In Nōh drama (an ancient Japanese style heavily laden with chanting and slow rhythmic dance), the desired effect of a piece is termed yūgen. Sometimes, yūgen is translated as “grace” or “a mysterious sense of beauty”, but honestly it’s just easier to try and wrap your head around the concept of yūgen than to find a good way to define or translate it.
Yūgen, when achieved, is supposedly a symptom of “refined elegance” that properly executed Nōh brings with it. Attempting to understand it is today’s metaphor for attempting to prepare for the comprehensive exams.
You don’t really know what comps are, despite knowing what comps are (just like yūgen). Even when you think you may understand it, explaining it to someone else is extremely difficult and you find yourself resorting to all kinds of crazy metaphors (…i.e. this post). While it may perhaps relate to something completely outside of its realm (comps prep relates to athletics like yūgen relates to comps prep), you can never truly pin down entirely what it is. When you think you have achieved it, you can only understand that by a true inner calm and a self-assurance that you have done well. While others may, by gazing from the outside in, observe the process within you, only you can be completely assured that you have truly done it.
Actors study for decades to achieve yūgen. I have studied for decades to reach the comprehensive exams. Japanese acting teachers are notoriously abusive in their training techniques; as is the world of academia (especially since the old guard had to walk fifteen miles uphill both ways in the snow to retrieve their library books and, of course, speak fifteen languages so thereby don’t need translations of foreign-language passages in their texts). Japanese theatre is a man’s tradition (women were banned from the stage until the later part of the twentieth century, and even now there are extremely few female performers of the traditional theatre types; Nōh and Bunraku especially; Kabuki has a bit more). Academia is still very much an old boys’ club. Dressing in drag is discouraged in either setting (once they let ladies onto the stage, it took care of a lot of anxieties about what onstage cross-dressing meant for Japanese gender identity… and as much as I LOVE Ru Paul, somehow I don’t think she’d make the appropriate kind of splash if she showed up in full regalia to lecture “Theatre History 101”).
Appreciative audiences often sleep through Nōh productions (the desired
viewing state is the place between wakefulness and dream, so this activity, unlike in the Western theatre, is not at all discouraged). Sometimes I take naps on books (especially if they’re not particularly engaging, or alternatively too mentally taxing).
Achieving yūgen is essentially achieving a divine state. I can imagine that completing comps will feel the same way. I only wish that there would be an ensuing audience to give me a GIANT round of applause while I take a triumphant bow when I turn in the final portion of the exam.
I am officially one month away from my test. I think I’ve finally defeated the six-day stress headache that made me slow way down last week to accommodate the ailment (…though I won’t say that too loudly in case the headache-from-hell hears).
…let’s try to achieve some nirvana, shall we?