Yosa Buson, "The morning breeze..."

Clarity, then, is seeing things stand distinct. It’s the knowledge something, someone, can be whole and independent.

Yosa Buson, "The morning breeze..."


Hi all–just one link to share with you today. I know, I know, another depressing link about politics. I promise it's important. Jonathan M. Katz in "Unthinking our way into 'progressive collapse'" talks at length about the building collapse in Florida. Honestly, if he didn't point out what a catastrophe this was, I'd have overlooked it. I've been mostly reading about the status of the various budget and infrastructure negotiations. I want to know if Congress is capable of passing anything.

What Katz focuses on is the level of delusion those in charge have about the sustainability of our way of living. He'll point out what the mayor of Surfside said shortly after the collapse, and I guarantee you won't forget it.

Yosa Buson, "The morning breeze..."

“Give me the clarity, the sharpness / of a season when things are plainly / themselves,” writes Suji Kwock Kim. Well, here’s Buson telling us of a caterpillar’s fur shaped by the breeze. I wonder. Is it a clear, sharp image where “things are plainly themselves?” Does it provide us the season we seek?

"The morning breeze..." (translation
Stephen Addiss, Fumiko Yamamoto, Akira Yamamoto)
Yosa Buson

   The morning breeze
ripples the fur
   of the caterpillar

“Clarity” holds multitudes.

I was probably most dedicated to “clarity” when brainwashed by National Review in high school. A few bullet-point arguments about low taxes or deregulation were well beyond the scope of a history class dedicated to factoids about Grover Cleveland or tariffs. National Review is and was a bad publication, but for a teenager who wanted to know what was out there, it seemed a gold mine. Film reviews referenced Kieślowski’s trilogy. A book review attacked Edward Said, and in doing so brought him to my attention. Grumpy literature professors would rant about how no one knows anything, then highlight the workings of Hemingway’s prose and his disgust at war in “A Farewell to Arms.”

Photo by NeONBRAND / Unsplash

What this created was a peculiar propagandistic “clarity.” Tradition, I felt, could encompass awareness of a variety of things. It could appreciate them and even evolve, slowly. A large part of my education since then has been wrestling with how blind and dangerous this sentiment is. I stopped reading National Review in college because a close look at how anything is actually done in law and policy reveals their hack lobbying. Their arguments work well on people who will say anything to not pay more taxes. They don’t work when you’re earnestly interested in how highways are funded or maintained, or if you’re trying to evaluate the effectiveness of UN peacekeeping.

Even now, though, I harbor a lot of bad assumptions in trying to give tradition a value it simply doesn’t have. I broke from the magazine over details about how the world worked. But I couldn’t understand the value of a classroom as a space for questions for years. A good class, for me, was one where you wrote your hand off taking lots of notes. That’s how you knew the value of what you were getting. Here, I think, the inherent conservatism of high school can’t be understated. If a high school does its job well, it is too much a safe space, too structured to grapple with reality or the value of knowledge.


All this is to say that I had “clarity,” and were I more privileged and clueless, I’d still have it. No, you say, this is not what is meant in wanting a season when “things are plainly themselves.” Sometimes we desperately need clarity. We’ve lost someone close to us; our sense of who we are has been strongly (perhaps unexpectedly) challenged. Clarity, then, is seeing things stand distinct. It’s the knowledge something, someone, can be whole and independent.

An image, nearly unmistakable. It is morning. We want to water the plants before the sun becomes too hot. A slight breeze blows, and it feels refreshing. We wonder if anything else feels the same. We look closely at a caterpillar on one of our plants, seeing its fur ripple.

I believe the whole poem, given the translation, means to frame the word “ripples.” “Morning,” “breeze,” and “caterpillar” each speak to the theme of change, but “ripples” is the actual impact of motion. This entails a remarkable clarity, seeing the smallest motion upon the smallest bug.

But is anything actually clear? There’s me, lost ideologically. And others, lost emotionally. Buson gives us a picture where big things—the sun, the breeze—generate forces we feel. It’s not necessarily destructive. The fur ripples in a pattern the breeze dictates. In that fur are ever smaller creatures, that many more worlds. This little haiku, I believe, speaks the wonder of natural order and design. If there is a natural order, the test is not whether it can be described statically, on paper. The test is whether it makes sense dynamically.

It looks, for a moment, like the small reflects the large. Mirrors it. All the same, we know we’ve cried for clarity, if we haven’t leapt into what seemed to promise it. The moment in the garden is what it is, nothing more. That’s fine. If the natural world has its order, more power to it. It can be a respite away from human problems, neither promising nor eliminating the possibility of a solution.