Erenlai - Displaying items by tag: imagination
Tuesday, 14 August 2012 00:00

Breathing Poetry

Where is Poetry to be found in our life? Like oxygen, Poetry is to be found everywhere – and nowhere in particular. Like oxygen also, Poetry is rarely found pure and unmixed – it reaches us in composition with other gases, and this is what makes us able to breathe and flourish. Still, when oxygen becomes too rarefied we need a bottle of it, and inhale it at its purest. Poems – sometimes only one verse, a couple of lines - are like supply bottles that make us able to go on when we feel asphyxiated. But Poetry comes under many garbs, and likes to mix with the profane and the ordinary.

Living without Poetry makes one wither and dry out. Life has no taste, resonance or nuance anymore, thoughts and projects pile up in the shelves of the mind like strings of empty shells. But Poetry is always at hand. For sure, there are environments that naturally bathe our life in Poetry – when we live near forests, lakes or mountains, when people around us walk at a leisurely pace, when music resonates at our gate. However, breathing Poetry throughout our life is first and foremost a question of inner attention: I am the one who decides to stop my work for a while and to listen to some beloved piece of music or take time to discover an author, some of whose verses I had heard one day. I may choose to go to the park and marvel at the trees and their birds rather than staying at my computer. I can rediscover the smile of the people living near me, and offer them in gratitude the smile I so often forget to illuminate my face with.

It's not so easy, for sure. I am presently living in an apartment located on the 20th floor, and my office is in a tower, on the 26th floor. No matter what window I look out of, I just see roads and groups of towers… At the start, I did suffer a lot from it: the landscape and rhythm of life made me feel dry. Poetry flew away from me, leaving my imagination, my will, my memory, dried out and empty. Step by step, I had to learn again, to find Poetry in silence, prayer, the reading of a book – a new one or an old companion -, the rediscovery of music. I also found Poetry in dreaming over these endless ranges of towers, especially when night is falling. And I gave myself time to create objects of Poetry – drawings and paintings, short texts, emails that were not for “business” but which I took pleasure to carve as if they were little artworks. Also, I decided to walk more. Whatever the environment, there is something in walking that is akin to Poetry. Many poems after all were composed, in ancient times, to accompany the work in the fields, the wandering on the roads, the dance during the ritual…

In new environments, Poetry surges in new forms. For its oxygen to fill and replenish our life Poetry requires from us skills and virtues that are timeless: a sense of playfulness and gratuitousness, a willingness to pause and to listen, and a desire to respond in chants, words and works to the gift we receive when we walk on the road and we breathe Poetry.


Published in
Focus: Poetry and Song

Tuesday, 24 April 2012 16:02

Nationalism and Girls who Date Foreigners

In Taiwan I've often heard the word Xicanmei (西餐妹) bandied about —— Xicanmei literally means girls who like to eat Western food, but here it is used to mean Asian girls who date Western men—— but the term always made struck me as over-emphasizing the difference between Taiwanese people (us) and Western foreigners (them). The fact that it refers almost exclusively to women suggests also that there is a male chauvinist implication behind the term - it functions to undermine the individuality and independence of women in the choices they make in their love lives, and sees these choices instead in terms of a failure to be patriotic and marry 'into the tribe' so to speak. The term was popularized when a Taiwanese rapper wrote a song about it, the lyrics of which are anti-Western in sentiment and very critical of girls who date with foreigners. This is an extract from the song originally in Taiwanese:

'When they're not listening to ICRT [Taiwan's English Radio Station] they're looking for girls, they go round bars with a Heineken in their hand

The stuff they talk about is vulgar and shallow, they're all talking about Dog-G's new album.

One of my friends is dating a big-nose [Taiwanese word for foreigner] She says he's a gentleman and very romantic

She thinks maybe she can get a green card and have a little foreign baby, she's at the night market buying oyster omelettes

You say that some are actually alright, I understand, they'll toss you a "ni hao" and you think it's so cute, give me a break!' (Dog-G)


Below is an interview with several women and one man who express their views on the use of this term, and its ideological implications:

(Remember to press CC in the bottom right corner for English Subs)

For readers in Mainland China you can watch the video by clicking this link

Illustration by C. Phiv


Tuesday, 29 June 2010 20:54

Josh Homme and the rise of manufactured mystique

I have watched two seemingly distinct phenomenon over the last 15 years with considerable interest: the growth of the internet from a niche tool of academics and geeks to a brobdignagian digital life form; and Josh Homme’s transition from cult desert guitarist to supergroup-worthy rock god.  As people around the world now begin to ponder the long-term influence of the internet on society, I believe that analysis of Josh Homme’s career and can help shed some light on this evolution, in particular with regard to the mystique of artists.

Fifteen years ago, I was a curious high school student, who, among other teenage pursuits, was discovering the world of rock and roll.  Having dipped my toes into grunge, g-funk and somewhat mystifyingly, grindcore, I was trying to find my way in the mid-90s alternative music market.  In 1995 I bought a heavy metal compilation that featured One Inch Man[i] by Kyuss, a short-lived rock band from Palm Springs California featuring the then 22 year-old Josh Homme on guitar.  I was instantly transfixed.  This bass heavy track rode a groove that got my head bobbing while at the same had heavy enough riffs to make me feel tough.  Vicarious toughness through music was important to me at that age.  As my funds permitted, I bought all four Kyuss albums and listened to them endlessly.  In fact, 15 years later I still listen to Kyuss quite frequently.  They were that good.

In an odd turn events, only one week after discovering Kyuss, I read in Hot Metal magazine that they had just recently broken up.  At this stage I was still about 18 months away from using the internet.  Information on Kyuss was almost non-existent.  I found a band profile in a second hand copy of Hot Metal from a few years prior but other than that, nothing.  Apart from albums in record stores, an underground band that died in 1995 had little chance of maintaining any sort of profile.  With that being the case, to me Kyuss was nothing more than a well-orchestrated collection of highly listenable sounds.


In late 1996 I graduated from high school, eager to enjoy a summer of parties and cricket.  As events transpired, the only guy I knew who had internet access was having a party and I was invited. Sambucca and Southern Comfort were drunk up on the roof, girls were kissed and garden furniture was broken. I even have hazy memories of watching the clip for Wannabe by the Spice Girls. Wiiiild times, let me tell you my friend.  Early in the night I managed to get in a session on the internet – something to me that up until that stage was nothing more than a nebulous idea that media pundits liked to talk about – either as some whiz-bang medium of the future or as a dangerous forum for disseminating The Terrorist Handbook.  None of these options took my fancy.  For me, the internet was there to find out about Kyuss.

I discovered a website lovingly put together by a Kyuss devotee and printed off some fan-made guitar tablature.  At this party I also saw Kyuss film clips for the first time.  The band was a strange looking bunch, swaggering around the California desert belting out psychedelic metal riffs.  In the Green Machine filmclip, Josh Homme cut a very unfashionable figure – shorts and boots worn together have never been very rock and roll[ii].

Three months later I was enrolled at university and the internet was suddenly at my finger tips.  None of my lecturers had worked out how to use the internet as an educational tool and most of the content on it was made by amateurs.  In spite of this, the internet was a revelation to me (like it is to most) and I spent many an hour using Hotbot to scour the neighbourhoods of Geocities, as one did on the Information Superhighway in 1997.

Over the next two years I eagerly checked Kyuss fan sites, hoping for news on upcoming projects.  Occasionally there was a tidbit – Homme and his mates were jamming in the desert, the singer had a new band, the bass player had opened a pet store in Palm Springs, the old drummer was playing with Fu Manchu and so on.  But these stories were rare, and there appeared to be no system for digitally disseminating them.  It was more or less gossip or info culled from Californian street press and then uploaded on to fan sites.  And there were only a handful of these sites on the whole World Wide Web where I needed to look to find out anything, most of which were not much more than digital versions of zines.

Following Kyuss riding off into the sun, Josh Homme re-emerged in 1997 with Queens of the Stoneage, dropping the first track on the silly genre-naming compilation Burn One Up: Music for Stoners.  For those in Australia and without the internet, this event would likely have largely gone unnoticed.  When their debut album appeared a year later the only clue that Queens and Kyuss had some sort of connection was the sticker on the CD case – “Featuring ex-members of Kyuss”.  At this stage there was very little promotional material about Homme’s new band, who were dragging themselves around Europe playing small clubs and festival side stages.

Queens of the Stoneage toiled in the musical underground over the next 5 years.  Another album, R[iii], was released in 2000 and despite getting some play on alternative radio stations in Australia, it seemed that most of the band’s followers were all Kyuss fans first, Queens fans second.  Queens were still yet to cross over into the mainstream.  This changed in 2002 when ex-Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl and ex-Screaming Trees vocalist Mark Lanegan came on board. Queens released Songs for the Deaf[iv] and then became alterna-rock royalty.  For the rest of the decade the band chugged along, releasing albums, enduring personnel problems, all the while maintaining a solid fan base through regular tours and a generally positive critical response.  This success made Homme a bonafide star and brought public attention to his previously underground side projects, such as the Desert Sessions and the Eagles of Death Metal.  While it would appear in the eyes of most critics and many casual listeners that Queens will never top Songs for the Deaf, the band has still managed to somehow straddle the line between commercial acclaim and critical success, all the while producing a distinctive sound.

Of course, over the duration of the 2000s, the internet swelled with more and more folks getting online.  As magazines and newspapers shifted their content into digital format and tried to work out how to keep making a buck, music blogs grew to become the arbiters of trends and memes.  And then there was the explosion in social media (mySpace, facebook, youtube, twitter et al) that, theoretically at least, allowed people across the world to access media with ease that most of them couldn’t conceive of 15 years earlier.  I certainly couldn’t have predicted this digital landscape when I first heard One Inch Man and wondered who Kyuss were and how they could make such transcendent music.

Now I can log onto youtube and watch Kyuss performing live in the Californian desert at one of their legendary ‘generator parties’[v].  Once upon a time I knew that these videos existed but not being familiar with the obscure world of tape trading (what tapes did I have to trade?) these gigs stayed a mystery to me.  As did the performance at the Bizarre Festival in 1995[vi] or the Italian TV gig from around the same time[vii].  For my friends and I, the unattainability of these shows created an aura of mystery.  We certainly weren’t at the shows and had no chance of watching them.  This let our imaginations run wild.  We already had the soundtrack – then we just had to dream of the desert, the drama and the drugs.

Now I can watch all these videos from the comfort of my sofa.  Beyond the initial investment of a laptop, modem and internet access, the world of Kyuss is at my fingertips.  My Taipei apartment couldn’t be further from the shifting sands of California’s Sky Valley but the internet has knocked down that time/space barrier.  That Kyuss’ history has been uploaded is fantastic and in some ways I wish it had happened 15 years ago when my curiosity was at its peak.  But then my appreciation of the band might not have become what it did.  My imagination had to fill in the gaps.

From the few interviews that I was able to read back in the day, I built up an image of Josh Homme.  He came across as chill, and didn’t seem to have the agro that is part and parcel of the metal world.  Then when Queens first started getting press, he claimed to want to create music that makes girls dance, a noble desire in the sweaty dude-filled moshpit that is the world of rock.

Now I can find out almost anything I want about the man.  From Homme’s collection of weird guitars[viii] to the somewhat infamous footage of him loosing his cool at a concert in 2008[ix].  Everything is there, pixellated and ready to download.  Fortunately Homme has maintained his sharp sense of humour and while he has developed something of a rock star attitude, he generally comes across as a likeable guy, someone you could sink a beer or two with.

What does this mean?  Without his ever-growing web presence I think it would be harder for Homme to maintain his career. The music audience has come to expect a steady stream of interviews, live footage and miscellanea to sustain interest in an artist.  Fan-made clips and shaky camera phone recordings augment the glut of professional digital media available, padding out an already large cyber presence.  But by no means has Homme saturated the market.  In the current climate of Lady Gaga, Justin Beiber and their ilk he still remains on the fringe, even with Them Crooked Vultures, his latest project where he has reunited with Dave Grohl and rounded out the band with John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin.

TCV hit the ground the running and over a period of months went from nothing more than an intriguing concept flagged on a blog post to headlining venues and festivals around the globe.  Tantalising fans with a well-conceived drip feed of studio footage and live clips, TCV (and their management) cleverly used modern communication channels to drum up interest prior to their album’s release.  In a world where illegal downloads threaten the livelihoods of all those involved with recorded music such an approach is now necessary.

This manufactured mystique captured the public’s attention but ultimately left me feeling a bit hollow.  Yes, I watched a bunch of youtube clips and got the gist of what was going on.  But of all Homme’s many projects over the last 15 years (he is a truly prolific collaborator) this one left me the least intrigued.  The whole gestation of TCV had been manipulated to the extent that when the band finally entered my world, I didn’t really care.  There was no magic.  Despite the behind the scenes spontaneity that Homme, Jones and Grohl undoubtedly experienced, I felt like the whole product was being force fed to me.  Not that TCV is a bad band – their tunes seem to be more or less worthy given the group’s much heralded genetics – it’s just that they somehow seem to lack that magic that Homme’s earlier recordings have.

As it becomes easier to build up an extensive archive of an artist, where every recording and performance can be downloaded, where every interview and blog post can be scrutinized, artists have become more accessible than ever before.  Fans have almost instant access to the minutiae of their idols.  It is easier for established artists to step away from this trend.  Their fanbase is already established.  But struggling artists seeking to make a name for themselves need to harness the digital media machine to get their ‘product’ out there.  To do this and somehow maintain an aura of mystery seems to me to be a challenge.  With over-exposure it is easy to tire of an artist and move on to the next emerging sound, of which there will be always be a dozen emerging micro-genres to pick and choose from.

Who knows, Homme is an artist who fortunately shows no sign of burning out after two decades of recording.  There will no doubt be much more to come from him.  And sure enough, I’ll be at my keyboard, waiting for news of the next project he has up his sleeve.  I just hope that it blows in like a cloud of sand from the desert rather than appear on my twitter feed as a micro-managed meme.

(Photo by Craig Carper, source:

[i] - ‘One Inch Man’ from And the Circus Leave Town (Kyuss, 1995)

[ii] - ‘Green Machine’ from Blues for the Red Sun (Kyuss, 1992)

[iii] - ‘Feelgood Hit of the Summer’ from R (Queens of the Stoneage, 2000)

[iv] - ‘No One Knows’ from Songs for the Deaf (Queens of the Stoneage, 2002)

[v] - generator party in the Californian desert (Kyuss, c.1993)

[vi] ‘Gardenia’ from Welcome to Sky Valley, live in 1995 (Kyuss, 1994)

[vii] ‘Asteroid’ from Welcome to Sky Valley, live on Videomusic (Kyuss, 1994)

[viii] ‘Josh Homme’s cathedral pipe guitar’

[ix] - ‘Josh Homme (QOTSA) pissed off @ Norwegian Wood’

Wednesday, 03 June 2009 00:00

Beyond illusion: the positive power of imagination

I Dwell in Possibility
A Fairer House than Prose
--Emily Dickinson

Using one’s imagination is always risky. First, it amounts to depart from the common lot, to come up with ideas and ways of expressing oneself that might meet with hostility or bewilderment. Second… using one’s imagination might just lead you to make mistakes, to come up with hypothesis that do not pass the test of time or experience. Do not we say to someone “this is the fruit of your imagination” for decrying what he tells us, implying that he is living in a world of delusion? Our imagination can be aroused by the daemons of jealousy, pride, fear or hatred… and lead us to tragic mistakes. So, let us recognize it from the start: imagination indeed can be a force of evil and destruction.

But the main point is that, indeed, imagination is a force. It cannot be separated from our physical condition (fever awakens in us the power of imagination…), our desires and our memories. However, when these factors are monitored, imagination can fly in the sky like a bird of prey, and open up new horizons. The problem is not imagination per se, it is what we feed our imaginative power with. Our imagination becomes what we give it to eat and drink, so to speak…

To let our imagination run free means that we are able to abstract ourselves from present conditions, to create a distance between oneself and the world as it is introduced and conditioned for our use. At some point, we doubt what is asserted around us… and from this doubt arise new hypotheses. This doubt might no be provoked by our “reason”, but “reason” will be stimulated by what comes from outside. Without imagination and dream, no way to invent non-Euclidian geometry…

Imagination is begotten by dreams – and dreams are begotten by sleep… Only the one who sleeps and liberates his mind and soul during the sleep will be able to imagine a different world. Imagination is in conflict with utilitarianism. Imagination is anchored into gratuitousness. You need moments when you dream about nothing in particular for imagining something so new that it seems to be directly emerging from Nothingness. Conversely, organizations that are fully “rational”, letting no place to chance or fantasy, progressively destroy the imaginative power of the people who work in them. You need imperfection, free space, free time and some degree of fuzziness for giving imagination its chance, so as it might change the world you dwell in. A world too perfect or too rational becomes entropic, and perishes from its own virtues.

Five keys for developing the positive power of imagination
Taking into account what precedes, I’d like to suggest five basic attitudes through which we can nurture our imaginative power and make it a force for changing our environment:

-First, our imagination is powerfully nourished by the contemplation of the human person in her riches and complexity. Persons focus our dreams and desires; entering into relationship with concrete people awakens our eloquence, our passions and senses, and consequently our imagination. As a matter of fact, the first person with whom we deal is “I”, and the relationship I nurture with myself is key for the way I use my imagination. So, let us start by contemplating ourselves, to assess and enjoy our own gifts - and our gratitude for everything we have received will already enhance the positive power of our imagination.

-Imagination is nurtured by a sense of time, there are natural tempos of maturation in nature, in art, in personal growth, or in management. Being too hasty will kill our imaginative power. On the contrary, being stubborn in one’s dream and project while respecting the rhythm of maturation proper to the project and its environment will make our imagination more vivid and powerful.

-Imagination is nurtured by freedom. My own inner freedom makes me able to challenge what I have been taught. The freedom I give to the Other will make her able to challenge our common assumptions and to come up with creative solutions to the problems we are encountering.

-Imagination is nurtured by our spirit of service. When I prove to be sensitive to the needs, disarrays and desires of the people I am living or working with, I develop a new sensitivity to my environment, and I naturally ask myself questions on what is to be done for answering these needs, opening up spaces of growth and creativity. The very fact of not putting myself “at the center” liberates my vision and makes me able to imagine solution that would be unconceivable for someone who puts his self-interest first. It is from the margins that the scene appears most clearly…

-Imagination is nurtured by communication and friendship. When communication is inspired by a desire for truth in respect, i.e. by a common search for the common good, the exchange of words, opinions and emotions naturally awakes ideas and ways of proceedings that could not be imagined as long as exchange was not taking place. Imagination, likes fire, needs wood, and communication is akin to the process of cutting wood and putting it into the flame when one fears it might become extinct.

“Poetry is what is lost in translation”- or so wrote Robert Frost. And if the reverse was true? It seems to me that imagination arises in a kind of “translation process.” When I make the effort to explain to myself with my own words and through my own feelings what had been taught to me, then I discover the limits of the ancient statements I was nourished with, or I discover new truths within them. The fact of “translating” old truths into a new language opens up a window through which new landscapes are discovered. Translation is also what happens when we mutually elucidate for each other what we have understood and how we feel. The exchange that takes place is the space into which “common imagination” arises, so as to become a drive for change. “Translation” of shapes, sounds, feelings and images is also what happens throughout the artistic process. “Imagination is what is gained in translation” – and, so, it is in our power to generate endless supplies of it. Contrarily to oil or to coal, imagination is an inexhaustible energy.

Friday, 20 March 2009 21:46

Dreaming Taiwan

I cannot bear how unimaginative Taiwan has become since my stay abroad. All political discourses are repetitive, the media repeats a bunch of lies, nobody seems to be able to articulate a project that would give a sense of direction to this nation.

It is linked with our educational system, of course. When I was a child, everything was organized for making us think alike. Thinking outside the box was the supreme sin. There were stock sentences to be repeated. Lessons in literature and language were meant to make us speak and write in a certain way and in a certain style. Memorizing was the supreme virtue. Memorizing is good actually – as long as you are taught to build on it for inventing new things.

So, I dream of a Taiwan in which everyone would be encouraged to develop his or her own style, in dressing, writing, and speaking… I dream of a Taiwan in which you would not see the same model of buildings everywhere, in which no house would be like the one next door, a Taiwan where the roads would not go from North to South but from East to West, a Taiwan that would be like a big garden in which each plant is different and unique… I dream of a Taiwan ruled by imagination!


Taiwan, in fact, is imaginative in its own way. Look how we went from one economic model to another during the last fifty years. From bananas to flowers, from the toy industry to computer hardware, from computer hardware to software, from software to the most sophisticated electronic chips model… That was spirit of adaptation and survival, and these two nurture imagination. Our form of imagination is not the one that is good at long term planning, it is the imagination of the prisoner who looks for a way to escape his prison. We are good at responding imaginatively to crisis and challenges… Though, I wonder if we are now losing even this skill. Look how clumsy our answer is to the present economic crisis. It seems that we have much more difficulties in going from one economic paradigm to another than was the case ten years before. We are supposed to move from IT to biotechnology for instance, but I do not see it happening. Our faculty of adaptation might be drying under the sun.

The Taiwan I am dreaming of would be able to invent something together. It would decide that it is able to invent a polity, a form of living together that no nation has tried yet, and would thus make politics an art. Actually, shaping a social contract is like creating music. Politics is the art of inventing news ways of living together. I dream to see Taiwan become a world class symphonic orchestra, playing music never heard before…


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