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[DECEMBER 2023.]

Fuba Jien Considers the Passions, Again

I’m grateful to the friend who let me know that Muqi’s Persimmons and Chestnuts had been agriculturally imported to San Francisco; they stay in Kyoto otherwise, and are hardly ever on view, and I’d figured we would never cross paths. You know the large panel screens and hanging scrolls will never show up right in reproduction; I didn’t expect it from these two. Something about how the silk takes the ink, and gives it back, still. The different shades of black wash look colored. They emerge from the void and leave you in doubt about the completeness of that emergence.

Rāgarāja in the permanent collection is a tantric figure who got to Japan via Shingon. The museum lets us know he “embodies the concept that earthly desires, including carnal passion, can be a pathway to spiritual awakening,” and Wikipedia chimes in, “while it is ahistorical to ascribe a ‘gay’ self-identification to historical figures, clear examples of Rāgarāja's patronage of men having intimate sexual relations with other men appear in the historical record. Male kabuki actors placed love letters to the men they desired on the wall of Rāgarāja’s temple at Naniwa.” Thanks, Wikipedia, what other kind of kabuki actor was there going to be? In onnagata or otherwise. I remember the first time I saw footage from a Heron Maiden dance and fell in love, before reading the fine print and realizing I wasn’t supposed to... but there’s nothing appealing about Rāgarāja, he scares the shit out of me, terrifying to think of inviting all those arms and eyes into my mind.

The life-size Kamakura bodhisattva across the room, on the other hand, has been a friend for a while. They used to think it was Avalokiteshvara; now they’re not sure, but it’s still androgynous as you please, slim-chested in a draped robe, and couldn’t have been carved by someone who did not find the human form beautiful. One imagines embracing it. To embrace the bodhisattva without turning into Rāgarāja. I don’t know.

The seasonal screens one room over are always fairly well crowded with motifs, but across the way was one of those temple scenes that depict mist simply by ceasing to paint the temple... one whole panel with nothing on it but a floating line that might have been a roof, a bridge. Form does not differ from emptiness; emptiness does not differ from form. We literally chant that all the time. I don’t not believe it. Why, then, this need to fill everything up? Why not let the emptiness be? Our monk at the panel screen, she could have wept for it.

τίς σ’, ὦ Ψάπφ’, ἀδικήει;

Venus in Scorpio will task me till I’m dead, I’m sure of it, but I never seem to sting anyone other than myself.

My therapist recommended an older book on trauma, embodiment and so on. I know it’s well regarded and everything, but I haven’t caved on picking up a copy because, tragically, it’s called Waking the Tiger, has tigers on the cover, makes me feel like I’m being sold supplements by a website….

Poor awful hungry Polyphemus stumbles out of the cave clutching his ruined eye. What’s the trouble, Polly? Cue the disco beat as he starts to bellow, “Nooobody, nooobody, nooobody, nobodyyyy….”

“I guess take it off, and put it back on again?”

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