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Unformatted text preview: t at Its Zenith
unlikely that anyone would be successfully decoyed. The number of those
who have nothing to recommend them and of those in whom nothing but
good can be found is probably equal. I divide women into three classes.
Those of high rank and birth are made such a fuss of and their weak points
are so completely concealed that we are certain to be told that they are paragons. About those of the middle class everyone is allowed to express his own
opinion, and we shall have much conflicting evidence to sift. As for the lower
classes, they do not concern us.”14 The Tale of Genji has long been held by Japanese critics to exemplify the
aesthetic quality of mono no aware, and indeed aware appears as an adjective in the book (referring to things that are moving) no less than 1,018
If mono no aware is the predominant mood of Heian literature, there is
at least one work—The Pillow Book (Makura no Sòshi) of Sei Shònagon
(dates unknown)— that exudes a quality quite the opposite, that of okashi: “lightness” or “wit.” Like her near-contemporary Lady Murasaki,
Sei Shònagon also served as a lady-in-waiting at court. Her book (the title
presumably taken from the fact that she kept it close at hand—that is,
near or even in her wooden pillow) is a miscellany of jottings, listings,
anecdotes, aphorisms, and personal opinions. Sei had a keenly observant
eye, especially for human foibles, which she delighted in exploiting; and
indeed, with her assertiveness and biting tongue, she may be regarded as
a kind of forerunner of the militant women’s liberationist in her behavior
toward men. She records, for example, the following account of what
occurred when a courtier named Narimasa, whom she held in low
esteem, attempted to visit her secretly one night:
“May I presume to come in?” he said several times in a strangely husky and
excited voice. I looked up in amazement, and by the light of the lamp that
had been placed behind the curtain of state I could see that Narimasa was
standing outside the door, which he had now opened about half a foot. The
situation amused me. As a rule he would not have dreamt of indulging in
such lecherous behavior; as the Empress was stayi...
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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