2015-01-26

Kemono-sumi

Tom Mazanec has started "a new series of blog posts called Sidestreets."

These are the extraneous historical and cultural details that I come across on a daily basis but contribute nothing to the arguments I develop in my research. They are the shiny little nuggets of ordinary rock that are sifted out when you pan for gold. They are all the roads not taken because they probably lead to dead ends.

The first post is about "ash animals." I realized after posting my comment there that these turn up in the (ca 1000 CE) Wakan Rōeishū 和漢朗詠集 too, in a Chinese poem in the "Fireplace" (炉火) section by Sugawara no Sukeaki 菅原輔昭, one of the Thirty-Six Heian-era Immortals of Poetry (中古三十六歌仙, not to be confused with the original Thirty-six Immortals of Poetry):

多時縱酔鴬花下。近日那離獣炭辺。
I may have been drunk beneath the nightingales and flowers on many occasions/ But how could I depart from my place by the ash animal these days?

The ash-animal here is understood not just to be for warmth, but also for warming up drinks. (Side-note: Given the Japanese reading sumi, in Japan at least they were probably understood to be made of charcoal rather than ash, but I'll stick with Tom's terminology.) Kōda Toshio 甲田利雄's 1987 edition of the Gōdanshō, which also contains this poem, includes a note alongside it (p 413): "獣炭羊琇所作也". This more or less means "Ash animals: as made by Yáng Xiù", explicitly linking this poem to precisely the criticisms of Yáng mentioned by Tom. Not to make a point about inequality, mind you — just so that we realize that Sugawara is actually heating up some booze in the second line there. (The WR was a collection of poems to be sung by the literate elite of Heian Japan — not a group overburdened with egalitarian ideals.)

In other words: as much as he enjoyed drinking outside in spring, by winter Sugawara was a slave to the ash animal. Pretty much the kotatsu of Heian Japan, then.

2015-01-23

Especially the syncopations

The Pali Text Society has let A. K. Warder's Pāli Metre fall out of print, and are now offering it in PDF format instead: here.

§30. The standpoint of the present work is more independent of the traditions of Greek scholars than these other contributions, or those of Helmer Smith, have been. There appears to be no reason to suppose that the Indian rhythms had any special resemblance to the rhythms of Greek metres. On the contrary the impression of the present writer is that those Western scholars with a Western Classical education who read, for example, ("Classical") Sanskrit poetry according to the habits of scansion they acquired when studying Greek poetry, thereby destroy the beauty, the variety and especially the syncopations of the Indian rhythms. Indian scholars do not recite Sanskrit poetry in that manner. Their renderings encouraged the present writer to follow his inclination as a music lover (with more training in music, Western and Indian, than in Greek and Latin), fascinated by what appeared to him to be the musical rhythms of, in particular, akṣaracchandases ("fixed syllabic" metres), to take the Sanskrit patterns in a strictly "measured" manner. Instead of reducing them to the regular feet of Greek metrics, through anceps, "drag" and the like, he thus realized an immense variety of different rhythms. If the scansion of all these akṣaracchandases should be limited to a few trochaic, dactylic, etc., patterns as in Greek, why are there so many of them in regular and carefully contrasted use?

(For a less exhaustive overview of the topic, try Ven. Ānandajoti's Outline of the Metres in the Pāḷi Canon.)

2015-01-22

Deer

Today I read Ōno Yasuhiro 大野雍煕's "Man'yōshū to kosenryū bungei ku", an article about early literary senryū (as opposed to senryū about daily life, love, etc.) that refer to the Man'yōshū. This is the funniest example it records.

The Man'yōshū poem referred to is #1511, in volume 8:

暮去者 小倉乃山尓 鳴鹿者 今夜波不鳴 寐宿家良思母
yupu sareba/ wogura no yama ni/ naku sika pa/ koyopi pa nakazu/ inenikyerasi mo

It is attributed to Emperor Jomei (593-641), and because it is so famous I can offer you three different translations (thanks, Google Books!):

  • The deer at Ogura Mountain, which cries when evening arrives, appears to have fallen asleep without crying (Shirane: 29)
  • The deer in Ogura Mountain cry, when the evening comes, but they are not crying tonight, so they have probably gone to sleep (Frellesvig: 117)
  • The deer that cry/ On Ogura when evening falls/ Have not cried out/ Upon the mountain slopes tonight—/It must be they have gone to sleep (Cranston: 165)

And here is the senryū parodying it:

妻を乞ふ 鹿に寝兼る 嵯峨の奥
tsuma wo kou/ shika ni nekanuru/ Saga no oku
Can't sleep for deer crying for a mate:/ Outer Saga

Ōno acknowledges that there are several other well-known poems about deer calling at night, but still believes that this refers to the MYS poem in particular (or the closely related #1664), I suppose because of the shared reference to a specific place.

Works cited

  • Cranston, Edwin A. A Waka Anthology: Volume One: The Gem-Glistening Cup. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993.
  • Frellesvig, Bjarke. "On the interpretation of written sources as evidence for the phonology of earlier language stages - with special regard to the reconstruction of early Old Japanese." Copenhagen Working Papers in Linguistics 4 (1996): 97-130.
  • Ōno, Yasuhiro 大野雍煕. "Man'yōshū to kosenryū bungei ku" 万葉集と古川柳文芸句. Man'yō to sono dentō 万葉とその伝統. Ed. Ōkubo, Tadasi 大久保正. Tokyo: Ōfūsha, 1980. 342-369.
  • Shirane, Haruo. Japan and the Culture of Four Seasons: Nature, Literature and the Arts. Chicago: Columbia University Press, 2013.

2015-01-20

New old book site

Nihon no Furuhonya ("Used Bookstores of Japan"), the giant search engine run by the Japanese Association of Dealers in Old Books, has been given a facelift. It looks great, even if it did come at the cost of everyone's watchlists. (They let us download them in CSV format beforehand, but I bet a lot of people didn't notice the warning and are quite unhappy right now.)

Things were a bit dicey for a few hours on Monday, but I didn't mind because thanks to those problems I discovered their wonderfully human Twitter account, @koshojp. "I don't know anything about the site update, to be honest," (わたしもリニューアルについては、正直さっぱりわからぬといっていいくらい) they admitted just before noon. A few hours later, it was "I- I can't connect to the site..." (さ、サイトに接続できない…). All hashtagged!

I found this completely charming in a way that a slick, polished "social media strategy" could never be, although admittedly I might have felt differently if I were a book dealer whose livelihood was being affected.

2015-01-19

Bring back footnotes

As languagehat notes, the Murty Classical Library of India has published its first five books. The MCLI has a whole page about design and typography, and indeed the pages are clean and beautiful. But I am writing this post to argue that some of that beauty comes at the expense of function. Specifically, I think they should use footnotes instead of endnotes.

Check out the sample page spread for Charles Hallisey's translation of the Therīgāthā. It's beautiful, and I can confirm that it looks even better in person. So crisp! So clean! And yet...

Look at the Pali text on the left. Note 1 observes that verse 19 is the same as verse 82 later in the book. Note 2 reports that the Pali Text Society edition of the text has the variant reading "jentī" for "jentā". And so on. This is useful information — but is it really best hidden away on page 243 at the end of the book? Wouldn't it be easier to grasp the import of notes about the text if they were on the same page as the text? Putting these notes in a footer would actually make the text itself cleaner, since you could just refer to line numbers instead of marking affected words.

In the translation on the right, notice is that both "Your" and "I" are endnoted. In fact, the first word of every poem-group is endnoted to a summary of what Dhammapāla's commentary on the Therīgāthā says about the author of that group. I appreciate the inclusion of these mini-biographies, but what a kludgy way to do it! Footnoting the first word is tolerable when that word is "Your" and "I", but when a poem-group starts with "After" or "Furrowing", the arbitrariness of the system is painfully apparent. This is endnoting gone horribly wrong.

In fact, let's go further: Why not put this information right there on the page, instead of hiding it at the end? There's already some information from the commentarial tradition rather than the text there ("Spoken by the Buddha to her as instruction" and so on); it wouldn't hurt to add more in a suitably humble point size. And again, in that case you would need actual notes hanging off other words at all. The page would be cleaner.

Footnotes also give translators options. I don't want to criticize Hallisey's inclusion of etymological information about names in extra lines prepended to the relevant poems ("Your name means..."). He explicitly mentions the system in his introduction and sets the line off from the rest of the text; no harm done, and on the same page as the poem itself is a better place for the information than at the back of the book. But if footnotes were also allowed, that would open up a third way, a compromise that allows extra information on the page but not in the poems, and that might be just what some projects need.

Clean and simple is beautiful. A clear eye-path from A to B is pleasant. But these are facing-page translations. Their use case is slow, meandering consumption, with the attention drifting back and forth from source to target. Adding a few extra stops in the form of same-page footnotes isn't going to do any harm, and could do a lot of good. Let's stop the madness.

(All this goes for the MCLI's two footnote-free sister series, the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library and the I Tatti Renaissance Library, too, by the way. Some of the volumes in the DOML don't even signal that there are endnotes — no numbers, no symbols, nothing. You just have to flip to the back and try your luck. I find this more distracting, myself, since it means I'm constantly flipping back and forth to make sure I haven't missed anything.)

2015-01-16

Moral decay and sordid criminality

An endorsement from the back cover of Tim Flannery's The Birth of Melbourne:

'Fascinating...lifts the curtain on the respectable facade of Marvellous Melbourne to reveal it as more of a boom-and-bust frontier town...a tale of dispossession, slaughter and environmental destruction inflicted so swiftly through greed and mismanagement that it almost beggars belief. It is a story of moral decay and sordid criminality.'

At this point you're nodding gravely: dispossession, slaughter, sordid criminality — sounds about right for early Australian history. But then you notice the byline:

Sydney Morning Herald

And suddenly the whole preceding paragraph looks like two scruffy boys in a trenchcoat, one sitting on the other's shoulders so as to imitate an adult, testifying gravely in the witness box that Bugs O'Leary did indeed steal Old Lady McCourt's prize petunias.