Whoever wants to know a thing has no way of doing so except by coming into contact with it, that is, by living (practicing) in its environment… If you want knowledge, you must take part in the practice of changing reality. If you want to know the taste of a pear, you must change the pear by eating it yourself… If you want to know the theory and methods of revolution, you must take part in revolution. All genuine knowledge originates in direct experience.
Mao Tse Tung “On Practice” (July 1937), Selected Works, Vol. I, pp. 299-300.
My daddy sent me a link to this video, which has, I’m sure, made the rounds of the sometimes charming redneck circles he moves in ( currently sheltering in place) in Western N.C. The part that tickled me the most is the deadpan delivery of the line from the King James Version of the Book of Proverbs, which I had to look for online to recognize.
22 A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.
The utility of this particular proverb, which goes on to countenance shutting up and letting the princes take care of things, is probably best left to the ancient Israelites who decided to write it down originally; but the genius and also the wisdom of the redneck duo quoting it in the present moment lies in their willingness to remind their listeners of a time in living memory when indoor plumbing (let alone toilet paper) was a luxury broad swaths of America couldn’t afford. After all, “there are all kinds of ways you can clean yourself,” including leaves, grass, or the coveted Sears Catalog. Less than a century ago, and perhaps now, once again, “toilet paper is for the rich!”
Not to put too fine a point on it, but these ridiculous (if somewhat talented) heehaws do what major network news media are all failing to do: they point out the class ramifications of the current global crisis.
Here Trump doles out paper towels in the wake of massive hurricane damage in Puerto Rico in 2017. I want so badly for this to become America’s “let them eat cake” moment– a symbol of the decadence of the current regime in the face of overwhelming poverty. I want people to finally connect Trump’s imbecility with the greed and bigotry that capitalism always foment. So, among the new rituals of hygiene we have all begun practicing– replace “social distancing” with SOLIDARITY and instead of toilet paper, maybe we can just wipe ourselves with the rich!
This Japanese documentary is about a Japanese man who sets up a phone booth in his garden as an invitation to those who are mourning family missing after the tsunami of March 11, 2011. The public radio mainstay, This American Life, produced an audio version of this story in English in 2016, which I’ll link below
This is a really powerful story about the bonds of family tested by world-historic disaster. Spoiler alert: family wins! But you may need a box of tissues to get through these tear-jerker docs.
I want to say that the major theme of this story– a metaphysical connection that defies space, time and death– is one that appears in a lot of great Japanese pop culture as well, most recently, the animation and manga, “Kimi no na ha” is a teenage romantic twist that was very commercially successful.
There was a fantastic review of Ursula K. Le Guin’s ouvre in the summer edition of Dissent by Sarah Jones. This was by no means the first time the author’s name has come up for me. She has been in the background of my political consciousness for some time, peeking out most recently with this piece and and the interview of Kim Stanley Robinson that was on the antifada earlier this year.
So, I was excited to dig into a copy of The Dispossessed, Le Guin’s 1974 SciFi classic last weekend after wrapping up the sometimes sentimental collection of short stories by Toshio Mori in Yokohama, California. It is always reassuring to me to be reminded that brilliant artists such as Le Guin have always been wrestling with ideas like the abolition of state-violence, sexual liberation, and radical forms of education and government. I expect to continue being inspired by what has started off as a genre-defying bit of genre-fiction.
Le Guin’s work is distinctive not only because it is imaginative, or because it is political, but because she thought so deeply about the work of building a future worth living.
Densho is a great organization engaged in archival work and political activism around the World War II Era Japanese-American concentration camps in the Western United States. It’s based out of Seattle, where they have frequent events. I look forward to learning more about this important organization and hopefully even using some of their archival materials on a future history of education project.
Another Japanese incarceration lead that I just became aware of is this novel, No No Boy by John Okada (Charles E. Tuttle, 1957). Unfortunately I had to find out about this in a NYTimes article this week describing a copyright dispute between the Okada family and Penguin Books, who apparently treated it as part of the public domain when they published the latest edition (pictured below).
The above is from WJ Ray’s website, which has a great audio recording of Kyger reading her poem, along with many other selections from the late great mid-century icon.
I was reminded of this poem, which I’m certain I read in college, by a short essay called “Listing to Port” from the Ethnopoetics blog, L U N A C I E S.
The author there also recommends an essay about Sei Shonagon (of PillowBook fame) in the Kyoto Journal here.
My final comment: I love how such an ordinary Japanese word “tansu,” which is a simple chest of drawers, made its way into this poem… I suppose it’s just as commonplace in Kyger’s world as psilocybin would or would not have been in those days in her cabin in upstate NY or BC or wherever she lived– was Gary Snyder around then? Had they spent a frivolous expat year in Japan where they could snap up antique furniture on the cheap in between acid trips? I love how Kyger’s “disaster” is adjacent to such bourgeois luxury as perfume (and the tansu)– I guess I mean I am nostalgic for time in my own life when I could retreat into the medicine cabinet, to the water bed or to the cabin in the woods.
But perhaps this poem is gesturing towards a turning point– when the poet must put away childish things and start looking for blind spots. After all, the bear has “luckily” done away with the whole medicine cabinet. This is hardly lucky for the hapless animal. So, it must be a way out– a sign or an invitation to the next phase in life, whatever that may be.
Here’s to treating life’s disasters with such grace– to letting the bear sleep it all off– to taking stock of all that’s been destroyed– to finding beauty in that list.
“We should not think of our past as definitely settled, for we are not a
stone or a tree,” wrote poet Czeslaw Milosz. “My past changes every
minute according to the meaning given it now, in this moment.”
So, yes, you have the power to re-vision and reinterpret your past. Keep
the following question in mind as you go about your work: “How can I
recreate my history so as to make my willpower stronger, my love of life
more intense, and my future more interesting?”
Author Junot Díaz, a ramen junkie, explains why Fukuoka is Japan’s next great food city—and it isn’t just about the noodles.
Díaz is also won a Pulitzer for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which I am reading now. It’s a great, high-energy book sprinkled with Spanish and Dominican History. He also shouts out Shimokitazawa, the neighborhood in Tokyo he mentions in this piece. I was intrigued, and when I tried to find more, I came across this article.
Stephen Colbert’s Story of How He Met His Wife Is As Adorable As You’d Imagine
By Matthew Dessem
Over the long weekend, The Late Show With Stephen Colbert posted this wonderful clip from the audience Q&A to its Facebook page, in which Colbert is asked how he met his wife. His answer is far-ranging, charming, and erudite. While visiting his family in Charleston, South Carolina, to try to decide whether to marry a woman he’d been dating for years, he went to the premiere of Philip Glass and Allen Ginsberg’s chamber opera Hydrogen Jukebox at the Spoleto Festival.*His wife to be, Evelyn McGee, was there too, and the rest was history.
All love stories are the stuff of poetry, but this one has more than the usual amount: not just Ginsberg but Homer and Chuck Sullivan. Other topics addressed include the difficulty of judging sincerity in the South, home of “the Hitlers of politeness,” strawberries, line etiquette, and fateful sneezes. It’s the most romantic TV host love story since Milton Berle met Aimee Semple McPherson. Which, honestly, wasn’t very romantic at all—so if Colbert does a whole show about his courtship of his wife, he’ll lock down the title for all time.