Sometimes you just can’t escape reality.



The plight of Kenji Goto has been plagueing me all week, though I naïvely thought for a while that progress was being made with ISIS in the potential hostage exchange in Jordan. I also even discussed the situation with some of the students in my classes, and asked them their viewpoints on whether there was any chance that Mr Goto might get out of his horrific predicament alive. Some, trying to keep a more optimistic way of thinking thought he might, while others said that they thought that there was no chance .



Although each time a prisoner of ISIS is beheaded live on camera I feel the same sensations of revulsion, despair and sorrow (even if I could never  watch such a video, the mere suggestion of the fate these poor people succumb to is enough to horrify you to your core), somehow with Kenji Goto the reaction to his cruel death feels much more profound. In the other cases, the victims were people I had never heard of, making their slaughter slightly more distanced. Here in Japan, though, all week in the newspapers there have been articles about his life as a journalist and humanitarian, about his family here in Tokyo, and a picture has slowly built of the kind of man he was and his bravery (and ultimately, foolishness perhaps) in going into ISIS controlled areas in the hope of rescuing Haruna Yukawa, the troubled and disturbed Japanese man who was executed first.




The consequence of all this media coverage has been a much deeper emotional investment in the outcome of the crisis, an almost unbearable tension and agony of uncertainty. It has been harder to resist. To push out of your mind. With words, we build a connection, and the man was becoming very real to me.




When a potential prisoner swap deal was mooted the other day involving the female suicide bomber in Jordan, I felt a slight lessening of the worry and thought that Goto might actually be released. It seemed that clandestine negotiations were under way between governments and intermediaries, and that he might actually get out of there alive, as people demonstrated on the streets here, and his mother and wife appeared on TV pleading for mercy (but those people, you see, have none, explicitly contravening the central tenets of their own religion); deadline times were exceeded, and the whole thing entered the realm of the slightly more bearable unknowable.



I suppose I thus decided, after a six day week of teaching, to just try and forget about it all Saturday night, just enjoy myself, as there is absolutely nothing I could do about it anyway and I am a born hedonist, dreamer, and aesthetically centred person to begin with who believes that life is to be enjoyed, rather than suffered, whenever possible. I purposefully didn’t look at the news, I didn’t want to. I couldn’t bear to. And so the night passed hilariously and vividly, we made new friends, and D and I dozily, the following morning, sauntered and meandered happily around the fleamarket (the excitement for me of those places never diminishes: the mystery of it all as you turn a corner and think you spy someone selling old, magical, unbuyable old perfume masterpieces at a fraction of the price that they would usually be sold at); to come home lazily, have baths, and make dinner, and feel that cosy Sunday feeling with someone you love (something that Kenji Goto, and the others like him, will never be able to do again); to then suddenly to have the membrane of illusion punctured




(by this point, when I was writing the piece below, The Lily In The Bottle, I was actively deciding not to find out what had happened, childishly clinging to my happy mood), but I hadn’t told D this – he naturally just wanted to know – and then, with a few taps on a computer keyboard, the horrifying reality of this insane world that we live in came flooding into the room.






Oh no.








We just sat, stunned, eating in silence. How awful. How awful, was all we could say; terrible, awful.




I really thought that he might be saved. How terrible.




I can’t think of a recent event that has affected me this much, not even the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Probably because I am actually in Japan, have lived here for almost two decades now, and am thus tuned in to its feelings and atmospheres, and you could really tangibly feel that the public were really rooting for Kenji.


We are all devastated.



The cruelty of the act is something that I can’t get out of my mind. I keep imagining it and trying not to; after dinner and sitting in a daze for a while, we went upstairs and watched a Woody Allen comedy to try and find some levity, then went to bed early to forget.















It is now I.58 am, and I have just woken up from a horrific and upsetting nightmare, involving people in masks and machine guns, plots to blow up buildings, me trying to load a pistol to defend us, Duncan drugged in a room and me supposed to be leaving him there in some terrorist bomb plot, a real apocalyptic vision of horror that I woke up from with a headache and pounding heart, and I find I have to come downstairs and write this, lest it seem that I am some callous and uncaring individual who just goes gaily skipping into Tokyo for frivolities and perfume, takes ‘ironic’ pictures of ‘dead people’, and is oblivious to the nightmareish shit that is happening out there in the so-called ‘real world’ – all this fundamentalist, barbaric yearning to go back to some kind of medieval savagery in the name of ‘God.’





And while I don’t believe that we have a moral compunction to abandon our own lives and happinesses for bleeding hearts involvement in politics and war in distant countries, which is exactly the reason why we don’t have a TV (and I also believe that if more people did simply find something to enjoy in life, find pleasures in people and love; sensuality, nature, and beauty and just life itself, rather than brutally hacking off an innocent person’s head; plunging in the knife as the blood pours out of him like a slaughtered lamb and then literally rip off the head : HOW CAN THEY DO IT?) then the world, quite honestly, might be a far better place.






The dream; the instinctive desire to lose ourselves in pleasure, in art, though, has its limits.





Naturally. Obviously. All this is actually happening.






Kenji Goto is dead, and I feel helpless, very sad and touched with grief, even if I didn’t know him.




Because he was a good person who was trying to help a friend; someone who deplored violence and had devoted himself to helping children in war-ravaged places, and someone who just didn’t deserve to die such a degrading, and incomprensible, death.









Mr Goto, I mourn for you.







May you rest in peace.


Filed under Flowers

16 responses to “THE LIMITS OF HEDONISM

  1. I could not agree with you more in every aspect of your post. The cruelty, madness and horror that people do to the people is beyond my comprehension.
    We are hear for such a short time and bad things happen to all of us naturally. Why do some people enjoy inflicting even more pain. It makes no sense to me.

    • Me neither. I know the politics behind it all are complicated (and if ‘we’, i.e.. The UK and The US) hadn’t gone into Iraq in the first place, on that UTTERLY MISGUIDED Bush led war, there wouldn’t have BEEN an ISIS to begin with and none of this would have happened; if ONLY the reaction to 9/II could have been more measured), and as I wrote in my Charlie piece, I do have respect for the Muslim religion, there is something about this new wave of brutality that transcends everything previously in zeal and horror. I feel such sympathy and pain for Kenji Goto and his family. Surely that religion teaches compassion: surely if he were being kept in captivity some kind of human connections must have been made; how could they just sever his head like that?)

  2. cookie queen

    I abhor the violence. They have no fear of death. They have lost all love one towards another. They thirst for blood and revenge continually. It makes me weep. May we never lose charity one towards another. RIP indeed.

  3. jennyredhen

    The thing is that hideous atrocities are always committed in war eg the MyLai Massacre, the napalming of innocent people in Vietnam,, Agent Orange which dooms all future generations to deafness and blindness . The Japanese were extremely cruel to prisoners of war, Auschwitz rtc etc. What about what the US does to prisoners in Guantanomo Bay..Water boarding etc.those atrocities were/are hidden but now the internet has allowed the violent morons to brag and show off their murdering prowess. Hopefully having the full horror of it dished up will make the world more anti war in general. The Dalai says that the present time is the most peaceful ever and that gives him great hope. This doesnt diminish the awfulness of what has happened to the Japanese journalist..but many mothers have gone through his mothers anguish for no good all just like his family is now.

    • I agree with you completely, and I know that these people didn’t just come out of nowhere : they are a direct result of the Iraq war. Humanity does have violence and cruelty embedded in its DNA, that’s a fact, and all nations are guilty of it. Even Buddhist ones, like the horrendous treatment of Muslims in Myanmar right now – essentially ethnic cleansing.

      I suppose I was just focusing on one individual here, and the way that he somehow penetrated my defenses and became very real. The callousness of beheading him in such a defiantly exhibitionistic manner somehow takes cruelty to new sick levels of horror.

  4. In situations like this I always have an (imaginary) conversation with an uncle of my mother who was shot to death for being in the resistance in the 2nd World war, before I was born. He has stayed very much alive in The memory of his family, and instinctively I turn to him when confused and desperate. I don’t know why. I just do. He never says to be a Hero or do violence. “Do what you can, child, do what you can”. And however small or unimportant it seems, that is what you do.
    And giving amusement and making people conscious of the marvel of the sense of smell and scents in these trying days is very important. To me and a few others in this world it is.
    . Everybody can shoot or behead anybody. everybody can kill. But to feel grief and show compassion in times of violence is giving to life ..and it does not need to be a huge bouquet, a simple violet for remembrance will do as well.
    How goes that sonnet of Shakespeare ending with words “as this gives life to thee”.

  5. Tora

    Again, your writing moves me tremendously. Thank you for putting your feelings to words.

  6. bellaciao

    Thank you for giving him a face and a story. Before reading your post he was the anonymous Japanese, eg the far away guy. But now he is really not and his story is particularly moving and horribly sad. When I read your headline I first thought “oh nice, a picture of your director friend whose premiere you attended”. But obviously no…. I cannot imagine how his wife and family can cope.

    • The full intention was to have all the pictures from the film and the party until I got home and heard the news about Kenji Goto when it suddenly became impossible. I don’t know why it has affected me so much, but we talked about it all day yesterday as well. I think beheading is different from other ways of dying as it violates the person in such an unforgivable way.

  7. David

    Yes, hedonism has limits. So does grief. I think a lot about this topic since I live in Brazil, surely one of the most hedonistic places on Earth, with one of the most hedonistic events just about to start. I, of course will take part, this year perhaps more than ever ( I have already planned my perfumes). I also will come up for air and find myself wracked with guilt and the senselessness of it all. Then I’ll go back for more. When it’s over, I’ll wake up to a pretty grim morning, facing water rationing that’s going to be a game changer for me and for this city. (The government is waiting until after Carnival to announce the restrictions that are necessary in this draught- stricken city). I will need every ounce of strength I can muster to get through what’s coming my way. I’d like to think the happy memories will help.

    • I hadn’t heard about this drought. I have total dehydrophobia so I wouldn’t like that at all.

      Carnival does sound amazing, though, in a way. I used to fantasize about going there as a child.

      This post is not one that I am comfortable with, and I know it will be way too much for some people, but I use the Black Narcissus as not only a rhapsody on perfume but also as a way to express anything and everything. I felt so keenly about the horrendous Goto killing that I had no other choice.

      Having said that, I don’t want the blog to suddenly become this heavy, current events oriented thing. The focus will always be perfume (and it kind of was here, as well: the fact of escaping with it, and having a brilliant time, even when heinous, unbearable things are happening elsewhere).

      As you say, though, there is always the hangover…..

  8. Lilybelle

    How horrifying. I can’t stand these things. I have nightmares, too. The world is filled with evil and horror. It is the fact of our existence. All the more reason we must create and uphold Beauty, in our minds, our hearts, our actions, and never give up.

    • How beautifully put. I agree. I do think that violence and hatred are intrinsic constituents of human beings, of all human beings, but that we also have the ability and potential to overcome them.

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