When I was walking in New York on Sunday morning, I saw a group of pigeons attacking half a hoagie roll on the pavement.
In the street
This past week, I could not help but ponder Motoori Norinaga’s classification of the essence of the Japanese nation and people – that is to say, the ability to understand mono no aware, the sadness of all things. I was especially intrigued by the mentality with which such sorrow is approached. The idea that “it is inevitable, so let us make it beautiful as well” (Inouye, lecture) converges with the overarching importance of aesthetics in Japanese culture and society. And so the questions arose, “How are those aesthetics defined? And how is the beauty of sorrow affirmed?” My head jumped immediately to the meticulous description of the ideal female that Professor Inouye had read to us in lecture. With “the nape of her neck…slender, and free from any stray wisps of back hair” and her “feet…fixed at size eight and three tenths” (Saikaku, 166), it is clear (in this case) that exactitude is of the highest importance in determining female beauty. Taking into account the evident patriarchy that permeates Japanese society, I viewed this description with the ultimate male goal in mind – securing a sense of self. In my eyes, the specificity of the ideal female in this passage reflects on the male desire to have an ultra-precise understanding of self. Granted, this self is made up of much more than detailed aesthetic combinations. But it is the realistic aspect (that is, the notion that everything becomes a detail in forming the larger picture [Inouye, lecture]) that creates the undeniable image of the daimyo’s concubine. The self is valued (and defined, for that matter) as a single entity, as a whole. But what is clear from this description is that while “the whole” creates a conception of the self (the conclusive image), the details are still extremely important in their autonomous spaces and functions. For if “a sense of self is like a burning house that you can take with you (Inouye, lecture)”, wouldn’t that house fall apart if not for the columns holding up the ceiling, the nails keeping the floorboards together, or the lock that keeps the door from opening up to the evils of the world?