Monday, August 25, 2008

Was Andy Kaufman the Dazai Osamu of Jewish-American Comedy?

Watching this Andy Kaufman video after spending most of the day reading Dazai Osamu, I noticed that there are some striking similarities between the two artists. No time to go into detail now, but here are a few of the similarities. I hope to elaborate on this topic at a later date.

a) Both view the audience as an object to be manipulated, and employ similar methods of manipulation.
b) Both present with a straight face a fictionalized self as if it were "the real self."
c) Both deliberately use bad humor, over-the-top pathos, and bathos.
d) Both frequently wallow in self-pity for comic effect.
e) Both incorporate neurotic "self-critiques" into their performances.
f) Both insert into their act from time to time hecklers or critics who mock their performance as it is being delivered.
g) Both often show signs of death wishery (or at least the characters they are playing do).
h) Both perform phony crying routines.
i) Their performative techniques are often thrust into the foreground.
j) And, most importantly, they share a central preoccupation, namely, of problematizing the concept of “self,” and of blurring the lines between performance and reality.

I hope I'm not belaboring the obvious here. Oh, and also, both died young (Dazai of suicide, Kaufman of kidney failure). Perhaps dying young was the only to keep people from saying it was all an act.

東北地方を彷徨う旅行 (in order: Sendai, Matsushima, Sakunami, Yamadera, Yamagata-shi)

日本のマスコミ、物まねオウムに過ぎないのか ~外人たる僕の目から見た日本マスコミ~

【修辞学。レッスン1: 反米感情を煽ること】






これは確かに偶然ではない。十年ほど前の『ニューヨーク・タイムズ』が暴露した記事で、戦後の日本では、米国のCIA(中央情報局)から資金援助を受ける見返りとして、自民党はマスコミ報道機関の自由を制限すると約束したことが分かった。 その記事によると、自民党が50年代から70年代までずっと資金援助を受け続けていたが、それ以来は受けていない。にもかかわらず、当時からの思想取り締りが未だに残っているのは一体なぜか。








(This article was originally posted here at 『ガンジー村通信』)

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Into the Fat After

Sometimes I write poems. Here is the first in a series, collectively titled, Oh, Loiterer. This one I wrote today while watching Blanka Vlasic, Croatian Oympic high jumper. The poem doesn’t really have anything to do with sports, though, or Croatia. It is called, "Into the Fat After." Grammarians be advised that there is some deliberate ungrammatical usage in the poem.

Into the Fat After

You wish I went to the mountain
And dedicated it to you

When all was hierarchical and
And an instinct for salvation purged the mind of dross.

I laughed at your sex's little unguarded follies,
Wandering cuttle-fish of life.

Man, whose convulsions are squelched
Under these long days

That, like a pacifier,
We forever suck on like babies?

See the once-bounding gaiety slink away
As we’re left to pass, together, through today

And into other days,
Where other systems will administer

The evening’s racing through the city
Bluer than any bluefish,

Through the demystified music and solitude
Commonly known as “adulthood”?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Yasukuni Shrine on the Anniversary of War's End

This just in from Grady Glenn:
I went to the Yasukuni Shrine on Friday to see what all the hubbub was surrounding this sixty-third anniversary of Japan's surrender. I was expecting a little excitement from the uyoku dantai, but I'm afraid they've lost their moxy in recent years.

After listening to a few of their speeches, I realized that their movement lacks two cardinal components: a coherent vision and a charismatic leader who can articulate that vision. Their main complaint this year: "China [or Shina 支那 in their parlance] must stop making rotten gyoza that sickens our nation's valiant young men and virginal maidens!" Not a word about Japan's foreign policy, the "special relationship" with America, their increasing irrelevance on the global stage, or any other real problems.

Apparently last year riots broke out among the police, the uyoku, and the left-wing student groups. This year, only the police and the uyoku showed up, so there was little scuffling. I did get to see some of the Cabinet ministers paying their respects to the dead, but I was too far away to tell which was Abe Shinzo and which was Koizumi Jun'ichiro.

Although I tend to be more sympathetic to expressions of nationalism than your average enlightened Western liberal, on the whole I must say the experience was a bit creepy, especially the part where several hundred crusty seniors strutted out in formation wearing Imperial Japan Army uniforms and armed with bayonets. But as anyone who's recently visited Washington D.C. knows, our war memorials-- especially the newly-added National World War II Memorial that is a testament to our drift toward fascism-- are no less creepy.

Tomorrow I'm off to Sendai, Sakunami, Matsushima, and Yamagata city. In preparation for the trip I'm reading Kirikirijin 『キリギリ人』(1981), Inoue Hisashi's long comic novel written in the Tohoku dialect. Be back next week.

[Note about picture: I think that's me in the far background. Look closely.]

Saturday, August 9, 2008








Friday, August 8, 2008

Ishikawa Jun and the Other Modern (Follow-Up)

Matt asks: "How do you see Sōseki fitting into the Edo vs Meiji takes on modernity, as defined here? Seems to me that he’s big on shabbification, but also pretty invested in realism (at least in certain novels and on certain topics)."

Well, Matt, it’s an interesting question. I wish you’d posted this yesterday before my meeting with my professor, who’s a Sōseki expert of sorts. She’d be able to answer this.

My general impression is that Sōseki lacked the kind of nostalgia for Edo that we see in later writers like Ishikawa Jun and Nagai Kafū. Perhaps he was still too close to the period to feel any nostalgia for it, or perhaps things hadn't gotten that bad yet.

Sōseki did, however, appear to relish his role as critic of modernity (particularly of the Fukuzawan sort), but he seemed to come at it from a different angle. I think he was altogether too stern, ethical, and grandfatherly (even though he died before reaching a grandfatherly age) to enjoy the relatively rowdy and sexualized culture of the Edo plebes. Then again, I could be totally off here.

One example: Sōseki constructs a sort of alternative to the Fukuzawan modern in his novel Kusamakura, in which a first-person narrator leaves the modern city to pursue his solitary, utopian vision of art. But the sources of this vision seem to be Rousseau and the solipsistic Romantics, and the wenren literati of China and Japan, rather than the Edo poets.

But if anyone knows of any instances of him drawing from Edo culture (particularly from the haikai poets), do let me know.

Final note: My apologies for the excessive 渋み of the article! I’ll try to add a little 軽み to the next one!

Thursday, August 7, 2008






Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Ishikawa Jun and the Other Modern

W. David Marx, editor of the popular online journal Neojaponisme, has kindly invited me to post this article, in full, on his site. In the article, I explore the connection between Ishikawa Jun's "modernist" literature and the literature of the Edo period (1603-1868), particularly of the Tenmei era (1781-1789). This being my second contribution, I need you all to post flattering comments that make me look smarter and cooler than I really am. (Last time they tore me apart!)

Click here for the article.