HAIKU: On Saturday, I went skiing with a couple of friends at Cannon in NH.
clouds gliding above
skis gliding below
– it’s a good day
IMAGE: Japanese erotic painting
PARAGRAPH: On Evanescence and Form (pp. 69-74, 80-86), “Mono no Aware” – the Identity of the Japanese (Momokawa), and The Woman who Loved Love (Saikaku)
As the phrase mono no aware begins to gain cultural currency in the increasingly globalized, modern world, many people – friends, classmates, teachers, professors, etc. – would come to me to ask what it means. It frustrated me to no end, then, that though I could understand mono no aware on an intimate, personal, and emotional level, I couldn’t intellectualize or articulate it. Therefore, I’m going to use this scant space to try and come to some sort of verbal understanding of mono no aware. I, personally, rather like Inouye’s discussion on it: He starts by explaining that the aware part of the phrase represents “simply one’s uncompromised reading of and spontaneous reaction to ever-changing reality” (83), which in turn reflects back to Inouye’s “we are made to live” passage on page 35. Thus, mono no aware is first defined as “a deep feeling about all things” (Inouye, 83). Yet, mono no aware has gained a dominating nuance of sadness due to Norinaga’s claim, which I agree with, that “of all emotions, grief is the most universal . . . [and] also the most intense” (Inouye, 83). In a way, at least in my opinion, to feel deeply is to be able to feel sadness on a deep, intense level beyond words. One of my favorite quotes comes from Erich Fromm, a famous German social psychologist, who said that “one cannot be deeply responsive to world without being saddened very often.” Is this not the core of the Japanese way of being, of mono no aware? Though Momokawa speaks of “the sentiment of powerlessness and the sadness therein” of mono no aware in relation to the social situation during the Tokugawa reign, this aspect of mono no aware could also be applied more broadly to our vulnerability and powerlessness in the face of evanescent reality. Thus, we come to Inouye’s “beautiful resignation” (84) of our lot in life: If we resign ourselves to the sorrowful fact that each moment will never happen again, and thus learn to appreciate the moment for the moment’s sake, then “the joy of the part [i.e. temporary] will speak to the whole” (Inouye, 86). This reasoning then, in some way, answers my questions from last week over how momentary significance can stretch into lasting significance. Therefore, though mono no aware has a dominating nuance of sadness, it also has a strong sub-nuance of beauty, joy, and appreciation; in other words, “a sadness that is constantly evolving toward gaiety” (Momokawa, 11). Mono no aware allows us to look at evanescence in such a way that we can continually find beauty within the sorrow of transience.