Have you ever experienced art such that you can feel your senses coming so alive that you yourself are in the art, tasting, seeing, smelling? I hope that you have.
One of the more sensuous art experiences I’ve had was while reading Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. It’s my favorite book for that very reason- everything is so descriptive and I feel as though I am there with Sayuri. (What’s even more impressive to me is that Golden is a man, yet he writes with such a captivating female perspective!)
This particular experience I had was reading a short passage about food. But it stands out to me more than because that it’s so incredibly written. It’s a passage about not a delicious feast but of old, fly-covered food lying in dirt on the ground. The writing is so miraculous that every time I read it, I want to be eating that food, even though the thought is actually quite revolting. I can taste it exactly, and it is not delicious at all. It’s slimy, and I can feel grains of dirt in my mouth. But the fact that I can feel that so strongly, knowing that out of context such a thing would repulse me like it did Chiyo, is amazing to me. It makes me so grateful for art, so passionate to create it, so hopeful that the greatest art is yet to come.
Here’s the passage:
“[Pumpkin] was looking at something behind me, on the ground. ‘Oh my goodness, Chiyo-chan,’ she said, ‘doesn’t it make you hungry?
“I turned to find myself looking into the entryway of another okiya. On a shelf inside the door say a miniature Shinto shrine with an offering of a sweet-rice cake. I wondered if this could be what Pumpkin had seen; but her eyes were pointed toward the ground… And then my eyes fell upon it. Outside the entryway, just at the edge of the street, lay a wooden skewer with a single bite of charcoal-roasted squid remaining… there was nothing about this piece of squid on the ground that I found appetizing. Two flies were walking around in circles on it just as casually as if they’d been out for a stroll in the park.
“Pumpkin was a girl who looked as if she could grow fat quickly, given the chance… Still, I didn’t think she was really planning to eat the squid, until I saw her look up and down the street to be sure no one was coming.
“‘Pumpkin,’ I said, ‘if you’re hungry, for heaven’s sake, take the sweet-rice cake from that shelf. The flies have already claimed the squid.’
“‘I’m bigger than they are,’ she said. ‘Besides, it would be sacrilege to eat the sweet-rice cake. It’s an offering.’
“And after she said this she bent down to pick up the skewer.
“…to see Pumpkin standing there holding that piece of squid on a stick, with grit from the street stuck to it, and the flies walking around… She blew on it to try to get right of them, but they just scampered to keep their balance.
“‘Pumpkin, you can’t eat that,’ I said. ‘You might as well drag your tongue along the paving stones!’
“‘What’s so bad about paving stones?’ she said. And with this–I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it myself–Pumpkin got down on her knees and stuck out her tongue, and gave it a long, careful scrape along the ground… When Pumpkin got to her feet again, she looked at though she herself couldn’t quite believe what she’d done. But she wiped her tongue with the palm of her hand, spat a few times, and then put that piece of squid between her teeth and slid it off the skewer.
“It must have been a tough piece of squid; Pumpkin chewed it the whole way up the gentle hill to the wooden gate of the school complex.”
[Golden, Arthur. Memoirs of a Geisha. New York: Vintage Books, 1997. Book. Pages 53-54.]
Now have you ever had an experience like this before? I hope you have.