8.9.09

a distraction that is not facebook

Unknown/darkness (黑/迷)
image by J. Nothing to do with this post. It's just a cool picture of the universe in a glass of iced water.

In between writing my dissertation, I've been reading the following books online. But being the bibliophile that I am, they have since appeared on our shelves, save for the rarer Annals. If you need reasons to get Facebook off your computer screen, here are three good ones:

Troy Chin's Loti is uploaded by its author regularly on his website. It could be that the stories are nostalgic for most readers. Not the sepia-toned variety, but the household kind - familiar experiences of childhood - primary school tests, a classmate's birthday party, corny jokes, haunted houses in the neighbourhood, visits to the "wet" market. It could be the innocence and naivete of the characters. Of course, it could be Troy Chin's comic timing. Whatever it is, this is one addictive comic.

[Volume 1 of Loti is available in print in most bookstores, as is his Resident Tourist.]

A 1821 copy of John Leyden's translation of Malay Annals or Sejarah Melayu is available on NLB's digital archive. It has an introduction by the white man Raffles himself, a fascinating read for his critique of Dutch imperialism as justification of the British administration, as well as his characterisation of Southeast Asia's diversity in the "absence of bigotry and inveterate prejudice" (Raffles notes that this trait also makes the region perfect for EIC's moulding, "the humanizing influence of the arts" and the creation of new wants and luxuries!).

Anyway, the civil servant introduction aside, the rest of the Malay Annals - a series of stories surrounding the Malaccan sultanate and various noblemen's exploits, including outwitting foreign emissaries and forces. A commissioned work, it is also an example of how the arts have, to varying extent, have served their patrons' vanities and purpose - just as how Leyden's translation, endorsed by Raffles, furthered the British empire's "brand" of imperialism as enlightenment. But don't let this put you off. If not as an historical account of 15th and 16th century, read Malay Annals like any romantic narrative, especially one that begins like this:
It happened at a time that Raja Secander, the son of Raja Darab of Rum, of the race of Makaduniah, the name of whose empire was Zulkaneini, wished to see the rising of the sun...


I suspect, however, that the manga Pluto may have a less legitimate online presence. So you should either borrow the books from us, buy them, or else ask google - because this series by Naoki Urasawa shares the genius of Osamu Tezuka and is well worth reading.

Tezuka, creator of Atom or Astro Boy, has always written works that hit at man's insatiable greed and corruption as the root of war and bigotry. They would have been depressing, moralistic rants if not for how Tezuka inserts such tension into man's redemptive efforts as well.

Astro boy, or robots, as an idealised image of man is something Hollywood has appropriated, mostly poorly. But in Pluto, an adaptation and continuation of Tezuka's original Astro Boy manga, the conflicts between the ideal and corrupted often remain unresolved, as with the line between man and technology. For example, when a robot cop is "killed", the robot-detective informs the cop's robot wife and offers to place the cop's memory chip in her processor. This leads to a strange but moving depiction of mourning and loss as a literal "playback" of memories. In a way, it's not unlike the kind of flickr/facebook/blogger archiving we do today - except that it's private and unedited.

So friends, on this note, I'll leave you to your facebook-ing reading.

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