Friday, April 30, 2004

Cox comes through again

Again, the geniuses at Cox did something that screwed up their lines and I was suddenlty left with no Internet for an afternoon. I wish they'd screw up when I'm at work, not when I'm at home... Anyway, I can finally update...

To the sun

I am a purportedly a Japanese expert, but there is so much about Japan that I still don't know. One thing is ritual disembowelment; seppuku to us and harakiri (pronounced like the name of the late Chicago Cubs play-by-play announcer, Harry Caray) to the other, larger segment of the US population.

I think most people know that it is a form of suicide committed by samurai when he is allowed to die an honorable death. But beyond that, I know little about its origins or its development. All I know is that in Japan, suicide is often viewed an acceptable--albeit extreme--act in response to a situation that is considered hopeless. And for the samurai, perhaps the most hopeless of situations would be disgrace to his name and family, or the shame of defeat in battle. In these cases, a man would be allowed to kill himself in a final gesture of courage, which probably explains why the ritual entails splitting open the stomach.

Seppuku must have taken incredible strength and fortitude to bear the pain of slicing open a stomach completely enough to ensure death. A slash of the the throat, or stab in the heart would be just as painful, but easier and quicker as it would take only a single stab or slice. Disembowelment entailed cutting across the stomach completely. In one ritual, the participant was required to cut to the midpoint then turn the blade upward toward the sternum. It must have been excruciating. Another aspect of the ritual is the "second", usually a friend or an admiring enemy who will cut off the head at or near the end of the disebowelling. Tis was to ensure a quick death and a perhaps to prevent as much pain as possible.

The most famous example of seppuku is found in the story the 47 Samurai. In it, Asano Takumi-no-kami is required to perform the ritual when he raised his sword at courst against a superior, Kira Kozuke-no-suke who more or less provoked the insident. In response, 47 of Asano's retainers led by Oishikura-no-suke decided to exact revenge, which they did a mauch later, and then as they had disgraces themselves for getting revenge, all 47 commited seppuku as well.


"To the Sun"
ゥ zarah delrosario 2004
Adobe Illustrator
Anyway, this act has been the province of men. Women of premodern Japan who commited suicide to "accompany" the husband--or other male family member, like father--usually slit or stabbed themselves in the throat. But what if a woman were to commit seppuku? What if a woman were to perform an act that required endurance, strength and a threshhold for pain that even normal men could barely endure? One of my favorite Xangans, Nefarious_Hatter, is an artist who comes up with some incredible images. She is, in my opinion, a wonderful photo essayist. Her entry, Richard and the Turtledoves (2004.01.23), is my favorite. No, no, no, she didn't commit seppuku, but she did create the image of one by a woman--click on the image to get a larger view on her site.

I like this one a lot. The erstwhile honorable act of disembowelment committed by a woman could have a number of interpretations. This image is of a woman performing the act of a man. She is strong, she has courage. And since she is taking the ultimate responsibility like a man, she has been disgraced for doing something that she did--whatever it might be--that is perhaps usually associated with men. Consequently, for me, "To the Sun" suggests an image of a modern woman. While she has raised herself in society, in reality, she may have disgraced herself or failed in the process to accomplish something. It is not that woman--maybe Japanese and by extension Asian woman--cannot raise herself or be successful, but perhaps whatever she might have done--or failed to do--in the world of men induced her to consider suicide as her response. But as Nefarious brilliantly portrays, such a response is folly. Proving one's strength or one's equality to man by committing a "manly" act, seppuku, is foolhardy, as suggested in the Icarius-like flight to the sun...

Well, that's how I interpreted the image. Of course, it could just mean, I have finals, I'm tired, I wanna kill myself... As any of my students know, I believe that we all have our own interpretations and each one is valid--perhaps some are more insipid than others--but each has its own value.

In any event, I think it's rather powerful image. I wonder if Nefarious would be willing to part with it...

Do you have an interpretation? What might this image mean to you?

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