Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Translation is Adaptation

Translation in its basic meaning is rendering a text written in one language into an equivalent text in another.  It aspires to fidelity but this can mean truthfulness to the form of the text or its sense, and the sense can mean the text’s meaning or its aura; and, furthermore, the exact nature of the sense the translated text means to convey depends on the judgment of the translator.  

A translation may be passably successful but rarely, if ever, even adequately successful.  A translation at best only approximates the original text; it necessarily transforms and distorts; it unfailingly fails to capture the real character of the original text.  As Italians express so tersely, traduttore traditore

This is inevitable in so far as languages differ in their constitution, not only lexically but, more importantly, sonically — lexically because a word in one language differs from a corresponding word in another language in its semiotic territory and attendant connotations, and sonically because each language possesses its own particular sound, rhythm, and cadence.  Translating poetry is, for this reason, an ever unbeatable task.  The aforementioned Italian dictum, which may be translated as “translator is a traitor,” may be more naturally rendered as “translation is treacherous,” but in either case, the sense of the pun is lost as is the peculiarly Italian cadence.  

The problem is inherent in the art or science of translation, true, but more accurately and importantly it is that we are misled to thinking of translation as an effort to achieve equivalence just because the languages are all equally verbal.  But, rather, two languages are actually like two different mediums.  A painting redone in engraving is not a painting but an engraving, and they are appreciated and evaluated accordingly; even a watercolor copy of an oil painting is a different animal altogether.  A clearer example is a novel made into a film; the filmed novel never really reproduces the novel because words are abstract while pictorial images are inexorably concrete.  A sentence like “A woman stood at the window, looking down on her garden and beyond the fence” will have to be photographed in a film with a woman of a certain age and constitution, costumed in a particular style standing in a specific posture by a window of certain design, shot either from the back or from a distance outside facing the window.”  There is no such an indefinite entity as a woman, a window, a garden, or a tree in photographic representation.  A novel rendered as a film is an adaptation, even though many spectators expect it to be a faithful rendering almost like a translation; it should bear a title different from that of the original novel and described with the phrase “adapted from” or “based on.”  

A poem in translation must be understood, too, as a rendering that captures only some of the sense of the original.  Ezra Pound’s rendering of Chinese poems into English is far from faithful but show that he understood that translation can only aspire to very rough approximation.  He knew the truth that Translation is Adaptation. 


Vacant Store - 空き店

When I walk by a vacant store and, peeking inside, see the place completely emptied, I feel a pang of sadness through my marrows and hear a death knell.



Sunday, August 20, 2017

Green-Wood Cemetery

One day late in May, on 28 May to be exact, I had a sudden thought that I wanted to remain in New York perpetually.  I had already asked a friend, serving as my executor, to scatter my ashes over the Hudson so that eventually I will reach my beloved Italy across the Atlantic Ocean.  But my life in New York since my retirement in 2001 has been very happy and I just didn’t want to leave behind my home here.  To stay in New York I must have a grave; so, I started searching for cemeteries, and the Green-Wood was my choice; I had visited it before and found the place very beautiful.  

On 22 June, I rang the Green-Wood Cemetery and made an appointment for 5 July.  On that day, I was shown around to see the available lots.  I chose promptly one of the four sites and one specific plot there; and back in the office I made a payment and it was all done.  Curiously, I was cheerful going to the cemetery and through the whole procedure, and I was even more elated coming home.  

Only when I was back home, I realized that 5 July, the day I acquired my plot was the day when my love Tokiko and I got formally together.  I had no idea of this remarkable coincidence when I chose that particular day to visit the cemetery and purchased the plot that very day.

Furthermore, I noticed a few days later that 5 July 2017 fell exactly on the 60th year anniversary of our union, the felicitous return-of-the-calendar in Asia, the cycle that combines the 12 zodiac signs and 5 elements.  I was dumbfounded; I am in no doubt that Tokiko dwelled in my mind and guided me all the way.  She passed away in 1995; and since I still have her ashes, we will be together once again after my passing. 

As mysteriously, too, 38 days passed between my first thought of the perpetual abode in New York and the purchase of the plot, and, moreover, reviewing my journal, I discovered that 38 days later, on 12 August, I came up with the design for my headstone, featuring the Sanscrit character for kahn, my zodiac sign, the rooster. As I explain elsewhere 38 is the magic number in my numerology. 

My life with her lasted 38 years; and if I lived to 2033, I will have lived 38 years without her.  I will then be 100. 


On 31 August, I went to Supreme Memorials in Brooklyn and ordered my headstone, exactly 19 days after I devised the design for it, the date I now chose deliberately.  I also stopped at Leone Funeral Home, recommended by Supreme Memorials, to arrange the interment of  Tokiko’s ashes and my cremation.  On the way home, I realized, again to my astonishment, that Leone matched her sign Leo, her birthday being 30 July, exact opposite of mine, 30 January. 



The scaffolding with a sheathing of opaque plastic outside my apartment has been shielding the sunlight and keeping my room perpetually under a heavy cloud, now for over nine months, and I wonder if it is not slowly affecting me mentally with  the sleepy condition of sunlight deficiency I christened Nonsolitis, which I am now suffering in addition to Diabetes Type 2 and Artritis, the condition of fatigue and ennui induced by large scale art exhibitions; on the other hand, the sleepiness may be of a cause unknown to me, in which case, I can still call it, yes . . . Non-so-litis.


Monday, July 31, 2017

My Numerology 19

I was born in 1933 and left Japan for the US in 1952; my life in Japan was 19 years; this was the start.  

In 1957 I got together with my love, Tokiko, who passed away in 1995; we shared our life for 38 years, 19 twice.  My teaching career also lasted 38 years; I took my first job in 1963 and retired in 2001. I assumed a male identity until 1971, when I regained my rightful womanhood; I was 38 then. 

If I lived until 2033, I will have had 38 years of single life; I will then be 100.  Cool.


Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Green Tea Over Rice

The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice is the title of one film by Ozu Yasujiro, the translation of Ochazuke no Aji. Normally, at meal time, Japanese eat three bowls of rice with okazu, the term inaccurately translated as side dish. Everything other than white rice on the table is okazu, which may be fish or meat (but never both) and vegetables, all seasoned (predominantly with soy sauce). When you have eaten all the okazu and still have some rice left in the third bowl, you pour green tea and maybe have a pickle and finish the rice, slurping it with the rim of the bowl on the lips, though this is considered bad manners. This is ochazuke, literally .  It cleanses the palate as the dessert is designed to do in European dinners.  Sometimes, instead of tea, leftover soup might be poured on the rice. The lower social crust, constrained economically, is not generous with okazu as the upper crust, and this, combined with the slurping, explains the ochazuke as "gauche." Ochazuke is a matter at the familial table; tea is never poured over rice in any formal dinner or at the table with invited guests.  Rice bowl is held in one hand (left) and eaten with chopsticks in the other hand (right); if you are left-handed, you are corrected from the time a child starts using chopsticks.  We learn the word right and left as the chopstick hand and bowl hand.  Noodles are meant to be slurped; it is a fast food of old times, popularized by workers on the run, like firefighters, messengers, construction workers, etc.  So, it is viewed as ridiculous if noodles are not swallowed fast.  Itami Juzo's early film Tanpopo (just before A Taxing Woman has scenes that have to do with the right way of eating noodles.  In a book of essays, he, a gourmet and a great chef himself, talks how Japanese cook spaghetti like udon (far beyond al dente).  I wrote this in response to a friend’s query on the title of the Ozu film. 


Black Ballerina

In my next life I want to be born a black girl with a midnight black skin, smooth and flawless; and I want to be a ballerina, with long legs and feet of strong arch and perfect turnout. I am willing to do all the hard work to be good enough to receive training at the School of American Ballet.  Just an idle thought that flurried into my mind as I watched a young black woman walk near Lincoln Center, very likely an SAB student. 


Sunday, June 25, 2017






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。








ルチアに  香織おば  01.24.16

My Pet Animals  - 好きな動物

Image result for giraffe

My favorite pet animals, aside from the cat, are the giraffe, the owl, and the turtle. Having written this, I suddenly realized that I have always been interested in stretching my neck to broaden my field of vision, that I developed a habit of staying up late with my eyes wide open after dark, and, I plod to learn and, protective of my own well-being, aspire to live a long life. So, clearly, none of this is accidental.



Slant Slide Skew

There are sidewalks in New York City that slant toward the curb, no doubt for better drainage, because of which we pedestrians, in order to avoid sliding, are forced to walk skewed.  I detest them and if I know the street I avoid it.  


Wednesday, May 31, 2017


Let us not forget that this is the nation of immigrants since the dawn of its history, and, furthermore, they came as refugees escaping oppression and seeking, in particular, religious freedom; and henceforward the nation grew with successive waves of immigrants.  Social heterogeneity generated by immigrants has been the nation’s strength which continues to enrich the life and culture of its citizens. 


Sunday, May 28, 2017

Opera is Art of the Voice

Opera is vocal music.  Singing creates a drama in the opera; the drama it creates should come from singing.  All too often, in modern productions, opera has been made into a sight-and-sound spectacle with singing submerged in the visual fanfare; the set, costume, and lighting, which should support the singing, too often take precedence rather than a subsidiary place.  Little wonder I experience a special excitement when I attend an opera in concert presentation; with no stage set and minimal costume and physical action, it is so much more fulfilling than a fully-staged performance, precisely because the voice with instrumental accompaniment carries the drama.  A good libretto rendered into an expressive musical composition and sung beautifully is what we get.  In some operatic works, notably in Wagner’s music dramas, symphonic music takes precedence to which voices are one additional set of instrument.  All these points were powerfully demonstrated in the recent performance I attended at Carnegie of Handel’s Ariodante featuring the English Concert and Joyce DiDonato in the title role.  It was opera par excellence superbly realized. 


Pink, pink, pink

My obsessive taste for pink originates, I recently reflected, in the fact that I missed out on pinky girlhood, having grown up in wartime Tokyo when the camouflage khaki washed the world.  So, even now at my advanced age, when I see a little girl dressed in pink I get oh so envious.  But, too, I remember that the cherry blossom that colors every spring in Japan is the glorious pink. See also Pink Me on my Webbsie http://www.swarthmore.edu/Humanities/tkitao1








Thursday, April 27, 2017

Maxi hazards - マキシの難

Ankle-length skirts are nice - smart and elegant; but I am disinclined to wear them unless absolutely wanted.  The reasons are three.  First, the hem tends to sweep the ground and gets drenched when there is a puddle.  Second, if I am not careful, I trip on the hem going up and down the stairs and getting on and off a bus, though it makes a graceful figure to pull it up with fingertips to lift the hem.  Then, third, I cannot stand to get the skirt fold down on the stall floor when I sit down in a public toilet. Another reason why I wear miniskirts habitually, aside from those I had already written elsewhere — My Mini Habit.

足首まである長いスカートは綺麗、スマートだし優雅、でもあたしは、どうしてもという時以外、あまり履く気がしないの。理由は三つ。先ず第一に、裾が地面を掃き払うし、水溜りがあればびしょびしょになる事。第二に、褄を取ればいい姿ですけど、バスの乗り降り、階段のの上り下りの際にうっかりすると裾につまずく事。そして第三、公衆のトイレに入って座る時、汚い床にスカートを重ね落とすのがとても嫌な事。あたしのミニスカ常用の、既に My Mini Habit で述べた理由に加えて、もう一つの理由。

Not Knowing - 無知

Not to be in the know is a loss, whether just not to be informed or not to be knowledgeable, a loss and never a gain, so  I am convinced.  It is true that there are some things in this world that are hardly worth knowing and it would be squandering our precious time, when life’s time, if not necessarily short, is nonetheless fixed.  Still, we can ration our time accordingly, and discovering something was trivial or even worthless to know is itself worth knowing than not knowing so as not to spend more time on it.  So, anything is always good to know, I claim, than not to know, as conversely knowing is always a gain and knowing more only makes life more fulfilling and happier. 


Monday, April 3, 2017

Defeating Trump

Open opposition is futile in dealing with Trump’s administration, and so, too, any rational criticism.  Day in and day out since his inauguration, we have been hearing pundits argue on every detail of his continuous executive orders.  But their talks are pointless — academic and ineffectual — because his mind is insistently contradictory and his actions lack consistency.  Any direct criticism does little to convince his hardcore voters of the man’s demagoguery; it only antagonizes them — blue collar workers, youthful voters, wealthy capitalists, and all,\ against the critics and the saner defenders of democracy.  By the same token, open demonstrations achieve little; he does not take them seriously.  The only workable path to bring him down is to mobilize the wishy washy Republicans to hold back their endorsements of the current administration.  Toward this end, the press needs to pay more attention to the plight of Trump’s supporters and report it with understanding, instead of shining light on him as it did so excessively through his campaign and administration so far. Optimistically, weakening of Trump’s base is slowly happening.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

René DeCat

You think you know what I know and don’t know, but you don’t know that I know all the things you assume I don’t know but I do know. I also know a lot that you don’t know though you never suspect I do know.  Remember, Mom, I’m a cat; I’m Vif.  Cogito ergo sum, declared René DeCat, or was that René DeCaht? Oh, Descartes?  Is that how the name is spelled? 

Friday, March 3, 2017

Oscar Oh Scar

It's five days now since the Oscar 2017, and I happened to learn about the mishap climax at the Oscar ceremony this year, where a wrong film was announced as the best picture and watched a clip of the event.  Well, that must have been some drama for the TV viewers of the ceremony.  The Oscar has been a farce all these many years; but it has become a McCoy SLAP-STICK now. I have not seen either La La Land or Moonlight.  But what an irony that the latter not only treats an African American life but features an all-black cast (so I just leaned, too) and won the award, ceremoniously sidestepped, following the years of Hollywood’s ethnic bias in nominations. 

Monday, February 27, 2017


A political leader, inevitably a propagandist, is often a blatant fake news broadcaster. 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Loss of Reason

When irrationality rules, violence prevails, and power is absolute. 

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Thoughts on Dance

I have been going to dance performances, both ballet and modern dance, and also everything else, quite regularly and frequently now over 15 years, and with still a great deal I am trying to understand, I have some thoughts I wanted to write down.  

Dance is an art form which uses the human body in sequences of postures and movements.  

To the extent that the bodily movements are almost inevitably gestural, it is conversely nearly impossible to strip a dance movement of mimetic expressions.  An arm raised may beckon, yearn, spurn, menace, explore, or hope, as the case may be; the expression is varied and made more specific in combination with the turn of the shoulders, neck, elbow, wrist, hand, and fingers, not to speak of the legs, the torso, and the rest of the body.  Every part of the body, singly or in combination, expresses a purposeful action by default, allowing the dancer infinite possibilities of expression.  Conversely, then, to choreograph a dance that is non-representational is nary impossible.  

Still there are dance forms that can be seen as movements for the sake of movement.  Tap and Irish step dance come to mind; but as with many forms of folk dancing, they do express joy of movement contagiously.  So, when a child spontaneously starts to jump up and down and twirl round and round, it is expressive of joy.  A temper tantrum is perhaps a form of dance, if lacking in rhythmic control. 

George Balanchine, who rejected the description of his work as abstract, rightly pointed out that if you put a ballerina with a male partner on stage, you have a story.  His more abstract dances are best described as plotless, in contrast to the classical story ballet; but they are still figurative.  The works of Jerome Robbins, Martha Graham, and Mark Morris, are all by and large overtly mimetic. 

The works of Merce Cunningham, as with the music of John Cage, with whom he closely collaborated, is perhaps noteworthy for their abstraction, dance as dance, in some of the works he choreographed.  He invented postures that made it difficult to be read as gestural.  John Jaspers in an conversation spoke of the “value of embodied knowledge” last fall at BAM; in my mind I paraphrased the statement as “the celebration of non-verbal communication,” that is to say, making the body speak in place of words, of events, memory, and knowledge.  Dance, in short, uses the body as an expressive vehicle of emotion and meaning, without words but still inevitably with mimetic imagery.  Many choreographers in modern dance seem intent on achieving “pure” dance by abstracting the movements.  Totally purged of imagery, bodily movements become gymnastic; there is much to be admired in the dynamism per se, such as speed, strength, energy and endurance, as well as the postural complexity and the geometry of the ensemble dancing.  It may be left to the audience to read into the abstract movements whatever expression it chooses.  But, of course, there is always music that defines the meaning intended. 

Analogy exists in abstract expressionism, as of Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, Pierre Soulages, and Helen Frankenthaler, in whose works expression consists of shapes, colors, and, above all, gestures as traces.  They are non-figurative but mimetic, albeit minimally.  The works of Agnes Martin strike me as totally non-mimetic and yet expressive. The artist explained herself:  
When I think of art I think of beauty. Beauty is the mystery 
of life. It is not in the eye it is in the mind. In our minds there 
is awareness of perfection.
The ideal expressed in this statement and in her magnificent paintings finds its counterpart in the best of Balanchine’s more abstract dances.  The movements may not be entirely free of mimetic suggestions but don’t insist on them; they may be abstract but not devoid of emotion.  But, above all, the dancers’ efforts are persistently directed toward the expression of beauty embodied in the lines as stipulated by the Classic Ballet. What Balanchine achieves at his best is poetry.

Cunningham, pushing further into the realm of abstraction, similarly achieves poetry by directing the dancers’ movements away from sheer athleticism toward expression of a certain difficult-to-define yet unmistakable ideal beyond physicality, perhaps even more like Agnes Martin.

With my thoughts on dance I am explaining to myself why, for me, Cunningham and Balanchine stand at the acme of achievement in dance.


Protest is ineffectual unless that to which it is directed manifests a principle. Without resistance, it is like a punch on a curtain instead of a wall.  A government decree that lacks consistency is, alas, immune to protest.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Trump is Infallible

President Trump will do no wrong. He will not fail because he cannot fail.  For anything whatsoever he did not get his way doing he has all the denizens whom he can call accountable: “incompetent” underlings, “irresponsible” opponents, and “dishonest” news reporters. He can not err. Then, his supporters, already mesmerized by his words, will believe with him that all the growing problems came from their opponents. He is infallible; and they are undefeatable. 

Friday, January 20, 2017


I am generous with adverbs both in writing and speaking. If I write an adjective I am hard put to resist adding an adverb, or even two, to modify it, as when I write how this insistently habitual idiosyncrasy gives my writing its readily recognizable style. . . see?  Not just heavy but massively heavy, not just sad but devastatingly sad, not just attractive but wildly attractive, and so forth.

Green salad

Blackbird is not black; it’s brown.  Blackberry is red when it is green.  So, my green salad is not green.  My standard salad has greenleaf lettuce, cucumber slices, carrots julienned, mushrooms sliced, and black olives (if I have them), and some bright cherry tomatoes. The palette of colors pleases the eye, and it also whets the palate. A boiled egg? Methinks too many colors spoil the palette. 

Tattoo toodle-oo - いれずのいれずみ

Some fifteen or sixteen years ago, I wanted to get a tattoo. Really badly, in fact. 

A few years before retiring from teaching, in late 1990s, I began to see students with tattoos, which were already fashionable among young women around that time.  I was envious and, all of a sudden, I had to have one myself.  

Until then, tattoo was something very alien to me.  In old Japan, as in some other cultures, tattoo was a punitive mark applied to criminals.  They were also professionally adopted by workmen in certain trades, particularly those who take risks— firemen, for example, who climb tall ladders and defied burning roofs, carpenters, who walk on a slender beams high up on the wooden scaffold, and fishermen — and members of the yakuza, the organized gang.  For them, tattoo expressed bravura. They were also popular among the women of the demimonde.  Their tattoos, which often covered a large area, even the entire body below the neck as well as arms and thighs, are elaborate in design.  I saw Maoris in New Zealand wearing facial tattoos, also an expression of defiance.  The modern fashion in the West,  associated with hippies, expressed an antisocial attitude.  So, the tattoo appealed to the rebel in me, the dare like the bungee jumping, the trapeze, piloting a small plane, skydiving, the striptease, the head shave, and the extremely dark skin from tanning in the sun, all of which I found very tempting to try.  But with tattoo I was also drawn to its permanence, that it is basically indelible and irreversible.  I also rationalized that branding the body permanently for personal identification of my dead body was a neat idea. 

One day, driving near the college, I glimpsed a tattoo shop and stopped to check out; I looked at the design book and checked out the prices, and walked out saying I’d be back.  I had no definite ideas as yet what kind of design I wanted and which part of the body I wanted have it.  A few years passed before I decided that it is pointless to have a tattoo in a concealed part of the body, like the abdomen, the buttock, or the inner thigh, which will be seen only by an intimate — a lover, a spouse, or a bedmate; on the other hand, I didn’t want it blatantly displayed like the back of the neck as some women do or lower on the arm, most common among men.  I decided I wanted my tattoo high up on the arm near the round of the shoulder or a little toward the back, which will come in view when I go sleeveless in summer.  That was also the area where I still had enough flesh at the time to resist the pain I expected the process would give.  As for the design, I had in mind a small flower — a pink, a violet, or a primrose — something discreet. As soon as I started living in New York, in 2001, I investigated the tattoo parlors and kept in my wallet a small list of them.  My resolution was firm, my determination unshakable; and yet I was slow to action, and years went by.  

Last year I was still toying with the idea and chose a Sanskrit script for the rooster, my Asian zodiac sign; I liked it as a more personal design to mark my body.  I found it on the internet, reduced it to an appropriately modest size, and printed it out. But since then, my ardor for a tattoo suddenly waned.  For one my shoulders, I suddenly realized, became bony in these ten years leaving little padding on them to take a tattoo without excessive pain.  I also realized that the idea of carrying a mark on the body to identify it at the time of death lost its significance when I remembered that I will have myself cremated and the precious tattoo, after all, will vanish into thin air.  

I really wanted to have a tattoo, passionately; but I never got to get one, except in wishful thinking.  Tattoo toodle-oo.



それまでは、刺青とは無縁でした。ほかの古い文化にあるのと同じように、日本でも彫り物と云えば、懲罰として囚人に施されものです。それ以外には、職人連中、殊に危険をおかす職業に関わる人達、いわゆる鳶職人 – 高い梯子に上って鳶で屋根をこわす江戸時代の火消し、木材の足場の横木を歩く大工、それに漁師など – それから「やくざ」の一同。この人達に取っては、刺青は度胸とか威勢とかを表したものだったのでしょう。その他には、売春に関係した人達が刺青をしたものです。職人の刺青は屢々背中いっぱい、或は腕から腿まで満たした豪奢なものです。ニュージーランドのマオリ族は顔に刺青をしますけど、これも挑戦を意味したものです。近代のアメリカ、欧州の流行は、ヒッピーの始めたもので、やはり社会に対する反抗の表現でした。そう云う訳で、あたしにとっての刺青の魅力は天性の反逆心だろうと思います。つまり、バンジージャンプ、サーカスの空中ブランコ、スカイダイビング、一人乗りの飛行操縦、ストリッパー、くりくり坊主、日焼けして真っ黒になった肌、こう云った長年試してみたいと思っていたものに通じます。でも刺青にあるもう一つの興味は、大体取り消せない、戻せられないと云う永久性。加えて、体の一分に永久なマークを付けていれば死体となって発見されたときの身元確認に便利なのも好いアイデアかと思いました。




Being an Outsider

Party bird I am not.  I enjoy being among a group of friends; but in a social gathering of strangers getting acquainted for the first time and engaging in small talks with people you are most unlikely to meet again, I always get an urge to flee. 

In one respect, I realize, this is a curious thing.  Seeing that I don’t mind standing out in my eccentricity, I should feel comfortable being a focus of attention no less than anyone at a party to an extent is.  Reflecting on the matter, however, I realize that I was always shy as a child and, even after I learned to act sociable, I am still by nature averse to mingling.  On further reflection, I also realize that the two sides of my personality are, in fact, in perfect unison; both the innate shyness and the desire to be conspicuous arise from my penchant to stand apart and remain an outsider.  I’m no loner, however.  While a party, presumptively of people of shared interests, estranges me, I am at home in one-on-one associations. 

The International House Berkeley is a venerable institution.  While attending the UC Berkeley I always felt ill at ease there, seeing that it was where students from diverse cultures abroad, categorized as “foreign students”; they were corralled together into one place as though they formed a natural group although what they shared in common was that they were all outsiders.  For me, being a member of a group of outsiders denied being outside as an individual.  My inclination was to be a foreigner independently, not among foreigners — in short, to be seen as an individual, not typecast.  

This explains my firm belief that until we learn to identify one another as individuals rather than as types, whatever the category, race, religion, even gender; until we stop seeing each other as either black or white and recognize that we are all between black and white, racism will not cease to exist.   

Seeing eye - 見る目


Seeing eye sees what it wants to see. 
No less than words describing what the eye sees, the eye itself also selects and edits.

Pictures titled Untitled

“Untitled” as the title of a painting irks me so.  What?  “Untitled, is it?  But isn’t this a title?”  This is a contradiction akin to the Cretan Liar paradox.  We find on a page of certain official documents a warning, announcing prominently: “This page was intentionally left blank.” Oh, sure, except for this notice which makes the page no longer blank. 

Worse than “Untitled” is the title “Untitled” followed by a phrase in parentheses, such as “Untitled (Mother’s Garden in May)” or “Untitled (Flight/Fright).”  This is a double contradiction, saying that the painting is untitled but not really.  The painter is muttering to herself or himself: “Well, yeah, I don’t know, like, I don’t have a title but it’s kinda like something in my mind, you know, I’m not quite sure what, yeah, but heck here it is, um, make of it what you will.” 

As a title “Untitled” could mean “still untitled,” that is, not yet titled.  In that case. “Work in Progress” is more accurate as in a portion of a novel sent in to a journal for publication.  No publisher, however, will accept a manuscript titled “Untitled,” nor a play so titled will ever be put on stage. Imagine a marquee “New York Premiere Albee’s latest play ‘Untitled’”. Musical compositions without a narrative theme came to be identified by the instrument/s and key signature: Violin Concerto in A-minor, String Quartet No. 4 in G-major., etc. 

Historical paintings, that is, narrative paintings -- religious, mythological, or historical -- as those in the Renaissance, did not require titles since the subject depicted was obvious to the viewer: St. Catherine,  St. Jerome in his Study,  Rest on the Flight into Egypt, Danae, Fall of Phaeton, Diana and Actaeon, etc.  In the 17th century in Holland, when marketing of art came into being, titling became useful, especially with the proliferation of non-narrative subjects -- portrait, landscape, still life, and genre (scenes from everyday life).  Thus, we find identifications like “River Landscape with a Ferry,” “A Gypsy Girl,” “Still Life with Eels,” “Ontbijt (Breakfast),” etc. Titling became a necessity in preparing inventories after the death of the artist.  Subjects outside the established genres were unwieldy.  Watteau’s reception entry he submitted in 1717 for admission to the Academy was called  “La fête galante” when exhibited, as it didn’t fit any existing subject category; it was neither history nor mythology, nor genre.  The exact subject is still debated: Embarkation for Cythera or Departure from Cythera.  With the rising practice of artists inventing a new subject for each painting, together with the new tradition of public exhibition of art, titling paintings became a necessity and a norm.   

The motivation for titling a painting “Untitled” is understandable and justifiable. Titling a painting implies that it has a subject -- literary, poetic, or thematic. It describes the work summarily, or, at least, provides a key to its meaning.  The idea of titling a work “Untitled” is to eliminate narrative connotations and force the viewer to look at the work and read its theme and meaning in the painting itself.  Pursuing abstraction, Kandinsky resorted to musical analogy in his titles: “Composition No. 5,” like the opus number in music. Some later non-figurative painters, just gave numbers, like, “Number 15” (Rothko), colors, like “Russet (Morris Louis), ” or the source of abstraction, like “Cathedral” (Hofmann), though others continued to give literary titles, like “Lucifer” (Pollock) and “Empress of India” (Stella).  If the painter feels strongly that the work should not be titled, she or he should call the work “Painting” rather than “Untitled.”

The one time I was made keenly aware of the perfect rightness of the title “Untitled” was at the exhibition of the works of Agnes Martin’s paintings, which she consistently and most deliberately titled “Untitled.”  From one painting to the next, identical in size and subtle in difference, at a glance they look alike; it is only on intense inspection the strong presence of each, which gives each work its unmistakably identity, impresses the viewer and makes it unforgettable.  Each painting identifies its visual reality that no lengthy description, not to speak of a title of any kind, can ever communicate profitably; it is revealed only in concentrated and prolonged and seeing.  Not all non-figurative paintings share this concrete optical quality.

Then, more recently, at the exhibition of Cindy Sherman’s photographs, I was equally impressed by her “Untitled” titling of her series “Untitled Film Stills.”  Her self-portraits as fictional but plausible film characters might be identified as types, like “tired housewife.” “young hitchhiker.” “sex kitten,” or whatever, but any title with a literary or cinematic reference only detracts from the specific identify of each feigned character, its immediacy (even though distanced as a screen image, simulation as it may be).  This observations holds, too, for Sherman’s later photographs of “society women, “centerfolds,” and “historical characters.”  Moreover, any specific title is not only redundant but falsifying since the reality of her photographed images is double-layered: one of her self-representation in different guises and the other of the character she is donning.  Her photographs simultaneously draws our attention to the persona as a person and the persona as a mask  In later works, in fact, she makes her prosthetic applications deliberately visible to distinguish the two layers of representation.  Strictly figurative, unlike Agnes Martin’s paintings, Sherman’s photographs are strong by virtue of their unmitigated specificity. 

In these examples, the title “Untitled” means “No other title was adequate” and not  “No title was conceived,” that is to say, concrete rather than abstract.

Too often, I still contend, paintings of vague or blurred identity are lazily left “Untitled”, and they vex me.