Digital Zuihitsu – Blogging and Ranting in the Information Age

Posted: June 11, 2010 in graffiti living
Tags: , , , , ,

A writer friend of mine asked me what I knew about Zuihitsu. I sent her the following link in response and told her just to google it. Luckily, she has a sense of humour. But because she’d asked me, because she wanted my opinion, and because she’d rather cleverly dangled in front of me the fact that Zuihitsu is a Japanese form of writing; my curiosity got the better of me.

So, I googled it.

Then, I had a look on wikipedia.

Let’s face it, whenever you say you’re going to ‘look into’ something these days, what you really mean is that you’re going to google it, look it up on wikipedia, and then spend the rest of your time chasing down rabbit trails until you’re distracted by the next shiny thing that grabs your attention and you’ve forgotten what you were searching for in the first place. Before you extol the virtues of wikipedia (of which there are many), or argue about its flaws (of which there are many), I just want to say in its defence that one time when I looked the wikipedia entry for the meaning of life was flagged as being ‘in need of attention from an expert on the subject.’ I’m still laughing now.

Anyway, within a few minutes I had a quick overview of the subject of Zuihitsu. A wiki-eye view, if you like. Not much, but good enough:

Zuihitsu is a genre of Japanese literature consisting of loosely connected personal essays and fragmented ideas that typically respond to the author’s surroundings. The name is derived from two Kanji meaning “to follow” and “brush”, and thus works of the genre should be considered not as traditionally planned literary pieces but rather as casual or random jottings down of thought by their authors.

As a genre largely focused on personal writing and contemplation, zuihitsu writings tend to explore issues reflective of attitudes pervasive at the time of their composition. Overarching themes, however, include the nature of aristocratic life and its faults as well as the unpleasantries of the world and its denizens. Many of the works feature instances of poetry, often reflecting on typically “Japanese” themes, such as appreciation for the changing of the seasons. Additionally, Kamakura Period zuihitsu, strongly rooted in Buddhist thought, typically contains the author’s musings on the impermanence of the material world.

Digital Zuihitsu
Given that Zuihitsu is an ancient form of Japanese writing, I was struck by its immediate and startling similarity to blogging. As well as to the mad shit that I seem to write by default on a daily basis, but have been afraid to let people read. Infact, Zuihitsu may even be THE most appropriate and contemporary form of writing for our attention deficit disordered times. Blogging is digital Zuihitsu. It also made me think about how I’ve seen Japanese artists paint with one swift brush stroke an entire picture without lifting the brush from the page – there is artistry in its immediacy, impermanence, and imperfection.

Japanese Writing
I’ve always loved Japanese writing and Japanese literature, so Zuihitsu is an interesting proposition. The first time I fell in love with the beauty of Japanese calligraphy was when I saw it written on the back of an equally beautiful naked Japanese woman. But, I digress. I can read Hiragana and Katakana, but can’t properly read Japanese books and newspapers yet because of the amount of Kanji. To the point where as I read I say, “Kanji, Kanji, Kanji” as I skip over the Kanji that I don’t know yet. And when it comes to Japanese literature, my love affair starts with Haruki Murakami and ends with Yukio Mishima, though you’d think it would be the other way around. I also keep meaning to read ‘The Tale of Genji’ as it’s often claimed to be the first ever novel, even though that’s incorrect and has been much disputed over the years. The fact that this ‘pillow book’ is considered classic Zuihitsu is yet another reason to read it.

To Blog or Not to Blog, That is The Question
We often say that we don’t care who does or doesn’t read our blogs. But if people truly don’t care about these things, then how come when they piss into the snow they always try to write their name? We are all liars who want to be read. I’ve been typing up old notebooks and basically much of it resembles blog posts in situ. Like flies trapped in amber, they’re pretty much intact, but look a little odd and are far outside of their time. Typing up old notebooks is a bit like injecting heroin into your eyeball – addictive, painful, and not very good for your eyes. Fun though! I’ve deliberated over whether or not to post some of it here – a way of clearing out the psychic debris from a lifetime of “not writing”. Two million words of not writing, as it happens. I added it all up. In one lifetime, I’ve written far in excess of 2 million words – all bad. I am seriously mentally ill 😀

I’d been so worried that my scribblings would be viewed as the ravings of a madman. That they don’t make sense and they’re not “proper stories” or “proper writing”, but no longer. Basically, I’m a basket case. Get over it. It may be word salad, but it’s MY salad.

And, of course, now I know that it’s digital Zuihitsu.

  1. […] Zuihitsu is an ancient form of Japanese writing. I was struck by its immediate and startling similarity to blogging. As well as to the mad shit that I seem to write by default on a daily basis, but have been afraid to let people read. Read the rest of this entry » […]

  2. Becky says:

    Great blog James. I love how you’ve linked blogging with the form of zuihitsu. I also love the pissing in the snow analogy 🙂

    I think zuihitsu (or commonplace books which are very similar in form, though with an admittedly less glamorous name) are what many writers produce on a daily basis without realising, and I agree they are very much a form for the modern age. That’s what attracted me to zuihitsu.

    I look forward to reading some of your salad.
    P.S. Nice choice of image!

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