AT THE TOKYO FUJI ART MUSEUM, THE HOKUSAI COLLECTION OF UKIYO-E, THIRTY-SIX VIEWS OF MOUNT FUJI, IS BEFORE ME.
Museums have no environment; they are alien places that are a spacetime all their own.
When I was a child, I was told that Katsushika Hokusai was an ancestor of our family. My parents had told me this on a trip to this museum. As we counted by views of the rising mountain summit, my heart flapped its wings in soaring anticipation for the mountain to reappear in the background of another scene, in another way, to another people – my people. Many sided are the things we love. Mount Fuji, like the heart, may be forgotten to the tasks in the foreground, but like the heart, it is always already there to stir the stone, to soften it and make it azure blue with emotion and as white as sea foam.
The views unite the collective in this way, passing colour into the face, into the hands, into the feet, so as to not lose orbit in the gravity of care for it. There are many paths to Mount Fuji, just as there are many veins to that most ardent artery. It was here, amidst these vivid works of wood block print, that my parents spoke of my ancestor to me. Hokusai was still in the artwork, in the inspired material, they said, Whenever you want to be in the presence of your ancestor, be here. Nowhere will bring you closer than this place.
When I was a child, my heart was Mount Fuji.
All of Japan would view my heart. My core was within a magnificent mountain, and how it wanted to erupt from dormancy with molten excess! When it was summoned, my heart would swell and I would become flush and drunk and spellbound by it. My parents would say that this was the blessed curse of the Katsushika family, what was inherited was an inclination towards the aesthetic of the everyday. When I saw the shunga, the pictures of spring, I knew what I was capable of. I would have the dream of the fisherman’s wife. It was erotic and shameful and slippery. You are the artist of your own emotions, they would say, you must make them what they are or they will make you what you are not. In heed of their warning, I adopted a modern craft.
It was not common for a Japanese woman to be interested in film animation, let alone animate. I would have to go abroad to be seriously considered. I decided I would study in France. What a strange fascination they had for these Ukiyo-e paintings!
The gallery I am in is closing and I will be leaving it and Japan behind. I wait for the bullet train; the chiaroscuro faces are illuminated by phone screens in the nightfall of the terminal platform. Tokyo’s smog is Edo’s ghost. In the distance, there is no Mount Fuji to be counted, only skyscrapers like tombstones break the horizon line.
My name is Ei. Oiran, muse of my muse. Everything that has tentacles is frightening because unknown things are sure to follow from them. Intelligent alternatives to bone and brain lay eggs in deep places. The oiran were masters of pleasure, they guided it and followed it in its wake. An organ, like the heart, is an oiran, a guide through the district of pleasure. One needs guidance for fear of tentacles. Light through light, line within line.
Here, in France, I learn of Japanism. The impressionist’s desire for vitality set their flat, still images in (e)motion. It is not that we are of a similar culture, the opposite. We are an otherworldly encounter, aliens gazing through telescopes at aliens gazing through telescopes. Where they are sensual we are severe, where they are severe we are sensual. I cannot get close with them. Their interest in me is the interest one pays to an exotic prostitute. I attend my lessons and work at the studio. I will be Hokusai’s dying words, I will be his hundred years, I will achieve his decade of perfection, I will be his lost daughter.
There are many galleries in Paris. They are desperate for individuality, here; it is their religion. The Seine stinks of doomed love and drowned dreamers. Freedom is an idiosyncrasy. I spend many a night in Paris, alone.
I see a psychologist while I am here. He has spent many years studying the Japanese school of psychoanalysis, and he is interested in my history. I tell him that it is unlikely that I am of Hokusai’s lineage, that he went by many names and that my family likely passed down a story and not a genetic relation. One does not choose one’s family, but is instead chosen by them. I was chosen by Hokusai the day I stood before his prints. I chose the name of his daughter because I am where she went the day he passed away. The analyst suckles the teat of his pipe’s stem, billowing out of his open mouth a cloud of milky white tobacco. The smoke tumbles and falls upwards over the contours of his face and into his turned hair. His Japanese is spoken without dialect, my French is thought without dialect.
He asks me about the dream of the fisherman’s wife, and I tell him: Where its eyes can pass, its body can follow. The distance between an octopus’s eyes is its mortal limit as a contortionist of amorphous waters. For the eyes that see only shadows in grey, it will sacrifice absolute movement. Its delicate skin is not colourblind and interprets all greyness into a sensitive camouflage. It is a naked landscape of emotion. Skins and horizons. Tentacled arms are also spongy genitals, they suck and grip and penetrate, coiling around those ensnared by the ink black shadow in the entanglement. The octopus is a stomach that feeds on those that withdraw into their hard calcium shells. And then you see the octopus gliding around its watery grotto, the faceless head and many armed shoulders resembling the strong tension of a human torso with roots enveloping the bottomless oceanic abyss beneath it. The shorter the life, the greater the god. It nurtures to death the nest eggs that are its grotto’s living gold. I am not the fisherman’s wife, I am the octopus.
Language is the door to the psyche, he would say after I exhausted myself, but the language of language is the key to that door, the key to the unconscious that knocks from the inside.
We met four to five days in the week; after class I would couch myself with him and tell him about my melancholy. We would smoke dark leafed cigars and ejaculate their smoke into each other’s faces with a smile. You know, he would say, in the future, artists will work directly out of asylums. It will be the only way they will be able to go beyond the masters before them…You’re right about the octopus when you say that it allows everything in. If the genitals were formed by the sensitive way they received pleasure, sculpting skin by the handmaiden of touch, the octopus would represent an orgy of desire. It is a delirious image to feel out.
As the sessions passed and my education in France neared its end, the strong relationship of our mesmeric rapport remained a place of curiosity for the two of us. Internships as an animator in Japan would lead me homeward. I was still waiting for spring to come.
MY HEART IS WROUGHT WITH IRON LATTICE AND ARTERIAL GLASS ARCADES.
An emptiness with walls. Glass organs, like glass buildings, are constructions in the transparency of social trust. Shatter the metaphorical glass ceilings of my heart.
The horse is the french octopus, its handsome muscular legs full to the bone marrow with speed and vitality. The bicycle is a natural transference from the horse to the over health of the modern human machine. The essence of the tour de force is the hybridization of the horse’s striated legs and the metallic skeleton of the spinning bicycle wheels. We eat the horse because it is a god, like the octopus; only gods are consumed, only gods are plated on tables and served to humankind.
Her name was Y. K_____. She experienced vivid hallucinations. Her contempt for sexuality was linked to her father’s adulterous behaviour, so was her obsession in also fearing it. Patterns would intensify in her stare and, gaining a vitality all their own, rush up her arms and legs, obliterating her infinitely. She had several alter-egos; one was Hokusai’s daughter, Ei Katsushika, who, according to an incomplete record of her history, became an enlightened sage after her father, the famous painter, had died. Identifying with this lead to her herself embodying, her herself becoming an octopus, a fetishization of her actual father fused with Hokusai, a phallic monopoly over the ancestral patriarchy. And the last of her egos was a matriarchal symbol, a gorge or pumpkin. The gorge was an ark that carried her through her hallucinations, in its unstirred womb, through the storm of her episodes.
The problem with psychoanalysis is that it never went back far enough; 200 years isn’t long enough to be truly significant. Freud was as nearsighted as Jung was farsighted, and I am their perfect hindsight.
Community is depth and gives us warmth, singleness is height and gives us light.
I decided I would transfer over to Japan to continue our therapy. Y. K_____ had become immensely important to my theory, integral to its subtlest developments. Without her, I was nothing but a glass house. In fact, in symbol, she was my theory, shifting cryptic logic towards a royal road to the Eastern collective unconscious.
This secret waited for me in Japan, where the demiurge still creates the earth. It was the kind of roguish depth of analysis that Jung, or at least the late Jung, who had unquestioningly found in himself an uncanny ability to journal the esoteric archetypes, had inscribed pure absence into the incomprehensible wake of his Red Book. A secret, a secret was there, with her, tied into the knot of Gordian, a heart in a heart, For what was more complex than two hearts? Solve it, solve the puzzle, and uncoil the snake of the depth, releasing the white bird of the heights. Only there could the lost gods have hidden their absoluteness, with no intention for it to be found by creatures of our middle finitude; clawing the earth and climbing the skies.
These lost gods, and their silent meaning-making, were being mapped over Y. K_____’s body, in the same way that the traditional Japanese tattooing of irezumi painfully inserts ink under stabbed skin.
Her environmental-installations were popular here, in Paris. I had experienced some of them. They were fully immersive. When she began her studies, you could hear her frustration with the limitations of post-impressionist forms of expression.
The canvas was not enough to make flowers laugh and points point, she would confess: I would finish a painting and derail from its two-dimensions and paint the third. The painted patterns would get on the walls, then the floors and then the furnishings. My entire studio was covered by the dripping patterns that could not fit themselves into their frames. Eventually, I ceased to be painter and it painted me alive, obliterating the former environment and incorporating me into its own multicolored world.
Wild worlds were constrained by the edges of her canvas. Crossing this threshold, she wanted others to be an incorporated part of these works of art. Camouflaged by the space, you would lose the sense of who was painting who, that’s what she meant by obliteration.
Like what you’re reading? OddMadland is a reader-supported publication, so consider donating to support more of this kind of creative writing in Canada and internationally. It only takes a second to donate!
HIDE IN THE DOTS. THEY WILL PROTECT YOU FROM THE MORE RADICAL PATTERNS OF INFINITY.
When I have a visitor, I insist that I must paint them, to sanitize them in this hostile environment. My models strip down and I poke-paint their skin to camouflage them before their patterns reach obliteration. A dot is a star in the night sky. Each star is a personal God. The stars laugh at the earth; they are the most frightening of infinity’s creatures. How they would like to descend upon me in great swarms, like a plague of interstellar insects. I am a flower and they want to pollinate me with their star stuff. I think about the smooth white pebbles at the bottom of the cool stream in behind my childhood home, and a calm washes over me.
I am told that the things I cover are taken to museums around the world, though, I do not often leave this sanctuary and have not seen them myself. When I was an animator, this was not the case. They wanted traditional Japanese illustrations. I could not avoid gravitating towards the margins, and started to colour outside the lines. They didn’t understand my plots. They didn’t understand my characters. Everything was being obliterated and swallowed up. The stars conspired against me, cackling in their darkly corners. I could not continue; I had to quit before those horrible monsters of the light descended on me.
…dot the canvas…
Poke – Poke…
…Poke – Poke
…dot the walls…
Poke — Poke…
…Poke — Poke
…dot the doors and dot the windows…
Poke —— Poke…
…Poke —— Poke
…dot myself and the people…
POKE ——— POKE…
…POKE ——— POKE
…dot the dots…
…POKE! ———— POKE! ———— POKE! ————— POKE!…
I HAVE BEEN HERE IN JAPAN WITH Y.K_____ SINCE SHE COMMITTED HERSELF. AFTER LEAVING FRANCE, SHE HAD NOT IMPROVED.
Working in the animation industry brought about the stress necessary to drive her into a further state. The dots came about during this period and, like a smallpox epidemic, they had sickened the media she had been working on. I had been keeping unbroken correspondence with her parents, who were wealthy merchants of Tokyo. They had hired me to evaluate her while in Paris and were willing to move me to her at any cost.
The dots have taken on a significance not unlike an amulet or talisman. Y. K_____ believes that these omamori ward off the evil spirits of bad experience that were driven to obliterate her through herself. I have transferred her to a facility that will allow her to continue her art in a studio that has been funded by her parents. She has lost much of her prior associations in favour of the dots. Often, she does not remember our past talks; they are blotted out along with much of her more traumatic history. I have her write on what she is conscious of in the episodes that plague her. And I find strange poetry in her diary, a tendency toward animism. It is necessary for her to continue with the art. It is a kind of medication that has no substitute. Without these dots, I believe she would inevitably take her own life.
I have recently published a work on her condition, Infinity Rooms, linking it to the aesthetic disorder of the transcendental nerve, for a godlike perfectionism, that seems to have begun in the late Edo period of artistry. The theory has become very popular in the East and an enormous amount of interest, especially amongst the avant-garde movement, which she had estranged herself from, in France, has been adopted worldwide.
These vogue people have largely distanced me from her. They gave her bright pink hair and dressed her in dotted dresses, her powdered skin around wide hyper-focussed eyes and nervous lips mouthing prayers, catatonically, all the while, a camera in her face and a director mediating her lines and movements. She is an artifact, stored in the absolute whiteness of an entirely canvassed room, as bright as the inside of a star. She labours over her hallucinations till an installation is produced and then, taken to another, and another, and another, to repeat the unending sequence. Even now, after all these years, she constructs her infinity rooms, dot by dot, as infinity passes through her unconscious.
Enjoying OddMadland? If you’d like to keep up-to-date on OddMadland publications, you can donate on the Support Us page (We promise to never spam you). And of course, you can follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.