Thursday, June 10, 2021

Menachem Kaiser and Lafcadio Hearn


I just finished the Menachem Kaiser's Plunder.  

I was especially interested in the matter of how current generations deal with past injustices.  I just read an article on Lafcadio Hearn, "Far From the Realm of the Real" (from the June 10, 2021 issue of the New York Review of Books) in which Christopher Carroll examines three "recent" books by Lafcadio Hearn.  Hearn died in 1904 but there has been an ongoing interest (mostly by the Japanese) in and reverence for the writings of Hearn who repudiated the industrialized ways of America and moved to Japan before it became industrialized. 

Carroll writes, "Perhaps the best and best known of the tales from Kwaidan [which Hearn wrote] -- and according to Setsu [Hearn's wife] one of Hearn's favorites -- is 'The Story of Mimi-Nashi-Hoichi' . . . about a blind biwa player famous for his musical recitation of the epic history of the Heike and the Genji, two rival clans fighting for control of twelfth-century Japan.  'Mimi-Nashi-Hoichi' opens with a brief account of the final battle between the clans -- the Battle of Dan-no-ura, one of the most significant in Japanese history -- in which 'the Heike perished utterly, with their women and children, and their infant emperor likewise.' . . .

Even if there were descendants of the Heike.  (There could be. Historians back then weren't very civilized either.)  I doubt they would be resenting the Gengi for what they did in the twelfth century.  It isn't that Hitler did anything without precedent.  Lots of generals in Europe as well as in Japan a thousand years ago, did that sort of thing.  It is that the predominate view of Western Europeans was that they were now too civilized to do that sort of thing.  The proper way we (who are more civilized than Hitler) fight a war is to fight until the other side gives up.  Then everyone gets to go home.  We no longer attempt to slaughter all of our enemies. 

Kaiser, as did most of the people he encounters, seemed to believe that we in the West (and probably the world) are past wanting to destroy our enemies utterly.  We are now more secure in our civilization, whether German, Pole or Jew.  Kaiser likes the tenants living in Unit 12 (during the time he thought it was his grandfather's building).   The Poles living there now aren't prejudiced against Jews.  Kaiser likes them which makes it easy for him to later on let things go when the implacable Polish bureaucracy can't abandon its procedures in order to do what is right. 

The bit about the ten golden eggs is amusing and a good way for Kaiser to end his book.  While he and Steve are surreptitiously digging into an attic wall, with the permission of the apartment owner, their guilt is mounting.  As they are getting close to discovering whether the eggs are really there, the apartment owner sends up word that they can buy the whole apartment for $10,000.  Heck, Steve says, I don't want her apartment, but if the eggs are there I'll give her $10,000 (the golden eggs are worth $120,000). 

Earlier Kaiser tells Steve he won't put anything in his book about the egg search that Steve disapproves of.  Steve tells him that if they find the eggs, Kaiser isn't to say so in his book.  So instead, Kaiser tells us, as he digs the bricks out of the way, Steve looks in and exclaims "Oh my god!" 

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