Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Material Mnemonics


My four-year-old nephew recently fell and hit his head, and when he regained consciousness he had a concussion. David did not know his own name, age, where he was, etc, but he did know all about his favorite stuffed animal, Shawn the Sheep. Martha raced home to get the toy, and as soon as David touched it all his memories came flooding back into his awareness.


The petite madeleine, from Proust’s novel In Search Of Lost Time, is a popular example of the way material things evoke lost time and speak to us via synesthesia/cross-sensory perception. When Proust sees the madeleine, nothing happens, but when he tastes the moist cake a whole complex of lost memories springs into his consciousness. Not the sight, but the taste of the cake brings him back. This crossing of perceptions is what, according to William Irwin Thompson, causes the delay-space in perception where the ego or self-sense can arise (1998: 39) . Within this cross-sensory experience, Proust also perceived what neuroscience would only recently discover: that memories evoked by olfactory cues are the most powerful because smell and taste are the only senses that connect directly to the hippocampus, the center of the brain’s long-term memory (Lehrer 2008: 80). Smell and taste are also the senses that are most directly connected to the material world because they take the world into the body. They can therefore trigger an archeological excavation of consciousness to recover a primary connection to origin and to materiality. Thompson even argues smell and taste are archaic senses that can take us back to the mysteries of hominization, and “the shift from estrus to menses in the new pheromonal environment that surrounds the birth of the human species itself--the evolutionary reorchestration of the sensorium in the shift from olfaction in the leaf-darkened forest of the primates to sight in the open and sun-drenched savanna of the hominids (1998: 43)." The other senses (hearing, sight, touch) are much less efficient in conjuring up our past (Lehrer: 80). 
Ian Hodder takes this idea into the excavated site of Catalhoyuk, where 9000 year-old balls of clay were found with children's teeth marks in them. He insists that the taste of the clay, like the madeleine, must have linked a Neolithic person to a particular site of memories (2011: 156).

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Jack and Japan

Jack and Japan from david titterington on Vimeo.

Here is a short video I made of clips from the second half of our trip. It begins in Yakushima and ends in Tokyo.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Kamikaze Peace Museum, Yakushima, and Jack in Shikoku

A BRIEF review of the trip, leaving major chapters and people out: When we first arrived in Tokyo we met up with Satoru and his friends, and then took the bullet train down to the southern tip of Japan, Satsuma, Kagoshima, to spend a week with my old host family and to see Yakushima. Yakushima is the home of the oldest tree in Japan, Jomon-sugi, and is a UNISCO World Heritage island. As an unexpected treat, Mutsuyo took us to the Chiran Kamikaze Peace Museum, which stands at the place where all 1,038 Japanese student pilots gathered, partied, and rested for three days before dying in their kamikaze planes. The museum is surrounded by cherry blossom trees, and I took a few pictures of the cherry blossom kamikaze plane trinkets available in the gift shop. I found the focus on the flowers interesting after having read Kamikaze, Cherry Blossoms, and Nationalisms: The Militarization of Aesthetics in Japanese History by Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney (University of Chicago Press, 2002).  


Ohnuki-Tierney argues that contrary to popular belief, the Japanese government appropriated the symbolic complex attributed to falling cherry blossoms, not to the unseen, unknown emperor, to convince the liberal student pilots to kill themselves. This is a good review of her book, but I strongly suggest you read it if you are at all interested in Japanese history or in the way substances from the landscape influence social and personal identity.  Her 140 page masterpiece Rice as Self  is also worth a peek.

Four of the actual kamikaze planes were recovered from the ocean floor and are on display in the museum. The others are miniaturized and look like toys. The walls are adorned with black and white pictures of all 1,038 strapping young men, along with the letters they wrote while at the camp, their "death poems," and their clothes. The largest wall of the museum is covered in a picture of SatsumaFuji, the miniature Mount Fuji here in Satsuma, which was the last view of Japan all the student soldiers saw before reaching Okinawa to die. Jack and I saw the mountain on our way to Yakushima.


Kamikaze pilots holding cherry blossoms, and the cheerleaders are pictured below holding cherry blossoms in a famous photograph. 

A kamikaze plane with a cherry blossom mark. Some of the planes were named after cherry trees.  

We also visited the location where Ganjin, the great Chinese monk who codified Buddhism in Japan, first landed his ship in 753. The super erotic James Bond, You Only Live Twice (1967) was filmed at the same place. The small town is conflicted, and its museum for Ganjin is mostly a tribute to James Bond. That corner was definitely the part of the museum that got the child's attention in front of us. I saw America and Japan's historic connection in yet another freaky way. The monument for the largest battle ship ever made, Yamato, is down the street, and it includes a strange stone sculpture of a young naked girl standing in solute. From that memorial site one can see where the record breaking ship sank due to American torpedoes.

We visited the shinto shrine, Kirishimajingu, founded by Jinmu, the first emperor of Japan and great grandson of Ninigi-mikoto, the first human to descend to earth from heaven. In the myth, Ninigi touched the earth at Takachiho mountain and then went to  Sastuma. We saw the place where he touched down and sticking up out of the ground is a sword, the legendary Amano Sakahoku sword of Izanagi and Izanami, the vajra phallus from whose tip dripped the islands of Japan. Yoshi's girlfriend, Eri, who works for Uniqlo and had drinks with us last night, is from Awajishima, which she says is called "fhe First Drop from the tip."  The sword in Kyushu is memorialized like Excalibur, but probably antedates the Arthurian version. Maybe not. After all, the "sword in the stone" image can symbolize the stone age of man, and the power of the stone elementals with which we are in constant symbiosis. "The age of clay." And we see the theme in David and his stone, or Thor and his hammer.  We spent the afternoon at the totoro-themed go-cart park next to the shrine.


The earth is still dangling from the tip of God's trident.
Yakushima was beyond a dream. We hiked through the Shiratani, "White valley of spirit water " upward into the Forest of Wild Things, "Mononoke-Mori." Suddenly we reached the summit, standing on a stone outcropping not unlike the one the boar god stands on in the film Princess Mononoke. Small deer appear everywhere. I just read that the word deer meant basic "animal" or "not-human" in old English, and the etymology of the word "wilderness" contains this older version, doer. The spirit of the wilderness is visualized in the movie as a deer with a human face and huge antlers causing all life and death.

 Here is Hiroshige's version of the view from Yanagi's house in Minami-Satsuma.  This beautiful print is all over the small town's museum, but no postcards of it are sold.
Another version with Satsumafuji in the background, and Ganjin's famous track to Japan.


the Deer (Wilderness) Spirit from the film Princess Mononoke.

Maririn Monro
Masaki and Kyoshiro
James Bond monument across from Ganjin's in Sastuma
 Cafe Jane on Yakushima

Hiking the White Valley of Spirit Water into...
the Forest of Wild Beasts!




 Can you find the deer?

 "Goddess Cedar"
 View of Sakurajima from Mori-san's apartment in downtown Kagoshima.

Master sushi chef Daisuke cutting up a gifted tai for the dying residence of the assisted dying house, Ikesan, in Komatsu, Shikoku.
Niihama

Jack learns Go in Komatsu.
 Dogo Onsen
 Takamatsu Tanuki temple


The Tadokoros

Enjoying a cat cafe in Ikebukuro.


May all beings be Free and in Love.



Blog Archive