Friday, July 31, 2009
As if one's moral fibre didn't show itself precisely in the ability to overcome social, sexual or racial prejudices and predicaments - and to stop grumbling about everything and everyone, for god's sake, when you are, first and foremost, the one to blame.
How far can one take self-absorption and blind refusal? How far can one waste one's life inside a protective shell, when life is so short, so pitifully short...?
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
body. It is so quite new a thing.
Muscles better and nerves more.
i like your body. i like what it does,
i like its hows. i like to feel the spine
of your body and its bones, and the trembling
-firm-smooth ness and which i will
again and again and again
kiss, i like kissing this and that of you,
i like, slowly stroking the, shocking fuzz
of your electric furr, and what-is-it comes
over parting flesh....And eyes big love-crumbs,
and possibly i like the thrill
of under me you so quite new
e. e. cummings, from & (1925)
as she stands, with her long hard hands keeping
silence on her dress, good for sleeping
is her long hard body filled with surprise
like a white shocking wire, when she smiles
a hard long smile it sometimes makes
gaily go clean through me tickling aches,
and the weak noise of her eyes easily files
my impatience to an edge--my girl's tall
and taut, with thin legs just like a vine
that's spent all of its life on a garden-wall,
and is going to die. When we grimly go to bed
with these legs she begins to heave and twine
about me, and to kiss my face and head.
e. e. cummings
Saturday, July 25, 2009
At dusk, after rain, all the birds from the neighbourhood seem to gather on the wires opposite my window, with some secret, unfathomable design (or maybe none in particular). They hang there for half an hour or so producing a deafening chirp and all of a sudden the flashmob disperses and everybody goes their separate ways.
I wonder if they communicate by SMS or are on Facebook or maybe Twitter... They do twitter a lot indeed, the little bastards.
Here are a few priceless gems by a unique Chinese performance artist I worship, Li Wei, interspersed with some of his words of wisdom.
[Li Wei] says that much of his work is about change: 'there is a feeling of losing a grip on things, an uncertainty about the morrow. It’s a feeling of hanging in the air, of having nothing firm under the feet'.
About the Fall photographs, Li Wei says, 'this feeling of having fallen headfirst into something and of having nothing firm under the feet is familiar to everyone. One doesn’t have to fall from another planet to feel it'.
Li has said that much of his work involves the symbolic balancing act between personal freedom and emotional security, such as that of the family.
A Pause for Humanity (Beijing, 2005)
Source, including photographs and captions: http://www.guardian.co.uk/arts/gallery/2008/apr/30/photography.chinaarts2008?picture=333839247
Thursday, July 23, 2009
The Japanese are resolutely of the here and the now, and this, to be sure, limits them. In the same way, one of the ways they have learned to survive in a sometimes quaking, ocasionally flooded, and always overcrowded archipelago is to prepare themselves, daily, continually, for the worst. If it does not come, they have had a good day. I have always wondered why Seneca is not a best seller here. His stoic admonitions would find, I should think, one hundred million pairs of willing ears. Do not fear the future - if it is too terrible, you will die; if you do not die, it could not have been too terrible. Such thoughts, so very Asian-sounding, might, one would believe, find a ready audience.
That they do not is largely because the Japanese - different in this from the Indians, from the Chinese - are not self-conscious except in the lowest and most social sense. They are literally not conscious of self and they literally have no conscience - Western man's pride and pain - at all. Thus Ruth Benedict's conclusion that they have an abundance of social shame but not a shred of private guilt is probably true. A thing is not a crime unless you are caught; nothing is bad except something that fails - and even then there is always the sense of shikata ga nai* to fall back on.
One can imagine what a Dostoievski or a Melville would have made of such a place. Here the very conflict that gives all meaning to Western life does not exist. It is not merely ironed out or hidden. It quite literally does not exist, has never even been imagined. Its mysterious attractions may be felt in whatever little a Japanese derives from a reading of Crime and Punishment, but, unless he is so awed by the idea of Literature that his mind numbs, I can imagine him first asking himself what was the matter with Raskolnikov, to carry on so about his crime when no one but himself knew anything about it and it would never have been known if only he had kept his mouth shut.
One can imagine, with more pleasure, what a Henry Fielding or a Jane Austen would have made of the country. Both would have criticized. He would have exposed, in the midst of laughter, the most awful discrepancies and she would have observed with her loving but cutting irony many an abyss between intention and fact.
Donald Richie, The Inland Sea (1971; Berkeley, CA: Stone Bridge Press, 2002), pp. 41-42.
*The link is to another must-read, a fine piece by Hugh Cortazzi on the fatalistic and passive 'shikata ga nai' (it can't be helped) mentality and its dangers in a supposedly 'democratic' society.
Photograph: The Estate of André Kertész/Courtesy of Stephen Bulger Gallery
A generous tribute to the power of words and reading - and to the work of a great, great photographer.
Blake Morrison on André Kertész's photographic celebration of the joy of the written word
The Guardian, Thursday 23 July 2009
One of my favourite André Kertész photographs shows two young men sitting with their backs to a tree, each absorbed in a book. Both are wearing glasses; both use their thighs as a lectern; the one facing forwards is black, the other, in profile (a dead ringer for Woody Allen), is white. Their proximity suggests they know each other and are friends. And given the time and place of the composition, the photo could serve as an icon of the civil rights movement – racial harmony as observed in Washington Square, New York City, 1969. What's equally striking, though, is how separate the two men are, how oblivious to each other's presence (and to the camera). They might be friends but their real companions are their books. [see photo here]
The Budapest-born Kertész enjoyed a long life (1894-1985), visited many countries and was involved in several different artistic movements. But wherever he went and whatever the commission, a constant preoccupation was with people reading. In one of his earliest and most moving images, three small boys (two of them barefoot) crouch over a book in a Hungarian street in 1915; in one of the last, a young woman stands reading in the shadow of a vast Henry Moore statue. Ferocious concentration is common to both. The act of reading involves no action, beyond turning the page. But the mental activity is intense, and it's this that fascinates Kertész.
When paintings and sculptures depict a man or woman with a book, this usually signifies that they are studious, saintly, noble and wise – persons of substance. Kertész's approach is different. Apart from one semi-surrealist shot of Peggy Guggenheim, with an open book in the foreground, he has no interest in the great and good. The Bowery bum retrieving a newspaper from a wastebin; a woman kneeling over a text in a Manila market; gondoliers, circus performers and street vendors snatching time between work duties to peruse a book or magazine – Kertész's subjects are often people you wouldn't expect to see reading. What the camera captures is their thirst for knowledge or hunger to escape their circumstances. One memorable image features a boy sitting in a New York doorway in 1944, amid a heap of newspapers left there to alleviate the wartime shortage ("Paper is needed now! Bring it at any time," reads the poster behind him). Times are hard yet the boy looks perfectly happy: amid the detritus, he has found a page of comic strips.
Whereas books are traditionally thought of as an indoor pursuit, most of Kertész's subjects are caught reading outdoors. The venues aren't just parks and beaches. There's a whole sequence of images taken in Greenwich Village in the 1960s and 70s, showing people reading high above the street, on tenement rooftops, penthouse balconies, metal stair-ladders and window ledges. Enrapt as they are, the readers seem indifferent to the chimneys, ventilation pipes and washing lines that surround them: away from the crowds, each has found a space to be alone. The setting is tough and urban. Yet there's a spiritual quality, too – reading as a stairway to heaven.
Portrait painters evoke the spiritual intensity of reading by coming in tight on the face and body: the lowered eyes, the meditative brow, the hands piously folded under the spine of the text. The illustrations in Alberto Manguel's wonderful book A History of Reading include countless examples of this, not least the painting which serves as its cover, Gustav Adolph Hennig's Reading Girl. In Kertész's photos, by contrast, the perspectives are longer and the subjects unaware that they are subjects: he shoots from a distance, so that we see the surrounding environment rather than the title of the book that's being read. The lack of close-ups isn't an obstacle, since the faces of readers give nothing away: their only engagement is with the book. The light and shade emphasise the transcendental power of reading. Here are people on an inner journey, while physically remaining still.
Kertész didn't live to see the age of the internet or to hear the funeral rites for the age of print. But his photos of readers aren't just a historical document or an exercise in nostalgia. The essential image he works with is timeless: human interaction with the written word. The physical forms in which we receive the word may be changing. But even when ebooks and Blackberries have taken over, that central image will remain: a text held in the hand and a head bowed over it. Andre Kertész, On Reading, is at the Photographers' Gallery, 16-18 Ramillies St, London W1 until 4 October.
Source (incl. photo): http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2009/jul/23/andre-kertesz-photography-reading
Films of the mating behavior of most other species . . . demonstrate that the female chooses. Males pursue, show off, brawl, scuffle, and make general fools of themselves for love. A major failing of most feminist ideology is its dumb, ungenerous stereotyping of men as tyrants and abusers, when in fact . . . men are tormented by women's flirtatiousness and hemming and hawing, their manipulations and changeableness, their humiliating rejections. Cock teasing is a universal reality. It is part of women's merciless testing and cold-eyed comparison shopping for potential mates. Men will do anything to win the favor of women. Women literally size up men -- "what can you show me?" -- in bed and out. If middle-class feminists think they conduct their love lives perfectly rationally, without any instinctual influences from biology, they are imbeciles.
Camille Paglia, "No Law in the Arena: A Pagan Theory of Sexuality", in Vamps & Tramps: New Essays (London: Viking, 1995), p. 35.
Monday, July 20, 2009
The history of European love poetry begins with the Greek lyric poets of the Archaic age (7th-6th centuries B.C.). Archilochus, Mimnermus, Sappho, and Alcaeus turn poetry away from the grand epic style toward the quiet personal voice, attentive to mood and emotion. [. . .] Sappho and Alcaeus were active on Lesbos, an affluent island off the Aeolian coast of Asia Minor, where aristocratic women apparently had more freedom than later in classical Athens. Sappho is primarily a love poet, uninterested in politics or metaphysics.
The nature of her love has caused much controversy and many fabrications, some by major scholars. Sappho was married, and she had a daughter, but her poetry suggests that she fell in love with a series of beautiful girls, who moved in and out of her coterie (not a school, club or cult). There is yet no evidence, however, that she had physical relations with women. Even the ancients, who had her complete works, were divided about her sexuality.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
Sex in our age has become gladiatorial, with male and female, gay and straight whipping and goading each other for position. This is our lot. We must accept it and devise a simple new rule book and training regime that puts combatants on equal footing. Neither women nor gays should plead for special protections or preferential treatment. The arena is the social realm, marked off from nature but ritually formalizing nature's aggressions. My libertarian position is that, in the absence of physical violence, sexual conduct cannot and must not be legislated from above, that all intrusion by authority figures into sex is totalitarian.
The ultimate law of the sexual arena is personal responsibility and self-defense. We must be prepared to go it alone, without the infantilizing assurances of external supports like trauma counselors, grievance committees, and law courts. I say to women: get down in the dirt, in the realm of the senses. Fight for your territory, hour by hour. Take your blows like men. I exalt the pagan personae of athlete and warrior . . . whose ethic is candor, discipline, vigilance and valor.
Camille Paglia, "No Law in the Arena: A Pagan Theory of Sexuality", in Vamps & Tramps: New Essays (London: Viking, 1995), pp. 23-24.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
I have already elaborated at length on these new perplexing forms of masculinity and their... erm... idiosyncrasies here and here. I can't resist, however, reproducing this recent article from The Japan Times.
'Herbivorous men' are new consumer kings
By TOMOKO ARIMA
Some manufacturers are beginning to cater to those born in the late 1970s and after who are changing patterns of consumption with their emphasis on reasonably priced goods.
Koji Munemori, 34, of the Tokyo branch of the Daimaru department store chain, said he did not imagine that men would line up to buy macaroons made by Pierre Herme Paris on "White Day," a holiday one month after Valentine's Day when men give gifts to their girlfriends in return for presents they have received.
He said he hadn't thought men were so familiar with sweets and was taken by surprise to find out how knowledgeable they were, adding that sales were up 40 percent from last year.
A 30-year-old salaryman from Shiga Prefecture is one of these men with a sweet tooth. He stops by a big-name store to buy cakes every time he pays a visit home and enjoys eating them with his mother.
He neither drinks alcohol nor smokes cigarettes and lives in a clean, neatly kept room.
"Since they've never been part of an economic boom, they don't like to spend money out of vanity. They might even feel guilty if they purchase expensive goods," said writer Megumi Ushikubo, 41, who has written about the soshokukei phenomenon.
These men make heavy use of information available and buy seemingly valuable merchandise at reasonable prices, she said. They may buy goods carrying price tags ranging from several thousand to several tens of thousands of yen, but they do not buy automobiles and houses.
Ushikubo said soshokukei men are generally content with reasonable salaries and working hours but are overly sensitive to criticism and tend to be told what to do.
Major cosmetics maker Shiseido Co. has a range of cosmetics for men under the brand name Shiseido Men, including eye cream and skin care lotion.
It has been posting annual double-digit increases in sales since it first marketed the cosmetics in 2004.
"Men's obsessions have shifted from automobiles and shoes to their own appearance," a company employee in charge of men's cosmetics said.
Meanwhile, Suntory Ltd., maker of alcoholic beverages and soft drinks, in March started selling Protein Water for young men seeking a slender and muscular body. In one month, it sold half of the total it had planned to sell in a year.
Standard men's underwear previously was conservatively colored and priced at ¥1,000 for a set of three. Now, those with printed patterns in a variety of colors, including red and pink, are popular at Hankyu Men's department store in Osaka. Sales of imported underwear priced at ¥4,000 to ¥5,000 each are also doing well.
"The reason companies cannot sell their products to young people is because middle-aged executives are critical of soshokukei people and do not sell merchandise for them," said Toshihiro Ota of Itochu Fashion System Co. "If they listened to the opinions of young soshokukei employees, they would know what kind of merchandise sells well."
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Monday, July 13, 2009
The proper way to eat a fig, in society,
Is to split it in four, holding it by the stump,
And open it, so that it is a glittering, rosy, moist, honied, heavy-petalled four-petalled flower.
Then you throw away the skin
Which is just like a four-sepalled calyx,
After you have taken off the blossom with your lips.
But the vulgar way
Is just to put your mouth to the crack, and take out the flesh in one bite.
Every fruit has its secret.
The fig is a very secretive fruit.
As you see it standing growing, you feel at once it is symbolic:
And it seems male.
But when you come to know it better, you agree with the Romans, it is female.
The Italians vulgarly say, it stands for the female part; the fig-fruit:
The fissure, the yoni,
The wonderful moist conductivity towards the centre.
The flowering all inward and womb-fibrilled;
And but one orifice.
The fig, the horse-shoe, the squash-blossom.
There was a flower that flowered inward, womb-ward;
Now there is a fruit like a ripe womb.
It was always a secret.
That's how it should be, the female should always be secret.
There never was any standing aloft and unfolded on a bough
Like other flowers, in a revelation of petals;
Silver-pink peach, venetian green glass of medlars and sorb-apples,
Shallow wine-cups on short, bulging stems
Opening pledging heaven:
Here's to the thorn in flower! Here is to Utterance!
The brave, adventurous rosaceae.
Folded upon itself, and secret unutterable,
The milky-sapped, sap that curdles milk and makes ricotta,
Sap that smells strange on your fingers, that even goats won't taste it;
Folded upon itself, enclosed like any Mohammedan woman,
Its nakedness all within-walls, its flowering forever unseen,
One small way of access only, and this close-curtained from the light;
Fig, fruit of the female mystery, covert and inward,
Mediterranean fruit, with your covert nakedness,
Where everything happens invisible, flowering and fertilization, and fruiting
In the inwardness of your you, that eye will never see
Till it's finished, and you're over-ripe, and you burst to give up your ghost.
Till the drop of ripeness exudes,
And the year is over.
And then the fig has kept her secret long enough.
So it explodes, and you see through the fissure the scarlet.
And the fig is finished, the year is over.
That's how the fig dies, showing her crimson through the purple slit
Like a wound, the exposure of her secret, on the open day.
Like a prostitute, the bursten fig, making a show of her secret.
That's how women die too.
The year is fallen over-ripe,
The year of our women.
The year of our women is fallen over-ripe.
The secret is laid bare.
And rottenness soon sets in.
The year of our women is fallen over-ripe.
When Eve once knew in her mind that she was naked
She quickly sewed fig-leaves, and sewed the same for the man.
She'd been naked all her days before,
But till then, till that apple of knowledge, she hadn't had the fact on her mind.
She got the fact on her mind, and quickly sewed fig leaves.
And women have been sewing ever since.
But now they stitch to adorn the bursten fig, not to cover it.
They have their nakedness more than ever on their mind,
And they won't let us forget it.
Now, the secret
Becomes an affirmation through moist, scarlet lips
That laugh at the Lord's indignation.
What then, good Lord! cry the women.
We have kept our secret long enough.
We are a ripe fig.
Let us burst into affirmation.
They forget, ripe figs won't keep.
Ripe figs won't keep.
Honey-white figs of the north, black figs with scarlet inside, of the south.
Ripe figs won't keep, won't keep in any clime.
What then, when women the world over have all bursten into self-assurance?
And bursten figs won't keep?
D. H. Lawrence, from Birds, Beasts and Flowers, in Selected Poems, pp. 96-99.
Good husbands make unhappy wives
so do bad husbands, just as often;
but the unhappiness of a wife with a good husband
is much more devastating
than the unhappiness of a wife with a bad husband.
D. H. Lawrence, from Pansies, Selected Poems (London: Penguin, 1986), p. 199.
Friday, July 10, 2009
Life without men
Scientists claim to have grown human sperm in a lab, and columnists and bloggers are musing on the possibility of a world where men are no longer needed.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
. . . I'm hurt, abused. I slice me.
I burn me. I hit me. I want this body to die. I want to be
old and undesired.
I want my body back -
society, culture and history
media, entertainment and art
I'm more than a hole
But you hate us because we can have babies and you
I'm more than a hole
But you envy us because we have children who
love us unconditionally.
I'm more than a set of tits
But if I don't have the right size for you
I'm never enough for you
So, we make implants and surgery just for you.
We create a woman that never existed.
It's survival of the female species.
And I'm more than a pair of legs
But if they don't do more than walk
I'm a dog.
If I nurse and my tits sag
And I'm told you won't desire me
You can't be a mother and a whore
No one loves a smart woman
I'm more than a piece of ass, a good fuck and lay
For the woman - our society only relates and values
you for your desirability.
The Woman is Private Property.
Karen Finley, from We Keep Our Victims Ready, in A Different Kind of Intimacy: The Collected Writings of Karen Finley (New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 2000), pp. 95-96.
Sunday, July 5, 2009
to all the 'kokoro-no-semai soshokukeis' of the world... - and to those 'damn Buddhists', as the poet called them... 
The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom;
The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction;
One law for the lion and ox is oppression . . .
William Blake, 'Proverbs of Hell', from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.
and only then.
Touch comes slowly, if ever; it seeps
slowly up in the blood of men and women.
Soft slow sympathy
of the blood in me, of the blood in here
rises and flushes insidiously
over the conscious personality
of each of us, and covers us
with a soft one warmth, and a generous
kindled togertheness, so we go
into each other as tides flow
under a moon they do no know.
Personalities exist apart;
and personal intimacy has no heart.
Touch is of the blood
uncontaminated, the unmental flood.
When again in us
the soft blood softly flows together
towards touch, then this delirious
day of mental welter and belter
will be passing away, we shall cease to fuss.
D. H. Lawrence, The Complete Poems.
Friday, July 3, 2009
‘Give me the democracy of touch, the resurrection of the body!’ Thus exclaims one of the characters in D. H. Lawrence’s (in)famous Lady Chatterley’s Lover, echoing the author’s stress on the importance of touch and his apology for a new relation with the body, which he envisaged as perforce physical. Direct human touch and its mysteries.
Speaking of which, here goes another mystery - and one which puzzles me perhaps even more than the prevalent ‘kokoro no semasa’ in this land of the setting sun: most people’s extreme reluctance to touch others, to kiss, to hug, to cuddle. If you are a tactile and affectionate person, then you are bound to feel utterly forlorn and inadequate amidst all the social ice. Not to mention that you have to constantly refrain your natural impulses, lest you scare the living daylights out of some poor guy with an impromptu social kiss or a slight hand touch. I, for one, feel so deprived of human touch among native folks that every time I return to Europe I have to hold back tears of happiness whenever I can unrestrainedly touch hands with or kiss another human being. What a joy, what a relief!
Little wonder, then, that Japan is considered ‘the world’s least sexy nation’. Or that a recent survey has revealed that more than 80 percent (!) of new recruits would choose to work if asked to do overtime rather than go out on a date. Or that most urban single young men are ‘not interested in dating girls [nor boys, I presume...], having relationships, or even having sex’, and that they are much more – or exclusively - interested in themselves, that is to say, in fashion & shopping and, of course, in wanking online. In Europe we call these narcissistic young fellows 'metrosexuals’ or ‘mirror men’; in Japan, they are soshokukei, ‘herbivorous’ or ‘herbivores’. Why say more?...
Hail, brave new world! Brave new world indeed.