Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Cathay Cinema Connection

GH and I have been watching a number of French gay movies. "Times Have Been Better" (2007), directed by Régis Musset and starring Bernard Le Coq, was one of the better ones. Gay son comes out to liberal parents, who freak out.

Watched last week Greta Garbo and John Gilbert smolder in "Flesh and the Devil" (1926), directed by Clarence Brown, with cinematography by William Daniels. The black-and-white silent film, based on Hermann Sudermann's novel The Undying Past, was completely absorbing. After seducing the John Gilbert character, Garbo marries his childhood friend, played by the very handsome Lars Hanson. When her husband finds the two of them in a compromising position, the men fight a duel. In an attempt to stop them, Garbo falls into the icy lake, in a memorable scene. A melodrama, sure, but very pretty.

Last evening, I watched quite a different movie, Yasujiro Ozu's "An Autumn Afternoon" (1962). The Japanese director's last film, it returns to the theme of "Late Spring." A father (Chishû Ryû) seeks to marry off a daughter before she becomes too old for marriage. Unlike the daughter in "Late Spring" who is contented to serve her father for the rest of her life, the daughter (Shima Iwashita) in "An Autumn Afternoon" has her eyes on a young man, but loses him, because she feels obligated to serve her father and younger brother.

The social canvas is much wider in the later film. It takes in the father's former classmates, all successful businessmen now, and their former teacher, whose poverty and reliance on his spinster-daughter serve the protagonist as warning. It also takes in the relationship between the older son and the son's wife, a young couple eager to own a modern convenience such as a refrigerator.

The war is also part of the film. In "Late Spring," it was the cause of the daughter's illness, and so, unfitness for marriage. In "An Autumn Afternoon," the father, who commanded a warship, runs into a crew member. Whereas the subordinate remembers the war fondly as a time of mission and discipline, the father remarks gently that perhaps it is better that Japan did not win the war. I learned from Wikipedia that Ozu was sent to Singapore during WWII to make a film with Chandra Bose. Stationed in Cathay Cinema, he had little inclination to work, but watched American films provided by the Army information corps. In my poem "Heads," I wrote about Japanese soldiers watching American films in Cathay Cinema. Little did I know that one of them was Ozu!

Monday, February 17, 2014

LoveSingapore? Call It Hate Instead.

Over the weekend, proof was uncovered of a systematic campaign of hatred against LGBT people in Singapore. A secret guide, compiled and distributed by LoveSingapore, the proselytizing arm of Faith Community Baptist Church, calls for churches to form "Action Groups" to pressure the government to uphold Section 377A of the Penal Code. The infamous law, a legacy of the British colonial government, criminalizes sodomy, and so stands in the way of equal rights for all citizens of Singapore, straight and gay. Titled "Support 377A: a simple guide to giving feedback," the church document is astonishing in its deviousness, hypocrisy and self-deception.

Good Morning, Late Spring

The plot of Late Spring (1949) reminds me a little of The Golden Bowl. A daughter who loves her widowed father so much that parting, in the form of marriage, is such sweet sorrow. Setsuko Hara plays Noriko Samiya with real inwardness. Having just recovered from an illness during the war, she is seen at the age of 28 to be ripe for marriage. Her father (Chishû Ryû), knowing her attachment to him, and concern for his old age, tricks her into leaving him by pretending to contemplate marriage with a widow. I was thrilled to see Ryōan-ji in the film. The visit to the famous dry garden in Kyoto is the last trip that father and daughter take together, before she leaves the home to be married.

Set in suburban Tokyo, Good Morning (1959) is a humorous satire of postwar consumerism and adult mannerisms. Two boys, brothers, take a vow of silence when their parents refuse to buy them a TV. Their silence comments nicely on the use of small talk as a social lubricant in the adult world. The boys can't understand why the adults talk so much. They give greetings, gossip, carry tales, and, in the case of two young people (Chishû Ryû and Yoshiko Kuga), exchange pleasantries about the weather, instead of expressing their feelings for each other. Yasujirô Ozu drew sterling comic performances from all the child actors.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Foucault Reader

After encountering the critical thought of Nietzsche, I have wondered how to apply it to social and political problems. Foucault shows one way of doing so, through the genealogical analysis of power relations in society.

From an interview in Power/Knowledge:
The history which bears and determines us has the form of a war rather than that of a language: relations of power, not relations of meaning. History has no "meaning," though it is not to say that it is absurd or incoherent. On the contrary, it is intelligible and should be susceptible to analysis down to the smallest detail--but this in accordance with the intelligibility of struggles, of strategies and tactics....

What makes power hold good, what makes it accepted, is simply the fact that it doesn't only weigh on us as a force that says no, but that it traverses and produces things, it induces pleasure, forms knowledge, produces discourse....

From the essay "Nietzsche, Genealogy, History":
Humanity does not gradually progress from combat to combat until it arrives at universal reciprocity, where the rule of law finally replaces warfare; humanity installs each of its violences in a system of rules and thus proceeds from domination to domination....

From Discipline and Punish:
The perpetual penality that traverses all points and supervises every instant in the disciplinary institutions compares, differentiates, hierarchizes, homogenizes, excludes. In short, it normalizes....

Traditionally, power was what was seen, what was shown, and what was manifested and, paradoxically, found the principle of its force in the movement by which it deployed that force. Those on whom it was exercised could remain the shade; they received light only from that portion of power that was conceded to them, or from the reflection of it that for a moment they carried. Disciplinary power, on the other hand, is exercised through its invisibility; at the same time it imposes on those whom it subjects a principle of compulsory visibility. In discipline, it is the subjects who have to be seen....

The "Enlightenment,"which discovered the liberties, also invented the disciplines....

From an interview with Paul Rabinow, titled "Space, Knowledge and Power":
Liberty is a practice.... The liberty of men is never assured by the institutions and laws that are intended to guarantee them. This is why almost all of these laws and institutions are quite capable of being turned around. Not because they are ambiguous, but simply because "liberty" is what must be exercised.... The guarantee of freedom is freedom....

From The History of Sexuality, Volume I:
This new persecution of the peripheral sexualities entailed an incorporation of perversities and a new specification of individuals. As defined by the ancient civil or canonical codes, sodomy was a category of forbidden acts; their perpetrator was nothing more than the juridical subject of them. The nineteenth-century homosexual became a personage, a past, a case history, and a childhood, in addition to being a type of life, a life form, and a morphology, with an indiscreet anatomy and possibly a mysterious physiology. Nothing that went into his total composition was unaffected by his sexuality. It was everywhere present in him: at the foot of all his actions because it was their insidious and indefinitely active principle; written immodestly on his face and body because it was a secret that always gave itself away. It was consubstantial with him, less a habitual sin than as a singular nature. We must not forget that the psychological, psychiatric, medical category of homosexuality was constituted from the moment it was characterized--Westphal's famous article of 1870 on "contrary sexual sensations" can stand as its date of birth--less by a type of sexual relation than by a certain quality of sexual sensibility, a certain way of inverting the masculine and the feminine in oneself. Homosexuality appeared as one of the forms of sexuality when it was transposed from the practice of sodomy onto a kind of interior androgyny, a hermaphrodism of the soul. The sodomite had been a temporary aberration; the homosexual was now a species....

From Preface to The History of Sexuality, Volume II:
But I reflected that, after all, it was best to sacrifice a definite program to a promising line of approach. I also reminded myself that it would probably not be worth the trouble of making books if they failed to teach the author something he hadn't known before, if they didn't lead to unforeseen places, and if they didn't disperse one toward a strange and new relation with himself. The pain and the pleasure of the book is to be an experience.

From Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics:
No! I'm not looking for an alternative; you can't find the solution of a problem in the solution of another problem raised at another moment by other people. You see, what I want to do is not the history of solutions, and that's the reason why I don't accept the word alternative. I would like to do the genealogy of problems, of problematiques. My point is not that everything is bad, but that everything is dangerous, which is not exactly the same as bad. If everything is dangerous, then we always have something to do. So my position leads not to apathy, but to a hyper- and pessimistic activism....

I think the ethico-political choice we have to make every day is to determine which is the main danger....

There were exercises in order to make one master of oneself. For Epictetus, you had to be able to look at a beautiful girl or a beautiful boy without having any desire for her or him. You have to become completely master of yourself.

Sexual austerity in Greek society was a trend or movement, a philosophical movement coming from very cultivated people in order to give their live much more intensity, much more beauty. In a way, it's the same in the twentieth century when people, in order to get a more beautiful life, tried to get ride of all the sexual repression of their society, of their childhood. Gide in Greece would have been an austere philosopher....

I think that from the theoretical point of view, Sarre avoids the idea of the self as something which is given to us, but through the moral notion of authenticity, he turns back to the idea that we have to be ourselves--to be truly our true self. I think that the only acceptable practical consequence of what Sartre has said is to link his theoretical insight to the practice of creativity--and not of authenticity. From the idea that the self is not given to us, I think that there is only one practical consequence: we have to create ourselves as a work of art....

From an interview with Paul Rabinow in May, 1984, about polemics, politics, and problemizations:
I like discussions, and when I am asked questions, I try to answer them. It's true that I don't like to get involved in polemics. If I open a book and see that the author is accusing an adversary of "infantile leftism," I shut it again right away. That's not my way of doing things. I don't belong to the world of people who do things that way. I insist on this difference as something essential: a whole morality is at stake, the morality that concerns the search for the truth and the relation to the other. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Monday, February 10, 2014

A Separation

Watched last night "A Separation," a superb Iranian film written and directed by Asghar Farhadi. A couple seeks a divorce because the wife wants to leave the country to give her daughter a better future whereas the husband wants to stay to look after his father suffering from Alzheimer's. The separation begins a chain of events that is completely involving in its human drama. The acting is uniformly strong: Peyman Moaadi as the husband Nader; Leila Hatami as the wife Simin; Sarina Farhadi as their daughter Termeh; Sareh Bayat as the hired help Razieh; Shahab Hosseini as Razieh's hot-tempered husband Hojjat. Even the minor characters such as Termeh's teacher and Razieh's young daughter are entirely believable.


This morning's haiku does not have anything to do with the film. Or does it?

what kind of birds
live in these nests of snow?
they must fly young

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Friday, February 07, 2014

Zen Landscapes

I'm still thinking about Zen Landscapes by Allen S. Weiss. The unity of Zen aesthetics in landscaping, flower-arrangement, ceramics and poetry, all ultimately informed by the tea ceremony. A stone on a bed of gravel may constitute a garden worthy of contemplation. Raked to represent waves, the gravel is thus both fixed and moving, permanent and transient. Flaws are part of the beauty of the contemplated object. I don't think W. H. Auden was into Zen, but he captured the sentiment in "And the crack in the tea-cup opens / A lane to the land of the dead."

again I passed
the garden without looking,
some snow, a stone

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Missing Subject Line

Wrote a poem to thank Elsa for her Christmas present of Arthur Yap's Complete Poems. The poem "Missing Subject Line" is now published as part of a Singaporean collaboration with Prairie Schooner in the latter's Fusion series. Thanks, Alvin Pang, for editing the Singapore selection. Thanks, Kwame Dawes, for the brilliant idea behind Fusion.