The Diffident sandwiches of Uta Schreck

Every perturbation is a misery, but grief is a cruel torment, a domineering passion: as in Old Rome, when the Dictator was created, all inferior magistracies ceased; when grief appears, all other passions vanish.
Anatomy of Melancholy, Robert Burton (1651)

If you care to conceive of the Internet as a city—and it’s a workable metaphor, I think, twenty million streets splayed out under a kaleidoscope sky—then on some foggy, wastrel nights, if you’re intrepid enough to slip on that shabby gabardine trenchcoat at the back of the cupboard in the hall, turn up its collar, brace against the wind, and click-trip your way down the fustier byways and more antique alleyways, you can, if you’re lucky, a fortune-favored anthropologist, come across a civilization in microcosm that most would have imagined went extinct in the Victorian crepuscule.
Such is the Asiatic Society of Japan (patron: Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamado), which, as you can glean from its recent lecture list—

  • Japanese Netsuke: Treasured Miniatures
  • Japanese Government, San Francisco Treaty, and Disposition of Okinawa
  • On the Life of the Meiji Emperor
  • Sumo: Samurai to Cyberspace: How sumo is adapting to the changing times
  • Edwin O. Reischauer [1910-1990, US Ambassador to Japan]
  • The Rediscovery of the Japanese Sword
  • The Role of Women in Kyogen
  • The Tokugawa Art Collection
  • The Brush of Asia and the Forms of Europe

—is devoted to the most traditional of culture, the highest of high politics and diplomacy, and the Imperial Way, its world unsullied by the plebeians or the provinces, by science or commerce, by the present or the future.
It was for the meetings of the Asiatic Society of Japan that, for some years, some years ago, Mrs. Uta Schreck made the sandwiches. Reference to these sandwiches occurs some half-dozen times in the online annals of the society.

May 2004
The assembled company then adjourned to the adjacent conference room … Here we were grateful to one of our Council members, Mrs. Uta Schreck, who once again demonstrated her talent for making a large assortment of open sandwiches that were both elegant and delicious.
April 2006
To end the meeting, everyone was invited to partake of the wine that Council member Mrs. Shigeko Tanaka prudently procures for the Society’s lecture meetings at once-a-year bargain prices. Those present also enjoyed delicious open sandwiches diligently prepared by Council Member Mrs. Uta Schreck.
May 2006
After the meeting those assembled were invited to partake of wine and also Mrs. Uta Schreck’s delicious and innovative open sandwiches.
Annual Report of the ASJ Council for 2006
All the meetings … concluded with a modest reception, for which … Mrs. Uta Schreck kindly provided her distinctive open sandwiches.
Annual Report of the ASJ Council for 2007
This year Mrs. Tanaka also undertook to provide some simple snacks, as Mrs. Uta Schreck’s declining physical condition prevented her from preparing her famous open sandwiches which we had enjoyed in the past.
Annual Report of the ASJ Council for 2007
Unfortunately, never a year goes by without our having sadly to record the deaths of members. This year … we said farewell to a faithful Council Member, Mrs. Uta Schreck, who, as House Committee Chair, had so often enhanced the pleasure of our meetings with her inimitable open sandwiches, a happy marriage of Japanese and European ingredients. Some of us still try to recapture the magic of those sandwiches, and Uta, surely one of our most diffident members, is fondly remembered and greatly missed.

How my appetite pulses for these sandwiches, sandwiches that are “elegant”, “delicious”, and “innovative”, “distinctive”, “famous”, and “inimitable”, “kindly provided” and “diligently prepared” by the diffident hands of Uta Schreck. How these sandwiches must have leavened the stilted badinage of the assembled Chrysanthemum Clubbers and miscellaneous dignitaries, stiff with the self-conscious archaisms of a world in which wine is “procured” (to buy it would be vulgar) and “partaken” (to drink it might hint at drunkenness). How intriguing is the final reference—“some of us still try to recapture the magic of those sandwiches”—by doing what, exactly? Holding séances?
Recast that final sentence, transpose Uta and her sandwiches. Does the meaning change?
Some of us still try to recapture the magic of Uta, one of our most diffident members, and her sandwiches are fondly remembered and greatly missed.
That suggests, to me at least, the threnody is to the sandwiches, not their creator.

I had thought that the ne plus ultra of crocodilian insincerity in public displays of grief, the absolute nonpareil nadir of our gutter culture, was the collective celebrity reaction to the death in the summer of 2011 of singer Amy Winehouse. 

Winehouse Dead: Shocked Friend Kelly Osbourne Tweets Sadness
Celebrities are taking to their Twitter to pay their respects and express their grief in regards to the sudden death of singer and songwriter Amy Winehouse, who was found dead at her London home on Saturday. …
Best friend and fellow singer Kelly Osbourne, who had previously helped the late singer check into a drug addiction treatment facility in 2008, according to The Associated Press, tweeted her disbelief.
“I can’t even breath right now i’m crying so hard I just lost 1 of my best friends. i love you forever Amy and will never forget the real you!”
Other stars took the time to tweet their respects as well, including Rihanna, Jessica Alba, Ashton Kutcher, and Kate Moss.
Rihanna: “I am genuinely heartbroken about this,” and “Dear God have mercy!!! I am SICK about this right now!”
Jessica Alba: “So sad about Amy Winehouse—she was so talented. Really tragic.”
Ashton Kutcher: “I nevr know wht 2 post after paying respect 2 sum1 who died. Just seems lk anything funny is inappropriate. mayB I’ll just go C Harry Potter.”
Fellow Brits Kate Moss and Lily Allen shared, “R.I.P. Amy Winehouse, So upset, my heart goes out to her, sad to see such talent vanish from the world.”

There’s a smorgasbord of riches to relish here—“celebrities taking to their Twitter” as if it were an Ottoman or snuff, the tweeting of sadness, the spectacle of Kelly Osbourne, starved of oxygen and deprived by tears of eyesight, valiantly tapping out a valedictory, and Dear God, it really, really is all about ME, Rihanna—but the infelicity prize must go hands-down to Ashton Kutcher (whoever he is). One can only pray that Lord Voldemort and company helped assuage his inconsolable misery. If, as psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross contended, there are five stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance—they are not much on display among our clutch of celebrities. 

At first blush, the responses in the record to the deaths of diffident Uta Schreck and anything-but-diffident Amy Winehouse could not have less in common, but pierce through the abyssal differences of tone and register and there’s a shared perfunctoriness—compare “fondly remembered and greatly missed” with “really tragic”—a marking of time in public mourning. And as with the sandwiches of Uta Schreck, here it is (sometimes) the songs (“such talent”, “she was so talented”) of Amy Winehouse, not person, that are memorialized.

Grief, by all accounts, is a human universal, though capable, clearly, of great cultural and historical heterogeneity—think of those images of ululating Shias in the Iraq War, or maudlin Victorians, touched by Tennyson (“O sorrow, wilt thou live with me / No casual mistress but a wife”). Debate rages in the halls of academe as to whether grief is an evolutionary maladaptation, “the cost of commitment” as psychiatrist Colin Murray Parkes labeled it, or a useful epiphenomenon, signaling a period of withdrawal and introspection. One thing strikes this casual and intermittent but curious observer of grief, though: notwithstanding the upwellings and outgushings of mass public grief over the death of a Princess Diana or a Steve Jobs, grief at its best, ardent but not debilitating, seems to me to be a glacier in deep retreat across the mountains of the modern mind, retreating from kith to closest kin, a corollary, perhaps, of a tentatively, selectively, but intriguingly documented decline in that most distinctively human of emotions, empathy. For how can you grieve for someone about whom you never really gave a tinker’s cuss in the first place?

 

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13 responses to “The Diffident sandwiches of Uta Schreck

  1. Pachi-guy-san, when you comment on the use of “procure” and “partake” in lieu of “buy” and “drink”, are you Englishing different registers of Japanese as she is spoken? It sounds much like a description of the German army I ran across once: the enlisted men fed, the officers ate, and the Emperor dined. Or the (supposed) existence in Tibetan of an entire vocabulary relating only to the Dalai Lama, who “elegantly proceeds” while the rest of the country “walks.” Or the common feature of many European languages of having familiar and formal second person pronouns, the tu-vous distinction of French.

    • No, I am not Englishing different registers of Japanese, as the whole of the ASJ website is in English and clearly written by native speakers (or even a single native speaker). You can find one of the references to the partaking of wine at the very foot of this long discussion of a lecture on Natsume Soseki’s “I Am a Cat”:

      http://www.asjapan.org/web.php/lectures/2006/05

  2. “Debate rages in the halls of academe as to whether grief is an evolutionary maladaptation, “the cost of commitment” as psychiatrist Colin Murray Parkes labeled it, or a useful epiphenomenon, signaling a period of withdrawal and introspection.”

    Are you sure about this? Grief is a corollary of commitment. Presumably commitment – to family, tribe, mate – was selected in our ancestors and grief was the unavoidable consequence, in a species psychologically predisposed to self-deception. That doesn’t make grief a maladaptation; it is more of a spandrel, an unavoidable but adaptively neutral consequence of underlying design ‘decisions’ made by selection. Natural selection is the ultimate Rube Goldberg, however, and ancient spandrels are usually co-opted for other purposes (e.g. the bones in your middle ear are homologous with limb bones in the common ancestor of mammals and reptiles) and it’s likely that grief has been appropriated by selection for other purposes, such as the opportunity for introspection that you suggest.

    “grief…seems to me to be a glacier in deep retreat across the mountains of the modern mind, retreating from kith to closest kin, a corollary, perhaps, of a tentatively, selectively, but intriguingly documented decline in that most distinctively human of emotions, empathy.”

    The metaphor is beautiful but I am not convinced it is accurate. I think you’re conflating two separate phenomena.

    The first is the bizarre (to me) hysteria that greets the death of a Diana or Jobs. Many or even most of people who claimed to be grieving for Diana were experiencing genuine grief, something that Tony Blair understood when he ingeniously appropriated some of the empathy she stirred by dubbing her ‘the people’s princess’. As you know, when Apple enthusiasts think about Jobs, the same areas of their brain are active as when devout believers think about their God. These people aren’t faking it.

    The second is the superficiality that Twitter and blogging (some exceptions apply) and Facebook encourage. The problem with these phenomena, in this context, is surely not that they have eroded human capacity for experiencing grief (yet) but that they have given a platform to the ‘thoughts’ of commentators whose insights should never have seen the light of day. Look at the comments on virtually any blog and you will find an eloquent argument for compulsory sterilisation of stupid people.

    I think that, contrary to your argument, contemporary humans have expanded the circle of empathy to include pop stars, princesses and computer geeks, because we mistakenly see these people as belonging to the same group as ‘us’ (this is the argument Peter Singer makes in his brilliant book, ‘The Expanding Circle’) and we are designed to feel commitment to (and therefore grief in the face of loss of) members of our group. Even Ashton Kutcher might, in his own pin-headed way, have experienced grief when Amy Winehouse died. All that Twitter has changed is that we are now privy to the fact that Harry Potter movies are where he goes to seek consolation in his darkest moments.

    Humans have been reading for only a few thousand years and most humans, in most generations have been unable in practice to read anything but the most basic text (let’s face it, that’s still true today – what proportion of educated English speakers could read your post and have the faintest idea what you’re on about?). If you’re going to argue that empathy depends on a willingness to read, you’re going to have to accept that most humans have never been able to feel empathy. I don’t buy it.

    If young Americans are less empathic than their parents or grandparents, my finger would point first at antidepressants, which are prescribed in vast quantities (as eloquently described in Elizabeth Wurtzel’s ‘Prozac Nation’). Antidepressants taken for long periods of time atrophy the dopamine regulatory system in your brain, and dopamine is deeply involved, in ways that are poorly understood, in regulating empathy.

    I am corresponding with a friend in America, whose 15-year-old daughter’s boyfriend committed suicide recently. She has been on medication ever since and is currently taking a date rape drug to help her sleep. Apparently it works – that is, she is now able to sleep. I’m sure that she tweets, has ‘friends’ on Facebook’ and never reads a book from cover-to-cover but if, as I fear will be the case, she grows up into an adult without empathy, it’s the drugs I’ll blame, not the internet.

    The diffident Uta Schreck could not have found a better eulogist. I am also curious to know how you do Japanese/European fusion cuisine using the template of an open sandwich.

    • “Debate rages in the halls of academe as to whether grief is an evolutionary maladaptation, “the cost of commitment” as psychiatrist Colin Murray Parkes labeled it, or a useful epiphenomenon, signaling a period of withdrawal and introspection.”

      Are you sure about this? Grief is a corollary of commitment. Presumably commitment – to family, tribe, mate – was selected in our ancestors and grief was the unavoidable consequence, in a species psychologically predisposed to self-deception. That doesn’t make grief a maladaptation; it is more of a spandrel, an unavoidable but adaptively neutral consequence of underlying design ‘decisions’ made by selection. Natural selection is the ultimate Rube Goldberg, however, and ancient spandrels are usually co-opted for other purposes (e.g. the bones in your middle ear are homologous with limb bones in the common ancestor of mammals and reptiles) and it’s likely that grief has been appropriated by selection for other purposes, such as the opportunity for introspection that you suggest.

      Ah, Torquatus, I knew you’d be ready to pounce. If by “are you sure about this”, you mean “are you sure there is an academic debate that is couched in these terms”, then yes I am sure, although “rages” might be hyperbole. So let me take you through the processes that led to those thirty-odd words. First, I needed to get up to speed on the “evolution of grief”. Google that and the first place you are escorted is this Scientific American blog:

      http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/culturing-science/2011/11/11/the-evolution-of-grief-both-biological-and-cultural-in-the-21st-century/#respond

      by someone called Hannah Walters, who describes herself, ominously, as living and working “in Washington, DC, but, really, on the internet.” Lots of things intrigued me here, but principally the question, “What are the blogging standards, if any, at Scientific American?” Ms. Walters also introduced me to the concept of tech-grief, which I simply cannot comprehend, and with her awkwardly pimply line, “Even as a luddite, I must admit that I love my tech”, further convinced me that the world “Luddite” has lost any semblance of meaning in contemporary English.
      But she did give me a lead, to The Nature of Grief: The Evolution and Psychology of Reactions to Loss, by a zoologist/psychologist, John Archer, and I went away and read as much of it as I could (about a tenth) as you can at Google Books, and then a trio of reviews of it, the most pertinent of which I thought was this, by a University of Michigan psychologist/evolutionary biologist, Randolph M. Nesse, in Evolution and Human Behavior:

      http://www-personal.umich.edu/~nesse/Articles/Nesse-Grief-EHB-2000.pdf

      The key paragraph seems to me to be this:
      However, there is a problem at the very core of Archer’s analysis. When he addresses the central question of whether grief is an adaptation or an epiphenomenon, he concludes, confidently, that grief is “a maladaptation.” He sees grief as “a by-product of the way in which biologically important close personal relationships are maintained”. This could, of course, be right, and to his credit, he reviews several suggestions about how grief might be useful and the evidence that convinces him that it is not. But his evidence on this crucial question is weak. First, he notes the increased mortality following bereavement. This finding has been somewhat suspect on methodological grounds, but even if the correlation was strong and consistent, any increased mortality rate might well result not from grief itself, but from other factors associated with the loss, such as moving, decreased income, changes in diet, etc. He further notes that some studies have shown that cortisol levels increase during bereavement, and that high cortisol levels may decrease immune competence. All of this makes a most tenuous chain to the conclusion that grief is useless. Finally, he notes that grieving individuals show decreased interest in sex and eating. But if such grounds demonstrate that grief is a maladaptation, then pain, fever anxiety, and the stress system would all also be maladaptations. They are not. People who have a fever tend to die more than others, function poorly in everyday life, and probably tend to be uninterested in sex, but we do not conclude from these facts that fever is useless. The conflation of defenses and their associated suffering with the problems that arouse them is an error that is as prevalent as it is serious.

      My only quibble with this, no doubt born of naiveté, is that I can’t see the adaptive utility of “fever anxiety”. Nesse’s “epiphenomenon” and your “spandrel” are perhaps not a million semantic miles apart. But why is grief “the unavoidable consequence” of commitment? What, if anything, is inevitable about it? Isn’t it at least plausible to hypothesize—and we’ll never get far beyond hypotheses—that our pre-agrarian ancestors could not afford to expend much (that’s not to say none) emotional and physical capital for grief? Might the last ten millennia have been a grief excursion, a grief indulgence?
      But I think you should give me some credit for spending about an hour and a half in the research of a thirty-word sentence. I could have gone further and deeper, of course—that is always, always an option—but then you start looking at six months of intensive study and the prospect of never writing anything.

      “grief…seems to me to be a glacier in deep retreat across the mountains of the modern mind, retreating from kith to closest kin, a corollary, perhaps, of a tentatively, selectively, but intriguingly documented decline in that most distinctively human of emotions, empathy.”
      The metaphor is beautiful but I am not convinced it is accurate. I think you’re conflating two separate phenomena.
      The first is the bizarre (to me) hysteria that greets the death of a Diana or Jobs. Many or even most of people who claimed to be grieving for Diana were experiencing genuine grief, something that Tony Blair understood when he ingeniously appropriated some of the empathy she stirred by dubbing her ‘the people’s princess’. As you know, when Apple enthusiasts think about Jobs, the same areas of their brain are active as when devout believers think about their God. These people aren’t faking it.

      I didn’t want to stride too deeply into the quicksand of Diana and Jobs, but you force my hand, so here goes… Like you, I find the public displays bizarre, much, much more so in the case of Diana than Jobs, perhaps because the Jobs ones seemed infinitely more subdued. But you yourself (in the case of Diana) seem uncertain as to whether it was grief or something closer to hysteria.
      “Many or even most of people who claimed to be grieving for Diana were experiencing genuine grief.” That is a very bold and confident statement, and I don’t think the actions of Tony Blair are evidentially useful here.
      I know you have nothing but contempt for the discipline of history, but perhaps Clio’s lens might show us that there was nothing very distinctively new about Diana. Who was the first celebrity? From an Anglocentric perspective, a case could be made that it was thespian David Garrick (1717-1779). Some 50,000 people lined the streets of London for his funeral, when London had a population of roughly 800,000 (http://www.folger.edu/template.cfm?cid=1413), which doesn’t compare unfavorably at all with the million from eight million at Diana’s do. [I’ve tried to get an estimate for the funeral crowds of Queen Victoria and Cecil Rhodes, but the Internet fails me—what is it good for, if not for things like this?] Of course, we don’t know (although there’s probably some evidence out there) what the grievers at the funeral of David Garrick were feeling (perhaps they were even cheerful), so any direct comparison is out of the question, but…
      Recall what I wrote in full, though.
      One thing strikes this casual and intermittent but curious observer of grief, though: notwithstanding the upwellings and outgushings of mass public grief over the death of a Princess Diana or a Steve Jobs, grief at its best, ardent but not debilitating, seems to me to be a glacier in deep retreat across the mountains of the modern mind, retreating from kith to closest kin, a corollary, perhaps, of a tentatively, selectively, but intriguingly documented decline in that most distinctively human of emotions, empathy.

      Surely this is the opposite of conflation, rather the expression of a desire to treat the Jobs and Diana cases as sui generis exceptions. Whether it is reasonable or not to do so is another matter.

      The second is the superficiality that Twitter and blogging (some exceptions apply) and Facebook encourage. The problem with these phenomena, in this context, is surely not that they have eroded human capacity for experiencing grief (yet) but that they have given a platform to the ‘thoughts’ of commentators whose insights should never have seen the light of day. Look at the comments on virtually any blog and you will find an eloquent argument for compulsory sterilisation of stupid people.

      Now, now, let’s not go down the primrose path of eugenics, you know where that’s going to end you up! But actually, I wasn’t really aiming fire at Twitter and tweeting per se, but stressing the continuity of superficiality between the stuffed shirts of the Asiatic Society of Japan and the celebrity twitterati (what a terrible and wonderful word that is, I wish I could claim to have coined it). Note how the Winehouse reflections are introduced with a verb in the past perfect:

      I had thought that the ne plus ultra of crocodilian insincerity in public displays of grief…

      Can we think ourselves back to the world before Twitter? It’s only five years ago, so we should be able to, although… Let’s imagine a (very slightly) alternative reality in which Amy Winehouse had been born five years earlier, followed a near-identical life trajectory, and died in the summer of 2006. The press would have clamored for the grief-response of the celebrity community in much the same way they did in the summer of 2011—what would have been different? I think the answer is that the tweets of sadness possess a raw, unmediated, off-the-cuff quality that a comment in a telephone conversation wouldn’t have had. You might think that Alpha Male and Female Celebrities would have the sense to let their PR people check their tweets beforehand, but that doesn’t seem to be the case, and it’s interesting to ponder briefly why not. Perhaps the answer lies in the lack of censure that Ashton Kutcher’s “mayB I’ll just go C Harry Potter” garnered—but then again, perhaps I’m reading too much into the whole spectacle.

      I think that, contrary to your argument, contemporary humans have expanded the circle of empathy to include pop stars, princesses and computer geeks, because we mistakenly see these people as belonging to the same group as ‘us’ (this is the argument Peter Singer makes in his brilliant book, ‘The Expanding Circle’) and we are designed to feel commitment to (and therefore grief in the face of loss of) members of our group. Even Ashton Kutcher might, in his own pin-headed way, have experienced grief when Amy Winehouse died. All that Twitter has changed is that we are now privy to the fact that Harry Potter movies are where he goes to seek consolation in his darkest moments.

      I was writing on the assumption that the celebrities tweeting their response to the death of Amy Winehouse actually knew her to a greater or lesser extent, that she was kith, was part of their network, although now I wonder—we non-celebrities tend to look from outside upon what we imagine to be a vaporous but discrete “cloud of celebrity”—but it may be that, say, Rihanna (whoever she is) had no more than the faintest of passing physical contact with her.

      Humans have been reading for only a few thousand years and most humans, in most generations have been unable in practice to read anything but the most basic text (let’s face it, that’s still true today – what proportion of educated English speakers could read your post and have the faintest idea what you’re on about?). If you’re going to argue that empathy depends on a willingness to read, you’re going to have to accept that most humans have never been able to feel empathy. I don’t buy it.

      Now that’s not me making that argument (here) but Scientific American. However… There’s an extensive discussion of the impact of reading on empathy in Pinker’s Better Angels, on pp175-177 and again on pp589-590 (which also touches on Singer’s The Expanding Circle). Noone, I think, of sound mind would argue that empathy depends on or is in any way a consequence of a willingness or ability to read, but it seems reasonable to me to tentatively conclude, as Pinker does, that “the explosion of reading may have contributed to the Humanitarian Revolution by getting people into the habit of straying from their parochial vantage points”. There is not, after all, some fixed stock of empathy residing in the amygdala or the insula or wherever (see Pinker on the “compassionate brain”, pp578-579). Reading does have quite a stack of what we might consider to be empathetic achievements, either direct or indirect, to its credit: the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the Industrial and Scientific Revolutions… [I’m more convinced than ever, incidentally, that Steven Pinker is the first person ever to have been successfully cloned and that multiple copies of himself, perhaps dozens, crank out tomes like Better Angels—I just cannot see how one person can bestride so many different disciplines with such felicity.]

      If young Americans are less empathic than their parents or grandparents, my finger would point first at antidepressants, which are prescribed in vast quantities (as eloquently described in Elizabeth Wurtzel’s ‘Prozac Nation’). Antidepressants taken for long periods of time atrophy the dopamine regulatory system in your brain, and dopamine is deeply involved, in ways that are poorly understood, in regulating empathy.

      This is a testable hypothesis; do we know of anyone attempting to test it, I wonder? However, according to this article in the Harvard University Medical School health blog:

      http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/astounding-increase-in-antidepressant-use-by-americans-201110203624

      “only” one in ten Americans are on antidepressants—is that truly enough to cause a nationwide decline in empathy?

      The diffident Uta Schreck could not have found a better eulogist. I am also curious to know how you do Japanese/European fusion cuisine using the template of an open sandwich.

      I am curious, too. This being expat Tokyo, there are not six degrees of separation between me and Uta Schreck but just one—an Asiatic Society of Japan council member with whom I did an MA in Japanese Studies some years back. Perhaps I should get back in touch.
      Out little dialogue is now closing in on 2,500 words, 75% longer than the post which inspired it, so I’ll leave it here for now. Pip pip!

  3. @ Torquatus, re “I’m sure that she tweets, has ‘friends’ on Facebook’ and never reads a book from cover-to-cover”

    God spare us all! I have a sinking feeling that that description applies to millions of people who, thanks to Facebook debasing the term “friend”, have no idea what a real friend is. I’ll suggest a corrective: the series of novels “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency”. They are deep wells of compassion, kindness, mercy, and other admirable traits that Facebook, Twitter, and online commenting have made rare and unfamiliar to many.

    To forcibly turn this comment in the direction of Spike Japan, another question for Pachi-guy-san: have those novels been translated into Japanese? If so, how have they been received?

    • To forcibly turn this comment in the direction of Spike Japan, another question for Pachi-guy-san: have those novels been translated into Japanese? If so, how have they been received?
      Questions like this always pique my curiosity. So there are 15 novels in the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. The first four were translated into Japanese. Below, OOP stands for “out of print” and IP for “in print”. The numbers are the number of reviews, positive, negative, or indifferent, at amazon.co.jp
      The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency OOP, 7
      Tears of the Giraffe OOP, 3
      Morality for Beautiful Girls IP, 4
      The Kalahari Typing School for Men IP, 1
      There are nine novels in the Sunday Philosophy Club series (this man is a writing machine!) The first two were translated into Japanese.
      The Sunday Philosophy Club OOP, 6
      Friends, Lovers, Chocolate OOP, 1
      We can tentatively conclude from 1) the fact that translations of both series were aborted early on, 2) the fact that no translation has been published since January 2010 (Friends, Lovers, Chocolate, and it is already out of print), 3) the relative paucity of reviews at amazon.co.jp, and 4) the fact that only two of the six works are still in print that Alexander McCall Smith has not seized hold of the imagination of the Japanese reading public. Stories about Botswana, to paraphrase Neville Chamberlain, probably strike the Japanese as tales of a far-away country about people of whom we know nothing.
      Incidentally, McCall Smith tweets, currently from the Caymans (Precious Ramotswe’s been very good to him).

      https://twitter.com/McCallSmith

      Remember, in this life, to read the time signature, observe the rests / Advice, like all advice, we soon ignore.

  4. I want to know:
    did anyone ever eat more than one sandwich?
    Were there ever leftovers?
    Were they, perhaps, a tad dry, due to Mrs. Schreck considerately omitting ingredients that might inconveniently drip?
    Or do I? No. It’s nothing more than idle curiosity, a passing interest soon forgotten, as quickly as I will forget the very existence of Mrs. Schreck, however much or little I may, at this moment, empathise with her – unknown to me – friends and associates.
    I am trying to express thoughts on mass grieving prompted by this essay.
    I sometimes wonder if mass public grieving isn’t less about the departed and more a ritualistic event, seen as an opportunity to focus more generalised sorrows and/or unease resulting from a perception of many things being lost, in order to place those disturbing pertubations where one can feel less powerless to do anything about them.
    I don’t claim to have an answer.
    I do believe we have not left beliefs in magic far behind, and regularly indulge in ceremony and ritual to imbue with personal meaning that which is, essentially, without personal meaning or entirely mundane.
    Quite apart from all that twitter and facebook may represent, they may also be ways to practise personal discomfort-relieiving magic through grief expression, similar to candlelight observances and constructing teddy bear piles.
    Apologies for any lack of clarity.
    I acknowledge what I have to say may be rubbish. I’m just putting the thought out.

  5. How my appetite pulses for these sandwiches, sandwiches that are “elegant”, “delicious”, and “innovative”, “distinctive”, “famous”, and “inimitable”, “kindly provided” and “diligently prepared” by the diffident hands of Uta Schreck.

    Bah. In every club with which I’ve been associated the sandwich maker was showered with complements because nobody else wanted to make sandwiches.

  6. Surely I am not the only person who checks in here regularly to see if there has been a comment made by someone who experienced said innovative open sandwiches. The absence of further detail has really drawn me in: I want to know more!

  7. OT, but this looks to be a promising data-dump:

    http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/wp/2012/wp12248.pdf

  8. the diffident hands of Uta Schreck

    Isn’t this an H.P. Lovecraft story?

  9. I really want one of those sandwiches. There are worse things to be famous for than innovative, distinctive sandwiches.

  10. We may try to recapture the magic of Uta’s creations, but our efforts will be a pale imitation; Schrecklich, at best.

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