Utne Blogs > Literature

When Taxes Get Hairy

 by Julie Hanus

Tags: Yoko Tawada, World Literature Today, Words Without Borders, University of Chicago magazine, Minnesota Monitor, surrealism, hair tax,

furry hamster.Tokyo-born, Germany-based writer Yoko Tawada has been called “a surrealist with a funky, abrasive sense of humor,” according to World Literature Today. “Hair Tax,” a short piece of her fiction featured in the May-June 2008 issue (article not available online), is a wry case in point.

“After months of controversy, the new hair tax was approved,” Tawada writes (translated from German into English). “The Hamster Lovers’ Guild was said to be the driving force behind the reform. The Guild had always found it objectionable that the tax levied on mammals was the same for a hamster as for a German shepherd.”

Sounds fairly reasonable, no? From there, Tawada traces the increasingly surreal repercussions: Calculating tax based on “surface area,” of course, could be deemed discriminatory against obese animals, so the term “furred surface” is adopted, presenting certain problems for fans of new-fangled furry furniture (brought to you by genetic engineering), and on and on it goes....

In taking regular ideas to irregular lengths, Tawada’s “Hair Tax” pleasantly jostles the brain; the piece is at once familiar and unexpected, begging reflection on the world as it is. "Hair Tax" is available to read online via Words Without Borders, a web-based magazine of international literature recently profiled in the University of Chicago magazine.

And after reading it, if a hair tax still seems a bit, well, surreal, consider this: A Minnesota state representative proposed just such a follicular tax not so long ago. Rep. Jim Abeler carried what began as a snarky suggestion through to its over-the-top end—proposal of an amendment—hoping to make a point about how simple it is to create new programs, reports the Minnesota Monitor. Life imitates art, it would seem.

Image by annia316, licensed under Creative Commons.