What follows is an anti-review. It is an anti-review of Shuntaro Tanikawa’s 62 Sonnets and Definitions: Poems and prosepoems. I call it an “anti-review” because it violates the rules of reviewing in several ways. First, the book is not new: it appeared over a decade and a half ago, in 1992. (There is a further, more disturbing aspect to this violation: the book combines two collections published in Japanese much earlier—62 Sonnets in 1953, and Definitions in 1975.) Second, it does not comment on Tanikawa’s book: it simply quotes a section of a poem, or prose poem (or prosepoem, to use the term as it appears on the title page), entitled “Darkness in the Throat”; the section has its own title, which appears below.
I don’t feel bad about these violations, because after all I’m not reviewing Tanikawa’s book. Beyond the fact that I’m not commenting on it, I’m not even quoting from it: I’m quoting from the translation by William I. Elliott and Kawamura Kazuo. I have taken a typical leap of faith in believing that their translation from the Japanese is accurate; moreover, this leap is similar to the leap that leads me to believe that a Japanese poet named Shuntaro Tanikawa actually exists in reality. I don’t read or speak Japanese, after all, and I don’t have any friends living in Japan to whom I can turn for verification. What if Shuntaro Tanikawa were an invention of Elliott and Kazuo, similar to Ern Malley—the fictional Australian poet created by James McCauley and Harold Stewart? What if the photograph of Tanikawa that appears on the back of 62 Sonnets and Definitions is really a Japanese actor who is pretending to be Shuntaro Tanikawa in order to cover debts racked up playing online poker? Even worse, what if Elliott and Kazuo are inventions of someone entirely anonymous—an insane editor at Katydid Books, for example? (Katydid Books is the publisher, or purported publisher, of the book purportedly translated by Elliott and Kazuo from the original by Tanikawa.)
Luckily, Tanikawa, Elliott and Kazuo—like McCauley, Stewart and Malley, like Katydid Books—are Googleable, and my Google searches have produced what seem to me a sufficient number of independent references to the principals to give me a certain level of confidence. That is, unless there is a vast conspiracy to deceive me into putting a hoax anti-review of Shuntaro Tanikawa’s 62 Sonnets and Definitions: Poems and prosepoems on my blog, I feel sure that what follows is legitimate. I might even say that it . . . —but no, if I were to explain why this seems worth putting on my blog, it would become something other than an anti-review; I might even feel compelled to write an actual review of Tanikawa’s book, and frankly I seriously doubt that I could do it justice.
I’m even beginning to doubt if I am I, in which case my opinion would mean even less than it does on a more typical day, when I haven’t gotten caught up in reading Shuntaro Tanikawa.
Calling a Name
Names were created when sounds and objects were connected. This is not to trace the origin of languages in explanatory terms. The sort of shock people felt when a theretofore meaningless sound like “eye” became associated with an actual eye someone pointed at may remain here on this ambiguous occasion (though I don’t know why).
Such names as “eye”, “tooth”, “ear” or “hand”, however, will never appear with ecstasy or a refreshing feeling but are created through pain or loathing. They will be accompanied by the symptom of serious stammering, and each individual as these words are used becomes again a prisoner of something uncontrollable, but that does not last long.
People quickly grow accustomed to those names and by giving names to things they begin discovering the world. They are then overmastered by child-like enthusiasm, astonishment and awe, and everyone speaks to everyone else the names of bodily parts, clothes and belongings.
Each name is carefully pronounced and even lyrically repeated. This is how names rapidly mushroom. In other words people begin hungrily calling out the various names of as many things around them as they can see and of as many people as there are in the world.
The kind of ritualistic raving that began with the naming of visible concrete objects could not but become abstract and migrate into the realm of imagination. Name summoned up name, association summoned up association, and no one saw or heard the actual world any more, but persisted with the vocabulary of his own inner world.
Before they have time to consider whether a reality actually corresponds to those names, they continually call out name after name. Those names no longer function; they go out of circulation. Names become strangely magical things, like prayers to Buddha, and finally even the act of calling names seems to have been buried in fatigue.
At the very least, I hope you have enjoyed this anti-review of Shuntaro Tanikawa’s 62 Sonnets and Definitions: Poems and prosepoems.