Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Robert Grudin and Yasunari Kawabata

I find that while reading I frequently am reminded of something similar, sometimes from another book or sometimes from a film. In this case, I was reading from Robert Grudin's book of aphorisms, Time and the Art of Living, and it brought up something from a novel by Yasunari Kawabata's Snow Country.

"1.1 In a railroad car at nightfall, when the natural light outside has diminished until it is even with the artificial light inside, the passenger facing forward sees in his window two images at once: the dim landscape rushing toward him out of a pit of darkness, and the interior of the car, reflected with its more or less motionless occupants. At this hour most passengers unconsciously give allegiance to one of these two polarities of vision; and the individual momentarily aware of both may be struck by the profound, almost tragic duality between outer and inner worlds, between the rush of experience and the immobility of awareness. The uneasy contrast implied by this image is to my mind one of the special marks of our condition, one of the tragic divorces between our lonely humanity and the pulse of nature."

Robert Grudin
from Time and the Art of Living

It is night, and Shimamura is on the train, headed for the hot springs and a rendezvous. His window has become a mirror in which he can see the reflections of the other passengers in the car superimposed upon the darkened scenery outside.

"In the depths of the mirror the evening landscape moved by, the mirror and the reflected figures like motion pictures superimposed one of the other. The figures and the background were unrelated, and yet the figures, transparent and intangible, and the background, dim in the gathering darkness, melted together into a sort of symbolic world not of this world. Particularly when a light out in the mountains shone in the center of the girl's face, Shimamura felt his chest rise at the inexpressible beauty of it."

Yasunari Kawabata
from Snow Country

I find it interesting to see the way Grudin, a philosopher, and Kawabata, a novelist, make use of the same phenomenon. While both see this as a separation of the inner and the outer worlds, Kawabata also goes one step further and blends the two "into a sort of symbolic world not of this world," while Grudin sees it as a symbol "of the tragic divorces between our lonely humanity and the pulse of nature."

Are we "divorced" from nature? Is there no possibility of a reconciliation? Henry, in the last post about Kim Stanley Robinson's The Wild Shore seems to be connected to nature. Is this what Tom Barnard meant when he said that life was better now, after the war? Does it take a war and a return to a pre-industrial state to reconnect?

One last question: Is this reconnection or reconciliation a good thing?


  1. Fred,

    Could you explain a bit more what this phrase from the Robert Grudin quote means:

    "between the rush of experience and the immobility of awareness."

  2. Cheryl,

    I believe that "the rush of experience" refers to incoming sensory stimuli or information. (the view through the window at the landscape passing by)

    The "immobility of awareness" refers to our awareness of that stimuli--that we stand back from the sensory experience and observe it without being moved by it and that, at the same time, we observe ourselves observing the sensory input.

    I think he's using the experience as a metaphor for our conscious awareness of the outside world and our self awareness--in other words, we are aware of ourselves as observers and this separates us from the natural sensory world that other creatures live in for they are part of that world, much as young children under the age of two also appear to be.