Wednesday, March 23, 2011

In San Francisco, as is widely known

Streets called Gough and Post run east to west in parallel, and frame Union Square on their way into the omnivorous gulley called Market. Moving in the direction of the sun, however, they crest at a peak framing Nervi's Cathedral, and settle into a brisk discourse on their way to Golden Gate Park. At the advent of what is called Pacific Heights to the north, and The Fillmore to the south, they embrace a strip known as Japantown, which Beth Nelson had occasion to recall to us this week.

In Japantown one can indulge the stunning luxuries of the Hot Spring, for the soothing furo bath, the icy splash, the shiatsu redemption of the shoulders fraught with too much commerce. One can meet the daughter of Orson Welles, introducing the reconstituted celluloid of Othello, and hear Marcel Carné, himself, explaining the masterpiece he created with Jacques Prévert, Le jour se lève. One can expand one's library by hectares in an afternoon's browse of rare volumes on Japanese cinema, art, poetry, gardening, history, and architecture. And there is always the miso, the aroma of enigma, to draw one spontaneously for a pittance. 

There is, as she discovered, an Aegean aspect to the most Shinto of preserves. It's less in the colours she reminds us of, than in the sparkle of the setting beneath the sun of presiding spirits. Now the orderly plates she assembles for us in this brilliant photograph bear the shadow of severe incision and displacement. The antic wonder we associate with the Cycladic declension of Aegean beauty is, rather, compacted in the preciously groomed and framed vistas in the Japanese archipelago; the garden is everywhere, consciousness of it is immanent. There, its injury is desecration. Here, it is inhumane. We need it. And the portal of this vision.

In 1988, Harvard's Judith Shklar (1928-92) gave the Storrs Lectures on Jurisprudence at Yale Law School, distinguishing "misfortune" from "injustice." Voltaire's and Kant's confusion in the face of the Lisbon earthquake (1755) furnished the core incidents of her argument, which many consulted with extreme urgency during the Gay Men's Health Crisis. Among them, I was fortunate to be disposed to the solace of reason. But we never know its worth until we are tried.

I would like to commend her 'talks' to any reader, as we discover Japan in our soul.

Judith N. Shklar
Cowles Professor of Government
Harvard University
The Faces of Injustice
Yale University Press, 1990© 


  1. beautiful pictures ... I like this shadows :-)

  2. As you well know! People may ask, how can you juxtapose compassion with erotic delicacy, and I refer them first to Charles Dickens, cited only moments ago. The modeling shadow is permeable, isn't it, affirming affinity, not defying it.

  3. I am looking out of my 9th story window (on Sutter St...near enough to Post, I think) at The City, catching up on my mugs and linens. I'm afraid that as a visitor's guide, your post came a day too late; but as a bit of light to dry up the wetness of my visit to "Sunny California"... it was splendid.

  4. It's very generous of you to accept this adaptation of your work; I know this cannot have been easy. The original posting was so acute as to drive me to the comparative shelter of one single image.