February 28, 2005

Remembrance of Things

A boy kicks a stone
that falls off a cliff
something rustling in the bushes,
a memory rushes to him.

He is always full
of the need to forget
and he remembers this well.
When he hears something
come back from his past
he doesn't stir, shudder, or
make secret symbols in the dark.

Sometimes when it is daytime
he finds that he has lost
all that has remained of his past,
and when he walks he looks
as though he were about to finish something
but only looks. There are too many clues
and lack of a puzzle, it seems.

The sound of the rock hitting the canyon floor
surfaces and brings back another memory
of a time in which he couldn't remember.

February 25, 2005

I had a very peculiar dream last night about my first love throwing a frisbee in church. This morning--wait, it's already 3:15pm (and I am still at school though nobody else is)--besides realizing the necessity of coffee, I have also realized my love for certain things that most people who think sharply find a bit disorienting, or just odd (a very limp sort of anomaly). Usually what I have said or done in the name of the quiddity of things has been thrown back in my face, or politely returned with a bow tied around it. Maybe it is just all the abstractions I have dealt with in uncomfortably imprecise language, sloppy language. I seem to have suffered a desire to communicate lucidly about as long as I have suffered from poor articulation. Now I am writing about something else, avoiding the question which my dream asks me.

Most people forget their dreams, or they wind up using the dirty or disturbing ones for good pub chat. A good dream, like a good intention, seems to be impossible to communicate. Anyone can do something good, but does it need the intention or not? Maybe it is intuited in certain circumstances in the context of conventional norms of expressing one's lofty intentions. "He did it such a smile on his face."

So, it is sunny again today. One day it pours cold rain, the next we have sunshine. How fickle the skies are here in Wakayama. It is starting to feel like Berkeley now that the cold has diminished a bit. I need to start writing.

Gosh, what a half-assed entry! I am sorry.

February 22, 2005

An Open Sky

The sunlight shines throughout the cloudless sky. The world seems to have this one window which we look out of and through which another can look upon us. When I was a child I used to think of eternity as something quite disturbing--of walking on a path forever, never to stop. Would one tire from this to the point of torture? Well, the prospect of utter annihilation of my earthly life also didn't really solve the uneasiness that welled up in me whenever I reflected upon what time's future held in store.

Every year, in the late afternoons of early spring, I remember skies like today's. It is a bright silence, a hovering of something that has no words, no endlessness, no end. And when I start to say or write something about it, like this blog, it recedes back into the blueness of the sky, beyond my words and my eyes.

February 17, 2005

繰り返す (On Repeating)

You can repeat expressing your regret
But you cannot undo what you have done
One cannot relive one's life
But you have to repeat
That nothing is more important than human lives
You have to repeat that we cannot relive our lives.

谷川俊太郎 Tanikawa Shuntaro

February 16, 2005

朝 (Asa)

We wake up before everything else.
Our entire life is opened every day
by one moment.

Before the morning begins
there is the sound of things
they form, slowly forming
they continue to ring
and before long
you are in the world again.

When it happens
sometimes you cower
under the warm, heavy sheets
your body barely feels its own extremeties
a fire that burns low
immovable, flameless.

Sometimes you revisit this moment.
A few hours later, it is still morning
and you are not awake. Still, you move.

February 15, 2005

On Not Going Back

The myth of eternal return seems to be a pretty important myth in human history. Maybe one could say it is part of, if not the whole, genesis of history, the first symbol made by homo faber.--to go back. This is how our mind works and learns after all--by seeing the same person, place, or thing more than once, by review. There has always been a need in each person, as far as I've been able to learn in my human limitations (and more precisely, Jeff's limitations), to construct an order on some level and in some capacity, to make things fit. Along the threads of myth, religion, art, science, business, technology, etc. there is this act of return--whether to a "Golden Age," to a homeland that was lost, to an original state of sinless purity, to God, to a place of redemption, or to the soul's pre-incarnate state; to a piece's resolution, to the end which is in its beginning, to a final revelation; or to a presaged conclusion, to an unexpected dislodging of one's hypothesis, and to an equilibrium between customer and vendor (often disguised thus to mask a deeper imbalance). The inevitability of experiencing some of these innumerable thoughts and acts, which occupy incredibly different stages and strata of our life experiences, gives us a feeling that "not going back" is something unnative and thus to be feared, accused, and condemned.

We always use this concept of coming and going. The Japanese say it every day in their phrase "行ってらっしゃい" ( itte rasshai or, "I'm going and coming back"). Perhaps I don't understand the deepest significance of this phrase, that is, how it is felt by Japanese people who have said it upon leaving home since they were able to speak. What I notice is that in it, no matter how much or little people consider the phrase, is the light of a promise. It is the same as saying something as casual as "I'm going, see you later." What does this light of promise illuminate? The myth of eternal return leads us....where? That is a question that is cryptic, old, and most likely few people will willingly suffer through another proposed answer to it. It is a question that we might have to give up, which many people have given up, but do not forget.

There is a difference between the pleasure of love and the pleasure of having a need satisfied. Maybe. I am talking out of my ass, perhaps, by putting my foot in the door of lofty academic-sounding prose, replete with statements like the one just now begging to be deleted. What I mean is that there is a difference between going out into one's life in uncertainty, which is closest to and perhaps is paradoxically a/the/some truth, than 'going out' with the certainty of a personal and fallible crutch, a symbol, myth, or tool that one turns to for protection from annihilation--a talisman, a "save" button on one's life, The pleasure of love, being that which asks for no return, achieves fulness in a kind of emptiness, in having nothing for oneself, in unconditionally giving to a loved one even if that means losing them. Love is for the sake of another. In turn, the pleasure of having a need satisfied is for the sake of the benefits that this satisfaction brings. At the end of these cycles, our fulfilled needs bring us through a state of surfeit to a new round of needing, myth-making, while at the end of love we are left only with love and yet that is enough. I speak sometimes as if I know all of this and am not guessing based on premonitions, apparitions, glimpses, stories, characters, events, acts, fears, and knowledge that I have come across in my experience as someone who has tried recently--and failed many times--not to take the short cut back to the starting point.

Can "going back," the homecoming of our whole life, really be possible? No, of course it cannot. It can be reenacted in the mind and the heart, but it can never be the same. Am I saying that the only tool for us to learn and grow is also that which gets us lost, or sticks us back at square one? Where did I get this fucking metaphor anyways, now that I am talking about the game of life--move one square, one day along....oops roll again, you are dissatisfied...go back to go...That die is choice, right? Each one of us is a piece of this world, we are all members. Maybe I am disagreeing with you right now. Maybe I am lying to you. Despite this strange, discordant music, we still try to make it all work out, even if it isn't possible. Even if it is not possible to conquer death, it is possible to conquer our fear of it. Is that all there is to these projects of spirituality, to come to terms with our inherently ephemeral condition? What about our inherently eternal condition? Or our paradoxical condition? Or the condition that puts where we are right now, unique in every way?

So, because we love irony and pointless writing here at "mujoukan.blogspot.com," to review:

*We can review our life only once.

*That last statement was redundantly singular.

*The phrase "to go back" or "going back" is a riddle, an impossibility, and like M.C. Escher's drawings they contain a disturbing beauty.

*If you keep going, you'll know when you get there.

*Reflection and review are vitally different.

February 14, 2005

Pure Land

So as we finished our short hike on a section of the Kumano Kodo, I asked Nick as we reached the shore of the Pacific Ocean if he had ever read or heard anything about priests in the Koya-san / Kumano region who many ages ago set out on boats from these shores to reach Amida's Pure Land, out beyond the sea. These priests never returned to the shore. I thought of this story as I looked out across the sea, the sky a bit pale, the wind a bit weak, the waves fatigued of their constant flailing and flowing. That was the end of my stay in Nachi this weekend.

How did it start? I went to Osaka on Friday morning, bought Sumo tickets for a ridiculously expensive price (5,600 yen per ticket) and a 5-cd collection of Erik Satie's ouevre for a ridiculously cheap price (1,500 yen). That's 300 yen per cd folks! As you can see, I am sticking to math that I can handle these days. After spending lots of money in Osaka, I hopped on the Kuroshio, or the black current, for a3 hour train ride from Tennoji in Osaka to Kii Katsuura. En route, I sat next to a young woman named Noriko Tanaka, a fashion designer from Osaka. We ended up talking about a range of things, from poetry to pop music, arts and crafts to "chance" encounters, and finally to the attraction of living near the sea. She was bound for Kushimoto, the most southerly point on Honshu, where she was going spend the weekend with her grandmother and father making a table and relaxing in the inaka. In Nachi-Katsuura, I spent Saturday at the 厄年祭(Yaku-doshi festival), an event honoring young men who will turn 24 this year (25 on the Chinese calendar), a year supposedly full of trouble and bad luck. Great, it is my year "the year of the cock," and now I have to worry about being a yakudoshi victim. Let's hope all of the extremely hot sake with fugu (blowfish) fins added (to give it an unmistakably marine taste) will ward off the bad luck that faces me this year. After watching the shishi-mae dances and other splendid festivities, I got to make my comeback on the karaoke scene, with an uncompromising array of horribly-rendered Japanese pop and enka tunes. I even found myself back in a reunion with an old friend, Mr. Hapa.

On Sunday, I woke up late, thirsty, and a bit heavy headed. I ate a nutritious breakfast of granola cereal, convenience store pre-processed pancakes, and a day old slice of fried chicken from the supermarket. Yum. Then we hiked through a small portion of the Kuamano Kodo near Shingu, throwing rocks into the bamboo forest and listening to the sounds that would be produced. It was wonderful to go on a hike after so many days of urban life. I must search for more opportunities to go out into the woods. Even though there is always the impure mark of civilization--trash, roads, power lines, dams, etc. it is still somewhere I would travel never to come back.

What does that mean?

February 10, 2005

Japanese Death Poem no.1

This is a death poem that 子葉, Shiyou (d.1703), wrote in his last letter to his mother:

Snow on the pines
thus breaks the power
that splits mountains.


February 08, 2005

Out on the edge of the hills
where I have been many times before
a little fog moves in
I smoke a cigarette on my deck
the morning sun blindingly low
the winter hasn't started
it is here but it seems to be waiting
as if there is a colder wind
a deeper voice than this soft sobbing
and though I can't think of what it could be
there is always such a feeling
of the necessity to stay still
to let everything deepen
even if chilled in my bones.

Who is Complaining?

I asked this question not in its normal rhetorical usage, i.e. meaning "anyone but me," but in order to recognize the moments I have seemed to be in a mood of complaint or dissatisfaction on this blog, or in life it iself. Who is complaining? What about?

Anyways that was about as underground, or subliminal, as I'll get in today's blog. What have I been doing to the world? Well, I never wrote an adequate blog about the race I ran in with my students, which was an absolutely superb day. Other than that, I have found the work of Shuntaro Tanikawa and Kenzaburo Oe to be a very good thing in my life right now. I found an interesting volume in Osaka under the title "Japanese Death Poems," or jisei . Did I mention this in a blog before? This is the risk I take in taking a more conversational tone in my blog--one among many. Who wants to read about little trifles that I find tinglingly beautiful. Anyways, just about every poem in this collection is dehabilitatingly powerful and so I might indulge in quoting it in future blogs.

I am being looked at in the staff room. It is lunch break. My neck has a sharp pain on the left side from a bad night's sleep. In the afternoon, I will have my first round of class skit performances. I have a video camera almost older than I am. On this drizzly day, I feel content to glide through some newspaper articles, cups of coffee, and more time avoiding the task of working on kanji again. After all, I have this new dictionary which I have used maybe 10 times in the past 2 weeks.

This is turning into a "complaining" blog. Time to stop. More coffee. Class in a few minutes.

February 06, 2005

A Professor's Nightmare

Well, I had my first experience as a college lecturer on Friday. I spoke to a class of about 15 Japanese students on Ernest Hemingway's (very) short story "Indian Camp." I'd say about 6 or 7 of the students had read the story, while the others were kind enough to at least bring a copy of it to class (assuming the professor didn't distribute these copies to them before I arrived). After doing intense "close reading," bringing me back to my years at UC, and a lot of research on the web (no library to help me out here), I decided to wing a talk on coming of age stories, rites of initiation, and the collapse of value systems that is a pervasive theme in modernism. I rambled, sweating profusely in my sweater and coat (take your coat off Jeff, take it off), for about 40 minutes not knowing it was that long. I covered questions like "Daddy/Mommy, where do we go when we die?" and the all important adage "It ain't like it used to be." Ater getting past my failed attempt to bring Yeats's oft-quoted poem "The Second Coming" into the (lack of) discussion, things really did fall apart. I performed some simple tests (show of hands, etc.), made bad jokes, smiled at the one cute student in the front who was avidly listening, and then made more bad jokes. To wrap it all up, I covered the issue of "gendered writing" (if such a thing exists) and the importance of reading literature for its own sake (not for a class or for some preparation for a test which will always lead to more tests), which left me with about half of the class there (literally they were walking out, as I overran my time limit). So much for teaching at the collegiate level.

Afterwards I went to the professor's office, drank coffee, talked about Berkeley, about Japan, and about Japanese movies (mostly just Kurosawa) with two of the professors there. I learned a quote that is from Kurosawa's Ikiru (I missed this quote, along with most of the dialogue, when I watched it last year without subtitles): "Inochi mijikashi koiseyo otome," meaning "Life is short, love women." Then they laughed when they told me this quote...laughed a lot.

Saturday went down the tubes to teaching EFL to my students Naoya and Kazuto and then drinking a lot of coffee and doing nothing. Today went by too quickly--I had lunch with a new friend, spoke for a long time with her, went swimming, ate spicy curry at the Indian restaurant near the station, and now I am being as productive as hell by sitting here in this expensive I-cafe (would it be a typo, or sudden revelation, to call it an "internet cage"?...f and g are so close...) when I should be reading the fine and disturbingly beautiful/complex work of Oe Kenzaburo.