There are many metaphors applied to humanity’s study of the past. In the opening lines of The Go-Between (1953), L.P. Hartley opines that “the past is a foreign country: they do things different there”. In The Aetiology of Hysteria (1896), Freud likens the role of the psychoanalyst to that of a conquistador or antiquarian:
Imagine that an explorer arrives in a little-known region where his interest is aroused by an expanse of ruins, with remains of walls, fragments of columns, and tablets with half-effaced and unreadable inscriptions… He may have brought picks, shovels and spades with him, and he may set the inhabitants to work with these implements. Together with them he may start upon the ruins, clear away the rubbish, and, beginning from the visible remains, uncover what is buried.
Both metaphors present the process of historical detection as a voyage into territories unknown. Today, these metaphors ring hollow through a combination of over-use and changing attitudes to the wider world. These days, the world is a village and no two parts of the village are ever more than a plane-flight away. However, in the days of Hartley and Freud, the world was a much larger and scarier place. Were one to update Hartley’s dictum for contemporary usage one would most likely say something like “the past is an oceanic trench: who knows what lies buried in the dark?”
Nowhere is the past’s peculiar edge more evident than when it protrudes from the wreckage of a life recently concluded. When a parent dies, the children move in and sort through their things. This process of sorting generally uncovers all kinds of facts from the actively forgotten to the merely mislaid. People lead complicated lives and these lives are seldom fully encapsulated by the short amount of time that people know each other. To look into a loved-one’s past is to uncover things about them that we would rather not know, things that force us to confront unpleasant truths about ourselves. Denis Villeneuve’s Incendies is a film about a voyage into the past and the changes that such a voyage can bring to otherwise blissfully ignorant lives.
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Gestalt Mash have my review of the sixth volume of Fumi Yoshinaga’s Eisner and Tiptree award-winning manga series Ooku: The Inner Chambers.
My review features something of a reassessment of the series as I realise that, rather than looking it as a Feminist thought-experiment about an alternate feudal Japan in which the male population has been reduced by 75%, the series is best seen as a historical epic. The term ‘historial epic’ is somewhat misleading in that it tends to summon images of fat fantasy novels with intricate plots that unravel over hundreds of years. While Ooku’s plot may cover a number of generations, the plot is very much anchored to the waxing and waning of historical forces. There is no grand narrative at work here, just the ceaseless change of an aging ruling class and how the decisions they make change the country:
By stepping back from the lives of the individual characters and focusing instead upon the historical themes that emerge from the passage of the generations, we can see that Yoshinaga is suggesting that history is above all a product of human passions. Yoshinaga’s characters are the twisted and broken products of a twisted and broken society and while their exalted positions allow them the power to shape and reshape society as they wish, there is the growing sense that Yoshinaga’s characters repeat the mistakes of the past because they simply cannot help it. In Yoshinaga’s history, change happens more by chance than by design.
Needless to say, I am still very much enjoying this particular series and I hope that Viz Media continue to show their commitment to the series by publishing volume 7.
My previous posts on the series can be found at the following locations though I have also collected them under a single heading in this site’s menu bar:
Gestalt Mash has the second of my pieces about Fumi Yoshinaga’s excellent Ooku: The Inner Chambers.
Having introduced us, in the first volume, to an alternative history of Edo-period Japan in which 75% of the male population has been killed off by disease, Yoshinaga goes about trying to explain why it is that this culture allows women to rule while also paying lip service to the idea of masculine superiority. Intelligent, insightful and quite moving, Ooku: The Inner Chambers continues to be a very rewarding read.