Monthly Archives: February 2013

Morning Saplings (Week 5)

I was sitting on my upstairs porch with a cup of coffee Saturday morning and noticed a tree beginning to bud.

Winter sapling

sprouts beneath snow


This week’s discussions on Hedonism were particularly interesting to me. Birthed from the rigid structure of Japanese Edo period social hierarchy and the emerging “mono no aware” identity of Japan reflecting a “sentiment of sadness,” Hedonists attempted to maximize the pleasures of life (Takahito, 1). In almost direct opposition to the Buddhist concept of “anatman” or there is no such thing as self, hedonism seems to embrace the concept of self to the fullest (Inouye, 31). Inouye rationalizes the concept of Hedonism by saying, “If the end could come at any time, why not have as much fun as possible.” However, I have a different way of rationalizing Hedonism (which is a concept I like to believe in). Pleasure can be thought of in terms of evolution. Pleasure is adaptive. We feel pleasure because it is linked to some behavior that gave our ancestors millions of years ago some sort of advantage over others, so why not embrace it? Sex is one of the most obvious examples of pleasure, and its immensely adaptive value is coupled with intense pleasure. There is some point, however, when exaggerated pleasure seeking can become maladaptive. Analogous to an alcoholic’s addiction, The Woman Who Loved Love let her yearning for pleasure get the better of her. She exclaims in a dramatic final scene at a temple reflecting on her lifetime, “How wretched and shameful of me to enjoy such a long life” (Saikaku, 216). Ultimately, moderation has to play some role. Living purely and extremely by one ideology is rarely the answer. That being said, I enjoy looking at life through a Hedonistic point of view occasionally and can see great merit in its practice.


-Nicholas Economos


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Week 5: Hedonism

Week 5: Hedonism, mono no aware, and monstrosity

No moment this week


The fifth week, we mainly discussed the value of Hedonism which is a different response to evanescence. Our lives are fragile and weak, so the hedonism that we embrac in our youth is valuable. We might die or get in an accident tomorrow. Even though we are working hard now, if there is no future, it does not matter at all. So why don’t we enjoy our lives more than now? I lived a very ascetic life. I was swinging between the twin poles of hedonism and asceticism. However, after I went to the last lecture, I realized that the only thing that is valuable is pleasure and all things are means to a pleasurable end. Let’s enjoy, we do not know what is going on tomorrow (Lecture 02/20).We should not consider pure passion for sexual desire as a sin. We have to accept that human’s sexual instincts and needs are inevitable.

In The  Woman Who Loved Love, the lives of five women are bold because they try to seek their love and pleasure aggressively. However, their lives end up sad and poor. In The Musical and Dancing Festivities, the gentleman also tries to have a physical pleasure with women dancers. “Thus the gentleman’s feelings were deftly stirred” (Saikaku 161). The man is stirred by women’s temptation. However, those women want to get money from man, not love. So there is no real love. “The average man was unaware of it, but all these girls were after the same thing” (161). They use their music and dance to make the gentleman lose control. “We can take advantage of all the noise and excitement… (161). In Hedonism, it could be that there is no pure love. It might be sad, but we cannot always seek a platonic love. In Mono no aware, Kenneth said that “I have a feeling that Japanese people are living with a somewhat strangling notion of uneasiness” (Norinaga 14). To release our extreme uneasiness and stress in the world, sometimes we need to enjoy a physical pleasure.

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I was in Boston on Saturday night when I noticed how nice the street lamps could look at night.

Bright lights

in a row

illuminating life


This past week’s readings and lectures showed us a change in the way the Japanese dealt with the Evanescence of life.   The Japanese people moved from the idea of nothingness to the pursuit of pleasure or hedonism.  A main idea that didn’t change was the importance of form and order in Japan.  We see this attention to order in the Saikaku reading when she says, “A courtesan shaves her eyebrows and paints on thick black ones,” and continues to list off how a good courtesan dresses and moves.  We see it again in the Inouye reading when it’s talking about people’s place in society and says, “the parameters of the established order was both strongly enforced.”  This strict social structure is what caused the Japanese to begin seeking out physical pleasures that could make their lives more enjoyable.  Compared with the previous responses to evanescence I like the hedonism approach the most.  I feel that this response is the most honest.  If the world is truly always changing and out of our control, enjoying every day seems to be the only reaction that makes sense.  I have often considered this style of day to day pleasure seeking life and do not see much wrong with it.  As long as we have enough money to live off of and are enjoying our lives, what is wrong with that?  The only reason I think many people have a problem with it is because of the constraints of what society expects of us.  If society and mainly our parents did not expect anything of us I believe a large number of people would live their life in a hedonistic way.

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Alas, no moment this week.

The concept of constant change and evanescence is in a way, relatively depressing. We are all essentially powerless and like leaves in the wind, subject completely to the whims of something we have no say in. Continuing these thoughts only ever really ends in the acceptance that life in of itself, is sad. Norinaga, in his conquest to define the Japanese identity, ended with a similar conclusion: mono no aware, or “the sentiment of sadness which has formed the core of the identity of the Japanese (Takahito, 2). During the Tokugawa period, this sense of a changing world consistent only in its sadness, or ukiyo took a surprising turn—the lower classes in a way, found a way around this problem by simply indulging in pleasures (Inouye, Lecture 2/20/13). They found a “tasteful admission of one’s powerlessness” (Inouye, 86).

Personally, I can totally understand and visualize ukiyo and like the lower classes, I don’t particularly enjoy entertaining the thoughts. So, why think about them? Why not just live for pleasure and enjoy things before “my soon forgotten life will vanish with the dew”? (Saikaku, 172). I can never really answer that definitively. There is totally a valid point in acting as the lower classes did during the Tokugawa period. It certainly isn’t a sustainable way of living, but I think that is kind of the point—it isn’t meant to be. What it is meant to be is thoughtless pleasure, disappearing into the desires of biology and forgetting about the troubles of psychology and thinking. Hedonism is absolutely a short-term win, while on the other hand it completely forgoes long-term repercussions. A particularly poignant example can be found in The Woman Who Spent Her Life in Love, which as the title suggests describes one such women. In the end she succumbs to delirium at living such a life, and like many other writers in history she embraces religiosity giving herself up “wholly to prayer to meditation” (Saikaku, 217). Perhaps this is actually the way to avoid the turbulences and sadness of life; it just takes getting jumbled on the way there to make people realize it.


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Ukiyo Redefined

By Michael Chu

I was releasing the first sky lantern on Friday night for my lantern festival event at the Tisch Rooftop.

Ignited lantern
Past the tip of my finger
Into the sky

Ukiyo has a different meaning to the Japanese now that we have moved to talking about the modern era. This new perception of ukiyo made more sense to me as it refers to “an awareness of limitation that leads to action and enjoyment” (Inouye 71). I should show my parents this chapter on Hedonism to justify why I at times prioritize fun over work. I am always on the look out for fun in order to escape the constant pressure and the failures that emerge. Everything in the world is sad, and in order to liberate ourselves, we need to embrace the concept of mono no aware (Lecture 2/20). I like the idea of mono no aware because if “we all suck,” then both failure and the pursuit of relief seem more acceptable. We need to constantly find temporary relief to make the most of this depressing floating world (Inouye 85). It is pessimistic to think that the world is full of sadness, but this is what also makes the fun and happy things so much more beautiful. In fact, mono no aware expresses a sentiment of “sadness that is constantly evolving towards gaiety” (Takahito 11). Life is inevitably filled with happiness and sadness. As the heroine in The Woman Who Spent Her Life in Love puts it, “Thus I lived, drifting down the muddy stream of the floating world” (Saikaku 205). This sentence stood out to me because the word “drifting” expresses the powerlessness in the floating world. To empower ourselves, we should think that we are all significant details of this big picture that is this realistic world (Lecture 2/21). We are all part of something bigger, but we suck. This paradox of optimism and pessimism perplexes me. Perhaps embracing such “muddy stream” full of pessimism and optimism would help us understand the realistic world and make the most out of it.

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Posting on HEDONISM;

I was biking from West Hall to Carm for breakfast..

A familiar path
not straight
wriggly tire mark

In the beginning of Saikaku’s characters story of downfall, she says “ “I began to feel strangely restless”. This restlessness is what drags her through multiple social statue changes and to her path to retribution. This restlessness is present in every one of us, in almost every detail of our daily lives. We are conditioned to suppress and “don’t yield” to it though.  It is present in the glance that we give to the extra piece of cake that we are not supposed to eat or to the lover of a friend. Hedonism is the only cure to ailing that strange feel of restlessness and unfortunately it is the most evanescent of all the cures. As Saikuku’s character does we can do whatever pleases us but we usually don’t. Why? Probably it is because many doesn’t want to end up like the Women who loved love. Saikuku’s story is some sort of a cautionary example of why are we not doing whatever we want to do. Yet in a world of Mono No Aware, where everything is sad and autumn is better -more sentimental- than spring, Saikaku’s woman gets the be the one with a sucky life, at least having experienced many sorts of pleasure.

Professor Inouye gave an example for us to understand this “We all suck” / Mono no Aware world by saying ‘‘It is like being dressed up with nowhere to go” . This example strike my girly self from the bullseye and made me understand the true nature of ukiyo-o. If you want to dress up so much, creating places to go is in your hands – just be an hedonist.  Woman who loves love chooses hedonism as her path because pursuit of hedonism is all about self awareness and being aware of what gives you pleasure and what not.

Also for this class it was really interesting to learn how in the isolation of Edo period Japanese aesthetics tended to utilize vertical and atmospheric perspective rather than the linear perspective of western. I tend to connect this artistic tendency with the importance of Here and Now that we discussed earlier. Since Japanese culture value presence and this here and now logic fits the single-plane vision of their paintings. When looked directly, the vertically perspectives painting presents everything at once in equal detail, whereas the western linear perspective may seem to offer a deeper / unlimited point of view but it actually offers limited detail. It is as if you have to wait, to go through the image, to fully see the window detail drawn in the background.

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I suck. You suck. We all suck. This post sucks?

I went on a long run with a friend to the other night and saw the sunset over the ice-covered Mystic Lakes.

Sun setting

Frozen lake cracks

I catch my breath

A true monstrosity.

Why not pursue the pleasures in life before all else? How can the fact that everybody sucks be a relieving reality of our human existence? We focused on these ideas of hedonism and mono no aware this week. During Japan’s Tokugawa period, a strict social hierarchy developed whereby the emperor, shoguns, daimyo, and samurai carried the majority of political power while peasants, artisans, and merchants lived on the low end of the spectrum. However, samurai were often forced to borrow money from the merchants, giving society’s lowest class a great deal of wealth. Since virtually no social mobility existed at the time, merchants did not need to worry about saving money to move up the social ladder; rather they could spend it on immediate sources of enjoyment (Lecture, 2/20/13). As Inouye puts it, these hedonistic tendencies were just another way to respond to life’s evanescence with a “sense of urgency to the pursuit of pleasure” (Inouye, 70). To me, Saikaku’s use of a prostitute as a protagonist in The Woman Who Loved Love exemplifies this shift in Japanese society. While we have specifically written our poems with as little detail and description as possible, Saikaku goes over the top with images of ideal women and courtesans in the pleasure quarter (Saikaku, 166). Though the story also harks back to evanescence and the impermanence of success as the protagonists quickly falls from the high ranks. He gives the readers paradigms and symbols that they understand, like the cherry blossom, the floating world, and life’s impermanence, but adds a modern twist. I was also able to grasp the concept of mono no aware through Saikaku’s protagonist. Though I am still working to internalize this “sadness of things,” I can easily understand the relief that comes from knowing that we all suck. Just as Saikaku’s prostitute falls from grace, so too do we all fail at points, but that fact should be a beautiful component of life and should not bring us sorrow. I don’t think I can fully buy in to living life in a purely hedonistic way, but occasionally giving up consequences and living life to the fullest right here and right now can easily resonate with anyone, myself included. I look forward to exploring these ideas more in the coming weeks.

~Ezra Dunkle-Polier

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I was on the bus from New York to Boston on Saturday night, and saw the trees and unmelted snow in the dim light.

Fleeting trees

Illuminated by the snow

Stretching into night sky


Last week we talked about hedonism and mono no aware, the sad nature of things. The fact that the former concept puts so much weight on pursuit of short-term pleasures makes me feel like it’s a desperate attitude towards life at first glance, but I became more comfortable with the idea after knowing more about its historical background through the readings. According to Norinaga, mono no aware is the core of modern Japanese identity, a “priori” condition of Japanese people’s thought. (Norinaga 1) To me, both mono no aware and hedonism are rooted from the realization of evanescent nature of life. A Buddhist solution to this sadness is to forgo our desires and to do good deeds so that we can suffer less in our next life, whereas hedonism asks that if we are already so powerless, why bother inflicting more pains on ourselves? Why don’t we go out and have some fun? As we discussed in the class, with money but no political power in their hands, merchants and other citizens don’t have the legal rights to determine their own livelihood for themselves. (lecture 2/21) (Norinaga 10) Given that, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the bourgeoning of hedonism from this choking insecurity and powerlessness. Also from Saikaku’s reading, we see the life of a beautiful, fragile woman, who devoted her life to love but ended up becoming a wilted blossom (Saikaku). I also found the description of her relationship with men interesting. Whether she liked the man or not, she treats them as “fellow-passenger on a ferry boat before it reached the opposite bank. (Inouye 73)”

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Pursuit of Pleasure

Sarah Marakos

Unfortunately, I did not have a lyrical experience this week.

Most of our discussion this week was about living life in pursuit of pleasure.  This concept of Hedonism sounds pretty good to me- who doesn’t like to feel good? At first, this idea seemed to contradict what we had been learning so far about the world constantly changing. How can you lead a life of pleasure if nothing lasts? However, after reading The Woman Who Spent Her Life in Love, I began to understand where the evanescence of the world fit into place with this concept of Hedonism. The woman in the story lives a life of pleasure, but that pleasure is fleeting. Since the world is always changing, the good things can’t last. She ends up in poverty and has nothing left but sorrow. “How cruel the floating world, its solaces how few—and soon my unmourned life, will vanish with the dew,” (Saikaku 172). Just as the pleasures she once experienced do not last, neither will the misfortune and poverty she encounters. I think it is important to fill your life with pleasure seeing as every day could be your last, but it The Woman Who Spent Her Life in Love teaches us that these pleasures are not permanent, “In this floating world anything can happen,” (Saikaku 185). But even when the woman is left with nothing but sadness, isn’t that the beauty of life? According to the ideology of mono no aware, there is sadness in all things, which is what I think leads to the pursuit of pleasure in the first place. If we all suck, then we are all on the same lowest level. “We become the denizens of a floating world of pleasure tinged with sorrow, temporarily finding reprieve,” (Inouye 82). This corresponds to Saikaku’s idea of mono no aware “a sadness that is constantly evolving toward gaiety,” (Inouye 84). In my mind, if this evanescent world is always going to be sad and we all suck, why not enjoy ourselves and feel good even if the pleasure might not last?

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This week I was walking back from Olin at night, and I noticed a large sheen of ice sitting amidst the snow in the center of the residential quad.


Snow melting


The ice shines


Reflecting yellow lamps.

When the lecture involved a group statement of “we all suck”, I knew I was in for an interesting topic to think about.  This week’s concept of embracing hedonism through the acceptance of the sadness of things, mono no aware, made me sad for reasons unrelated to accepting that life sucks and we should celebrate its suck-ish-ness. Hedonism in a western context usually brings images of sexual debauchery and general selfishness to mind, and the week’s readings did little to assert the contrary.  Starting with Saikaku’s the Woman Who Loved Love I began to look for positives within the effects of hedonism. I unfortunately found few. Instead of that I saw one of the classic consequences of embracing pleasure as a means towards life, blatant irresponsibility and selfishness. Saikaku’s narrator acts as a professional seductress, an escort, and in her haughty success she becomes selfish, “Moreover I took money from guests I didn’t like, and then refused to sleep with them” (Hibbett 179). Basically, she acts as both a con and prostitute, and it is no surprise that her status and prestige rapidly slides, but her attitude stays roughly the same no matter what level of class she arrives at. She also makes a point to deny responsibility for many of her actions, and instead celebrates the tragedy of her predicament (though at least part of her stature is legitimately out of her control, as a slave, she has a sad life). Personally speaking, I see great danger in throwing off all responsibility in exchange for pleasure, as one may mistakenly accept their failures under the lens of being a part of life. I find this as being partly justified in the ideological shift that occurs in the Meiji, Taisho, and early Showa eras, when this passive philosophy was overturned with nationalism, Japan became a global power (Inouye 84). While it had led to disastrous consequences, things got done. Admittedly the ideas spawned by mono no aware would lead to an increased diversity in the art of painting (the practice of European style perspective), or theater through the spreading and popularization of Kabuki (Lecture 2/21), I am of the belief that any change in ideology would lead to a more diverse culture by way of simple entropy. Now having studied this concept, I can’t help but wonder if Japan’s ongoing problem with suicide has to do with a romanticization of death and suffering.


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