Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon

New Book

Posted in Books,Japanese literature by bourdaghs on the September 26th, 2010

The Politics of Culture: Around the Work of Naoki Sakai, edited by Richard Calichman and John Namjun Kim, has just been published. An exploration of one of the most interesting theorists working in Japanese cultural studies (and one of my own mentors), the volume contains new essays by scholars from a variety of fields–including yours truly. My own piece is a re-reading of Natsume Sōseki’s 1908 novel Sanshirō in relation to Sakai’s philosophical approaches to the questions of language and translation, as I trace the meandering paths of a number of stray sheep–both literal and figurative.

My own copy hasn’t shown up in the mail yet, so I can’t tell you a great deal about the other essays yet, other than that they are by some of the most interesting people I know. At $130 a pop, you might want to ask your rich uncle to buy the book for you, or perhaps borrow it from your local university library. But anyone with an interest in the theories of translation, subjectivity and nationalism will, I’m sure, find it a provocative and challenging read–much like the work of its subject, Naoki Sakai.

The publisher’s homepage on the book is here, and below is the table of contents.

Editors’ Introduction

Part I: Translation and its Effects

1. Novelistic Desire, Theoretical Attitude, and Translating Heteroglossia: Reading Natsume Sōseki’s Sanshirō with Naoki Sakai; Michael K. Bourdaghs
2. Deixis, Dislocation, and Suspense in Translation: Tawada Yōko’s Bath; Brett de Bary
3. Politics as Translation: Naoki Sakai and the Critique of Hermeneutics; John Namjun Kim
4. The Biopolitics of Companion Species: Wartime Animation and Multi-Ethnic Nationalism; Thomas Lamarre
5. Translating the Image; Helen Petrovsky

Part II: Economies of Difference

6. For a Communist Ontology; William Haver
7. Living in Transition: Toward a Heterolingual Theory of the Multitude; Sandro Mezzadra
8. Transition to a World Society: Naoki Sakai’s Work in the Context of Capital-Imperialism; Jon Solomon
9. Total War and Subjectivity: ‘Economic Ethics’ as a Trajectory toward Postwar; J. Victor Koschmann

Part III: The Modern West and its Outside

10. The Western Relation: The Politics of Humanism; Frédéric Neyrat
11. Modernization, Modernity, and Tradition: Sociological Theory’s Promissory Notes; Andreas Langenohl
12. Theologico-Political Militancy in Ignacio de Loyola’s Ejercicios espirituales; Alberto Moreiras
13. Interview with Naoki Sakai

Ray Davies and Friends

Posted in Music by bourdaghs on the September 22nd, 2010

Head Kink Ray Davies’ new album will be released in the UK on November 1. See My Friends will consist of duets with a variety of musicians, covering Kinks’ Klassiks from the Katalog. The U.S. release date is still unknown, but there are hints of a U.S. tour near the end of this year.

Here’s the track listing from the U.K. version of the album, as announced on Ray’s Facebook page:

Better Things – Ray Davies & Bruce Springsteen

Celluloid Heroes – Ray Davies, Jon Bon Jovi & Richie Sambora

Days/This Time Tomorrow – Ray Davies & Mumford & Sons

Long Way From Home – Ray Davies, Lucinda Williams & The 88

You Really Got Me – Ray Davies & Metallica

Lola – Ray Davies & Paloma Faith

Waterloo Sunset – Ray Davies & Jackson Browne

‘Til The End of The Day – Ray Davies, Alex Chilton & The 88

Dead End Street – Ray Davies & Amy MacDonald

See My Friends – Ray Davies & Spoon

This Is Where I Belong – Ray Davies & Black Francis

David Watts – Ray Davies & The 88

Tired Of Waiting – Ray Davies & Gary Lightbody

All Day And All Of The Night/Destroyer – Ray Davies & Billy Corgan

[Update: The album now has its own webpage, complete with sound samples and video clips.)

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Aimee Mann at the Old Town School of Folk Music

Posted in Music,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other by bourdaghs on the September 20th, 2010

Last night, we took in the last of Aimee Mann’s weekend shows here in Chicago. It was our first visit to the Old Town School of Folk Music concert hall, a compact little room with great sight lines and sound. The entire weekend was sold out; the crowd was mostly old (like myself) and took a little while to get loosened up, but Aimee’s painfully beautiful songs won them over and earned enthusiastic standing ovations at the end.

I’ve been a fan of Aimee’s music for twenty years, but this was the first time I’d seen her in concert. She has a kind of skitterish stage presence, an absence of polish that begins to take on its own charisma as you get used to it. Through the course of the evening she carried on a running gag about what it meant for her to playing in a school of folk music. She opened the show with a solo version of “The Moth,” but then was joined by Jamie Edwards on keyboards and Paul Bryan on bass (both also sang harmony). No drummer, though Aimee did tap on a high-hat cymbal during one number (and she and Edwards dueted on recorders on another). She was in magnificent voice all night, the only signs of strain coming on a few very low notes near the end of the concert.

The core of the set list consisted of a series of tunes from the musical she is currently composing based on her terrific 2005 concept album The Forgotten Arm. This included three new compositions, including the stunning “Easy to Die,” which Aimee described as the most depressing song she’s ever written. The regular set closed with several songs from the Magnolia soundtrack, including a fine jazzed up version of the old Harry Nilsson, Three Dog Night hit “One,” with pianist Edwards vamping away.

You know how when you’re a longtime fan of a musical artist, over the years you fade in and out. I’ve been following Aimee Mann for nearly two decades now, but lately I’ve been on a “fade out” cycle. I haven’t much listened to her recordings the past six months or so. But in the lead up to last night’s concert, I started listening to the CDs again and remembering why I like them so much, and then the live show performed a kind of emotional rescue on my spirits after an inexplicably depressed weekend. Like a homeopathic remedy, Aimee’s melancholic songs lifted me out of my own melancholy, and I find myself in love with her music again.

The Set List (done from memory, so it might not be exact):
The Moth
Little Bombs
31 Today
Medicine Wheel (Aimee on the piano)
Going Through The Motions
Easy To Die (new song)
Conflicted (new song)
Eiffel Tower (new song)
I Can’t Get My Head Around It
Guys Like Me
Build That Wall
Save Me
Wise Up

Encore: (Aimee switched over to playing bass)
Lost in Space
Driving Sideways
Red Vines (someone in the front row was holding up a package of Red Vines licorice)
It’s Not (Aimee introduced it as the “second most depressing song I’ve ever written)

(Here’s the Chicago Tribune review of last Thursday’s show.)

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On Being Married to Ron Gardenhire

Posted in baseball,Minnesota Twins by bourdaghs on the September 18th, 2010

It’s been nine years now since we Minnesota Twins’ fans pledged devotion to our manager, Ron Gardenhire: nine years of happiness and bliss, including five divisional championships, with one more in the oven. He certainly brings home the bacon, and on top of that he’s good with the children–not too strict, not too lenient.

In other words, we shouldn’t complain. We love him dearly. And yet, and yet…. He has these annoying little habits that drive us crazy. There’s the thing about batting Delmon Young seventh, for example. Even though Delmon is currently the second best hitter on the team (with Justin Morneau sidelined indefinitely), Gardy won’t move him up in the line up. God only knows why. It just drives us crazy.

Then there’s the thing about not reshuffling the batting order when he rests a regular player. Orlando Hudson, our second baseman, bats second. When Hudson sits for a game and Gardy puts in one of our hitless-wonder bench players, any sane man would rearrange the order and move someone other than the second basemen into that crucial number two slot. Not Gardy, though….

Don’t get us started about the way Gardy uses Nick Punto: we love Gardy dearly, but his friends sometimes drive us nuts.

I’ve been to two Twins’ games the past month. I was at Target Field in Minneapolis on Sunday, August 15, and saw Kevin Slowey throw a no-hitter through seven innings. Whereupon Gardy benches him. Now, I know this was the rational thing to do: Slowey has had arm trouble this year and had already thrown over 100 pitches: there was no way he was going to complete the game and the no-hitter. But I admit it: I booed Gardy when he pulled Slower, and I booed some more when Jon Rauch came in as a reliever and promptly gave up two hits. And then when they showed video of Gardy making a public service announcement on the scoreboard after the eighth inning, I booed some more.

I know my reaction wasn’t very rational or even very smart. But all the little things add up. The pressure builds and builds and suddenly one day you find yourself booing your own manager in the middle of a game the Twins are winning.

I was at U.S. Cellular Field this past Wednesday night to watch our boys clobber the White Sox, 9-3. It was the middle game of a three-game series that the Twins swept, basically sealing their sixth divisional championship under Gardy. It was a lovely game, with a Joe Mauer home run and Brian Duensing once again pitching well. I was happy.

But there were the little things Gardy did that got under my skin. Like, why didn’t he put in a pinch runner when Jim Thome singled in the top of the sixth? Two batters later, Danny Valencia doubled and a younger man would have scurried home, but Big Jim trotted into third and stayed put. And why didn’t Gardy put in a defensive replacement for Delmon Young in the late innings, when the game was already in hand? Young booted a fly ball by Alexei Ramirez in the bottom of the seventh that the official scorekeeper charitably called a triple. If Ben Revere had been out there instead of Young, it might have been an out, and it certainly would not have been anything more than a single.

2010 very much looks to be the Twins’ year, and I expect great things in the playoffs. Which is to say, I think we might even be able to get past the Yankees this year. I’ll be so happy for Gardy when that happens. He’s done an extraordinary job this year, guiding the team to a lopsided division lead without its relief ace (Joe Nathan) all year, and without its top power hitter (Morneau) for the second half. I love the man dearly. But all those annoying little habits of his! Sometimes, it just drives you crazy.

[Postscript 9/19/2010: The great baseball writer Joe Posnanski gives his take on Gardy.)

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Franzen’s New Novel

Posted in Books,Fiction by bourdaghs on the September 8th, 2010

Like you, I’m currently reading Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. (You are, aren’t you?). I have to reserve judgment on the novel as a whole until I finish reading it–and I’m a sssslllloooowwww reader these days–but in general you can color me impressed. As he did in The Corrections, Franzen presents a painfully life-like portrait of what Elvis Costello a couple of decades ago called “emotional fascism.” That is, he draws a finely detailed topographical map of the decline of American democracy, all as lived out in the privates lives of our psyches and families.

His choice of my hometown, the Twin Cities, for the opening scenes seems prescient, too. What’s happened to Minnesota over the past three decades presents in distilled form the effects of Reaganism, consumerism, and religious fundamentalism. Back in the 1970s the state was celebrated as the “Minnesota Miracle,” a bastion of progressive values and a can-do spirit, but now our bridges fall down, our schools disintegrate, and our families work two and three jobs so that we can cut taxes on the wealthy, buy incredibly cheap underwear made in Guatemala, and prevent gay people from marrying.

The following paragraph, from a therapeutic autobiography written by the heroine Patty as she looks back over the wreckage of her life, captures the novel’s central theme:

  • Where did the self-pity come from? The inordinate volume of it? By almost any standard, she led a luxurious life. She had all day every day to figure out some decent and satisfying way to live, and yet all she ever seemed to get for all her choices and all her freedom was more miserable. The autobiographer is almost forced to the conclusion that she pitied herself for being so free. (p. 181)
  • That’s about as succinct a depiction of emotional fascism as you’ll find anywhere.

    So I like Franzen’s choice of setting. But I’m also gnawed at by the sense that he gets the external details wrong: the texture of daily life in St. Paul just doesn’t jibe with my own memories. It’s a bit like that typical scene in parallel-universe science fiction when the hero starts noticing little slips in the world around him and starts to wake from the illusion and realize that he has left home far behind.

    For example, the depiction of the Ramsey Hill neighborhood of St. Paul. Granted, I didn’t live there in the 1990s, but the portrait of the neighborhood just feels off. For starters, the renovation of that neighborhood largely took place in the 1970s and 80s, not the 1990s. Moreover, the kinds of municipal corruption and street life he depicts for it sound East Coast to me (or perhaps Chicagoan); we had corruption and crime in St. Paul, but it wasn’t of the genus that he depicts. Likewise, the scene set circa 1980 at the Longhorn, the legendary bar in downtown Minneapolis that spawned the Suicide Commandos, the Replacements, and a hundred other punk bands, is all wrong. For starters, Mohawks and safety pins weren’t the fashion of Minnesota punks, nor was pogo dancing a big deal. And I never ever saw a crowd at the Longhorn pack the front of the stage for a local opening band: for better or worse, that just wouldn’t have been cool. In sum, I’m pretty sure Franzen never set foot in the place.

    A couple of his major characters attend Macalester College in the late 1970s and early 1980s–as did I. I probably passed them in the dorm hallways and at Kagan Commons cafeteria. But they do and say the wrong things. One of them, for example, wants to find out where the “townie girls” hang out. I’m sure that expression was never used at Mac; the closest thing would have been “St. Kate’s girls,” referring to the Catholic women’s college a mile away, but even that meant something quite different from “townie girls” as Franzen’s fictional character uses it.

    So what do you do when your knowledge of reality interferes with your enjoyment of the dream of fiction? I guess you sit down and write whiny blog posts….

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    Chicago Jazz Festival 2010

    Posted in Music,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other by bourdaghs on the September 5th, 2010

    My first three summers in Chicago, something always came up on Labor Day weekend to keep me away from the Chicago Jazz Festival, despite my best intentions. I was bound and determined to catch at least one evening’s worth of performances this year–and, for once, it worked out as planned. We nearly froze to death: for the first time all summer, it was actually a cold evening, but as more than one person noted, this was well suited to the “cool jazz” we were enjoying.

    We arrived Friday evening at Millennium Park as the Mike LeDonne Trio with special guest saxophonist Eric Alexander were winding down a groovy, organ-driven set. This was followed by flutist Nicole Mitchell and her Black Earth ensemble, a double orchestra: two cellos, two trumpets, two drummers, two flutes, etc. They opened with a short piece and then proceeded to the main event, the premiere of a new 40-plus minute composition titled “The Arc of O.” It’s a complex piece of music, with one foot in twentieth-century classical idioms and the other in avant-garde jazz. Episodic in structure, it ranged across time signatures, styles, and keys, though there were a few repeated gestures that seemed to link the pieces together: the swelling crescendos played by the whole orchestra, for example, or emotional passages of scatting by the two vocalists. Mitchell spent most of her time conducting, though she did perform a few exciting passages on her flute. They closed their set with another short piece which she introduced as “The Arc of the Wind.”

    Next up were the headliners, veteran Chicago pianist Ramsey Lewis celebrating his 75th birthday with a very sharp set by his trio (Larry Gray on bass, Leon Joyce on drums, both excellent). They opened with a creative workout on the old spiritual “Wade in the Water,” which Lewis has been playing for years. But much of the program was devoted to recent Lewis compositions, including “To Know Her….” from his recent collaboration with the Joffrey Balley. They also performed several keenly intelligent new pieces that had never been played live before–several of which don’t even have titles yet. The set featured terrific, confident interplay among the veteran musicians. For his encore Lewis turned in a very playful version of his 1966 hit, “The In Crowd,” including allusions to Chopin, the “Sex in the City” theme song, and who knows what else. At the end, the crowd serenaded Lewis with a round of “Happy Birthday to You.”

    My teeth were chattering from the cold by the end of the evening. But I am delighted to have finally attended the Chicago Jazz Festival, and I look forward to many return visits in the future. Next year, I’ll try to remember to bring a jacket.

    Here’s Howard Reich’s review of the evening from the Chicago Tribune. And here’s fan video of the Lewis encore:

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    Another One Bites the Dust in the J-Pop Scene

    Posted in Current Events,J-Pop,Music by bourdaghs on the September 2nd, 2010

    I’m a little behind the curve on this story, but the Neojaponisme website has a fine postmortem report on the the recent closing of the HMV Store in Shibuya, Tokyo. W. David Marx analyzes the shifting role the influential music retailer played in the years after it first opened in 1990, becoming headquarters for what came to be called Shibuya-kei rock. The shop later lost its unique position of authority, however, and Marx suggests that its demise is due less to the rise of digital file-sharing and more to tectonic shifts in the structure of contemporary Japanese youth culture. As he aptly notes, “Popular music, more than ever in Japan, is an expensive hobby,” and after paying their cellphone bills kids today simply don’t have that kind of money to throw around.

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    Speaking of the Devil

    Posted in Books,Fiction,Japanese literature by bourdaghs on the September 1st, 2010

    In my reading recently I’ve been haunted by the devil.

    For example, he shows up, albeit ambiguously, in Charles Baxter’s fine 2008 novel, The Soul Thief. The narrative, written with Baxter’s usual intelligence and style, traces the life on one “Nathaniel Mason,” as told in the first person–or, perhaps not. It might be that Nathaniel is dead and his place has been taken up by a psychopathic mimic, ala Norman Bates in the film Psycho, which is alluded to repeatedly (we even get a creepy motel scene at the end). Or perhaps Nathaniel is none other than Satan himself–another possibility deliberately raised. The first half of the book, detailing Mason’s younger days as a grad student in Buffalo, New York, is especially strong, as good as anything Baxter has written.

    So I finish that novel and then in all innocence move on to Muriel Spark’s The Ballad of Peckham Rye (1960). Here, the central figure is Dougal Douglas (or, sometimes, Douglas Dougal), and again the narrative strongly suggests that the protagonist has more than a bit of devilry to him. He even invites people to touch the two bumps on his scalp where his horns were surgically removed. It’s a terrific comic yarn about the dark powers of the humanities to disrupt the social order. Douglas is a recent “Arts” graduate hired by an industrial firm in South London that fears it is falling behind the times in its failure to carry out “human research” on its employees. Once he arrives all hell breaks loose, literally: weddings fall apart at the altar, loyal workers start skipping shifts, and young men take to battling it out in the streets.

    The Christian undertones are missing, but there is more devilry afoot in another work I’m reading just now, Okazaki Kyoko’s awarding-winning manga, Helter Skelter (serialized 1996, published in book form 2003). The heroine is a beautiful fashion idol who becomes increasingly cruel and cold to those around her as the surgery, drugs, and manipulation that artificially generate her desirability take an increasing toll on her person.

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