Kissing the Mask: Beauty, Understatement and Femininity in Japanese Noh Theater
William T. Vollmann
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“Intrepid journalist and novelist William T. Vollman’s colossal body of work stands unsurpassed for its range, moral imperative, and artistry.”
William T. Vollmann, the National Book Award–winning author of Europe Central, offers a charming, evocative, and piercing examination of the ancient Japanese tradition of Noh theatre and the keys it holds to our modern understanding of beauty. Kissing the Mask is the first major book on Noh by an American writer since the 1916 publication the classic study Pisan Cantos and the Noh by Ezra Pound. But Kissing the Mask is pure Vollman—illustrated with photos by the author with provocative related side-discussions on femininity, transgender, kabuki, pornography, geishas, and more.
Temple, Kyoto, 2004. 57: Footnote: “It is . . . possible for an actor to deliver a line perfectly . . .” — Keene, Twenty Plays of the No Theatre, p. 2. 59: Description of mai style — Cavaye, Griffith and Senda, p. 52. 59: Mr. Kanze Hideo — Interviewed in the lobby of his hotel in Kyoto, May 2005. 61: “Their movements become dreamlike glosses . . .” — Bowers, p. 17. 61: “She was instantly recognized as a geisha of the very first class . . .” — Kafu, p. 52. 61: Meanings of red brocade robe,
decision I’ll live long to regret.” — Egil’s Saga, p. 126. 273: Other citations from Njal’s Saga — Pp. 171, 239–40. 274: Guthrún called “demonic” — Hollander, p. 285. 274: Final doings of Brynhild — “Sigurtharkvitha hin skamma” (short lay of Sigurth), in Hollander, p. 260. 275: Sigrún and Helgi in the mound — “Helgavitha Hundingsbana II,” in Hollander, pp. 200–201. 275: Footnote: The “hateful and grim” Valkyrie in Odin’s hall — “Helgavitha Hundingsbana I” (First Lay of Helgi Hundingslayer),
46 (“Fushikaden”). 308: Komachi’s poem of cowering away from malicious eyes — Brower and Miner, p. 188 (“Utsutsu ni wa . . .”). 309: Description of the higaki-no-onna mask — After Kanze, Hayashi and Matsuda, paperback commentary vol., p. 35; and hardback plates 64–65. 310: “Revealed as she pulls the peplos to one side . . .” — Getty Museum, p. 19 (“Statue of a Kore [The Elgin Kore]”). 310: The pine tree immortality of poetry — Keene, Twenty Plays, p. 71 (“Sekidera Komachi”). 311: “My rooms
when one can no longer live at will, nor yet give oneself over to the expression of art. What I see is not so much a person submitting to his helpers as a force consideredly drawing in upon itself, limiting, focusing, gathering, brooding. From his kimono the helpers snip gold threads unraveled by ancientness; this costume, like so many others, dates back to the Edo period (1600–1868).3 The weaving of the old kimonos is finer than today’s, not only visually but also structurally; in them Mr.
concludes that femininity may be defined as “the possession of either a vagina that nature made or a vagina that should have been there all along, i.e.; the legitimate possession.” The presence or absence of this emblem remains conjectural to any stranger; yet its enactment, and the stranger’s response to it, will confirm the performer, or not. The performance of gender is received by an audience whose members then react. Were the audience unnecessary, the mask would remain safe and unmarred in