Vientiane Haiku (2017 Edition)
lifting his leg
before the temple gates
a stray dog
“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.
Greetings from Kyoto, where I am currently wandering at large.
Are you experiencing a sudden surge of nostalgia for 2012, the year when the world was supposed to end? Inspired by a constant flood of apocalyptic prognostications, you looked forward to that catastrophic event for 365 days, feeling as if you already had one foot in the void—and then? Nothing. The sun rose.
Another day . . .
Well, here is another opportunity to enjoy the beginning of the year whose end was supposed to be The End, but which disappointed our sensitivity by failing to deliver on its promise:
Though a single reading will no doubt suffice to satisfy the temperate, should you wish to throw aside all restraint and indulge further, never fear: I will soon repost this superannuated New Year’s Address here as well, complete with the absent exordium, in case it be missed.
And there is still more to look forward to in days to come. To what do I allude, you wonder? Somewhat cryptically, I confess, to my 2016 Christmas Oration, which, unless it be even further delayed by unforseen circumstance, will appear before the end of the present month, proving the unsuspected identity of trace and apparition.
Have you mistaken this for the mere website it masquerades as? Look deeper. It is more. It is the place where memory, experience, and anticipation meet; where past, present, and future lose the definition they possess as individual concepts and promiscuously collide.
You have reached this place of chronological coalescence at last.
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.