5 Lee Karen

Looking up at the night sky one evening…



Ihara Saikaku’s The Woman Who Loved Love is the ‘confession’ of a woman who has whiled away her life promiscuously pursuing pleasure. Though she was born into a noble family, through certain circumstances (largely caused by her) she becomes at first a high-ranking courtesan, and then eventually an impoverished prostitute. This pattern of decline and evanescence is a constant theme that undercurrents the narrative, further shown by the constant flux of nature and the inevitable mortality of her physical body. However, Saikaku does not try to preach any Buddhist ideals of enlightenment through the ruination of his heroine (Inouye, 74); on the contrary, by pursuing pleasure, she seems to have found her own answer to the evanescence of life.

Throughout her narrative, it is clear that the heroine is aware that she would be able to live a more stable, respectable life if she stopped being so promiscuous. However, she continues to be helplessly drawn to the allure of pleasure: when she is leading a quiet life as a seamstress, she happens to see a realistic erotic picture and is soon back to prostitution (Saikaku, 204). After many eventful encounters, she eventually becomes too old to sell her body and finds herself at a Buddhist temple. There, she sees the faces of all her past lovers in the Buddhist statues and reaches the customary realization that nothing lasts: “Though the name lingers, the form vanishes; bones turn to ashes lost in the grassy swamp” (Saikaku, 217). Overcome with sorrow in the twilight of her life, the heroine is on the verge of committing suicide to free herself from this world when she is urged by a past lover to purify herself and to meditate, which she complies to – during which, she encounters the two men that she confesses her life to. She is able to look back on her long and eventful life, recalling moments of intense passion, joy, and grief and admits that “this confession has driven away the clouds that obscured the clear moon of my heart” (Saikaku, 217). Contrary to the torment she felt at the Buddhist temple, she finds peace and clarity in herself by recounting the tale of her life to a pair of strangers. As we talked about in class, throughout the progression of her life, the heroine loses everything except her experiences and her sense of self (Inouye Lecture 2/20/14) – and for this woman, it may be the case that that is enough.

This entry was posted in Week 5: Hedonism, Mono no Aware, Monstrosity. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to 5 Lee Karen

  1. Eugenia Chang says:

    Karen – Incredible drawing! There is a lot of flow and movement in the image. You have great control over which lines should be thicker and darker to make an integrated picture.
    I love your poem as well. The moon has definitely inspired that same question in me before.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *