Saturday, December 26, 2009

On water

Some titles I have forgotten to include:

81. Roman Polansky, Knife in the Water (1962)
82. Yves Allégret, Une si jolie petite plage (1949)

81 is so memorable for the rain falling on the lake. Then again, in 82 falls a lot of rain. 82 is all about sexual abuse of a young boy by a much older woman. The title should be read: Un si jolie petit garçon. Stunningly dark, but the beauty is undeniable.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Back then in London and its environs

78. Roman Polanski, Oliver Twist (2005)

Nobody alive today really knows 19th-century London, but this film reconstructs quite convincingly the life of an orphan in the historical setting. Especially charming is the dog; seemingly an Olde English Bulldogge, it is very handsome and looks quite powerful. I wish I could keep a dog like that. And the film probably leads me to read this Dickensian masterpiece after so many years (this time in the original).

79. Andrei Tarkovsky, Ivan's Childhood (1962)

Surprizingly beautiful moments. Of them I like the best the horse eating apples on the sandy beach... simply unforgettable. The film is not really focused on one character, but follows a group of characters intermittently. Of them one remembers Marcia and the camera that incarnates her own eyes in the forest. A great film.

80. Claude Chabrol, Les cousins (1959)

One of the well-known masterpieces of the Nouvelle Vague, this cruel film is full of charm because of its freely moving camera, very retro fashion, and the firmly constructed, literary plot. In fact the film is very novelistic, if you know what I mean. Our sympathy goes to Charles, the provincial boy. And we hate the girl who fell so easily for his cousin, but this hatred was already gendered.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

México, the other side

I have been very slow in viewing new films; over the past weeks all I watched were Jean Cocteau's Orphée (1949, one of my all time favorites), Mikhail Kalatozov's The Cranes Are Flying (1957, ditto) and Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon (an interesting film I can never say I love). Rewatching is good, but having to rewatch is not very much so.

77. Luis Estrada, La ley de Herodes (1999)

Eiko introduced me to this politico-satirical Mexican comedy. Nicely rendered and a bit reminiscent of The Milagro Beanfield War because of its scenery and setting of the remote village. The landscape I suspect is that of Sonora? Just like southern Arizona. Bloody and often hilarious. Animals are especially funny.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Ah, Madagascar!

Films this year:

76.César Paes, Angano, angano (1989)

A masterpiece of ethnographic documentary. "Angano" means folk-tale in Malgache. The film follows nicely the lives of people on the island of Madagascar and how traditional storytelling lives on to teach people a cosmology and the way to deal with their reality.

Astonishingly beautiful sceneries appear unexpectedly. Highly recommended.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

In Berlin

Films this year:

75. Tom Tykwer, Run, Lola, Run (1998)

Watched this for the first time in a decade... still lovely after these years. And as was expected, some graduate students who watched it with me loved it immensely. Now is the time for some slow action...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Telling the future?

Films this year:

74. Kim Ki-duk, Birdcage Inn (1998).

Emotionally far-fetched and often tepid and boring, the film shows its true color in the final 10 minutes or so. You'd be chilled to see that many of his future works are foretold in this odd piece. Spiritual sisterhood (the undertone is lesbianism) played against the theme of the sacred whore; like that in his later masterpiece Samaritan Girl.

And who else lets the snow fall in the summer? Lets a gold fish swim in the sea? Marvelously insane.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Dangerous Altitude

Films this year:

71. Lu Chuan, Kekexili: Mountain Patrol (2004)
72. Hou Hsiao-hsien, Café Lumière (2003)
73. The Coen brothers, Blood Simple. (1984)

71 is a visually stunning pseudo-documentary which is based on the true story of the porchers and the privately organized mountain patrol of the region. I am not sure if actual killing of the animals has been involved in the production, but it looks that way. The quicksand is chilling. The beauty of the land over 4700m or thereabouts is divine.

72 is a masterpiece set in Tokyo with almost unbelievable performance from the singer Hitoto Yo. Her portrayal of a young woman who choses to become a single mother is so convincing, uncannily natural. Asano Tadanobu is good, too.

It seems that Zhang Yimou is remaking 73! This already classic thriller is so... Coen-like. What other than this tautology can explain their films. Weird and fascinating.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

In Bangkok

Films this year:

70. Pen-ek Ratanaruang, Last Life in the Universe (2003)

Fresh and nice, with immer breathtaking Chris Doyle's cinematography. The story has some subtle moments, which are pleasing, and some incongruities, which are interesting. Asano Tadanobu is an interesting actor who may possibly have a pan-Asian appeal. Got to see more from this director.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Remembering Dalian

Films this year:

68. Zhang Yimou, Happy Times (2000)
69. Kim Ki-duk, Breath (2007)

68 is a film with a very unhappy ending. It makes every sensible person cry. My Chinese student says it's a story with a real backdrop of a heavy recession and a mass internal immigration to Shin-sen. Nicely done, comic, and ruthlessly sad. Set in Dalian and I liked it all the more for it.

69 is like an absurdist drama. The story is far-fetched, yet the whole piece is more than attractive. The strangeness of the heroine is well over-done, but you'll get used to it. With so little number of actors and settings, how can he make this much sensation? Amazing.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Korea in Winter (simply unbeatable)

Films this year:

63. Albert Lamorisse, Le balon rouge (1956)
64. Albert Lamorisse, Crin Blanc (1953)
65. Kim Ki-duk, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring (2003)
66. Matt Taylor, Gate (2008)
67. Kim Ki-duk, 3 Iron (2004)

63 is a very famous short film. Charming, yes, but nothing moving. On the other hand, 64 is formidable! The mud-slide scene is exciting, the ending heart-breaking and takes your breath away. Camargues invites me.

65 is probably Kim's best work ever. Chillingly beautiful and the imagination behind it is otherworldly. True genius!

66 is an interesting documentary covering three Japanese monks who walk on summer days from San Francisco to Trinity Site, Nuevo Mexico... to return the fire of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima that has been kept for 60 years at a temple... an amazing true story. As a film it's rather ordinary, but because of this extraordinary walk I appreciate it highly.

67 is again fascinating.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Another WOW

Films this year:

62. Wong Kar-wai, Chungkin Express (1994)

A masterpiece of cinematography and a schizo piece as far as its story line is concerned. And all the more convincing for it!

Monday, October 05, 2009

Falling into fall

Films this year:

55. Andrei Tarkovsky, The Steamroller and the Violin (1960)
56. Kim Ki-duk, Samaritan Girl (2004)
57. Kim Ki-duk, The Bow (2005)
58. Wong Kar-wai, Days of being wild (1991)
59. Tony Gatlif, Latcho Drom (1992)
60. Kim Ki-duk, Time (2006)
61. Kim Ki-duk, Crocodile (1996)

55 is Tarkovsky's cinema school graduation work. Genius is brimming. 56 was my first Kim and I was astounded. Very strange and powerful. The same goes with 57. Mythological, funny, and moving.

58 deserves to be a cult. The stream of narrative is so turbulent and beautiful. 59, one of my all-time favorite from my (possibly) favorite world-cinema director.

60 is again so crazy... metaleptic use of the first encounter between the two (in fact one) women is so effective. 61 is harsh, yet brilliant moments including the unexpected ending.

Let's keep rolling the ball.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Darkness & Light

Films this year:

52. Werner Herzog, Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972).
53. Werner Herzog, Where the Green Ants Dream (1984).
54. Chang Tso-chi, Darkness and Light (1999).

Herzog is always deeply satisfying. Aguirre is so dangerous! And the Green Ants, too.

54 is one of the few perfect films ever. I wrote in my Japanese blog an attempt at the analysis of it. I watched it twice in a row. Maybe I will treble the experience.

Off to the South of Japan now.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


I've just finished proof-reading my new book: Don't Worry, Books are Unreadable Anyway. This will appear on the 24th of September. At the last minute I added a very short piece for the memory of Shingo. It concludes and opens the book toward the ocean where the islands of books are scattered.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Water and Blood

Films this year:

49. Armagan Ballantine, The Strength of Water (2009).
50. The Coen brothers, Burn After Reading (2008).
51. Joe Wright, Atonement (2007).

The new Maori film 49 offers a sheer beauty of northern North Island. 50 is so funny because of Brad Pitt's impersonating Jim Carrey (as if). In 51 again I encounter the strength of water, in a different sense. Very powerful.

But of them 49 remains the one I'd like to watch over and over again.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

In Apia

In Apia, Samoa, dogs roam about in the street. Between 1 and 3 am they get into a big fight and the noise keeps me awaking. They are not like pitbulls or anything, just mangy mongrels. Scared of people during the day. But at night they become different animals. Dog's life.

Monday, August 03, 2009

"Flying" by Stephen Dixon

I came across a very short story (3 pages) called "Flying" by Stephen Dixon.

I'd never read anything by Dixon and I don't know who he is. But this is a chilling masterpiece that deals with the idea of an afterlife.

"We continued flying, each with an arm out, and by the time night came we were still no closer or farther away from the ground."

This brings me to tears, really.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Calling an old friend

A has decided to go to B.
B is a familiar name to me, as my old friend C lives there.
I've never been to B.
I've decided to call C.
Hi, C. It's been so long. How you doing?
I'm fine, says C. It's been 30 years, you know. Why didn't you call me?
Sorry, I've been busy living. You know, there's this guy A. He's a good friend of mine now.
Yeah. He's going to B. I mean, he's actually there.
Yeah. You don't mind meeting with him and initiate him to the life there?
Not at all, my pleasure. I'll meet him first thing in the morning.
Thanks, C. I really miss you. We should get together one more time.
Sure. Anytime you feel like coming here, as I can't be there myself.
Right. Well, I hope you and A get along well.
Don't worry, we'll be the best of buddies. A's your friend. He'll be mine, too.
Hasta pronto, amigo.
Hasta la vista, pal.
I thanked C and hang up. A, in the meantime, is already there.
I felt consoled and I was rather happy, to tell you the truth.
The only thing that is not quite right is that B is the realm of DEATH.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

R.I.P. Shingo Tsuda (1959-2009)

My friend Shingo Tsuda passed away Saturday night after a long struggle against his illness.

He was undoubtedly one of the most important Japanese editors working in the humanities, made books with such authors as Toshiyuki Horie, Yoko Tawada, Kan Nozaki, Hideki Maeda, Mayumi Tomihara, and myself.

He was a lover of music and islands, walker in the forest, dreamer in the republic of books.

Rest in peace, Shingo, and I will follow you sooner or later! Should there be an afterlife, who knows, we'll find each other again!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Harmony Korine, etc.

Thursday. Re-watched 3 films by Harmony Korine in a row with some graduate students.

Awesome. They keep me breathless. Sheer, strange beauty of things.

Of them, though, Julien Donkey Boy stands out as a true masterpiece. What a story, and what images beyond imagination! Compared to this, Mister Lonely is too mature, too much under control. Or do I tend to be charmed by imperfection of a certain kind?

Other films this year:

47. Luc Jacquet, La marche de l'empereur (2005)
48. The Coen brothers, No Counry for Old Men (2007)

Too much anthropomorphism in 47, I know, and I am very aware of what Werner Herzog has to say on this. Still, its cinematography is simply outstanding. A disgraceful masterpiece to be watched by all humans.

Finally watched 48 and liked it immensely! I love every bit of it. There is a lot in common with Fargo, thematically. Yet this desert landscape of the Texas-Mejico borderlands is irreplaceable. Crazy guys. I'd love to meet the Coens one day.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

In Another Country

Films this year:

46. Noboru Tanaka, Shikijo mesu ichiba (The Erotic Female Market, 1974)

Osaka is another country, and within Osaka, Nishinari is a desperately precarious working class district. The film depicts a prostitute's life there with a surprisingly fresh and often experimental filmic language.

Overall story is rather corny. But when the white and black narrative becomes fully colored in order to prepare for the mythical sequence of her brother's aimless wandering in the city, the effect is amazing and beautiful.

The film is particularly brilliant outside. Made as a Roman-Porn film, it is way too lyrical to be simply erotic.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Of the used-book market

In the days of Book Off and Amazon Market Place, the used-book market in Japan is totally devastated. There is no chance for a windfall. I mean exceptionally good books at prices next to none.

But this principle of lucky encounter still holds true, to a certain degree, in the case of foreign books and you occasionally come across very good books in more than acceptable conditions at a price less than a glass of Starback's Frapuccino.

The other day I was at Jinbocho aimlessly wandering and picked up the following books nicely preserved. Not read at all, although the color of the paper has somewhat changed brown. I don't care. I just say, You chaps are brown, and I pick them up.

They are: Douglas Bush's Prefaces to Renaissance Literature (1965); J. Middleton Murry, The Problem of Style (1976; original 1922); Donald Davie, Trying to Explain (1979). Nice handy paperbacks, 300 yen apiece! Unbeatable. If I stick to English I can get plenty fuel very reasonably here in Japan to live at the writer's trade.

Davie's is a gem. I remember Barthes quoting Hobbes: "La seul passion de ma vie a été la peur." Then Davie says in this manner something that I have in common with him, Hobbes, and presumably Barthes:

And thus the first thing that I'm made to realize about myself, with this dream in mind, is how constantly, throughout my boyhood but also ever since, my strongest and most common emotion has been fear. Fear, or else perhaps apprehension; for the fear has not been of any one thing or person, not even of any definable happening, but always unlocalized, unfocused, pervasive. I have been a coward before life; always, against the run of the evidence, I have expected the worst. (20)

And this comes from an excess of imagination, whereas somebody like Lévi-Strauss talked about his lack of imagination when he first dared to tread jungles in Mato Grosso.

Hiroshima films

Spent the afternoon watching 3 Hiroshima-related films in a row. They are Alain Resnais's Hiroshima mon amour (1959), Yoshimura Kozaburo's Sono yo ha wasurenai (I won't forget that night; 1962), and Steven Okazaki's White Light/Black Rain (2005).

Watched in this order, they are all the more powerful. Resnais-Duras ask the question "est-ce racontable?" and although I have some criticism against the thematic construction of the film, the question itself is quite legitimate. How do we ever talk about the experience? Okazaki let people speak up, and to a very moving degree, succeeds.

Films this year:

44. Andy Byatt and Alastair Fothergill, Deep Blue (2004?)
45. Kozaburo Yoshimura, I Won't Forget the Night (1962)

44 is curiously recomforting. Come what may, and after the great extinction of the life on the surface, those who live deep in the ocean will survive as if nothing happened. They don't even need sunlight! That beats me.

45 is memorable for the final scene where Jiro Tamiya weeps in the river.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

And they endure...

Films this year:

43. Omnibus, All the Invisible Children (2005)

Superb. All the short segments are good, but especially the succession of Spike Lee/Katia Lund shorts is breathtaking. The US, Brasil. Most recommendable for all students.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Look at the mountain, look how the children live

Films this year:

42. Hiroshi Shinomiya, Scavengers (1995)

A great documentary. Truly engaging. There is a slum called "Smokey Mountain" in Manila, where people are reduced to the life of scavengers--hunting for gabbages. In that minimally satysfying condition, their smiles are shining to break your heart. Poverty, hunger, war--such are the director Shinomiya's manifest enemies. A great soul he is. If I can join his spiritual-material quest in some way...

Saturday, June 27, 2009

On Music and Madness (Proust)

Here is a memorable passage from L'amour de Swann:

Le peintre avait entendu dire que Vinteuil était menacé d'aliénation mentale. Et il assurait qu'on pouvait s'en apercevoir à certains passages de sa sonate. Swann ne trouva pas cette remarque absurde, mais elle le troubla; car une œuvre de musique pure ne contenant aucun de rapports logiques dont l'altération dans le langage dénonce la folie, la folie reconnue dans une sonate lui paraissait quelque chose d'aussi mystérieux que la folie d'une chienne, la folie d'un cheval, qui pourtant s'observent en effet. (41)

Chilling acuteness.

Friday, June 26, 2009

R.I.P. Michael

Films this year:

41. Harmony Korine, Mister Lonely (2007)

Strange, but only a day after I watched this film around the life of a Michael Jackson impersonator, Michael Jackson's death was reported, to the world's surprise...

The film is good, with not few memorable scenes. Yet it looks very mature compared with breath-taking Julien Donkey-Boy, and the surprise seems calculated and not so strange as his former, and younger, films. I can't wait to watch Korine's new film if it happens.

Re: Michael. He, Keith Harring, and myself are of the same age. Now that two of them are gone, I feel that my days on this planet, too, is counted. I have never been a big fan of him, but his images and voice ever since the Jackson Five days have always been with me, like air, like water, like... music. He had always been a great singer and very sharp dancer.

R.I.P. Will follow you, eventually!

Promises in the land of...

40. Justine Shapiro, B.Z. Goldberg, Promises (2001)

A memorable documentary of a staged encounter between the children of Palestine and Israel. They spend a day together to find out the kids on the other side can be just as regular and friendly as they are. Staged, yes, but the experience is none the less legitimate and touching. What kind of psychological burden the kids are forced to carry day in day out... And all remains sans issue.

For a foreign audience some historical footages to contextualize the conflict would have been very useful. But this may not be necessary, after all. One film I'd like to show to my undergraduate students.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Summer Solstice

Last sunday to celebrate the summer solstice I watched with some friends three documentaries related to the theme of what we eat (and drink):

35. Hubert Sauper, Darwin's Nightmare (2004)
36. Nikolaus Geyrhalter, Our Daily Bread (2008)
37. Marc & Nick Francis, Black Gold (2006)

Well aware of the controversity surrounding the film, 35 nonetheless is very powerful after a couple of viewings. 36 I watched last year at the theatre and this time surprizingly the impact is less than the first time... am I getting used to it? 37 is quite interesting, too.

During this time I re-watched such films as Soy Cuba and Suite Habana both related to my course at Waseda but I am not counting them. The greatest experience came from Harmony Korine that I only came to discover (a decade late, I know, but sometimes timing plays a great part in our lives... don't blame me...).

38. Harmony Korine, Gummo (1997)
39. Harmony Korine, Julien Donkey-boy (1999)

The estadounidense culture being so deeply sick what is depicted in both films are quite shocking and often so stupid, and yet, and yet, what incredible moments of beauty and revelation. More on him in the near future. Herzog as the crazy father in 39 is hilarious and chilling.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Rumania, Aotearoa, Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Films this year:

32. Ralf Marschalleck, Brass On Fire (2002)
33. Niki Caro, Whale Rider (2002)
34. Steven Okazaki, White Light/Black Rain (2007)

32 is a pure gem and thoroughly enjoyable. A road movie with an interesting band never fails, and this is the proof thereof once again. Rumania is waiting for me... before long!

For 33, this is my fourth or fifth viewing. I gave a talk on the Maori culture last Saturday and showed a part of this to my elderly students. They all seemed to love the scene I chose (in which Paikea rides on a bike with Koro). The scenery near Gisborn is breathtaking. Out of this world. By any standard a MUST among contemporary world cinema titles.

34 is a great documentary and its importance is obvious. It should be watched by all US and Japanese citizens. The pilot of the bomber says: My God, what have I done. Right you are. What have you done, US, not only to Japan but also to the rest of the world and its remaining history?

Sunday, June 07, 2009

No Entry/No Exit

Films this year:

27. F.G. Murnau, Tabu (1931)
28. Luis Buñuel, Terre sans pain (1933)
29. Jacques Sarasin, On the Rumba River (2007)
30. Maria Blumencron, Escape Over the Himalayas
31. Alain Resnais, Hiroshima, mon amour (1959)

I had too great an expectation for 27. Very interesting in many ways, but the Polynesia reconstructed is already highly mediatized, even at that stage of history.

28 is cruel in the sense that's applicable only to Buñuel, but disgusting in throwing a goat off the rocky cliff and such. We never know if that donkey, stung to death by honey bees, was not another victim of the crew.

29 is an interesting documentary on a master singer from Congo, Wendo Kolosoy. One feels like going to Kinshasa if only to experience the heat on the road side and the Afro-Cuban musical complex.

30 is so dangerously moving. A real story of Tibetan children's illegal migration across the Himalayas.  

31 is a parergon of a history of passionate love, coldly treated. I am not the one to fall for a French woman, for sure. The camera moving through the streets of Hiroshima is the highest merit of this film, historically speaking.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

In China, autrefois

Films this year:

26. Kaoru Ikeya, The Army of the Ant (2006)

Another stunning documentaryfrom Ikeya shedding a light on the hidden part of the disgrace of modern Japan. The army as the worst machine of exploiting the nation's own children and turning them into ruthless killers. It's a crime of the state against its own people. The old man Okumura's protest against his own past and the insane machinery--this is a history to be widely transmitted.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Films this year:

25. Kaoru Ikeya, The Daughter from Yan'an (2002)

Just back from Dalian, China. On the previous day of my departure from Tokyo I watched on DVD this extraordinary documentary. A daughter born of a premarital relationship between two teenage city students "released below" to the rural area because of the cultural revolution... a life inutil from the beginning, unlooked after, unwanted. And behind all this is the shadow of Mao and his over-passionate entourages.

The director Ikeya is of the same age as me. Chapeau, maître. This is a great film.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Films this year:

23. Ulrike Koch, The Saltmen of Tibet (1997)
24. Euzhan Palcy, Rue Cases-Nègres (1983)

23 is stunning. Quiet and sublime. It depicts a team of salt gatherers who travel far to a salt lake on another plateaur annually as if for a pilgrimage. Their journey and their work on the spot are both out of this world. It reminds me of the actual salt pilgrimage ritual in the American Southwest (of which tribe I can't recall now).

24 I had watched 4 or 5 times over twenty years and yet I was not sure tonight about the sequences of the events at many points; my cinematic memory is eternally deficient! A very well-made story with a clear intention for the community in mind. The final song that people spontaneously begin to sing on the scene (towards the end) of the arrestation of Léopold should be paid more attention. BY ME.

A very educational essay must be written as an analysis of this film (even if the analysis itself may end up a rather tedious one).

Thursday, May 07, 2009

The children in Afghanistan

Films this year:

20. Hana Makhmalbaf, Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame (2008)
21. Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino (2008)
22. Seiichi Motohashi, Singing With Nami (2006)

In 20, our genius Samira's younger sister Hana proved herself to be a real genius, even surpassing her sis... outstanding. Incredibly well wrought, full of compassion and awareness, and breathtakingly beautiful. And this, a work of an 18 year old? The world is unfathomable. This film is destined to be a classic and every school in the world should try to organize a free screening.

What can I say about 21? It's impeccable, and it's very predictable. A nice urban fairy tale in this age of mass migration and oriented specifically toward... well, needless to say. Can't quite believe some of the best film critics in Japan admire Eastwood to an unimaginable extent! He is always good, always fun to watch, and NEVER BETRAYS YOUR EXPECTATION. This is his problem, and his view of the world is deeply disgusting. Why should he drive the story into the intra-Hmong conflict? Maybe it's not so much of Eastwood's fault, but that of the American movie industry.

22 is a charming documentary film depicting a 85 year-old woman folk singer in Okinawa. Her life being not always very satisfactory, she nonetheless never looses her innate cheerfulness and is determined to live to be 120! The original writer Nobuko Kyo is a Korean-Japanese and I am rather interested in her work. This is our contemporary. This is the story beside which we unkowningly live.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Where does that penguin go?

Films this year:

18. Samira Makhmalbaf, The Blackboard (2000)
19. Werner Herzog, Encounters at the End of the World (2007)

18 is stunning. Can't quite believe this imagination of a then 20-year old director Samira, Makhmalbaf's eldest daughter. Thematically very tightly woven, with a breathtaking backdrop of the very rocky mountain. AND there is much more behind the film; the vast and ruthless reality of the border situation.

19 I could finally watch; another masterpiece from the master. A solitary penguin heading toward the mountain range and its own death well seems like our own collective destiny. Time to rethink all our ethics with our inescapable end in sight.La vie... sur la terre... quelle tristesse!

Friday, April 17, 2009

In Belarus, in Mongolia, back then, and now?

Films this year:

16. Seiichi Motohashi, Nadya's Village (1997)
17. Peter Brosens, State of Dogs (1998?)

16 is the photographer Seiichi Motohashi's first full-length documentary, following people's life in a small quasi-abandoned village in Belarus. People were evacuated after the accident at Chernobyl, but some of them stayed, including 8-year-old Nadya's family. The film's tranquility and the beauty of the land is awesome. And then when you come to the gate of the village... I've got to go and watch his "Baobab" (now being released) soon.

17 is a surprising masterpiece. A decade ago when it was released in Tokyo I wrote a short essay for the booklet. Reviewing it after such a long time and I blame myself for not remembering the whole film well...even though I've watched it probably four times before. This makes a nice pair of Mongolian films with The Weeping Camel. There are more, too.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


Films this year:

14. Shigeru Kobayashi, Chokora! (2008)
15. Byambasuren Davaa & Luigi Falorni, The Story of the Weeping Camel (2003)

Two great documentaries. 14 deals with the street children in Kenya with striking cinematography and vivid colours. 15 is almost too well-made. Many scenes must be directed; they are rendered beautifully, yet the feeling of slightly too much intervention, so to speak, remains. Well worth remembering, none the less.

Monday, March 30, 2009

De la traite

Two points to remember from Olivier Pétré-Grenouilleau's thin pamphlet Nantes & la traite négrière (2007):

1. La mise-hors (ou capital nécessaire à l'armement d'un négrier) était relativement élevée, de l'ordre du prix d'un petit hôtel particulier parisien à la fin du 18e siècle.

2. Au 18e siècle, la noblesse bretonne était à la fois nombreuse et souvent désargentée. On sait que le père de François-René de Chateaubriand fut un négrier.

And maybe another:

3. Il fallait souvent dix à seize mois afin de boucler la totalité du circuit.

Not the best way to spend a year of one's life.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Veiller ensemble

I've been reading French rapper Abd al Malik's autobiography Qu'Allah bénisse la France (2004) and find it très passionante. A young outlaw, brilliant in his school, turns to embrace Islam. Some details are so interesting:

Chaque samedi soir, nous nous réunissons en outre à cinq ou six pour étudier, puis veiller ensemble. Ces veillées étaient ponctuées de cours sur la jurisprudence islamique, sur la vie du Prophète Muhammad (PSL) et d'autres sur l'islam en général. Nous lisions encore jusqu'à l'aube le Coran et des hadiths, le tout entrecoupé de prières et de discussions religieuses. Ces débats traditionnels (MUDAKARA) consistaient à se placer dans une situation fictive et à déterminer quelle était l'"attitude islamique" à adopter en pareil cas. Je me souviens m'être torturé l'esprit sur des questions aussi "fondamentales" que de savoir s'il était licite de serrer la main d'une femme pour la saluer, ou encore si le fait de regarder un film au cinéma ou à la télévision était compatible avec l'"interdit de la représentation". J'ai tellement été imprégné par cette atmosphère où la distinction du licite et de l'illicite (HALAL et HARAM) devient obsessionnelle qu'aujourd'hui encore, je dois l'avouer, il m'arrive d'être pris à l'improviste par ce genre de questions légalistes.

May be this kind of weekly veillée we should adopt (with our graduate students) to seriously talk about what is to be done... in art (in general). Such will be our seminar this year!

Friday, March 20, 2009


Films this year:

12. Werner Herzog, Grizzly Man (2005)
13. Werner Herzog, The White Diamond (2004)

Re-watched with some friends two masterpiece documentaries from Herzog. Arresting, heart-breaking, subtle, and beautiful. This is my kind of filmmaker, like no one else in history.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


B.D., graphic novel, manga, gekiga, whatever you may call it. This is a genre that's most sophisticated and synthesizing, yet individual and personal (more often than not).

Sometimes I come across an unforgettable work. Today it was Negrinha, written by Jean-Christophe Camus and rendered graphically by Olivier Tallac (Gallimard, 2009).

It's a lovely story of a morena girl (born from a Black mother) in Rio de Janeiro. Camus, himself a comic artist and a child of a Franco-Brazilian marriage, captures the light and atmosphere of the Rio in the 1950s like no one else could.

Some nice lines from Maria, the protagonist, to Joanna, a little white girl with whom she holds a sister-like intimacy:

Joanna, tout ça doit rester entre nous, c'est notre secret, d'accord? S'il est dévoilé, le Christ du Corcovado sera tellement triste que ses bras s'abaisseront.

The charm of Rio returns to me like a wave.

Tractatus, o meu coraçao

Wittgenstein to me is mostly impossible to understand, but he says a lot of interesting things. I only don't want to spend more time with him to grasp what he intends to say. It comes down to the economy of time and your taste, I mean all your intellectual endevour in the humanities. The following are from Tractatus:

2.012 In logic nothing is accidental: if a thing CAN occur in a state of affairs, the possibility of the state of affairs must be written into the thing itself.

2.014 Objects contain the possibility of all situations.

Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1922)

These two bits match well with the premises of the concept of affordance.

As if I was writing a letter to a friend

Discussing Hans Erich Nossack, W.G.Sebald writes this:

In an essay of 1961 where Nossack speaks of the influence on his literary work, he writes that after reading Stendhal he was anxious to express himself 'as plainly as possible, without well-crafted adjectives, high-flown images or bluff, more like someone writing a letter in almost everyday jargon'. [...] Nossack experiments with the prosaic genre of the report, the documentary account, the investigation, to make room for the historical contingency that breaks the mould of the culture of the novel.

W.G. Sebald, Campo Santo, Anthea Bell trans., 2005

Viva Stendhal.

And each time I die...

You may think and say whatever you like, but to me Philippe Sollers is one of the writers who can really write. Not a dull page in his œuvre.

This sentence from his Carnet de nuit, back in the 1980s (?):

Il se voyait mourir, chaque fois sous une identité différente.

This is the truth about our relationship with a work of literature.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Image according to Proust

Roger Shuttuck explains what "image" meant for Proust:

Like Locke and Condillac (and later Sartre), Proust saw our image-making faculty as a means both for grasping the world and for detaching ourselves from it, the essentially double process of consciousness. Inevitably "image" spawns a large family of photographic terms: photographie, épreuve (proof), cliché (negative), instantané (still or snapshot).

Roger Shuttuck, Proust's Binoculars (1962)

In a reverse effect, so to speak, photography is essentially ambiguous; it mediates us to the reality of the world, and it profoundly separates us from the world as is.

Bowie was not a vampire (not only, at least)

Nicolas Ungemuth's Bowie (Librio Musique, 1999) clarified many points that I wasn't very sure about in the history of rock. Bowie's "vampirism," for one. He quotes Bowie's own words:

"Dès que je trouvais certaines qualités chez des gens que j'aimais, je me les appropriais. Je fais toujours ça aujourd'hui; tout le temps. C'est comme pour une voiture, on remplace les pièces petit à petit."

And people have accused Bowie of his vampirism. But then Ungemuth goes on to say:

Dans les deux cas, Lou Reed/Iggy, les soi-disant victims du vampire, se sont largement repus du talent de leur prétendu bourreau. Bowie, en fin de compte, a plus joué aux infirmiers qu'aux succubes.

An interesting way to put it!

This books describes well the centrality of Bowie in rock music for more than three decades. I loved Bowie as a highschool student in the 1970s; then lost interest in him in the 80s (definitely by the time of "Let's Dance") and moved on to so-called world music. Which was just and unjust at the same time. But rock by that time was mostly DEAD until a serious ressurrection is brought about by Nirvana in the early 1990s, for example.

I'll go back to Space Oddity and begin listening to the various aspects of Bowie's own histoire vécue!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

"Je vis, non j'existe."

I live, not I exist, says Le Clézio. This from the top of France Culture's home page. I think this sentence nicely and profoundly describe Le Clézio's attitude. To say that I exist is way too abstract to be true. I live, in, with, within. I and I live. I have always already been we, with the living and the non-living surrounding me alike. A refreshing pause from a dangerous ego-centrism.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Meet you at the corner?

Here is a joke that I really liked about thirty years ago:

--Qu'est-ce qu'un mur dit au mur d'à côté? demanda-t-il d'un ton criard. C'est une devinette!
Je roulais des yeux pensifs vers le plafond et répétai la question tout haut. Puis je regardai Charles d'un air obtus et lui dis que je donnai ma langue au chat.
--Rendez-vous au coin! m'assena-t-il en hurlant.

J.D. Salinger, Nouvelles (tr. Jean-Baptiste Rossi)

But the problem is, why did I find it so hilarious then?

Monday, February 23, 2009

The NRF at 100

I didn't realize that the NRF has been around for a century this year. It was founded in 1909 by Gide, taken over by Jacques Rivière (whom Philippe Sollers regards very highly), then at his death in 1925 succeeded by Jean Paulhan. I read this article by Philippe Lançon in Libération:

A sa [Rivière's] mort, en 1925, Jean Paulhan, radical prince de l'esquive et de l'ironie, lui donne le ton et l'avant-gardisme qu'elle conservera jusque dans les années 60.

And then:

Jamais l'opacité elliptique de Paulhan, dressant un mur de liège entre lui et chacun au profit de tous, n'a mieux révélé sa nécéssité. Il ne sortirait de l'ambiguïté qu'aux dépens des autres. C'est en manipulant par omission leurs talents immenses, capricieux, égoïstes, haineux, capables du pire pour exister, qu'il permet à la littérature qu'il aime d'entretenir ses vices et ses vertus. (Libération, Jeudi 19 février 2009)

Ah, Paulhan. The politics of literature is rife around him. But then, no editor can be totally innocent. Often tactics are mandatory for making things interesting and keeping them alive.

My friend Naoko Kasama has just completed her translation of Paulhan's collection of very short proses. I am hoping to see it materialize, under a book form, this year.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


Films this year:

9. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, David Fincher (2008)
10. Musée haut, musée bas, Jean-Michel Ribes (2008)
11. Al otro lado, Gustavo Loza (2005)

I watched 9 at Gaumont, Montparnasse. It's a masterpiece with a lot of stunning moments and another victory from Fincher. What I particularly liked (just like anyone else, it seems) was an episode of a man who was struck seven times by lightning. This alone proves the director's well-established sense of humor. Tilda Swinton is breathtaking, as always.

10 is so silly one could only watch it in the trans-Eurasia stratosphere with less than regular oxigen level. But I watched it twice, thanks to Air France. Quite nonsensical, and not in the Ubuan or Dalian or even Lewis-Carolian sense. By the way I was surprised to find that Air France doesn't serve Stella Artois anymore! All they have is Heinekken. Tant pis!

Keisuke Dan showed me 11 which was not bad at all. Three parallel stories of children's border crossings that happen in Michoacan, La Habana, and Morocco/Maraga. Often melodramatic, deserted wives too beautiful, characters stereotypical. yet one can't help loving the film. It's got some "it." The best actress of the show award goes to the little girl from Morocco.

I am well behind my video days... Will try to catch up!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Paris Dogs

In Paris and off the Seine, I came across a very nice big dog. Magnificent. I said, "C'est un chien superbe que vous avez. J'adore les grands chiens." And the old man responded in English, "Thank you, it's a Scottish Deer Hound." Oh. I thought it was an Irish Wolf Hound.

Strange but these two breeds are identical to my eyes. The same breed given different names in Ireland and Scotland?

I wonder if they have this kind of dog in Wales, and how they call it. But it's unlikely that they have such enormous dogs; Wales is where corgis are from!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

In Paris

Just back from Nantes and je me trouve de nouveau a Paris... Nantes was wonderful, much more so than I had expected. But the memory of the trans-Atlantic slave trade is everywhere, when you look at it. Met a very nice Brazilian anthropologist, Denise, and she said she was rather sad about the new Quai Branly museum. I knew what she meant, I guess. Still it's an interesting, one-of-a-kind place and I am planning to go there again tomorrow.

Thanks all for your mail but please wait a couple of more days before I can respond. I am writing this from an internet cafe... my own computer couldn't get connected at the hotel. Maybe it's not compatible with the Wi-Fi protocol. I did't even know that!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

On soul

One night in 1979 Derrida was listening to his son Pierre talking with Paul de Man; they were discussing musical instruments after a jazz concert in Chicago. Here is what Jackie recalls:

It was then I realized that Paul had never told me he was an experienced musician and that music had also been a practice with him. The word that let me know this was the word "âme" when, hearing Pierre, my son, and Paul speak with familiarity of the violin's or the bass's soul, I learned that the "soul" is the name one gives in French to the small and fragile piece of wood--always very exposed, very vulnerable--that is placed within the body of these instruments to support the bridge and assure the resonant communication of the two sounding boards.

Jacques Derrida, Memoires for Paul de Man (1989); this part trans. by Kevin Newmark

Always a piece on the fringe that attract Derrida's attraction. And generally speaking, soul resides on the edge of things, it seems!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Teaching in grade school

What did Wittgenstein and Derrida have in common? They were both (at one stage of their lives) elementary school teachers!

Wittgenstein between 1922-26 (the years when he was between 33 and 37) famously taught in a primary school before he was forced to quit after hitting a student on his head for the child to lose consciousness. W only had two books published during his life time: the Tractatus and a vocabulary book for elementary school students. What a glorious and muy enloquecido teacher to have.

Derrida, instead of a compulsory military service, taught at a primary school in Algeria for two years when he was 27, 28 or thereabouts. This was around 1957, the hottest years in Algeria before independence. What kind of teacher he was, I can't tell.

I find it quite interesting, for me at this age, to teach in grade school along with my university position, if that's possible at all. A forced circulation of the teaching body among institutions of different age groups can only do good for the educational system in general. Themes out of school would be the only interesting and immediately pertinent in our collective survival.

Cowley on Cary

Sometimes you come across a paragraph (by any author) that's as good as a short story in itself. A minimum story.
One such is this from Malcolm Cowley's splendid And I Worked at the Writer's Trade:

In the case of one story by the late Joyce Cary, the "precious particle" was the wrinkles on a young woman's forehead. He had seen her on the little boat that goes around Manhattan Island, "a girl of about thirty," he says, "wearing a shabby skirt. She was enjoying herself. A nice expression, with a wrinkled forehead, a good many wrinkles. i said to my friend, 'I could write about that girl...'" but then he forgot about her. Three weeks later, in San Francisco, Cary woke up at four in the morning with a story in his head---a purely English story with an English heroine. When he came to revise the story he kept wondering, "Why all these wrinkles? That's the third time they come in. And I suddenly realized," he says, "that my English heroine was the girl on the Manhattan boat. Somehow she had gone down into my subconscious, and came up again with a full-sized story."

Malcolm Cowley, And I Worked at the Writer's Trade (1978)

The whole mechanism (of producing such a minimalist story) resides in the function of summarizing through retelling of somebody else's experience. This tells quite a bit about the genesis of the narrative genre.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Benjaminian translation, history, and natural history

Here is what Tom Cohen writes on Benjamin's peculiar "translation":

Walter Benjamin makes reference to a concept of history that breaks with the familiar notions of the term. As we know, he was given to taking familiar terms (allegory, cinema, dialectics, translation) and submitting them to a process of disinvestment. He called this "translation" : a site where the word passes through its own formal properties, emptied of "meaning" or interiority, and is then returned (unmarked) to usage in a sabotaging form void of subjectivity. Allegory becomes the other of the literary historical term; "materialistic historiography" dispels any ECHT Marxian hue; dialectics is unprogressive and anti-narrative, and so on.

And then, the following interesting remark on history:

Typically, "history" survives this procedure--which aims to empty out all interiorist traces--only to re-emerge within a different referential order. Rather than implying historicist echoes, Benjamin invokes a non-human "history" that will be gestured to under the misleading rubric of "natural history"--a history, we may add again, with different, proactive folds of time.

Tom Cohen, Ideology and Inscription (1998)

Saturday, February 07, 2009

This kind of coalition

The name of Alan Liu I only knew as a Wordsworth specialist, and a very good one. Then, today on reading Katherine Hayles' Electronic Literature, I learned of his recent interestingly sounding book The Laws of Cool. Here is what Hayles writes:

Liu urges a coalition between the "cool" --designers, graphic artists, programmers, and other workers within the knowledge industry--and the traditional humanities, suggesting that both camps possess assets essential to cope with the compexities of the commercial interests that currently determine many aspects of how peope live their everyday lives in developed societies. Whereas the traditional humanities specialize in articulating and preserving a deep knowledge of the past and engage in a broad spectrum of cultural analyses, the "cool" bring to the table expert knowledge about networked and programmable media and intuitive understandings of contemporary digital practices.

N. Katherine Hayles, Electronic Literature (2008)

This sounds already like a truism, but this is, objectively speaking, exactly what we have been attempting in our Digital Content Studies program, gathering all the fields of the humanities and contemporary media practices alike. No conspicuous output, not yet. But it will surely happen soon. From a desolate corner of Akihabara...

Friday, February 06, 2009

No solidarity with myself, no, no

Here is what Claude Mauriac writes in his "Cocteau" book:

Trente ans après, je retrouve avec la même gêne cet homme qui était moi et dont je me désolidariserais si je m'en reconnaissais le droit. Mais pourquoi serais-je plus moi aujourd'hui qu'alors? Je renie le mauvais écrivain que j'étais. Je m'y sens autorisé, ayant sans doute fait quelques progrès et n'abusant plus ainsi des adjectifs grandiloquents. Mais si je n'ose plus parler de "joie du ciel" ni le "grandeur humaine" c'est probablement une façon autre d'être conditionné. Aussi peu libre maintenant qu'en ce temps-là. Aussi peu moi, à supposer que ce moi existe, mais je n'y crois plus, ne sachant depuis longtemps interchangeable.

Claude Mauriac, Une amitié contrariée (1970)

A post-Gide consciousness, probably, than a post-Mauriac one. But the subject of pronunciation is here functionning as strong as anything... Egotism, to full extent.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

What to read (of Celine)?

Casually on rereading Deleuzo-Guattarian Kafka, I was reminded of their opinion on Céline:

Céline's syntactic evolution went from VOYAGES to DEATH ON THE CREDIT PLAN, then from DEATH ON THE CREDIT PLAN to GUIGNOL'S BAND. (After that, Céline had nothing more to talk about except his own misfortunes; in other words, he had no longer any desire to write, only the need to make money. And it always ends like that, language's lines of escape: silence, the interrupted, the interminable, or even worse. But until that point, what a crazy creation, what a writing machine!

Deleuze & Guattari, Kafka (Dana Polan trans. 1986 [original 1975]).

Hey, don't be si méchants, Gilles and Félix, there must be more good works from him. I don't think it's a good idea to limit people's perspective in this way. It's all in the way you talk, you know.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Byron on Shelley

"Shelley lives on outside his verse," writes Isabel Quigly in her masterful introduction to The Penguin Portable Library Shelley. She goes on to quote Byron:

Byron, who was almost entirely uninclined, by nature and habit, for admiration, wrote to Murray: 'You were all brutally mistaken about Shelley, who was, without exception, the BEST and least selfish man I ever knew. I never knew anyone who was not a beast in comparison.'

This goodness, this bonté, should be examined. For Romantic poets, it is almost impossible not to take their life into consideration when discussing their works. And this tells about an essential feature of Romanticism.

De Man

Paul de Man also has his moments of bravado, soaring high into the stratosphere of stylistics. No less impressive, and probably with more dexterity, than Bloom is a passage such as:

The erasure or effacement is indeed the loss of a face, in French FIGURE. Rousseau no longer, or hardly (as the tracks are not all gone, but more than half erased), has a face. Like the protagonist in the Hardy story, he is disfigured, défiguré, defaced. And also as in the Hardy story, to be disfigured means primarily the loss of the eyes, turned to "stony orbs" or to empty holes. This trajectory from erased self-knowledge to disfiguration is the trajectory of The Triumph of Life.

"Shelley Disfigured" in Deconstruction & Criticism (1979)

Time to take up Shelley in earnest.

The Yale School revisited

As a beginning graduate student in the early 1980s I encountered the collection since became famous: Deconstruction & Criticism. Famously, for Bloom, "criticism" was he alone, and "deconstruction" the four other gangs. But this is a superb collection that's possible only at a time in history. It is a representative work of five great critics, and at their near-best.

After almost thirty years and I still can't grasp the whole range of its possibility. Yet Bloom is mesmerizing:

A power of evasion may be the belated strong poet's most crucial gift, a psychic and linguistic cunning that energizes what most of us have over-idealized as the imagination. Self-preservation is the labor of the poem's litanies of evasion, of its dance-steps beyond the pleasure principle.

Harold Bloom, "The Breaking of Form" in Deconstruction & Criticism (1979)

I hold my breath and follow his steps, and again, and again...

Monday, February 02, 2009

Cohn on Richard

This book after all might be the most decisive one in my formation: Robert Greer Cohn's Toward the Poems of Mallarmé. On re-reading it once again I notice this passage he writes on Jean-Pierre Richard's majestic L'Univers imaginaire, and I like it very much. With due respect to Richard, undoubtedly one of the most important literary critics ever, he writes:

Richard's volume is remarkable, but chiefly, as we have come to expect of him, as a study of the man (a sort of inner biography) or, rather, of the "everypoet" in Mallarmé. This is scientific and general pre-criticism, or aesthetics, rather than criticism and does not rise to the full specificity of the individual works. How often an image pinned down by a dozen quotations will change under the impact of neighboring images in a given poem! But, while much space is alloted to juvenilia or repetitious documentation, the poems themselves receive a few lines (or, at most, a couple of pages) each. Richard chooses to ignore, for practical purposes, Mallarmé's biggest single effort at a poetic work, the Coup de Dés. In this way, he, Richard--as he candidly admits to be his aim--becomes the owner of the ambitious syntactical or "totalizing" vision which is properly Mallarmé's. God protect us from our friends!

Rober Greer Cohn, Toward the Poems of Mallarmé (1965)

Touché, for the "inner biography" part. And the final sentence is GREAT. Thematism has its own metaphysics. Criticism, in the final instance, should be practical criticism. And criticism is neither biography nor some para-philosophical murmuring. Yet IN PRACTICE we can't help but ending up in syncretism, can we?

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Self/other, otherly, or otherwise

Leslie Hill in his very lucid book on Blanchot explains Blanchot's third type of self/other relations in the following manner:

In this relation of the third kind, the Other is thought not as another Self, but as radically different, irreducible to the One or to the Same. This type of relation occurs, so to speak, beyond the horizon of world and being; it is relation without ratio, adequation, equality, symmetry, or reciprocity. This is relation without relation, relation in the form of a pure interval belonging neither to being nor non-being, irreducible to all thought of truth, visibility, veiling or unveiling, and figurable only as non-reversible dissymmetry, as a strange space in which the distance from me to the Other is not the same as the distance from the Other to me. Here, all topographical continuity is abolished.

Leslie Hill, Blanchot: Extreme Contemporary (1997)

What makes me so uneasy is the phrase above: "a strange space in which the distance from me to the Other is not the same as the distance from the Other to me." The physical reciprocity of distance can't hold. This makes any approach impossible. An eternally parallel world of discommunication?

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Get lost!

Norman Brown to me is intensely post-Romantic, and the power of his speech comes, more often than not, from his erudition in the classics, including those key literature of Christianity.

Already in mid-20th c. he writes against those who preach "the crisis of identity" the following little pep-talk kind of passage. I like it very much:

But the breakdown is to be made into a breakthrough; as Conrad said, in the destructive element immerse. The soul that we can call our own is not a real one. The solution to the problem of identity is, get lost. Or as it says in the New Testament: "He that findeth his own psyche shall lose it, and he that loseth his psyche for my sake shall find it." (Brown, Love's Body)

The only remaining question is this "my sake."

To explore is...

On reading this passage by Norman Brown's Loves Body I bursted out laughing; he states, following Melanie Klein, what follows:

To explore is to penetrate; the world is the inside of mother. "The entry into the world of knowledge and schoolwork seemed to be identified with the entry into the mother's body." (...) Geography is the geography of the mother's body (...) Geography; or geometry, as in FINNEGANS WAKE.

Norman O. Brown, Love's Body (1963)

Well, well. In the geography of dreams, it may be true. But this sounds only like somebody who has never really explored geography OUT THERE.

Yet Brown is interesting, and what interests me most is his being born in El Oro, Mexico, in 1913, as a son of a mining engineer. His view of "geography" may after all be the best illustration of the oedipal situation.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Blanchot's Chroniques

Between April 1941 and August 1944, Blanchot published 173 articles in the Journal des débats. Almost weekly! He was between 33 and going on 37 years of age.

This is probably something I should have done in my Southwest days... Now I am turning more and more reluctant to read new authors. I'd rather get to know better the writers I have already read. The process is definitely that of re-reading. But then, is there such a thing as first-time reading properly speaking, not in any way a re-reading?

Youngish Blanchot's variety of reading is astonishing, and his perspicacity dazzling.

Maurice Blanchot, Chroniques littéraires (2007)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Literature in translation

Translation made Susan Sontag who she is. "Translations were a gift, for which I would always be grateful," says she. "What--rather, who--would I be without Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy and Chekhov?"

Then comes this paragraph:

My sense of what literature can be, my reverence for the practice of literature as a vocation, and my identification of the vocation of the writer with the exercise of freedom--all these constituent elements of my sensibility are inconceivable without the books I read in translation from an early age. Literature was mental travel: travel into the past... and to other countries. (Literature was the vehicle that could take you ANYWHERE.) And literature was criticism of one's own reality, in the light of a better standard.

Susan Sontag, At the Same Time (2007)

Criticism of life by way of others' reflexions. Translation and transformation of the self occuring at the same time. This practice, in its totality, is called literature. But then, the practice of learning foreign languages, in its totality, is also nothing less than literature.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

On the Boyasch

[Y]ou run into two breeds of gypsies, the nomad coppersmith and the Boyasch...The Boyasch are what you might call Serbo-Rumanian gypsies... They are small and dark and strange, and if you saw some on the street you'd notice them but it probably wouldn't occur to you they were gypsies. They're cleaner and neater than the nomads, and their women don't dress gypsy style any more, although a few of the real old ones still wear gold-coin necklaces. At the same time, they're tougher-looking. I guess hard is more the word. They look hard. It's something in their eyes. They have curious cold, hard eyes, and they watch you every second, and they rarely ever smile.

Joseph Mitchell, Up in the Old Hotel (1992)

Joseph Mitchell is wondeful, wonderous. The blurb says: "His accounts are like what Joyce might have written had he gone into journalism." I sense in him a precurser of Chatwin's. (Especially Chatwin's earlier, short pieces on strange encounters.) This book was sent me by my friend Q in NYC. She's one of the most interesting philosophers working today. Thank you, Q, for your continuous enlightment of my ignorance!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Avec Keats

Helen Vendler is wonderful, superb. Her remarks about Stevens' debts to Keats have been on my mind:

Stevens had so absorbed Keats that Keats acted in his mind as a perpendicular from which he constructed his own oblique poems: what we see as a secrecy of allusion was for Stevens no secrecy but rather an exfoliation of a continuing inner dialogue with Keats. Stevens' allusions, in his briefer poems, are more often to content than to language. If Keats says "tree," Stevens will say "pinetrees," "junipers," "spruces." If Keats says "the north...with a sleety whistle," Stevens will say "the sound of the wind." And if Keats says "crystal fretting" and "frozen time," of ice, Stevens will say "frost," "snow," "ice." If Keats says "not to feel," Stevens says "not to think."

Helen Vendler, Wallace Stevens: Words Chosen Out of Desire (1984)

And this passage of astonishing condensation:

Stevens' poetry is a poetry of feeling pressed to an extreme; the pressure itself produces the compression and condensation of the work. The pressure of the imagination pressing back against reality, as Stevens called it, is very great: If you confine Greece, Keats, and Tennessee in the same chamber of your mind for a time, the amalgam solidifies into the famous stoneware jar and its preposterous sulky stanzas-- "Tell me, what form can possibly suit the slovenly wilderness?"

Back in 1989 I was talking to Michael Fischer, then chair in the Department of English at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, about my possible plans for a Ph.D. in American Literature there.I said I'd choose either one of the following three authors as my subject: Stevens, Faulkner, and Kenneth Burke. I didn't know what field to concentrate in: poetry, the novel, or criticism. I could have been an American critic; but it didn't happen. At that time my other plan was to move to Baton Rouge and LSU to write a dissertation on Edouard Glissant under his own supervision (Glissant was there at that time before his relocation to CUNY). And this didn't happen, either. I finally chose Seattle, the first American city I had set my foot on in 1972 and a city that I've been in love to this day. And the twenty years' detour began.

On immediacy

This from Gareth Stedman Jones's introduction to The Communist Manifest (Penguin Classics):

Like Feuerbach, Marx's aim was wholly to remove Hegel's mediations and return to immediacy. According to Feuerbach, the great defect of Hegel's philosophy was that it lacked 'immediate unity, immediate certainty, immediate truth'. In place of Hegel's process of bifurcation, mediation and reunion, what was needed was a philosophy of man as an immediate whole.

This notion of immediacy is utterly incomprehensive to me! To me, every unity, certainty, or truth need mediation of some kind. Man is incapable of grasping such without mediation. Hard to say, but in this respect Hegel seems to be right.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

On being funny--in an Irish way?

I am not a good reader of Beckett's, but occasionally I open an earlier work, Murphy, for example, and read a couple of pages. This to taste Sam's crazy style. Any one page contains such a paragraph as:

For an Irish girl Miss Counihan was quite exceptionally anthropoid. Wylie was not sure that he cared altogether for her mouth, which was a large one. The kissing surface was greater than the rosebud's, but less highly toned. Otherwise she did. It is superfluous to describe her, she was just like any other beautiful Irish girl, except, as noted, more markedly anthropoid. How far this constitutes an advantage is what every man must decide for himself.

Samuel Beckett, Murphy (1938)

An abominable sense of humour!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

An earlyriser

Picture this Derrida as an earlyriser, just like Valéry well before him:

Et il a toujours travaillé tôt le matin: levé à quatre, cinq heures, il écrit jusqu'à dix.

Max Genève, Qui a peur de Derrida? (2008)

I should follow his example, too.

A flight from meaning

Bersani and Dutoit write this:

In the modern period, various strategies have been adopted to reduce--ideally, to eliminate--this contamination of literature by the semantic promiscuity of its own materials: Mallarmé's radical reordering of syntax, Joyce's attempted reinvention of English in Finnegans Wake, and the modernist experiments (following the lead of Mallarmé's Un Coup de dés) with the visual representation of meaning in the page's design. These strategies are all intended to block or control the word's signifying power, to impede the otherwise inescapable production of meanings alien to this work of art.

Leo Bersani and Ulysse Dutoit, Arts of Impoverishment

A work of art trying to run away as far as possible from its inevitable meaning... this also is a very strange picture. Because in attempting to reduce meaning it is aiming at MEANING DIFFERENTLY than its original, "naturalistic" semanticity.

Interesting, but does it lead to anything interesting? If boredom is what they want, then I'd go for the Boredoms, rather. I mean, music is always there to avoid literal meanings.Why use language, in the first place?

Friday, January 23, 2009

O, saisons, o, SHADOWS!

Richard Holmes is one author I wanted to be, if I had another life, that is. His Footsteps surely belong to our list for the WALKING exhibition. Here is Holmes on Shelley:

In Act One of Prometheus Unbound, there is a haunting passage in which Shelley describes the "two worlds of life and death." Combining classical ideas of Hades, Platonic notions of the interne dreary spheres of daemons and the Dantean vision of the Christian Inferno, he suggests the existence of a world of "doubles," of "shadows" which repeat or mirror everything on earth, "all forms that think and live". These are not so much ghosts of the dead as ghosts of the living. We all have our doubles in this second world (the idea is most familiar nowadays in science fiction rather than poerty). Only at the moment of death or destruction are the real and the double united, "and they part no more." Thus to meet your double, or to see it attacking someone, signified imminent peril: death perhaps, or the invasion of the real, normal world by the world of shadows.

Richard Holmes, Footsteps (1985)

So that world co-exists with this one, not anywhere else but here, and it repeats everything that's happening here. The two are united only at the time of the former's destruction. Why then does the second exist? Only to show that the frist can never claim unicity. They are identical but for the fact that they are not the same. And this doubleness is the proof that you are alive... when dead, the two merges into one.

A very strange idea, indeed. Our life, being one, abhors its unicity. Or life, by its nature, needs constant differenciation. DIFFERANCE. We know how much Derrida was interested in British Romanticism.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Being inevitable, or as if

Here is what Bloom writes about the sublime:

The ancient idea of the sublime, as set forth by the Hellenistic critic we call "Longinus," seems to me the origin of my expectation that great poetry will possess an inevitability of phrasing. Longinus tells us that in the experience of the sublime we apprehend a greatness to which we respond by a desire for identification, so that we will become what we behold. Loftiness is a quality that emanates from the realm of aspiraion from what Wordsworth called a sense of something evermore ABOUT TO BE.

Harold Bloom, The Art of Reading Poetry (2004)

The process of a lingustic arrangement's becoming itself; the reader's identification with the process; the sense of anticipation that's exhilarating; and its postponed fulfillment---hence, the sublime.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Leonard Cohen

Bought a copy of Beautiful Losers by Leonard Cohen at Page One, Taipei, last week and read this page and that, without even guessing what this book is about. Some very intriguing passages such as:

It was a lovely day in Canada, a poignant summer day; so brief, so brief. It was 1664, sunny, dragonflies investigating the plash of paddles, porcupines sleeping on their soft noses, black-braided girls in the meadow plaiting grass into aromatic baskets, deer and braves sniffing the pine wind, dreaming of luck, two boys wrestling beside the palisade, embrace after embrace. The world was about two billion years old but the mountains of Canada were very young. Strange doves wheeled over Gandaouagué.

Beautiful Losers (1966)

Why am I attracted to such a passage? Of course I know the reason, and I wouldn't dare tell anybody. Because the mountains of Canada were very young, probably. Or shoud I say this manipulation of chronology?

Further on near the end is this remarkable sentence:

Let it be our skill to create legends out of the disposition of the stars, but let it be our glory to forget the legends and watch the night emptily.

Superb, Leo, superb, superb.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Dragnet Girl

Films this year:

8. Hijosen no onna (Dragnet Girl), Yasujiro Ozu (1933)

This is Ozu's silent masterpiece, set in Yokohama and conceived as a mélange of a gangster movie and a melodrama. Neatly done and thoroughly enjoyable. Ozu was not quite thirty years old, and the scenery depicted is not quite Japan, but not quite US either; a noman's land of cultural migration.

The sister of would-be gangster Hiroshi, Kazuko (?), is very lovely. Interestingly, the actress (name?) who portrayed her retired soon after and not much is known about her anymore but an attempted suicide...

Implicit theodicy

The following bit about the basic theodicy of modernity sounds true:

This implicit theodicy of all social order, of course, antecedes any legitimations, religious or otherwise. It serves, however, as the indispensable substratum on which later legitimating edifices can be constructed. It also expresses a very basic psychological constellation, without which it is hard to imagine later legitimations to be successful. Theodicy proper, then, as the religious legitimation of anomic phenomena, is rooted in certain crucial characteristics of human sociation as such.

Peter Burger, The Sacred Canopy (1967)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Sauf en moi, and yet

Some statements in this world are simply impossible to follow. Especially when it comes to matters of faith. This from the French poet-translator Jean Grosjean:

Dieu est partout sauf en moi et en même temps il me semble qu'il est plus en moi qu'autre part, plus en moi par son austérité et par sa miséricorde. Pourquoi si sévère? Et pourquoi si peu?

Jean Grosjean, Si peu (2001)

God is everywhere but in me. At the same time, one has the impression that God is in one's self than elsewhere. The logic is out of reach. God, as an absolute other, is by His austerity and compassion, also infiltrates me. This is the aldilà of transcendence / immanence question. Very strange. Very intriguing.

Misericordia! C'est ce que j'ai besoin...

Sunday, January 18, 2009

On sounding different

Here is an impressive passage from Richard Poirier:

The American writers I have been discussing have made the value of sound explicitly a subject of their work, and explicitly a resource for eccentricity. They suggest that the individual voice has in fact little else to depend on beyond the sounds it makes and, decidedly, those it refuses to make. [...] And yet, it should be apparent by now that in pressing their case the Americans simply SOUND different. They sound altogether less rhetorically embattled, less culturally ambitious than do any of these European cousins.

Richard Poirier, Poetry and Pragmatism (1992)

So it's all about becoming simple, wild, and... strange.

The Galaxy Train / Atanarjuat

Films this year:

6. Ginga tetsudo no yoru (The Night of the Galaxy Train), Gizaburo Sugii (1985).
7. Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner), Zakharias Kunuk (2001)

Last tuesday watched 6 with a couple of second-year students. Based on a hyper-famous story by Kenji Miyazawa, this animation is after Hiroshi Masumura's lovely all-cat characters comics version. Well-made, faithful, and as touching as the original. This term my undergraduate seminar students are expected to write on the story and I have my own theory about the whole structure of it, but will keep my mouth shut for a while.

7 is an EXTREME, TRULY OUTRAGEOUS masterpiece. This is the second time I watch it, but I still can't figure out the pre-history (one generation before, that is) part of the rivalry between Oki and Atanarjuat. All Inuit film based on an Inuit legend that calls for a GA (Eric Gans's generative anthropology, itself a development from René Girard's originary anthropology) kind of reading. Actually, I will write up my analysis one of these days, time permitting.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The war went on

Again from Henry Green's Pack My Bag:

The war went on, more and more people were killed. When our mothers visited us they often had news of relatives who had lost their lives. When they came down they were allowed to take us out to tea in the town and it was a rule we had made between ourselves that each of these times we should take a friend with us. This rule was unbreakable and it so happened that when a friend's father lost his life and his mother came down to read out his last letters home I went out with them and after tea we sat in that park I have described and they both cried over his letters as we sat with our backs against a tree. You would have thought this rule could be relaxed at such a time but there was no question of it. We always had boiled eggs when out for tea.

The passage talks about the unbreakable rules and its last sentence, "We always had boiled eggs when out for tea," is surprisingly efficient and fresh. Such is his power of mind that you are caught breathless. The kind of style I'd love to emulate.

Friday, January 16, 2009

On style

Some people's really got style. It comes so naturally to them, or so it seems. Henry Green is one such person. This from his mid-life autobiography:

They say the fox enjoys the hunt but the sound of the horn as he breaks covert must set great loneliness on him. When he knows by the cry of the pack at his heels that the huntsman has put the hounds on then surely in so far as animals can be expected to have feelings and however cruel they may be by nature fear must enter into it, he must fear for his life.

Henry Green, Pack My Bag (1940)

It's this great loneliness, beyond human loneliness, that sounds so true.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

In Taipei

For the first time since 1985 I am in Taipei. Visited National Chengchi University and was impressed by the level of facility and students' work at the School of Communication. A million thanks to Prof. Lu and his assistant Victor for showing me around.

Later I went atop the famous Taipei 101; the view was awesome. Then visited two quite nice bookstores: Eslite and Page One. Their selections of English books are much better than any bookstores in Tokyo, Kinokuniya or Junkudo.

Bought two books, both at Page One, after all:

Bill McKibben, Enough (2003)
Leonard Cohen, Beautiful Losers (1966)

I guess I will repeat the visit often in the pragmatically near future. Taiwan I think is one of the most interesting areas in the world. Luckily, I have several friends here. I got to be more serious about picking up as much Chinese as I can.

In the evening Martin Su treated me to a nice dinner with his family. Our encounter last time was back in 2004 in Tokyo. Next time I'll go south to Taichun to see Lee Shuen-shin, my friend and novelist. It's so nice that our orbits come across from time to time, if only for at most less than ten times a life.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Hazlitt on Burke

I really don't know what good prose is. But in English and when I think about finesse, Hazlitt comes to mind among the old-timers. For Hazlitt, it was Burke who showed the way. Here is what Hazlitt says on Burke's prose:

It has always appeared to me that the most perfect prose-style, the most powerful, the most dazzling, the most daring, that which went the nearest to the verge of poetry, and yet never fell over, was Burke's. It has the solidity, and sparkling effect of the diamond: all other fine writing is like French paste or Bristol-stones in the comparison. Burke's style is airy, flighty, adventurous, but it never loses sight of the subject; nay, is always in contact with, and derives its increased or varying impulse from it.

William Hazlitt, On the Prose-Style of Poets (1822)

"Airy, flighty, adventurous",I'd like to say the same for the most perfect prose fiction in American English in the latter half of the twentieth century: Marilynne Robinson's sublime Housekeeping.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Ah, les anglais...

Read pages from Jeremy Paxman's The English. Quite interesting. It gives me a very different picture of the English than I had in mind. I was talking to a friend from London this evening and now that's the city I'd like to visit most of all cities.

Here is Paxman:

Travel to England by the cross-channel train fron Paris to London and you can see the English indifference to the nation state at once. It is a journey from a city that, with its grand boulevards and avenues, proclaims a belief in central planning, to one that has just grown like Topsy. Paris remains a city when the government can still plough ahead with grands projets like La Défense or the Bastille Opera, whereas London can scarcely agree on a new statue.

Jeremy Paxman, The English (1998)

Two old world-cities... I'll see you both again soon, or so I hope.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Simon on Ted

What Simon has to say on Ted:

Hughes's magic was his writing. He made little black marks against clean white pages, marks that somehow detailed the absolute matter and manner of a bird or an eel or a foal or a wolf or a bear. At later dates and in distant locations, when we looked at those marks, when we read the poems, those creatures came to life. Out of nothing. Has any other magician ever pulled off a greater trick?

Simon Armitage's Introduction to Ted Hughes, Poems (2000)

Well put. I was not paying attention to Armitage but for this introduction, but the Japanese translation of his Kid appeared late last year and it read pretty good. An authentic successor to Hughes? Surely. I will read them side by side this year.

Rio Branco/Moriyama

Went to see a very interesting exhibition of photography; Miguel Rio Branco takes Tokyo and Daido Moriyama takes São Paulo. Together, they hold this show called A Quiet Gaze, Echoing Worlds. (But shouldn't the "gaze" be plural?)

Rio Branco's highly bio-chromatic (word? you know what I mean) images are dazzling. Moriyama is his usual self, but no less powerful than his Hawaii collection. Short documentary videos projected near the exit reveals the two photographers at work.

Watching it, I am very initerested in acquiring a GR21.

The chiasm rules!

Here is what Lawler says on the figure of chiasm:

Since the chiasm is a figure of great antiquity, shaping the Hebrew mentality according to N.W. Lund and functioning classically as a device suggesting completeness or closure and, in the Petrarchan tradition, as a convention of variety, it would perhaps be naive to read any intensely personal torment into Marvell's agonizing over his mistress's tyranny.

Celestial Pantomime (1979)

Quant à moi, I love chiasms. Chiasms, oxymorons, paradoxes... give an essential bite to any poetry.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A penchant for failure?

Now I know it; only those artists who tend to fail interest me. Here is Lawler's passage on Stevens:

E.A. Robinson has a sonnet called "Credo" which, like a few of Stevens's poems, seeks almost by an act of will to affirm the capability of the finite imagination's attaining the infinite reality---the very large difference between the two poets is that Stevens usually resigns himself to failure, whereas Robinson, as in the disastrous sestet to this sonnet, blindly and like a mechanical optimist affirms fulfillment.

Justus George Lawler, Celestial Pantomime (1979)

Resigning to fail, choosing to fail, whatever. I need more time to work on Stevens...

Friday, January 09, 2009

Extremely up close

Steven Shaviro talks about Godard's extremely close-up images: a pebble held in a hand in Weekend, and of coffee swirling in a cup in Deux ou trois choses que je sais d'elle.

Here is Shaviro:

The abberant scale and unfamiliar lighting of these images defamilializes their objects---or, better, forces us to stop regarding them AS referential objects. They appear in fixed shots, held for a long time: duration has become an independent dimension of the image, and is no longer a function of the time needed for cognition and action. The pebble and the coffee are neither useful nor significant; they work neither as things nor as signs. They are nothing but images, mutely and fascinating soliciting our attention. The pebble rests, the coffee swirls, filling the screen.

Steven Shaviro, The Cinematic Body (1993)

Shaviro is one person I failed to take a course with in Seattle in early 1990s. My friend Tsu-Chung Su from Taiwan had him as dissertation director. I often saw Shaviro at Eliott Bay (Book Company) in Seattle, but I don't think he remembers me at all. A missed encounter.


Films this year

5. Mondo, Tony Gatlif (1995)

Watched with some of my students Gatlif's heartbreaking Mondo, based on a short story by Le Clézio. This is my fourth or fifth viewing; this film is a gem. I like every bit of it. The cinematography is also excellent.

I'd like to review all of Gatlif, my favourite director, in the course of 2009.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

The Women's Sutra, The Munekata Sisters

Films this year:

3. Jokyo (The Women's Sutra), Masumura, Ichikawa, Yoshimura (1960).
4. Muneka kyodai (The Munekata Sisters), Yasujiro Ozu (1950).

3 is a very enjoyable omnibus film by three masterful directors, each using a star actress of the day. Yasuzo Masumura with his regular Ayako Wakao, Kon Ichikawa with fox-like Fujiko Yamamoto, and Kozaburo Yoshimura with demoniac Machiko Kyo. Each episode runs for 30 to 40 minutes, all of them very well-made, and occasionally very beautiful with real sceneries of Tokyo, Shonan, and Kyoto.

4 is narrated as a comedy but there is an undercurrent of something sinister. Madness is lurking at unexpected corners. The sisters are portrayed by two great actresses Kinuyo Tanaka and Hideko Takamine. Takamine with her funny face and essentially comic character is brilliant and lovable. The story is woven around the grave, cats, and chairs. You'll know what I mean when you see it.

Scapegoating Artaud

What exactly was society for Artaud? In his vision of the artist, that culminated in Van Gogh as a suicidee of society, the artist could not but be a scapegoat, whether s/he knew it or not.

L'art a pour devoir social de donner issue aux angoisses de son époque. L'artiste qui n'a pas ausculté le cœur de son époque, l'artiste qui ignore qu'il est un BOUC EMISSAIRE, que son devoir est d'aimanter, d'attirer, de faire tomber sur ses épaules les colères errantes de l'époque pour la décharger de son mal-être psychologique, celui-là n'est pas un artiste.

Antonin Artaud, "L'Anarchie sociale de l'art"

It may be more interesting if we read the verb in the phrase "scapegoating Artaud" both as transitive and intransitive. An artist is scapegoated, but at the same time it is s/he who chooses to become a scapegoat.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

On failure

It is interesting how Leo Bersani talks of Beckett's aesthetic of failure. For Bersani, Beckett "has yearned to fail more explicitly and more consistently than any other artists we know."

Here is the beginning of Bersani's essay on Beckett:

Perhaps the most serious reproach we can make against Samuel Beckett is that he has failed to fail. Failure is the ideal of nearly all Beckett's characters, and, in one of his rare theoretical statements, Beckett himself has said that "to be an artist is to fail, as no other dare fail, that failure is his world and the shrink from it desertion, art and craft, good housekeeping, living."

Leo Bersani and Ulysse Dutoit, Arts of Impoverishment (1993)

But this quotation from Beckett is hard to grasp. It's from "Three Dialogues" in Disjecta. Let me spend some time pondering on it.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Skin that coon!?

There are some racoons in my neighborhood and it's surprising considering the density of human population in the area. How do they survive, nobody knows. Wild animals. I hope one day they prevail in Tokyo.

Harold Rosenberg is widely considered a founding father of modern art criticism in the US. His seminal The Tradition of the New is dated, undeniablly, and some of the points are rather tedious, yet the style is still pretty funny and fresh. This bit about "coonskinism" is unforgettable:

[...] I call this anti-formal or trans-formal effect Coonskinism. The fellows behind the trees are "men without art," to use Wyndam Lewis' label for Faulkner and Hemingway. This does not mean that they do not know how to fight. They have studied manoeuvers among squirrels and grizzly bears and they trust their knowledge against the tradition of Caesar and Frederick. Their principle is simple: watch the object--if it's red, shoot!

Harold Rosenberg, The Tradition of the New (1959)

What we learn from this passage may only be a way to be funny in one's writing. But it's enjoyable. Strange, too.

Monday, January 05, 2009


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.

Milton Steinberg, Basic Judaism (1947)

How did this originate? To forbid being a scavenger? To avoid possible sickness caused by it? There is no way to tell, but rather intriguing. Is there any kind of psychological anthropomorphism working in all this?

A born outsider

Some people have naturally strong, powerful voices. They can be murmurs and rather ordinary in their explicit contents, yet curiously strong. One such person is Leslie Marmon Silko, undoubtedly one of the greatest American novelists living.

Here is what she says about her childhood:

My earliest memories are of being outside, under the sky. I remember climbing the fence when I was three years old, and heading for the plaza in the center of Laguna village because other children passing by had told me there were KA'TSINAS there dancing with pieces of wood in their mouths. A neighbor, a woman, retrieved me before I ever saw the wood-swallowing ka'tsinas, but from an early age I knew I wanted to be outside: outside walls and fences.

Simon Ortiz ed., Speaking for the Generations (1998)

OUTSIDE is really the keyword. Personally, I would never want to die INSIDE any human-made structure, let alone a hospital. I want to leave this world outside, under the sky, in the immediacy of the elements.

Thus I belong to Leslie's pack.

The Burmese Harp (Kon Ichikawa)

Watched two versions consecutively. Ichikawa's popular The Burmese Harp was first released in 1956, when the memory of war was not alien to the Japanese ethos. Then after so many years he self-remade the film in 1985. This, too, was popular enough, suitable to his well-established statue as master film director.

The 1985 version is in color and slightly longer. It's got some good moments of cinematography, yet the 1956 original is infinitely better.

One big blunder of the story (not the director's fault but the novelist's) is that in local buddhism music is prohibited to monks! Tant pis! Yet the framework of the story is convincing enough and it's not hard to imagine that it responded to the collective trauma left by the war.

Not much is depicted about local people, though. Knowing this weakness I think Ichikawa tried to present, although remaining silent, as many local faces as possible in the 1985 version. But the production was supported by a major TV company and it must have lead to some easy mise-en-scène here and there.

Still, it was interesting to watch the two in this fashion.

Films this year
1. Biruma no tategoto (The Burmese Harp), Kon Ichikawa (1956).
2. Biruma no tategoto (The Burmese Harp), Kon Ichikawa (1985).

Chestov according to Bonnefoy

On reading an interview, I found it interesting that Yves Bonnefoy was initially influenced by Léon Chestov (1866-1938). Russian born philosopher who is not read anymore but Chestov was a crucially important figure for those who were interested both in literature and philosophy, or, in short, existentialist reading of texts. He was from Kiev and his real name was Jehuda Schwarzmann. Sounds like Robert Zimmerman turning to Bob Dylan.

Here is what Bonnefoy says:

Chestov, avec Le Pouvoir des clefs, puis Athènes et Jérusalem, m'aida brusquement à voir ce que doit être l'objet, le seul objet de la conscience et de sa parole: un être qui est, là, devant nous, en son instant et son lieu. Mais je lisais aussi Kierkegaad--Les Quatre étapes sur le chemin de la vie--, aidé par les admirables Etude kierkegaardiennes de Jean Wahl, que je puis dire mon maître. Et bientôt j'avais découvert Eros et Agapé, de Nyguen, qui analysa avec une vigueur et une clarté avant lui, me semble-t-il, inconnue la nature complexe et même contradictoire du mouvement qui nous porte vers, justement, ce qui est.

Yves Bonnefoy, Entretiens sur la poèsie (1990)

An aspect of Chestov that's so intriguing is that he was a great traveller. His life was a seris of displacements, especially before he installed in Paris. He also had a passionate interest in Palestina. What would he have said, if he were to see the current state of affairs in the area?

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Kenner on McLuhan

In my old copy of Hugh Kenner's Mazes, this paragraph is highlighted. I must have done it in 1992 or thereabouts, in Seattle:

What always saved him was his ability to get interested in something else. Nothing was too trivial. "Let us check on this," he would say, and steer the two of us into a movie house, where we stayed for twenty minutes. "Enough." Out in the light he extemporized an hour of analysis.

Hugh Kenner, Mazes (1989)

This kind of restlessness I surely share, which has caused me a lot of trouble in life. But the skill to extemporize I still need to elaborate, if only to keep these two great, mad Canadians company!

Marshall's got his style, Hugh's got his style. I seek my own in their shadows.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Narrating Julien

Here is what Peter Brooks says about Stendhalian narrators:

The narrator constantly judges Julien in relation to his chosen models, measuring his distance from them, noting his failures to understand them, his false attributions of success to them, and the fictionality of the constructions he builds from them. As Victor Brombert has so well pointed out, the Stendhalian narrator typically uses hypothetical grammatical forms, asserting that if only Julien had understood such and such, he would have done so and so, with results different from those to which he condemns himself.

Peter Brooks, Reading for the Plot (1984)

The narrator's pedagogic desire aimed both at Julien and the readers?

Friday, January 02, 2009

Spinoza & co.

[...] many rabbis kept their distance from the Judaizing Marranos, refusing to recognize them as Jews. It is ironic that while these Marranos were risking their lives in order to be faithful to what they thought was the religion of their forefathers, the official Jewish world refused to welcome them as brethren, at least not without misgivings and thorough examination.

Yirmiyahu Yovel, Spinoza and Other Heretics (1989)

Yovel's book is one that I've been meaning to read in earnest, but haven't been able to find time to do so. Full of dazzling moments. My knowledge of Spinoza is only rudimentary, this will one day be my Spinoza 101 (more than Deleuze's books).

Another very attractive paragraph:

Spinoza was not the first philosopher of immenence; pre-Socratics, Epicureans, and Stoics had preceded him in ancient times. But with Spinoza the idea of immanence, powerfully systematized, re-emerged after having been discredited and repressed by the overpowering weight of medieval Christianity.


Spinozism is so different from what we usually picture on hearing the word Judeo-Christian monotheism. Something to be done on its affinity with some aspects of hinduism and buddhism. That, of course, must have been done already, but I, this I, have not. Hence this note.

*Yovel is the founder of the Jerusalem Spinoza Institute and professor (former?) at New School for Social Research in New York.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Reconsidering inhabitation

Happy new year to y'all.

The year 2009 marks the twentieth anniversary of my moving to Nuevo Mexico and to my beloved Albuquerque... Time has passed, I got older, but no wiser. It's so nice to start anew anyways, or to pretend to do so, at this beginning of the year. On recommence toujours, and that's (as Stanley Cavell once said) very American. This possiblitiy of renewal is at the core of what is America.

This year I will daily update this blog with notes from my personal library, in view of connecting various strains of thought seemingly unrelated one from the other. This will be an experimental field of the CONNECTIVE HUMANITIES, or so I hope.

"As a result, the philosophers who followed Plato and Aristotle, if they still sought balance and fullness of life, no longer dared to seek it in the city. They betrayed their own creed by dodging their civic responsibilities or by turning to an idealized empire or a purely heavenly polity for confirmation; whereas those who took on the burdens of commerce, politics, and war had no place in their muddy routine for the highest possibilities of personal development. The monuments of Greek art, which we now prize, were valid expressions of this life at its loftiest moments. But in part they were likewise material substitutes for a spirit that, had it known the secret of its own perpetuation, might have made an even more valuable contribution both to urbanism and to human development."

Lewis Mumford, The City in History (1961)

Mumford will definitely be a chapter in my future project on American thoughtscape, along with Loren Eiseley, Rachel Carson, Gary Snyder among others. This also has been on my mind for a couple of decades without materializing itself... But I sense that things are beginning to take shape. By 2018 this will see the day (promises, promises...).