Nature in a box.

I’m from Arizona, I don’t understand this weird half-rain half-snow thing New England seems to like to do.

Drops of ice

Shapeless in the light

Still wet.

(No image was demarcated in the slides this week.)

When I think of the “order of the here-and-now”, I think of the first slide in our PowerPoint this week: watermelons in boxes. The idea that the Japanese try to formalize even nature itself resonates deeply with the concept of evanescence and form. Nature, in this case, is the evanescent – it is wild, it does whatever it wants. But to give nature form, which is done not only in forcing fruit into clean-cut shapes, but also in the re-creation of natural Japanese landscapes in manicured Japanese gardens, is a very “Japanese” trait. On one of the next slides in the PowerPoint is a picture of a pile of sand, carefully shaped into a semi-conical structure.  We were asked, “If you had to rake this thing every day, would you have chosen this shape?” (Inouye 2/25). The answer was, certainly not. Sand is not a medium that likes to stay put. It’ll be moved by almost any minuscule force. To maintain its aesthetic shape, with angular, sloping sides and a perfectly flat top, would be an incredible amount of work. However, that work is one of the things that “orders” the “here and now”. The work one would put into structuring such a fickle element as nature is an expression of how the Japanese see the interaction between evanescence and form, or, as Basho termed them, fueki ryuko (Inouye 74). Basho observed that even though nature was never changing, it was also always changing. Even though the mountains may not move, the wind is always shifting the leaves on the trees and the cycle of nature is always ongoing. This juxtaposition could only be perceived and accepted by the true heart, makoto. With this, Basho created a work that was “well-grounded in the sensible, concrete, and humble context of…the here-and-now” (Inouye 80), but is also transcendental in how it evokes a “lasting sentiment or aesthetic quality that can be discerned throughout time, no matter the era” (Inouye 76). Basho’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North is the specific work in question. The prose is supposed to be taken as Basho’s travel diary, as he made an epic journey across Japan in the 17th century. As read, it seems to naturally flow between his observations of his surroundings, and lyric poems inspired by those observations. However, it is noted that “much artifice went into the writing of this work that seems to flow as naturally as a series of lyrical encounters” (Inouye 74). Therefore, even as Basho and his true heart took in the scenes and experiences around him, the travel diary he kept and the version of The Narrow Road to the Deep North he published were still two different things. While the diary he kept during his travels was probably the truest expression of the nature he perceived, the form of the Japanese travel diary, or haibun, had to be imposed on the work. In this, we continue to note, as in weeks before, the importance of Japanese formalism. It is incredibly dominant in all aspects of Japanese culture, whether it be an immaculately kept garden reminiscent of the wilderness of nature, or a work of Japanese literature reminiscent of a live account of a journey. The goal of Japanese formalism keep things in place. It is a way to allow evanescence and form to coexist in Japanese culture.

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