Dark Bilious Vapors

But how could I deny that I possess these hands and this body, and withal escape being classed with persons in a state of insanity, whose brains are so disordered and clouded by dark bilious vapors....
--Rene Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy: Meditation I

Home » Archives » February 2005 » The Tale Of Genji

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02/10/2005: The Tale Of Genji

I’m such a bibliophile, I had to write about this book The Tale Of Genji by Lady Murasaki (circa 994-998 A.D.)

Historically, it’s one of the First Novels ever written. I qualifies as being one of my absolute favorites (but it depends most critically upon what and who's translation you have...I've tried several, but my own copy is translated from the Japanese By Arthur Waley from Modern Library, published by Random House, NY, copyrighted 1960). All the other translations I’ve come across are woefully BORING and miss the mark entirely.

There are many and multi-fold reasons for bringing up this book.

To read WHY (if you really care) click on the "more" button below.

First, is because, like in our own modern day blog musings and postings, we so often reference pop-culture, songs, holidays, current events. So, too does Lady Murasaki...except her musings are from a different culture and took place about 2000 years ago. There are numerous foot-note explanations (ar least in my translation copy) of these songs and festivals and religious days as well the prevailing moral codes and beliefs...it is most intriguing. It is also full of puns, hidden lover’s meanings, double entendre, word play poetry and references.

There are six parts to this multi-book and just a sampling of the a few of the chapter titles...are a most interesting set of concepts, like:

The Broom Tree
The Picture Competition
Blue Trousers
The Festival of The Red Leaves
Bamboo River
The Bridge Maiden
The Gossamer Fly
Writing Practice

One of the more interesting references is to a belief that when one dies and crosses the river into the land of the dead souls, to await your 40 days until rebirth...you are greeted by the ghostly apparition of your very first lover who helps guide you across the river. Now, put that in your thinking cap...and here's hoping that will be a pleasant meeting for YOU (I know mine will be) Because you never can be too sure...especially if your "First" was a debacle and debauch...rather than the "clouds and rain" one hoped for. FYI, the reference to "clouds and rain" should be a dead give-a-way for having SEX...not the more euphemistically and ephemeral "first love" idea. That's why there was so much competition, regret, chagrin, concern about one's first lover...knowing you'd be forced to face them...yet again...in the after life. Interesting...no??

While I'm on a roll...there are the most peculiar "courting habits" of young lovers. Men would sneak about "masked" into the bedrooms of their paramours...f**k like bunnies or kangaroos (you decide) and as long they remained masked...it was acceptable to "pretend" this never happened and you didn't "know" who was that masked man ?? (Gives a whole new meaning to The Lone Ranger...now doesn't it)

Plus, there was the obligatory "Morning After Letter." An appropriate calligraphy masterpiece on the most delicate shades of linen-like rice paper...folded in the most ingenious of origami fashions, suitability perfumed...reciting a poem made up just to mark the occasion.

Oh, it musta been something....

(It was also a total Bummer if this “letter” was not promptly received, got mislaid or lost during delivery...causing much angst, fretting, suicide) Oh...those were the good old day...at least for the Japanese.

There was also the idea that intense hatred or jealousy could manifest itself into a spirit "form" and harass, possess and literally kill someone. Today we just call it the “politics of personal destruction”…No Biggie.

As a historical note...this is way before the "Code of Bushido" (the Way of the Warrior) and the Hari-Kari, commit public / ritual suicide. These "elites" were Buddhists and suicide was strictly forbidden..causing even more trouble in the after life than just running to your “Ex” at the river...it could screw up your whole next life and rebirth. Cosmic type stuff here.

Finally, some genius, Liza Dalby, had a great idea to write a novel as a "fictional" autobiography of Lady Murasaki (called The Tale of Murasaki, Random House, 2000) as she would have lived her life, while she was writing The Tale of Genji. Murasaki had a very interesting life at court, in the service of the Empress Akiko, and was pursued mercilessly by His Excellency, The Prime Minister, Lord Michinaga...whom she detested, but found difficult to avoid. It is a gem too.

For a good read of another, more modern day Japanese woman, try Arthur Golden’s: Memoirs of a Geisha (Alfred A Knopf, Inc.; 1997) Golden wrote and rewrote this story, until he met a real former Geisha, Saryuri, and scrapped the whole thing and wrote down her actual life experiences. Most facinating it is.

Karen on 02.10.05 @ 11:17 AM CST

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February 2005

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