Sunday, May 30, 2010
Kissing the Mask
"Just as when for the first time a man glimpses the skin below a woman's neck he can envision her nakedness more plausibly but certainly not exactly (and, as I have mentioned, the W-shape of the unpainted skin on the back of a geisha's neck--adjoining fangs--is said to represent the vulva), so when I see the edge of a geisha's under-kimono I begin to imagine not her naked body necessarily, but the layers and layers of unknown colors, dances, thoughts, all the way down to the woman herself, whom I can never hope to know."
From Kissing the Mask: Beauty, Understatement and Femininity in Japanese Noh Theater, with some thoughts on Muses (especially Helga Testorf), Transgender Women, Kabuki Goddesses, Porn Queens, Poets, Housewives, Makeup Artists, Geishas, Valkyries and Venus Figurines by William T. Vollmann.
Vollmann's book is so good I bought it twice. More on that later. Meanwhile, you can read reviews of Kissing the Mask here and here. The geisha in the photograph (c.1934) is Matsuei, supposedly the inspiration for Komako in Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata--a book Vollmann mentions, along with about a million other things, in Kissing the Mask.