Friday, December 21, 2007

Notes on Murakami's "Underground"

Just in from Mabel Callahan:
I'd like to recommend to everyone Murakami Haruki's work of non-fiction, Underground (『アンダーグラウンド』 & 『約束された場所』 in the original), which I think ranks as one of his best works to date. I was never really a fan of his until I read this, and now I'm rereading his earlier fictional works with the understanding that they share with Underground the same central concerns -- namely, the search for lost narratives and the excavation of spaces inhabited by those left-behind, out-of-place, and marginalized by the well-oiled and monolithic "system" that is modern Japan.

I must confess, however, that I have my doubts about just how "monolithic" this system is. Is Japan today as a society any more prone to conformity than, say, America is? Does the Japanese individual hand over his own capacity for a subjective narrative more frequently and with less compunction than we Americans do? Is there really only one script available -- the script of risshin shusse 立身出世 -- and do those who choose not to read from this pre-written script really get banished to the fringes? That seems to be what Murakami is implying in many of his works and particularly in Underground, and I get the feeling that much of his popularity outside of Japan is due to the fact that he again and again presents us with this straight-jacket image of Japan that much of the world expects to see.

Also, his tendency toward sentimentality, which flares up like an atopic rash from time to time, can be a little nerve-wracking. He lays it on especially thick in Tokyo kitanshu 『東京奇譚集』, which otherwise is an enjoyable collection of bizarre stories involving disappearing acts, volunteer detectives, and talking monkeys. But more on this (and on Underground and its subject -- the Aum Shinrikyo sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway) later.

That is all for today. Thank you for your patience.

-Mabel Callahan

Sunday, December 16, 2007












Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Crisis Will Be Very Soon

Here is an audio recording of John Ashbery (1927- ) reading one of his best poems, "How Much Longer Will I be Able To Inhabit the Divine Sepulchre." Initially, I posted the entire text of the poem here, but after getting a letter from Google last week reminding me of copyright infringement laws, I thought it would be best to post the first three stanzas along with the final two. For more of Ashbery's recorded readings,click here.

How much longer will I be able to inhabit the divine sepulchre
Of life, my great love? Do dolphins plunge bottomward
To find the light? Or is it rock
That is searched? Unrelentingly? Huh. And if some day

Men with orange shovels come to break open the rock
Which encases me, what about the light that comes in then?
What about the smell of the light?
What about the moss?

In pilgrim times he wounded me
Since then I only lie
My bed of light is a furnace choking me
With hell (and sometimes I hear salt water dripping).


Who are you, anyway?
And it is the color of sand,
The darkness, as it sifts through your hand
Because what does anything mean,

The ivy and the sand? That boat
Pulled up on the shore? Am I wonder,
Strategically, and in the light
Of the long sepulchre that hid death and hides me?

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Edo Meisho Zue - Illustrated Guide to Famous Places of Edo

Here's a little something I found today -- a walk-through of scenes in Edo Meisho Zue 江戸名所図会 with scans of the original work, accompanied by photos of the same places today. The illustrations in the link are by the famed illustrator Hasegawa Settan 長谷川雪旦 (1778-1843). An brief description of the Edo Meisho Zue can be read here (in Japanese).

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

What To Fear Most: A McCain Presidency

This just in from Grady Glenn:
Just because a guy's your neighbor and an old friend of the family doesn't me you have to support his bid for the presidency. Today I address in my oped column what all good progressives and non-interventionists should fear most: a McCain presidency.

(The following article was first posted here.)

I recently had the unpleasant experience of reading this article penned by Senators Liebermann and McCain about General Patraeus's "slow victory plan" and the need to stay the course in Iraq.

In a weird sort of way, their argument is quite convincing, and the McCain-Lieberman strategy is perhaps the only viable one if you're goals are the following: to maintain American hegemony over the Arabian peninsula indefinitely, and, eventually, to spread the war into Iran (something neocons McCain and Lieberman, backed by the Israeli lobby, are strongly pushing for).

If these are the goals, then indeed it would make little sense to begin withdrawing troops now.

If, on the other hand, your goal is to make America safe and to prevent further acts of terrorism, then the McCain-Lieberman strategy of a surge in troop numbers and an expansion of conflict is entirely counterproductive.

What progressives and non-interventionist conservatives should now fear most is a McCain presidency, which – now that he has almost total mainstream media sponsorship – is looking more and more inevitable each day.

Just look at the names on his foreign policy staff, which includes a long list of advisors associated with the American Enterprise Institute, including William Kristol, Robert Kagan, Eliot Cohen and other radicals who have been advocating for the last several decades the recolonization of the Middle East.

Also worrying is McCain’s inclusion of Henry Kissinger, who has done this country (and much of the world) only harm for the last 40 years.

And the fact that he is considering for his running mate Senator Lieberman – one of the staunches supporters of an immediate attack on Iran — should scare us even more.

With a Vice President and a foreign policy staff like this, it's hard to imagine my old pal McCain exercising any restraint in issues of war and intervention.

Unlike Ron Paul, McCain has no significant public following to bolster his campaign. But he does seem to have garnered the support of late from the mainstream media — and lucky for him, it is they who have the first and final say in who will reign as the next President of the United States.