Thursday, December 28, 2006

Reflections on the ever-changing

The past is a vast stage for metamorphoses. The critic Hideo Kobayashi once remarked to Yasunari Kawabata, the author of "Snow Country".

"Not much can be expected out of a living human. What a man thinks, says, and does, is never reliably predictable, whether you speak of yourself or of others. It is next to impossible to make a living human the object of your appreciation or serious observation. On the other hand, the dead are quite admirable. Why is it that the impression and the whole character of a man become quite clear, once he is dead? It is quite probable that dead men are the only true human beings that we come to know in this world. Are we living humans only animals who gradually become true humans as we approach our mortal end?"
(Excerpt from "Reflections on the ever-changing", original Japanese text published in 1941. Translation mine)

What Kobayashi speaks of men here has a universal relevance. The past is never fixed, and the significance of a particular experience becomes clear only after some time has passed since its occurrence. Maturation requires the workings of time. A child is never a child as it happens. You can appreciate your own childhood in the true sense only after you become an adult, when you reflect on what happened so long ago.

One's past is a rich fountain of significant experience, just as the future is an arena for unpredictability. Only in the long-gone past can one find solace and the food for soul. With a will to recall and a freedom of imagination, the past becomes a realm of vivid close-to-heart.

Hideo Kobayashi (1902-1983)


Petrusa de Koker said...

Very true. Made me ponder and wonder. I think, the reason why the impression and the whole character of a man becomes clear, once he is dead, is because the living human is forever a work-in-progress. I do not know the Japanese Language and therefore, even if I had access to it, I shall not be able to appreciate the original text (wish I could read Mr Kobayashi's original writings). However, Ken, can the word that you translated as "true human", be translated to "complete human" as well? I don't question the fact that the human character developes and grows all the time (some slower than others and some in the wrong direction, but it still grows) until the day we reach our mortal end. I shall only deceive myself and it will be an insult to my own character if I thought that I am now complete and will not grow any more (unless I suffer from a degenerative brain disease or incurred severe brain injury).
Like you mentioned, not even the past is fixed. I may consider a particular experience from my childhood and I may think that the meaning of it is clear to me now. However, when I am 80 years old, I may reconsider the same experience and see it in a different way. Whereas before, the experience may have had great significance, later experiences may overshadow it - or the childhood experience may even increase in significance. Does one ever appreciate your own childhood in the true sense? (Quite a humbling thought for me.)

Ken Mogi said...

Dear, Petrusa

Than you for your comments.

Yes, I think you are right. Our childhood experiences "grow" and are "transformed" as we pass into mature age. In that sense, we are constantly "re-living" that eternal golden days....