By Michiko Y. Aoki, Margaret B. Dardess
Textual content followed at college of Kansas; college of Missouri, Columbia.
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Extra info for As the Japanese See It: Past and Present
Social mores, powerful hierarchies, unavoidable conflicts, sickness, and other mundane realities add to a mortal sense of disappointment, difficulty, and loss. The generalized truth of life’s brevity and fragility only makes our pain more real. In general, the associations of utsusemi in these early poems, while not perfectly consistent, coalesce around issues of evanescence and form, with the one amplifying the other. 1 Utsusemi, cicada shell, epithet for this changing world (photo by Steven Pinker).
Could it be possible that all elements of the natural world could be so consistently and so conveniently straightforward as cicada shell = evanescence = reality? What kind of cultural patterning encourages such a convention? This is the first difficult conceptual challenge of the semester; and it is one that takes some time to comprehend. A fifth formal characteristic of tanka, made obvious by Yakamochi’s example, is the use of imagery as a means of saying a lot without having to say much. Again, the agreement that utsusemi should be the epithet for yo, this mortal world, is paradoxically part and parcel of an aesthetic formalism that plays strongly to the changeable, momentous occasion of lyrical expression.
In modern secular societies, there were those who wished to believe that the self was a permanent and reliable thing in an otherwise changeable world. Thus, the seminal modern thinker René Descartes famously came to his assertion—cogito ergo sum, “I think, therefore, I am”—upon considering a changing ball of wax that he held before a warm fire. The wax’s unstable form stimulated his quest for something more permanent and reliable than the phenomenal world. As a result, the notion of the stable, centrally important self was reinforced, and its gradual separation from the physical, natural world was greatly accelerated.
As the Japanese See It: Past and Present by Michiko Y. Aoki, Margaret B. Dardess