Nothing changes everything

There might be a scene where two people are casually talking; then, from some detail in the conversation, the characters suddenly comprehend each other’s true feelings. In that instant, action stops, actors freeze, and from stage left wooden clappers go battari! 

The two characters resume speaking as though nothing has happened; however, in the instant of that battari!, everything has changed. 

(Kabuki’s stop-start moments, described by Alex Kerr in Lost Japan.)

This came to mind recently in connection with a thoughtful blog post (here at Vivid) on the pendulum’s pause, this hiatus in Western-style civilisation. Vanessa asks: are we poised at the top of the swing, momentarily frozen before accelerating back towards a long-lost equilibrium, like some homeward-bound hero of monomyth?

Another way of looking at what’s unfolding today could be the storytelling structure called Kishōtenketsu in Japanese. Not so much the exploits of a questing hero, busily slaying demons on his mission from conflict through to resolution, but rather the interior and social experience of people navigating, one slippery rock at a time, from now to who knows where.

If monomyth is Odysseus and Star Wars, then Kishōtenketsu is Genji and Kiki’s Delivery Service. Less narrative arc, more one damned-but-illuminating thing after another. 

As in Kabuki’s stop-start moments, Kishōtenketsu hinges on the unexpected emergence of a new perspective, and the altered sense of identity it brings. Which seems a fair description of what’s unfolding today. Old certainties crack open and something different – fingers crossed something better – takes shape.

Could that something be a new relationship between our species and the rest of the natural world, a relationship in which we overthrow the myths of broken civilisation and relearn to care for human and non-human nature with all our might? Why not? But whatever it it is, we’re going to keep stumbling ahead into Gaia’s never-ending story.

Image: 18 Figures From The Kabuki Stage (Kunichika), from Toshidama Gallery

4 Replies to “Nothing changes everything”

  1. Have been agog at the inmates running the asylum on the US mainland for the last three plus years, and have paid attention much more intensely since showing up for a scan at the fancy Honolulu hospital and being locked up in the ICU with respiratory failure back in December. The Wuhan situation was already well known then to the point of having all entrants to the hospital complex being temperature screened. Never figured that any part of my journey was getting to know the doctors, nurses, and anesthesiologists in two different ICUs in two different hospitals on a first name basis.

    It appears to me that those in charge at the national level could not have done more damage to the US people had they tried.

    Remembered an old aphorism the other day that I submit is relevant: (approximately)
    “Occasionally we stumble over the truth. But usually we just pick ourselves up and carry on as before…”

    Have been mute here for what seems a long spell, wrapped up in medical appts and my certain demise if encountering this dreaded invisible COVID, having now already been kept alive twice by mechanical breathing machines. That said my chosen remote home district of Ka’u has been fortunate to have escaped this scourge until this week registering it’s first case. Am sure there will be more and have resigned myself to wearing a respirator mask until there is a vaccine, tho as they say ‘not holding my breath’.

    At the same time have been eagerly reading all posts here but especially Michelle’s last lonely three and now yours Chris. Time to get away from my issues and to concentrate on a meaningful way forward. Most of all am thankful for your expression of hope that this horrendous reckoning might lead to a general reassessment or enlightenment perhaps in considering the ways our individual and collective behaviors have brought us to this point and how we might emerge, refocused, to choose a different path forward. It is difficult to NOT be a part of the problem. First and foremost we need to see this moment clearly, this time the pendulum is still, and resolve where we go from here.

  2. Hi Richard, thanks for your comment and very glad to hear you’ve recovered or are recovering from what led to the ICU. And btw how typically Asian of Hawaii to have cottoned on so early to what was afoot, and brought in timely temperature screening. I should think it’s going to be tough work for any airborne virus to get a toehold in Ka’u – plenty of fresh, ocean-scented air there as I recall!

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