Monthly Archives: March 2019

‘Once and Forever: The Tales of Kenji Miyazawa’ translated by John Bester – review

Once and Forever: The Tales of Kenji MiyazawaOnce and Forever: The Tales of Kenji Miyazawa by Kenji Miyazawa

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The worlds of fairy tales, folk tales, and fables spring from a poetic association between imagination and nature as inscribed on a mind tablet of the visionary, the dreamer, the innocent, and the humanitarian in the embodiment of the Writer who composes a continual fugue of dreamscapes, visions, imagery, and nature in a phantasmagorical display of such fancy worlds. In this peculiar context of regarding the fairy tales or folk legends anchored in everyday world, Kenji Miyazawa’s tales are full of imagery that bestows a touch of magic on every thing however trifle and insignificant it may seem to the eyes of the melee. The result is a riveting twilight world of legends and folk tales where nature becomes primary world, Reality on its own in a very mystifyingly pretty way.

Notwithstanding the subject of the book, it merits a classic literature aisle in nationwide booksellers because it contains all the characteristics of profound yet catholic themes of nature of humanity that are illustrated in the works of Hans Christian Anderson, The Grimm Brothers, and Aesop. In fact, this book is strikingly scarcely a false or childish note but strangely not depressing. If Miyazawa does not provide the reader with a sense of jostling braggadocio or a promise of ever optimistic view on reality of the world that are accustomed to and taken for granted as literary license in the Western minds, he presents a prospect of innocence, so ethereal and quaint that it almost feels physical when reading. This tangible feeling of the visions is delivered by Miyazawa’s wonderful storytelling skills enveloped in poetic expressions devoted to evoking the images of a rural Japan prior to the Meiji Restoration in the mid 19th century that no longer exists.

Kenji Miyazawa (1897-1933) was a Japanese writer who was first and foremost poet at heart concerned with particular beauties and universal truths transcending time and culture. This book, translated by the late renowned English professor John Bester, is a collection of short folk tales of the bygone eras that Miyazawa seems to fantastically incorporate with his contemporary world of reality in which whims, inconsistencies, and follies of humans are everyday occurrence. The tale of “The Earth God and the Fox” shows how love and friendship are destroyed by betrayal and misunderstanding in a blight of jealousy and fury, which then eventually leads to destruction. In the case of “Wildcat and the Acorns,” Miyazawa pokes fun at parvenus and upstarts who suddenly found themselves in the wealth of western-influenced cultural artifacts in denigration of the traditional Japanese customs and values regarded as outdated and culturally backward. However, even such acerbic, poignant criticism of the Nouveau Japan is enticingly swiveled in poetic prose with musicality and choice of the language – simple but visionary- he employs.

The tales seem to speak to our world of confused syllogism bloated with inordinate wantonness and inflated egotism, decorated with selfies in Facebook and Instagram, and vehement subjectivities, all fragmented and adrift, full of sound and fury. The tales bring the reader to another time out of this evolutionary scale and 24-hour clock, and they can take the reader to a different place of innocence that seems to be out of touch in this existential world of reality. In this regard, this book is a quaintly pretty – or twee even – marionette play, fusing Miyazawa’s poetic words with his cast of interesting characters ranging from a beautiful birch tree to wise foxes, to graceful fawns, to talking acorns, and to deities living in streams and mountains and everywhere, all in the beautiful rural landscapes as picturesque stage backgrounds. It is a fascinating read that matches its fanciful title.

coffee sonata

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There’s nothing like a cup of freshly brewed hot black coffee in the morning to start a day. So much so that the Father of Music Johann Sebastian Bach even wrote “The Coffee Cantata” and announced: “Without a cup of hot coffee in the morning, I am like a roast goat.” It also reveals us the following historicity: (1) coffee had already established itself as a popular refreshing beverage in domestic as well as social firmament; and (2) the standard of taste as regards the principle of sentiment is universal in humankind beyond a divide of times and places. What a sense of connectivity to those living in the days of yore it is by the love of coffee!

The ubiquitous presence of Starbucks all over the world may be an cultural artifact of the 21st Century, signifying sleek urbaneness sometimes translated as being “uber cool,” belonging to our own time only. That is to say, anything out of different times is regarded as anachronistic, crude, or primitive if the divide of time gets bigger, whereas the counts of years on an evolutionary scale amounts to a microsecond on a twenty-four hour clock. Such example is illustrated in the diary of Samuel Pepys, an interesting English diarist who recorded the details of the 17th century everyday London life with wits and gusto that strikes the chords with the modern readers. Pepys commented on how he was being hooked on coffee until the inordinate consumption of the liquid caffeine made him feel sick. In fact, coffee shops are not the advent of our Internet Age. The first coffee shop in London was established in Oxford in 1652 with the proliferation of subsequent coffee houses where men of education and literary proclivities discussed business and social affairs. Beyond the British Isles into the grand continent of Europe across the Channel, coffee houses were burgeoning with artistic scenes in which musicians, writers, and painters commandeered their most favorite seats to proclaim them as their elbow rooms.

Pitchforked forward in time, I am back at my regular Starbucks store, sitting at my favorite table with pen to paper writing this essay. I look around and see people in modern attire but doing essentially same as their ancestors in a coffee house in days of yore: conversing, reading, and writing with coffee that seem to relax the constraints of everyday life in their respite. The whole scene brings me back to universal truth that something never changes, and that is what continues the humankind – through the love of coffee, as it were.

저장

‘The Butcher’s Daughter’, by Victoria Glendinning – review

The Butcher's DaughterThe Butcher’s Daughter by Victoria Glendinning

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In any period time, in any place of the world, there has always been a great human drama in three acts: Poverty, Struggle, and Reinvention. It has been a substratum of thespian play of human life in pursuit of will to meaning, freedom of will. It is a history of human society at the highest, it is a history of an individual at the best. It becomes history of the humankind woven into a great tapestry of time that transcends the subjectivity of time and discovery of universal truth – truth that is contemporaneous both with their times and with ours. Victoria Glendinning’s The Butcher’s Daughter speaks to the reader of our time this universality of human conditions through the narrative of eponymous Agnes Peppin in endless search of self-reliance, independence, and autonomy yo triumph over the vicissitudes of life with invincible resilience and unyielding quest for freedom of will.

Set in the mid 16th century Tudor England under the reign of Henry VIII, it is a historical fiction with a veneer of a contemporary fashionable memoir of Agnes Peppin of intellectual ambition and social aspiration in the face of her lowly social status as a daughter of a country butcher. In fact, this is a tale of a young woman’s incessant struggle to preserve a sense of purpose and a tenacious grasp on intellectual superiority, not of a manifesto pontificating about inequalities and injustice bestowed upon womanhood, which is elegantly conveyed in Agnes’s frequent reference to the story of Mary and Martha in the New Testament. Agnes thinks that Jesus was unjust and unkindly to Martha, her alter ego, who had to take up all domestic menial drudgery, letting her cook meals and wash dishes, while her sister Mary sit beside him and listen to him as long as she pleases. Agnes sees her pathetic self ignored despite her intelligence and intellectual ambition through the figure of Martha and berates Jesus for taking side with the noble, dainty Mary who – under the aegis of Jesus – gets away with menial labor often associated with women of lowly birth. Agnes then further identifies herself with venerable Zeta, a holy woman of the medieval Italy serving as the same family as a maidservant, calling her “good Martha.” Agnes’s defense of the domestic paragons belies her buried sense of bitterness expressed in a general resentment of aristocratic shirkers smothered under daily duties, the existential demands of life ascribed to the members of her social class.

As a matter of fact, Agnes evokes a proverbial image of 19th century American pioneer woman – a woman of coarseness and strength combined with acuteness and acquisitiveness with that restless, nervous energy making her beautiful embodiment of resilience and self-reliance. Elsewhere in the book, Agnes unravels her woebegone wishes to chase her Pyrrhic dreams: “Silk and velvet are lovely. So are emeralds and pearls. A butcher’s daughter may aspire to those things even though it is unlikely, the way things are, that they will come her way. But too much dross comes with all that gold.” And yet, she still steadfastly holds onto her aspiration to achieve vertical social mobility to be a Mary, for she believes that it is her true vocation of life to become a self-reliant single woman with a room of her own and money, just as Virginia Wolfe asserts for a woman’s social as well as economic independence. After all, Agnes is not just another vain half-educated, semi-literate Martha trying to emulate privileged Mary but a strong-headed, courageous, and intelligent woman who finds a solace in learned solitude outside the social and religious confinements as her sense of true identity becomes conspicuous in search of her place in the world.

A richly illuminating read, it is also an informative historical account of the ways of life in Tudor England, such as customs, clothes, trades, and the general ethos of the time, without infelicity to provoke a sense of anachronism or incongruity. It is a surprisingly easy read in terms of the choice of everyday words and pellucid expressions without a display of pedantic knowledge on history and magisterial claim on academic superiority, given the author’s pedigree as Oxford-educated scholar and award-winning novelist. That is the gem of this highly fascinating read: Glendinning’s interpretations draw on her exceptional knowledge of these historical sources, but she wears her leaning lightly and writes with a general reader in mind, which is a true purpose of the Arts. Furthermore, Glendinning’s superb story-telling narrative skills makes her characters all the more realistic and alive, rendering the whole story contemporary with our time and relative to our concern. Glendinning takes the freedom of imagination in the context of regarding historical events and people to create her own fiction that reads like nonfiction. To encapsulate, this is an enjoyable and enlightening read that holds the reader’s attention without invasion of diversion or boredom.

music of life

1dc50954796a2e0491b7dc93d333effdPaul McCartney sings, “Long and Winding Road,” whereas Rod Stewart utters, “I am sailing.” Then Tom Cochrane brings life back to land by proclaiming “Life is a highway.” Whatever metaphor they confer upon life, one thing is certain that it has a meaning, a sense of sui generis purpose, which leads all humankind to the glory of Enlightenment. Methinks life is a very long marathon race toward the grande finale after sailing through the vicissitudes of human conditions in the course of solipsistic running. That’s why all life is priceless and worth the living. How fast I will run and what route I will take is totally contingent upon my sui juris decision. Frank Sinatra knew it as in My Way, and the Animals shout out, “It’s My Life.” Snoopy, as wisecracking as ever, sums it all of the above.

Author’s Note: I came upon this felicitous Snoopy cartoon on the last train home. It gave me a fillip to this short vignette. You know what? I feel much better now. 🙂

a whim for writing

One of my all-time favorite writers Paul Johnson, author of Intellectuals and Creators, pronounced that there’s nothing like a shot of gusto for creativity. This means that creativity value directly relates to our meaning of life, freedom of will, and will to meaning. It is a sovereign remedy for the vertiginous existential malady, and I believe it. Doing any kind of creative activity, such as writing, drawing, photographing, and filming no matter how skilled or novice you may be, puts you away from the constraints of daily life and takes you away from the humdrum existence. This is not grandiose hokum because subjects of creation can be just about anything.  Jane Austen proudly proclaimed, “Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies do divert me.” How similar we are! That is why I made this very short video for a lark on the last train to home after work this evening. It is not a tour de force, but still it is my brainchild. That is why I cherish Kurt Vonnegut’s one-of-kind advice to all: “To practice any form of art, however well or badly, is to grow your soul. So just do it.” Sounds familiar? Then Think Nike. Yes. Just Do It.

Caveat emptor: Readers’ whimsical and capricious opinions on my writings in the form of instant likes that disappear into the cyber ether are an aberration of civility and respect. It is a cruel form of mockery and indignity. Nietzsche might be right in defining that “Man is the cruelest animal.”