Category: Uncategorized

Flame Alphabet: A Visual

Here is a brief animated visual, made by the publisher Knopf, to introduce Marcus’s novel. Very cool, although a little bizarre and disturbing. Ever since we started reading The Flame Alphabet, I was curious as to how one would frame the idea of a language toxin with a visual medium, like film. One of the central ironies of Marcus’s book is the fact that written language is used to convey an epidemic of poisonous speech. If The Flame Alphabet‘s plot were instead embodied in a feature-length film, would the effect be any more powerful? Seems like it could offer an interesting premise for a future project or modern art piece.

Biblical References…the back story

On page 12, Marcus says:

And they were killed with their own names. From the Psalms. Beware your name, for it is the first venom. Revelations.”

I was intruguied as to where these came from, what was the exact scriptual reference and context. So I looked it up. Nothing but references to Flame Alphabet appeared in a google search, so I looked in the online Bible. And what a twist when I found out…these references don’t even exist!! Nada! I tried with only key words like kill and name, even used synonyms like poison instead of venom, changed the version from NIV to KJV (different Bible versions), and there was nowhere where there is any such grouping of those or similar words anywhere in any single sentance that vaguely resembled the lines above.

Then I remembered: Sam (the narrator) is Jewish! It might be in the Torah!


Then it hit me that not only is the Bible’s Old Testament all in the Torah anyway, Revelations, in the New Testament of the Bible, isn’t in the Torah, so Sam must have been referring to books in the Bible.

But Sam’s Jewish! Why would he know exact Biblical scriptures (even if they are fake)? Not that that matters, it’s not like he’s not allowed to read a Bible. But then, why would he (Sam) quote fake references? Why would Marcus make fake scripture, especially when so much relevant real scripture exists?

For example: James 3:8 NIV “but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” or even better (and from a book he actually mentions) Revelation 6:8 NIV “It’s rider was named Death…they were given power over a fourth of the earth, to kill by sword, famine and plague…” IT EVEN USES PLAGUE!

So that’s a curious choice.

Real Life Dream of Ding Village

“In 1998, Li became the governor of Henan, one of the most populous provinces in China, which was also one of the areas most devastated by HIV/AIDS. During his stint, there were criticisms related to an HIV/AIDS outbreak linked to local blood banks. State-run media attributed the disease’s spread to“illegal blood sales and contaminated blood transfusions.” The central government began tightening controls over the business in the mid-1990s once more was known about HIV and how the virus is spread.”


What comes first: picture or text?

An amazing interview with Charles Burns on his works, including Black Hole:

So you write in text at first?
Primarily, yeah. There are usually a few little visual notes here and there, but it’s mainly just text. I compile all my ideas and do my best not to censor myself in any way. I just let anything enter into it. And what I found myself doing was taking all these notes on this kind of Tintin character and also doing all this work on this punk story. And so the eureka moment was combining those two threads. When I was thinking, “Tintin, of course, that kind of Franco-Belgian album format,” full-color books came to mind. And that was something that was very fun to do. As you mentioned, when you work in color you have this whole new set of tools for telling a story. And I didn’t want to just do a colorized version of my black-and-white work.”

flashbacks from portugal

It turns out that there is a sequel to Saramago’s “Blindness” – and it’s called, guess what, “Seeing:”

Seeing is a story set in the same country featured in Blindness and begins with a parliamentary election in which the majority of the populace casts blank ballots. The story revolves around the struggles of the government and its various members as they try to simultaneously understand and destroy the amorphous non-movement of blank-voters. Characters from Blindness appear in the second half of the novel, including ‘the doctor’ and ‘the doctor’s wife’.

On a different note, I was struck by the fact that since we are covering contagions, we should be ideally covering post-contagion rehabilitation processes as well – once textually blinded, one needs to open his/her eyes sometime after all 🙂


Ashura Mubarak!

The firewalking ritual occurs on the Day of Ashura, a Sh’ia celebration. The Sh’ia population in India is a minority group, with approximately 50 million followers and is a day of mourning for the martyrdom of Hussain Ibn Ali (credits to Wikipedia).

Here are some images of Sh’ia Muslims marking the occasion around the world, the images are quite graphic but each ties back to the notion of trying to inflicting pain on oneself in order to get a sense of the pain and grief that Hussain suffered.

The tradition of fire-walking can be seen in a number of religious practices, including orthodox Christianity, Hinduism and Sh’ia Islam. This ritual draws attention to the role of religion in the novel – Ma Franci as a Christian missionary, Hindu teachings are pervasive and also Sh’ia Islam which plays a role.

Animal is quite adamant that his participation is not for religious reasons (215), but I don’t think it is entirely for the sake of preserving his honour. I think it also the notion of promises, which Elli introduces to him and he is fixated over, constantly trying to find how music (the meaning of life to Somraj) and promise (the meaning of life to Elli) intersect. At one point, as he is preparing to make the trip across, he says, “nothing is going to stop me keeping my word” (214).

In other traditions, walking on fire is considered to be a ‘rite of passage’ and so considering the positioning of this passage, just before Animal’s disappointment at being labelled “unique” by Nisha (223) this element of proving oneself is certainly at play. Does fact that he falls and does not himself complete the ritual mean that he has failed in ‘becoming human’?

Bhopal – the real-life Khaufpur

December 3rd 1984: Hundreds die in Bhopal chemical accident

Hundreds of people have died from the effects of toxic gases which leaked from a chemical factory near the central Indian city of Bhopal.

The accident happened in the early hours of this morning at the American-owned Union Carbide Pesticide Plant three miles (4.8 km) from Bhopal. Mr Y P Gokhale, managing director of Union Carbide in India, said that methyl isocyanate gas (MIC) had escaped when a valve in the plant’s underground storage tank broke under pressure.This caused a deadly cloud of lethal gas to float from the factory over Bhopal, which is home to more than 900,000 people – many of whom live in slums.

Chaos and panic broke out in the city and surrounding areas as tens of thousands of people attempted to escape. More than 20,000 people have required hospital treatment for symptoms including swollen eyes, frothing at the mouth and breathing difficulties. Thousands of dead cats, dogs, cows and birds litter the streets and the city’s mortuaries are filling up fast.

Bhopal resident, Ahmed Khan, said: “We were choking and our eyes were burning. We could barely see the road through the fog, and sirens were blaring. We didn’t know which way to run. Everybody was very confused. Mothers didn’t know their children had died, children didn’t know their mothers had died and men didn’t know their whole families had died.”

The Union Carbide factory was closed immediately after the accident and three senior members of staff arrested. Medical and scientific experts have been dispatched to the scene and the Indian government has ordered a judicial inquiry. It is understood the Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, will be flying to the area within the next few days.

This is a BBC article written about the Bhopal disaster, which is the real-life version of the situation described in Animal’s People (see conveners’ post). Interestingly, the descriptions highlight the loss of life, both human and wild animals, as well as the confusion and panic the disaster caused. Thoughts on the effects of illness mentally and physically, both to individuals and the community is important to consider, whilst also discussing the notion of blame. Another thing to look at is this minute-long news clip showing footage from 1984 (warning: some people may find the scenes disturbing).

The chemical factory in Bhopal has now been left unchanged amongst overgrown surroundings.