6 Traitz Lauren

Wk 6 Picture

What I thought about most while reading this week is our tendency to place ourselves within a narrative. Perhaps, as Professor Inouye suggests, this habit of seeing our lives as a protagonist’s role in a story flows from the development of the modern self: As we increasingly become the “receiving end” of reality, it seems that things appear to us, happen to us, in some cases because of us. And yet, it also seems plausible that this understanding of reality could naturally result from the fact that each of us has a particular vantage point (e.g. when I move to the left, everything looks slightly different). Nonetheless, the same relationship with the apparent world can also lead us to recognize our utter contingency (e.g. when I move to the left, everything looks slightly different, thus my perception is contingent on time, space, etc.). Bashō, as a man straddling the divide between pre-modern and modern times, seems at first to be doing the same thing we all do: weave a narrative of his life. The path he travels in The Narrow Road to Oku is aimed at visiting all of the famous sites from ancient poetry. As he says before his departure: “I wanted to see places I had long heard about but never visited” (Bashō, 23). While he moves through Japan in his own time, he consistently refers back to the historical figures that visited these places before, who have imbued them with historical significance. A few examples of this: “Shirakawa is one of the three famous barriers of the north, a place that has attracted the attention of many poets” (Bashō, 47); and “The two halls of the Chūson Temple, whose wonders I had heard of and marveled at” (Bashō, 87). In visiting these places of stories and poems, he himself builds a collection of stories and poems; a self emerges against the backdrop of familiar space. One question is whether this narrative was an accidental and inevitable product of encroaching modernity or if Bashō constructed it. According to Professor Inouye, “It seems that Bashō did not actually write the Narrow Road haiku in the order which they are presently found” and many he wrote after the fact (Inouye, 74). If this is the case, it seems that the narrative structure was purposeful. And yet, despite what seems to be the emergence of an individual self, perhaps the purpose of Bashō’s narrative was not to immortalize himself but rather, the character of Japan at his time against the backdrop of historic space, places that probably still exist today. A hint at this possibility in his own words: “Many are the names that have been preserved for us in poetry from ancient times, but mountains crumble and rivers disappear…Time passes and the world changes. The remains of the past are shrouded in uncertainty” (Bashō, 75).


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1 Response to 6 Traitz Lauren

  1. Tommy To says:

    A meaningful and catchy Haiku!

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