Dispatches on the Tohoku Earthquake: Part II: Mourning

by Ryan Sayre

Sitting in a circle 8e5bf977-8bf4-49e9-9e3e-03d057570c57_1 around my computer with Kumagaya and his fellow fishermen at an evacuation center up north, we watched footage taken by him of the tsunami coming in. A good number of clinical terms offer themselves up to help understand Mr. Kumagaya's seemingly untroubled manner when explaning whose boat that was being pulled under now, whose fishing nets washed inland there, whose homes brought out to sea over yonder. Why is the mood closer to good humor than sorrow, nearer to excitement than despair? We can guess what words diagnosis will throw at us; words like 'shock' and 'truama'. But these terms are of limited use. The creases on Kumagaya's sun-beaten cheeks hold his visage to a single benign expression, sorrow having little room in it. It is a face reminicent of Basho's line, fishes weep with tearful eyes. Sorrow would be filtered immediately out of his face by the creases just as the salty tears of basho's fish are devoured by the vastness of the salt-sea the moment they spill from the eye. Where does all the sorrow go without the possibility for outer expression?

A few days ago my dearest informant and quasi-host father, with whom I am staying at present, took me aside to demand a strict outwardly emotional suspension. I was given orders not to offer tears, hugs, or even a listening ear to my host mother when she returned the following day from the funeral services for her father who had died the previous week. I was to use with her a certain one-word greeting generally offered after a long day’s work, a road-trip, or any minor daily task at all. This simple recognition of fatigue was the only one made permissable to me. I forced myself to agree that talk does indeed have something monstrous in it, all its energies being directed to the ear, leaving the rest of the body, and the rest of the enormous event, adrift. My host father was inviting me into a more delicate kind of care, a non-event-based care, an abeyant care. He was offering me in on a relationship honoring silence precisely where to me talk would seem most in order.

Once asked during a lecture about an analysand's long-term, compleletly silent analysis, Lacan responded simply that such must have been an eloquent silence. I’ve been looking for the eloquence of silence, or an eloquent mourning here as it comes about in something other than visual or oral cues; an impossible mourning. And so on the way home from a relief trip up north the other day, when we stopped at a rest area twenty five miles away from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear plant, and nobody said so much as a word indicating the slightest unease of the nuclear facility, I turned to silence. Instead of asking, instead of pushing for answers about why we stopped there, instead of looking for explanation,instead of diagnosing the silence, I simply climbed off the bus with my colleauges.

DSC_0373 Over the past weeks, mourning in Japan has taken its most unambiguous shape in the form of ‘jishuku’ meaning self-restraint, a movement of moderation. In an economy built on the redirection of energies, the lesson being learned is that to sacrifice pleasure is to bring harm to one's neighborhood business, to the restauranteur, the bread baker, th hotel. Sacrifice is in this says, as Bataille says, to touch close upon the criminal. To cease to consume is to be consumed by crisis. Mourning becomes itself a degenerate act. The only kind of mourning left to Tokyo is the darkness imposed on it by the energy shortages. Train stations, store fronts, open, but dim. The people moving machines of the city are also in mourning. Automatic doors cease to open to let us thorugh, escalators refuse to move us forward. With the electric grid problems, this conservation is necessary; the symbolism is all the more forceful because it comes woven inextricably within the inescapable. Necessity makes it easier to mourn without feeling indulgent. Necessity makes mourning appear not so ostentatiously itself. Necessity makes for a rather eloquent veiling, an inverse of Basho's fish: sorrow no longer obscured by the impossibility of its visibility, but as the darkness of its seeable.