Thursday, 28 February 2013

Blogging, medieval style

I've been presented with a book by a comrade returning in triumph from Japan, carefully chosen with me in mind. It's Essays in Idleness: the Tsurezuregusa of Kenko. Kenko was a 14th century monk with – as he put it – 'nothing better to do' than jot down his thoughts, observations, opinions, anecdotes, accounts of customs and ceremonies. 

But the boy Kenko isn't simply a cultural magpie. He's an artist. These short essays (like Montaigne's without the enormous self-confidence?) are jewels. Some are tiny, no more than a sentence or two. He understands the central notion of Japanese philosophy: that transience (our own and that of things he observes) confers beauty and significance. 
The pleasantest of all diversions is to sit alone under the lamp, a book spread out before you, and to make friends with people of a distant past you have never known. 
Leaving something incomplete makes it interesting and gives one the feeling that there is room for growth.
I particularly like Essay 75:
I wonder what feelings inspire a man to complain of "having nothing to do." I am happiest when I have nothing to distract me and I am completely alone.
If a man conforms to society, his mind will be captured by the filth of the outside world, and he is easily led astray; if he mingles in society, he must be careful that his words do not offend others, and what he says will not at all be what he feels in his heart. He will joke with others only to quarrel with them, now resentful, now happy, his feelings in constant turmoil. Calculations of advantage will wantonly intrude, and not a moment will be free from considerations of profit and loss. Intoxication is added to delusion, and in a state of inebriation the man dreams. People are all alike: they spend their days running about frantically, oblivious to their insanity.
Even if a man has not yet discovered the path of enlightenment, as long as he removes himself from his worldly ties, leads a quiet life, and maintains his peace of mind by avoiding entanglements, he may be said to be happy, at least for the time being.
It is written in Maka Shikan, " Break your ties with your daily activities, with personal affairs, with your arts, and with learning."

His essays are beautifully, elegantly simple, even in translation. He has charm, tact and style, and he's not always consistent in his opinions. Oh, and he's convinced that the world is going to hell in a hand-cart.

In short, he is or should be the patron saint of bloggers. 

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