Tuesday, August 03, 2010

The big news for me in the novel "The Tale of Genji," an old novel from Japan, was that I would be reading along and the characters would be talking about something that happened, and I'd go, "Wait! When did that happen?"

I'd track back and maybe find a tiny, mid-sentence reference to the event happening, or maybe there was no reference at all to the even happening. The characters's reaction to the event was how the reader found out about the event.

That is truly interesting. That might help me understand something about the world sometime that might be useful.

I am a USA person. I know that USA people are often perceived as doing things too loudly, too obviously, too intrusively. "Tale of Genji" showed there are really other ways to be. It is not trying to be obscure, and is in many ways straightforwardly perceptable by me. But it's not a narrative where we necessarily see the event--we come in halfway through a conversation in which the event is alluded to.

That works. A person like me not used to it needs to practice another kind of alertness.

"The Tale of Genji" was probably written by, is attributed to Murasaki Shikibu, a woman, an aristocrat in the 1000's of the current common dating system. When I was reading what I read, a translation of 12 of the 54 chapters, I was having much reaction to the male hero's, Genji's, messing with women, flitting from woman to woman and such like. But I'm most likely to learn useful things not from my reactions to that but, when I got for the whole 54 chapters, how the story is told, from a thousand years ago and more than a thousand miles away.

In one of Jorge Amado's novels, there's a character who is an American woman who has lived in Brazil for years, whose so-so Portugese never gets any better, and who all the characters like. The woman like her more than the men do, partly because the story is happening in the 1930's and she knows about Freud, which is new news.

The women like hearing about Freud's ideas, which are a new way to think about what is happening inside oneself and about how people relate. The men snort.

The American woman is always asking questions about what is happening in the Brazil all around here. The author, Amado, does a great job of making it clear that if she would just be quiet and pay attention she would learn the kinds of things about Brazilian culture that she thinks she wants to know.

But she doesn't shut up. She keeps asking questions that in themselves cut her off from the society around her--the wrong questions about the wrong things.

"The Tale of Genji" is not put on planet Earth for me to exercise myself about a man of many lovers. It's partly her to help me see another way to tell a story.

The event is not described baldly as it happens. We pick up on what the even was as people talk about it. That makes sense. That's a good way to present events among humans. I wouldn't have thought of it, and here's a fifty-four chapter book, of which I have read a mere twelve chapters, to show me how it's done. And to show me other things, too, to the extent that I'm capable of taking them in.