Friday, March 31, 2006

The Noh-Mask Effect

I found this web page showing an effective moving three-dimensional graphic of the noh mask effect - the capability of a fixed mask representing different emotions in the control of a skilled actor.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Meiko Togano's Configuration of Supreme Female Power

In relation to the view of the supreme power that women have over men that Meiko Togano articulates & practices in Enchi Fumiko's Masks (Onna Men), you may be interested in this recent article in Foreign Policy on patriachy and paternity that is, to say the least, stimulative if not controversial. (The article was first featured, then removed, on the essential Arts & Letters Daily site.)

Friday, March 24, 2006

Mushin, or "No-Nous"

The positive presence of absence in the Japanese aesthetic extends to mind. In martial arts, the term used is mushin [ 無心 ]: in English "no-nous." [A strict translation of the kanji is "vacant heart" - "heart" in this sense approximating nous in English: e.g. OED: Considered as the centre of vital functions: the seat of life; the vital part or principle; hence in some phrases = life."]The following from Albert M. Craig's The Heritage of Japanese Civilisation (placed on Course reserve) is an excellent precis of the larger concept.

Stephen Ogden demonstrating mushin

The Arts and Zen Buddhism
Zen Buddhism in Japan developed a theory of art that influenced every department of high medieval culture. Put simply, the theory is that intuitive action is better than conscious, purposive action. The best painter is one so skilled that he no longer needs to think of technique but paints as a natural act. Substitute a sword for a brush, and the same theory applies: a warrior who has to stop to consider his next move is at a
disadvantage in battle. To this emphasis on direct, intuitive action is added the Zen distinction between the deluded mind and the "original mind." The latter is also referred to as the "no mind," or the mind in the enlightened state. The highest intuitive action proceeds from such a state of being. This theory was applied, in time, to the performance of the actor, to the skill of the potter, to archery, to flower arrangement, and to the tea ceremony. Compare the following two passages, on by Seami (1363-1443), the author of many No plays, and the other by Takuan Soho (1573-1645), a famous Zen master of the early Tokugawa era.

1. Sometimes spectators of the No say: "The moments of 'no-action' are the most enjoyable." This is an art which the actor keeps secret. Dancing and singing, movements and the diffrent types of miming are all acts performed by the body. Moments of "no-action" occur in between. When we examine why such movements without actions are enjoyable, we find that it is due to the underlying spiritual strength of the actor which unremittingly holds the attention. He does not relax the tension when the dancing or singing come to an end or at intervals between the dialogue and the different types of miming, but maintains an unwavering inner strength. This feeling of inner strength will faintly reveal itself and bring enjoyment. However, it is undesirable for the actor to permit this inner strength to become obvious to the audience. If it is obvious, it becomes and act, and is no longer “no-action." The actions before and after an interval of “no-action” must be linked by entering the state of mindlessness in which one conceals even from oneself one’s intent, This, then, is the faculty of moving audiences, by linking all the artistic powers with one mind.

2. Where should a swordsman fix his mind? If he puts his mind on the physical movement of his opponent, it will be seized by the movement; if he places it on the sword of his opponent, it will be arrested by the sword; if he focuses his mind on the thought of striking his opponent, it will be carried away by the very thought; if the mind stays on his own sword, it will be captured by his sword; if he centers it on the thought of not being killed by his opponent, his mind will be overtaken by this very thought; if he keeps his mind firmly on his own or on his opponent’s posture, likewise, it will be blocked by them. Thus the mind should not be fixed anywhere.

Thursday, March 23, 2006


I see that I havn't posted here since last week: my apologies, and a plea of heavy workload. I'm back to regular posting so please re-visit from time to time. There's much to talk about -- my feelings about our course, your essays, our field trip, the guest lectures, a remarkable Genji movie, a wrap-up Japanese meal -- both in class and here on the blog.
By all means drop a comment about any of these topics here in the meantime.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Class Visit from Japanese Buddhist Priest Ms. Masumi Kikuchi

I am very happy to announce that we will be receiving a visit from Ms. Masumi Kikuchi, (pictured left,) visiting priest from Kyoto Japan at the Steveston Buddhist Temple. Sensei Kikiuchi will lecture on the historical influence of Buddhism on Japanese aesthetic concepts -- such as mono no aware and mujokan -- and its interrelationship with Shinto animism. Sensei Kikiuchi has also agreed to take class questions after her lecture.
"Sensei Kikiuchi's family has looked after the Genkohji temple from generation to generation for over 500 years .... She received an Ohtani Scholarship from Zenmonsama, former Lord Abbot of Nishi Hongwanji, to study comparative early childhood religious education at the Ekoji Temple in Dusseldorf, Germany for a year. She also researched European Shin Buddhists and Christian social activities during her stay in Europe. She has studied at Ryukoku University and Gyoshin Buddhist School in Osaka under several teachers."

Class Trip to Nitobe Gardens

The contact person from the Nitobe Memorial Gardens Volunteer Society called me today to confirm Tuesday March 21st as the day for our guided tour of the Japanese gardens. The sakura will hopefully co-operate to provide a most memorable Japanese experience!

Please return here in coming days for information on the specific time and travel arrangements.
Update: We are confirmed for twelve-thirty at the Gardens, directions and map here. All meet behind the Bennett Library at eleven thirty: drivers still needed ....
Update II: The tour will take us to one thirty ....

Final Paper

A reminder that the Term Paper is due on April 7th. The criteria are detailed in the course syllabus. The topic, covering any or all of our primary texts, is entirely open. I do recommend that you email me or visit an Office Hour well in advance of the due date with an outline, or to discuss a possible direction.

Keeping in mind the possibility of publication of your term paper as a chapter in a book on Genji in the modern West, you may wish to consider framing your paper around the question of the portrayal of Genji and his variety of ladies as a means of expressing female power in an erotic æsthetic created by Lady Shikibui's intense prescient sensibility to a uniquely Japanese mode of though, articulated by scholars, critics and artists in subsequent Japanese centuries under terms such as mono no aware, mujokan, miyabi and sabi.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Japanese Æstheticised Death & the Internet

From the Associated Press, dateline Tokyo:
TOKYO - Six young Japanese were found dead from asphyxiation in a car Friday, charcoal stoves still smoking beside them — apparently the latest victims of a surge in suicide pacts arranged over the Internet.
More here.

Update: here is the latest reported occurence, from the BBC.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

"Pillow Book" - Lecture

[The flower pictured here is the Japanese Iris, sei-shonagon]
An exceptionally good and memorable class today, from where I sit. For the better part of two hours, working with some of the finer details of Sei Shonagon's Pillow Book under a guiding concept, we enjoyed a very strong and what I felt to be a meaningful enagement with the text -- as well as the personality of the author. Certainly I learned a great deal. I am delighted that so many of you respond so favourably to Shonagon: it is marvellous -- if not miraculous -- how the chapbook of a lady-in-waiting at Court in tenth-century Japan speaks so immediately to twenty-first century Canadians.

I suggested that the facts of life for women at the Heian court -- severely limited to physical passivity behind the manifold and ubiquitous screens -- explains much of Shonagon's quirks, attitudes, and observations. Her intense attention to details of clothing; her praise of sympathy; her snobbery; her recognition that men in general are obtuse in observing facial expressions and deaf to nuance of sound of all types; her connoisseurship of scenes of human pathos (connected to her more widely-applied double-coining of the term mono no aware); her weighting under her list of "pleasing things" so heavily toward types of relationships; her neurotic responses to rain in contrast to her deep and aching love of moonlight; and the slightest tincture of sadism in more than one of her accounts of pathetic events: all these become part of a vivid and compelling human portrait when considered in light of the circumstances under which the Pillow Book was -- in its loose and desultory way -- compiled.

My conclusion, from what I took to be the strong consensus of your responses to lecture, was that your insistences that, superficial responses to the contarary, Shonagon was by no means malicious, and (quite surprisingly once you think how far we have come in appreciating Japanese sensibilities since our opening lecture) very much like us in our petty judgementalisms, insecurities, & peculiarities. If I could summarise, you find Shonagon quite like us, only more intensely so in each point.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Vancouver Sakura Festival

There is what seems to be a deliberate effort in Vancouver to institutionalise a cherry-blossom festival. A group has a website at with information about blossom-viewing across the city coupled with several Japanese events, such as ikebana, haiku, and origami.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Japan & Cultural Homogeneity

Welcome contribution from a classfellow:
I just thought i'd share this book with you, although you may already know of it / have read it. It's called The Cape: and other stories from the Japanese ghetto by Nakagami Kenji . I had already bought it when we had our visit from Koizumi Maya, but I was reminded of it when she was talking about the racial purity in Japan. It's written by a man from the burakumin minority, someone who does not fit into the homogeneous nature of the Japanese.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The World Significance of Genji

A classfellow reminded me today of the opening sentence from one of the books on our course Reserve at the Library, Doris Bargen's A Woman's Weapon : Spirit Possession in The tale of Genji, which is as follows:
Murasaki Shikibu is to Japan what Homer is to Greece, Shakespeare is to England, Goethe is to Germany & the T'ang poets are to China.
I would add to this, and what Cervantes is to Spain, what Cicero is to Rome, what Balzac is for France, & what Tolstoi is to Russia. That is, an indispensable book, large in content, substance, scope & significant: and essential for a truly cultured place in our world.

This by way of hopeful encouragement in the midst of our reading of Genji ....

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Guest Speaker Thursday

A reminder that we have our first guest speaker, Koizumi Maya-san, in class this Thursday. The format will be question-&-answer. Might I suggest that you write two questions on a card ahead of class, to ensure brevity, directness, & specificity -- the latter meaning "Is it correct to say that sabi deals with the concrete & wabi with the abstract?" rather than "Tell me about wabi & sabi." (Not that I think this is particularly an issue in the present case.)

Monday, February 20, 2006

Important Upcoming Events for English

Two upcoming events, arranged by our estimable Department, will be of interest to students of English & well worth your attending.

  • Honours Information Session
    Thursday, Feb. 23rd, 11:30 am
    AQ 6093
  • English Career Panel, or, What to Do with Your English Degree
    Monday, March 6th, 3:30 pm
    Maggie Benston Centre, Rooms 2290-2292

Virginia Woolf 1925 Review of Waley's "Genji"

Ahead of our March 16th visit from translator & Genji scholar Dr. Sonja Arntzen, please studiously read this 1925 review by Virginia Woolf of Waley's translation of the Tale of Genji.

Film Screening

A film version of a modern Japanese novel The Woman in the Dunes will be shown Wednesday March 15th at 7:00 pm in AQ 3181. There will be sufficient room for any of you who wish to attend.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Expanded Office Hours at Reading Week

During the reading week I will be keeping all my regular office hours, but I will also be having office hours during the scheduled class times. So, next week I will be available for drop-in as follows:
Monday: 9:30-15:30
Tuesday: 11:30-15:00
Wednesday: 9:30-15:00
Thursday: 13:30-15:00.
Friday: by appointment.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Mid-term Essay: Topics

To identify and appreciate the fundamental and radical difference between the worldviews of the Heian aristocracy and the modern West, a number of æsthetic and intellectual modes of Japanese thought have been introduced and detailed in lecture. The following choice of topics provide you with the opportunity to apply your new understanding in a scholarly endeavour -- according to the criteria posted in the course syllabus.

1.] As a practical application of mushin, detail how Shikibu's text is not like a Western novel by analysing any section or sections in terms of what is not contained of Western literary æsthetics - or, another way, detail the absence of Western literary æsthetics. This topic, in other words, disciplines you to bring Zen "ego-less-ness" to the genji monogatari.

2.] The Pillow Book is, as we have learned, an intensely personal collection of writing from Murasaki Shikibu's Heian contemporary, Sei Shonagon, that combines monozukushi, or catalogues of things; zuisou, or occasional thoughts; and nikki or diary. Using the techniques of literary analysis and principles of the Japanese æsthetic, draw up a scholarly portrait of the character of Sei Shonagon as represented in what is literally her autograph.

3.] American lawyer John Luther Long wrote Madame Butterfly in 1898 without benefit of any direct experience of Japan or Japanese. He drew his story from the reflections of his sister, Mrs. Jennie Correll, upon her years as a missionary's wife in Nagasaki. With the kind of miracle which is possible only via genius of artistic imagination, Long not only maintains America at a cool critical remove but encodes certain facts of Japanese culture and literary æsthetic deeply and consistently in his text. Using the genji monogatari as a benchmark, critically evaluate Jennie Correll's sight and sensibility as they are evident in Madame Butterfly.

Monday, February 13, 2006

On Child Custody in Japan

As I said in response to the seminar question on this topic, I have no worthwhile knowledge of it. There is information here, and also here. The first link contains links to and English translations of pertinent articles in Japanese Civil Code.
nb: The administrator of Satan's Trouble With Eve is not responsible for the content of these two (or of any other) external links. No support or opposition to any inclination, opinion or position contained or implied at the external sites.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Dinosaur MSM sees Blogs, but Dimly

Typical ponderous MSM giant BBC has this sensation of "blog" passed up its length of nerves to its brain-stem. One bit of sense, though tiny:
I regard the blogosphere as a source of criticism that must be listened to and as a source of information that can be used.

The MSM doesn't get blogging, obviously; as dinosaurs always lack the perceptive & cognitive faculties to adapt to the smarter, faster, better new species which have already marked them for extinction. But here, one dinosaur at least sees its nemesis.

Update: The Old Order stirs, notices the rise of blogging, & responds rather peevishly ....

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Ki-Sho-Ten-Ketsu: Western Novel Comparison?

On the question during lecture about whether any Western novels display similarities to the ki-sho-ten-ketsu form, and whether Joyce's Ulysses qualifies:
  • At the time, my mind went blank in regards to comparative book, a consequence of my deliberate discipline of maintaining a solid mental firewall during our class against any Western analogues to Japanese patterns of thought, principles of æsthetics, or cultural forms. Out of class, however, I quickly recalled that Proust's A la Recherche de Temps Perdu, which I had read as an undergraduate, came to my mind as was first reading Genji some years ago. Indeed, if you think about the ki-sho-ten-ketsu literary form, as I detailed it in lecture, in contradistinction to Western forms, and should you be familiar with Proust, you will realise that his great work's wide reputation for meandering, indirection and shapelessness matches the formal character of Genji. Alas for my posterity, I have since discovered that my elders have already made very much this same discovery ....
  • The suggestion of Joyce's Ulysses was a creditable attempt, especially off-the-cuff. However, as I affirmed at the time, Joyce is almost the anti-Shikibu & Ulysses almost the anti-Genji. Ulysses is determinedly the most Western of all stolid Western attempts by a Western writer to resolutely write a Western novel that encapuslates all Western novel-ness. Joyce's book -- & even more so his ultimate work Finnegans Wake -- unabashedly demands that the reader bring as much knowledge of Western history, culture & literature as possible to the text. (Indeed, even the non-Western elements in Joyce are the kind of "knowledge" that a parochial Westerner has of the non-West.) In other words, Ulysses & Finnegans Wake alike are excessively "writer-responsible" (vide John Hinds, 1987) surpassed only by William Blake's impenetrable Prophetic Books - Blake being the ne plus ultra of writer-responsible authors. Lack of understanding of Joyce, then, is considered by Jocyeans (& certainly by Joyce) a failure of the reader.

I will deal in a seperate post with the nature of ki-sho-ten-ketsu in literary applications, and in terms of its "reader-responsible" nature.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Betty Lambert Memorial Prize

The English Department requests submissions for the Betty Lambert Memorial Prize. The prize is awarded annually to the best unpublished play written by an undergraduate SFU student who is enrolled in at least 9 credit hours at SFU.

The prize will be equal in value to the interest accrued from the endowment fund established in Ms. Lambert's memory. Submissions will be adjudicated by a panel named by the English Department's Undergraduate Curriculum Committee. The closing date for this prize is March 1, 2006.

Address submissions to:

Betty Lambert Memorial Prize
c/o Department of English
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, B.C. V5A 1S6

If there are further questions, please contact the English Department.

Class tea time

By all means, bring your own yunomi (cup for Japanese tea) to each class for the o-cha. I will switch to styrofoam cups after the current paper ones are used up for those who prefer not to.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Class' Seminar notes

I now have all the contributions from the seminar discussion of a week ago. My thanks.
I will format & edit slightly & have them blogged here shortly.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

On Wabi & Sabi

The connected concepts of wabi and sabi that I introduced and explained in lecture this past week provide, as stated, an effective framework for understanding the Japanese æsthetic and thus civilisation template. As you now hopefully can see, wabi and sabi together represent a large-scale conceptual mapping of the uniquely Japanese way of relating to the world than the more concisely limited elements to which you were introduced earlier and which are in a sense incorporated by the wabi and sabi systems.

Two things are worth emphasising at this point. First, it is not to be expected that you will have any firm grasp on their nature or operation. The beginnings of understading of wabi and sabi will come only as you read, enjoy and study Genji. You have been presented with the accrual of æsthetic and intellectual concepts gradually in order that you will be able to appreciate and increasingly recognise their presence as your reading of Genji progresses.

Keep in mind, in this regard, the twin points repeatedly made in lecture that Genji is not a novel designed to fictionalise wabi and sabi and that our task is not to pick out the sections of the author's literary enpuzzlement. Quite the contrary, part of Murasaki Shikibu's superlative genius is revealed in the fact that her artistic sensibility artistry comprehended the many large and unformed ideas and assumptions behind the Heian way of experiencing the world and encoded them in the original literary achievement that is Genji. It was through reading of Shikibu's masterpiece that Japanese artists, critics and scholars in later centuries came to develop and elaborate the notions that became wabi and sabi.

I have come across an excellent book online through our SFU Library which is a collction of essays from various scholars of Japan, entitled Japanese Aesthetics and Culture : A Reader and edited by Nancy Hume. The link, requiring authentication to the SFU proxy server, is here.

The second point to note is that, by the nature of things, wabi and sabi have amorphous boundaries and are fertile of definition and explanation. As we have been learning, the Japanese mind resists systematisation, and is vexed by no shinto hobgoblin of a foolish consistency. You must rid your mind, grasshopper, of a need to find limiting safety in fixed definition and tight agreement along your path to enlightenment in wabi and sabi.

My own interpretations of the concepts are quite centric, and are those which, I believe, make them most readily accessible to Western students, without in any way sending them off on any misleading directions or falsifying by over-simplification. I have been informed in this, most obviously, by the modern great D.T. Suzuki, whose Zen & Japanese Culture will be be found on our course reserve. As proof, consider this quotation on sabi-ness from one of the authors collected in the reader linked above:

Towards the end of the medieval period another aesthetic ideal, that of sabi, joined yugen. Sabi was a very old word, found as far back as the Manyoshu where it has the meaning of "to be desolate." It later acquired the meaning of "to grow old" and it is related to the word "to grow rusty." In Tale of the Heike we find it used in the sentence, "It was a place old with moss-covered boulders, and he thought it would be pleasant to live there." It seems likely that already by this time (the thirteenth century)sabi suggested not only "old" but the taking of pleasure in that which was old, faded, or lonely. To achieve the end of yugen, art had sometimes been stripped of its color and glitter lest these externals distract; a bowl of highly polished silver reflects more than it suggests, but one of oxidized silver has the mysterious beauty of stillness, as Seami realized when he used for stillness the simile of snow piling in a silver bowl. Or one may prize such a bowl for the tarnished quality itself, for its oldness, for its imperfection, and this is the point where we feel sabi. If the Noh is the highest expression of yugen, sabi is most profoundly felt in the tea ceremony, and to attend one even today is to get a glimpse of sabi at its purest. The tea hut is extremely bare and almost devoid of color. If a flower is arranged in a vase, it is usually a single, small blossom of some quiet hue or white. The tea utensils are not of exquisite porcelain but of coarse pottery, often a dull brown or black and imperfectly formed. The kettle may be a little rusty.

Less Wiki More Encyclo

Return to this post for regularly accruing evidence against scholarly use of (shudder) "wiki-"pædia. Today's occurence is detailed in the soft-left Washington Post and is entitled "On Capitol Hill, Playing WikiPolitics."

Update: it gets outright rotten.

On Puzzlement

The feelings of puzzlement that some of you have expressed to me over the ideas presented in lecture is not a bug: it's a feature! Keep in mind that you are encountering an entirely different civilisation -- and that a millenium ago -- and thus it is a pedagogical necessity that you are puzzled at first engagement.

The intention is to allow you to encounter a foreign civilisation .... as a foreign civilisation. The (to me unsatisfactory) alternative is to intellectually colonise the other civilisation - to facilely experience that culture as if it were merely an exotic outpost of one's own. The following passage from
C.S. Lewis, concerning the reading of old books, applies nicely, mutatis mutandis, to these two alternatives:

There are, I know, those who prefer not to go beyond the impression, however accidental, which an old work makes on a mind that brings to it a purely modern sensibility and modern conceptions: just as there are travellers who carry their resolute Englishry with them all over the Continent, mix only with other English tourists, enjoy all they see for its 'quaintness', and have no wish to realise what those ways of life, those churches, those vineyards, mean to the natives. I have no quarrel with people who approach the past in that spirit. I hope they will pick none with me. But I was writing for the other sort.
Thus, puzzlement is the necessary early consequence of giving Japanese civilisation the dignity of unique identity. Fairly quickly, however, your experiential engagement with Japanese literature will (all too quickly) provide the natural and certain effect of familiarity.

On Ikebana & Art is Life

A counter-view to my studious exceptionalism in regards Japan and the West comes from classfellow Maja B. who kindly sends the following two poems, skillfully excerpted, from Wallace Stevens and Syvia Plath, that, in her view, resonante with my translation of the term for Japanese flower arrangement -- ikebana -- as flowers kept alive. A passage on ikebana by Mishima Yukio in his Temple of the Golden Pavilion expresses this principle in relation to his understanding of a Japanese attitude to human life:
The movement of Kashiwagi’s hands could only be described as magnificent. One small decision followed another, and the effects of contrast and symmetry converged with infallible artistry. Nature’s plants were brought vividly under the sway of an artificial order and made to conform to an established melody. The flowers and leaves, which had formerly existed as they were, had now been transformed into flowers and leaves as they ought to be. The cattails and the irises were no longer individual, anonymous plants belonging to their respective species, but had become terse, direct manifestations of what might be called the essence of the irises and the cattails.
Yet there was something cruel about the movement of his hands. They behaved as though they had some unpleasant, gloomy privilege in relation tothe plants. Perhaps it was because of this that each time that I heard the sound of the scissors and saw the stem of one of the
flowers being cut I had the impression that I could detect the dripping of blood.

Wallace Stevens - Man with the blue guitar (excerpt)


The man bent over his guitar,
A shearsman of sorts. The day was green.

They said, "You have a blue guitar,
You do not play things as they are."

The man replied, "Things as they are
Are changed upon the blue guitar."

And they said then, "But play, you must,
A tune beyond us, yet ourselves,

A tune upon the blue guitar
Of things exactly as they are."


I cannot bring a world quite round,
Although I patch it as I can.

I sing a hero's head, large eye
And bearded bronze, but not a man,

Although I patch him as I can
And reach through him almost to man.

If to serenade almost to man
Is to miss, by that, things as they are,

Say that it is the serenade
Of a man that plays a blue guitar.


Ah, but to play man number one,
To drive the dagger in his heart,

To lay his brain upon the board
And pick the acrid colors out,

To nail his thought across the door,
Its wings spread wide to rain and snow,

To strike his living hi and ho,
To tick it, tock it, turn it true,

To bang it from a savage blue,
Jangling the metal of the strings...


So that's life, then: things are they are?
It picks its way on the blue guitar.

A million people on one string?
And all their manner in the thing,

And all their manner, right and wrong,
And all their manner, weak and strong?

And that's life, then: things as they are,
This buzzing of the blue guitar.

Sylvia Plath - Love is a Parallax (excerpt)

The paradox is that 'the play's the thing':
though prima donna pouts and critic stings,
there burns throughout the line of words,
the cultivated act, a fierce brief fusion
which dreamers call real, and realists, illusion:
an insight like the flight of birds:
Arrows that lacerate the sky, while knowing
the secret of their ecstasy's in going;
some day, moving, one will drop,
and, dropping, die, to trace a wound that heals
only to reopen as flesh congeals:
cycling phoenix never stops.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Civilisation Exclusivity

As you have hopefully noticed, I am sedulously avoiding the use of Western labels in my introduction and explanation of Japanese aesthetic concepts. This is consistent with two of the course axioms I have presented in lecture and here on the blog: one, that Japan and the West are two distinct civilisations, each with its own exclusive fundamental assumptions; and two, that translation -- even radical translation -- is indeterminate.

Some of you have offered on your own very good labels for some of the concepts: "pastoral" and "symbol" are two examples. And, indeed, some of the elements of the overarching aesthetic seem to have an easy Western description. What I am detailing, with some labouriousness, as "the positive presence of absence" is very temptingly similar to the Euclidic concept of gnomon, popularised by literary scholarship of James Joyce (from "The Sisters" story in his Dubliners) as indicating absence.

My general objection to this is that once this type of translation is done, then Japan disappears: it is just one more Western colony. Terms like gnomon and lacuna and pastoral have very powerful cultural -- or, better, civilisational -- history, meaning and resonance; none of which apply to Japan. There is superficial similarity but if the concept is pegged to a Western idea then the meaning in Japan is obliterated.

Symbolism is a strong illustrative case. In the West, semeiotics is not simply what we do, it is in effect what we are. The dualistic assumption that there are visible things and things behind them that have deeper -- nay, real -- meaning is encoded into our individual & collective mental template: semeiotics is the defining feature of Plato & Aristotle, the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, Augustine & Boethius, Descartes & Hegel, Freud & Jung.

To give just one example, the idea that Church and State are seperate spheres starts with Jesus' dictum that one is to "render unto Cæsar that which is Cæsar's and unto God that which is God's," and is more deeply encoded by Augustine's Civitas Dei which declares that the City of Man and the City of God are distinct realms which, though they interpenetrate, demand seperate responses from we who live, at any one time, in one, the other or both.
With this cultural potency -- from the type-archetype construction in the Old & New Testaments to Freud's dogma of the unconscious and exotic interpretational analysis of dreams -- semeioitics is almost what it means to be Western civilisation.

Indeed, in the West's modernist period, ideational chauvanism and colonialism was the (unexamined and arrogant) default assumption. Joseph Campbell was egregiously exemplary in this regard: wandering in lecture across space and time, a facile exegete pronouncing this or that object a symbol of that or the other. Of course, Campbell had merely read his Golden Bough (Frazer being, if it were possible, an even more obliviously conceited pedant) with disarming naïveté and the simple faith of the child.

Frazer or Campbell didn't, but we can and should make the blindingly obvious observation that Japan formed a cultural consciousness without any -- I say any -- contact with, again, any of these ideas or notions. If it is not plain to any scholar among you that there is no flagrant empirical reason why Japan, given the foregoing, should have a mental template that (happy accident for Western writers with a bent toward self-promotion and imperialism in scholarship) is identical our own; then there is, surely, at least a strong influence in the direction of caution and suspension of easy assumption.

Surely, much the better to us to work for that moment of "no-nous" which will give the thrill of perceiving the literary material with a Japanese sensibility for just a flash: a precious, precious flash.

Civilisation Fundamentals

The course thesis that civilisations each have their unique identity -- essentially, a set of assumptions, virtues and traditions -- which is accepted unconsciously by its members and is absolutely untranslatable, receives incidental support from a CNN article, here, treating the aftermath of the recent Al Qaeda bombings of hotels in Jordan.
The article reports that:

Family members of Jordanian-born al Qaeda in Iraq chief Abu Musab al-Zarqawi have renounced the terror leader, telling King Abdullah II on Sunday that they would "sever links with him until doomsday."
Setting aside here any matters of content relative to Islamic terrorism, the relevant point for our course is the reason why al-Zarqawi has been cut off by his tribal family now and not for any of his previous acts of terror. In a phrase, al-Zarqawi has in this case violated a value fundamental to the identity of the wider tribal culture to which he belongs by birth. The article gives a specific quotation from his family group which states the violation in its own cultural terms:
"A Jordanian doesn't stab himself with his own spear," they wrote. "We sever links with him until doomsday."

Against Interprative Colonialism

The approach taken in course lectures toward Japanese civilisation is a diffident one: I defer to the possibility that Japan and the West are different civilisations and accordingly have fundamentally different assumptions.

My acceptance of necessary humility in scholarly engagement with civilisations different from my own was born of my study of, and subsequent teaching courses in, the debate between Francis Fukuyama's End of History thesis and Samuel Huntingdon's counter-thesis on the Clash of Civilisations.

Stated with brutal brevity, Fukuyama argues that Hegel's doctrine of the historical dialectic has been proven true, that the West has attained a free-market economy and free and open democratic elections which, being the desire of all people everywhere, has begun the end of history: i.e. the end of the progress of all civilisations toward universal human freedom. Huntingdon, in opposition, cites Arnold Toynbee, and argues that civilisations, being different from top to bottom, can not only never unite but are certain to and fight in perpetuity.

Oviously, the current violence within the Islamic civilisation in response to a Danish newspaper's polemical statement in affirmation of free speech and freedom of the press is clear support, prima facie, for Huntingdon. Indeed, if you follow this link to a real media clip from Canada's state television station, you will hear an English moslem announce that their violence is a declaration of a "clash of civilisations."

As this picture, and this, and this, and this show, civilisation clashes are real: indeed, Huntingdon states outright that they are frequently bloody and to the death.

Indeed, judging from moslem comments such as these printed in the Toronto Globe & Mail, Huntingdon must be these days in present danger of a terminal smugness.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

On Japanese Names

An excellent article on Japanese personal names by a creditable scholar here.

Burnaby Sabi

Some pictures from local artistic photographer, and SFU Librarian, Norma Marier evoke the sense of accident, flaw and deep time that Japanese have refined to the aesthetic of sabi. The sabi-ness is intensified, in Marier's vision, by their place relative to urban density. Update: Click on the pictures for a larger view.

On Cross-Civilisation Indeterminacy of Translation

Following the argument in lecture last Thursday that radical translation is impossible and that all understanding between civilisations is necessarily indeterminate, here are links to the two philosphical justifications I used.

A good presentation of Quine's "gavagai" thought experiment is

The argument is in Quine's
Word & Object, on Course Reserve.

Thomas Nagel's What is it Like to be a Bat? is on-line here (as well as being on Course Reserve.)

Field Trip to Nitobe Gardens

Follow this link to the Nitobe Gardens: I will have a date shortly for our field trip and Japanese-food feast. Update: I am arranging a tour guide with the UBC Botanical Gardens Society & will post the date when I finalise with them.
For those who are not close enough to UBC to make a direct trip efficient, a carpool would seem to be the preferred option of travel. I can take six people: please add your vehicle capacity in the comments section. Perhaps carpool drivers (me excepted) could be made exempt from the collection of funds (a fiver each?) for our feast on the day?
A volunteer treasurer is needed for this event .....

Nitobe Gardens in Pictures (to music)

Classfellow Raymond uploaded pictures he took during our field trip to Nitobe Gardens last term, here. You will also find audio clips of traditional Japanese music on his file list. They are all very well done, and some of them are absolutely stunning. Click on this sample picture for the full effect.

Arigato Gozaimashita, Raymond-san.
The SFU Librarian who accompanied us on our Nitobe tour also took pictures and send us this as her most evocative shot of Nitobe Garden's Japanese aesthetic.

Group Assignments

Please use this post to let your classfellows know, using the "comments," your group blog name, url & membership (initials are quite fine for the latter information.)

Group Project: Criteria & Detail

The Group project is designed to be straightforward, enjoyable, and beneficial. Each group will create and maintain a Web Log about one aspect of the course primary texts. This can include a focus on the social, political or religious background.

You have now completed the blogger tutorial and have been assigned to a Group.

The manner of approach to, and treatment of, your text is entirely for your Group to decide. This assignment offers you the opportunity to enhance, challenge or re-invent the specific focus of both the lectures and your seminar discussions.

The grading criteria are the scope, originality, inventiveness and literary insight of the accumulated blog entries. Technical proficiency will not be graded, but of course you are free to use any mechanical technique you wish. I will publish all the Groups' blog addesses on the Course blog and you are encouraged to solicit advice & criticism from the whole class throughout the course of the semester. Open collaboration is one great strength of blogging: some scholars, for instance, post parts of articles or even books in the blogosphere for criticism and correction before publication.

Of course, I am available for expert consultation: in person during Office Hours, and online most times.

Because this is a Group project, you will find that synergy will soon animate and enlived the assignment. I offer the suggestion that each Group assign responsibilities to members based on individual proficiencies and preferences. For instance, in principle, only one member need do the mechanics of posting the collaborative entries. There will be one group grade for all members.

I will take a snapshot of your blog on the day of the last seminar of the term and use that for grading: however I will look in regularly throughout the term as a means to, shall we say, encourage you not to leave the whole enterprise until the last minute. The experience of blogging regularly for a couple of months will, I believe, be its own benefit to you down the years.

Here is a link or three to some blogging of mine on How to Blog Effectively.

Makura no Soshi: Reading

A reminder that to be comfortably on schedule, be read this week to section 99 of Makura no Soshi [ 枕草子 ] - Pillow Tales by Sei Shonagon [ 清少納言] circa 1000 AD.

Following up on my comment that "Sei Shonagon" is not the author's name as we understand people's names, "shonagaon"[ 少納言 ] is Heian Japanese for "[minor] councillor" - in other words, an honorific way to designate her court function - and "Sei" [ 清 ] is an alternative way to read the name of the clan-family into which she was born: specifically "Kiyohara" [ 清原 ].

This is similar to the name "Genji" - Gen [ 源 ] is an alternative way to read the kanji for "Minamoto" and ji [ 氏 ] is a kanji for "family." As we will hear, "Genji"'s father, the Emperor, decided for political reasons (mainly one of his mothers-in-law playing Agrippina) to make him a commoner and thus bestowed on him the honourary surname "Minamoto" customary in such occasions.

Buddhist Background to Japanese Æsthetics

I found reputable links to pages detailing Buddhist doctrine which, as detailed in today's lecture, forms part of the background to Makura no soshi and Genji monogatari, the Heian culture, and eventually the Japanese civilisation æsthetic.

An explanation of mujokan that is both informative & delightful can be found via this link.

The iroha gets bloggy treatment here and here. More regular here, here and at Monash U. I have not readily found anything marvelous online about the iroha. If anyone has a particular interest, I will bring in a book from my own collection.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Turning Japanese at "Higher Grounds"

If you want to experience turning Japanese here at SFU, follow this. Go to the Higher Grounds and walk up to the new automatic glass doors. As you may have found out, there is a delay in the doors starting to open which causes you to stand there and adds that little shot of frustration.
Well the next time you are there, go up to the doors, bow from the waist like a Japanese, and you'll find that when you return to upright the doors will be open. Sugoi desu.

Yes! Room Change for Tuesdays

Join me in giving thanks for our hardworking University staff -- Ms. Linda Elliot in our Department office & the good people at the Office at the Registrar -- who have found us a wonderful room for our Tuesday class. AQ4130 has sunlight from above, wide open spaces & a pleasant lounge outside.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Japanese Æsthetic Concepts

My method in our course for presenting the unique and uniquely pervasive æsthetic concepts that identify the Japanese civilisation is Baconian induction: begin with simple particular concepts, add more complex ones which incorporate the simple, and conclude with the metaphysic which comprehends them all.
A summary list of simple æsthetics, relevant to the civilisation literature, presented in lecture to date is as follows.

  • mono no aware (the poignant sadness of things.) The indeterminacy of translation is salient here, for this elusive concept is comprehensible ever more properly only in degrees as one's (in practice, impossible) immersion (or, requisitely, conversion) into Japanese civilisation increases. The word aware is frequent in Genji, and centuries of Japanese commentators have marked it down as the story's dominant mood: a mood that leads the reader to a sense of it, thus, a cultivated sensibility, termed mono no aware: widened, through Genji's cultural influence, from a literary æsthetic principle to a defining cultural æsthetic. There is a compounding nature operative here, as the individual's cultivated growth in mono no aware is itself mono that induces aware.
  • shichi-go-san (three-five-seven.) The assymetry of the three odd numbers induces a move to completion. Embedded in the divinations of the Shinto-Buddhist syncreticism, the contemporary vestige is the Girls' Festival and Boys' Festival. Tripartite asymmetries of this type are a subtle & effective universal organising mode in Japanese literatures.
  • ten-chi-jin (heaven-earth-man.) In several Japanese cultural forms -- one school of ikebana for instance, and Noh drama -- a sense of something high, something low. and an intermediary: the axes are spacial, temporal and human. The middle concept is (explicit in the configuration of the Noh stage) a bridge -- with significance that, as with anything of Japan, does not map faciley onto any similar or seemingly identical Western forms.
  • shin-gyo-so (true, moving & grass-like.) In calligraphy, block-style, kana & cursive; in the cha-no-yu, of its implements, formal, semi-formal, informal. Shin-gyo-so is an effective schema for mapping the uniquely Japanese manner of reacting to any discrete new foreign encounter. Evident in literature in comparative representations, structural contrasts and developments in character.
  • jo-ha-kyu (gathering, break, urgent action.) A concept exemplified by -- & likely originating in contemplation of -- the waterfall. In literature -- notably haiku -- it signifies introduction, development, action. In music, it has several compounding applications, essentuially a triptych of increasing rapidity & climax. This is accepted as the natural rythmn -- gestation, birth, life is just one obvious univeral triad.

I'll blog the remaining concepts pertinent to out study of Genji as my series of lectures progress.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Books on Course Reserve

As mentioned, I will be adding pertinent books to our Course Reserve at the Library as the lectures and seminars develop through the term.
I might draw your attention to this short but engaging book as being congenial to some of you based on our one-on-one discussions vis a vis contemporary Japan. You will find a list of online reviews here.

Update: Here is the link to our Course Reserve.

On your Oral Presentations

Your oral presentations do allow room to accomodate your personal encounter with Tales of Genji. Now, in support of the thesis for our course, I happen to be best interested in the variety and potency of Lady Shikibu's character portaits of the women in Genji's life. As the lectures will further develop, my vector into Tales of Genji at this stage of my (likely, life-long) encounter with the great work is that the female characters are the strength of the text and its structural centre -- Prince Genji is portrayed in his relation to each of the female characters as a (personal-political and erotic) idealisation of what masuclinity represents for her.
So, if your presentations add to our depth of understanding of any of the many female characters -- for example, in relation to their setting or significant proximate flora -- all to the good. You might also wish (or not) to cast your presentation in terms of any of the Japanese æsthetic concepts introduced in lecture.
But, that all being said, if your find some feature of Genji that captures your interest and is unrelated to any of these dimensions of the text, you are certainly encouraged to take your preferred approach. Simply discuss with me in advance, according to the criterion listed in the syllabus.

January 31st: K.I.
February 2nd: M.H. February 7th: A.O.
February 9th: H.M., C.G. February 14th: K.V.L., M.E.
February 16th: M.Z., L.J. February 23rd: R.L., A.C.
February 28th: J.A., K.I. March 2nd: S.B., O.G.
March 7th: M.W. March 9th: C.L.
March 14th: S.M. March 16th: R.M., J.R.
March 21th: M.R. March 23rd: H.B.
March 28th: G.W. March 30th: A.O'S.
April 8th: A.W.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

"the little hagi frond"

This delightful drawing of the hagi (lespedeza japonica) frond to which Genji is poetically referred by his father, the Emperor, in the Kiritsubo chapter is online courtesy of

The Chinese style of the painting suits the Heian period of imitation in art and culture - the first stage of the shin-gyo-so process.

Update: A delightful page with a clickable index of flora in Genji that contains pictures and names of each that link to their source sentences from the text.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Course Syllabus

Reading Schedule:
We will be reading our main text, Tales of Genji, throughout the term, with the Pillow Book as counterpoint and embellishment. This schedule of readings gives you an effective way to manage your reading: you will in all likelihood want to read well ahead of the schedule, but if you do follow the schedule as written here you will never be behind the lectures.
The weekly schedule for Genji is divided along some structual seams in the text and requires roughly one hundred pages per week. Especially when one considers that Lady Shikibu was not an Experimental Modernist, and wrote to delight, this is anything but onerous! For me, the experience of reading Genji added to my life's treasures.

Week One: January 10th & 12th
Genji: Ch 1
Pillow Book: Sec. 1
Week Two: January 17th & 19th
Genji: Ch. 2-4
Pillow Book: Sec 2-8

Week Three: January 24th & 26th
Genji: Ch. 5-9
Pillow Book: Sec. 9-49
Week Four: January 31st & February 2nd
Genji: Ch. 10-14
Pillow Book: Sec. 50-99

Week Five: February 7th & 9th
Genji: Ch. 15-21
Pillow Book: Sec. 100-149
Week Six: February 14th & 16th
Genji: Ch. 22-31
Pillow Book: Sec. 150-185

Week Seven: February 23rd
Genji: Ch. 32-35
Week Eight: February 28th & March 2nd
Genji: Ch. 36-41
Week Nine: March 7th & 9th
Genji: Ch. 42-46

Week Ten: March 14th & March 16th
Genji: Ch. 47-50

Week Eleven: March 21st & March 23rd
Genji: Ch. 51-54

Week Twelve: March 28th & March 30th
Masks: (Read all)
Week Thirteen: April 3rd & 5th
Masks (con't.) & course reflections.

See support material available on Library Reserve.

Assignment Deadlines.
Nb: There is a 3% per day late penalty for assignments -- documented medical or bereavement leave excepted -- and all assignments must be placed in the Instructor's mailbox outside the English Department Office.

1. Mid term paper, twenty-five hundred words: due midnight March 6th. Assignment sheet with suggested topics will be blogged on February13th. Criteria include literary analysis, engagement with course themes and writing mechanics. [Note that these dates afford you flexibility. If your mid-term schedule is crowded, you are free to submit your paper at the deadline, which is more than three weeks after the assignment sheet is distributed. If you prefer to get a critical response to your paper earlier in the course, you can submit yours as soon as you like after the assignment is blogged, in week six.]
2. Group e-text project: in collaboration with the Course Instructor, create a web log dedicated to a distinct topic the works from the course reading list. Groups set & assignment sheet handed out January 31st. Seminar time will be set aside throughout the term to work with the Instructor on this project
3. Individual class presentation: schedule handed around in seminar. You will choose any one of the chapters from Genji and prepare an oral presentation of no less than five & no more than ten minutes that gives your reflection on the nani [ 何 ], the kosei [ 個性 ] -- the what, or the quiddity -- that seperates Genji from Madame Butterfly as it is appears in the interaction between Genji and any one of his lovers in your selected chapter. To help all of us increase our understanding of, & appreciation for, Shikibu's art, please include some detail and explanation on any aspect of the setting or the plant or flower with which the female character is associated. Be sure to choose one that you find engaging or interesting, emembering that as none of us have significant knowledge of Japan, any researched information that you provide will be warmly received.
Your presentation will be a good opportunity for you to get your toe in the water to a hopeful topic or area of interest for your Final Paper.
4. Final Paper, thirty-five hundred words: due at midnight April 7th. Topic to be discused and approved in advance with the course instructor.

Course Approach
It is hoped that students will engage the material critically.

Course requirement weighting:
10% Course participation
10% Seminar presentation
20% Group e-Text project
20% Mid-term paper (approx. 2500 words)
40% Final Paper (approx. 3500 words)

Nb: “Participation requires both participation in seminar and attendance and punctuality at lecture and seminar."

Instructor Contact:
Office Hours: AQ 6094 -- Monday 11:30-13:30; Tuesday 13:30-15:00; Wednesday, 11:30–15:00; Thursday 13:30-15:00. Bring your coffee and discuss course matters freely. E-mail to will be received from campus e-mail accounts only, & will be replied to within fourty-eight hours. The URL for this course blog is
In emergencies, I can be reached on my cellular phone at 604-250-9432.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Japanese Pronunciation

You may not be interested in Japanese pronunciation; and if you are not, it will make absolutely no difference whatsoever to your sucess in or enjoyment of this course.

If you are interested in Japanese pronunciation, which is very easy to emulate, there is a exceptional website here, which includes clickable sounds and International Phonetic Association symbols, and simple teach-yourself sections.

Japanese words are pronounced regularly: so regularly in fact that they are metronomyic - that is, they have equal time-stress on each unit in a spoken word. These units in Japanese are vowels and combinations of a consonant and a vowel (called morae by the IPA.) So, except for "n" there are really no stand-alone consonants in Japanese (click here for the finer details of this point.)

These morae are represented by the Japanese in symbols called kana. Japanese actually use two different sets of kana to write their language. (It's as if we had two different alphabets for the same letters!) One set of kana called hiragana is used to write native Japanese. The second set, called katakana, is used to write foreign words, words requiring emphasis, or, these days, commercial advertisements. (The hot links will take you to a syllabary table with sounds and IPA symbols.)

Note from the two syllabaries that there are stand-alone vowels. Japanese is like Latin in this respect, that it has pure vowel sounds only: five sounded short, and five more when doubled to sound long. You can click to a syllabary table of Japanese vowels only, again with sounds & IPA symbols.

There are, naturally, some small complications - none of which effect our reading at all.
  • A consonant can be pronounced longer than usual, and those cases are represented in writing by a subscript kana for the morae "tu."
  • There is a "y" sound in Japanese that is included in a single morae but is represented in writing by an additional kana: a subscript from one of the three "Y" kana - Ya, Yu, Yo.
  • Some morae in one consonant+vowel series -- such as Sa, Si, Su, Se, So -- have irregular sounds. For example, in the "S" consonant series used here, the actual pronunciation is represented in Romanised English as Sa, Shi, Su, Se, So.
  • There is a set of paired kana to write morae for imported words.
  • Some lesser-used consonants -- P, B, D, Z, G -- don't have their own kana for their consonant+vowel set, but use kana from other sets of morae with a mark added beside it: either a quotation mark or a superscript "o."

Anyway, the website linked in this post's title gives you much more.

The international phonetic chart for vowels is helpfully hosted online by the IPA.

If you are interested in kanji -- the ideographic system of writing brought to Japan from China via Korea - you may enjoy Kanji Alive. Incidently, Japan can be said to have come to Japan via Korea .....

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Death By Japanese Food

The family of an American diner at a Japanese-style steakhouse is suing for wrongful death after the man wrenched his neck ducking to avoid ama ebi thrown at him by a playful hibachi chef. More >>>>

Method of Approach

Update: Engl-394-D2 students are encouraged to use this post as a "suggestion box" for comments -- anonoymous or otherwise -- on how the course may be improved as it goes on. (20/01/06)

It would be good to hear from each of severally you on what you think would be the method most beneficial to you of working directly with our central text, Tales of Genji, over the course of the term.

My plan is this. Each class will have one hour of lecture from me and one hour of seminar discussion. In the lecture, I will give background information relating to Heian life and society, introduce and explain important Japanese aesthetic and cultural concepts, and generally keep the variety of material and ideas that our course contains within a cohesive dialectic.

Each class will explore one or more chapters according to a schedule on the course syllabus shortly to be blogged. For each, I will first give an overview, explain its progression in terms of theme and character from preceeding chapters, elaborate on new or salient concepts and any departures within the text, note where and how important themes are developed or repeated, and highlight and explain key lexical elements.

The move, in other words, will be from the general to the specific. What I would appreciate from you at the early stage is a comment to this post -- anonymously by all means -- to , as I say, offer any alternative methods of approach that would benefit you perhaps more. It would also be valauable for each of you to indicate what you would not like to experience: methods of approach that you would find unbeneficial (or just boring!)

Though it is impossible to please everyone perfectly, individual ideas can certainly be incorporated, and a strong concensus would certainly be accomodated.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Why Big Media is Dying: exhibit John Ibbitson

On the rise of blogging to soon-to-be-predominance causing, as it certainly has, the soon-to-be-death of Big Media (newspapers and network TV news mainly), consider please the dinosaur exhibit -- case John Ibbitson from the Toronto Globe and Mail.

The species -- the newspaper -- itself is revealing its death rattle: stupidly hiding its content (i.e. the only thing anyone wants from it) behind a firewall which they expect people to get through by paying them actual money (!) when content is absolutely free on blogs by the million. By such lumbering refusal to adapt is ever extinction caused.

One can further witness individuals within that species performing mal-adaptive behavior. Here is Ibbitson not only becoming extinct but even doggedly declaring his stubborn & self-destructive refusal to adapt.

Asked in an pre-screened interview this question about our federal election:
John, as the campaign goes on, I am finding that blogs are having a greater and greater impact. Although I would argue that the Conservative bloggers are winning the day, that is a different issue entirely. I am really curious to know whether you read any blogs and whether you think they have the capability of becoming even more important in Canadian political reporting.
the dinoasaur replies:
I don't read blogs. I read books.
Dude: newsflash -- the evolutionary survivors are doing both!

Japanese Film in "Pacific Cinamatique"

Classfellow Jocelyn sends along an informative e-mail about a series of films (circa 1950s) by Japanese early New Wave director Naruse Mikio being shown at Pacific Cinamatique next month.
I just thought I'd send you this link (although you may already be aware of it) to Pacific Cinematheque's series of films by Naruse Mikio in February. I am pretty excited about it ... I took a class in Chinese literature last semester, and one of the novels we read was very much about aesthetics and particularly aestheticism in Japan. The novel referred to Naruse and his films on numerous occasions, so I am excited because (I hope) they are going to be very "beautiful" and will hopefully add a dimension to what I am going to learn about Japan in this class.
Naruse is enjoying recent popularity in the West due to a fashion to interpret his film as being harmonious with contemporary doctines of Western feminism. His film is redolent of Kitchen-Sink drama: a consequence surely of the vogue among the Japanese literary and motion picture cliques in the 1950s for things British (that being a post-War reaction back to Meiji culture.) Thus, the mood of Naruse's work is Western realism -- not Japanese aware as (frequently Western) critics unlearnedly, & thus mistakenly, assert.

Tsuma yo bara no yo ni ("Wife, were that you became like a rose") is the film from the selection being shown most pertinent to our course -- and one that I recommend for its own sake. I am going: Sunday, February 12 – 7:30 pm.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Genealogical Chart

A helpful chart to characters and relationships in Genji is linked here courtesy of the Meiji Gakuin University in Tokyo & Yokohama.