it is delicate with immeasureable strength
so refined that it cannot be measured
it is authority without domination
it is eloquent silence beyond compare
so true that it cannot be expressed
There is nothing truer than myth: history, in its attempt to "realize" myth, distorts it, stops halfway; when history claims to have "succeeded," this is nothing but humbug and mystification. Everything we dream is "realizable." Reality does not have to be: it is simply what it is.
-Eugène Ionesco (1912-94), Rumanian-born French playwright. "Experience of the Theatre," in Nouvelle N.R.F, no. 62 (Paris, 1958; repr. in Notes and Counter Notes, 1962).
"Shibumi, sir?" Nicholai knew the word, but only as it applied to gardens or architecture, where it connoted an understated beauty. "How are you using the term, sir?"
"Oh, vaguely. And incorrectly, I suspect. A blundering attempt to describe an ineffable quality. As you know, shibumi has to do with great refinement underlying commonplace appearances. It is a statement so correct that it does not have to be bold, so poignant it does not have to be pretty, so true it does not have to be real. Shibumi is understanding rather than knowledge. Eloquent silence. In demeanor, it is modesty without pudency. In art, where the spirit of shibumi takes the form of sabi, it is elegant simplicity, articulate brevity. In philosophy, where shibumi emerges as wabi, it is spiritual tranquility that is not passive; it is being without the angst of becoming. And in the personality of a man, it is... how does one say it? Authority without domination? Something like that."
Nicholai's imagination was galvanized by the concept of shibumi. No other ideal had ever touched him so. "How does one achieve this shibumi, sir?"
"One does not achieve it, one... discovers it. And only a few men of infinite refinement ever do that. Men like my friend Otake-san."
"Meaning that one must learn a great deal to arrive at shibumi?"
"Meaning, rather, that one must pass through knowledge and arrive at simplicity."
From that moment, Nicholai's primary goal in life was to become a man of shibumi; a personality of overwhelming calm. It was a vocation open to him while, for reasons of breeding, education and temperament, most vocations were closed. In pursuit of shibumi he could excel invisibly, without attracting the attention and vengeance of the tyrannical masses.
Kishikawa-san took from beneath the tea table a small sandalwood box wrapped in plain cloth and put it into Nicholai's hands. "It is a farewell gift, Nikko. A trifle."
Nicholai bowed his head in acceptance and held the package with great tenderness; he did not express his gratitude in inadequate words. This was his first conscious act of shibumi.
Although they spoke late into their last night together about what shibumi meant and might mean, in the deepest essential they did not understand one another. To the General, shibumi was a kind of submission; to Nicholai, it was a kind of power.
Both were captives of their generations.