Saturday, September 17, 2005

Authenticity in Buson's Haikai

Thinking about the HNA conference, and the topic, which is authenticity.

My talk is about Buson and authenticity.

Authenticity After Bashô: Buson's Ways of Transformation and Transcendence

Authenticity was one of Yosa Buson's central concerns. A leading figure in the 18th century effort to reform haikai, the Bashô Revival, Buson advocated a return to the ideals of Matsuo Bashô as a way to recapture authenticity in an age where the genre's popularity threatened to reduce it to the status of a frivolous pastime. However, his own poetry and way of life was very different to that of Bashô. This talk explores the ways that Buson used the legacy of his predecessor in order to invent a new voice that was authentic for his time, and reflects on how his approach might offer an example of ways that modern haiku poets might engage more fully with the work of poets of the past.

I had written something a long time ago about Onitsura's Hitorigoto, which was all about authenticity, or as he called it, makoto. Makoto is pretty much the thing people most remember about Onitsura--he has a lot of good hokku, but the presence of the great star Matsuo Bashô in more or less the same era not only blinds everyone with its brilliance but also acts as this massive gravity sink, pulling everyone's attention into an orbit from which it is virtually impossible to escape. But Onitsura was thinking about authenticity a lot, as was Bashô, and while Bashô came up with lovely formulations like "learn about the pine from the pine" and "seek not after the ancients, seek what they sought" (the last is something that Kûkai came up with--an ancient if there ever was one).

So anyway, authenticity was something that was much on the mind of many haikai poets in the late 17th century. Much of that has to do with what else was going on then--that is to say, the rise of trashy fads like maekuzuke where people didn't have to know much or be very good to do something that was like haikai. People like Onitsura and Bashô really felt this keenly--it was cheapening their genre. And although they struggled against it, for the next few decades, fifty years more or less, the trashy stuff became increasingly popular.