On Tales (A Self-Referencial Passage in “The Tale of Genji”)

“I have been very rude to speak so ill to you of tales! They record what has gone on ever since the Age of the Gods. The Chronicles of Japan and so on give only a part of the story. It is tales that contain the truly rewarding particulars!” he laughed. “Not that tales accurately describe any particular person; rather, the telling begins when all those things the teller longs to have pass on to future generations– whatever there is about the way people live their lives, for better or worse, that is a sight to see or a wonder to hear– overflow the teller’s heart. To put someone in a good light one brings out the good only, and to please other people one favors the oddly wicked, but none of this, good or bad, is removed from life as we know it. Tales are not told the same way in the other realm, and even in our own the old and new ways are of course not the same; but although one may distinguish between the deep and the shallow, it is wrong always to dismiss what one finds in tales as false. There is talk of ‘expedient means‘ also in the teaching that the Buddha in his great goodness left us, and many passages of the scriptures are all too likely to seem inconsistent and so to raise doubts in the minds of those who lack understanding, but in the end they have only a single message, and the gap between enlightenment and the passions is, after all, no wider than the gap that in tales sets off the good from the bad. To put it nicely, there is nothing that does not have its own value.” He mounted a very fine defense of tales.

Excerpt from the Royall Tyler translation of The Tale of Genji”, a “novel” composed on scrolls in the 10th century, by a woman whose true name is now lost to history. This book seems to take forever to read…..

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