16.6.2019 Shibuya – Yoyogi, Yoyogi – Akasaka & back

And the sun shone. Setting out at 9 into the Shibuya sunshine I walked from that place down the hill into a zone of great Sunday migrations, on observing their patterns, this day being the day of meetups and malltimes. And I found myself at the famous crossroads; because I had been dreaming of it, I sat and watched the washes of people sashay first one way, then the other, like untethered fronds or minnow schools. There was a type of dress for every sort, not a patchwork of styles, but characters, complexly signifying, with this brand top or notbrand, and these shoes, platformed, or flat, and these accessories, to bring out the total picture, express the whole, with this hairstyle and no other will do.

And I walked off in what I expected might be the wrong direction, ending up deep in Aoyama, then branching down Omote-Sando, the great boulevard of high end. You will notice a market with a protest outside the United Nations University. I talked to a stallholder about his lavender, not having seen such fine stuff since Provencal planes. His father had begun growing it, in Japan—he gestured in a southerly direction—50 years ago, and extracting the exquisite oils, one from morning plants for revivifying purposes, one from evening effluvia for their sedative and calming properties.

And deep in Yoyogi ‘forest’ the Meiji shrine, outdone, for queues, by a public demonstration of traditional sweetmaking. And also the iris gardens—for which I captured the sentiment, the legend, and so didn’t need to pay the entryfee.

On into the depths, through the shrine, much of it closed for the autumn reveal: a centenary restoration. Sideways in the welcome green, leaving the wide way, going ‘Off Limits’ where there was a rice paddy, experiment, of some sort, and horse trail. Then on the outside of the park, forest, the stables: here ponies were walked in desultory circles bearing glum children, who if not glum, were intent on internalising the experience.

On I went, to find the entry to Olympic Youth Centre, set to be accommodation for the next several days, which I found, in shades of pink, pinking up from the greenery beside Yoyogi, an early 80s architecture. … But although I was leery of it, now here I am ensconced in it, having followed the circular corridor, which freakily reminded me of one of those labyrinthine ones veering into weird in Dance Dance Dance by Haruki Murakami—perhaps it would continue and spiral and lead me deeper losing its pink like a day does into a dark forest where are entities older than the 80s. But it’s a friendly room, a single little bed, and a bathroom with a bath, a fridge, a veto on alcoholic beverages and food in rooms, one of which I have already broken, and a miniature element and pot for hot water, that I have already used to brew some coffee. I have also handwashed some clothes, against which there must be a rule as well.

But I only got in because I left, was told no checkin before 3pm and then checkin all night long; so I decided to preempt or rehearse the journey I will be making on the 19th when J. arrives to Hotel Felice in Akasaka.

What a joy, the Chiyoda line: fast and uncrowded, debouching into the classy but not uptight part of town where we will be; and here, the best part, I had lunch, very near Hotel Felice—happiness of Omekase, 3 x 3 different fish sashimi-ed; and a SuperDry Asahi. The couple beside me were served giant whelks on a tabletop grill; another couple lit up cigarettes. It was like some time in the past when you could. A nice grunge to the place, which had attracted me in by playing Marisa Monte. I stayed and ooshi-ed and then—see the snap of the thousands of queuing young women? I don’t know what for, maybe some boyband? A show or something with an especial appeal?

Then I Chiyoda Lined back to Yoyogi-Koen, back to the still pink monster. I waited and waited. Until she arrived, the one who kept the keys for the Deleuze|Guattari Camp goes; and she greeted me effusively, and on her second arms thrown wide gesture I capitulated with an oddly slippery embrace, the sort you give ones with thin bones. She knew Arendt but not Deleuze or Guattari and it stands to reason: she is very young. She is not even a student, but admin, kooky admin, doing things decidedly unJapanese like hugging and laughing uproariously at the Mystery of it all—i.e. what is supposed to happen; why noone else had turned up; when they might; but she knew of R. and it seems despite reports there is not to be, at this Youth Hostel, a division of the genders on different floors: we are all on the same spiral.

Nobody showed. I trolled up and down the consideration of eating places, over the pedestrian bridge, over the rail line, from the pink (& pale blue) monstrosity of National Olympics Memorial Youth Centre—an 80s remembered youth—, escaping it, but then held in thrall, that is in suspended decision, for the eating place for one. For it is not easy.

Up the street, down the street. English menu. None. Shall I risk it. Walking in, a machine ordering system: apart from matching characters, no clue as to what is ordered, money put in the slot. Difficult. Walking out again. At last, a random walk-in to a family-run joint, with a Chinese menu. And owl figurines on the bar. I walked back and forth through the menu too, finally 404, fried rice cake. So chewy and savory, perfectly dosed with salt and umi.

Looks like a full moon… which my fried rice cake clearly resembled.

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15 June 2019 – Waiheke to Shibuya

I am looking out up at one of the towers of Shibuya. The tatami is fresh and green. It’s about a 6 tatami room—about because it’s cut on a diagonal at one corner, this room in a 120 year-old ryokhan. The doors are low onto the corridor and the narrow stairwell, as well into the private bath room, while the dimensions expand as one enters the sleeping room, leaving one’s slippers on the polished wood steps up to it.

The smell of tatami—ah, but the exterior sliding door is open and I’m getting regular whiffs of something that smells like jet fuel. It’s not the sake.

Less than a block away an express-way cuts through the builtup. A series in fact. As one dives underground, another rises above. But some pact has been made with the presiding genii loci and it is peaceful. That’s not the sake either.

Fukudaya Hotel. I asked for directions in three different Family Marts. The first, after I left Shibuya Station, off the Yamanote Line, by the South exit, confirmed that I had correctly interpreted the map by compass bearings: leaving by South, left then to South East. The second misled me entirely, but I had also by that time asked two strangers. The first, a young man smoking a cigarette, drinking from a narrow can, holding a cheap umbrella, like me, recognised the square sign on my map as marking a Family Mart. The second, a young woman, had a phone and looked up the directions. These sent me on a loop past the Family Mart—the site of my second consultation.

By the third Family Mart I had become less sure I was at all in the right vicinity. I went down the road. I came back up the road, and hearing English being spoken, but knowing being understood was the least of my worries, since the young woman who had consulted her cellphone understood where I wanted to go, I held up my by now creased and soggy map to a couple sharing a black umbrella.

She too looked it up on her phone. He turned it sideways, rotated it, reversed the rotation and declared that they would go with me. Were they happy with that? Was she happy with that?

Yes. He had worked in Australia for a year, and in Alice Springs, as a tour guide. I asked if he had lost any Japanese, wondering if he would say if he had.

No. He had also spent 6 months in Papua New Guinea. Had he lost..

His girlfriend was from the Philippines. He had the pride of guy who has done stuff, was proud also of the girl on his arm.

Crossing a road, he said, I used to do Air BnB. But then they changed the law… He pointed down a road. That’s where I live, he said.

Central Shibuya. Lucky, I said.

We came to Fukudaya Hotel—and it was still attended by the concierge who had me read the information sheet and when I asked about the shoeboxes it mentioned, showed me where they were, said I could take slippers. These were shoe-sized wooden lockers, some with leather slippers above them on a narrow shelf.

I transferred my shoes to the shoebox and swapped the white leather shoes marked with a black pen ‘toilet’ on the shelf above it for the dark tan ones without markings. Toilet slippers date from the times when getting to the loo out back would have meant dirtying one’s indoor slippers.

I was then shown the code to get in should I be out past the lockup time of 11.30pm. Perhaps I would have been out late to one of the ‘live gallery show’ joints.

I went out. Picked the Seven Eleven for the better snack—which was all I really wanted—and sake place and, having had my salmon rice seaweed pickle dish warmed for me, I returned to my fresh tatami, opened the terrace slider to the occasional jetfume, and resumed my wearing of the yukata provided for me and my friend. The booking form didn’t seem to want one person for one room. It seemed to prefer two.

The concierge had been perturbed I was one. I understand why. In the room, when he showed me it, were nicely arranged two single futons side by side. But he had lightened at the thought I might be out beyond the 11.30 limit to his attendance at the desk and have to enter the code he conceded to give to me, handwritten, on a small piece of card. There was a sort of complicity in the way he conveyed this information; he was probably disappointed when I came back early.

It has happened many times in Nihon: the world ended last night with a CLANG, as if a giant brass tank had been hit by a pendulum hammer high above the city.

Awoken I listened for and felt out for the shock waves and sirens or wind of matter that would ensue—the screaming concrete metal and organic matter that would tear me away… But there was a silence. Then, in the distance what might have been thunder, some flashes of lightning, and nothing.

A bird chup chups in the dawn. Now later, a repetitive whistle—sounds plaintive and the roar of the expressway restored by Sunday.

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what is theatre?

I liked Hofesh Shechter’s Grand Finale. I liked, but not so much, Ulster American, by playwright David Ireland, presented by the Traverse Theatre Company, est. 1963. A part of the few thoughts I have now the energy to jot down concerns the institutional setting, including the timer setting of these works in their performance disciplines–I want to say respective, but what I have to say is really irrespective of discipline but in respect to its institution. (I mean, the relation the discipline acts to form, on which the institution of the dance subject and on which the institution of the theatre subject relies, with an outside.) It is to do with what name lasts.

Shechter’s tribe moved a recollection of dance in 1972, when the tribal musical Hair came to Wellington. The bodies are lithe long and abandon themselves to dancing. I like dancing like this. But then brackets of the most disciplined and synchronised group work take place. It is random, arm throwing, exuberant–a kind of excess anyway–and suddenly everybody falls on the beat. Pops on the beat. Jigs break out. Parodies of dance. I realised we are dancing for our lives. But our lives are threatened by lightweight simulations of the monolithic stones at the Jewish memorial, Berlin. These are bureaucratic and managerial walls to break our heads against as well as Wailing Walls. Or otherwise bullet shot-up walls. In other words they are scenic devices, moving scenery, on trucks.

Our lives are not threatened by these simulations, but the dancers are onstage. They are hemmed in, and there is the brilliant choreography of Tom Visser’s lighting, a designer for whom the deployment and pattern of sources of light is as important in this production as the way it strikes the body, bodies, floor, monoliths, impression made on the audience or not made–a lighting philosophy in which I see my own and the faults in my own.

I feel most deeply the moments when the energy is highest and deepest and most useless and in recognition and in despite of the kind of machine the social has become.

The whole first half of the Grand Finale is build, Shechter liking his music as much as if not more than his dance world. The acoustic world refers to Jewish experience. But then there are elements from Maori Haka, it seems, from war dance, or sport dancing–rugby. No distance comes in to separate it out in its culturally specific reference, either on the Jewish line of descent or the Maori. Perhaps it’s not Maori. It looks like it. And it is clearly martial in theme. The music builds–the staccato rhythm of k-chick gunstock being set, loaded, in the set-up.

So there is a loading of symbolism. But the dancers seem to dance for themselves even when playing corpses, so many dead bodies, but the most striking those initial four women, their limbs kicked out and propelled by the movement of their partners, into unbelievable unison of movement–unbelievable for one half of the sum total of bodies having no agency in the movement.

The second half I wanted to edit: because of a scene set upstage, with a live band of acoustic musicians playing klezmer-like music, and the ten dancers the band’s audience. Yet the music is pumping out full volume from the speaker arrays. It should have all been far upstage, distant, the sound faint, emitted only by the instruments, without amplification, or even smaller, less, on the verge of disappearing.

What a loss there is in the loss of Douglas Wright! Subtleties and dynamics washed out in the techno-rave reading of Gavin Bryars’s Sinking of the Titanic, to which the dress suits and lifejacket, was it, of the live band seemed to refer.

People stood and clapped. A standing ovation. I liked the display of energy. But the dance didn’t so much run out of material or so repeat material or allow it to return and vary as erect a world of art in its own image. Even the heteronormativity and harkening back to limb-throwing-out dance could be put down to this, and the symbols showing as well: that it was young, ok, but that it did not open onto anything but what it contained in the way of relations inside itself already. Sealed off, in dance as it is. Nothing invented. The discovery of the movement of these long lithe corpses so generalised within the scope of the whole as to lose all the elements with which they might be referred outside the work.

The theatre piece Ulster American is even more curiously contained in this regard. (I recall some notes I made about the Christchurch shooting: that the Muslim congregations are as ungeneralisable–to the city, the nation–as its perpetrator is unindividualisable–to the lone crazy, seeing as how he represents, as a terrorist, a political cause or interest, that of the extreme Right Wing, from the support of which our own political representatives are chary about cutting themselves off entirely.)

It concerns a script of honesty and integrity and one that says and does what theatre must say and do now and for all time: this script and the nature of its (theatrical) truth is, inside the work, fought over and contested by the American ego, the directorial ego, the ego of another–that is the ego of the writer, a woman. A nice way to get around the master text’s authorship.

Like Grand Finale its appeal is reflecting on–like the critics it holds up inside itself to all the old lines of fire–theatredance and rather than presenting it being seen to represent it.

(The link to the previous thought in parenthesis reposes in the playing out of a de- or anti-particularisation, generalisation, of artistic statement at the same time as an individualisation of artistic intent is set forth too: more obvious in Ulster American since the script’s very particular reference to Northern Ireland, Britishness, Fenianism, Sectarianism, and the Protestant-Catholic, British-Irish divide, is that contested by the egos as the one to generalise to universal human experience.)

It has to offer many words.

I liked seeing it at a matinee with a group in the audience who were sight-impaired. I took the cue and shut my eyes, partly because I was sick of the sight of the set by Becky Minto and the costumes, and the mugging to the audience of Robert Jack and the general state of affairs where the performer waits for his performance or hers to take affect, for the audience to laugh or take a sharp inbreath, or do the things, the dance of theatre. A dance with the audience, perhaps. But here the stimulus-response. While dealing, need it be said, with important and timely contemporary issues. But while dealing with them, by way of the script inside the play, in general.

That is: the discussion of the script around which the action revolves includes head-nodding eye-winking to the notion that theatre ought to be about the particular to reach a general, no, not consensus, as here, but application. A relevance. (But application and relevance are as soiled concepts today as signification. And the nod and wink is also to this fact, a matter of metaphysical, not desire, but irony.)

The world explored by Ulster American is theatre. Just as the world assumed by Grand Finale is dance. And, the delight of the audience at the former is more saddening than that at the latter. The words make a difference.

(I noticed recently several words that have dropped from common use: propaganda and didactic. They have become so common as not to need to be named. )

But there is something else here too. Not just ecce dance ecce theatre. Ecce festival. Not just the egoism of one form against that of another.

Both productions are energised by a kind of cynicism. It is what I find most moving in Grand Finale–the irrecuperable excess, in a kind of exchange beyond symbolic exchange, money, death, sex, and so on, with the sacred. Giving without any chance of return. In Ulster American, it is sheer exchange: language tokens for others. Performances attuned to the expectations, and recognising in them their reasons as well as their conditions, of the audience. A managerial complement. No.

More than this. Neither work wanted to give thought to what is outside it.

What is outside the timely contemporary issues of fake news and honesty and identity and rape culture and accelerated and exaggerated violence of social experience of Ulster American is not another point of view. And it is not from another point of view that it can be asserted. What is outside of these bodies hurtling through the scenography of Grand Finale, if not against its soft-prop moveable monoliths, however timely and contemporary its allusions to the musical traditions Islam and Israel share, and the guns and the bodies, and the status of these bodies as bodies in their muted migrant costumes, is not the actual events of these past two weeks, not an actual and indubitable outside.

It is the thought which specifies itself in its inside–as a point of view–by passing by way of the outside. It leaves theatre behind. It leaves dance behind.

Yet one ought to hesitate over the word ‘thought’ since it has been so denied and paraded before others to be the desirable term of exchange–that is, in the old days. Nobody should give it a single moment’s consideration in the era of outsourcing informational intelligence, these days. What good will that get you? No.

Let’s not talk about thought, and constrain ourselves to what this does and and what that does. Television does not seek consensus; it is driven by consensus. And advertising. Online content provision puts consensus, even a step before its proven drivenness, and so circles back to what is almost poetry. Just as loss-making companies can launch with untenable values on the financial market.

Theatre, what is that? And if it were to do something, what would it be?

In its marketplace, in the marketplace that stands in its stead, yes, festivalisation, as a way to make it, personal survival and the bottomline, always. Hidingplaces, like academic ones, sure. Covering its loss of institutional status–where it talks to power at the level of power–a way of talking, that’s all. A way of talking that bears no relation to the way it talks and represents itself to the conditions and powers which make it possible. Ok, but this growing identification with the managerial strata that want to kill it, not out of any ill will, but because it is irrelevant, only encloses it further in terms which it cannot articulate. For having all of language, it lacks a language.


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“The problem is not to create a better story, but to make it sufficiently performative to make it build its own reality.” – Wim Nusselder

the title, citing Wim Nusselder, is from comments on the video at Kate Raworth’s website.

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end of dreaming

I don’t want to be the one who lives here
     but the alien
I want to visit your beautiful country

I don’t want to speak this tongue
     but the alien
I want to hear your beautiful language

I don’t want to share the words used
     to be the one who understands
     but the alien

I don’t want to be able to explain
     who we are
     what is said
     how we do things here

I don’t want to be the one who asks what you think
     of our beautiful country
     but the alien
I want to understand nothing but your laughter

I don’t want to be the one who knows
     who we are
     and who they are
     but the alien

I don’t want to be the one who knows
     what we are
     and what they are

I don’t want to give them the words
     to take out the words they use
     to share the words in their mouths

I want to share in your beautiful laughter
     and to understand in your smiles
     your good will to strangers

I don’t want to be the one with dreams of leaving
     anymore
     but the alien

I don’t want to be the one who hears
     from your beautiful mouth
     you are leaving
     but the alien
who leaves who just leaves who lies down
     and leaves

I don’t want to feel this grief on anyone’s behalf
I don’t want to feel this shame on anyone’s behalf

but I want this grief
but I want this shame

     and the shame of grief
     and the shame of shame

 

 

[written on the occasion of the shooting

Christchurch 15 March 2019]

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Tamsin Shaw on “The New Military-Industrial Complex of Big Data Psy-Ops”

Reading Shaw’s article in the New York Review of Books I reach a point where the question seems to be begged. This is not the same as raising questions.

Shaw raises questions around the ethics of dual-use research: research that has a potential military application as well as an application in civil society. She cites Martin Seligman’s research into “learned helplessness”, electrocuting dogs into a state of obliviousness to repeated shocks, and the psychological theories of depression and resilience that came from it. She cites the positive psychology movement Seligman founded and its research into love–and resilience, and other positive personality traits. She cites the turn funding took, under Seligman’s initiative, after 11 September 2001, to diversity research as a counter to the tendency to contract and magnify diverse viewpoints into the single worldview of extremism. She cites the boost given this strain of research, ostensibly concerned with human well-being, by the datasets available from social media–the Big Data enabled by machine surveillance.

Shaw also cites the net benefit of research with a potential for and with real high human cost–hence net in cost-benefit terms, that undertaken into tumours and the effects on the human body of radioactivity in military weapons, with its payoff in cancer treatments. The same sort of net benefit can be seen from research into diseases caused by military-grade bio-agents, in the manufacture of weaponised viruses, which she cites.

Citing these reversals and their reversals, from resilience under psychological torture, to resilience as a personal survival technique, from biological weapons to techniques of resisting infectious disease, from love technique, to love technique, and back, Shaw shows there is an assumption at work about the capacity of humans for rational thought: “a great deal of contemporary behavioral science aims to exploit our irrationalities rather than overcome them.” The dual-use research concerned with technologies of behavioural modification, persuasion, influence or nudging, assumes a constituency available to be so directed, controlled, even to their benefit, and manipulated. It assumes, for our erstwhile democracies, a nonrational constituency–the community of those who do not know better; the community of those who do not know at all.

The question-begging comes down to this notion of the individual rational agent, the responsible voter, as a presumption of the democratic setup and as being presupposed by the positive ethical field of political democracy. (It need not be pointed out that economics, as the science, pseudoscience, developed under the auspices of such as the Chicago School, support the assumption of nonrational choice, but is that economics then anti-democratic?)

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Shoshana Zuboff defines:

Sur-veil-lance Cap-i-tal-ism, n.

  1. A new economic order that claims human experience as free raw material for hidden commercial practices of extraction, prediction, and sales; 2. A parasitic economic logic in which the production of goods and services is subordinated to a new global architecture of behavioral modification; 3. A rogue mutation of capitalism marked by concentrations of wealth, knowledge, and power unprecedented in human history; 4. The foundational framework of a surveillance economy; 5. As significant a threat to human nature in the twenty-first century as industrial capitalism was to the natural world in the nineteenth and twentieth; 6. The origin of a new instrumentarian power that asserts dominance over society and presents startling challenges to market democracy; 7. A movement that aims to impose a new collective order based on total certainty; 8. An expropriation of critical human rights that is best understood as a coup from above: an overthrow of the people’s sovereignty.

see also: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/jan/20/shoshana-zuboff-age-of-surveillance-capitalism-google-facebook

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highly unlikely

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Valeria Luiselli writes in La Calle, Alex Webb’s book of photos of Mexico

Walking down the rumbling hot concrete of that fucked-up and noisy and utterly dirty triangular block in Tacubaya, it was sometimes comforting to think that the silent witch doctors’ cave was oblivious to the future respectful whispers inside the seventeenth-century shrine, and that the shrine knew nothing of the intrigues that must have developed behind the doors of that early Porfirian mansion, and that the mansion ignored the cum-cries and sobs of the Cine Hipodromo’s first sound films and the foreign words simultaneously spoken or written down by the residents of the Ermita, who in turn never even suspected my weary, pregnant footsteps trudging along the sidewalk, eager to arrive back home.

— copyright Alex Webb

…I am currently writing about writing–and theatre, always theatre–as belonging to the problematic field of the object, and outside, while theatre belongs to that of of the subject, and inside. The paragraph above appealed to me by being not only a writing on the outside but also one that addresses writing’s exteriority.

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