I have just read a wonderful article, in which a woman tells of her upbringing, and mingles it with an account of a theatre director. She lived the first twelve years of her life in the US, and then her parents took her home to Japan, where she was educated in Japanese and English, with the aim of being fully at home in both cultures, but loyal to Japan. Her title Let them misunderstand is a quote from Yukio Ninagawa, who directed Shakespeare in Japanese.
“The British will often say something like, ‘Oh, we sense pathos in the falling petals of your cherry blossom trees,’ and I would think: that has nothing to do with it. But I’ve come to say, eh, let them think that. Let them misunderstand.”
Well, if you see change as loss, you will see pathos- beautiful blossom falls. If you see change as progress, or as cyclical, you won’t. Before the Hokusai exhibition, I learned I should read his pictures right to left, rather than left to right as I habitually did with European landscape-oriented paintings. It changes the way you see them.
Speaking to this Japanese woman, often, “a white man starts offering their humble, lengthy thoughts on Kurosawa” rather than asking to hear her expertise. Whole articles could be written around such experiences, but here it is just one sentence, which introduces Ninagawa. There are so many points like that in Moeko Fujii’s article- alien to me, beautifully expressed, making me stop and savour them.
I will not subscribe to The Point magazine because the other two free articles I read, though interesting enough, did not come close. Rather, I read the New York Times and The Guardian. Yesterday, Nicholas Kristof wrote of Covid in America, and Andrew Rawnsley wrote of the US/UK relationship. Both are good articles, bringing details together, and both writers know things I hadn’t: in October 2019 Joe Biden tweeted, “We are not prepared for a pandemic”. Rawnsley writes of an international conference of foreign policy experts. But what I take away from them adds little to what I knew or thought before- the US Covid response was disastrous, Johnson is ideologically offensive to and ridiculously unprepared for a Biden presidency, though Kristof also quotes a facebook shared conspiracy theory that would, if believed, make Trump’s supporters more resolute to work for him.
I am worried for the world about 3 November.
Medics for social security might say my concentration was fine, because I could read Rawnsley’s, and even Fujii’s, article through. I am concerned, though, that I spend much of my time scrolling facebook, and I don’t think reading Guardian or NYT op-eds is much better for me. The NYT has a wider political range, but both, in general, go into detail on things I know already. I have, though I don’t live there, read many Covid in America articles, where the mistakes are similar to those here.
I feel the articles raise in me the same narrow range of feelings every time- concern, anger, irritation, contempt. They distance me from my own experience. Events in the wider world affect me, but I do not learn of them, particularly, from any one article. There is a much wider range of emotion in me, much of which I have not named. I could read Stalingrad, and resonate with a great deal more human experience, but do not: instead, I keep returning to a few websites.
Rawnsley’s contempt for the Prime Minister shows through, and encourages my own. It is a paradox: contempt makes one turn away, and pay less attention, but here I return again and again, to contempt for the same con-man vandal. It does not increase my power. It may enervate me further- “The Struggle Naught Availeth!” I think, miserably.
Feeling those conventional feelings in tune with articles is addictive. So is commenting- the more contempt for the government in a Guardian comment, the more upvotes it gets, the more attention.
I want to know why people think what they think, and Anne Applebaum’s article gives another piece of the puzzle. Allegations don’t have to make sense, they just have to be what the audience wants to believe. That would mean the utterly amoral liar has an advantage over the truth-teller (or at least, the normal politician who stretches the truth sometimes) and I hope that is not true.
Even reading The Guardian, I can take away a misleading impression. Why are so few rapes successfully prosecuted? Guardian articles had a brilliant example of phrasemaking, the “digital stripsearch”, where the police take the victim’s phone, download its contents, and disclose them to the defence. Who could bear that? Yet when I spread this falsehood on facebook, quoting the memorable phrase and falsely explaining it, a barrister friend said it was far more nuanced, of what the police would record and the prosecution disclose. The phrasemaking gave me a false impression, and heightened my resentment, and probably the definiteness of my false opinion.
When I tried to tell the story to call people to calm and an appreciation of nuance, it was taken the other way. The phrase “digital stripsearch” stuck in people’s heads, and they had the false view I had sought to show was so easily taken, and so wrong.
Someone spoke appreciation of me, and I was overjoyed: literally, unable to control my expression of delight. I want to control it, of course. Someone else found me on a zoom group, and asked if she could stay at my house. I don’t believe her family would kill her if she returned to Italy. I have met fantasists and think she is one. She has no money and no way of getting any, she said, and indeed she may not be able to claim benefits.
To live normally in this society, one sticks with that narrow range of feeling, and to conventional feeling, which society deems appropriate in any particular situation. That is unbearable to me. I want to feel my own feelings, name them, know them, use them as a guide to what is going on around me.