Sunday, March 07, 2010

Zuihitsu: Things that Tilt

Read on Google Books some more passages from The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, as well as the introduction by translator Ivan Morris. We don't know much about Shonagon, we're not even sure of her name. Sei is a reference to her clan. Shonagon means Minor Counselor, a description of her position as a court lady-in-waiting, or of her relationship with the Empress, or of her qualities. The passages I read show more of the versatility of the form than the ones presented at the workshop. Here's one I particularly liked:

Things that Arouse a Fond Memory of the Past

   Dried hollyhock. The objects used during the Display of Dolls. To find a piece of deep violet or grape-colored material that has been pressed between the pages of a notebook.
   It is a rainy day and one is feeling bored. To pass the time, one starts looking through some papers. And then one comes across the letters of a man one used to love.
   Last year's paper fan. A night with a clear moon.

I like the brief anecdote in the middle of the list. It creates a feeling of spontaneity, provides room for the pleasures of story, and varies the tone.

My fumbling imitation:

Things that Tilt

   The Empire State Building in a snapshot. Rain. All the strokes of the letter W, upper or lower case. The fingers of a Bharata Natyam dancer.
   To watch something tilt is not to be a part of it. The airplane takes off and I am pressed against my seat, towards the earth. I want to fly, which is why I bought the ticket, but my body obeys an opposite force. Leveling in the air, like on the ground, permits the attendants to wheel out the food trolleys. This is necessary but not interesting.
   Earthquakes. Turning forty.


Nemo said...

Yes, that's a great device! it's as if the list grows unexpectedly elastic until it snaps even more unexpectedly right back to itself. It makes the last items on the list highly dramatic in their stillness.

Jee Leong Koh said...

Great metaphor for the list. Thanks,

Patricia Markert said...

This is wonderful.