Weekend Reading

Recollections of books carried back and forth on the elevated train -- in a long-term, though belated, attempt to learn something about the world.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Okagami - The Great Mirror

Fujiwara Michinaga (966-1027) and His Times
A Study and Translation by Helen Craig McCullough

This is the perfect companion piece to the Tales of Genji, as it covers the same territory (the top Heian aristocracy) from a different POV -- one which is more intested in court politics than in romance and aesthetics.

But it is more of a mining expedition - requiring the reader to sift through all geneological data to get to the little episodes of personal life.

The geneology of that period is especially complex because high ranking men sired children with a variety of high ranking women - and as we learned from Lady Murasaka, these women often led rather desparate lives, without support from either their birth family or their lovers.

The Great Mirror gives no idea what the men did in their official administrative capacaties - it only gossips about their rise and fall -- and especially the rise of Fujiwara Michinaga, an especially gifted courtier.

And again, as in Genji, it is pleasing to note that losers may have to sulk in disgrace, but they don't get killed -- and everybody writes poetry in short stanzas that express the ubiquitious human condition of loss. (along with a lot of clever puns and references that are explained by the translator)

BTW - the translator also offers a long essay about the period, that includes an interesting discussion of Tales of Genji - comparing Genji to his son as examples of the perfect courtier.

It's also interesting to note issues of longevity in these stories -- since many people die young -- but the normal human life span is stated to be 80 -- and the fictional narrators are twice that old.