Just started reading No-No Boy by John Okada. From the Introduction I was hooked. I mean, I was expecting it to be a powerful book, but Lawson Fusao Inada and the other researchers involved in the Combined Asian American Resources Project (CARP!) which re-published the novel in 1979 were obviously hugely affected when they discovered this book. Actually, the introduction mentions a few others as well, that I wanted to list up here, so I can keep following this thread in the future.
Frank Chin “Chickencoop Chinaman”– first Asian-American drama produced by “legitimate theater”
David Ishii (Seattle “landmark” Asian-Americana bookstore)– what is it called? Does it still exist?
Shawn Wong, Inada, Ishii and Chin, “Aiiieeeee!” Literary Magazine dedicated to John Okada and Louis Chu.
George Takei’s performance of Chin’s “The Year of the Dragon” televised nationally
Franklin Odo– Asian-American Studies Teacher at UCLA.
Carlos Bulosan’s America is in the Heart (1946, 1973)
I was surprised to find this title in the small English language section of the used books chain store near Hiroshima University. I wonder if it had been assigned for a class. Previous owner’s marginalia gave hints about their English reading level. Without getting too personal, a big part of the reason I was drawn to this book is that I recognized the author from the Carrboro International Poetry Festival (back in 2005 was it?) organized by Patrick Herron in the heyday of the Lucifer Poetics Group in North Carolina. The serendipity of reconnecting with this author’s work after more than a decade, having moved from the U.S. to Asia myself, felt somehow congruent to this novel’s particular sweeping historic and moral (satirical) power.
It is a novel that manages to capture the aftermath of the Vietnam War– the poverty, cultural and political upheaval, sweat, shrimp paste, inter-generational drama, and prostitution. The author does a great job of drawing out these gamey bits of sinew and collagen from the main loaf. A nod to the allure of dog meat, a pathetic ex-pat’s headache-inducing English “lessons,” the rightful owner of a wad of cash at the bottom of a jar of shrimp paste, the where-is-she-now moment with the Trang Bang napalm girl Phan Thi Kim Phuc (parenthetically demystified), the disdain for the embrace of superstition, and the embrace of superstition. It’s a hypnotic novel in all of its grotesque particulars. But it is gorgeous as well in its depicting an overarching transgressive humanity that extends across national borders and backward and forward in time.
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).
This is a really important piece by Kate Aronoff about the political situation in Europe from the point of view of the left in the U.S., whose political push for policies to address environmental and economic justice (i.e. the so-called Green New Deal) continues to face resistance within the Democratic party. The punchline, paraphrasing this month’s Dissent Magazine subtitle: “The Neo-liberal center cannot hold!”
Particularly disturbing are the French Neo-Fascists’ fingering “borders” as a way forward on climate? WTF? Identity politics and individual consumer choices are not a solution to climate crisis. This problem demands systemic change and the dismantling of the nationally sanctioned corporate hegemony, which is the source of the vast vast majority of pollution in the world.
Found these next quotes in a Free Will Astrology weekly horoscope mailing:
I PLEDGE ALLEGIANCE TO THE SOIL
Poet Gary Snyder wrote:
“I pledge allegiance to the soil
under the sun
with joyful interpenetration for all.”
Environmentalist Edward Abbey said, “My loyalties will not be bound by
national borders . . . or limited in the spiritual dimension by one language
or culture. I pledge my allegiance to the damned human race, and my
everlasting love to the green hills of Earth, and my intimations of glory to
the singing stars, to the very end of space and time.”
In *Moby Dick*, Herman Melville suggested that ideally a person should
be a “patriot to heaven.”
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.
North Carolina’s voter ID and income tax rate constitutional amendments were thrown out by a Wake County Superior Court judge who said the General Assembly is unconstitutionally elected due to gerrymandering.
Twitter Version: If you’re not an “activist” judge, you’re not doing it right.
Kudos to NC’s Liberal Establishment for answering the legislature’s nonsense from last session. The framing of this as a “democracy” issue by the chief justice is really wise and will hopefully be an important signal for other citizen activists and politicians in Raleigh who can hopefully free the current government from the thrall of capital.
This is the best new podcast I heard in 2018, and I didn’t catch it until the very end of the year, after one of its creators appeared on another show I love called, The Antifada.
I have gotten a lot of guff from my fellow lefties in the past about my pacifist views– pacifism is naive, it’s too idealistic, what about Hitler, Pearl Harbor, blah blah blah. . . or more compellingly, recently what about antifa– how can I square my desire to punch a white supremacist with avowed pacifism? The creators of “Eyes Left” have done an excellent job of helping me think through these issues, by making some of the philosophical and historical underpinnings and context of socialist anti-war thinking available in convenient, timely audio packets.
I have now listened through their entire back catalog, and it is all superb– their voices are those of authentic, insiders. But while they often specifically address their podcast to a military audience and don’t shy away from jargon, they give explanations when necessary and explicitly reject the macho bullshit veneer of the military.
Spenser Rapone, one-time West Point cadet, now “Other-than-Honorably-Discharged” podcaster. Solidarity!