I read Kazuo Ishiguro’s Artist Of The Floating World a few years ago. I then read Never Let Me Go which I found quietly stunning, and The Remains of the Day which was not so impressive but similarly elegant. I tried The Unconsoled but gave up after about two hundred pages. I didn’t like it at all.
I enjoyed Artist Of The Floating World largely because I didn’t understand the culture in which it was based, nor the term ‘floating world.’ I found it a very curious book. Ishiguro makes reference to the ‘pleasure district’ of a Japanese city. That too was curious. It was clear insofar as it meant bars, restaurants, tea houses, theatres, geisha and courtesans. It wasn’t clear quite what it signified as an established part of the city: not a casual term but a cultural fact. Apparently, Japanese cities were arranged as such at the time of shogun political and military power, and the country was largely isolated. You lived in one district, found the pleasure district elsewhere and, most distinctively, you referred to it as such.
The term Ukiyo-E means pictures of the floating world. It describes a particular form of Japanese printing, for which Hokusai’s The Great Wave is a well known example. It’s a genre of art. The floating world meant the world of the pleasure district. He doesn’t say it, but Ishiguro implies he is an artist of the floating world of literary fiction. The same theme appears in his other books. It’s explicit in Never Let Me Go and The Unconsoled. In The Remains Of The Day it’s more about mood and literary style. In the first few pages it felt like curling up in front of a fire, or Mum reading a story to a child. It’s not real, only transitory, but it is part of how we experience life.
Alongside the sensory meaning of the floating world, there’s a passing reference to ideas you find in Buddhism. Buddhism was never meant to be a religion. It was, and in essence still is, a philosophical and practical investigation of consciousness. One of the practices has filtered into public life, referred to as mindfulness, occasionally prescribed by doctors. ‘Mindfulness’ is a Buddhist term. You find it in old texts.
The floating world is where we live and experience life, as but one world in a metaphysical universe. The term for world is ‘loka.’ There are lots of them. Buddhist art depicts the different loka, sometimes in schematic form. The floating world hangs between a higher and lower region.
These are wonderful poetic ideas for mountain photography: one way of describing the symbolism and feeling the high places have for me. I write, quite a lot, about escaping the city and what that means. Mountains have symbolised a ‘higher region’ across traditions and for thousands of years. You see this in Japan, China, Tibet, Nepal, Dakota, Egypt, Bali and Greece. If there is such a thing as a higher region, mountains are the best symbol for it.
Rhinog Fach and Fawr Panorama
Wednesday March 9, 2016