THIS TOPIC IS INSPIRED BY DISCUSSIONS IN THE FORUM about the use of pseudonyms by members of Writers’ Dock. The use of avatars is closely linked to this and it seems logical to examine this in some detail.
Descent in Human Form:
Avatar is a Sanskrit word rooted in the Hindu concept of ‘descent of a deity into the human world’. The deity is an enlightened being who, out of compassion, returns in flesh to save mankind. Thus, an avatar is an incarnation of the sacred. One of the main Hindu deities who returns in his avatar form is Vishnu. He has eight different avatars and Krishna is the most popular of his avatars. Krishna (the ‘blue-skinned one’) is often depicted in Hindu iconography as the archetypal infant, lover (the flute being his instrument of enchantment), and the wise prince (in the Bhagavad Gita and Mahabharata).
It is interesting that another major computer term, ‘icon’, also derives from a fleshly representation of a divine being in Christian iconography.
From the Heavens to the Computer:
According to the Wiki:
The use of the term avatar for a computer representation of a user dates back to at least as far back as 1985, when it was used as the name for the player character in the Ultima computer games. The Ultima games started out in 1981, but it was in Ultima IV (1985), that the term ‘Avatar’ was introduced. To become the ‘Avatar’ was the goal of Ultima IV. The later games assumed that you were the Avatar and ‘Avatar’ was the player’s visual on-screen in-game persona. The on-screen representation could be customized in appearance. Later, the term ‘avatar’ was used by the designers of the pen and paper role-playing game, Shadowrun (1989), as well as in the online role-playing game, Habitat (1987).
It seems this use of avatar takes on a more personal role when we use avatars to represent ourselves on a site like this. There are numerous forums dedicated to the creation of online avatars.
Nectar of Wisdom: Signatures:
Together with the avatars, we also use signature or what the Wiki calls signature block:
It is common practice for a signature block to consist of one or more lines containing some brief information on the author of the message . . . A quotation is often included (occasionally automatically generated by such tools as fortune or an ASCII picture). Strict rules of capitalization are not followed.
What inspires your choice of avatar and signature?
Do you have more than one avatar?
Do you change your avatar and signature from time to time? What factors influence this?
– Golden Langur
DEAN CODY CASSADY OFFERS A SECOND EXCERPT FROM HIS USA TRIP.
On the Greyhound, halfway to New York City, south on Interstate 95. Crystal blue sky over the Smalltownvilles of America: railroad complex hunkered flat, low, wide; billboard signs like jungle flowers high over telegraph poles and wires; roadside eateries like scattered stones, flat on the edge of the Freeway, lit up high by Denny’s lozenge signs on sticks.
Sign for Queens and Long Island: still an hour out of New York. Man, I need a coffee. The occasional smell of cinnamon ebbing down from the back of the bus: cake or drink? I can’t tell. Been coming down over me since we crossed the Massachusetts state line.
First sight of Manhattan: the city waiting there like a silver tiger, lying in the glass and metal grass, watching us over the river.
Entering the city through Harlem. Slowly being swallowed up by the place. Slipping down its throat.
Down 5th Avenue: even on a Sunday this place is struck truckpacked full with yellowcabs and people. I get a fleeting glimpse of ordinariness, of this being a place populated by people after all, instead of images or robots or . . . what?
Yet the city, legend in itself, almost has a life of its own. The Manhattan Monster. The silver tiger skulking. Something dark and gothic: in the realm of legend, lore and the fantasy of NYC. It’s an ordinary place. Yeh, right. Capital of the world.
Ian says, ‘Hey, look: Times Square,’ but I’m too busy writing.
Downtown, round Wall Street and Battery Park: brick-built warehouses and tenements; old colonial buildings scattered like gemstones; wave after wave, Uptown, of progressively taller, thinner, metallic, glassy stacks of shards, like the city is an animal after all.
This place feels weirdly natural though. Walking through Greenwich Village, there are all sorts of people, all mixed up: Spanish, Jewish, Chinese, Polish, Russians, Irish. NYC’s rebounding off the waters: in geography, geology and demographics.
The subway: tangled New York sub-city web. Subterranean maps like they’ve been washed in coffee, wrapped in ink, crumpled out, chewed. Mixed up sour mash of Downtown Uptown routes. Tubes, pipes, open ductways writhe beneath: like a mirror image of the rational surface place; like the subway’s New York through the looking glass; like it’s a kingdom of its own.
Washington Square, like a ‘Thinking Well’: wide, shallow concrete pit, a fountain not turned on; denizens sit like leaves blown up against the edges. I’m whispered at by a dealer ghosting past: ‘Smoke?’ Maybe the thinkers are Dopeheads; maybe they see things on the sunken hologram stage. Maybe the Thinking Well is the Non-Thinking Well.
Walking Downtown, feeling the noise, not so much loud, but constant: the dull hot throbbing, padded pulsing of yellowcabs, buses, horns, nauseous wave after wave of people. Into Wall Street, the stone and glass bank canyons act as a natural air conditioning unit. Cool soft air flows through the Downtown machine, slipping down deep channels where the sun doesn’t reach; shadows spread like spilt chilled white wine.
Ian finds a speakeasy, though he’s never been to NYC before. He sees a door like any other. We follow him, find ourselves in a subterranean place; old name-carved wooden tables.
Up the Empire State: it’s so high that your ears pop in the elevator. It’s not as wide up there on the balcony as when I watched Meg Ryan in Sleepless in Seattle! The camera never lies!
The Chrysler Building shining silver toothtipped and easily the most beautiful building I’ve ever seen.
What happens in these buildings, squares, parks with their legend names? A city has its monuments and its ‘toothpaste’ (streets squirt like infill between the blocks). In NYC even the streets breathe like monuments do: 5th Avenue, Broadway, 42nd Street, Wall Street, Madison.
Walking on the back of the silver tiger, all its streets and monuments breathing, I didn’t realise Manhattan wasn’t perfectly flat (it’s a bucked beast: curved-up land, Downtown, Uptown, Crosstown).
East down 42nd Street, in amongst the tide of a Crosstown million people, swarming round us; us up against the flow; us in the flow; both at once. It’s like swimming through flesh.
On the morning TV: man got shot on the Lower East Side, where we’d been. This is a real place after all, not just the fantasy Metropolis I write it as. I don’t feel unsafe, but something at the back of my head warns me, quietly.
NYC was always a patchwork legend to me: a fusion of years of TV, film, newspaper images. It is a patchwork city: pastel purples, blues, greens on tourist gridmaps (blockpatches of Chelsea, Soho, Little Italy, Chinatown, Lower Manhattan, Central Park); threaded together at the edges by the East West Street stitches (‘Greenwich Village’, says one book, ‘traditionally starts at W14th Street with its southern boundary at W8th or 9th’, like it doesn’t really know for sure); people jammed together, a patchwork quilt, side by side in the multi-million stitch peopletide of Jewish, immigrant street beggars, Hispanic, Latino, European, Americano melge.
Bumping north on Interstate 95, two hours from Boston, I’m almost sad to see the back of New York City. I’ve walked on the back of the beast, down at the base of its spikes, along the breathing streets, over the silver tiger lying low between the glass grass reeds. I’m no longer afraid of the fantasy city legend told me I should be anxious of.
– Dean Cody Cassady
THE JAPANESE NOVELIST, HARUKI MURAKAMI (1949 -) IS A LITERARY PHENOMENON. His novel, Norwegian Wood, a moving love story, sold four million copies in Japan. Both the Japanese original and English translation of his latest work, 1Q84 (a multi-lingual pun on Orwell), had queues snaking around bookshops in London and New York at midnight, drawing parallels with the Harry Potter phenomenon.
A bar and jazz-club owner before bursting onto the literary scene, Murakami weaves a kaleidoscope of literary and cultural references in all his books. He alludes to scientific theories of a multiverse or series of interlocking alternative universes, which makes one question ‘What is reality?’
Kafka on the Shore (published in 2002) tells the story of two main protagonists, in alternating chapters. The first protagonist is the eponymous hero, the fifteen-year old Kafka Tamura, as he styles himself. His father, a wealthy Tokyo sculptor, prophesises that Kafka is destined to murder him and sleep with his mother and sister. The added poignancy is that Kafka has been abandoned by his mother and sister at the age of three. The father destroys all photographs in the house and Kafka has no idea what they look like, if they are alive or where they live. Kafka has an emanation or shadow, ‘the boy called crow’ (‘Kafka’ means ‘crow’ in Czech), who urges Kafka for much of the book to be ‘the toughest fifteen-year-old in the world’.
The other, parallel hero is an old man, Nakata. As a boy evacuee during World War II, from Tokyo to the province of Shikoku, Nakata is brain damaged during a mushroom picking school trip in a nearby forest. The children and teacher see a mysterious flash of light in the sky and lose consciousness. The other children recover but Nakata remains in a coma and is sent back to Tokyo. On regaining consciousness Nakata says he became ‘a shadow’. This is a significant parallel with Kafka’s ‘the boy called crow’. Nakata loses his ability to read and write but finds he can communicate with cats. This leads to a job with the municipality as catcher of stray cats. There are delightful passages of Nakata’s conversations with his neighbourhood cats, which carry echoes of Soseki’s talkative cat protagonist, in I Am a Cat. Nakata befriends a Siamese called Mimi who has a proclivity for quoting Puccini operas.
The centre of the book, in so far as one can locate an epicentre at all, is a macabre and hallucinatory killing by – or perhaps not by – Nakata of ‘Johnnie Walker’, who may or may not be the whisky label and may or may not be Kafka’s father, to prevent a cat-killing orgy by ‘Johnnie Walker’, who has a penchant for tearing out the still pulsing hearts of the cats and using their souls to make flutes. Nakata goes on the run and is picked up by a long-distance lorry driver, Hoshino. Nakata reminds Hoshino of his own grandfather. The two travel to the provincial city of Takamatsu in Shikoku.
Meanwhile, to escape the Oedipal curse of his father, Kafka too embarks on a kind of pilgrimage – echoes of the haiku poet Matsuo Basho’s journey to the North – of his own. He travels from Tokyo, his home town to Takamatsu, Shikoku. Here, Kafka is welcomed in a private library by the librarian, Oshima, a transgender gay figure, and Miss Saeki, the manager, who may or may not be Kafka’s mother with whom Kafka eventually has a sexual relationship. The motif of the shadow is once again played out in the characters of Miss Saeki, who is a nebulous presence, and Oshima, who transcends gender classification. Oshima is Kafka’s intellectual and emotional mentor and it is in the forest where Oshima has a cottage that Kafka has an epiphanic reckoning.
Throughout the book there are numerous references to music. The interweaving of plots, encounters and people resembles a Bach fugue where ambiguities are frequently unresolved and thereby haunting. Kafka and Nakata never meet but their destines are inexplicably intertwined. We never find out if Miss Saeki is Kafka’s mother, whether Nakata or Kafka himself killed his father, what Osima’s true sex is, whether there really was a Johnnie Walker cat-killer.
What particularly appealed to me is that Komura Memorial Library, where Kafka works and lives briefly, is described as being dedicated to the works of tanka and haiku writers, immediately evoking literary allusions to Basho, Buson, Issa, Shiki. There are some tantalising passages about the library being used by haiku poets.
Another unforgettable aspect of this novel is a parallel alternative reality in the forest where a colony of beings live in detachment from the world – a kind of zombie-Avalon. Kafka wanders into this hinter world and faces the prospect of being swallowed into its shadowy existence. He returns, determined to face the aftermath of his father’s murder.
There are no neat resolutions to the parallel strands of Kafka and Nakata’s stories. What one is left with is a mesmerising sense of atmosphere, as both plot and characters dissolve, a haunting sense of claustrophobia and limitless possibility and unresolved contradictions. Murakami is sympathetic to his characters: even quite wicked ones like Johnnie Walker have a kind of insane pathos about them.
– Golden Langur
DEAN CODY CASSADY OFFERS AN EXCERPT FROM A TRIP TO THE EAST COAST OF THE STATES.
I finally made it to the USA, after years of sucking up the place through childhood TV. Outside Boston, MA., in an old timber frame house, it’s like stepping into that TV screen! Lightblue and white, cream and brown, pastelgreen detached houses, all with verandas. Walking down Newtonville at night, it struck me about the space: no house is built up against any other when it doesn’t need to be; just how big must this whole country be?
It’s strange, this place we think we know so well but which is Aliensville, MA. I mean, we know its streets, the cars, the way the lights hang over the traffic, swaying in the tumblebreeze, the Stars and Stripes hanging like redblue flowers from posts, yet we haven’t ever seen it: it’s like we’ve slightly shifted into an alternate universe.
Strange that the locals in a Boston bar can’t understand my accent. I slow down, speak clearer, stop my slur into London English, as I tend to do when lazy; yet, I understand Ian from Georgia perfectly (and vice versa), even with his slow Southern twang: ‘Hey, what’s up, y’all?’ I thought I’d assimilated after all these years. Obviously not yet.
We rumble past the Red Sox stadium on the top deck of the double-decker train into Boston, jumping off at Back Bay, literally: waiting for the footbar to swing up, like we’d seen it do from outside, but it doesn’t. Four or five feet down onto the platform. A fat, angry female guard behind us shouts: ‘Don’t you ever do that again, you hear?’ We hit the exit steps, running.
A favourite phrase right now is ‘What’s going on here?’: no pubs in Boston, except down Union and Marshall; bar glasses three quarters of a full English pint; on every intersection there’s a four square pattern of pedestrian rights-of-way (‘Hey,’ shouted one Bostonian at a taxi, ‘don’t y’know pe-destrians have right of way, you idiot?’) The double-decker train. We sit up on the top deck: it begs us to. The guard doesn’t understand my accent: ‘Newtonville to Back Bay,’ I say, but I pronounce it English new (n’you), rather than American noo. We learn quick, from the ticket he’s punched, that if we want to go there and back, it’s a roundtrip rather than a return. We pay him $2 each, preparing to pay again from Back Bay because he hasn’t registered what we want.
We find a bar in the old town, just off the Italian quarter. Kind of like an English pub, it’s on the tourist route. Why do we tourists do this? We come three and a half thousand miles and find a place that serves English beer: so we order it, stick to it. It takes a few days to readjust. I hope, by the time we get to New York, we’ll have Americanised our former selves: we’ll be able to order some sandwich on rye with whatever filling, hold the mustard, double Columbian latte to go. Or something similar. I somehow doubt it though. It’s our Englishness, you understand.
Americanisation. I find myself trying to adjust my accent and vocabulary, just to fit in. Why? Am I that unsure of myself? We Englishmen talk to each other about restrooms not toilets; bucks not dollars; intersections not junctions or crossroads; bars not pubs. We’re in a kind of limbo here.
You see Americans in England waxing lyrical about the history of the place, but I’m in reverse here. Boston: birthplace of the Revolution. It’s difficult to see that history though. The American Grid street system has taken over; I can’t see history in the grid: the ‘Cheers’ bar, the Expressways to NY, the BigDig out near the airport.
Way back at architecture school there was a lecturer who’d absorbed America already by the time he’d got to us. He was passionate about the wide open space, painting it from every angle: huge empty skies above long wide streets; passive cars between isolated gas stations, bright-red Coca-Cola signs; thin telegraph poles, wires strung across roads; trafficlight blocks hung over them, insinuations of hot soft wind easing through the place, stuffing itself into the wide open space, ruffling the tattered-edged Stars and Stripes hung from posts in the middle of the road. The paleblue sky, the dusty-red Coca-Cola signs, the pastel yellowgreen landscape: like the whole painting had been washed in water specially stored in a jar since the Sixties.
Well, we walked into one of those paintings out in Newtonville, MA. Although not exactly a painting in itself, the intersection of Walnut and Washington, over the railroad bridge, made me flash-back; I could see how and why he’d absorbed it. God is in the details, we were taught (the wisdom of architect, Mies van der Rohe). Although this is only an intersection, a dull little everyday sight with no exceptional qualities to the everyday American, it’s an exceptional sight when not taken for granted.
This wide four-way intersection over the railroad bridge; four lanes of occasional passive cars; thin poles up between the blocks; the ubiquitous Stars and Stripes, limp but proud, tattered like a wartorn memory, hung from the post in the middle of the road. Under the widescreen panoramic sky, the painted scene soaked in ordinariness and branded at the subtle edges with dusty pale-red Coca-Cola signs, Mies van der Rohe’s God is in the details.
– Dean Cody Cassady
DAVID A. TROMAN REVIEWS A SCIENTIFIC ESSAY.
The universe and all therein, from one singularity to another singularity, and the impossibility of infinity. What is God?
It would be tempting to think that a scientific essay written – with the intention of its place in the literary canon being that of a prose poem – in 1848 as having little reference to the modern world. Think again. This book is very relevant to our modern world.
It is not, by any means, an easy read. The language is that of the time in which it was written, and the sentence construction/grammar is consequently somewhat alien to modern readers, but its content is so intriguing that it would be a pity to be put off by such considerations.
Within the slightly over 100 pages of this book you will find theories of the formation of the universe, black holes (non-luminous suns) and some ideas that may seem odd as well: for example, the discussion of seventeen planets comprising the solar system, at a time before Pluto had been discovered and then discounted as a planet; an explanation of the formation of the planets and their satellites, and even a theory of the existence and nature of God. All this from a man who was justifiably famous for his poetic and fictional writings may cause the reader to wonder how much of this was intended as fiction too. My answer would be, none of it. These are the thoughts of a very active and enquiring mind. Although Poe suffered much of his life with health and alcohol addiction problems, the arguments presented in this work are cogent and worthy of considered thought for both their content and their presentation.
One of the most interesting arguments put forward here is that infinity is an impossible concept because there always has to be an end to anything that exists: an intriguing point of view. Poe also makes reference to the works of many other scientists in this essay and shows a wide-ranging knowledge, and deep understanding, of the works of Kepler, Newton and many more. His arguments for the necessary existence of a repulsive force to counteract the attractive force of gravity are compelling, even now that this is a known fact.
As Sir Patrick Moore says in his foreword to this edition, ‘Read this essay carefully. There is much more to it than meets the eye.’
This is a book that rewards many fold the time and thought invested in reading it and, as with so many things in life, the greater the investment, the greater the rewards.
– David A. Troman