Sunday, February 28, 2010

On the shelf

We here at wheniwasoneandtwenty do not wish to gloat, but we are having a very productive Sunday. The dishes are done, the bed is made, and the laundry is rushing around in bubbly circles. Moreover, the moment we lifted our collective head from the pillow this morning the theme and form of our next poetic project (the one to follow Takaaki) instantly coalesced in our collective mind: it will be modeled on Dante's Inferno. It will be a terza rima view of Hell (the Family Circle) from the point of view of a bewildered child. The tentative title is The Vent. More about that in March.

While we are waiting for the laundry to finish, We thought we would pause to talk a bit about what is currently on the wheniwasoneandtwenty bookshelf, a mysterious place in the minds of many of our readers.

Today we are reading
Botchan, by Natsume Soseki, perhaps our favorite Japanese author. Botchan is a blunt, belligerent, but extremely decent and good-hearted lad from Tokyo. After college, this poor young physicist travels to a small seaside castle town in Shikoku (the smallest island the main Japanese archipelago) to teach mathematics to boys. The essential story which plays out in the life of Botchan (a name which may be translated as 'Young Master') is a microcosm of the internal tensions dividing rapidly modernizing Meiji from ancient Japan. The question posed by the book: how can a society modernize without losing its essential character? How can an individual? And what is lost in the translation? In some ways, the struggle for Botchan's heart reminds us of our own internal struggle, but in reverse: as a boy from fly-over country tries to adapt to the insular intellectual life of New York.

Alas, as anyone knows who has tried to make the evolutionary leap from laughing lemur to learned lounge-lizard, the price of admission to the smart-set is high. However, the rewards for the ambitious courtier can be great. Still, to our minds at least, there seems to be only so much of one's person which one can be expected to repudiate, so much conformity of thought one can adopt without
erasing one's existence entirely.

More than anyone else, it is important to be at home with one's self--not comfortable, we wish to emphasize, but at home: there is a difference. Botchan recognizes that he is a bit thick-headed, but he tries not to be such a dunce. This is what distinguishes him from his preposterously pretentious peers. I like that. One should always have work to do.

Now, back to the laundry.

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