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Sunday, 19 May 2013



Obaa san Ogii san: textured photo by Marie Wintzer, 14 May 2013

........It is evening, autumn;
I think only
........of my parents.

Buson (1715-1783): "It is evening, autumn...", translated by Reginald Horace Blyth in Haiku, Volume I, 1947


Wooden Boy said...

This image has stayed with me since Marie first posted it. The grey green it slides into could be the colour of forgetting. The scratches on the surfaces are unsettling.

Memories are hard to hold on to. They get written over or eaten away. The Haiku, with that steady attention, feels like a moment of respite from all that entropy.

Marie W said...

What a perfect poem for this picture, Tom, thank you for yet another brilliant and tireless matchmaking. Obaa san and Ogii san with haiku, if only I had a way of letting them know! They would like this a lot.
And thank you, WB. Memories are their own masters. The ones one would like to erase are persistent little beasts and just won't go. Others slip away when you desperately try to keep them with you.
Such a beautiful haiku... thank you.

TC said...

Thank you, Wb -- and (especially) thank you, Marie!

Spengler, thinking perhaps of Rembrandt, called brown the historical colour.

Without considering the scratches on the surface of a life, accumulating with the years (that "texturing" inevitably effected by time), it's hard to imagine there might exist any depths beneath. And indeed a sort of seamless and stress-less superficiality would appear to be the proposed ideal condition in "our" sort of society at present. Nothing ought to take more than an instant, or involve anything that's not immediately apparent.

The image has great power, I've been meditating on it since first seeing it -- indeed even before Marie posted it, as a souvenir of time-travelling perhaps, among the voyager's treasures at her "Suitcase". Much speculation regarding its history and context went on here, literally in the dark... and the interest deepened when Marie kindly explained the circumstances surrounding the image, corroborating much of what we had speculated, and adding further depth to that. Those tiny numbers on the digital clock tell so very much, so very quietly. As, too, the cropping of the heads of the newlyweds in the second snapshot that makes up the upper part of the image. The image is what once was commonly -- and accurately, in a case such as this, so rare any more -- called "a study". Temporality the subject. We here are in that passage of life that allows no other point of contemplation so compelling, of necessity. That a relatively young person should possess in her artistic vision such insightful apprehension of the complex meaning of ageing seems a small miracle... and a relief at that, consoling in all sorts of ways. In this country and indeed in Western culture in general, the prevailing sentiment on this subject, approaching nearer a universal consensus every day, pretty much amounts to: the Old Are For Binning, Stow Them Away Somewhere Well Out of Sight So That We Can Get On With It... Whatever It Is!

The Inconvenient Old, meanwhile, who can't stand the pace, know they're in the way, and anyhow would not wish to get on with whatever it is the Young are on about (something new every day of course, that's the nature of contemporary technological product-driven planned-obsolescence distraction, innit?)... even if they were able.

The photo called out, in my mind, to the wonderful Buson poem. And also to all manner of unresolved questions hanging on in that imaginal equivalent of the large grey rain cloud that hovers always over Al Capp's jinx-figure Joe Btfsplk, a residual moving presence in the Dogpatch of the Old, following where'er they go.

TC said...

Along with the small Buson masterpiece, Marie's photo brought to mind another, larger work on the subject of ageing, Yazuhiro Ozu's magisterial 1953 film Tokyo monogatari (Tokyo Story).

Many consider this the greatest film ever made. One who makes this claim is the smartest critical historian of film in recent memory, Mark Cousins. Cousins narrates a video essay, placing the film in context of this director's work, here. This clip also incorporates interviews with the actress Kyoka Kagawa, who appeared in the film, and with the universally acknowledged scholar and critic of Japanese culture, Donald Richie.

There are also the interesting comments of the late British film director and critic Lindsay Anderson -- recognising in Tokyo Story the work of a director who "really understood what life was about, the experience of life in a family, parents and children".

(The Criterion release of the Ozu film, in several parts, can easily be found online, by those given to slow pleasures).



All the details of Marie's beautiful photograph of Obaa San and Obii San (the cropped picture of their younger selves, that ominously jagged, black scratch, the clock at 10 to 11, getting late) so resonant w/ Buson's poem, whose absence of detail seems to complete the picture.


light coming into sky above black plane
of ridge, song sparrow calling in field
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

motion of light compared to
dust, above condition

when this is done, whatever
comes about, sense of

silver edge of sun above shadowed ridge,
fog on horizon to the left of the point

TC said...

Steve, about this -- "the cropped picture of their younger selves" -- that was my first "reading" of this photo, too.

(And I think it's actually "Ogii san", by the way -- respects for real historical people, in that caption.)

I've learned quite a bit from Marie's work. Much of what she does with her camera and her eye do make me think of Ozu, especially in that expert analysis of his compositional method given by Mark Cousins in the eighth/ninth minutes of the video.

Another thing I've had to learn through close looking at her work is to read "through" the extremely interesting surfaces to the at least equally interesting depths -- that to say, to enjoy the presence of the visual moment while reading (as through a glass darkly) what lies beyond and beneath those "textured" surfaces: the 'texturing" of experience itself an act of filtering memory through the grain of time, so that the viewer enters into the domain of the historical; that is, both the collective-historical and the personal-historical.

So without giving away any of this extremely discreet and generous artist's secrets, I would simply suggest that the identity of the newlywed couple in the upper shot, there, may be open to further interpretation.

And by the by, the translator here, R. H. Blyth, is the master interpreter of haiku in English.

Those who have been here awhile -- well, Steve perhaps, anyway -- will have seen many of his versions of Buson, Issa and the other classic haiku masters here.

Here are a few more Blyth Busons:

Buson: Fish Trap

Buson: Plovers

Buson: The fox

Buson: Winter Rain

That last one has been one of the most viewed single poems ever posted on this blog. Fourteen thousand people from all round the globe over four and a half years can't be all wrong.

And of course Google would never tell a lie, and if their figures are anything like correct, great poetry can't be all THAT boring.

TC said...

The most profound cinematic investigation of the experience of ageing in a longtime married couple, after Tokyo Story, I believe, occurs in a quite recent work from a very different culture -- Michael Haneke's Amour, released in 2012.

Coincidentally, Emmanuelle Riva, the actress who plays the stroke-victim wife in this quite harrowing work (and who, at age 84, became the oldest actress to be nominated for an Oscar in "Best Supporting Role"), will be remembered forever for her work in another film, made in 1959, about a young French woman who has spent the night with a Japanese man at Hiroshima, where she has gone to take part in a film about peace. He reminds her of the first man she loved, years earlier, during World War II -- a German soldier. It is the story of an impossible love. The main themes of the film are memory and oblivion. There are eerie reverberations between the earlier work and Haneke's.

There are those who have asked whether the suffering face of Hiroshima might not be hidden behind the mask of official (dis)information released to the public concerning the events at Fukushima.

Lally said...

Tom, I'm amazed at not only your facility for pairing images and poems so brilliantly and consistently, but by your then adding comments that elucidate not just the pairing (and in this case paring) but the fascinating labyrinthine(in Creeley's take on the ways our minds work) connections and extensions that you come up with. Much thanks for this one in particular which resonates with me on every level.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...


"Spengler, thinking perhaps of Rembrandt, called brown the historical colour."

This, coupled with the photo and the wonderful Blyth rendition ...

And then Ozu's "Tokyo Story," the finest of his formidable catalog of films.

The richness here, and then still more gorgeous Buson via Blyth, is almost too much to bear.

Thanks so much.

Apologies for the long absence ... all is well and I hope you are also.


TC said...

Very much appreciate the kind words from two respected colleagues who have been keeping up and keeping on with this nutty blogging thing through thick and then (and not that much thick come to think of it, mostly thin), on a responsible and regular basis, as a gift to the world, for long enough... I almost said, to know better.

Well, Michael and Don, I expect you know what I mean. That we are still alive and doing it, if only bit by bit.

Yesterday a man told me a story of going to hear Bob Weir recently up in Marin. Bob Weir keeled over onstage while playing -- clunk, out cold. "You know how it is when you get old," my friend said. "Muscles just turn to jelly".

Marie W said...

Thank you for such generous comments, what a wonderful treat of a read this morning. I am ashamed to say I haven't seen any of the great movies you are referring to. But I found the full version of Tokyo Story and will dig into it very soon.
SInce you mention Hiroshima, Fukushima, historical/personal, text/photo, I don't know if it is relevant here but I am reading a book of Eikoh's photographs these days, and in the introduction Donald Keene writes: " The Japanese were at one time frequently shown in cartoons carrying one or more cameras, ready to take a picture of anything that momentarily attracted their attention. This representation was unkind, but it pointed to a truth: taking photographs and composing short Japanese poems (haiku or tanka) reveal the same sensibility. The haiku poet attempts to capture, with the most economical means, a particular instant; this is also true of the photographer. A European poet might feel constrained if obliged to confine his lyrical insights to a mere seventeen or thirty one syllables, preferring to lengthen his poems until he has exhausted the matter - even if the second and third stanzas are inferior to the first. A Japanese poet, by rigorous selection, encapsulates in a few words a momentary experience, making it important and memorable. The short poem and photography, both arts that reduce a creative experience to an evocative moment, have been particularly congenial to the Japanese.
However, not all Japanese poets write haiku. In 1946, soon after the end of the Pacific War, a professor at Kyoto University published an article that branded haiku as a second-class art. It was particularly painful for poets to read these comments at this time, when all Japanese values were felt to have been negated after the nation's defeat in the war. Some poets defended the medium; others deliberately twisted the shape of the haiku as if to prove it could do more than celebrate the beauty of the changing seasons. But many of the poets of the postwar period chose to express themselves in nontraditional forms that permitted them to vent fully their emotions as modern men who had passed through the ordeal of conflict."


Thanks for note on Marie's work -- so beautiful, that "presence of the visual moment . . . (as through a glass darkly)" and for the links, which have sent me back to Buson's Winter Rain (14,000 people can't be wrong).


light coming into cloud above blackness
of ridge, bird calling from pine branch
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

sketchbook examples of which,
other series of views

of subject which exposes it,
in this way, standing

silver circle of sun rising above ridge,
cloudless blue sky to the left of point