even locked up here”,
Thinks the voice of temptation,
“And not reaching the floor
With the soles of my feet
Is almost, though not exactly like,
Flying”, it murmurs to itself.
“I’ll give this place a chance”,
It decides, but just then
The house of cards collapses,
Crushing the voice of temptation
Under a heap of spades.
… and then maybe doodle a little (no, I’m not going to show you those, sorry) and finally decide that it’s close to dawn so I’d better go to sleep. It’s a tiring and frustrating habit. But then again, maybe that’s just my way of celebrating. What’s yours?