To take a photograph, Susan Sontag tells us, “is to appropriate the thing photographed. It means putting oneself into a certain relation to the world that feels like knowledge—and, therefore, like power.” A photograph also preserves evidence and exposes the human condition, which the viewer then appropriates. Old photographs preserve worlds that are gone, but they also bring them back, because the moment which they record is there forever, and cannot be moved in time either backwards or forwards. David Bellis knows this, and he has given us a glimpse of a world that is still present in photographs, a world which contains stories that are also preserved.
A Tokyo Romance is a memoir of living in Japan from 1975 to 1981 that immerses the reader in a world of avant-garde theatre and film. It serves as an interesting look at a time when Japan, not China was taking the world by storm. The author, Ian Buruma, currently editor of the New York Review of Books, meditates on living in Japan as a foreigner and how to approach being a perennial outsider. For Buruma, the experience is liberating and Japan is a catalyst for finding his own artistic voice.
In the early 19th century, the Dutch administration simply removed sufferers from public view: campaigns targeted anyone “looking ugly”. Towards the end of the century, colonial science considered leprosy a hereditary disease of tropical subjects, and therefore undeserving of the colonial government’s limited resources. The leprosariums were emptied.
Ibn who? He may have been one of the most important intellectuals ever produced by the Muslim world, but I suspect few beyond specialists know him, if at all, beyond his name and that of his most famous work, the Muqaddima (Prolegomena), by far the greatest and most significant study of history ever produced by a Muslim scholar.
When George F Kennan was named director of the US State Department’s Policy Planning Staff (PPS) in 1947, he had little knowledge of, or interest in, the Far East. Kennan’s diplomatic experience was limited to Eastern and Central Europe and Russia. His influence in policy-making circles in Washington stemmed from his authorship of the “Long Telegram” from the US Embassy in Moscow in February 1946, and “The Sources of Soviet Conduct” in the journal Foreign Affairs (using the pseudonym “X”) in 1947.
Every young pup sent to East Asia is probably given Sun Tzu’s The Art of War to read, especially if one is male, and especially if one’s boss is both male and Chinese. Anyway, I was.
It’s always been a pleasure to handle a Folio Society book, and having three of them at one time, all on Asian themes, was even better.