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Thursday, August 24, 2006

A Ghost Story

Posted by on August 24 at 12:59 PM

I do not dislike the old, and I definitely want to die like them—old. But, admittedly, I do hold an idea about old people, about their place in the human world, their role in the family, that they may not appreciate. This idea is best expressed in a Japanese ghost story collected and preserved by Lafcadio Hearn, a 19th century writer who was born in Europe, lived in America, and spent the last 14 years of his life turning Japanese—he moved to Japan in 1890 and found its society to be the best fit for his personality. The world remembers Hearn, whose Japanese name is Koizumi Yakumo, for Kwaidan, a book of ghost stories that was made into a beautiful film (by Masaki Kobayashi) that has an equally beautiful soundtrack (by Toru Takemitsu).

Let’s get down to the story, which can be found in either In Ghostly Japan or Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things (if I’m correct, kwaidan means weird or strange happenings—another quick note, anything by Hearn on Japanese society is worth reading for the content and not for the writing itself, which is mediocre).

The story goes like this: An old woman is dying, and sitting next to her, taking care of her, is a young woman (in her late teens). Feeling the end is near, the old woman, who is in bed, asks the young woman to take her outside to see a cherry blossom tree that’s blooming. The young woman offers the support of her shoulders to the old woman, and the old woman stands, places her old hands on the young woman’s shoulders, and is led to the tree in the garden. Once under the tree, with its falling pink petals, the old woman’s hands suddenly let go of the shoulders, violently reach over and around the young woman, grab each of her breasts, squeezes them with the remaining energy in her long life, and dies, clinging to the breasts.

The young woman screams in horror.

Members of her family run outside, see what has happened, and attempt to remove the dead woman’s old hands from her breasts. But the fingers wont separate. With the cloth, the old woman’s flesh has somehow fused with the young woman’s flesh. When a finger is pulled from a breast, the fused flesh tears apart and begins bleeding. At the end of the day there is only one solution left: they cut the old woman’s wrists and hope the fixed hands eventually rot and drop off. But this never happens, and the young woman is forced to live with the old hands on her breasts.

And that is what comes to my mind when I think about old people. That is my image (those old hands and those young breasts), my symbol of their condition—or, more broadly, the human condition.

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I do not dislike the old

No, you don't dislike the old... you merely dislike their cadaverous presence, which apparently robs you of your youthful vitality by its mere existence.

And you are just digging the hole deeper with this literary shovel.

I hate these movies, they are way too scary. Seriously, they keep you from sleeping.

mudede has the sickness

I hate when that happens.

how to I explain to Grammy why I don't hug her anymore?

I, for one, understand and sympathize with Mudede's feelings. (At least I sympathize with what I believe are his feelings. He has a knack for being "poetic and dreamy" without deploying that last measure of clarity - "rhetoric.")

I believe that Mudede thinks of old people as longing for youth; that he thinks that old people recognize in themselves a distortion of the body, a misalignment of the soul. They know they are not what they were when they were young, and they know that youth is a more perfect condition than age.

When the old woman in Mudede's ghost story asks to see the cherry blossoms, she is already plotting to latch herself to the young woman's breasts. The blossoms are an excuse to get close to the breasts. The old woman wants to become youth, to bond herself to youth, and failing that - perhaps - to destroy youth.

And the young woman? She can't get the old woman off her breasts - those universal symbols of fertility and bounty. Notice that the family members cut the hands off at the wrists, but do not cut off the breasts. We incorporate the actions of the old, and we cannot separate them from ourselves without loosing our ability to provide and nurture.

The old are with us, constantly. We will be old. We will dread our age and lust after youth. And then we will make ourselves a part of our youth in our passing.


And the young woman? She can't get the old woman off her breasts - those universal symbols of fertility and bounty.
unless the old woman and the young girl are the same person, and the old hands that cannot be removed is youth's rejection of their own mortality.

so really mudede isn't anti old people, he just likes to revel in the fact that they drip mortality in such a way that the young can't ignore it as easily

but that revelry could just be a nice way of putting that anxeity in a nice little poetic box, defanging it with language and turning it from something authentically terrifying into something linguistically terrifying. like a story.

but who i am i say

Basically: Old people are a constant reminder of our doom.

I'm down with that.

Doom Doom Doom.

We now return you from the Bush Channel ...

my mom called me yeasterday to regale me with the story of my recently institutionalized grandmother - 90 years and counting. before her very first spongebath by a younger and complete stranger, grandma rosie told the nurse ' get you bull dagger hands offa me. i know you just came in here to play with my pussy !'
to which i add 'who is scared of who ?'

I agree with Charles. Old people are always groping people's tits.

I want to die in peace, asleep, like my grandfather. Not screaming in fear and agony like his passengers.

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