Thursday, January 31, 2013

To the Lighthouse: Cutting through Time and Space

                                                                                 writing haiku...
                                                                                 muskmelon juice drips
                                                                                 from the knife
                                                                                 (for Basho)

In his second videoed lecture on Basho’s famous frog haiku, Haiku Cosmos 2: Cutting Through Time and Space (“kire” and “ma”), Professor Hasegawa Kai talks about at least two types of cutting: the kire created by a kireji is called “ku cbu no kire” (kire within the main body of a haiku) and the kire that cuts a haiku from this reality within which we live -- from the literal place/environment/atmosphere (ba) of literal existence -- is called “zengo no kire.” (see its full text, “Haiku Cosmos 2,” Poems of Consciousness: Contemporary Japanese and English-language Haiku in Cross-cultural Perspective by Richard Gilbert, pp. 76-81)

In his contextualized analysis of Basho’s frog haiku in relation to the use of cutting, Hasegawa emphasizes the importance of the complete realization of the concept of cutting through “zengo no kire:” a haiku is “cut out” or “cut from” this world. This concept of cutting is related to "ma," one of the most important aesthetic characteristics demonstrated in Japanese short verse forms. However, he doesn’t talk about the Japanese concept of “ma” in its relation to the Chinese literary/poetic tradition that has exerted a greater influence on Japanese haiku.

Ideogrammatically speaking, "間" (“ma” in Japanese) is made of two Chinese words "門" (door) and "日" (sun or day), meaning that sunlight passes through the main gate of a house. "間" can function both as a noun (the first tone in Mandarin) and a verb (the fourth tone in Mandarin). As a noun, it means the space between; as a verb, it means putting a space between. Simply put, its connotative meaning refers to "betweenness."

Hasegawa’s focus on the psychological aspect of “ma” fascinates me because it is not emphasized in the Chinese conception of “間.” I suspect that his interpretation of the Japanese concept of “ma” has been influenced by his learning of Western psychology. My reason is that before the first decade of the 20th century, the Japanese didn't develop a Western equivalent of psychology as John Solt pointed out in Chapter 3, Shredding the Tapestry of Meaning: The Poetry and Poetics of Kitasono Katue (1901-1978). Nonetheless, I think his concept of "ma" helps deepen one’s understanding of “zengo no kire:” a haiku is “cut out” or “cut from” this world.

Most English-speaking haiku poets understand a cut as a syntactic break through the use of punctuation. This view produces, comparatively speaking, weaker haiku (at best, “postcard” haiku or “aha” haiku). For me, a good haiku, evaluated in the historical and literary contexts of the English language haiku (with no abiding kigo tradition) and of modern poetry (with an emphasis on psychological depth and the poetic image), is an imagistic poem with a psychological bent, opening up an interpretative space for the reader to co-author the poem. This type of haiku can be easily found in the ones with psychological “ma” advocated by Professor Hasegawa Kai, who, in my view, has been articulating a new/the fourth view on the use of cutting/cutting words (According to his groundbreaking essay, entitled "Buson and Shiki," pp. 409-14, Mark Morris points out three formulations/views about the use of cutting in the classic Japanese haiku tradition. For more information, see To the Lighthouse: Three Formulations about the Use of Cutting )


1  For more information regarding Basho's frog haiku, see Poetic Musings: Generic Analysis of Basho’s Frog Haiku (written from the viewpoint of kigo)

2 Hasegawa Kai’s offered two videoed lectures: the first one is titled Haiku Cosmos 1: Basho’s “old pond” – Realism and “Junk Haiku, and the second one Haiku Cosmos 2: Cutting through Time and Space (“kire” and “ma”). Below are the summaries of these two lectures:

Haiku Cosmos 1 — Hasegawa provides introductory remarks prior to a further detailed discussion of Bashô's 'old pond' haiku (to be presented here at a later date), based on his recent research and book furuike ni kawazu tobikanda ka [Did the Frog Jump Into the Old Pond?, 2005]. In particular, placing great significance on the arising of “mind” (the psychology of ‘creative imagination’) in haiku experience, Hasegawa discusses why he considers haiku based upon objective realism to be garakuta-haiku, that is, “junk haiku.”

Haiku Cosmos 2 — Venturing into the heart of what constitutes haiku as a literary genre, Hasegawa discusses kire (‘cutting’), and ma. One way of thinking about kire is that it cuts through space and time — a primary, defining feature of haiku, intrinsic to its composition. Hasegawa draws significantly on the philosophy of Bashô, for whom kire was of vital importance. Also discussed is zengo no kire (‘before’ and ‘after’ kire), a type of cutting which ‘cuts’ the haiku from normative reality, just before the beginning and after the ending word or sound. Unfortunately, ma resists easy translation. Hasegawa discusses several culturally familiar types of ma, before pursuing the topic of psychological ma as instrumental to excellent haiku. We have translated ma severally as: “interval of betweeness,” “psychological interval (of time/space),” “between dimensions,” “the arising of psychological space,” and “creative imagination” (cf. James Hillman's monograph, The Thought of the Heart and Soul of the World).

1 comment:

  1. Below is an excerpt from Robert D. Wilson's Interview With Professor Makoto Ueda, Professor Emeritus, Stanford University (Simply Haiku, Autumn 2005, vol 3 no 3)

    RW: You wrote in 1970 that Basho “always encouraged his students to cultivate their individual talents rather than to follow him with blind faith,” ending your statement with Basho’s haiku:

    Do not resemble me—
    Never be like a musk melon
    Cut in two identical halves

    Would you elucidate?

    MU: When a musk melon is cut in half, each piece looks the same. Thus, in the Japanese language, halves of a melon were often used as a simile to describe two identical things. Probably melon slices were served when Basho wrote the haiku in question. He compared himself to one half of a melon and told his friend not to be the other half that looked exactly the same. His friend was a merchant, so Basho had all the more reason to want him not to be like an artist. The haiku, when it is seen by itself, has more general implications: the teacher wants each of his students to develop his own talent and explore his own area.