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