Sei Shōnagon

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Sei Shōnagon by Kikuchi Yosai

Sei Shōnagon (966-1017/1025) was a Japanese author and a court lady who served the Empress Consort Teishi around the year 1000. She is known as the author of The Pillow Book (makura no sōshi).


The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon (1002)[edit]

Penguin Classics, 1971, translated by Ivan Morris, ISBN 0-14-044236-7

  • A man who has nothing in particular to recommend him discusses all sorts of subjects at random as though he knew everything. (p. 44)
  • One is telling a story about old times when someone breaks in with a little detail that he happens to know, implying that one's own version is inaccurate — disgusting behavior! (p. 46)
  • Splendid Things
    Chinese brocade. A sword with a decorated scabbard. The grain of the wood in a Buddhist statue. Long flowering branches of beautifully coloured wistaria entwined about a pine tree. (p. 109)
  • Things That Lose by Being Painted
    Pinks, cherry blossoms, yellow roses. Men or women who are praised in romances as being beautiful.

    Things That Gain by Being Painted
    Pines. Autumn fields. Mountain villages and paths. Cranes and deer. A very cold winter scene; an unspeakably hot summer scene. (p. 138)

About Sei Shōnagon[edit]

  • Sei Shonagon feels modern, almost a proto-feminist in such a paternalistic age that women at court stayed, for the most part, silent and still and available indoors all their lives. She said much, and she said two electrifying things from the still darkness of her domestic prisons. She said them of course very much in her own way, but she said there were two things in life that were absolutely essential, and life would be unbearable without them: the sensuous body and literature. My crude summation would be sex and text. Both have the X factor. She said them with longing and her longing stayed with me.
    • Peter Greenaway in "105 Years of Illustrated Text" in the Zoetrope All-Story, Vol. 5 No. 1.
  • It is a loose book, impressionistic, hardly coherent as a continuous narrative. It is full of descriptions of court life, and the retelling of court gossip and descriptions of fashionable shrines and how to get there by the most elegant means. It is a piece of writing replete with those typical Japanese wistful and melancholic evocations of ephemerality. It was written a thousand years ago almost exactly to the year the film was made, and it was written by a woman. To be literate a thousand years ago in the West was pretty uncommon; to be literate and a woman, very unlikely; to be literate, female, and quite brilliant, a well-nigh Western impossibility.
    • Peter Greenaway on The Pillow Book in "105 Years of Illustrated Text" in the Zoetrope All-Story, Vol. 5 No. 1.

External links[edit]

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