Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Hawthorne Marathon on July 4th

Summer time! People should be on vacation. Today, Sunday, July 4th, in rain forecasted Kitakyushu, we celebrated U.S. Independence Day and the 206th birthday of Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) in a most unique way. While living in New York City, I visited the House of the Seven Gables, in Salem, Massachusetts which inspired Hawthorne to write his masterpiece, bearing the same name.

About 80 plus English speaking volunteers participated in the reading marathon of another of Hawthorne’s masterpiece, The Scarlet Letter. The reading started at 9:00 AM and went on until late at night, close to 11:00 PM. The 230 page book was read by 80 people in turns. On the average, each person read 2-3 pages. I read four pages during my turn.

As an annual event of the Kyushu Salon, serving the Nathaniel Hawthorne Society of Japan, the program was designed jointly by Professor Emeritus Shinichiro Noriguchi of Kitakyushu City University and the marathon chair Mariko Takashima, professor of the Kagoshima Women's Junior College. Most of the volunteers, including scholars, teachers, young students, businessmen, and retirees like myself, were Kitakyushu residents. There were also visitors from Hiroshima, Kagoshima and Fukuoka.

Reading Marathon Chair Mariko Takashima &
Vice Chair Kimiko Murata

Reading marathons in the U.S. are mostly practiced in churches and universities for special occasions. Popular readings are for the Bible, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, Mark Twain’s stories, etc. I’m happy to see Japan is following suit and Kitakyushu blazing the trail.

Professor Noriguchi was quoted in the Asahi Newspaper saying, "Hawthorne voice-rehearsed his writing more than 30 times before he put it in black and white". It was a surprise to me because I do my voice reading rehearsals, but less than 30 times.

My turn in reading started like this:

“It may seem marvellous that, with the world before her - kept by no restrictive clause of her condemnation within the limits of the Puritan settlement, so remote obscure – free to return to her birthplace or any other European land, and there hide her character and identity under a new exterior, as completely as if emerging into another state of being - and having also the passes of the dark, inscrutable forest open to her, where the wildness of her nature might assimilate itself with a people whose customs and life were alien from the law that had condemned her - it may seem marvelous that this woman should still call that place her home, where, and where only, she must needs to be the type of shame.”

This is one sentence. First time I read it, I counted 4 hyphens and had to weigh which hyphenated clauses are heaviest, then heavier and which is lighter. The three hyphenated clauses (between the repetition of "It may seem marvellous") are syntactically equivalent but are not equal ideas. The first ("kept by no . . . Puritan settlement") is a condition of her liberty, the second and third ("free to return to her birthplace . . ." and having also . . . the forest open to her") are liberty's possible destinations. The syntax hides that relationship between the three places (Puritan settlement, Europe, and forest), instead of clarifying or amplifying it.

After repeated training, I thought I understood what Hawthorne wanted to say and even found sophisticated beauty in rehearsing.

Let me quote Hawthorne on where his writing came from:

1) Easy reading is damn hard writing.
2) Words – so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a Dictionary, how potent the good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.

I brought my umbrella to the venue of the marathon reading. Fortunately I missed the rain but wondered if the rain spoiled the evening of the late night participants.

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