Thursday, March 7, 2013
for you, reader
Telling M. how the Heike was structured I picked the idea of a television series, saying to him, look, you have one large umbrella-idea that runs from the start to the end, and in this work it is the rise and fate of the Heike clan, the rise so proud and domineering that you wait for them to fail because the laws of life say that everything must fall, gravity, hubris, old age, all that feeling. Then they slip, they slip further, someone burns a monastery by mistake, this error haunts the rest of the piece, they're toppling now, and you wait to see them meet the ground. The slip and then the fall are two sub-umbrellas under the main umbrella, as in a season of television you find one large umbrella -- how are we going to defeat the monster that appeared in episode one? -- then smaller umbrellas -- are those two warriors going to fall in love? followed by the question, is their relationship going to last now that he has discovered she is a werewolf?
Under those umbrellas you find the still-smaller sub-umbrellas or tiny cocktail parasols that run for a few hundred pages, or ten pages, or one page, the story expanding into the realm of the very small as if discovering first its own molecules, then the particles inside the molecules, which sometimes are single chapters or songs meant to be recited or sung; the Heike is a performance cycle, the collaborative composition of many people, which is a point of difference between this and that other long Japanese classic, The Tale of Genji, work of a single woman (though you can assume (along with the scholars) that her daughter or some other person wrote chapters near the end, also how much did it change when the readers who wanted to keep the book decided to write copies for themselves in that age before mechanised printing, with us having only the transcriptions, no original, and the earliest partial, material, and fragile copy dated one century after the author died?), written down, read aloud after it had been written but written first, written prime, written before anything else, existing first in a written form, emerging first like a rising vivid squid that comes like a blushing rosebud into the expressive extroverted part of the world when Murasaki Shikibu began to draw the letters with her brush, starting its life in a bath of ink, George Eliot almost a thousand years later in Adam Bede explaining the theory, "With a single drop of ink for a mirror, the Egyptian sorcerer undertakes to reveal to any chance comer far-reaching visions of the past. This is what I undertake to do for you, reader," though the next line about showing us the roomy workshop of Mr. Jonathan Burge, carpenter and builder, in the village of Hayslope is not in any sense applicable to the Genji, which is about a prince of the Heian period living in Kyoto where people often do not even have their names mentioned because those words said and abandoned to the air and to the ears, not kept safely in the mouth and mind but stripped nude so that they can be thrust into the intelligence of any passing terror, are too accusatory, too brutal, and the author prefers not to turn them into a public spectacle by vulgarly writing them down.
Which leaves the readers righteously confused but at least the nonexistent people in the book have had their feelings respected.
Which is an interesting notion, the politeness of Heian life, in which real people are only mentioned circumspectly by their titles or by a description, so as to avoid the crass nakedness of names and simultaneously to intensify the social-inbred atmosphere of the courtly clique (where you have to be in the know to fully appreciate everything), this politeness applied to fictional characters, whose feelings can't be hurt, who will never judge you no matter what you call them, who will never snub you or discriminate against you, who will never have their revenge even if you call them by a familiar slang, these characters treated as respectfully as if they were standing next to you, or sitting in the building over there, fanning themselves and ready to take offence (increase in politeness equalled by the steady increase of possibilities for delicate offences and insults, one tree with many flowers), and yet they will not know you, the fanning woman will never refer to you as anything at all, not even circumspectly, which means that you will never beat her at this niceness-game, and she will continue to sit fanning in her cage, radiating impermeable manners (since in order to permeate them you would have to extract the character from the book), and beating you. (The characters have never lived and yet they are also Heian.)