mjj (flemmings) wrote,

rasetsunyo associates me with

1. Aestheticism
2. Papuwa/Eroica crossover
3. Classical Studies
4. Classical Chinese poetry
5. Japan

and I natter.

1. Aestheticism. Oh nostalgia. The old days of Aesthe and the monthly updates- 2000, 2001. Kept me busy, it did. What I did before there were blogs.

Aestheticism for me began way back in the fall of '96. Fearless Leader saw an article I'd done on Ai no Kusabi and run in an APA (what there was before there were MLs, let alone lj communities.) She asked me if she could reprint it in her paper zine, Aestheticism, and then asked would I like to translate for it, and I, loose-ended after Japan and prey to the kind of depression that makes doing laundry as difficult as climbing Anapurna, said yes. I mean, I could translate if someone else wanted me to, so I did.

And so I met abyss_goat and paleaswater and the rest was pretty much history. Even at my age, a dozen years ago feels like some kind of prehistory. (When Fearless Leader was still in the military in Belgium. Yes, a long time ago.) Fun, back then, when yaoi was all new to all of us and we were feeling our way into an understanding of the thing; and now the definitions have hardened and people think they've nailed this particular bit of jello to the wall, le sigh.

2. Papuwa/Eroica crossover

Now that goes back even farther, to 1994. I was assured by certain people that no western slash fan would read an unfamiliar series, so if I wanted to be read I had to tie-in with something known, and since somehow they'd read Eroica fic, I started my crossovers. What I remember most about A Garden in Paris was the hideous difficulty of doing research on European art in Tokyo. Oh net, if only I'd had you then.

That I kept on writing the crossovers has something to do with the technical challenge of the exercise. These stories had to have a plot, which I found hideously difficult, but once I had the outline they were easy writing because I had no emotional investment in them. It wasn't a question of what *did* happen in the hyper-universe where my characters had some metaphysical kind of existence and I didn't dare get them wrong. It was merely a question of what might happen in my story. The arbitrariness of the process threw me at first-- I was used to method writing, where you become the characters and write what you know they'd do. Ultimately it became a kind of freedom. And the lack of personal investment means the cross-overs are probably the best of my writing.

3. Classical Studies

I wish I'd had better study habits in my teens. Or gingko biloba, or both. The fact that I worked hard at Latin grammar in high school and that I loved Greek in university counts for nothing in the long run. I was never able to read either Latin or Greek with half the facility I acquired for Japanese, and now I can't read Greek at all and Latin only just, if it's medieval. This is probably because there are no Latin or Greek manga that would have kept me plugging away until vocabulary finally stuck.

But I don't like Latin, fundamentally. It never reads like a living language to me, even in dialogues, even in plays. Constipated and prissy, I say; while Greek sings, even in prose. I had a kind of romantic attachment to Latin in high school (which was from age 12 to 17, as they did it in those days) because it was old and long-lived and hence cool. But then the only thing I had to compare it with was other European languages. Chinese makes Latin look like a toddler.

4. Classical Chinese poetry

For the beginner, or the beginner working her way in from Japanese, classical Chinese poetry is a lot easier than any kind of prose. Word word word word word, and almost no grammar to speak of. So the sense of the thing comes through, even if nothing else does, including the poetry.

My thing was Japan, from my early 20s onwards, and I dutifully read translations of court poetry which were about as interesting as tap water, because for absolute sure Japanese court poetry Does. Not. Translate. At. All. Too many semi-puns and allusions, too much dependant on extreme simplicity of vocabulary conveying a gossamer sense of... whatever. I understand the best classical Chinese poetry does the same, but there are still concrete images and pleasing balances that register in English. But even back in my 20s I also picked up a sense-- from my own culture-- that, well, Japanese stuff is pretty enough in its way but it's lightweight, and *real* connoiseurs go for Chinese literature because it has gravity and deep meaning and is, basically, serious biz. I can still see where that idea came from; the Japanese didn't produce Confucius or Daoism or Du Fu. They have (cough) no moral or mystical works, only novels and haiku.

5. Japan

Japan, oh, Japan. What can one say? It's never what you think it is. You see bits and pieces and you don't see the whole, possibly because the whole isn't visible. Japan happens in discrete boxes and you only have access to some of them. It felt unreal to me, always: the great Un-place. As if reality just works differently there than anywhere else. It was a relief, in its way, the emptiness of Tokyo, since Tokyo is crammed with people. And in this psychically empty place, there was a whole unexpected world of colour and emotion and drama and err yes sex as well, much more vivid and satisfying than anything that exists over here. Which is a paradox, I suppose, if you look at it one way, but I'm not sure you should be looking that way.

So much of Japan is the way you look at things. So much is not expressible verbally. So much is expressed *to* you non-verbally, and people who depend on verbal expression of things can go a little wrangy wondering if the feeling they get about you-name-it (wearing sandals without socks, say) is legit or if they're imagining things. No one ever told me you should wear socks with sandals in Japan, no one ever glared at me when I ate on the trains, no one *said* Sit up straight and don't lounge in your seat--- but the strictures on these matters were impressed on me vividly, and wholly by osmosis. That sort of thing makes westerners doubt their sanity.
Tags: chinese, fandom, japan, language, papuwa
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