Tag: Culture

Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong

Posted May 30, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Book of the Month, Historical Fiction / 0 Comments

Wolf Totem by Jiang RongTitle: Wolf Totem (Goodreads)
Author: Jiang Rong
Translator: Howard Goldblatt
Published: Viking, 2004
Pages: 527
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Wolf Totem is the story of a Chen Zhen, a young Beijing student who is sent to the countryside of Inner Mongolia in 1967. He lived with the nomadic Mongols, who are a proud, brave, and ancient race of people, exploring the harmony, beauty and also cruelness of nature. As well as learning the philosophy the Mongols have towards nature and their attitudes towards the wolf; who keep the ecological balance.

This is a semi-autobiographical novel that follows an experience that the author, Lü Jiamin (writing under the pseudonym Jiang Rong) had during the height of China’s culture revolution. This revolution was a social-political movement that took place within the People’s Republic of China between 1966 and 1976. The communist chairman Mao Zedong’s goals were to preserve the true communist ideals within China. This meant the purging of capitalism and even traditional culture.

In the height of this purge, the protagonist is exploring the folk traditions, rituals, and life on the Steppe, looking into the culture and traditions of the ethnic Mongolian nomads and the Han Chinese farmers. These traditions were at risk of being purged under Chairman Mao’s rule, allowing the author to talk about the importance of keeping ancient traditions alive.

Also within Wolf Totem there is a whole obsession Chen Zhen has with wolves. They are seen to keep nature in balance. He fears and respects the wolves but he also questions their role in nature. A connection could be made between the wolves and the Communist party but that is up to the reader to decide.

I found this book to drag on a bit too much; there is a lot of information about wolves and agriculture that seemed to just go on and on. However, Wolf Totem explored some unfamiliar cultures to me and gave me great insight into one man’s opinions about the culture revolution. I think I would have enjoyed the book a lot more if it did not drag on so much; could have purged at least a hundred pages. Having said that, I am glad I read it and I think it is worth exploring different points of view.

Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks

Posted July 28, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Science Fiction / 0 Comments

Consider Phlebas by Iain M. BanksTitle: Consider Phlebas (Goodreads)
Author: Iain M. Banks
Series: Culture #1
Narrator: Peter Kenny
Published: Orbit, 1987
Pages: 471
Genres: Science Fiction
My Copy: Personal Copy

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

The Culture war rages across the galaxy. Billions have died, and just as many are doomed. Planets, moons and even stars are at risk of destruction. The Idirans fought for their faith and the Culture for their moral right to exist. For Horza and his crew land, they are stuck somewhere in the middle of this conflict. Both the Culture and the Idirans are after one thing, but when Horza finds, it his motley crew of unpredictable mercenaries, human and machine may have sealed their own destruction.

Prolific author Iain Banks is known for his literary novels but when he writes his seminal space opera series he uses the pseudonym Iain M. Banks. Sadly Banks lost his battle with cancer on the 9th of June 2013. I realised that I’ve never read anything by this author and since I had Consider Phlebas, I thought this was the place to start; Book One in the Culture series.

I will admit I haven’t read much space opera in the past and I feel like I’ve gone off Science Fiction, well the modern ones at least. I love the old Sci-Fi novels of the 1950’s-1970’s; they blend these futuristic stories with some really interesting philosophical ideas and I miss that type of stuff. When I started reading Consider Phlebas I thought just maybe this will be the series that returns me to those awesome philosophical sci-fi novels. There was some slight philosophical ideas in the novel but that got drowned out by the fast paced plot.

The Culture is a post-scarcity society. A symbiotic society of artificial intelligences (AIs) (Minds and drones), humanoids and other alien species all sharing equal status. We know what aliens and humanoids are but let me quickly explain Minds; these are powerful and intelligent AIs so advance they are self-aware. Almost like a futuristic Skynet but with designs to be treated as equals with the rest of the universe. The Idirans are a major galactic race; they have all the control and want to supress everyone else. They are a deeply religious group who believe in a ‘rational’ God who wants a better existence for his creation. Now that we have explained both sides of the war, feel free to draw the symbolism out of it. Example: The Idirans are Americans, or the Church in medieval times and the Culture are anyone that stands against them. It really is up to you on how you want to interpret this.

The thing I often find hard about these type of Science Fiction and Fantasy novels, is you have to spend so much time trying to work out who each race is and if they represent something relevant to our own history. Once you spent all your time working that out, then you have to write it all down because there are so many you need to reference back to as you go along. Having done that, now you have a slightly better chance at understanding just what the hell is going on with the books. Some people pick this up really easily and just fly through these books fully understanding or just thinking of them as race a, race b and so on. I can’t do that, I want to pull interesting information out of a book and I know that there can be a lot of symbolism in these novels but there is a lot of work involved with working that out before you can even start to read the book.

I feel like I have hit the wall with Science Fiction (I’m not talking about dystopian or post-apocalyptic novels but the Sci-Fi set in space) and maybe I need to read a classic just to get myself out of this rut. As a literary explorer I try these newer Sci-Fi novels in the hopes to find a new and interesting author but most of the time it’s in vain. Don’t get me wrong, once I worked out my own analogy for The Idirans and The Culture I was able to enjoy this book but it feels like too much work. I like working for it while reading but in the cases like Consider Phlebas I think all the work needs to be done before you really start to get into the book and that just doesn’t really appeal to me. Now I’ve worked out a basic idea of this world, I might continue the series. The imagery and the pacing of this book is great and I think Iain M Banks did a great job with it, but I think I might try an Iain Banks book instead; did someone say The Wasp Factory?

The People of Forever Are Not Afraid by Shani Boianjiu

Posted May 4, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Young Adult / 0 Comments

The People of Forever Are Not Afraid by Shani BoianjiuTitle: The People of Forever Are Not Afraid (Goodreads)
Author: Shani Boianjiu
Published: Hogarth, 2012
Pages: 320
Genres: Young Adult
My Copy: ARC from Publisher

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Lea, Avishag and Yael grow up in a small town on the Israel/Lebanon border leaving normal teenage lives. The People of Forever Are Not Afraid tells the story of these three normal Israeli girls from passing notes in school, talking about boys to turning eighteen and being conscripted into the army. Winner of the National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35” authors to watch list in 2011, Shani Boianjiu’s debut novel is a coming of age novel unlike any before. Growing up in this intense war torn world changes everything, even for three normal teenage girls.

First thing I would like to say is I was hugely impressed with The People of Forever Are Not Afraid, I never expected to find a New Adult novel that offers so many different elements. While this seems to be marketed as a Young/New Adult novel, I think this is because the old “coming of age” formula seems to go hand and hand with these two genres. Though this is so much different; these three girls are plucked from their normal teenage lives, put into the army and forced to grow up rather quickly.

There are some really interesting themes throughout this novel. Firstly there are the major themes of growing up as an Israeli girl and conscription, and Shani Boianjiu is the voice of experience here; at the age of 18, she entered the Israeli Defence Forces and served for two years. So you get the sense that maybe this novel is semi-autobiographical but not knowing much about the author I wonder which of the three girl’s best resembles her. Though I have a feeling that Lea, Avishag and Yael all have an element of Boianjiu in them; I like how she has the three different personalities within the book to help show the how war really effects a person.

This brings us to the theme of War; while for the most of the book they are living in a perpetual state of war, the conflict between Israel and Lebanon still puts them into real danger. Though the reader has to ask themselves if eighteen too young to deal with war; they are still in a state of self-discovery when they are thrown into such an extreme situation. I know it is part of their heritage but when you talk about war and even RPG children (“children who tried to shoot RPGs at soldiers and ended up burning each other because they were uninformed, and children”) you really have to wonder how old is old enough to deal with war.

Finally, the book looks at the influence western society has on the Middle Eastern culture; I’m sure girls thought about boys and sex but there is a definite changing that comes through in the novel. References to Dawson’s Creek and Mean Girls and the whole attitude towards relationships (breaking up every week) and sex really feels more like something from an American teen drama than an Israeli town. I don’t know much about their culture but I know enough about pop-culture and the difficulties that western society has on Muslim and Jewish heritage to notice this real culture clash.

The People of Forever Are Not Afraid really is an interesting New Adult novel; it is smart and thought provoking and yet it’s really funny as well. I remember the cheesy lines made me chuckle like the idea of a mother not wanting her daughter to have a party because she was worried that her friends will break her hymen. All these elements seem to work together to produce a novel that is both easy to read and unlike anything I’ve read before.

I was never sure what to make of The People of Forever Are Not Afraid but I’m glad I had a chance to read this novel. It’s a debut novel that shows us that Shani Boianjiu is an author to watch in the future. It’s not without its flaws, the repetitiveness got to me a little but in the end all the good aspects of this book outshined any problems. It’s the type of novel that made me want to turn back to page one and start reading it again. I’m not a fan of Young Adult and New Adult novels in general but I can’t help but recommend this one to all readers.

Truth: An Overview

Posted June 15, 2012 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Culture / 1 Comment

I wanted to do an overview of my first subject at university but I’m finding that very hard to do. The whole thing was on the concept of Truth and trying to understand how to think of things critically and determine what truth really is. My last post on the encyclopaedia was also a result of this subject; it was actually one of my assignments. The basic concept of the subject was trying to get the students to work out if Truth is subjective or objective, relative or absolute.

I was surprised what topics were covered when talking about the concept of Truth, including Literature, Myths, Philosophy, Political Ideologies, Religion, Science & the Media. I guess I never really thought about it but everyone’s personal concept of what the truth really is would cover their personal views on politics, religion, and science.

Apart from personal views of what is true, there are the proven facts that we consider to be true. But what would happen if these truths are proven to be incorrect? This is called a paradigm shift; and while when I think of these shifts, I normally I think of science, i.e.: The discovery the world is round, the world revolves around the sun and so on. It is interesting to be able to think more about paradigm shifts in other forms as well; shifts in social thinking. For example, witches went from being spiritual people, to heretics, to someone that you should fear all the way back to a spiritual person again.

While this isn’t really a traditional blog post for me, I just wanted to share my thoughts on the subject and maybe give you some food for thought. I know this subject seems like a very basic and general Bachelor of Arts subject but it was a nice way to explore a concept and give the students of the different fields you can take within the course. I would love to know any thoughts you might have on the whole concept of truth.

Half Yearly Review – 2011

Posted July 12, 2011 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Writing / 0 Comments

The first 6 months of 2011 went really quickly.  I don’t think I got a chance to write a blog post every week but I was really impressed with myself and what did end up on my blog. A few interesting miniseries showed up over the past six month, including a look at Picasso with Picasso – The Icon Breaker & Guernica; Picasso’s Masterpiece. The highlight for me was my Romantic period series; A Quest for Liberty, The Romantic Bond With Nature and then the quick look at the three most known romantics; The Romantic Brooder, The Romantic Bad-Boy & The Romantic Celebrity.

 In regards to popularity with the readers, here were the top 5 posts;

5. Autodidact Vs. Higher Education
4. What is Wrong with Dark YA Novels?
3. What is a Cult Book?
2. My Literary Wall of Shame
1. What Would You Read in an Introduction to Fiction Course?

As for my reading goals for the year, I’ve been working through some really amazing books and I would recommend the following books, based on what I read in the past six months;

5. Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson (2011)
4. Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart (2010)
3. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (2006)
2. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1938)
1. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961)

 I’m really happy with how this year has been going for my blog, I know there has been a bit of a focus on Literature lately, but I hope no one is thinking I’m neglecting a topic. I write a topic based on what has been on my mind and what I’ve been learning so you may get batches of one topic. I do except a lot more to do with literature in the future but I won’t neglect the other subjects; I promise. Is there a particular topic you would like to see here? Anyone interested in doing a post for this blog?

Autodidact Vs. Higher Education

Posted May 5, 2011 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Education / 0 Comments

While I love considering myself as an autodidact, my thirst for knowledge is growing so strong, that now I am considering going to uni to study a Bachelor of Arts focusing in English Literature – there are probably heaps of subjects I would love to study, but I think this one will suit me best.

For those who are unsure autodidacticism is learning on your own and an autodidact is someone that teaches themselves. I have developed my own education philosophy, in which I try to learn or make sense of something every week and then write about it in a blog post. I have this fear that I might be wrong or missing interesting elements of a topic. The other draw card to studying this via a university is the degree; who knows, it might get me a job, working in a field I’m passionate about.

The drawback of going to study – for me – is the fear that the classroom may kill my passion for learning. Over the past few years, this passion has been growing and growing; what started with Culture, expanded into Art History, Literature, Philosophy and now Educational Theories. I know that all these topics go hand in hand, but if I lose my passion, what will I do then?

I’ve been left with a difficult decision and while I’m worried about it, I think my thirst for knowledge far outweighs my fears. Though I think I will start out small; I will start with something basic (as I will need to study part time) and just take the subject in Critical reading.

I would love to know others’ thoughts in Autodidact verses Higher Education and I would love to know how others journey into higher learning went.

The Romantic Celebrity

Posted March 25, 2011 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Poetry / 0 Comments

Lord Byron pioneered a new form of living to give meaning to his own existence. His poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage was an instant best seller, and the crowds loved it, and him. The poem gave Byron a lot of followers, all wanting to be Romantics; dissatisfied with the world, yearning for something else.

His house, his home, his heritage, his lands,
The laughing dames in whom he did delight,
Whose large blue eyes, fair locks, and snowy hands,
Might shake the saintship of an anchorite,
And long had fed his youthful appetite;
His goblets brimmed with every costly wine,
And all that mote to luxury invite,
Without a sigh he left to cross the brine,
And traverse Paynim shores, and pass earth’s central line.
–          Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage 1812

With all his followers, came the proposals, many of which Byron took up (making him one of the first celebrities to have groupies), resulting in a scandal when his marriage fell apart; which Byron fed on, even drawing inspiration from it. But as the scandals grew, public accusations of incest and sodomy, Lord Byron fled from England, never to return. But for the public, Lord Byron had redefined the idea of a poet, making his life a living poem of passion and scandal.

Lord Byron’s life in the public may have made him the first rock star, but did his life of passion have a greater effect on his poetry than John Keats life of brooding or Percy Bysshe Shelley’s life rebelling for liberty? Did Byron find the sublime? He may have redefined the way we view a poet, but his life’s quest for passion and freedom was the real poem.

The Romantic Bad-Boy

Posted March 18, 2011 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Poetry / 0 Comments

In Oxford in 1811, an anonymous pamphlet was distributed to every clergy man and the heads of all the colleges. It was called The Necessity of Atheism and in it one of the key points was without proof of God’s existence, how can we believe he exists. The Pamphlet was written by Percy Bysshe Shelley and though he was committing blasphemy and attacking the very existence of civilisation, Shelley was standing up against the authoritarianism of the Church. The result of his pamphlet; expulsion.

With this liberty from the Church, Shelley began a life in pursuit of a new way of living. Shelley was married to Harriet Westbrook but his heart belonged to his lover Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin. Shelley wrote to his wife claiming his ‘heart belonged to another’ and ended up running away with Mary, making him one of the pioneers in the ‘Free Love’ movement.

Whilst thou alone, then not regarded,
The … thou alone should be,
To spend years thus, and be rewarded,
As thou, sweet love, requited me
When none were near — Oh! I did wake
From torture for that moment’s sake.
–          To Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin

If poetry was the new religion, then the poet would be a god. This idea led Shelley into a dark place, seeing visions of phantoms all around him. He began to question the worth of his own existence, becoming haunted by his own ideas. With death, his poetry will live on in the sublime way that Keats poems did. When Percy Bysshe Shelley died, he was found on the beach with a copy of John Keats poems in his pocket. He was burned on the beach by Byron and other friends, who claimed his heart was not consumed; a final act against the church.

The Romantic Brooder

Posted March 11, 2011 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Poetry / 0 Comments

It is interesting that the three most influential Romantics had three entirely different personalities. So how did these personalities help shape and hold up the romantic ideas. Over the next three weeks, I will attempt to discover how this was done.

John Keats was always surrounded by death; even as a young boy, when he lost his mother and brother. This caused Keats to contemplate life and the legacy left, after death. But Keats wasn’t always a poet, he was a trained surgeon. Though he had a real talent in the medical profession, the horrid sights affected him deeply. In the end he “feared that he should never be a poet, & if he was not he would destroy himself”. With the new discovery of empathy, Keats sought to heal the soul with his words; choosing his passion, Art, over the prestige of Science.

Lord Byron despised Keats’ quiet contemplation, calling his style mental masturbation. But Keats life of solitude was his attempt to reach towards meaning. With the experiences of death came depression, but also a more intense love for life.

“How astonishingly does the chance of leaving the world impress a sense of its natural beauties upon me! Like poor Falstaff, though I do not “babble,” I think of green fields; I muse with the greatest affection on every flower I have known from my infancy—their shapes and colours are as new to me as if I had just created them with a superhuman fancy.” 1820

Images of life and death haunted Keats; in 1820 Keats displayed increasingly serious symptoms of tuberculosis. Death terrified Keats; the thought of his poems drifting into obscurity scared him. The thought of immortality plagued him, he wished for his words to live forever.

This Grave
contains all that was Mortal
of a
Young English Poet
on his Death Bed, in the Bitterness of his Heart
at the Malicious Power of his Enemies
these Words to be
engraven on his Tomb Stone:
Here lies One
Whose Name was writ in Water.
24 February 1821

Keats’ memory didn’t dissolve has he had predicted. After his death, his words were read more intensively by his fellow Romantics, as well as people today. Even Shelley thought that Keats’ suffering conveyed the sense of the sublime often sought by the Romantics.

The Romantic Bond With Nature

Posted March 4, 2011 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Poetry / 0 Comments

Wanderer above the Sea of Fog by Caspar David Friedrich 1818

During the birth of the industrial age, the art world draw great inspiration from the changing world, so why were the Romantics focused on Nature? So what made the Romantics so interested in Nature? Their quest for liberty seemed to draw a lot from their natural surroundings. What did Blake, Wordsworth, Lord Byron & Mary Shelley draw from the natural world?


As a boy William Blake dreamed of a different type of world; claiming he had a vision of angels while staring at the sunlight shining through the trees.

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
Auguries of Innocence (1803)

Blake never forgot his vision and like most Romantics, often drew inspirations from his childhood imagination. While the industrial age was taking a toll on child innocents with the use of child labour, Blake wrote a collection of poems called Songs of Innocence in which he dreamed of a world of innocent children again, included poems like The Chimney Sweeper, in while he hopes to save four and five child chimney sweepers.  But his desire for innocents was shattered when he lost his brother, this lead to a new collection of poems called Songs of Experience, which included a darker version of The Chimney Sweeper. William Blake considered the industrial age the works of the devil, having left the city to live on the outskirts to be closer to nature.

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?
And did those feet in ancient time (1808)


Wordsworth grew up in the Lake District and was heavenly influenced by this. William Wordsworth had a love/hate relationship with nature. While he loved his childhood growing up in the Lake District, he also lost both parents due to the acts of Nature and had been educated by the natural forces all around him. One night he was stuck in a situation similar to what caused his father’s death, but instead of fear, Wordsworth discovered an awe of the power of nature, it could render him small and insignificant but it also could connect him to the world.

Was blowing on my body, felt within
A correspondent breeze, that gently moved
With quickening virtue, but is now become
A tempest, a redundant energy,
Vexing its own creation. Thanks to both
The Prelude, Book One (1799)


1816 was known as the year without a summer, as a result of a volcanic winter event. Lord Byron thought this to be the beginning of the apocalypse. While he didn’t spend much time in nature, this fear and respect for nature brought a group of intellectuals together. The fear of darkness and nature brought together a group of new Romantics.

I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguished, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;
Morn came and went -and came, and brought no day,
And men forgot their passions in the dread
Of this their desolation
Darkness (1816)


During the year without summer, Mary Shelley was hidden indoors with Lord Byron, her lover and future husband Percy Bysshe Shelley. During these nights they would write poetry and gothic stories and during this time was the birth of one of the greatest horror novels of all time. Frankenstein was a cautionary tale that expresses the dangers of messing with nature and a great source of the romantic ideal. Frankenstein’s message was clear, respect and revere nature.

The Romantics were the first to express a desire for the sublime in nature. Their longing for nature was not just the discovery of beauty but the terror that nature can bring. The key to the sublime was the ability to lose themselves, with no restraints or confinement. Weather they feared or loved nature, or just feared the modern world; nature played a big part of the Romantic Period.