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The Tale of Genji in particular is the highest pinnacle of Japanese literature.
Even down to our day there has not been a piece of fiction to compare with
it. That such a modern work should have been written in the eleventh century is a miracle, and as a miracle the work is widely known abroad. Although
my grasp of classical Japanese was uncertain, the Heian classics were my
principal boyhood reading, and it is the Genji, I think, that has meant the
most to me. For centuries after it was written, fascination with the Genji persisted, and imitations and reworkings did homage to it. The Genji was a wide
and deep source of nourishment for poetry, of course, and for the fine arts
and handicrafts as well, and even for landscape gardening.
In the Oriental word for landscape, literally “mountain-water,” with its
related implications in landscape painting and landscape gardening, there is
contained the concept of the sere and wasted, and even of the sad and the
threadbare. Yet in the sad, austere, autumnal qualities so valued by the tea 314 Culture in the Present Age ceremony, itself summarized in the expression “gently respectful, cleanly
quiet,” there lies concealed a great richness of spirit; and the tea room, so rigidly confined and simple, contains boundless space and unlimited elegance.13 It is remarkable that, even as Japan was rising phoenix-like out of the
ashes of war to scale almost unbelievable heights of economic success,
Kawabata, its premier novelist, spoke rhapsodically to the world about another, exquisitely beautiful Japan—a Japan that might be too fragile to
survive the profit-seeking, commercial exploitation, and physical and cultural pollution that helped make such success possible.
Kawabata’s postwar work The Sound of the Mountain (Yama no Oto,
1949) illustrates the characteristically loose-flowing Japanese novel to
which The Makioka Sisters stands in such contrast. To Kawabata, the natural world and life within it have their own ways of moving and functioning; the things that happen to us and around us are infinitely va...
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This note was uploaded on 02/08/2013 for the course ANTH 142 taught by Professor Hans during the Spring '13 term at The University of British Columbia.
- Spring '13