“When composing a verse let there not be a hair's breadth separating your mind from what you write; composition of a poem must be done in an instant, like a woodcutter felling a huge tree or a swordsman leaping at a dangerous enemy.”
Matsuo Basho (the English version: Makoto Ueda)
From some points of view, the process of the haiku transformation casts light upon the challenges and problems that the Japanese society faced with respect to customs, language, tradition and, maybe, other societies are facing the same problems these days.
Fredric Jameson, who[,] in 1972 published The Prison-House of Language, explained the image of Western culture in relationship with the political and the economic sphere, drawing a stylistic and ideological route beginning with realism, modernism and postmodernism. He demonstrated that, from various perspectives, a literary work can be used/ interpreted from the political point of view (reconstructed like a symbolic act that invents imaginary/ formal solutions for insoluble tensions at a certain historic moment) as well as from the social point of view. In his opinion, the markets globalization and “the triumph of capitalism” have among other consequences seen the collapse of the modern division between the social spheres: the cultural aspects turned into the economic ones, the economic and political aspects turned into “the so many cultural forms”. This doing away with limitations represents the beginning of postmodernism.
The Japanese situated their identity with respect to The Occident, being compelled, they say, to invent “social-political terms for modernization’s sake”, a term meant to render the meaning of the Occidental self, “a necessary precursor of the political concepts of freedom…rights” and, before discussing Who am I , to explain the self concept . There are treaties that reveal, at certain moments in time, the contribution of the translation/ of other languages to the development of the Japanese language; it is also common knowledge that the Japanese have a great capacity in assimilating the Western vocabulary/ culture.
Angela Loo Siang, by re-translating some sentences by different people from English into Japanese and vice versa, revealed that there can be significant differences in approach that can lead to distortions. Sometimes, the syntactical ambiguities are not defining, but they also point out the cultural differences. While studying any language, in Silverstein’s opinion one can face the danger of mixing “the native linguistic ideologies” with the language analysis itself and, I would say, by referring to the cultural background. There are also debates over the relationship language/ linguistic interpretation - reality/ thinking/ culture, typological contextualization, influence upon the comparative study of the languages. The study of these complex relationships revealed how/ if/ how far can one go while making an analysis at the semantic, conceptual level?
The tradition-modernity debate is not new. As far as haiku is concerned, it originated in the epoch of Masaoka Shiki. In some critics’ opinion, haiku must remain in the traditional universe with no cars or modern objects; it must deal with nature and human emotions, whereas other critics required an anchorage in “a reality”. Some of them accept punctuation; others think that punctuation marks should be as few as possible. Other critics say that, actually, they are replaced by the Japanese through kireji (caesura).
In Toynbee’s opinion, the non-Occidental peoples will end by “being part of the Occidental history of our past in a future world that will be neither Occidental nor non-Occidental, but which will inherit all the cultures that we, the Westerners, mixed them up in a single melting pot.” Maybe haiku is a more special “sensor”, and the changes it is undergoing recall the changes of each and every place.
Westerners often have problems when they read an Asian text. The translation objective must be, from the linguistic point of view, the acquisition of the total sum of the significations/ symbols by means of another language, reaching the shore of the lexical calculation, as well as revealing a sort of lexical creativity. Linguistic permeability, namely the availability of a certain language of accepting the transfer of some structures into another one, can lead to the low points – structures that present some missing parts as concerns the global expressive possibilities in which the linguistic transfer is favored by the incompleteness of the paradigms existing just like that. The Asian languages raise problems of translation in the Occidental languages, not completely solved all the time. Sometimes, one makes use of Occidental terms like: folklore, religion etc. when the Asian culture, traditions, customs are being analyzed. These definitions are not always the most appropriate ones. For instance, folklore: in Thailand (as well as in other countries) an explicit term is being looked for: khatichonwitthaya: the study of the life styles in accordance with the customs of the ethnic groups, praphenii saat/ the customs science, proposed by Phya Anumanrajadhon, or khatichaoban (the life style of the natives from ancient times). While analyzing the history of Japanese literature, one must know that its evolution was not dictated by the same laws as those existing in Europe - there were not the same literary currents, the same debates over the same themes, although there were certain similarities.
But are the Japanese and Romanian criteria of analysis alike? In the opinion of Edgar Papu, (1908-1993), an authority in comparative literature studies, a poet rallies to the set of the universal values experiencing 3 stages: 1. he enriches, improves some of the existing expressions that have been expressed in a less consummate style (Eminescu enriched Romanticism; the greatest poet of the far away category – projecting its dimensions in the infinite of the genesis space and time, originating with Novalis; his contribution to Romanticism was an inversion of the cosmos-human being relationship); 2. he introduces new elements (for example: the transition from the first attempts to objectify Romanticism to Neoromanticism; contribution to the significance of the sweet category, borrowed from Lamartine, including longing too etc.); 3. precursor of some anticipatory germs (Oda în metru antic/ Ode in ancient meter: he develops an existential dialectics; national-universal relationship is being analyzed by Lucian Blaga too, a complex, unique Romanian personality: great poet, thinker, he elaborated a philosophical system, (he was well-known as dramatist, essayist, journalist and memorialist too). (We see here another question: could a Romanian (British, German, American and so on) haijin rally to the set of the universal values? Could he, writing haiku, a foreign genre of poetry, become a voice of his people? Is a proposal like that to create local kigo good enough to make it easy?)
The history of the poetry forms (of its internal structures, from Edgar Papu’s point of view, The Evolution and the Forms of the Lyrical Genre, and of its external structures as well, of the poetry theory – rhyme, rhythm, stanza etc.) mainly coincides with the history of poetry itself. Regardless of the fixed adopted form (quatrain, ghazel, rondel, acrostic, sonnet, haiku etc.) Romanian poetry proved to have a capacity for assimilation. But, although some fixed forms have been defined/ eulogized in various ways (the sonnet: “sacred event”, “revealing communion”), denied/ contested etc, they are related to the poetry technique, they stand for poetry. Paul Valery, for instance, wrote that the sonnet makes the reader “treat the form and the content as equals”. Following the road of the poetry history, but forging its own history, the fixed forms are indissolubly linked to the tensions/ seism/ general arts problems. The troubadours used a great number of prosodic forms, stimulating the improvement of the expression means. The canon involves discipline, refinement – thus one gets to the point in modern art. Maybe one of the globalization changes has to do with the way in which modernism and postmodernism spread. Jameson considered postmodernism to be “the cultural logic of late capitalism”. These ones, originating in the Occident, influenced literature to such a great extent that the statute of poetical fixed forms was re-analyzed, while poetry underwent some changes too, during the decades, in some critics’ opinion in a natural way, in some others’ in an inappropriate one. Are things different as far as haiku is concerned? The haiku changes mainly involve two aspects that can not be left out: 1. formal, technique, 2. a more important thing, it refers to an issue of a different nature–through internationalization, the changes illustrated by this background (of progress/ history), haiku can be representative for yamato spirit or… shall we leave it out?
Critics wrote about the lack of “a general poetics of the fixed forms”, with reference to the idea that the fixed form concept “is of the age of the humankind culture”. Form/ formalism should be understood as a diachronic manifestation of the doctrines/ ideas/ ideologies of the epoch, but, at the same time, as an ideology/ an ideological means of decanting certain aspects related to the order surpassing the language. Fixed forms represent ways of application from the aesthetic point of view as well as the social/ political aspects (in Counter-reform there are developed poetical forms like the theology “coat”). Originating with Plato, through suggestive historical stages, the search/ the concern for the fixed forms comes to define the European area as a mentality element. Leaving formalism out is another topic. Just like the substance/ motivations/ the social role, the dissemination area of the fixed forms in poetry (and if we try to assess it within the limits of a national language/ literature), in comparison with Asia – including the Persian-Arab region. One can talk about European regions (medieval Sicily, Petrarca’s Florence, France or England), until the end of the 17th, 19th and 20th centuries, when poetry was undergoing some changes in close connection with the poetical speech of experimental type.
To resume the haiku theory, there is a series of questions to be asked: “the modernization” has to do with the form/ the content/ the alteration of the relationship with the tradition or/ and has to do with the danger of breaking the special tie with the Japanese soul? How long can it “bear” all the changes in order that it may avoid such a thing as destructive accumulation? Does its internationalization affect the relationship with the yamato spirit?
The specialists’ comparative analyses revealed the fact that the reception of any literary text (especially a foreign one, but not only), is often a tributary to the field of the political, philosophical, religious and aesthetic concepts. Joseph Jurt promoting the idea of the reception sociology/ Rezeptionssociologie. One could discuss the haiku case from this point of view too. In Romania as in other countries of the world, haiku was taken over especially as a fixed form poem – namely with reference to the form first, all the other elements regarding the internal texture being approached (part of them even understood) subsequently. It is possible that we may not discuss the haiku case according to all the canons the Japanese observe (or they are supposed to observe) in any regions of the world, if we are to evaluate things stricto senso, starting from the multiple differences that the elements of the civilizations’ grammar involve. Haiku represents a cultural product belonging to a specific culture, with all the things that characterize it, going beyond the borders, the road (with or without kigo, kidai etc.) being spectacular, full of obstacles and rather “unpredictable”.