In a grove
Ryunosuke Akutagawa is one of the most known and read modern Japanese authors. He is especially known for his powerful short stories, such as “The Nose” and “Rashomon”. Here I focus on his “In a grove” (藪の中, やぶのなか, yabu-no-naka). As nicely explained in this Wikipedia article, the elements of the plot “unfurl in a series of testimonies [...] but the truth remains hidden due to the contradictory recounts given. From this fact, “to be in a grove” has come to mean in Japanese
I find it quite interesting that “Rashomon Effect” is the term come to refer to the storytelling technique that implements the “In a grove” situation! (As a side note, the confusion between “Rashomon” and “In a grove” is due to the fact that Akira Kurosawa's movie “Rashomon” is based on both stories...)
Even more interesting is the fact that the first known application of the Rashomon effect can be found in... The Ring and The Book by Robert Browning, predating “In a grove” by more than half a century (it was published in 1868-1869).
I wonder if Akutagawa, whose academic specialty was English literature, knew of Browning's book! Where's the truth? I can just guess...
Of course, ascertaining the truth does not necessarily depend on the existence of an agreeing majority or even on full consensus about the facts at hand. “Seven lies, multiplied by seven, multiplied by seven again”, as the song says, may lead to a majority of believers, all of them being wrong. Moreover, Plato warns us that we all live in a cave, meaning that we could all perceive things as they are not.
Who's the author?
And now let me move to another statement:
S: “I have written a composition, which I called 'In a grove'.”
Can we ascertain if Statement S is true or wrong?
I will focus here on the nature of the piece in question. It's a Grundgestalt, as I call my generative compositions. In other words, “In a grove” is a chain of generative fragments produced by an array of input strings.
My major role as its composer has been:
- The selection of the input strings based on musical contents and my taste;
- their arrangement (order and repetition), also based on contents & taste;
- the choice of instruments (in this case, a single one, a Steinway piano);
- significant adjustments in the contents and dynamics.
Thus, in my model, “composing” becomes an activity that explicitly involves predefined (generated) macro-entities (chunks lasting from less than a second to about 20—25s) and micro-entities (the conventional musical matter: notes, duration, dynamics...)
Is this enough to ascertain the truth of Statement S? Whose the author? Is it me, or the algorithm I used? Is it both? Is the fact that I wrote the algorithm any indication that I am or am not the author of “In a grove”?
Where's the truth? How to find our way out of the labyrinthine grove? I think the answer lies in True Art. The one that forces you to forget your self and your senses, and only stare or listen. To bask in truth. If there's value in what we perceive, that may well be enough to accept it as “true”. If I'll be able one day to create True Art with my music, then S will be true.
(Herent, Belgium, July 26, 2023)
Video is a blend between Watonai and the Tiger in the Bamboo Grove (c. 1780s, https://archive.org/details/clevelandart-1916.1167-watonai-and-the-tige) and Bamboo in Fine Weather after Rain (mid-1700s, by Ike Taiga (1723–1776), https://archive.org/details/clevelandart-1958.337-bamboo-in-fine-weath), both from the Cleveland Museum of Art.
Audio is “In a Grove”, https://eidon.bandcamp.com/track/in-a-grove, © Eidon. All rights reserved.
Again about the relation between The Ring and the Book and In a Grove
Thanks to friend Wim, I have been able to read the following article about In a Grove: http://web.archive.org/web/20150201234724/http://web.kyoto-inet.or.jp:80/people/cozy-p/yabunonaka.htm Remarkably, its author also points out the relationship between The Ring and the Book and In a Grove:
I realised that this work, 'In a grove', is very similar to [Browning's] 'The Ring and the Book' (1868-69), in terms of structure and content. Although I would have to look into the details, I was certain that it was influenced in some way by him.
The author of the article admirably concludes:
There are various interpretations of “In a grove”, including the identification of the perpetrators. As with the testimonies in the novel, the reader can interpret the novel in many different ways, and the way in which the work is handled is also varied. It is impossible to specify where the truth lies. That is why he or she is 'in a grove'.