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Pico Iyer Reflects on a Quarter-Century of Life in Japan - The New York Times
"In Japan, he notes, people accommodate themselves to small spaces, and so he and Hiroko have for a quarter-century. The transposition from a bustling office tower in Manhattan to a suburb of “the sleepy old city” of Nara has felt to him “as if I’ve walked out of a cluttered warehouse into a simple bare room with a scroll on the wall, everything so singular that emotion is brought to a pitch.” All this is part of what Iyer sees as an aesthetic of enhancement through subtraction, “the Japanese art of taking more and more away to charge the few things that remain.”

The book attempts a similar paring down, composed as it is of brief ruminations, notations, vignettes, descriptions. What holds everything together, besides Iyer’s elegantly smooth prose style and gift for detailed observation, is a circling around the theme of autumn in Japan and this autumnal period in his life. Self-described as having a restless “‘birdlike’ traveler’s temperament,” he spends half the year tending to his aging mother in California or reporting on subjects like “the warlords of Mogadishu,” but tries to get back to Japan each fall. This season teaches him the lesson of impermanence, the inevitability of decay, and “how to hold on to the things we love even though we know that we and they are dying.” Not much plot to speak of here: We watch Iyer going through his daily rounds, dropping in on his Ping-Pong club, visiting his mother-in-law in her nursing home, recalling scenes from the past. His wife, questioning him apprehensively, says, “Like Ozu movie? … Your book, nothing happening?” “Not exactly nothing,” he replies. “It’s in the spaces where nothing is happening that one has to make a life.” And indeed, he references Ozu films numerous times, particularly the way that cinematic master will cycle through the seasons as a metaphor for the changelessness of the nonhuman world within stories of human change and suffering. Of course, it’s harder to pull off on the page, without sublime actors like Chishu Ryu and Setsuko Hara to embody the effect.

Iyer’s wife makes for a marvelous presence, zooming away on her motorbike to her job in a boutique, cleaning the house briskly like a tornado or dashing off to honor dead ancestors at shrines and grave sites. Hiroko is the book’s motor, and Iyer is in awe of her energy, even as he says, a bit condescendingly: “It’s one of the qualities I most admire in her: She doesn’t stop to think” and “I have a wife who reminds me with every gesture that the only impulses to trust are the ones that arise without thought.” Hiroko strikes me as more quick-witted than thoughtless, but perhaps Iyer is aspiring, on her behalf, to the Buddhist ideal of the blank mind.

His own self-portrait is dimmer. He comes across as a modest, kind, gentle man, somewhat colorless, as though trying to practice spiritual erasure of the ego. He had moved to Japan “to learn how best to dissolve a sense of self within something larger and less temporary” — an admirable pursuit, though problematic for autobiographical writers. He admits he finds “belief” in general difficult, and says he doesn’t consider himself a Buddhist, but treats with fascinated respect his wife’s conviction that spirits and ghosts exist. He’s a big proponent of his own ignorance, saying he doesn’t choose to learn more than a smattering of Japanese because he needs mystery and “a sense of open space in life, something to offset the sense of the familiar.”

In a way, his attraction to Japan can be seen as an attempt to hold onto its exotic, eternal appeal — to his partly idealized picture of what the East has to offer a Western man in the way of healing. “Autumn Light” isn’t the book to turn to for an account of the political, social and economic problems of today’s Japan. Now in his 60s, Iyer feels free to communicate his tentative revelations about life. There’s much wisdom in what he says, though some of it comes close to platitude. But then, perhaps it’s the nature of hard-earned wisdom to sound like something we’ve heard many times before."
2019  picoiyer  japan  autumn  seasons  fall  impermanence  small  japanese  language  familiarity  ozu  buddhism  spirits  ignorance  familiar  subtraction 
april 2019 by robertogreco
Kitsune - Wikipedia
"Kitsune (狐, キツネ, IPA: [kitsɯne] (About this sound listen)) is the Japanese word for the fox. Foxes are a common subject of Japanese folklore; in English, kitsune refers to them in this context. Stories depict them as intelligent beings and as possessing paranormal abilities that increase with their age and wisdom. According to Yōkai folklore, all foxes have the ability to shapeshift into human form. While some folktales speak of kitsune employing this ability to trick others—as foxes in folklore often do—other stories portray them as faithful guardians, friends, lovers, and wives.

Foxes and humans lived close together in ancient Japan; this companionship gave rise to legends about the creatures. Kitsune have become closely associated with Inari, a Shinto kami or spirit, and serve as its messengers. This role has reinforced the fox's supernatural significance. The more tails a kitsune has—they may have as many as nine—the older, wiser, and more powerful it is. Because of their potential power and influence, some people make sacrifices to them as to a deity.

Conversely foxes were often seen as "witch animals", especially during the superstitious Edo period (1603–1867), and were goblins who could not be trusted (similar to some badgers and cats).[1]"
foxes  japan  sestracat  myth  myths  mythology  shinto  trickster  folklore  cats  badgers  shapeshifting  companionship  multispecies  morethanhuman  inari  kami  spirits 
august 2018 by robertogreco
Fylgja - Wikipedia
"In Norse mythology, a fylgja (plural fylgjur) is a spirit who accompanies a person in connection to their fate or fortune. The word fylgja means "to accompany" similar to that of the Irish Fetch. It can also mean "afterbirth of a child"[1] meaning that the afterbirth and the fylgja are connected. In some instances, the fylgja can take on the form of the animal that shows itself when a baby is born or as the creature that eats the afterbirth. In some literature and sagas, the fylgjur can take the form of mice, dogs, foxes, cats, birds of prey, or carrion eaters because these were animals that would typically eat such afterbirths.[1] Other ideas of fylgjur are that the animals reflect the character of the person they represent. Men who were viewed as a leader would often have fylgja to show their true character. This means that if they had a "tame nature", their fylgja would typically be an ox, goat, or boar. If they had an "untame nature" they would have fylgjur such as a fox, wolf, deer, bear, eagle, falcon, leopard, lion, or a serpent.[2] In "Dreams in Icelandic Tradition" by Turville-Petre, it discussed commonalities between the various animals such as an evil wizard or sorcerer's fylgja would be a fox because they are sly and hiding something, or an enemy is depicted as a wolf.[1] Particularly in The Story of Howard the Halt otherwise known as Hárvarðar saga Ísfirðings, the character Atli has a dream about eighteen wolves running towards him with a vixen as their leader, predicting that he would be attacked by an army with a sorcerer at the front.[3]

Fylgjur may also "mark transformations between human and animal"[2] or shape shifting. In Egil's Saga, there are references to both Egil and Skallagrim transforming into wolves or bears, and there are examples of shape shifting in the Saga of King Hrolf Kraki, where Bodvar Bjarki turns into a bear during a battle as a last stand. These transformations are possibly implied in the saga descriptions of berserkers who transform into animals or display bestial abilities.

Fylgjur usually appear in the form of an animal or a human and commonly appear during sleep, but the sagas relate that they could appear while a person is awake as well, and that seeing one's fylgja is an omen of one's impending death. However, when fylgjur appear in the form of women, they are then supposedly guardian spirits for people or clans (ættir). According to Else Mundal, the women fylgja could also be considered a dís, a ghost or goddess that is attached to fate.[4] Both Andy Orchard and Rudolf Simek note parallels between the concept of the hamingja—a personification of a family's or individual's fortune—and the fylgja. An example of such an occurrence would be in Gisli Surrson's Saga where the main character, Gisli, is visited by two beautiful women, one who is trying to bring good fortune and one that is trying to edge him towards violence. These two women could represent the women ancestors of Gisli's family ties, such as the ties between his wife Aud and his sister Thordis, relating to the idea of the hamingja and dís."
myth  myths  mythology  norse  animals  multispecies  morethanhuman  spirits  daemons  fylgja  shapeshifting  sestracat 
august 2018 by robertogreco
CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts: David Hammons
"Spirits aren’t something you see or even understand. That’s just not how they work. They are too abstract, too invisible, and move too quickly. They don’t live anywhere, but only run by and pass through, and no matter how old they are, they are always light years ahead. They do what they want, whenever they want. And under specific circumstances, at specific times, in specific places, to specific people, for specific reasons, they make their presence known.

In the Congo Basin in Central Africa, they are called minkisi. They are the hiding place for people’s souls.

David Hammons is a spirit catcher. He walks the streets the way an improviser searches for notes, looking for those places and objects where dormant spirits go to hide, and empowers them again. He knows about the streetlamps and the mailboxes where the winos hide their bottles in shame. Hammons calls it tragic magic—the art of converting pain into poetry.

[David Hammons. "Spade With Chains," 1973.]

Much has been said about the materials Hammons uses in his work. Most are taken from the street and cost very little—greasy paper bags, shovels, ice, cigarettes, rubber tubes, hair, rocks, basketballs, fried food, bikes, torn plastic tarps, Kool-Aid. Some of them are (knowingly) borrowed from the vocabulary of other artists, while others are closely tied to his own life and chosen surroundings in Harlem. Much has also been said about the meaning of his work—its arguments, its politics, what it’s “about.” And while much of what has been said has been useful, it has also been partly beside the point.

Materials are something one can see, and arguments are something one can understand, and that’s just not what Hammons is after. He’s interested in how much those wine bottles still somehow contain the lips that once drank from them. He’s after the pun on spirit—as in the drink, but also as in the presence of something far more abstract.
Black hair is the oldest hair in the world. You’ve got tons of people’s spirits in your hands when you work with that stuff.

[David Hammons. "Wine Leading the Wine," 1969. Courtesy of Hudgins Family Collection, New York. Photo: Tim Nighswander/IMAGING4ART.]

If Hammons is suspicious of all that is visible, it might be because the visible, in America, is all that is white. It’s all those Oscar winners, all those museum trustees, and all those faces on all those dollar bills. Some artists work to denounce, reveal, or illustrate racial injustice, and to make visible those who are not. Hammons, on the other hand, prefers invisibility—or placing the visible out of reach. He doesn’t have a lesson to teach or a point to prove, and his act of protest is simply to abstract, because that’s what will make the visible harder to recognize and the intelligible harder to understand.

If Duchamp was uninterested in what the eye can see, Hammons is oppressed by it—it’s not the same thing.

[David Hammons. "In the Hood," 1993. Courtesy of Tilton Gallery, New York.]
I’m trying to make abstract art out of my experience, just like Thelonius Monk.

For Hammons, musicians have always been both the model and the front line. When George Lewis says that “the truth of improvisation involves survival,” it’s because improv musicians look for a way forward, one note at a time, with no map to guide them and with no rules or languages to follow other than ones they invent and determine themselves. It forces them to analyze where they are and forces them to do something about it, on their own terms. Doesn’t get much more political than that.

Or, as Miles Davis once put it, “I do not play jazz.” He plays something that invents its own vocabulary—a vocabulary that is shared only by those who don’t need to know what to call it or how to contain it. And just as Miles Davis doesn’t play jazz, David Hammons doesn’t make art.

[David Hammons. "Blue Rooms," 2000 (installation view, The Centre for Contemporary Art, Ujazdowkski Castle, Warsaw).]
I’m trying to create a hieroglyphics that was definitely black.

Hammons goes looking for spirits in music, poetry, and dirt. He knows they like to hide inside of sounds, lodge themselves between words or within puns, and linger around the used-up and the seemingly worthless. He knows he’s caught some when he succeeds in rousing the rubble and gets it to make its presence felt. Like Noah Purifoy, he ignores the new and the expensive in favor of the available. Like Federico Fellini, he spends his time in the bowels of culture and makes them sing.

[David Hammons. "(Untitled) Basketball Drawing," 2006.]

There are the materials that make the art—those are the foot soldiers—but there is also the attitude that makes the artist. Hammons has his way of thinking and his way of behaving, which is once again not something one sees or necessarily understands, but is something that makes its presence known, the way spirits make their presence felt. There will be some who won’t recognize it and others who do—and his work is meant only for those who see themselves in it.
Did you ever see Elvis Presley’s resume? Or John Lennon’s resume? Fuck that resume shit.

Ornette was Ornette because of what he could blow, but also because he never gave into other people’s agendas or expectations.

What matters even more than having your own agenda is letting others know that it doesn’t fit theirs. “To keep my rhythm,” as Hammons puts it, “there’s always a fight, with any structure.” The stakes are real because should you let your guard down, “they got rhythms for you,” and you’ll soon be thinking just like they do. And in a white and racist America, in a white and racist art world, Hammons doesn’t want to be thinking just like most people do. His is a recalcitrant politics of presence: where he doesn’t seem to belong, he appears; where he does belong, he vanishes.

In short: don’t play a game whose management you don’t control.

[David Hammons. "Higher Goals," 1987. Photo: Matt Weber.]
That’s the only way you have to treat people with money—you have to let these people know that your agenda is light years beyond their thinking patterns.

The Whitney Biennial? I don’t like the job description. A major museum retrospective? Get back to me with something I can’t understand.

Exhibitions are too clean and make too much sense—plus the very authority of many mainstream museums is premised on values that Hammons doesn’t consider legitimate or at least does not share. He is far more interested in walking and talking with Jr., a man living on the streets of the East Village, who taught him about how the homeless divide up their use of space according to lines marked by the positioning of bricks on a wall. Those lines have teeth. In a museum, art is stripped of all its menace.

[David Hammons. "Bliz-aard Ball Sale," 1983. Photo: Dawoud Bey.]

The painter Jack Whitten once explained of how music became so central to black American life with this allegory:
When my white slave masters discovered that my drum was a subversive instrument they took it from me…. The only instrument available was my body, so I used my skin: I clapped my hands, slapped my thighs, and stomped my feet in dynamic rhythms.

David Hammons began with his skin. He pressed his skin onto paper to make prints. Over the subsequent five decades, he has found his drum.

[David Hammons. "Phat Free," 1995-99 (video still). Courtesy of Zwirner & Wirth, New York.]"
davidhammons  anthonyhuberman  art  jazz  ornettecoleman  milesdavis  theloniousmonk  material  rules  trickster  outsiders  artworld  resumes  elvispresley  johnlennon  insiders  race  racism  us  power  authority  jackwhitten  music  museums  galleries  menace  homeless  nyc  management  structure  presence  belonging  expectations  artists  fellini  noahpurifoy  availability  culture  hieroglyphics  blackness  georgelewis  improvisation  oppression  marcelduchamp  visibility  invisibility  souls  spirits 
february 2017 by robertogreco
Onibi - Wikipedia
"Onibi (鬼火) is a type of atmospheric ghost light in legends of Japan. According to folklore, they are the spirits born from the corpses of humans and animals, and are also said to be resentful people that have become fire and appeared. Also, sometimes the words "will-o'-wisp" or "jack-o'-lantern" are translated into Japanese as "onibi.""
japan  spirits  folklore  fire  legends 
january 2017 by robertogreco
Atelier Sentô: ONIBI
[via: https://twitter.com/RedCityNoise/status/814952354856497152 ]

"ONIBI, a comic book about the invisible spirits haunting the Japanese countryside"

[translation:

"By Cécile Brun & Olivier Pichard (Atelier Sento)

Hidden on the edge of a country trail or in the shadow of a temple, Japanese spirits, foxes, tanuki and other yokai look out for the lost traveler in hopes of playing tricks on him. Cécile and Olivier, freshly installed by the sea of ​​Japan in Niigata, buy an old device a little special supposed to print these spirits on the film. In their quest to take pictures, they portray a Japan in balance between two worlds.

Despite the modernization of the country, the Japanese still often take the ghost stories very seriously. The stories of yokai and other spirits remain very present and anchored in popular folklore." ]

[See also:
https://www.behance.net/gallery/43663113/Onibi-graphic-novel
http://www.issekinicho.fr/editions/produit/onibi/
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KxKy5tgjsAE
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1VMthfDUlrA
http://ateliersento.com/post/154816258060/an-interview-video-by-jeremy-meets-japan-a-month
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k5fT-d1jEWE ]
comics  comicbooks  graphicnovels  japan  spirits  classideas  books  sfsh  onibi  folklore  cécilebrun  olivierpichard  ateliersentô 
january 2017 by robertogreco
Fantasy and the Buffered Self - The New Atlantis
"When asked by the editors of the website The Immanent Frame to summarize the key concerns of his vastly ambitious book A Secular Age (2007), Charles Taylor wrote,

Almost everyone can agree that one of the big differences between us and our ancestors of five hundred years ago is that they lived in an “enchanted” world, and we do not; at the very least, we live in a much less “enchanted” world. We might think of this as our having “lost” a number of beliefs and the practices which they made possible. But more, the enchanted world was one in which these forces could cross a porous boundary and shape our lives, psychic and physical. One of the big differences between us and them is that we live with a much firmer sense of the boundary between self and other. We are “buffered” selves. We have changed.

As Taylor makes clear, the shift from a porous to a buffered self involves a complex series of exchanges. But to put that shift in simple terms, a person accepts a buffered condition as a means of being protected from the demonic or otherwise ominous forces that in pre-modern times generated a quavering network of terrors. To be a pre-modern person, in Taylor’s account, is to be constantly in danger of being invaded or overcome by demons or fairies or nameless terrors of the dark — of being possessed and transformed, or spirited away and never returned to home and family. Keith Thomas’s magisterial Religion and the Decline of Magic (1971) specifies many of these dangers, along with the whole panoply of prayers, rites, amulets, potions, chants, spells, and the like, by which a person might seek protection from the otherwise irresistible. It is easy, then, to imagine why a person — or a whole culture — might, if it could, exchange this model of a self with highly permeable boundaries for one in which the self feels better protected, defended — impermeable, or nearly so.

The problem with this apparently straightforward transaction is that the porous self is open to the divine as well as to the demonic, while the buffered self is closed to both alike. Those who must guard against capture by fairies are necessarily and by the same token receptive to mystical experiences. The “showings” manifested to Julian of Norwich depend upon exceptional sensitivity, which is to say porosity — vulnerability to incursions of the supernatural. The portals of the self cannot be closed on one side only. But the achievement of a safely buffered personhood — closed off from both the divine and the demonic — is soon enough accompanied by a deeply felt change in the very cosmos. As C. S. Lewis notes in The Discarded Image (1964), the medieval person who found himself “looking up at a world lighted, warmed, and resonant with music” gives way to the modern person who perceives only emptiness and silence. Safety is purchased at the high price of isolation, as we see as early as Pascal, who famously wrote of the night sky, “Le silence éternel de ces espaces infinis m’effraie” (“The eternal silence of these infinite spaces frightens me”).

In these circumstances, one might expect people to ask whether so difficult and costly an exchange is in fact necessary. Might it not be possible to experience the benefits, while avoiding the costs, of both the porous and the buffered self? I want to argue here that it is precisely this desire that accounts for the rise to cultural prominence, in late modernity, of the artistic genre of fantasy. Fantasy — in books, films, television shows, and indeed in all imaginable media — is an instrument by which the late modern self strives to avail itself of the unpredictable excitements of the porous self while retaining its protective buffers. Fantasy, in most of its recent forms, may best be understood as a technologically enabled, and therefore safe, simulacrum of the pre-modern porous self.

Before pursuing my argument, I must make two clarifications. First, fantasy itself is not a recent development but rather an ancient form (though not under its current name). What we now call “fantasy” is something closer to “realism” in the pagan world, which is populated by many powers capable of acting upon “porous” human selves. In the pagan world, success in life is largely a matter of navigating safely among those powers, which are unpredictable, beyond good and evil, and often indifferent to human needs. (Such indifference means that they can help as well as hurt, but also that their assistance can never be relied upon.) In this environment, fantastic creatures are at the very least personifications or embodiments of powers genuinely believed to exist. The realism is not strict, in that the writers and readers of earlier times did not necessarily believe in the existence of precisely such creatures as were described in their stories — perhaps not Apollo or Artemis any more than Dante’s Geryon or Spenser’s Blatant Beast, though such questions are necessarily and notoriously vexed. But at the very least the pre-modern world is one in which powers like those hold sway and cannot be safely neglected; a world in which what we would call the fantastic is an intrinsic element of the real.

Second, some of the most celebrated practitioners of modern fantasy share with their pre-modern predecessors this belief that the fictional apparatus of fantasy is a relatively close approximation to the way things really are for human beings. J. R. R. Tolkien may not have believed in Sauron, but he surely believed that there are in human history people who sell themselves to the Enemy and find themselves as a result of that decision first empowered and then destroyed. And when, at the beginning of Lewis’s Perelandra (1944), the protagonist Ransom’s progress toward a friend’s house is impeded by invisible forces who fill him with fear, Lewis was describing the work of spirits whom he truly believed to exist, though under a slightly different description, just as he probably believed that some forms of scientistic rationalism are the product of demonic influence. In short, these writers sought to present their readers with an image of an enchanted world, of selves fully porous to supernatural forces. But because they did so in genres (fantasy, science fiction) known for the imaginative portrayal of the wholly nonexistent, readers confident in their buffered condition can be delighted by those stories without ever for a moment considering the possibility that the forces portrayed therein might correspond to something real. Indeed, the delight of the stories for such readers consists primarily in their perceived unreality."



"If the technical boy is wrong, if resistance can happen, we might take comfort from what seems to me the authentic core of the fantastic as a genre, as we see it from the standpoint of late modernity: fantasy may best be taken as an acknowledgment that the great problem of the pagan world — how to navigate as safely as possible through an ever-shifting landscape of independent and unpredictable powers who are indifferent to human needs — is our problem once more. The powers now may have different names than the ones Homer or Ovid knew, but they are powers all the same. American Gods is an especially important text for this moment, because it rightly identifies technologies as gods and simultaneously sides with the older gods as being intrinsically closer to the proper human lifeworld. Imaginatively, if not in substantive belief, we are pagans once more.

What We Don’t See

But a coda is required. All that I have written so far about porous and buffered selves has followed Charles Taylor in bracketing the question of what our actual condition is. We may choose to believe that we can buffer ourselves, protect ourselves against unknown powers. But that’s a kind of wager: if the powers are real, our disbelief won’t deter them. And it may be that certain powers profit from being disregarded or treated as mere fancies. In a sonnet he wrote in the late 1930s, Auden portrayed a world from which magic had passed: “The sudden shadow of a giant’s enormous calf / Would fall no more at dusk across their lawns outside”; the last dragons and kobolds died off. The people “slept in peace.” But:

... The vanquished powers were glad

To be invisible and free: without remorse
Struck down the sons who strayed into their course,
And ravished the daughters, and drove the fathers mad."
2014  alanjacobs  fantasy  history  legibility  invisibility  visibility  belief  modernity  mysticism  magic  identity  self  protection  boundaries  unpredictability  uncertainty  supernatural  spirits  sciencefiction 
july 2014 by robertogreco
Two quotes for 2014 | Magical Nihilism
"from Freedom by Daniel Suarez:

“Where ancient people believed in gods and devils that listened to their pleas and curses — in this age immortal entities hear us. Call them bots or spirits; there is no functional difference now. They surround us and through them word-forms become an unlock code that can trigger a blessing or a curse. Mankind created systems whose inter-reactions we could not fully understand, and the spirits we gathered have escaped from them into the land where they walk the earth—or the GPS grid, whichever you prefer. The spirit world overlaps the real one now, and our lives will never be the same.”

“But doesn’t this just spread mysticism? Lies, essentially?”

“You mean fairy tales? Yes, initially. But then, a lot of parents tell young children that there’s a Santa Claus. It’s easier than trying to explain the cultural significance of midwinter celebrations to a three-year-old. If false magic or a white lie about the god-monster in the mountain will get people to stop killing one another and learn, then the truth can wait. When the time is right, it can be replaced with a reverence for the scientific method.”

See also Julian Oliver’s talk. Again.
http://timoarnall.tumblr.com/post/40012610155/julianoliver "
mattjones  danilesuarez  2014  gods  devils  technology  belief  fairytales  falsemagic  magic  myth  truth  science  scientificmethod  spirits  spiritworld  systems  understanding  bots  julianoliver 
january 2014 by robertogreco

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