Zeami’s Reply to Plato

Mastering the Art of Sarugaku

  • Susan Castro Wichita State University
Keywords: Zeami, Fūshikaden, Kadensho, Nō, Plato, Ion, mastery, performing arts, metaphysics, Buddhism, zazen, Dōgen


Mae Smethurst’s work has largely aimed to articulate theater in Western terms from their early roots, primarily through Aristotle’s On Tragedy. Her detailed examination of the shared structure of the content of these independent and superficially dissimilar arts reveals their mutual intelligibility and effectiveness through shared underlying universals. In this spirit, I outline how Zeami answers Plato’s first challenge to artistic performance, as expressed in Ion where Plato argues that rhapsody is not an art [techné] because it requires no mastery. (Rhapsodes are instead vehicles of the divine.) This challenge to poetic performing arts, that is, to their claim to be arts at all, determines criteria by which we may judge any putative art, including sarugaku and its elevation to nōgaku. Though Zeami was unaware of Plato’s challenge, he nevertheless answers it in a way that brings Plato’s own assumptions and conceptual framework into relief. In this article I outline the first step of Zeami’s reply to Plato, how satisfies the criteria for mastery of a subject, with some help from zen master Dōgen. The focus of this article is twofold: 1) an examination of the ways Plato’s conception of a masterable subject entails metaphysical and epistemic tenets that may be revised or rejected in Buddhist tradition, and 2) a study of the means thsrough which the sense of mindlessness that allegedly precludes rhapsody (and kamigakari) from qualifying as art (techné/michi) contrasts with the mushin and isshin of (and zazen).

Author Biography

Susan Castro, Wichita State University

Susan V. H. Castro is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Wichita State University. Her primary area of research is the nature and value of cognition as if, loosely Kant-centered and ranging in application from moral imagination to the value of idealizations in science to the cognitive activities of artistic performance. Kant’s reply to Zeami is in progress.

How to Cite
Castro, S. (2018). Zeami’s Reply to Plato. Japan Studies Association Journal, 15(1), 1-22. Retrieved from https://ojs.phoebusmediagroup.com/index.php/jsaj/article/view/45
Performing Culture