As I sit down to write this, I am looking through a large window, high above Hamburg, onto the darkening city below. Last week, I was in Bucharest, which is a magnificent kind of city. There is chaos almost everywhere one looks, houses barely standing. Architectural and stylistic periods are jumbled so badly that sometimes the city feels as if someone playing dice has had a hand in planning its streets and arrangements. The older, more beautiful buildings are often decaying, the sidewalks are rotting with A/C fluid, urine and spit. I want to say that this city has a certain charm, but that doesn’t begin to describe it. I think that this city is positively bewitching (click here for some pictures of the trip to Bucharest) I don’t know that I would want to live there, deal with its odd problems on a day-to-day basis. It doesn’t seem a very good city to have to depend on in your everyday life. As a visitor, however, this city overwhelmed me. Walk down any street and you will find something astonishing or surprising. The first day in Bucharest, I walked down its streets with my mouth open with delighted intrigue, and for the whole week that I was there, it didn’t really change. And at the heart of it all, it seemed to me, were Bucharests insane amounts of churches of various denominations. All the churches I entered were deeply, terribly impressive. These are churches built for people who are actually afraid of God, people who accord God a central place in their lives. To see people kneeling on the ground, wailing, holding their hands to various altars and prayer books, it was one of the most aesthetically amazing things I’ve ever seen. In this light, visiting a church on my first afternoon in Hamburg wasn’t maybe the brightest idea. While churches in Bucharest are frequently darkened places, Hamburg’s churches are always light and vast. People sit down in their churches with an unbent back, staring at their prayer book as if daring it to stare back. While in Bucharest, children partook of the rituals without visibly or audibly complaining, the few praying children in Hamburg twitched with impatience. When bad things happen in our churches, people leave the church altogether, as if it was a book club or an internet forum, or something similarly silly. There is nothing at stake for our faithful in church. God is important, true, but we look him in the eye. I don’t think I’ve been so disappointed in my whole life (well…). After Bucharest, I came here with a newly discovered interest in faith and churches. I had at least one good discussion about it there, but the one person I talked to here, a short man slightly soaked by the torrential Hamburg rain, was defiant and aloof. And the more time I spend in this city, the more I come to feel that this is quite typical of the city itself. I haven’t been to the outer districts yet, but the central parts of Hamburg (after all, I only saw the central parts of Bucharest either. Hamburg becomes more interesting when you leave the center. Parts of the town like Altona, and Eimsbüttel are more interesting and surprising) are made to impress outsiders. Surfaces are gleaming with prettiness. After a fire ravaged the city in 1842, the whole city was rebuilt, in parts mimicking older epochs, in parts reflecting late 19th century styles. And after the city was destroyed a second time in the second world war, when Germany’s crimes returned to haunt the Germans, the city was rebuilt a second time, and this time it was partly restored, partly rebuilt with modern architecture. You can see wild mixtures of epochs here, as well, but they are, as most of central Hamburg is, uniformly dull. Hamburg, in contrast to Bucharest, is a pretty city, well built, well constructed, well maintained. I was itching to take some photographs but I was almost constantly bored by what I saw (see some of the pictures I did take). There seems to be nothing necessary in the way that central Hamburg goes about its business, nothing terribly exciting. It’s there to show us the cleverness and taste of the people living in it and ruling it. Earlier this year, Hamburg elected a new mayor (who is also kinda the state governor), and journalists wrote about how low the public interest in this election was, and how few people actually went and voted. After this week in the shining kingdom of dullness, I can understand this very well. Even Cologne is preferable to this. Thankfully, I have the memories of a week spent in a frighteningly beautiful city to tide me over this disappointment, as well as two dozen pages with notes and drafts. I will be in Hamburg for another two days, hoping for an epiphany. You never know. I love big cities. They tend to surprise you when you least expect them to.
Archive for the 'Shigekuni' Category
I’m no good at writing ‘journal entry’ posts, as my last few entries have demonstrated, I believe. However, I have not been posting new texts/reviews for about two weeks and I kind of, weirdly, feel I need to explain. Before I do so, I recommend visiting De Seuil en Seuil again, unless you’ve done so already. The blogger has put up a beautiful new post on the Danube and a moving encounter at its waterside. To read it, click here. As to me, it’s been a tough two weeks. I worked hard on my dissertation, writing a précis for my professor, working out kinks in my argument. Saturday, I went to a friend’s wedding and it reminded me how fast I/we can lose contact to people who were once so important to us. My friend, Christoph, who now lives in Japan, was responsible for my studying literature in Bonn, for coming to Bonn in the first place, too. Without him, my life would be infinitely emptier, both my heart and my brain encountered something new here that they will hopefully never have to live without henceforth.
And on Friday, I learned that a friend had died, well over two weeks ago. If you follow this blog and its links, you might have found a handful of posts linking to bookbabble. Of those, three led to bookbabble episodes that Gem partook in (link here). Gem is the friend who died. I have been almost constantly close to tears for the past week. I have never met Gem ‘in real life’, but she has helped me through some rocky times, and I loved her as I loved few friends in my life. Gem is/was the most big-hearted person I have ever known, a smart, humorous, amazing, beautiful person. I feel incredibly selfish in talking about her in this way, but her ear, her words, her heart, they were at times a life-saving support. Literally. She is/was an inspiring person, in the most horribly corny sense of the word, she inspired me, and many others, to be a better human being. If I failed at it, as I so often surely did, it was despite her luminous presence. But she wasn’t grandiose, self-aggrandizing, she was always just herself, gleefully, bravely so. She lived through so many bad times, working through all of them with a strength and an unassuming bravery that few other people possess. She was talented in all kinds of ways, she connected with so many different people, and so many people connected with her. People like her are rare, and for everyone who knew her, her loss is terrible. I feel her loss every day. I can hear her voice still and, dammit, crying again, I remember things she told me, the things she wrote me, although I don’t have the strength so far to look at old emails and messages. I started to compile my current manuscript of poems because of Gem. Gem has (still does) inspired me to try and use whatever talents and strengths I have to make something of my life. She has made so much of hers. And so much of mine. All this above has been rather crude, simple, but I can’t write about this in more than simple terms so far. I don’t want to seduce myself into writing something that isn’t true. Every day that passes, her death seems more real to me and every day I am afraid her presence will slip from my life. Her voice will dull, her words lose resonance, one more light in my life go out like a wet fag. Apart from burying myself in work, I spent the past week drinking a lot, reading god-awful trash and watching crappy movies, all to postpone this, to stop it from becoming real. I don’t have a great story to share or an anecdote. There is just that imprint on me, this emptiness that I’m figuring out how to deal with. I drank a shot of gin last night in a bar, to commemorate her, who was a gin enthusiast, but it didn’t feel right. I am doing the same right now, and if you have a bottle or a glass of something nearby, please, drink one with me. One of the most wonderful persons I have ever known or am ever likey to know has vanished from my, no, our life. за здоровье!
I am compiling a manuscript of poems. New, well, most of them aren’t. Just so I’ll get em off my chest, and given the fact that I don’t publish them on the blog any more, I’ll send some of them around. If you’re interested email me with your address (you can find my email address in the “about shigekuni” section of the blog) and within the next month you’ll get a batch of poems. I just sent a few of them to South Africa, so postage isn’t an issue. A short cycle of poems and a group of random other poems. It’s free, but I would be happy about comments, though since I myself am a sluggish and laggard and crappy commenter (*hanging my head in shame*) I understand if you’d abstain from writing any.
An insanely undeserved, positive account of this here ridonculous place, posted on De seuil en seuil.
Ces entrées en matière sont parfois mystérieuses, voire déconcertantes : en effet, si le lecteur sait à quoi s’attendre (et encore…) lorsqu’en déroulant le nuage de catégories il choisit de s’arrêter à un article sur Melville, la littérature chilienne ou même Kim Deal (pour les ignares – désolée – c’est la charismatique bassiste / chanteuse des Pixies, puis des Breeders ou de The Amps), quelle surprise lui réservera la rubrique « Absurdities » ou « Die guten Deutschen », ou alors « cutup », surtout lorsque cette entrée est couplée avec « Axolotl Roadkill » ? Le choix est parfois difficile : faut-il se laisser guider ou accepter de se perdre ? Mais la richesse des ressources proposées … est indéniable : ainsi je me suis laissée émouvoir par la voix de Charles Reznikoff lisant ses poèmes, en particulier Holocaust – moment de grâce où de sa voix presque timide, le poète se livre à l’exercice le plus difficile et le plus dangereux qui soit : se donner totalement, sans l’entremise de la page qui éloigne, désincarne parfois.
This blog has a new layout, and I had different complains about resolution and load-time issues. I tweaked it a bit, and here’s the question. Right now, this is how it looks chez moi. Is that how it looks at your end, too? It’s kinda the more important question. Comments encouraged.
This blog is named after a character in Mishima’s tetralogy. Here is a brief excerpt from a wonderful essay by the awesome William T. Vollmann on that character and Mishima
The reincarnated person can always be identified by a certain birthmark, and the identification gets accomplished by the other protagonist, whose name is Shigekuni Honda and who is a judge—perfect profession for a soul whose task it is to decide what might or might not be true and what existence means. [...] Honda never succeeds in preventing anybody’s death agonies. Scrupulous, empathetic, intelligent, aching to understand, and ultimately impotent, Honda might as well be—a novelist. [...]
[...] Mishima was ultimately more like Honda [...], which is not a terrible thing: while he may be sterile, in the sense that he will not bring about any “great event,” his empathy will endure. Honda’s seeking, his sincerity, his fidelity to that not necessarily well-founded belief in the reincarnations, these are the strands of perception, conceptualization, and devotion which sustain the patterns of reccurrence into something permanent and precious.
The tetralogy’s end [...] offers the prospect of something different, something not only as erotic as suicide, but perhaps more elusive, something worthwhile enough to warrant not killing oneself while one tries to uncover it. Very possibly, if The Temple of Dawn is any indication, this something could have been religion or philosophy. I wonder how feverishly Mishima hunted for it in his wood-clad study with its bookshelved walls. He didn’t find it, and that is why every year on November 25, the white-clad Shinto priests lay down prayer streamers on the altar, which resembles a tabletop model of round-towered castles, and the blood-red disc of the Hinomaru flag hangs above them in the darkness beside Mishima’s portrait.