Author Archives: Marshall Moutenot

Western influence :(

Exploring the Mystic Lakes at high velocity with a friend clinging to my back.

Snow banks
Turn to puddles
Winter’s passing

The move above the line this week left me disappointed. (Lecture 3/6) I feel so attracted to the non-symbolic relationship traditional Japan had with the world due to its contrast with Western symbolism. All of the “progress” that I have made towards a more positive and present existence is undone by the “kind[s] of change that will later be called ‘progress.’” (Inouye 92) Observed from a traditional evanescent mindset, however, how long could that culture possibly last? Was it not inevitable that “lyricism [became] patriotism… and evanescence [was] channeled into increasingly linear paths of development so that all change becomes either progress or regression.” (Inouye 95) Despite it’s geographic separation and carefully managed interactions between Japanese and foreigners, the Western influence hardly failed to taint Japanese culture. (Lecture 3/6). Despite my chagrin for the change, I recognize the transformative properties induced by the outside influence: eroticism, obligation, and physical places of symbolism. The Ryounkaku in particular is a beautiful concept, with each room symbolising a separate country. The moment the ‘big picture’ view of Tokyo was mentioned, I knew I had to see it in my lifetime. I have always been infatuated with the distortion that occurs at the horizon. Childhood trips to the beach had me questioning the perverse meeting of the ocean and the sky, and I wonder now if this indicates a skewed temptation to see what lies beyond. If you are always concerned with the allure of the horizon, how can you possibly be present in the moment? As mentioned before, I am working to improve presence and practice hedonism. This has come at the cost of my discipline. I need to work again to regain it, without “[going] too far. It can well repress the genial current of the soul. It can force pliant natures into distortions and monstrosities.” (Inazo 110) Balance is hard!

Posted in Week 7: Bushido and the Transcendental Order | 1 Comment

Here and Now

Standing on a dock in Cape Cod after midnight, illuminated only by the moon.

Moonlit trees
dance in the water

I welcome the arrival of warmth with an unmatched enthusiasm this year. The beautiful northeast spring is almost here, which means the world around us becomes lush and begs to be explored. It also means that watermelons are nearly in season. I like the idea of uniformly cubical watermelons that can be sliced like a loaf. (Lecture 2/25) The importance of wrappers reminded me of one of my favorite films, Tokyo!, an anthology film containing three short films created by three non-Japanese directors. One by Bong Joon-ho entitled “Shaking Tokyo” was about a self declared hikikomori, or a reclusive young individual, who lived alone in a meticulously arranged home that embodies form. Every Friday he orders a pizza, and when he finishes eating it he adds the empty box to a perfect wall of boxes. The more I think about it the more this film embodies all of the concepts we have talked about in the class. I think I will write about it for one of our papers. I identify with Matsuo Basho’s journey of self-discovery or self-abandonment. (Lecture 2/25) One of his poems in particular reminds me of a spot in deeply rural Tennessee my friends and I would backpack and camp.

Silent a while in a cave
I watched a waterfall,
For the first of
The summer observances. (Basho 101)

His poems’ open interpretation are what make Basho so popular. This poem so perfectly describes my experience, and yet it must describe a million others with equivalent accuracy, lending itself to the concept of zen as “general self discovery in an abstract space. Home wherever you are.” (Lecture 2/25) His work has actually inspired me to write similar poems on my long cross-country motorcycle trip. The trip’s intention is to escape the protocol and form that I am currently responsible for, despite the Japanese understanding that becoming unanchored from protocol is to lose everything. (Inouye 88). Perhaps I am escaping one protocol only to respond to another. Escaping from this society does not change the fact that “in a world of incessant change, formality is vitally important.” (Inouye 88). My moment described above was the most aware of the here and now I have been in months.

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A year of planning, emails, and meetings finally came to fruition this weekend at the Tufts Hackathon.

A thousand moving pieces
the floating snowflakes
never colliding

I failed miserably at being hedonistic this past week. Although I succeeded in not doing the work for any of my classes, I only replaced it with work and projects that exist outside of school. I need to find the balance between work and play,  and instill in myself a “sense of urgency to the pursuit of pleasure” (Inouye 70). My youthfulness is evanescent, right? Better hurry. Despite this, I feel like I have multiple personality disorder, one identity infatuated with love and one trying to escape it, just like the two men in The Woman Who Loved Love. I can’t help it though with something “so queer as love.” (Saikaku *) The section about the emperor searching for his ideal spouse struck me both as a turning point for Japanese unified consciousness and a statement about absurd beauty standards. It was perhaps not intended originally, but the litany of detail after more specific detail becomes humorous. Who could possibly want a spouse so precisely define by a painting “produced from a scroll box of straight-grained paulownia wood?” (Saikaku 166)


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Walking home late at night emotionally tattered by an emergence of a past relationship and stood up by a friend who offered comfort.

frozen flesh
the long walk home

Very numb this week. I think the relevancy outweighs the melodrama: “‘A beautiful woman is an axe that chops off life.’ The blossoms of the heart are scattered; by evening the tree itself has been turned to firewood.” (Hibbett 54) I know it is from this coming week’s readings, but it is eerily appropriate. Perhaps as a form of meditation I spent the better part of the weekend cleaning my room, which felt like the zen garden’s battle against entropy. By cleaning I was not just concretely making my room clean, but to visitors it is a symbol of myself, just like the hybridity of the zen garden. That being said, “the process is supposedly more important than the product.” (Inouye 69) I wonder, though, if I am cleaning my room in search of enlightenment with this “changing shapelessness that must be constantly formed.” (Inouye 64) This emptiness I’m feeling can’t be the emptiness we’ve been discussing. How can something so uncomfortable be desirable. Maybe it’s not the right kind of emptiness. After reading Zen and the Birds of Appetite, the idea that “in order to master the mind, Buddhist meditation seeks first of all to master the body.” (Merton 95) I think they would really enjoy joining me on my quiet morning rock climbs.  These brief interludes of warmish weather make me understand the cherished status of Spring and Autumn. I certainly “…bid the flowers of Spring.” (Atsumori 70)

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As I Crossed a Drift of Snow

In a house with friends during the blizzard, gathered around a few musical acts.

Candlelit bodies
Acoustic harmonies
are all we need to keep warm

We began this week by talking about Japanese lyricism. The idea of universal lyrical competency (we are all inspired by the same kami, after all) (Lecture 2/4) is winsome due to the fact that writing poetry often feels exclusive, which discourages someone like myself, an engineer, from being lyrical. Slightly less inclusive is the concept of the samurai, a class of men with aristocratic roots and pretensions who controlled Japan from 1185-1868. (Lecture 2/4) Their competitive and destructive natures do not seem like a good combination. The battle for power and property seems like a contradiction with the Buddhist notion of material aversion, as does the ornamental nature of their armor and weapons. Why build up fortresses when they will just burn down in battle? Why try to control a province when you will inevitably lose it? In the context of their battles: the river of blood never stops, but the blood is always changing. (Bastardization of Chomei 31) Edit: As the commenter pointed out, perhaps the samurai are simply filling their expected form. “I would never have suffered such a dreadful experience if I had not been born into a military house. How cruel I was to kill him.” (Tale of Heike 317) I was lucky to be born into a family with a very undefined form to fill.

Posted in Week 3: Failure, Success, and Leaving the World | 1 Comment

Week 2

Waiting in the aftermath of my first and last Winter Bash and losing faith in humanity.

Huddled bodies
hoping to get home
embracing but not in love
like tightly packed snow

Evanescence is still the focus of class, and it looks like that will not be changing soon, ironically. The progression from utsusemi, hakanasa, to mujo is correlated to relatability, for me. Perhaps I am a Buddhist at heart – “the complications of human affairs are illuminated by a Buddhist moon”! (Inouye, 30) The Buddhist notion of shogyo mujo, that all things are impermanent, has already affected the way in which I approach opportunities. I’ve found myself accepting opportunities that I would have otherwise passed up. My appreciation for the religion is reinforced by its minimal institutionalization. As I mentioned in class, the more formal, rigid, and symbolic a religion, the less appealing religion is to me. The attraction of japanese spirituality is its inherent fluidity with life. Reading As I Crossed the Bridge of Dreams was a fantastic experience. The spiritual fluidity goes hand in hand with the fluid transitions between the scene-setting prose and the poetry. I have even started talking to my friends about “the sadness of the world and other such matters.” (As I Cross A Bridge of Dreams, 83) I can not tell if they enjoy my questions. As a follow-up to my post last week, I have yet to “firmly plant the threat of death in [my] mind” but I am making progress! (Inouye 37) I am sick of this snow. I long for “The hazy springtime moon – That is the one I love.” (As I Cross A Bridge of Dreams, 8


Posted in Week 2: From Hakanasa to Mujo | 1 Comment

Week 1

I was riding my motorcycle around Mystic Lake when I pulled over for a moment to admire the sunset’s reflection on the lake’s ice.

Frozen lake
Engine cools
A moment of rest

A cursory glance of the syllabus on the first day of class made me realize that Japanese culture already plays a defining role in my life. The set of my favorite movies is a subset of the movies we will watch. Two of my three favorite authors are represented in our upcoming readings. I expected the course to be more pragmatic than ethereal, but it’s already morphing my perception. The “plurality of the kami” (Kitaqawa, 44) is very appealing. The nonsymbolic reverence of inanimate objects means that the “mountains were not only the kami’s dwelling places; mountains were the kami themselves.” (Kitaqawa, 46) This intuitively makes sense to me; I’ve always felt a certain veneration for the lifeless. I used to whisper encouragement to my computer as it struggled through calculations. On a more serious note, the readings on evanescence have fostered in me a profound fear. The concept of “utsusemi”, which “affirms life’s brevity and fragility,” has given me pause. (Inouye 13) I ride a motorcycle, which is fairly awarded the epithet, “dangerous”. I can only hope that my shell — my helmet, leathers, gloves and boots — does not signify “empty, frail, and quickly passing.” (Inouye 19)

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