Their minds, in ways, were worlds apart. The Divine Comedy contemplated the eternal; the Essays in Idleness meditated upon the evanescent. Dante wrote with beauty and limpidity and terrifying magnificence, Kenko with offhand charm. They talked about the end of the world in opposite terms: the Italian poet set himself up, part of the time, anyway, as the bureaucrat of suffering, codifying sins and devising terrible punishments.
Kenko, despite his lament for the old-fashioned rack, wrote mostly about solecisms and gaucheries, and it was the Buddhist law of uncertainty that presided over his universe. The Divine Comedy is one of the monuments of world literature. The Essays in Idleness are lapidary, brief and not much known outside Japan. Such persistent pessimism almost gives one hope. Kenko is charming, off-kilter, never gloomy. He is almost too intelligent to be gloomy, or in any case, too much a Buddhist. Better asymmetry and irregularity. To long for the moon while looking on the rain, to lower the blinds and be unaware of the passing of the spring—these are even more deeply moving.
Branches about to blossom or gardens strewn with faded flowers are worthier of our admiration.
At a time when flowers have been wilting, when assets dwindle and mere vulgar fullness may suggest something as unpromising as a portfolio managed by Bernard Madoff, the eye might appreciate a moon obscured by clouds. A house should look lived in, unassuming. After an estimable career as courtier under Charles IX, as member of the Bordeaux parliament, as a moderating friend of both Henry III and Henry of Navarre during the bloody wars of religion, Montaigne withdrew to the round tower on his family estate in Bordeaux.
This may produce admirable results, if you are Kenko or Montaigne.
Essays in Idleness: The Tsurezuregusa of Kenkō
I find both to be stabilizing presences. Sometimes I get the effect by taking a dip in the Bertie Wooster stories of P. He composed a Bertie Wooster Neverland—the Oz of the twit. The Wizard, more or less, was the butler Jeeves. Wodehouse, Kenko, Dante and Montaigne make an improbable quartet, hilariously diverse.
Essays in Idleness and Hojoki by Kenko, Chomei: | iphalamrimo.tk: Books
It is a form of vanity to imagine you are living in the worst of times—there have always been worse. In bad times and heavy seas, the natural fear is that things will get worse, and never better. But otherwise Those who say the world has gone to hell may be right. It is also true that hell, contra Dante, may be temporary. Dante, Kenko and Montaigne all wrote as men exiled from power—from the presence of power. Every moment readjusts the coordinates of hope and despair—some of the readjustments are more violent than others.
Order, unity and continuity are human inventions, just as truly as are catalogues and encyclopedias. The holy man of Kume lost his magic powers after noticing the whiteness of the legs of a girl who was washing clothes. This is quite understandable, considering that the glowing plumpness of her arms, legs and flesh owed nothing to artifice. That, too, sends a strange little echo back to our time.
The magic power the holy man lost was his ability to fly. We are surrounded by magic, some good, some evil and some both at once—an excess of magic, a confusion of it.
Solitary Kenko brushed his cranky, acerbic thoughts onto scraps of paper that survived through the centuries only by luck; they might just as well have rotted on the walls or gone out with the trash. But look at our magic now: you can Google Kenko, and if you have a Kindle or Nook or iPad or some other e-reader, you can reassemble all of Kenko or Dante or Montaigne electronically upon a thin, flat screen—from which it may also vanish at a touch, in a nanosecond.
Bertrand Russell s Classic Essays in idleness analysis
Precious writers are miraculously diffused through the Web, you fetch them out of the air itself. The universe is not a solid thing. Writing is—we have always thought—a solitary and even covert labor. Of course a great writer need not be a hermit. Shakespeare was not. I have wondered whether Montaigne or Kenko or God help us Dante would have been on Facebook or Twitter, gabbing and texting away in the gregarious solidarities of new social forms. Are there such things as exile or retreat or solitude in the universe of Skype, the global hive?
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