Sketches of One’s Own…



by Joel Gn

Note Book,
by Jeff Nunokawa,
Princeton University Press, 360pp.

Reading aphorisms can prove to be an arduous, if not dangerous undertaking. Enigmatic, indifferent and occasionally, a little too precarious, these vignettes adroitly traverse and inhabit a myriad of texts, people and places. We can never be too certain about where the aphorism is going, for its structure is –much to the surprise and chagrin of the reader – quite unlike the classical text. If the latter is territorial, hierarchical and grounded on a coherent reality, then the aphorism is nomadic, indistinct and an intervention across multiple perspectives.

Hence, the brief accounts collected in Jeff Nunokawa’s Note Book pertain less to journalistic reminiscence than to interventions that constitute a mosaic of intertextuality. This is not to say that the work is deprived of all structure; on the contrary, each note shows Nunokawa in a dialogue with another text, where he often commences with a quote or an epigram before sketching his own point of view. Some entries tend to leave one feeling rather underwhelmed, but they nevertheless draw the reader into the author’s pleasures and pains with the craft. Previously distant and aged, figures the likes of Brontë, Joyce, Eliot and Sartre become startlingly relevant when blended with Nunokawa’s pithy and inquisitive musings. Other times, he does not shy away from opening the doors of his own lived experience, as portrayed in those light-hearted moments with his loved ones.

Taken together, these notes offer us an incipient attitude or posture for coming to terms with one’s own struggles and transitions. Instead of rendering an explicit resolution, Nunokawa’s prose draws attention to the alternative lines of thought that do not always neatly converge with or respond to the burden of our questions. With Nunokawa’s writings, we come to realise that thought neither culminates, nor arrives at a single destination, but takes on varying trajectories and multiple lines of flight, where each note resonating in the present (and future) is but an echo bearing voices from past affections.

Equally intriguing is the form of writing Nunokawa adopts for the work. In a milieu of social networks and digital temporalities, the use of Facebook as a medium of literary expression may strike the casual bystander as an odd bid for nostalgia, but Nunokawa’s short-form does more than appeal to old-fashioned elegance. In many ways, these reflections serve to redeem one from the white noise and deluge of vitriol that have marred much of our digital utterances today. Despite their brevity, Nunokawa’s essays present themselves as electronic intermissions, with impressions of love and loss that linger long after the screen goes dark. And for once in quite a long while, a work such as Note Book invites us to stop and think, even when the impetus to connect has all but taken away the value of quiet, reflective contemplation.

About the Author:

Joel Gn completed a PhD in Communications and New Media at the National University of Singapore, with a dissertation on the phenomenological implications of cuteness in a technological space. His work centres on philosophical engagements with design aesthetics, new media and East Asian popular culture.