restricted access Holy Waifs! Sages Adrift in Mori Makiko's Yellow Harlot Collection
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Holy Waifs!
Sages Adrift in Mori Makiko's Yellow Harlot Collection

In the brief essay that opens her single published volume of nonfiction, Kaze no fuku machi 風の吹く町 (The Windy City, 1977), Mori Makiko 森万紀子 (1934-1992) accomplishes at least three objectives. She identifies the Buddhist doctrine of impermanence as the philosophical underpinnings of her lifestyle and her writing. By echoing passages from literary classics that accord with her outlook, she situates herself within a long and distinguished lineage. At the same time, she incorporates several indecorous flourishes and ironic twists into a self-introduction that harmonizes with its textual models by virtue of its sincere tone and venerable but now rather banal ideas. By injecting an occasional discordant note into her reflections, she signals her desire to leave her mark on this authoritative tradition while maintaining a peripheral position within it. In this essay she writes:

I used to think that when conditions around me were dramatically shifting and changing, if I kept moving and changing along with them, I wouldn't feel disturbed by the outer turmoil. But people laughed off this way of thinking as a victim's mentality.

Anyway, all things that exist are constantly dissolving, transforming, and vanishing—a person's emotions and mental state, society's structures and value systems, and everything else. Being ever aware of this flux causes anxiety. . . . It seems to me that the best way to dispel anxiety is to grasp its true nature. . . .

The more you closely attend to the process of arising and passing away that's discernible in any phenomenon, the more you begin to see that this world is an organic synthesis of countless different kinds of cells. I've come to think that the emergence and the decline of every phenomenon in this world occur as the result of random convergences of cells that are among those countless numbers. . . . [End Page 75]

I want to approach everything in my life through this way of understanding our world, and to feel with my whole body the process of cells combining and the sounds they make as they collide and coalesce. Because the more one attends to that process, mysterious in its complexity, and the more one listens to the tremendous sounds made by those collisions, the more certain one becomes of the true nature of this world, in which everything happens as a result of chance.

When you perceive the nature of phenomenal reality, you realize that all of your previous efforts to obtain a sense of stability or peace of mind from the absoluteness or permanence of anything in this world or from anything you'd sought in another person were utterly futile.1

The title of this essay, Ōja no tanjō o negatte 王者の誕生を願って (Hoping for the Birth of a King, 1968), seems absurdly incompatible with the viewpoint elaborated in the text itself. It is not until the end of the essay that Mori discloses the reason (if not the degree of deliberate irony) behind inserting this apparently alien element into her manifesto. She states that she will continue to "pray for the birth of a king" (ōja no tanjō o inori 王者の誕生を祈り) who will enable humans to recover their original radiant essence and experience an ecstatic merger with the natural world, but in the meantime she intends to keep proceeding along the path of literature. The essay epitomizes and mirrors, in literary form, the convergence of disparate elements that Mori envisions as generating all phenomena. Moreover, it signals the author's commitment to an eclectic approach to literary production that has aspects of scientific synthesis and religious syncretism.2

The author's heartbeat remains audible through intermittent bursts of cacophony. No reader possessing a passing familiarity with Japanese literary history could read this strategically placed piece in its entirety and fail to notice basic resemblances, in tone and content, to the evocations of mujō 無常 that begin such revered works as Kamo no Chōmei's 鴨長明 (1155?-1216) Hōjōki 方丈記 (An Account of a Ten-Foot-Square Hut, 1212), Heike monogatari 平家物語 (The Tales of the Heike, ca. 1230), and Matsuo Bashō's 松尾芭蕉 (1644-1694) Oku no hosomichi おくのほそ道 (The Narrow Road to Oku, 1689...