THE BOOKS OF SEPTEMBER 2019

TANIZAKI JUNICHIRO《NAOMI》

naomi is a difficult text, not for its qualities of language nor its assembly of fine literary inventions and techniques (which tanizaki seamlessly masters), but for its dated qualities and its entrenchment within the well-established patriarchy of japan masquerading as a cultural totem. though on the surface a portrayal of a naive, well-meaning man becoming gradually more entrapped in the inexplicably lustrous and perilous sexual charms of the young naomi, the novel is in actuality a brazenly sharp critique of japan’s fixation on the allures of the west. naomi is most frequently referred in the foreground of her eurasian beauty, her pale skin, and her (bad imitation of) western mannerisms. her garish parade of kimonos serve an allegorical purpose as the “japan-ization” of western imports and cultures, supposedly at once elevating them and making them more palatable to a japanese audience, but resulting in a bastardization of both cultures. the book reaches its satirical peak at the end, when the indomitable naomi appears in a western ball gown, and is endowed with so much inhuman beauty that the male narrator is literally brought to his knees. naomi has received many comparisons to nabokov’s lolita, for fair reason (the dumb and blindly infatuated male with a dangerous possessive desire, the seductress who evolves from unwitting ingenue to masterful manipulator, the question of age, the impotence of reason in the face of sex, etc.), and naomi, especially, suffers from the same issue that i have with lolita—the woman as a set of characteristics. allegory and satire are at its most effective when delivered with full acknowledgment of the involved humanity. to quote from an incredible essay by becca rothfeld: “[The author’s] own inability to betray the demands of his work secures his compassionate treatment of his female characters, thus his deliverance.” good writing demands the assertion of full characters, even in service of a novel’s agenda, even below the weight of the writer’s presumptions. naomi is by no means a failure; its prose shines under tanizaki’s command, and it is in turns strikingly absurd, hilarious, and pitiful. but it is, at its end, tiring. it is tiring to see incredible writers who do not seek to breach the bounds of their own ignorance, in pursuit of this craft that is ever-expansive.

JAMES SCHUYLER《SELECTED POEMS》

john ashbery’s wit and control of diction, william carlos william’s incredible breadth for noticing, frank o’hara’s levity and joy—that’s james schuyler. his poems give us that ultimate gift that only arrive by way of poems: the capacity to invoke that very incomprehensible sense of poetics which arrives at the pinnacle of both emotive and physical understanding.

Each rising new, as though in the night it enacted death and rebirth
As flowers seem to. The roses this June will be different roses
Even though you cut an armful and come in saying, “Here are the roses,”
As though the same blooms had come back, white freaked with red
And heavily scented. Or a cut branch of pear blooms before its time,
”Forced.” Time brings us into bloom and we wait, busy, but wait
For the unforced flow of words and intercourse and sleep and dreams
In which the past seems to portend a future which is just more
Daily life.

MATTHEW ZAPRUDER 《WHY POETRY》

finally a hero has arrived in a zapruder shape and answered the question that constantly serves to exhaust and irritate us. this book is incredibly sensitive, erudite, and comprehensive in the approach towards poetry, and explains with such confidence of its necessity in the life that occurs not only in the “high” realms but in the platitudinous days. what did williams say?

My heart rouses
thinking to bring you news
of something
that concerns you
and concerns many men. Look at
what passes for the new.
You will not find it there but in
despised poems.

I hope his next book will be, what kind of poems do you write.

YU MIRI《TOKYO UENO STATION》

in henri lefebvre’s critique of everyday life, he says: “Withdrawal into the self is passive in relation to an overcomplex social reality which oscillates between innuendo and brutal explicitness, but it appears to be a solution of sorts.” there is something in tokyo that exemplifies this; the immense overwhelm that is not only a product of the urban but also a cultural development that is simultaneously stunted and pressured to advance. in this, isolation—self-imposed or otherwise—is endemic in this city, and yu miri depicts this with incredible deftness in tokyo ueno station, following a homeless man, kazu, whose life, beset by beaucracy and tragedy alternately, resolves in a nameless, placeless cessation. told in a voice that at once haunts of fatigue and hollowness, tokyo is awash in its configurations of its cruelties, its fine delicacies, and its facade of carelessness, under which lies an ocean of painfully human things.

MARIO VARGAS LLOSA 《NOTES ON THE DEATH OF CULTURE》

from a wonderful interview with ana maría rodas:

We used to like Mario Vargas Llosa too. Used to. I remember when Tía Julia y el escribidor came out. “Have you read this one?” I said, holding a copy of the book. I think the first half is wonderful, and beautifully written. But the second half, when he writes about his tía Julia, he never talks about her in a loving way. The feminist in me was outraged. “That’s it,” I said. “No more Vargas Llosa.”

yes, he’s divisive, to say the least, and when I put down notes on the death of culture, I too thought, “no more vargas llosa.” it’s difficult to find the right words to critique a master, but where he undoubtedly fails is in his uncompromising rejection of the present. to lament and romanticize the supposed cultural peaks of times past is to rejoice in the historic suppression of an immense number of voices, and also to moralize their silence. in demanding a hierarchy of culture, vargas llosa is missing the schemata of human society; that culture has no life, only a semblance of living through the people who perpetuate it. when he says, “The idea of culture has broadened to such an extent that, although nobody would dare to state this explicitly, it has disappeared. It has become an ungraspable, multitudinous and figurative ghost. Because nobody is cultured if everyone thinks they are.” but there is an inherent falsity in this statement, because the immense body of culture expands to include all of its participants; is not a bilateral region into which one can cross or uncross. that is, to say, it has always been a multitudinous, figurative ghost. of course, now that platforms have multiplied to the extent that everyone is speaking with not one but several megaphones across time and space and all of the boundaries we previously thought unconquerable, when one skims the surface one finds only the common denominator of mind-numbing, oversimplified, prurient content, but across the cartography (and one does not even have to seek so diligently to find it) are the alcoves in which the very elite continue to self-perpetuate and thrive. there have always been compartments. there have always been multitudes. culture, the whole of it, was never the intellectual elite that vargas llosa bemoans the loss of. so culture has not died, not even vargas llosa’s version of it: his ongoing work (along with the many antiquated thinkers in his vein) is proof enough.

shelly shan

hi, my name is shelly. I do a thing where I make words into unnecessarily emotional composites. I don't know why I'm allowed on the internet, but I like it here.