I can only imagine what beauty must be in store for those lucky enough to be able to read it in the original Japanese.
Crucially, the lady writes it down and here we are with history's first novel, the origin story of Japan, their Homer and their Star Wars, the winding and weird Tale of Genji. Things one might write a poem about Sea grass Tears Chrysanthemums Dew Sleeves (wet, inevitably, with tears) Autumn leaves The phrase "How long must I..." You can practice this at home. How long must I wait until iHop opens my sleeves wet with my tears Sea grasses bend with the foamy tide as I bend into my couch to binge Nashville There's almost a poem a page in this book, so get used to it, unless you're reading one of the bullshit translations that duck the poetry altogether. That author, that lady-in-waiting, we never got her name so we call her Lady Murasaki after the primary love interest for our handsome prince Genji, and here's the first thing you should know about that love interest: she's like ten. I mean not forever, but definitely when Genji first notices her and goes like "what a babe," she's a babe indeed, and this whole book is squicky as all fuck. I mean, but it's not actually that simple, and this is the wild thing about this ancient book: Genji has real psychological depth.
Artist: Toshiaki Kato Without stories like these about the old days, though, how would we ever pass the time when there is nothing else to do? The first time through, I had a superficial understanding of what was going on, and it was so foreign and so different to my previous conceptions of human behavior that I gave up a third of the way in. Despite this general lack of understanding, however, there are brief flashes of brilliance which help me to understand why this book has such long-lasting appeal. The cited part above, in Chapter 25, is one of the first appeals on the meaning of fiction, and how such stories have a greater meaning beyond just passing the time.
He had a great contempt for people who renounce the world and then appear not to have done so after all. Thinking of it is unavoidable when one is interested in literature and not institutionalized definitions of such, and it has been a long time since I've forborne from writing what I knew classrooms would not like, but I am not yet aged enough for unconcern to come without resistance. Aspiring professors of English do not build their critical evaluation on video games and animated televisions shows and an uneasy consciousness of the Other, even when the evaluation is of the most loving nature. My favorite video game of all time is called Okami, and I firmly believe my understanding of The Tale of Genji was aided immeasurably by my history of playing. I've commented on similarities between Japan and the US before, and while a few animes are truly great and humanizing works of art, it is the worst that the media and the mainstream community sustains itself upon. It is much, much, much harder to see, and it's highly likely that what I'm actually seeing is my own desires of female affirmation in a world of ubiquitous male power. In light of that, I know many readers will find it boring, and there were times I wished I could be moved more by the usual things and not have to spend so much time with the ancient and the lengthy and the subtle. However, so much of that 'usual' is built up on what our world has become since the time this was written, and every so often I need something that unspools my brain from modern hegemonies and places the emphasis on what I can appreciate rather than how much I can understand. Proust came close, but I did not know how soothing the repetition of years with its poetry and its seasons and its flowers and colors and songs and dances could be until I began understanding the references without the help of the footnotes, and that is not something that can be acquired through an obsession with exact details. This work, masterful in its beauty, came down to us because only women wrote the much scorned fiction; I know this world should not survive, but I would become the woodcutter with their rotting ax handle in a heartbeat. The voice of the priest who had come down from the mountain was grander and more solemn than the rest. When enough time has passed, I will come back here to rest.
It is so easy to see how this book still influences literary styles in Japan today... When I first started reading it, I was split between boredom w/Genji (and the author's obsession with his beauty) and fascination with the complexity of 9th century Japanese court. But as I read further I became more and more amazed at the beauty and subtlety of Shikibu's writing and poetry.
Rating: 5* of five This review at A Dribble of Ink says more about why Genji matters than I can ever do.
But just because it is so doesn't mean it's interesting as a story.
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