The Lunar New Year: (8) Media’s intertextuality, and postmodernism as a bane

The lack of updates can be attributed to a very taxing (yet supererogatory) paper on Maxine Hong Kingston‘s novel Tripmaster Monkey. I am grateful to all the people who have helped me. Special mention must be made regarding Daniel, who, despite with his exams of Shakespeare allotted some time to help me organize my paper; Shance, who shared my paper to Daniel because I could no longer stay awake and offered insight on the paper as well; and Andrew, who read my paper but was sidetracked by a terrible migraine.

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Someone please give this to me.

Having said that, I did not really have difficulty writing about the paper. However, it was the paper’s postmodern nature that had greatly vexed me: the narrator was a Chinese American junkie of 1960s America, and he narrated the novel in streams-of-consciousness. This style presented me with a two-fold problem: first, the narrator was highly unreliable because he was a junkie: drug users usually blur reality from hallucinations so I had difficulty figuring what happened in the physical world and what happened only in his head; second, the novel was written in a stream-of-consciousness technique, further obfuscating whatever data could have been obtained had the novel been written more objectively. How was I to figure out what happened?

The novel grated at me, and I lost sleep trying to find a central theme or a unitive core which I could use as foundation before spreading out to dissect its different underlying themes. There was no such theme, however. It was merely a melange of different and disparate recurrent themes. It followed the tenet of postmodernism which was fragmentation: as a novel, it was very fractured. It supposedly parodied Journey to the West, a Chinese classic, but in the end I still wondered whether the placement of that classic really had some meaning or simply was gibberish or a superfluity.

I’ve also read that critics generally agreed with me: a lot of them despised the novel, and it was the first major work of Kingston which did not win a National Book Award. (Thank God.)

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After all these years, she’s still my favorite heroine

But before I dig too deep in the novel (and I will ask pardon in advance, but it will pervade my succeeding posts), one of the novel’s better parts was an explication by the protagonist’s (Wittman Ah Sing) best friend, Lance Kamiyama. It was very memorable for me because his descriptions were exactly what happened in the anime Shingesutan Tsukihime. I’m very sure Kinoko Nasu is an intelligent man, and these passages simply made me assume that he has read of this novel:

‘[…] She had newspaper clippings about a mass family murder. Done with a plantation machete. Come over here. Look at the house through these long willow leaves. I escaped alive. I saw the moon shine red through hanging leaves. There was blood on the full moon.’


Tohno Shiki
(the one with the glasses) had his family killed by his adoptive father. I do not know if it was done with a machete, but if I remembered correctly the genocide was done with a sharp object (correct me if I’m wrong). He also escaped alive, and saw the moon shine red also through a tree that was akin to a willow. The passage was haunting for me because vampires were never found in Japanese mythology or folklore: they are a recent construct. Aren’t both stories more or less similar?

If Tsukihime did evolve from this (horrible) novel, wouldn’t that simply corroborate the intertextuality of media?

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29 Responses to “The Lunar New Year: (8) Media’s intertextuality, and postmodernism as a bane”

  1. smashingtofu Says:

    As always, the fact that you can naturally write like this amazes me. : d

    I’d like to add that Kinoko Nasu is likely to be a literature buff; assuming from his choice of novel recommendations in the ‘sequel’ to Tsukihime. (although most of them were I believe were sci-fi novels by Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, etc with the occasional japanese novel)
    Nasu really, really seems to love to mess with people in his novels with his writing style: monologues filled with unusual use of kanji, phrases, etc. He also, in my opinion, uses the visual novel’s seperate route format very cleverly in that reading each route provides new insight into its plot and characters. Fate/stay night relies heavily on that format and revolves around the male lead’s growth as a character; this being a tremendous disadvantage for the anime adaptation as it is based on his immature and incomplete self. This is vexing for me as this leaves out what fate/stay night is fundamentally about. (The Male lead’s GAR-NESS! heh) Somewhat similarly, the anime adaptation for Tsukihime feels incomplete; but unlike Fate, it’s downfall is almost just as much as its strength. Still, I can’t stress how frustrating it felt when I was seeing some of my favorite heroines in the back seat like that. : /

    About the sharp object; I don’t remember any sharp objects being used for the genocide of Shiki’s family. I think it was single-handedly done by a single man with his bare hands.

    Heh, I think I just wrote more than I really needed to in this comment. Good post though!

  2. Shance Says:

    Well, here’s a few corrections for the Tsukihime part, as given in the Tsukihime sequel Kagetsu Tohya:

    The Nanaya Clan (not just Shiki’s family) was annihilated by a person whom his true-blood father, Nanaya Kiri, failed to kill, in the past. Kouma Kishima, now known as the Crimson Lord, bathed the moon with scarlet as every Nanaya clan member is killed, including Kiri himself. Shiki escaped from death by a near cinch, escaping into the vast Forest of Nanaya till Tohno Makihisa, the true mastermind for the genocide, found him and took him in.

    You can see some similarities. alright.

    About the writing, Nasu seems to prefer writing in first-person, as if he’s more akin to have the readers, and himself, experience what is happening on his writings firsthand. Of course, if insanity shrouds the person in question, writing it would be hard to do. But imagine having to be dipped in a primordial soup of colliding and concurring events that you can’t even sort it out unless you pick some specific paths (which sometimes wouldn’t even suffice so), that’s some painstaker to pull off. I guess Nasu just unleashed a lunatic in him when he pulled Tsukihime off. Uneventfully, that’s the alluring feature of the doujin game itself: an interesting storyline in a modern setting, written in some kind of a postmodern style of paperback. No wonder there’s an ample supply of TYPE-MOON junkies…

  3. Michael Says:

    There are similarities, indeed.

    You mean Nasu is the master of the stream-of-consciousness literary technique. It’s often a staple of postmodern literature, and Tripmaster Monkey was no exception. TM was a bad example, though. I mean the novel, not Type-Moon.

  4. Shance Says:

    Right on the mark. I’m not saying first person is bad, but specifying the strain of thought of the protagonist, and sticking to it like hell, even when the protagonist is out of his mind, berserk, or getting to be insane, and then putting them to words, that’s being overexcessive. To be able to re-enact everything that happened while in an unstable state of mind isn’t possible, and should rely on other main characters of the story to be able to fully grasp what happened.

    Say, for example, Shiki goes berserk, kills Arcueid, which Ciel witnesses. At least, at the very climax of the story, Shiki NEEDS to black out. Then there’s two ways to explain what happened when he was unconscious: Either he wakes up and finds out, or someone who knew what happened explains it to him, which is Ciel in this case. That way, importance is not just given to the first-person protagonist himself, but also to the other main characters, giving them talk time as the story progresses.

  5. Michael Says:

    The reason probably is because it’s a visual novel. It’s a difficult endeavor to write a purely stream-of-consciousness novel, and in visual novels that must never happen, because events do not only happen in the protagonist’s head, but also outside. And really, wouldn’t it be boring just to look at the thoughts of other people without anything happening in the real world?

  6. smashingtofu Says:

    Gah, this is a testament to my horrible English. : /

    I suppose this is why Nasu doesn’t do that ‘re-enacting insanity in words’ as much anymore. However, why would that considered to be ‘overexcessive?’ Putting it in another perspective, wouldn’t this just be an act of creativity?

  7. Michael Says:

    smashingtofu:

    Because it can just as well be seen enacted. The visual novel has the advantage of also being able to visually present the plot. The downside is that there’s less room for wordgames and philological creativity, so if you used words to describe insanity (which could be seen anyway), I think that would be superfluous.

  8. Shance Says:

    That’s almost reenacting dementia. Nobody would want that. Besides, there’s no basis in having to describe the workings of one’s mind, especially in cases where it’s not in the right basis to THINK.

    So, how are you going to say you can describe insanity firsthand when you ARE insane. Insanity means not having a grip in a situation, or even yourself, much to the extent of having to describe what you see when you can’t even concentrate on it. It’s exactly defying a state the mind is in, and narrating it that way isn’t creative, but just excessive.

  9. smashingtofu Says:

    Ah, sorry if that sounded a ignorant; wasn’t the literature type to begin with, but I still enjoy your posts none the less : )

    True, that does make sense.

    Actually that should make perfect sense to me, since I’m more of the visual person and more of the comic/manga artist type. However, I’d still love to be able to infuse more literature as that may help me verbally one day : d

    Any, uh, suggestions if you don’t mind? (shouldn’t be asking this here though)

  10. Shance Says:

    Suggestions to what? If it’s the play of words, a dictionary, thesaurus. or encyclopedia will do.

    Oh, and lots of novels too.

  11. smashingtofu Says:

    Ah, heh, don’t want to blame it on my all-nighter for my lack of clarity, but something that explores the human condition/mind in a more digestible form for a literature n00b serf like me : )

    Although the above mentioned Sci-fi ‘greats’ come to mind too, but I never knew where to start really!

  12. Michael Says:

    I think you’d enjoy One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. It’s a short tome, but it explores the human condition in a very simple yet haunting way. 🙂

  13. Shance Says:

    Try writing in first-person. Try writing how you feel, how you react, how you respond, especially to certain conditions of consciousness and the mind. Try writing if you’re angry, try writing if you’re sleepy, try writing if you’re sick, at least try to visualize the most common things that happen when you do feel it. Do you fall asleep? Do you lose consciousness? Do you go berserk in rage that you lose reason to write, or write more to lose the reason? But well, if you feel insane, then that’s a different thing altogether. You might need a psychiatrist with you.

    Losing consciousness, or falling asleep ain’t bad. You just have to lose it, wake up, and then see if you can grasp and write the situation BEFORE you lost it. That’s how it’s always been anyways when people black out in a story.

  14. Michael Says:

    Shance:

    I think he’s asking for recommendations on books to read, not how to write. 😛

  15. Shance Says:

    Oh…

    I’ve read lots of books, but no, I can’t recommend any. Besides, I do visual novels 40% of the time.

    The remaining 60% goes to the dictionary and encyclopedia.

  16. smashingtofu Says:

    Thanks for the book recommendation : )

    Also, thanks for the advice; that idea isn’t exactly new to me actually, I’ve done that many times particularly when I was younger.

    My deepest roots come from manga; so I always wanted to create something in the manga format that would, well, move people in one way or another. I have various ideas and one of them particular was something that I wish to do : make a manga entirely done from a first person perspective (literally!) and try to examine that sense of alienation from being in a human shell/life you’ll never leave out of til you die… or something like that. (I’d like to add that there’s more to that, but I prefer not to disclose it) However, it was eventually shelved because I decided at the moment that the end result would be nothing more than mental masturbation (for better or for worse : d)

    Which is why I figure, as much experience I have with manga, I believe that I can gain more insight from other things too. Which is partly why I’m taking an introduction to Psychology class for now.

    Nothing beats living life though. : d

  17. smashingtofu Says:

    Well yeah, I asked for recommendations too and all that, but I still deeply appreciate it : d

  18. Michael Says:

    Shance is a very nice person. 🙂

    With regard to first-person alienation, I think Camus’s The Stranger or The Outsider will help as well. 🙂

  19. Lelangir Says:

    Not related to this post at all, but I thought I heard you say you were a biology major? I was quite interested in gerontology a while ago, but then got completely turned off to science after a horrid trip through BIO101. And then this can seemingly relate to Jeff Lawson’s entry about Aria and youth and stuff. Hm.

    And I like the intertextuality of media and mediums. Music is basically one giant grab bag, if that’s what you mean by intertextuality, a borrowing and influencing of things.

    Ah but now I’ve figured something meaningful to type! So I think that an artwork that challenges the metaphysics present between it and the viewer is always thought-provoking. I was commenting about this on iniksbane’s Kaiba entry. So while postmodernity may “be about nothing” or may present a bunch of disconnected events, this method of presentation satires the methods of communication we are so comfortable with. Isn’t postmodernity just a break away from modernity?

  20. Michael Says:

    Lelangir:

    I *am* a biology major. But I spend most of my free time either reading or watching anime. And whenever I have a free elective I get a literature subject. At the very least, I want to get a minor in it. 🙂

    Postmodernism is a reaction against modernism, yes. I wouldn’t know about postmodernity, because scholars say that’s a totally different thing. I hate the forceful obfuscation of meaning, though. There is a reason why novels like Gravity’s Rainbow and Infinite Jest are so polarizing. A lot force themselves to like the novels, and a lot just hate the pretension. Postmodernism no longer has the beauty of modernist literature, because it totally avoids being given meaning to. It’s a bitch.

    Frankly, I’d take Joyce any day over these pretentious bastards. Or at the very least, the supposed ‘postmodernism’ of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. That man writes very, very well.

  21. IKnight Says:

    Epic comments thread, &c.

    The similarity between the passage you quote and the event from the Nasu-verse which you describe (I’ve never read either Tripmaster Monkey or Tsuhikime – does one read a visual novel?) is indeed striking. Whether or not Tsuhikime‘s author has read TM, it certainly functions as an allusion for you. I’ve known ‘reverse intertextuality’, when there definitely couldn’t have been an intentional reference on the author’s part, become quite amusing.

    As I think I’ve said to you before, a major problem with postmodern writing for me is that too often it fails to be fun.

  22. Ryan A Says:

    And this post appears with many comments ^^ Micheal, that relation you’ve depicted is wicked cool, and quite interesting to ponder. It reminds me to re-activate a certain “Relations” code, because even if unintended, this intertextuality exists in at least one perspective.

    Ah, I need to find Tsukihime again <3

    Speaking of writing, I recall the Writer’s Almanac from FRIDAY, 07 MARCH, 2008 [here]. There is a couple paragraphs about Robert Frost, interesting, and related to writing.

    -He said, “It was as if I’d had a hallucination.” ^^

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