Category Archives: Week 1: Shell of the Cicada

All of these posts are from week one of the course.

Here and Now

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

Moonlit trees
dance in the water
silence

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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drawing for this week?

know what to draw anyone?

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Hedonism

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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Predictable Spontaneity

As I walked out of Danish Pastry House yesterday, I noticed that the snow was in full swing—showering everything in sight.

The snow drifts

Plentifully;

Indifferent to where it lands.

I feel like I’ve started to understand a bit more why Japanese culture seems to have such extremes.  It made no sense to me how etiquette was so strictly followed and valued while at the same time wild indulgent festivals were widespread—however, it’s clearer now that they’re both responses to evanescence.  By acting limitless, there is an awareness of limitation, “even if it comes with an awareness of the temporary or even false nature of what is done” (Inouye 71).  However, even this recklessness is within the parameters of form.  The concept of spontaneity prima facie does not entail certainty—yet the Japanese are insisting that it does! It would seem as though spontaneity require unpredictability—the here-and-now is so situational it should somehow be unique. But the Japanese might be on to something.  Who the fuck doesn’t look at the flamboyant Somerville sunsets and get over-flooded with awe and a moment of heavy-heartedness?  But how can form be placed upon something as ephemeral and unstable as emotion—something that often seems to violate form.  The phrase mono no aware encapsulates this tension—aware being the spontaneous reaction to reality and mono the generalizing it to all things (Inouye 81).  Takahito uses Heidegger’s concept ‘Stimmung’ to explain mono no aware as  “a priori condition of our thought” (Takahito 2).  A human predisposition on how to react to something; therefore, “a person of understanding always experiences what the occasion calls for.” (Inouye 84) Thereafter, we might rationalize our emotions differently from one another, but it seems as though there is something universal about our emotional response—that something being mono no aware.  This for me also shed light about why our poems require the strict form that they do and should only “record phenomenologically the reality [we] see” (Takahito 14).  Since we are all human (maybe there are a few androids in the class, who knows), it follows that “Situation A yields Emotion A,” so there is no need to dilute it with our interpretation of the moment—doing so would maybe even misdirect.  This way of interpreting mono no aware speaks the most clearly to me.  Though labeling essences are often limiting and tricky, it gives a nice definition to what it is to be human. Motoori Norinaga would go as far to say that “a person who did not comprehend ‘mono no aware’ would be less than human.” (Takahito 1) It’s a uniting force that is best understood felt, than explained.

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Perspective

As I walked down Professors Row feeling distraught after a fight with my friends, I noticed  rain droplets dripping off the trees’ leaves along the snow covered sidewalk.

Wet leaves–

once frozen in snow

now dripping endlessly

I’m not sure what to think about Hedonism, but I feel it’s a matter of perspective. I’ve always been taught since I was young that there is more to life than “simple pleasures.” However, studying about the evanescence of life, or mujo, I have grown accustomed to why Japanese people may embrace this idea, feeling “a sense of urgency to the pursuit of pleasure” (Inouye 70). In the context of Hedonism, I feel like this “pleasure” can be construed as lyrical. When someone gets drunk, falls in love, becomes entranced by lust, etc. he/she seems to become completely entrapped by emotion.  Even then as Saikaku points out, “the blossoms of the heart are sacred/ by evening the tree itself has been turned to firewood. Who can escape?”(Saikaku, 154).  Pleasure and strong emotion is temporary, but I feel even though that Saikaku points out that this pleasure could lead to our own destruction, there is still something can be learned from it. Pursuing a life full of pleasure seems to be destructive and only ends in sadness, as all things are evanescent and all ends in sadness, or mono no aware. But as we talked about in class, sadness can be beautiful (Lecture 2/20). This beautiful sadness has become an intrinsic part of the Japanese culture. Takahito highlights that the “dual structure of inner and outer dimension” is responsible for the actions we take (Takahito, 13).  Takahito’s words hit me hard. The idea of morals seems to not matter in this context. People do not make actions based on moral values, but by their environment. Thinking back however, this makes sense in terms of the Japanese idea of evanescence. As the environment changes, so does life, and because of this we are all eternally (at some point or the other) sad. But we can learn from sadness, as Inouye highlights, that resigning oneself to the sadness of reality has its own rewards (Inouye, 85). Reading this made me wonder if it was to become enlightened and engage in a hedonistic lifestyle by learning through the beauty of sadness.

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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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Hedonism

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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Hedonism

 

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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Hedonism

By Julia Russell

Waiting for the bus in Medford Square on a very cold Friday afternoon.

 

A forgotten receipt,

carried by wind

down the sidewalk.

 

The principles of increasingly formalized Buddhism lost daily prominence and self-indulgence reigned as Japan moved into the Tokugawa era. The meaning of ukiyo changed from the floating world to “the illusive world of fleeting pleasures that one ought to pursue with abandon” (Inouye, 70). Simultaneously, mono no aware permeates Japanese life. Even as people treat themselves to various pleasures, there is a realization of our own limitations. But that’s ok, because even while I’m limited in my own power, so are you, and so is everybody else. Pursuits of anything are pretty sad in an evanescent world, but sadness is beautiful, leading to the “sad-yet-vibrant hedonism” of the era (Inouye, 85). The ideal modern woman of the day is the prostitute, who through her multiple experiences with strangers develops a sense of self (Lecture 2/20). Saikaku’s protagonist prostitute notes the extent of power her sexuality gave her even at 13, when a samurai was beheaded because of their affair: “Some of them said, ‘Surely not at her age…’ That amused me” (Saikaku 159). Her career ends in disgrace, and as she visits a temple and recognizes men of the past in all of the statues, she weeps at the realization of her downfall and her lack of stability through a husband and family. She is brought back to peace by an old admirer who encourages her to “follow the Way of the Buddha” (Saikaku, 217), and this lifestyle comforts her in her lonely lifestyle. Perhaps Buddhism only worked full-time when the world was contained for a Japanese person. Branch out, and the self-discipline of selflessness falls to the wayside as we realize the lack of agency in our (and everyone else’s) lives and figure we might as well spoil ourselves while we can.

 

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Nothingness

I was trying to roll a film in the 35 square inch fully light proof room in the photo dark room for my photography class..

Darkness alone
many other
behind the door

still very far

In this class’ discussion of nothingness I have got introduced to a different aspect of nothingness or a different way of seeing mu. Understanding that there is no central truth to our existence that would give it a meaning but the reality of evanescence and nothingness is a challenge for the modern mind.  As Professor Inouye was discussing nothingness, he gave raking the gravel in the ground as an example of nothingness. “The lack of separation between me and the gravel is nothingness” (Lecture 2/13). This means nothingness is the immediate presence, it is neither waiting for something to happen nor another world that would make today worth putting up for.  Embracing nothingness – though I hardly manage to embrace it, I start to understand what it is- is to be aware of one’s surroundings, be receptive to everything because there is nothing ‘old’ that would block us from taking all in -no old friends, no routines. Much to my discomfort I’ve started seeing routines, familiarity as obstacles that prevent me from experiencing something or someone new. Something Professor Inouye quoted from a fellow professor Elizabeth Ammons “We get in troubles because we seek comfort”  (Lecture 2/13) struck me in this point that I noticed that trouble in this case is not allowing ourselves to experience nothingness since we are on a constant strive to hold on to things, objects, people. What Merton (109) says  upon this : “Nothing to gain, nothing to lose; nothing to give nothing to take; just to be son , and yet to be rich in inexhaustible possibilities” is what sums the conflict between modern mind who sees having things as a richness and the japanese sensibility that would see the real richness in the nothingness that clears us for everything. Wish I could leave the people or the constants I hold on to for newness and nothingness, then I would have 85 percent of my brainpower free to make wonders…

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