Vientiane Haiku (2017 Edition)
lifting his leg
before the temple gates
a stray dog
As a kid Kawabata is said to have read every book in the elementary school library. However modest its collection, I doubt this feat of universal perusal had been accomplished before—or has been duplicated, since—at that particular site. For unless you can’t stop reading, you will. There is a limit to everything, save literary obsession. Continue reading
“WHEN THE WORTHY and the wise are appointed to office, the sounds of praise rise to the heavens. When the depraved are given office, calamities abound. There are few indeed who are naturally wise; it takes sustained reflection to become sagacious. In all things great and small, getting the right person is essential for success. Whatever the occasion, whether it be urgent or otherwise, when the worthy person arrives on the scene, all will be resolved.”
The Constitution of Prince Shotoku
“HE WAS WEAK, but his grandparents loved him.” Consider the implications of this sentence, which I came across in a guide to sites associated with Kawabata’s childhood.
Never mind the more profound question of how one can ever know for certain what is in another’s heart.
I can barely distinguish myself from the air here. It is as if my body had become as light as the element which surrounds it. When caressingly drugged by so mild a breeze, does a man even exist as a conscious being? And how, when bathed in an atmosphere so stultifyingly pacific as this, can he experience the harrowing truth of his own individuation? There is no creature in nature so unnatural as man, but in the metaphysically astigmatic state to which he is reduced by a climate of so balmy a quality, what hope is there he will apprehend what a monster he is? I admit my puzzlement–my uncertainty on this point. But if uncertainty has come, it is a sign we should depart–and so, without further ado, I pack my bags and prepare to quit this unendurable paradise.
You, I have noticed, are at the height of your discontent when your level of comfort is highest. What is most pleasant is what offends you most. Destiny has been kind enough to drop us off in the sort of place men of a more poetic age called “blessed,” a place where others dream to come, and you can do nothing but complain about how good it is . . . But—though I know I should continue on this topic of how singularly unsuited you are to happiness, it has just occurred to me that from these combined observations of mine regarding your character a complete philosophy could arise (one which would illuminate so much!), and since it is too soon for this philosophy, since I know the world is not ready for its arrival and may never be ready, I forbid myself to go on.
Lesser men, I am sure, would bristle at such biting remarks, but you have the misfortune to be in the company of one whom they roll right off of, leaving him unfazed . . . Without going so far as to withhold my admiration for the act of vivisection you have performed on me, I nevertheless confess I am far more interested in this philosophy you refer to but have seen fit to suppress. You won’t let it arise, you say—but I say: let it arise! What virtuous purpose has procrastination ever served? Do not prove yourself one of those malignant sorcerers who gives us an ephemeral glance at some longed for object only so that he may perversely delight in the crestfallen look on our faces when, with a wave of his magic wand, he makes it disappear.
To be continued . . .
The Beginning or the End?
A writer who doesn’t write who is also a traveler who doesn’t travel sets off on a voyage which he immediately abandons, abandoning at the same time the book about it which he would not have written anyway. His destination? The edge of the world—a place nobody knows how to get to, since nobody has ever been there. To find what is unknown and in consequence dismissed as nonexistent is easier than it seems: you need only seek it with unswerving determination. But how can he seek it, when he will not travel? Yet nor does he return home, since that too would constitute an itinerant undertaking—a sort of voyage in reverse—thus violating his solemn resolve to stay put.
. . . Content to be scorned as a barbarian by those who practised the literary profession and as a provincial by those whose cosmopolitan movements made them masters of the globe, this non-writing writer and non-traveling traveler remained suspended between his starting-place and every place through which he might have passed on his way to the one place beyond them all (the only place he deemed important, though he made no effort to reach it). We have no record of what happened to him in this mysterious and nameless intermediary zone he chose to inhabit until his death, assuming anything did happen, assuming anything could have happened while he was there.