• Ray Bradbury - mono no aware

    Of all the science fiction short story writers I read (and he didn't like to be called a science fiction writer, but rather a fantasy writer), Ray Bradbury probably has the finest sense of mono no aware of them all. Not familiar with the term? It is a Japanese phrase which, according to wikipedia (anarchist encyclopaedia? What's not to like?) means "the pathos of things", and is used to describe a gentle wistfulness at the transience of things. I like to think of it as 'nostalgia for now'; the sort of homesickness you might feel for the past, but instead you feel it in real time as you look about at the world. It's a strange sensation, and I get it a lot.

    Getting back to Ray, it's not so much that he wrote with nostalgia about small town America (although he did), but that all his stories are shot through with this feeling, conjured by deep understanding (grokking) of the sensual world. Yes, he uses it to set the scene, with the sureness of a waiter flipping a table cloth into place, but often the whole story hangs on this sense of mono no aware. For example, a couple of his 'empty world' stories like The Vacation and The Last Night of the World memorialise 'trivial' actions and scenes, making them as important as anything we achieve in life. In another story, Frost and Fire, he dissects the engine of mono no aware and uses it to drive the narrative in which people's life spans have been reduced to seven days.

    And so to the lovely cartoon by Tom Gauld, printed in the Saturday Guardian (16/6/2012, page 15). When you consider the etymology of mono no aware, with 'mono' meaning 'thing' and 'aware' an 'expression of measured surprise (similar to "ah" or "oh"' [ wikipedia again], or even some kind of sigh), then his take on Ray's passing holds even more pathos... thank you, Ray; thank you, Tom!



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