Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Twelve Views from the Distance
Spread across twelve chapters, Mutsuo Takahashi's, Twelve Views from the Distance, is an absorbing memoir of his childhood years, originally appearing in serialized form in 1969 it was subsequently published as a book the following year, opening with a description of a photographic portrait of his mother the description is expanded in recalling the occasion of it being taken, the falling snow outside associated with her early disappearance, we're reminded that, 'the snow of memory often falls in a warped path'. Rather than pointing or correlating to the events of the external world too explicitly Twelve Views from the Distance is an evocative personal memoir, throughout the twelve chapters or views Takahashi looks over formative moments and examines their rippling after effects. Covering the years from his birth in 1937 to 1952, we learn of his father's, premature death by acute pneumonia exacerbated by overwork, the remaining family's return to his paternal grandparents home in Nōgata, his older sister passed away very shortly after due to meningitis, their deaths came so close they were cremated in the same coffin. Through describing these events Takahashi describes at times in pictorial detail his grandparents home and surrounding neighbourhood and the children he played with, within the house a room that appeared to captivate him was his Uncle Ken'ichi's room, recalling an episode when he was beaten by him for not ceasing to cry, Takahashi observes the intimacy of the punishment, an event that only the two of them were witnesses to, he suspects that the violence that erupted in his Uncle was a venting of emotions arising from other exterior circumstances, his uncle worked on the railroad before his akagami card arrived calling him to the front.  An event that is returned to throughout the chapters is his mother's mysterious disappearance, initally his grandmother had told him she wouldn't be away for long, but it wasn't until a package arrived months later from China that her whereabouts became known to him, when she returned Takahashi observes that something was not the same, degrees of intimacy had changed.
As well as giving a broad portrait of his immediate family Takahashi's book is full of instances of his grandparents passing down stories particular to the district, the book subtly reverberates with local legends and stories of neighbours falling into ruination, the wife of a wealthy man who suddenly one day, as if possessed moves out and lives under a bridge, the cry of the slightly menacing Yosshoi bird echoes across the narrative, another figure that is neither it seems too distant is that of Fudō-myōō. As Takahashi grows older he depicts the harsh and at times darkly savage power games played out amongst the groups of children at the schools he attended, malevolence never seems  too distant in Takahashi's narrative either from other children or the possibility from his family, and the backdrop to this is the spectre of the war.  In the chapters The Shore of Sexuality and also to a degree in Princes and Paupers Takahashi remembers the emergence of his burgeoning sexual inclinations, and in Imagining Father gives a portrait with the fragments of memories he has of his father, and connects with the discovery of a piece of copied text that his father had written out that he found hidden away by his mother, in this chapter Takahashi observes that people or presences that are absent can sometimes be the ones that leave the deeper affect.
Skies of Blood opens with evocative memories of skies that feature in the memories of his youth, sunlight and blood seem to metaphorically merge in the sky, later in the chapter Takahashi goes onto re-examine the violence endured in his youth -

As a little boy, whenever I saw the blood swelling and congealing on the surface of the sky, I would think of Mother. This did not only happen during her absence when I was living with Grandmother or was being passed from one household to another. Even after she returned, I continued to think about her as I watched the sunset. She was often away, and every time she left, I was exposed to the violence of my Grandmother, my aunt, and other adults. That would only make me miss my kind and gentle mother all the more, when she returned, however, I never again found the kindness I had been waiting for. Instead, what confronted me was another kind of aggression. The violence she displayed toward me was something that ran deep in her veins and that even she could not control once it had been awakened. When I encountered violence in my own mother, it only made me yearn all the more for what I believed motherhood should be - eternal kindness.

The final chapter, Communities outside the World, Takahashi recounts meetings with those at the peripheries of society and the book closes with a meditation on the location of himself within memory. Throughout reading Twelve Views from the Distance the reader can't help but be infused of the power of narration that emanates from it, either orally as seen being exchanged in many instances within the book, or as in it's entirety in the one that Takahashi has written. Takahashi's collection Poems of a Penisist has recently been re-published by Minnesota University Press. Twelve Views from the Distance is translated by Jeffrey Angles.    
Twelve Views from the Distance at Minnesota University Press.           

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