Archive for April 2015
It’s interesting to find how much your experience of a book can change when you’ve put on a few years. Today I’m having that experience going back to Basho’s Narrow Road to the Deep North. It didn’t make much of an impression on me when I first read it, but now I find it nearly overpowering.
“I went to see the shrine of Muro-no-yashima. According to Sora, my companion, this shrine is dedicated to the goddess called the Lady of Flower-Bearing Trees, who has another shrine at the foot of Mount Fuji. This goddess is said to have locked herself up in a burning cell to prove the divine nature of her newly-conceived son when her husband doubted it. As a result, her son was named Lord Born Out of The Fire, and her shrine, Muro-no-yashima, which means burning cell. It was a custom of this place for poets to sing of the rising smoke, and for ordinary people not to eat konoshiro, a speckled fish, which has a vile smell when burnt.”
“I mounted the horse and started off, when two small children came running after me. One of them was a girl named Kasane, which means manifold. I thought her name was somewhat strange but exceptionally beautiful.”
Excerpts are from the Penguin Classics edition, translated by Noboyuki Yuasa.
“A rabbi, whose grandfather had been a disciple of the Baal Shem, was asked to tell a story. ‘A story,’ he said, ‘must be told in such a way that it constitutes help in itself.’ And he told: ‘My grandfather was lame. Once they asked him to tell a story about his teacher. And he related how the holy Baal Shem used to hop and dance while he prayed. My grandfather rose as he spoke, and he was so swept away by his story that he himself began to hop and dance and show how the master had done. From that hour on he was cured of his lameness. That’s the way to tell a story!”
From Martin Buber’s Tales of the Hasidim.
For some reason, it never occurred to me until this morning that Robert Bresson’s film “Au Hasard Balthazar” is essentially a Christianized retelling of Lucius Apuleius’ “The Golden Ass;” only where Apuleius passes through suffering to a towering epiphany of world-redeeming insight, Bresson’s dour world is unredeemable, unto the gates of death.