Sunday, December 20, 2015

The American Diary of a Japanese Girl

It is imperfectly written but it has the charm, as Charles Simic said of his earlier poetry, of awkwardness. The introduction written by Laura E. Franey outlines the collaborative process between Yone Noguchi and his editors in writing the book, the diary's critique of turn-of-the-century Japonisme, and Morning Glory's performance of authenticity and identity. The Afterword by Edward Marx surveys the book's reception and afterlife in the USA and Japan. It suggests usefully the different genres in which the diary may be placed: women's confessional diaries popular in the late 19th century in Europe and the USA; Japanese diary literature, or nikki bungaku, whose roots reach all the way back to The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon; the New Japanese Novel; Asian American literature; American trickster tales; and queer literature. The notes to the text are full and enlightening.

My favorite bits:

"Japan teaches nothing but simplicity. Simplicity is the philosophy of art." (62)

"I thought that Americans buy things because they love to buy, not because they have to buy." (62)

"Meriken jin [Americans] has to study the high art of concealing." (62)

"Every book was without finger-marks. Book without finger-mark is like bread without brown crust. Dear finger-mark!" (65)

"[Morning Glory to her uncle] "I'm a poet already. The poet without poem is greater, don't you know?" (91)

"[Morning Glory to Mr. Heine] The best poems are those not published. The very best are those not written." (99)

I think I've discovered in Yone Noguchi yet another of my American predecessors, in addition to Auden and Gunn.

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