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Posts Tagged ‘Japan’

Jumping from Bridges

May 26, 2016 | by

The Golden Gate Bridge under construction.

The Golden Gate Bridge under construction.

This essay by M. F. K. Fisher appeared posthumously in our Spring 1995 issue. Fisher died in 1992. Her previously unpublished novel, The Theoretical Foot, was released earlier this year.

Now I am thinking about jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge, and about other places where people have jumped to their deaths for many years. I think I should find out more about this, for I have an idea that there is some sort of collection of spirit strength or power or love in them that says no, or yes, or now.

I feel very strongly that this is true about the Golden Gate Bridge. Today, I heard that people are trying once more to build a kind of suicide-prevention railing along its side, which would keep us from seeing the bay and the beautiful view of the city. I haven’t read much about suicide lately, but I believe that almost 98 percent of such deaths leave more evil than good after them. Even my husband Dillwyn’s death, which I feel was justified, left many of us with some bad things. And when my brother died, about a year after Timmy did, my mother asked me very seriously if I felt that Timmy’s death had influenced David to commit his own suicide, which to me remains a selfish one, compared to the first. I said, “Of course, yes! I do think so, Mother.” And I did think then that Timmy’s doing away with himself helped my young brother David to kill himself, a year later. But there was really no connection; we don’t know what the limit of tolerance is in any human being. Read More »

Pockets—They’re Still Great! And Other News

March 23, 2016 | by

Pockets!

  • The cafard and mirthlessness that have long governed French philosophers have now extended to French writers of all kinds—a new survey says they’ve never been unhappier. Their proposed solution? Surrender. “French writers have never felt more badly paid, undervalued, or under pressure … More than half of established authors earn less than the minimum wage. Many are so depressed by the state of the book industry that they are considering giving up altogether, according to a new report that canvassed more than 100,000 authors of fiction and nonfiction … Although exact comparisons are difficult to make, French writers appear to be still doing better than their British or American equivalents.”
  • BREAKING: Nicholson Baker loves pockets. Give him a good pair of pockets, he’s happier than a pig in shit. And who isn’t, really? You gonna look me in the eye and tell me you don’t like pockets? “I’m a pocket-loving guy,” Baker says in a new podcast. “At any moment I got a couple pens—like why would you have just one pen? For a long time I tried to do everything with pockets … the pocketing of things. The prestidigitational trickery of being able to move things from the world of public visibility into a private place. It sort of feels to me like writing. Or I guess, what I like about writing, is that paragraphs take your most personal observations, or embarrassments sometimes, fantasies, whatever they are, and you fill them up, and it feels as if you’re putting them away or you’re stowing them, you’re pocketing them. But then because of the weird and wonderful act of publishing, you’re making public what you have hidden.”
  • Terry Southern’s letters are full of the humor you’d expect from him, Will Stephenson writes—but as windows into his personal life, they’re curiously opaque. “There’s something cold about Southern’s persona, in other words—he’s always in character, always on. The letters come complete with scenes and dialogue—a voice that’s arch and faux-pretentious, recalling the comedian Lord Buckley—and his habit of signing them under false names only thickens the fog. Reading the book, I wondered whether Southern would have really wanted to see it published, or whether that matters. I wondered whether I even liked Terry Southern anymore, having read it … The majority of these letters, though, have to do with the labor and economics of writing … In some ways, this is the major theme of the collection—where is the next check going to come from?”
  • Alex Mar on Doreen Valiente, once dubbed “the mother of modern paganism,” who believed that witchcraft was simply a means of accessing one’s own power: “One particular image of Doreen Valiente tells two unresolvable stories at once. In this black-and-white portrait, perhaps taken in the fifties at her home in Brighton, she is, at first glance, a suburban wife seated before a pale curtain, wearing a patterned cocktail dress, a string of stones around her neck. (She was in her thirties then, her jet-black hair cut short in a wavy bob, her lips and brows painted in.) But then the photograph becomes complicated: spread before her on a table is an altar laid out with a crystal ball, a bowl, rope, candles, and incense; in one hand she holds up a large bell, in the other a ritual knife … She is the Nerd Queen, a person of rare esoteric knowledge. She is Doreen Valiente, the Mother of Modern Witchcraft … ‘I had never felt any objection to working in the nude,’ she writes. ‘On the contrary, it was fun to be free and to dance out the circle in freedom.’ ”
  • I consider it part of my job to keep you abreast of quiet advances in the robot-writing community—so you should know that artificial intelligences can now write well enough to make headway in literary contests. “In Japan, a short novel co-written by an artificial intelligence program (its co-author is human) made it past the first stage of a literary contest … Humans decided the plot and character details of the novel, then entered words and phrases from an existing novel into a computer, which was able to construct a new book using that information … The prize committee didn’t disclose which of the four computer co-written entries advanced in the competition. The Japan News reports that one of the submitted books is titled The Day a Computer Writes a Novel, which ends with the sentences ‘I writhed with joy, which I experienced for the first time, and kept writing with excitement. The day a computer wrote a novel. The computer, placing priority on the pursuit of its own joy, stopped working for humans.’ ”

Dord, and Other News

February 24, 2016 | by

Dord!

  • Foupe, adventine, dentize, kime, morse—these and other non-word words have made their way into English-language dictionaries over the centuries, blurring the line between errata and neologisms. Philologists call them ghost words, and they’re mainly the result of printers’ errors. Jack Lynch writes of the most famous example, from 1934: “Webster’s included many abbreviations in its wordlist, and the compilers planned to include the abbreviation for density … One lexicographer—Austin M. Patterson, special editor for chemistry—typed a 3" × 5" card explaining the abbreviation: he headed it ‘D or d’ … But when it came time to transcribe the card, someone misread it and ran the letters together without spaces, producing ‘Dord, density’ … The entry made it into the dictionary as ‘dord, density.’ It took five years for a Merriam editor to notice the strange entry … The printer removed dord from the next reprint, filling the otherwise empty line by adding a few letters to the entry for doré furnace.”
  • While we’re on dictionaries: Are they sexist? Well, yes. Are they irretrievably sexist? That depends … “Feminists and linguists have been talking about the sexism that lurks beneath the surface of dictionaries since at least the nineteen-sixties … In 1987, the radical philosopher and activist Mary Daly wrote an entry for a word of her own coinage: ‘Dick-tionary, n: any patriarchal dictionary: a derivative, tamed and muted lexicon compiled by dicks.’ Rooting out the sexism in dictionaries was a priority for feminism’s second wave. The nineteen-seventies and eighties witnessed a profusion of alternative volumes like Daly’s, which highlighted biases that belied mainstream dictionaries’ descriptive ideals … The choices about what to include in a dictionary, like the construction of any historical record, are, arguably, inherently political … Feminist linguists argue that, in some instances, lexicographers should put a thumb on the scale.”
  • Today in love and the arts: Georg Friedrich Haas, a world-renowned composer, sent an OkCupid message to his future wife. “Wow—your profile is great … I would like to tame you.” Thus began a different kind of courtship: “In a joint appearance with his wife, who now goes by Mollena Williams-Haas, late last year at the Playground sexuality conference in Toronto, then in an interview this month in the online music magazine VAN, he has ‘come out,’ as he put it, as the dominant figure in a dominant-submissive power dynamic. Mr. Haas has chosen to speak up … because he hopes to embolden younger people, particularly composers, not to smother untraditional urges, as he did … Williams-Haas, who described the situation as feminist because it is her choice, said, ‘I find intense fulfillment in being able to serve in this way.’ She conceded the discomfort many may feel with a black woman willingly submitting to a white man … she added, ‘To say I can’t play my personal psychodrama out just because I’m black, that’s racist.’ ”
  • The other nontraditional composer in the news is the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, which has recently detected gravitational waves for the first time in history and converted their signal into audio. “When we listen to the waves that LIGO first played for us, we can tell that the system is quite heavy, since the signal ends a bit lower than middle C on the piano. If the system were lighter, the waves would have ended at a higher pitched note … We know we can hear these waves now, and we want to make our ears better … We want to hear the ghostly whispers of the earliest moments of the universe’s expansion. We want to listen without prejudice and to hear things that for now we can barely imagine.”
  • If space sounds make you anxious, turn your attention instead to Japan’s Kamakura Period (1185–1333), serene statues from which are now on display at the Asia Society of New York: “These mesmerizing sculptures show the sacred being standing quietly above an opening lotus blossom, and dressed in monk’s robes whose folds fall in a cascade of graceful waves. Their power to entrance arises from the near-perfect balance of motion and stillness, symmetry and asymmetry, they display. They do not move and yet they seem to radiate peace … Kamakura statues are miracles of technique. Carved in wood, and hollowed out so that the skin of the sculpture in some parts is not much thicker than cardboard, they weigh almost nothing. They hover on the verge of immateriality.”

The Nose

January 26, 2016 | by

An operator treating the carbuncled nose of an obese patient, James Gillray, 1801. Image via Wellcome Library

A lot of things are a century old this year: Boeing, Roald Dahl, the Professional Golfers’ Association. Another is Akutagawa Ryūnosuke’s short story “The Nose,” published in January 1916 in a student magazine called Shinshichō. 

“The Nose,” which bears no relation to Gogol’s famous story of the same name, is a pretty standard parable about vanity. It stars Zenchi Naigu, a Buddhist priest with a massive schnoz—he needs aides to hold it aloft with a stick during meals. This is, as you can imagine, kind of unseemly, so Naigu undertakes a series of drastic schnoz-reduction measures, only to realize that his newly unembellished nose makes him even more self-conscious than the original had. He tries to catch a cold so his nose plumps up again. It does. He is at peace. And—scene! Read More »

The Art of Investing, and Other News

January 25, 2016 | by

Sarah Meyohas, Paradise INC on January 12, 2016, 2016, Oil stick on canvas, 50" x 60". Image via 303 Gallery

  • Today in translating bugs: The Irish writer Lafcadio Hearn’s Insect Literature (1921), newly reissued, reminds that certain literary tropes are far from universal: “Yoko Tawada recently remarked that one of the difficulties she faced when translating The Metamorphosis into Japanese was that the associations Japanese people had with insects—even presumably giant beetles—were different from those of Europeans … In Japan, Buddhism teaches that a person might be reincarnated as any kind of animal or insect, creating a strong sense of continuity between the human and insect realms. That butterfly flapping above your head may contain the soul of a deceased lover … Humans (in the West at least) had, [Hearn] argued, become numb to the magic and horror implicit in the daily lives of insects.”
  • Want to support the work of young artists without pumping capital into the infernal machine that is Big Finance? Invest in Sarah Meyohas, whose first solo show is up now: “Meyohas, who studied finance at Wharton and recently received an M.F.A. from Yale, is known for creating a cryptocurrency called BitchCoin. Here, she cheerfully explains to visitors that she is using her laptop to buy and sell stocks on the New York Stock Exchange. Every day she selects a company for which little or no trading is happening, and with her own money she buys stock in that company, which drives up its price. This precipitates a sell-off, at which point she may or may not buy more stocks. After cashing out, she takes a black marker and draws a line on one of the canvases, loosely tracing the stock’s price line during the time she invested in it.”
  • Tim Parks does a close reading of Primo Levi in translation, looking at what changes in his prose and why: “The fact is that much space is required to say anything even halfway serious about a translation. For example, the three volumes of Levi’s Complete Works include fourteen books and involved ten translators … While Levi liked to describe himself as a writer with a determinedly plain style, the truth is rather different. Often a direct, speaking voice shifts between the colloquial and the literary, the ironically highfalutin and the grittily scientific. It’s true that there are rarely serious problems of comprehension, but the exact nature of the register, which is to say the manner in which the author addresses us, the relationship into which he draws us, is a complex and highly mobile animal. It is here that the translator is put to the test.”
  • In Medieval Graffiti, the historian and archaeologist Matthew Champion studies the long history of defacing English churches and the thin line between desecration and devotion: “Rarely were these marks and messages removed or written over by other parish members, showing a sign of respect and acceptance. Curiously, many of the graffiti traces discovered by Champion relate to curses, magic, and more pagan practices than are often connected with Christianity … It wasn’t outside the realm of belief that a symbolic carving in this sacred space had transformative power.”
  • Diana Kennedy is a ninety-two-year-old writer living in Mexico City. She’s also, as it happens, embroiled in a fierce debate about Mexican food writing: “Kennedy is far more than just a writer of cook books. ‘All anthropologists and botanists, they ought to learn to cook,’ she has said, ‘or they will miss the whole point of how culture and plants and food come together’ … There’s probably no better contemporary book that illustrates the food/non-food question than Diana Kennedy’s Oaxaca al Gusto: An Infinite Gastronomy. The book is exotic less for its unlikely ingredients, although there are plenty of them, than for its variety: throughout the province of Oaxaca, there are thousands of valley-specific dishes.”

Shut Off Your Heating Systems, and Other News

January 21, 2016 | by

Vagrich Bakhchanyan, Attention! (detail), 1972–73, transfer process, colored pencil, and ink on paper. Courtesy of Zimmerli Art Museum, via Hyperallergic

  • We’ve known for a while that fairy tales are old, but only now have we discovered that they’re in fact really, really, really old—an important distinction. Stories like “Beauty and the Beast” and “Rumpelstiltskin” originated thousands of years ago, researchers suggest, in “prehistoric times, with one tale originating from the bronze age”: “Using techniques normally employed by biologists, they studied common links between 275 Indo-European fairy tales from around the world and found some have roots that are far older than previously known, and ‘long before the emergence of the literary record.’ ”
  • The sound is as important as the surface and the feel. It’s important because our ears define for me the nature of space,” said Derek Sugden, an acoustic engineer who died this week at ninety-one. He headed Arup Acoustics, which designed buildings with sound in mind, thus starting a kind of quiet revolution in architecture, as Gillian Darley writes: “The more recent transformation of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam by Cruz y Ortiz takes its responsibilities to an immense visiting public seriously. Enormous frame-form baffles hang from the Gothic Revival roof of the original atrium, while several interior windows are blanked out with fabric ‘shutters’ to keep resonance at a minimum. Thousands of people come and go (the café is in a separate space beyond) and the experience remains convivial and pleasurable, sound levels no higher than a gentle hum. Yet nothing is made of this achievement in features on the renovated museum in the architectural press: Sugden was right, architects don’t hear.”
  • The Soviet artist Vagrich Bakhchanyan hoped to subvert his government by using its own language against it in his art: “He made works on paper in which appropriated texts and images were combined and layered using transfer techniques, some utilizing official notices by Soviet administrators—the terse, usually handwritten flyers that punctuated the everyday life of Soviet citizens with warnings, admonitions, and exhortations. One such announcement scribbled on a page torn out of a logbook reads: ‘Comrade residents! On Monday the 19th there won’t be any cold or hot water. We ask you to close the taps and shut off the heating system in your apartments.’ Over top of this message, Bakhchanyan has layered an image of a peaceful country landscape. In this and other works, the juxtaposition of random texts and images was meant to produce a momentary disorientation, a visual and mental shock caused by two or more layers of signification clashing and negating one another. The artworks reflect the absurdities and humiliations of the Soviet life—the tragic contradictions between the official ideology of socialism and its everyday reality.”
  • Last November, Yurina Ko went to the Big Eaters World Championship in Times Square, where passersby were fascinated by a Japanese woman—everyone called her a girl—who could eat and eat and eat: “ ‘But the girl. She can eat.’ ‘I wonder what her stomach looks like’ … It’s the magic of the Little Big Eater Girl. She’s skinny, prepubescent, and childlike in her seeming ignorance about what constitutes an appropriate portion of food. And yet she’s an adult. If you take her on a date, she won’t order just a salad but every item on the menu and beg for dessert after. After enjoying every spoonful of this giant meal, she still looks healthy, small, and fuckable … Someone in the crowd points to the Japanese eater and says, ‘But look, now she’s sick.’ The woman looks like she’s in pain, breathing into a paper bag. What’s really happening is she’s starting to regurgitate into it. People scatter at the sight of this.”
  • Today in corporate-media pissing contests: anyone who dreams of landing a gig at Condé Nast has a foolish, outmoded dream, because all the cool kids work at Hearst now. “Working at Condé is passé,” an “insider” told Page Six. (Another compared Condé to Icarus.) “Hearst has the better perks now: visiting chefs in the cafeteria and free workout clothes in the gym. There are also master classes from the likes of Gloria Steinem, Ethan Hawke, and Arianna Huffington.”