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Conversation with Murasaki

Tom Lowenstein, 14 December 2006

... Murasaki – I imagined a dye the colour of mulberries. A burnet moth’s underwing. She brushes past Sei Shonagon. Sleeves in tension. Both brushes charged with silken resistance. When she sang it was brocade. When she modestly whispered, a most delicate embroidery. ‘Her sash matched her robe. But did you notice the lining of her sleeve? I could have laughed all evening!’ The wisteria in its tub, whose ancient stem and transient clusters you comprehended clearly, but which you did not know how to prune ...

From ‘The Structure of Days Out’

Tom Lowenstein, 5 October 2000

... 1 . . . A mist had come in and sunlight ran in shafts and pieces through it. Then rising on the Point ahead was an arch of whale’s jaw-bones, two mandibles curving against grey, half-hidden tundra. The bones faced one another, and their broad ellipse narrowed at the high point without touching, but stood open, enclosing in their tension a long framed view, through which, as I circled, village, sea and tundra, were rotated: the tips of the uprights vanishing in mist, as though, where it drifted in the sky between them, the dead whale’s vapour hung suspended: breathed out to the faces of past hunters and women ...

Diary

Tom Lowenstein: Stories from an Eskimo Village, 16 February 1989

... Last summer I returned to the Eskimo village in Alaska where, off and on, I have been recording traditional stories and oral histories since 1973. Here, on a remote peninsula jutting thirty miles into the sea, a whale-hunting community with a vast repertoire of ceremonial and lore has subsisted since the seventh century. Commercial whalers plying the Alaskan coast in the mid-19th century were the first outsiders to disturb this high Arctic society ...

Carved Cosmos

Tom Lowenstein, 5 August 1993

Amaravati: Buddhist Sculpture from the Great Stupa 
by Robert Knox.
British Museum, 247 pp., £40, November 1992, 0 7141 1452 9
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... All conditioned things decay’, was, as roughly translated, the Buddha’s penultimate sentence. ‘The one who has woken’ (which is what the participle buddha means) was trying to reassure the monastic circle that his death was in the natural order of things. The Buddha’s views on an afterlife are ambiguous. The historical man, however, saw the future of his thought as part of a philosophical continuum within society, and he apparently conceded the necessity of a degree of post humous ritual ...

Read my toes

Francis Spufford, 5 August 1993

The Things That Were Said of Them: Shaman Stories and Oral Histories of the Tikigaq People 
told by Asatchaq, translated by Tukummiq and Tom Lowenstein.
California, 225 pp., £18.95, February 1993, 0 520 06569 7
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Ancient Land, Sacred Whale: The Inuit Hunt and its Rituals 
by Tom Lowenstein.
Bloomsbury, 189 pp., £20, April 1993, 0 7475 1341 4
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... American, Matthew Henson – ‘could speak our language without using his tongue like a baby’. Tom Lowenstein calls the Tikigaqmiut ‘nationalistic’. Despite the absence in Tikigaq of every structure and institution that compose a nation in the European sense, it seems the right word for historic Tikigaq’s intense approving awareness of ...

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