On the plane from Helsinki to Osaka I was sitting next to this Japanese punk guy, Keiji (I initially thought he introduced himself as “Cage” until I saw his FB page). We had an interesting conversation on the Italian HC punk scene, of which Keiji is an expert. Bands like Negazione and The Wretched re-emerged from my memory, reminding me of the days when I used to listen to stuff like The Exploited, U.K. Subs, Anti-Nowhere League, etc. Keiji has blonde hair and a lot of piercings, so I showed him the hole left by the piercing I had in my lower lip. I was curious to know what kind of life a Japanese punk lives, as I thought it would differ much from a punk in any of the European countries I visited. He explained that Japanese punks wash themselves more often in comparison to European punks. I asked him how he came in touch with punk and why he liked it. He found the latter question quite difficult to answer.
At this point the conversation paused for a moment, I leaned back on my seat and thought I would take the chance to do some of the reading I planned to do before I left Italy. So I took out a copy of the Noh magazine Hana moyo from my bag and started reading. Keiji freaked out. He could not believe the guy sitting next to him, who was talking about HC punk a few moments ago, was now reading a Noh theatre magazine. I explained to him that I don’t listen to this kind of music now, and that I find Noh much more hard-core than punk. This is when the average Japanese tells you about how they only saw Noh on a school trip and that they found it boring. So he did, and then he asked me a couple more questions about how I came in touch with Noh and why I liked it. Funnily, I gave the same kind of awkward answer Keiji did regarding punk. We looked at each other for a brief but intense moment. Then we shook hands.
One of my main academic interests, which was also one of the frames of my PhD thesis, is the intersection of aesthetics and ethics, especially in the intercultural experience. European philosophy has developed ways to relate to the the spheres of the ‘beautiful’ and the of the ‘good’ in very different ways if compared with Japanese thought. A recent book by Saito Yuriko, Everyday Aesthetics (2008), discusses many of these differences in extremely lucid and insightful ways, drawing examples from from fine arts, architecture, and other crafts, and has greatly inspired my work on the aesthetics and ethics of Noh theatre.
‘The philosophy of my life.Aesthetics 2012For every single dayRemember to add beauty, nobility, elegance, and tenderness to daily life’.
Those of you who live in, or have visited Japan are used to the rather awkward sentences written in English on bags, clothes, notebooks, etc. This could be a good example of this bizarre fashion. However, I think the agenda gestures to the attitude that Saito eloquently describes in her book. Japanese culture fosters care and attention for beauty in the objects and gestures that populate our every day life. ‘Beauty’ is a rather broad term, which the creator of the agenda above accompanies by ‘nobility’, ‘elegance’, and, most interestingly, ‘tenderness’. Certainly the form of beauty the author of the plain white-clothed agenda above is not of the sophisticated kind, and its quality of ‘nobility’ and ‘elegance’ do not belong to the aristocratic sphere. It is a ‘tender’, sober (jimi) beauty that this Japanese agenda represents.
Of course it seems to showy for me to carry an agenda that says ‘aesthetics’ on its cover. This, again, provides interesting material for a reflection of the aesthetic sense ‘in translation’ – or, the perception of Western aesthetics through Japanese eyes. Probably, a more sober agenda would not have a sign pointing at itself, saying ‘hey, look at me! I’m sober hence elegant!’
This year I will be speaking at the International Federation for Theatre Research (IFTR) conference in Osaka 7-12 August 2011. IFTR is one of the biggest international theatre conferences and I am looking forward to participate for the first time, and to do it in Japan. I am particularly excited about the discussions that will develop from the encounter of Western scholars belonging to Anglo-Saxon academia and Japanese scholars, which I think are worlds apart when it comes to background and methodology. This year’s theme is ‘Tradition, Innovation, Community’ and I will be talking within a panel with Prof. David Wiles, theatre historian, my supervisor at Royal Holloway University of London, and Janne Risum from Aarhus University, Copenhagen. Our panel will focus on the inter-relation of aesthetics and ethics in intercultural context and my paper will specifically look at ethics and politics in Ezra Pound’s reception of Noh theatre. I have done quite a lot of work on Pound and for my PhD and I am really looking forward to present it to the IFTR audience. Hope to see you guys soon in Osaka!