Monday, May 30, 2005


When I woke up this morning I was thinking about Barthes’ relationship with Bachelard. Greatly influenced by Sartre in his jeunesse, I think the early Barthes has also gone through a Bachelardian period. In Barthes’ earlier masterpiece of literary criticism on Cayrol he writes:

“[T]his description spares nothing, it slides across the surface of everything, but its sliding lacks the euphoria of flight or swimming, it acquires no resonance from the noble substances of the poetic image-repertoire, the aerial or the liquid; it is terrestrial sliding…”

And then:

In Cayrol, where seascapes abound, from Dieppe to Biarritz, the wind is always sharp; it is faintly cutting, but, more certainly than deep cold, causes constant shivering, without, however, altering the progress of events, without astonishing …The world continues, familiar and close at hand, and yet one feels the cold.” (184)

It’s rather rare that Barthes writes with such simple sense of freedom and breeziness. No twisting, no irony. Only the straightforward touch of the elements. And this virtue belongs to Bachelard.

It’s curious but the fundamentals of interesting French criticism may boil down to three Bs: Bachelard, Blanchot, and Barthes. From there you can follow the axes of Bachelard-Richard, and Barthes-Genette. Main body of the critical vocabulary is all offered by them, collectively. And this is something I’ll have to write up one day, summing up not their history but their geography.

Matariki (June 19)

Matariki is approaching. What is Matariki? It’s the cluster of stars called the Pleiades in the western tradition. When Matariki begins its heliacal rising (when it becomes first visible on the eastern horizon at dawn), it’s the Maori new year! In 2005, June 19 will be the date. It’s approaching. Let’s celebrate. In Japan Matariki is called Subaru, yes, just like the car. Matariki may be either mata riki (tiny eyes) or mata ariki (eyes of god). Make some offerings, clean your garden, prepare some delicacies. Let’s begin anew, whatever you are undertaking. Happy Matariki!

Friday, May 27, 2005

Whose Life is it Anyway?

My life has already been written; or I can only read my own life by somebody’s words; or what we call “life” is a linguistic construct coming après-coup, and very belatedly. All very true. Here is what Barthes experienced:

[H]aving worked for some time on a tale by Balzac, I often catch myself spontaneously carrying over into the circumstances of daily life fragments of sentences, formulations spontaneously taken from the Balzacian text; it is not the memorial(banal) character of the phenomenon which interests me here, but the evidence that I am WRITING daily life (it is true, in my head) through these formulas inherited from an anterior writing; or again, more precisely, life is the very thing which comes ALREADY constituted as a literary writing: NASCENT writing is a PAST writing. (98)

Yes, it’s all past writing, recombined and rearranged, then transformed. It is in this act of (or at least attempt at) transformation that the “life” of writing resides.

Biography is a genre that has always interested me; sometimes we read biography not for its subject (human subject) but for many locutions (sentences, formulations) that we may pick up and later apply in explaining (telling, fabulating) our own lives.

I have long had a project in mind of writing a book on literary biography (something like Philippe Lejeune’s conclusive work on the genre of autobiography) but can’t still find a frame to theorize. It’s great fun to read Ellman’s Joyce, Painter’s Proust, White’s Genet, Blair’s and Knowlson’s Beckett, Bruce King’s Derek Walcott, or Michael King’s Janet Frame. But what do we read other than the ambiguous images offered by writing of the subject authors? A point to be considered.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

The misuse of the prefix "pre"

No, it's not chronology that I wanted to talk about. It's all the matter of spatial deployment of different life styles. I'd never want to live in Paris. Missoula, Montana, is infinitely more interesting to me!

Contre Barthes (lovingly)

Barthes’ title essay “The Rustle of Language” is a truly admirable short piece; it’s only four-page long and its vastness is overwhelming. It ends, however, with this statement and there I find Barthes utterly irreconcilable. Says he:

I imagine myself today something like the ancient Greek as Hegel describes him: he interrogated, Hegel says, passionately, uninterruptedly, the rustle of branches, of springs, of winds, in short, the shudder of nature, in order to perceive in it the design of an intelligence, And I—it is the shudder of meaning I interrogate, listening to the rustle of language, that language which for me, modern man, is my Nature. (79)

This chronology is of course a metaphor, or a prejudice. The Greek may have done so, and so many people across history and even today do so. Language conceived as coordinator of collectivehuman action must remain linked to the elements of nature. To think of language as an isolatable environment, or Nature, is but a form of fetishism. It is precisely this kind of fetishism that needs to be kept in check, if you want to resist the economy of desire endorsed by the flow of arbitrary currency. (The currency being a supreme form of fetish.)

Barthes does teach me to read, to write, but he and his fetishism can’t offer me any clue to change the status of this Life. I'd rather return to the way of the Greeks, or the Hopis, or any people of the land. (Pre-consumer economy, pre-crisis-of-representation.)

What a Reader is (Roland Barthes)

Roland Barthes’ LE BRUISSEMENT DE LA LANGUE (1984) is a book that left a decisive marking on my writing self in my late twenties. I know, I know, but then I’ve been away from it for a long time, repeating incessantly what is already there in the book at each occasion of my having-to-write such and such on writing, reading, and translation. I don’t mean to say I imitated, or copied, or paraphrased; I didn’t even open the book once. But repetition was inescapable.

I’ve just begun (re)reading Richard Howard’s superb translation of the above book: THE RUSTLE OF LANGUAGE (1989) and I am out of breath. I find everywhere that “this, too, has been said by Barthes!” Consider, for example, the following paragraph:

Here we discern the total being of writing: a text consists of multiple writings, proceeding from several cultures and entering into dialogue, into parody, into contestation; but there is a site where this multiplicity is collected, and this site is not the author, as has hither to been claimed, but the reader: the reader is the very space in which are inscribed, without any of them being lost, all the citations out of which a writing is made; the unity of a text is not in its origin but in its destination, but this destination can no longer be personal: the reader is a man without history, without biography, without psychology; he is only that someone who holds collected into one and the same field all of the traces from which writing is constituted. (“The Death of the Author”, original written in 1968)

Change the word “reader” to “consumer,” and that’s my basic thesis in my mémoire d’études in 1983. Transpose the textuality to our material being and environment, and that’s what Glissant means by “échos-monde.” Talk about perspicacity.

Barthe is THE critic of the latter half of the twentieth century, and his ghostly body is haunting us well into this century and beyond.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Bush Army

Australia's Norforce, the military units to cover the Northern Territory, is 60 percent aboriginal. They can detect enemies much, much faster (and from much, much further away) than their white mates. Without any resupply, they can survive for weeks, or months if necessary, solely on bush tucker.

"We hunt for kangaroo and goanna and find witchetty grubs, oysters, wild yams," Corporal Tommy Munyarrun, 45, of the Wanguri tribe, said. "We teach the white blokes what they can eat, and they teach us army stuff." (Nick Squires, The New Zealand Herald, 5 May 2005)

Their greatest emeny? Giant crocodiles. This is the kind of knowledge I've always wanted to learn!

A Bad After-effect

Joe Bennett tells too many jokes that when he says “ I spend the evening in bed reading Primo Levi” (63) I think of Primo Levi as a cowboy in jeans drinking a can of beer… Sorry, Primo.

Greenblatt's summer camp buddy

Here is what I just learned from Mitchell Stephens’ lively 1992 profile on Stephen Greenblatt.

“In summer camp Greenblatt used to strum guitar with a sweet-voiced, curly haired, blond kid who would go on to fame as part of another duo----this one with Paul Simon.”

I have also been wondering where Greenblatt got his family name and the answer is now given; his grandparents were Lithuanian-Jewish.

Lithuania has a big sand dune. I don’t really know why but two countries I’d like to visit someday are Lithuania and Armenia, both countries of prodigious children scattered around the globe.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Kiwi Phonetics

Joe Bennett is admirable. He never misses a chance to make a joke. He gave me good laughter by saying things like: “After a hand of sausages and a flank of bacon I am greased like a Channel swimmer” (A LAND OF TWO HALVES, 40) or “I lunch on a slice of cheesecake that takes the enamel off my teeth, and two cups of coffee that replace it” (43). But his merit is not limited to such jocular utterances. He is pedagogic, too. He gave me the first-time-ever satisfactory explanation of what the kiwi accent is like.

"To generalize, the most distinctive kiwi characteristic is to move some vowels back one place on the palate. Thus pen becomes pin, tip becomes tup and bare becomes beer. But beer stays, more or less, as beer. Most kiwis rhyme here with there, ear with air. Ferry and fairly are homophones." (44)

My friend Yoko Nagao-Suzuki lectured me on the kiwi accent in Chicago in March, but at that time I was not exposed to the real kiwiphone space and didn’t get much of her message. (Yoko had received some of her high school education at a girl-only school in Wellington.) Now after 6 weeks in Auckland, Joe Bennett’s explanation really hits the point. How glad I am. Now I can move on from the recognition stage to the reproduction (phonetic) stage!

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Work Ethics

From May 19 to 22, last week, Auckland Writers and Readers Festival 2005 was held. Various reading, talks, dinners, lunches, and even breakfasts with various authors took place. Aimee Bender's friend Alice Sebold came, Caryl Philips whom I had heard in Seattle and Tokyo came, the funny ex-alcoholic Augusten Burroughs, the hyper-prolific Mark Kurlansky, the Beckett-Jung biographer Deidre Bair came. I could have gone to some of the sessions, but didn't. After all, I am much more interested in the authors as paper-persons and their silent choreography on the surface of the pages than oridinary living humans, eating, laughing, chatting.

But this gives me an incentive to read Kurlansky's non-fiction works, among others. I have been aware of his name for some time, as someone who writes about salt, the cod, the Basque, and 1968. His choice of subjects is insondable. But his books are all too thick! I'm hoping to check them out at the local library one day.

I read Alan Hollinghurst's interview by Michele Hewitson in the paper yesterday.

"He thought about the prize-winning THE LINE OF BEAUTY for two years before he wrote the first chapter. He has no date set to start the thinking again: 'It's kind of like giving up smoking on a fixed date in the future. A formalisation of the whole thing.' / When he does begin, he takes the phone off the hook at 8am, and allows himself one outing a week, usually to the cinema."

Allowing himself one outing a week. It is this bit at the end that interests me.

Brat Camp

On channel 2 we watched a very interesting program called Brat Camp. Some British brats are sent to a ranch in Utah and re-educated by real cowboys under a very rough, tough, neck-wrecking regime. Instructors are typically former Marine Corps sargents, etc. And a very decent-looking old lady adolescence psychologist. Boy the kids change; well, some of them go back to their old ways. But it's so fun to watch their ordeals culminating in the forced vision quest in the desert.

The brat is a type of human-being that only exists in developped countrys' middle class. They are free from labour, and their existence in a nutshell is "the pure consumer." Production plays no role in their lives, hence non-commitment and irresponsibility. Sounds like you and me? Perhaps.

Capitalism is a system that produces an endless series of brats, young and old.

Brit-Kiwi Sense of Humour

Local author Joe Benett is an English man who came to NZ thinking he would stay for a year and stayed for more than fifteen years. I've just begun reading his travelogue around NZ called A LAND OF TWO HALVES (2004). The style is vivid and utterly enjoyable. Here is an example:

"I have the smoky-voiced landlady of the Railway Hotel and the waddling Labrador and the factory-sized public bar to myself. I order a pie and a pint. The pint is half a litre, but the pie is the real thing. In fifth-form physics I learned that if you filled a matchbox with nuclei and then dropped it, it would sink fifty feet into the ground. New Zealand pies are similar." (13)

This is as close as the kind of humour I'd like to put into my writing. And I still have three-hundred pages to go along with his meandering trip all over the islands!

Kiwi Sense of Humour

Yesterday, I came across a NZ Airforce car and couldn't stop laughing for about three minutes. I found out that the symbol of the NZ Airforce is the kiwi--a flightless bird and an endangered species. No stronger messager than this for "We refuse to fight"!

In NZ KFC advertises itself by saying KFC stands for "Kiwis for Chiken." The double-entendre is again hilarious.

Maybe I'd better begin collecting all these Kiwi jokes.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Tear that Shrine

The word “shrine” comes from the Latin “scrinium,” the box that contains a book. If at all you are interested in literature, you cannot but have some books, hence authors, to privately enshrine. But once in a box the book ceases to be read. It is therefore necessary to break the box and free the writing, scriptum, within. Seen in this fashion the real shrine is a shrine being dismantled, and the most pious attitude one can assume is the irreverent destruction of the sacred.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Framed by Janet

“I think I must be frozen inside with no heart to speak of. I think I’ve got the wrong way of looking at Life.” (“My Last Story,” in THE LAGOON, 183)

Janet Frame is mesmerizing. How stupid of me not having read her earlier! I can fully imagine myself writing a serious piece of criticism on her, book-length perhaps.

What about the ending of “The Day of the Sheep” (THE LAGOON, 75):

Oh if only the whole of being were blued and washed and hung out in the far away sun. Nora has traveled, she knows about things, it would be nice to travel if you knew where you were going and where you would live at the end or do we ever know, do we ever live where we live, we’re always in other places, lost, like sheep, and I cannot understand the leafless cloudy secret and the sun of any day.

There is a recurrent pattern of some kind in “Dossy,” “Child,” and “Jan Godfrey.” What can it be? A thread worth pursuing.


Here is one of the most heartbreaking short short story that I've ever read. William Maxwell would be stunned, Aimee Bender would love it. Does it tell about the failure of verbal art?

The Birds Began to Sing
Janet Frame (From the collection The Lagoon, 1951)

The birds began to sing. There were four and twenty of them singing, and they were blackbirds.
And I said, what are you singing all day and night, in the sun and the dark and the rain, and in the wind that turns the tops of the trees silver?
We are singing, they said. We are singing and we have just begun, and we’ve a long way to sing, and we can’t stop, we’ve got to go on and on. Singing.
The birds began to sing.
I put on my coat and I walked in the rain over the hills. I walked through swamps full of red water, and down gullies covered in snowberries, and then up gullies again, with snow grass growing there, and speargrass, and over creeks near flax and tussock and manuka.
I saw a pine tree on top of a hill.
I saw a skylark dipping and rising.
I saw it was snowing somewhere over the hills, but not where I was.
I stood on a hill and looked and looked.
I wasn’t singing. I tried to sing but I couldn’t think of the song.
So I went back home to the boarding house where I live, and I sat on the stairs in the front and I listened. I listened with my head and my eyes and my brain and my hands. With my body.
The birds began to sing.
They were blackbirds sitting on the telegraph wires and hopping on the apple trees. There were four and twenty of them singing.
What is the song? I said. Tell me the name of the song.
I am a human being and I read books and I hear music and I like to see things in print. I like to see vivace andante words by music by performed by written for. So I said what is the name of the song, tell me and I will write it and you can listen at my window when I get the finest musicians in the country to play it, and you will feel so nice to hear your song so tell me the name.
They stopped singing. It was dark outside although the sun was shining. It was dark and there was no more singing.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Being Proustified (Alain de Botton)

Alain de Botton’s HOW PROUST CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE (1997) is so educationally inspiring and therapeutically illuminating that it is recommendable for anybody who hasn’t read the whole Proust and who has no time for reading Painter’s colossal biography or Kristeva’s no less voluminous hermetic criticism.

Thanks to this book I learned that Proust’s father, Adrien, was “a pioneer and master of the keep-fit self-help manual” (this section is most hilarious!) and his younger brother Robert was “indestructible” (both his father and brother were nationally famous surgeons). We also learn that Alain’s girlfriend is named Kate and reminds him of “Albertine,” but for this we have little ground for judgment.

The book is particularly nice because of the great quotes from Proust (and especially from his correspondences). This from a letter that Marcel sent to Gide:

“ I have been endowed (and it’s certainly my only gift) with the power to procure, very often, the happiness of others, to relieve them from pain.” (174)

What an angelic statement! Even if one thinks that way, it’s another story to actually WRITE it to a friend. But then, that’s what being a writer is all about. Alain de Botton writes:

“One way of considering In Search of Lost Time is as an unusually long unsent letter, the antidote to a lifetime of proustification, the flipside of the Athenas, lavish gifts and long-stemmed chrysanthemums, the place where the unsayable was finally granted expression. Having described artists as ‘creatures who talk of precisely the things one shouldn’t mention,’ the novel gave Proust the chance to mention them all.” (142)

An unsent letter, to be sure. So much of what is called literature seems to be a bundle of unsent letters, or wrongly delivered postcards!

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Translation's duende

Translation’s Duende
Keijiro Suga

In translation one should make oneself as transparent as possible; one should not impose one’s self, should not overtly display one’s individuality; all one has to do is to serve unconditionally the original text----over years, I have heard these statements made by my fellow translators. It is very sensible of them to say so, I agree. But in practice, a work’s figure, body temperature, and colors, show dramatic variations depending on who translates it.
Garcia Lorca was talking about the duende (‘spirit’ or ‘ghost’ in Spanish) that resides in Andalucian flamenco music and dances. In any human activities, whatever the genre may be, there are cases in which one feels the strong presence of duende and others in which no such is felt. For those who advocate the credo of ‘transparent translators,’ I’d like to answer in the following manner: in translation, however one yearns to be transparent, one never succeeds in the act of willful disappearance. A shadow of one’s existence tenaciously remains, and one cannot drive away this cumbersome ghost called one’s individuality. For sure, one should serve the original; but at the same time, can one remain unaware that one is constantly destroying the original? If the original is something alive and vivaciously moving about, translation is but an attempt to sacrifice it, to burn it, then to seek another form of life beyond the heap of its ashes. Isn’t it too impudent if one claims one’s transparency, therefore innocence, in this clearly demarcated act?
I remember a curious ontology once told by Samuel Beckett. “I am not on one side, nor on the other, I am in-between, I am a partition, I have two faces and no thickness…” (The Unnamable [not verbatim----couldn’t check the original]). This bizarre image comes in very handy. A translator has a dual, Janus’s face surfacing on the wall. What one face reads and hears, the other on its reverse side, with an inevitable grimace, re-tells and re-inscribes. This ‘I’ who does not have thickness nor depth, just like the inhabitants of the Flatland, is ghostly from the beginning, and so condemned eternally. However this ‘I’ asserts its own existence, it cannot fully exist. Such a paper-thin ‘I’ kills the original text and transfers it to its after-life. Just like the ferryman who transfers the dead to the other side of the Lethe.
Considering this, it may only be natural that the work of translation has dismal, somber overtones. I am not tempted to listen to the words of those who have not noticed in translation such pale shades of death, dark surfaces of the water. One’s blood-soiled hands cannot be transparent. Knowing that, one makes an effort to build a fire. One tries to agitate life. One attempts many possible dances, then aims at gathering on a line, by the incessant trembling of a tight-rope walker, all the movements that are constantly deviating in all directions. In the trace of this flame-like fluctuation arises a little duende born between one language and another.

(First published in Japanese in Coyote Reading, 2003. Translated by the author)

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Maori TV

I have never been a regular television watcher in my entire life, but ever since this April I have been watching just one station for hours without sometimes making much of it. It's Maori Television. Their home page is and here is what's at the top of it:

Hutia te rito o te harakeke
Kei hea te koako e ko e?
Whakataerangitia. Tirohia ki uta, tirohia ki tai,
A, ui mai ki a au, he aha te mea nui o te ao?
Mau e ki atu
He tangata, he tangata, he tangata.

Pull out the centre stalk of the flax bush
And where will the bellbird drink?
Take it to the skies, look to the sea, look to the shore,
Then ask me, what is the most important thing in the world?
I say to you ミ
It is people, it is people, it is people

My favourite program is Korero mai, the Maori language instruction program. I am trying to take in as many Maori words and phrases as I can!

Our MLA panel

Our panel for the MLA at the end of this year is now official. The title of the panel is Translating Language and Space in the Work of Yoko Tawada. Doug Slaymaker, Bettina Brandt, Hiltrud Arens, and myself will read papers, both from Yoko's Japanese side and her German side.

It was back in 2000 that I first talked about Tawada using my own concept of "omniphone," at Literary Translation conference at Stevens Tech, Hoboken, New Jersey. The WTC towers were dominating the skyline across the Hudson River. Stevens Tech is the alma mater of Alexandre Calder, the "mobile" artist.

Now I am getting a little tired of repeating the same old mantra of "omniphony," I will have to come up woth something radically new. AND I need to make money to finance a trip over an ocean, a continent, and half the rotation of annual seasons!

The Whale Rider

Finally over the weekend I could read an essential book I wanted to read for some time: Witi Ihimaera’s The Whale Rider (1987). Thanks to the fascinating film version of 2002 we all know the story of lovely Paikea and her tribe’s destiny. My children loved the film and unanimously agreed to come to Aotearoa. Looking back after reading the original, the film is extremely faithful and successful in its re-presenting the ambience and plot-line of the original. This is a rare feat. Still the novel is well worth devoting your time even if you have seen the film three times. (Well, I have seen it only once, but I will, again, and again.)

The narrator is Kahu (Paikea)’s uncle. He has a brief but very important period (two year’s work on a plantation run by his white friend whom he met in Australia) spent in Papua New Guinea. Only after leaving his home-island in search of the outside world, he comes to realize what it is to be a Maori. Peregrination imposes coming into consciousness. This PNG episode I think is not touched in the film, but impressive for the novel’s reader.

“However, our journey was possibly more difficult because it had to be undertaken within European terms of acceptability. We were a minority and much of our progress was dependent on European goodwill. And there was no doubt that in New Zealand, just as in Papua New Guinea, our nationalism was also galvanizing the people to become one Maori nation.” (70)

Nationalism is almost always a counter-nationalism against the invading forces, that is, Europe.

The book’s international edition after the success of the film seems to have gone through a little rewriting. According to Matthew, whom I met last week in the class on translation taught by my friend Mike Hanne, the novel now has considerably more Maori words than its initial form. So be it.

One mesmerizing name I learned from the book is that of Antarctica. In Maori it is called “Te Wai Ora o te Ao.” The Well of the World. What did the Polynesian navigators think when they first came across the fleet of icebergs in the extreme-southern sea, under the veil of aurora australis? They immediately knew that all these masses of ice was a way for the planet to reserve the purest water.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Fear of India

Finished reading David Malouf’s autobiography 12 Edmondstone Street. It’s not an autography that covers the whole different stages of one’s life; it consists of three parts and a coda, all very understated, with moments of revelation throughout. The title piece is the longest and it tells about his childhood house in Brisbane. The sequence about the child’s magical thinking is especially impressive. But more interesting to me is the writer’s account of “foreign” cultures; Tuscany, India.

My note is then centered on the piece on India, “A Foot in the Stream.” The stream, le grand fleuve, of course, is India itself.

“The fear of India. It comes in many forms. Fear of dirt, fear of illness, fear of people; fear of the unavoidable presence of misery; fear of a phenomenon so dense and plural that it might, in its teeming inclusiveness, swamp the soul and destroy our certainty that the world is there to be read but is also readable.” (105)

India has always been portrayed as chaos beyond description, an immense civilization, a multitudinous universe in itself, disorder materialized. To Malouf also, India was extravagantly otherworldly.

“This promiscuousness of India, its teeming plenitude, far from being oppressive, seems invigorating. It humbles but lifts the spirit. It seems immemorial, endless, indestructible. Things have been like this forever, and will go on like this, in defiance of every catastrophe, into a future too remote to contemplate. We will survive here, we humans, one species among many----that is what India promises.” (110)

Take humanity for example. The whole gamut of life styles, styles of economic and material existence, is so outrageously wide that it breaks easily the notions we have of humanity and the social equity. But then the picture of humanity we have acquired in our short life is only a very small part of the vastness and eternity-like sense of time that India may represent.

I remember a friend of mine from college said, a quarter of a century ago, after his return from Brazil, that Brazil was like India. He had been to India the previous year. I went to Brazil next year and learned vaguely what he had meant when he said that. But to this day I haven’t been to India, and even if I encounter innumerable people of Indian origin everywhere----in Montreal, Fiji, Tokyo, or Sydney, living prrofs that INDIA EXISTS----India still seems like a fictional terra incognita too vast and too far to be imagined. I have enough representations of India at hand. But the immediate experience of my senses lacking, I keep on fearing, probably more than necessarily, this cosmic elephant of a country. Will I go there one day?

Monday, May 09, 2005

Malouf's style

David Malouf has a style that has a strong appeal to me. Just to give you two examples from his autobiography 12 Edmondstone Street (1985):

(1) A ‘secret machinery’ gets to work in us, ‘a hidden industry of the senses and the spirit’ whose busy handling and hearing and overhearing is our second birth into the world—into that peculiar embodiment of it that is a household and a house. (10)

See the sequences “hearing and overhearing” and “a household and a house.” Their constructions are “A and XA” and “BY and B.” By adding and taking away, these phrases work as a sort of chiasm. Such a chiasm doesn’t mean a lot. But it gives the text an extra dose of tightness, the kind I enjoy very much.

(2) Darkness to me was the abode of burglars. They were abroad in every street. (27)

Here the word “abroad” is an expanded and expanding repetition of the preceding “abode.” It risks being an easy automatism, but here the choice is working strongly.

There must be other subtle and forgettable (yet leaving traces on one’s subconscious) characteristics in his style, which I’ll take a note again when I come across one.

Fly Away Peter (David Malouf)

It’s one o’clock in the morning in Auckland and I just finished reading David Malouf’s short novel (134 pages) FLY AWAY PETER (1982). It’s a work of tremendous accuracy. The style is so precise it takes your breath away. And its theme is so heavy; how we are distant from birds, how much of us are brave enough to be birds. The story begins on the Queensland Coast of Australia. It’s 1914, and we have three characters of which two are essential. Jim, a 20-year old youth with solid knowledge of birds, and Imogen, a middle-aged woman nature photographer from England. In a sense, it’s a very platonic love story between Jim and Imogen that transcends human history. They both belong to the tribe who sees through time—into the sense of existence, of simply existing, that fills the vibrant natural world.

A sample paragraph from the book’s near-end .

October here was spring. Sunlight and no wind.
The sea cut channels in the beach, great Vs that were delicately ridged at the edges and ribbed within, and the sunlit rippled in them, an inch, an inch and a half of shimmering gold. Further on, the surf. High walls of water were suspended a moment, held glassily aloft, then hurled themselves forward under a shower of spindrift, a white rush that ran hissing to her boots. There were gulls, dense clouds of them hanging low over the white-caps, feeding, oystercatchers darting after crabs, crested terns. A still scene that was full of intense activity and endless change. (129)

C’est la plenitude de la vie qui s’impose, and tinged with immense sadness. This is the first book by Malouf that I read… I will surely read more of him. But where does the “Peter” in the title come from? I’m afraid I didn’t catch that.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

St. Aldhelm

I’ve never heard of St. Aldhelm (7th century), but his riddle-like poem is so beautiful. I quote from Lacey and Danziger’s The Year 1000 (p.158):

Multicoloured in hue, I flee the sky and the deep earth.
There is no place for me on the ground, nor in any part of the poles.
No one fears an exile as cruel as mine,
But I make the world grow green with my rainy tears.

The “answer” to this riddle is “cloud.” Incredible diction and exactitude. What if I composed a series of, say, 36 pieces in this fashion?

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Dublin in the past

Weallas, or Welshman, was one of the Old English words for slave---which showed where the Anglo-Saxons got their slaves. When, in 1086 A.D., the Normans commissioned their Domesday survey of the land they had conquered, it showed that there were significantly more slaves in the west of England than in the east, reflecting the closeness of Wales, and also the fact that Bristol was a slave port, trading with the Viking merchants based in Ireland. According to contemporary chronicles, eleventh-century Dublin operated the largets slave market in western Europe.

Robert Lacey and Danny Danziger, The Year 1000 (Abacus, 2000), p.46.

A Little Raider

My daughter began her schooling this week and she was put in the year 4 class. When her first day was over and I went to pick her up, one of her new classmates came to me and said, "She's good at raiding." "Oh, did she raid?" "Yes," said the nice little Kiwi girl. I was puzzled and went on to ask: "What did she raid?" The girl said something that I couldn't exactly catch. We said good bye.

On my way home with my daughter's hand in mine, finally it occured to me. Yes. She's good at READING, was what she said! My life is basically made up of such misunderstandings. It has been and it will be.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

On the Sand Dune

The most impressive point in Fiji is Sigatoka Sand Dunes. Just before the sunset and as the park office was closing I went there and the girl at the office offered to accompany me through the trail. The sense of desolation was fabulous. You actually have to crawl the sand slope up to the top. And there! The ocean with its accompanying very strong wind awaits you. Numerous logs are washed ashore and this reminds me the word "Karekinada," the coast of drifting trees. To protect the national highway (the only road that connects Nadi and the capital, Suba), they planted the mahogany, which now makes up a forest after thirty years or so. Again, Fiji is like islands in the Antilles. The walk took a little more than forty minutes. The horizon, the ocean, looked slightly round from the top of the sand dune.


In Fiji the first thing I noticed was the little red triangular flag that some houses raised at their entrance. My driver, a third-generation Indian-Fijian, generously revealed the secret. The red flag means the house belongs to a Hindi family. When in need of assistance, any Hindi can ask for it at any of these houses, even if she doesn't know who lives there.

Fijian (Melanesian) and Indians are about the same in number on this island. Three generations away from india, many of the Indian-Fijians do not know anything about their ancestral land. Still they keep their language, customs, and religion. The biggest Hindu temple in the southern hemisphere is in Nadi (pronounced Na-n-di).

The presence of the people of Indian-descent reminds me of Guadeloupe, the Caribbean island. There is a railway to carry the harvest of the sugar cane. Sometimes the landscape of the islands are curiously identical.