Sunday, March 30, 2014

"the most kissed face of all time"

On Paper

Hold or fold


Nicholas A. Basbanes
The everything of its two-thousand-year history
448pp. Knopf. $35.
978 0 307 26642 2

Published: 19 March 2014
“The Swimmer”, a lantern by the artists Helen Harison and Gail Astbury, part in the Lantern Procession at the Thames Festival 2001 Photograph: RICHARD CANNON THAMES FESTIVAL 2001
Y ou may be reading this across a fold of paper, or you may be squinting at an electronic screen. Two centuries ago, the former would have seemed almost as futuristic as the latter. Wood-based paper wasn’t successfully patented until 1845, after inventors had cooked straw, boiled banana peels, crushed walnut shells and dried seaweed. The coinage “pulp fiction” followed once it became clear that the new technology produced pages more brittle than those manufactured from costlier linen rags. By the dawn of the digital age, W. J. T. Mitchell could dismiss books as “tree flakes encased in dead cow”.
Unlike those cows, however, paper remains in robust health. One reason is that it combines apparently irreconcilable properties – durability (it outlasts papyrus and floppy disks alike), portability (a precondition of modern postal systems) and foldability (one of Nicholas A. Basbanes’s most engrossing chapters concerns origami). That trio allowed it to displace other writing surfaces that were fragile, unwieldy or both: clay, stone, papyrus, parchment, metal, bark, bones and even seashells.
And inscription is just the beginning. Basbanes points out that during the Second World War, the same long paper-making tradition that allowed Japan to devise bomb-bearing paper balloons rendered its cities uniquely vulnerable to incendiary bombs: more civilians died in the blazes spread by paper windows and screens than from either of the nuclear strikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Meanwhile, generals were deciding how much toilet paper to issue to soldiers: the British got three sheets a day, American GIs twenty-two.
More civilians died in the blazes spread by paper windows and screens than from either of the nuclear strikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki Whereas Archimedes was reduced to scratching mathematical formulas in his own oiled skin, today anyone with $35 to spare can walk out of a bookstore with Basbanes’s stack of hefty, creamy sheets. On Paper’s 448 pages are weighed down by quotations from mission statements (Kimberly-Clark’s, the Digital Public Library of America’s), posed portraits of CEOs and library directors, and Basbanes’s tic of introducing his sources as “eminent”, “noted”, or “highly respected”. But a slimmer volume might not have done justice to paper’s travels from its beginnings in China sometime before the first century BC, east to Korea and Japan, and then west to Samarkand, Baghdad, Cairo, Islamic Spain and Christian Europe. All roads eventually lead to paper’s role in US history, from the 1765 Stamp Act to Confederate newspapers printed on the back of wallpaper, to a final chapter memorializing the charred memos and missing-person flyers that drifted through Lower Manhattan after September 11, 2001.
In the decade since then, Silicon Valley has touted the paperless office as the answer to deforestation. Basbanes’s rejoinder is that paper, made for centuries from old clothes, was one of the first industrial products to incorporate recycled materials. More famous for its digital spying, the US’s National Security Agency processes plenty of old-fashioned paper, to judge from the 100 million documents it pulps every year before turning them over to manufacturers of pizza boxes and egg cartons. Paper and computers may not be polar opposites so much as conjoined twins. Paper punchcards were integral to the first calculating machines, and the twentieth-century spread of personal computers and printers increased consumption of the paper that they were originally expected to render obsolete.
Paper remains the standard to which digital media can only aspire Just after Basbanes’s book appeared, two corporations began vying for rights to market their respective iPhone apps under the name of “Paper”. One facilitated sketching, the other managed newsfeeds. Their tug of war over a metaphor reminds us what a central role paper has played in artistic creation and political communication alike. Also too late to be mentioned by Basbanes: a BBC presenter was recently caught on camera brandishing a stack of A4 paper which he seemed to have mistaken for his iPad. Perhaps he was acting out the now fading idiom that makes “reading the paper” synonymous with “reading the news”. For the moment, at least, paper remains the standard to which digital media can only aspire.

Leah Price teaches English at Harvard University. Her most recent book, How To Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain, appeared in 2012.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Why Is Japan So … Different?

A brief history of leaving China, becoming the other, and turning Japanese.

On March 16, 1885, an editorial entitled "Leaving Asia" was published in the Japanese newspaper Jiji Shimpo. Now widely believed to have been written by Yukichi Fukuzawa, the intellectual giant of the 19th-century modernization movement that culminated in the Meiji Restoration, it argued that Japan could simply not afford to be held back by "feudalistic" China and Korea, and should therefore "leave the ranks of Asian nations and cast our lot with the civilized nations of the West."  
Japan's break with China, a country it subsequently invaded and humiliated, is a story of sharp relevance today. Tensions between the two nations are extremely high. Chinese and Japanese ships and planes circle disputed islands in the East China Sea, with the ever-present danger of an accident or willful escalation. Leaders in both countries have started to compare the present with 1914 and 1939, when the world stood on the brink of war.
The principal cause of animosity is Japan's invasion of China in the 1930s and 1940s, an unsuccessful attempt to colonize the Middle Kingdom in which millions were slaughtered. It can also be clearly traced to 1895, when Japan fought China in a brief war and annexed Chinese territory, including Taiwan, and claimed the Senkaku islands (which the Chinese call the Diaoyu), the focus of today's territorial dispute. More subtly, however, the resentment between the two countries goes back further still, to Japan's intellectual break with China, when it threw itself into a headlong effort to modernize and Europeanize.
China was once considered the fount of all knowledge for Japan, an isolated archipelago of islands sitting like an apostrophic afterthought off the eastern edge of the vast Eurasian landmass. Kyoto, founded in the 8th century and Japan's imperial capital for a thousand years, was a replica of the Tang Dynasty capital Chang'an. Serious Japanese poets wrote in Chinese. Only women used the phonetic kana script -- a lady-in-waiting at the imperial court composed the 11th-century Tale of Genji, considered the world's first novel. For men, to be learned meant to be learned in Chinese.
But in subsequent centuries, the prestige of Chinese civilization began to slowly erode; it fell sharply in 1644 when the Ming Dynasty crumpled and the Han Chinese came under foreign control. This coincided with the early days of Japan's Tokugawa period (1600-1868), when the ruling shoguns sought to protect the state, and themselves, from foreign influence, including Chinese. Intent on preserving its monopoly and wary of competing ideologies, the shogunate banned the Japanese, on pain of death, from leaving the country and returning. Traders from China were mostly restricted to a Chinese quarter in the city of Nagasaki.
For Japan to break with China was a traumatic decision.
For Japan to break with China was a traumatic decision. Most of what it valued culturally had come from the Chinese landmass: wet rice cultivation, the written script, concepts of Confucian hierarchy and filial piety, and techniques in the use of both bronze and iron. The historian George Sansom wrote that Buddhism, which also arrived in Japan from China (even though it originated in India) was "a great magic bird, flying on strong pinions across the ocean, [bringing] to Japan all the elements of a new life -- a new morality, learning of all kinds, literature, the arts and crafts, and subtle metaphysics which had no counterpart in the native tradition."  During the Tokugawa era, scholars of kokugaku, or "country learning," endeavored to revive nativist traditions and loosen the hold of Chinese influence. Helping these ideas take hold was the Opium War of 1839-1842, where a mere handful of British gunboats brought low the great civilization of the Middle Kingdom. China was in danger of being "cut up like a melon," as a 19th century expression had it. If Japan were to avoid a similar fate, it would have to embrace Western civilization and leave its Asian origins behind. Kokugaku scholars looked back to a pre-feudal classical Japan, a supposed golden age of literature and philosophy. They stressed the supposed purity of Japanese poetry, which, distinct from the classical Chinese forms, was meant to evoke nature and praise pure emotion.
Even today, such ideas resonate. Shintaro Ishihara, the former governor of Tokyo whose 2012 plan to buy and develop the contested Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea triggered the current Sino-Japanese standoff, once told me proudly that Japanese poetry was unique. The novelist Andre Malraux, he said, had personally told him that the Japanese were "the only people who can grasp eternity in a single moment." Ishihara, blinking in his owlish way, went on, "The haiku is the shortest poetic style in the world. This was not created by the Chinese but by the Japanese."
Much of what we today consider quintessentially Japanese originated from this period of breaking with China. Ian Buruma, a brilliant scholar of China and Japan told me, "As knowledge of the world grew, the Japanese began to realize that China was not the center of world, and to recognize the weakness of China. So they thought, ‘We better start repositioning ourselves.'"
Similarly, much of Japan's supposed exceptionalism was a modern construct, said Buruma. "The reason the Japanese nativists describe their own culture as completely different from China was a form of defensiveness." From the 1880s, after the overthrow of the shogun and the establishment of a modern state in the name of the emperor, history books were rewritten to begin not with the Stone Age, but with Japan's own creation myth, tracing a supposedly unbroken imperial line from the sun goddess Amatarasu to the present day. Japanese Shintoism, an animist set of folkloric beliefs mixed with ancestor worship, was elevated to a state religion with the divine emperor at its center. Much of Japan's supposed uniqueness, in other words, was propaganda; a political exercise in nation building and establishing Japan's credentials as a standalone culture distinct from China.  
Tokyo used that propaganda to create support for Japan's imperial ambitions, based on the supposed superiority of the Japanese, who were closer to the divine emperor than foreigners. Japan's "civilizing" mission was elevated to an idea that was worth dying -- and killing -- for. Things were very different, of course, after the war. Years later, in 1971, Henry Kissinger told then-Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai that Japan's "tribal outlook" made it capable of rapid change. "Japan believes that their society is so different that they can adjust to anything and preserve their national essence," he said. "Therefore the Japanese are capable of sudden explosive changes. They went from feudalism to emperor worship in two to three years. They went from emperor worship to democracy in three months."
Some foreign observers have been as enthusiastic about promoting Japan's alleged uniqueness as the Japanese themselves. Of course, all nations are unique, but in Japan this truism became a fetish. The Japanese developed a form, which dates back to the Tokugawa era but which flourished in the post-World War II period, of quasi-philosophical writing called Nihonjinron, or "essays on the essence of Japaneseness." Written by both Japanese and foreigners, these tracts sought to explain what made the Japanese unique and how they differed from foreigners, who were, all too often, lumped into one homogeneous category. Such lines of inquiry often settled on a description of the Japanese as cooperative, sedentary rice farmers who use instinct and heart rather than cold, Western logic. Unlike Western hunter-gatherers, the Japanese were seen as having a unique sensitivity to nature, an ability to communicate without language through a sort of social telepathy, and a rarefied artistic awareness.
In 1946, U.S. anthropologist Ruth Benedict made it respectable to see the Japanese as a race apart with the publication of her classic study of Japanese culture, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword. She described a highly codified society operating with conventions all-but-incomprehensible to outsiders. Her work paved the way for shelf after shelf of Nihonjinron texts by Japanese authors. These multiplied with Japan's post-war economic success, which the Japanese and foreigners alike began to attribute to the country's supposedly unique organizational and social structures. Gavan McCormack, an Australian academic, describes Benedict's book as "one of the greatest propaganda coups of the century." In stoking Japan's own sense of its own uniqueness, he argues, the book helped sever Japan's psychological ties with its Asian neighbors. "What they believed to be ancient tradition," he writes, "was quintessentially modern ideology."
Japan's perception of itself as isolated and different persists to this day, often to its disadvantage.
Japan's perception of itself as isolated and different persists to this day, often to its disadvantage. It has, for example, hampered the country's electronics industry: Japanese manufacturers often produce goods perfectly adapted to Japanese customers but of little global reach. It yearns for what it sees as its rightful place in the hierarchy of nations -- it has for years waged a campaign to obtain a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council. But whether defending whaling, or the rights of its leaders to worship at the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, which houses the "souls" of more than 2 million dead Japanese soldiers, including 14 class-A war criminals from World War II, Japan often has a hard time explaining itself to the rest of the world. Some in Japan, however, especially on the right, seem bent on preserving the mystique of a country that is somehow unintelligible to outsiders. Masahiko Fujiwara, a right-wing author (and mathematician), suggested only half-jokingly in a popular 2005 book that the Japanese should stop trying to learn English altogether as this would help preserve a barrier between their own exceptional culture and the rest of the world. He told me that when non-English-speaking Japanese went abroad, they preserved the mystique of a profound culture beyond the grasp of foreigners to understand. As soon as they spoke in English, he said, the illusion was broken and foreigners realized the Japanese had nothing to say.
Donald Keene, perhaps the greatest post-war U.S. scholar of Japanese literature, told me a similar story from the other direction. His lectures in Tokyo, mostly in Japanese, are invariably standing-room only as Japanese students flock to learn from his encyclopedic knowledge of Japanese language and literature. Yet as soon as he draws on the board a simple kanji --the multi-stroke characters derived from Chinese -- there are often gasps of amazement from members of the audience astonished that a foreigner has penetrated Japanese hieroglyphics.
In Bending Adversity, my book on Japan, Toshiaki Miura, a shy and thoughtful commentator on the left-of-center newspaper Asahi Shimbun, summed up Japan's sense of geographical, even psychological, isolation, coupled with its long-frustrated attempt to find a place in the hierarchy of nations. "Our psyche is very insular, but we always see ourselves reflected in the mirror outside," said Miura of the twin impulses to be isolated and yet to be internationally respected. "One of the tragedies of Japan's position in international society is that we have no neighbors of the same size or the same level of industry. If Japan were placed in Europe," he said, airing that 19th-century impulse to leave Asia, "it would have Germany, Italy and England to get along with, and we could learn how to coexist with countries of the same strength."
But Japan is not in Europe. It lies next door to China, the fount of much of its civilization, and a country that Japan invaded when China was weak. It must now watch in alarm as China, which has neither forgotten nor forgiven, grows stronger. 

Cat want food! Cat don't get food..

Sunday, March 16, 2014

"For in spite of language, in spite of intelligence and intuition and sympathy, one can never really communicate anything to anybody. The essential substance of every thought and feeling remains incommunicable, locked up in the impenetrable strong-room of the individual soul and body. Our life is a sentence of perpetual solitary confinement."

Aldus Huxley

Needs be said again

The last true time that I ever made art-art that encompassed my whole being-that lifted me from the moment and gave me a reason for living the next few moments -was probably in my early teens-13,14 thereabouts. Since then- since feeling it all mattered more than anything else- I devoted my entire life to making and sharing those moments. To teach and in great times lift others to feel as I did as a young artist was glorious-beyond any other joy. Now I see that the attempt was a failure of reality.  This country cares so little for the up lift, the challenge of art that it chooses instead to give it pandering lip service -to seem as if creativity mattered. I contributed to that farce, that pandering hypocrisy willingly-just to be settled and admired. I cannot continue to do that anymore. The lie of arts education disgusts me now. It physically becomes impossible to pretend it matters. I must and desperately have to take whatever time I have left to return to those precious few moments of art making that captivated me from the beginning. This farce has to stop. Issues of comfort and health and security are irrelevant. I'll get through this somehow. That is my vow that is my prayer. Friday November 8th at 10:15 pm est

Breathtakingly beautiful

Ivan Terestchenko, Broken Goddess


Any die in their sleep I wonder?

Kawanabe Kyōsai, Comic Shunga Painting, c 1871-1889, ink and color on paper. Isabel Goldman collection, on view at The British Museum until 5 February 2014

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Paper or Plastic?

The family resemblance is uncanny...I dated the pretty one on the right for about four years.
We actually had a wonderful relationship--that is until the issue of banning plastic bags from supermarkets came up over the radio on our local NPR station. 
I thought she was a bit "rigid" in her opinions.
And, well she looked and smelled like dog poop when it rained. 
I did love my own way.

Courtship in this time of confusion

Saturday, March 1, 2014

I don't know about you but this "porn/erotica" made my genitalia retract


A photograph from the 1870’s showing tens of thousands of bison skulls. They were mass slaughtered by the U.S. Army to make room for cattle and force Native American tribes into starvation.
[bolding mine]
Mass slaughter of buffalo and bison took place in Canadian territory as well, and was part of a deliberate campaign to break Indigenous resistance to (further) settler incursions onto Native land and the railroad.  The removal of the buffalo also meant that when it came time to sign treaties, the Canadian government could more or less set any terms it saw fit and Indigenous leaders basically had to comply with them or their people would freeze and starve (that’s if gov officials even bothered to translate the actual terms of the treaty at all).
The “disappearance” of the buffalo is narrativized as part of a larger myth surrounding the “disappearing Indian” whose absence clears the land for the incoming white pioneers to take their place.  The murder, destruction, slaughter of bison and buffalo was a tactic essential to the genocidal colonial project.

Sensitive, tasteful bondage porn

The "Greatest" forever!