?

Log in

No account? Create an account
click opera
February 2010
 
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
 
 
 
 
 
 
Page 1 of 2
[1] [2]
Mon, Dec. 14th, 2009 07:23 am
Overwhelmed by milk

Japan is -- continues to be -- the most different society I know. While it may superficially look like any number of other advanced modern cultures, this place has something very, very strange going on just below the surface. I've been fishing about for a word or phrase to describe one important dimension of this strangeness, a thing I pick up here as I move around. The first word that occurs to me is "motherlove". But perhaps a better term would be "ambient impersonal tenderness". Japan is a society shockingly full of ambient impersonal tenderness, overlapping with tender-mindedness, shading into tweeness.



I catch glimpses of this in the difference between what my defensive reflexes tell me reality is like, and what the Japanese reality often turns out to be. For instance, yesterday I caught sight of what looked like a plate of smashed glass in the wall beside me. Reflexively, my brain made a little story, a story that would be plausible in Berlin but not here: "Anti-globalism protesters have smashed the glass to show their resentment against a world system they feel excludes and alienates them." In Berlin it's very common to see smashed glass in bank or office windows, and anarchist or anti-globalist slogans left as a sort of signature.

But on second glance I see that the "smashed" pane is actually covered by a protective plastic sheet, wrinkled in such a way that it makes the glass look shattered. This is Tokyo, not Berlin. My thoughts drift to an exhibition by Yoko Ono of holes shot in sheets of glass, a show called A Hole I saw the other day at Gallery 360. Ono invites viewers to look through the violent hole in the glass (which recalls Lennon's smashed, bloody glasses on the cover of her Season of Glass album) and use it as a way to frame a new view of the world. One reading of this show, seen in Tokyo, is that a Japanese woman is saying to Japanese people: "The society I have adopted as my home is a much more violent one than the one we're used to; look, someone shot my husband. Violence can easily become a way of framing our view of the world."



But daily life in Japan is the opposite of violent. Take the panel discussion I attended at Vacant the other night. The last panel discussion I attended in Berlin turned into a weird attack, by all the other panelists, on a man who goes regularly to Africa to collect ethnic music for his record label. This man -- meek and nervous in manner -- was attacked (subtly, in a devil's-advocatey way) for certain post-colonial contradictions in his stance, for a certain low-level "hypocrisy" or inconsistency, for turning non-property into property, and for participating in the music industry's obsessive "archive fever". The poor man became a symbol of everything we hate about our own system!

Now, I was one of the subtle attackers, and I can only say we did it because we thought the conversation would be boring without some element of conflict, and without the kind of "criticality" we've been taught is good, or at least good form. But the other night at Vacant the dynamic between the panelists was completely different. There was indeed something "vacant" about the conversation, but also something kind, even tender. Two women photographers were questioned by a male photographer, Masafumi Sanai. I was struck by the casually caressing way Sanai asked his questions and the tenderness with which he interjected his "yes I am listening, oh, that's interesting" noises. I'm sure linguists have a name for these sounds -- they're much more important in Japan than in the West, where you'd just tend to listen silently (possibly critically) then respond. Here you interject "uh... oh... ah... so..." syllables in a rhythm and a tone which, to me, makes the conversation sound so empathetic that it's almost like a minor act of lovemaking.

So while Sanai coaxed his guests permissively, caressingly with these rhythmic interjections, the women photographers themselves had a similar relationship with the audience: one, essentially, of coquetry; of casual, relaxed, intimate flirtation. The BBC's Hard Talk -- conversational fisticuffs, or a theatrical approximation of it -- this very much was not. It was more like a very, very light form of group sex. It rode on a clear empathy between clearly-differentiated men and women; the gender element was much more structurally central than it would ever be allowed to be in the West, where the questioner would (in the name of enlightened gender politics) be doing his best to relate to the women "as if they were men" (and of course this careful "non-misogyny" is precisely where I think the West carelessly encodes its misogyny).



Wearing my "Western eyes" I'm perpetually shocked by the sexy shortness of skirt and bareness of leg I see on Tokyo public transport, because of course through Western eyes this betokens a "sexualisation" which will surely lead young women "duped by a male-dominated society" into dangerous situations where they'll be taken advantage of, abused, even raped (though of course associating skirt length too explicitly with rape becomes a reactionary argument). We Westerners extrapolate from short skirts out into a whole series of awkward or dangerous scenarios played out in a low-empathy, low-trust, Western-style environment, a Resident Evil sort of environment where you never know what alienated person or flesh-eating zombie you're going to meet next. But these projections don't match the Japanese context, a situation of almost-twee security, cleanliness, low crime, low-to-no anomie, and familial tenderness between strangers (with occasional disturbing gropings into the territory of incest).



On my travels I've been taking pictures (or sound recordings) of representations of authority figures, and without exception they're ludicrously cute and empathetic. Policemen and construction workers on warning signs look like cute children, they bow and smile and intervene with friendliness. Even when they frown they look like pouty, sulky children. Now, as a British person I'm used to a certain idea of a construction worker, or white van man; he will, I know, leer openly at women who pass his site, make loud judgmental comments about me because I look weird or effeminate, and probably not hold back long if I'm crossing the road in front of his vehicle. But in Japan not only is the illustrated construction worker solicitous and tender in the signs that warn me that work is going on, the real thing is just as respectful, ushering me past with a bow and a shining guidance wand. I actually want to weep with gratitude, because my Western training has led me to expect vitriol, vague menace, and imputations against my masculinity from security staff, police, and construction workers.

There's an extraordinary infantilisation or feminisation of the figures of construction, logistics and policing. A white van (or, more likely, a tiny white truck) rushes past, and certainly a man is driving. But when he signals left, a female voice emits from the truck asking us, tenderly, to take care. Escalators, trains and elevators too come equipped with female voices, solicitous authority figures, and soon the entire city seems to be an automated female authority figure, robotic, gentle and maternal. It's not too far-fetched, I think, to connect this to suggestions that Japan was once a matriarchy. Certainly, the whole society seems to have a mother complex, and a diffuse feminine atmosphere of tenderness mixed with a certain nannying authoritarianism pervades the land.



Yesterday I went with friends to see a studio theatre version of Shuji Terayama's autobiographical 1974 film Den'en ni Shisu. We, the audience, were treated -- kindly but firmly -- like children as we were "boarded" into the tiny Shimokitazawa theatre. We were called up the narrow steps by ticket number, then ushered through into the theatre, where a belted, braced, flat-capped actress on the stage shouted affable instructions and ushers made sure we found seats. To be "mothered" in this way is odd -- the female authority figure is a collective mother, not one you have a personal connection to -- and yet becomes more and more familiar when you're in Japan. Possibly Japanese -- herded around by this primal mother the whole time, treated like children, indulged and spoiled, suckling from the social oppai -- become mollycoddled milksops, the most idiotically sheltered consumer society ever known to man. But possibly it's also massively wise, the secret of their social success, and a huge saving of psychic energy. Why be manly? Why be individualistic? Why struggle, why fight, why criticize? Any revolution here would have to be a revolution against the ambient tenderness of this great primal social mother, but revolution against mother is not in the nature of mammals. We need the milk.

72CommentReply

brokenjunior
brokenjunior
Sun, Dec. 13th, 2009 10:57 pm (UTC)

そーですね!


ReplyThread
nojay
nojay
nojay
Sun, Dec. 13th, 2009 11:28 pm (UTC)

さあああ...

On the subject of cute authority figures:

http://preview.tinyurl.com/2qo2vm

It's a poster from the Emergency Preparedness Week campaign I spotted in 2007.


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Sun, Dec. 13th, 2009 11:32 pm (UTC)

The real question is "why do we associate 'manly' with struggling, fighting, and criticizing?" Isn't there a positive form of masculinity that doesn't need to feel constantly ashamed of itself? Why is "civilised" always feminised? (Morrissey hinted at this early in his career - seeking to move beyond Bowie's "third sex" onto a "fourth sex" or even "fifth". An idea too ahead of its time, I think. We'll be applying rouge for our advancement for a while to come.)


ReplyThread
docscarabus
docscarabus
docscarabus
Sun, Dec. 13th, 2009 11:46 pm (UTC)

I'm sure linguists have a name for these sounds

They're called "backchannel."


ReplyThread
imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Dec. 14th, 2009 12:15 am (UTC)

Back-channel signals! Right, thank you!


ReplyThread Parent

(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand

(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand




(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand
docscarabus
docscarabus
docscarabus
Sun, Dec. 13th, 2009 11:47 pm (UTC)

But aren't those short skirted women routinely groped by chikan on that same subway?


ReplyThread

(Anonymous)
Mon, Dec. 14th, 2009 12:03 am (UTC)

http://www.flickr.com/photos/persimmonous/3929912979/sizes/l/


ReplyThread Parent


(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand

(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand

(no subject) - (Anonymous)
imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Dec. 14th, 2009 12:25 am (UTC)

I think there's something in that, because I notice the same thing in Germany. For instance, the German World Cup logo was deliberately made cute, childish and fun to offset any perceived sense of Deutschland Uber Alles.


ReplyThread Parent Expand


(Anonymous)
Mon, Dec. 14th, 2009 01:06 am (UTC)
Boys, girls, parents

Are you familiar with biological concepts of "tournament species" versus "pair bonding species"? In short, species where a male woos and fertilizes many females (tournament species) show greater aggression and huge morphological differentiation between the sexes. Species with long term pair bonding show almost none of either.

Humans show moderate differentiation and aggression, but it varies between societies. No surprise from a biological perspective that Japanese people, who show rather small differences between their boyish girls and girlish boys, have a tendency to a) be decidedly non-aggressive and b) distinguish genders much more through clothing than do western folk.

Not saying it's a totally solid perspective, when applied to people, but what is?


ReplyThread
imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Dec. 14th, 2009 01:17 am (UTC)
Re: Boys, girls, parents

Not sure about Japan as non-tournament -- young playas be jousting here! -- but I do think the gender difference is emphasised with clothing because otherwise you'd have a too-homogenous mass. Then again, the several-octave pitch difference between men and women here may be emphasised culturally, but it's also an existing biological difference.


ReplyThread Parent

(no subject) - (Anonymous)
imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Dec. 14th, 2009 01:21 am (UTC)

I just played the chords into a sequencer as a series or figures and arpeggios, playing by ear. I don't write or keep chord notations of any of my songs. Bill Lyons, who arranged the song for the Dufay Collective, would have charts somewhere.


ReplyThread Parent
loveishappiness
loveishappiness
O.H.
Mon, Dec. 14th, 2009 01:26 am (UTC)

Why be manly? Why be individualistic? Why struggle, why fight, why criticize?

Is Mishima still an important figure to you?


ReplyThread
imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Dec. 14th, 2009 02:07 am (UTC)

Aspects of Mishima are. The self-wrestling of Confessions of a Mask and the poised amorality of Forbidden Colours. But the late Mishima of bushido, body culture, attempted coups and so on, no. Not even the Temple of the Golden Pavilion Mishima, with its Sadean idea that beauty must be destroyed. I think at a certain point the gay narcissism gets too tangled up between aesthetics, ethics and politics, and Mishima ends up in a place very few would be prepared to follow him to. Morrissey is way more Mishima-esque than I could ever hope to be.


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Mon, Dec. 14th, 2009 01:44 am (UTC)
something weird here

somehow this entry, while seeming to tout gender and sexual respect in japan, is actually just another way of subtly objectifying women; under the guise of touting these so-called "tender" interactions, you're in fact still employing a markedly male discourse, complete with biologically feminized vocabulary.

a kind of genderized discourse objectification.


ReplyThread

(Anonymous)
Mon, Dec. 14th, 2009 01:54 am (UTC)
Re: something weird here (and it's not the w/h/ine)

Oh, your comment is just heart-braking [misspelling intended].


ReplyThread Parent




(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand






eptified
eptified
H. Duck
Mon, Dec. 14th, 2009 03:38 am (UTC)

Do you see any connection between this pervasive mother-ness and the para-chan phenomenon, the grass-eating boy phenomenon, the hikkikomori phenomenon, moe, etc?


ReplyThread

(Anonymous)
Mon, Dec. 14th, 2009 06:47 am (UTC)

as poster said above, there is a major fetishization of school girls in japan; almost to the point of child pornography. this is not news. the world is well aware of the "tastes" of japanese "men."


ReplyThread Parent Expand


(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand


(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand


(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand



(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand
st_ranger
st_ranger
Palimpsests of a Secret Whistler
Mon, Dec. 14th, 2009 03:39 am (UTC)

It's very tender, motherly, and twee, how even if you were born in Japan, but from parents of Japanese descent who were born in Brazil, that they will very kindly pay for you to leave the country and return to Brazil now that unemployment is high! It's very sheltery. I'm sure the $3300 goes very far towards one of those wabi-sabi plywood shacks that surround Rio that are all the rage in the art world right now. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dekasegi Really, it sounds very maternal!


ReplyThread

(Anonymous)
Mon, Dec. 14th, 2009 04:09 am (UTC)

yeah, maternal like if ayn rand was your mother.


ReplyThread Parent Expand

Auntie Rand - (Anonymous) Expand

Re: Auntie Rand - (Anonymous) Expand
stanleylieber
stanleylieber
Stanley Lieber
Mon, Dec. 14th, 2009 08:39 am (UTC)
via marxy

This book covers the elements in Japan's traditional culture that have made them remarkably successful in virtually all of their endeavors. De Mente attributes the special knowledge and skills of the Japanese to the premise that they are primarily right-brain oriented as a result of their vowel-heavy language. in addition to such topics as emotions vs. reason, the "fuzzy" [holistic] thinking of the Japanese vs. the linear thinking of other people, the diligence factor in Japanese behavior, and quality vs. profit, De Mente identifies a long list of views and practices that distinguish the Japanese from left-brain oriented people-and are important for foreigners to know about.


ReplyThread
stanleylieber
stanleylieber
Stanley Lieber
Mon, Dec. 14th, 2009 08:40 am (UTC)
Re: via marxy

to clarify: that's from the book advert not marxy's review.


ReplyThread Parent Expand




Re: via marxy - (Anonymous) Expand

Re: via marxy - (Anonymous) Expand


Re: via marxy - (Anonymous) Expand

sarmoung
sarmoung
The Empire Never Ended
Mon, Dec. 14th, 2009 08:42 am (UTC)

How was the Terayama? I wonder whether the audience at Tenjo Sajiki ("back in the day....") had quite such experiences. My reading suggests it was a rather more confrontational affair and certainly one designed to confuse and unsettle the audience, if not fear for their lives at points. It sounds a bit neutered here and lacking in sauce Artaud...

Mind you, it's not as if Terayama wasn't quite shackled to his own mother's breast. Kosawa and the Ajase complex (pdf), blah, blah...

To build upon your milk analogy, and perhaps in a way I don't agree with, we mammals do need milk, but only until a certain point of our development. Mother kicks the growing infant away, withdraws the provision of direct sustenance, the appetite moves on. And here the infant head is repeatedly stuck back on the breast when its attention wanders, keep sucking, don't look away. A teat-sucking Japan (which still rather lacks actual milk consumption in comparison) is good for whom exactly?

"There is always soma, delicious soma, half a gramme for half-a-holiday, a gramme for a weekend, two grammes for a trip to the gorgeous East..."

Or as Jonathan Meades mentioned in his recent Off Kilter series:

"Can anyone who has heard it ever forget Sir Jackie's immortal ontological proposition - "A car is a woman, and cornering a car "is like bringing a woman to a climax." This prompts a host of questions. For instance, what kind of woman has four men inside her?

The answer is a Mini.

On my first visit to Scotland the first woman I saw was a slum on wheels parked beside a construction site. The aggregate weight of the four men was probably 80 stone. And each of them was necking a pint bottle of cow milk, with reckless disregard for the wee lassie's suspension and for his own health.

I wanted to warn them that animal lactates are poisonous unless turned into cheese. But to do so would have been discourteous. I was a visitor and was unfamiliar with Scottish mores and customs. For all I knew synchronised swallowing of udder milk had some celebratory or ritual or religious significance.

I was, after all, in a foreign country."


ReplyThread
imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Dec. 15th, 2009 12:49 am (UTC)

The Terayama play was very, very good. The director was actually a Terayama friend and collaborator, and it felt "authentic". Great use of animation, music, visual effects... I was very impressed and inspired. The production left a vigorous sense of gusto and liberty.


ReplyThread Parent Expand


(Anonymous)
Mon, Dec. 14th, 2009 09:16 am (UTC)

where the questioner would (in the name of enlightened gender politics) be doing his best to relate to the women "as if they were men" (and of course this careful "non-misogyny" is precisely where I think the West carelessly encodes its misogyny).

This is a Click Opera trope that I don't think really holds up. Is the West also carelessly encoding misandry because men over the years have become dramatically more involved in childcare? Or because the notion of "getting in touch with your feminine side" has become a societal cliché? There are just as many exhortations for men to act "more like a woman" than vice versa.


ReplyThread
imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Dec. 14th, 2009 10:15 am (UTC)

I completely disagree that there are "just as many exhortations" to womanliness in the West as manliness. I honestly can't remember the last time someone told me -- explicitly or implicitly -- to be more feminine.


ReplyThread Parent Expand

(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand

(Anonymous)
Mon, Dec. 14th, 2009 11:36 am (UTC)
awwwwwwwww

the first sign should be the cover of the firbank novel "the flower beneath the foot"


ReplyThread