Wednesday, August 31, 2005


September already! Again this year I dind't have time to reread LIGHT IN AUGUST. There was Maori Expo at AUT downtown, but couldn't afford time to go. I'm working.

Le Clézio's VOYAGES DE L'AUTRE COTÉ finishes in a strong image of our ultimate voyage--that of Death. May be this is inevitable. Near the end there is this admirable paragraph which I quote in its entirety:

La vie existait toujours, mais c'était une autre vie. Ce n'était plus le sursaut des cœurs, les trépidations des pattes, les frémissements des antennes. Ce n'était plus la chaleur fermée sur elle-même, dans l'enveloppe de la peau. C'était au-dehors, toujours au-dehors, comme si toutes les portes et fenêtres avaient été ouvertes. C'était vaste et aérien, filant à travers les dédales des roches, ou bien plongeant la terre comme les coups de la chaleur. Cela ne respirait pas, ou bien c'était un souffle qui parcourait des milliers de kilomètres, en poussant les dunes grises. Cela ne voyait pas, ou alors c'était un regard d'astre, unique et qui ne cillait pas, qui rebondissait sur les facettes du sel. Il n'y avait pas plusieurs corps. Il n'y avait plus qu'une seule peau, rutilante, où affleuraient la pyrite, le fer et l'étain. (301)

Thus we go back to the state of minerals. Materiality prevails.

The Old Man With the Clear Sight of a Child

We tend to think, don't we, that surgery is the property of so-called modern western medicin. Of course it is not. In the pre-columbian Americas, as in other parts of the world, serious surgery has been practiced since antiquity.

Here is what I found interesting today:

Blindness was a curable disease before the time of Cuauhtémoc's Mexico. When it was a case of curing infections, herbs with magic powers were used. When it was a cataract case (n'ixtotoliculii), surgery was performed with a huitztlahvatzin (a porcupine needle) or the spike from a pitayo fruit. This operation required the cataract to be 'mature' and demanded a highly skilled medicine-man. Until a few years ago, this operation was performed by Mixtec medicine-man in Oaxaca.
When the operation was successful, the patient was pilixtli notechca meaning, the old man with the clear sight of a child. If, on the contrary, the eye became sick and infected in a hopeless way, the nixcaxini was performed: the removal of the eye with an obsidian blade.

Augusto Orea Marin in BETWEEN WORLDS: CONTEMPORARY MEXICAN PHOTOGRAPHY (Bellow Publishing, 1990), p.89.

But I can't convince myself to go through a LESIK (spell?) operation to recover my sight...

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

No more on the bayoux

New Orleans is under flood. 80% of the city is under water from Lake Pontchartrain. A million people had to evacuate. Coffins are floating. What gothic. What sourthern gothic. The city on the bayou is now swimming in the muddy water with all the crawfish and cat fish...

The causeway through Lake Pontchartrain is to me one of the most memorable spots on earth. I hope Andrei the poet is all right...

A League of Their Own (Penny Marshall, 1992)

Now I watched it. It makes me miss the US, to be honest. Living in another hemisphere, in the realm of rugby and cricket, baseball is something I miss most. Baseball is the greatest American invention, its only glory along with the civil rights movement. Only a couple of weeks ago I watched BIG (1988) with my children and really enjoyed it. This is another family film by Penny Marshall, the actress-director hailing from the Bronx.

I know I can watch it again, in French, and again, in Spanish, and so on and so forth, but the most unexpected scene for me came when the girls were practicing and a ball went astray and it was thrown back surprisingly hard by a by-stander. Obviously it was thrown by another, very strong-armed girl. She turned out to be black, and we knew that the league was all white and there was no way she could join. I'd give credit to Penny Marshall's judgment to include this bit of episode. However passing it may be, it leaves a strong impression.

Will watch it again, definitely! A very lovable film it was.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

On Polylingualism

At a local supermarket I bought a DVD on sale. A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN (1992), with Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, and Madonna. What surprised me was the DVD's multilingualism. I have language options of English, Italian, French, German, and Spanish. So far so good. Then I have sub-title options of English, Greek, Italian, French, German, Polish, Czech, Hungarian, Hindi, Turkish, Danish, Arabic, Swedish, Finnish, Icelandic, Dutch, Norwegian, Portuguese, Hebrew, and Spanish. This is paradise for an amateur linguist.

Back in 1984, I learned to read Portuguese in Barzil by watching American films with Portugese sub-titles day in day out. One of them was Racing With the Moon, with Sean Penn and Elizabeth McGovern. To me that film was a reading practice.

At least I can watch this DVD 5 times, each time with a different language. That's the aural part. Then some more times. That's the reading part. Wow.

It was priced at 9.99 (NZD). Talk about cost performance!

Do you speak Cree?

Watched a program called "Finding Our Talk" on Maori TV. Tonight it was about the Cree in Northern Quebec. Starting in the early 70s they began developping language teaching materials in Cree. Then in the early 90s the Cree School Board has decided to teach Cree in schools so that children may have linguistic continuity between home and school. It's better for them to stick to one language (in teaching math, for example) before taking up a second language, be it English or French. Today they have substantial teaching/learning materials in the language. Their own letters (I don't know how old they are) look so interesting.

The entire population of the Cree adds up to some 50,000 spreading over six Canadian provinces and Montana. Think about the geographical vastness! I don't think I'll ever learn the language, but I sincerely hope they keep their language going strong.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Fahrenheit 451 (Truffaut)

There are films that are so famous that you think you know a lot about it without really watching it. Then you watch it and you realize that you didn't know anything about it. Of course. Because a film is a self-generating presence. It exists only NOW and that NOW needs a screen and time to develop itself in front of your eyes/ears/body.

So I watched Fahrenheit 451 for the first time tonight! It's strange that I haven't had a chance to watch it when I am a fan of Truffaut! The film was interesting, all right. The plot was a little too forced, but still very interesting. And the famous final scene in the snow was moving enough.

Yet come to think of it, perhaps the hidden theme of the film is the quation 1 human = 1 book. Hmmm. It must be so. By abolishing the mémoire-aide in print, we go back to the age of orality. So the story is a double critique! Against the culture that abolishes books, and the culture in which there are too many books.

So in the realm of "book keeping," there is a constant struggle among the principles of "zero," "one," and "many." In my room everywhere books are accumulated like so many fallen leaves. Sometimes I have an urge to discharge all of them. Back to the zero stage. Then I pick up and read one book. And the one leads to two, and so on and on.

I enjoyed the film. At one point there is a boy who appears in the corridor of a school. Hey, I know who he is. That's Mark Lester! The star of my generation, I wonder where he is and what he is doing now...

Some quotes from Sam Rohdie

Here are some quotes from Sam Rohdie's PROMISED LANDS:

-The films are prismatic, faceted, like a gemstone, without a privileged surface. And all surfaces falsely reflective. (3)

-Bergson's writing exemplifies the thoughts he has of time passing and thoughts passing in time. His words permeate, leave ripples, traces like the traces of light, vibrations and tails of movements. His writing is crisp and sensual like Antonioni's images, clear, unstable, impermanent. You watch the image and the objects in it being transformed, fading in, becoming other. Bergson thought the movement of thought with a writing that moved accordingly. / It has the qualities of Proust and Kafka and Joseph Roth. (5)

-Bergson, when a student at the Sorbonne, had been employed by Albert Kahn as his private tutor. [...] Kahn was the son of a cattle dealer, a traditional Jewish occupation since the 1400s. He had no formal higher education. (6)

-Rodin did not like photography. In it nothing moved, he said. (8)

-When Kahn returned from Japan and China, he established a geographical archive of photographs (autochromes) and films, Les archives de la planète, a vast record of the world (72,000 autochromes, 180,000 metres of film), the necessity for which Kahn insisted upon because the world was disappearing, and disappearing in the instant it was being photographed as a consequence of technologies to which photography belonged. (9-10)

-Mourning is a condition of modernism. (13)

-Godard remarked that the cinema resembles sculpture and music. (15)

-Geography was photographic (visual) and photography was geographical (objective). (17)

-In Rouch's film COCORICO the main character, M. Poulet, travels in the West African bush in his ramshackle Citroën to buy chickens for sale in town. He returns with a few mangy specimens. Along the way he finds witches, liars, inventors, charlatans and bricoleurs like himself. He fords rivers on rafts, picks up hitch-hikers, dismantles his car, experiences magic, makes friends, listens to stories and sleeps under the stars. Like many of Rouch's films, this is a road movie. (20)

-I want to travel like M. Poulet, even to accepting some of the discomforts. (20)

Respiro (Emanuele Crialese)

No, I shouldn't have written the name of Maria in vain last night. The madonna surfaced with her grace from the water! This film titled RESPIRO (2002) is set on the island of Lampedusa, the southernmost Italian island closer to Africa than to Sicily. The beauty of the coast is out of this world (I mean Europe).

It's a story of a young mother who is a little off balance, and her teenage son and her fisherman husband. And about the sort of violence that permeates the islanders' everyday life. These are violences among children, from men to women, from adults to children, from humans to dogs. But not much to say about the story line, really. The light reflected on the rocks, the colours of the sea, and the strong wind make up all the charm of the film. Especially powerful are the scenes taken in the water. Some of the scenes (the heroine swimming all by herself, people's search for the heroine that they think is dead, and the final scene of retrieval/reconnection) are very memorable.

The central figure is Madonna. An exchange takes place between the statuette of Santa Maria and Grazia (the heroine). It ends the film in an eloquent silence, so to speak, and the villagers' deep sense of reconciliation. Who wouldn't cry?

In the future I may forget the names of the actress (Valeria Golino) who played the role of the heroine or that of the boy who played the son Pasquale. But Lampedusa will remain. And the dogs shot to death.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Viva Maria la mort!

And this evening again I saw Orphée (1949). The age of DVDs makes it so easy to watch a film over and over again. Something that was utterly unimaginable in my undergraduate days.

La Princesse (la Mort) is Maria Casares, la española. Her beauty is overwhelming. But she was born in 1922, which means she was only 26 or so when Orphée was filmed. A girl in her mid-twenties? Hard to believe.

So at the time of Enfants du paradis she was even younger... I have to watch it again. Then Dames du bois de Boulogne (1944?) by Bresson, too. I think Cocteau was involved in the production of this Bresson film based on a short story by Diderot.

I hope they have video cassettes or DVDs at the audio-visual library. We'll see!

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Le bizarre incident du chien... (Mark Haddon)

I've been reading this novel called LE BIZARRE INCIDENT DU CHIEN PENDANT LA NUIT by Mark Haddon (Pocket Jeunesse, 2005) and it is of course the French translation of his THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME (2003).

At first I had no intention of reading it but I browsed at the Uni bookshop and it looked so inviting. I could even hear it whisper. Now I am halfway through and more or less convinced that this is a masterpiece! The hero-narrator is a boy with the Asperger syndrome. This fact is revealed gradually by his odd obsessions with order, numbers, colors, etc. But it's so convincing and you begin to experience a sort of parallel world lived by the boy with his own incredibly rich inner space.

Particularly entertaining in the novel are little bits of mathematical and scientific knowledge and problems. Deft. I am charmed by such magical ideas as:

Ou voir un nom et attribuer à chaque lettre une valeur de 1 à 26 (a=1, b=2, etc.), additionner les chiffres dans sa tête et trouver que le résultat est un nombre premier, comme Jésus-Christ (151), Scooby Doo (113), Sherlock Holmes (163) ou Doctor Watson (157). (p.56)

Or again something like:

Les étoiles sont le lieu où les molécules qui constituent la vie se sont formées, il y a des milliards d'années. Par example, tout le fer qui se trouve dans votre sang et vous évite d'être anémique a été fabriqué dans une étoile. (p.97)

Details, additional flavours, toppings, whatever you may call them, they give solid, rich, inviting, and rewarding substances made of words in novels. Pretending itself to be a young adult-oriented work, it actually is for everybody over 12. And you don't need to be strong in math!

Promised Land (Sam Rohdie)

I found a truly wonderful book written by the film critic Sam Rohdie: PROMISED LAND (bfi Publishing, 2001). Here is a short piece from a chapter called "Portraits."

Rosselini relates a story of visiting an Indian holy man when he was in India.
They sat together. The old man smoked cigarettes incessantly. He slowly massaged Rosselini's neck.
Rosselini began to cry, then he sobbed, out of control. (p.154)

The book has incredible amount of intertextual resonances with my own Columbus's Dog (1989), or so it seems to me. By the way they are written, by their écritures. May be this is a book I should translate into Japanese although I've been telling myself I'll do only French-Japanese translations in the future. Of French texts alone I don't have enough lifetime left to spend (Glissant, Le Clézio, Artaud, SJP, Césaire,...)

From Martinique to Nuku Hiva in the 19th Century

A surprising fact. At the time of the American Civil War, there was a boom for the cotton plantation in places with a suitable climate. The islands in the South Pacific were considered (without a solid basis) ideal for the cotton. On the islands of Marquesas, French plantation owners introduced as labourers Chinese, Annamites, and the blacks from Martinique. The boom didn't really take off. The plantations soon failed and the undesirable habit of opium smoking remained.

Whatever the result was, African genes took roots in the South Seas. Much earlier than I had vaguely imagined.

Orpheus oder Izanagi

A contemporary retelling of the Orpheus/Eurydice myth with a serious twist by bringing in the ancient Japanese myth of Izanagi/Izanami (there are uncanny resemblances between the two myths) is attempted by Yoko Tawada as Orpheus oder Izanagi. With my reading knowledge of German so limited I have't read it yet. But again this is something that keeps surfacing in my work projects. Would somebody translate it in English, please?

Ferdinand Oyono

On browsing Judith Mayne's CLAIRE DENIS (U of Illinois Press, 2005) I came across Claire's words that her masterpiece CHOCOLAT (1988) was in a way a retelling of her teen-age memory of reading Ferdinand Oyono's UNE VIE DE BOY (1956). This is intriguing. I've got to read it. There are maybe two film directors that I'd like to discuss: Claire Denis and Tony Gatliff. More work on this later.

Cocteau's Orphee

I heard today Helen Sword's talk on various metamorphoses of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. It was fascinating. Particularly interesting to me were, of course, Rilke and other poets who wrote on the myth from many different perspectives: H.D., D.H. Lawrence, Denise Levertov, Margaret Atwood, Adrienne Rich, Sheamus Heaney, among others. Each of them calls for a closer look. Then we saw some sequences from Jean Cocteau's Orphee (1949) which I have't seen for at least a quarter of a century.

At night I rerun the whole film at home. It's a masterpiece. It's quite faithful in tracing the original (whose original, by the way?) plot of the myth, with the Death and her chauffeur (Hermes the messenger?) depicted as humanly as possible.

This then will be the subject of an essay I'm asked to write on the subject of "l'invisible."

Homework: How is Cocteau's own drama of Orphee (1926) converted in the film retelling?

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Rohmer on Godard

Here is what Eric Rohmer said in response to the question: Qu'est-ce que vous avez pensé en voyant À bout de souffle?

... La modernité a très bien acueilli Godard, et Godard a très bien accueilli la modernité. Parce que, précisément, le déscriptif, le narratif, lui échappait. Ce fut son mal et son bien. Il a trouvé une issue tout à fait personnelle et qui d'ailleurs se prolonge maintenant, où l'histoire disparaît, encore plus que jamais.

Aldo Tessone, ed. Que reste-t-il de la nouvelle vague? (Stock, 2003, p.244)

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Mon voyage polynesien

It's been a while since I last posted. Hard to keep one's promise (to oneself and nobody else--maybe that's the reason) to post at least once everyday. I've been meaning to make this blog a substantial theoretico-poetic commitment. But, oh, the road is far.

For the past two weeks or so I've been swimming deeply in the seas of a textual Polynesia, for the translation of La Polynésie française (PUF, 1995). It's essentially a little book of human geography; with many photographs (textbook-style) it reminds me of Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora that I visited back in 1992. Oh how I wish I could go there again taking advantage of the latitudinal similarity (at least now I am based in the same hemisphere).

The translation is more or less finished. It will be published early next year in Tokyo. Tant mieux!

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Quote of the Day

Today's quote.

"Artaud is always didactic."
---Susan Sontag

Let's Learn Maori

I opened a new self-teaching Maori language course in the format of a blog. Please check out:

(The language of instruction is Japanese, though.)

Monday, August 01, 2005

Margaret loves Margarine

In my semi-awake state this morning I half-dreamed of the sentence: Margaret loves margarine.

There is no apparent reason. But I have always wondered why Margarine's [ga] should be pronounced [ja].

I looked up the dictionary to find the words' etymologies.

Margarine comes from the Greek "margaron," which means "pearl."

The name Margaret I assume is the Anglified form of the French Marguerite, which comes from the Greek "margarita," which also means "pearl."

And how about that big shellfish, that produces mother-of-pearl?

It's name is Pinctada Margaritifera. I can't tell what it means.

But the etymology, by definition, should go back beyond its Greek origin! Margaron, Margarita. In what part of these words is hidden the glistening, bewildering, rainbow-like color of the pearl?