Publication. Presented August 2007, forthcoming,PALA 2007
Conference Proceedings (The Poetics and Linguistics Association);
forthcoming also in Stylistic Studies of Literature (S. Kumamoto &
M. Hori, eds.), March, 2008.
A substitute title for this paper might be,
‘Beyond the text horizon: Haiku, nature, and the hard problem of
consciousness’. I was led to investigate the relationship between haiku, nature
and consciousness, and in the course of research ended up in quite a different
place than I had imagined. As a result, this paper has three objectives. The
first concerns the problem of haiku definition in English, the second has to do
with a few elementary possibilities for cognitive‑poetic applications as
a means of discovering notable linguistic features in haiku, and the third
involves an explorative discussion of hypotheticality in haiku as psychological ‘move’,
validating the commonly-held notion that haiku on the whole reveal essentials
of nature for the reader. In this paper, 'nature' implies both 'the wild' as discussed in Gary Snyder (1996), and 'consciousness' as defined by Chalmers (1995a and 1995b). I will present an overview of each topic, with the hope of stimulating further discussion.
1. Struggle for definition
In a continual and periodically contentious
search for the definition of a young genre, the recently re‑written 2004 ‘Haiku
Society of America (HSA) definitions’ describe haiku as: ‘a short poem that
uses imagistic language to convey the essence of an experience of nature or the
season intuitively linked to the human condition’. As the terms ‘imagistic
language’, ‘essence’, and ‘intuitively linked’ are not further explicated, the attempt
at definition remains problematic, as it lacks specificity — an informed
linguistic analysis may be of some benefit. An explanatory note to the
definition adds, ‘Most haiku in English consist of three unrhymed lines of
seventeen or fewer syllables’. This formal limitation to syllable‑range reflects
the prevalent 11-12‑syllable mean length of haiku, with exceptions. There
has been no strict rule for syllable counting in English for several decades; in any case, the concept that Japanese
5‑7‑5‑on (‘sounds’) should equate to 5‑7‑5
English syllables, or any exact syllable‑count, is a linguistic misnomer.
Metrical templates exist however in both Japanese and English haiku, and these template
metrics mirror each other, providing a successful model of emulation inclusive
of a range English syllables. The great majority of haiku in English serendipitously
follow this metrical template (cf. Gilbert and Yoneoka, 2000).
Max Verhart’s informative 2007 analytical survey based on written
responses from 29 published haijin (the term, meaning ‘haiku poet’, is a loan
word) in 19 countries, sums up some generally
held views concerning form. The parenthetical numbers below accord with the
number of respondents in agreement on each summarized topic:
Having looked over all twenty-nine
definitions, one can conclude by simply counting that a majority of the haiku
poets polled agree that [A] haiku is a short (20) form of poetry (15) [B] concerned
with insight (19). To a lesser extent they say that a haiku is [C] based on a
moment (7) [D] experienced in nature/[E]seasons (12) or [F] reality in general
(9). One feature, [G] the haiku moment, seems to be contradicted by three
others, who stress that haiku reflects the changing nature of things.
reveals a degree of generalization which might surprise the linguist, given
that the genre presents a number of distinctive linguistic and formal features.
To briefly comment on these findings, [A] ‘a short form of poetry’, fits for the
majority of poems published over the past half‑century or more, and it must
be hard to find a poet willing to disagree that their work is [B] concerned
with insight. Haijin do [G] disagree as to whether haiku is [C] based on a moment. Perhaps
this is partly because it is unclear what a moment signifies, whether it be the
reader’s (subjective/cognitive?) moment, a naturalistic instant, image-schema moment,
moment within possible worlds of the poem, etc. As seen in the examples just below,
haiku do not necessarily reflect a moment as an instant of time. For instance, Gurga’s
use of ‘forgotten for today’ and Kacian’s ‘looking out…long after’ are examples
of extended or dislocated (nonlinear, indeterminate or paradoxical) temporality:
today by the one true god autumn mosquito
looking out the window
How long is ‘today’ for a god; or ‘long
after’ for that birder—10 minutes, 10 days, 10 years?
The examples shown
below likewise reveal temporal indeterminacy. Another theme in the Verhart survey
[E] addresses ‘season’. The great majority of traditional Japanese haiku relate
to the seasons, as they contain kigo (a referentially complex word or
phrase whose partial function provides seasonal indication (cf. Gilbert,
2006)), but many modern haiku in Japan and elsewhere present urban settings,
topics such as war, dream‑life, mytheme, political realties, surreal
stylism, etc., and so lack a seasonal indication. As an aside, in the 17th
century, Matsuo Bashô, in his selected‑hokku collections maintained a non‑kigo
category, as did late‑Meiji era reformer Masaoka Shiki (coiner of the
term ‘haiku’), who also penned a number of non‑kigo haiku.
Even when a
seasonal theme is indicated, as with ‘athlete’s foot’ (summer) in Hoshinaga,
seen below, the connotation in contemporary haiku often involves the distortion
or semiotic transposition of the traditional kigo intention. Hoshinaga remarks
that his kigo use is never purely realistic or naturalistic (Gilbert, 2004a).
As this is true for any number of contemporary writers, the genre of
contemporary haiku cannot be defined as a ‘season literature’. This leaves [D] nature
as an attribute (‘experienced in nature’, above)—begging the question of the
definition of nature. Finally, in the above‑quoted survey, haiku are
concerned with [F] ‘reality in general’, and one wonders what this could not
mean. In the following sections I hope to explore some avenues which may lead
towards greater genre specificity.
Elements of alternativity are frequently
found in contemporary haiku. The examples below were chosen to show a variety
of features denoting alternativity, and illustrate several specific features:
(1) cognitive estrangement;
(4) time‑space and subversion,
and (5) speculative mythopoesis.
Note also that some of the haiku are ‘one‑liners’. All the examples show cognitive
estrangement to varying degrees:
after the bombing
ruins of a bridge
linked by the fog
The sweet smell
from an unknown tree
repulses the metropolis
Athlete's foot itches –
still can't become
A spring cliff –
in my cup
tears of a bird
spring wind –
pain fading the days back to wilderness
leaves blowing into a sentence
From the future
a wind arrives
that blows the waterfall apart
Entering a dream
of that Great Fish of the South
wanting to cry out
considerable amount of energy has been spent on haiku‑definitional
projects over the last decades, results to date lack adequate resolution. As a
result, several critics have echoed Hiroaki Sato’s statement, ‘Today it may be
possible to describe haiku but not to define it’ (1999, p. 73). Examining
the range of variation exhibited in the examples above, it may be that Sato is strictly
correct as to definition but his silver lining is the implicit invitation to
cognitive poetics in advancing avenues of linguistic description. Descriptions
connoting those specific ways in which haiku utilise language in their creation
of reader‑effects would likely increase genre valuation and simulate further
interest in this young genre.
2. Out of
the water — Towards linguistic depiction
poems of consciousness. This has been said in a variety of ways, most notably by
R. H. Blyth, the British‑expatriate promoter of Zen Buddhist
readings of haiku, in his voluminous translations and commentaries (1949-1952,
etc.), and by the celebrated Beat writer Jack Kerouac, who was strongly
influenced by Blyth, in terms of haiku. Through Kerouac’s portrayal of poet and
ecocritical writer Gary Snyder in his novel, The Dharma Bums (1958), new
generations worldwide probably first come into contact with haiku as literature, Kerouac’s books remaining perennial bestsellers. Partly
as a result of these two contemporary influences, the English‑language haiku
tradition from the 1950s on has conflated the concept of a zenlike ‘moment’ (an
‘AH’ or ‘AHA!’ moment) with the notion if not raison d’etre of haiku—though this
idea is being questioned of late (such a ‘moment’ is not a central critical
concern or mainstay aesthetic within Japanese haiku studies). Leaving aside the
relevance of the perspective, it is difficult to discern what ‘zenlike’ might actually
mean. In any case, good haiku seem to possess both magnetism and a near‑universal
appeal, judging by the many countries and languages in which they now appear. A
notable attribute the haiku genre is its ability to overleap borders of
language, region and culture.
One of the most
celebrated haiku in English is the following haiku, penned in 1963 by Nicholas
out of the water . . .
out of itself.
Some features commonly
found in English‑language haiku can be observed: a three‑line
tripartite meter, short‑long‑short line length, seasonal indication
(lily), and kireji (a ‘cutting word’) designated by use of the colon after ‘lily’
(the semi‑colon and especially en- or em-dash are also often used). The ‘cutting
word’ is a subset (i.e. orthographic markup) existing within the wider concept
of kire (‘cutting’)—a cutting of the poem in time and space which can
occur through multiple linguistic and semantic disjunctions apart from, and in
place of, kireji. Note that the examples of Simin, Falkman, Kacian, Boldman and
Natsuishi, shown above, do not contain kireji but do exhibit kire. In ‘lily’
is the addition of ellipsis, a relatively unusual feature, as kireji is already
found. The poem also successfully applies the technique of rhythmic
substitution—the rhythmic repetition in the repeating phrase ‘out of’ in the last
two lines (cf. Gilbert, 2004b). Virgilio’s haiku is a good example of both
the effect and effectiveness of kireji in English. If this text were to be
interpreted prosaically, it might look something like:
[A] lily: [it comes/rises] out of the water [and/also (rises/comes) (to be)/(is
connected with the idea of arising)] out of itself.
[(I/one can) notice that the)/(There is a)] lily [(I am observing/observed)/(which
is growing/has grown)] out the water [and] out of itself (too/as
As can be seen by the ‘filled in’ sentence‑examples
1) & 2) above, haiku in general offer the reader propositions via a series
of phrasal and image ‘fragments’. ‘Formal incompleteness’ might well be
included in future definitions of verity. In ‘lily’ there are propositions made
concerning being, identity and becoming, which, along with the lily itself, become
main loci. In fact, part of the delight in the haiku is the dynamic imbalance
between foreground and background. Is the main locus the flower—or identity;
birth and growth, or—being and non‑being? Figure and ground are at any
moment of reading both distinct and mutating. Because haiku are extremely
brief, the reader not only reads but also re-reads. As re‑reading occurs,
further thoughts and feelings arise, interpretations build up, while some are
discarded; you could say that the poem grows out of itself—thought grows out of
itself, feeling grows out of itself, the image grows out of itself, imagination
grows out of itself (and/or out of the poem). I term this process ‘misreading
as meaning’, because haiku resist easy solutions as to meaning, resisting
reader attempts to ferret out singular meanings or messages, scenes, worlds, or
any singular, ‘true’ interpretation.
Acts of ‘misreading
as meaning’ are abetted by absent syntactic elements, as can be seen in sentence‑example
1) which has filled‑in elements implied by punctuation and lineation in
the haiku. Sentence‑example 2) represents an attempt at an even
more fulsome prose. This functional compositional‑stylism of missing syntactic
elements and semantic language‑gaps in haiku form has been described as katakoto:
‘fragmentary or “broken” language’ (lit. ‘baby talk’), coined by
Tsubouchi Nenten (2007).
The two sentence‑examples
reveal that verbal action [growth], and verbs themselves are usually implicit
rather than overt in haiku, and that syntactic and semantic compression is a
common feature. The deictic ‘I’ is rarely stated in haiku, nor are pronouns commonly
found. These schemes represent two of the ways in which haiku connote objectivity
between imaged object(s) and experiencer/reader.
It is notable
that neither 1) nor 2) above are able to prosaically inscribe the kireji in the
haiku, represented by the colon in the poem. The colon is then an idiosyncratic
genre-specific modifier, designed (in this case) to emulate the character ‘ya’
in Japanese, ‘a post-position particle used to express emotion,
inspiration, feeling’ (Hasegawa, 2007). As the kireji ‘cuts the ku’—that is, breaks
the haiku apart spatially, psychologically and temporally, its semantic
connotation might be illustrated as:
[there is a] lily
is] out of the water
is] out of itself
Something, but not the lily. The lily, as a
realistic, deictic object, indicating place and world as origo is cut
off from the last two lines. So, what is it that is ‘out of the water’? Lily‑ness,
perhaps. The quality of what it is to be a lily. We see that kireji indicates
it cannot be ‘the lily out of the water’—as realism or literalism. If this were
the case, there would be no colon and likely no lineation between first and
second lines. Something else is meant. As Heidegger stated, we may liken it to
the ‘thingness’ of things.
So, primary disjunction in haiku is often brought by kireji (colon). This
linguistic role seems unique to haiku, among poetic genres.
(cutting) is a haiku fundament. It is the semantic act of cutting which paradoxically
forges the sense of non-duality, that is, a reader‑sense of coherence
arising from the fragmentary aspects (katakoto) of haiku. If coherence
did not occur, we would not have a poem, but merely a grouping of linguistic fragments.
Why and how does coherence in haiku occur? While this experience cannot easily
be defined, the celebrated ‘lily’ haiku is acknowledged as an exemplar. There
is an aspect of what I term hypotheticality occurring between the first and
second lines, as ‘lily’ becomes something like (the lily quality of) which it
is to be ‘out of the water’. But what of the third line? Here, impossibility or
paradox arises, revealing a high degree of unusuality and alternativity, spawning
metaphoric identity: what it is to be the quality of something of itself coming
out of the origin of its selfness.
And, what, or
how, might this ‘image’? How does the haiku cohere? The final ‘outcome’ or ending
is hypothetical—an imaging (process) incomplete as to meaning—as the poem and
its languaged paradox trail off into space—and then return to ‘lily’ at the
beginning again, in an uroboros‑like circulation of re‑reading.
of itself . . .
apparently centres on ‘lily’, remaining sensual and somewhat deictic (‘lily’ is
with you right to the end), yet is also paradoxical as to action, and also
metaphorical, due to the irruption of realism (the lily does not literally come
out of itself). We can say as a result that the deictic recedes to a contextual
resonance rather than figurative ground. At the same time, there exists another
figuration: a pond (indicative of Bashô’s celebrated ‘old pond’ haiku), as
background—but this image remains halfway‑seen, as the body of water
remains unstated. The lily could as well be a product of hydroponics. This tableau
contains then both realism and surrealism in a near-symbolism, existing in a
psychological space between realism, fantasy and dream; a realm which
psychologist James Hillman discusses as daimonic (cf. ‘On Psychological
Creativity,’ 1998), an aspect of soul which ‘deepens events into experiences’
(2004, p. 26). I speculate that haiku often begin with ‘objective’ facts:
things, objects, events, and psychological deepening proceeds; that is,
following Hillman, objective ‘events’ become experiences via a process of
deepening (are ensouled, in the argot of archetypal psychology).
The haiku ends
with a multi-layered experience of realistic image (e.g. lily, lily pond),
imagined sensation/perceptions of qualities (lily‑ness‑coming
out-of-water‑ness), and impossible tautological truths (how can what it
is come out of what it is?). In actuality, there is no ‘come’ or ‘become’ in
the haiku, only the repetition of the phrasal ‘out of’. The semantic idea of
coming or going or any evolving of image‑schema remains reader‑interpretive—perceived
movements or actions between planes of reality rely on absences or lacunae
between language parts. As a result, there impends a ‘languaging’ which extends
beyond the given text‑language and image‑schema—this languaging aspect
necessarily arises in searching out coherence.
In a sense, haiku
evoke islands of cognitive coherence (those language parts and image‑constellations
which follow familiar lexical and syntactic rules), while by contrast cognitive
disjunction (dissonance, alternativity) is evoked via lacaune, kire, and
‘misreadings as meaning’ evolving in reader‑consciousness. In discussing the
via negativa of haiku, Tsubouchi Nenten applies the term katakoto;
Hasegawa Kai uses ma (especially psychological ma, connoting a ‘psycho‑poetic
interval of betweenness’);
Natsuishi comments that, ‘the nothing (nihil) can connect with everything,
or turn into a more positive philosophy. Through negative stages, it is
possible to reach some positive dimension’ (2004, p. 68); and American haiku author
and critic Jim Kacian writes in his prose poem, ‘Presence’, ‘In this way haiku
can be poised between language and silence / In this way it can
suggest the centrality of silence’ (2006, p. 13). Excellent haiku evoke
coherence beyond the text horizon.
a lily — ‘kire’ and the hard problem of consciousness
It is kire which most strongly
separates haiku from epithet, and this key semantic feature is applied via a
variety of linguistic techniques (cf. Gilbert, 2004b). We recognise
haiku as necessitating extreme concision, minimalism, and attributes of ‘image’—
but without kire, we do not have haiku. Kire can be taken as ‘cuttings’
or ‘irruptions’, or strong, abrupt ‘distortions’ of space/time/worlds in reader
Having a sense of
disjunction, and the separation of realistic object and deixis from its ending
fruition, in ‘lily’ the last line applies the reflexive pronoun ‘itself’ to
create a paradoxical image, neither realist nor surrealist. What is the thing
that is a ‘self’ of ‘it’? Of course, it is a lily, only the lily, but it is
also what it is to be like a lily in its thingly character. A further exegesis of this haiku
approaches the centre of a fundamental debate in cognitive
science and the philosophy of consciousness: what it is like to be something
that experiences the feeling of experience. A well‑known paper by Nagel (1974)
asked the question, ‘What is it like to be a bat?’; and David Chandler
developed this problem for cognitive science, coining the now‑legendary
phrase ‘the hard problem of consciousness’:
The really hard problem of
consciousness is the problem of experience. When we think and perceive,
there is a whir of information-processing, but there is also a subjective
aspect. As Nagel (1974) has put it, there is something it is like to be
a conscious organism. This subjective aspect is experience. When we see, for
example, we experience visual sensations: the felt quality of redness, the
experience of dark and light, the quality of depth in a visual field. Other
experiences go along with perception in different modalities: the sound of a
clarinet, the smell of mothballs. Then there are bodily sensations, from pains
to orgasms; mental images that are conjured up internally; the felt quality of
emotion, and the experience of a stream of conscious thought. What unites all
of these states is that there is something it is like to be in them. All of
them are states of experience. It is undeniable that some organisms are
subjects of experience. But the question of how it is that these systems are
subjects of experience is perplexing. Why is it that when our cognitive systems
engage in visual and auditory information-processing, we have visual or
auditory experience: the quality of deep blue, the sensation of middle C? How
can we explain why there is something it is like to entertain a mental image,
or to experience an emotion? (1995a).
The problem is
‘hard' because experience cannot yet be explained or defined by cognitive
science. Generally speaking, haiku formally address the hypothetical question
posed by the hard problem of consciousness: of how it is to know the feeling of
how consciousness is,
apart from the ‘easy problems’ (see the Addendum for these), via the creation
of paradox, ambiguity and hypotheticality, so that image foregrounding,
linguistic seriality, image‑schemae become weak, non‑existent,
or ambivalent. In consequence, a via negativa arises. That is, haiku act as a finger or peninsula of language, jutting out into languageless potentialities
in which something inexplicable to cognitive science (indefinite, non‑definable)
is occurring. One may say that the haiku text points beyond itself. Not every
haiku achieves this locus in a strong manner, yet those that do so may
represent a limit for cognitive poetics, an idea I would
like to pursue in the remainder of this paper.
3. Putting the period deeply: Hypotheticality
and the hard problem
To the extent there is reader/poem‑coherence
experienced in haiku which present with disjunctive, fragmentary language and kire,
haiku propositions evoke Chandler’s hard problem—how it is to know the feeling
of how consciousness is—and are intriguingly separated from the more ‘easy’ problems
of consciousness. I would like, specifically, to show how a dualistic cognitive
fundament, the ‘discrimination of figure and ground’ (and those modes of attention
which create this orientation), can be subverted within the haiku landscape, by discussing an example presenting
an abundance of hypotheticality. Easy aspects of consciousness are not negated
in the evocation of hypotheticality in haiku; however, they are relegated to the
background, much like the landscape in the rear view of a car mirror. We know
what got us to where we are, but coherence in the poem does not seem to lie in returning
to these previous cognitive stages.
While it is
impossible to address the hard problem directly, an example demonstrating how
haiku bring the reader toward the phenomenology of the hard problem via
adumbrations of the paradoxical and hypothetical can be found in this haiku by
Shin-tairiku no chûshin no sabaku ni fukaku kuten o ute (24-on) (2004, p. 24)
a period deeply
the center of the new world
‘Put a period’ begins with what seems a
trivial action: put a period somewhere. Usually we put them on paper. But the
second line represents a left turn with ‘into the desert’, reversing semantic
expectation. Putting a period ‘into the desert’ evokes a different line of
image, action and form from what might conceivably be done with a literal,
textual ‘period’. And so, realism is subverted. The sense of paradox is
heightened by the imperative grammatical tone. The poem is so short that while
thinking this part out I have scanned the whole several times. Though having read
this poem some years ago, I continue to formulate possible worlds: the aspect
of explaining, in fact, the ‘explainer’ of intellect rides behind the
propulsive process of reading/misreading.
3.1 Figure and ground as Möbius
Some of my hypothetical speculations concerning this haiku are that the period implies ‘end of an era,’ death, finality, a flag (of some sort), a statement; the desert is real and inhabits the new world, or a speculative
new world; is an actual place (Death Valley, the high desert of Nasca); the
haiku is political, ‘center of the desert’ represents America’s current government
and its war in Iraq; the period is a wounding; the haiku is historical, relating
to Columbus’ ‘discovery’ and eurocentrism; so, the haiku is revisionist and
ironic, accessing ‘new world’ in a post‑colonial manner; the haiku landscape
is that of another planet awaiting discovery; an alternative universe where
putting a period exactly thus makes good sense; the haiku is a surreal
remembrance, a novel myth—alternativity spawns alternativities; the period is wherever my attention is.
There are a
number of linguistic features which act as semantic attractors here—as much as
the poem resists rational sense, it also resists non‑sense. Some of these
cognitive attributes are:
1) Something is being done (i.e. use of ‘put’,
‘into’, ‘of’ in prepositional phrases).
2) There is a desert (geography).
3) There is a period (a common noun).
4) ‘New world’ is a familiar term (compound
noun) for a place and/or idea of region.
Due to the use and arrangement of the above
four elements (representing actions, things, biome, and region), the haiku
stubbornly resists being taken as nonsense, as it applies familiar notions and
deixis. Nonetheless, the haiku grazes the nonsensical—one thing this poem is
not doing is putting a period anywhere — but then again . . . This flashing
back and forth, between sense and the nons‑ of sense; between
meaning and its irruption; between Newtonian time, space and form, and its quotidian
counterpoints is emblematic of gendai (modern) haiku in Japan and a growing
number of ‘21st‑century modern’ haiku in English.
The text has an
uroborous-like quality, turning round on itself like a Möbius strip. An uruborous
is a pattern of infinite progression and return—a Möbius has the additional
property of collapsing dimension (the two sides become apparently one). In that attention itself becomes the primary focal point of the haiku lens, the familiar scenario of figure/ground polarity collapses into the 'zero dimension' of attention itself. The uroborous and Möbius are
paradoxical; yet, as demonstrated in the haiku above, strong paradoxicality can
impend in a form of 14 words within a pattern of 7‑5‑8 syllables.
Modes of provocational forgetting
How does the reader organize
cognitive landscapes, in reading this haiku? Are you sussing out how the poem
is organized? How many times have you scanned the poem so far? Has the sense of
figure, ground, and meaning been shifting and shuffling with re‑reading?
Have a variety of propositions and possible worlds been formulated, with certain
image‑schemas discarded—some of which are revisited? I think of this
process as ‘misreading as meaning’. To the extent such a cognitive process
becomes potent as a foreground, an interesting dance develops between multiple hypothetical
strands of feeling, image‑schemae and logics—a dance of MUMS: ‘Modes of
provocational forgetting under the influence of creative misreading(s)’.
At least three cognitive aspects seem involved in
provocational forgetting. The first involves iterative experiences of defamiliarization,
as the journey of ‘misreading as meaning’ continues. This is the provocational
aspect of a MUM. Defamiliarization occurs in terms of semantics, syntax,
schema, and deixis. As possible worlds rise, are discarded, mutate, and are re‑run,
the reader swims on through various novel landscapes, and so, normative
grammatical and semiotic structures are usurped (‘forgotten’ or left behind, so
to say) as novel cognitive structures and orientations arise and evolve. Development,
in this sense, involves 'dishabituation’ (a variety of forgetting; loss of
3.2.2 Forgetting to learn
A second aspect of ‘forgetting’ was
advanced some decades ago by the noted neurologist Julian Jaynes (1976), who
outlined stages of cognitive learning in his speculative work on the evolution of
subjective consciousness. In Chapter 1, ‘The Consciousness of Consciousness’
(pp. 21‑47) Jaynes explains that as elementary steps of a learned process
become unconscious (lost to or ‘forgotten’ by consciousness), this developing
unconsciousness allows for an increase in expertise (i.e., without increasing
unconsciousness expertise could not develop). In his example, if an
accomplished pianist were to suddenly have to consciously experience the
beginner‑level of playing—where to place each finger on each key—there
would be a return to a novice level of performance. Mastery relies on a great
deal of information, at one time conscious, having become unconscious. This
idea seems a commonsense truth for craft in general. Corollary to this is the
concept of reader‑expertise in haiku reading—there is a developmental curve
involving iterations of provocational forgetting in the evolution of reader
3.2.3 Foraging anamnesis
Another aspect of forgetting, indicative of
psychic potency, can be illustrated via the perspective of depth psychology. In
a primary mythos of the underworld journey, taken from classical Greece,
there exist two great underworld rivers/goddesses: Lethe and Mnemosyne. It was said
that departed souls must first drink the waters of Lethe (forgetting, amnesia),
before travelling through her lands to finally drink the waters of Mnemosyne
(anamnesis) (cf. Hesiod, Theogony). To briefly summarize the concept, via the ‘forgetting’
of certain cognitive patterns and structures (cognitive amnesia)—a variety of psychological death
(underworld rivers convey thanatos)—divergent orders of recollection
(re‑memberings consequent to one’s descent) are inspired; the goddess Mnemosyne
is mother to the Muses.
taking this view of the forgetting/re‑membering process, finding or
resolving coherence first seems to involve an iterative process of defamiliarization
and forgetting(s), antecedent to re‑memberings, anamnesis. Unfortunately,
a continuation of this topic is beyond the scope of this paper.
3.2.4 (Re)birthing coherence
Perhaps haiku resist strict definition in
that the main locus of poesis—experiences of coherence—cannot be
adequately described in language. Cognitive‑poetic aspects such as MUMS can
however offer a process‑description of possible reader‑phenomenology.
There seem useful hints to the phenomenology of consciousness within haiku coherence,
as experiences birthing novel modalities (anamnesis) of experience/remembrance.
This may be an unsurprising statement for art in general; however, it is really
about how the MUMS get you there. That is, it is the unique, sensate taste of
poetic experience within the haiku cosmos that matters, pragmatically.
3.3 Cognitive reflexivity — Metaxic
Peter Stockwell in his ‘Surreal Figures’ (2003,
p. 15) outlines five psychological aspects involved in selective
attention (an ‘easy’ problem of consciousness) based on classical Gestalt psychology. Here,
each of these is summed up, with examples given from ‘Put a period’:
positioned close to each other will be treated as having a unified relationship.
(put/period), (deeply/desert), (centre/world)
2) Elements that
appear similar will be assumed to be related.
The nouns: (period/desert/new world)
3) Figures with a
perceived closed boundary will be seen as unified.
(Into the desert/at the centre)
4) Elements with few
interruptions between them will be seen as connected.
the haiku form is extremely brief, all elements have few interruptions
5) Elements which
seem to share a function are treated together.
(a period/a desert/a centre/the new)
Even with these gestalt‑semantic cues,
‘Put a period deeply’ has no solution, and does not resolve as to figure and
ground, as it contains several layers and types of abrupt paradox (and any
given paradox may be paradoxical to the others)—and yet—cohesion. The phrasal fragments
contain commonplace semantic, syntactic, and logical elements, as well as
simple, realistic images (period, desert, new world). There is also a high
degree of cognitive reflexivity, which I ascribe as the evolving awareness
in reader experience of ‘imagining as imagining, reading as reading, knowing as
knowing’ (the ‘out of the water / out of itself’ effect).
There is another
layer to this reader experience, the psychological space that opens up within
the disjunctive paradoxicality of real semantic notions exhibiting
incompleteness—a space wherein the known, and the knower of what is
known, have become unblended or unbonded. Hillman refers to this as metaxic.
‘Metaxy denotes the intermediate realm between two opposites’ (1966, pp. 379-80).
To enter this psychological realm of ‘between’ is more or less equivalent to
Hasegawa Kai’s depiction of ‘psychological ma’ in haiku,
mentioned earlier. As metaxic ambiguity occupies consciousness, a variety of psychological
space opens, which Karl Kerenyi denotes as ‘das Moment des Unerklarlichen:
the moment of the inexplicable.
This interval of the space of ‘betweenness’, psychological inexplicability
as poesis, represents a journey between haiku and reader.
reflexivity is a heightening of cognitive self‑awareness, yet there is
incompleteness and paradox which likewise evolves, due to disjunctive
paradoxicality. At this point we have come to a psychological ‘moment’ (das
Moment des Unerklarlichen), but it is not an AHA! (which implies that you
‘get’ something). Or, if so, the getting is all about the losing; that is,
getting lost. A ‘moment of the inexplicable’ is a bit deceptive—the plural
form, ‘moments of’, and alternatively, ‘field of’, or ‘landscape of’, could be
substituted. My approach here, utilizing cognitive poetics and western
depth-psychological notions, hopefully retains a sense of the complexity of haiku‑poetic
experience. In Japanese, the term kire, ‘cutting’, described (in brief)
as a cutting through time and space, is an elegantly concise description for a complex, indeterminate,
cognitive process. For Bashô, kire was at the heart of his haiku
That this term and its implications remain undiscussed in English is indicative
of a knowledge gap that exists in Anglo‑American haiku studies concerning
A central feature
of haiku exhibiting strong hypotheticality is that they ride the horizon-line of
inexplicability while also diving in. Yet if inexplicability alone were itself the outcome,
confusion would result rather than coherence. This issue of confusion versus
coherence leads to my final topic, the relationship between haiku and nature. It
may be that the haiku journey here encounters something wild, unbounded, and
unconfined by normative structures.
4. The grain of things: Nature and haiku
Plausible deniability in haiku has to do
with how haiku articulate multiple possible worlds, each one hypothetical,
plausible, and at the same time also deniable as to its existence or viability,
in relation to the text. What does all this have to do with nature? Gary Snyder
So I will argue that
consciousness, mind, imagination, and language are fundamentally wild. “Wild”
as in wild ecosystems—richly interconnected, interdependent, and incredibly
complex. Diverse, ancient, and full of information. At root the real question
is how we understand the concepts of order, freedom, and chaos. Is art an
imposition of order on chaotic nature, or is art (also read “language”) a
matter of discovering the grain of things, of uncovering the measured chaos
that structures the natural world? Observation, reflection, and practice show
artistic process to be the latter (1996, p. 168).
That we are fundamentally wild: language
and consciousness are fundamentally wild. Snyder’s depiction of the wild
differs from the idea of chaos as an inchoate order of being. Echoing classical
Greek ideas of beauty as ‘pattern’, Snyder writes of ‘a measured chaos that
structures the natural world’; that there arises in consequence, ‘the grain of
things . . . uncovering the measured chaos that structures’ the pattern, forms,
and (cybernetic) structures evident in what is wild in universe. Heidegger likewise
indicates an aspect of wildness in that things in their fundamental nature
(things in their thingness; lily in its lilyness; to ‘put a period deeply’),
resist and evade thought, being ‘seldom expressible’:
exertion of thought seems to meet with its greatest resistance in defining the
thingness of the thing. . . . The unpretentious thing evades thought most
stubbornly. Or can it be that this self‑refusal of the mere thing, this
self‑contained independence, belongs precisely to the nature of the
thing. . . That the thingness
of the thing is particularly difficult to express and only seldom expressible
is infallibly documented. . . . The world is not the mere collection of the
countable or uncountable, familiar and unfamiliar things that are just there.
But neither is it a merely imagined framework added by our representation to
the sum of given things. The world worlds, and is more fully in being
than the tangible and perceptible realm in which we believe ourselves to be at
home. World is never an object that stands before us and can be seen. World is
the ever‑nonobjective to which we are subject . . . (2001, pp. 31, 43).
The ‘world worlds’, as a verb:
‘world is never an object that stands before us’ because it is ‘ever‑nonobjective’
and we ourselves are subject to this nonobjectivity; ‘world’ ('being', as Chalmer's experience) can, then, be neither
imagined schema nor the representations of given things—Heidegger’s idea seems similar
to Snyder’s ‘measured chaos’ presenting ‘the grain of things’. Both seek a non‑dual,
integral continuum for nature and consciousness—a continuum which evades, resists
or otherwise challenges its easy problems. Snyder’s ‘nature’ and Heidegger’s
‘world’ indicate epistemological spaces in which the wild is fundamentally
extra‑human, extra‑rational/objective, and primary rather than
The issues raised are relevant to a description of haiku and nature, in that they approach the difficulty of inscribing nature and consciousness within a single phenomenological field. Perhaps it is only via forms of psychological inexplicability as poesis that the reader is able to be led through a labyrinth of creative, hypothetical image‑schema,
away from the easy problems of consciousness toward the intimate wilderness of ‘what it is like to be something’, apart from the functional utility of ‘modes of attention’ (‘the object that stands before us . . . tangible and perceptible’).
Looking at Snyder’s definition of ‘wild ecosystems’ there are strong parallels
with the cognitive‑poetic haiku landscape: richly interconnected,
Snyder also discusses an historic Anglo‑European bias which has opposed civilization to
nature; civilization as a garden which keeps nature at bay, and out. From Snyder’s
Many figures in the
literary field, the critical establishment, and the academy are not enthralled
with the natural world, and indeed some positively doubt its worth when
compared to human achievement. Take this quote from Howard Nemerov, a good poet
and a decent man:
mirrored in language, is the garden where relations grow; outside the garden is
the wild abyss.
assumptions here are fascinating. They are, at worst, crystallizations of the
erroneous views that enable the developed world to displace Third and Fourth
World peoples and overexploit nature globally. Nemerov here proposes that language
is somehow implicitly civilized or civilizing, that civilization is orderly,
that intrahuman relations are the pinnacle of experience (as though all of us,
and all life on the planet, were not interrelated), and that “wild” means
“abyssal,” disorderly, and chaotic (p. 166).
haiku a shape‑shifting landscape develops, partly form and image, partly
uncertainty, partly remembrance, partly those ideas and feelings which recede,
as palimpsest—impelling the inexplicable, through cutting (kire).
When haiku are described as poems evoking nature, this sensibility may at root be
related not as much to evocations of season or naturalism, as an evolving
process of indeterminacy in reader‑experience, evoking a sense of
interdependent systems, ‘ecological’ landscapes, and non‑duality inhabited
via metaxy. As such, the move toward alienation exhibited by textual language
(described in Abram, 2005; Manes, 1992) becomes a primary poetic subject and subversive
mode of exploration in modern haiku, which uses language with the intention to
recast the ground of the natural in both literature and the reader. This
intention locates haiku in English uniquely within the purview of ecopoetics
and the academic field of literature and the environment.
In this paper, some possibilities have
been offered which may lead to more specific definitions of the haiku genre
(e.g. formal incompleteness, kire stylism, katakoto, modes of plausibly‑deniable
hypotheticality, MUMS, metaxic ambiguity). Also, several unique features of contemporary haiku, such as
time dilation, futurism, mythopoetic realities, spontaneously generating alternate universes, and the positing of
unique physical laws and behaviours have been examined, as they occur in the course of generating
plausibly deniable disjunct paradoxicality.
Haiku which utilise
kire effectively have the potential to evoke reader‑experiences of
coherence, arising as ecos, and anamnesis. Haiku are radical in the way they use language to recast relations between consciousness
and nature. There seems no more sufficient rationale to explain the survival of
this extremely brief genre as a high art for over four centuries, and its
recent internationalization. Although who we are and what we become within points
of poetic coherence arising out of disjunctive hypotheticality cannot yet be described
by cognitive poetics, modes and stages of reader phenomena in haiku may be
outlined and the genre more specifically defined. I would like to end with a
remark by C. G. Jung (1969,
p. 420) in relation to
the hard problem of consciousness, which seems relevant to evocations of the
wild in haiku: ‘The psyche and its contents are the only reality which is given
to us without a medium’.
is supported by a Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) Grant-in-Aid
for Scientific Research, and the Japan Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science
and Technology (MEXT), Kakenhi 18520439.
Chalmers briefly defines the hard problem of consciousness, and the
difference between the easy problems of consciousness
and the 'hard problem' (1995a, excerpted from pp. 200-202):
There is not just
one problem of consciousness. "Consciousness" is an ambiguous term,
referring to many different phenomena. Each of these phenomena needs to be explained,
but some are easier to explain than others. At the start, it is useful to
divide the associated problems of consciousness into “hard” and “easy”
problems. The easy problems of consciousness are those that seem directly
susceptible to the standard methods of cognitive science, whereby a phenomenon
is explained in terms of computational or neural mechanisms. The hard problems
are those that seem to resist those methods.
easy problems of consciousness include those of explaining the following phenomena:
the ability to
discriminate, categorise, and react to environmental stimuli;
the integration of
information by a cognitive system;
the reportability of
the ability of a system
to access its own internal states;
the focus of attention;
the deliberate control
the difference between
wakefulness and sleep.
of these phenomena are associated with the notion of consciousness. For
example, one sometimes says that a mental state is conscious when it is
verbally reportable, or when it is internally accessible. Sometimes a system is
said to be conscious of some information when it has the ability to react on
the basis of that information, or, more strongly, when it attends to that
information, or when it can integrate that information and exploit it in the
sophisticated control of behaviour. We sometimes say that an action is
conscious precisely when it is deliberate. Often, we say that an organism is
conscious as another way of saying that it is awake.
is no real issue about whether these phenomena can be explained
scientifically. All of them are straightforwardly vulnerable to explanation in
terms of computational or neural mechanisms. . . . In each case, an appropriate
cognitive or neurophysiological model can clearly do the explanatory work. . .
really hard problem of consciousness is the problem of experience. When
we think and perceive, there is a whir of information-processing, but there is
also a subjective aspect. As Nagel (1974) has put it, there is something it
is like to be a conscious organism. This subjective aspect is experience.
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In America, the growing pains of the new genre are hinted at by Anita Virgil,
one of the early leaders of the HSA, in a recent interview discussing her
experiences, circa 1971 (Wilson, 2005):
Hard as it
was for many to take, and hard as it was to convince many practitioners of this
simplistic adaptative [sic] ‘solution’ to writing haiku in another
language (and, unfortunately, to this day in the American educational system it
persists!), it meant moving away from the dictum of 17 English-language—and
later foreign-language—‘syllables’! Throughout the book The Japanese Haiku
by Kenneth Yasuda, the top of every page all the way across reads:
57557557557557557557. And at the back of the book where he had his own haiku in
English, he wrote them in 17 English syllables. How is a beginner to ever shake
this off? Talk about subliminal messages! Yes, to the Japanese it had
relevance, but to some of us outlanders, it was not the whole story. It was
rarely applicable when writing in English.
critiquing the poems of that era, it was not too difficult to see where the
writers in English added words SIMPLY FOR THE SAKE OF MAKING THAT 17-SYLLABLE
COUNT. It was referred to as “padding.” In most every instance, these ‘extra’
words were no more than redundancies. They did not add to the poem. To the
contrary, they weakened the impact by dragging it out, repeating the same idea.
Since the greatest beauty of the haiku for me is their power of concision with
which one can open up worlds of implication, suggestion—if one selects only the
essence of the moving experience that gave rise to the poem, this verbosity was
a real handicap. In the main line poetry circles of those days (and still today
somewhat) American haiku was totally disdained. Ignored. Not published.
The term ‘haijin’ is not italicized as it has become a loan
word within haiku studies. Other terms, such as kire (‘cutting’) have
not yet taken hold, so they remain in italics.
‘Cognitive estrangement’ is a term coined by Darko
Suvin (b. 1930, Professor Emeritus, McGill University) primarily in relation to
science fiction and fantasy genre‑studies, which implies an awareness on
the part of the reader that the text does not present a world as familiarly
known, but rather a cosmos whose alternative phenomena, through the
displacement of empirical and materialist views, impels a reconsideration of
habitual, scientifically‑based perspectives.
 ‘Paradox’ here indicates causal or ontological
impossibility; e.g. a tree smell cannot repulse a metropolis (in Boldman), nor
can one (still can’t) ‘become Hitler’ (in Hoshinaga), or ‘fading the days’ in
 ‘Futurism’ in this context indicates a time set in
the future which is imbued with poetic, if not visionary (or at minimum
 ‘Time‑space subversion’ indicates the
upsetting, overthrow or even destruction of a space‑time continuum via
the images presented in a given haiku. For instance, in Donegan, ‘spring wind’
exists in a time‑space framework in which a cogent author writes a
haiku—thus, ‘I…am dust’ subverts the time-space of both spring as season, and
the author’s lifetime as a cogent being (there is in addition the paradox of
wind as dust); in Kacian, ‘pain’ is experienced by a cogent author, thus it embodies
a specific deixis, which is subverted by a possible world in which pain, or its
causal result is ‘fading the days’ back to wilderness—which, whatever this
outcome may be, is no longer framed by the time or space of the antecedent
 ‘Speculative mythopoesis’ involves novel, hypothetical mythic creation.
 Two different editions of Kerouac’s On The Road are currently ranked within the top 1500 best‑selling books, and The Dharma Bums is ranked just over 6000, at amazon.com [Accessed 1 August 2007].
 In ‘The Origin of the Work of Art’, Heidegger (2001) describes
the ‘thingly character’ of things (an evolution of the Kantian ‘thing‑as-such’)
as a phenomenological arising apart from any particular set of sense‑data
given by that thing, thus implying that ‘the sense of what it is like to be
something’ (which David Chandler discusses as the hard problem of
consciousness), is intimately fused with the most basic apperception of
image. See Section 4 of this paper for a further quotation of Heidegger.
 This is my interpretive translation; Hasegawa’s
appellation of ma presents a conundrum for the translator.
 The leading explicator of the hard problem of
consciousness, David Chalmers (Professor of Philosophy; Director, Centre for
Consciousness Studies, Australia National University), defines the hard problem
of consciousness as, ‘explaining why we have qualitative phenomenal
experiences. This is contrasted with the "easy problems" of explaining
the ability to discriminate, integrate information, report mental states, focus
attention, etc’. Easy problems are easy because all that is required for their
solution is to specify a physical mechanism that can perform the function. Hard
problems are distinct from this set 'because they persist even when the
performance of all the relevant functions is explained’. (Cf. David
Chalmers. (1995). Journal of Consciousness Studies 2:3. pp. 200‑219;
Wikipedia: ‘Hard problem of consciousness’) For further information:
http://consc.net/Chalmers and Wikipedia: http://tinyurl.com/2ws2zq [Accessed 12 November 2007].
 Please see the Addendum for a further explanation of
differences between the hard and easy problems of consciousness, as well as Chalmers, 1995a, 1995b, 2008 (forthcoming in March).
 This haiku is published in English translation from
the Japanese. Ban’ya was a co‑translator, and had final approval of the
translation. The romaji was included in the published English‑language
 I have borrowed Marjorie Perloff’s coinage, from her
overview of contemporary poetry, 21st Century Modernism
(2002). In the Introduction, Perloff addresses the ‘unambitious attitude’ found
in much contemporary poetry:
[O]ne need no
longer pay lip service to the tired dichotomy that has governed our discussion
of twentieth-century poetics for much too long—that between modernism and
postmodernism. Far from being irrelevant and obsolete, the aesthetic of early modernism has
provided the seeds of the materialist poetic which is increasingly our own. . .
. what interests me is the unfulfilled promise of the modernist (as of the
classical) poetic impulse in so much of what passes for poetry today—a poetry
singularly unambitious in its attitude to the materiality of the text, to what
Khlebnikov described as the recognition that “the roots of words are only
phantoms behind which stand the strings of the alphabet.” It is this particular
legacy of early modernism that the new poetics has sought to recover. 'To
imagine a language,' said Wittgenstein, 'is to imagine a form of life’ (pp. 1-5).
 Paradoxes abound in science and well fit the
contemporary haiku cosmos: Klein bottles, paradromic rings, black hole
singularities, the nature of ‘universe’ prior to the big bang, dark matter,
dark energy, the double‑slit experiment, etc.
 ‘Here [at the Chthonian Oracle of Trophonios in Boiotia]
he [the supplicant] must drink water called the water of Lethe (Forgetfulness),
that he may forget all that he has been thinking of hitherto, and afterwards he
drinks of another water, the water of Mnemosyne (Memory), which causes him to
remember what he sees after his descent (Pausanias, circa 200 CE, Guide to
Greece, Book 9, sec. 39.3); a mimetic ritual of the underworld experience.
Available from: http://tinyurl.com/3alt6y [Accessed 12 November 2007].
connection between haiku and remembrance is conceptually fertile—the following
stanzas of Heidegger (2001, p. 10) seem relevant, if as calling cards:
oldest of the old follows behind
us in our thinking, and yet it
comes to meet us.
is why thinking holds to the
coming of what has been, and
 The translation is found in a Ph.D. thesis by Johnston, 2006 (Chapter III, 'The soul's sphere of infinite images', para. 40). Available from: http://tinyurl.com/3bo6me [Accessed 12 November 2007].
 The following is a draft translation from the Kyoraisho.
Kyorai was one of Bashô’s main disciples, and this text is considered among the
most important of those illustrating Bashô’s teachings:
kireji in hokku [haiku] is for those beginners who do not understand the nature of
cutting and uncutting very well. . . . [However,] there are hokku which are
well-cut without kireji. Because of their subtle qualities, [for beginners] more
common theories have been founded, and taught. . . . Once, the master, Bashô,
said, as an answer to the question of Jôsô [one of Bashô’s ten principal disciples.
b. 1662－1704]: ‘In waka, after 31-on, there
is kire. In hokku, after 17-on, there is kire.” Jôsô was immediately
enlightened. Then, another disciple asked [on the same topic], and the master,
Bashô, answered, ‘When you use words as kireji, every word becomes kireji. When
you do not use words as kireji, there are no words which are kireji.’ And the
master said, ‘From this point, grasp the very depth of the nature of kireji on
your own.’ All that I have described here is what the master revealed, until
the very threshold of its true secret [oral tradition], the thickness of one
leaf of shoji‑paper (Kyorai, 2001, pp. 497-99).
The Gendai Haiku Website. http://gendaihaiku.com
interviews with notable Japanese modern‑haiku poets, subtitled in English
Published haiku research papers available from: http://research.iyume.com.
Richard Gilbert rebuilt his first car and motorcycle at age 17 listening to Frank Zappa, Bert Jansch, Morton Subotnick, Ravel, delta blues, and 50s-60s jazz. A Math/Computer-science major to the senior year at Western Connecticut State University, he transferred to Naropa University (Boulder, Colorado), to study with Beat poets Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Peter Orlovsky, Gary Snyder, and others. Richard became a Tibetan Buddhist meditator in 1981. In the following years he produced conceptual art and multi-disciplinary works as poet, videographer, and electric guitarist. A BA thesis in 1982 concerned Japanese classical haiku (BA, Poetics and Expressive Arts). Richard attended a Tibetan Buddhist seminary in 1983-1984, returning to Naropa and completing his MA in Contemplative Psychotherapy in 1986. Through the years 1987-1996 he worked as an adult-outpatient psychotherapist (to 1991 at the Boulder Community Treatment Center, then private practice; in 1992 becoming NCC board-certified).
In 1988 Richard entered The Union Institute and University doctoral program, receiving his Ph.D. in Poetics and Depth Psychology in 1990. In 1992, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in the arts, working as an audio post-production engineer at Magnolia Studios and IAG Studios, Burbank, California. In 1993 he returned to Colorado and acted as assistant director for several month-long meditation retreats at the Rocky Mountain Shambhala Center, Red Feather Lakes, then to Denver, taking a volunteer position at Denver Community Television as a show runner (writer, director, producer).
In 1997, Richard moved to Japan, pursuing a passion for Japanese haiku, research, translation, and cultural connection. He began publishing academic papers on haiku in 1999. After teaching at the university level in Japan for five years, in 2002 he became a tenured Associate Professor, in the Department of British and American Literature and Language, Faculty of Letters, Kumamoto University. He has published over 60 academic papers on haiku, learner autonomy and multimedia educational software design.
Additional activities in haiku include various translation projects, and he is a judge of the international Kusamakura Haiku Competition. In 2006 he received a two-year grant from the Japan Ministry of Education (MEXT) and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) to engage in cross-cultural haiku research. One result of this project is the Gendai Haiku website ( http://gendaihaiku.com), containing subtitled video interviews with notable gendai (contemporary) haiku poets and critics, along with poetry and biographical information. Richard also owns a home-based recording studio. In 2006 he produced the shakuhachi/koto CD, Silent Letters, Secret Pens (http://cdbaby.com/cd/jeffcairns). A documentary film concerning gendai haiku is planned to begin production in 2008.