I lost my iPhone in June, and have not looked back. I was walking home at night, late after work, exhausted, and coming up from the Kitakamakura pond to cross the railtracks, it must have fallen out of one of my pockets ( I had just been using it, after leaving the convenience store, so I know I definitely had it), but by the time I was standing in front of the great Engakuji and its soaring pine trees, an exquisite, ancient zen temple and place that even business people on their way home from Tokyo often stand before and pray to, it had gone. Even then I knew, strangely, that I didn’t really care, but I of course naturally went through the motions of looking for it in the undergrowth, backtracking and rootling among the shrubs by the pond just in case: oh well, maybe I’ll find it in the morning, perhaps I’ll go to the police station and see if it has been handed in (because things do get handed in Japan: wallets with all the money still in them – twice this has happened to me, even notebooks if your name and phone number is written in them), but much as this brand of honesty runs through the general populace, I don’t trust the Japanese police for a second and have such an aversion to them that this never happened (with a 99% conviction rate you know that they are dodgy, and people can be held in jail for 23 days or so without notifiying anyone: get caught without your ‘gaijin card’, or foreigner identification as a friend of mine once was, simply because he had gone out to buy something from the shops and didn’t have his card on him) and you can be hauled in for questioning for six hours as he was, a rather harrowing experience that made him want to leave the country. No, fuck the police, no chance of me going there, so that was that.
And I felt relief, in honesty. Relieved of the compulsion, the addiction to checking it and reading things I didn’t even particularly want to read, to checking Facebook or whatever else, and to be released from the idiocy of the helplessly afflicted screen zombies that now dominate our towns and cities, faces down, ignoring everything around them, tap-tap tapping, engrossed and absorbed in god knows what ‘information’ or ‘content’ or ‘memes’ or whatever other bullshit is constantly coursing through the airwaves and into their contraptions, making them slaves to their ‘devices’ and their ‘status’.
It would be hypocritical of me to be too critical though, because I have been there myself and will in all likelihood be there again. Checking the reactions on the Black Narcissus; reading the latest film reviews on Metacritic, checking the weather, and posting and commenting on the brain entangling ‘social media’ that consume so much of our air space, who knows, perhaps I will find that I have to get back into it all again in order to become like a more ‘normal’ member of society, but then again, I might not; we last had a television almost twenty years ago and would never have it again ( I only watch it when I go back home, or in restaurants here in Japan, though I dearly wish that such eating establishments didn’t have it; such an inexorable draw for the eye; such a conversation killer, and such horrendous, devastating banality that my nerves become like molten iron conductors of fury. I love the world, I hate the world, or how it has been taken over, and prefer to see it and experience it my own way in more selective, and beautiful fashion. Even an hour of television can make me feel quite deranged (I felt this most keenly in Miami last December where it left me reeling: Jesus, American television!), but Japan’s also eats into your nerves with its sexist, racist, cutesy, mind-bending insidiousness and I just have to leave it completely alone.
We have taken all this shunning of electronic contact to quite an absurd level though, if unintentionally. Not only do I not have an iPhone (shock! horror! But don’t you remember, those of you of the pre-internet generation, when you could just make arrangements, and wait if necessary if they were late, and leave if you had to if the waiting got too long: it really wasn’t all that terrible not being able to be constantly in touch:) and I love, also, the fact that I am not being tracked, as you are with any device by Apple : yes, I can’t take the photographs I could before, and I occasionally see a brilliant Japanese tableau and wish I could snap it, but otherwise I must admit the whole thing has been intensely liberating. Noise, silent or otherwise, has slipped away; mental noise, the incessant, clipped and edited dross and sloganeering and mindless crap that we get inundated with on a continual basis, but I suppose we really have taken it too far as we are, currently, completely incommunicado. Like I said, I have no phone, but D’s phone is also on the blink, the mic broken so if I call him, he can hear me, but all I can hear is silence (from a public phone box! The inconvenience! The physicality of having to search from coins and put them into the slot, and wait for them to drop, it really does feel like yesteryear, another time entirely, but when I do it there is no voice on the other end, just a void.) Added to this, the house phone, as our parents will verify, has also stopped working, so in reality there is no way of contacting each other. And no way for anyone else to contact us either. And the bizarre thing is that neither of us seems to really care. Which is obviously possibly insane (but is it?) and at the very least irresponsible and selfish, because what if? This is a country of earthquakes and typhoons and disasters, and not to have any way of communicating is wilfully stupid I suppose (and, don’t worry parents, if you are reading this, the situation is (possibly) being slowly remedied, and we still have email, although as I have written before recently, the computer keeps also crashing): But what’s going on? Is something trying to tell us something: thou shalt go back to the pre-electronic age and read books again, look at the sky and the stars, live more solidly in the human moment, unfractured and undistracted, commune more fully with other people in the flesh, and at least as importantly, with yourself?
Well that is what, in truth, has been happening. Since June I have read more novels than I have in years, and I have been loving it. Ah, the uninterrupted flow of handing yourself to the author and just sinking yourself in their words; the tranquillity and intimacy of it, just you and they and the world that they are conjuring, such a haven as you take the book from your bag on your bus journey, your train journey and enter that private world of writer and reader, taken away from the clatter of the mundane, ugly reality surrounding you and just yield yourself to the beauty of language and the imagination, of the world, but filtered through one person’s consciousness.
And Japan, like perfume, is a repository of cheap books. Duncan is always coming home with bags of them from Book Off and the like, where you can pick up things for a hundred yen or thereabouts, a couple of pounds or dollars, or else from fleamarkets like The Salvation Army, which is another fantastic source of reading materials and where they give you them practically for free, always with a discount, and where you pick up things you might not normally bother with, but whose price makes you open your mind a little and give them a shot anyway, because it’s always good to just try new things and expand your territory I think, rather than just sticking to the kind of books or films you know you like.
One of the hundred yen purchases I picked up recently, from a beautiful old book store in Isezakicho which sells old cinema programmes and curious old Japanese prints and memorabilia, was a novel by Anita Brookner – someone I had never read before – a book called ‘Latecomers’, an exquisite piece of writing with meticulous, but not too meticulous, attention to detail and word-choice that I got entirely swept away in despite its lack of obvious ‘plot’: this book is rather an ingeniously drawn topography of the inner lives of its characters, six people in London in the seventies (so vividly created, so lushly, and pinpointedly described, psychologically), even down to perfume, the choice of Joy being particularly apposite to the situation, as it also was in Erica Jong’s quite brilliant masterpiece Fear Of Flying, which blew me away with its originality, eroticism and neurotic hilarity, slamming and locking the door and hiding in her mother’s closet, backing into ther mother’s sable coats that smell of ‘old Joy and stale Diorissimo’ as she hides away from the haranguing of her family at yet another stressful family get-together.Yes, many of the books I have been reading seem to be by female authors, who I am often more drawn to: I would take Edith Wharton (who I adore) over Henry James any day ; I often find them less heavy, bludgeoning and conceited than many male authors ( I don’t think I could read Vladmir Nabokov, Martin Amis or Joseph Conrad if you paid me), but anyway, I am currently in the middle of reading Anita Brookner’s Hotel Du Lac and loving every minute of it; the slow, oneiric pace of it; the suggestiveness, the wry wit and spot-on characterization, the marvellous illumination from within – something you get from novels and not from status updates on Facebook, so shiny and superficial so much of the time – I am loving the slow, lake-like pace, the detailed observations of human nature, the sheer aesthetic pleasure.
I have no idea what this ‘post’ is supposed to be about exactly. I was planning to write about a new-release set of perfumes but then this came out of me instead in a late morning Saturday splurge. I suppose that I just get so very exhausted from teaching sometimes that I have to find ways to preserve my inner peace. While I love it while I am doing it and have been told I am a ‘natural teacher’, which is possibly true in some ways, there is no doubt simultaneously that it is a form of performance that, to be done well, needs huge psychical resources (because in the classroom I really do try to connect, properly, with each individual, and it is that psychic connection that so drains me – there is nothing worse than a bad lesson, going home feeling that it didn’t work) which is why I totally pour myself in that lesson when I am in the classroom but then wake up an eye-bagged, depleted husk the next morning, desperately unwilling to repeat the process again, and why I need to rehydrate the spirit with art: either to try and create it myself in my own small way on here, or else to be imbued with the creations of another, be it a film, which I have a natural propensity to be able to lose myself myself in one hundred per cent and completely block out the rest of the world (even if I had a working telephone, in these instances I might not answer it); or the interior, thrilling quietude of literature. Edith Hope, the main protagonist of Hotel Du Lac, is also hiding away from the clamour of the noise back home and has been cloistering herself in her room overlooking a misty Swiss lake, gradually opening herself up to the intriguing and eccentric other guests that inhabit the hotel;
“From the same not too distant point along the corridor she could hear the radio again, and also bath water, and as she went towards the stairs there seemed to be a sudden emanation of rosy scent, signalling the sort of preparation made by someone with a proper sense of her own presence”,
a person she finds out later is Ms. Pusey, sharing a room just along from her.
” ‘Butter wouldn’t melt’, thought Edith.
….Yet she was forced to follow them out, a humble and often stalled attendant in their rosy and perfumed wake (for this, she now realized, was the source of the scent she had smelt in the corridor), and as they took their seats in the salon, she sat near them, as if to gain some bravery, some confidence, from their utterly assured presence”.
The rosy scent of Ms Pusey and her peculiar daughter seem to form a constant backdrop to the atmosphere of the hotel Edith finds herself in, unwillingly, exiled there because of a scandal that has happened back in England, until one night, where I am in the book right now, when the old lady’s perfume suddenly changes:
“Premonitory rumours that something was afoot had reached me earlier in the day; as I was going out along the corridor I heard cries of delight and surprise emanating from the Pusey’s suite, while a veritable miasma of scent (a different sort) seemed to billow out almost to the head of the stairs”….
I am now going to head right back into the book, still in my pyjamas, still coddled deliciously and comfortably under my duvet, even though it is I4:43pm, to find out exactly why.