Public talk 7 August 2018: Does your language control you?

I am excited to be giving a public talk on language for Funzing Singapore next month. Hope to see you there!


Does your language influence—or even control—your very thoughts? Join us for a scintillating night as we delve deep into the spookier aspects of language. You’ll never think about language the same way again…

In this talk we’ll look at how much we rely on our language to frame our understanding of the world. You’ll be surprised to see how different languages choose to express or emphasise seemingly basic aspects of experience like gender, direction and colour!

Some languages, including Classical Chinese, lack separate words for ‘blue’ and ‘green’. Meanwhile, Eskimos are said to have dozens of words for snow. What do we make of these oddities?

Do differences in our words reflect differences in thought? In other words, do speakers of Chinese view the world differently from speakers of English, Malay, Tamil, and other languages of the world—or do we all talk differently but think somewhat the same?

What would happen if people purposely changed the language we use? Would they be able to improve or impair our thinking as in the film Arrival or the novel 1984? Examining insights from research on ‘linguistic relativity’ and examples from literature and popular culture, we’ll uncover just how much our words affect our lives!


Venue
Distrii (a co-working space at 9 Raffles Place, Republic Plaza, 048619)

Date / Time
Tuesday 7th August, 7 p.m. (Talk starts at 7.30 p.m.)

Tickets
Available online for $9 (or use your Funzing Unlimited Pass)
No tickets will be sold at the door.

Handful of books from Book Treasure

Got these at Book Treasure at Parklane Shopping Centre:

  • Singapore: The Air-Conditioned Nation by Cherian George
  • Success with Asian Names by Fiona Swee-Lin Price
  • Book of Humour, assembled by Rewa Mirpuri
  • Book Uncle and Me by Uma Krishnaswami
  • Singapore Siu Dai by Felix Cheong, illustrated by Pman
  • Meet Me on the Queen Elizabeth 2 by Catherine Lim

Ant-man and the Wasp (2018)

Steve Krug, author of Don’t Make Me Think, says the functions of a good website are neither explained nor self-explanatory, they are self-evident.

In Ant-man and the Wasp, the sequences filled with exposition are excruciating because in them, the fake science is explained.

I felt a bit better when the fake science was lampshaded: “Do you guys just put ‘quantum’ in front of everything?” (My thought exactly!)

I felt even better during the action sequences, when the effects of the fake science were delightfully self-evident.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/ant-man-and-the-wasp/id1400637562

See below for a plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading Ant-man and the Wasp (2018)

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

Being neither a young male Irish Catholic nor an English major and at least one even slightly acclaimed novel short of an artist, I felt lost slogging through this “more approachable” work of Joyce’s.

In praise of what I find to be an impenetrable text, Shmoop says:

This novel, the first in Joyce’s whopping hat-trick of great novels, is both shorter and more approachable than either of Joyce’s later masterpieces (for which we humbly thank him). Portrait of the Artist really unleashed the massive power of Joyce’s innovation and unconventionality upon the literary world.

Why I found A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man hard to read

Fiction has character, setting, plot, and style. When any one of these four elements is developed at the expense of the other three, you get strange fiction. Sometimes it’s good strange and sometime it’s bad strange. Joyce’s fiction is primarily characterized by style—innovative and unconventional style. The literary world considers Joyce’s fiction good strange. For me, A Portrait of the Artist was bad strange.

I’m more of a nineteenth-century Realist than a twentieth-century Modernist or Post-modernist. I don’t like unreliable narrators, stream-of-consciousness narration, or magical realism. Joyce is known for free indirect speech, which is a kind of stream-of-consciousness narration.

The edition I read in high school had an introduction and notes built in, but many free and “thrift” editions, like the one I just finished reading, do not. It would have been better (though slower) to read the novel alongside some kind of notes (e.g., CliffsNotes or SparkNotes).

See below for what stuck out as well as when and why I read it.

Continue reading A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

Ocean’s 8 (2018)

Your English teacher was so wrong when she said “i before e, except after c or when sounding like ay as in neighbor and weigh”. She obviously wasn’t counting on the feisty female heist in Ocean’s 8.

I was worried there would be annoying, unsubtle feminist messaging throughout, but there was only one scene where characters talked about men per se. Thank goodness someone realized there’d be no point in making a movie about a bunch of female thieves only to have them talk about men the whole time.

Clearly the writing and/or casting was done with diversity in mind: there is a black character, an Indian character (played by an actress I now recognize from A Wrinkle in Time), and an Asian character in addition to the several Caucasians, one of whom sounds Irish and one of whom speaks German in several scenes. Although Ocean’s 8 is a much higher-quality production, I’m reminded of the awkward parody Superfast! which gave its ensemble’s token characters the literal names “Rapper Cameo”, “Model Turned Actress” and “Cool Asian Guy”.

The movie had two problems, neither of which I was expecting.

One problem was that the protagonist is introduced as a skilled shoplifter. An elaborate plan to steal millions of dollars’ worth of jewels is something I don’t have a problem with, since it’s obviously fantasy. Shoplifting is, however, both real and problematic. I don’t admire people who shoplift in real life, so I don’t really want to be encouraged to admire a shoplifter on screen. I mean, yes, the character comes across as clever, but… I don’t know. It just doesn’t sit right with me.

When giving her team a pep talk, Debbie says something along the lines of “Let’s not do this for us. Somewhere out there is an eight-year-old girl who dreams of becoming a criminal. Let’s do this for her.” Maybe that was funnier than the shoplifting, but… crime is bad, y’all!

The other problem was that although the caper was exciting, and there were lots of gratifying chuckles, there didn’t ever seem to be any serious obstacles. There were little stumbling blocks along the way, but each one was overcome after a moment of panic too brief to allow the tension to build.

See below for a list of reviews as well as a plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading Ocean’s 8 (2018)

Superfast! (2015)

I’m a sucker for car racing movies. Some are Disney while others are deadly; some are comedies while others are merely laughable; some are wacky Wachowski one-offs while others are furiously approaching double digits.

The irony? I don’t drive.

The worst I’ve seen in the wake of the fabulously successful Fast and Furious franchise was undoubtedly the shoestring-budget direct-to-DVD production 200mph (2011). If any movie about a car wreck could be called a train wreck, that was it.

On the other hand, I didn’t expect to like Death Race, but it was great! The sequel was also pretty good, though the second sequel wasn’t.

Due to my hit-and-miss nature of my past experience with car movies, my expectations for this parody/spoof were extremely non-specific. I didn’t know Superfast! was, like Scary Movie, Epic Movie, Vampires Suck, et al., written and directed by the much derided team of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. I had no interest in any of their other movies and didn’t see them.

All of which is to say that maybe I shouldn’t have enjoyed Superfast!, but I did, perhaps because the filmmakers’ humor was new to me, even if it’s stupid and old and tired to most everyone else.

Anyway, even if it was a bad movie, it wasn’t as bad as 200mph.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/superfast/id1229229788

See below for some links to reviews as well as a plot summary (with SPOILERS) in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading Superfast! (2015)

We Love Bedok by Urban Sketchers Singapore

Want to see inside? There’s a link to a PDF sample on the publisher’s page for We Love Bedok.

Thus far, Urban Sketchers Singapore and Epigram Books have produced books of sketches of:

  1. Toa Payoh (November 2012)
  2. Tiong Bahru (February 2013)
  3. Bedok (April 2013)
  4. Queenstown (September 2013)
  5. Katong (April 2014)
  6. Little India (Sept 2014)
  7. Chinatown (May 2015)
  8. Geylang Serai (January 2016)
  9. Serangoon Gardens (January 2017)

The first two are sold out at the publisher.

When and Why I Read We Love Bedok

This is an attractive locally-produced book.

Genre: non-fiction (art)
Date started / date finished:  20-Jun-18 to 21-Jun-18
Length: 96 pages
ISBN: 9789810754327 (paperback)
Originally published in: 2013

Lu Xun and Evolution by James Reeve Pusey

How often does one read a book whose genre is roughly equal parts philosophy, biology, Chinese history and literature? Not very.

Caveat lector. This book is not an ordinary monograph in Chinese intellectual history. It is not just about China. It is not just about Lu Xun. It is certainly not an introduction to Lu Xun, or to his works. It is not an intellectual biography. It is not “an appreciation.” It is not a study of Lu Xun’s genius or his art (although both will shine through). It is a philosophical critique of Lu Xun’s thought and a philosophical and political critique of what Chinese in the People’s Republic have done, and may yet do, with Lu Xun’s thought, and it is a reflection on philosophy and biology.

Some non-fiction books barely scratch the surface of a whole discipline, explaining the same terms and repeating the same well-trodden foundational anecdotes. It’s refreshing, once in a while, to read something truly niche.

Also refreshing is the author’s use of language play. For a serious book, it sure has a lot of jokes. Frequently, the same word is used in two senses in the same sentence. It’s self-indulgent and self-referential, but I find it charming. Any stupid old book could be distant, detached, and dry; this one feels like it was written by a real live human being who really, really likes to write, and who cares deeply about the topic at hand.

The topic at hand is an analysis of Lu Xun’s understanding of the implications of evolutionary theory for his country. Do ideas about evolution suggest that the Chinese have an inevitable destiny, good or bad? Do those ideas suggest that they are the makers of their own destiny, and should strive to evolve, individually or as a whole country? What ideas about evolution did people have in Lu Xun’s time, and which did he encounter, and how did he interpret them and incorporate them into his work throughout his writing career? How have his writings since been used, reused, and reinterpreted?

See below for scattered notes on the content and style of this treatise.

Continue reading Lu Xun and Evolution by James Reeve Pusey