Friday, November 11, 2016

News media

News media for the most part 
tells truth like advertising
diluted and adulterated 
yet never quite untrue
and so it is at its best 
serving demagoguery
which the gullible public 
swallowing it all up
sadly promotes its doing.  

Sensation sells.

Social media in this digital age
propagates news in fragments 
emotionally loaded like sound bites
without rational argumentation
and diminishes truth even more. 

Sensation screams.
Sensation smears.

Media has been degrading
democracy into mediacracy
and will undoubtedly help it
corrupt into mobocracy.

What are we to do, oh what to do.

As when lost in a deep forest
we must walk on bravely
even if we are not sure which way 
alert to any sign of escape
for if we stall we perish.

Thursday, November 10, 2016


Whole milk is wholesome.
That's what makes it whole.
This, I insist, is the whole truth. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Trumpet Morn

The morning after the Presidential Election 2016, a friend wrote me: Devastating, dismal, and, as that vile hateful non-person likes to say, ‘it's a disaster’.  She followed up with her thoughtful comments that reflected my own thoughts, and I wrote this reply: 

Dismal, devastating, downright disastrous. . . indeed.  

You've said all -- the complicit media, the manipulative electorate, the divisive two-party system, and the campaign oligarchy -- and said it all so well.

A glimmer of consolation is that, unconscionably contradictory, Trump may not act out everything he blabbered about in his campaign demagoguery, and the Republican Party, if it regains some sense, may yet domesticate the bigot in power. Or, else, we will have a Hitler reborn and the repressive society modeled after his, or, at best, the return of the McCarthy Era.  

Trump's art of instilling fear and thus magnifying anxiety among the populace replicated that of Hitler in 1930, and yet journalists, either afraid or ignorant, never said so all through the shameful campaign.  To borrow Sinclair Lewis’ words in the title of his 1935 novel, "It Can't Happen Here," and yet it did then (in fiction) and it well could now (in reality).  

Dreary, deleterious, downright depressing.  Aaaagh!

Monday, October 3, 2016

謝罪、寛容、反省 - Forgive, Tolerate, Reflect


If a person admits an error and apologizes head lowered, forgiving is  compassion; it reveals humanity.  Refusing to forgive is arrogance.  To forgive another who disregards or denies her/his error requires tolerance. To deny one’s own error knowingly is cowardice; to be oblivious of it is ignorance.  Refusing to forgive an error the culprit denies is being self-indulgent.  Reflecting on one’s own actions sets road signs along our way ahead. One who cannot reflect therefore suffers anxiety and is unhappy. 

Writing this translation it occurred to me that there is no word in English corresponding to the Japanese hansei; more accurately, it signifies not merely reflecting but reviewing and re-evaluating one’s past conduct reflectively.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Open interest

My cultural interests — art, music, literature, and theater — don’t revolve around my ethnic identity, as do those of some, nor around my sexual, social, and ideological orientation. I voraciously take in all, everything in all shape and color and style.  In this I am rather pleased with myself.   But the downside of this openness is that I’m always breathless from running, without ever having enough time to do all I want to do.  In consequence I suffer perpetual sleep deficiency.  Oh, well. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Small plight

A small plight of a woman living alone is the back zipper of the dress which gets stuck midway, and,  with no one to help her, she is held captive in the dress she can neither zip up nor take off. 


We speak of sunset and sunrise.  But these are perceptions we have viewing the sun from earth.  The sun, in reality, neither sets anywhere nor rises from anywhere.  The term transgender, which entered the general vocabulary sometime later in 1970s or 1980’s and has now become prevalent as a hot social topic, is a similarly reversed concept.  That is to say, as transgender people would no doubt attest, they believe that they were born in the wrong body and maintained their gender identify unchanged from their earliest childhood.  What changed is the societal perception. 

The term transgender, no doubt, was adapted from earlier terms like “transsexual” and “transvestite,” where the prefix “trans” is appropriate in so far as there is a crossing of boundaries, a surgical change in anatomy in the former and the adoption of the consciously mismatched clothing against the gender in the latter.  There is no crossing among transgender people except in the eye of the beholder in accordance with the imposed societal norm.  For the transgender people, they remained the same all along in their own sense of identity; only, for the time being, they were costumed in disguise as demanded by the society.  There is no crossing; there is no transitioning either.

Immigrants crossed national borders, even across an ocean.  They might be called “trans-citizens.”  But even of immigrants, we might say that it is their cultural environment rather than their individual identity that was transformed; their label, socially sanctioned, changed — old wine in a new bottle, or the same wine in a different carafe.  Transgender people didn’t change, from their viewpoint for sure; but, given a label, they were herded into a specified corral. At universities students from different lands are grouped and labeled as “international students”; what they share is only the status of being considered outsiders. 

Like any labeling, a label categorizes, and categorizing misrepresents the reality of the fluid spectrum that characterizes gender, running from feminine to masculine, no less than the pernicious racial labels, like white and black, and labels for sexual preference.  Labeled, a transgender person is spotlighted, as though on a stage, shouting “Here I am, look at me, I am special, unlike any of you,” and she or he becomes an outsider.  but I believe that transgender people should consider this trend unfortunate.  On the other hand, I recognize that there are always those who enjoy limelight shined on their special identify, whether racial, ethnic, sexual, or whatever.

So far as I am concerned, I can best describe that I assumed a male identify until I was 38, when I regained my rightful womanhood. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Words falsify and mislead

Language is never totally truthful.  That is because words are abstract; they generalize.  So, singly, they categorize, and categories never fully represent reality. Words are necessary for communicating, and they are useful.  Formulated into phrases and sentences, words are modified for greater precision.  And, yet, any verbal statement, spoken or written, never fully expresses what is in the mind of its author, not to speak of her or his sentiment.  We understand each other approximately, and that suffices by and large.  But there are moments when we say in retort: “You got me wrong; that’s not what I meant at all.”

Words are approximations, and they are incapable of representing perceptions and emotions even remotely with any accuracy; they falsify reality and, therefore, can deceive us and mislead us.   The clearest case in point is color.  We say “red,” and every listener conjures up a different color.  Even more specific names given to red — scarlet, crimson, ruby, garnet, strawberry, tomato, poppy, incarnadine, etc. — signify different colors for different minds.  Even the same tint, under different light conditions, is perceived differently, as is also when the same tint is applied on differently textured surfaces.  All words similarly lack precision.

Take any common noun, say, tree, grass, mountain, street, skyscraper, salad, face, window, etc., or any adjective like warm, sad, clear, solid, sandy, tall, gorgeous, hungry, etc.; they all lack specificity.  They are all adequate in use and yet imprecise in relation to the concrete things or phenomena they purport to describe.  Certainly, words are used in combination with other words which provide their context. When spoken rather written, they are moreover accompanied by other semiotic signs, such as vocal tones, interjections, and facial and bodily gestures.  Still, even the most precise description conceivable of anything whatsoever is always open to interpretations, for it never replaces the experience of the reality it describes.  What we say don’t always say what we really mean.  We can never fathom from what someone says what’s in her or his mind.  More or less, yes, but never totally. 

But the wonders of the imprecision inherent in words are their capacity to suggest and evoke which impels us to write poetry or at least rhapsodize poetically as we all can even if we are not poets.  

Similarly, and even more significantly, imprecision inherent in words is exactly what gives us rein to create figures of speech and exercise rhetoric as orators well know.  A figure of speech, such as metaphor, hyperbole, synecdoche, and irony, characteristically does not say what it says, understood literally. Taken literally, a hyperbole is a blatant lie.  A mother tells her child: “I told you a hundred times; no, you can’t go out in the rain to play,”  To this the child might rightly counter: “But, mom, you said only five times.”  Hyperbole is possible precisely because words in their imprecision allow latitude in their meaning and use.  If we say so-and-so is a fool, we know that he is though not really; it is true and untrue.   A metaphor says at once what is and is not; speaking of a scorching heat wave, we are saying the heat feels like scorching which is saying that it does not scorch.  

Rhetoric is an art of saying the truth by lying, or, conversely, lying to suggest the truth.  Journalism deploys it, and political orations thrive in it.  But in our everyday language, too, metaphors abound. Black and white used in discussing race grossly misrepresent the reality that the skin color is a spectrum rather than categories.  The matter of gender discussed under the rubric of masculine and feminine is similarly misconstrued by these verbal categories.    In our intensely verbalized culture, we easily forget that any utterance expresses only a small part of our  reality.  Truth must sought and found in lived experience. 

Così fan tutte, Così fan tutti

Mozart’s opera Così fan tutte is one of my top favorites.  The title declares that women are fickle.  The women in the opera, Fiordiligi and Dorabella, whose fidelity is tested by their respective sworn fiancés, Guglielmo and Ferrando disguised as Albanians, succumb to seductions of the wrong man and prove their failure in fidelity.  This is, however, a male point of view.  The two men, even in playing a trickery, were exercising infidelity by seducing each other’s beloved.  From the point of view of a flirtatious woman the seducer is no less a culprit than the seduced.  The two men, even after exposing themselves, don’t realize their own folly, not to speak of Alfonso who instigated the game, while Despina, recruited by Alfonso, knows the truth that men are everywhere ready to be seduced.  Having won their proper lovers in the end, Fiordiligi and Dorabella were victorious winners.  Rightly, the whole title of the opera reads Così fan tutte, ossia La scuola degli amanti, the School for Lovers All, Men and Women, as I understand it.  I would retitle it to read Così fan tutte, Così fan tutti — They All Do It, Men and Women. Mozart’s music, of course, is unsurpassed. 

Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Merchant of Venice

Those who write on antisemitism in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice are, in my opinion, misguided whatever their opinion.  I claim that the Bard did not create a Jew to focus on his Jewish character but, rather, he created a money lender who was a Jew, because in the historical time in Venice where the story unfolds money lenders were generally Jews, as earlier in the last century in the U.S. cops were Irish, dry cleaners were Chinese (as they are predominantly Korean today), and tailors were Italian.  These are stereotypes and Shylock is a stereotype, and Shakespeare wisely used the convention because stereotypes dramatically clarify the ideas he would have the characters embody, that is, moneylending in this case, and the associated social conflicts of which drama is made.  Since Rabbinical laws prohibited Jews lending money to fellow Jews, the perception held by Gentiles was necessarily that Jews took advantage of them by demanding high interests, that is to say, practicing usury.  Moreover, Christians rejected non-Christians, characterizing them as pagans and infidels or, otherwise, heretics as the Catholic Church eventually considered Protestants to be.  Christian Venetians saw Jews as contemptible, and Shakespeare amply endowed them with antisemitic epithets and actions.  So, The Merchant of Venice realistically portrays Venice’s mercantile society for which Shylock appears as a synecdoche rather than as a thematic focus.  We are presented with those who hate and the plight of the object of their hate, and this is what gives the play its enduring pertinence in any society unable to free. 

A sense of historicity is elusive insofar as  a text from the past exists in the present.  We are always prone to read a writing from the past in the context of the present standard of ethics.  Ardent feminists are easily tempted to accuse a past writer of sexism concerning any matter which was taken for granted as a norm at the time of writing or at the time set in a historical past.  Historical fallacy is the case in point.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016


Sitting in a theater, I have been noticing for the past year or so that my hearing has been weakening.  Weakening is not quite what has been happening; it is more like blurring. It’s not that the sound I hear is getting faint; words are losing clear contours.  So, the lines spoken on the stage are getting hard to hear unless I am sitting close to the stage, perhaps within five or six rows. It is somewhat like seeing through a grime-covered glass; outlines are recognizable but details are lost.  I have been noticing, too, that I am more often asking to repeat what the person I was conversing with was saying.

The very same phenomenon is happening with my eyesight.  My ophthalmologist assured me that my sight is good and that I am free of cataract and glaucoma.  Yet, even with my new glasses on, writings in the distance are blurred; and supertitles in the theater are sometimes hard to read.  On the computer monitor, I can enlarge the text, and that is helpful.  Reading printed books has become hard and slow Again, I easily misread words, and reading small types is painful. The hyphen often shows itself as an equal sign; a and s are interchangeable.  Squinting the eyes used to sharpen the focus and make the text clearer; but now I see better if I open my eyes wide, as wide as possible, apparently so as to allow more light into the eyes.  So, it makes sense that I see better under brighter light.

My memory is also getting blurry, especially the short-term memory, words and names, sometimes some simple words.  All these blurs are expected at my age. I’m sure, approaching 84.  I get sleepy a lot during the day; I often doze at the table after or even during my breakfast.  My mind is then really blurry.  I believe this has to do with the fact that my bedtime is normally 2:00 a.m. and I have habitually six hours of sleep.  I don’t forget tasks and appointments. My hands don’t shake and my balance is good.  My knees are firm though I wobble a little when I take a seat on a subway, and my gait is still secure.  Most importantly, except when I am sleepy, my thinking is clear and alert.  Thank heavens!  

Monday, July 25, 2016

Living Live Theater

What makes live theater special is that it is live, that is to say, it is alive.  It is live action.  The experience of attending live theater may be likened to watching a glass blower blow a glass or a potter shaping a bowl on the wheel. The finished work is surely exquisite; watching it being made is an experience on another level.  A beautiful painting is wonderful, of course; but watching a painter paint it over her or his shoulder gives us a special excitement that can be experienced only vicariously when inspecting the brushwork visible in the finished painting.  A stuffed bird is beautiful but a live bird flutters and screeches and flies. 

When motion picture was born at the turn of the last century, it was photography come alive.  Performances as screen images are surely exciting enough; but next to a live event, it is only a shadow of the real event, a virtual reality.  Live theater is to movies as moving picture was to photography.  A circus on television is exciting enough; but attending a live circus performance is incomparable in its unparalleled thrill.  A circus coming to town is an event.  A field trip is hard work but it is always worth the effort. 

Attending theater is so much work.  The endeavor is certainly costly, not only in monetary expenses but also in time and effort.  It’s a lot of time-consuming work to order subscriptions and make reservations, whether by phone, on line, via mail, or in person, and then it is more work to manage the calendar with packed schedules; but it is also hard work to ride and walk to the theater and back, often taking up an hour each way, and it is still more work to sit concentrating on the actions on the stage, sometimes at no easy hearing and viewing distance and in an uncomfortable seat.  Planned and then undertaken, live theater is a labor intensive field trip. 

It’s so much easier to stay in and watch television, DVD, or streamed videos in the comfort of one’s home without all this work.  There are New Yorkers, of course, who, like suburbanites, prefer to relax after dinner on their favorite couch or armchair and entertain themselves with shows on television, which provide enough variety, too, and more recently DVDs and streamed movies which meet their individual taste and preferencs.  They would go out only as special events on special occasions.  Life is easier this way; but I insist that they are missing a lot.  In the world of modern technology, virtual reality has become the norm.  Those for whom canned tuna has become the norm, fresh tuna may taste strange, even unpalatable.

Living in New York, as I do, and enduring a high cost of living here, I consider it foolish if I didn’t take full advantage of the cultural amenities this city uniquely has to offer that are not quite as abundantly available elsewhere, and one of them is certainly live theater.  So, I take in as many live performances as I possibly could — music, dance, and live theater, ranging in variety and scale from sumptuous grand opera events to shoestring black-box productions.  I go out night after night, exhausting but tremendously satisfying.  Occasionally I attend movies but they inevitably seem slim even when they are good and I have no television at home as I have no use for it.  Live music is alive; live dance breathes; live performers share our space.   After enjoying fresh tuna, raw or cooked, canned tuna tastes, well, canned. not fresh. 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

七夕 - Tanabata Festival


影ばかり     香織

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Realism Lays Brutality Bare

A Young Vic production of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, directed by Benedict Andrews, came to St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn.  Having seen Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, another Young Vic production two years ago, which featured a frenetically rotating house set (by Ian McNeill), I was weary when I read that here again the house set (by Magda Willi) rotated. But it was fine; with the seating on all four sides, the house moved slowly most of the time to allow the audience on all sides to see the action fully.  The production was intensely dramatic, gripping for sure, almost to the extent of exhausting the audience.  I was however left with a mixed feeling.  For one, Gillian Anderson as Blanche, praised by critics, was for me far too frenetic; her overdone Southern accent and her histrionic actions to match it at once stood out against the rest of the cast and at the same time set the tone of the entire play by dominating it. The action was set in a characterless, almost antiseptic, skeletal house, as dictated no doubt by the present day the play was placed; I missed the sense of the locale, the sultry air and languid squalor of New Orleans’ French Quarter, an integral element in Williams’ creation; and, so, Anderson’s Blanche also disturbed me in her lack of the ethereal otherworldliness I expected of the character.  In saying this, I am remembering the two earlier productions (aside from the 1951 Elia Kazan film featuring Vivien Leigh, Marlon Brando, and Kim Hunter): one in 2005 at Studio 54, directed by Edward Hall and featuring Natasha Richardson, John C. Reilly, and Amy Ryan, and the other in 2009 at BAM Harvey, directed by Liv Ullman and featuring Cate Blanchett, Joel Edgerton, and Robin McLeavy; both were very impressive and the latter, in particular, is still vivid in my mind.  Pervasive cruelty in Blanche but above all in Stanley’s physical brutality disturbed me almost painfully.  A part of this effect had to the proximity of the actors to the audience; they deployed the floor around the house, brushing the knees of the first-row spectators.  But I alsowondered if I am getting too old to take violence enacted on stage.

This thought, however, led me deeper into the matter of Tennessee William;’s plays, many of which deal with human cruelty of one kind or another, and I began to see that the nature of realism in modern theater brings it closer to us and more immediate in contrast to the stylization that prevailed in older forms of theater.  Certainly, cruelty of all kinds abounds in Green drama — revenge, torture, and murder, all colorful and terrifying as such but distanced one way or another; they may take place off stage, or else be told but not shown, and if shown formalized, and this is true in Shakespeare and opera and Kabuki, this last being the theater I was nurtured in.  When a realist play like Williams’ is realized in the Stanislavskian mode in which authenticity is insisted upon more than, or even instead of, credibility, violence on stage achieves such immediacy as to close the aesthetic distance between fiction and reality.  If cruelty is psychological as in the plays of Strindberg, whose The Father was recently performed in a production by the TFANA, featuring remarkable John Douglas Thompson as the Captain, the distance is harder to close compared with physical brutality.  Violence in close prosimity becomes menacing. Realism, possibly by its nature, lays brutality bare.

Vacation or Vocation

Vacation means vacating, that is to say, leaving home, customarily in town, to spend time elsewhere, more often in the countryside which conventionally suggests the seashore or the mountains, sometimes abroad, in order to escape the seasonal discomfort like the summer heat and winter cold.  Vacationers go to live  in a country house or a beach house, owned or rented, or else stay in an inn or a hotel.  Underlying the notion of vacation is the urban living, which developed into a norm with the rise of the industrialization.  The more strict sense of vacation, dictionaries explain, is a scheduled period of closing the shop as applied to schools and law courts.  The term vacation, meaning the leave of absence from a regular occupation is a more recent usage, and it is a notion integral in that of the wage, also a product of industrial revolution, by which a worker is paid by the hour rather than by the output of the work.  Since work by wage is bound to be tedious in so far as it is the result of the division of labor and imposes a high degree of repetition and monotony, work came to mean something onerous which requires the worker to “take a break” from now and then to provide a respite, to recuperate. So, vacation in contemporary usage came to mean, especially for wage earners, an escape not so much from any climatic discomfort but from boredom of work and as such a necessity verging on obligation. 

In the preindustrial society before the coinage of the term, presumably early in the nineteenth century, work was self-motivated, certainly for artisans, merchants, and farmers. The modern connotation of work as something that has to be done obligatorily to earn a living and thus opposed to play and pleasure was unknown in old times as for old-style artists and craftspersons today who work with pride in the works they produce, for whom work is a vocation.  A priest, if he takes a vacation, does not stop being a priest; but a lawyer away from her or his office on vacation apparently ceases his lawyerly work.  Anyone who keeps working while allegedly on vacation, unable to escape deploying all the modern means of communication to stay in touch with the office, is thought to be wasting a vacation time by neglecting the obligation to “take a break.”  This is not to say that old-time and old-style craftspersons did not have a break; breaks were interspersed in their day.  A potter does not necessarily stay at the wheel all day; a novelist does not necessarily sit to write all day.  On the other hand, any creative work basically has no scheduled vacation.  A writer walking down the street is likely to be rewriting in her or his mind a section of the work in progress; a composer slurping ramen noodle may be rolling in her or his mind a motif in the piece currently being composed. An architect, jostled in a crowded subway, could well be mentally redrawing an elevation.  A creative artist’s work continues while traveling, probably even more intensely in new environments as being abroad.  In creative efforts, work is play and vice versa; so, the notion of vacation understood in the contemporary office culture does not exist.  The idea of “paid vacation” is a modified bonus; paid as it is, it paradoxically makes vacations a part of office work away from the office.  Curiously, creative work, like vocation, is continually a vacation, while uncreative work, typically in office culture, is obligatorily a work even on vacation. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Last Sips are Always the Best

I enjoy coffee every morning at breakfast.  After finishing the fruits, customarily an apple sliced thin and covered with Greek yogurt, I take a few sips before starting the plate of bacon, egg, and toast, and they are piping hot and very good.  I have it in large white mug, the size of the French café au lait bowl.  So, after cleaning up the plate, there are always a few sips left at the bottom of the mug, by then no longer hot. But those last sips are always the best.  Dark brown against the white walls of the mug, they are beautiful to the eye and, lukewarm, they are more acutely sensed by the taste bud.  This is one of those trifles in life that gives such a tremendous joy and there is nothing trifling about it. 

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Self-Portrait 2016

05.27.16, IRT Line #1 Subway Station 28th St. Platform 

Monday, May 23, 2016

Italienisches Liederbuch

Hugo Wolf’s art songs in his Italienisches Liederbuch drew the words from anonymous Italian poems translated into German by Paul Heyse.  Translations, even when rendered beautifully, never succeeds in replicating the original; they are adaptations.  As I was listening to the first song in the set performed by a soprano, in German of course, and then reading the Italian text, I couldn’t help being struck by the drastic change of the poem’s character, in particular in the effect of the Italian diminutive suffix in “le cose piccoline” as opposed to “kleine Dinge” or even “Dingelschen.”  The case offers us a glimpse into the fundamental difference between Italian opera and German musical drama. 

Auch kleine Dinge können uns entzücken,
Auch kleine Dinge können teuer sein.
Bedenkt, wie gern wir uns mit Perlen schmücken;
Sie werden schwer bezahlt und sind nur klein.
Bedenkt, wie klein ist die Olivenfrucht,
Und wird um ihre Güte doch gesucht.
Denkt an die Rose nur, wie klein sie ist,
Und duftet doch so lieblich, wie ihr wißt.

Le cose piccoline son pur belle!
Le cose piccoline son pur care!
Ponete mente come son le perle:
son piccoline, e si fanno pagare.
Ponete mente come l'è l'uliva:
l'è piccolina, e di buon frutto mena.
Ponete mente come l'è la rosa:
l'è piccolina, e l'è tanto odorosa.

The Italian text is available in Canti popolari toscani, corsi, illirici, greci, raccolti ed illustrati da Niccolò Tommaseo, Venezia, G. Tasso, 1841. 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Fried and Spiteful 目玉の恨み

Incomprehensibly, my fried egg at breakfast comes out now and then like this, fried and spiteful and plaintive — a chick hatching prematurely from the egg broken into the sizzling skillet and turning into an angry bird?? 


Thursday, April 21, 2016


Learning is the supreme joy in life.  Of course, our whole life is a continuous process of learning from the time we learn to walk, to talk, to sing, then to count, to write, and to play, in our childhood, as well as to detect dangers, control anger, behave politely, and exercise compassion, through our schooling, and then living and working as a member of the society.  Year by year, we learn and continue to learn.  As an adult, we had to learn to find ways of earning a living, to associate, negotiate, and resist temptations. I am thinking, however, of learning what is hard to learn, of learning anything with a challenge.  In my old age, after retirement, the special pleasure has been to concentrate on learning anything without regard to necessity, merely to enjoy the effort spent in learning and the reward of having mastered something even if less well than aspired.

What we have learned we may forget.  But after years or even decades, what we have once learned and forgotten may be lost from memory but never completely. Remembering and reclaiming what we have forgotten is different from learning for the first time. What we have once learned can never be unlearned. 

Diversity into Integration

Diversity and integration, much discussed on university and colleges campuses today, are certainly a worthy effort.  But, thinking about it, I was perplexed.  For one, the two terms, too often paired as near synonyms, fail to see them as two stages of development, in which the former may prepare for but does not promise the latter. and then the terms seem to be understood racially more than culturally.

Bringing in students of a wide range of ethnic, social, and cultural background creates diversity.  But unless they interact actively, there is no integration.  There is no stew until all the ingredients are mixed in one pot. In this light, Black Cultural Center is an unfortunate institution, because, however laudable its intention, it isolates a particular group of the community from the rest and thus promotes self-segregation despite itself.  This, I believe, is true of GLBT Center and Asian Students Association as well. Intercultural Center may seem less segregating; but it, too, suggests that the interaction among students of different backgrounds are mixed together separate from rather than among the rest of the community.  

I am reminded of the International House; as a student at UC Berkeley I shied away from it, feeling as though students from abroad are corralled together for the presumed commonality of being non-American.  In my first years in the US, at Santa Rosa Junior College, there were some fifteen foreign students (as we were called) — Hungarian, Swedish, Korean, Peruvian, Nigerian, Iranian, German and Japanese, one of each, and several Canadians — a nice global representation.  But being treated as a distinct group, what we shared among ourselves was being foreign.  We were friends, certainly, I was fond of them all.  But I recall how its conceptual artifice made me uncomfortable.  

I am, of course, being idealist.  Cosmopolitan cities like New York continue to maintain ethnic enclaves; and it is probably natural that campuses reflect this pattern.  No complete integration will ever be achieved so long we keep perpetuating such designations as “non-American and “non-white”, terms which by definition are prejudicial for excluding a particular group as existing outside the norm.  The racial designation like Black and White that stubbornly persists in American society, also support the prejudicial distinction between the normative and the exceptional.  

There are on the other hand voluntary groups , defined culturally, formed on the basis of common interest, belief, and/or profession, in urban centers as well as in society at large — garden clubs, choral groups, churches, and specific trade unions. So, on campuses, we may have a film society, badminton club, German table, and conservative society.  These are clearly ethnically neutral.  Even though Jazz may be black in origin, a jazz club today is bound to be racially mixed.  Black Cultural Center, albeit labeled Cultural, seems to operate on the presumption that all blacks represent black culture.  

In my color-blindness in matters of ethnicity, I don’t deny that I am naively idealistic.  But I’d like to see any culture associated with the black race (or Latino, or Asian) integrated in the community at large, instead of being carried out in a designated corner, as it would be realized when we have the advanced stage of integration.  College and university campus, I hope understands this true state of integration and spearhead the efforts toward it.   

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

My Apple

I live in the Big Apple, compute, compose, and communicate on an Apple, and, most importantly, eat an apple a day to keep the doctors away — HoneyCrisp when it is in season or else Fuji or Cameo, but no Granny Smith, and look how my cheeks are cheerfully red like red apples.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Winter in April - 冬卯月

Winter in April, 
The bus is never arriving.
Street trees are dying.


Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Finishing Unfinishing

I have been to the preview of the inaugural exhibition at the Met Breuer entitled .  It left me with thoughts left unresolved. 

Appropriating the former Whitney Museum building, the Met stated its mission as follows:  “The Met Breuer provides additional space for the public to explore the art of the 20th and 21st centuries through the global breadth and historical reach of The Met's unparalleled collection (Italics mine).”  If this is the case, the exhibition was a misrepresentation. As critics have rightly observed, a half of the works displayed dated from before 1900, and many of them, as well as those after 1900, were on loan rather than from the Met’s own collection. Furthermore, the exhibition, predominantly European rather than global, contradicted the Met’s vastly multicultural holding.  

More crucially, The title of the exhibition is a misnomer.  The term “unfinished” is itself problematic because it is understood much too broadly to judge by the works selected for exhibition. For one, works that look unfinished are not necessarily left unfinished, often obviously finished.  Moreover, the subtitle “Thoughts Left Visible” contradicts the central concept of the main title.  A sketch or a series of sketches, drawn or painted (as in oil sketches), or modeled (like bozzetti of clay or terra cotta, for example), done in preparation toward the projected final work, records the working process and truly reveals the artist’s “thoughts left visible.”  Works abandoned before completion may give us a glimpse of the artist’s thinking but not necessarily.

Whether a particular work is finished or unfinished is the decision of the artist or, else, the consequence of unforeseen circumstances that interrupted its completion, most obviously by the death of the artist.  Michelangelo’s Rondanini Pieta, which the artist was still hacking out a few days before his death, was truly left “unfinished.”  A work interrupted by another more pressing work, say, the commissioning patron’s demand, and left in the unfinished state, may best be described as “interrupted.”  This could be the case of this Netherlandish painting at the Met (not included in this exhibit; actually, the 15th century painting was overpainted in the 17th century with the Marriage of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, which in turn was removed in modern restoration bringing to light the underdrawing.  This is, therefore an exceptional case of  "un-finished" meaning “undoing” accidentally exposing the artist’s thought and process. 

The artist may stop work, unable to proceed further and never to return to finish it; such a work, left “unfinished,” considered “unfinishable” by the artist, was “abandoned.”  Leonardo da Vinci’s many “unfinished” works are of this nature.  On the other hand, the artist might deliberately leave the work “unfinished,” considering it “completed as is”.  The superb example of this case is Michelangelo’s Giorno/Day, one of the reclining figures in the Medici Tomb with the face of the Day left in the rough which, as is said, realized the effect of the blazing sundial.  Some artists left parts of the work in the rough — “finished loose” as often seen in the portraits by Velazquez, who finished the face more precisely and the rest of the body in loose style.  Rembrandt after the Night Watch painted this way.  

In more modern works, artists preferred the “unfinished” look with the idea of simulating the optical experience, as among the Impressionist, or the emotional urge, as among the Expressionists.  The ‘unfinished’ in these works is best categorized as “sketchy”, a deliberate stylistic choice.  Alternatively, there were artists interested in the process of making, as in Pollock and other Abstract Expressionists.  Loose or sketchy, the ‘unfinished” in these examples is basically “unfinishing” considered finished, the artist’s “thoughts made visible.”  We find the related style in the tsao shu or the running script in Chinese and Japanese calligraphy; but, rather than “unfinishing” to reveal the process of making, tsao shu indicated the artist’s higher level of mastery, the freedom achieved after mastering the correct or tight style.  Vasari, following Castiglione, adopted the term sprezzatura for this style, as seen in Late Titians — free but consummate; the term is usually translated as a “nonchalant” style.  

There are other ramifications of the loose term “unfinished.”  This brief survey suffices to show that not all works that look “unfinished” are unfinished; most of them, I dare say, are actually finished, even those that are deliberately left in the state of unfinishing.  


I’m limping.  I took a fall Saturday night, 2 April, carrying a carton of recycle paper with a pile of flattened cartons on top down the elevator to the street level and the few steps to the basement of my apartment building. The cardboard stack was light and wobbly and high, in poor balance with the heavy carton full of paper, and I could not see where I was going, or rather, where my feet were going. Accidents occur from carelessness and lack of foresight; I graphically lacked foresight.  I should have made two separate trips as was obvious only in hindsight. 

By fortune, I didn’t break any bone; I hurt neither my hip nor my knees.  I got a scrape on my right arm (under a sweater sleeve), a blow on a left rib, and a twist in in my left ankle.  All evening, it was excruciating to take steps, even to put my injured foot down on the floor.  Recovery was visible overnight, however; I could walk, though painfully, with a limp the next day.

I see on the streets people of my age or older (and younger, too) limping along or else treading wearily with a cane or a walker, and, seeing them, I ruminate that eventually I will be like them while at the same time they always make me feel sprightly and happy to be able to move nimbly.  My injury was light and I expect to be bouncy again soon. 

It so happened that I had a reserved ticket Sunday to a concert across the town at Alice Tully Hall.  I was at my computer in the afternoon and when I realized and looked at the clock, it was 4:50, and the concert was to start at 5:00.  There was no way I could make it, but paradoxically I had no regret.  With the uncertain ankle, one is prone to turn it easily, certainly going down the subway stairs, and it made good sense to stay home.  I thought I made a wise decision after a laughably foolish act.  Actually, it wasn’t that; it wasn’t by design. I had forgotten about the concert until it was too late — another carelessness. Still, I felt a higher being guiding me away from still another foolishness of going out limping and taking another fall.

PS.  Limping makes one look old, easily older by ten years. 

Short Life Long Career

Life span unnumbered is a single unit.  A creative life, consummate, may be short or long. 

Anthony Van Dyck, whose exhibit is currently running at Frick, died at the age of 42.  Felix Mendelssohn died at 38; Franz Schubert at 31; Mozart at 35.  They all died of failing health. Among literary figures, Stephen Crane and Arthur Rimbaud come to mind; they died at 29 and 37, respectively.  Artists who died young include Raphael (37),  Giorgione (32), Parmigianino (37), Adriaen Brouwer (33), Watteau (37), Seurat (32), and Modigliani (35), among many, leaving out those who willfully terminated their own life. On the other hand, there are artists of known longevity: Michelangelo (89), Titian (99), Hokusai (89), G. B. Shaw (94), Matisse (85), and Picasso (92).  Most recent continuously creative centenarians dear to me include George Abbot (107), Mieczysław Horszowski (100), Will Barnet (101), Elliott Carter, (104), and Carl Schorski (100). 

We often talk of short-lived creative people as having had a short life and died an untimely death.  This is true if we rely on the numerical years by which one’s life is defined.  A 100-year old has lived twice as long as a 50-year old.  But this is odd. 
When we examine a person’s life in terms of accomplishment and ignored the number of years lived, we might see that she or he had accomplished a life’s work in a shorter time span but the career was full.  It is as though some of us walk faster with larger strides and others saunter more slowly toward the same goal.  It is pointless to ask what Mozart might have composed had he lived till 90, or what kind of art Giorgione might have painted had he lived till 1550 when he would have been 72, painting side by side with Titian who was then 62.  

A life freed of numbered years is the true life of an individual.  She or he may accomplish a lot fast or very little within the same timespan; she or he may accomplish little or a lot in great many years.  A creative career, I believe, is independent of the years lived.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016


愚痴という字をじっくり眺めて御覧なさい、「愚」は「おろか」「痴」は「馬鹿げていること」。「愚痴」の定義は「 言ってもしかたがないことを言って嘆くこと」。そのほかに、仏教に、三毒と称して「貪瞋痴(とんじんち)」というのがありますけど、これは訳して「貪欲」、「瞋恚(しんに)」、「愚痴」で、解釈はそれぞれ「欲、むさぼり、ものおしみ」、「怒り、憎しみ」、「おろか、真理に対して無知の心」だそうです。辞書と百科辞典で調べてごらんなさい。これを読むと反省したくなるかもしれませんけど、そんな気持ちにならないのが愚痴でしょうね。

Monday, February 15, 2016

My Birthday 83rd

On 30 January 2016 I celebrated my 83rd birthday, and I could say that I find myself in the prime of my life.  I say this because 83 is a prime number and the 23rd prime number, too; and 23, of course, is another prime.  Not only is 83 a prime number itself but it is the sum of three consecutive primes: 23 and 29 and 31, as well as of five consecutive primes -- 11, 13, 17, 19, and 23.  Then, obviously, 3 and 5 are primes, too.  Very felicitous!  Very, very felicitous. No less happy is the fact that I can recite all the primes up to 109!  Who knows, I may live on up to that number.

Life's Joys and Tribulations

I wrote this thought and sent it to my 11-year old grand niece in Tokyo. 





日本では、よく「暑さ寒さも彼岸まで」と言います。「あぁ、暑い暑い」あるいは 「寒い寒い」と文句を言っても、お彼岸になれば季節が変わってずっと楽になるから、それを予想していたら、暑さも寒さもそう苦労にならないという事です。香織おばは、その改作で「暑さ寒さも気持ちの次第」と言います。今日零度で震えていても、二三日前の零下八度の日の事を考えたら、楽なもんですと自分に言い聞かせるとそれほど寒くなくなります。暑さも同じ事、今日は暑いけど、まだまだ先にもっと暑くなる日がある事を予想したら、それほど暑く感じなくなるものです。日ごとの辛い経験も、もっと辛い事を思い出したり想像したら、辛さがある程度減少します。これが我慢という事かも知れません。体を縮めて、肉体的、あるいは感情的に、我慢するのではなくて、理性的にする我慢の事です。








Thursday, January 21, 2016

Charles Mee's The Glory of the World

I read Thomas Merton in my youth, and I have seen several of Charles Mee’s previous plays, and I find this work a masterpiece, a festive farce which I characterize with two words, sublime ridiculousness, and saying this I am referring to Divine Comedy, here turned upside down for the 21st century; the play starts in Paradise and ends in chaotic Inferno, portraying Humanity in its utter folly, as ever repeated in history -- war and devastation.  This Merton would have understood fully.  So, this raucous farce is also a perfect tribute to Thomas Merton at 100