Sunday, July 11, 2010

Cute things

In another essay of The Pillow Book, Sei Shonagon choses to discuss the cute things in life:

"Cute things. Face of a child painted on a gourd. A baby sparrow, approaching in a staccato on a calling tweet. An toddler, crawling in a hurry, keen enough to discover a very small dust on the way. The toddler then holding the dust between its tiny fingers, and showing it proudly to the adults around.

(Translated from the original by Ken Mogi)

The general conclusion, according to Sei Shonagon in the same essay, is that "cuteness is in everything, everything which is small". Although this "rule of cuteness" seems to be universal and provide sufficient basis for categorization, Sei Shonagon never gets tired of recounting the cute things one by one, possibly for the sheer pleasure of doing so.

The Pillow Book is an impressive example in the tradition in the Japanese culture to attend to and record verbally the details of qualia in the phenomenology of the world as we experience it. The torch of the tradition of cuteness is carried to this day.


yuzu said...

I realized that Sei shonagon was very cute person.
The Pillow Book's fascination is also writer's charm,I think.

(ma)gog said...

I have found the original "Pillow Book" web site having been inspired by your translation and quickly read through (not everything)this incredibly precise and relevant description of miscellaneous(I hope I am spelling correctly!)commonly experienced even in today's modern Japanese life.

I still remember quite well when I "learned" the "Pillow Book" for the first time at school, I found it very funny and felt close to Sei Shonagon when she said "how irritating the slight buzz of a mosquito hindering me from the summer night sleep!"

And this time, I have been made to grin at the part "Things hardly exist. A son in law expressed nicely by a father in law, a bride who gets along well with her mother in law...etc."

The time between hers and ours simply disappears when we find ourselves nodding to every word of this woman of great insight.