They’re twins joined at the hip. As the staggering magnitude of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami sink in, I’m reminded of just how deeply interwoven natural disasters are in Japanese history, even in the Japanese psyche.
One of my favorite authors is James Clavell, whose Asian Saga begins with Shogun, a novel about a European sailor colliding with the samurai culture in 1600. One of the book’s primary themes is that, even in a land of ultimate beauty, violent destruction crouches ready to surprise anyone at any time. This produces the Zen philosophy that the Japanese lived by, and is evident in both the stoicism, nihilism, and lust for life on every page of the book.
That mindset is seen in many scenes of brutal, random violence, but perhaps is nowhere better shown than at the end of chapter 38, where a sudden earthquake ravages the island. Rather than try to produce a short quote, here are two pages of characters reacting right after the disaster:
I can’t find a good enough passage right now, but Clavell mentions a few times that the chaos of major catastrophe is a mainstay of Japanese life.
Earlier this year, I was looking to expand my musical horizons, so I dipped back into a resource that had done me well in the past: Michael Gelb’s How To Think Like Leonardo da Vinci. Among nearly endless treasures are Gelb’s lists of essential recordings in various musical styles that best ignite the senses and fire the imagination. Pay dirt. Somehow I had never lingered on his recommendation at the bottom of page 118 of Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs.
I got a performance of these pieces by the elegant Renee Fleming from the library. Here’s a video of my favorite of the four works, “September,” (though all four are excellent):
The lyrics are a poem by Hermann Hesse; a lilting appreciation of life’s seasonal changes, not with dread or with bombastic seriousness, but with a pure gratitude for the beauty inherent in natural cycles. In English, the words are:
The garden is in mourning;
the cool rain seeps into the flowers.
quietly awaiting his end.
Golden leaf after leaf falls
down from the tall acacia tree.
Summer smiles, astonished and feeble,
in his dying dream of a garden.
For a while beside the roses
he remains, yearning for repose.
Slowly he closes
his weary eyes.
“I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.” -John Adams
HUMOR: from the 8/19/97 issue of The Onion:
“Nation’s Educators Alarmed By Poorly Written Teen Suicide Notes”
“WASHINGTON, DC—At the group’s annual convention Sunday, members of the National Education Association called for the formation of a nationwide coalition of parents, teachers and political leaders to address a rapidly growing problem: the alarmingly low quality of teenage suicide notes across the U.S….
“”There seems to be an almost direct link between the rise in suicidal behavior and the decline in students’ overall command of the English language,” said Bangor, ME, junior-high vice-principal Bob Drake. “If this lack of attention paid to developing writing skills continues among teens, we may need to start thinking about revoking their suicide privileges altogether.””
LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE:
“How good you are in explosition! How farflung your fokloire and how velktingeling your volupkabulary!” -James Joyce, Finnegans Wake, 419:11-12
“It’s not daily increase but daily decrease–hack away the unessentials!” -Bruce Lee, Tao of Jeet Kun Do
Lee would have gotten along well with Thoreau.
which reminds me:
“For there are many yet on the earth among all sects, parties, and denominations…who are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it.” -Doctrine and Covenants 123:12