Trompé Setsuled (setsuled) wrote,
Trompé Setsuled

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Arranging the Dreams

Doing my Japanese homework to-day felt like scraping the inside of my skull with a metal spoon. There was a test last night and I think I did well on it, but doing the homework assignment to-day I find I've totally forgotten so much already. I'm constantly having to go back and look things up, and then sometimes the book decides to spring things on me that haven't even been covered yet and are hard to find in my Japanese dictionary because they're conjugated versions of their plain forms that have no resemblance. I guess this stuff is supposed to help you learn by making you look for it, but I really don't think my brain works that way. It just seems to be slowing me down in every way. It feels like I'm doing seventy percent of everything wrong.

I got through the test because I made flash cards and memorised all the vocabulary words. But none of this is making me feel like I'm actually learning the language. Maybe I'm too impatient. We're being taught grammar and things but not in a way that's really helping me assimilate it. I'd like to have a discussion about how the language reflects the fundamental difference in how thoughts are organised by native Japanese speakers. For example, in the previous chapter we learned that "fat" as in describing a fat person is a verb not an adjective in Japanese. Futoteimasu, in the act of gaining weight. It doesn't literally translate to someone gaining weight, it's more like being in a state marked by weight gain. Thin is similar--yaseteimasu, being in a state marked by weight loss.

I watched the first episode of a new, not particularly good, anime series called Black Rock Shooter yesterday and I was excited to find I understood most of what the characters were saying without the aid of the fansubs, I guess because modern colloquial Japanese is very simplistic and also because the main character of this series had a tendency to look at things and just speak a single adjective (aka, red, aoi, blue). Then one of the characters said mitte miru which the fansubber translated as "We will go and look." I know miru means look or see, I know mitte is the conjugated form of miru that makes it the command, "Look." But why would mitte miru mean, "We will go and look"? I know it's customary to omit nouns and pronouns referring to oneself and the person spoken to, but how did mitte miru come to mean that?

But again, most of what characters were saying in the episode I was able to understand. The night before, I'd watched Kurosawa's adaptation of The Lower Depths again, in which I'd understood almost nothing.

But gods what an amazing film. I've never read the Maxim Gorky play it's based on--I hear Kurosawa adapted it rather faithfully but in any case his movie is such a brilliant portrait of the importance of abstract thought to the human mind. I think before I thought it may have been about how delusion is essential to the impoverished, but now I think it's more about how poverty makes fragile and naked the delusions fundamental to the human experience. The compulsion to arrange perceptions in a way that satisfies one's needs.

The tinker who prides himself on his work ethic as the only one who spends his day working among the other denizens of the flophouse. He points to his sick wife as the only thing holding him back from a successful career, but when she dies he sells his tools to pay for her funeral and for this reason he complains that he still can't find the success he deserves.

The samurai who may or may not have actually been a samurai, the prostitute who talks about the john who'd told her of the essentially noble nature he saw in her. As the pilgrim points out, it's important to listen to her story not because it may be true but because it's important to her to tell the story. The pilgrim may or may not actually be a holy man, but Bokuzen Hidari's delivery when he tells the tinker's wife about the afterlife is so beautiful, one doesn't care whether he's the real thing. I honestly wouldn't mind having a con man like that by my deathbed.

But all dreams, all carefully assembled perceptions of reality, are dismantled by desperate circumstances in The Lower Depths. To put it in Nietzsche's terms, The Lower Depths is about the failure of the Apollonian. I was reminded of this rather beautiful bit from The Birth of Tragedy;

Thus the Apollonian tears us out of the Dionysian universality and lets us find delight in individuals; it attaches our pity to them, and by means of them it satisfies our sense of beauty which longs for great and sublime forms; it presents images of life to us, and incites us to comprehend in thought the core of life they contain. With the immense impact of the image, the concept, the ethical teaching, and the sympathetic emotion, the Apollonian tears man from his orgiastic self-annihilation and blinds him to the universality of the Dionysian process, deluding him into the belief that he is seeing a single image of the world (Tristan and Isolde, for instance), and that, through music, he is merely supposed to see it still better and more profoundly. What can the healing magic of Apollo not accomplish when it can even create the illusion that the Dionysian is really in the service of the Apollonian and capable of enhancing its effects--as if music were essentially the art of presenting an Apollonian content?
Tags: akira kurosawa, anime, delusion, japanese, language, movies, nietzsche, people, the lower depths, thought
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