Thursday, January 17, 2008

Justin Isis - Cantopop Hasn`t Been the Same Since Aaron Kwok Sold Out

"Herbert! Good God! Is it possible?"

"Yes, my name's Herbert. I think I know your face, too, but I don't remember your name. My memory is very queer."

"Don't you recollect Villiers of Wadham?"

"So it is, so it is. I beg your pardon, Villiers, I didn't think I was begging of an old college friend. Good-night."

"My dear fellow, this haste is unnecessary. My rooms are close by, but we won't go there just yet. Suppose we walk up Shaftesbury Avenue a little way? But how in heaven's name have you come to this pass, Herbert?"

"It's a long story, Villiers, and a strange one too, but you can hear it if you like."

"Come on, then. Take my arm, you don't seem very strong."

The ill-assorted pair moved slowly up Rupert Street; the one in dirty, evil-looking rags, and the other attired in the regulation uniform of a man about town, trim, glossy, and eminently well-to-do. Villiers had emerged from his restaurant after an excellent dinner of many courses, assisted by an ingratiating little flask of Chianti, and, in that frame of mind which was with him almost chronic, had delayed a moment by the door, peering round in the dimly-lighted street in search of those mysterious incidents and persons with which the streets of London teem in every quarter and every hour. Villiers prided himself as a practised explorer of such obscure mazes and byways of London life, and in this unprofitable pursuit he displayed an assiduity which was worthy of more serious employment. Thus he stood by the lamp-post surveying the passers-by with undisguised curiosity, and with that gravity known only to the systematic diner, had just enunciated in his mind the formula:

"London has been called the city of encounters; it is more than that, it is the city of Resurrections," when these reflections were suddenly interrupted by a piteous whine at his elbow, and a deplorable appeal for alms. He looked around in some irritation, and with a sudden shock found himself confronted with the embodied proof of his somewhat stilted fancies. There, close beside him, his face altered and disfigured by poverty and disgrace, his body barely covered by greasy ill-fitting rags, stood his old friend Charles Herbert, who had matriculated on the same day as himself, with whom he had been merry and wise for twelve revolving terms. Different occupations and varying interests had interrupted the friendship, and it was six years since Villiers had seen Herbert; and now he looked upon this wreck of a man with grief and dismay, mingled with a certain inquisitiveness as to what dreary chain of circumstances had dragged him down to such a doleful pass. Villiers felt together with compassion all the relish of the amateur in mysteries, and congratulated himself on his leisurely speculations outside the restaurant.

They walked on in silence for some time, and more than one passer-by stared in astonishment at the unaccustomed spectacle of a well-dressed man with an unmistakable beggar hanging on to his arm, and, observing this, Villiers led the way to an obscure street in Soho. Here he repeated his question.

"How the fuck has it happened, Herbert? I always understood you would succeed to an excellent position in Dorsetshire. Did your old man disinherit you? Surely not?"

"No, Villiers; I came into all the property at my poor father's death; he died a year after I left Oxford. He was a very good father to me, and I mourned his death sincerely enough. But you know what young men are; a few months later I came up to town and went a good deal into society. And by society I mean clubs where I could practice my considerable para-para dance skills. Of course I had excellent introductions, and I managed to enjoy myself very much in a harmless sort of way. I played a little, certainly, but never for heavy stakes, and the contests I entered brought me in money--only a few pounds, you know, but enough to pay for cigars and such petty pleasures. It was in my second season that the tide turned. Of course you have heard of my marriage?"

"No, I never heard anything about it."

"Yes, I married, Villiers. I met a girl, a girl of the most wonderful and most strange beauty, coming out of Atom in Shibuya one night. I cannot tell you her age; I never knew it,but, so far as I can guess, I should think she must have been about nineteen when I made her acquaintance. My friends had come to know her at Florence; she told them she was an orphan, the child of an English father and an Italian mother, and she charmed them as she charmed me. The first time I saw her was on the psychedelic trance floor. I was standing by the door talking to a friend, when suddenly above the hum and babble of conversation I heard a voice which seemed to thrill to my heart. She was singing an Italian song. I was introduced to her that evening, and in three months I married Helen. Villiers, that woman, if I can call her woman, corrupted my soul. You, Villiers, you may think you know life, and London, and what goes on day and night in this dreadful city; for all I can say you may have heard the talk of the vilest, but I tell you you can have no conception of what I know, not in your most fantastic, hideous dreams can you have imaged forth the faintest shadow of what I have heard--and seen. Yes, seen. I have seen the incredible, such horrors that even I myself sometimes stop in the middle of the street and ask whether it is possible for a man to behold such things and live. In a year, Villiers, I was a broken man, in body and soul--in body and soul."

"But your property, Herbert? You had land in Dorset."

"I sold all that shit - everything."

"And the money?"

"She took it all from me. Bitch ruined me, Villiers! Before this I had a 401k plan and a two-car garage. I had a flatscreen plasma television and a comprehensive collection of 60`s J-pop; I mean I was shithoarding 60`s J-vinyl. All of it`s gone, Villiers."

"And then she left you?"

"Yes; she disappeared one night. I don't know where she went, but I am sure if I saw her again it would kill me. The rest of my story is of no interest; sordid misery, that is all. You may think, Villiers, that I have exaggerated and talked for effect; but I have not told you half. I could tell you certain things which would convince you, but you would never know a happy day again. You would pass the rest of your life, as I pass mine, a haunted man, a man who has seen hell."

"Come on Herbert, you gotta tell me more of this shit. I honestly don`t know what the fuck you`re talking about."


"Yeah, shit, you`re being hell vague."

"I dunno. This shit is inconceivable, unspeakable. I can`t tell you any more."

"Herbert, don`t be a little bitch. Tell the fucking story."

"Okay. The night of the wedding, I found myself sitting in her bedroom in the hotel, listening to her talk. She was sitting up in bed, and I listened to her as she spoke in her beautiful voice, spoke of things which even now I would not dare whisper in the blackest night, though I stood in the midst of a wilderness. Then she started trying to test my dance skills. She was like, `Herbert, your skills are getting weak, can you touch this shit?` Then she started in with this really weak ass routine that even Ken Maeda wouldn`t touch. I was like `Helen, just stop. You`re half-Italian and Italians can`t dance."

"They seriously fucking can`t. God dammit Herbert...we`ve been landed - forever, or so it seems! - with those dull-eyed, olive-skinned chocolate munchers and garlic crushers who are not the least bit English but rather Italian. In short, we`ve been overrun by the Latin race - cocky, treacherous, over-emotional imbeciles one and all that can go to the Devil for all I care!"

Herbert raised his eyebrows.

"My, my," he said, laughing. "Your remarks prove to me that you are interested in 'our own, our native land.' I should never have suspected it of you."

"Of course you wouldn't," said Villiers, lighting a cigarette. "As has so often been said, 'My own, my native land is wherever I happen to feel at home.' Now I don't feel at home except with the people of the North. But I interrupted you. Let's get back to the subject. What were you saying?"

"Okay, yeah. Helen was pissing me off, so I was like `Bitch, stop.` Then I started busting some tight ass moves. So Helen was like, `Okay Herbert, but what about this shit? Then she takes this door out of her pocket..."

"Uhhh, what the fuck?"

"Yeah like this miniature fucking door. And it gets real big all of a sudden and opens, and this Italian monk comes out. He`s like, `Follow me, Herbert...`"

"You told him to fuck off right?"

"Yeah. But he comes out and grabs me and pulls me through the door. And on the other side it`s nothing but Italians. I mean it`s some kind of Italian church with like ten thousand Italians gathered together and all chanting to the Pope, who`s standing at the head of the altar."


"The Pope looked at me and said, `Italo-disco can`t be stopped. Soon you`ll be dancing to even more Giorgio Moroder-ripoff shit.`

"Impossible!" Villiers exclaimed.

"I said that too," Herbert continued. "And then the Pope said, `When Italo-disco hits lost their popularity in Europe, the Japanese market forced Italian and German producers to evolve the sound to what end up under the term "Eurobeat" and later Super Eurobeat and Eurobeat Flash. Those music styles, under the term Eurobeat, are sold only in Japan due to the Para Para culture there. Italian producers are still producing songs for the Japanese (super) Eurobeat market in the 2000`s. This evolving sound of Italo-disco involves a much higher BPM, as well as more rapid synth-lines and faster vocals. The genre itself upped the BPM in the late 80s, all the way into the 2000s."

"Good God!" Villiers shouted.

"Then...the organ broke out overhead with a blare. A dazzling light filled the church, blotting the altar from my eyes. The Italians faded away, the arches, the vaulted roof vanished. I raised my seared eyes to the fathomless glare, and I saw the black stars hanging in the heavens: and the wet winds from Lake Como chilled my face. And now, far away, over leagues of tossing cloud-waves, I saw the moon dripping with spray; and beyond, the towers of Rome rose behind the moon. And now I heard his voice, rising, swelling, thundering through the flaring light, and as I fell, the radiance increasing, increasing, poured over me in waves of flame. Then I sank into the depths, and I heard the Pope whispering to my soul: "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God!"

Villiers looked at him for a long time.

"Those fucking Italians," he said at last.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Seventh Night, by Natsume Soseki

Chomu's mysterious editor-in-chief, Mr. Jorkins, apologises for the slight delay in new stories. In the meantime, he asks you to enjoy the translation below of Natsume Soseki's 'The Seventh Night', from Yume Juuya, or Ten Nights of Dream. Night the Second and the Tenth may be found here and here respectively. New stories will follow when the current existential turbulence has passed. Should you experience any cosmic nausea in the meantime, remember your sick-bags are in your imagination.

The Seventh Night

(With thanks to Hayashi-san of Kyoto Univerity Bungakubu)

For some reason, I found myself aboard a gargantuan ship.

Day and night, without a moment’s pause, the ship spewed black smoke and pressed forward, cutting through the waves. The noise was terrific. However, I had no idea where the ship was bound. From the depths of the ocean the sun would rise up like a red hot poker. It would climb until it stood just above the main mast, and just as it seemed to be suspended there it would overtake the great ship, and, before I knew it, disappear into the distance. Finally, sizzling like a red hot poker, it would sink again beneath the waves. Every time it did so the blue waves would boil up in a deep maroon colour. Then the ship would make its terrible din and follow in the sun’s wake. It never caught up.

Once I accosted one of the crew and questioned him.

“Is this ship going west?”

He gave me a suspicious look and, after sizing me up for a while, finally he questioned me in return.

“Why do you ask?”

“It’s just that we seem to be following the setting sun.”

The man cackled. Then he disappeared off in the other direction.

From somewhere there came the sound of jeering voices.

“Is the east the journey’s end for the west-travelling sun? Is that true? Is the west the home of the east-rising sun? Is that also true? Our life is on the waves! An oar for a pillow! Onward! Onward!”

I went to the bow and found a great number of sailors gathered there, hauling in the thick halyard.

I felt exceedingly lonely. I had no idea when I would next set foot on land, and I had no idea where we were going. The only thing that was certain was that the ship went on spewing its black smoke and cutting through the waves. Those waves were a vast expanse, an endless blue with an occasional touch of purple. Only the immediate proximity of the moving ship was any different, being always a perfect white with the spray of churning water. I was terribly lonely. Rather than remain on this terrible ship, it would be better, perhaps, to cast myself overboard.

There were a multitude of passengers, most of whom seemed to be foreign. Their features were not as we typically imagine, but were various. When the sky darkened with clouds and the boat rocked on the waves, a woman would draw up to the handrail and weep continuously. The kerchief with which she dried her eyes flashed white in the gloom. She was wearing a western-style cotton print dress. When I saw this woman I realised I was not the only one who suffered.

One evening I went out on deck to gaze at the stars when one of the foreigners approached me and asked if I knew anything of astronomy. I was so weary that I wished even for death. What use was astronomy to me? I said nothing. Then the foreigner spoke of the Seven Stars that hung above Taurus. He said that the stars and the ocean were all the work of God. Finally, he asked if I had faith in the Lord above. I looked at the sky and said nothing.

On another occasion I entered the bar to find a young woman in a florid dress playing a piano with her back to me. Next to her stood a tall and splendid gentleman singing to her accompaniment. His open mouth appeared cavernously wide. But the two of them seemed utterly indifferent to the world around them. It was as if they had even forgotten they were on this ship.

I grew ever more weary. At last I determined on self-destruction. And so, one evening, at an hour when no one else was around, I leapt wildly over the edge of the ship. However, the instant my feet left the deck and my connection with the ship was broken, my life suddenly became precious to me. At the bottom of my heart I wished that I had changed my mind about jumping. But it was too late. Whether I willed it or no, I was to plunge into the bosom of the ocean. However, it seemed that the hull of the ship was built to a fantastic height, and even though my body had broken contact with the ship, my feet did not soon connect with the water. But there was nothing for me to grasp hold of, and slowly, slowly, I fell towards the waves. However much I drew in my legs, the water still loomed nearer. The colour of the water was black.

Before long, the ship spewed out its usual black smoke and passed on. I realised for the first time that even if I did not know where the ship was bound, it was still better to be on it – realised for the first time only now such knowledge was useless to me. Filled with infinite regret and infinite terror, I continued to fall silently towards the black waves.