Sara Reads no. 16

A weekly digest of thoughts on fiction, non-fiction, and all the news I see fit to print.

Those Who Do Not Know History
I’ve been slowly working my way through the first volume of MIZUKI Shigeru’s Showa: A History of Japan. Collected in four volumes, the first volume of the manga series comprises the years 1926-1939 and provides a fascinating look into the mechanics of the rise of fascism in Japan—both at the private and public social levels. It’s an especially fascinating read right now because some of the descriptions that Mizuki gives, written in 1988 with the benefit of hindsight, seem positively prescient in the wake of the 2016 presidential election. Mizuki’s descriptions of Hitler’s appeal and rhetoric could easily be applied to Donald Trump (and Godwin’s Law be damned). Meanwhile, his descriptions of how nationalism leads inevitably, and inexorably, to horrifying restrictions on society could easily be applied to the modern conservative movement. Reading these descriptions I can’t help but think that—unless a miracle happens—history is going to be telling the American story with the exact same language and the exact same regret.

Showa: A History of Japan, 1926-1939
MIZUKI Shigeru, translated by Zack Davisson

I’m glad to be reading this history, but I’m also heartsick at the folly of humanity. We have seen this all before, and we are seeing it all again. And we really do never learn. And that is perhaps our greatest tragedy.

Those Who Do Know History
Ever since the election, there has been a protracted postmortem conducted by leading progressive thinkers on what went wrong and how we course correct for the future. I haven’t liked all of the conclusions. I’ve particularly disliked conclusions that have advocated for progressives to display even more sympathy and understanding toward their conservative counterparts in an effort to win them to our cause. One thing this election has made abundantly clear—and this is a conclusion I have drawn both from personal and anecdotal experience—is that progressives need to stop trying to reach out to the fringe conservatives who are impervious to both sympathy and reason (there may or may not be hope yet for moderate conservatives; the jury’s still out on that one). This doesn’t mean that we should stop fighting for the rights and comfort of all citizens; it just means we need to do so without attempting to win the right-wing over to the same cause.

Because that ship has sailed.

Miri over at Brute Reason does a much better job of breaking this game plan down than I ever could, so I encourage you all to read their post, Yes, We Did Fail to Empathize with Conservatives (just not in the way you think…), which—after eloquently explaining why prolonged reasoning is a zero-sum game for progressives—offers two valuable strategies for future progress: a focus on the mobilization of the left-wing base and a deeper commitment to education.

To Rage, or Not to Rage
If my words sound angry, it’s because they are. The election results have had me teetering on the edge of rage for weeks, pitting my desire to be fair against my wrathful feelings. And wrath has been wining the war of late. Fairness and understanding are desirable traits when you are not allowing them to be weaponized against you by those who oppress, or would oppress, you. I’ve reached the point where I no longer feel able to have compassion be my first instinct. At the same time, however, purposeless anger is pointless, so I have been thinking a lot about the nature and function of anger in the face of opposition and duress.

One treatment of rage that I have found particularly instructive is KIRINO Natsuo’s The Goddess Chronicle. In this novel, Izanami—the goddess of death—both laments and contends with her fate through the medium of rage. Having died giving birth to the god of fire, she is trapped in the underworld when her husband, Izanagi, betrays her out of fear and selfishness. She is subsequently left to observe his exploits in the world of the living as she carries out her duty as the keeper of the dead. Even when Izanagi finally returns to her—once more out of fear and selfishness—offering an end to the daily grind of her existence, she will not accept it, having come to understand her cosmological function and that function’s real world necessity.

Throughout the tale, Izanami’s bitterness is directed not just at Izanagi but at the system of godhood within which she resides. She is made to suffer, she says, because she is a woman—because it is always the woman who suffers. Yet, even when the opportunity arises, she refuses to give up her macabre and murderous duty. She refuses to relinquish her rage. She has learned an acceptance predicated on a ceaseless anger that steels her against her deeply unpleasant task, and she knows that, for the world to spin on as it must, she can neither sympathize with her subjects nor find solace in the knowledge that they suffer, too—not if she intends to do what must be done.

I suspect I will have cause to remember that in the days ahead.

Final Thought: Back to Sherwood
Last week I wrote about the narrative structure of one of my favorite television shows, Robin of Sherwood, which went off the air twenty-years-ago. Well, in honor of the program’s 20th anniversary, the original cast reunited to produce a two-hour audio drama, “The Knights of the Apocalypse,” that serves as a sequel to the much-beloved series. Knowing, as I do, that we need our heroes something fierce these days, I thought I’d share the download link.

The entire drama can be downloaded here for the princely sum of £10 (roughly $13).



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