“By some device, such as the changing of thy ring from one finger to another, create in thyself two personalities, the thoughts of one being within entirely different limits from that of the other, the common ground being the necessities of life.”
- Aleister Crowley, Liber III vel Jugorum
Legend has it that Aleister Crowley was able to switch personality at will; by changing the finger on which a ring is worn, he was able to change from a war-mongering militarist into meek pacifist in an instant.
When the Pattern Recognizing Machine read about that, she thought: surely this is the same power that Zeus is said to exercise when he, in pursuit of females, transforms himself into a swan, a golden rain, a bull, a cloud, or whatever form that would make his seduction successful. To the hippy chick, he is a hippy. To the gold-digger, he is the sugar daddy. To the maiden in distress, he is the rescuing knight. To the blue-stocking type, he is the lofty thinker. He is whatever he (rightly) intuits her romantic weakness to be. He is powerful in this way because he can always have a different personality, the next time around.
What is one thing in today’s Japan that matches the following description?
They are designed with mind-blowing beauty and are given away for free;
They are produced in great quantities every season; and
They are thrown away without a thought after each season ends.
My answer would be A4 advertisement leaflets for art exhibitions.
I once read somewhere that ukiyo-e was discovered by the European mind as stuffing in crates of merchandise exported from Japan to France; it boggled the French that such paper designed with great craftsmanship should be treated almost as waste paper in the country whence they came.
When I was six, I practised Chinese calligraphy with my grandfather. There was nothing unusual about this, except that he was dead for many years before I was born.
It began one day when I was doing my calligraphy homework. I prepared a dish of ink, took out my brush and laid down a piece of paper on the copybook I was supposed to copy from. My writing had been barbaric at best and I used to regard this whole thing as a chore. But that fateful day, from the elbow downwards, my right arm was “possessed” by an intelligence that was clearly different from my own. My intuition said to me that it was my dead grandfather.
He had, so to speak, “hacked” my right arm.
In stories of spiritual possession, the spirit usually possesses the whole person. To possess just the right arm, à la carte, is peculiar indeed.
Shuji Terayama [寺山 修司] (1935 – 1983), avant-garde poet, dramatist, writer, film director and photographer, is not for the faint-hearted.
I dived into his mind-bending universe with the purchase of an artbook called Terayama Shuji no Kamen Gaho [寺山修司の仮面画報], which is brimming with sketches, photos, quotations and explanatory notes on his works. I have to say that he was not an icon of the counter-culture movement of the 1960′s – 1970′s for nothing.
He was way out there.
To give you an idea of the sort of strange and surreal images that gush forth from his high-powered imagination, below are two pictures of props used by Tenjo Sajiki [天井桟敷], an experimental theatre troupe which he formed in 1967. The first one is called “Machine for an Indolent Audience to Appreciate Classics” [怠惰な観客のための名作鑑賞機械]:
Kaiichi Kobayashi [小林かいち] (1896-1968), a Kyoto-born illustrator, is one of the representatives of Taisho romanticism. So obscure is he to the West that, as of the current date, he still does have his own entry on the English Wikipedia. I shall attempt to mend the injustice of his obscurity with this post.
I came to know his works while browsing one day at the art section of a bookshop in Tokyo; I was captivated by his aesthetics immediately, and bought two of his art books in a heartbeat. There is a touch of unspeakable sadness, silent regret and quiet remorse in his works, that endears him to me more so than his more famous contemporary Yumeji Takehisa [竹久夢二].
There is something about classical Japanese aesthetics where beauty is inevitably accompanied by sadness; they always come in a combo like fish and chips. The traditional Japanese song is always sorrowful rather than cheerful in tone; its lyrics are always about some bygone glorious days, or unrequited love, or lost youth – never about an enjoyable present or a hopeful future. Beauty and sadness. Beauty and sadness in spades.
1) If my memory serves me right, I believe it was the novelist Natsuhiko Kyogoku [京極 夏彦] who made the following observation of paradigm shift in ideas of manhood in Japanese history (I am paraphrasing his idea here) -
In the Edo Era, if you were to ask a son born to an artisan family of, say, tofu-makers, to go to war because the country is being invaded by barbarians, he would most likely tell you to bugger off. War is the job of samurai. His job is to make tofu; war has nothing to do with him.
However, all that changed with the beginning of the “nation-state” and the elimination of the samurai class. Everyone “became” citizens, and all able-bodied males were eligible for conscription. They all, in effect, “became” samurai.
The intellectual Takeshi Yourou [養老 孟司] also observed that during his war-time childhood (he was born in 1937), when boys were asked by adults what they wanted to be once they grew up, the answer was inevitably “heitai-san [兵隊さん]“, or “soldier”.
One of the most iconic features of Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence is a sequence of festival parade lasting approximately 5 minutes. The parade was extravagantly animated with a myriad of ornate details. However, the sequence does virtually nothing to advance the story in any way, and even feels somewhat out of sync in the natural flow of the story. I like the sequence and would like to understand it more. I ask myself, why bother with this scene?
Perhaps, it is an expression of nostalgia for the world of things.
In ancient Greece, the Cassandra mythos has it that whatever prophecy she makes shall be disbelieved by others; the King Midas mythos has it that whatever object he touches shall be turned into gold; and the Echo mythos has it that whatever others say, she shall repeat word by word. In the modern world, the PRM mythos has it that whatever consumer product or service she desires, shall inevitably be crushed out of production by the proverbial Invisible Hand; this applies to loose leaf tea she likes, to perfumes she likes, and even to bookshops she likes.
Matsuoka-Maruzen [松丸本舗] , an experimental bookshop that operated from Oct 2009 to Sep 2012, is a glowing example of this. It was located on the 4th floor of the flagship store of the bookshop chain Maruzen, in a building called Marunouchi OaZO, near Tokyo Station. In other words, it was an experimental bookshop located within a traditional bookshop.
This anime may have the effect of an atomic bomb on your nervous system if your answer is yes to some or all of the following:
You read Baudelaire (or other writers of his ilk) at secondary school.
You went to secondary school in some god-forsaken provincial backwaters.
And you wonder why no one around you understood the greatness of Baudelaire (or other writers of his ilk).
If Onii-sama E is the story of the French Revolution transported to a secondary school setting, then Aku no Hana is an epic Faustian psychodrama with its leading character, Takao Kasuga, struggling to live out his inner Dionysus under the aegis of his literary hero Charles Baudelaire.
So where should one begin to talk about this show?
After I watched it, I began to write my usual blog post – drawing references to things like the Dionysus archetype, the four successive anima incarnations in Faust identified by C.G. Jung, the Dante-and-Beatrix relationship… until I realized what a pompous bore I sounded like. Why? Because I recalled how Baudelaire himself concluded “To the Reader,” the first poem in Les Fleurs du mal, with these immortal words: Continue reading →
This year, I turned 31 years old and I changed my legal name by signing a Deed Poll drafted by my solicitor. With that, I also changed all my identification and travel documents, my bank account names, my business cards.
How did I come about doing that?
One of the causes (there were many) was Takeshi Yourou [養老 孟司], Professor Emeritus at Tokyo University in anatomy. He was the greatest discovery I made this year in terms of Japanese authors. (I tried to translate some of his ideas here.)
One of Yourou’s numerous interesting observations is that a typical individual in pre-modern Japan would change his name at least half a dozen times in his lifetime. Such an individual would be called by a “childhood name” when he is child; he would take on an “adult name” once he has reached adult age; if he is apprenticed to some art or trade, he would take on a name bestowed upon him by his master; once his apprenticeship is completed, he would take on a new name to signify that he is now a master of his art or trade in his own right. When he retires, social convention would oblige him to abandon his old name and use a new name for his retirement. When he dies, social convention would again oblige his relatives to ask a Buddhist priest to bestow yet another new name for him in the afterlife.
A name is just a piece of clothing you wear at different stages in your life (and death).