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

今年の靖国神社への初詣


今年の初詣にしては少し遅かったが、遅くとも行かないよりもましだと思って、昨日の朝に靖国神社に参拝してきた。別に右翼というわけではなく、あそこは週末になると骨董市が行われていると聞いて、家からすぐ歩いて行けるから見に行くことにした。

朝七時にアフリカ生まれの友達とともに靖国前の大鳥居に着いた時、すでに、右翼のアンダーグラウンド世界から(あるいは以前の時代から)出現した人々で人だかりが出来ていた。外人は我々二人しかいなかったから、すぐ興味を示していた何人かに囲まれて尋問されはじめた。

「汝よ、どこから来たのだ」といきなり憲兵隊の格好をしている一人の老人に引き止められた。銃剣を携帯しているのを見たから生意気なことを言っちゃ駄目だと思いながら、

「わたくしは大米帝国から来日をいたしましてBeholdmyswarthyfaceと申します。どうぞ宜しくお願いいたします」と恭しく答えた。

「あらら。アメリカか。私のたった一つの夢は、まだ生きている内にアメリカから日本が独立することを見ることだ。あの黒ん坊は?」と友達の方へ目をやった。

「この人は、アフリカのリビアからです」と答えた。
「。。。」

「そんな顔でアメリカから来たわけはあるまい」とまた僕に向かって喋りだした。「お前は、インド人だよ。戦争の時にインドに何回も行ったりして、お前にそっくりのものをたくさん見たのだ。お前はインド人だな、間違えなく。あるいは、パキスタン人。支那でもないな。シナにも何度も行ったんだけど、満中とか南京とか。でも中国のどこに行ってもお前みたいな顔は見なかったよ。確か、シナ人ではないな。今の時代は、支那人と言っちゃうといけないと言われるんだけど、俺の世代でシナという言葉しかなかった。ほら、ロシア語でも「ヂィナ」とか何とか言って、英語でも「China」とかスペイン語でも「Cino」だと言うのに、どうして我々日本人だけがシナという言葉を使っちゃういけないか全く納得行かんし。。。」と語り続けながら、もう誰も聞かなくなったことに気付いていなかった。

でも彼の話を半分でも聞いていくにつれて、この憲兵隊との友情が少し芽生えて来た。日本の近代化は確かに激しい過程にあって、こういう風になってきた日本を哀れむ人がいるとは当然のことだと僕は思う。このような右翼団体の人々には、醜いところがいっぱいあるに違いないが、少しも彼に同情が出来ないわけではない。

一時間ほどの会話を交わしているうちに、友情が益々芽生えて、最後に解散することになったら、じゃ、一回でも一緒に参拝しようかと誘ってくれた。ま、いいかと思って「じゃ、日本の未来のために」と言って、二人で並んで神殿まで行進して、参拝させていただきました。

この写真は、その一緒に行った黒ん坊が携帯で撮ってくれた一枚です。

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.