Monday, March 29, 2010

Yosano Akiko

The Feminist Theory Reader (FTR) starts with this poem by Yosano Akiko. In 1911 it was included in the introduction of the first issues of Seito, a Japanese feminist literary journal.

The day the mountains move has come.
I speak, but no one believes me.
For a time the mountains have been asleep.
But long ago they all danced with fire.
It doesn't matter if you don't believe this,
my friends, as long as you believe:
All the sleeping women
are now awake and moving.

According to the interpretation given in the FTR, Akiko is comparing women's creativity to a volcano. Unless you live next to an active volcano, this metaphor might seem a little abstract and obvious, but living in Olympia, Mount Rainier is looming. All my life I've been told that this mountain could erupt at any moment, that we are due for a major earthquake, that a tidal wave will cover the town, that the lava flow will cause mudslides that will reach the Puget Sound and that there is nothing we can do when this happens. We will be doomed. There is no "volcano evacuation plan"...

Now I am not a mystical person. I'm not superstitious and I don't particularly even like nature but I've also grown up with weird stories about Mount Rainier. There is a spot on 1-5 between Tacoma and Seattle near Fife where the mountain is glorious on a clear day. At this very spot, legend has it, a man will appear in your back seat and you will see him in the rear view mirror. This is a spot where the lava will flow freely when the time comes and the valley, which is now mostly paved over and filled with used car lots, used to be lush agricultural fields full of strawberries, green beans and cucumbers. The soil in the valley is rich with minerals from volcanic ash. To pave over this fertile land is apocalyptic and bleak. Supposedly this guy will show up in your car and tell you when Mount Rainier is going to erupt and then he disappears. Most people pull over at this point and when the cops come, they ask, "did you see a figure in your rear view mirror" the story goes. This happened to an old friend of mine. Do I believe it? Well...I can't really say. But this is one of those regional legends that people tell and has local currency.

I prefer Yosano Akiko's story. As a woman I often struggle with my own creative forces. I like the idea that when we are inactive, we are dormant, like Mt. Rainier on a clear day, but one day we will erupt because it is inevitable. And perhaps the longer we are dormant the more power we are storing up, the more physical damage will be done, the further-reaching and more deeply rooted the resulting structural transformation will be.

On May 18, 1980, when Mount St. Helen's erupted, we had to wear ash-masks to school for weeks and the geographical landscape was forever altered. Men were killed. Rivers became tree-filled mud-flows. A pristine lake occupied by tourists became an uninhabitable natural wasteland. It was pretty cool. And Mount St. Helens is a tiny mountain compared to Mount Rainier. Perhaps riot grrrl was like Mount St. Helens. Next time it will be Mount Rainier. Maybe it won't happen in our lifetime, but maybe it will. We are amassing our power while we are dormant. It might not be visible to the eye. But appearances are often deceptive.

It doesn't matter if you don't believe this, my friends...

Read more about Yosano Akiko here

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