japonisme: 5/25/08 - 6/1/08

31 May 2008



We have a soul at times.
No one's got it non-stop,
for keeps.

Day after day,
year after year
may pass without it.

it will settle for awhile
only in childhood's fears and raptures.
Sometimes only in astonishment
that we are old.

It rarely lends a hand
in uphill tasks,
like moving furniture,
or lifting luggage,
or going miles in shoes that pinch.

It usually steps out
whenever meat needs chopping
or forms have to be filled.

For every thousand conversations
it participates in one,
if even that,
since it prefers silence.

Just when our body goes from ache to pain,
it slips off-duty.

It's picky:
it doesn't like seeing us in crowds,
our hustling for a dubious advantage
and creaky machinations make it sick.

Joy and sorrow
aren't two different feelings for it.
It attends us
only when the two are joined.

We can count on it
when we're sure of nothing
and curious about everything.

Among the material objects
it favors clocks with pendulums
and mirrors, which keep on working
even when no one is looking.

It won't say where it comes from
or when it's taking off again,
though it's clearly expecting such questions.

We need it
but apparently
it needs us
for some reason too.

Wislawa Szymborska

Translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh

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green hair

I know you wonder why I wear
The hat which I have called Green Hair
And why I cover up my own
Which has a tawny chestnut tone

Warm, when all its lights are lit,
As a swarm of bees with the sun on it.
You say bronze hair is prettier

Than this strange green of feathery fur;
But there's a charm in
this strange green
Which is so nearly blue; I've seen

A comb of coral set with pearls
Drawn through lengths of such green curls
In the green gloom of a chilly cave
Down, far down in a hollow wave;

And under ancient forest trees
Long green tresses such as these
Shadow like a falling veil

Shy secret faces, dusky pale;
And I have seen green locks like those
Deep in a glacier, under snows.
I have seen such green hair tossed

From the brows of a creature wandering lost
On the other side of
a waning moon,
And in the golden sun at noon

I have seen young April plait
Flowers in showery hair like that,
And wring the rain from it in drops,
And spread it to dry on green hill-tops.

Now do you wonder that I wear
The hat which I have called Green Hair?
Thus with witchcraft I am crowned
And wrapped in marvels round and round;
There's sorcery in it, and surprise;

Believe your own dark-amber eyes
When mine of hazel look at you
Turned to incredible turquoise blue.

© 2008 Elinor Wylie

(the beautiful fouquet brooch
will be seen in
the boston museum of fine art's
Imperishable Beauty: Art Nouveau Jewelry, Wednesday, July 23, 2008 - Sunday, November 9, 2008)

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29 May 2008

de geisha designs

While nineteenth- century critics had reservations about artists' adopting Japanese conventions in paintings and prints, this was not true in the arena of fashion. French textile designers in the 1890s, for example, readily appropriated new and "exotic" floral motifs from Japan, and these fabrics were readily used by couturiers like Charles Frederick Worth.

The most popular item of dress exported to the West in the late nineteenth century was a modified version of the kimono, worn as a dressing gown. Both fully finished garments and unsewn components were sold at small boutiques and at large firms such as Liberty of London. Kimonos for export were often constructed with elements to suit the European market; these might include a set-in box pleat to accommodate the bustle; a collar lining instead of an under kimono; the addition of a knotted and tasseled trim; and a variety of sleeve styles.

In the decade prior to World War I, the construction of women's garments began to change dramatically. As early as 1908, revolutionary couturiers, such as Marie Callot Gerber and Paul Poiret, took inspiration from the drapery-like quality of kimonos. Loosely cut sleeves and crossed bodices were incorporated into evening dresses, while opera coats swathed the body like batwinged cocoons.

One of the twentieth century's greatest couturiers, Madeleine Vionnet, was inspired by the kimono with its reliance on uncut lengths of fabric, and raised dressmaking to an art form. From the onset of World War I to the late 1920s, she abandoned the traditional practice of tailoring body-fitted fashions from numerous, complex pattern pieces, and minimized the cutting of fabric.

A "minimalist" with strict aesthetic principles who rarely employed patterned fabrics or embroidery, Vionnet relied instead on surface ornamentation through manipulation of the fabric itself. For example, the wavy parallel folds of a pin-tucked crepe dress evoked the abstracted image of a raked Zen rock garden, itself a metaphor for the waves of the sea.

Although the influence of the kimono on the construction of garments was extremely important in the 1910s and 1920s, surface ornamentation remained a vital force. During the art moderne, or art deco, era, French textiles in the Japanese style developed a more sophisticated use of both abstract motifs and recognizable images.

Examples range from metallic lamé dresses that replicate the appearance of black lacquer inlaid with gold particles, to garments of brocaded silk woven with a pattern of crashing waves and fish scales. Also appropriated was the mon, or family crest. While the mon is usually an abstracted image drawn from nature, such as a bird or flower, it can also represent a man-made object, such as the nara bi-ya, or parallel rows of arrows; or celestial bodies such as the mitsuboshi, an abstraction symbolizing the three stars of Orion's belt.

from Japonisme, by Patricia Mears. Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion. Ed. Valerie Steele

(what interests me is seeing the interpretations of the japanese designs by the western artists. i generally like them better than the original japanese or the western style either.)

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26 May 2008

war, part 3

i know there will always be war because there has always been war.

War is Peace
Freedom is Slavery
Ignorance is Strength*

i know that wars will never be about what we are told they are.

Attention! Your attention, please! A newsflash has this moment arrived from the Malabar front. Our forces in South India have won a glorious victory. I am authorized to say that the action we are now reporting may well bring the war within measurable distance of its end.*

i know that lies will be told to me to enlist my support. the way to a woman's heart is through her kitchen.

Oceania was at war with Eurasia: therefore Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia. The enemy of the moment always represented absolute evil, and it followed that any past or future agreement with him was impossible.*

i know every nations mothers and fathers feel the same about their children, so protecting the children becomes the reason for war.

The war, therefore, if we judge it by the standards of previous wars, is merely an imposture. It is like the battles between certain ruminant animals whose horns are set at such an angle that they are incapable of hurting one another. But though it is unreal it is not meaningless. It eats up the surplus of consumable goods, and it helps to preserve the special mental atmosphere that a hierarchical society needs. War, it will be seen, is now a purely internal affair. In the past, the ruling groups of all countries, although they might recognize their common interest and therefore limit the destructiveness of war, did fight against one another, and the victor always plundered the vanquished. In our own day they are not fighting against one another at all. The war is waged by each ruling group against its own subjects, and the object of the war is not to make or prevent conquests of territory, but to keep the structure of society intact. The very word 'war', therefore, has become misleading. It would probably be accurate to say that by becoming continuous war has ceased to exist. The peculiar pressure that it exerted on human beings between the Neolithic Age and the early twentieth century has disappeared and been replaced by something quite different. The effect would be much the same if the three super-states, instead of fighting one another, should agree to live in perpetual peace, each inviolate within its own boundaries. For in that case each would still be a self-contained universe, freed for ever from the sobering influence of external danger. A peace that was truly permanent would be the same as a permanent war. This -- although the vast majority of Party members understand it only in a shallower sense -- is the inner meaning of the Party slogan: WAR IS PEACE.*

and i just know that there is not a single person, a single sentient being, who doesn't cherish safety, and know no one is safe during a war.

*(Orwell's 1984)

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25 May 2008

war, part 2

This is a letter written by Dean Memmen in 1918 from the front lines in France during World War I. The letter was written to his friend George Halfmann of Minonk. The letter was given to us by George Halfmann, Jr. Mr. Mennen died from wounds in action on October 4, 1919, at the age of 23 years.

Dear Fatty;

Well how is everything by this time? I suppose Illinois's club have started to give dances again. I suppose they will be some what tame affairs with so many of the fellows gone. Have you heard how the boys like the service? I suppose they think they are having a fine time. Did you win any money on the World Series? I won five francs and could have gotten more money up but lacked confidence in Sox.

The climate here is about same as home but it rains more here. It is a pretty country but of all scenery I have seen I will take that around the big red bridge west of town for mine. We have a fair camp here and the bunk house are all O.K. except roofs which they are fixing. A couple of nights I had to spread my poncho over me to keep from getting a shower bath, but things have improved since that. We have bunks something like railroad men have in cabooses only wider. Two men sleep in each.

I went up town on liberty the other night with a Chicago kid. We had a h-- of a time on 67 cents. I am going again tonite if I get paid. With money fellows owe me, I have 380 frances coming so don't expect to go broke again. I had two glasses of wine the other evening at 8 cents a glass. I don't think much of it. We also went to a licensed red light house (both being my first experiences) but I wouldn't have touched one of the things they call women for a years pay. Now my curiosity is satisfied. I am off such places for life. I will be a regular angel by the time I get home.

There are two Y.M.C.A. at this camp. I heard a fine sermon at one last Sunday. That was first sermon I had heard since some time in July. They sell most every thing in way of eats that we want for lunches except bread. One of the fellows said he never thought that he would be doing God's work by selling star tobacco on Sunday afternoon until now.

Suppose you are a bachelor again by this time as Peggy ought to be back to Oberlin by this time.

Write and let me know how things are going at home.

Your old Pal,
Dean Memmen 1

i can't help but to compare this war to today's occupation, and how we see the soldiers. they are (mostly young) people now as they are in all wars. we are not given images like these. we are hiring out their jobs and marginalizing their humanity.

this is memorial day. in this country it's supposed to be a day of gratitude and recognition to soldiers and their families. what will we have in the future? mercenary day? blackhawk day? i don't know. i just know i'll be here praying for a return to sanity, and the knowledge that on a day of remembrance it's humans who will be remembered.

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