Archives for the month of: April, 2013

I heard this story from the Clouded Era. It was meant to have happened in ZonHu canton, in the province of Suono, not far from where the Tasa and Isa rivers meet.

The story is like this:

One day, a romarcho* from a warlike clan was walking alone through the heat of a summer noon, when he saw a young woman, resting beneath the branches of a fire tree.

She wore the robes of the Kiyani sect. Those were days of ruin, and the ancient temple at Ijuro, near ShonSan, had recently been violated, its treasures sacked and occupants killed or sent fleeing into the countryside around.

Now, this romarcho was a lascivious fellow, and seeing the nun lying there, obviously weary and showing signs of flight and desperation, found himself drawn closer to her.

Yes, they were days of ruin. The romarcho was not an uneducated man, but the struggle and grind of the times had made lust and violence casual. He could see from her robes that she was an eight-chu* nun, wearing the Gram of the Golden Flowers of Glass Mountain. He knew, therefore, that this woman, despite her youth, was a highly illuminated person, of great purity, who should be revered for the clarity of her mind, learning and conduct. Sad to say, this circumstance only excited the romarcho more.

The nun woke up. She sensed at once what the man intended.

She gazed at him in a way that roused in him a kind of wrath, but mixed in with the wrath there was a strange joy. He didn’t need to pretend anything. He could see she understood her situation.

“You Kiyani think you are so pure!” he scoffed. “But I know differently. I know, beneath the mind, there is the body, and the body’s wants, and the body’s weaknesses, and the body’s desires.”

The nun was exhausted from her long journey, and lack of food and sleep. Still, she composed herself enough to say: “Is it the body, or the mind, knows these things?”

She drew her loose robes tighter, and tried to stand, but was too weak.

The romarcho stood over her. He was even more excited now. Her words, which seemed to offer a form of resistance, piqued him.

“Oho!” said he. “You think you are higher than me? That I am a low creature? A dirty thing? I’ll show you about the body! When I’ve finished, you will know about yourself, you will know about me, you will know everything!”

The nun realised she was close to violence and dismay. Yet, she responded calmly:

Because you do not know what you do not know, you do not know what you do know, either.

The Kiyani sect was famous for its study of the philosophy of limitations. She was quoting one of the sect’s sages.

To the romarcho, this was tantamount to a form of mockery. He winced, trying to understand what she had said, but at the same time, angry with himself for even trying to understand.

After a moment, he said:

“Well, I know what I am going to do with you!”

Then, despite her condition, he performed the first of the unspeakable acts upon her. Then, he performed a second unspeakable act.

He left her body under the tree, not even trying to hide it, or cover in any way what he had done.

Such were those days of the Clouded Era.

Shortly afterwards, only a matter of a few minutes, while he was walking on down the road, there was a sudden shower of rain. The romarcho came to a halt, and stood as the rain fell on him. His face grew hard with thought. He glanced up, blinking, into the falling rain, and wiped his face, and then looked along the road, where puddles were already forming.

He found himself troubled.

“I don’t know” he said, shaking his head. “I don’t know”.

•     •     •     •     •

*romarcho. Ro means ‘war’, or ‘battle’; Mar means ‘house’, or ‘clan’; Cho means “person”, “human being” or “individual”. Romarcho thus means, literally, “war house/clan person” – a warrior. Specifically, a romarcho is a warrior in the service of a noble clan – rather than, say, a soldier in an army.

*Chu is a measure of spiritual purity, used among the spiritual class in the Land of O. There are ten major grades of chu, and each grade is represented by a particular colour, worn as a ‘gram’, an emblem on an individual’s clothing. The nun in this story had attained the eighth gram, the Gram of the Golden Flowers of Glass Mountain, and so was considered highly illuminated. Only those people to attain ninth chu (the Gram of the Black of the Last Night of Life), or tenth chu (the Gram of the White of Snow Falling on Water) would be considered to have achieved greater enlightenment.

One should at all times strive to Purify the mind of imPurity: of the poor habits of anger, jealousy, hatred, all habits which deviate from the Pure Way and lead to loss of care and of compassion * The Way is the Way of respect for other creatures… People of the Pure Way abstain, above all, from physical violence * Violence is a catastrophic loss of respect for oneself and for others * Violence is a mistaken belief in oneself and a mistaken perception of others * A person who is violent spreads chaos and ruin through the Cascade, polluting the ancestral stream of events * To harm another person is to harm the world * Even to think of harm depletes the world | for cruel thoughts are cruel, and demean people of the Pure Way, who are the Way * If, at any moment, one is thinking an ugly thought, then that ugliness is in the world, and the world is reduced by one ugly thought * But if, at any moment, one is thinking a gentle thought, then that gentleness is in the world, and the world is enlightened by one gentle thought * Therefore, human beings should strive at all times to be Vigilant over their thoughts | for a thought is a lever upon the whole world…

If you pursue the Way, and remain Vigilant, you will maintain the Way | which is the Way of gentleness and non-engagement * You will abstain from self * This means, you will abstain from actions which depend upon the erroneous belief in a creature you call your self * This false creature supposedly possesses the quality of standing apart from, and superior to, the world * This erroneous belief in the creature of self | and the erroneous ascription of powers to this creature | is the root of all imPure thought and of deviation from the Simple Way * Therefore, wise men and women of the Way | abstain from thinking of themselves as creatures of power | standing apart from the world, with interests separate from, and superior to, the world

Consider: your heart is not your own | Your heart is inside you, but can you reach your heart? | If your heart sickens, with damaged blood or limping beats, what can you do? | You may not reach in and take out that sickened heart | or replace it with another heart | for you depend upon your own heart | and may not escape it * Is this not true? * Are you separate from your own heart? | Are you stronger than its beating? | Consider: you are clad in air | Air surrounds you, and holds you intact, giving shape to your body | permitting you life * Are you stronger than your body? * Are you separate from your own flesh? * Is this not true? * Air surrounds you, and is necessary to all human beings * You hang to a thread of air every moment of your life * Are you stronger than the air? * Are you separate from your own breath?

In the Stillness of meditation, in the Stillness of the Building which has no motion, in this Stillness you will find that you are not a creature of power | but a cloud moving through space | a spider in a sparkling web of mist | or a stream which must flow…

Do not make the error of believing there are large things and little things | or actions of great consequence and actions of no consequence * All actions are actions of the Way | and upon each and every action, the meaning of the world depends… Remember, upon each action depends the whole meaning of the whole world… For action is also the world…

It is the easiest thing in the world to deviate from the Pure Way * It is a glance, a yawn, a moment of inattention * It is the easiest thing in the world | to break a world * But it is hard, once you have left the Way, to return * And meanwhile, you will have broken a world, which will be a world of other people * It is one thing to break your own world | but quite another to break the world of other people * It is the easiest thing in the world | to break a world * But what will you do when you have broken the world? * You will find, it is not so easy to live at peace then * How do you live in a world which is broken?…

The Way is the Pure Way, the Way of compassion and of men and women being together for the sake of men and women, who are the Way of the Way * The Way is the Way of human mind, and of the serenity of mind…

Although all things move upon the Way, for human beings, who are the Way of love and compassion | the Way should be simple and straight * To guide confused men and women, there is this Book, and this Law, and this Law guards over the Way * If men and women maintain and honour the Law, those men and women will inevitably find themselves upon a Way which is simple and straight * However, should a person neglect or dishonour the Law, that person will inevitably find themselves upon a Way which is complex and crooked * To describe these men and women who neglect or dishonour the Way, we speak of “deviation”…

Deviation is to be guarded against at all times * Good conduct depends upon good principles | and the best safeguard of good principles is Purity of mind * Purity of mind will ensure Purity of action * Even if one’s mind is imPure, and one remains unIlluminated, providing one follows the rules of good conduct, then the Way will be maintained, and the consequences of one’s actions will be Pure * But if one neglects to follow the rules of good conduct, then the Way will be neglected, and the consequences of one’s actions will be imPure…

The art of animation has been a significant influence on my work. I’m interested in different kinds of animation, and in the work of creators from different cultures (the Brothers Quay, and Jan Svankmajer, for example), but it’s Japanese animation (‘anime’), in particular, to which I’m drawn.

I consider certain anime to be among the greatest works of art of recent times – beautiful and brilliant works, exhibiting a wonderful vibrancy of style and colour, developing imaginative worlds of fabulous depth and subtlety.

I hope to discuss specific anime in other posts, but first, I’d like to look at anime in general, and think about why I find the art form so attractive.

In this post, I’ll discuss anime’s means of creating artistic realities.

ANIME
1 | Style of representation | One of the things I find fascinating is anime’s mode of representing reality, and how it differs from conventional live-action cinema.

Pre-digitalisation, every frame of an anime’s narrative was drawn by hand. Drawing a human face, and then redrawing it many times over, in a chain of subtly different positions (in order to create the effect of life and movement) seems an extraordinarily primitive and time-consuming process when set against the apparent facility of using film or video cameras to capture the performances of actors. Moreover, it’s surely impossible to draw a human face and to reproduce the delicacy and complexity of actual human features?

While I don’t believe it’s quite right to say that a drawing of a human face (or any other subject) is necessarily a simplification of an original1, I think it’s fair to say that no one looking at the still from an anime would be likely to mistake a drawn face for a living, human face, or for a photograph of a living, human face. A drawing of Johnny Depp or Scarlet Johansson is noticeably different to a photograph of the same subject. We’re long past the stage where we believe that the ‘camera never lies’, but its method of reproducing an image is generally considered to be more accurate than drawing.

Both photography and drawing are artificial, but the artifice employed in the latter means of creating an image is less technologically stable, less predictable and generally more idiosyncratic than in the former. (If you were to place a camera on a tripod, before a subject – a still life – in a studio, for example, and ask 10 different people to push the button on the camera, the 10 resultant images would be very similar to each other; but if you were to ask 10 different people to draw the same subject, the results would surely vary quite considerably.) There is a kind of ‘wonkiness’ in anime, an organicity, and an undisguised presence of artifice, which, I believe, lies at the heart of its mystery.

Anime is ‘unreal’ – even an anime that follows the conventions of a realist narrative is clearly not a film of ‘actual’ people or locations. From the first instant of any anime, it’s obvious that we are dealing with a particular form of construct – something made up2. Everything – every street, building, person, animal, every cloud, every blade of grass and every tree shimmering in the breeze – is all designed and fabricated.

I’m not sure there’s a word that precisely describes this ‘self-evidence of artifice’ in a work of art. I suppose what I’m trying to get at is that we take pleasure not in the way that anime makes things look real, but precisely in how anime makes things look unreal, beautifully. For example: we can admire how an anime renders water effects, of raindrops falling in puddles, but we admire the effects precisely because we know they are (in pre-digital anime, anyway) hand-drawn. They are like rain, but not rain – whereas, in a live-action film, the images we see are records of rain (or records of simulations of rain). In one way at least, the element of construction in an anime is more obvious to us than it is when we are watching a live-action film3.

The element of fabrication, the method of creating the artwork, then, is very heightened and obvious in an anime. Fabrication saturates the images we see on the screen, and exists in a kind of emulsion, as a part of the aesthetic experience, in every molecule of the artwork.

Perhaps anime is, in some ways, more closely related to the world of puppet theatre than a contemporary, live-action film may be. In a shadow puppet production, for example, using cut-out silhouettes, artfully carved into the shapes of characters, we see the strings, and possibly glimpse the hands of the puppet handlers: the creators and performers are evident in their works. The overpowering presence of filmed media in our world makes live-action cinema particularly seductive: in certain types of film, for example, although the work may be one of fiction, using the techniques and ambience of documentary, the film-makers can blur the division between life and art, leaving us uncertain of the reproductive status, as it were, of what we are viewing. An anime could never perform the same trick on us – its artifice is announced in every instant and every frame.

In one of the episode previews to the television anime series, Genshiken, the über-otaku4, Harunobu Madarame, in a voice-over, expounds a philosophy of animation:

“Animation” comes from the Latin “anima”. In other words, its root word means “the soul”.

“Animism” is the ideal from the 19th-century anthropologist Tylor’s “Primitive Culture”, which advocates that souls reside in all things. Animation is therefore what gives movement to still pictures and breathes life into them. Namely, the power of the gods!

I find myself deeply sympathetic to this philosophy of Madarame-san’s. I’ve explored in other posts [here, for example] something of my own view of human life, and particularly my scepticism regarding any objectively stable or discreet system of value or meaning – a universe “outside” us, which we can access and upon which we can ground a definitive understanding of the world. I see all human life as a form of intervention, of creation – of animation, in fact. Both individually, culturally, and as a species, we create the world as we go along.

It is this active process of creation which, I believe, makes human life so interesting (to us, at least!). Such life is always open-ended, always on-going. Works of art, it seems to me, embody and demonstrate this process back to us – and that may be one reason we are so very drawn to things that are “made up”, which have no obvious “basis in reality”.

I find anime so appealing because, through its intense and fundamental artificiality, its inescapable playfulness, it mirrors our everyday minds in action. A human mind is less like the passive running of a video camera, objectively recording what is already there, and more like the hand-drawn animations of anime, creating everything from scratch. It is as if, as our minds work, we are producing hand-drawn images of the world each instant – millions of them, perhaps.

Madarame-san exults in the power of the animator, the otaku god who breathes life and soul into still pictures. This ‘wonkiness’, the inevitable idiosyncracy of hand-drawn, personal images, belongs to anime, and belongs to us. We animate the world with our cares and our obsessions, our laws and rituals – all the time, in every way, with thoughts and dreams, theories, values, we further animate what is already living, each producing our stories, our anime.

1 In fact, it may be a form of complication, rather than of simplification…
2 This wouldn’t be the case in, for example, a live-action documentary film. An anime documentary would offer an inescapable degree of artistic intervention, or mediation. While a documentary film is also a construct, something fabricated – involving points of view, editorial decisions, commissioning factors, financial support, and so on – it may be understood as a record of a reality. An anime depicting the same events isn’t a record, but a representation of a record, of reality. (Naturally, there are grey areas in and around these definitions – thank goodness…)
3 Again, there are grey areas in and around these definitions, but I would suggest that while a live-action film is the record of a construction (the record of actors acting out a story), an anime is a construction, or the assemblage of thousands of constructions. Anime might be described as a primary means of construction, whereas live-action film is a secondary means of construction. It is, I must admit, however, all very blurred… which keeps things interesting…
4 An otaku is usually understood to be a fan of anime, manga [‘manga’ is a Japanese term for ‘comic’ or ‘sequential art’], games and other manifestations of popular culture. The term can sometimes be used pejoratively. The anime Genshiken (based on a manga, by the manga artist Shimoku Kio) is about a university club, ostensibly devoted to the study of ‘modern visual culture’, but in which, generally, the otaku members pursue their own obsessions, and simply hang out together.