Tag Archives: derrida

transitory thoughts

So…what was that?

After almost three months abroad, I am about to return to U.S. soil this afternoon.  Taking time to reflect is fairly unavoidable.

I began this blog in Spain; it has followed me from Barcelona to Switzerland, France, Germany, Denmark — and now both The Semioptician and I are returning home, as it were.  It seems a little strange to think of a blog as having a corporeal ability to return to a physical home, but so many of the ideas and curiosities that underlie this project were sparked on the Carleton campus, where I will be arriving roughly 12 hours from now, give or take some time difference.  So if this blog has any home, it may be Carleton.

But of course, part of the beauty of the internet is its lack of fixity — some may argue for it as a ‘non-place’, but there must be a point at which the growing proliferance of non-places in the world simply results in a newer sense of place, such as an online place that is hypertextual and expansive and yes, largely virtual.  But the thoughts in these virtual statements are no different than any thoughts that I might set to physical paper with a real-life pen.

‘Real life’.  An interesting concept.  I was recently discussing (via the ‘virtual’ means of Facebook chat, no less) this established dichotomy between the lives of college students and this nebulous outer world of adults and jobs which is somehow more ‘real’.  Obviously there are inherent contradictions in asserting that any aspect of life is more real than any other, but this invites all kinds of complications about how one perceives ‘reality’ and whether we can ever be certain about our perceptions of it, and other things that keep angsty pseudo-philosophers like myself lying awake late at night.  But in returning to the ‘real world’, as I will undoubtedly slip up and term it in the next few days, after these three months of such foreign and varied and exhilarating experiences in Europe, this is something I am thinking about, in spite of logical fallacies (which I have a habit of pushing past in many of my lines of reason).  My return to the ‘real world’, where that means America and the life I knew before I left in March, corresponds with a departure from ‘real life’, that is, back into the Carleton Bubble, as we term the insulated space in which we academiate, incubated.  Ironic?  Perhaps.  Totally thrilling and daunting?  Yes, very much so.

But am I going back to the same life?  The goal of study abroad, we are so often told, is to change us.  Through academics and language, through experience, through culture shock, through the opening of doors we didn’t know were there.  My study abroad has been more than dynamic, all told.  It has certainly changed my trajectory in the immediate and possibly long-term future.  I have new scars, literal and metaphorical.

"Soft Self-Portrait with Implied Scarring."

At the risk of sounding cliched, my way of looking at the world has changed — quite literally.  As a student of visual culture, I have come in contact with a dizzying array of art and artists (and a bit of academics and academia) over these months.  You know how so many authors tell young aspiring writers to simply read (and read and read some more)?  I think this applies more broadly to the arts (and life) in general, and so much exposure to a billion new ways of visualizing meaning and emotion and experience cannot help but sensitize me to what I as an artist and theorist can and ought and want to be doing.

And on a completely practical level, I have put in the long hours of work that are the foundation of being a photographer — shooting every day, over 10,000 pictures later, I have failed enough to begin to find a style that speaks to me.  There may even be a couple hundred photos among those thousands and thousands that are actually good, and of those couple hundred, several dozen GREAT photographs.  In practice, photography is chance married to concept, and an understanding of why you are shooting.

Conclusions: I really dig concept art.  I still dig modern and contemporary art (already knew that, but good to get some confirmation).  I will probably not ever been in the mainstream film industry in a productive capacity.  I will never be a commercial photographer, but I have learned to love photographs for themselves and, I think, understand a bit the many things they can do and mean.  I may be an experimental filmmaker.  I will live in New York City for at least 3 months of my life.  And I really need to sit down and read, completely, everything that Jacques Derrida has ever written.

I am not the same person who flew out of MSP almost three months ago; life has been happening, in various shades of reality.  And life is about to continue to happen, for all of the new incarnations of my Self encountering all of the visual worlds there are to see.

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permanent nobara

There was some debate a while back on KineJapan, the worldwide listserv for discussion of Japanese moving image media to which I subscribe, about the accuracy of the translation of the title of Yoshida Daihachi’s Permanent Nobara.  The consensus, as far as I can remember, was that ‘Permanent Nobara’ was indeed the best translation, given that the original title in Japanese was パーマネントのばら, which indicates an intentional Japanization of the English word ‘permanent’, and of course is the actual name of the salon around which the lives of the film’s characters is centered.  As someone on KineJapan pointed out, this translation (and its original) allow for ambiguity in the meaning of the title, and having now seen the film this afternoon for myself, I would throw in my vote for the intentional-ambiguity camp.  (As a side note, speaking of translation, I’m very much stoked to be attending a subtitling lecture and workshop called “Translating Culture and Context” tomorrow evening with Taro Goto, one of the leading Japanese-English interpreters and subtitlers in the world!)

Naoko and her daughter Momo move back in with Naoko's mother, living in the same building as the Permanent Nobara hair salon.

So, to what does the ‘permanent’ in the title of Yoshida’s film refer?  Literally, to the tightly coiled hairdos with which protagonist Naoko’s mother coifs the fishing village’s ladies, and to the name of her hair salon.  Figuratively, to the tensely balanced ideas of forgetting and remaining, of change and stasis that underlie the themes of the film.  And ‘nobara’?  The name of hairstyling mother, and her salon, but if the title is read as ‘Paamanento no bara’, it can translate to something more ambiguous like “the rose of permanence”.  To my Western mind (and potentially to the globalizing Japanese filmmaking community and audiences) this invokes Shakespeare; this invokes Gertrude Stein.  “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”  “A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.”  The title, then, is the key with which to unlock the meaning of this painfully hilarious yet hauntingly beautiful film, the aporia from which to unravel, deconstructively, the complexity of meaning that fills its frames.

Before I get carried away on a train driven by Jacques Derrida and conducted by J. Hillis Miller, for those of you who dislike post-modernism (although if you’ve made it this far as a reader of my blog, you probably aren’t allergic to it) and are simply interested in how the film was, let me highlight some of the most salient brilliances of Permament Nobara.  It tells the story of Naoko’s return, in the wake of divorce, to her mother’s home with her young daughter, interweaving her own story with the lives of her childhood friends and the women who frequent her mother’s salon.  Think Steel Magnoliasuprooted and replanted in a rural contemporary Japanese fishing village, with a touch of the prodigal son (turned daughter), then given free reign of the diegetic world outside of the hair salon, and free reign of the complex emotions of being human — you get a masterpiece running the entire emotional gamut, from shocked horror to gut-splitting laughter to the tears that were, to completely fail in avoiding the use of clichés, welling in my eyes by the end of the movie.  The film is incredibly well-scripted, and shot with the steady, long takes that both mark it as classically Japanese and recall the idea of permanence that is immediately introduced in the title.  It is also incredibly well-acted, and the ensemble cast of actresses builds a bastion of strong women who persist beyond the varying impermanences of the men in their lives, who find powerful strength in their bonds with one another but also in their individuality.   Coming from a national cinema that has traditionally reflected a less-than-feminist-friendly attitude and arguably oppressive status of gender roles in Japan, this is a refreshing and hope-inspiring piece to see on that front as well.

Naoko's childhood friend Mi-chan (center) shares shochu and small-talk with the older generation at the salon.

I couldn’t find a trailer with subtitles, but you can get a sense of the emotional quality of the film even without words, because the acting speaks volumes:

The analysis that this film deserves is beyond the scope of this post, mostly because I have been up for about 17 hours of train travel and film festing, but I promise to deconstruct it at my soonest available convenience. 🙂

My Personal Ratings for the film…

Acting/Direction: 9/10
Script: 9/10
Lighting/Cinematography: 8/10
Editing: 9/10
Overall: 9/10