I. “O miserable cities of designing men.”
II. “They constantly try to escape from the darkness outside and within by dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.”
These two pieces are part of my “Choruses from the Rock” series and both titles are lines from the poem. However, they are not meant to illuminate T.S. Eliot’s work, rather they serve as a response to the six months I spent in Tokyo. By alluding to the poem and referencing my own experiences, I hope to both deepen the meaning of Eliot’s poem and to communicate my impressions of Japan by creating a dialogue between his work and the Japanese culture. In some ways the pieces are a critique of Japan, but one made with the highest respect for Japanese culture and an awareness of my own limited knowledge on the subject.
Both drawings’ measurements correspond directly to the proportions of the Japanese flag and mirror the design of a circle in a flat color field. The first drawing is reminiscent of a computer chip with all its elements homogenized and separated into clear and precise squares. The second drawing also alludes to a computer chip, but the darkness outside and within is seeping through the paths created by the carefully planned order, seeking out fault lines. The darkness will shatter man’s systems as surely as the terrible earthquake on 3/11 shattered the land.
The two lines of poetry which serve as the titles came to my mind shortly after my arrival in Tokyo and returned during almost every conversation I had about Japan. They began to represent all the struggles of life in Tokyo and helped me to understand and empathize with the desires and hardships of the people. I use these two lines, not because I believe Tokyo to be any more miserable or dark than any other city, but because in many ways they have worked the hardest to “develop systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.” I was and still am dazzled by Tokyo. I’ve been to cities like New York and Washington D.C. and none of them compare to the beauty, safety, or efficiency of Tokyo. It has exasperating quirks like every other place, but it truly is an incredible city. However the culture that creates such a city is a grinding one. Depression, mental illness, and high suicide rates lurk beneath the glistening exterior. The drive to be perfect, to fit into the group, and to maintain appearances is killing the Japanese people. Beneath the veneer is a miserable city of designing men frantically trying to create a system of rules that will protect them from the evil without and within their own hearts.
I love Japan, and I enjoyed living in Tokyo. There are many things America could learn from Japan; a greater appreciation for beauty, a focus on needs of the group rather than of the individual, and an impressive work ethic to name a few. I empathize with the struggles and sins of these people. If I were to design a city, it would strive towards the same areas of excellence as Tokyo and yet would also be shot through with a similar darkness born in my own heart.