Podcast: Natsume Soseki – Kokoro
“I am a lonely man,” Sensei said. “And so I am glad that you come to see me. But I am also a melancholy man, and so I asked you why you should wish to visit me so often.”Natsume Soseki, “Kokoro”
If you are familiar with the first season of the Radio of Resistance, you will also notice the familiarity of this quote, which I used to the full extent in 2 or even 3 episodes. I did mention the admiration for how simple the words used here. I did mention how great an impact it is to me, and maybe to other readers like me, who are also affected by the melancholy of the changing seasons. But I never once mention the sadness and loneliness of this simplistic phrase, in consideration of its context and the foreshadowing conclusion of human’s peculiarity with the death of a man.
So here I am alone again. I am using this chance to explore Kokoro. The heart of thing. The heart of human. The heart of darkness, and of light, too. Choose the meaning that most befitting for you, and let the journey begin.
Hi, I am Thanh Dinh, and I will be your host for this episode of the Radio of Resistance. In this week’s discussion, the highlight is on everything that beauty cascades on, and also, everything that darkness casts its eyes on. The heart of thing, Kokoro. Trigger warning, there will be discussion of suicidal events and acts. Please tread with caution.
And now, if you’re ready for another emotional rollercoaster, welcome back.
Sensei. The one who was always alone and later on, readers find out that he had been carrying on his life as an atonement for another’s death. The cause of the climax and the end of the climax. Such a one was Sensei. You will see how important Sensei is through the first glance at the chapters’ title, which in turn are: Sensei and I, as chapter one, and then, Sensei and His Testament, as the final chapter. Sensei is the conflict and the resolve itself and through him, we slowly learn what really lies at the heart of thing in Soseki’s eyes. And thus, it will be fair to say that Sensei is among those characters that can hardly leave you with forgetfulness. Yes, such a one is Sensei.
If somebody asks me, Since the incident, has Sensei ever truly live?, I would find it hard to answer. Not because the question is difficult in its complexity, but because the answer is simple to the point that it hurts to even utter the word.
Since the incident, has Sensei ever truly live? I wondered out loud, the book covering my eyes. She contemplated the question. Not that she knew the book then. I had to summarize the content for her. And contemplating further for a while later, she said:
He had never really live before, and after the incident, he is even less of a person than he was.
Why? I asked.
Because he is, at his heart, a melancholy man.
Let’s talk about the incident. I hope I can give the description of the incident its true honor in truthfulness, as did Sensei in his testament for the protagonist.
Where to begin? Should I start when Sensei was still a rich person and with mother and father died, being betrayed by his uncle and ridden off the heritance? Should I start when Sensei’s heart, filled with doubt and suspicion, began to take vengeance on the whole human race and closed itself in the four walls of distrust? Should I start later on, when the painful love Sensei had for Ojosan was stopped by his own distrust towards human? Or should I start from the end, where the innocent – and yet, cruel due to its innocence – remark indirectly caused the suicide of his friend – the only friend he adored?
There is so much to say about Sensei, from the life he had been leading before the incident, or the suicide of his friend, to the life he has been leading after. The constant moral teetering at his heart, torn between the promise to bring happiness to Ojosan and the guilt in loving Ojosan so much that he was blinded by jealousy and caused the death of his friend.
Have you ever imagined, then, the guilt in loving one so? The guilt in a love that from the moment it begins, it has born at its heart the seeds of distrust and the shadow of someone’s death. The guilt in knowing that no matter what you try to undercompensate or overcompensate, you will never be able to fill in the existence of another life. The guilt in jealousy, betrayal to one’s belief, and most important of all, betrayal to a life we hold dear.
And yet, such a one is Sensei. He carries on loving Ojosan, no matter what. He treats her with utmost kindness and gentleness, because her existence is the only pure beauty left in his life. He savors every moment of his life by Ojosan’s side, knowing that she knows his heart is not there. All the while, at the heart of thing, he know that he will only live on as the symbol of atonement for his friend’s death.
But how can one atone for another life?
I recall the conversation I had with a friend not long ago. You may have heard it from the previous episodes. He said he had wanted to die a long time ago.
And what would you do, then? I asked
I don’t know, he said.
Will I be enough of a reason for you to live? I asked
I don’t know, he said, and then later on, But you have been kind enough to me.
And me being kind enough is still not a reason for you to live?
I don’t know, he said again, I had been wanting my own end for a long time.
If I had known what could save a life, I thought to myself then, I would stay up with you all night. I guess that is also the guilt in loving. In thinking that I, somehow, could not use love to conquer the darkness seeded deep in my friend’s heart. In not knowing what would be enough. In the notion that nothing will ever be enough to fill the heart of thing.
But back to Sensei.
I am reminded of Jean Paul-Satre’s famous work of existentialism, “Nausea.” The idea of not owning up to anyone or anything, and not owing to anyone or anything either. Not wanting admiration, and not wanting to hear insults either. The notion of existentialism is symbolized in Sensei by his statement, a modern age so full of freedom, independence, and our own egotistical selves. The constant fear of actions and the consequences of those actions later on. The constant fear of regrets having done the deeds and not having done the deeds. The constant fear of our own freedom, independence, and egotistical selves.
One of my favorite fictional character said, There is no one universal way for everyone to be happy.
Sensei lives. He breaths and his heart beats with a calm, reassuring rhythm. In the sense that a person needs to breath and his heart needs to beat to live, then Sensei is living in the bare minimum sense of the word.
And yet, Sensei never truly lives. In the sense that a person needs to be happy to be alive and to fill his life with some meaning, then Sensei never meets that high requirement. And the purgatory he puts himself in does not help either.
I guess one could say that his whole life’s meaning is to protect Ojosan’s innocence and the beauty within it. But his notion of Ojosan’s happiness does not coincide with Ojosan’s defintion of happiness. Ojosan simply wants him to be happy. To have him laughing and talking energetically with his heart racing as he was when his friend was still alive. To turn everything back to zero and rewrite a few endings; cut a thing here, drop a thing there. And in his death, as he reaches for his own conclusion, he just further worsen the life of his wife, Ojosan. Thus, he is, indeed, once again caused more guilts by his loving and his egotistical self.
We often talk about the person that got away. So much that we never think about the ones that stay. Even if we mention the ones who stay, we never mention the pain left behind by the loss of a life. We never mention the empty chair at the dinner tables, the missing laughters amidst a long conversation, the soft touch of a hand, the voice, the figure, the shadow. Our life on earth is never really gone: it just disappears. And as the cycle goes on, the life that’s been loved and lived will return to us, once in a while, in the shape of a teardrop, mourning for the things that had been and the things that never will be.
I don’t know who I should grief for in Kokoro. The sensei who had spent all his life with a yearning passion to trust and love, yet incapable anyway? The Ojosan who had, voluntarily or involuntarily, become the symbol of beauty and sadness, but never happiness? Or the protagonist, wanting to escape the loneliness by confiding in a figure who is even lonelier than the fickle youth that he is experiencing? I keep imagining the three figures standing in the darkness, back to each other, head hanging low, and none of them can see the people standing just next to them. They only need to reach out their hands and there will be a human warmth comes to them, rescues them, and brings them out of the darkness. And what force it is, what stake is there, that makes them refuse reaching out?
Is it true that there is so much guilt in loving? I don’t know the definite answer to that question. Perhaps I’m too young to know the guilt. Perhaps my soul is too old and weary for even trying to love. Perhaps I’m just fortunate. I had never been subjected to the fear of losing someone I love to someone I treasure. The looming fear of being lonely. The overwhelming power of jealousy and the darker side, the grittier side of love that human had spent decades to bury.
Such a love is what Sensei had held on to live, day by day, month by month, year by year. Such a love is something Ojosan does not need, and yet, had to receive anyway. Such a love is what painted the cold, piercing beauty of a man’s loneliness. Should we judge Sensei’s decision? Who has the right to? Should we feel sad for Ojosan? Who are we to pity her? I turned of my Kindle and left it on my bed side, then stared at the dark space of the dimly lit room for a while. I observed the shadows on the wall, and said to her:
Perhaps I am too young.
What triggers this? She said in her sleepy tone. Her I-don’t-want-another-shitty-conversation tone.
I am scared of loneliness. I don’t understand the beauty in purity and perfection. I yearn for human touch. I long for a saving hand.
And I just realized how truly alone we are. How we cannot be saved by no one else but ourselves. How we refuse to let ourselves go.
Listen, honey, she sat up on the bed, turned towards me, and looked me in the eyes, wherever my eyes are, Let’s picture loneliness as something like blood. It flows within our body. It is the cause of our living; and no matter how troublesome it is, we can’t drain it all, or we will die. It will lay dormant in our body: nobody’s ever mentioned it, we take it for granted, we live with it, we use it as some shitty reasons for the way we progress through life.
And do you hate having it in your system?
See? Loneliness is the same. It comes at you at the best of time, worst of time, whatever. But it will always be the one friend you can depend upon. Like blood. Like the living force. Loneliness is the only thing that will never betray you for who you are.
And what about love?
She was silent, and then, in the gentlest voice, with the gentlest touch, she whispered:
Life is all about love.
Even if we can’t save ourselves?
And I think she’s right. Life is always about love. A love that’s not only just giving, but also taking. A love that’s a little bit like loneliness, beautiful in it’s piercing way. A love that comes to us when we can’t save ourselves.
So count on love. And loneliness. Count on being alive. Count on reaching your hands out and receiving the help that you need. Maybe you are at the worst of time, maybe you are at the best of time, and your heart is busting at the seam with sadness and loneliness, it’s okay. Like the blood that is flowing through our system, it will pass. This is what it meant to be alive. If you need someone to listen, call your close friends and family. If you have neither and are feeling desperate, my inbox always welcome you. If you need help, ask for it, no matter how hard it is. You have the right to be happy and receive happiness.
This is Thanh Dinh, and you are listening to the Radio of Resistance.