Friday, December 31, 2004

Feliz ano novo 2005!

Happy new year 2005 to my friends passes, presents, et futurs.

Spending the new year's eve at my parents home where my father's been bedridden for six and a half years, I looked at my old library from various periods of my life. There are numerous books read and unread, remembered and forgotten, and it's like covering a half-familiar terrain on a snowy day, you come across anew some remarkable passages that once gave you a strong impression of which only the impression remains and its content fading.

I took up an old copy of Basic Judaism by Milton Steinberg (1903-1950), who was the Rabbi of the Park Avenue Synagogue in New York. I think I bought the copy in New York in 1981.

Interesting paragraphs all over.

The Hebrew word Iish, meaning "man," contains a letter "i" which is missing from the word Ishah "woman"; just as Ishah has in it an "h" lacking in Iish. / Now these two letters "i" and "h" when joined together spell out a Hebrew name for God. On the other hand, when they are deleted from Iish and Ishah respectively what remains in either case is the word Esh or "fire." / And the moral of all this? / When God, that is the hollowed and the ideal, is removed from the relationship of a man with a woman they are both transformed into consuming fires. / But when God is present between them their humanity is intact; man is man, woman is woman, and both truly husband and wife to each other. (75)

Chiasmic thinking and conjunctive disjunction (or disjunctive conjunction). This is the kind of "habit" of thinking process that is very intriguing, to me at least.

Another moment of "aha!" is this. It's an explication on what's "kosher" and what's not.

Anything edible by ritualistic standards is kosher, which means literally fit or suitable. Anything forbidden is denominated terefah; a word signifying originally a living thing that had fallen victim to a beast or bird of prey and hence unacceptable as a food, but subsequently extended to cover all unacceptable foods. (126)

What is to be eaten by human should be killed by human. It is an economy that probably in its original state supported the sort of responsibility toward the life taken. A sacrifice based on a triangle structure: the life taker, the life taken, and the observer of the interaction (who becomes at the same time the guarantor of sacredness). There is something so archaic here. Eat only what you killed. But the problem is that this principle becomes only nominal in a larger society (a consumer society); it should be brought back to the level of individuals to reestablish a primitive, serene, interspecies ethics.

R.I.P. Susan Sontag

Susan Sontag passed away and I am feeling very sorry for the delay of our publishing project. I am editing with Kojin Kondo (the Japanese translator of Sontag's On Photography) a volume called Talking to Photography, a collection of essays from a dozen critics on photography's relationship with language. It was to be published early 2004, but one thing led to another and it's not done yet.

For the volume I wrote an essay around the theme of "on Photography 25 years later," and translated Susan Sontag's short but very dense article called "On Photography: A Little Summa." It's such a pity that we couldn't show her the finished volume.

The collection starts by discussing four 20th-century foundational critics on photography: Benjamin, Barthes, Sontag, and Flusser. And it contains long interviews with the two most intelligent photographers working from Japan: Naoya Hatakeyama and Chihiro Minato. We are hoping to publish it by March 2005.

Sunday, December 26, 2004


Time running out. No festivities of holidays, yet. I couldn't even celebrate the winter solstice, the most important religious date for us the sun worshippers. I have to apologize to my mentor Rudy Anaya who showed me the way of the sun!

Earlier this month I attended a lecture given by his excellency ambassador E.E. Mtango of Tanzania, given at Meiji University, my workplace. It was fun and revealing. Africa! The vastness is there.

What intrigued me most was the word "Karibu." Sounds like the Caribbean, when transcribed into Japanese! It means "welcome" in Swahili, so Keisuke Dan taught me. Keisuke has spent some time in Kenya and was once married to a girl from Uganda, so he knows some Kiswahili. It's a language I like to pick up along with Malay, another language of commerce. Together they would come in very handy for any coastal navigations.

Four more days to end this year 2004. How shall we forget all that happened in 2004? And all that we hoped would happen?