|The Magnum Opus |
by Robert E. Haynes
Time and again, during the last 50 years, I have been asked to write the omega tome concerning Japanese sword fittings. Naturally, 40 years ago, I was sure that one day I would be fully capable of doing just that! Forty years later I see what great folly such grand ideas are in truth and reality. I searched the books of the past to see what I would add to their wisdom. I found that they were wanting in almost all respects. Those works produced in Japan all came with a standard set of principles and prejudices, that in most cases, totally blinded their perception. This was not so much the fault of the authors as of the philosophy that was the guiding force behind the Edo period. Namely, Neo-Confucianism. Which to this day is the predominant ideology of the intellectual, as well as most of the rest of society. It is enough to say that this philosophy has molded and warped the guiding thought process of most scholars in Japan, for nearly three hundred yeas. The common theme found in these books, even to this day, is that they record the available knowledge, taken from their teachers, superiors, or others, but in all cases, without questioning or doubting the source, or its validity. I was not willing to follow in this path of blind acceptance, acquiescence, and credulity.
In 1960 I was not aware of these forces that conditioned the thought processes of the experts in the field of sword fittings. All I knew was that I wanted to absorb all the available knowledge, no matter how it had been obtained, or how I obtained it. I was very fortunate to study with Dr. Torigoye, for he used a rational empirical method in the teaching of his students. Being a Westerner, I did not know that this was both very rare and very fortuitous. But even Dr. Torigoye was not willing to totally abandon his heritage as a scholar and a teacher. The 318 page manuscript that was the child of my studies with Dr. T. took about three years to produce. I was sure that I had put into English all the available knowledge concerning iron plate tsuba, in particular, and that this would be the nucleus of my omega tome. I was very wrong! This was not my book. This was my mentor's book. It took me many years to realize this.
I put aside thoughts of "the book" and went back to my dictionary of the fitting artists. This work consumed all the time I had available, for in those days I was also earning a living. Even today the manuscript of this work, after 40 years, is only half finished. I am again at work on the dictionary and in a few years I hope to have it as complete as possible, for as we all know, a directory of names is never finished, as we always find unknown artists who must be added in the future.
About this time I asked John Yumoto if he thought we should work together on a handbook of sword fittings. Even though we began work on this idea we never finished the project. I wish John were here now for he might inspire me to work on "the book". All ideas of working on such a scheme were forgotten for years to come.
Twenty years after the manuscript of the translation of Dr. Torigoye's book had been finished it still had not been published. By this time Dr. T. has passed away and I was thinking of starting an auction house of sword fittings. I decided to have an introduction to each catalog of a section of my translation. In the ten catalogs produced I printed about two thirds of the original manuscript. Again nothing more was done until my good friend Alan Harvie took it upon himself to retype and correct errors and redo the kanji. A monumental project he is only just now completing. It will give the beginning student the basic available knowledge he needs to study fittings.
During the last ten to fifteen years I have reread the manuscript of the writings of Akiyama, as translated by Henri L. Joly. He also thought and taught in a rational empirical style, which he passed on to Dr. Torigoye. I have realized that should I ever write "the book" it would be more in the style of Akiyama than an other author of the past. But even he does not approach the subject as I would like. As all these thoughts and ruminations were stirring my gray cells another world called me to partake of a project of several years. Sebastian Izzard, international head of the Japanese Department of Christie's in New York, called to ask if I could work on the auction of the collection of Dr. Walter A. Compton? Not knowing that this would be three years of sufference, I said yes. Before we could begin any of the auction catalogs we had to write a "book of the collection", a paean of a son to his father. At first it was to be the whole collection. I stopped this mad idea by suggesting to Sebastian, after many drinks, that we should do a book, as is often done in Japan, of "One Hundred Masterpieces from the Collection...", you may blame me for that idea! D. Martin Lorber was to write on the blades and I was to do the fittings. I said to Martin, if I had known that I was going to write my magnum opus for Christie's I would have sold my soul at a much higher price. Martin agreed and the book was known between us as the "M.O.", from then on. As this monster progressed, we lost all control of its production and found ourselves in the hands, and under the direction, in all ways aesthetic, of a member of the family. It turned out that I had sold my soul to produce a coffee table book that should be used to hold the table up, rather than be placed on its top. This became my first lesson when I was asked to write my magnum opus. I have remembered it well! Since that time I have worked on a number of other books dealing with sword fittings in one way or another. None of them have been "my" book and all have been produced without my ideas being anymore than suggestions. Most of these projects have taken from one to several years to complete, sometimes more than one at the same time. Thank, whom ever, that I am free of all such projects at present. Lurking behind one of these protrusions, into my life, has been another request to write "The Magnum Opus" on sword fittings. It has taken almost two years to explain that this is just not possible. It is hard to turn down a benefactor who is this kind and willing. It has been very hard to explain why I am unable to undertake such a project at this time. I will try to explain it to you now.
Since I did not want to write a book that mirrored those of the past, I needed to form in my mind a fresh and untried approach. I have an abiding interest in an historical method in the study of sword fittings. This study of sword fittings, as they directly connect, throughout the more than two thousand year history of Japan, has not be attempted to this date. I soon found I did not have a sufficient understanding or knowledge of Japanese history to even begin such a project. There was one thing that was going to give me at least a chance at such a project, but not until the early 1970's. A new group of books on Japanese history was just appearing at that time. The great leader in this fresh new approach to Japanese history was John Whitney Hall. For the next twenty years he and his students retranslated and reinterpreted the original historical texts, and from this came a corrected and fresh interpretation of all Japanese history. These students are now in their third generation. Unfortunately for me, who had been brought up on the writings of Capt. F. Brinkley, Basil Hall Chamberlain, W. Gowland, W.G. Aston, and Sir George Sansom, it meant I had to start reading Japanese history all over again, from the very beginning. I am still doing just that.
Why should my approach to the study of sword fittings be any more valid than the books of the past. I do not wish to interpret the study of fittings from the perspective of kantei. This form of collocation is the very antithesis of what I want to achieve. I will not go into the kantei method here. One can read all one needs about the subject in the Harry Watson new translation of Nihon To Koza, volume VI; Kodogu Part I, page 349 to 354. I should also mention at this juncture that the translation of Tsuba Geijutsu Ko uses the classic kantei method in the teaching of each area of the study of sword fittings. I think this is the primary reason I never had published the translation with the dispatch that all thought it deserved. Naturally I fully understand that it is the ultimate heresy to totally disavow the kantei method in the study of sword fittings. We all know that the kantei method is only useful to attach a name or label to an object. Thus it might give us the nomenclature of the object, but it does not tell us what is important about the piece. That is the history, and historical context, that places the object in the true historical perspective. The kantei method studies the schools of fitting artists, and the genealogies of the families each within itself. We do not study all the artists and schools within a given time period. That is the crux of the historical perspective. One that can never be found in the kantei method. I am not saying that the kantei method is wrong, though it is for me. What I mean is that it is so restrictive, stultifying and obstructionist to the true study of fittings that I can not condone its use. That is what has lead me to study sword fittings within the history of Japan.
I should like to be able to start at the earliest sword and fitting period and relate those weapons, their construction, ornamentation, and use, to the historical period in which they existed. Then carry this theme to the end of the Edo period and even to the present day. Thus you can see that such a project would be so monumental that it would take years of study in Japanese history, and the true history of fitting schools and families, that it would occupy the remainder of my life. I should have started such a project fifty years ago when I bought my first tsuba, not today, when I probably have no more than twenty years to complete what would certainly be my "Magnum Opus". I truly hope there is someone who might attempt this vast time consuming project, and that I will live long enough to at least see it started. If there are any volunteers out there, please let me know. I will wish them well with, "THE MAGNUM OPUS".
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