Last night I watched Chris Marker’s film ‘Sans Soleil’ or ‘Sunless’, and having watched it, downloaded the text from the film. There was one passage in particular which interested me which was as follows:
“He spoke to me of Sei Shonagon, a lady in waiting to Princess Sadako at the beginning of the 11th century, in the Heian period. Do we ever know where history is really made? Rulers ruled and used complicated strategies to fight one another. Real power was in the hands of a family of hereditary regents; the emperor’s court had become nothing more than a place of intrigues and intellectual games. But by learning to draw a sort of melancholy comfort from the contemplation of the tiniest things this small group of idlers left a mark on Japanese sensibility much deeper than the mediocre thundering of the politicians. Shonagon had a passion for lists: the list of ‘elegant things,’ ‘distressing things,’ or even of ‘things not worth doing.’ One day she got the idea of drawing up a list of ‘things that quicken the heart.’ Not a bad criterion I realize when I’m filming; I bow to the economic miracle, but what I want to show you are the neighborhood celebrations.”
As part of my residency at OVADA, I spent a long time compiling lists of things I’d seen on a particular walk around the city centre and so this extract intrigued me because of my own efforts in the art of list making. There is something about the mundane that is more telling in respect to the bigger picture of the past than anything one might find in the pages of a history book.
The beginning of the film deals with this very fact:
“I’m just back from Hokkaido, the Northern Island. Rich and hurried Japanese take the plane, others take the ferry: waiting, immobility, snatches of sleep. Curiously all of that makes me think of a past or future war: night trains, air raids, fallout shelters, small fragments of war enshrined in everyday life. He liked the fragility of those moments suspended in time. Those memories whose only function it being to leave behind nothing but memories. He wrote: I’ve been round the world several times and now only banality still interests me. On this trip I’ve tracked it with the relentlessness of a bounty hunter. At dawn we’ll be in Tokyo.”
As one might guess from the extract above, the film had a predominantly Japanese theme, and I was reminded of the Haiku I wrote last year. Most of them were, on reflection, not particularly good, but there were a few which took me almost instantly back to the time they were written. I could remember everything about the time they were written and, more importantly, why they were written.Here are just a few.
In a vague garden
In the morning’s smallest light
The first bird’s singing
Sings though we should never know
This dark melody
The moon was a blur
On a long lost photograph
A timeless second
The cat spies the birds
While they look down from above
And I watch them all
Secrets of the deep
Are whispered by the Snowdrop
Missing its flower
Just for a moment
I swapped places with a cat
Sitting on the wall
A horse without a rider
Stands like a shadow
The painted subway
A crow hovers on the wind
I think of angels
The tall girder-cross
Lone man sits in a cafe
She can’t stand his kiss
The sudden trees have
Grown before the constant gates
The violent field
I was listening to a discussion programme on ‘Diaries’ and in particular, what makes a good diary. I, like many people have tried keeping a diary or journal and actually managed to sustain one for about 10 years, between 1989 and 1999. Much of it, is of course of no interest to anyone else but me, and even then, the greater part of the entries are a little mundane (and not mundane in a good way – as described above). What was agreed, during the conversation, was that what makes a diary interesting is not what the author thinks, but rather what they see. It is again the small details which help to build the bigger picture of the time. Of course, this is by no means a rule, and there are many exceptions where the good and the great have opened their hearts and inspired nothing less than awe. But these are exceptions.
Turning back to Haiku, I read the following in a book (On Love and Barley) on the great Haiku poet, Basho (1644-1694) :
“So the poet presents an observation of a natural, often commonplace event, in plainest diction, without verbal trickery. The effect is one of spareness, yet the reader is aware of a microcosm related to transcendent unity. A moment, crystallised, distilled, snatched from time’s flow, and that is enough. All suggestion and implication, the haiku event is held precious because, in part, it demands the reader’s participation: without a sensitive audience it would appear unimpressive. Haiku’s great popularity is only partly due to its avoidance of the forbidding obscurities found in other kinds of verse: more important, it is likely to give the reader a glimpse of hitherto unrecognised depths in the self.”
There are two lines in the above which interest me the most. Firstly, the reference to a commonplace event, and secondly, the suggestion that the poems demand the reader’s participation. It is by sharing a moment that we become a part of that time which has long since passed.
The following is one of Basho’s haiku as printed in the book:
In terms of taking us back to a moment, the three lines above do just that. It isn’t necessarily that we see the pond, see the frog, the poet, but rather that we experience a second or so of the seventeenth century as if it were happening now.