Sunday, November 6, 2011

The metaphysics of Yuichi Yokoyama

Yokoyama’s second graphic novel, the recently translated Garden, also follows the logic of motion from beginning to end, of journey to destination. But in this book Yokoyama complicates things: Garden also begins with a destination, and for over 300 pages readers are invited to wonder if the journey it depicts is the same utilitarian movement through space depicted in Travel, or an end unto itself.

Garden begins with a strong echo of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. A handful of the artist’s humanoid, fashion-forward characters stand assembled before a guard wearing a mask printed with a pattern that encourages the eyes to unfocus, and are denied entrance to the garden that memories of Travel suggest they have come a long way to see. Luckily, there is a breach in the wall that sections off the garden from the outside world — an outside world, crucially, that we are never allowed to see. By the end of page one, the characters we follow for the entirety of the narrative are through the wall and into the garden.

We will not see them leave. For the rest of the book, the characters negotiate ever more complex and physically demanding man-made topographical features, frequently risking life and limb without a mention of the fact that they are doing so. The dialogue betrays no interiority whatsoever, with completely interchangeable voices alternating between describing the bizarre sights their owners are witnessing and speculating on their purposes and the methods of their creation. Yokoyama’s fanciful setup nails the basic absurdity of modern leisure: the most privileged among us — the ones with the lives we believe are ideal — “work” by staring at screens, and “recreate” by climbing mountains.

Garden is more than satire, however, and Yokoyama’s sights are set much higher than the follies of vacationing. The nature of the obstacles his band of wanderers encounter progresses slowly but surely over the course of the book. Waterfalls of simple rubber balls and fountains made of stacked bowls give way to planters made of automobiles and resting areas constructed from airplane parts. Soon the terrain is incorporating giant paper pyramids, a winding maze of irrigation channels that forces its occupants to literally get their feet wet, and motorized blocks of rock that ferry riders up grooves cut into the side of mountains.

Poster by Martin Kippenberger, 1984