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.

3 comments:

Ray said...

I was wondering if this would play a factor into this course, but I had wanted to mention the idea of "swamp" in "Madame Butterfly" à la Shusaku Endo's "Silence". Unless I totally missed it in class, this term will somewhat explain the bizarre "adaptations" that some might see in the Japanese. Albeit a little too late, as MB is over and done with, it helps to show an interesting part in Japanese culture.

Dr. S.A. Ogden said...

Hmm... that may be worth a mention, Ray, regards Madadm Butterfly & shin-gyo-so.

Deep said...

Thanks for the defintitons. I'm pretty sure that they will be used rigorously throughout the term.