ANDREW ZAWACKI is the author of the poetry books Videotape (Counterpath), Petals of Zero Petals of One (Talisman House), Anabranch (Wesleyan), and By Reason of Breakings (Georgia). His poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The New Republic, The Nation, and elsewhere, and he has published three books in France: Georgia and Carnet Bartleby, both translated by Sika Fakambi, and Par Raison de brisants, a finalist for Le Prix Nelly Sachs, translated by Antoine Cazé. Zawacki’s translation of Sébastien Smirou, My Lorenzo, is out from Burning Deck. A former fellow of the Slovenian Writers’ Association, Zawacki edited Afterwards: Slovenian Writing 1945-1995 (White Pine) and edited and co-translated Aleš Debeljak’s Without Anesthesia: New and Selected Poems (Persea). He is coeditor of Verse, The Verse Book of Interviews (Verse), and Gustaf Sobin’s Collected Poems (Talisman House).
Barbara Claire Freeman is a literary critic and professor of literature who has recently turned her full attention to writing poetry. She is the author of The Feminine Sublime: Gender and Excess in Women’s Fiction (University of California Press, 1998, pbk. 2000), among many other works of literary theory and criticism. Formerly an Associate Professor of English at Harvard, she teaches creative writing and poetics in the Rhetoric Department at the University of California, Berkeley. Incivilities, her first collection of poems, was published by Counterpath Press in November, 2009; a chapbook, St. Ursula’s Silence, was published by Instance Press in 2010. Selections from these collections won the Boston Review/Discovery Prize and the Language Exchange Prize. A second chapbook, titled #343, is forthcoming from Chapvelope Press in the fall of 2013. Recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in A Public Space, Agriculture Reader, Boston Review, Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, Forklift, Ohio, Jacket 1, Lana Turner, Laurel Review, The Offending Adam, The Volta, Seattle Review, Volt, Washington Square, and Wave Composition, among others.
A new poem by Andrew Zawacki follows the interview.
Barbara Claire Freeman: I just read “Sever Sonnet,” a gorgeous and exquisitely sever/e sonnet you published in the spring issue of A Public Space. Re and re-reading it makes me hope that the poem is part of a sequence or book that’s soon to be published. Can you offer reassurance?
Andrew Zawacki: Thank you for your kind words about that poem. The ending needs rewriting, somehow. But I’m sorry I can’t reassure you just yet! It isn’t included in my latest volume, Videotape, though some of its companions have appeared in or on BOMBlog, Poetry Northwest, a new online journal I’m excited about called Flag + Void, and here at OmniVerse.
The sonnet is one of fourteen—a corona whose ligatures have been altered—that I wrote for, and from, my daughter Ella. Begun when she was just over a year old and more or less abandoned when she was around two and a half, the series was meant to accompany her through her acquisition and nascent deployment of language—or of two languages, since her mother is Parisian and we speak French at home. I’d been seeking a way to stand, or sit, beside her, attentive to her earliest attentions to the world, in order to articulate my experience of what I could fathom of hers. A phenomenology not of speech, then, but rather of listening: my daughter and I composed the oblique lyrics together. Referencing Béla Tarr’s film The Turin Horse or a microwave’s voltage, a Pink Floyd song or ski slopes manufactured in Dubai, are moments that come from my own consciousness, of course. But misquoting The Cat in the Hat, intoning “bye bye,” auditioning the differing pronunciation of the English word “ours” and the French word ours for bear—those are slippages Ella spoke for herself. Even within a language, there were the—I don’t know what to call them—declensions or conjugations or trills of sounds within the same sonic zip code: doudou, for doll or security blanket; dodo for a nap or good night’s sleep; dada, the name Ella still calls me, although it’s not really correct French—and that word refers me, in turn, to Dada, as a sort of principle of ludic elasticity presiding over this elaborate naming game.
Early on, my wife Sandrine and I kept a notebook, as parents do, tracking the words and eventual phrases Ella managed to use. Sometimes we couldn’t tell, actually, whether she was trying for a French word or an English one, if she was aware a difference existed at all. (Now she is: she makes fun of my father for how he pronounces “bonjour,” of my father-in-law for how he says “beautiful.”) So the poems became concerned with her efforts to negotiate signal-to-noise ratios of various kinds: mother tongue and father patter, melody and nonmusical passage, technology’s sputter and natural guttural, storybook tales and her own gorgeous gobbledygook. It was amazing how all of a sudden that little logbook became impossible to keep up with: for a while, Ella had been talking step by painstaking step—and then the whole thing just sort of blew out and whoa, she wouldn’t shut up. That was the point where I realized: this project has run its course, time to find another format now, if I want to keep writing with her.
I’ve called the suite “Sonnensonnets,” from the German for sun, intending to establish a kind of antagonism, beginning from Derrida’s anxiety—not that he redressed it in Politiques de l’amitié—that the history of friendship in the West has always been a matter of brothers and sons, despite the fundamental role that Antigone might have played in altering that discourse. (George Steiner wondered in Antigones what might have happened had Antigone’s tale, instead of her father Oedipus’s, been identified as the fundamental text of psychoanalysis; but it took Judith Butler to think that missed opportunity through, in Antigone’s Claim.) The other contrary in the title, of course, involves the trope of the sun as central, primary, unifying. In the sonnet you mention, my daughter is done being anybody’s moon. In my mind—and maybe because we’re expecting another in September—daughters are the new sons!
I’ve always been wary of writing from personal concerns—my life just isn’t that interesting—, am basically allergic to the anecdote as a default strategy in far too many poems, and am hard pressed to identify a more sentimental or schmaltzy affair than a dad writing about his girl. But my permission to try it out—and I really did need permission somehow—came from rereading Michael Palmer’s poems for his daughter Sarah. I’d always sort of skimmed through or skipped over those poems, partly because I was just too fascinated with so many other, more overtly philosophical angles of Michael’s work and partly, I presume, because I had no empathetic or especially invested critical response to those poems, which I guess I’d set aside as “occasional” or, at best, interesting only within the larger context of Michael’s investigations into linguistic breakdown, code switching, indirect communication and outright misprision, and other aporetic encounters. After Ella was born, though, I found myself turning to those poems, out of real need, less for how they approached their subject, maybe—although they’re brilliant at keeping untrammeled emotion at bay, clearly, and at folding parenthood into those wider, quasi-Wittgensteinian perspectives—than for the bare fact that they approached the subject at all, that the poems were about a child and, what’s more, seemingly co-constructed by her as well. Also, the spring before Ella was born, I was teaching Into and Out of Dislocation in an undergrad workshop on the poetics of place and was moved by C.S. Giscombe’s stories about his daughter, particularly their nightly camping routine, when the two of them would play at scouting the perimeter, flashlights in hand… At the moment, I’m eager to get to Farid Matuk’s latest book. I read “My Daughter Among the Names” when it appeared online last year and fell in love with the thing.
BCF: Andrew, thanks so much for all of the above. But: can we backtrack for a moment? My copy of Videotape just arrived, and I’ve had the very great pleasure of reading yet another gorgeous book by one of my favorite poets. Videotape is composed of four different “tracks” (or sections), which might or might not be read as serial poems. Two of the sections are lineated verse, with multiple shapes/forms too numerous and varied to describe. Most dance in and around the left and right margins, although some have justified margins. And there are two sixteen-page tracks that alternate between the verse sections: each is comprised of four lines that streak across the bottom of the page. Could you discuss the overall design of the book, including the prosodies that inform it?
AZ: I’m happy if the four tracks strike you as serial, in the sense that Spicer meant when he spoke of moving from poem to poem as one might wander from room to room, flipping on a light in each upon entry, switching it off walking out. If it feels that way within a given track, good, and if the experience of reading as a sort of attention to flickering light continues across tracks, even better: the individual “clips” need not be read in any strict order—they encourage a peripatetic mindset, I hope, in whatever direction—, although I gave quite a lot of thought to the sequencing at the front and back ends of each track.
The project began on the Ligurian coast, where I had a residency at the Bogliasco Foundation. I was supposed to be writing poems that engaged string theory somehow, but I found myself instead acting as a kind of camera lens, recording not only the landscape but also the act of recording itself, the technological means. Radiohead’s In Rainbows was released while I was at the residence, and its closing track, “Videotape,” haunted me—less because it’s about a suicide note left on VHS than because its eccentric, syncopated percussion kept knocking around in the suburbs of my brain like beautiful, claptrap birdsong, both mechanical and pulmonary, as if Morse code could be found in nature. The writing continued at a fevered pitch traveling afterward through Florence, Venice, Verona, at Chamonix, and back to my in-laws’ home in France. Once returned to the States, I started researching into videotape, with Eli Levitan’s 1971 guide to the medium; I’d sit around Saturday mornings and simply work my way, letter by letter, through the encyclopedia, touring its cabinet of curiosities, interpolating a fascinating vocabulary and structures into poems that were quickening quickly. Among many other things, I learned that a magnetic tape comprises four tracks, with the soundtrack scrolling lowest, along the footer. Not unlike the Tapestry of Bayeux, in fact, where the narrative occupying the center is supplemented by three other tracks running in parallel, including a symbolic summary sauntering across the bottom. Dividing my book into four tracks was a simple, quasi-concrete gesture toward mimicking those architectures.
I was looking elsewhere for models to deploy or disrupt. Tape for the Turn of the Year was instrumental to setting the vertical A tracks, as was the daily routine of Ammons’s writing practice. (Returned from Italy, I taught a graduate workshop titled “DD/MM/YYYY: The Poetics of Present Tense.”) The B tracks, flat and horizontal, were inspired in part by Sébastien Smirou’s Mon Laurent, which contains eight chapters of eight pages each, with each page featuring a pair of full-justified quatrains. At the time, I was in the midst of finishing translating that book and was aware I’d become enthralled to its disciplined configuration. I was also heavily under the sway of Giscombe’s Prairie Style—hell, I still am: all his books—, whose low-slung prose passages, slinking along the crawlspace of the page like a rail line beneath a fat Indiana sky, helped me to envision a format that might evoke a musical score, a farmland fence, or the digital information panel at a viewfinder’s footer. And there’s a filmic quality, maybe, too. In the Wenders documentary Tokyo-Ga, Yasujiro Ozu’s cameraman recalls that Ozu gave him strict orders: the camera must always be fixed, low enough to the ground to meet the eyes of someone seated (even lower when filming outside), and fitted with a 50mm lens—period. I adore that mode of discipline, as well as the intimacy—premised on distance, humility—that such loving but ascetic camerawork allows.
As for prosody: the vertical tracks are meant to be frenetic, interruptive and self-disrupting, charged, voltaic. The horizontal poems, by contrast, are numb and neutral, with a narrow bandwidth. Pound’s third Imagist tenet demanded composition according to the sequence of the musical phrase, not the sequence of the metronome—but sometimes, what’s wrong with the metronome? B is designed to be counterrhymthic to A, and vice versa: a broken, zigzagging syntax, all jitterbug and jackanapes, versus a smooth, affectless, unaccented tone, and each a “backtrack” to the other. B is roughly the pace of play—clickety-clack, clickety-clack—, whereas A is rewind and fast-forward. Taken as a whole, I want the book’s prosody to balance out as though someone had hit the pause button: if the images are stalled, suspended, stymied, on videotape they also tend to be blurred, slurred, smeared, a kind of kinetic energy scatting in place.
BCF: I’m especially beguiled by how Videotape interweaves (and also dis-joins) relationships between landscape and technology. Is “technology,” broadly defined, somehow at play in the genre of the pastoral, assuming, perhaps mistakenly, that “the pastoral” has a place in Videotape?
AZ: Partway into writing Videotape, while teaching graduate and undergrad seminars on ecopoetics and, finally, reading Raymond Williams’ magisterial study The Country and the City, I began thinking in terms of what I framed to myself as “global pastoral.” The phrase is oxymoronic, since the second term necessarily signals localism, intimacy with the land, and an actual someone actually cultivating actual fields, shepherding real animals, whereas the former is all sprawl and abstraction, the flattening out of particulars. (I may have had Michael Pollan’s “supermarket pastoral” partly in mind.) As Williams observes, at the start of pastoral the genre—Virgil’s Eclogues and Georgics, in the first century BC—the poets who sing are also the farmers themselves, whose songs emerge from a deep, embodied knowledge of the land they tend. There’s no separation between fieldwork and lyricism. Talk about the language of flowers: the pastoral poet gave voice to the earth, as if the ground were swelling articulate through his lungs, throat, mouth. From there, the symbiosis between agriculture and orphism starts to fray, however, becoming a narrative of increasing distance, differentiation. Soon you have poets watching the farmers, singing at one remove, so that tilling and telling, while related, are no longer identical motions: instead, one mediates the other. By the time we reach the seventeenth century—Marvell, say, who provides an epigraph to my book—London poets, with no experience whatsoever of farming, are invited out to manicured estates by wealthy landowners who themselves have outsourced their industry to vassals. These poets are commissioned to observe the flora and fauna, the farmhands and bucolic “setting,” from a winter garden or else a classy, glassy dining room that features what, quite simply, would come to be known as “a view.” They’re no longer pastoralists so much as “landscape” portraitists—tourists, even. So the arc of would-be pastoral into the twenty-first century—in the US having threaded through Paterson, Maximus, North Central—is one of virtualization, simulacra, successive expropriations of labor, and widening the space between “self” and “surrounds,” those once reciprocal, mutually implicated terms having unknotted by now. The landscape has been objectified, by poets ever more subjective in their descriptions; the perverse upshot is the pathetic fallacy. In its various modalities, ecopoetics is poised to check this step back, and I’m wholly in harmony with the many reorientations, strategies, and agendas that ecopoetics has inaugurated. But I’m also haunted by the dream of technology to replace experience with spectacle, the actual with as-if, as though surfing the web were merely a less expensive, less dangerous way to ride the waves off New Zealand. Global pastoral struck me as the logical extension of this sinister fantasy: the idea that one is at “home” anywhere—there, no less than here. Which is to say: no such thing as home any more. Das Unheimliche is the new House.
I realize that Baudrillard is behind some of this: the Gulf War never happened; war is a phenomenon on your television screen, in your living room, i.e. you can turn it off; America is nothing more than a feedback loop of the images it flaunts to itself, on a Vegas hotel treadmill monitor. (As my friend Aleš Debeljak would retort: tell that to widows and mothers in Sarajevo and Srebrenica.) The history of combat itself is one of somatic retreat: from bayonet to musket ball, War Games to drone strikes. The devolution of pastoral that I’ve outlined parallels, too, the accounts that Gustaf Sobin provided of so many phenomena in early Gallo-Roman civilization, including the rise of credit and, not least, the retention of a devotional imperative—embedded in the psyche like a rapt, genetic code—, long after God or the gods have disappeared, or died, or were killed. My notion of a global pastoral has also been aided and abetted by Marc Augé’s non-places—airports, shopping centers, highways, and other zones where our life gets led, although none belongs to us in any singular way, or bears any mark of uniqueness, or else acts as a truly communal ground, as the basis for a community. I’m as much the son of such nowhere spaces as I am of my hometown in Pennsylvania. The former are as level and homogenous—defined precisely by their lack of definition, capitalism being an invisible hand—as Warren is distinctive, unmistakable for anywhere else. Global pastoral witnesses the folding of locales into one another—a sort of spatial jetlag, if you will, each place somehow ahead or behind itself, so that everywhere bears the trace of anywhere else. Australia and Austria begin to shill for one another, as nearly duplicate as their names. I spent a lot of time with Rebecca Solnit’s essays in Storming the Gates of Paradise, too, learning from her vigilance regarding the socio-political exclusions at the center of our so-called “United” States, as well as from her attention to how photography frames physical space, sometimes amputating it from the context that had assured its inherent significance. Speaking of photographers: Santu Mofokeng, Sally Mann, Roni Horn, Richard Misrach, and Edward Burtynsky were each present, at various points, in my efforts to conceptualize how the protracted lyric might be brought to bear on a world increasingly comprised of “manufactured landscapes.”
BCF: You’ve just been talking about photography in relation to landscape, but what about video, specifically? The book’s cover features a “videodrawing” by artist Jason Varone, and you’ve been screening his videos during readings this year. What’s your relationship to his work and practice?
AZ: I came across Jason’s work through a former student of mine, Phillip Griffith, who’d been interning at Art Papers. One of their issues featured a story about Jason and his work. I immediately felt a kinship to all aspects of what he was up to, from his twilit lens trained on interstitial spaces and swaths of no-man’s-land and repurposed zones—LaGuardia, the Long Island Expressway, Greenpoint courtyards and fire escapes and back alleys—to the lo-fi, pixilated “surface quality” (as he calls it) of his videos. I also dug the grinding, noise-polluted field recordings he sometimes syncs his images with. Jason started out as a landscape painter but drastically modified his practice to confront the incursions of technology into the geophysical terrain. I found myself moving in a similar direction while writing Petals of Zero Petals of One; I kept having a vision of Stevens’s man with the blue guitar going electric. In Jason’s practice, the invasions of technology do not exclude war: some of his work, in infrared, captures American soldiers on the front lines in Iraq or else breaking into houses, troubling in fact the definition of what a “front” might be, as war becomes increasingly videogame-like, guerrilla, dissimulated, unofficial, while also coming soon to a foyer near you. The contrails that appear in “A Videodrawing in Brooklyn” and in Jason’s digital still shot “Sky Over Brooklyn” are music to my eyes, à la Goethe’s frozen architecture, aerial design. On one hand, they’re mucking up the atmosphere, as aviation exhaust that, in turn, exhausts the biosphere. On the other, they’re beautiful in their thinness and arc, the clean, controlled way they seem to organize the entire image, if not the skies themselves. That ambivalence—science versus aesthetics, say, clear air vs. flight pattern clutter—is paralleled in Jason’s work by a media ambidexterity: as the genre “videodrawing” signals, Jason is concerned with the crossover from analog to digital, or with the toggling between those formats. With titles like “Topology of Technology,” his work has articulated itself as wall painting and digital projection, video projection on vintage topographic maps, single-channel DVD, and so on.
When I found his work, partway into writing Videotape, I’d keep referring to it, as a sort of visual soundtrack—background image noise—while composing. It’s not that I was interested in writing ekphrastically or commenting on his work directly. In fact, one of the reasons I like showing his visuals while I read from the book is that his images and my words don’t quite ever match. They confront or encounter one another; it’s not a question of illustration. For one thing, his milieu is urban to the degree that mine is rural, his camera more locally focused while mine pans global. But it’s the furtive, flickering meetings in between that, I hope, make the dual-track presentation worth watching and hearing. For me, using his videos and stills has been an experiment in diversifying what a “reading” is—obviously not a radical innovation, by any stretch whatsoever, but for me a quite critical one. Part and parcel of the project to meditate on what a camera is and does, it’s important to me to disappear, best I can, during a reading from the book. You never see the person operating a camera, whether it’s a camcorder or a point-and-shoot, but of course he’s around, as an implied presence on the scene, even inflecting that scene. Not in spite of his hiddenness, but precisely because you can’t spot him. Is he an intruder? Does his discretion serve to diminish his power, or heighten it? Our realization that he’s at once there and not there should force us to think about discrepancies between phenomena and frame, about the many limits that filming interposes and what might exceed them.
Then I met Jason at his studio and liked him enormously, liked listening to him talk about his involvement with expanding the bike lane networks throughout New York City, liked the idea of perhaps working together on a project down the road, this time from the ground up, as a true collaboration. He splits his time between New York and Cincinnati, where his wife works, and I spend every summer in Paris, away from my home in Georgia. So maybe betweenness as such is something we should think about tackling: physical sites of the neither here nor there, as such ephemeral zones both separate and join cities and their surrounds, for example, disrupting what center and periphery might mean any more.
BCF: We haven’t discussed your doctoral work and interest in literary/cultural theory, broadly defined. As you know, to say that I’m a fan of your new sonnet sequence is an understatement. Your lyrics, especially the abbreviated ones, frequently remind me of texts I love by Derrida, Blanchot, Kristeva, et al. Their ability to embody a certain celebratory and politically engaged “negativity” seems to me both deeply embedded in the tradition of lyric poetry (Sappho, Dickinson, Keats) and at play in texts by writers I just mentioned. Are there affinities here between these two “discourses,” or is this correspondence something I’m imagining?
AZ: That’s extremely generous of you to say, Barbara—thank you. I’m at the Goethe Institute in Paris as I type this, on break from a colloquium, where we’ve just been discussing Blanchot and Celan. It occurs to me that the intersection of Paul Celan with the trio Blanchot, Derrida, and Lacoue-Labarthe—all three of whom published major texts on the poet’s work in January 1986: Le dernier à parler, Schibboleth, and La poésie comme expérience—is exactly where your question resides. (My obsessions in this direction were advanced by Lacoue-Labarthe, who served on my dissertation committee until his death. I’d attended his seminar on L’Éctiture du désastre in Paris in ’05—just a half dozen of us, once a week, over a spring semester, in a small church classroom on la rue des Vinaigriers. It was marvelous.) Each of these critics is post-structuralist to the extent that he tries to think what escapes category or the concept, project or utility, what resides outside the dialectics of logic and commerce, threatening to unravel the foundations of philosophy altogether. Writing is pure negativity, entropy that the system cannot enlist, co-opt, or sublimate in the Hegelian sense: sheer excess, “the outside” as such. Hence: impossible. For Blanchot and Celan alike, to write is to pass from first person to third, from self to “no one,” from the author’s supposed authority to a passive position—to cede one’s sovereignty to the advent of another. At the same time, the work is always falling out of itself, as well, foreclosing its possibilities in favor of a book, which is said to be finished, hence can be held in one’s hands and sold, read by other people and thereby changed by that reading. Writing is constantly defaulting on its singular chance by putting those possibilities into writing—but what other choice does it have? If it refrains from closing itself in a book by foreclosing on its open status as a work, nobody encounters it. The impossible: writing is undone by the very movement of writing—that’s the “isn’t” that writing “is.”
On one hand, the lyric is a machine made of words. On the other, language cannot contain such language, which exasperates paraphrase and information, the laws of non-contradiction. In this way the lyric is among those exceptions that post-structuralism kept trying to sketch out a necessary but finally insufficient economy for. Maybe that’s why neither Heidegger, in his interpretations of Hölderlin and Trakl, nor Blanchot, in any of his readings of poetry, ever really attended to formal elements in a poem—or even noticed that poetry happens in a form, as a form. Whether we evoke Barthes’ punctum, Derrida’s “science of the singular,” Marion’s saturated phenomenon, Lyotard’s “jews,” Badiou’s event, Bataille’s wound, Klossowski’s sodomite, or Irigaray’s love, we are in the aporetic realm of seeking to accommodate—in thought, in language—the incommensurable, the irreducible, the wholly other, or rather to delimit the inaccessibility of these stringent alterities. In response to Jean-Luc Nancy’s “inoperative” community, Blanchot’s “unavowable” community would be one setting for a politics of self-abnegation and pure passivity, in which everyone exists, separately together, to “do” nothing except make adequate space for the other’s coming, to help one another die with dignity. To assign everyone what Butler calls a “grievable life.” A community whose project is to eradicate projects—an impossible community, to be sure, but one that the Occupy movements, say, have fairly well articulated, in their collective refusal to accept the very terms of the current political—read social and economic—debate.
Speaking of yielding one’s place to another: negativity has been at work in the construction of my sonnets. Earlier in this interview—a few weeks ago already—I said that “Sonnensonnets” was finished, at fourteen poems, as in a corona. But “Target Discount Backpack Sonnet” below now makes a fifteenth, and I’ve just written an “Arson Sonnet,” the other night—sixteen. So now I see twenty-one poems on the horizon… I’d been on a Japanese film kick. I was watching Late Spring when Ella got suddenly interested in Setsuko Hara’s character, Noriko, whom she identified as “triste et fachée.” (She was also just trying to buy time, I think, before going to bed.) Noriko is unwilling to leave her father’s house, although she’s in her late twenties. Wanting things to stay as they are, she argues that no one will take care of her father if she leaves. So her father and his sister take it on themselves to get her married, which in turn involves his pretending to remarry. It struck me as kind of amazing, that out of all the movies I regularly watch, most of which Ella pays no attention to whatsoever, she was riveted by this sad, upset lady, who turns out to be a daughter revising her relations with her father. So we sat there on the couch, the two of us, watching through the end of the film, with Ella constantly asking why the woman was triste et fachée. For the next several days, the disc now overdue at the library, she kept requesting to watch it before bed, and she specifically wanted to see the second half, with the sad, angry lady. She eventually started noticing other aspects of the film: Noriko doesn’t eat the fat piece of cake her friend offers—what? The dad falls asleep while they’re talking late at night. Her aunt, the dad’s little sister, isn’t actually “little.” The grain of the film, flickering, looks like rain. But Ella’s focus kept coming back to the daughter, even more so once she understood that the problem involved her dad. She seemed especially taken by the scene where the two are packing their suitcases after a short vacation together—maybe because we were in the process of packing up for summer break, or else because we’d just bought Ella a backpack, which she stuffed with all manner of bric-a-brac and insisted on taking to bed. Ozu’s ambivalent film posits the daughter as a dialectical movement from object to subject, as both a singularity and a substitution. These are Levinasian terms, proposed in Otherwise Than Being, where he thinks the child as an extension of my self—biologically, existentially—but my self as rendered other than, and other to, itself. Until the point when the child ceases being my project altogether and, instead, assumes her own future, as a project for her to direct. The film frequently articulates this itinerary without showing us the crucial transitions: rooms in the house are connected by stairwells we never get to see, just as we’re never privy to the rail travel, let alone the interior of the train. As her father, I was touched—to say the very least—by Ella’s apparent investment in the people at the heart of all this. It was like rehearsing our separation years in advance.
Target Discount Backpack Sonnet
The father in Ozu’s
Late Spring says “in
which I play no part”
Invisible, the passageways
As if raining inside the rooms
Refrain: to withhold or hold back
No stone is too small
No berry too tiny
Refrain: again, again
Talking until the lights go off
You with your future
Unfolded as yet
One in which I play