{pdf} 草枕 [Kusamakura]Author Natsume Sōseki – Bilb-weil.de

A stunning new translation the first in than forty years of a major novel by the father of modern Japanese fiction Natsume S seki s Kusamakura follows its nameless young artist narrator on a meandering walking tour of the mountains At the inn at a hot spring resort, he has a series of mysterious encounters with Nami, the lovely young daughter of the establishment Nami, or beauty, is the center of this elegant novel, the still point around which the artist moves and the enigmatic subject of S seki s word painting In the author s words, Kusamakura is a haiku style novel, that lives through beauty Written at a time when Japan was opening its doors to the rest of the world, Kusamakura turns inward, to the pristine mountain idyll and the taciturn lyricism of its courtship scenes, enshrining the essence of old Japan in a work of enchanting literary nostalgia


10 thoughts on “草枕 [Kusamakura]

  1. Praj Praj says:

    And when its difficulties intensify, you find yourself longing to leave that world and dwell in some easier one and then, when you understand at last the difficulties will dog you wherever you may live, this is when poetry and art are born For the very first time on a murky morning, I saw a set of colours come alive on the wall of my living room The orderly row of comatose crayons suddenly sprang like a newborn foal twirling on the pasty canvass Amid the angry voices of my parents I giggled as I indulged in my very first act of vandalism The fiery red miraculously transformed into a royal shade of purple with the touch of blue, the yellow gave birth to orange when it embraced the stylish red I was captivated by this odd looking rainbow and then from that day onward, I scribbled and drew on every empty space found on paper, walls and even on my bare palms The razor sharp pencil became a tyrant and I a lawless anarchist, each forming and defying the norms on their own terms Over the years, common sense shackled my fearlessness and creativity became another tomb in my life Soseki s words made me realize that until now I had failed to distinguish the art that always shaped in front of me It is not mandatory to entrust one s thoughts to paper art is right in front of you In the assorted colours of your world, let your eyes be the naked canvass in which an artist s creates a masterpiece, as you conjure the beauty of the world the mouth will sing a poet s song and let your heart be the camera that garners and captures every purest sentiment from this sullied world Art begins and ends with life Life imparts art and nature embraces both of these elements So, don t be a pampered child who throws tantrums when things don t go as planned, find a way where your sorrows simply melt in the abyss of happiness Happiness had always been a ruthless stranger, thus do not drive it away for it rarely knocks on the door without any sorrowful repercussions And, when no words seem to emerge or the brush trembles on the sight of the ghostly canvass, one is still the wealthiest of person, as he can view the human life through the eye of an artist in the realm of magnificent purity After all human world is not an easy place to live in A young artistBeauty flirtsOn grass pillow The novel opens up in the midst of a philosophical exploration establishing an artist s vocation in the quest to attain serenity and beauty in the evolving art A young artist pointlessly walks into an isolated hot spring village of Nakoi, to perceive a world that is detached from human sentiments that adulterates the purity of art Soseki, stays true to the words of the artist when experiences are recorded first handed and the magnetism of the attractive Nami the divorced daughter of the hot spring inn establishment , somehow entices the young artist to evaluate his observations of life, art and its vulgarities I m a human and belong to the world of humans so for me the unhuman can last only so long no matter how much I enjoy it Salvation from the vulgar world it is actually possible Will the mind ever obey the words of the mouth As the young artist seeks salvation from the human world debating on ways to achieve a non emotional and unhuman state that will not contaminate the pristine splendor of his art, Soseki carries out a literary experiment inferring that it is rather impossible to break away from the muddled emotions of humankind Life eventually touches you irrespective to the resistance The smell of human at end reeks from every pore of one s body Loneliness maybe an artist s blessing, for the mind is imaginative and powerful when silent, yet the darkness that follows the recluse may bring crudity in terms of excessiveness resulting in the death of beauty Soseki emphasis how plays Noh , poetry, novels, painting become alive with human feelings A book is loved when its characters come alive in one s room when every new sensation is attached to the dried ink making it flow through plethora of budding thoughts A Noh drama has its own sensitivities emitting through the immense layers of make up, amalgamating in to a perfect blend of raw human emotions and tranquility For a solitary traveler, detachment from the human world could be blissful, but would this kind of non attachment create an exquisiteness of an art The painter who roamed the streets of the picturesque Nakoi desired to stray away from worldly emotions yet somehow the shadows never left him To the artist s surprise the echoes of the ongoing Russo Japanese war was heard among the icy solitary mountains of the village The air brought the metallic smell of the blood that was being spilled hundred miles away and the voices of guns being fired became stronger with the whistles of the steam engine, roaring to go, carrying one of its important passengers Kyuichi, as he volunteered during the war That is life and this very debate of detachment v s attachment to human presence, portrayed Soseki s melancholic quandary about changing times Life had even touched Nami s portrait and the cloistered Japanese culture The artists is the one who lives in a three cornered world in which the corner that the average person would call common sense has been sheared off from the ordinary four square world that the normally inhabit Soseki asserts that artists are madder and foolish as they romanticize nature with human affairs Art mellows the severity of the human world Soseki illustrates the paradigm of a heartbreak becoming the subject of an art For an average man, Soseki asserts, heartbreak brings nothing but skepticism and agony, but for an artist who forgets the soreness and perceive the objectiveness of the heartbreak, encompasses the moments of empathy and wretchedness through literature and art Thus, bringing a sort of emancipation to the heart that is suffering Similarly, the process of penning a haiku brings a sense of enlightenment The 17 syllable marvel may look uncomplicated and dainty, yet it withholds the clandestine stories of several tears and pleasure Fascinatingly, Soseki compares writing a poem or rather a haiku, to the tedious process of mixing the arrowroot gruel by chopsticks Initially when the gruel is a mere liquid, the circular strokes of mixing seem rather effortless , but as the stirring continues and the two substances become viscous with each movement , the gruel transforms into a thick glue that ends up sticking the chopsticks together That is how a poem is formed Numerous loose emotions, thousands of blurry images stringing together, glues compactly the syllables into one solid picture Isn t Soseki a magnificent artist He certainly speaks the language as his prose talks about every form of art, be it poems, prose, painting or music Soseki questions the true obligation of a poet he refers to Greek sculptures, the works of Oscar Wilde, compares the faces of old women to the mountain crone of Nagasawa Rosetsu s painting, the prose of Tristram Shandy and the poems of the Orient to conclude that the obligation of an poet or artist in general is to dissect his own corpse and reveal the symptoms of its illness to the world In a world where an artist is classified by their subjective and objective approach towards art, imparting life and translating the external mood onto the canvass, which is then designated as a true artist Is it a person who resembling the Abbot of Kankaji views life without hindrance and fetches beauty from the most trivial situations in life or is it someone akin to the protagonist who has to take refuge in an isolated land where his poetry can sing the song of a skylark without fearing the deep crimson strokes of the camellia oozing out from the painting like blood on an icy wintry slope Is it possible to be artist in a true sense without being subjected to the menace of detectives who tend to count people s farts Why do we always read books from beginning to end Why must the prologue always be read first Why can t the story begin from the middle and instead of comprehending the plot first, we appreciate the characters and then revolve the narrative around them Art is formed in this haphazard way It never begins with a preamble, it just needs one perfect emotion, one stroke, one note or one word and a whole world is build around it Art is formed when the artist can ultimately say, Ah, here it is This is myself Art has always freely flown in the narrow lanes of the mind and heart that is the place where creativity flourishes in its embryonic stage Nonetheless, as the world modernizes eradicating human slavery, the art in turn becomes a slave to prejudicial judgments, defending its freedom at every step in the society If creativity has to be justified at every corner then is the artistic community committing a crime by exposing art to political scavengers If every brush stroke, every poetic syllable, every written word is interrogated, then will art succumb to being a mere regulated display behind the glass door forever waiting for a stamp of approval Soseki was troubled as his melancholy viewed the changing world through a glass door questioning whether Japanese traditions will be lost in the chaos of modernization, and true art will be lost among the malodorous farts The world where falling in love requires marrying is a world where novels require reading from beginning to end Life changes, old familiarity bring new lonesomeness as beauty is transient If our shadows can bear the pain of its disappearance as the night falls only to find joy the next morning, why does man fear change and prefers to dwell in the shadows of an haunting past rather than embrace the joy of future Although, Natsume Soseki spent several of his studying years abroad London , his heart belonged to Japan and it s embedded culture Soseki came from a world where books were read from the middle and random passages Akin to the novel s protagonist, Soseki was apprehensive about the onset of the 20th century The author s derision to modernity can be unmistakably seen with his dismissal of nude art for lack of dreamy innocence that is perceived in the artistic depth of the Geishas and the annoyance for the train describing it to be a serpent of civilization that comes slowly writhing along the glittering tracks, belching black smoke from its jaws Reading these thoughts of the author, I infer that than the advent of modernization since Soseki did bring in quite a Western influence in his prose , he was skeptical about the state of the preservation of Japanese traditional art I wonder what Soseki would think in today s world where artists are thrown in jail or labour camps Ai WeiWei or have to resort to clandestine Banksy performances Were Soseki s inferences accurate when he concluded that modern civilization gives each person his little patch of earth and tells him he may wake and sleep as he pleases on it, only to build iron railings around it and threaten us with dire consequences if we should put a foot outside this barrier Has the modern world shackled the essence of art Is a pure emotion of pitying love susceptible of being exposed to the vulgarity of its world Has art become so vulnerable that it can only sustain pristinely in a secluded atmosphere without being tainted by the human world In the chaos of modernization and the ambivalent relationship to aged traditions, where does Soseki s literary naturalist grass pillow stand among the terrains of human entanglement and realism At a time when Japan was tumbling into a new world whilst being haunted by it traditional past, Natsume Soseki expressively penned the quandary of a country and its people trying to find a concrete place in between the two worlds My aim on this journey is to leave behind the world of common emotions and achieve the transcendent state of an artist s In Japanese, the word Kusa grass and Makura pillow resting on the aesthetics of nature in this haiku style philosophical zephyr, Soseki s prose which he wrote in a week s time embodies a journey that not only encapsulates beauty of a timeless past but also an memorable experience of appreciating modernity and traditional complexities of art that stood on the periphery two entirely different centuries along with its artist.Shadows of lifeThree cornered worldSoseki dreams..


  2. Rowena Rowena says:

    Yes, a poem, a painting, can draw the story of troubles from a troubled world and lay in its place a blessed realm before our grateful eyes Natsume Soseki, KusamakuraNatsume Soseki might soon be a new favourite of mine This is a book I read after reading Praj s wonderful review.Kusamakura tells the story of an unnamed artist looking for artistic inspiration while walking through the Japanese mountains, and his encounters at the on sen Japanese hotspring where he encounters the beautiful Nami Kusamakura is one of the most beautiful books I ve read all year, one that hooked me from the first sentence This book was a philosophical look at poetry, nature, beauty and art from a Japanese perspective, often contrasting that perspective a lot favourably than with other perspectives Though not an artist myself, as an art lover I could appreciate the opportunity of looking into the mind of an artist, and viewing his thought process As trite as this may sound I realize that Japanese literature speaks to my soul on a deeper level I really think it has a lot to do with my introvertism Authors like Soseki, Tanizaki and Mishima have a very introspective way of looking at things, beauty in particular, and it s something I can really relate to.Several adjectives came to mind while I read this Delicate was one,calming and elegant were others I didn t agree with Soseki s negative critique of Chinese art and European literature though All such Chinese household furnishings, indeed, have the same rather dull and unimaginative quality One is forced to the conclusion that they re the inventions of a race of patient and slightly slow witted people And this is just conjecture here, but as this book was written in the same year as Okakura s The Book of Tea , it does seem to me that both authors were worried about foreign influence on Japanese culture and were looking at ways to show the superiority of Japanese art I can t side with one form over the other as I believe all art forms are valid and carry different energies and emotions It s a pity Soseki didn t look at it in this way.Apart from that little gripe this book was wonderful I m really looking forward to reading Soseki.


  3. Stephen P Stephen P says:

    A thirst for the purity of an openness that eschews all restrictions of internal will or external codes The rare locale of an artist A place of imagination and dreaming existing apart from the vulgarity of movement the world Seeking it removes any chance of finding it The locale is something which arrives A splendor of reverie for those patient enough to wait A book that replenishes the inspiration of awaiting.We travel with the narrator, a 30 year old Japanese artist His steps takes him into a valley, an Inn where he is the only visitor What is to be sought in this quiet splendor is, what is an artist How is this manifested within a person, how is this manifested within a person s response to the world.Residing within his mind , his thoughts which exist between the breaths of prose, verse carrying pearls of metaphor, we live through his travails, temptations, experiences, and experiences of experience A dedicated pilgrim of the mind he has that unique gift to express the ephemeral in, beautific language while carrying out a plot not inserted but grown from seed and carefully tended.My only complaint, a small one, there was a couple of time the descriptive language slid over the borderline into overuse and slowed the narrative A loss of a 0 5 stars However, due to the reading of this slender novel memoir autobiographical interlude travelogue, I understand rather than know, one may be an accomplished artist without painting, composing, writing, playing a musical instrument Living within each moment invites us to live within the world of art as opposed to the contrast of living within the taint of the disquieted world.Please do not take my review as alluding to that this quiet writing is instructive The author is filled with grace and gracefulness in the practice of his craft The book was difficult to put down During the day it proved a burdensome task to close its covers within my mind It is difficult now to be in ANY situation as I had been before Anything new is uncomfortable for me at first There are riches here though Many than meets the eye.4.5 5


  4. Elie F Elie F says:

    If The Gate reminds me of the evanescence of autumn, Kusamakura reminds me of the drowsiness of spring the presence of the soul is forgotten, and the human spirit is forged into nature and elevated to be the realm of pure poetry Unlike The Gate which is so full of weariness and melancholy, Kusamakura has abundant elements of sarcasm and humor which makes it sound like the inner voice of an adolescent boy who is still trying to imagine the immortal beauty of his own self Adolescent years, still unconvinced of common sense and, knowing nothing about weariness, always poised for action like a Classical Greek sculpture I can see the transition of Soseki from his early sarcasm to his late melancholy in this novel The narrator starts with an energetic searching for poetry but gradually slips into inaction During the past eleven days I spent in Japan, I see a culture of both confidence and inaction It is a country satisfied with itself and not so much interested in others it is a country that dares not accept the guilt of its past, that dares not change and assimilate Already past adolescence, but where exactly does it lead from there


  5. Inderjit Sanghera Inderjit Sanghera says:

    A meditation on life and beauty beneath a kaleidoscope of colours and images, a paean to beauty set against a harlequin shimmer of colours, from the reflections of a sun light on a the leaves of a tree or the bucolic blooming on the whimsically white flower petals beneath the inky blue night sky The incandescence of the night sky, the warbling of the sky lark beneath leaves of a tree leaden with rain, the pale, indescribable iridescence of sun light on a mountain slope, the poetry leaden atmosphere of Japan, these are the images which dominate Kusamakura, a kind of homage to the Chinese poetry and haiku, which were concerned with the natural world than human psychology as the narrator states, beneath the indifference of nature lies an acceptance which is not possible in the human world, a freedom from the endless restrictions of society As I get back to my feet, my eyes take in the distant scene To the left of the path soars a mountain peak, in shape rather like an inverted bucket From foot to summit it is entirely covered in what could either by cypress or cedar, whose blue black mass is stippled with the pale pink of swathes of blossoming cherry The distance is so hazy that all appears as a single wash of blurred shapes and colours The story follows an intinerate artist as he traverses various parts of Japan As well as his appreciation of the natural world, the artist ponders the meaning of art art is the vehicle by which people can recognise beauty, art is the tool with which the human mind can comprehend the inner luminescence of the world, art is the medium by which the human mind can rise above the mediocrity which besets the world, the artist, lachrymose, lugubrious and misunderstood, yet the sole individual who can comprehend the mellifluous melancholy or the world, who can use art to to overcome the impermanence life and gain immortality We owe our humble gratitude to all the practitioners of the arts, for they mellow the harshness of the human world and enrich the human heart Yes, a poem, a painting, can draw the sting of troubles from a troubled world and lay in its place a blessed realm before our grateful eyes You only have to conjure the world up before you, and there you will find a living poem, a fount of song No need to stand before your easel and limn with brush and paint the world s vast array of forms and colours and sparkles with the inner eye A wonderfully innovative and deeply imagined celebration of life, Kusamakura is the ultimate textbook on beauty, on life, on the gentle shimmers of sun beams or the dazzling colours of a camelia flower.


  6. Michael Finocchiaro Michael Finocchiaro says:

    This is a beautiful book which takes place a metaphorical and physical mountain climb I would consider it Soseki s interior facing work and one of incredible zen like wisdom and imagery Again, do not expect laughing geisha and dancing no actors but rather the mature musings of a Japanese master writer grappling with middle age at 39 Here is an example of his irony laden highly reflective pose chosen at random I eased my law abiding buttocks down on the cushioning grass One could remain in such a place as this for five or six days without the fear of anybody making a complaint That is the beauty of Nature It is true that if forced Nature can act ruthlessness and without remorse, but on the otherhand she is free from all perfidy, since her attitude is the same towards everyone who harasses her.The story does include some other characters and a little bit of shadow theatre and is delightful in that melancholic Soseki kind of way.The narrator is able to articulate his ideas near the end of the book in a highly evocative poem, here are the closing lines Although yet thirty, my thoughts are those of age,But Spring retains her former glory.Wandering here and there I am as one who with everything in turn,And midst the perfumed blossoms, peace is mine.I certainly hope Soseki died with that peace and that I myself one day may attain it.


  7. Mariel Mariel says:

    Clearly I am thinking about nothing I am most certainly looking at nothing Since nothing is present to my consciousness to beguile me with its color and movement, I have not become one with anything Yet I am in motion motion neither within the world nor outside it simply motion Neither motion as flower, nor as bird, nor motion in relation to another human, just ecstatic emotion To me, that is the nonemotion from Kusamakura of life as nature as art as life as poetry In my own hazed definitions I tell myself that it s my human naturism, as well as outside naturism like normal people would call it Walking outside after a storm and the senses pick up the clean smells of the earth and sky No one else is around so things don t matter in the way of consequences I feel cheesey trying to name it Haikus Kusamakura is Soseki s haiku novel Nature It is what Robert Bresson said about not chasing poetry and letting it slip in your walking joints as ellipises he said it better than that, I m paraphrasing That s it Ellipsis motion Kusamakura is my ellipsis motion novel I simply gaze at it with pleasure The word gaze is perhaps a little strong Rather say that the phantom slips easily in under my closed eyelids It comes gliding into the room, traveling soundlessly over the matting like a spirit lady walking on water This The unnamed protagonist sets off into the other corners of his world to forget the self interest found in identifying in emotions of life as stage I don t think I could go anywhere and not make of that Stories are my life, and I read it into everything But I think I need the painting kind of naturism haiku Life as thousands of years ago or a thousand years away It can t touch you and you cannot touch it Is that kind of love capable of burning as fire Probably not But it can be an image made whole It might not do a damned thing about loneliness but a painting is unbroken hearted I think I get why it was good for him to go in search of his nonemotion artistic life When a thing finishes abruptly, you register the abruptness of its ending, and the loss is not deeply moving to you A voice that breaks off decisively will produce a decisive feeling of completion in the listener But when a phenomenon fades naturally away toward nothing with no real pause or break, the listening heart shrinks with each dwindling minute and each waning second to a thinner forlornness Like the beloved dying who yet does not die, the guttering flame that still flickers on, this song racks my heart with ancticipation of its end and holds within its melody all the bitter sorrows of the world s transient springs I read this edition of Soseki s work, translated by Meredith McKinney under the title Kusamakura rather than The Three Cornered World translated by I have to look this up Translators have never had this level of attention from me before goodreads, unless the work is a particular favorite Alan Turney It was a new translation by Jay Rubin Him I don t have to rescue from the tip of my tongue of Sanshiro too I m not sure why there were new translations done McKinney s introduction talks about how impossible it is to capture the simplicity of Soseki s Japanese into English She chose an old fashioned style of English writing to reflect the losing to times style of the Japanese I was at the least in McKinney s touch, if not her hands, because I cannot read the Japanese The old fashioned style is like a Do telling kind of thought One must instructions If I were on this walk I think I d want to close the eyelids a bit and not chase with the Musts McKinney is all I ve got Maybe it is the scholarly bent of the philosophy, not to mention her How I did it introduction, that made me feel it was bent that way I know I m convoluted at best trying to define any of this stuff Well, isn t everyone alone in their naturist moments Maybe McKinney s instructional method works better than my inner describing it to myself stuff The Three Cornered World is a great way of explaining the disregard of reality in a make believe world of art I have no way of knowing what the literal translation is I m going to refer to Kusamakura in this review all the same, because that s what my copy was called Useless Mariel trivia I refer to foriegn films to the title it was packaged as when I saw it Some French titles, some in English If you see something frightening simply as what it is, there s poetry in it if you step back from your reactions and view something uncanny on its own terms, simply as an uncanny thing, there s a painting there It s precisely the same if you choose to take heartbreak as the subject for art You must forget the pain of your own broken heart and simply visualize in objective terms the tender moments, the moments of empathy or unhappiness, even the moments most redolent with the pain of heartbreak These will then become the stuff of literature or art Some will manufacture an impossible heartbreak, put themselves through its agonies, and crave its pleasures The average man considers this to be sheer folly and madness But someone who willfully creates the lineaments of unhappiness and chooses to dwell in this construction has, it must be said, gained precisely the vantage point as the artist who can create from his own being some supernatural landscape and then proceed to delight in his self created magical realm I m going to betray my every day idiotic ramblings now It is good to sit quietly in nature to escape myself, you know The cover is a portrait of a woman in a kimono Okay, that is left open to reveal breasts I ve been getting a lot of used Japanese classics that have covers like this Why are covers for classics so unoriginal I suspect I ll start seeing the same covers used for Japanese classics just like those chinless girls or cottages on English classics from the eighteenth century I ve already read this No, wait, I haven t Her dress had puffed sleeves This kimono reveals a bit cleavage than that other one I mean, the peach cleft hairline thingy Um. Soseki is said to have written Kusamakura in a week Fuuuuck This is only my third Soseki and I m already convinced he was something of a genius I feel like he could be one of those long ago puzzle peices that makes my whole painting I know, the Kusamakura protagonist didn t believe in detective work It isn t a complete fit I don t want it to be What I love about detective work is figuring out the differences and the sameness I DO care about the hows and the whys What we call pleasure in fact contains all suffering, since it arises from attachment Only thanks to the existence of the poet and the painter are we able to imbibe the essence of this dualistic world, to taste the purity of its very bones and marrow The artist feasts on mists, he sips the dew, appraising this hue and assessing that, and he does not lament the moment of death The delight of artists lies not in attachment to objects but in taking the object into the self, become one with it Once he has become the object, no space can be found on this vast earth of ours where he might stand firmly as himself He has cast off the dust of the sullied self and become a traveler clad in tattered robes, drinking down the infinities of pure mountain winds Yukio Mishima said about Kawabata that he was the eternal traveler That might be a appropriate description of Soseki The traveling as ellipsis Yeah The fact of the matter is that the realms of poetry and art are already amply present in each one of us Our years may pass unheeded until we find ourselves in groaning decrepitude, but when we turn to recollect our life and enumerate the vicissitudes of our history and experience, then surely we will be able to call up with delight some moment when we have forgotten our sullied selves, a moment that lingers still, just as even a rotting corpse will yet emit a faint glow Anyone who cannot do so cannot call his life worth living This I know I said it borders on a self help style too much to underly the true meaning of beneath the gaze But moments like this This is the true definition of natures Does anyone else like to watch making ofs about their favorite films Kusamakura feels a bit like that I remember my mouth hanging open in astonishment over one behind the scenes story about Klaus Kinski from Werner Herzog I don t need the behind the scenes to feel anything about Klaus Kinski I really do Feel something , but knowing how Kinski would keep his feet planted and rotate the rest of his body for the camera to pick up how he entered the frame larger than life I was impressed First wall, second wall, third wall I love it when they don t have to break and exist at the same time Kusamakura is that kinda behind the scenes rather than just the story No matter what the pure artistic aim was in its construction to exist outside of emotion The construction of the painting was not without spirit Emotion is spirit, as far as I m concerned I loved Kusamakura for being about this because I m going to need stuff like this to explain how one goes about building this life P.s This review is crazy, isn t it


  8. Ben Winch Ben Winch says:

    Beautiful Joyous Sharp, clear, precise Soseki s best, I think, for its freedom, for its glow True, from here on near everything he wrote had the magic, but like Kafka s his characters were hemmed in, in darkness Here, from when the unnamed I appears on a mountain path until he disappears at a train station as the world calls from down the tracks, all is glittering I couldn t read this when I was down it demanded I engage with it, bring heart to it, enjoy it I know not everyone few people, even will feel this The 150 page mountain idyll of a painter who never paints A haiku novel preoccupied with stillness A cod philosophic essay on alienation, the artist s role in society, Japan versus the west, the nonemotional Not that it s plotless the plot, though simple, is taut, engaging or experimental it is, but subtly not for Soseki vulgar flash and histrionics , but it s quiet, thirst quenchingly so For Soseki, anything less anything louder, brasher, less disciplined would be a failure But where in The Gate or Light and Darkness this reserve might constrain him, here it sets him free Where The Gate takes place until its pained Zen temple denouement in a virtual burrow wintry Tokyo unseen outside Kusamakura is spring, mountains and sea, a wide chessboard on which his proud sharp carved characters which, as Eddie Watkins says, are always chess pieces move with full extended ease Where Light and Darkness follows its ailing protagonist through successive contortions in the name of duty, Kusamakura s I moves unhindered, able to see all from its lucent mountain height Without it, Soseki s fame would be assured With it, we have a picture of his first steps into maturity, newly aware of his mastery but unenslaved by it, not yet the professional writer Japan s first hemmed by deadlines and reputation.Re the new translation, at first I was suspicious As I climb the mountain path I ponder If you work by reason, you grow rough edged if you choose to dip your oar into sentiment s stream, it will sweep you away Demanding your own way only serves to constrain you However you look at it, the human world is not an easy place to live.In the old translation The Three Cornered World by Alan Turney Going up a mountain track, I fell to thinking Approach everything rationally, and you become harsh Pole along in the stream of emotions, and you will be swept away by the current Give free reign to your desires, and you become uncomfortably confined It is not a very agreable place to live, this world of ours.Nor did I buy the line that English, unlike Japanese, cannot sustain occasional shifts to past tense narration See Sverre Lyngstad s Hamsun translations for a deliberate muddling of the tenses, or the first name that occurs to me Michael Ondaatje for a native speaking equivalent But by the end, and having kept Turney s translation beside me throughout, I came to trust and at times delight in Meredith McKinney s work.And so from him I learn the fate of this young man, who is destined to leave for the Manchurian front in a matter of days I ve been mistaken to assume that in this little village in the spring, so like a dream or a poem, life is a matter only of the singing birds, the falling blossoms, and the bubbling springs The real world has crossed the mountains and seas and is bearing down even on this isolated village, whose inhabitants have doubtless lived here in peace down the long stretch of years ever since they fled as defeated warriors from the great clan wars of the twelfth century Perhaps a millionth part of the blood that will dye the wide Manchurian plains will gush from this young man s arteries, or seethe forth at the point of the long sword that hangs at his waist Yet here this young man sits, beside an artist for whom the sole value of human life lies in dreaming If I listen carefully, I can even hear the beating of his heart, so close are we And perhaps even now, within that beat reverberates the beating of the great tide that is sweeping across the hundreds of miles of that far battlefield Fate has for a brief and unexpected moment brought us together in this room, but beyond that it speaks no .In another register Nor do I exert myself in climbing the temple steps indeed, if I found that the climb caused me any real effort, I would immediately give up Pasing after I take the first step, I register a certain pleasure and so take a second With the second step, the urge to compose a poem comes upon me I stare in silent contemplation at my shadow, noting how strange it looks, blocked and cut short by the angle of the next stone riser, and this strangeness leads me to climb a further step Here I look up at the sky Tiny stars twinkle in its drowsy depths There s a poem here, I think, and so to the next step and in this manner I eventually reach the top.That Soseki wrote or published this in the same year as the youthful Botchan seems incredible If, as he claimed, he wrote it in a week I m stunned With the refinement of the calligraphist or woodblock printmaker, in a single bound, he joins the masters That he d never write like this again makes it all the precious As I said, this time around, there were days on which I didn t quite feel up to this Ask me after my third reading and I might tell you it s an all time favourite.


  9. Tim Tim says:

    I think this book is the perfect example of a very good book that is simply not for me The writing is beautiful, the language poetic I must heap praise upon the translator as this must have been quite a challenge Every line is seemingly trying to evoke a sense of awed beauty and the translator does an admirable job and yet almost every page I wished the book would just end and let me be done with it I only finished it out of stubbornness and because it is only 146 pages and they seemed like some of the longest 146 pages I ve ever read The book is about an artist He seeks artistic nonemotion to view the world like a painting, though of course that only works so much for him Our unnamed narrator expresses his views of art quite frequently, often going on for full chapters about his theories on aesthetics and declares them all as the proper way of viewing art Frankly I ve known people like him in real life and I can t stand them They are the sort who declare all their opinions as fact and sneer at anyone who voices otherwise a great example comes of this in the novel where the owner of the inn he is staying at shows him some art pieces, and he can t help but show his disgust at a piece deemed too plain and then too gaudy once its origin is told All is to be viewed in the name of their art, and I personally found it grating As I said, entire chapters could be said to just be definitive in the character s mind statements about art, theory and aesthetics Though the book is short, I d say over 70 pages could be summed up as just the narrator talking art At one point I stopped mid chapter where a page began with the line But what does theory matter and had I been the praying sort, I would have prayed to every deity that he wouldn t answer that question He did.If this is the sort of book you re looking for, by all means, I think you will enjoy it Everyone I ve seen talked to has loved it, and it seems the reviews on Goodreads are almost all positive Indeed as I said it is well written and it gets an extra star because of it, but I personally took no enjoyment from reading it As a brief aside, I find it interesting that it was published the same year as the only other book I have read by the author Botchan These books are practically polar opposites, as our lead in Botchan is very definitely not an artist and that book is about plot and humor than the prose Also, they are curiously opposites in terms of translation, as I will praise Kusamukra s translator despite disliking the book, whereas I really enjoyed Botchan, but felt its translation flawed.


  10. Katia N Katia N says:

    I think, this little gem of a book would be even better on a second reading One has to slow down to appreciate it And that was the hardest challenge for me It is a book about contemplation of beauty in its different forms In general, it conforms to my good stereotypes, or should I say ideals about Japan composing of haiku, tea ceremonies, exploring the colours of food, buddhist priests and a mysterious beautiful woman It is stubbornly and refreshingly moves away from the plot In fact, in one scene, the narrator picks up a novel in English and reads it from the middle He does not need a story arc In art, he searches how to convey a certain feeling rather than a certain story or a certain likenessHowever, the modernity looms from the shadows And the trains, the serpents of civilisations , take young people away to fight a war.My first Soseki and I am quite enchanted.