Postwar Meditation: Berlin/Tokyo

Postwar is post-nothing: it is the beginning of something.   “Ach!”, trained instinct cries, “but what of ‘tragen’, to carry heavy burdens, of its simple past  trug?  Do not ponderous and blackened memories determine future projections?”  No {we say, affected with blithe mannerisms}, because the burdens have been bombed away.  Digs, belongings, spouses, families, pensions: the war wiped it all away, and one has to begin again.

Rubble is a consequence of conflict, but so too are dandelions, and rain, and vegetable gardens on fields cleared where banks once stood.  Glorious dessication of the once-marble strongholds, giant stone shards become fodder for walls of ersatz properties marked off by pan-sellers hunched over wares.

Music takes new root, art moves steadily toward the AFTERGOLD, whisperings and snitches backstage at the opera portend Wozzeck‘s return: With each “Jawohl, Herr Hauptman!” another ten boys turn their backs on Clausewitz.

Anti-war absurdism breaks out in the theaters, spreading like so many infected rats running crazed and joyful from Ishii Shiro’s neuro-bullpen at Pingfan.  Critters skitter across platforms morphed by atomic blasts, once warped by the ponderous weight of thousands of knees bent to worship state power…

let the sugared tongue lick the hand of absurd pomp /

and bend the ready hinges of the knee /

where profit may follow fawning

yet dawning aerodromes of B-52s limber upwards

and now we fawn upon our own strength,

clutched and grinning to the hand of the conqueror.

Music rockets and power chords sizzle to be pocketed by kids in hipster wards some fifty years hence.  Drizzles of paint-flecks lift drab reverso canvases toward the temple of the avant-garde, because avant — forward — is the only choice.  Here there is no déjà, no relapse into yesterday, and Paris was never beautiful anyway.  Like fluids passed into the oceanic, there is nothing to be recovered.  Instead horizons undulate, suns forge the world entire, species mingle up under sea surfaces and teem fatally toward the giant bay and its volcanic twin.

Laughter erupts like a jazz musician’s lifted aural thought in clubs once darkened by decree, now unregulated by all but the flow of spontaneous yen, unchained linguistic confusions, the syntax of Bach again bubbling up with no memory of the Hitler Youth’s pleasant journey to this old imperial capital in 1938.

Bismark is dead, Tojo is dead, Goebbels waits for his call from an American television network brewing in the mind of a shrewd Australian.  And no one talks today of Okamura, nested in Taiwan’s glorious army bureaucracy, and Taiwan itself only blinks like a traffic light on the edges of some unknown field, a road one has never seen before.  For they have their own postwar grippe as well.  AstroBoy doesn’t care for Liaodong.  And Kishi calmly dons his pinstripes, waiting for that detestable anthem to finish its forte arc over grass fields in the Bronx.

But no amnesia is ever wholly pragmatic: the ambrosia of the new day lifts and then plunges, digging powerfully down into minds rich with nitrogen.  New thoughts too, require Lebensraum.  Memories are thus rounded up, quickly cataloged, and pushed into corners, there to mew futile, to atrophy, or to be exterminated.

Massive distortion or malleable transition?  Wendepunkt/Stunde Null or bent by gentle insistence on a nightly Bierstube chat with the new immigrants?  Identity shifts, but the crows remain black, circling over limber Berlin meadows.  Trees that lived through hailstorms of Soviet bullets remain supple; Goethe has lost a limb but continues to recite.

Speak, memory!

Or remain mute, damply crumpled and dark, while the jazzman plies his trade.

Reptriates in Tokyo, from the Walter A. Pennino Postwar Japan Photo Collection, courtesy of the Center for Japanese Studies, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa
Reptriates in Tokyo, from the Walter A. Pennino Postwar Japan Photo Collection, courtesy of the Center for Japanese Studies, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa

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