Ein Brief von Tynan Kogane

Tynan Kogane ist Lektor bei New Directions in New York. Der unabhängige amerikanische Verlag hat sich vordergründig der Publikation internationaler Literatur verschrieben und zählt u.a. W.G. Sebald, Hermann Hesse, Ingeborg Bachmann, Gottfried Benn und Jenny Erpenbeck zu seinen deutschsprachigen Schriftsteller*innen.

Japan, 7 April 2020

Teresa, what’s bringing you joy in these weeks: cooking? Reading? Exercising? Praying to secret talismans? It’s banal to say at this point — fortunately so many others are intelligently interrogating themselves and reporting their findings — but of course we should be clinging to these joys, and sharing them with however we can. Today, I went for a very long bicycle ride through the tea-farming country around Shizuoka, along narrow, mountainous roads on a terrible little bicycle built for a teenager; I biked for long stretches I didn’t see any other cars, any other people, except for the occasional farmer or roadworker, and past dilapidated sheds made of corrugated metal, sunken back into nature and covered in ivy, moss, and bamboo, past modest shrines where one of these farmers might cast an occasional prayer, past rows and rows of beautifully manicured tea plants, a deep green color that almost glimmers in the sunlight and spread across the hills like giant caterpillars crawling in an orderly march. I’m mostly a city-boy, an indoor cat, and I haven’t spent much time in nature, except for the occasional hike, and I especially haven’t spent much time around agriculture; in my daily life, I have the vague understanding that food comes from the earth, that the meals I eat once grew in soil, or had eaten things that had grown in the soil, but to spend a few hours biking around the tea-plant covered hills, getting lost, then found again, strenuously climbing steep roads, smelling the rich air, the sun livening the colors in an emerald, spring tapestry, then finding, finally, magnificently, a tea manufacturer with a small café and tasting area, and, after fumbling and pantomiming a conversation with the owner — I was, of course, the only person there, perhaps me and the café owner were the only people in the area, within a kilometer or two, it wasn’t quite the season for picking, that happens a couple weeks from now — I gulped down a glass of iced green tea, everything was made with such care, even the ice-cubes were frozen tea, so the drink wouldn’t get watered down; Teresa, it was incredible, maybe the best tea I’ve ever had, I could taste the entire hillside; as I said, I know I take for granted the entire production of food, from the farming to the means of distribution, but for a moment, here, it seemed to make sense, I mean I’ve tasted freshly picked produce from the farmers market, but this was somehow different, perhaps I’m not conveying things correctly, and anyway it’s probably just an ordinary observation, an ordinary feeling, perhaps my isolation here in Japan is making me a little crazy, to say the least, loneliness creates the strangest revelations, but I’m not sure, I left feeling satisfied and content, emotionally fortified for the next few hours, which is the most anyone could hope for, I suppose? I’m staying in the port town of Shimizu temporarily. I’ve been here for about a week so far: it’s off the trodden path of tourists, no one really comes here, Shimizu was, until a few decades ago, a thriving town that was an important hub for tuna fishing and the export of tea from the area — the biggest tea producing region in the country — but has since become, like many port towns around the world, slightly irrelevant, there are no beaches, no tourist attractions, very little reason to come here, unless you’re trying to escape from the coronavirus perhaps? It wasn’t an intentional destination, but in the past few weeks I’ve learned to be more adaptable: I think this is one of the most important resources that a person can have right now, and especially for someone to have who is traveling on the other side of the world, far from friends and family. I’ve been reading a lot these days too, Samuel Delany, Simone Weil, Herzog’s book about walking from Munich to Paris — we talked about this at one point, right? It’s such an interesting book to reread right now, it’s given me the strength to keep going when I wanted to stop — and a biography of Chris Marker: have you ever seen his films? One of his best films, and one of my favorite films of all time is »Sans Soleil,« an essayistic film about a series of letters written by a fictional traveling filmmaker, narrating a journey through Japan, with all of its wonders and contradictions, it’s profound silliness and cosmic simplicity, and exploring the very notions of memory and culture, and, naturally, a perfect film for me at the moment: I learned recently in the biography that there’s a letter from Marker to his American film production company, explaining how and why he made the film, and, guess what, it’s addressed to a »Theresa«! He writes, »I loved the form of the ›letter,‹ for the freedom and flexibility it allows. ›Letter from Siberia‹ was a real letter, addressed to a real person. But I didn’t wish to lock myself in such a system, and I came to consider that a fictional character could bring a more interesting dimension. Then the idea of having another voice, that of the addressee, establishing a new distance. The audience would be free to imagine whatever they wanted between those two, in a more creative way than if I had told their story myself.« Perhaps, I’ll write a letter to a fictional person next time? I’m just getting warmed up, it’s been a long day, and I feel — like so many others this month — to have immersed in a long, strange dream that I can’t wake up from. Okay, I’ve rambled for quite a long time, and now I need to get on a conference call with New Directions — still managing to work remotely, for the time being. I hope you’re well, I hope you’ll forgive this boring, gratuitous email. I think part of the problem — and I haven’t complained about this to anyone else, it’s an insane complaint! — is that all the hotel rooms in Japan have desks that face mirrors. It forces me, as I’m writing, to stare at myself the whole time: perhaps I’m becoming more narcissistic like this? Also the other thought that’s been floating around in my head all day is that I should be writing more, to friends, to anyone, to keep a living vocabulary: I’ve noticed that, since I don’t speak Japanese very well, I’ve been forced to summarize my experiences in a very limited vocabulary — »fun«, »happy«, »difficult« — and that maybe — maybe! — this has somehow begun to inhibit the range of my emotional responses to things? I’m not sure: I’d bet there are academic studies about experience and vocabulary, it would seem relevant to our profession, right? Okay, now I really need to go. I hope you’re well. I hope you’re not despairing. I hope you’re making time to read and enjoy things — another virtue of being an editor is that we're more prepared, that we’re used to time alone…