Saturday, October 30, 2004


Rainbow, properly speaking, should be called "after-rain" bow.

When I learned the Italian word "arcobaleno" the image that passed my mind was a pod of whales flying across the sky in a line. But it has nothing to do with "balena" (whale) but "baleno," meaning "lightning."

The Spanish "arco iris" is a radient phrase that retains rainbow's irrational iridescence.

The French "arc-en-ciel" is so matter-of-factly and Cartesian.

In Manoa where I went to graduate school, rainbows on the mauka side were always double and appeared every afternoon.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Quantas letras tem? (Antonio Tabucchi)

This morning I was reading Antonio Tabucchi's essay Autobiografie altrui: poetiche a posteriori (Feltrinelli, 2003). His father suffered from a cancer in the larynx. (This word always reminds me of both "labyrinth" and "lynx," by the way.) He lost his voice. So the father and the author: "Per due anni e mezzo dialogammo dunque in silenzio, attraverso la superficie della lavagnetta" (19).

What they used was a "lavagnetta magica," and this must be Freudian "Magic writing pad." It was a series of dialogues in silence. Then long after his father's death, one day the father appears in his dream, speaking in Portuguese that in real life the father didn't know. The impression of the father's voice remains perfectly clear sounding.

E infatti la voce evocatrice di mio padre aveva dato il via al nostro dialogo con questa domanda: "Quantas letras tem o alfabeto latino?" Cioe: "Quante sono le lettere dell'alfabeto latino?" Mi aveva interrogato in portoghese, io gli avevo risposto in portoghese, e in portoghese avevo scritto le pagine del taccuino che stava sul tavolo di quel caffe, sotto gli occhi di quel cameriere che con la sua ingenua osservazione mi aveva dato la consapevolezza di quanto andavo scrivendo. (32)

This passage is so curiously attractive to me. My father has been bedridden for over six years, after an accident in his own garden. Falling off a ladder, he hit his head hard. He has never recovered his consciousness. At his bed side I sometimes talk to him in his accent (not mine); the accent and locution of a rural fishing village in the south, which I remember mostly from my paternal grandparents. Both of them died before I was 12, but I was old enough to pick up pieces of their orality through occasional visits during the summer.

Tabucchi quotes a phrase from Diderot: "La quantite des mots est bornee, celle des accents est infinie." And he goes on to write:

Ogni lingua umana possiede la sua peculiare intonazione per rendere le emozioni che Diderot paragona ai colori dell'arcobaleno. Collera, tenerezza, angoscia, malinconia, seduzione, ironia: l'uomo esprime le sue emozioni con l'intonazione della voce. (33)

Voices and colors, emotions expressed by accents and intonations. I have always been interested in people's accent, and I will always be.

Forced Epiphanies

A major new bookstore (Junkudo) opened today in Shinjuku and I've just been there. I took up a copy of Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies and casually read the reviews at the beginning of the book. A reviewer from Los Angeles Times Book Review writes: "Lahiri's touch is delicate yet assured, leaving no room for flubbed notes or FORCED EPIPHANIES."

Hey, I like the phrase a lot. Forced epiphanies... I want my life to be filled daily with forced epiphanies! Everything is revealed at every turn of the corner, secret pieces of knowledge await every hour on the hour, and you cannot avoid the world in its totality being revealed to you; the revelation is forced on you. Your Hegelian absolute knowledge is on its way to perfection!

Forced epiphanies... come anytime! I'm here. I'll be waiting!

Lisbon (7)

Lisbon, too, was devastated once by an earthquake
And it was an unexpected chance
For urban planning, its modernization
Marques de Pombal proudly held his head up
But heaps of rubble, the ruins from the fire
Quietly remain
Like a grandfather's ghost
With his silk necktie properly worn
(In 1988 when I was here for the first time
I saw Chiado recently burned and
Still smelling of the purifying ashes)
Ghosts remain
Even when you can't see them
Even if two things cannot occupy the same space
But that becomes possible if time lags behind
From time itself
(Time after time, larmoyante, that Miles played
at Waikiki Shell, under a full moon)
If not, there would be no explanations
For apparitions of figures
For revolutions of heavenly bodies
Or why I could visit a casa de Fernando Pessoa
Yesterday, quite by chance
Near the British cemetery
When two persons stand at the same angle
In relation to the same set of books
They become one person
When two persons sit at the same angle
In relation to a piece of white paper
They enter into a struggle, the agon
Of life and death
The designated arms are pens and threads
I find out that I, too, is forver nobody
Nobody, personne, pour qui sonne
Os dias
Muito nitidos
E sem olhar.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Tall buildings shake...

As I write this, again Tokyo is shaking. In Niigata, north several hundred kilometers from Tokyo, more than 100, 000 people are evacuated and freezing in cold. May they spend (at least) nights safely and warmly.

Oh, but Japan, this archipelago we inhabit, shakes all time! I sing to myself a song by Wilco that goes: tall buildings shake, voices escape, singing sad, sad songs...

But it is so scarely, honest.

English for Witi Ihimaera

This morning I was reading Witi Ihimaera's interview (Jussawalla and Dasenbrock, eds., Interviews with Writers of the Postcolonial World, 1992) and found his following statement quite interesting:

"Luckily for Maori writers who write in English, the English word is not sacred, it's profane. English is a profane language."

To him, the foremost English-language Maori writer, Maori is a tapu language, it is sacred, and used carefully with all its inhibitions. English offers him a much freer frame and realm of work.

To me Japanese has never been a sacred language, but it has its own inhibitions, both conscious and (probably) unconscious. English comes in as a neutral medium, devoid of my own biography, by which I can explore a new terrain without too much worrying about what NOT to write. Of course my English is way too limited. Still, it gives a certain sense of freedom that is never attainable in my own so-called mother tongue.

My mother (now 77) never writes anything, by the way. I suspect she NEVER wrote anything but occasional postcards since she graduated from her pre-war girls school at 18. She had her tongue, I have my keyboard. A motherless keyboard, so to speak.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Tongan Poetics ('Okusitino Mahina)

It is 'Okusitino Mahina who initiated me to the fascinating universe of Tongan poetry. I met him in Sydney. One of the most fortunate chance encounters of my life, as I had already decided to go to Auckland in 2005 to study one or more Polynesian languages. Here is an interesting basic glossary of Tongan poetics. I can't use the macron (to designate long vowels) here; instead, I'll capitalize the long vowels.

tA (time)
vA (space)
tA-vA (time-space)
hiva kakala (song of sweet-scented flowers, i.e. love poetry)
lausipi (spoken poetry)
faiva (to beat space, i.e. performance art)
ta'anga (place of beating, i.e. poetry, language)
hiva (to mark space with voice or sound, i.e. music)
haka (to articulate bodily movement, i.e. dance)

Especially interesting is how "faiva" and "hiva" are related to each other, and how "hiva" develops into "hiva kakala."

tufunga (to beat space, material act)
tufunga lalava (lashing, literally, line-space sculpture)

This lashing is connected with the material arts of house-building and boat-building.

tufunga tAmaka (stone sculpture)
tufunga langafale (architecture, literally, house building)

'Okusitino very kindly gave me a copy of his newly published bilingual Reed Book of Tongan Proverbs (Auckland, 2004). Before he began his conference he played the nose flute. It was so impressive. I am sure this book will guide me along the way toward the rich islands of Polynesian poetics. I am already thinking about visiting Tonga in 2005.

The book's Tongan title is: Ko e tohi 'a e Reed ki he lea Tonga heliaki.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Agglutinating Banality (Jean Paulhan)

We forget a lot. Again I am a living proof.

Jean Paulhan was a great homme de lettre who is remembered today best as a defender of banality. Being banal is much more enjoyable than being great in anything he says. Being banal means that you are constantly amazed by great feats around you. A great explorer is not surprised to see what others achieve. It's not fun. It's much more fun to be surprised by unexpected accomplishments done by the others. "Personne ne peut etre a la fois interesse et interessant" (Entretiens a la radio avec Robert Mallet, 16).

Well, I began reading this book and soon realized that this was the same book that I had read 25 years ago as an undergraduate; only its title had been changed! The original title was Les incertitudes du langage (1970). Tant pis. But my memory being so bad I can enjoy the book as if it was a new-new book. One advantage for banality.

What I have totally forgotten is the fact that Paulhan was a professor of languages at "LanguesO," L'Ecole des langues orientales. As a former gold hunter in Madagascar, he could speak Malagasy fluently. He also spoke Malay and Javanese. He was a specialist of all these interesting agglutinative languages.

Another reason (mimetic, naturally) for me to pursue Malay!

Belonging (Jeannie Baker)

One of the most pleasant surprises (I had several) in Sydney in September-Spring was Jeannie Baker's Belonging. I went to the Australian Museum and there was an exhibition going on concerning local ecology; Belonging was a work exhibited.

It's basically a series of mixed-media framed paintings. They look like georamas, only not entirely three-dimensional. Painted and fabricated on the same perspective, they represent the landscape a girl sees through her own bedroom window and its diachronical transformation.

It begins when a young couple moves into their new house. The wife is pregnant. A new baby is born and this baby girl will be our heroine. The work follows the girl's growth at two-years intervals. Tracy grows up, the family's garden changes, and so does the whole neighborhood. At first (in Tracy's younger years) a rather run-down, barren, cityscape, the area transforms gradually toward green, attractive, conformable neighborhood with people's efforts. By the time she's 22 and gets married it's an eden. The work finishes with Tracy, now with her own baby and husband, moves into a new house and opens a "local plant specialist" shop called Tracy's Forest.

The work is so understated, but it gives an eloquent sense of greening of one's own local habitat. A true masterpiece filled with hope. It keeps on telling: "Your land is where you are at now. Take good care of it. " A great work of re-inhabitational imaginary!

The work is published as a book (Walker Books, 2004). If you haven't decided upon this year's Christmas presents, this will be a fine idea, c'est moi qui le dit!

Friday, October 22, 2004

Lisbon (6)

The woman enunciates di cuore
Begins a talk on Singapore
Does English traverse from here all the way to Singapore?
What an express train indeed
Singapore, Hong Kong
Penetrated by English and the capital
A visage anglais
Asian islands pierced together
Let's fall apart yes let's
Quit this busy, money-centered world
And disperse in a fugue
Ne parles pas, toi, des "Asian values"
Mon amie inconnue
Ce n'est qu'un fantasme rape
Des ideologies opportunistes
It hides something thinking it's valuable
It's an eclipse in your soul
The values promoted by the island's government
Justified her suppositions, so it seems
But all the governments confine
The refugees outside of their fine conneries
Don't they?
Now a Portuguese woman went out
She had a beautiful necklace
On her neck as beautifully shaped as Mary of Fatima
As if it was a ribbon attached to her class
Na minha casa ha uma cozinheira portuguesa
Chez moi il y a une bonne malagache
I have a swimming teacher from Sweden at home
And I used to have a dah (nursemaid) from a southern island
After finishing her compulsory education she came to live with us
She carried me on her back day in day out
Sang a strange melody
And cried
Her tears ran down on me
And I was salted like a cod in a blanket
Why was the prime minister of Singapore
So confident in his decisions?
I envy him
People become so confident, don't they
Once they learn the words such as "economics"
Or "political science"
I'd prefer meteology and mineralogy
I beg you then, friends, to carry the 21st century
I'll drop it all
I always have
Will it one day end (I should hope) such
A bedrock coated with money and confidence?

Walk, read, be alert

In my "American Indian Literature" course at Seijo University we are reading this semester Leslie Marmon Silko's immortal masterpiece Ceremony. A work of such profundity, still it is a passage like this that grasps my mind beyond any narrative importance.

They rode south with the sun climbing up in the east, making the sky bright, almost blinding. There were no clouds and the air still smelled cool. He wanted to remember the morning, bright and clear as the leaves on the little green plants which grew low and close to the sandy ground. It had the clarity of the sky after a summer rainstorm, when the dust was washed away, and the colors of the hills and the shadows of the mesas had an intensity which made everything he saw accessible, as if he could touch all of it, even the little green rabbit weed growing close to the sand, its tiny leaves clustered like stars. (78-79)

In my twenties I paid no attention to description of the landscape when reading a book. I didn't even know what a mesa was! But now, this paragraph dazzles me, makes me want to howl for the tierra encantada del Nuevo Mexico, each word shines with an almost unbearable intensity. I am already standing at my favourite point just outside of the Albuquerque of 1989.

And what makes it all the more strange is that I read this paragraph along with the quote below by Daniel Maximin, within 6 hours' time and 12 km's distance. Imagine how one's mind can be affected by such a juxtaposition! Literature, more precisely, DESCRIPTION, never ceases to surprise me. And this would have sounded thoroughly nonsensical to me if someone told me the same when I was 26.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Nature comme personnage

This semester again my graduate/undergraduate seminar at the U of Tokyo deals with Guadeloupean literature. For the past three semesters 2003-2004 we have read Maryse Conde's Traversee de la mangrove, Simone Schwarz-Bart's Pluie et vent sur Telumee Miracle and Ti-Jean L'horizon. Now we've just begun Daniel Maximin's L'isole soleil.

All through these works "nature as a character" has been very present. It's not an anthropomorphic character, of course, but an environment-agent that intervenes in human history in a peculiarly active-passive way. This needs to be articulated. Here is a quote from L'isole soleil:

Chaque fois que tu oublieras de decrire la nature tropicale non pas comme un decor, mais comme un personnage de ton histoire, qui a aussi ses revoltes et ses lachetes, qui offre trop de fleurs aux jardiniers, et trop d'anses aux caravelles, alors tu te souviendras que les pays ou il fait trop beau sont comme des ventres maternels hostiles aux renaissances. (18)

I am asked to write a little book on eco-criticism and in the process to gather some ideas on how to treat one's imaginary, represented landscapes, and actual narrative strategies used by the authors. This will be a vast terrain to cover.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Lisbon (5)

In an unfathomable accent
Men are yelling at other men
Women are swearing at their men
A new form of capitalism
Fixes the classes in a new fashion
And they don't have
The words to explain all this
Even when they talk about community
Even when they talk about communalism
Nothing is held in common
Their daily goods, the materials
That are moving toward death, the lives
That are moving toward oblivion, the words
That are materials resurrected
Materialistically speaking
Maternal kingdom
Matters of boredom
Mama eternal
The matrix of laborers

Lisbon (4)

Two buildings cut a tree
This is a pure coincidence
That I can see that tree over there
From where I am
It's there, probably a hundred meters away
It's being seen by nobody else
What a fine line
Why are we arranged in this manner
In my transparent, linear tie with the tree
And who is that young man on the podium
Must be a Spaniard
Talking in English with a strong, rolling accent
He talks about the England of Ken Loach
About the films on the working class life in the
Post-Thatcher period
The dialogues in the film are so heavily accented
I can hardly understand
What the neo-liberalism brought to the people in the UK
What the neo-conservatism brought to the people in the US
And what the UK and the US are trying to bring
The people of the world into
Now the wind begins to blow and it's getting to be chilly
I'm sitting in the last row
Near the window, as always
Why have you lived liking this position
Up until now, wherever you go
Never wanting to pariticipate in
What's going on around you?

On being Jewish

This sentence: "On Rosh Hashanah, which was also my birthday, we would listen to my father blow the shofar." This is from the late Sarah Kofman's Rue Ordner, Rue Labat (14 in Ann Smock trans.) But what is Rosh Hashanah, what is the shofar? This is the kind of nomenclature that I've been telling myself to get acquinted with.

It's so strange that I've read so many Jewish authors without really knowing how Judaism is lived day to day.

Buenos Aires (for MV)

Muito obrigado MV for sharing me your memories of Buenos Aires on the River Plate. Media lunas (croissants) and cafe cortado (coffee with milk), a very old fashioned subte (subway), nights filled with people (including children walking around at midnight), and some lines from Borges, are what I remember best. Oh, and a Jewish wedding I happened to stray into on a saturday evening... they accepted me as an uninvited guest, gave me that little cap to put on my head, I didn't understand a word of what the rabbi was saying, but it was a wonderful event.

Hitoshi Oshima has written an interesting book called The Capital of Psychoanalysis on Buenos Aires. He is a Japanese historian of ideas who lived there for several years, and during his stay he went through sessions of psychoanalysis using Spanish as a medium language. He is married to an Espanola and has a perfect command of Spanish, still it is doubtful, so people say, if psychoanalysis is ever possible in a language other than one's own mother tongue. (I am more of the opinion that there is a part of one's psyche that only a foreign language can shed light on.)

Buenos Aires has more psychoanalysts per capita than any other cities in the world including New York. Most of the psychoanalysts are Jewish, naturally, and many of them are Lacanian, I heard.

Buenos Aires, a proud city where time stopped counting itself around 1930...

Saturday, October 09, 2004


Jacques Derrida died. Now he begins his own process of sur-vivre. Finally, an age has really come to an end. I remember very well; I learned of Foucault's death in Salvador, Brazil. That of Deleuze in Tucson, Arizona. And Derrida's in Tokyo. And this came as the least surprising, as we all knew that he was very ill.

The only surprising death was died by Deleuze. I uttered a little "No!" on opening the newspaper one morning, and my then five-year old son came out of his room, saying, "Daddy, I hear a cry of anguish!" (verbatim). But, after all these years, what have I learned from them?

Hasumi Shigehiko's book Foucault, Deleuze, Derrida initiated all of us, back in the late 1970s, to these authors. It's a wicked book; it after all predicted the order of death of these three thinkers!

No mourning necessary. Let's read them anew. I will. Two words for Jackie.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Alphonso Lingis

My review of Alphonso Lingis's Dangerous Emotions (2000) now appeared in UP's October issue. The book is now translated in Japanese as Nanji no teki o aise (Love Thy Enemy). The review is rather long, but I'll rewrite it in English and put it here one of these days. I have been a big fan of Lingis since I discovered his writing with Abuses and The Community of Those Who Have Nothing in Common in 1994. I was to meet him in person in London in 2001 at the Dialogue & Difference conference where he was the keynote speaker, but the day before the conference was September 11 and he couldn't cross the Atlantic... More on Lingis later.