Monday, May 03, 2010

Killing Kanoko

[There's a pretty amazing review of Killing Kanoko in the new issue of Rain Taxi, written by Sarah Fox and Lucas de Lima. In fact Hiromi Ito was very taken by it; says it's one of the best things ever written about her work. This is an excerpt (of course I chose the excerpt for its reference to Lady Gaga. I will respond to it more intelligently in the future when I have some time. Buy the book here by the way.]

LdL: Yes, there’s a highly oral, aural, and visionary quality to Itō’s lines, as if they were being transmitted to and through her in real time. Simultaneous rather than linear, Itō’s spatiotemporal reach evokes the shaman as much as the pregnant body. Porous are the boundaries between speaker and subject in her poetry. Take the first poem “Harakiri,” in which homoeroticism foregrounds the ritual suicide by disembowelment that, having once caused Yukio Mishima’s death, now excites a certain Mr. O (the moniker, of course, is a throwback to that classic of S&M literature, The Story of O). Mr. O, we gather from translator Jeffrey Angles’s annotations, acts out scenes of harakiri for erotic pleasure. The speaker, initially merely witness to this subcultural eroticism, seems to occupy Mr. O’s subjectivity through the immediacy of the final lines: the first- and third-person pronouns suddenly disappear in a “weird and kinky” identification/obliteration of voyeur and queer exhibitionist. Ushering in the masturbatory ending, after all, is the line "He said he could commit harakiri face-to-face with a woman, he'd be in seventh heaven." Perhaps the speaker joins her subject through what Saint Genet’s version of shamanism would look like—a sadomasochistic avowal, on all fronts, of sexuality and its regulatory construction. So, participation and perversion. In a way, Itō is very Lady Gaga.

SF: Talk about bad romance! She does share Gaga’s affection for grotesque parody and erotic hyperbole, no doubt. I felt the influence of Kali on the poems’ trajectory of shameless destruction: anarchy as the catalyst for radical transformation. (I’m thinking especially of depictions in which Kali, wearing a necklace of skulls, stands triumphantly on the head of Shiva, her tongue sticking out with irreverent insouciance.) The more redemptive outcomes of destructive events emerge in the book’s final piece, “I Am Anjuhimeko,” which is Itō’s retelling of a Japanese folktale. Originally recited by traveling storytellers, the tale was only recently written down, having been transmitted telepathically, “over 20 centuries,” through a spiritual medium. In this story, a young girl is confronted with a series of horrific tasks—in Itō’s version they involve attempted murder and multiple rapes by various manifestations of the father/taskmaster—on her quest towards shamanic initiation. The story has, in a sense, three narrators—the girl Anjuhimeko, her original storytellers, and the medium, all inhabiting the “I.” By retelling this story, Itō adjoins to the polymorphous “I,” and declares her allegiance to mediumistic and oral forms. Over and over again, the narrator asserts, “I am Anjuhimeko,” a sustained projective identification. The allegorical resonance of Anjuhimeko’s narrative allows Itō to assemble a simulacrum of the book’s collective voice and demonstrate how the mythic mirrors and absorbs the autobiographical. She speaks as both mother and daughter in the narrative’s assorted embodiments of those roles, and consequently recontextualizes, if not converts, the annihilating energy of her more personal revelations—the meaning of destruction in the preceding poems is renegotiated. ”I Am Anjuhimeko,” and hence the book, resolves in gratification: “all I have is language, I respond with language, I respond, and as I respond, I sense the desire of the leech-child I carry on my back slowly being satisfied.” The leech-child is Anjuhimeko’s symbol of salvation—the offspring of a yamanba (trickster witch).


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