a history lesson

from yoshihiro tatsumi’s memoir A DRIFTING LIFE:

drifting life



yoshihiro tatsumi, an innovator and long-heralded master of manga, draws a very moving doorstop (800+ pages) which entertwines his own history with the story of manga’s birth and the post-war development of japan. appreciateive for its many lessons, i was particularly happy to read the above, which was the most convincing argument i’ve seen in a while to say that certain changes in technology wouldn’t necessarily make obsolete older ones…


PW interview with tatsumi:

PWCW: You owned and ran a used-books store for 18 years. Sometimes people would come looking for you, the founder of gekiga, but you would hide in the back.

YT: There were times when people used to come to the store, asking to meet me, but I would hide in the back. My wife would tell them “He’s not here.” Sometimes, I wouldn’t make it [to the back] in time and they would catch me and ask “Are you Mr. Tatsumi?” and I would tell them “No, that’s my brother.”

PWCW: Why did you want to hide?

YT: I was embarrassed. I liked thinking of myself as a successful manga artist, but running the book shop meant that I wasn’t. I was a very proud cartoonist and the thought of being the “comic book artist who doesn’t make enough money and has to run a bookstore” was embarrassing.

2666 by roberto bolaño


after reading SAVAGE DETECTIVES — whose psychotropic magics utterly redistricted my limbic system — i’d decided to take my bolaño in little bits and had stayed away from 2666, saving it up i think.

just now i’ve finished it. and, while it wasn’t the same experience as SAVAGE DETECTIVES (which, relatively speaking, is more suffused with intoxicating romantic ideas) 2666 indeed was another complete deracination. rather than romantic epic, this work — the primary effort of the last five years of bolaño’s life — is a fearless, everything-risking tome on violence, history, sex, death and (the banality of) evil. after finishing it i feel changed in only a way, at least it seems to me, a novel can change you.

one important aspect of the book maybe to mention is its tedium. the book can be tedious. or, better said, it risks tedium to make a point about time and evil. especially this is true for a 300 page section called THE PART ABOUT THE CRIMES, which makes a fiction from the real violent deaths of hundreds of women in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico — a mass murder given the grim name feminicidios.

an achievement only possible by a very great writer is this slowly unfolding effect, precisely built on tedium and our too-easy habituation to our race’s various evils. the reader is allowed, finally, to comprehend her or his habituation — with no small amount of horror.


and two quotes from early and late in the book that might serve as self-descriptions of his method:

“On the front flap, the reader was informed that the testamento geometrico was really three books, ‘each independent, but functionally correlated by the sweep of the whole’…” (186)

“The style was strange. The writing was clear and sometimes even transparent, but the way the stories followed one after another didn’t lead anywhere: all that was left were the children, their parents, the animals, some neighbors, and in the end, all that was really left was nature, a nature that dissolved little by little in a boiling cauldron until it vanished completely” (887).


also of potential interest: the translator has some “Notes Toward an Annotated Edition of 2666” here, which has this fine witticism:

“Proposition: Part I of 2666 as satirical sequel to The Savage Detectives. The visceral realists, young idealists, have grown up to become professors of literature, still seekers but no longer idealistic, writing scholarly papers instead of poetry and feuding with academic rivals instead of opposing schools of poets.”



also: marcela valdes has a great long piece on 2666 in the nation. of particular interest is her description of bolaño’s relationship to the journalist and writer gonzález rodríguez, who took on the life-risking task of investigating the juárez murders. bolaño seems to have based much of his novel on details from rodríguez. there’s, for instance, a person who seems to be the partial basis for klaus haas named abdul latif sharif — and it is at a press conference held by sharif (eerily similar to ones in the book) that rodríguez comes to a pivotal conclusion about the case:

That day González Rodríguez watched a tall, middle-aged man with green eyes talk to some thirty reporters. Sharif Sharif barely spoke Spanish–he’d lived in Mexico for less than a year–so he gave his presentation in English while a bilingual reporter translated. What he said sounded like a soap opera. According to Sharif Sharif, the femicides were being committed by a pair of rich Mexican cousins, one who lived in Juárez and the other just over the border in El Paso. He told a love story involving one of the cousins and a poor, beautiful girl from Juárez. The press corps was annoyed–they exchanged glances, cracked jokes. González Rodríguez felt pretty skeptical himself, but the critic in him was intrigued by Sharif Sharif’s style. Rather than pound his chest and declare his innocence, the suspect calmly recounted his ninety-minute tale. He seemed to believe that if he provided an alternate explanation for the murders, the charges against him would be dropped.

At the end of the session, González Rodríguez introduced himself to a local reporter. In a park near the prison, the two chatted about the strange presentation. A mother and her daughter approached them.

Are you journalists? the mother asked.

Yes, they answered.

Then we want to tell you something we think that you should know.

The 14-year-old girl beside her wore a T-shirt, jeans and sneakers. She told the reporters that the Juárez chief of police had forced her to accuse The Rebels. The chief, she said, had taken her by the hair and banged her against a wall until she agreed to say exactly what he told her.

For González Rodríguez, perspective suddenly shifted. Old facts (the nightclub sweep, the escalating charges against Sharif Sharif) glittered in a new light: the police were beating witnesses. “This,” he thought, “is the undercurrent.”

Read the full article, which includes more background material and a nice portrait of bolaño and rodríguez’s friendship, here.

Harp & Altar #7

From Fra Keeler by Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi

‘It’s on the edge of a canyon,’ the realtor said, raising his eyebrows when I offered to buy the home without having looked at it first.

‘Fine,’ I said, though I wasn’t sure exactly what the realtor meant. Then I didn’t say anything for a long time because I was thinking of Fra Keeler’s death. And it seemed the realtor wanted to repeat what he had just said, his eyebrows even more tense. ‘Some things aren’t worth looking into,’ I said, and the realtor’s eyebrows slackened a bit. Then I asked, ‘Where are the papers?’ ‘Here they are,’ he said. ‘I’d like to sign them,’ I said, and he pushed them across the table with his middle finger. What an ugly finger, I remember thinking while I signed the papers, and then I got up and I left.

We are said to die of one thing on paper, but it is entirely of something different that we die, I thought as I left the realtor’s office. And it is dangerous to take the discrepancy between the two for granted, what one actually dies of and what one is said to have died of on paper; there is hardly ever a correspondence. And I’m thinking now that some people’s deaths need to be thoroughly investigated. I’m more than certain that I thought this then too, as I left the realtor’s office, but the thought wasn’t as highly illuminated in my head. I’m thinking now, it isn’t every day one comes across a death that is especially timely and magnificent, for example Fra Keeler’s death. And then, one really has to wonder, one has to begin to think, to retrace the mental footsteps of the deceased person, e.g. Fra Keeler, since the chance that such a timely death would remain unexplained on paper is that much more significant.

More at http://harpandaltar.com

Harp & Altar #7 is now available — with poetry and fiction by Cynthia Arrieu-King, Ana Božičević, Matthew Klane, Michael O’Brien, Alejandra Pizarnik translated by Jason Stumpf, Brett Price, Jared White, Edmond Caldwell, Susan Daitch, Luca Dipierro, Craig Foltz, A.D. Jameson, Matthew Kirkpatrick, and Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi. Also: Farrah Field on Julia Cohen; Patrick Morrissey on Joshua Harmon and Rob Schlegel; Michael Newton’s gallery reviews; and art by Brandon Downing.

The Harp & Altar Anthology

The Harp & Altar Anthology

More info here.

ISBN 978-0-9637536-4-9

Poetry & Fiction | 336 pages | $17
Edited by Keith Newton and Eugene Lim

The Harp & Altar Anthology ($17 + shipping):
Pubdate: June 1, 2010.
Pre-Order today! Book ships upon publication.

Collecting the ground-breaking poetry and fiction from the first six issues of the online journal Harp & Altar.  With writing by Roberta Allen • Stephanie Anderson • Jason Bacasa • Andrea Baker • Jessica Baran • Jessica Baron • Shane Book • Donald Breckenridge • Michael Carlson • Joshua Cohen • Julia Cohen • Adam Clay • Lynn Crawford • Oisín Curran • Claire Donato • Farrah Field • Corey Frost • David Goldstein • Andrew Grace • Kate Greenstreet • Sarah Gridley • Emily Gropp • Evelyn Hampton • Jennifer Hayashida • Stefania Heim • Lily Hoang • Joanna Howard • Dan Hoy • Thomas Kane • Steve Katz • Karla Kelsey • Joanna Klink • Jennifer Kronovet • Norman Lock • Jill Magi • Justin Marks • Peter Markus • Eugene Marten • Stephen-Paul Martin • Zachary Mason • Miranda Mellis • Sara Michas-Martin • Patrick Morrissey • Ryan Murphy • Eileen Myles • Bryson Newhart • Linnea Ogden • Cameron Paterson • Johannah Rodgers • Joanna Ruocco • Elizabeth Sanger • Rob Schlegel • Zachary Schomburg • Kate Schreyer • Andrei Sen-Senkov • Brandon Shimoda • Peter Jay Shippy • Joanna Sondheim • Mathias Svalina • Bronwen Tate • G.C. Waldrep • Derek White • Jared White • Joshua Marie Wilkinson • Paul Winner • David Wirthlin • Michael Zeiss • Leni Zumas

PLATFORM by jia zhangke


yesterday i saw PLATFORM. which, with PICKPOCKET, make up the stunning first two thirds of the “hometown trilogy” by jia zhangke. for some reason, maybe because he’s found relatively secure funding in his latest films (and not had to work outside china’s constrained studio system), these first two are, for me, much richer than his more recent work. both star the nerdy, nebbish beauty of wang hongwei–who plays an odd, shangxi-province version of bizarro woody allen. i think i could watch wang hongwei smoke and eat noodles for hours.

like his recent films, PLATFORM and PICKPOCKET detail china’s transformation from a closed society of state-run industry into its current brand of particular capitalism.  for the sixth generation this change has resulted in a stunning slowmotion whiplash. jia zhangke was actually present at this particular screening, which took place because of a MOMA retrospective. at the Q&A after the screening someone asked the director whether he thought of himself more akin to the blockbuster and arguably escapist films of zhang yimou or the more openly critical, political-protest films of li yang. jia zhangke gave an interesting reply, saying he didn’t necessarily agree with such dichotomous labels, that reality was larger than such simple opposites. i asked a poet friend — who was also in attendance and who had himself left china shortly after ’89 tiananmen — whether he thought jia’s response was more true or more politically coy — and my friend seemed to think it was a sincere answer.

in any case, i spent today thinking a great deal about PLATFORM’s last scene. i don’t think it will give anything away to say it’s a strange, mostly static composition. i’d seen PICKPOCKET a while back (which also has a terrific ending) and while i think it’s easy to say PICKPOCKET’s the better film, i was taken with how beautiful PLATFORM’s story was, a love story really, about two couples in a theater troupe through the 1980s. this last scene is a mysterious one, which doesn’t add particularly to your factual knowledge of the characters, but does have a very strange magic in its blocking and in its actions that burns in the brain (at least in mine) a permanent portrait of this non-couple and non-family.

the film’s precise depiction of the changing material conditions of the youth of shanxi province make for me a kind of mind-shattering comparison with the material state of the west in the 80s… definitely one to try.


[somewhat relatedly, tonight — through tragic happenstance — i was forced to watch the very end of SEPTEMBER ISSUE — a documentary about vogue magazine. it made me ill. maybe i’m a fool, but to see those two movies back to back made me speak into the apartment air, involuntarily: we live in an insane world where the ones in power are insane people who do insane things.]


profile and interview with jia zhangke by stephen teo at senses of cinema:

ST: Why do you want to return to that stage of primevalism? Cinema has developed for a hundred years.

JZ: Because after a hundred years, the human life force in cinema is becoming less and less. The cinema is subjected more and more to industrial standards. I think cinema should contain human flavour and the flavour of the auteur. That’s why I didn’t want something easy and smooth. I want a movie that has an accent. For example, I can’t speak standard English, I have a Chinese accent. The cinema is the same. I have my own Jia Zhangke accent. I may be too garrulous, or too vague. My camera may be shaky or it jerks too much but that’s the emotion I feel on the set. That’s the kind of movie I want to make. Pouring your life force into the movie, not conforming to a cold industrial standard. That’s why I rejected the use of certain supplementary film techniques such as steadicam or even the track – though I used a bit of that in Platform. I don’t want my cameramen to use these supplementary techniques. Because I want my camera to come into direct contact with the subject.


JZ: I use a lot of long shots. If the audience can see things in there, that’s good, if they can’t, so be it. I don’t want to impose too many things onto the audience… I don’t want to impose a message onto the audience. I want to give them a mood and within that mood, you can see things that you want, or you can’t see things. My films are rather challenging for the audience. They are not very clearly stated to the extent where the audience can see clearly the objects they want to see – this pen or this watch. If they don’t notice it, they don’t notice it. It’s not that I am being indifferent. Through all these, I am imparting a director’s attitude, how he sees the world and the cinema. What I mean to say is that it’s only an attitude because you can never be absolutely objective. When you need somebody to look at something, it’s no longer objective. There is no absolute objectivity, there is attitude, and through this attitude, there is an ideal.

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