This week for my writer’s group, the topic was to imagine sitting down to tea with your wisest self and giving your less wise self advice. Letter writing was encouraged, but the verse form appealed to me most, which is not surprising. Even though my strength is not poetry, poetry has always called to me — and I do not apologize (anymore)!
Masculinity is expected to be presented and challenged in traditional epic tales. Texts that include epic journeys of their protagonists, such as The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Odyssey, and The Bible, capture challenges that call into question man’s courage, strength, intelligence, love, dedication, and more. I mean, just look at Odysseus here, rendered helpless, with the sirens encroaching:
So when I picked up the first book in Robert Jordan’s 14-book series The Wheel of Time, The Eye of the World (American, 1990), I was not surprised that this epic tale centers on a quest to purify the masculine half of the One Power, which is integral in turning the Wheel of Time.
Sanshiro by Natsume Soseki is a novel about Japanese masculinity in which Sanshiro, our hero, comes to terms with his role as a college-educated man from the country. Sanshiro is a Modern(ist) hero who develops a heightened sense of self-consciousness as a result of the industrialized and urbane environment of higher education in the city, a confusing confrontation with “unintelligible” Western literary artifacts that seem important in Japanese education, and from his indomitable fear of women. In the city, Sanshiro finds himself among flowers with “no fragrance to speak of.” The lectures that he initially painstakingly transcribes come to “neither cheer nor depress him,” and he is “quite unable to determine whether they were boring or not.” In fact, he comes to find it “strangely pleasant that he could not understand the lecture.” This period of Japanese history is referred to as a time in which “a freedom of the mind” is necessary and desirable through education. For this reason, Sanshiro reads his literature closely but “when he asked himself what he read, there was nothing. There was so much nothing, it was funny.” His journey to become an academic becomes meaningful due to its meaninglessness. Sanshiro “could not say he felt satisfied, but neither was he totally unsatisfied.” He is positioned in the lukewarm existence of a Modern hero who straddles — often confusedly — disparate states of being.