Saturday, February 18, 2012

My response to Tendenzroman’s response will be a bit oblique, maybe, more an extension of what motivated me to pose the question in the first place.

Basically then I want to talk about aesthetic rapture. Authentic aesthetic rapture of the kind which raises the hair on your arms and which momentarily de-subjectivizes you, not because it empties you out so much as it stretches you beyond your own limits. It’s a rare experience having something strike you deeply, but the day before I had one of those “moments” which probably overshadowed much of the next day.

I am reading a very good book on just why modern day Japan is such a horrible mess which has a chapter on the destruction of Kyoto; there was a haiku by Basho quoted:

“Even when in Kyoto, I long for Kyoto.”

This may or may not strike you as an almost impossibly succinct summation of a central aporia in life the way it struck me. No matter. You may not have had the same experience I had, on finishing reading The Great Gatsby for the first time of actually kissing the book, involuntarily, overwhelmed by those famous final lines and, kind of reeling at the sheer elegance, depth, resonance, beauty and scale of such a short work, I found myself clasping it in both hands and kissing the back cover. I was exultant.

These are just two examples but certainly they are encounters I’ll never forget. Would I have had them at all were it not for my obsessive reading, watching and listening, possibly not and I should be clear, I don’t resent the time I’ve spent engaging with things that have proven only mildly interesting, but I suppose my question is, what is the impulse to keep hold of all that non-essential stuff, stuff you are not invested enough in to listen to more than once, yet alone pay for? I move around a fair deal and so I don’t actually really own anything. Clothes and a laptop, pretty much (I rather welcome digitization). So i suppose my question is, why is it so hard to discard this stuff, this non rapturous drive-fill, this bulk of stuff passed through, ticked off the list, added to the inventory of the known? Is it because the weight of all that accumulated culture reassures us that we are ourselves substantial, a kind of prosthesis, we must be smart, we must be committed, we must be artistic, or intellectual because the sheer range and diversity of our hard drive, as a kind of concretization of our restless seeking and searching memorializes us to ourselves. A kind of achievement, a testimony of a commitment, a sense that it is you, in a way, that you are what you consume (even if that consumption is mediated through “theory”) that your history is in some ways the story of that consumption.

And then in this drift you encounter the force of authentic art and it makes you if not despise your own mediocrity and the mediocrity of others at least make you assume a critical attitude toward it. Do we even know how to consider life as something which doesn’t involve building up cultural capital as a means of constantly reinforcing the ego? Why are we so bad at letting go, even of things that we acknowledge are trivial? Isn’t it neurotic? In the sense that if we do abandon things a gap will open up in which we are confronted by the question that we don’t want to ask ourselves? What am I doing with my life, what have I been doing, has my time been well spent, why do I value these things, should I?

On the political side of the net, again, I’ll get back to you!


Seb said...

Ah, have you reached the requisite stage, as a freshman gaijin, of reading Alex Kerr's Dogs & Demons?

(Bonus: the Captcha for this comment is "idea condemned"!)

carl said...

I have! And it's very good. Anything else I should be reading?

Seb said...

As far as affectionate critiques of Japan go, Kerr is about as good as it gets. Beyond that, a couple of websites - especially - covers interesting stories with fairly even-handed analysis. (I find FuryoGaijin juvenile and Tokyo Reporter salacious.)

For Japan-oriented travel writing, Alan Booth's The Roads To Sata and Will Ferguson's Hokkaido Highway Blues are an excellent matched pair: the former a sober (actually, there's a lot of drinking throughout) contemplative travelogue, the other a slightly laddish Bill Bryson-style romp.

But honestly, I learned more about Japanese culture from watching the Gaki No Tsukai TV specials (a.k.a. ガキの使いやあらへんで!) than I did the first year-and-a-half I lived here. Fucking priceless.