Tuesday, May 14, 2013


日本語に、英語の foliage  に値する言葉のないけど、これは何故だろう。

The word foliage is defined as “leaves of a plant, collectively.” Physically, it is a collection of leaves of the same tree, shrub, or plant of any kind with leaves. Visually, it is the entity in which leaves are not individually recognized. So, in a distant view, foliage is a total effect, a mass of color without individual leaves, like clouds, as any landscape artist draws or paints without thinking -- a purely optical phenomenon.  This was first observed and recognized in the West by Leonardo da Vinci, who drew the foliage of distant trees as a blur of quick horizontal strokes in his pen-and-ink landscape drawing of the Arno Valley, which he signed and dated (5 August 1482).  Chinese painters understood this earlier, first by Fan Kuan in his  renowned Travelers by Streams and Mountains (ca. 1000) and in subsequent centuries; and Japanese artists imitated them much later.

So, it befuddles me that Chinese and Japanese lack the word that corresponds to foliage in their vocabulary.  Both the Chinese and Japanese dictionaries give us the phrase that corresponds to the English dictionary definition: collection of leaves, i.e., 群叶 qún yè, or 群葉 gunyô, or else, simply leaves.

Foliage is called a collective noun.  But it differs from those collective nouns that refer to groups of items which are physically so identified with their components distinctly recognized, like flock (of sheep), herd (of cows), gaggle (of geese), school (of fish), fleet (of ships), etc. Then, there are those in which the word specifically refers to the whole as a unit or mass and blurs the individual components, examples of which are litter, faggot, plumage, bouquet, etc., and their Japanese counterparts give us definitions.  Furniture is expressed as 家具一式 kagu isshiki, or literally, a collection of pieces of furniture; and it’s similarly 一應家具 yi ying jia jú in Chinese.

Spring foliage in Japanese comes out as 春の青葉 haru no aoba, i.e., green leaves of the spring; autumn foliage as  秋の紅葉 aki no kôyô, i.e., red autumn leaves.

So, there is no word in Japanese that corresponds to the English word foliage, and I wonder why.  This comment is inconclusive; but I’m a bit bothered.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

John Cage 100

The year 2012 celebrated the Centennial of John Cage’s birth, and I am impelled to write a few words of tribute.

There are still many, I surmise, who still don’t understand John Cage’s music, or choose not to understand it, rejecting it that he was merely out to scandalize the audience -- épater les bourgeois as the phrase goes -- and nothing else.  True, the audience was in uproar to ‘hear’ the silent music, 4’33”, his 1952 cause célèbre now 60 years old.  True, it was radical; certainly, it was totally unconventional. But the audience’s shock in response to the work only means that that its author created a work that happened to disgust the audience, not that she or he created it to stir up the crowd to anger.  It is naive to transfer the reaction incited by the work to the maker and make her or him an iconoclast. 

Stravinsky’s and shocked his audience a few decades earlier; a century later it is still shockingly fresh to the ear today but it no longer sounds cacophonous to most. 

Tchaikovsky’s contemporaries reported that his works were unmusical, as in this comment on his First Piano Concerto:
    Tchaikovsky appears to be a victim of the epidemic of the Music of the Future, that in its hydrophobia, scorns logic, wallows in torpor, and time and again, collapses in dissonant convulsions.  [Wiener Fremdenblat, November 28, 1876; from Nicolas Slonimsky, Lexicon of Musical Invective, University of Washington Press, 1969, pp. 205-6]

An English critic reviewing Chopin’s recital in London wrote:
    The entire works of Chopin present a motley surface of ranting hyperbole and excruciating cacophony. [Musical World, London, October 28, 1841; from Slonimsky, ibid., p. 84]

It is now established that Cage’s principal innovation is indeterminacy in composition and performance, which led him to the law of chance on the one hand and the exploration of the unbounded resources of auditory stimulation, on the other, beyond the conventionally musical sounds.  These two factors made his music no doubt difficult to listen to comfortably but, to those intrigued by it and willing to listen, terribly exhilarating, like any significant avant-garde work, such as those of Marcel Duchamp and James Joyce (especially of Finnegan’s Wake), whom he adored, and of Merce Cunningham, whom he loved and collaborated with; and on both accounts they were widely influential on the younger musicians, composers and performers alike, of the last half century. 

To me, Cage’s greatest gift was his keen awareness of the potential beauty in all kinds of sounds, natural and artificial, pleasant and unpleasant, loud and soft, especially in our urban environment, which enrich our life if we learn to pay close attention to them.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Afternoon light - 午後の日差し

05.05.13  5:00 p.m.

I love how my 3rd floor apartment in New York with the northern exposure is bright late into the afternoon on a sunny day with the sunlight reflected from the buildings across the street illuminating the whole length of the place.  It is so uplifting.  At the house in Swarthmore, the living room (and also the bedroom right above it) had windows facing east; so, in the afternoon it was somber, especially with the heavy foliage on the street.  It made me melancholic sitting there.


Friday, May 3, 2013

Anatsui's Thoughts on the Wall

El Anatsui (Ghanaian, b. 1944). Gli (Wall) (detail), 2010. Aluminum and copper wire

El Anatsui became interested in the notion of walls as religious, political, and social constructs after visiting three cities whose histories have been shaped by such structures: Berlin, Jerusalem, and Notsie, a city in Togo from which his Ewe ancestors claim descent. Gli can mean “wall,” “disrupt,” or “story” in the Ewe language. “Walls are meant to block views,” Anatsui says, “but they block only the view of the eye—the ocular view— not the imaginative view. When the eye scans a certain barrier, the imagination tends to go beyond that barrier. Walls reveal more things than they hide.” 

 I was at the Brooklyn Museum of Art to see the magnificent hangings of El Anatsui, and this wall text impressed me so.  

Close friend - 親しい友人


A very close friend is always tiresome like a sibling, so I read that the poet Sakutaro Hagiwara wrote. But I wonder.  Between very intimate friends, the mere being together, without even exchanging words, there is generated a certain consonance that is akin to that felt in the company of a sibling, so I think. That is relief, not boredom.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Spring in Manhattan

Spring in Manhattan, 30 April 2013
Park Avenue at 92nd Street