04 February 2010

a vengeful ghost

Sitting opposite the Count, Kitazaki reached respectfully across the table with his wrinkled but honest-looking old hands and unfastened the purple cord that bound the scroll. Then he began to unroll it for the Count, revealing first the pretentious inscription at the top. It was a koan:

Chao Chu went to a nun one day, to say, "Do you have it? Do you have it?" And when the nun in turn raised her fists at him, Chao Chu went on his Way at once, declaring: "Shallow water affords poor anchorage."

  The oppressive heat of that night! Its sultry torpor, only aggravated by the breeze stirred at his back by Tadeshina's fan, seemed to the Count to equal that of a rice-steaming basket. The sake had begun to take effect; the Count heard the drumming of the rain outside as if it were striking the back of his skull; the world outside was lost in innocent thoughts of victory in war. And thus the Count sat looking down at the erotic scroll. Suddenly Kitazaki's hands flashed through the air to clap together a mosquito. He apologized at once for the disturbance of the noise, and the Count caught a glimpse of the tiny black smudge of crushed mosquito in his dry white palm, together with a red smear of blood, an unclean image that unsettled him. Why had the mosquito not bitten him? Was he really so well protected from everything?
  The first picture on the scroll was that of an abbot in a brown robe and a young widow seated facing each other in front of a screen. The style was that of haiku illustrations, drone with a light, humorous touch. The face of the abbot was drawn in caricature to look like a large penis.
  In the next picture the abbot sprang upon the young widow without warning, intent on raping her, and although she was putting up a fight, her kimono was already in disarray. In the next they were locked in a naked embrace and the woman's expression was now blissfully relaxed. The abbot's penis was like the twisted root of a giant pine, and his brown tongue stuck out in great delight. In accordance with this artistic tradition, the young widow's feet and toes were painted with Chinese white, and curved sharply inward. Tremors ran the length of her white, clinging thighs and ended finally at her toes, as though the tension there embodied her straining effort to hold back the flood of ecstasy that was about to gush out into eternity. The woman's exertions were altogether admirable, thought the Count.
  On the other side of the screen, meantime, a number of novice monks were standing on a wooden drum and a writing table, and boosting one another onto their shoulders, desperately keen to see what was going on behind the screen while simultaneously engaged in a comic struggle to keep down those parts of their anatomy that had already swollen to massive proportions. Finally the screen fell over. And as the stark-naked woman attempted to cover herself and escape, and the abbot lay exhausted with no strength left to reprimand the novices, a scene of total disorder began to unfold.
  The monks' penises were drawn to appear nearly as long as their owners were tall, the usual proportions being inadequate for the artist to convey the magnitude of their burden of lust. As they set upon the woman, the face of each of them was a comic study in indescribable anguish, and they staggered about under the weight of their own erections.
  After such punishing toil, the woman's entire body turned deathly pale and she died. Her soul flew out of her and took refuge in the branches of a willow tree blown by the wind. And there she became a vengeful ghost, her face drawn in the image of a vulva.
  At this point, the scroll lost whatever humor it had once had, and became permeated with fearful gloom. Not one but many ghosts, all similar, assaulted the men, hair streaming wildly, crimson lips gaping. Fleeing in panic, the men were no match for the phantoms, who swarmed over them in a whirlwind, tearing out their penises as well as the abbot's with their powerful jaws.
  The final scene was by the seashore. The emasculated men lay naked on the beach, howling desperately, while a boat weighed down with their mutilated penises was just setting sail on a dark sea. The ghosts crowded the deck, hair streaming in the wind, pale hands waving derisively, their vaginal faces mocking the wretched cries of their victims on the shore. The prow of the boat, too, was carved in the form of a vulva, and as it pointed toward deep water, a tuft of hair clinging to it waved in the sea breeze.

Yukio Mishima, Spring Snow (1972: 301-3)