"Yoshida Kenko Questions for Alfred J. Drake's English 242: World Literature 400-1600 CE, Spring 2009 at Chapman University"

YOSHIDA KENKO QUESTIONS

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Assigned: Yoshida Kenko. From Essays in Idleness (2326-2342).

From Essays in Idleness

1. On 2329, Kenko explains why the uncertainties of life matter more to him than the things we take for granted. Why is uncertainty so valuable, in his view? Consider also what he writes about "imperfection" (2336, #82) and about "the beginnings and ends" of things (2337, #137). Why are imperfection and incompleteness better, in their way, than perfection and completeness?

2. On 2332-33 and again on 2337-39, Kenko deals with a theme common in his text -- death and the reaction of living people to death. What insights does he offer in this regard -- is there a "right" way to regard one's death or the death of others? Is there any way to escape from the universal anxiety that besets human beings in the face of death?

3. Kenko was a Buddhist monk who lived in uncertain times, so it's understandable that he would emphasize the value of detachment from the flow of life, from strong emotions, and so forth. But that doesn't mean he has no insight into the province of accomplishment: on 2339-41, what advice does he offer about the best way to make progress in learning and, more generally, in achieving something you want to do?

4. Compare the way Kenko handles any one subject with the way Sei Shonagon deals with the same subject -- which do you prefer, and why? The two authors write from very different positions, so in your response, don't dismiss Shonagon simply for being an aristocratic lady-in-waiting, or Kenko for being a rather gloomy priest in bad times.

Edition: Lawall, Sarah, ed. The Norton Anthology of World Literature. 2nd edition. Volumes 1ABC. New York: Norton, 2002. ISBN A = 0-393-97755-2, B = 0-393-97756-0, C = 0-393-97757-9.