5/28/20

&: Year Zero

It’s undeniable that there was a political tightening-down at the start of the 2010s, and, obviously, people did get thrown in jail or sent into exile, but much of the narrative of stalled political reform and intellectual apocalypse is driven by Western observers of China and dissident academics holed up in Fairfax or Bethesda, who were looking out for potential leaders of a Jasmine Revolution. Liberal factions were losing their patrons among the Party elite long before Xi Jinping came to power, and many have become out-and-out Trumpistas 川粉, Kwokist partisans preparing for Guo Wengui 郭文贵 to pull a Juan Guaidó or Ahmed Chalabi and declare himself leader of the nation in exile, or glorified dàilùdǎng 带路党, ready to feed coordinates to CIA officers calling in airstrikes. Yes, sure, anyone that cares about politics is an authoritarian nationalist, and that includes the fringes of the left, but for most, two decades of—apart from patriotic indoctrination, which is required in a country surrounded by American bases and submarines—depoliticization, the solutions come down to: accelerationism or pastoralism, and maybe industrialization or deindustrialization, a divide between pastoralists and industrialists.

This is actually just an excuse to write a description of the industrial party 工业党, then talk about Li Ziqi 李子柒)

On the high tech side, there is the gon̄gyèdǎng 工业党 (literally: the industrial party), who imagine all China’s shortcomings as engineering problems, and the rivalry with the West something that can be resolved by catapulting the nation into the technological lead.

A writer for the Paper summed up the group like this (工业党的历史叙事:生产力和国家赞歌):
The so-called "industrial party" is not a party in the traditional sense, but rather a loose collective of internet users that share similar beliefs about China's modern history and present development. They generally believe in the fundamental nature of industrial development, and see the world as divided between advanced industrialized nations and backwards agricultural nations, with the latter forced to endure the whip hand of the former. The core issue for the industrial party is how the country can achieve technological development, and avoid falling into a disadvantageous geopolitical situation by developing from an agricultural nation to an industrialized nation. Therefore, the industrial party supports China's revolutionary philosophy and the previous thirty years of reform.
所谓“工业党”,并非是有严格界限的组织群体,而是网络上,对中国近现代史和当下社会发展状况持相近意见的网民群体。他们普遍相信,近代以来工业化是世界发展的根本趋势,由此,国家被区分为先进工业国和落后农业国,前者主宰世界,后者饱受欺凌。中国近现代史的核心问题就是如何实现工业化,由农业国转变为工业国,避免在国际竞争中陷入悲惨境地。
Their name was repurposed from a 2011 essay by Wang Xiaodong 王小东, “Chinese industrialization will determine the fate of the country and the world—A showdown between the ‘industrial party’ and the ‘sentimental party’” (feelings party?) (中国的工业化将决定中国与世界的命运——兼论“工业党”对决“情怀党”), but “ruthless industrialization will solve this” tendency existed long before, probably springing first from discussions among post-’80s men (bālínghòu 80后—that is, born after 1980) on science and technology, and military affairs message boards.

The idea of an online political tendency developing in China that put the development of productive forces ahead of humanistic concerns makes perfect sense. The Communist Party’s technocratic heads have mostly discouraged cultural exploration, while also devoting significant portions of the nation’s GDP to science and technology research and development.

The “Industrial-holics” were brought to some degree of respectability by the publication of Wash the Dishes or Read Books? 刷盘子还是读书 by Zhong Qing 钟庆 (an electrical engineer working in Japan) in 2005, and Lofty Goal: Political Consultation and Ourselves 大目标:我们与这个世界的政治协商 by a group that included Ren Chonghao 任冲昊 (an engineer and writer with the reactionary Guancha 观察者网) and Zhou Xiaolu 周小路 (he gives his occupation as zháinán 宅男, or otaku). These books both take the approach of retelling world history after the Industrial Revolution, and pushing industrialization as the key to avoiding stagnation and countering American hegemony—with the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the United States reaching its apex, it’s the perfect time to chart a new course for Chinese development.

As Lu Nanfeng 卢南峰 and Wu Jing 吴靖 pointed out in their comprehensive history of the industrial party tendency (“Grand narrative at history’s turning point: a political analysis of the internet ideology of China’s 'industrial party'"), nationalism—almost like a fusion of the techno-commercialists and ethnicists from the Spandrellian Trichotomy—was usually a factor but I would argue there was a minority depoliticized accelerationist contingent, too. As time’s gone by, the results of the 2007-2008 crisis have shaken out, the United States has adopted an increasingly bellicose foreign policy while also looking increasingly financially shakey, the ideas of the industrial party seem increasingly Darwinian.

Bloggers like Ning Nanshan 宁南山 and the community that orbits him, including the Wind and Cloud Association 风云学会) have come to represent the tendency. A piece on the Chublic Opinion blog describes a loose collective that:
...share a lexicon of terms such as “per capita GDP”, “demographics”, “supply chains” and “national fortune”, which reflects a tendency to think in aggregates and a competitive arena-shaped world view. … Collectively they depict a picture of a merciless ladder called “development” on which nations laboriously climb. At the top of the ladder sit countries with the highest per capita GDP, enjoying comfortable privileges, while other lower income countries fight to occupy favorable positions underneath.
A Mercator Institute paper (“Ideas and ideologies competing for China's political future: how online pluralism challenges official orthodoxy”) describes the group’s general outlook on politics:
When discussing their preferred political system, Industrialists do not debate concepts such as participation versus stability. For them, the key virtue is effectiveness, and the debate revolves around which political system can deliver the best results towards this end. Some Industrialists view participatory democracy as outdated and favor an autocratic system as long as it does not hinder economic development, while others argue that liberal democracies provide more room for entrepreneurial activities.
Completely depoliticized. Whatever works. What does the ideal society look like?

It doesn't look like the industrial 1950s. It's not going to be Never Forget Class Struggle 千万不要忘记 (1956), but smart cities and Foxconn in Zhengzhou. The future is already here, Ning Nanshan says (he's about to publish a book called The Future is on China's Side 未来站在中国这一边): "After a period of long development, China's development has already reached a critical point where we are on the verge of becoming an advanced nation" 在经过长时间的高速发展之后,中国的发展其实已经逐渐地逼近向发达国家进阶的临界点. He makes three points about China's technological development, but the most convincing is that much of China's developed regions (the Pearl River Delta, the Yangtze River Delta, Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei Metropolitan Region) already are at the level of advanced nations 中国的发达地区已经迈入了发达国家门槛.



For the development bloggers, the industrial party's talk about beating the advanced nations sometimes comes down to a patriotic impulse (strengthen the nation) or even a racial antagonism (crushing the Anglo-Saxons), but often, it seems to be about the promise of individual enrichment and convenience—if you've been left out of that, where do you go? You're not going to live in those computer model homes by the manmade river.

The answer, for the Chinese government, which would like to clear the cities of undesirables (dīduān rénkǒu 低端人口): the countryside, long seen as a source of urban labor, but also a sponge that could soak up the urban poor, if they were no longer needed in the city. The situation for those returning to the countryside is grim, given the developments there over the past two decades, but that is the fantasy.

It's not just a fantasy of state planners, but also the more romantic among those undesirables on the knife edge of being booted from the city. I’m going to talk about Li Ziqi.

Li Ziqi makes videos of herself cooking and gathering food and making household items, all while wearing hanfu 汉服. She streams from rural Sichuan. The videos are remarkable for how much they don’t look like the Chinese countryside. The rare glimpses of walk-behind tractors and plastic basins and farm yard trash stand out. It’s an idealized, sanitized pastoral vision of China, not really connected to any particular time period or region.



Li Ziqi is a prepper. Li Ziqi is Randy Weaver in hanfu. Her videos are a manifesto on revolutionary deindustrialization, or at least a complete rejection of progress and urbanization.

Li Ziqi represents mass disenchantment with the promises of urbanization (李子柒的人设,集中了这个流量时代的全部痛点).
The death of urban romance was revealed in the 2010 slogan of "escape Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou" [táolí Běi-Shàng-Guǎng 逃离北上广]. House prices kept going up, being crushed into a subway car or a bus to commute to a distant job was enough to drive people to suicide, and anyone just getting by, renting in the wrong part of the city was vulnerable to being swept out in the campaigns against the floating population [liúdòng rénkǒu 流动人口]. The dreams of countless young people that hoped to make it in the city were crushed. For those that persist, shedding sweat and blood in the city, Li Ziqi presents a vision of the alternative.
2010年始爆出的热词“逃离北上广”,宣告了城市生活诗意的破灭。持续上涨的房价、长时密集的通勤和清理流动人口碾压着无数年轻人的梦想。只要人们还因为城市里的肉搏生活而感到痛苦,李子柒的田园诗意就可以作为城市生活的反面,无限地拍下去。
It’s in the countryside that a person can reclaim their humanity, untangle themselves from the cash nexus, tend their bitter melon...

This makes me think of the films I’ve been watching, all from the middle of the 20th century, where the same tension is there, too: 1960s and 1970s films alternating between factory and village settings. When the politics of the 1970s imploded, artists went to seek their roots xúngēn 寻根 in the countryside in a process not unlike Liu Zhongjing's 刘仲敬 Spenglerian ethnic invention (mínzú fāmíng 民族发明), the tension between nation and region, town and country forefront again. Li Ziqi is Han Shaogong 韩少功 with a Douyin account. Go back two generations and she’s Shen Congwen 沈从文, seeking the primitive nation in Sichuan, like he did in West Hunan.

This isn’t a battle between liberalizers in the industrial party and what the MERICS paper calls traditionalists. In fact, both groups are made up of post-’90s kids so thoroughly depoliticized that they don’t even talk about politics in any concrete sense.



The countryside represents rural plenty, an escape from the atomization of the city, family, like in the videos by Dianxi Xiaoge 滇西小哥.

Nobody wants to live in an accelerationist industrial party nightmare. Or watching pretty girls in the countryside is all part of the accelerationist nightmare.

4/21/20

&: FloatingPopulation_KETAMINE_china.txt



I've had the urge to write something about ketamine for a while, and I always pictured it like the kind of bullshit guides that would circulate on Usenet groups, IRC channels, and bulletin boards, sometimes originating from posts on the Hive, Bluelight, or Shroomery, and maybe finally getting posted on an Erowid portal or Lycaeum.

That's what FloatingPopulation_KETAMINE_china.txt is sort of intended to be.

A lot of it is worthless, or it's filler, or it's self-indulgent, but I think there's some interesting stuff in there. For example, I don't think there's another English-language source for use of ketamine in the Sino-Vietnamese War. It's an outline for a book that a judicious editor would suck the fat out of.

4/19/20

&: Dog meat

A draft law introduced earlier this month would drop dog from a list of accepted domestic livestock.

I have my own prejudices about eating dog meat: since the pictures of mistreated animals and mishandled meat, and all the hanging carcasses of mismatched breeds are usually from the south, where they seem to treat dog as just another novelty meat, it wouldn’t be undesirable to ban breeding and consumption south of the Huai River. It’s only prejudice, though. There’s something that feels right about eating braised dog meat in the rugged northern hinterland; it feels decadent in the tropical south.

There's nothing wrong with eating dogs, but it feels like it’s rubbing it in the face of sentimental but good-natured people to celebrate it. I had a dog as a kid.

I’m not sentimental about meat.

I learned to field dress a deer when I was maybe nine or ten. I learned how you slice around the deer’s asshole, around its balls, then up its belly, taking care not to go deep enough to prick the guts, then set the knife at the bottom of the ribcage and kick it up through the sternum. White-tail season is always late enough into winter that there’s snow on the ground, so it feels like you’re working in sterile conditions, everything blanketed in white cotton... I had a job at a slaughterhouse the first time I dropped out of university. By the time the cows got to my station, where we took the head off, secured the esophagus, and clipped the front hooves off, they looked like meat already. But I sometimes got to see the cattle come down the chute into the knocking station, where two men with hockey helmets with cages stained brown by tobacco spit drove bolts into their foreheads.

I worked in a restaurant where we broke down whole pigs once a week.

Fan Kuai 樊哙 is the patron god of butchers.

There is a story that when Liu Bang 刘邦 was a boy, long before he became the first emperor of the Han, he lived in Peixian 沛县, and Fan Kuai sold dog meat there. Liu Bang ate the dog meat without paying for it, and eventually, trying to salvage his business, he relocated to the other side of the river. When Liu Bang realized that his source of free dog meat was gone, he tried to get a ferry across the river, but couldn’t manage to get a ride. Along came a soft-shelled turtle, which Liu Bang rode across the river. Fan Kuai, blaming the turtle for carrying Liu Bang across, grabbed a knife, killed the reptile, and tossed it into his cook pot. Liu Bang took Fan Kuai’s knife and dumped it into the river. Since he knew he wouldn’t be able to cut up the dog meat, Fan Kuai decided to give the meat a longer braise, so that it could be stripped from the bone with his fingers. The longer cooking time, as well as the addition of the turtle, made for Fan Kuai’s best dog meat ever.

Fan Kuai ended up marrying one of Liu Bang's sisters-in-law, and served as his advisor. There’s a statue of Liu Bang in Xuzhou, not too far away from Peixian. I don’t think there’s a statue of Fan Kuai.

The first time I ate dog meat, it was from Fan Kuai’s recipe, minus the soft-shelled turtle. They still make it with soft-shelled turtle sometimes—yuánzhī gǒuròu 鼋汁狗肉—but that wasn’t what I had. It was in Xuzhou, on the south side of the Feihuang River, which could have been the one Liu Bang crossed. There’s a Papa John's and a Starbucks and a Quanjude there now, but fifteen years ago, it was pretty much just a continuation of the rough neighborhood that stretched down from the central railway station. I’d been up to Up on Dama Lu, where it seemed like the only commerce was taking place in the concrete cubes where dark-skinned girls in oily makeup cracked sunflower seeds in the doorways, and I’d seen the the stalls selling dog meat, braised and dried, with dog skulls set up beside them. (There’s an idiom, guà yángtóu mài gǒuròu 挂羊头卖狗肉, which refers to the deceptive practice of displaying a sheep skull while selling dog meat, but for all I know, these peddlers were guà gǒutóu mài yángròu 挂狗头卖羊肉.) I hadn’t been curious enough to try it. I was aware of the rule that you should avoid eating outside train stations. I found a place across from the Haofulou Hotel, down an alley. There were dog carcasses hanging there, like they hanged goat carcasses outside barbecue restaurants. I occasionally came across a dog getting its fur torched off it. They made a certain kind of flatbread—not Xuzhou luòmó 烙馍, but something between báijímó 白吉馍 and shāobing 烧饼, round and cooked against the wall of an earthen oven or oil drum—and stuffed it with mahogany-colored dog meat.

Cooked that way, the texture is close to confit duck leg, dense and stringy, but tender, or like an overcooked Butterball turkey thigh. I guess it cooks in the same way, with the meat resting in the fat rendered out of it. The flavor is a bit like venison, sweet in the same way, and a bit gamey, maybe even a bit like prairie chicken or grouse, but it’s hard to find a comparison.

Another problem I have with southerners eating dog meat is that they don’t cook it that way. As far as I’m concerned, the only way to eat dog is a slow braise until the fat is rendered out, and then, ideally, it is stuffed in flatbread. In Xuzhou, they serve it with yángròu tāng 羊肉汤, which is nothing like the Chinese Far West's lamb soup, and is supremely rank and fatty, full of guts and sinew, and the perfect winter warmup.

They dog meat into soup in Shandong, especially in the cities along the coast, like Weihai 威海 and Yantai 烟台, where Korean sex tourists fill up on it before going to the spas and KTVs. I never tried it there. Shandongers ate dog meat before the Koreans came, but even in the Northeast, populated by transplants from the region, dog meat restaurants usually serve it with kimchi.

Dog meat is a masculine meat, but I associate it with country girls. Whenever they challenged me with it, and I accepted, it was a rare chance for them to eat it. There was the girl in Lianyungang 连云港, who comes up in that ketamine story, who I ate dried dog meat and tofu with. A girl from Fengxian 丰县 told me once that, as a child, her father had discovered her eating dried dog meat and told her **** ** **** **** *** ****** ****. *** ********** ** *** ** *** *** ******* *** ** **** ****. ** *** ** ***** *** ***** **** *******. ****** ******** **** ******* was just a myth to discourage women from eating dog meat, but it was true in her case. She also had an impressively square jaw. It was probably more genetic than the result of dog meat consumption. When I went for dinner at her house, her father opened up a vacuum-sealed bag of dried dog meat, sprinkled it with huājiāo 花椒, and we stuffed it into luòmó. None of the women present ate it.

I worked with a Chinese-Korean girl in *****. She was the hostess at the restaurant and I worked in the kitchen. The staff met most nights at a ****** **** a few blocks away to drink until the last train. One night, a ******** coworker brought up eating dog meat. She said, proudly, that she ate it often. He mimed vomiting. Later, she told me that she didn’t eat dog meat very often, but it felt wrong to deny her love for it.

When I met her again in ********, we spent the night trying to find a Korean dog meat restaurant that was supposedly on the third floor of a shopping center in *****. I’m not sure we spent enough time looking. When we couldn’t find it, we settled on a far more pedestrian Korean barbecue.

Dog meat has become a cause for Chinese and Korean nationalists.

Moon Jae-in adopted a rescue dog in 2017, which was possibly going to end up being eaten. The shelter he got it from was in trouble a year later for secretly euthanizing dogs. A receipt was uncovered that showed they sent 5.7 tons of dog carcasses to a rendering plant.

In China, attempts to shut down the Yulin Lychee and Dog Meat Festival 玉林荔枝狗肉节 are seen as an attack on cultural traditions by socially progressive worshippers of the West.

I’m sympathetic to Chinese nationalists, but the festival does seem kind of gross. There’s something revolting about mass, coordinated consumption of meat. Let the people of Guangxi eat their dog meat in peace, until my Huai River rule is enacted.

One problem with dog meat is that it can't be farmed. If you go to Peixian, you aren’t going to see acres of dog ranches. The dogs being raised out that way are companions, farm dogs, or fighting dogs. That’s close to how it would have always been. Dogs weren’t usually working on farms, and nobody was cuddling them, but they were around, eating shit and scraps, like pigs.
Westerners refrain from eating dogs not because dogs are their most beloved pets, but essentially because dogs, being carnivorous, are an inefficient source of meat; Westerners have a great abundance of alternate sources of animal foods; and dogs render many services alive which far outweigh the value of their flesh and carcass. In contrast, dog-eating cultures generally lack an abundance of alternative sources of animal foods, and the services which dogs can render alive are not sufficient to outweigh the products they can provide when dead. For example, in China, where perennial shortages of meat and the absence of dairying have produced a long-standing pattern of involuntary vegetarianism, dogflesh eating is the rule, not the exception. (Good to Eat: Riddles of Food and Culture by Marvin Harris, 1985.)
Dog meat at commercial quantities can’t be achieved without a large number of people owning companion animals. Dog meat is a byproduct of the far more cruel and decadent pet industry.

Even if it’s left off the list of accepted livestock, dogs are going to get eaten one way or another. They will still make it to connoisseurs in Peixian and Yulin. The rest will go to the rendering plant and get fed to cattle or Pekingese.

3/17/20

&: Aesthetic revulsion

Araki Nobuyoshi 荒木経惟 was born not too far from where I’m writing this, and he lived closer still to my last Tokyo hometown of Ryusen. This is just trivia. I’m not going to make the case that his upbringing in East Tokyo was a formative experience. Maybe it was. I don’t know.

His father made geta. He lived, supposedly, near Joyful Minowa shotengai, across from Jokan-ji 浄閑寺, a temple that's home to the remains of thousands of dead from the slums of Tokyo, women and girls from Yoshiwara, and victims of the Great Kanto Earthquake. If you’ve never visited, you might expect something spookier than what it is: a fairly dull temple that looks a lot like every other temple in Tokyo. (It’s not close to as spooky as the nearby Enmei-ji 延命寺, with its Kubikiri Jizo, watching over what used to be Kozukahara 小塚原, an execution ground and mass grave.) The house and the shop—Ninbenya にんべんや—his father owned was long ago demolished. It was turned into a parking lot, but if I’m looking at the right address, the lot was swallowed up for the fresh development that’s gone up on the block. The last corrugated tin buildings have been taken down. (Araki fans used to be able to make a pilgrimage to Araki’s former residence in Setagaya, which was a fairly nondescript apartment block that was featured in several photo books, but even that has been taken down.)

Higuchi Ichiyo has a shrine nearby, and I used to see her ghostly bust every night, lit up by the spotlights in the temple yard. She has a museum on the border of Ryusen and Senzoku, too. There are currently no memorials to Araki having lived and worked in the area.

Araki paid tribute to the author, too, and maybe to the area, in a 1982 photobook called Midori 美登利, named after a character in Higuchi Ichiyo’s Takekurabe たけくらべ (translated by Edward Seidensticker as Growing Up) (and also the name of a kissaten in Yoshiwara, although that’s probably coincidence), set on the edge of Yoshiwara at the turn of the last century. Takekurabe is the story of a local girl that goes to work in the pleasure quarter.

The soaplands of the akasen 赤線 that replaced the streets of courtesans in cages look positively decrepit now, but they looked seedy even in Araki’s pictures, taken in the High Showa. He shoots his model—Midori—clothed, but the city is naked. He captures not only the rows of bath house brothels, but the dilapidated concrete tower blocks and rundown playgrounds that make up the cityscape of that part of East Tokyo.

Most of Araki’s photography, though, and the material he built his name on, involves nude women, often bound. With those pictures, he was more willing than photographers doing similar work to approach pure pornography. And by “pure pornography,” I don’t mean anything but that he was willing to ditch fashion and art photography conventions, making pictures that could and did actually get printed in men’s magazines.

Katrin Burtschell has another opinion—it wasn't pornography at all:
What makes Araki a pornographer? The fact that he published his photos in relevant pornographic magazines and as such seemingly pursues his goal to excite and satisfy the consumer through his pictures? Araki does not care about the insinuation, since he does not understand what would be bad about the fact that his pictures excite the viewer. He would feel it were completely normal if that were not the case. Araki may occasionally be accused of violating laws again obscenity, but he is only accused of being a pornographer in the West. Araki explains the phenomenon through the circumstance that there is no tradition of pornography in Japan (This is from Nobuyoshi Araki und Henry Miller - eine japanisch-amerikanische Analogie. Translation by Pietro Stäheli.)
Was macht Araki zum Pornographen? Die Tatsache, dass er in Japan seine Fotos in einschlägigen pornographischen Heften veröffentlicht und er somit anscheinend das Ziel verfolgt, den Konsumenten durch seine Bilder zu erregen und zu befriedigen? Araki ist eine solche Unterstellung völlig gleichgültig, denn er weiß nicht, was das Schlimme daran sein sollte, dass seine Bilder den Betrachter erregen. Er wurde es als normal empfinden, wenn dem nicht so ware. Zwar wird Araki in Japan gelegentlich beschuldigt, gegen die Obszönität Gesetze zu verstoßen, der Vorwurf der Pornographie wird gegen ihn aber nicht erhoben, dieser trifft ihn bezeichnenderweise nur im Western. Araki erklärt dieses Phänomen selber mit der Tatsache, dass es in Japan keine Tradition der Pornographie gibt.
Well, now, how true is that? There was shunga 春画, of course, and then erotic photography, as soon as anyone had a camera. So, there's a dissenting opinion, but let's not get bogged down.

Araki was so celebrated within the adult industry that he was invited in 1981 to produce his own pink film for Nikkatsu. That was High School Girl Fake Diary 女高生偽日記



Pink films ピンク映画 are pretty much like any softcore porn, but with slightly more plot and slightly less sex. As the studio system collapsed, pink films were an easy way to drive profit. Pink films are pretty much dead now. VCRs and then DVD players helped kill them off. The pink films needed pink theaters. There are still a few in Tokyo, but it’s clear the age of the pink has ended. The Okura, not too far away in Ueno, renovated a couple years back, trying to attract a different crowd, but it doesn’t seem to have worked. Cross-dressing men in short skirts queing outside get looks from the Chinese tourists on their way to photograph the lotus in Shinobazu Pond. Pink theaters were always a place to cruise, and the Okura sits right beside the section of the park that has long been a hot bed for public sex (might be a chicken and egg situation, there—did the theater come first or the cruising?). It won’t be long before someone replaces the Okura with an APA Hotel.

Here is Abé Mark Nornes account of a visit to the Okura:
On my visit a boyish, young man entered next to the screen, pausing for his eyes to adjust while the entire theater checked him out. He sat to my left and one row forward, leaving the end seat open. An oldster with an enormous beard sat down in no time and the young man shifted one more seat in. Rejected, the beard got up and returned to the back wall. After a few minutes another man made an attempt, and this time there was no rebuff. Before long, his head dropped to the young man’s lap. The fellow two seats down from me sat forward and peered over the seat backs for a better view. On this afternoon I was surrounded by no less than five simultaneous blowjobs, two hand jobs, a couple masturbators, and one particularly loud snorer.
It gives you a feeling for how most people would have experienced Araki's film.

High School Girl Fake Diary opens with Araki himself, looking as if he's appeared between the viewer's legs with a Minolta rangefinder, cooing, "That's right... Beautiful..."



Pink films have become a popular topic for academics in Japan and the West, and maybe it's because it's more respectable than writing about actual pornography, but it's also because so many brainy perverts and future avant stars took part in making them. That means there's lots of writing on, like, left filmmakers dabbling in erotica, Wakamatsu Koji 若松孝二 and Violated Angels 犯された白衣, feminist themes in sukeban films, and oddities like softcore porn parodies of Ozu films. Almost none of it is worth reading, and not because these are beat-off films, but because they tend to miss that point (Andrew Grossman's essay is one of the few exceptions, and the rest are in the same collection, Pink Book [as I juggled the order of things here, I put the details about that book further along]). Most writing starts with peeling the film in question off from the pack, laying out how the director was affiliated with such-and-such radical leftist group or went on to make such-and-such film that won the Golden Bear in 1980something. Nobuyoshi Araki's attempt at a pink film is fairly unspectacular, and don't believe anybody that tries to tell you otherwise.



Maybe there's something to say about the repeating images of the white rabbit (seen above crossing the street and then posed on the concrete stairs) and the little girl, who is seen later in the film stepping over a hose, lighting fireworks, and going into a funeral home. I don't know. Maybe there is. I'm not going to say anything about that.



The film is the story of a girl named Rika (Arai Rika 荒井理花), scouted on the street by a photographer that uses her as a model for progressively more debased shoots. The plot is thin and the sex scenes tenuously connected to it are not very interesting, with the exception of one involving two of Rika's friends, told in the form of a flashback. It's the least Araki-ish scene in the film, looking more like a lost clip from one of the girl boss sukeban movies, with the girls hooking up with their juvenile delinquent boyfriends in a Jeep, lighting cigarettes, riding faces, and projecting teenaged insouciance. Some of the scenes, though, look like they were outtakes from an Araki shoot (and he produced a book to go along with it), like the one of Rika on a love hotel bed, slowly rotating to face the camera, opening her legs wide as she reclines...



The Araki scenes seem slightly strange when you've seen the film through once and you know the conceit is that this is all taking place in Rika's mind. It’s not that it’s inconceivable for a young woman to fantasize about being photographed, but the groping in the jazz bar just seems too adult, and the black American serviceman ravishing a Japanese woman is straight out of postwar middle-aged male neuroses.

Pink films always leave me cold. In the dozen or so 1970s sukeban films I’ve seen, which have four or five sex scenes each, the only one that ever had an effect on me was a girl-on-girl scene involving Kano Yuko 叶優子 seducing Saburi Seiko 佐分利聖子; it’s not an exaggeration to say that most 1970s sukeban and general exploitation film sex scenes involve rape and sadism. That’s also my problem with some of the scenes in Araki’s pink film, although it’s relies far less on male sadism (and even features a man having a pair of spiked heels up his ass in a shoe torture scene). Andrew Grossman describes the “aesthetic revulsion” to sadism (but it could be other aspects inspiring that revulsion—I'm not going to name them) “othering” “Japanese tastes” and adding a “secondary aura or layer of avant-gardism” ("All Jargon and No Authenticity?—A Phenomenological Inquiry into Pink Film," which is from the Pink Book: The Japanese Eroduction and its Contents, edited by Abé Mark Nornes, whose introduction to pink films and pink theaters is quoted above).



I’m not convinced I have any aesthetic revulsion to sadism. You can find my odes to Sugimoto Miki 杉本美樹 (that's her in the still above) in the sukeban movies, like Girl Boss Revenge 女番長, or her Noriko of the Cross act in the electric shock scene in Terrifying Girls' High School: Lynch Law Classroom 恐怖女子高校 暴行リンチ教室. Nobody suffers like Sugimoto Miki, and it’s always filmed beautifully, but, I take only aesthetic pleasure in it, and there are diminishing returns after watching the same scene restaged countless times.

I said Araki’s film is less egregious, and probably a bit sexier than most of what I’ve seen from the genre, so why doesn’t it work? I couldn’t tell you. It might be fair to take some Dworkin material here, since she published Pornography in the same year this film was released, and there’s not many better places to apply theories about unchecked male power and fragile masculinity than in Showa Japan, but I want to use it only to say that the firmly gendered Araki gaze overpowers. And Grossman says: “we become beholden to other people’s fantasies”:
...and whatever “liberation” ensues is contingent upon alien, manufactured images coinciding with our own secret pleasures from time to time. In these neurotic, magical coincidences, we believe our orgasms have achieved some universal significance—after all, how remarkable it is that a filmmaker and a dispersed audience have harbored the same sexual fantasy! Obviously, this “universalism” is illusory... Our neuroses swallow us, as our erections unwittingly respond to and concur with economies and ideologies we know are pathological, prearranged, and coerced.

Araki getting in the head of a high school girls reminds me of his comments when selecting Hiromix’s collection—"Seventeen Girl Days—for the Canon New Cosmos of Photography contest:
Girls tend to hold nothing back, and don’t think too much. Without thinking too much, they let their feelings rule their actions. Her feelings that she wants to create and try anything, as well as her flexibility are apparent. Guys think too much. I think teens are going to be interesting. (Translation from Canon's New Cosmos of Photography official website. It serves my purposes, and this particular translation of the line is frequently cited, but it seems to differ somewhat from what he actually said.)
Araki’s pictures are probably more interesting to look at now than Hiromix’s early work. It's impossible to look at them in the present without thinking of Instagram selfies two decades early—like Instagram-ish in their banality and lightheartedness (and also these look like they use an Instagram X-Pro1 filter, mimicking a camera that offers settings to mimic the high ISO film that HIROMIX shot on) (and what were purikura and tradeable photo books but proto-Instagram?)

If you want to go back to talking about gaze, Gabriella Lukács talks about Hiromix attempting to "...carve out autonomous spaces where young women like her felt they could belong to themselves" (this is from: Invisibility by Design: Women and Labor in Japan's Digital Economy). I don't know how true that was, at least after a certain point, when she turned to more clearly commercial photography.

In the decades that have gone by since Araki’s pink film, pornography has come to more closely resemble his critically-celebrated art photography and his Polaroids than his attempt at an erotic film (so mediated and aestheticized that it feels silly now). And if it doesn’t, it looks a lot like the portfolio Hiromix submitted for the Canon prize. (Or like the picture Araki took of Hiromix, nude on Polaroid? Not really. The picture was taken shortly after her Canon prize win. She looks very unlike an Araki girl, far less self-assured, not much going on behind those eyes except clear discomfort! The prints from her bra are still under her tits. She looks glum. Maybe this is the right place to note that Araki was by some accounts a piece of shit.) VCRs killed pink films, but it was cellphones that killed porn (and also art photography). Post-gonzo porn, self-shot images, cam girls, Instagram girls, and e-girls are dominant. As Araki said: "teens are going to be interesting." Everyone is now beating off to subReddits devoted to young men and women documenting their private fantasies, and they spend the rest of their time fantasizing about e-girls' Only Fans being leaked.



And against my claim that cellphones killed art photography, I come around to Anrakuji Emi’s 安楽寺えみ, who I only know because I stumbled across a show of her work at a gallery in Shinjuku a year or so ago. (The writing here is weaker because I have no idea what I'm saying, but I feel like folding in her work.) And maybe it’s interesting how far you have to go to still sorta be doing what Araki and Hiromix are doing (which is what? Vary degrees of erotic narcissism? Hiromix and Araki are very different, of course...), but also not be mistaken for a pornographer or a written off as a mere onnanoko shashinka 女の子写真家.

The title of Anrakuji Emi’s 安楽寺えみ 1800 millimètre series is a reference to Masaoka Shiki 正岡子規, who wrote Byosho Rokushaku 病牀六尺 (six 尺 is about 1800 millimeters or just under six feet) shortly before dying of tuberculosis, confined to bed. Anrakuji Emi was herself confined to bed through most of her twenties, suffering from a brain tumor that left her blind in one eye. These are “conceptual self-portraits,” just like Araki and Hiromix’s pictures, but feel like the outside world has been blown up. While Hiromix and Araki are depicting the world, and seem to be swimming connected to the fleshy, Anrakuji Emi feels sealed up inside, like a roll of film clicked into a camera, unspooled to soak up any light that comes for an instant through the aperture. The tyranny of erotic drives means it's impossible to not admire the curve of her hips, but there's also something of the mad ascetic about her, in one picture chopping off her pubic hair with giant scissors not for a lover but because it has grown so long it's become inconvenient, preserving her long hair not out of vanity but because there's no point in cutting it.



Anrakuji Emi feels in some ways like an attempt to reclaim Araki's midcentury postporn bondage Polaroids, and the IPY series does this the most explicitly. It's interesting to me that she never works with other models—always herself! Locked away, still, years after going back out into the world. This is a joke in poor taste, but it's half-serious: I wonder what the result would be if Caribbeancom カリビアンコム gave Anrakuji Emi the budget to make a modern AV film in the tradition of Araki's pink film. I'm picturing her cooing to herself in the mirror, "That's right... Beautiful... Try to look more withered..."

3/13/20

&: Pandemic



I usually work at night. I started writing this at 22:36. ***** is falling asleep beside me, listening to Song Dongye at a very low volume, playing from the speakers of my Macbook. I usually go out around this time, maybe to walk over to the 24-hour supermarket north of Inaricho Station, maybe just to walk around the neighborhood.

There aren’t any bars around here, but sometimes they’ll be drunks staggering home from Ueno or from Iriya Station. One night at the end of February, when people were still nervous about COVID-19, I saw a man staggering up the road that runs under the elevated highway near my apartment. I was coming up behind him. He paused in the middle of the sidewalk, bent at the waist, and vomited. When he was done, he leaned precariously to the left, stumbled, and crashed sideways into the bushes outside of an apartment block entrance. He didn’t notice me. I—and everyone else that came along after me, since it was still there in the morning, dessicated and stinking—stepped around the puddle of ramen, gyoza skins, cabbage, and chuhai.

Goddamn, Tokyo is filthy.

On the low wall behind my building’s small outdoor parking lot, there are small tori silhouettes stenciled in red paint. It has been identified as a hotspot for public urination. I believe it’s probably because of the men that make the pilgrimage from Ueno Park or Senzoku to the nearby Catholic church, which runs a soup kitchen, or to the municipal office that’s right beside it. I’ve never actually seen anyone urinating there, but just down from the post office, not far from that church, men often piss on the sidewalk.

I never had a case of food poisoning while living in Mainland China, but it hits me fairly often here. I’m more careful now. The last time it happened, I couldn’t keep liquids down, and I’d been throwing up since noon, so I dragged myself over to a hospital, thinking they’d give me an IV. It was, like, three in the morning by then. I was suffering. They gave me an X-ray, asked me if I’d swallowed anything unusual, then sent me home, advising me to drink some water.

When I had a cough a couple weeks back, I didn’t bother going to the doctor. I didn’t have a fever, at least. But a friend of mine who had the same cough went, since he just got back from Beijing a week or so before, and he’d had a mild fever that afternoon. The clinic said they weren’t seeing anyone with mild symptoms and told him to contact the ward office to locate an appropriate health care provider. He was given some carbocisteine and dextromethorphan.

Japan has lagged behind everyone but the United States in testing for SARS-CoV-2. The U.S. was at five tests per million people by March 8th, with Japan at sixty-six per million by March 4th (South Korea was at 3,692 per million, Italy at 826, etc.). That gap is closing as the U.S. begins to panic. The lack of testing has kept the numbers artificially low.

The fuzoku businesses haven’t even been shut down yet. Right now, I could get a train across town, check into a love hotel, and have a woman in a nurse’s costume dispatched to give me a ノーパン診療 and 前立腺マッサージ, all for about two hundred USD. One delivery health operation in Kabukicho offers nurse cosplay and a “corona discount” コロナ割. The soaplands in Yoshiwara have updated their websites with descriptions of their disinfectant procedures.

Judging by the cut rate deals, traffic must be down. The lower-end operations that actually allow foreign guests are dealing with the sudden evaporation of business from China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.

The fuzoku industry functions as a sort of social safety net for single mothers, so I know they’re probably scrambling to deal with their kids suddenly being tossed out of school.

All the talk about telecommuting, it’s impossible. Companies aren’t set up for it, and it doesn’t fit with local corporate culture.

Only a sliver of total workers could take advantage of it, anyways. The number of job-for-life employees that go to work everyday with a briefcase isn’t huge. Even if they are office drones, most staff in service industries are classed as non-regular employees, which is down to the labor market reforms of the late 1980s, like the Worker Dispatching Law, the austerity measures and deregulation of the 1990s, proposals by the Japan Federation of Employers’ Association to limit protection for workers, and Koizumi and Abe's amendments to and revision of the Worker Dispatching Law and Labor Standards Act. Across all industries, non-regular workers account for just about half of the country’s entire workforce. (Find "Neoliberalism and Labour Inequality in Japan: Ramifications of Neoliberal Policies in the Japanese Labour Market" by Kyriaki "Sandy" Galaiou for all these statistics and a handy timeline of reforms.) The single mothers staffing the city’s pinsaro and kyabakura are at least taking home enough to keep the lights on and probably pay for childcare, and they have the flexibility to take time off.

It’s not an original thought, but I would agree the numbers are being kept low mostly because of the potential disaster of the Olympics being cancelled. I think it goes beyond simply the financial injection, which is probably bullshit, and it’s not about nationalism, either (someone at the Lowy Institute, for example, writes: “Prime Minister Abe Shinzo was also hoping that the Olympics and subsequent wave of nationalism would give him a political boost in opinion polls”)—it’s about losing the Olympics as force to push forward further reform projects.

I think I said before I was reading Jules Boykoff's book, Celebration Capitalism and the Olympic Games, and he outlines events like the Olympics creating "a state of exception where the normal rules of politics do not apply." That’s been the case in Tokyo:
Looking back on the activities over the past eight years we notice the emergence of the notion of a legacy inherited from Ishihara's hosting bid to the current arrangements. The goal was nothing other than to use the Olympic Games to complete the Ishihara metropolitan government's task to create a Tokyo to outshine other global cities. The hosting committee decided to tax the whole country and Tokyo itself around 318.3 billion yen, which is about 40 percent of the total 734 billion yen needed. ...
… The execution of the project was undertaken by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, the Japanese Government, the Japanese Olympic Committee, and global companies within the framework of the all‐Japan regime and it can be said that the kind of Japanese society envisioned as an Olympic legacy is based mainly on the redistribution of wealth in Tokyo, via the trickle‐down methods of neoliberal economics. ("'Creative Reconstruction' and the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games: How Does the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games Influence Japan's Neoliberal Social Reform?" by Yoshifusa Ichii)
It’s a project to present “Tohoku‐Tokyo‐Japan politically and ideologically as safe, secure, and attractive spaces, which will deliver profit for capital investment.” There’s no better way to knock that off the rails than an epidemic outbreak that sees the Olympics cancelled.

What’s the worst case scenario? I don’t know.

There are still under a thousand people infected, but the government guesses at three thousand, while some have said ten times the official figure, which would be six thousand or so, and it hasn’t peaked yet. With a higher mortality rate for the elderly, you’ve got a nice bump in the death rate. As Klaus K. Yamamoto-Hammering says, “future Japan has become beleaguered by negative figures of death”:
The social atomization consequent on privatization and deregulation already presages that by 2030, one of every three people will be above the age of 65 – retirement age – and that one out of every four people will be living alone. As a veritable reorganization of production and labor that has reinstituted a regime of absolute surplus extraction, neoliberalism has called the limits of the laboring body to the fore. If 1,200,000 people passed away in 2012, the number of deaths in 2030 will have increased to approximately 1,700,000 – 1,800,000. Deaths of the baby-boom generation will have become so frequent that urban centers, like Tokyo, will require incinerators on the scale of convenience stores. And these numbers do not even incorporate the cancer rates promising to unfold as a consequence of the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, where state scientists claim that radiation can be combatted through stress reduction. ("Propriety, Shame, and the State in Post-Fukushima Japan.")
After I showed a friend a patriotic musical tribute to Wuhan’s front line medical staff, doing my part to promote authoritarian communism, she wept and asked: “Why can’t we have that in Japan?” She didn’t mean authoritarian communism, but probably patriotism and definitely the idea of caring about your fellow citizens.

Yamamoto-Hammering translates Nakshita Daiki 中下大樹, a Buddhist monk that works in suicide prevention:
...we are constantly overwhelmed by something, and temporal, psychological and economical “space” is disappearing from society as a whole. Because there is no space, there is no leisure to stop and think about things deeply or to discuss social problems. If there is no space, it is also difficult to be sympathetic with others. As a result, the “self-responsibility doctrine” that you are no good because you are not making enough effort comes into vogue. Working even from morning till evening, one’s pay does not rise as desired, and with the rise of temporary work, the young generation cannot even get married.
...私たちはいつも何かに追われており、社会全体に時間的、精神的、経済的に‘余裕’がなくなってきている。余裕がないから、立ち止まって物事を深く考えたり社会的な問題について議論したりする暇もない。余裕がないと、他者の事を思いやる気持ちも持ちにくい。結果、お前がダメなのは努力が足りないからだという‘自己責任論’が流行する。朝から晩まで働いても給料は思うように上がらず、若い世代は非正規雇用の増加に伴い、結婚も出来ない。
Western liberals agitating for Chinese regime change have asked whether or not the epidemic and the response to it could shake the foundations of the party-state. The answer is no, although it might threaten the futures of some members of the party-state or harm the existence of some apparatuses. In the United States, it might help bring down an incumbent president. But in Japan, no change is on the horizon, no matter how this plays out.

Japan is ahead of the curve in some ways, but it hasn't been swept up in populist politics. It's on the sidelines, watching Bolsonaro, Orbán, Modi, Trump, gilets jaunes, Boris, Bernie, etc. The Japanese are far more committed to the Western model of party politics than the people that they borrowed it from. The dominance of the Liberal Democratic Party comes from catering to diverse constituencies, local politicking, and not so much a charismatic leader or deep identification with the party. There's also no credible alternative. There's no Japanese Orbán or Boris waiting in the wings. I think they're grooming Koizumi Shinjiro now!

There’s no danger now—and there never really was—of a left populist movement rising in Japan. I recommend We Live on Railways by Nakano Hiroshi, ex-president of National Railway Chiba Motive Power Union (Doro-Chiba), which is up online, fully translated, for an overview of the birth and death of the Japanese left. He covers the split between the Japanese Communist Party and Japan Revolutionary Communist League, labor militancy, AMPO, Zengakuren, Chukaku, the Sanrizuka Struggle against Narita, occupying universities, Okinawa, the nationalization of the railway, etc. etc. Radical leftism is done and dusted.

The only news on the left recently is that the JCP met earlier this year to completely revise their political program, but the only significant news out of that was a move to criticize China for "great chauvinism." That might be the first step in signalling a move to link up with Democratic Party for the People, a center-left group that hopes to lead an opposition coalition. Left populism is not on the horizon.

I enjoy the wartime anthems of the right wing sound trucks as much as the next guy, but it’s not looking much more promising for right populists. Spandrell might agree. A “small conspiracy of neotraditional cults,” he says, have the ears of a sympathetic portion of the Liberal Democratic elite, including Abe, but it’s impossible to do much to foster the growth of a far right movement, because the party’s hands are tied by being an American tributary state.

The majority of rightist groups are serving at the behest of the LDP, and don’t do much to challenge their authority. They get tossed some red meat now and then, and they’re happy. It would be better if the emperor they venerate would start being worthy of that veneration—but what can you do?

Out on the fringes, disowned by most of the far right, even, there are people like Sakurai Makoto 桜井誠 the founder of Zaitokukai 在日特権を許さない市民の会, who ran to be governor of Tokyo in 2016. His platform was this:
  • Abolish welfare for foreigners
  • Halve the number of illegal immigrants within Tokyo
  • Create a law banning anti-Japanese hate speech
  • Legalize marijuana and send all tax revenue to the Yamaguchi-Gumi syndicate
  • Enforce the regulation of pachinko
  • Cancel the establishment of new Korean schools in Tokyo
  • Enforce a more compact Tokyo Olympics
Zaitokukai have a less coherent ideology than traditional right groups. Five of the seven are aimed at zainichi Koreans, who Sakurai says are claiming too much welfare, smuggling people into the country, criticizing the country, funneling profits from pachinko to North Korea, and continually opening new schools to teach a younger generation of stateless children how to hate the Japanese.

Perhaps the zainichi Korean is like the Jew for American white nationalists, the figure upon which class antagonism is displaced. The Jews control Hollywood and the banks, but the zainichi Koreans are content with pachinko and perhaps loansharking, although Sakurai doesn’t seem to be aware that the majority of Yamaguchi-gumi members have some Korean or burakumin ancestry. Maybe the better comparison is with American blacks, who the same claims are made about by white nationalists as Zaitokukai makes about the zainichi Koreans.

So, obviously, nobody gives a shit about that, by and large. If you’re under thirty-five, maybe forty, there’s nothing good coming, so it’s hard to care about national pride or taking pachinko away from Koreans.

And what would shake out if there was a significant, long term recession caused by structural weaknesses, a decline in tourism, economic uncertainty, an epidemic, and an Olympic cancellation? More austerity, probably. I don’t know. Nothing good.

My selfish hope is that the Olympics will be cancelled, or that it will proceed without as much fanfare. The excitement on Japanese-language social media over a potential cancellation was refreshing, but everyone else is just indifferent. Nobody cares. It just means crowded trains and more lines.

All the talk about tourism pollution 観光公害 is justified and good. It might even be a good platform for a populist party to seize on!

Especially where I live, it feels like living in a zoo. There's a strange phenomenon where foreign tourists will photograph Japanese children, which has gotten so bad that daycares and kindergartens, when taking kids out on strolls or to the park, carry placards with signs that say in English: NO PHOTOGRAPHS. The nationalists need to tackle that! Build a fake Asakusa and Akihabara somewhere out by Narita, then ship everyone there. Don't let them come into Tokyo. What do they need to come into the city for? To buy souvenirs, get fleeced at a kaiten sushi place staffed by sullen Filipinos, take a few pictures of themselves at sacred religious sites—let them do that somewhere far away from regular citizens. (The Chinese tourists, so frequently attacked by Japanese commentators, are the most benign. They go to department stores and actually buy stuff, usually practice some degree of common sense at temples and shrines, and also smell far better than the Australian backpackers. The Europeans and Americans believe that they can experience some undiscovered, authentic Tokyo, they tramp around with giant backpacks on for some reason, don't even stay in hotels, and their only contribution to the economy is buying knick-knacks. If you ever stay at the Shangri-La or Ritz-Carlton in Tokyo, it's only Chinese, Taiwanese, and South Korean guests, since even well-heeled Europeans and Americans choose to stay in tacky ryokan or hostels, which are usually converted business hotels.)

If Sakurai and the Zaitokukai could get on board with throttling tourism and getting Japan off the sugar rush of foreign money flowing into the service sector, that would be a great start. Kadokawa Daisaku was almost unseated as the mayor of Kyoto recently after widespread anger at tourism pollution. Fukuyama Kazuhito of the JCP (with backing from Reiwa Shinsengumi れいわ新選組) snatched almost 35% of the vote. If anyone below retirement age had voted (turnout was only 40.7% overall, and I haven't seen the breakdown, but I can imagine), the JCP might have stood a chance.

Neither the Olympics, the grand project of revitalizing Japan Inc., and supercharging the real estate market will do much to improve my material conditions. It's more of a pain-in-the-ass. Let Japan become a sleepy backwater again, an economic basket case that's cut itself off from South Korea and China to chain its fortunes to the fading American empire. And it's interesting to note that Sakurai Makoto's platform includes a more compact Olympics. That's something we can all agree on. You know it's not a nationalistic project because nobody here cares about the goddamn Olympics—maybe especially the nationalists. Flooding Tokyo with foreign tourists and showcasing the city as a fine place to stash dirty money from around the world is not a nationalist project. It doesn't help Japanese morale to watch juiced up Chinese athletes run the medal table.

But, whatever happens, Tokyo under an epidemic feels happier than it’s ever felt, to me, at least.

It was blue skies and twentysomething degrees outside today. The tourists are gone, so you can walk around Asakusa without dodging masses of Indonesians and Taiwanese; the elderly German couples hogging the sidewalks on Kappabashi are gone, so you can hang out and look at tableware without being jostled; Uguisudani feels like a seedy sex district again, now that all the hotels are empty; and Ameyoko felt almost quiet today. All the people working from home or set idle by their companies are out walking around, enjoying their time off. The kids are out of school, so the parks are full.

And when I went out for my walk tonight, I actually caught someone pissing right out front of my apartment, right against the phone booth, right after a cop drove by on a bike.

Everything is normal. Nothing will change. We might get to cancel the Olympics.

3/11/20

&: World-without-us

(Lovecraft, Flock of Ba-Hui, Thacker, the window through which we view Chinese literature, mostly just bullshitting)



Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reading and puzzling over Matt Turner’s translation of Lu Xun’s Weeds (which you might know as Wild Grass), trying to write a review, tracking down Turgenev prose poems, re-reading Baudelaire, and also flipping through Yang Hsien-yi and Gladys Yang's Selected Stories of Lu Hsun for the first time in a long time.

I set aside Selected Stories of Lu Hsun after being reminded of a vague commitment to comment on The Flock of Ba-Hui and Other Stories, a collection of translations of Lovecraftian horror by a pseudonymous Chinese author, Oobmab.

I should write a proper review, but this is just wool-gathering, notes from trying to write that proper review, and also folding in notes from what else I was reading, and I’m not going to come to any conclusions. I don’t really know Lovecraft well. That’s the first problem.

The stories in The Flock of Ba-Hui were culled from the Ring of Wonder, a discussion board for fantasy worlds, games, and literature, which has several sections devoted to various elements of the Cthulhu Mythos.

As Arthur Meursault reminds us in the foreword to his co-translation, Lovecraft was the “first open-source programmer." He might go down in history as the creator of a fictional world, rather than as a writer. You can immerse yourself in his world without ever reading a word of his writing. As Houellebecq says of some Lovecraft fans: “They haven’t read him, and haven’t any intention to do so. However, curiously, they long—regardless of the texts—to know more about this individual, and the way in which he constructed his world.”

In the West, Lovecraft has experienced something of a revival in recent years, but I think it’s fair to say that his influence never really waned in East Asia (I mean here: Japan, Taiwan, South Korea in descending order of strength of influence), where Lovecraftian esthetics have infected manga, light novels, and anime.

Until recently, Lovecraft fans in China would have to read most of his work in English. There’s record of a translation of Lovecraft’s "The Music of Erich Zann" appearing in the KMT-established Literary and Art Vanguard in 1948, but not much between then and the early 2000s. In the past few years, the number of Lovecraft releases has ramped up: there was a translation of The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories by Li Heqing 李和庆 and Wu Lianchun 吴连春 from an imprint of People's Literature 人民文学出版社 in 2016, and when I was at the Beijing International Book Fair last year, I saw that the third volume of a Cthulhu Mythos 克苏鲁神话 collection, translated by translated by Yao Xianghui 姚向辉, had been published by Zhejiang Literature and Art Publishing House 浙江文艺出版社.

The collection’s titular story, “The Flock of Ba-Hui,” is related by the colleague of a young archeologist, Zhang Cunmeng, who has gone missing and is presumed dead. Zhang is the perfect Lovecraftian hero, a complete cipher, dedicated only to an intellectual pursuit—in this case, proving the existence of an ancient state called Nanyu, based on his own archeological findings. Using hints from a scroll he has found and references in various quasi-literary histories, he goes looking for traces of the extinct kingdom, which seems to have worshipped a serpent god, called Ba-Hui.

(A fun Lovecraftian touch is pulling in various fictional and real texts—the Kunlun Scriptures, the Classic of Mountains and Seas, the “unfathomable” Seven Cryptical Books of Hsan, the Records of the Great Wilderness...)

Zhang returns from a long absence with a few pottery shards:
However, during my study of the fragment, I was compelled to an emotion I could not name. Distraught, anxious thoughts bubbled to the surface of my mind. I eventually noticed that the pottery shard leached a noisome ichthyoid scent, which I instinctively loathed. Zhang was more than familiar with the smell — he told me the odor had been left by a liquid stored in the large pot, which had spilled its contents all over his body when he stumbled over it. He guessed that it was some kind of fermented alcohol or herbal medicine. I doubted it was either.
Zhang ends up being committed to a mental institution after torching his notes and burning down the house.

Shortly after being confined to the institution, Zhang goes missing, but our narrator recovers one of his scorched notebooks. He gets together some colleagues and they set off to retrace the steps of Zhang Cunmeng, finally locating the cave where he collected the pottery shards.

They enter the cave to find that its walls are painted with frescoes describing fantastic beasts, war, and cannibalism:
Those humanoid beasts would storm the other villages in packs, murdering any living thing they could find. They would cunningly ambush armies trying to cross the steep mountains, breaking up any groups of soldiers too slow to react, or simply pushing them down the mountain. The half-ape giants would lumber over the battlefield after the killings and bring the slain corpses back to the cave. We had known that cannibalism was not exactly unimaginable in the dawn of humanity, yet still we shuddered to think of such organized efforts to make prey of other people. … To these ancients ... the people of other tribes were nothing but a daily food source, like an additional form of game animal. They held no grand ceremony for the slaughter of man, nor did they view human flesh with any precious significance other than as food. A strange fantasy took hold of us, suggesting that these ancestors were not, after all, human; rather, that they were wicked abominations in the form of men.
As they go deeper in the cave, they find murals depicting an even older society, where three classes of degenerated human (or something else)—a sort of giant ape with "human-like features," then a creature that was roughly human but ran on the ground like a dog, and then one that looked like "a bald monkey ... with outgrown forearms and stubby hindlegs"—collaborated with two classes of humans—workers and aristocrats. The murals revealed that the aristocrats were reduced to "livestock specially reared for offering to the gods."

The researchers find a mural depicting how children were divided up in Ancient Nanyu:
The first group of children would become tall and strong and take care of the heavy work. The second group of children would crawl on the ground on their hands and feet, studying hunting with the four-legged humanoid beasts. The third group of children’s eyes and ears would enlarge, and they would climb trees alongside those uncanny ancient midgets. The fourth group of children would become precocious, begin to fornicate, and bear even more ordinary children once they reached a certain age. The fifth and sixth groups of children would become utterly similar to those images of humans we had seen in the previous murals.
The researchers find piles of bones, including some that correspond to what they have seen in the murals:
It was the perfectly preserved skeleton of an unknown species, some large four-legged beast with a humanoid S-shaped spine. Its skull and other fine bones indicated a highly evolved primate or a human, but its prognathic jaws had the sharp incisors and giant canine teeth of a wild animal. We stopped to carry out a closer investi- gation — and realized, with growing revulsion, this was the very same hairless, beast-like human-creature we had seen in the murals. The emergence of this skeleton proved it: every hateful monster we had seen in those murals had once walked this majestic cave. I tremble merely to think of it.
It goes on like that, and I’m not going to ruin the ending.

But after escaping from the cave with Zhang’s notebook, they read his final words: “I have no fear; it told me not to worry. I can finally enter; I am already a child of Ba-Hui.”

And I can turn back to Lu Xun and read, in “A Madman's Diary”:
Brother, probably all primitive people ate a little human flesh to begin with. Later, because their outlook changed, some of them stopped, and because they tried to be good they changed into men, changed into real men. But some are still eating—just like reptiles.
This is the story of a man who comes to the understanding that he lives among cannibals and is in danger of either being eaten, or of becoming a cannibal himself.

It’s tough to go against the political reading of Lu Xun carved into my brain, but the comparison with “The Flock of Ba-Hui” is an invitation to read Lu Xun as “simply” horror, and get into what these stories in common: a “madman” who has seemingly revealed buried, secret history of cannibalism, the line between madness and sanity, men becoming beasts or beasts becoming men, and there is the found journal of the archeologist and the recovered diary of Lu Xun’s Madman… And now, it might be good to explain the ways in which they don’t really work the same, and how the Lovecraftian story is supposed to work.

Eugene Thacker marks out the world-for-us, "the world that we, as human beings, interpret and give meaning to," the world-in-itself, "the world in some inaccessible, already-given state, which would then turn into the world-for-us," and the "spectral and speculative" world-without-us. The world-without-us is not antagonistic and it isn't really against us, because it doesn't account for us at all and cannot be put into human terms.

Quinn Lester, trying to apply that system to Lu Xun (and also Frantz Fanon), proposes the idea of a world-against-us:
The world-against-us would name the collapse of ontological and political violence to the point where the world is experienced not as indifferent, as implied by Thacker’s “without,” but instead as actively hostile. … No longer a philosophical problem of horror, the world-against-us names the nefarious horror of political regimes that actively take on the character of eldritch abominations and so construct death-worlds in their wake. (I copied and pasted that quote and now I can't find it. It's definitely from Quinn Lester.)
And so, setting aside Lu Xun for a moment, doubling back to the world-without-us, Thacker says: "...the 'cosmic horror' in Lovecraftian stories results from the possibility of a logic of life that is absolutely inaccessible to the human, the natural and the earthly."

This is horror that is “ontologically destabilizing,” and John Yu Branscum and Yi Izzy Yu suggest that we can find plenty in zhiguai 志怪 stories.

They suggest we read Ji Yun 纪昀, but Lin Wang suggests this brief story in Youyang Zazu 酉阳杂俎:
楊慎矜兄弟富貴, 常不自安. 每詰朝禮佛像, 默祈冥衛. 或一日, 像前土 榻上聚塵三堆, 如塚狀, 慎矜惡之, 且慮兒戲, 命掃去. 一夕如初, 尋而禍 作.
I’m going to borrow her translation:
After Yang Shenjin and his brothers rose to power and wealth, they often felt restless. Every morning they worshipped the Buddha image and silently prayed to be blessed. One day, three piles of dirt appeared on the bed in front of the image, and they looked like burial mounds. Shenjin found this sight repulsive. He also thought it was a trick, and he ordered the dirt to be swept away. The next morning, the dirt piles appeared the same way as they had before. Shortly afterwards, disaster struck. (This is from a paper called: ("Celebration of the Strange: Youyang Zazu and its Horror Stories.")
And her explanation:
These incidents are not Carroll’s monsters [talking about Noël Carroll's The Philosophy of Horror and the idea of monsters as "abnormal, as disturbances of the natural order"]; rather they are signs of something vague yet powerful—an unforgiving fate that is under the control of a mysterious cosmic force. Throughout the story, the force is not embodied, yet its presence is strongly implied. The force cannot be explained by natural laws, yet its mysterious way of working manifests itself through the connection between the incidents and the central characters’ destinies. One may feel the force but cannot adequately conceptualize it; one may describe it but do not understand it; one may experience it, but cannot control it. The fear of this unknown force is at the center of this horror story. The horror goes beyond what monsters embody...
(I don’t know if Thacker has read Youyang Zazu, but read him on Ugetsu Monogatari 雨月物語, where he identifies some of the same vibes.)

That’s looking very narrowly at how Lovecraftian horror works. There is more going on in “The Flock of Ba-Hui,” and it’s about racial difference.

That is what horrifies the researchers in the cave, all the "humanoid beasts," the degenerated humans, "human-like features" on “half-ape giants…”

Houellebecq on Lovecraft is important here, again. He quotes from one of Lovecraft’s letters, written to Belknap Long after he—Lovecraft—had visited the Lower East Side (“that awful cesspool”), where he goes on at length about the “monstrous and nebulous adumbrations of the pithecanthropoid and amoebal” that “could not by any stretch of the imagination be call'd human.” (These quotes are all from HP Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life.)
This hallucinatory vision is directly at the source of the descriptions of the nightmarish entities which people the Cthulhu cycle. It is racial hatred that provokes in Lovecraft that state of poetic trance where he surpasses himself in the rhythmical and insane beating out of cursed phrases; which illuminates his later major works with a hideous and cataclysmic glare.
...the torturers, servants of unnameable cults, are almost always hybrids, mulattos, mixed-race “of the most base kind”. In Lovecraft’s universe, cruelty is not a refinement of the intellect; it is a bestial impulse, which is associated precisely with the benighted stupidity. As to those courteous, refined individuals, of great delicacy of manner…they furnish the ideal victims.
The racial hybridity is what is horrifying about the creatures that Lovecraft—and Oobmab, also—write about.
Could it be that those strange, hateful images we had seen in the murals, and those detestable, deformed bones scattered across the shaft-bottom, were human? The half-apes, the quadrupeds, and the gibbons — were they really the flesh and blood compatriots of those abominable ancestors? Was there actually a bizarre and occulted technique by which these ancestors transformed their descendants into inhuman deformities in order to maintain their grotesque and terrifying generational traditions?
Maybe we could bring in Lu Xun again. This might be just an interesting diversion...

One connection between Lovecraft and Lu Xun is Ernst Haeckel, the German naturalist that gave us a polygenist racial theory of humans evolving from a common ancestor and then splitting off into various species with Caucasian man, Homo Mediterraneus, the most highly developed.

Lu Xun translated and helped popularize Haeckel, although James Reeve Pusey in Lu Xun and Evolution argues Lu Xun was not particularly supportive of his views on race, especially given the edits and amendments he made to Haeckel’s work. (It would be hard to say that “A Madman’s Diary” is about racial differences, though, even with all the stuff about “true men” wiping out the cannibals. It’s more of a Nietzschean fable, as Pusey argues, with the madman as possible Übermensch—but it’s too late, and he was eating people, too.)
Lovecraft’s rhetoric is once again trying to trace an invisible but nevertheless broad line between civilization and barbarism in terms of race and culture, to advocate instead an aesthetic polygenist view—races seen as separate products with different origins—by separating the real humans from the less civilized dark-skinned people. He knew and believed that apes “preceded us ancestrally” and that “the negro, australoid, neanderthal, rhodesian” were all “human and humanoid types”, with “the negro” representing “a vastly inferior biological variant which must under no circumstances taint our Aryan stock.” (This is from: “Race and War in the Lovecraft Mythos: A Philosophical Reflection” by Cesar Guarde Paz.)
But I’m running on fumes here and fumbling for a conclusion.

The last story in The Flock of Ba-Hui is “The Ancient Tower.” It concerns a man who tracks down an ancient stupa on the Tibetan Plateau and descends into it. There’s a lengthy explanation of how he finds it, including a thing about a thangka depicting ancient religious rites. But so, he eventually descends into it and has a vision:
The varied scenes all changed at different speeds. While some scenes seemed to condense thousands of years into a fast-forwarded movie, others were shown at a normal pace or even near-solidified clips of utter meaninglessness. Within these images, I saw ghostly jungles of innumerable weird plants flourishing under a sky of surging whitewater vapor that then withered and degenerated into a vast and sinister swamp. ... I saw an infinite expanse of lofty mountains transform itself into a vast and gloomy ocean, and the rolling waves of that same ocean recede against the formation of a new land. ... I saw immeasurable numbers of towering incomparable buildings, piled up like children’s building blocks, rising from a dense jungle until they entered the unseen outer limits of the sky. The sky-scraping towers then collapsed, leaving behind corpses of giant stones half-hidden in the yellow desert sands. I saw countless such reincarnations: each city comparable to our bustling modern metropolises — actually much more magnificent than our puny urban dwellings — but none of them escaped their ultimate fate. Each city would eventually collapse into ruin, either to be consumed by the desert or replaced by a new city. It never stopped.
Apart from this time lapse of civilizations rising and falling, there are other images:
These scenes were filled with all types and kinds of monstrosity that had never been included in any fossil record or archaeological book. The creatures slithered, shambled, and flapped in their respective worlds, committing the most unmentionable acts.
This is something purely Lovecraftian—posthumanist despair (or triumphalism) and the rejection of anthropocentric modernism. And Houellebecq again:
The universe is merely a chance arrangement of elementary particles. A transitory image in the midst of chaos. Which will end with the inevitable: The human race will disappear. Other races will appear, and disappear in turn. The heavens are cold and empty, traversed by the faint light of half-dead stars. Which, also, will disappear. Everything disappears. And human actions are just as random and senseless as the movements of elementary particles.
And maybe the conclusion should start with this: since these are fairly fringe, obscure pieces of writing, how or why did this book come to be?

It’s not that Chinese web writing has never been translated. I’m thinking of Shen Haobo 沈浩波, who made a name from poems published online (and who once made a living as a publisher of online lit), and also Murong Xuecun 慕容雪村, whose Leave Me Alone was first posted online—some of that has made it to ink and paper, but most of the translation of web stuff remains online, and it’s mostly in the form of light novels, like Godly Stay-Home Dad 神级奶爸 and the nearly 5000 chapter Martial God Asura 修罗武神.

Those are two extremes, though: material of academic interest on one side and trashy shit on the other side. This is something around the middle: somewhat serious genre fiction. It's sort of like Hao Jingfang 郝景芳 in that regard (Folding Beijing was kind of a web novel, right?)

And but I would also say those choices above fit some definition of essential Chineseness, and the academic interest in Shen Haobo or Murong Xuecun is because of what they can tell us about China, and the interest in those wuxia novels is at least partly because of their essential Chineseness, too (whether the readers are diaspora kids reconnecting with the culture or white bread American geeks that know more about Daoism than I do, just from reading those stories). Despite the Chinese setting of most of the stories in The Flock of Ba-Hui, they don’t fit with that.

It’s not surprising that the two translators of this book would probably proudly call themselves neoreactionaries, maybe Landians—or they are at least broadly sympathetic. The collection hits all the notes that NRxers love, particularly racial difference and the post-human creepout vibe of world-without-us horror. (And there’s nothing interesting left to write about neoreaction and Lovecraft, so the paragraph ends abruptly.)

I liked the book (speaking as someone that does this for a living, the translation was very good!), but that aspect is more interesting to me.

Most of the translators of Chinese fiction into English are left liberals or ******* ********* ** **** ********** who are mostly harsh critics of contemporary Chinese society and culture and politics. That ***** *****, **** *** *** academics stationed at Western universities. ***** *** ******** **** ******** ** ** **** ****, *** ** ******* ******* about North America here: 1) ****, ************ ****** ********* that learned Chinese in the ‘70s and likely traveled to China for the first time before Reform and Opening, 2) a younger generation of literary youth from the coasts, who might have learned Chinese in high school, and despite spending years in China in the mid 2000s ***** ******* **** ***** *************, 3) ***** ** ****** ********** ********** ** *** ****** ****** *** *******, who tend to be the least left-leaning of the three groups but are smart enough to find jobs in tech or whatever, or at least more stable jobs in academia.

With academic publishing mostly controlled by **** ******** ************* **** ***** *** ********* ******* (a flood of Chinese state funding to other outlets skews that somewhat), that means that readers of Chinese fiction in translation are given a unique window through which to gaze on the country: Chinese literature is defined by dissidents and slackers. This is why ** ***, *** ******, and ** ***, as well as many ******* ******** *** ****** ******** are the biggest literary stars out of China, if you go by what gets published and reviewed.

It's also why the most politically relevant fiction being translated right now is science-fiction, all of which is grossly misunderstood by those that read Liu Cixin 刘慈欣 as a fun futurist or something, rather than a ****** ***** *** ***** **** ** *** **** *** ***, or imagine Hao Jingfang to be a social democrat rather than a ******** ******** (her books are good, though). The politics there usually fly under the radar, but that entire enterprise—publishing science-fiction—has mostly been taken out of the hands of the academics and Sinologists, since it has a different audience to fund it. I don't want to speculate about the ideological leanings of the popularizers of Chinese science-fiction, but, from what I know, they're not—with some exceptions—completely in line with the authors that are being translated.

I'm not saying that The Flock of Ba-Hui is simply a political project, some kind of neoreactionary propaganda work—but so what if it is? We need more of that. I was thinking, you know, I picked up the translation of Cao Zhenglu's There 那儿 partly as a political project. It's an attempt to spread my own political beliefs, but also an attempt to knock out the wall around that window which people have to look at Chinese literature through, since New Left fiction has never appeared in translation. (Interestingly, it was chosen by a fringe Marxist group in the States for a cooperative translation project, too, but that never came to anything.) It will remain unfinished, though. Unfortunately, once you are ******** ** ********* ** ****** * ******* *** ******* ***** ****** it becomes harder to make choices like that, or even to carve out the time to work on similar projects. That makes this book even more rare.

2/23/20

&: Copenhagen



I have writer’s block. I’ve run out of Copenhagen. I’m exactly thirty-five thousand eighteen words into a novel.

I found a source for Copenhagen, who ship it from Pennsylvania to a serviced P.O. box address I have rented in Sarasota, then it gets sent by air from Sarasota to Japan, somehow. In the meantime, I bought some Swedish snus, which is flavored with juniper, lavender, and bergamot. Copenhagen Wintergreen tastes like a barn floor and Vicks VapoRub.

The last time I ran out, I sent a half-Japanese girl I knew to pick it up on the base. Her dad was a Marine, and she came back with him, mostly to help chaperone her sister, who was trying out for idol groups and got picked up by one with a lukewarm following in Japan but a rabid fanbase in the Philippines. She brought me a log of Grizzly and didn’t ask to get paid back. Eventually, though, she moved back to San Diego. I have no idea what became of her sister.

The novel is about slaughterhouses. It’s set in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan in the early 2000s. I’m not sure of the date, but the Union Hospital is still standing (but abandoned), you can still get a drink at the Brunswick, but the apartments across from the Snow Hut have already burned down. It’s inspired less by my own time working in slaughterhouses than stories from my friend Lao Liu, who I met when I returned to Moose Jaw for the first time in years, while I was living in my father’s attic with ******, and had managed to publish a few short stories. One of those short stories was based on Lao Liu stabbing an African guy in a fight at the beef plant. That happened before they locked out the workers and he went to work at ****** ***** Pork on South Hill. The previous owners of the pork plant were Taiwanese grifters that ran off with the city’s money, and it only got re-opened with heavy investment from the province.

I got a habit for dip in Regina, I think, when I worked with a bunch of hillbillies in a warehouse. I liked Skoal Cherry, then I switched to Skoal Mint.

Lots of the material for the first half of the novel was already written, whether or not I still had a copy of it. At first, I was simply rearranging it, then trying to drive a few plotlines through it.

I wrote about walking out on the CNR line, out over the creek on a timber bridge, fifty or sixty feet up over the water. I did that, once, when I was too old to be fucking around like that. It’s an interesting view of the city. You can see the National Light and Power building, the refinery tanks beyond, and then green hills. I wrote about the fire at the Gulf Refinery tanks, and about how the dams on the Thunder Creek and Moose Jaw Rivers had formed Wakamow, and how Wakamow had collected a century’s worth of industrial runoff. I wrote about the painted terracotta cameos of Native chiefs up on Fourth Avenue Bridge, how they came not from any local historical figures but from reimaginings of a photo by Joseph K. Dixon, who was brought along by Rodman Wanamaker, and a painting by Winold Reiss, a German immigrant who sold his portraits to the Great Northern Railway for their promotional calendars.

I used to get a tin of Copenhagen and a bottle of Mountain Dew every day at the Bun N’ Bottle on Athabasca, then walk down to the library and sit in one of the carrels and try to write what was essentially the novel I’m working on now. I’d drink the Mountain Dew, then spit into the bottle. You can get Mountain Dew here but good luck finding Cope Wintergreen outside of a BX.

I put the library in the book. Carnie funded it. The character in the novel stands, looking east down Athabasca, with the motel behind him, and reflects on it being one of the few places in the city that looks untouched by time. There’s the stone church there, with its uneven spires, Crescent Park, then the library with its brick and limestone facade. There’s a funeral parlor, over there, too, which is comparatively ancient, having been built sometime around the First World War. It’s a three story brick building put by some local burgher that lost everything in the Depression and sold it off in the ‘30s. The old stables still stand out back, converted to park the hearses in.

I saw that it was up for sale. I could move into a historic funeral parlor for probably eight hundred grand. I could go out and look at the old church every morning, walk over to the library, which, last time I went, had thrown out most of its books (or put them down in the basement?) Maybe that would be a more worthwhile use of my time. I’m not going to find the advertisement right now, but the realtor said something like: “Due to the nature of the business, carpet has been laid down to cut down on noise, but there is hardwood flooring throughout.”