Reflection: Netsuke by Rikki Ducornet

I spent a Sunday afternoon lying on the beach enjoying sun, a cool breeze coming off the water, and a book. I read the whole of Netsuke in one sitting. It has been a long time since I have given myself the time to dedicate to a book like that. Normally I read in snatches, before bed, or on public transport, or as a reward after finishing marking essays or transcribing interviews. None of this is my own research of course. I’m terrified of starting my own writing. It feels very far away, and I’m convinced of my own inadequacy as a writer (both scholarly and creative). I discussed this with my analyst this week. We’re unpacking my focus on productive and unproductive writing. I’m fond of binaries. It’s very Euro-centric of me.

I swear this is relevant. Netsuke follows a psychoanalyst who engages in inappropriate sexual relationships with his clients. The doctor is invested in dividing his life between home, the office for every day patients, and the office for patience he wishes to seduce. The book gets it title from the netsuke he collects, and that his wife as given him. Netsuke are small sculptures that acted like aglets on cords that hung from obi. These cords were attached to containers that functioned like a clutch or a purse. Netsuke became artisan, and often reflect Japanese folklore. The term netsuke is derived from characters that mean “root” and “to attach”. In Ducornet’s book that attachment is to Akiko, the husband himself (is he named? I cannot remember) “conceals a wealth of worlds best left undisclosed” (5). He is the container and the contained. He hides secrets and the netsuke keep him attached to Akiko’s obi. In some ways it is a small and domestic magic, that link between the material and the immaterial.

The reader then has to consider whether the protagonists relationships are all immaterial. He lies to every lover, he hides and obfuscates, he presents one image of himself, but can be read as presenting another. Just as the beautiful netsuke can be read for a number of psychosexual significances, so too can the protagonist.

Ultimately, however, it is the book’s poetry that is its most entrancing feature. Ducornet leans into Kristeva’s revolution in poetic language, using the unspoken, the ambiguous, and bending the rules of grammar in order to manifest a truer representation of self. The language is evocative, richly symbolic and deeply invested in metaphor. As I am someone who enjoys playing with language, I found myself carried away on syntactic tides, crashing against familiar and unfamiliar pools of imagery. These word waves lapped against the feet of the psychoanalyst in the story, and made me think for myself, where am I positioning myself in relation to my words, my stories, and my self.

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