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The Polaroid Book

Masahisa Fukase

Risale al 2004 una collezione di polaroid d’autore,The Polaroid Book,edita da Taschen (http://www.taschen.com/) e curata da Barbara Hitchcock,pomeriggio trovata da Foyle (http://www.foyles.co.uk/) in cambio di una manciata di pounds; sebbene le fotocamere digitali stiano di gran lunga soppiantando quelle a pellicola,trovo nostalgica la polaroid e niente in grado di eguagliare la spontaneità e il magico potere evocativo delle istantanee.
Interessante,a mio parere,la fotografia di Masahisa Fukase,fotografo giapponese cui prima pubblicazione-Kill the Pigs- risale al 1961; una successiva del 1986,Karasu( Corvo) verrà nominata dal British Journal of Photography (http://www.bjp-online.com/) come la migliore mai edita dal 1986 al 2009 (Nan Goldin seconda in classifica)
La carriera di Fukase verrà interrota nel 1992 a causa di un incidente che lo costringerà in coma fino al 2010.
Qui di seguito un articolo del The Guardian
Masahisa Fukase’s Ravens: the best photobook of the past 25 years? | Art and design | guardian.co.uk.
Sotto alcune delle polaroid,presentate nel libro,che mi hanno impressionato maggiormente

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Annunci

On Photography

Life itself is not the reality. We are the ones who put life into stones and pebbles.
Frederick Sommer
Il potente fascino che esercita la fotografia è intrinseco alla morbosità di ciascuno suscettibile all’estetica del bello,romantico e decadente.Quanto più una fotografia dettagliata nelle intenzioni del fotografo,tanto più questa susciterà in noi il sospetto di un’emozione antica, legata a una remota convinzione del Sublime. Un meravigliso saggio che sto leggendo,On Photography,del 1977,della scrittrice newyorkese Susan Sontag,positive feminist,attivista politica,morta nel 2004, è altamente godibile,a mio parere,non solo per l’analisi che la Sontag fa della fotografia dal punto di vista analitico ed estetico,morale e filosofico,ma anche,se non soprattutto,per l’eleganza della prosa sottilmente provocatoria,le incredibili intuizioni frasali d’irriverenza fulminea e la ricercatezza e insieme limpidezza del vocabolario, volutamente accurato e puntiglioso.
Questo il sito in suo onore dove trovare articoli e biografia della scrittrice
http://www.susansontag.com/index.shtml
Sotto una parte del testo tratto dal capitolo primo- In Plato’s Cave

Recently, photography has become almost as widely practiced an amusement as sex and dancing – which means that, like every mass art form, photography is not practiced by most people as an art. it is mainly a social rite, a defense against anxiety, and a tool of power.

Memorializing the achievement of individuals considered as members of families (as well as of other groups), is the earliest popular use of photography. For at least a century, the wedding photograph has been as much a part of the ceremony as the prescribed verbal formulas. Cameras go with family life. According to a sociological study done in France, most households have a camera, but a household with children is twice as likely to have at least one camera as a household in which there are no children. Not to take pictures of one’s children, particularly when they are small, is a sign on parental indifference, just as not turning up for one’s graduation picture is a gesture of adolescent rebellion.

Through photographs, each family constructs as portrait-chronicle of itself – a portable kit of images that bears witness to its connectedness. It hardly matters what activities are photographed so long as photographs get taken and are cherished. Photography becomes a rite of family life just when, in the industrializing counties of Europe and America, the very institution of the family starts undergoing radical surgery. At that claustrophobic unit, the nuclear family, was being carved out of a much larger family aggregate, photography came along to memorialize, to restate symbolically, the imperiled continuity and vanishing extendedness of family life. Those ghostly traces, photographs, supply the token presence of the dispersed relatives. A family’s photograph album is generally about the extended family – and, often, is all the remains of it.

As photographs give people an imaginary possession of a past that is unreal, they also help people to take possession of space in which they are insecure. Thus, photography develops in tandem with one of the most characteristic of modern activities: tourism. For the first time in history, large numbers of people regularly travel out of their habitual environments for short periods of time. It seems positively unnatural to travel for pleasure without taking a camera along. Photographs will offer indisputable evidence that the trip was made, that the program was carried out, that fun was had. Photographs document sequences of consumption carried on outside the view of family, friends, neighbors. But dependence on the camera, as the device that makes real what one is experiencing, doesn’t fade when people travel more. Taking photographs fills the same need for the cosmopolitans accumulating photograph-trophies of their boat trip up the Albert Nile or their fourteen days in China as it does for lower-middle-class vacationers taking snapshots of Eiffel Tower or Niagara Falls.

A way of certifying experience, taking photographs is also a way of refusing it – by limiting experience to a search for the photogenic, by converting experience in an image, a souvenir. Travel becomes a strategy for accumulating photographs. The very activity of taking pictures is soothing, and assuages general feelings of disorientation that are likely to be exacerbated by travel. Most tourists feel compelled to put the camera between themselves and whatever is remarkable that they encounter. Unsure of other responses, they take a picture. This gives shape to experience: stop, take a photograph, and move on. The method especially appeals to people handicapped by a ruthless work ethic – Germans, Japanese, and Americans. Using a camera appeases the anxiety which the work-driven feel about not working when they are on vacation and supposed to be having fun. They have something to do that is like a friendly imitation of work: they can take pictures.

People robbed of their past seem to make the most fervent picture takers, at home and abroad. Everyone who lives in an industrialized society is obliged gradually to give up the past, but in certain countries, such as the United States and Japan, the break with the past has been particularly traumatic. In the early 1970s, the fable of the brash American tourist of the 1950s and 1960s, rich with dollars and Babbittry, was replaced by the mystery of the group-minded Japanese tourist, newly released from his island prison by the miracle of overvalued yen, who is generally armed with two cameras, one on each hip.

Photography has become one of the principal devices for experiencing something, for giving an appearance of participation. One full-page ad shows a small group of people standing pressed together, peering out of the photograph, all but one looking stunned, excited, upset. The one who wears a different expression holds a camera to his eye; he seems self-possessed, is almost smiling. While the others are passive, clearly alarmed spectators, having a camera has transformed one person into something active, a voyeur: only he has mastered the situation. What do these people see? We don’t know. And it doesn’t matter. It is an Event: something worth seeing – and therefore worth photographing. The ad copy, whit letters across the dark lower third of the photograph like news coming over a teletype machine, consists of just six words: “. . . Prague . . . Woodstock . . . Vietnam . . . Sapporo . . . Londonderry . . . LEICA.” Crushed hopes, youth antics, colonial wars, and winter sports are alike – are equalized by the camera. Taking photographs has set up a chronic voyeuristic relation to the world which levels the meaning of all events.

A photograph is not just the result of an encounter between an event and a photographer; picture-taking is an event in itself, and one with ever more peremptory rights – to interfere with, to invade, or to ignore whatever is going on. Our very sense of situation is now articulated by the camera’s interventions. The omnipresence of cameras persuasively suggests that time consists of interesting events, events worth photographing. This, in turn, makes it easy to feel that any event, once underway, and whatever its moral character, should be allowed to complete itself – so that something else can be brought into the world, the photograph. After the event has ended, the picture will still exist, conferring on the event a kind of immortality (and importance) it would never otherwise have enjoyed. While real people are out there killing themselves or other real people, the photographer stays behind his or her camera, creating a tiny element of another world: the images-world that bids to outlast us all.

Photographing is essentially an act of non-intervention. Part of the horror of such memorable coups of contemporary photojournalism as the pictures of a Vietramese bonze reaching for the gasoline can, of a Begnali guerrilla in the act of bayoneting a trussed-up collaborator, comes from the awareness of how plausible it has become, in situations where the photographer has the choice between a photograph and a life, to choose the photograph. The person who intervenes cannot record; the person who is recording cannot intervene. Dziga Vertov’s great film, Man with a Movie Camera (1929), gives the ideal image of the photographer as someone in perpetual movement, someone moving through a panorama of disparate events with such agility and speed that any intervention is out of question. Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954) gives the complementary image: the photographer played by James Stewart has an intensified relation to one event, through his camera, precisely because he has a broken leg. And is confined to a wheelchair; being temporarily immobilized prevents him from acting on what he sees, and makes it even more important to take pictures. Even if incompatible with intervention in a physical sense, using a camera is still a form of participation. Although the camera in an observation station, the act of photographing is more that passive observing. Like sexual voyeurism, it is a way of at least tacitly, often explicitly, encouraging whatever is going on to keep on happening. To take a picture is to have n interest in things as they are, in the status quo remaining unchanged (at least for as long as it takes to get a “good” picture), to be in complicity with whatever makes a subject interesting, worth photographing – including, when that is the interest, another person’s pain or misfortune.
[…]
The industrialization of photography permitted its rapid absorption into rational-that is, bureaucratic-ways of running society.No longer toy images, photographs became part of the general furniture of the environment – touchstones and confirmations of that reductive approach to reality which is considered realistic. Photographs were enrolled in the service of important institution of control,notably the family and the police, as symbolic objects and as pieces of information.Thus, in the bureaucratic cataloguing of the world,many important documents are not valid unless they have,affixed to them,a photograph-token of the citizen’s face.
The “realistic” view of the world compatible with bureaucracy redefines knowledge- as techniques and information. Photographs are valued because they give information. They tell one what there is; they make an inventory. To spies, meteorologists, coroners, archeologists, and other information professionals,their value is inestimable. But in the situation in which most people use photographs,the value as information is of the same order as fiction. The information that photographs can give starts to seem very important at that moment in cultural history when everyone is thought to have a right to something called news. Photographs were seen as a way of giving information to people who do not take easily to reading. The Daily News still calls itself “New York’s Picture Newspaper”, its bid for populist identity. At the opposite end of the scale, Le Monde, a newspaper designed for skilled, well-informed readers, runs no photography at all. The presumption is that, for such readers, a photograph could only illustrate the analysis contained in n article.
A new sense of the notion of information has been constructed around the photographic image. The photograph is a thin slice of space as well as time. In a world ruled by photographic images, all borders (“framing”) seem arbitrary. Anything can be separated, can be made discontinuous, from anything else all that is necessary is to frame the subject differently ( Conversely,anything can be made adjacent to anything else. Photography reinforces a nominalist view of social reality as consisting of small units of an apparently infinite number- as the number of photographs that could be taken of anything is unlimited. Through photographs, the world becomes a series of unrelated, freestanding particles; and history, past and present, a set of anecdotes and faits divers. The camera makes reality atomic, manageable, and opaque. It is a view of the world which denies interconnectedness, continuity, but which confers on each moment the character of a mystery. Any photograph has multiple meanings, indeed, to see something in the form of a photograph is to encounter a potential object of fascination. The ultimate wisdom of the photograph image is to say: “There is surface. Now think- or rather feel, intuit- what is beyond it, what the reality must be like if it looks this way.” Photographs, which cannot themselves explain anything, are inexhaustible invitations to deduction, speculation, and fantasy.
Photography implies that we know about the world if we accept it as camera records it. But this is the opposite of understanding, which starts from not accepting the world as it looks. All possibility of understanding is rooted in the ability to say no. Strictly speaking, one never understands anything from a photograph. Of course, photographs fill in blanks in our mental pictures of the present and the past: for example, Jacob Riis’s images of New York squalor in the 1880s are sharply instructive to those unaware that urban poverty in late-nineteenth- century America was really that Dickensian. Nevertheless, the camera’s rendering of reality must always hide more than it discloses. As Brecht points out, a photograph of the Krupp works reveals virtually nothing about that organization. In contrast to the amorous relation, which is based on how it functions. And functioning takes place in time, and must be explained in time. Only that which narrates can make us understand.
The limit of photographic knowledge of the world is that, while it can goad conscience, it can, finally, never be ethical or political knowledge. The knowledge gained through still photographs will always be some kind of sentimentalism, whenever cynical or humanist. It will be a knowledge at bargains prices- a semblance of knowledge, a semblance of wisdom; as the act of taking pictures is a semblance of appropriation, a semblance of rape. The very muteness of what is, hypothetically, comprehensive in photographs is what constitute their attraction and provocativeness. The omnipresence of photographs has an incalculable effect on our ethical sensibility. By furnishing this already crowded world whit a duplicate one of images, photography makes us feel that the world is more available than it really is.
Needing to ha reality confirmed and experience enhanced by photographs is an aesthetic consumerism to which everyone is now addicted. Industrial societies turn their citizens into image-junkies; it is the most irresistible form of mental pollution. Poignant longings for beauty, for an end to probing below the surface, for a redemption and celebration of the body of the world- all these elements of erotic feeling are affirmed in the pleasure we take in photographs. But other, less liberating feelings are expressed as well. It would not be wrong to speak of people having a compulsion to photograph: to turn experience itself into a way of seeing. Ultimately, having an experience becomes identical with taking a photograph of it, and participating in a public event comes more and more equivalent to looking at it in photographed form. That most logical of nineteenth-century aesthetes, Mallarmè, said that everything in the world exists in order to end in a book. Today everything exists to end in a photograph.
Taken from “On Photography”by Susan Sontag,1977

Jacob Riis
Jacob Riis
Jacob Riis
Jacob Riis

Jacob August Riis (May 3, 1849 – May 26, 1914),Danish American social reformer, “muckraking” journalist and social documentary photographer (New York based photographer)

Intervista a Lev Tolstoj

Leo Tolstoy photographed by Sergey Mikhaylovich Prokudin-Gorsky

Intervistatore Anonimo:Secondo un sondaggio della nostra redazione-“Qual’è il romanzo a cui siete maggiormente affezionati?”(sondaggio a cui solo un Utente Misterioso ha dato risposta)-è emerso “Resurrezione” in testa alla classifica.
Lev Tolstoj:Bhe,sono soddisfatto,spasiba.
Intervistatore Anonimo:Vorrebbe parlarcene per favore?
Lev Tolstoj: Con piacere.A quei tempi ero poco più che sessantenne e trascorrevo le mie giornate in casa,nella mia tenuta,Jasnaja Poljana(dal russo Radura Serena),dove sono nato e cresciuto.Correva il 1889,e ricordo di un pomeriggio d’autunno che il televisore smise di funzionare.Tutto a un tratto.E’ chiaro mi preoccupai di chiamare il tecnico (il quale disse sarebbe arrivato quanto prima).Lei capisce,avendo,da quel momento, tempo a mia disposizione,pensai bene di iniziare a scrivere il romanzo
Intervistatore Anonimo:Il tecnico si fece mai vivo?
Lev Tolstoj: Si,dopo dieci anni.
Intervistatore Anonimo: Dunque,se capisco bene,lei ha impiegato dieci anni per scrivere Resurrezione..
Lev Tolstoj: Esatto.Dieci anni.
Intervistatore Anonimo: Vorrebbe raccontare ai nostri lettori la trama?
Lev Tolstoj: Dunque,Resurrezione prende spunto da una storia realmente accaduta raccontatami da un mio caro amico,il compagno Koni,il quale mi riferì della condanna a quattro mesi di reclusione, per furto,di una ragazzina orfana appena sedicenne ospite da parenti. Pare la ragazzina fosse stata sedotta da un componente della famiglia,ingravidata, e poi,a causa di questo,cacciata via di casa. La ragazzina,rimasta sola,inizierà ad arrangiarsi come è possibile in condizioni di miseria,fino a prostituirsi e commettere un furto; presentatasi alla corte di giustizia,la ragazzina vedrà fra la giuria proprio quel mascalzone che era stato responsabile della sua misera e del suo abbandono. Mortificato dai risentimenti,l’uomo deciderà di sposarla,sebbene la ragazzina dovrà prima scontare quattro mesi di prigionia e si ammalerà di tifo da lì a pochi mesi,fino a morire.
Intervistatore Anonimo: Dunque è questa la storia di Katusha Maslova ,la protagonista del suo romanzo.
Lev Tolstoj: Si,esatto.
Intervistatore Anonimo:Corre voce lei sia stato accusato di avere sedotto una cameriera in casa di una sua zia e che questa cameriera,a causa delle sue avance,sia stata licenziata.Di lei non si ebbero mai più notizie.
Lev Tolstoj: Lei come fa a sapere di questo gossip?
Intervistatore Anonimo: E’ quello che dicono i giornali scandalistici di tutto il mondo; ci sono documentazioni al riguardo.
Lev Tolstoj: Ebbene si,lo ammetto,è vero.
Intervistatore Anonimo: Si dice anche lei abbia avuto un affair con una contadina sposata,da cui è nato un bambino-che lei non ha voluto riconoscere.
Lev Tolstoj: Si,ammetto anche questo.
Intervistatore Anonimo: Dunque lei starebbe confermando di essere uno sporcaccione?
Lev Tolstoj: Questo non è corretto. Diciamo soltanto non ho mai disdegnato la compagnia delle donne.
Intervistatore Anonimo:Sarebbe allora per riscattarsi del senso di colpa che lei avrebbe scritto Resurrezione
Lev Tolstoj: Lo ammetto,diciamo pure ho scritto Resurrezione per riscattarmi del senso di colpa,ma nel mio libro cerco di affrontare anche altre tematiche..
Intervistatore Anonimo: Per esempio?
Lev Tolstoj: Per esempio la quanto tentata tanto mancata emancipazione dei contadini, i soprusi dei proprietari terrieri ai loro danni,l’ingiustizia sociale,la corruzione dell’apparato giudiziario
Intervistatore Anonimo: E lei per riscattarsi di questo senso di colpa non trova di meglio da fare che sfoderare il buonismo e pietismo cristiano,e per farlo,si permette persino di scomodare Gesù Cristo in persona citandone il sermone (Il Discorso della Montagna)agli apostoli? Non le pare patetico appellarsi all’amore fraterno e alla redenzione per scagionarsi di un’accusa di cui,lei per primo e ipocritamente,rimprovera l’immoralità?
Lev Tolstoj: Il Discorso della Montagna mi pare funzionale al fine del romanzo ,senza contare ho soltanto preso spunto dall’esempio cattolico. Mi pare puntare il dito,accusare il prossimo dei peccati di cui la Chiesa in persona si è sempre macchiata,è tradizione quanto mai antica che risale alle origini stesse dell’istituzione cristiana.
Intervistatore Anonimo: Lei predica bene e razzola male.Non vorrà dirmi di essere stato anche l’amante di Anna Karenina!
Lev Tolstoj: No,questo mai. Anna Karenina era una nobildonna. E anche qualora avessi sedotto Anna,nessuno si sarebbe permesso mai di ridurre in miseria una nobildonna. Soltanto la servitù…
Intervistatore Anonimo: Soltanto la servitù,la povera gente,è costretta a pagare il prezzo più alto delle ingiustizie sociali
Lev Tolstoj: Questo è giusto quello di cui parlo nel mio libro.
Intervistatore Anonimo: Lei è proprio un paraculo,sa?
Lev Tolstoj: Mi perdoni,ma è stata lei a chiedermi un’intervista..Bisognerebbe chiedere a quell’unico Utente Misterioso perché di tutti i libri possibili e immaginabili abbia scelto proprio Resurrezione.
Intervistatore Anonimo: Immagino per il senso di solidarietà che l’Utente Misterioso prova nei confronti di Katjusha e perché al di là della sua proverbiale bacchettonaggine,Resurrezione rimane un capolavoro,insieme con Anna Karenina,della letteratura russa.
Lev Tolstoj: Meno male. C’è altro che vuole chiedermi?
Intervistatore Anonimo: Più che una domanda,ho da farle una raccomandazione. In una seconda vita,si ricordi di chiedere al tecnico di accorciare i tempi di pronto soccorso. 480 pagine di lettura, e quasi mille nel caso di Anna Karenina,mi sembrano uno sforzo più che sovraumano da sostenere per qualsiasi lettore a lei affezionato.

(Sotto una parte del libro,capitolo 53,in cui Nekhludoff-alter ego di Tolstoj,chiamato alla corte per giudicare Katusha-si imbatte in un gruppo di detenuti in carcere,costretti a una punizione severa a causa di una mancata convalida del passaporto.Interessante,a questo proposito,ricordare il romanzo “Memorie dalla casa dei morti“,di  Fëdor Mikhailovič Dostoevskij, nel quale lo scrittore racconta del periodo di prigionia in Siberia e,come Tolstoj,fa riferimento Al discorso della Montagna di rimando alla carità cristiana. Del 1973 Arcipelago Gulag,di Aleksandr Solženicyn,libro in tre tomi nel quale lo scrittore racconta dei Gulag-campi di lavoro forzato in cui venivano detenuti i criminali e,principalmente,gli oppositori politici,i dissidenti dell’Unione Sovietica )

Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky (Russia 1863-France 1944)

CHAPTER LIII. VICTIMS OF GOVERNMENT
Passing back along the broad corridor (it was dinner time, and the cell doors were open), among the men dressed in their light yellow cloaks, short, wide trousers, and prison shoes, who were looking eagerly at him, Nekhludoff felt a strange mixture of sympathy for them, and horror and perplexity at the conduct of those who put and kept them here, and, besides, he felt, he knew not why, ashamed of himself calmly examining it all.
In one of the corridors, some one ran, clattering with his shoes, in at the door of a cell. Several men came out from here, and stood in Nekhludoff’s way, bowing to him.
“Please, your honour (we don’t know what to call you), get our affair settled somehow.”
“I am not an official. I know nothing about it.”
“Well, anyhow, you come from outside; tell somebody–one of the authorities, if need be,” said an indignant voice. “Show some pity on us, as a human being. Here we are suffering the second month for nothing.”
“What do you mean? Why?” said Nekhludoff.
“Why? We ourselves don’t know why, but are sitting here the second month.”
“Yes, it’s quite true, and it is owing to an accident,” said the inspector. “These people were taken up because they had no passports, and ought to have been sent back to their native government; but the prison there is burnt, and the local authorities have written, asking us not to send them on. So we have sent all the other passportless people to their different governments, but are keeping these.”
“What! For no other reason than that?” Nekhludoff exclaimed, stopping at the door.
A crowd of about forty men, all dressed in prison clothes, surrounded him and the assistant, and several began talking at once. The assistant stopped them.
“Let some one of you speak.”
A tall, good-looking peasant, a stone-mason, of about fifty, stepped out from the rest. He told Nekhludoff that all of them had been ordered back to their homes and were now being kept in prison because they had no passports, yet they had passports which were only a fortnight overdue. The same thing had happened every year; they had many times omitted to renew their passports till they were overdue, and nobody had ever said anything; but this year they had been taken up and were being kept in prison the second month, as if they were criminals.
“We are all masons, and belong to the same artel. We are told that the prison in our government is burnt, but this is not our fault. Do help us.”
Nekhludoff listened, but hardly understood what the good-looking old man was saying, because his attention was riveted to a large, dark-grey, many-legged louse that was creeping along the good-looking man’s cheek.
“How’s that? Is it possible for such a reason?” Nekhludoff said, turning to the assistant.
“Yes, they should have been sent off and taken back to their homes,” calmly said the assistant, “but they seem to have been forgotten or something.”
Before the assistant had finished, a small, nervous man, also in prison dress, came out of the crowd, and, strangely contorting his mouth, began to say that they were being ill-used for nothing.
“Worse than dogs,” he began.
“Now, now; not too much of this. Hold your tongue, or you know–”
“What do I know?” screamed the little man, desperately. “What is our crime?”
“Silence!” shouted the assistant, and the little man was silent.
“But what is the meaning of all this?” Nekhludoff thought to himself as he came out of the cell, while a hundred eyes were fixed upon him through the openings of the cell doors and from the prisoners that met him, making him feel as if he were running the gauntlet.
“Is it really possible that perfectly innocent people are kept here?” Nekhludoff uttered when they left the corridor.
“What would you have us do? They lie so. To hear them talk they are all of them innocent,” said the inspector’s assistant. “But it does happen that some are really imprisoned for nothing.”
“Well, these have done nothing.”
“Yes, we must admit it. Still, the people are fearfully spoilt. There are such types–desperate fellows, with whom one has to look sharp. To-day two of that sort had to be punished.”
“Punished? How?”
“Flogged with a birch-rod, by order.”
“But corporal punishment is abolished.”
“Not for such as are deprived of their rights. They are still liable to it.”
Nekhludoff thought of what he had seen the day before while waiting in the hall, and now understood that the punishment was then being inflicted, and the mixed feeling of curiosity, depression, perplexity, and moral nausea, that grew into physical sickness, took hold of him more strongly than ever before.
Without listening to the inspector’s assistant, or looking round, he hurriedly left the corridor, and went to the office. The inspector was in the office, occupied with other business, and had forgotten to send for Doukhova. He only remembered his promise to have her called when Nekhludoff entered the office.
“Sit down, please. I’ll send for her at once,” said the inspector.

Taken from Resurrection by Lev Tolstoj

Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky (Russia 1863-France 1944)
Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky (Russia 1863-France 1944)

Blood and Guts in High School

Kathy Acker

Blood and Guts in High School” della scrittrice americana Kathy Acker (1947-1997) è considerato essere il libro più rappresentativo della letteratura punk(in inglese punklit o punk lit)genere letterario nato dalla sottocultura punk esplosa in Inghilterra,America e Australia nella seconda metà degli anni’70.
Il genere è maggiormente conosciuto negli ambienti punk e comprende una stringata lista di autori che hanno,in seguito,influenzato letteratura cyberpunktransgressive fiction,genere letterario confinato all’emarginazione per via delle tematiche anti-sociali in cui i protagonisti infrangono il rigore delle leggi deturpando violentemente ogni codice morale e taboo (basti pensare a”A Clockwork Orange” dello scrittore Anthony Burgess,libro del 1962 ambientato a Londra,riarrangiato per il cinema nel 1971 da Stanley Kubrick).
Più diffusa della letteratura punk è la poesia punk,cui poeti sono spesso musicisti;fra questi Patty Smith,Richard Hell(che ebbe grande influenza sui Sex Pistols),

John Cooper Clarke

John Cooper Clarke(d’ispirazione alle maggiori punk bands inglesi come i Joy Division,i Buzzcocks,Elvis Costello,Siouxsie and the Banshees,New Order,i Sex Pistols),Steven Wells(meglio conosciuto come feroce giornalista musicale che poeta punk) e Jim Carroll,poeta e scrittore,da cui autobiografiaThe Basketball Diaries,del 1978,è stato tratto un film onomino nel 1995,con Leonardo DiCaprio.
Kathy Acker,autrice di “Blood and Guts in High School”è forse tra le più note scrittrici bohemian della letteratura punk,fortemente influenzata dalla filosofia,William S. Burroughs(scrittore americano e propulsore della Beat Generation),David Antin(poeta americano),la Teoria Critica Francese (che fa principalmente perno sulle teorie economiche marxiste),la pornografia(cosa per cui la Acker si guadagnerà il titolo di sex positive feminist).I suoi romanzi raccontano di violenza,donne controverse in delicato rapporto con gli uomini,la società,l’amore,l’affermazione e indipendenza sessuale.
(Kathy Acker è anche autrice di un saggio sulla vita e la morte di Pier Paolo PasoliniMy death,my life,by Pier Paolo Paolini).
Blood and Guts in High School,che sto leggendo,è stato scritto nei primi anni del 1970(nel’78 un primo copyright),e pubblicato soltanto nel 1984.La storia racconta di una bambina americana di dieci anni,Janey Smith,che è stata cresciuta in Messico ma ancora giovane verrà spedita dal padre,con cui vive una relazione sessuale,nella città di New York (perchè questi sta frequentando una donna.La madre di Janey sarà morta qualche anno dopo la nascita della bambina).L’incesto tra il padre e la figlia viene raccontato dalla Acker con voluta ironia e mai con fare pietistico(immancabile,tra le righe,la denuncia all’immoralità blasfema del padre,simbolo della decadenza sociale). Janey è chiaramente una bambina in crisi che vede il padre ora come amico e amante,ora come un carnefice verso il quale prova una violenta gelosia immancabilmente scaturitale dal rapporto di questi con una donna,odiosa rivale che insinuerà in lei il tarlo dell’abbandono(tant’è il padre si libererà di lei facendola trasferire a New York appunto).
Il libro,o almeno nella versione che ho,la prima del 1978,è corredato di illustrazioni e ricco di poesie al suo interno,poesie scritte di pugno dalla stessa Janey in cui è evidente il disagio della bambina,il riflesso delle proprie paure,il bisogno di evasione,l’amore infantile che la lega al padre misto al senso di repulsione.
La trama della storia vuole intenzionalmente mettere in risalto l’ambiguità del sentimento americano votato al cattolicesimo e al patriottismo di contro all’abuso di questo sentimento di facciata che si macchia di ripugnanza nelle azioni più abiette e contro ogni morale.
Sotto una parte del libro in cui Janey,che ha già lasciato il Messico per New York,fa riferimento a “La Lettera Scarlatta”,classico della letteratura americana del 1850,dello scrittore Nathaniel Hawthorne,ambientato in Nuova Zelanda durante gli anni del Puritanesimo(diciassettesimo secolo);per chi non lo avesse ancora letto,La Lettera Scarlatta verte sui temi della legalità,il peccato,la colpa,e racconta la storia di Hester Prynne,macchiatasi di aduleterio,condannata ed emarginata dalla società per aver avuto un bambino di cui si rifiuterà rivelare il padre(la lettera scarlatta si riferisce a un marchio,una ‘A’,di fuoco al petto che varrà a indicarla come una peccatrice da cui stare lontani. Hester Prynne verrà accusata proprio dall’uomo,il reverendo della chiesa locale,che l’ha ingravidata e di cui non può rivelare il nome).Per molti versi e per questo rimarcato senso della colpa, Hester Prynne ricorda molto la Katjuša Maslova di Tolstoj nel romanzo Resurrezione(di cui parlerò presto),condannata di un crimine alla corte in cui presiede proprio colui che fu responsabile della sua rovina e miseria,sebbene-diversamente da Nathaniel Hawthorne-Tolstoj fa di questo romanzo storico e sentimentale motivo di espiazione e redenzione.
Di seguito un brano tratto dal romanzo;nella prima parte la Acker approfitta de La lettera scarlatta per sottolineare come tutto,a questo mondo,comprese le idee,sia compromesso da un’unica merce di scambio e valore-il denaro.Di significato la parte finale in cui Janey fa riferimento alla possibilità di amare un uomo che l’ama e di quanto questo-farci l’amore,averlo accanto-significhi per lei.La Acker pone la faccenda in termini strettamente sessuali,alludendo specialmente alla fisicità e carnalità di quest’uomo ipotetico che desidera(Janey ne desidera il cazzo,detta in soldoni).Il riferimento è puramente sessuale e certamente-volutamente provocatorio,mentre trovo proprio in questa carnalità,tanto schietta quanto sincera,quanto di più  romantico e puro è possibile pensare dell’amore.

Sessualità,ambiguità,provocazione,denuncia.

-We don’t have a clue what it is to be male or female, or if there are intermediate genders. Male and female might be fields which overlap into androgyny or different kinds of sexual desires. But because we live in a Western, patriarchal world, we have very little chance of exploring these gender possibilities-Kathy Acker

A book report
We all live in prison.Most of us don’t know we live in prison.
A throng of bearded men,in sad-colored garments,were assembled in front of a gaol.They were waiting for a woman named Hester Prynne to walk out of the gaol.
All of them even the hippies hated Hester Prynne because she was a freak and because she couldn’t be anything else and because she wouldn’t be quiet and hide her freakness like a bloody Kotex and because she was as wild and insane as they come.
Long ago,when Hawthorne wrote The Scarlet Letter,he was living in a society that was more socially repressive and less materialist that ours.He wrote about a wild woman.This woman challenged the society by f****** a guy who wasn’t her husband and having his kid.The society punished her by sending her to gaol,making her wear a red ‘A’ for adultery right on her tits,and excommunicating her.
Nowadays most women f*** around ‘cause f****** doesn’t mean anything.All anybody cares about today is money.The woman who lives her life according to nomaterialistic ideals is the wild antisocial monster;the more openly she does so,the more everyone hates her.
Women today don’t get put in gaol for being bloody pieces of Kotex-only streetwalkers and junkies land up in gaol,gaol-and-law now being a business like any other business-they just starve to death and everyone hates them.Physical and mental murder help each other out.
The society in which I am living is totally fucked up.I don’t know what to do.I am just one person and I’m not very good at anything.I don’t want to live in hell my whole life.If I knew how this society got so fucked-up,if we all knew,maybe we’d have a way of destroying hell.I think that’s what Hawthorne thought.He set his story in the time of the fist Puritans: the first people who came to the northern North American shore and created the society Hawthorne lived in,the society that created the one we live in today.
Another reason Hawthorne set his story in the past (in lies) was ‘cause he couldn’t say directly all the wild things he wanted to say.He was living in a society to which ideas and writing still mattered.In ‘The Custom House’,the introduction to The Scarlet Letter,Hawthorne makes sure he tells us the story of The Scarlet Letter occurred long time ago and has nothing to do with anyone who’s now living. After all,Hawthorne had to protect himself so he could keep writing.Right now I can speak as directly as I want ‘cause no one gives a s*** about writing and ideas,all anyone cares about is money.Even if one person in Boise,Idaho,gave half-a-s***,the only book Mr Idaho can get his hands on is a book the publishers,or rather the advertisers(‘cause all businessmen are now advertisers) have decided will net half-a-million in movie and/or TV rights. A book that can be advertised.Define culture that way.
You see,things are much better nowadays than in those old dark repressed Puritan days:anybody can say anything today;progress does occur.
It’s possible to hate and despise and detest yourself ‘cause you’ve been in prison so long.It’s possible to get angrier and angrier.It’s possible to hate everything that isn’t wild and free. A girl is wild who likes sensual things: doesn’t want to give up things being alive: rolling in black fur on top of skin ice-cold water iron crinkly leaves seeing three brown branches against branches full of leaves against dark green leaves through this the misty grey wanders in garbage on the streets up to your knees and unshaven men lying under cocaine piled on top of cocaine colours colours everything happening! one thing after another thing!
…you keep on going,there are really no rules: it doens’t matter to you whether you live or die,but every now and then there’s a kind of territory and you might get stuck that’s OK too if you really don’t give a s***,but who doens’t give a s***! Loving everything and rolling in it like it’s all gooky s*** goddamnit make a living grow up no you don’t want to do that.
The Massachussetts seacoast in the middle of the seventeenth century looked the same as it does now:WILD. Trees and bushes an weeds and wind and water.Trees and bushes and wind and water are always moving every moment the whole world is a totally different world air rides over shivering water so those water areas shiver harder grow darker below the water hit the sharper rocks harder splash! foam appears. And disappears.
My father told me the day after he tried to rape me that security is the mos important thing in the world.I told him sex is the most important thing in the world and asked him why he didn’t f*** my mother. In Hawthorne’s and our materialistic society the acquisition of money is the main goal ‘cause money gives the power to make change stop,to make the universe die; so everything in the materialistic society is the opposite of what it really is.Good is bad. Crime is the only possible behavior.
Hetster Prynne,Hawthorne tells us ,had wanted to be a good girl. I remember I wanted to be a good girl for my father.Her loving husband sent her to the New World to prepare a way for him. Traveling in those days was dangerous –there were no roads- and her husband never showed up. Two years passed.Hester was being a good dead girl. Suddenly a little unsuspected ecstatic crazy-making overtaking wildness like a big King Viper spreading his hood,rising up and spreading overtaking everything, that’s what love’s like,snake-insane rose up in Hester she f*****. Pregnancy made her wildness or evil (that’s the religious word for wildness) public. The child was the sign of her nastiness and disintegration and general insanity.
Hawthorne gives us a description of motherhood in the fucked-up society: All the people around Hester hate her and despise her and think she’s total freak. The kid’s beyond human law and human consideration. How do you feel about yourself when every human being you hear and see and smell every day of your being thinks you’re worse than garbage? Your conception of who you are has always, at least partially, depended on how the people around you behaved towards you. You sense the people around you aren’t right: what you did, your need, you weren’t defying them to defy them, it was your need, was OK. You don’t know. How can you know anything? How can you know anything? You begin to go crazy.
Hester’s just stepping out of prison ,out of prison, but this is worse: huge staring eyes,whispers,her child laughed at, mocked, she’s a woman, this isn’t reality, the eyes turn around and around she can’t be who she is, when suddenly she sees her long-lost husband.
This husband is now called Roger Chillingworth.
The cops are screaming at Hester: ‘You hideous woman.’ ‘Look at the hideous woman.’ ‘Who did the hideous woman f***?’ ‘You’re such a nice hideous woman,we know you didn’t mean to do the tremendously horrible thing you did,just pretty please tell us who you f*****. We know what’ll make you feel better.’
Hester’s husband’s a scholar. A scholar is a top cop ‘cause he defines the roads by which people live so they won’t get in trouble and so society will survive. A scholar is a teacher. Teachers replace living dangerous creating whit dead ideas and teach these ideas as the history and meaning of the world. Teachers torture kids . Teachers teach you intricate ways of saying one thing and doing something else.
The top cops start laughing at and mocking Hester and telling the crowd to laugh at and mock Hester ‘cause she won’t tell them who her baby’s father is. Hester’s acting out of love.
This husband, being a teacher, is a zombie and a ghoul. He sees his wife being tortured by lots of people, he sees his wife in pain and agony, he sees his wife nursing a strange kid,and he doesn’t feel anything. He just wonders, intellectually wonders, who the kid’s father is.
A final scene focuses this swirling horror. The young handsome Reverend who everyone thinks is gentle, honest, and kind takes up the spreading mockery and hatred and vomiting and says to Hester: ‘You are the worst piece of trash-cunt whoever live, no one will ever ever love you, there will be no more love in your life because, mainly because, you won’t tell us who your bastard’s father is.’ Hester can’t reply ‘cause the guy who’s screming at her is the guy who fuc*** her. How can HE scream at her? All that she has left of the world : her memories disappear. Do you understand what reality is? She begins to go crazy…
Boppy doppy doopy wah yahyah mm. Is that what you think craziness is? Are you scared you’re going crazy? Do people who go crazy freak you? Look sweetheart.
I woke up in my attic that the winds swept through and all the world was grey and black. I saw pine trees covering the grey sky and sea, tall trees, boats, tall trees, boats.
I walked along the highway. I was looking for a place to sit down, for some grass I could walk in, for a wood I could explore. I walked for hours. All the land on both sides of the highway, cultivated and wild, was private. I had to keep walking on the highway. I thought that people today when they move move only on roads. They perceive only the roads, the map, the prison. I think it’s becoming harder to get off the road.
I live on a desert island. It’s a nice desert island. I like it here. This is what I do: I eat; I sleep; when it rains and gets cold,I hide under some rocks. I like it here. But I am getting bored… What can I do? I can repeat what I see. I can draw this old grey trunk and make it look different. People got cures for polio and syphilis by imagining. People have and can change the world. In the beginning, on the desert island, the world is totally beautiful. Today in my room in New York City the world is horrible and disgusting. What the hell happened?
I don’t want to be a slave, I don’t want to be a whore, I don’t want to be lonely and without love for the rest of my long life. I’ve got to find out how I got so fuc***-up.
Hester and her husband are sitting, after the torture, in her prison cell. Her husband has come inside to make her well again. He’s a doctor.
‘Fuc**** Is the most wonderful thing in the world’. Hester is crazy.
‘I want to fuc* you right now’,her husband replies.
‘Ugh.I wouldn’t fuc*you if you were the last man on earth. You make me sick to my stomach.’
A slight grimace crosses his face,but he manages to suppress it.
‘Remember when we used to fuc*? By the fireside in Amsterdam.’ Tears appear in his thin eyes. ‘You’d lay your head on my lap and we’d look into the fire.’
Hester’s thinking the most wonderful thing in the world is to fuc* a man you love. God she wishes she had it right now. Loving a man and being right next to him: naked against him there’s no need to talk: naked wet warm his face his skin naked wet warm his thick lips glazed eyes you’re on top of him naked wet warm never let you go the peace of the world never never never.
‘I’m the guilty one,’the husband says. ‘If I hadn’t sent you alone to America, you never would’ve done this horrible inhuman thing.’
‘Oh, I am the guilty one.’
‘I hate you now. I don’t even hate you. I just want nothing to do with you. You’re not to reveal that you have ever known me or had anything to do with me. Whatever love and affection occurred between us is now dead. We’re dead people.’
Fuc**** with love must be the gift of God. His eyes his nose his hot breath the shadow under his neck his thick arms the fat around his sides the bones sticking out of his thighs his coc*waving in that mess of hair I want him so much I am going crazy. I want his eyes I want his nose I want his hot breath reeking all over my body I want to stick my tongue in neck I want his arms around me I’ve forgotten what it’s like to want a man I roll my hands in his fat and bite it and rub my dying-to-come hips against the bones sticking out of his thighs so maybe I’ll come that way his coc*, if I could just touch his coc* just for a second, I don’t want to touch it more than that, a quick kiss, wet and slimy, don’t take me away from it, don’t take me away from it you creep meanie: this is my home.
‘Who’s your brat’s father?’
‘I love him. I am not going to tell you who he is.’
‘I am going to find out who he is. I am simply interested who he is. I am one of the most brilliant men in America and Europe and can learn anything. I’m going to find out who he is!’.
She shivers before this example of the divorcement of body and mind. She’s seeing terror and hatred and hypocrisy beginning to spread over the earth.
‘Don’t you tell anyone who I am.’
WHEN SOMEONE’S IN PAIN,HE CRIES OUT.
Taken from “Blood and Guts in High School” by Kathy Acker

“The Circus,1870-1950” by TASCHEN

The Circus, 1870-1950 by TASCHEN( Marie Guillaumet)

Leaf through! The Circus, 1870-1950.

The Young Acrobat of the Great North American Circus

CHAPTER I.
KIT WATSON.

There was great excitement in Smyrna, especially among the boys. Barlow’s Great American Circus in its triumphal progress from State to State was close at hand, and immense yellow posters announcing its arrival were liberally displayed on fences and barns, while smaller bills were put up in the post office, the hotel, and the principal stores, and distributed from house to house.
It was the largest circus that had ever visited Smyrna. At least a dozen elephants marched with ponderous steps in its preliminary procession, while clowns, acrobats, giants, dwarfs, fat women, cannibals, and hairy savages from Thibet and Madagascar, were among the strange wonders which were to be seen at each performance for the small sum of fifty cents, children half price.
For weeks the young people had been looking forward to the advent of this marvelous aggregation of curiosities, and the country papers from farther east had given glowing accounts of the great show, which was emphatically pronounced greater and more gorgeous than in any previous year. But it may be as well to reproduce, in part, the description given in the posters:
BARLOW’S GREAT NORTH AMERICAN CIRCUS.

Now in its triumphal march across the continent, will

give two grand performances, AT SMYRNA On the afternoon and evening of May 18th.

Never in all its history has this Unparalleled show embraced

a greater variety of attractions, or included a

larger number ofworld famous Acrobats, Clowns, Bare back Riders,

Rope walkers, Trapeze Artists, and Star Performers,

In addition to a colossal menagerie, comprising Elephants,

Tigers, Lions, Leopards, and other wild animals in great variety.

All this and far more, including a hundred DARING ACTS,

Can be seen for the trifling sum of Fifty cents; Children half price.

COME ONE! COME ALL!

Two boys paused to read this notice, pasted with illustrative pictures of elephants and circus performers on the high board fence near Stoddard’s grocery store. They were Dan Clark and Christopher Watson, called Kit for short.

“Shall you go to the circus, Dan?” asked Kit.
“I would like to, but you know, Kit, I have no money to spare.”
“Don’t let that interfere,” said Kit, kindly.
“Here is half a dollar. That will take you in.
“You’re a tip-top fellow, Kit. But I don’t think I ought to take it. I don’t know when I shall be able to return it.”
“Who asked you to return it? I meant it as a gift.”
“You’re a true friend, Kit,” said Dan, earnestly.
“I don’t know as I ought to take it, but I will anyhow. You know I only get my board and a dollar a week from Farmer Clifford, and that I give to my mother.”
“I wish you had a better place, Dan.”
“So do I; but perhaps it is as well as I can do at my age. All boys are not born to good luck as you are.”
“Am I born to good luck? I don’t know.”
“Isn’t your uncle Stephen the richest man in Smyrna?”
“I suppose he is; but that doesn’t make me rich.”
“Isn’t he your guardian?”
“Yes; but it doesn’t follow because there is a guardian there is a fortune.”
“I hope there is.” “I am going to tell you something in confidence, Dan. Uncle Stephen has lately been dropping a good many hints about the necessity of being economical, and that I may have my own way to make in the world. What do you think it means?”

“Have you been extravagant?”
“Not that I am aware of. I have been at an expensive “Boarding school”with my cousin Ralph, and I have dressed well, and had a fair amount of spending money.”
“Have you spent any more than Ralph?”
“No; not so much, for I will tell you in confidence that he has been playing pool and cards for money, of course without the knowledge of the principal. I know also that this last term, besides spending his pocket money he ran up bills, which his father had to pay, to the amount of fifty dollars or more.”
“How did your uncle like it?”
“I don’t know. Ralph and his father had a private interview, but he got the money. I believe his mother took his part.”
“Why don’t you ask your uncle just how you stand?”
“I have thought of it. If I am to inherit a fortune I should like to know it. If I have my own way to make I want to know that also, so that I can begin to prepare for it.”
“Would you feel bad if you found out that you were a poor boy–like me, for instance?”
“I suppose I should just at first, but I should try to make the best of it in the end.”
“Well, I hope you won’t have occasion to buckle down to hard work. When do you go back to school?”
“The next term begins next Monday.”
“And it is now Wednesday. You will be able to see the circus at any rate. It is to arrive to-night.”
“Suppose we go round to the lot to-morrow morning. We can see them putting up the tents.”
“All right! I’ll meet you at nine o’clock.”
“They were about to separate when another boy, of about the same age and size, came up.
“It’s time for dinner, Kit,” he said; “mother’ll be angry if you are late.”
“Very well! I’ll go home with you. Good morning, Dan.”
“Good morning, Kit. Good morning, Ralph.”
Ralph mumbled out “Morning,” but did not deign to look at Dan.
“I wonder you associate with that boy, Kit,” he said.
“Why?” inquired Kit, rather defiantly.
“Because he’s only a farm laborer.”
“>“Does that hurt him?”
“I don’t care to associate with such a low class.”
Daniel Webster worked on a farm when he was a boy.”
“Dan Clark isn’t a Webster.”
“We don’t know what he will turn out to be.”
“I don’t consider him fit for me to associate with,” said Ralph.
“It may be different in your case.”
“Why should it be different in my case?” asked Kit, suspiciously.
“Oh, no offense at all, but your circumstances and social position are likely to be different from mine.”
“Are they? That’s just what I should like to find out.”
“My father says so, and as you are under his guardianship he ought to know.”
“Yes, he ought to know, but he has never told me.”
“He has told me, but I am not at liberty to say anything,” said Ralph, looking mysterious.
“I think I ought to be the first to be told,” said Kit, not unreasonably.
“You will be told soon. There is one thing I can tell you, however. You are not to go back to boarding school on Monday.”
Kit paused in the street, and gazed at his companion in surprise.
“Are you going back?” he asked.
“Yes; I’m going to keep on till I am ready for college.”
“And what is to be done with me?” Ralph shrugged his shoulders.
“I am not at liberty to tell you,” he answered.
“I shall ask my uncle this very day.”
“Just as you please.”
Kit walked on in silence. His mind was busy with thoughts of the change in his prospects. He did not know what was coming, but he was anxious. It was likely to be a turning point in his life, and he was apprehensive that the information soon to be imparted to him would not be of an agreeable nature.
Taken from”The Young Acrobat of the Great North American Circus

by Horatio Alger Jr.(13 January 1832 – 18 July 1899)

Frederick W. Glasier


Geisha,a Life

Introduction
In the country of Japan, an island nation in East Asia, there are special districts, known as karyukai, that are dedicated to the enjoyment of aesthetic pleasure. These are the communities where the professionally trained female artists known as geisha live and work.
Karyukai means “the flower and willow world.” Each geisha is like a flower, beautiful in her own way, and like a willow tree, gracious, flexible, and strong.
No woman in the three hundred-year history of the karyukai has ever come forward in public to tell her story. We have been constrained by unwritten rules not to do so, by the robes of tradition, and by the sanctity of our exclusive calling.
But I feel it is time to speak out. I want you to know what it is really like to live the life of a geisha, a life filled with extraordinary professional demands and richly glorious rewards. Many say I was the best geisha of my generation; I was certainly the most successful. And yet, it was a life that I found too constricting to continue. And one that I ultimately had to leave.
It is a story that I have long wanted to tell.
My name is Mineko.
This is not the name my father gave me when I was born. It is my professional name. I got it when I was five years old. It was given to me by the head of the family of women who raised me in the geisha tradition. The surname of the family is Iwasaki. I was legally adopted as the heir to the name and successor to ownership of the business and its holdings when I was ten years old.
I started my career very early. Events that happened when I was only three years old convinced me that it was what I was meant to do.
I moved into the Iwasaki geisha house when I was five and began my artistic training when I was six. I adored the dance. It became my passion and object of greatest devotion. I was determined to become the best and I did.
The dance is what kept me going when the other requirements of the profession felt too heavy to bear. Literally. I weigh 90 pounds. A full kimono with hair ornaments can easily weigh 40 pounds. It was a lot to carry. I would have been happy just to dance, but the exigencies of the system forced me to debut as an adolescent geisha, a maiko, when I was fifteen.
The Iwasaki geisha house was located in the Gion Kobu district of Kyoto, the most famous and traditional karyukai of them all. This is the community in which I spent the entirety of my professional career.
In Gion Kobu we don’t refer to ourselves as geisha (meaning “artist”) but use the more specific term geiko, “woman of art.” One type of geiko, famed throughout the world as the symbol of Kyoto, is the young dancer known as a maiko, or “woman of dance.” Accordingly, I will use the terms geiko and maiko throughout the rest of this book.
When I was twenty I “turned my collar,” the rite of passage that signals the transformation from maiko to adult geiko. As I matured in the profession, I became increasingly disillusioned with the intransigence of the archaic system and tried to initiate reforms that would increase the educational opportunities, financial independence, and professional rights of the women who worked there. I was so discouraged by my inability to effect change that I finally decided to abdicate my position and retire, which, to the horror of the establishment, I did at the height of my success, when I was twenty-nine years old. I closed down the Iwasaki geisha house, then under my control, packed up the priceless kimono and jeweled ornaments contained within, and left Gion Kobu. I married and am now raising a family.
I lived in the karyukai during the 1960s and 1970s, a time when Japan was undergoing the radical transformation from a post-feudal to a modern society. But I existed in a world apart, a special realm whose mission and identity depended on preserving the time-honored traditions of the past. And I was a fully committed to doing so.
Maiko and geiko start off their careers living and training in an establishment called an okiya (lodging house), usually translated as geisha house. They follow an extremely rigorous regimen of constant classes and rehearsal, similar in intensity to that of a prima ballerina, concert pianist, or opera singer in the West. The proprietress of the okiya supports the geiko fully in her efforts to become a professional and then helps manage her career once she makes her debut. The young geiko lives in the okiya for a contracted period of time, usually five to seven years, during which time she repays the okiya for its investment. She then becomes independent and moves out on her own, though she continues to maintain an agency relationship with her sponsoring okiya.
The exception to this is a geiko who has been designated as an atotori, an heir to the house, its successor. She carries the last name of the okiya, either through birth or adoption, and lives in the okiya throughout her career.
Maiko and geiko perform at very exclusive banquet facilities known as ochaya, often translated literally as “teahouses.” Here we entertain regularly at private parties for select groups of invited patrons. We also appear publicly in a series of annual performance events. The most famous of these is the Miyako Odori (“cherry dances”). The dance programs are quite spectacular and draw enthusiastic audiences from all over the world. The Miyako Odori takes place for the month of April in our own theater, the Kaburenjo.
There is much mystery and misunderstanding about what it means to be a geisha or, in my case, a geiko. I hope my story will help explain what it is really like and also serve as a record of this unique component of Japan’s cultural history.
Please, journey with me now into the extraordinary world of Gion Kobu.
Taken from Geisha,a Life(cap.1)
By Mineko Iwasaki

to remind us we’re still in the land of the living

One
Why is London like Budapest?
A.Because it is two cities divided by a river.

Good morning!Let me introduce myself.My name is Dora Chance.Welcome to the wrong side of the tracks.Put it another way.If you’re from the States,think of Manhattan.Then think of Brooklyn.See what I mean?Or,for a Parisian,it might be a question of rive gauche,rive droite.With London,it’s the North and South divide.Me and Nora,that’s my sister,we’ve always lived on the left-hand side,the side the tourist rarely sees,the bastard side of Old Father Thames.
Once upon a time,you could make a crude distinction,thus:the rich lived amidst pleasant verdure in the North speedily whisked to exclusive shopping by abundant public transport while the poor eked out miserable existences in the South in circumstances of urban deprivation condemned to wait for hours at windswept bus-stops while sounds of marital violence,breaking glass and drunken song echoed around and it was cold and dark and smelled of fish and chips.But you can’t trust things to stay the same.There’s been a diaspora of the affluent,they jumped into their diesel Saabs and dispersed throughout the city.You’d never believe the price of a house round here,these days.And what does the robin do then,poor thing?
Bugger the robin!What would have become of us,if Grandma hadn’t left us this house? 49 Bard Road, London, South West Two.Bless this house.If it wasn’t for this house,Nora and I would be on the street by now,hauling our worldlies up and down in plastic bags,sucking on the bottle for comfort like babes unweaned,bursting into songs of joy when finally admitted to the night shelter and therefore chucked out again immediately for disturbing the peace,to gasp and freeze and finally snuff it disregarded on the street and blow away like rags. That’s a thought for a girl’s seventy-fifth birthday,what?
Yes! Seventy-five.Happy birthday to me.Born in this house,indeed,this very attic,just seventy-five years ago,today.I made my bow five minutes ahead of Nora who is,at this very moment,downstairs,getting breakfast.My dearest sister.Happy birthday to us.
This is my room.We don’t share.We’ve always respected one another’s privacy.Identical,well and good;Siamese,no.Everything slightly soiled,I am sorry to say.Can’t be doing with wash,wash,wash,polish,polish,polish,these days,when time is so precious,but take a good look at the signed photos stuck in the dressing-table mirror-Ivor;Noel;Fred and Adele;Jack;Ginger;Fred and Ginger;Anna,Jessie,Sonnie,Binnie.All friends and colleagues,once upon a time.See the newest one,a tall girl,slender,black curls,enormous eyes,no drawers,’your very own Tiffany’ and lots of XXXXXs.Isn’t she lovely?Our beloved godchild.We tried to put her off show business but she wasn’t having any.’What’s good enough for you two is good enough for me.”Show business’,right enough;a prettier girl than little Tiff you never saw but she’s showed her all.
What did we do? Got it in one.We used to be song and dance girls.We can still lift a leg higher than your average dog,if called for.
Hello,hello..here comes one of the pussy cats,out of the wardrobe,stretching and yawning. She can smell the bacon.There’s another,white,with marmalade peaches,sleeping on my pillow.Dozens more roam freely.The house smells of cat,a bit,but more of geriatric shorine-cold cream,face powder,dress preserver,old fags,stale tea.
‘Come and have a cuddle,Pussy.’
You’ve got to have something to cuddle.Does Pussy want its breakfast,then? Give us a minute,Puss,let’s have a look out of the window.
Cold,bright,windy,spring weather,just like the day that we were born,when the Zeppelins were falling.Lovely blue sky,a birthday present in itself.I knew a boy,whit eyes that color ,years ago.Bare as a rose,not a hair on him;he was too young for body hair.And sky blue eyes.
You can see for miles,out of this window.You can see right across the river.There’s Westminster Abbey,see? Flying the St George’s cross,today.St Paul’s,the single breast.Big Ben,winking its golden eye.Not much else familiar,these days.This is about the time that comes in every century when they reach out for all that they can grab of dear old London,and pull it down.Then they build it up again,like London Bridge in the nursery thyme,goodbye,hello,but it’s never the say.Even the railway station,changed out of recognition,turned into souks.Waterloo.Victoria.Nowhere you can get a decet cup ot tea,all they give you is Harvey Wallbangers,filthy cappuccino.Stocking shops and knicker outlets everywhere you look.I said to Nora:’Remember Brief Encounter,how I cried buckets? Nowhere for them to meet on a station,nowadays,except in a bloody knicker shop.Their hands would have to shyly touch under cover of a pair of Union Jack boxer shorts’.
‘Come off it,you sentimental sod,’said Nora.’The only brief encounter you had during the war was a fling whit a Yank behind the public convenience on Liverpool Street Station‘.
‘I was only doing my bit for the war effort,’I replied sedately,but she wasn’t listening,she started to giggle.
”ere,Dor’,smashing name for a lingerie shop-Brief Encounter.’She doubled up.
Sometimes I think,if I look hard enough,I can see back into the past.There goes the wind,again.Crash.Over goes the dustbin,all the trash spills out…empty cat-food cans,cornflakes packets,laddered tights,tea leaves..I am at present working on my memories and researching family history-see the word processor,the filing cabinet,the card indexes,right hand,left hand,right side,left side,all the dirt on everybody.What a wind! Whooping and banging all along the street,the kind of wind that blows everything topsy-turvy.
Seventy-five,today,and a topsy-turvy day of wind and sunshine.The kind of wind that gets into the blood and drives you wild.Wild!
And I give a little shiver because suddenly I know,I know it in my ancient water,that something will happen today.Something exciting.Something nice,something nasty ,I don’t give a monkey’s.Just as long as something happens to remind us we’re still in the land of the living.
Taken from Wise Children,cap 1
Angela Carter

Gulliver’s Travels

Gulliver’s Travels Study Guide – Jonathan Swift – eNotes.com.

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