These days Iím traveling Kimiko Hahnís Narrow Road to the Interior. Because sheíll be here next week, yes. But also because of some other reasons: San Miguel and Sei Shōnagon, and the way it feels to think of someone who has said, “Listen, this is good.”
There is this, in “Blunt Instrument,” about how the Japanese regard veracity: from Japanese Poetic Diaries, Earl Miner comments: “Basho is shown to have fictionalized, altered, and later revised [The Narrow Road Through the Provinces].” Also, “[in Japanese diary literature] there is an artistic reconstitution of fact participating in or paralleling fiction.” And on my favorite nikki: “the Japanese transition from fact to art is of course in the diary rather than the letter...”
Later in the same piece, this:
Notes for ENG 395 (Comp Lit):“But if Issaís intention [in Oraga Haru] is not purely autobiographical, and we find that his account of what purports to be a Ďhistoricalí year is actually an artistic deception, and that he has woven into the fabric suggestions and experiences which come from other years and other areas of his life and mind—if indeed some of them be not pure fiction. He has, with the instinct of the real artist, shaped this year so that it may more fitly reveal the truth of him as a man than any one year, historically considered, could possibly do.”
I think of Calvino, and his skepticism about the uses of biography:
He understood that much of the world we inhabit is made up of signs, and that signs may speak more eloquently than facts. Was he born in San Remo, in Liguria? No, he was born in Santiago de las Vegas, in Cuba, but since “an exotic birth-place on its own is not informative of anything,” he allowed the phrase “born in San Remo” to appear repeatedly in biographical notes about him. Unlike the truth, he suggested, this falsehood said something about who he was as a writer, about his “creative world” (letter of November 21, 1967), “the landscape and environment that... shaped his life” (April 5, 1967).
This is to say that the best biography may be a considered fiction...
Someone else used to quote Calvino along those lines. As in, “Allow me to cite Italo Calvino: ‘I donít give biographical facts, or I give false ones, or anyway I always try to change them from one time to the next. Ask me what you want to know, but I wonít tell you the truth, of that you can be sure.’” But then one day some asshole decided that was unacceptable...
Back to Hahn, and among the many reflections on zuihitsu (the Japanese genre sheís working in), there is this, from the poem, “The Orient”:
The zuihitsu, spatial in every way, differs from the nikki, a “poetic diary” which differs from the Western—that is, differs from documenting fact unless we mean an emotional fact. Differs from what is really true.
Itís been years, but still it comes easy—I think of Douglas Adams and a moment from Last Chance to See:
I remembered once, in Japan, having been to see the Gold Pavilion Temple in Kyoto and being mildly surprised at quite how well it had weathered the passage of time since it was first built in the fourteenth century. I was told it hadnít weathered well at all, and had in fact been burned to the ground twice in this century.
“So it isnít the original building?” I had asked my Japanese guide.
“But yes, of course it is,” he insisted, rather surprised at my question.
“But itís been burned down?”
“Of course. It is an important and historic building.”
“With completely new materials.”
“But of course. It was burned down.”
“So how can it be the same building?”
“It is always the same building.”
I had to admit to myself that this was in fact a perfectly rational point of view, it merely started from an unexpected premise. The idea of the building, the intention of it, its design, are all immutable and are the essence of the building. The intention of the original builders is what survives. The wood of which the design is constructed decays and is replaced when necessary. To be overly concerned with the original materials, which are merely sentimental souvenirs of the past, is to fail to see the living building itself.
I think about this. This difference between fact (in its most Western sense—all sharp angles and stark lines, all wood and materials...) and emotional fact—what is really true.
There are other things here that do that thing a pebble does in a lake. Like this, from “The Orient” again:
Curious how crazy straight guys are about lesbians—as if womenís sex and sexuality are destined to be about the male. For me thereís no quiver in seeing a gay porno flick. It isnít about my desire.
And this, back in “Blunt Instrument”:
What is more interesting to me is how all your complaining about your ex, how all the supposed-confessional stuff—really goes from complaining to becoming his biography. It is really not about you. Heís become the subject. How funny: youíve allowed the man to become the subject. Again.
I think of how often women do this. How often men do not.
Later in the book, in the poem “Shelling,” she mentions in passing (though of course, nothing and everything in poetry, is in passing), a note she has made, a paraphrasing of something from Joseph Campbell on primitive mythology: “In fact her name [Mother Earth]: Mater—materies—matrix—means ‘matter.’”
Just after, she writes: I am finally full of rage at myself.
And finally, some things made of peace and possibility. Like this, in “Pulse and Impulse”:
This body I did not love till after I turned forty—and told myself whatever is flawed is a flaw—not an issue of, say, chocolate. What to tell my daughters?
Like this too, an old friend familiar:
It is lovely when a fragment can be whole. Not just suggest entirety.
[Santo Spirito, Firenze]
[lunedž 11 giugno 2018 ore 11:21:10] [¶]