In the empty mountains
The leaves of the bamboo grass
Rustle in the wind.
I think of a girl
Who is not here.
When Japanese people ask me why I've bothered to study their language, they're usually surprised to learn that the origin of my interest owes to literature like this rather than to the usual anime/manga obsessions, while I in turn am bewildered at their surprise: from an aesthetic point of view comics and cartoons about schoolgirls, tentacle monsters and robots hardly stand comparison with the work of Hitomaro, Yamabe no Akahito or Ono no Komachi.
Here's a little something I've just wandered upon again after several years.
From the bay at Tago
When I go out and take a look
I see, pure white
On Mt. Fuji's peaks
Snow has fallen.
This poem was written by Yamabe no Akahito sometime in the 8th century A.D., but hey, fashions change slowly in the literary realm ... What's interesting to me, though - besides the beauty of the original - is just how readable this work remains by comparison with something like Beowulf.
I've been incapacitated of late thanks to another yet another virus acquired at the hands of a filthy fellow underground rider who couldn't be bothered to cover his mouth when sneezing, but I found this argument for perpetual copyright so outrageous that I felt driven to share it come what may. I'm never surprised to see any special interest group pleading its case for the opportunity to collect rents at the expense of the general public, but this has to be the first time I've seen it done with such eloquence.
Eloquent as he may be, however, Mark Helprin and his ilk are no different from the sugar-subsidy seekers, the textile protectionists or any of the other parasitical groups begging for special favor from the government: instead of thanking his stars that his monopoly "rights" (which only exist for the convenience of the general public to begin with) are protected at all, Helprin has the cheek to plead for said monopolies to be extended into perpetuity, and what is saddening is that thanks to craven legislators and an indifferent, ignorant public, the odds are weighed heavily in his favor - the Mickey Mouse Protection Act provides a glaring example of what I'm getting at. Any particular group of rent-seekers may be few, but they are determined in the pursuit of their selfish interests, and public choice theory tells us that they are likely to succeed in the face of public apathy, unless opposed by even more powerful special interests.
PS: A little Googling turns up this old post by Arnold Kling, in response to which a fellow by the name of Robert lays out an argument for bestowing copyright for only a finite term even when said right may have value in perpetuity. To put it concisely, assuming a reasonable positive discount rate, there will come a time when the value paid out to the copyright holder will have been more than half the total value of the copyright even into perpetuity, which seems a reasonable point at which to let the copyright lapse. Note that even if we decided to allow the copyright-holder to extract, say, 90% of the value, this time period would still be finite.
Yukichi Fukuzawa's "Argument for Leaving Asia" 「脱亜論」 is a seminal Meiji-era essay whose lack of an English translation has long puzzled me, so much so that I'd made up my mind to attempt a translation of my own however poor, on the basis that even a poor translation was better than none at all, and someone else could always build on what I'd done. Unfortunately, the necessary free time just never seemed to be available.
The reason why I'm writing this blog entry is that it appears someone else has been thinking along the same lines as I've been, the big difference being that they've actually begun doing something about it beyond just idle dreaming: the blog "Sparkling Korea" has translated the first portion of Fukuzawa's essay sufficiently clearly so that only a few minor edits should be required by native English-speakers, and even without any such edits the translation should be perfectly understandable as is. The significance of this effort is easy to underestimate if one fails to appreciate how influential Fukuzawa's essay both historically has been and presently continues to be within the discourse of East Asian international relations: that "Datsu-A-Ron" has been generally unavailable online in English is as peculiar as expecting foreign students of American history to study the Civil War period without ever running into the Gettysburg Address ...
Over on Occidentalism, Marmot's Hole regular Sonagi reviews the latest Japan-related issue to have certain Korean groups and even the Korean government up in arms, namely a memoir by Yoko Kawashima Watkins called "So Far from the Bamboo Grove". Unlike the vast majority of angry netizens who gave the book a single star on Amazon, Sonagi actually bothers to read the thing before passing judgement on it, and the conclusion is ...
One finds the most unexpected things online, such as this clip apparently combining several interviews conducted in English with Yukio Mishima. As one might expect of such a brilliant mind - and contrary to national stereotype - Mishima's English is excellent, and his grammar nearly perfect, despite his never having lived in an English speaking country for years on end.
Egyptian Islamists finally get their wish, though I'm sure they're still disappointed he died only of old age.
Egypt's Nobel Prize-winning writer Naguib Mahfouz has died in hospital in the capital, Cairo, aged 94.
Mahfouz had been in hospital since mid-July after he fell during a midnight stroll and injured his head.
His vibrant, colourful portrayal of capital in his Cairo Trilogy won the 1988 Nobel Prize for literature.
He had suffered health problems since being stabbed in the neck in 1994 by an Islamist extremist, angry at his portrayal of God in one of his novels.
If you want to understand why so little of intellectual note has emerged from the Islamic world since the Middle Ages, all you have to do is look at how men like Mahfouz and Abdus Salam have been treated in it; an environment in which any nut with a "holy" book in his hand can violently silence his intellectual superiors with the approbation of society isn't one to encourage a ferment of ideas.
Today I felt an overwhelming urge to pick up the original Japanese edition of Haruki Murakami's very weird* "Wind-Up Bird Chronicle" 「ねじまき鳥クロニクル」, but only now did I remember what the exact impetus was for this impulse acquisition: rumor has it that the book is set to be made into a film. Of course, there's a certain irony in my deciding to read Murakami's novel in Japanese, seeing as the common mark held against the author is, to quote 3Yen's "Taro",
... most snooty Japanese bitch about his novels being too Western ...
so what we have here is a Westerner seeking a flavor of authentic modern Japanese writing in an author seeking the flavor of the West; I bet there's a whole lit-crit essay in there somewhere.
*"Weird" is pretty much a redundant term to use with any of Murakami's works ...
Having a little free time, I finally got around to revisiting this interesting article on what it feels like to, as the writer put it
have encountered a student or younger colleague whose talents were manifestly greater than our own at the same age.
What is it like to see someone younger than you accomplish seemingly effortlessly what you have managed to do only through much toil and suffering, or perhaps have failed to achieve in spite of years of unstinting dedication? What does it do to one's ego to invest so much of one's sense of self in a field only to encounter talents which put one's own humble achievements in the shade? How does one react to such a spectacle, especially when it is combined with a self-confidence - one might even say arrogance - borne of an awareness of just how much better than most of one's colleagues one really is?