Kabuki theater

Kabuki (歌舞伎) is a classical Japanese dancedrama. Kabuki theatre is known for the stylization of its drama and for the elaborate make-up worn by some of its performers.

The individual kanji, from left to right, mean sing (), dance (), and skill (). Kabuki is therefore sometimes translated as “the art of singing and dancing”. These are, however, ateji characters which do not reflect actual etymology. The kanji of ‘skill’ generally refers to a performer in kabuki theatre. Since the word kabuki is believed to derive from the verb kabuku, meaning “to lean” or “to be out of the ordinary”, kabuki can be interpreted as “avant-garde” or “bizarre” theatre.[1] The expression kabukimono (歌舞伎者) referred originally to those who were bizarrely dressed. It is often translated into English as “strange things” or “the crazy ones”, and referred to the style of dress worn by gangs of samurai.

In 2005, the Kabuki theatre was proclaimed by UNESCO as an intangible heritage possessing outstanding universal value. In 2008, it was inscribed in the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.[2]


1603–1629: Female kabuki

The earliest portrait of Izumo no Okuni, the founder of kabuki (1600s)

The history of kabuki began in 1603 when Izumo no Okuni, possibly a miko of Izumo-taisha, began performing a new style of dance drama in the dry riverbeds of Kyoto. It originated in the 17th century.[3] Japan was under the control of the Tokugawa shogunate, enforced by Tokugawa Ieyasu.[4] The name of the Edo period derives from the relocation of the Tokugawa regime from its former home in Kyoto to the city of Edo, present-day Tokyo. Female performers played both men and women in comic playlets about ordinary life. The style was immediately popular, and Okuni was asked to perform before the Imperial Court. In the wake of such success, rival troupes quickly formed, and kabuki was born as ensemble dance and drama performed by women—a form very different from its modern incarnation. Much of its appeal in this era was due to the ribald, suggestive themes featured by many troupes; this appeal was further augmented by the fact that the performers were often also available for prostitution.[1] For this reason, kabuki was also called “遊女歌舞妓” (prostitute-singing and dancing performer) during this period.

Kabuki became a common form of entertainment in the ukiyo, or Yoshiwara,[5] the registered red-light district in Edo. A diverse crowd gathered under one roof, something that happened nowhere else in the city. Kabuki theaters were a place to see and be seen as they featured the latest fashion trends and current events. The stage provided good entertainment with exciting new music, patterns, clothing, and famous actors. Performances went from morning until sunset. The teahouses surrounding or connected to the theater provided meals, refreshments, and good company. The area around the theatres was filled with shops selling kabuki souvenirs. Kabuki, in a sense, initiated pop culture in Japan.

The shogunate was never partial to kabuki and all the mischief it brought, particularly the variety of the social classes which mixed at kabuki performances. Women’s kabuki, called onna-kabuki, was banned in 1629 for being too erotic.[6] Following onna-kabuki, young boys performed in wakashū-kabuki, but since they too were eligible for prostitution, the shōgun government soon banned wakashū-kabuki as well.[6] Kabuki switched to adult male actors, called yaro-kabuki, in the mid-1600s.[7] Male actors played both female and male characters. The theatre remained popular, and remained a focus of urban lifestyle until modern times. Although kabuki was performed all over ukiyo and other portions for the country, the Nakamura-za, Ichimura-za and Kawarazaki-za theatres became the top theatres in ukiyo, where some of the most successful kabuki performances were and still are held.[4]

1629–1673: Transition to yarō-kabuki

The modern all-male kabuki, known as yarō-kabuki (young man kabuki), was established during these decades. After women were banned from performing, cross-dressed male actors, known as onnagata (“female-role”) or oyama, took over. Young (adolescent) men were preferred for women’s roles due to their less masculine appearance and the higher pitch of their voices compared to adult men. In addition, wakashū (adolescent male) roles, played by young men often selected for attractiveness, became common, and were often presented in an erotic context.[8] Along with the change in the performer’s gender came a change in the emphasis of the performance: increased stress was placed on drama rather than dance. Performances were equally ribald, and the male actors too were available for prostitution (to both female and male customers). Audiences frequently became rowdy, and brawls occasionally broke out, sometimes over the favors of a particularly handsome young actor, leading the shogunate to ban first onnagata and then wakashū roles. Both bans were rescinded by 1652.[9]

1673–1841: Golden age

Oniji Ōtani III (Nakazō Nakamura II) as Edobee in the May 1794 production of Koi Nyōbo Somewake Tazuna

The two Kabuki actors Bando Zenji and Sawamura Yodogoro; 1794, fifth month by Sharaku

During the Genroku era, kabuki thrived. The structure of a kabuki play was formalized during this period, as were many elements of style. Conventional character types were established. Kabuki theater and ningyō jōruri, the elaborate form of puppet theater that later came to be known as bunraku, became closely associated with each other, and each has since influenced the other’s development. The famous playwright Chikamatsu Monzaemon, one of the first professional kabuki playwrights, produced several influential works, though the piece usually acknowledged as his most significant, Sonezaki Shinjū (The Love Suicides at Sonezaki), was originally written for bunraku. Like many bunraku plays, it was adapted for kabuki, and it spawned many imitators—in fact, it and similar plays reportedly caused so many real-life “copycat” suicides that the government banned shinju mono (plays about lovers’ double suicides) in 1723. Ichikawa Danjūrō I also lived during this time; he is credited with the development of mie[10] poses and mask-like kumadori make-up.[11]

1842–1868: Saruwaka-chō kabuki

Male actors played both female and male characters.[4]

Brooklyn Museum – Kabuki Scene (Diptych) – Hokushu

In the 1840s, fires started to affect Edo due to repeated drought. Kabuki theatres, traditionally made of wood, were constantly burning down, forcing their relocation within the ukiyo. When the area that housed the Nakamura-za was completely destroyed in 1841, the shōgun refused to allow the theatre to be rebuilt, saying that it was against fire code.[7] The shogunate did not welcome the mixing and trading that occurred between town merchants and actors, artists, and prostitutes. The shogunate took advantage of the fire crisis in 1842 to force the Nakamura-za, Ichimura-za, and Kawarazaki-za out of the city limits and into Asakusa, a northern suburb of Edo. Actors, stagehands, and others associated with the performances were forced out as well. Those in areas and lifestyles centered around the theatres also migrated, but the inconvenience of the new location reduced attendance.[4] These factors, along with strict regulations, pushed much of kabuki “underground” in Edo, with performances changing locations to avoid the authorities.

The theatres’ new location was called Saruwaka-chō, or Saruwaka-machi. The last thirty years of the Tokugawa shogunate’s rule is often referred to as the Saruwaka-machi period. This period produced some of the gaudiest kabuki in Japanese history.[4] The Saruwaka-machi became the new theatre district for the Nakamura-za, Ichimura-za and Kawarazaki-za theatres. The district was located on the main street of Asakusa, which ran through the middle of the small city. The street was renamed after Saruwaka Kanzaburo, who initiated Edo kabuki in the Nakamura Theatre in 1624.[4]

European artists began noticing Japanese theatrical performances and artwork, and many artists (for example, Claude Monet) were inspired by Japanese wood block prints. This Western interest prompted Japanese artists to increase their depictions of daily life including theatres, brothels, main streets and so on. One artist in particular, Utagawa Hiroshige, did a series of prints based on Saruwaka from the Saruwaka-machi period in Asakusa.[4]

The relocation diminished the tradition’s most abundant inspiration for costuming, make-up, and story line. Ichikawa Kodanji IV was one of the most active and successful actors during the Saruwaka-machi period. Deemed unattractive, he mainly performed buyō, or dancing, in dramas written by Kawatake Mokuami, who also wrote during the Meiji period to follow.[4] Kawatake Mokuami commonly wrote plays that depicted the common lives of the people of Edo. He introduced shichigo-cho (seven-and-five syllable meter) dialogue and music such as kiyomoto.[4] His kabuki performances became quite popular once the Saruwaka-machi period ended and theatre returned to Edo; many of his works are still performed.

In 1868, the Tokugawa shogunate fell apart. Emperor Meiji was restored to power and moved from Kyoto to the new capital of Edo, or Tokyo, beginning the Meiji period.[7] Kabuki returned to the ukiyo of Edo. Kabuki became more radical in the Meiji period, and modern styles emerged. New playwrights created new genres and twists on traditional stories.

Kabuki after the Meiji period

The November 1895 production of Shibaraku at Tokyo Kabukiza theater

Beginning in 1868 enormous cultural changes, such as the fall of the Tokugawa shogunate, the elimination of the samuraiclass, and the opening of Japan to the West, helped to spark kabuki’s re-emergence. As the culture struggled to adapt to the influx of foreign ideas and influence, actors strove to increase the reputation of kabuki among the upper classes and to adapt the traditional styles to modern tastes. They ultimately proved successful in this regard—on 21 April 1887, the Meiji Emperorsponsored a performance.[12]

After World War II, the occupying forces briefly banned kabuki, which had strongly supported Japan’s war since 1931;[13]however, by 1947 the ban had been rescinded.[14]

Kabuki today

The immediate post–World War II era was a difficult time for kabuki. Besides the war’s physical devastation, many rejected the styles and thoughts of the past, kabuki among them.[15] Director Tetsuji Takechi‘s popular and innovative productions of kabuki classics at this time are credited with bringing about a rebirth of interest in kabuki in the Kansai region.[16] Of the many popular young stars who performed with the Takechi Kabuki, Nakamura Ganjiro III (b. 1931) was the leading figure. He was first known as Nakamura Senjaku, and this period in Osaka kabuki became known as the “Age of Senjaku” in his honor.[16]

Today, kabuki is the most popular of the traditional styles of Japanese drama—and its star actors often appear in television or film roles.[17] For example, the well-known onnagata Bandō Tamasaburō V has appeared in several (non-kabuki) plays and movies, often in a female role. Kabuki appears in works of Japanese popular culturesuch as anime. In addition to the handful of major theatres in Tokyo and Kyoto, there are many smaller theatres in Osaka and throughout the countryside.[18] The Ōshika Kabuki troupe,[19] based in ŌshikaNagano Prefecture, is one example.[20]

Some local kabuki troupes today use female actors in onnagata roles. The Ichikawa Shōjo Kabuki Gekidan, an all-female troupe, debuted in 1953 to significant acclaim but failed to start a new trend.[21]

The introduction of earphone guides in 1975,[22] including an English version in 1982,[22] helped broaden the art’s appeal. As a result, in 1991 the Kabuki-za, one of Tokyo’s best known kabuki theaters, began year-round performances[22] and, in 2005, began marketing kabuki cinema films.[23] Kabuki troupes regularly tour Asia,[24]Europe[25] and America,[26] and there have been several kabuki-themed productions of canonical Western plays such as those of Shakespeare. Western playwrights and novelists have experimented with kabuki themes, an example of which is Gerald Vizenor‘s Hiroshima Bugi (2004). Writer Yukio Mishima pioneered and popularized the use of kabuki in modern settings and revived other traditional arts, such as Noh, adapting them to modern contexts. There have even been kabuki troupes established in countries outside Japan. For instance, in Australia, the Za Kabuki troupe at the Australian National University has performed a kabuki drama each year since 1976,[27] the longest regular kabuki performance outside Japan.[28]

In November 2002 a statue was erected in honor of kabuki’s founder Okuni and to commemorate 400 years of kabuki’s existence.[29] Diagonally across from the Minami-za,[30] the last remaining kabuki theater in Kyoto,[30] it stands at the east end of a bridge (Shijō Ōhashi)[30] crossing the Kamo River in Kyoto.

Kabuki was inscribed on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists in 2005.[31][32]

More at:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kabuki


France isn’t Falling…It is Rising!


Blessed Bernardo de Hoyos: Mystical same-sex marriage with Jesus

Mystical Marriage of Blessed Fr. Bernardo de Hoyos y de Sena, SJ by William Hart McNichols

Blessed Bernardo Francisco de Hoyos y de Seña is an 18th-century Spanish priest who wrote vividly of his mystical gay marriage to Jesus. This queer saint was beatified in 2010 and his feast day is Nov. 29.

Bernardo (1711-1735) was 18 when he had a vision of marrying Jesus in a ceremony much like a human wedding. He described it this way:

Always holding my right hand, the Lord had me occupy the empty throne; then He fitted on my finger a gold ring…. “May this ring be an earnest of our love. You are Mine, and I am yours. You may call yourself and sign Bernardo de Jesus, thus, as I said to my spouse, Santa Teresa, you are Bernardo de Jesus and I am Jesus de Bernardo. My honor is yours; your honor is Mine. Consider My glory that of your Spouse; I will consider yours, that of My spouse. All Mine is yours, and all yours is Mine. What I am by nature you share by grace. You and I are one!”
(quoted from “The Visions of Bernard Francis De Hoyos, S.J.” by Henri Bechard, S.J.)

Bernardo’s vision inspired artist-priest William Hart McNichols to paint an icon of Bernardo’s wedding with Jesus.

“I was so taken with this profoundly beautiful account of Jesus’ mystical marriage with Bernardo, including all the symbols of a human wedding,” McNichols wrote.

Bernardo de Hoyos
(Wikimedia Commons)

Bernardo’s experiences fit into a long tradition of “mystical marriage” comparing the soul’s union with God to a human wedding.  It is also called nuptial mysticism or bridal mysticism.

Official Roman Catholic accounts emphasize how Bernardo went on to become “the first apostle of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Spain,” but the church downplays the queer vision that inspired him. Bernardo’s marriage with Christ can justifiably be interpreted as a “gay Jesus” story.

Bernardo spent nine years in the Jesuit formation process and was ordained in January 1735. His pastoral ministry was cut short later that same year when he died of typhus on Nov. 29, 1735. Some call him a “boy saint” because he only lived to be 24. His dying words indicate that he felt the presence of his Spouse Jesus at the end. Bernardo’s last words were, “Oh, how good it is to dwell in the Heart of Jesus!”

After his death Bernardo’s reputation for holiness continued to grow, but church politics slowed his path to sainthood until recently. His beatification ceremony was held in April 2010 in the northwestern Spanish province of Valladolid, where Bernardo spent his entire life.

While the Catholic church refuses to bless same-sex marriages, the lives and visions of its own saints tell a far different story — in which Christ the Bridegroom gladly joins himself in marriage with a man.

This article is available in Spanish at:
Beato Bernardo de Hoyos: El matrimonio místico entre personas del mismo sexo con Jesús (Santos Queer)

This article is available in Italian at:
Il beato Bernardo de Hoyos e il suo mistico matrimonio gay con Gesù (gionata.org)

Links related to mystical marriage:

Blessed John of La Verna: Kissed by Jesus

John the Evangelist: Beloved Disciple of Jesus

Saints Bernard of Clairvaux and Malachy: Honey-tongued abbot and the archbishop he loved

Patrick Cheng: Erotic Christ / Rethinking sin and grace for LGBT people

Hunter Flournoy: Teacher says we are the erotic body of Christ

Adrian Ravarour and Christopher Flores: Sacred gay union with Christ evoked by music of New-Age “Passion of Mark”

Richard Stott: Gay artist paints “Intimacy with Christ” and reflects on sensual spirituality

Mystical same-sex marriage affirmed in Renaissance art and new book “Saintly Brides and Bridegrooms”

Books related to mystical marriage

Saintly Brides and Bridegrooms: The Mystic Marriage in Northern Renaissance Art” by Carolyn D Muir

The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion” by Leo Steinberg. University of Chicago Press, 1996. This is the definitive work on the subject, with 300 illustrations.

Tantric Jesus: The Erotic Heart of Early Christianity” by James Hughes Reho with a foreword by Matthew Fox. Published by Destiny Books. (2017)

Top image credit: “The Mystical Marriage of Blessed Fr. Bernardo de Hoyos y de Sena, SJ” by William Hart McNichols ©
This post is part of the LGBTQ Saints series by Kittredge Cherry. Traditional and alternative saints, people in the Bible, LGBTQ martyrs, authors, theologians, religious leaders, artists, deities and other figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people and our allies are covered.

It is also part of the Queer Christ series series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. The series gathers together visions of the queer Christ as presented by artists, writers, theologians and others.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
Qspirit.net presents the Jesus in Love Blog on LGBTQ spirituality.

Kittredge Cherry

Kittredge Cherry

Founder at Q Spirit
Kittredge Cherry is a lesbian Christian author who writes regularly about LGBTQ spirituality.She holds degrees in religion, journalism and art history.She was ordained by Metropolitan Community Churches and served as its national ecumenical officer, advocating for LGBTQ rights at the National Council of Churches and World Council of Churches.

Empty Space is NOT Empty

Published on Apr 30, 2013

An atom is mostly empty space, but empty space is mostly not empty. The reason it looks empty is because electrons and photons don’t interact with the stuff that is there, quark and gluon field fluctuations.

It actually takes energy to clear out space and make a true ’empty’ vacuum. This seems incredibly counter-intuitive but we can make an analogy to a permanent magnet. When at low energies, like at room temperature, there is a magnetic field around the magnet due to the alignment of all the magnetic moments of the atoms. But if you add some energy to it by heating it, the particles gain thermal energy, which above the Curie temperature makes their magnetic moments randomly oriented and hence destroying the magnetic field. So in this case energy is needed to clear out the field, just as in the quantum vacuum.

Special thanks to Professor Derek Leinweber, find out more about his research here: http://bit.ly/ZZTKFP

David Bohm

“Space is not empty. It is full, a plenum as opposed to a vacuum, and is the ground for the existence of everything, including ourselves. The universe is not separate from this cosmic sea of energy.”

― David Bohm


Next U.S. moon landing will be by private companies, not NASA

Next US moon landing will be by private companies, not NASA
FILE – In this Oct. 12, 2018 file photo, Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Jim Bridenstine speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, Russia. America’s next moon landing will be made by private companies, not NASA. Bridenstine announced Thursday, Nov. 29 that nine U.S. companies will compete in delivering experiments to the lunar surface. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, File)
FILE- In this April 1972 photo made available by NASA, John Young salutes the U.S. flag at the Descartes landing site on the moon during the first Apollo 16 extravehicular activity. America's next moon landing will be made by private companies, not NASA. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018, that nine U.S. companies will compete in delivering experiments to the lunar surface. (Charles M. Duke Jr./NASA via AP, File)CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — America’s next moon landing will be made by private companies — not NASA.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced Thursday that nine U.S. companies will compete to deliver experiments to the lunar surface. The space agency will buy the service and let private industry work out the details on getting there, he said.

The goal is to get small science and technology experiments to the surface of the moon as soon as possible. The first flight could be next year; 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the first manned moon landing.

“We’re going at high speed,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, head of NASA’s science mission directorate, which will lead the effort.

NASA officials said the research will help get astronauts back to the moon more quickly and keep them safer once they’re there. The initial deliveries likely will include radiation monitors, as well as laser reflectors for gravity and other types of measurements, according to Zurbuchen.

Bridenstine said it will be up to the companies to arrange their own rocket rides. NASA will be one of multiple customers using these lunar services.

The announcement came just three days after NASA landed a spacecraft on Mars. NASA wants to see how it goes at the moon before committing to commercial delivery services at Mars.

This new partnership is loosely modeled after NASA’s successful commercial cargo deliveries to the International Space Station, as well as the still-unproven commercial crew effort. SpaceX and Northrop Grumman, formerly Orbital ATK, have been making space station shipments since 2012. SpaceX expects to start transporting astronauts to the orbiting lab next year; so does Boeing.

Altogether, these Commercial Lunar Payload Services contracts have a combined value of $2.6 billion over the next 10 years.

NASA wants lots of companies involved to encourage competition and get to the moon fast, so astronauts can benefit once an orbiting outpost is up and running near the moon.

Bridenstine expects to have humans working intermittently on the moon, along with robots and rovers, within a decade.

The nine companies, representing seven states, are:

Astrobiotic Technology Inc., Pittsburgh; Deep Space Systems, Littleton, Colorado; Draper, Cambridge, Massachusetts; Firefly Aerospace Inc., Cedar Park, Texas; Intuitive Machines, Houston; Lockheed Martin, Littleton; Masten Space Systems Inc., Mojave, California; Moon Express, Cape Canaveral; and Orbit Beyond, Edison, New Jersey.

Lockheed Martin already has a moon lander in the works modeled after the Mars InSight lander, which the company built for NASA. Insight arrived at Mars on Monday.

The McCandless Lunar Lander is named after the late astronaut and former Lockheed Martin employee Bruce McCandless, who in 1984 performed the first free-flying spacewalk without a lifeline to the orbiting shuttle, using a jetpack built by the company. The picture of McCandless floating by himself in the blackness of space, with the blue Earth in the background, is one of NASA’s most iconic.

Bridenstine said while NASA wants the companies to succeed, the space agency is certain some of the efforts will fail. Expectations should not exceed 50 percent, Zurbuchen stressed.

“These are not expensive missions,” Bridenstine told reporters before the announcement in Washington. “This is like a venture capital kind of effort where at the end of the day, the risk is high but the return is also very high for a low investment.”

He added: “Our goal is to learn as much as we can possibly learn and help this fledgling industry develop here in the United States.”


The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.


Dutch man can’t change his age from 69 to 49, court rules

Dutch motivational speaker Emile Ratelband may feel like a 49-year-old but according to Dutch law he is still 69.

Self-styled Dutch positivity guru Emile Ratelband answers questions during an interview in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Monday, Dec. 3, 2018. A Dutch court has rejected the request of a self-styled positivity guru to shave 20 years off his age, in a case that drew worldwide attention. Emile Ratelband last month asked the court in Arnhem to formally change his date of birth to make him 49, instead of his real age of 69. He argued his request was consistent with other personal transformations, such as the ability to change one's name or gender. The Dutch court said age matters under Dutch law. [Associated Press]
Self-styled Dutch positivity guru Emile Ratelband answers questions during an interview in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Monday, Dec. 3, 2018. A Dutch court has rejected the request of a self-styled positivity guru to shave 20 years off his age, in a case that drew worldwide attention. Emile Ratelband last month asked the court in Arnhem to formally change his date of birth to make him 49, instead of his real age of 69. He argued his request was consistent with other personal transformations, such as the ability to change one’s name or gender. The Dutch court said age matters under Dutch law. [Associated Press]

Published December 3, 2018

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Dutch motivational speaker Emile Ratelband may feel like a 49-year-old but according to Dutch law he is still 69.

A Dutch court on Monday rejected Ratelband’s request to shave 20 years off his age in a case that drew worldwide attention.

“Mr. Ratelband is at liberty to feel 20 years younger than his real age and to act accordingly,” Arnhem court said in a press statement . “But amending his date of birth would cause 20 years of records to vanish from the register of births, deaths, marriages and registered partnerships. This would have a variety of undesirable legal and societal implications.”

Ratelband went to court last month, arguing that he didn’t feel 69 and saying his request was consistent with other forms of personal transformation which are gaining acceptance in the Netherlands and around the world, such as the ability to change one’s name or gender.

The court rejected that argument, saying that unlike in the case of a name or gender, Dutch law assigns rights and obligations based on age “such as the right to vote and the duty to attend school. If Mr. Ratelband’s request was allowed, those age requirements would become meaningless.”

Ratelband, perhaps unsurprisingly given his background as self-described advocate of positive thinking, was undeterred by the court’s rejection and vowed to appeal.

“This is great!” he said. “The rejection of (the) court is great … because they give all kinds of angles where we can connect when we go in appeal.”

He said he was the first of “thousands of people who want to change their age.”

The court said it acknowledged “a trend in society for people to feel fit and healthy for longer, but did not regard that as a valid argument for amending a person’s date of birth.”

Ratelband also insisted his case did have parallels with requests for name and gender changes.

“I say it’s comparable because it has to do with my feeling, with respect about who I think … I am, my identity,” he said.

The court said Ratelband failed to convince the judges that he suffers from age discrimination, adding that “there are other alternatives available for challenging age discrimination, rather than amending a person’s date of birth.”


Against Common Sense: Vladimir Nabokov on the Wellspring of Wonder and Why the Belief in Goodness Is a Moral Obligation

By Maria Popova (brainpickings.org)


“Once we leave those domains of human experience, there’s no reason to expect the laws of nature to continue to obey our expectations, since our expectations are dependent on a limited set of experiences,” Carl Sagan observed in considering how common sense blinds us to the reality of the universe. Perhaps worse yet — worse than the wrong beliefs we held for millennia about our planet’s shape, motion, and position in the cosmos, just because it feels flat and steady beneath our feet and is the center of everything we know — common sense often blinds us to the reality of our own interior world. It impoverishes our experience of the uncommonest, most delicate, most beautiful aspects of being and leads us, as I wrote in the prelude to Figuring, to mistake our labels and models of things for the things themselves.

How to lift the blinders of common sense that unfit us for seeing wonder is what Vladimir Nabokov (April 22, 1899–July 2, 1977) explores with uncommon wisdom, wit, and splendor of sentiment in a lecture he delivered at Wellesley College in 1941, titled “The Art of Literature and Commonsense” and later included in the superb posthumous 1980 volume Lectures on Literature (public library).


Vladimir Nabokov

Nabokov writes:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngIn the fall of 1811 Noah Webster, working steadily through the C’s, defined commonsense as “good sound ordinary sense . . . free from emotional bias or intellectual subtlety… horse sense.” This is rather a flattering view of the creature, for the biography of commonsense makes nasty reading. Commonsense has trampled down many a gentle genius whose eyes had delighted in a too early moonbeam of some too early truth; commonsense has back-kicked dirt at the loveliest of queer paintings because a blue tree seemed madness to its well-meaning hoof; commonsense has prompted ugly but strong nations to crush their fair but frail neighbors the moment a gap in history offered a chance that it would have been ridiculous not to exploit. Commonsense is fundamentally immoral, for the natural morals of mankind are as irrational as the magic rites that they evolved since the immemorial dimness of time. Commonsense at its worst is sense made common, and so everything is comfortably cheapened by its touch. Commonsense is square whereas all the most essential visions and values of life are beautifully round, as round as the universe or the eyes of a child at its first circus show.

This “sense made common” is, of course, the seedbed of so many of our social and civilizational biases — from the dogmatic geocentrism that nearly cost Galileo his lifeto the mindless majority rule against which James Baldwin so fervently admonished. It is the seedbed, therefore, of conformity and thus the enemy of a society’s progress, which presupposes that we rise above the common lot of beliefs and mores to imagine the uncommon, the alternative — an act so countercultural that, throughout history, those who have dared undertake it have been punished or ostracized. Kierkegaard knew this when he contemplated why we conform and asserted that “truth always rests with the minority, and the minority is always stronger than the majority, because the minority is generally formed by those who really have an opinion, while the strength of a majority is illusory, formed by the gangs who have no opinion.” Ben Shahn knew it when he observed in his fantastic Norton lectures at Harvard that “without the nonconformist, any society of whatever degree of perfection must fall into decay.”

With an eye to the innumerable offenses against sanity and justice perpetrated by an unquestioning adherence to so-called common sense, Nabokov adds:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngIt is instructive to think that there is not a single person in this room, or for that matter in any room in the world, who, at some nicely chosen point in historical space-time would not be put to death there and then, here and now, by a commonsensical majority in righteous rage. The color of one’s creed, neckties, eyes, thoughts, manners, speech, is sure to meet somewhere in time or space with a fatal objection from a mob that hates that particular tone. And the more brilliant, the more unusual the man, the nearer he is to the stake. Strangeralways rhymes with danger. The meek prophet, the enchanter in his cave, the indignant artist, the nonconforming little schoolboy, all share in the same sacred danger. And this being so, let us bless them, let us bless the freak; for in the natural evolution of things, the ape would perhaps never have become man had not a freak appeared in the family. Anybody whose mind is proud enough not to breed true, secretly carries a bomb at the back of his brain; and so I suggest, just for the fun of the thing, taking that private bomb and carefully dropping it upon the model city of commonsense. In the brilliant light of the ensuing explosion many curious things will appear; our rarer senses will supplant for a brief spell the dominant vulgarian that squeezes Sinbad’s neck in the catch-as-catch-can match between the adopted self and the inner one. I am triumphantly mixing metaphors because that is exactly what they are intended for when they follow the course of their secret connections — which from a writer’s point of view is the first positive result of the defeat of commonsense.

But there is a second, deeper consequence of defeating common sense. A century after Walt Whitman extolled optimism as our mightiest resistance against the corruptions of society, Nabokov frames optimism not as a luxury of privilege but as an imperative of survival. He writes:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngThe second result is that the irrational belief in the goodness of man… becomes something much more than the wobbly basis of idealistic philosophies. It becomes a solid and iridescent truth. This means that goodness becomes a central and tangible part of one’s world, which world at first sight seems hard to identify with the modern one of newspaper editors and other bright pessimists, who will tell you that it is, mildly speaking, illogical to applaud the supremacy of good at a time when something called the police state, or communism, is trying to turn the globe into five million square miles of terror, stupidity, and barbed wire. And they may add that it is one thing to beam at one’s private universe in the snuggest nook of an unshelled and well-fed country and quite another to try and keep sane among crashing buildings in the roaring and whining night. But within the emphatically and unshakably illogical world which I am advertising as a home for the spirit, war gods are unreal not because they are conveniently remote in physical space from the reality of a reading lamp and the solidity of a fountain pen, but because I cannot imagine (and that is saying a good deal) such circumstances as might impinge upon the lovely and lovable world which quietly persists, whereas I can very well imagine that my fellow dreamers, thousands of whom roam the earth, keep to these same irrational and divine standards during the darkest and most dazzling hours of physical danger, pain, dust, death.


Vladimir Nabokov as a child (Nabokov Museum)

Nabokov locates the antipode of common sense in “the supremacy of the detail over the general, of the part that is more alive than the whole, of the little thing which a man observes and greets with a friendly nod of the spirit while the crowd around him is being driven by some common impulse to some common goal.” Speaking at the peak of WWII, as John Steinbeck is writing on the other side of the continent that “all the goodness and the heroisms will rise up again, then be cut down again and rise up,” Nabokov offers:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngI take my hat off to the hero who dashes into a burning house and saves his neighbor’s child; but I shake his hand if he has risked squandering a precious five seconds to find and save, together with the child, its favorite toy. I remember a cartoon depicting a chimney sweep falling from the roof of a tall building and noticing on the way that a sign-board had one word spelled wrong, and wondering in his headlong flight why nobody had thought of correcting it. In a sense, we all are crashing to our death from the top story of our birth to the flat stones of the churchyard and wondering with an immortal Alice in Wonderland at the patterns of the passing wall. This capacity to wonder at trifles — no matter the imminent peril — these asides of the spirit, these footnotes in the volume of life are the highest forms of consciousness, and it is in this childishly speculative state of mind, so different from commonsense and its logic, that we know the world to be good.

In the remainder of this piece from his altogether magnificent Lectures on Literature, Nabokov goes on to explore how the rejection of common sense factors into the creative process and the two types of inspiration. For more of his abiding insight into art and life, see Nabokov on the three qualities of a great storytellerwhat makes a good reader, and the six short stories everyone ought to read, then revisit his exquisite love letters to Véra.


The Spiritual Meaning of Debt – Part 1

This is the first in a three-part series on debt (see Part 2 and Part 3). This article pinpoints the spiritual meaning of debt and asks you to examine and begin re-writing your debt story.

By Jenny Griffin

Anyone who has been faced with debt knows what a never-ending struggle it can be. Every spare bit of income seems to go towards paying down the towering debt. It’s too easy to get caught up in the worry of meeting your responsibilities and appeasing your creditors. Once they’re paid, does it end there? Sometimes, but very often it leads to further indebtedness, to ‘catch up’ to what you might feel you missed out on while you were so busy paying your other debts.

Where does this cycle spring from? What’s lacking in our inner Selves that crave to be filled by external possessions or gains? The spiritual meaning of debt is a desire to be closer to our perfect, abundant, authentic Self, but as we become disconnected from what exactly that means to each of us individually, we cast around for examples outside of ourselves. We see our neighbors with a new car and think, ‘they seem happy, perhaps it’s the car.’ We see our friends moving into new jobs because they upgraded their education, and we think, ‘maybe that’s the answer.’ We desire equivalence with the people and situations around us, believing ourselves to be starting at some point other than where they are.

In truth, there’s no external thing that will make us equivalent, because we already are. Finding that truth within your heart will move you from straining to reach the next Shangri-la to being at peace with where you are. Debt allows us to borrow against one of our thousands of potential futures, the main problem being, the future doesn’t exist in the present. It is only a potential, and in our fairly limited minds, we can only imagine a small number of the infinite possibilities that actually are.

So, ideally, we’re borrowing against a future in which we’re able to pay back the debt easily. If you’re in debt, chances are that hasn’t been the case. Instead, our present (which was one of the other future possibilities from then) is a different story. Since then, our circumstances may have changed dramatically, our lives may have taken a turn that our limited minds hadn’t foreseen, and we sit facing what we owe, asking ourselves if this is how things will always be.

Debt has a way of multiplying because of the energy of debt itself. In borrowing to make yourself equivalent to something outside of yourself, you have accepted that you’re not. When you get the ‘thing’ that you borrowed the money for, does the feeling of being equivalent last? If you continue to start with the same premise, of inequality, inferiority or lack, the satisfaction that you get from the having of your desire will be short-lived. There will always be something new you want, because there is always something to trigger your backstory, telling yourself that you’re not enough, or not quite there yet, until and unless you make peace with the reason you’re there in the first place.

It is not the things we really want – the education, the car, the house, the clothes – it’s the feeling or attribute that we believe it will bestow on us through the having of it. Perhaps we want to appear or feel more intelligent or qualified, so we borrow money to take courses. Are we actually any more intelligent or qualified, if inside we haven’t changed our attitudes towards our own worthiness or acceptance of ourselves as we are? If we approach each new experience knowing that we’re enough, we’re whole without it, and we simply want to experience the thing for the sake of enjoyment, that brings a new perspective into the exchange.

Much debt springs from the need to soothe a part of ourselves, our wounded child who didn’t receive the feedback we so desired. And the ease and availability of so many, many things exacerbate these wounds. It’s too easy to get credit towards whatever your heart desires, some companies even offering ‘no payments for ___ months/years.’ We’re a society that hasn’t been taught the joy of gratification through saving for what you want. It’s not just practical in a fiscal sense, but also in the sense that it allows you time to really think through what it is you’re about to spend this money on. If in the time it takes you to save what you need to acquire your desire, you decide you don’t need it, after all, you’ve learned something along the way. Your desire (or the emotion attached to the desiring of the thing) has been satisfied elsewhere, through some other channel, which allows you to gain perspective.

What’s your Debt Story? Knowing the story behind the behavior can give you the knowledge you need to move forward to a debt-free mindset. Examine your patterns, your choices, and the reasons behind them. Ask yourself if all the things that you own were gone, or if you hadn’t got that post-secondary education, would you be a different person? Would you be able to feel successful, happy and at peace without all the things you have acquired? Look beneath the debt to find the mindset that got you here. There may be more than one story running consecutively through your belief system, and many stem from the insecurity of not knowing your own worth.

There is no one debt story, each one of us is as different as snowflakes are to one another, so be sure that you’re telling yourself your own story. Don’t attach other people’s ideas about debt to your own innate sense of why you’re here. For instance, if you’ve grown up believing debt is sinful and find yourself in debt, you are fighting against the deep belief that you are in some way sinful, on top of the other stuff that got you here. Go easy on yourself, and allow yourself some leeway for feeling emotional, frightened and uncertain. Gently pick apart all the threads of your story so that you have a clear idea of why you’re in debt and let’s go from there.

About the Author

Jenny Griffin, also known as ‘The Catharsis Coach,’ Jenny loves exploring life’s twists and turns through the lens of transformation. Her own journey through catharsis, a deep, deep letting go of ingrained patterns and beliefs, resulted in a feeling of connectedness, with the world around her and with that wise and wonderful voice within. Jenny has learned to engage with her life and experiences in a way that allows her to use the knowledge gained through them to serve others. When she’s not writing, she’s coming up with new ways to help people move through change with grace and ease.

You can find her at The Power of Change, on Facebook and on Twitter.



Translators:  Mike Zonta, Melissa Goodnight, Richard Branam, Hanz Bolen

SENSE TESTIMONY:   Greed fuels volatility in the personal, political, and financial milieu, threatening peace of mind.

5th Step Conclusions:

1)  Truth is peace of mind; always satiated, always satisfied; fueling Itself with ever-flowing, even-flowing experience; managing Itself; accounting for Itself in every milieu; being inoppressibly One.

2)  One Infinite Consciousness Beingness, is constantly dependably exceedingly generous, in sustaining with perfect unperturbable resilience, the limitless fullness of all existence.

3)  Truth is the Commonwealth, the Common Well Being, the cause of all Desire, guiding sustaining, powerful knowing presence, soundly, strongly harmoniously, now always everywhere.

4)  Truth fuels its’ Zealously intimate Fire with Universally Principled Integrity, Being this Transcendental Consciousness Awakened Identity, Fully impacting its’ own Omniscient Androgyny, this Aloha Commonwealth is the only Milieu that works’.


Dreams come from Nature

The Shift Network
Everyone wants to belong…

Belonging to yourself, your family, community, and the world is a fundamental human need.

Yet, these days, even those on the path can find themselves feeling lonelier and more disconnected than ever.

Western society’s emphasis on the “outer” versus the “inner” life casts us astray from who we were meant to be…

… and can leave us unaware that the longing we feel is for this innate sense of belonging –– starting with the desire to know and belong to our self.

Surprisingly though, finding your way “home” happens quite naturally at night while you sleep.

In your dreams, your psyche naturally draws you towards the self-discoveries and healing you need to re-member who you are, beneath cultural and familial conditioning.

Your hidden or forgotten parts are illuminated and your squelched desires revealed, unfurling a soul-led path back to the core of belonging –– knowing and belonging to yourself.

Dancing with the mystery of your dreams, you’ll discover:

  • How to shift from seeing your dreams as originating from your mind to recognizing them as an organic expression of nature that can lead to a deeper connection with life.
    Susan Audrey Susan Audrey
    The Shift Network

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