Monday, January 15, 2018

Mouths fell open like trash bags

"The Bath" is a substantial short story that starts off Where Europe Begins, a collection of Yoko Tawada's work.

Have you ever tried to tell someone what you dreamt? And you stumble for words to convey the dream logic and transitions.

"The Bath" reads like a dream, only the telling of it is sublimely fluid.

It's kind of a fairy tale, about a fish-woman, or maybe a bird with scales, who may or may not be (as things are in dreams) a simultaneous interpreter who loses her tongue, both the physical muscle and her language, and joins a freak show.
I heard the click of a cigarette lighter. Evidently someone had begun to smoke. The faces around me were flushed from the wine. When jaw muscles relax, the atmosphere becomes relaxed as well. People's mouths fell open like trash bags, and garbage spilled out. I had to chew the garbage, swallow it, and spit it back out in different words. Some of the words stank of nicotine. Some smelled like hair tonic. The conversation became animated. Everyone began to talk, using my mouth. Their words bolted into my stomach and back out again, footsteps resounding up to my brain.
A lot happens in this story, and a lot of it is dreamt. It quite possibly merits Jungian analysis, but it moves so swiftly, slippery life a fish, it's hard to know where to start.

There's the issue of the mother, and the mother's refusal/failure to (physically) recognize her daughter (or emotionally acknowledge her). There's the mystery of the dead woman, whom she begins to confuse herself with, suicide from loneliness — is this what happens to Japanese women of a certain age who choose career over marriage? ("I have no time to go out because I sleep so much.") There's the problem of the tongue, forsaking one language for another, only to have no identity at all.

She is swallowed by her own vagina.
All at once I realize that the scale-covered bird called Sarcophagus is, in fact, the woman. I push open the lid and climb out.

Sky and earth have come to an end, and before me lie desolate grasslands full of slender blades swaying in the air. I remember having felt this way when I firs left my mother's womb.

With all my strength, I embrace the cold body of the scaly bird. In my arms, each of its scales becomes a wind chime that rings. Sharp, gently, bitter, soft notes penetrated my bones, and now my bones, too, begin to ring. This ringing gradually give rise to a strength which belongs to no one.
(Inhabiting one's own skin, one's own bones, someone else's skin, someone else's bones.)

I'm delighted to learn that a new novel, The Emissary, by Yoko Tawada, is to be released this spring.

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