Sunday, February 12, 2012

Week 02, Matsuo Basho

Notes on Matsuo Basho. The Narrow Road of the Interior.
This work has a bit of Henry David Thoreau about it, though obviously it doesn't have the American Transcendentalist or late-romantic emphasis on individualism and self-expression.  What it has in common is that it's sort of a literary pilgrimage, not just an unadorned trek through nature.  Thoreau's Walden wasn't only about nature, and neither was A Week on the Condord and Merrimac just a simple nature jaunt with no ulterior motive.

Concentrate on the near-constant minging of natural description/interpretation and Basho's interactions with worthy people he meets along the way, monuments, and so forth.  Consider why this is especially appropriate in an island country such as Japan, one with a lot of people in a fairly small amount of space.  Comment on Basho's haiku origins and how they fit into his travel narrative as focal points or summings-up and memorializings of his experiences.

2288. How does Shonagon conceptualize nature, how does she relate to it and describe it? I think she describes nature as if it were a work of art; we only have selections, but I find that she concentrates mostly on still-life tableaux, and not so much on natural process or activity, though of course that is always implied in any sensitive description of nature. Nature is presented to her as a series of distinct but related objects, aesthetic objects. She seldom speaks harshly about nature, but instead finds something good to say about most natural objects. She is not always so generous about human beings within the court system or outside of it. But that doesn’t bother me—people can take care of themselves; we should be indulgent with nature. Shonagon is very conscious of nature’s presence in literary tradition, both Japanese and Chinese, and she mixes in this awareness with her naturalistic descriptions. In the example of the pear blossom, it is Chinese literature that leads her to make a close examination of the blossom itself. She does not hesitate, either, to mingle observation of nature with comments about human affairs like coming home from a festival. She is not, in other words, a purist who must block out all things human to talk about nature—that is probably more a product of modern necessity. In Japan , as I’ve read, people once lived very close to nature, and then when the island became crowded, they had to work hard to recreate a sense of the natural, by means of artifice. Zen gardens epitomize this kind of artifice—they are at once natural and artificial, we might say.

 Buddhism's key concepts and how this early romance novel, while also containing elements of Daoism and Confucianism, fits within the Buddhist framework in spite of its whimsicality.  Just about everything that happens reinforces Buddhist notions about how desire and misprision bind people to the world, keep them from doing what they need to do, etc.

The Four Noble Truths and Three Laws
1.  life is suffering

2.  suffering is a product of attachment or desire

3.  it’s possible to let go of attachments

4.  there’s a true path towards liberation -- meditation, self-annihilation, detached action; see the Eightfold Path from Buddha's first sermon "setting the wheel of truth in motion": right view, intention, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration.

Three Laws: Anicca (impermanence); Dukkha (suffering, all phenomena unsatisfactory)' Anatta (non-self, no ego); the five precepts basically have to do with clean, peaceful living so that you don't get attached to the body and its desires or to material objects.

So the straightforward message is that misdirected desire makes us unhappy, but right conduct and attitude can bring us peace.  On the whole, Buddha counsels reorientation of one’s sensibilities and attentions away from the self and towards the community.

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