Saturday, February 22, 2014

Running Water

Running water
from the faucet
oh, it's so refreshing

Who can stand water
sitting in a bowl 
 for hours, even days?

I like running 
I like running water
I can't stand sitting around

- Vif, February 2014 

I have to turn on the faucet at his command at least nine times a day, if I'm home all day, since he has not learned to do the trick -- thankfully since if he did, he will never turn it off. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Learning to see

I don’t know much about art
but I know what I like.
If you learned more about art
you’d like what you like even more. 

Train your eyes and you see more.

Theatre is performance

A published play is analogous in form to a published novel or essay; it comes as a book. But a play is a performance, and the printed text is no more than a set of notations on which the realization of the play is based, analogous to the music score which serves as the guide to a performance.  A published novel is a literary work complete in itself; it is meant to be read silently.  A published play is schematic and as such incomplete; it is unrealized.  Theatre as literature is a misconception as much as accepting a music score as the music performed and heard or as that which happened in the composer’s mind and, more likely thus realized, at least partially, say, on the piano.  Consider the multiple ways any line in a play might be enunciated and articulated in performance with variant vocal tones, pauses, and stretches, and acted out with different facial and bodily movements. There is no single true way of realizing a printed play; similarly, there is no single true way of performing a piece of music left by the composer in the form of notation.  Even poetry, before the invention of printing, was a performing art, transmitted and learned by oral tradition. That’s why I insist the best way to appreciate a poem is to read it aloud.  The best way to understand Shakespeare’s plays is to recite the text aloud; it is then a performance rather than literature, at least partially, in that it is vocalized if not physically acted out. The printed text of a play can be read, of course, as literature in its own right; Shakespeare is widely studied as literature. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Japanese Writers: my list

These are some Japanese writers whose works I read with much affection when I was young together with some others that interested me more recently. 

紫式部 源氏物語 Lady Murasaki - Tale of Genji 
清少納言 枕草子 Seishônagon - The Pillowbook 
鴨長明 方丈記  Kamono Chômei  - A Ten Foot Square Hut
吉田兼好 徒然草 Yoshida Kenko - Tsurezuregusa/Idleness
式亭三馬 浮世風呂 Shiki Sanba - Ukiyoburo
井原西鶴 Ihara Saikaku
松尾芭蕉 Matsuo Basho
近松門左衛門  Chikamatsu Monzaemon 
河竹黙阿弥  Kawatake Moku’ami
小林一茶 Kobayashi Issa
正岡子規 Masaoka Shiki
夏目漱石  Natsume Sôseki
森鴎外  Mori Ogai
幸田露伴 Kôda Rohan
二葉亭四迷 Futabatei Shimei
芥川龍之介  Akutagawa Ryûnosuke
正宗白鳥 Masamune Hakuchô
与謝野晶子 Yosano Akiko
永井荷風  Nagai Kafû
田山花袋 Tayama Katai
島崎藤村 Shimazaki Tôson
泉鏡花  Izumi Kyôka
尾崎紅葉 Ozaki Kôyô
岡本綺堂 Okamoto Kidô
樋口一葉 Higuchi Ichiyô
志賀直哉 Shiga Naoya
武者小路実篤 Mushakôji Sane’atsu
中原中也 Nakahara Chûya
谷川俊太郎 Tanika Shuntarô
久保田万太郎 Kubota Mantarô
江戸川乱歩 Edogawa Ranpo
西条八十 Saijô Yaso
石川淳  Ishikawa Jun
井伏鱒二 Ibuse Masuj
太宰治  Dazai Osamu
谷崎潤一郎  Tanizaki Jin'ichiro 
三島由紀夫  Mishima Yukio
川端康成  Kawabata Yasunari
久保田万太郎 Kubota Mantarô
内田百閒 Ichida Hyakken
堀辰雄  Hori Tatsuo
小林秀雄 Kobayashi Hideo
中原中也 Nakahara Nakaya
伊藤整 Itô Sei
宇野千代  Uno Chiyo
円地文子  Enchi Fumiko
安倍公房 Abe Kôbô
大江健三郎  Oe Kenzaburo
村上春樹 Murakami Haruki
岡田利規 Okada Toshiki
石黒一雄 Ishiguro Kazuo

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Leonardo's Eye

James Ackerman, my professor and lifelong mentor opens his study titled “Leonardo’s Eye” (Journal of the Warburg and Coutault Institute, Vol. 41, 1978), with the quotation from Leonardo da Vinci’s Trattato, par. 24: 

The eye whereby the beauty of the world is reflected by beholders is of such excellence that whoso consents to its loss deprives himself of the representation of all the works of nature.  Because we can see these things owing to our eyes the soul is content to stay imprisoned in the human body; for through eyes all the various things of nature are represented to the soul.  Who loses his eyes leaves his soul in a dark prison without hope of ever again seeing the sun, light of all the world; and how many there are to whom the darkness of night is hateful though it is of but short duration; what would they do if such darkness were to be their companion for life? 

This celebration of the eye and the sense of sight has always been my credo, and I had this wonderful Leonardo quote posted on my office door for students to read and think about.  In the modern world education is disproportionately slanted toward verbal discipline along with scientific thinking, and the training of the eye is accordingly sorely neglected from the grade school through the college.  Ability to write and write well is identified with capacity to think solidly and clearly, and tests in education are almost exclusively in the mastery of the verbal skill, aside from the quantifying sciences.   

If learning to see is woefully neglected in our education, it is also somehow wrongly assumed that seeing is a natural act which does not require training.  You’ve got eyes to see, and they see.  So, many suspect that learning to see is a tautology.  Intelligence, for this reason, is thought to be verbal or scientific, and visual intelligence is not adequately understood.  In the common expression “more art than science,” the implication is that science promises precision and therefore reliable truth, while art is intuitive and therefore haphazard, a matter of hit or miss. 

In Europe before the Gutenberg revolution that brought printed words to a larger segment of the population, literacy was restricted to a small minority of the population.  Generally illiterate, people for the most part had to rely on their sense of sight to understand the world in which they lived and negotiate with it.  This is still true today in less literate cultures around the globe; in those cultures it is the use of the eye that is given primacy and is heavily relied on.  I know how this is; as an immigrant student, even though I was well enough prepared with the language, there were plenty of occasions when I had to read a message by its semiotic signs — visual cues — rather than the words uttered.  This is what we experience when we travel in a foreign land where we don’t know enough of the language spoken there.  Sight seeing is, indeed, seeing sights and scenes for meaning — not just the body language of the interlocutors we try to converse with but all the details of the person as well as the space around the person extending to the townscape and all the objects in it, more than the ‘natives’ and the visitors equipped with the language.  We look more and we see more and we understand more. 

Snow again

More snow but fluffy
floating rather than flying
and singing spring’s near.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Comfort vs. Pleasure

The comfort of staying in the warm house on a frigid winter night is, of course, irresistibly tempting, but when it is placed on a balance with the pleasure of music, dance, or theater, even if I have to bundle up and persevere the blistery wind to get to the place where performance is given, the latter outweighs the former.  When the balance tips in the other direction and I start to find more satisfaction in the passive pleasure of comfort than in the comfort of active pleasure, I will know that my body is no longer young, claim as I may otherwise in spirit.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

American Folk Art Museum

The American Folk Art Museum, now destined to be demolished to make way for the MoMA expansion, was built in 2001 on the design of Todd Williams and Billie Tsien.  Most agree it is a beautiful building on the exterior; some are critical of its cramped interior.  Its major shortcoming is that it is not an adaptable building.  But that is its finest quality; it fulfills the museum’s needs meticulously.

Rising six stories on its small footprint of 40 feet x 100 feet, the interior, to a casual visitor, may look like a building housing stairs and passageways and little else. But the collection atypically consists of large and small objects that have to be shown together, those that require a distance to view and very small ones that require close views.  The skylit shafts in the center accommodate the former displayed to be seen from different directions and the latter arranged on the walls and small cases can be inspected conveniently along the stairs and passages.  The spatial perspective offer rich changes as we climb up and go around on each floor.  The building’s material is humble but warm and the architectural details betray craftsmanship, appropriate to the character of the exhibits.  The museum provides an ambulatory space with changing perspectives like some Italian hill town. It is imageable; it is a building as memorable as the objects it houses. In this regard it is unlike any other building anywhere; it is unique.

The economic reality of the patrician MoMA notwithstanding, it is a tragedy that it makes the poor folks succumb to it.