Monday, September 19, 2005

On Authenticity, Again

Some things that come up when thinking about authenticity and haikai:

1) The presence of the past
2) The friction between high culture and low culture
3) Experience viewed/drawn through the filter of literature
4) Appeals to authority

One thing I notice when I read contemporary writing about haiku in English is that there was a single unified view in the past. In fact there was quite a bit of diversity.

I'd like to talk about the ways that Buson differed from Bashô, even though he claimed to be returning to Bashô. And in the process, I'd like to find out about the ways that poets today view the poets of the past, if they see themselves as part of a tradition, if they think it's important to break from a tradition, how important do they think originality is in haiku.

Buson was unlike Bashô in the sense that:

1. He was not a traveler. He did travel a bit, and in some cases did so in conscious awareness that he was retracing Bashô's footsteps, but he did not make a home of travel the way Bashô did.

2. He was a painter. This made him different from Bashô in several ways, the two main ones being that a) he was involved in a commercial enterprise [despite having to pose as an amateur] and b) he was much better at haiga than Bashô was. I think what's important about this, particularly with regard to point a, was that he had a complicated relationship with his identity as a professional.

3. He was not particularly spiritual, or deeply religious. He laced his writings with Zenlike quotations, but these were more like figures of speech than anything really pious.

4. His hokku are a lot different from Bashô's, They're much more dreamy and fantastical as a whole. Bashô was better at creating the impression of transparency in his verse. Maybe they were every bit as fictional and invented as Buson's were, but they leave you with a much different feeling.

This is interesting because Shiki called Bashô subjective and Buson objective. But Buson wasn't so much objective as detached, like a narrator recounting a story at a distance. Not necessarily something he witnessed, but nevertheless something that made for a good story.

I notice that I am doing something here that is more or less a haiku cliche, comparing Bashô to someone and letting the difference be the focus. Of course Buson and Bashô make a good pairing for this sort of exercise. I can't help but feel that both are diminished by the process. However, one of the reasons we know about Bashô now is because Buson helped us think a certain way about his (Bashô's, I mean) role in haikai, so it is worth the effort to explore a bit about how Buson is doing something very unlike the poet he called for everyone to imitate.