The world was once populated by ghosts and angry spirits.
Do you know what Salman Rushdie once wrote about ghosts? That they were nothing but unfinished business, that’s what.
And anyway, what is the other side of longing but a vengeful spirit?
Below is Passage 60 from the Daodejing:
Governing a large kingdom is like cooking a small fish.
By governing (莅) the world by way of the Dao--
The spirits of our dead ancestors will not haunt (其鬼不神).
Even if these spirits do not stop haunting
Still, their haunting shall not harm the people (人民）.
The Sage of a large realm also does harm the people
If neither sages nor spirits causes harm
Then so shall virtuous governing be achieved
Thinking of the translation for 鬼 （gui）-- demons, ghosts, spirits, the dead, "the ancient manes," bogeymen, "your inner demons"-- I find myself stopping and wondering just what is it we were talking about here? What are these spirits exactly?
In classical Chinese, I read that the word 鬼 generally meant the spirits of the dead.
First, it is good to separate that from shen 神 which I think of like the Japanese kami (or nature spirit). 鬼 （gui）I believe are human ghosts or demonic (human?) spirits.
The similarity of 鬼 to the ancient Roman concept of "the manes" immediately comes to mind.
The Manes are the spirits of the dead ancestors. When the deceased receives the due honors and rites, he is allowed to ascend from the Underworld to protect his family. This is in contrast with the Lemures or Larvae, evil ghosts which are the souls of the dead who the Dii Inferi refused to receive in the Underworld.
Incidentally, James Legge, chooses this word "manes" for his translation of Passage 60, translating the above passage:
“Let the kingdom be governed according to the Dao, and the manes of the departed will not manifest their spiritual energy. It is not that those manes have not that spiritual energy, but it will not be employed to hurt men. It is not that it could not hurt men, but neither does the ruling sage hurt them. When these two do not injuriously affect each other, their good influences converge in the virtue (of the Dao).”
Why "Manes" (singular "manis), though, when he could have gone with Furies? Especially since Manes were thought of as being benevolent spirits.
Reading about Lady Rokujo, in the Tale of Genji, the Greek furies, known intriguingly as both the "angry ones" and the "gracious ones," are on my mind. There are two aspects about them that I think help illuminate the Genji.
In one of Hubert Dreyfus’ enchanting classes in philosophy at Berkeley, he once remarked in a lecture on the Oresteia, that the Furies were all about intense emotions, like rage, jealousy and revenge-- that "these were no kinky emotions of the kind people talk about with their psychologist."
What does he mean by that?
Maybe that the emotions that are being displayed by the Furies (and Lady Rokujo?) are the kind of emotions that anyone would feel in that circumstance. This is important. And, I think Dreyfus is right. Modern people may have their neuroses, but these are profoundly different from the emotions expressed by the Furies-- which, while attached to individual people, the emotions themselves are not particular to that person's personality. For example, Clytemnestra's furies are not particular to her individual personality but are just the kind of fury that any woman in her experience would manifest (even though they are manifesting specifically by her, they are not intrinsic to her personality in the way a "kinky" neurotic fear of flying might be, says Dreyfus).
So, they are attached to an individual but yet they are universal in their manifestation.
Dreyfus secondly explains that the Furies stand for personal vengeance-- as opposed to the Rule of Law, and indeed, he sees this play as portraying the way societies transition from the rule of blood feuds to that of Law.
Even today, if a person is wronged, there are really two methods for justice open to him: punishment via law, or via personal vengeance. (The Oresteia also displays the manner in which personal vengeance turns into a cycle of violence as one blood murder begets the next blood murder. It takes two such extractions of justice to start a feud).
This is the world we are talking about in the Daodejing passage above. A world populated by 1) rulers, 2) the ruled and 3) vengeful spirits. And, if a ruler rules by way of the Dao, then this ruler--a sage ruler-- will not do harm to the people nor the spirits; that is, his action will not rile the spirits to vengeance. This does not mean that he performs some kind of magic which takes away the powers of the spirits but rather that by the virtue expressed in his actions, he will not rile them.
So, then what about Lady Rokujo?
Lady Rokujo could be called a 物の怪
mono means “thing”
and ke means “spirit.”
I have a vivid memory in grad school talking about the proliferation of the word “mono” in Heian literature. My beloved professor of classical Japanese, John Wallace referenced Norma Field’s book, The Splendor of Longing in the Tale of Genji, who writes that,
In pre-Heian texts the characters now familiar as oni (demon) and kami (spirit) were common, and it’s thought that mono indicated the awesome and the fearful… It is possible that, by the time mono was attached to adjectives of sadness fearfulness and loneliness, or to verbs of thinking or knowing, these associations had been completed and blurred so that mono as a prefix only suggested the vague and the unspecifiable—which sounds like a secularized version of the ineffable
Lady Rokujo. What is so stunningly unforgettable about her is that she actually did her "haunting" while still alive. So consumed by jealously was she that her spirit actually left her body to do its haunting.
The emotion takes on a life of its own, flying out of the living woman’s body to express her feelings out in the world—in this case murdering the delicate and sweet Yugao.
An elegant and clever but haughty older woman or a sweet and adorable younger woman?
Genji made his choice and the lady was not happy about it. No wonder Rokujo is a favorite of the theater!
Oh, yes, I almost forgot: Passage 60 is one of my favorites. Thanks for reminding me of it!
Omg! What an incredible piece, Leanne! I'm speechless . . .