The Narrow Road to the Interior by Kimiko Hahn, 128 pp, $14.95
This book is both less and more exciting to me than the others I’ve discussed here (The Artist’s Daughter and The Unbearable Heart). It is less exciting because it’s not as penetrable, but it is more exciting because of this — because, in fact, it’s even more fragmented, unruly, collaged, spontaneous, piece-y than Hahn’s other work. Billed as zuihitsu, this book is:
“list, diary, commentary, essay, poem. Fragment. [. . . It creates] a sense of disorder [. . .] by fragmenting, juxtaposing, contradicting, varying length or — even within a piece — topic. [. . . It is] e-mail, say. Gossip or scholarly notation. [. . . essays] closer to poetry.”
I love the freedom she creates for herself. I don’t love the overall effect, which is (for me) a loss of place and sense. Let me rephrase this: I feel lost inside this book. Without anchor. I feel as if I’m floating around, unable to recognize where I am. And I don’t like it.
Kimiko Hahn and Carole Maso
This writing in this book reminds me of the writing in Carole Maso’s books. And it’s odd then that I have the same love/hate relationship to the work. I love the risks, the movement, the forward motion, the energy, the passion; I hate the fact that I can just as easily stop reading, that I never say to myself: Wow, I need to finish this book right now to (a) find out what happens, (b) keep basking in these sentences, (c) read more of these sentiments.
Hahn’s book, while more fragmented, is also more whole than the others I wrote about, which were collections of poems that often resonated along similar themes and figures. This one does the same, but in a disjointed way. Even the longer poems, made up of numbered sections, are out of order. On pages 52 and 53, the sequence goes: 1, 2, 3, 10, 13, 14, 15, 16, 18, 19, 28, 29, 31, 32. I hate it. These sections feel out of order. Yet I love it. The concept. The choice. The decision to do it. That it is done.
And so I know this must also be happening in Hahn’s writing, as it happens in Maso’s. Cixous, anyone?
Kimiko Hahn and Rachel Blau duPlessis
Here is a moment from The Narrow Road from the Interior that I absolutely love (it’s long) from pp. 70-71:
“I love words that confuse —
how words can arouse. So the words are mine. The lover is mine. The lover’s attention is mine. I am powerful. The lover is powerful. The words themselves.
Mine — the noun and verb. That blur.
The blur where the skin feels prickly. Pleased and desirous. Delirious.
Is there a place in the English language for women? Yes and no. Yes, because women teach children language — even at this end of the century. And no, because men still own the means of production. But because culture is so incredibly susceptible to change the more women publicly use and abuse words — and its very syntax — the more women revise it in their own image.
Perhaps diaries and letters are too feminine or female to become canon fodder.
In publication women come very close to owning their words though in that instant it becomes both the property of the capitalist and available within the market.
I tell several female friends about this piece and only one does not change the subject.”
This reminds me of Rachel Blau DuPlessis’s essay, “Breaking the Sentence; Breaking the Sequence,” in Writing Beyond the Ending. In it, she writes:
“The sentence broken is one that expresses ‘the ridicule, the censure, the assurance of inferiority’ about women’s cultural ineptitude and deficiencies. To break the sentence rejects not grammar especially, but rhythm, pace, flow, expression: the structuring of the female voice by the male voice, female tone and manner by male expectations, female writing by male emphasis, female writing by existing conventions of gender — in short, any way in which dominant structures, shape muted ones. For a woman to write, she must experiment with ‘altering and adapting the current sentence until she writes one that takes the natural shape of her thought without crushing or distorting it’.
[. . .] ‘woman’s sentence,’ then, has its basis not in biology, but rather in cultural fearlessness, in the attitude of critique — a dissent from, a self-conscious marking of, dominant statement” (pp. 32-33).
Some day, one day, I will be able to enter into this conversation — I will know my Cixous, my Woolf, my Maso, my duPlessis, and on and on. I will have something more useful to contribute than mere quotations. I will be more than a parrot. But for now, at least a connection has been made and filed away in the old brainbox.
6 thoughts on “Kimiko Hahn’s THE NARROW ROAD TO THE INTERIOR”
Have you read the Bashō text of the same name by any chance?
I haven’t. Have you? Thinking about it now, I’m sure that would make this come together a bit more . . . hmm.
I’ve dipped in and out of it and am thinking a lot right now about the travelogue — particularly in light of the fact that, as John points out below, the form has very little prestige (“simply a travel journal”) or cultural capital.
More things to file in the old brainbox!
I love Bashō’s text. To call it, as many do, simply a travel journal, doesn’t quite capture its insight, its brilliance.
Somewhere in my files is my brief writeup comparing Bashō’s The Narrow Road with Theodore Roethke’s “Journey into the Interior”.
This would be nice to see here or in print. The world needs more Roethke-love.
the basho text (how do you get that line over the o?) is terrific, one of my favorite things ever, and i would love to read your comparison John. i prefer the basho title translated as “The Narrow Road to the Deep North,” which feels less conceptual/abstract to me (just a personal preference). william wenthe has a poem in some issue of Tin House, where he begins rewriting the basho text, with basho as a kind of third person character. i was all excited to read more of his vision, but then i never saw any more from him.
have you read robert haas’ translation of basho? – seriously stunning.
in any case, thanks for bringing this up molly. i’m looking forward to reading it.