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And It Was All So Totally, Totally Iki and to Die for

Ah, it's a happy day of direction rediscovered, and vision restored.

Watching: that terrible tortured talent, Mike Figgis, The Loss of Sexual Innocence. Worth every misstep and over-reach for those moments of visuals and audio in perfect play: a blind woman's seeing-eye dog is attacked by a pack of dogs and, in a panic, and as she alone comes forward to help, she lashes Saffron Burrows in the face with her white cane.

Listening to: REM, I Remember California: just for that lyric: "the ocean's Trident submarines, lemons, limes and tangerines." Timo Maas, Pictures: A Brazilian friend of mine said to me, playing this song, a huge grin on her face: "This is the most disgusting song I ever heard in my life! Listen, listen!" Hitomi, There is… J pop is Japanese pop and is a genre unto its own for saccharine and repetition and the inducing of a glaze in the eyes of foreigners of every kidney all over the country. This song, though, this song…. My best and bilingual friend, Ryan Skelton, who took that rather dramatic author photo just above these words, quietly and gravely appalled at my obsession with this song, once offered to tell me exactly what she was singing about. "Oh god, no," I said, wisely.

Reading: the new book printed out on paper in toto, which of course now looks and behaves completely differently than it does on screen. I planned The Lazy Boys on twelve A4 sheets of paper pinned on my walls, which, each piece, got longer and longer as additions were made and further A4 sheets got stapled on the ends of the extant till it resembled some kind of medieval tapestry sewn in milieu-specific teenage insults. I wrote The Method Actors until I got lost in it, then carpeted the entire floor of my room with it in manuscript, divided by episode. It was as big as a Jackson Pollock, and I walked around and around it and through it, moving it, shaping it like it was sculpture. It was like I was living inside of it. This new one has a very rigorous structure and I'm working on fine resonances, on kinky interlinks and echoes and mysteries, dreamy repetitions and inner visions. It's like making a suitcase full of folded dreams.

Also reading: inspirational books for where I'm at right now: Richard von Krafft-Ebing's seminal study of nineteenth-century sexual deviance, Psychopathia Sexualis, which is simultaneously one of the most fascinating, comical and moving books I've read — constantly sad despite a clinicism in the prose that can only be described as cheerful, especially in the reproofs of the time.

Sample prose:

When Mrs. X removed the wig she lost at once all charm for her husband. Mrs. X recognized this as a hobby, and readily yielded to the wishes of her husband, whom she loved dearly, and whose libido depended on the wearing of the wig. It was remarkable, however, that a wig had the desired effect only for a fortnight or three weeks at a time. It had to be made of thick, long hair, no matter of what color.

The result of this marriage was, after five years, two children and a collection of seventy-two wigs.

I recommend reading it to Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings."

Crash, J.G. Ballard. Italo Calvino's incomparable Invisible Cities. Japanese and Francophile Kuki Shuzo's The Structure of Detachment, from 1930. Christopher Benfey, in his absolutely brilliant book on Americans discovering Japan, The Great Wave: Gilded Age Misfits, Japanese Eccentrics, and the Opening of Old Japan, recognizes Kuki for seeing the happiness of Sisyphus in his endless task well before Camus in The Myth of Sisyphus. The Structure of Detachment is translated from Iki no Kozo, meaning literally "iki's structure". "Detachment" is the translator's judgment call and I don't like it, as a good part of the book is spent trying to define what the qualities of this elusive and (in English) indefinable thing — variously translated elsewhere as chic, elegant, cool — called "iki," are exactly. Kuki Shuzo spends pages and pages of beautiful, restrained and detached prose, saturated with examples drawn from literature, fabrics, pottery, ceramics, hairstyles, nature, architecture, and body language, in the definition of this single aesthetic category. It's dense, detailed, obsessive and totally, totally iki. Basically an encyclopedia of elegance.

Sample prose:

When it comes to the sense of hearing, the natural form of iki as a physical manifestation shows in ways that language is used or certain words articulated. Examples come by way of situations described in terms like this: "The way she talks to a man is alluring, without a hint of sweet talk." Another example would be "No word or inflection is yabo [blogger's note: a rather onomatopoeic word for "boorish"]." This type of iki is also encountered in pronunciation or inflection at the ends of words. A word said slowly, in a drawl, suddenly cut short with an inflection at the end — that is basic to iki in language use.

So it's also a sort of encyclopedia of self-control and self-consciousness, two very Japanese concerns we may benefit from in small and judicious portions. Poooortions.

Books mentioned in this post


  1. The Lazy Boys Used Trade Paper $4.95
  2. The Method Actors Used Trade Paper $3.50
  3. Psychopathia Sexualis Used Trade Paper $10.95
  4. Crash Used Trade Paper $8.50
  5. Invisible Cities
    Used Trade Paper $7.95
  6. The Structure of Detachment: The... New Trade Paper $19.25
  7. The Great Wave: Gilded Age Misfits,... New Trade Paper $16.00
  8. The Myth of Sisyphus: And Other...
    Used Trade Paper $7.50
  9. The Lazy Boys Used Trade Paper $4.95


Carl Shuker is the author of The Lazy Boys

One Response to "And It Was All So Totally, Totally Iki and to Die for"

  1.  
    Maggie the Cat December 7th, 2006 at 1:37 pm

    Three cheers for Ryan Skelton!
    ...because you have, hands down, one of the best author photos in the business.

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