Gleanings, 25-31 October 2015.


I read quite a bit day in, day out, and tweet the links a bit, but not everyone shares all of the same social media platforms so I thought I’d offer a few links on the blog, from time to time, that I’ve found to be of value, thereby adding, I hope, to the Interestingness Index of Life!

+ Book Review . . . Routledge Handbook of International Education & Development. I was enticed by the recognition of complexity and the enlarged understanding of what education is & how & where learning happens in this review. One of the editors, Simon McGrath, taught for a quarter century in my home country, Zimbabwe.

Keeping Africa in mind . . .

+ This poignant essay by Mohammed Ademo called “Exiled“, observes that ‘mourning is an exile’s state of being’.

My blessings are many, but this realisation does not take away from my sense of loss and desire to belong, a feeling that the late Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said called ‘the crippling sorrow of estrangement’.

And how. This squeezed me at my core: for myself and all others in this diasporic realm.

Then again, casting strangeness into a more positive (if escapist: why not?) light . . .

+ Book Review . . . The fabulous David Mitchell on Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea (Guardian), mentioning as an aside, along the way, the Seto Inland Sea islands (right off my current shores!). This is a book I discovered as an adult & continue to delight in.

And, remembering life is always larger and stranger than we can imagine, this story emerged from the quantum world (bah dum!):

+ Physicists prove ‘quantum spookiness’ and start chasing Schrödinger’s cat.

 (Watch the videos! ‘True, but not in the way you’re inclined to think . . .’. Very helpful!)

From the quantum to other angles on hidden realities . . . 

+ Book Review . . . at the LARB, of Ryan White’s The Hidden God: Pragmatism and Posthumanism in American Thought. (What on earth is ‘posthuman’? It’s a thing. In the article we’re told that ‘a posthumanist pragmatism would have us remember that language and knowledge, experience and selfhood, are never as transparent nor as complete as we might think or wish them to be.’ I’m down with that. I sense a rabbit hole nearby. Oh, wascally wabbits!)

+ Joe Humphrys is a name with which I’m not familiar — O Serendipity — till now! He writes a column for the Irish Times under the delicious title “Unthinkable” and has a book out which is blurbed as asking ‘fundamental questions about politics, society and ethics, seeking answers from leading thinkers in each field. The answers they give are brought together in one book, offering ideas capable of changing not just your mind but the world for the better.’ In a recent column he engages William Desmond with the question “What makes humans valuable if not God?”

Image: Jacques Adrien Lavieille, ‘Labours of the Field’,  after Jean-Francois Millet. More here. I love the image(s) of the Gleaner(s) and they are, for the time being anyway, season-appropriate and rather fitting for the act of collecting from the vast seas of web info.


Roll on, Summer Hols! (or, For Those in Need of Rest)

In a corner of my office at the University beside the computer monitor is a print of a painting, a beautiful black (African) Madonna. It was a touchstone image for me growing up: it comforts me still. Beneath the small poster sized print which is stuck to a cork board is a miniature Zen sand garden complete with small wooden rake and decorated over the years with a dried sprig of cedar, pebbles, shells and tiny pine cones. A couple of sand dollar gifts lie in the foreground beneath the garden.

In the last exhausting two weeks of the semester, entering the room every day, I’d see that the heat had melted the adhesive and the poster sagged over the garden. Each day, I’d pick up the corners and return the faces to the world. Each day, doing this, made it feel like I, too, was being gently picked up, seen, remembered. Despite this daily encouragement, however, I see now that I’ve become (momentarily, I trust) separated from some reliable sources of psychic nourishment. I have not, for example, had a good read in ages, browsing instead on fragments online and coming away feeling tired and, rather than relieved of pressure, mostly only further stimulated in ways that did not foster either recovery or flourishing. I have not written from the Centre; I have not made time to listen to my daily prayers. Aside from keeping up my evening swims, I confess I am presently feeling rather adrift. It will take me a few days to unwind and find a rhythm of breathing and living that enables me to enter into deep and soul-satisfying rest.

As challenging as internet technology can be to human being, it is not without significant and life-affirming treasures. Below is a perfect example. I clipped this wise letter to Vasco Pyjama by Australian national treasure Michael Leunig, I mean, Mr Curly, to give to myself this day, the first day of my summer vacation. [Found here, with thanks!]

Leunig, Summer

Letter to Vasco, 1

Letter to Vasco, 2Letter to Vasco, 3

Michael Leunig, The Curly Pyjama Letters, Ringwood: Viking (Penguin), 2001.

Ain’t No Mountain High Enough?

Few of those who know and teach young Japanese women of a certain age will have been surprised by the statistics released in the past week indicating that around 40% of women aspire to the life of The Domestic Goddess; in other words, to give their energies to being wives and mothers. Unsurprisingly, roughly the same percentage of men were reported to have concurred that women should be stay-at-home wives.* Of the women’s choices most of us said: Who can fault that? One of the subtexts being: . . . in a society which often does not justly see or value a woman’s worth in the workplace? Why not put your energies into something where you know you have real work and do not have to battle social prejudice every step of the way? A large majority of the women polled hold that a wife should dedicate herself to child-rearing when children are young (which I think is eminently sensible and is supported by law).

Family values are laudable; traditional Asian gender roles and expectations, not so much.

The WSJ post reporting the findings, written by a woman, unfortunately betrays just the kind of bias that is often considered the “natural” way of things and seems to pass unnoticed, like water off a duck’s back. For starters there’s the title of the article, supposedly focused (look at its tags) on Japan’s population woes and the PM’s strategy called ‘womenomics’: “Survey Finds Some Single Men with Relationship Woes.” (I know single women in similar straits! And now they’re being ‘handled’ by the government, too.) The writer indicates in the first paragraph that Japan has some mountains to climb to reach a more equitable society. So far, so true.

Then come the results of the poll. It starts with the finding that 40% of unmarried men in their 20s have never had a romantic relationship with a woman. (See this excellent and balanced write up on the so-called Japanese Herbivorous Male phenomenon). Alas, hot on the heels of the image of the (possibly?) Lonely Young Man conjured up from that statistic, we get the Gold-Digger Woman archetype [or is she intended to be the Practical No-Nonsense Woman?] roaring up from her shadowy realm (Is this meant to explain and justify the poor men’s suggested backwardness?): ‘

More than 2/3 of women in their 30s said they were looking for an annual income of at least 4 million yen/about $40,000 from a marriage partner.’

Then, back to the Male Marriage Aspirant, who, it turns out, is ineligible because ‘fewer than a third of unmarried male respondents in their 30s earn that much.’ What is the country to do? Where can we begin to dialogue on these sticky traditions for the sake of a flourishing society?

I found myself over the week thinking on these numbers and on the ways that this gender equity conversation (and it is becoming a conversation in Japan, which is good, even if it is for reasons rather more cold and instrumental than would be my ideal) connects with my life work, educating in a women’s university which claims itself as mission school. I’ve isolated a few questions that I’ll be pondering:

  •  (How?) Should a woman’s education be different than a man’s? (We all agree, don’t we, that equality does not mean sameness; difference is both inevitable and it is good. Without it cooperation & collaboration is impossible.)
  • (How?) Could/Should education in a mission-school offer something different from the run-of-the-mill university? Do we have a prophetic [and possibly counter-cultural] word to speak? Here, I am thinking in particular of Noah Berlatsky’s review in The Atlantic of Anne Allison’s book, Precarious Japan (which I have yet to read). His concluding paragraph reads:

Perhaps the problem […] is not with the methods we are using to link education to economic advancement, but linking education and economic advancement in the first place. Uncertain work and falling wages have contributed to the precariousness in Japan […] but aren’t its only cause. Rather […] the unified emphasis on economic achievement and global advancement as the social purpose has left people with few resources with which to confront hard times. The path from family to school to corporation in the context of expanding capitalism underwrote people’s social place to such an extent that without it, many individuals become placeless. (my emphases)

  • What are the purposes of a 21st century liberal arts education for Asian women?
  • Are the behaviours of young people criticised by politicians (e.g. marrying late, if at all; opting for ‘freeteristic’** options rather than the corporate ladder and its ominously low bamboo ceilings) actually a kind of wisdom that represents resistance to capitulating to the spirit of the age? (OK, that is a romantic and vague one but I sense there is something to it. I’m thinking of Leary’s ‘turn on, tune in, drop out’ or its interestingly apposite updated, if already slightly obsolete, version: ‘turn on, boot up, jack in’? Grist for another post one day, perhaps.)

It’s been an awful news week around the world, oh, the birth pangs of creation! Somehow, and oddly, perhaps, I found solace in these lines of Ilia Delio’s from the wonderful article in NCR last week by Jamie Manson:

“We are dying — and that’s OK . . . It just means something new is emerging. We need to become young again.”

Amen, amen!

*I was gratified to see at the close of the article the following acknowledgement:

“Several of the questions were worded in a way that associated women, but not men, with household chores and child-rearing. The survey didn’t include questions about a male role in the home. “Indeed, there may have been some bias to these questions,” said an analyst at the Meiji Yasuda Institute. He said the institute would consider in the future surveying responses to the statement, “Men should be stay-at-home husbands.”

** This is what a ‘freeter’ is. More depth, here.

Make Love, Not War: Japan’s Article 9

Both the Japan Times [here and here] and the BBC have run articles on Japan’s Article 9 debacle which I have read with care and with caution. I cannot help feeling (along with many other right-thinking, peace-loving people) that something fishy’s going on.

I have always thought it the mark of a highly cultured and civilised people, the forsaking of war. I deeply admire it. It is courageous and humane. And I know this is complicated for some people, and I sometimes wonder if, for them, peace is conceived more as an absence than as something crafted and shaped, a reward for creative alternate strategies for resolving conflict? Echoing Spinoza’s remark in the 17th century, Thomas Gregor in A Natural History of Peace (1996) writes:

Peace is not an absence of war, it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice. 

I have always enjoyed this disposition here and in spades.

These are the things I am thinking around on the topic at present:

  • What kind of reasoning is it in a country battling declining birthrate to be spoiling for war? (Let’s call what appears to be a spade, a spade . . . we can re-interpret later if more evidence emerges to the contrary.)
  • I am grateful in this respect to Noda Seiko who criticised the move to amend Article 9 as a failure of imagination. She is quoted as having said: “lawmakers and people should have the imagination to realize that engaging in collective self-defense means that Japanese will not only end up killing in overseas conflicts but also being killed.” It is so obvious to so many, but apparently not to all. I’m glad she said it.
  •  All interpretation involves the mind, values and interests of the interpretive community for which the text is interpreted. How will the Japanese people reveal themselves?
  • If we allow that interpretations are always provisional and open to ongoing reformation how does a country make peace heroic? (James Hinton: The only way to abolish war is to make peace heroic.) There is no shortage of the glamorisation of war. This, for example, (what I could stomach of it) is extremely creepy.
  • And, here we are, advertising how we are going to get women to ‘shine’ in Japan (they already do, but not as “Economic Resources” – charming terminology, I know) – a good thing. Is this so that we can spend more on war games, er, “Collective Self-Defense” (which, let’s admit, is a bit of an oxymoron.)
  • Judith Butler said in this interview: “Peace is a resistance to the terrible satisfactions of war.” It’s really worth a read, as it reflects on some philosophical questions about peace, particularly on vulnerability (which, as I see it, is one of the motivating factors for this foray into constitutional interpretive exercises.)

One more thing – in case you hadn’t heard: Japan’s article 9 is a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize.