Ceremony & Beauty: The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon
What is it to write? What roles do ceremony, beauty, and material play in the act of writing? Not only is The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon an early classic of Japanese literature, written in the 10th century by a lady of the Heian-era court, it is also—five hundred years before Montaigne— the world's first sustained portrayal of an individual self as she lives, thinks, and feels from day to day. A genre-bending mix of poems, lists, essays, and anecdotes, Shōnagon's original work was composed on Empress-provided fine paper and expresses as much delight in the materials and physical activity of writing as in the human dramas and exquisite moments of courtly life. In this episode,Santa Fe host Krishnan Venkatesh and tutor Ron Wilson explore the power of the material conditions of writing—the handmade ink, the rare pens, the costly paper, the social culture of the highly insular court—in energizing and focusing the creator’s mind. They explore the writer's love of writing as ceremonial beyond Shōnagon to Emily Dickinson, Virginia Woolf, and poet Susan Howe, writers for whom the material conditions of writing are essential for their work. From this arises a pressing contemporary question: what has been lost in today’s digital world, where few material limitations exist?