Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Zeami

The classic work on the art of Noh is Fushikaden (The Transmission of Style and the Flower), by Zeami (1363-1443). He was an actor and playwright whose writings defined the Noh. In Zeami's view, the art of Noh was a "way," like the way of tea or the way of the sword: a spiritual practice passed from one to another that provides a guide to living. "The mind," he wrote, "is a flower"; the Fushikaden was to lead the actor to that proper mind whose end is a way of life achieved through art. The image of this transmission is the passing of a flower from one to another (made famous in an incident from the life of the Buddha, when he passed a flower to a silent follower to indicate that his teaching is beyond language). Translated by William Scott Wilson as The Flowering Spirit, Zeami's treatise is available to us in a fluid version that hints at the rigor and power of the tradition that informs classic Noh.

The subject of Noh Garden is not just "Mary Magdalene meets the risen Christ," but rather, "Mary and the other disciples discover that the spiritual life is a way rooted in the mystical." Noh Garden is a transmission of the flower, of the inner tradition of the mystical. It is not about the orthodox teachings of Christianity. The subject is empty space and time.

Here is what the translator of The Flowering Spirit says:

"Noh is a dramatic form comprised essentially of mime or role-playing, poetic chanting, and music. These three are set upon a stage that is bare except for four pillars and a painting of a large pine tree in the background....This understatement or suggestion is the essence of the drama itself. All unnecessary complications are swept away, and the primary presence before the spectator is no presence at all, but empty space and time. Thus any words, movements, or sounds--no matter how slight--take on an extraordinary significance. The hidden truth of things can be expressed only when sensual illusion is shorn away...."

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