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But it would not be inaccurate. Perhaps the most crucial of the illusions not shattered in the memoir is a consummately erotic one: being the object of desire itself. Of the only woman about whom Treat confesses any desire, he writes that "I wanted to be her" p. The first sexual encounter he depicts is a memory of one of the lean, muscular men he wants to be; the clothing of another former lover, now dead, he wears "when I feel like remembering him, or being him" p.
Insofar as orientalism is concerned, this means that Treat is continuously in a position of desire.
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He is of course not his object. He clearly does not resemble a Japanese. When Japanese utter the word "wareware," it does not include him. And yet -- especially since "it is our tradition to steal words from others and to hurl them back" -- when he has a lot to drink "I can murmur 'wareware' like a mantra and believe it includes me, too" p. To put the matter more carefully: in Japan, Treat sees himself as aspiring always towards his object, while simultaneously enjoying a certain gap, either between the desire and the aspiration or between the aspiration and its fatuity.
Thus, years earlier shifts in time throughout can be quite confusing , on a plane to the Philippines with a Canadian lover during an earlier visit to Japan, Treat notes that of course all the Japanese men on board are resolute for nothing but sex, "[b]ut then again, despite a smug contempt for our fellow passengers, so were we" p.
Or, on an earlier visit to Hong Kong with his Japanese lover, Tetsuji, Treat reflects as follows: "We are both former colonial masters of this bit of rocky coast and at the same time two lovers whose love is both the rationale of empire and its challenge" p. Elsewhere, making violent love to Tetsuji, Treat wonders "how much of my love for him contained some inexplicable measure of my distress at not being him? At wanting to be him" 83?
The quick answer to this last question -- Treat loves to ask questions --would be, quite a lot.
In his final chapter, the issue is presented as explicitly as it ever is: "Is my own interest in the Orient really a desire to be the Orient, or instead its conqueror? Do I want to be Sir Richard, or his submissive servant" p.
How to answer these questions? It seems to me that Japan allows Treat to equivocate about the differences they pose, and to eroticize this difference. In this respect his memoir is in stark contrast to those of Japanese-Americans who visit Japan or reside there for a time, only to experience the agony of an oscillating identity between Japan and the United States.
Like Treat, Mura concludes after his year in Japan that he does not feel "as bound now by my national identity" p. However, unlike Treat, to Mura Japan felt "too well defined, too rule-oriented, too polite, too circumscribed. But I was not Japanese" p. Why does Mura emphasizes precisely those aspects or dimensions of Japanese society that Treat effaces?
Mura does so because for him a national identity is at stake in ways it is not for Treat. Mura cannot eroticize the difference between Japan and the United States because the orientalist script permits him no unproblematic privilege in Japan any more than the racial script permits him some unproblematic privilege in the United States. Whether in Japan or in the United States, he really is Japanese, or rather he has to begin by contending with how he is recognized in terms of not being or being so in each respective country.
Treat, by contrast, can only desire to "be" Japanese because he is not. Instead, Treat is more comparable to one of Mura's or Berger's "homeless" -- and he revels in this fate. The fact that he is an American is for him of no particular interest. Great Mirrors Shattered is replete with the dream of a common identity among men-gay or not-that is beyond nation.
It is our way of saying these little kingdoms of yours do not matter all that much to us" p. He knows he has to answer questions at customs. He knows that the days of are over, when, with an earlier lover, "there were only two boys and the thought of all that Asian continent lay behind us, and all of history before us" p.
But such knowledge does not prevent him from experiencing anew the sheer migrancy of desire, or of relishing certain visions that are only possible from within a life where national identity is ardent to suffer its recreation into something richer and stranger. One of the best examples of this last movement is when Treat finds himself standing somewhere in Tokyo before a billboard or poster displaying a beautiful young example of "white manhood" that he himself can imagine being. The entire narrative is deployed as a sequence of chapters in order to make such visions emerge as being embedded within a larger framework of daily experience and memory, each refracted in and developed by the other.
The above moment set within the context of a climb to the summit of Mt. Fuji does not quite end its particular chapter. What does conclude it is a final notation about how Treat is asked once back in Tokyo how he liked the experience. What else to say? But the words are banal. Indeed, any words may ultimately be banal. However, this is not a book rich in social occasions. What there are instead are very personal, impeccably formal moments such as the one above, all of which can be broadly characterized as ironic.
In one of his loveliest reflections, Treat explains the logic of his experience thus: "If Orientalism is inherently ironic, and therefore fatally flawed, than so too is Eros.
When the Mirror Shatters
Perhaps the flaw is in fact an irony we can learn to live with, given the alternatives. No, I've got it backwards. Please consider upgrading. Learn more. Shutterstock Select Only show our selection of premium quality clips.
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