8:40, Cambodia. From Jean Jacques Rousseau to the Khmer Rouge: coincidence, or the sense of history?
In Apocalypse Now, Brando said a few definitive and incommunicable sentences: “Horror has a face and a name... you must make a friend of horror.” To cast out the horror that has a name and a face you must give it another name and another face. Japanese horror movies have the cunning beauty of certain corpses. Sometimes one is stunned by so much cruelty. One seeks its sources in the Asian peoples long familiarity with suffering, that requires that even pain be ornate. And then comes the reward: the monsters are laid out, Natsume Masako arises; absolute beauty also has a name and a face.
But the more you watch Japanese television... the more you feel it's watching you. Even television newscast bears witness to the fact that the magical function of the eye is at the center of all things. It's election time: the winning candidates black out the empty eye of Daruma—the spirit of luck—while losing candidates—sad but dignified—carry off their one-eyed Daruma.
The images most difficult to figure out are those of Europe. I watched the pictures of a film whose soundtrack will be added later. It took me six months for Poland.
Meanwhile, I have no difficulty with local earthquakes. But I must say that last night's quake helped me greatly to grasp a problem.
Poetry is born of insecurity: wandering Jews, quaking Japanese; by living on a rug that jesting nature is ever ready to pull out from under them they've got into the habit of moving about in a world of appearances: fragile, fleeting, revocable, of trains that fly from planet to planet, of samurai fighting in an immutable past. That's called 'the impermanence of things.'
I did it all. All the way to the evening shows for adults—so called. The same hypocrisy as in the comic strips, but it's a coded hypocrisy. Censorship is not the mutilation of the show, it is the show. The code is the message. It points to the absolute by hiding it. That's what religions have always done.
That year, a new face appeared among the great ones that blazon the streets of Tokyo: the Pope's. Treasures that had never left the Vatican were shown on the seventh floor of the Sogo department store.
He wrote me: curiosity of course, and the glimmer of industrial espionage in the eye—I imagine them bringing out within two years time a more efficient and less expensive version of Catholicism—but there's also the fascination associated with the sacred, even when it's someone else's.
So when will the third floor of Macy's harbor an exhibition of Japanese sacred signs such as can be seen at Josen-kai on the island of Hokkaido? At first one smiles at this place which combines a museum, a chapel, and a sex shop. As always in Japan, one admires the fact that the walls between the realms are so thin that one can in the same breath contemplate a statue, buy an inflatable doll, and give the goddess of fertility the small offering that always accompanies her displays. Displays whose frankness would make the stratagems of the television incomprehensible, if it did not at the same time say that a sex is visible only on condition of being severed from a body.
One would like to believe in a world before the fall: inaccessible to the complications of a Puritanism whose phony shadow has been imposed on it by American occupation. Where people who gather laughing around the votive fountain, the woman who touches it with a friendly gesture, share in the same cosmic innocence.
The second part of the museum—with its couples of stuffed animals—would then be the earthly paradise as we have always dreamed it. Not so sure... animal innocence may be a trick for getting around censorship, but perhaps also the mirror of an impossible reconciliation. And even without original sin this earthly paradise may be a paradise lost. In the glossy splendour of the gentle animals of Josen-kai I read the fundamental rift of Japanese society, the rift that separates men from women. In life it seems to show itself in two ways only: violent slaughter, or a discreet melancholy—resembling Sei Shonagon's—which the Japanese express in a single untranslatable word. So this bringing down of man to the level of the beasts—against which the fathers of the church invade—becomes here the challenge of the beasts to the poignancy of things, to a melancholy whose color I can give you by copying a few lines from Samura Koichi: “Who said that time heals all wounds? It would be better to say that time heals everything except wounds. With time, the hurt of separation loses its real limits. With time, the desired body will soon disappear, and if the desiring body has already ceased to exist for the other, then what remains is a wound... disembodied.”
He wrote me that the Japanese secret—what Lévi-Strauss had called the poignancy of things—implied the faculty of communion with things, of entering into them, of being them for a moment. It was normal that in their turn they should be like us: perishable and immortal.
He wrote me: animism is a familiar notion in Africa, it is less often applied in Japan. What then shall we call this diffuse belief, according to which every fragment of creation has its invisible counterpart? When they build a factory or a skyscraper, they begin with a ceremony to appease the god who owns the land. There is a ceremony for brushes, for abacuses, and even for rusty needles. There's one on the 25th of September for the repose of the soul of broken dolls. The dolls are piled up in the temple of Kiyomitsu consecrated to Kannon—the goddess of compassion—and are burned in public.
I look to the participants. I think the people who saw off the kamikaze pilots had the same look on their faces.
He wrote me that the pictures of Guinea-Bissau ought to be accompanied by music from the Cape Verde islands. That would be our contribution to the unity dreamed of by Amilcar Cabral.
Why should so small a country—and one so poor—interest the world? They did what they could, they freed themselves, they chased out the Portuguese. They traumatized the Portuguese army to such an extent that it gave rise to a movement that overthrew the dictatorship, and led one for a moment to believe in a new revolution in Europe.
Who remembers all that? History throws its empty bottles out the window.