Saturday, October 01, 2005

Mynah Birds and Flying Rocks III

The last chapter is called "Indexical Imagery." It focuses on a screen painting of rocks in the Powers collection. Professor Rosenfield writes "In the history of Japanese painting there are few works so boldly conceived and yet so enigmatic as this screen..." (49) speaking of its indirect method in simply putting the image forward without any accompanying inscription, confident that his viewers would grasp its connection with Matsuo Bashô, in whose honor it was painted.

JR notes that when it was first shown in the US, some viewers compared it to the Magritte painting "Clear Ideas," which shows a rock floating in the air between the sea and a cloud (there is a reproduction of the picture provided). Some more informed viewers --i.e., art historians, regarded the painting with suspicion, calling it at best an anomaly among Buson's paintings and at worst a fake. JR defends it by assigning it to a category of "indexical images," pictorialized literary motifs (with a nod to Joshua Mostow) which are images of things or places so well known from literature that they can be presented without comment--everyone already knows what they are.

The next section, "Historical and Cultural Context of Buson's Rock Screens" is really interesting, because it tells us some details about a similar painting owned by Gichû-ji temple (site of Bashô's grave). It describes Bashô's connection to the temple and its role in the Bashô Revival cult. The following section, "Buson Rock Paintings" discusses the hokku and haiga of yanagi chiri / shimizu kare ishi / tokoro dokoro (willow leaves fallen / the clear stream dry / rocks here and there) and its origins in Buson's revisiting Bashô's Narrow road to the interior route. It has illustrations of other Buson paintings which simply show rocks against an empty background, and a page out of the Mustard seed garden manual of painting which is most likely their source. That's useful and it's good to look at these things side by side. JR then gives us a list of rock-related hokku just as he did in the chapter on the mynah birds. Again, there's no doubting that Buson painted pictures of rocks and wrote poems about rocks, but it would be interesting to be told more about why these things necessarily are related.

Again, like we saw in the mynah bird chapter, JR gives us an interesting overview of "Chinese rock lore" that helps us understand how rocks were viewed in the Chinese literati cultural tradition, their importance in gardens, and that type of thing. He concludes this chapter, too, with a discussion of a Maruyama Ôkyo painting, just as he did the one about haiga. That ties the whole thing up rather tidily.

Well, those are my notes about the book. I'll do some more thinking about it now, and will try to finish my review as soon as I can.