Translating a Classic: The Pillow Book, by Sei Shônagon| Kyoto JournalM ost people in Japan can reach back to their school days to unhesitatingly recite the famous opening lines of the thousand-year-old classic known in English as The Pillow Book. The sounds roll off the tongue like poetry, with the same resonance and authority that transcends mere meaning. It is written in a language that is largely quite opaque to contemporary readers, despite the years of high school study; a language that is held to be the epitome of classical beauty, the more beautiful for being more or less incomprehensible. The meaning of the text, the subject of high school study, is attained via rigorously detailed grammatical analyses that often cram the space between each line, and dissected at the bottom of the page in a lumpish literal translation into modern Japanese that makes the heart sink to read it. The Pillow Book is an extreme example of a work that has lived past its time, and attained the deathless status that writers dream of as they labour over their page or screen, transmuting their moment into moment-transcending language. Without the vividness of her personality, the words turn to dust.
The Pillow Book (Film) Summary
These notes were contributed by members of the GradeSaver community. The film is narrated by Nagiko , a Japanese model living in Hong Kong, Nagiko seeks a lover who can keep up with her sexual appetites as well as her appreciation for poetry and calligraphy. Yaji-san arranges for his apprentice to marry Nagiko. Their union is anything but happy however as her husband is actually bitter towards Nagiko, resentful at having been pressured to marrying her and disdainful of her mania for literature, ironic given his apprenticeship to a publisher. He refuses to have sex with her and refuses her body-writing fetish to her frustration. Livid, he burns the diary and this spurs Nagiko to leave him permanently.
The book was completed in the year In it she included lists of all kinds, personal thoughts, interesting events in court, poetry, and some opinions on her contemporaries. The book was first translated into English in by T. Purcell and W. According to Meredith Mckinney in the Kyoto Journal article, who contributed to the translation of The Pillow Book from Japanese into English , The Pillow Book is a special case, and it is a genre-bending miscellany of short, largely unrelated pieces.
As you can imagine, this was a different place and a very, very different time. Sei describes the seclusion of a miniature world, ensconced in the Imperial Palace in Kyoto, with occasional excursions for processions and pilgrimages. The main focus of the book is the daily life at court, where hours are spent entertaining the Empress, chatting with other gentlewomen and discussing the elaborate clothes worn by courtiers and government officials. Which may all sound a little bit… well, dull,. Other major areas of interest are the romances and night visits the women of the court receive from the men surrounding the Emperor, and our Sei is certainly a woman who has had her share of such liaisons, allowing her to offer her thoughts on the subject:. The writer excels in these descriptions thanks to her keen eye, her intelligence and her wit.
Detailed plot synopsis reviews of The Pillow Book The Pillow Book is the diary of Sei Shonagon, a courtesan at the imperial court of Japan in the late 10th and early 11th century. In her journal, Sei Shonagon describes events that happened in her daily life, e. First she writes about her life chronologically, later on she changes her writing style to topical, with paragraph headings like: Pretty Things, Children, Illness. Click here to see the rest of this review. Best part of story, including ending: I didn't like the journal very much, because of the way it is presented.