Category Archives: Japan

Writing Controls

The beautiful arabesques of the writing of Raymond Roussel, still evident in translation, are most interesting as discipline (contrivance, organisation, code, device), and made all the more alluring by the discovery, in 1989, of a trunk full of manuscripts. I have always been interested in the manufacture of text, and the versionings required. First draft, second draft, the processes of revision… The mechanizations we invent in attempting to get around the ways words are always already prefigured, so as to say the same thing anew.

Writing as a craft is not besmirched by a patent ‘method’. Roussel wrote according to a calculus, as has often been remarked (Ford 2000, Foucault 1963). There are sentences with parentheses inside parentheses that multiply into entire books. Meanings are deferred and referred back to each other, and the first word is both clue and angular destination. Sure, there are cryptograms in Jules Verne – and these fascinated Roussel so much he went to meet that author in 1898 (Ford 2000:17) – but experimental writing was never more elaborate before Roussel, or so it seems from the cache found in the attic in 89.

Unleash the word hoard. Cubist, Dada, Oulipo, Lettriste. Experimental writing, even where obscure, retains a special critical potential; perhaps best outlined in English by Burroughs as a work against control. The word cut-ups were something he considered a useful way to expose control orders. Burroughs as political oracle may seem reckless – an extravagant, untamed, rampant, enthusiasm – and a writing greedy for meaning (thanks Tinzar) – but isn’t this just what might sidestep control?

The orders of language certainly have us in a tight squeeze – grammar, spelling, typography, layout, html, the aesthetic use of empty space (black here, white there). What do we need to do so as to sidestep this pious complex? Nietzsche proud as punch to write such good books? Ginsberg running hysterical naked in the negro streets at dawn [Moloch still being dragged to heaven]? Kathy Acker attacks on high school and on Don Quixote? Leonard Cohen or Nick Cave harmonic mumbling even? Amidst the welter of words there is precious little time to stop and consider our faith – an experimental church, with a god-botherin clergy raging at our misdemeanours, and demanding sacrifice on altars. With Roussel as the fallen high priest become demonic victim, and hero.

Ford, Mark 2000 Raymond Roussel and the Republic of Dreams, London: Faber and Faber
Foucault 1963/1989 Death and the Labyrinth, Editions Surkamp

The pics are of a Japanese Communist Party rally in Tokyo. Pink t-shirts! Talked with the comrades about war, and housing. Still translating their policy document.

Nagoya-Bird&Rabbit-4-Tim Stelfox-Griffen

So I am posting these pics to Ellen, but they can also rest here for a while. Bird and Rabbit went to Japan. To Nagoya in fact. They came with me to give a talk at Nagoya City University – the talk was about Jean Charles de Menezes, the Brazilian lad murdered by police on the tube at Stockwell two years ago this week. No police charged, (perhaps Cressida Dick will be censured on Health and Safety grounds – executions of members of the public inside a tube carriage being considered that serious). The talk was about repetition, violence, the manufacture of terror, scapegoats and fear – and the social construction of the figure of the ‘suicide bomber’ – for all that critique of that process may or may not help us. Recently I have been reading Talal Asad’s excellent new book “On Suicide Bombing” [Columbia Uni Press] and I find his arguments compelling. Spivak has a good paper on the topic too – [‘Terror’ in Boundary 2, summer 2004].

Anyway, Nagoya City University is where I taught for six months in 2003 as visiting professor. I wrote much of the book “Bad Marxism” there, and taught a course on film in the Intercultural Studies department – I was screening lots of Hollywood gangster films and things like The Godfather trilogy. The students were great – though by the end of the term there had probably been a bit too much late night Karaoke and I can only thanks the gods no-one ever recorded me singing Dylan’s “Times Are a Changin'”.

So, this is the place Rabbit and Bird came to visit their friends Manekineko and, as the night wore on, some dudes they were seen hanging out with at a fairly disreputable back street surfer bar in the very small hours. That’s very fine scotch whiskey they are drinking there. The ambient tones courtesy of some obscure Blondie tracks. It was about the fifth bar they visited that evening, but frankly, some of the pictures from the other places are too blurred for the public record (Rabbit does look a bit dishevelled). “Futatsu beeru onagaishimasu!”

I guess you should know that this adventure travel Rabbit and Bird thing is a tribute to the memory of Tim Stelfox-Griffin, a friend who died far too young, about a month or so ago. At Tim’s wake, Ellen handed out some pages with markings on, which, when cut out and assembled, became bird and rabbit. Apparently Tim quite liked this sort of thing – gotta admit the guy was somewhat eccentric, and I guess that’s what I miss most. So, with a little help from Kaori who took the pics and provided scissors (and some glue for bird’s beak), here they are, adventure travelling in Japan as perhaps Tim might well have done. Should have done. Peace. On the anniversary of the death of Jean Charles as well. Sad, mad, bad planet.

Ubiquitous Media

The conference theme (TCS 25th anniversary meet at Todai U Tokyo) has set loose a plague whose epidemiology can only be described as the onset of a ‘digital Adorno’ virus (I adapt this from Anthony King – I see Adorno referenced but not read, glossed via secondary readings, named but ignored, as ever it always has been…) and, worse, the conference alibis what looks like isolated individualism positing a corresponding technological determinism, such that new gadgets directly relate – without other mediation – to ‘subjects’ independent of corporate, commercial, or co-ordinating engagements (King again). The avoidance of politics seems to sum up what was wrong when it went wrong (plus the painful moment[s] when Hansen went on and on in a narcoleptic tone), but on the whole the conference was very very good. Despite typhoons and earthquakes, there was hardly a session that was not full of good papers; it was well organised, and the local food fabulous (okinawa bar – thanks Shinji). I’m pleased to know more about Bernard Steigler (from Ben and Jeremy) and to have met Dave, Mia, Tania, plus Shaun, Sean and Tomoko again. Toshiya’s argument that Transformers transformations are linked to the transformation problem of former leftists who went into cultural work was quite brilliant, and of course the best bits happened in between sessions and late at night in obscure bars.

My presentation had to do with ubiquitous paranoia, on the anniversary of the London 7/7 bombings, the fear/scapegoat manufacture of sleeper cells and tube bombers in England excuses an annual ‘event’ related to the efficient production of paranoia. ‘He’s behind you’ is the panto-demonization response, but the court cases and car bombs that coincided this year (2007), and the ‘suicide rapper’ routine of last year (2006), deserve a more detailed response. I have pursued this using the idea of ubiquitous narrative, ubiquitous critique, and retelling the story of that very mild mannered suicide rapper (aka Aki Nawaz) and the bed-time tales of Scheherezade – now captured, renditioned, detained and forced to tell stories to interrogators at Guantanamo for the rest of her days – one thousand and one nights is overdetermined, akin to infinity plus one…

My case is that the incomplete character of Scheherezade’s stories is what saves her. So when it comes to Fun^da^mental’s presentation of a recipe for bombs (readily available on the internet, but somehow also ‘secret’), there is a curious coincidence of interest in secrets on ‘both sides’. The ambiguous space of politics lies here – really lies – the gaps, the appearance and disappearance, the unknowns – this is what we might look at. The lie and deception are structured into story (they call this ‘spin’) and this seems to be an increasingly potent site of struggle.

So the fact that the conference had a great deal to say about repositories of secrets: about archives, about the empire of signs, investigations of code, attention to all kinds of message – this makes me want to ask questions. For example: is it mere coincidence that the proliferation of scholarly interest in code and archive – and of course the desire of google to document EVERYTHING – seems to be symbiotically related to the demands of the security forces that there be no secrets at all, that all information be admissible in court, that every bag be searched at the airport… No-one should have anything to hide – certainly not any Middle Eastern looking Brazilians on the tube….

These parallel information obsessions (archive/security; interpretation/interrogation) amount to what I’ll call the hermeneutics of anxiety. Isn’t it the case that worrying about the known unknowns has reinvigorated scholarship and vibrant debates about non-representation, cognitive systems, archives and code? And is this, not insignificantly, aligned to the homeland security demand to know the whole story, as most clearly and viciously enacted in the endless banality of the interrogation cells at Guantanamo.

The trouble with combating stereotypes is that they continue to bounce back up at you the more you knock them down. The suicide rapper (Aki Aki Aki, ) is not enough to counter the ideological hegemony of the spinsters; but what is? What is adequate to win, where the stereotype and the demon are known knowns, deployed knowingly as objects of paranoia, as necessary targets of a fear that binds the nation (I mean here Eurasia, Oceania, etc., those blocs Orwell had described in the nightmare of 84).

Ubiquitous digispeak. Ubik. Tokyo July 16.

[Photo by Naoko Sakurai]

And it was still raining…

Heaven and Earth

Once more in Shimokitazawa, where there is a small 5th floor club called Heaven & Earth, and where, after dancing sweaty hot electro and hip hop all night (and gospel for Charlie K), you can sit on the balcony as the typhoon rolls in over Tokyo and then you can get noddles on the way home with the salary men on their way to work. Its my favourite hedoistic hideaway adn always a lot lot lot of fun. Feel lucky to land there (another planet).

But it was not all play – I did at least do a little bit of a presentation for Tech/Animation (and sang) before the all night mad dancing come split level mutli-sited chaos-relief from the rigours of the TCS conference and reception (after Kittler’s talk) and much jet lag come self-induced sleeplessness took over. Walking home an epiphany about the styles of writing, and pleasure at meeting new comrades, getting gift books (“Culture on Drugs” looks good [Dave Boothroyd, MUP 2006] – and I was only just before taking notes on Freud’s guilt about the fate of Max von Flieschl-Marxow…).

Hence the rather subdued interventions at the conference today, but probably that’s probably good thing eh. Probably it was raucous enough as it was, this ubiquitous media routine. Jeremy Gilbert on Steigler tomorrow, in the presence of the man hisself, should be better.

Many thanks to Toshiya for organising (pic 1) and to the enthusiasts who turned up for the second year in a row (i am overwhelmed – pic 2) and to Midnight Snacks (here somewhat obscured, except for t-shirt slogan, in pic number 3).

And it was a fine thing that there were a good number of Goldsmiths CCS and associates in the crowd, and various other digniied (and as the night wore on elegantly un-dignified) peoples, and lots of very fine sounds, people willing to talk endlessly about interesting projects (Tokyo pirate radio post soon; anmation special; and perhaps reviews of Ian Condry and Dave B’s books – though probably just shout outs as they look quite good and don’t need to be trashed by me: “shortcircuiting the exasperating detourof communication” [Boothroyd 2006:47]). On the whole a fun nght had by all. But as a consequence, I’m skipping tonight’s visit with SL to La Jetee’ cafe-bar (sumimasen Chris Marker).

Some of this may seem a tad cryptic. When the jet lag subsides I may turn this diary entry into more proper commentary.

Indian curry powder – theory of translation

I am first of all against translation as it is mad, its impossible, it cannot ever be true to origins, its a kind of violence, it is always political, it transforms, it is creative, it is heroic to try, it is the essence of communicability, it is exchange, it disrupts parochialism, it is the foundation of internationalism, it is what we all should be trying to do, it is the most revolutionary activity, it is social, it is life itself, I am for it. [Thanks Kaori for trinkets from Japan].

NIMB – Shimokitazawa

Not in my backyard used to be the somewhat mocking slogan attributed to (but rarely adopted by) suburbanites and urban yuppies who were opposed to developments like, I dunno, the inner Sydney airport runway; the relocation of some prison/asylum/shopping centre; the technopolisation of some research and development Project. NIMBY protests then seemed to fade off my radar a little, except in England where asylum centres raised the same sort of vigilante hackles as did paedophiles or such like. Clearly the spectrum of anti-development and urban cleansing projects is wide and diverse, but the opposition limited and often cack-handed. [sorry, not a technical term, but you will know what I mean]. I do have a certain nostalgia for some of the more creative adventures that belonged to Left-wing versions of such NIMBy sentiments – protests by anarchists against urban yuppie fortress home renovations (anti-new architecture by any other name – it as funny to see things trashed with style) and the Reclaim the Streets actions when they transformed the city into a wild disruptive – no-sign-of-them-going-home-soon party zone (this was before 24 hour inner-city O’Neil’s style yob club/pubs took over the high streets, and before RTS became just a friday bike ride…). Something has faded for mine, since back then – oh nostalgia for the g.o. days – Reclaim the Streets used to be especially critical when they linked up with the Liverpool Dockers. I remember particularly how hard the Police thugs cracked down on that pointedly political alliance when it began.

So, I am keen to follow the campaign that’s emerged in Tokyo to save the playground of the trendiest of youth culture club scene creative types. Shimokitizawa is a place where I had the good fortune to be often invited several years back when I was Visiting Prof at Nagoya City Uni, and more recently last April I gave a big talk in a crowded club that had bizarrely stopped to discuss hip hop, politics and the war on terror. Strangely fluid simultaneous translation in Japanese by my good friends Toshiya Ueno and Yoshitaka Mouri, and a dynamic debate that was electric, critical, engaging and went on long past the alloted time – then a TRON type race across the city in Toshiya’s manga-style sports car. So I’d found it more than ironic that, at the talk, people in the audience brought up the plan to ‘redevelop’ the very area we were in by running a huge motorway through the centre of the suburb. I’d heard such things before – thought it was another tribal-youth type NIMBy concern, but was surprised to hear of a raft of RTS type actions in planning; plenty of energy amongst the activist set… (though there are other parts of Tokyo I also enjoyed – peculiar little bars left over somehow from the 40s, 50s, 60s – they are not in the way of a highway [yet]).

Today the campaign has hit the front page of the New York Times. Check it out. In the absence of much else newsworthy, I am pleased to see this make a splash, and hope it translates to renewed RTS-enthusiasm that can aslo plumb the activism of the old Tokyo airport campaign and the like. Something to learn, I still think there is much good to be said for what happened in the Anti-roads and Reclaim the Streets UK protests in the mid 1990s, even if they were reclaimed for capital in the end – for that I blame in part the opportunist prat George Moonbot, speaking this week at the Conservative Party conference where he and his Guardian reading friends belong. For insight into those times, check early issues of Aufheben on the Criminal Justice Act and Anti-Roads.

I will shop till you drop

Its grey and drizzling in Nagoya but there is no way that the Sakura is going to disappoint. Where is the umeshu? The best thing – many agree, I would guess, after my first visit here in April three years ago – is to drink umeshu while admiring the blossoms, but I prefer Sapporo beer, onegaishimasu.

Anyway, I am giving a talk on monday in Tokyo, and its to be streamed live on the net (no, I do not yet know the url, and anyway it will still be trinketised waffle in Japanese translation).

Before that, a few hours in the trinket paradise of Osu – the covered markets south of Sakai – where the bargain buys are wonderously mad nick nacks and monster Manekinekkos (is that how you pluralise the waving cat?) . Souvenirs, the stock in trade of tourism, the detritus of the world, made ironically relevant by referencing in films (Chris Marker) and exotica bookshops in galleries that, well, ought to know better. Maybe there should be a global repatriation of trinkets? All those cobwebbed attics full of kitsch ought to be seen, or better yet, returned to point of sale so the poor bastards that had to make the junk in some sweatshop someplace could resell the things all over. The craze for the obsolete and the curio is never going to achieve a cash-in that would redistribute the wealth of those that tour to those that are toured, but maybe there is good reason to make it compulsory for folks to angst just a little about who had to make all that shit. When all is said and done, my purchase of a few bits of cloth and the occasional dippy ornament is not as compromised, for mine, as the organised christmas catalogues of gifts paraded by charity outfits like Oxfam and the like.

I guess its easter (which passes unmentioned here thank Elmo), so is today an ok time to trash the dubious moralism that makes it seem legitimate to salve your conscience by buying official oxfam merchandise? I mean, why is it ok to ‘give’ gifts from charity outfits – just because some alt-bureaucrat type somewhere funds a social programme with a tiny portion of the organisation’s operating costs, and we overlook the mass production of the very goods in the catalogues that keep alibi’d consciences in clover (has anyone seen the accounts on this?) . Charity is not a fight for a substantial kind of change now is it? In the absence of a redistribution programme that can win, there seems no reason to prefer charity products over other mass produced gunk – the sort of stuff we amass on that other god-bothering festival day they have in December (to teach kids to love capitalism)? I know, I know, its sweet to give things, but a sweatshop job is still a boring sweatshop no matter how much the god-bothering rebranding turns commercialism into ethical trading. I guess that should be ethNical trading, eh?

Therefore, hypocrital as ever, I am off to the shops (actually, to buy a cowboy belt in one of those great Tex-Mex-Nippon stores, then for Korean b-b-q cos believe it or not I’m fed up with sashimi).

(pic by Miya – great navigator of Edo ‘posts’)