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It was a book called The Three Attitudes. In it, the woman, an educated traveller, fascinated by the differences among the three main divisions of ShiO — ZirCong, RoMayZine and SurGaKu – organised her observations of the people of the ShiO clans who, within fifty years, had started the war that would unify the whole world of O.


ZirCong | Famously enigmatic, the ZirCong seem to consider the world neither ideal nor material, but in an unresolved state, or in a state that is constantly resolving towards both flesh and idea. They despise the “world of dust”, and strive for the Dustless condition. When they speak of the body, therefore, they speak of an illusion, a “thing of dust”. Even the mind, viewed from an unilluminated perspective, is to the ZirCong a thing of dust, an illusion. It is said that they do not feel pain — or, if pain is felt, they are not ZirCong. Their bodies do not belong to them: they have cast them aside.

To the ZirCong, as with all ShiO Marks, the MarIsQuess — the “building without motion”, or the “still building”, or, more simply, “the Building” — is the state or condition reached by meditation, with each ShiO division using meditation techniques peculiar to their own culture. The ZirCong use their celebrated, mysterious “Starless Darkness” techniques to achieve MarIsQuess. This is not a state ordinary people can attain. True ZirCong are said never to leave the Building, but always to dwell within it. Suspicious of language and of the “traps of definition”, the ZirCong insist that the Building can’t be described, but must be experienced. The Building must be built, through hours, days, years of arduous meditation. In this process of building, the weak eliminate themselves, as lacking the spiritual purity to maintain their path upon the Way. The foolish, the braggarts, the impatient, the greedy, all of these types of soul can never, without change, erect the Building within themselves, but must languish and perish, stranded in “the world of dust and donkeys”.

This constant striving to found and construct the Building within themselves has made the ZirCong admired, revered, feared and, by many, hated. One informal document, which has been publicly circulated, details the ZirCong attitude as follows:

What the common people call “body” and “mind”, these are merely pathways to the Building. They are gates of dust, leading to the Dustless state. Once inside the Building, all outside and inside ceases. New relations are inaugurated: all the old buildings and languages of dust, though they continue to float in the void, and are used by the common people as the limits of their world, for the Dustless one, are errors of matter and thought, imperfect perception, the toys of innocent children. People will live and die, will age and grow sick, just as they have always done — only, if you dwell in the Building, then living and dying, aging and sickening, these are changed, and their meanings are changed. The laws of sickness, the laws of age, of living, and dying, do not apply to true ZirCong. Life, death, tall, short, weak, strong, body, mind, above, below, finitude, infinity, moments, eternity, these are all categories of a diseased and limited vision: the perfect and entire vision of the Dustless ensures serenity, even as the sword goes through you, or the cancer grips. A healthy body and a diseased body are, within the Building, the same thing: an arrangement of dust.

RoMayZine | For the RoMayZine, the body is a source of struggle, the flesh is a piece of dust that may be caught hold of, polished, sharpened, hardened, quickened, improved. Men and women, both, are encouraged to exercise and to work their bodies until they are the perfect instruments of war. Both sexes swim, box, run, vault, lift weights, perform intricate ritual dances, practise with sword, bow, spear, lance, axe, they are keen horsemen, and work endlessly on their balance and speed of reaction.

There is a RoMayZine saying: The eyes for the arrow, the arms for the sword, the hands for fists, the legs for running.

For the RoMayZine, the body is very important in their philosophy. They adore action: they love to train their bodies and spirits until they are exhausted, and then they feel a tremendous peace. When they are in movement, they are irresistible; and when they are at rest, they seem sated, complete.

Life, on all levels, is a battle for them. Their Way is through action. It is not uncommon to see lords or ladies of RoMayZine clans with facial bruises, scars, misaligned bones, missing teeth.

They are warrior clans. Obviously, during war they are much sought-after as allies. In peace, their company is perhaps less pursued. It is said, among the houses of ZonO – “Society” – that when matrimonial alliances are made, then if you are not from a RoMayZine clan, but marry a RoMayZine partner, then there is often trepidation and anticipation regarding coitus. As lovers, both men and women of RoMayZine culture, are considered unsubtle, crude, demanding. A RoMayZine woman, with her strongly defined musculature and powerful limbs, is usually physically much stronger than most SurGaKu men. ZonO consider RoMayZine men as, frankly, brutes.

Love of the body is love of the Way, the RoMayZine believe. Enjoy the body, and make it do your will. But do not become obsessed with it. At the right moment, throw it away. Nothing is better than dying in battle. At such a moment, the tree both flowers and fruits: where the fruit falls, no one can say.

SurGaKu | A subtle and educated woman of ZonO explained to me that the divisions of ShiO can be broken down, very roughly, into three qualities: ZirCong, wisdom; RoMayZine, action; SurGaKu, beauty.

It is said that the SurGaKu, so concerned with beauty, find the body troubling. The SurGaKu TanZo is the effort to render the world beautiful through meditation and the practice of various forms of art. They are highly conscious of the passage of time, and of the mutability of all things. The moment has pitched its tent at the heart of every particle of dust, the SurGaKu explain, but the tent is empty.

Put simply, while the ZirCong deny the body any effective reality, and the RoMayZine treat the body with a kind of rude pragmatism, the SurGaKu are perplexed and uneasy with their bodies. They are more prone to romance, to melancholy, to dolour. They have purified their sensibilities so that they are sensitive to tiny nuances in the human and the natural world. Conscious that all pleasure and pain is fleeting, their TanZo is haunted by loss. Loss, though, is beautiful: it is the necessary condition for the existence of the world.

Their poetry, songs, prints, paintings, all celebrate the power of the ephemeral. The body, then, is a point of sensitivity, of vulnerability, of delicacy, to the SurGaKu. They know that bodies are fragile, can sicken, can break. They admit the tidal powers of sexual desire, the sweep and sway of it. Ironically, although in many ways the most refined of the three divisions of ShiO, the SurGaKu are in some ways the most fleshly, the most prone to lapse and delirium. They value tenderness and restraint, gentleness, patience, yet can be the most explosively ill-disciplined of all ShiO.

A SurGaKu love poem, from the Era of Storms, goes:

Between the room of parturition,
and the Temple of Ashes,
between the bleeding at birth,
the fire coming to death,
my body has swung, moment by moment,
like pearl beads strung
upon a wire, made into a necklace.

That necklace, my love, you wear.
Lying on your breast, my head
rises and falls,
in time with your breathing:
at sea, the waves also rise and fall,
and beneath the surface
on the shadowed bed
young pearls are forming.


Here we sit, the mirror, my shilka doll and me.
It is still early: the moon, hardly risen, has a long way to go.

What great light upon the lake. What cheerful company.
Yet we are quiet, the mirror, my shilka doll and me.

I wonder, who will be the first to speak?


Excerpt from Dustless | Volume 20 [in preparation],
The Lover in the Snow [v]

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Dustless | Volume 1

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status | published 11 02 2013

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Men and women
take pride in their beauty,
look long in the light,
and their years are like mirrors
under permanent skies:

but boys chasing dragonflies
are lost in a moment
and their lives are too short
for pride in their flight.

Excerpt from For Pride in their Flight, Volume 15 of Dustless

Be Dustless…

Dustless | Volume 9

What fury, the storm,
the rain in violence striking down upon the lake.
The waterlilies shake, the surface of the water boils.

But then the clouds pass.
What victory has the rain won,
adding itself to still waters?

Excerpt from Dustless | Volume 18 | The Lover in the Snow [iii]

Dustless | Volume 1

In the end, what is the world but snow forming, snow falling, snow lying and snow melting? And then again, when the winter comes. There is nothing behind or beneath this: nothing beyond it, nothing within it, nothing above or before it, nothing after, nothing more. This is all: snow forming, snow falling, snow lying and snow melting. And then again, when the winter comes…

From the Snowflake Sutra

Dustless | Volume 8Excerpt from Dustless | Volume 18 | The Lover in the Snow [iii]

In winter, when I was old, so did the world seem old.
In my heart, there was a memory of you, and no more.

In a bare house, a single blossom shines.

Poem, written by his ancestor, Lady Esayoma Reku, recited by Lord Akzasosan Suli to Lady Shirosakira Kabu on the occasion of her visit to his villa.

Excerpt from Dustless | Volume 18 | The Lover in the Snow [iii]

Dustless | Volume 1

In the Sounding Horn Era, a philosopher of silence, who rose to become the Master of the Chrysanthemum School, Dijirsozin on:zaka, a man of Subtle Rank and of the Sun Mark, was reported as saying: It would take longer to fully record a life than to live one, for words do not move as quickly as things.

That is a beauty of words. That is a beauty of things.

Of course, much later, Zasojen asked: Is not a word a thing too? Why do we insist on setting words left, and life right, as if words did not take place in life, and life did not take place in words?

Excerpt from The Dwellings [ii], Volume 5 of Dustless


Re-post | Original post December 2014

From the notebook of Amza Iyaa, minor novelist of the Era of the Empty Sky:

(Terribly hungover. Zozo is a monster! Why do I always let him convince me to carry on drinking? Well, but he is the most charming among us, it must be said. I love him, whether it is sun or moon.)

So: unwritten books, and unfinished books. These are books it must be said to have a rather precarious life. They are trembling things, insects just this moment left the egg, not yet even shaken out their wings to dry. But they exist in some way, tenuous in their latency.

Next in my catalogue of books, we come to the most grim and gruesome of them all: unpublished books.

O, by all the saints of TanZo, is there a class of book more heart-breaking, more soul-consuming, more spirit-flogging, than an unpublished book?

I, by the grace of my ancestors’ Karo, have only had one or two early works rejected by publishers. (Publishers are only greedy merchants, when all is said and done, and have no ultimate attachment to art, for all their snobbery and airs and graces, their love is for quints and ekels and zarels, as is proper in any case for those of mercantile preponderance, only when they fluff about and zephyr their good taste to the public gaze, it does rather annoy me. You are only interested in money? Well, and very good! Then your books are no different, in the end, to barrels of dried fish or pots of pepper. They are products, no more, no less. Don’t pretend you care for art, my dear. Baku, for example, is such a snob, you’d think he’d written Kayza’s words for him. But this is digression.)

I have seen people crushed by their own books. At least one poor soul — Sima, the poet from Libar — I am convinced was led to suicide by the failure of his novel to find a publisher. That boy had an awful Karo, it is true, and hadn’t learned the coldness of spirit you need in this game, and one sensed something haunting him from the very first, but still, it was the rejection broke him, I am sure. And much the same might be said for poor old Maira — she was so highly strung, everyone said it, and she had debts, and Gairo treated her abominably, but she was so convinced by the quality of that last book of hers, when she couldn’t get it out, it was the disappointment took her to hang herself in the garden that night, most undeniably. (Gairo is a demon, I was told he joked about it when he heard, making a pun on her being “highly strung”. I have never liked Gairo, he has a touch of the devil E-Tzhi about him, too much ice in the heart, no one who looks that good in a mirror should really be a writer, in my opinion…)

Well, this is a most digressive entry, all digression and no argument. What I meant to insist upon is this: that the unpublished book is the one which, in general, inflicts the most suffering on writers.

I have lost count of the number of would-be writers I have met over my prestigious career. It sometimes seems that everyone is a writer of some sort or other. Why they all fight and flounder so much to give themselves the honour of this title — “writer” — is quite beyond me. All the writers I know, say that writing is a kind of gilded drudgery. The purer the writer, the greater the drudgery. The best writer I know, Dumo, is an utter slave, a donkey pulling a water wheel: she is the quietest thing imaginable, a shadow has more noise in it than she has, all she does is work, and she is the most boring company (in a wonderful way, though — she has a kind spirit, that woman). But I would take her works above those of any other writer living.

For the rest of us, though, it is a world of vanity and niggle. You struggle to make a reputation, and then you struggle to maintain that reputation. How? By continuing to write good books, of course — in the main, at least. And there it is at once: drudgery. As soon as one book is finished, you must set out on the next. Will it be as good? Is it too derivative? Should you change your style? What do the wretched critics want, who only know the limits of their own discretion, who slum through literature, stealing houses? And the public, forever chasing after the new thing? The latest thing? Well, the public want what the critics tell them, mostly, or what Baku puts on his boards or in the news-sheets. The public has no idea of quality, it is quite terrifying, the amount of vision they waste, reading fashionable vapour, convinced by Baku’s adverts that the work is “magisterial to the peak of judgement”, or “without equivalent in current days” or some such tosh. Ah, what a world, where everyone agrees a work to masterdom, but none know why! Kayza, for instance, is a prime example of this… Well! I had better not think too much of Kayza, it will only give me boils and an even more brutal headache…

Months, years, decades, even, spent on a book, writing it into life. And then, at last, it is finished. Off to the publishers it goes. No: rejection. No word of explanation: no sign they have understood your genius. More fool them! On to the next publisher. What!? No?! Another rejection. And still no sign of recognition.

Ah, dismal, dismal condition. You deliver the manuscript again. No, I’m sorry, Mr Baku is too busy to see you in person. You wait. Nothing. You hope. You wait. Still nothing. You hope. But, your belief is waning. You hope less. And when the rejection comes, it is less unexpected. Rejection, rejection, rejection. Rejection. I think I took my second novel (The Orchard With No Trees) to a whole fifteen publishers — that is to say, every house in Sahil, and by all fifteen, I was rejected. (Actually, I think Misuzomas mislaid the manuscript, rather than legitimately rejecting it, but by then, I had entirely lost heart, and I took the world’s hint — but, oh, what tantrums in my spirit! What ulcers of bitterness blown, what plots of revenge I dwelt upon! When I was successful, when my alpine genius was undenied, when people viewed me from all around, admiring me, envying me, how I would despise them down, those snobbish oafs who had dismissed my work, and so distempered me)…

Even now, years later, I can feel the burn of those rejections, when I think of them. Of course, as you get older, you realise, it is nothing personal, they just don’t think your work is any good, or will bring them in their quints and ekels. They don’t sit around, laughing at you (unless your work is truly awful, I suppose)…

Well, it is a brutal mill, literature, that grinds us all down. Even Kayza, who is a permanent sensation at the moment, is secretly ground down: those who really understand art laugh at him behind his back, mock his prose, watch the empty bubble of his achievement floating past; we know he is not so good, his style is an elegant mirage, we think it funny he seems to take himself at the multitude’s estimate, when the multitude has no real care for literature (why should they?) but only form long queues to feel themselves significant, and will swallow any trifle if it has the age’s taste to it, ignorant of what it is they consume, unable, in the end, to take a book seriously

So, perhaps they are right, after all?

Old, old complaints, I know…

Yes, a gilded drudgery. Whores, fools, slaves, thinking we are kings and queens, and perhaps even sometimes that we might share the parameters of a god. But gold is wrong. It is not gold, at the heart of it. Better than gold. Like air, but air very slightly changed. Taken from us, given back to us, slightly changed. Yes, I do think it so — this literature. Not the lions, not the hurricanes or wars, or poisons, or seductions, but a slight change to the air.

I should sleep. This morning does not agree with me.

Re-posted | Original post June 2013

From the notebook of Amza Iyaa, minor novelist of the Era of the Empty Sky:

So: there are the unwritten books. I’m sure there must be a philosophical category for such, for unrealised notions, but I don’t know it offhand, and I certainly can’t be bothered to look it up. (A writer who depends on other people’s definitions is hardly a real writer, in my opinion. And research is too pedestrian an activity, like moving goods from shelf to shelf in a shop, to be considered suitable work for a truly creative artist.)

We must grant that an unwritten book certainly possesses some life, even if it is only that of the most ephemeral inkling.

Next in my catalogue of futility come the unfinished books. Ah, a sad, sad species, one with which I am all too well acquainted: regrettably, there are a handful of such creatures lying around in my own study — too many, really, to bear thinking about.

Another vast library could be dedicated to unfinished books. And for each book, a story might be written, detailing the reasons for the failure of the creator to finish their work. The Catalogue of Interruptions — that might be its title.

Let us deal promptly with what I will call “victorious failures”. These, I suppose, are the sorts of failures Kayza has. I heard him with my own ears say, in Kasamono’s the other evening (where he was holding court in the most shameless fashion), “I got about half way through, and I thought

Aha — this won’t do at all!

But I saw straightaway what was to be done about it, and I started again, on a much stronger book”.

Typical Kayza! Why do people swallow such pompous stuff? Really, the number of toads around him, licking up his spittle, bathing in his artificial radiance! Absurd…

Well, in any case, that’s what I mean by “victorious failure” — a book that is unfinished because the writer is strong, and can see their way opened to a better book.

It’s admirable, I suppose, if irritating, the conviction of such as Kayza. A weaker writer won’t let go of a bad book so easily: it’s like a raft they cling to, even if they know (deep inside) the raft is slowly sinking. A writer’s life is generally a kind of permanent shipwreck. Mine is, anyway, and most of the writers I know are floundering about in one fashion or another, young or old, it’s the same, debts, collapsed marriages, spats, rivalries, scandal, hopeless crew, the lot of us… But their book, their precious book — well, that’s the one thing that keeps them afloat in all the turmoil, the roll and the spume. And the weak writer — young, maybe, no confidence, poor technique, loss of nerve, whatever — is much, much less likely to let go of a bad book, on which so much appears to depend, than a strong writer (or a “successful” writer, like Kayza, who are so stolid with fame and flattery and flannel and flappery, they don’t know what it means to be a real writer, anymore, I quite insist).

Who can blame them, these desperate fellows, bleeding their ink away into a useless book? That manuscript, it’s their raft. Are there any other rafts in the vicinity? No, they can’t see any. And they took so long, expended so much effort and ingenuity, such love, such dream of reputation, and it isn’t really a bad raft — is it? — so why should they abandon it? The saints of all TanZo know that everything else in their life is chaos! But at least they can stay afloat, have some hope that the next morning will bring progress, some sight of land…

Well, and so it goes on (rather like this raft metaphor), and the weak writer sticks with the bad book, revising, crossing out, re-starting, changing a name here, adding a chapter there, and generally puts such a bother of tweak and splice and hesitation into the work that it becomes merely a lamentable trail of doubt and botch and second-thoughtery, until finally they end up with a disaster that is so obvious, they are forced to give up, and accept that, for the time being at least, paid employment as a government clerk or tutor to the inane offspring of some local lordling will have to do for now, and that their masterpiece will remain unfinished for a year or so…

What writer of substance hasn’t experienced such a mess? I know I have, several times — even a writer with my polished reputation, I can freely admit, has bodged a story or two…

Another thing I overheard Kayza say was

Genius is certainty

(I’m almost entirely sure that isn’t his own invention, but something he’s borrowed from Yala Dona, but he passes it off as his own wit, and of course his entourage of poodles and creeps will hardly challenge him, or even care about so small a thing as genuine originality)…

Yes, certainty…

And he also said:

Genius is play

(he seems to have so many definitions of genius, he may as well say “genius is three pebbles one stacked on top of another”, or “genius is mud”, but of course, he is the great genius, so who will argue with him? Not I, in any manner: it is beneath me to twiddle categories with Kayza, and he knows it, too)…

Anyway, back to the core of my subject: unfinished books! They must be accepted as possessing still more life than an unwritten book. And yet, in some ways, are they not also more dead? Do they not die more completely? Their death more lingering, more terrible, more deathly? For a totally unwritten book could still, in some abstract notion, be a great book. But a failed book — I am talking about failures, here, among the unfinished — how can that be said to be great? The writer gave up on it, and left it to die. A horrible situation, really, not one I’d wish on anyone, not even “the Master of the Clouds” (wretched title! but I know Kayza likes to be called it. Really, who thinks these things up?)…

No, the more I have thought of it, the more I am certain, that an unwritten book is preferable to one half written. I know, of course, there are so many more reasons a book is never completed — from the prosaic heart attack, or being hit by a carriage, that sort of inconvenient end, to war, losing the manuscript (awful!), fire, and so on — but those books with which we fail, they die a most grisly death, in my opinion.

In fact, as I consider these things now, I grow more and more convinced that the only books that are really safe from death are unwritten ones! All the other categories of book are fated to die.

It is late, I will interrupt myself here: I am expected at the Gryso Theatre, to see the re-working of Kayda’s The Zarens. I don’t have much hope of it, it is terrible rough work, Kayda, he was a brute with all his swords and murders, probably another wasted evening, but it is a fine summer evening, and, as the poet says

to waste one hour of a summer’s night | shows the heart negligence and is a slight | upon the very spirit of a living chance…

Re-posted | Original post June 2013

From the notebook of Amza Iyaa, minor novelist of the Era of the Empty Sky:

Certain books die. This much is clear.

Certain books – many – perhaps even most? – can hardly be said to live at all. These are the books that are unwritten – the glimmers, the amusing sketches (to be worked up at a later date), the foibles of dilettantes, notes jotted down on napkins, quarter thoughts from people half awake and half asleep, ideas that seem urgent, requiring prose.

Ah, the unwritten books! Surely, the vast numbers of books published through the ages, gathered together in a mountainous heap, must still be just a flash, a quibble, a fraction, compared to the books that were never written?

What a stupendous library it would be, the one holding all the unwritten books of our world!

What a ghostly babble, those pages will contain… Such a crowd, a roar, the rustle of a thousand weak intentions, the riffling plod of a hundred million half-hearted notions…

I have run out memory, the number of people who, on finding that I am the Amza Iyaa, have told me: “Ah, I have the idea for a most splendid story!”, or “I wish I could write a book. I have often thought of writing one…”

Yes, yes

I say, moving away from them as quickly as I can

I’m sure you have it in you

although, of course, in my mind, I think: Ah, but if wishing were doing, then doing, and life in general, would be far less interesting…

— something of that kind, in any case.

Yet, who can say these unwritten books never lived at all? Certainly, they were never given the cool reality of ink; certainly, they remained stumps and visions, they were never granted articulation, their plots were never worked out, their characters were mere phantasms, schoolboy crushes, lumpy exaggerations… but, still, there they were, for those moments or days, or even years, those unwritten books, they certainly existed, didn’t they?

Isn’t it possible, that somewhere in that library of unwritten books, languishes by far the greatest masterpiece ever created?

A wonderful, wonderful book?

Re-posted | Original post June 2013

For your delight
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Dustless | Volume 1