Yosa Buson’s “A small shop opening” and a rant against “philosophy of X” subfields

A small shop opening (tr. Hass & Blyth)
Yosa Buson

The short night –
on the outskirts of the village
a small shop opening.


1. It seems fantastic to say philosophy is the discovery of wonder. What an arrogant, nonsensical claim! No field or mode of inquiry has a claim on wonder; all men wonder. In fact, it is because men wonder there is philosophy, no?

2. This is Mijakayo, the short summer night. That night’s light, heat, noise: is nature resolving into something? It seems so, and the curiosity is “the outskirts of the village.” Why did the natural not become the village outright? Why a small shop, something we could romanticize as holding everything or posit as holding nothing, at a border?

“Opening” is critical. In living, awaking, we seem to be receptive to the natural through objects. Those objects do not seem necessary – it has not been indicated to me whether this shop only sells farm supplies or not. The natural may not exist, it may only be chaos. The question of nature is real inasmuch the speaker is walking into or out of the village. Where is he going?

Weirdly enough, wonder has been wondered at. What we see, feel and want are not elaborated. That we see, feel and want has simply been arrived at.

3. I’m fed up with “philosophy of” blather (i.e. “philosophy of mathematics,” “philosophy of psychology,” “philosophy of nascar”). I realize that the word “philosophy” used instead of ‘meta-considerations’ is perfectly grammatical and understandable. Everyone can see that studying a certain subject gives rise to some peculiar questions about what exactly is being studied (i.e. “in what sense are numbers real?”). Still. Some are trying make scientific claims in sneaky ways as opposed to doing serious research and rigorously think through problems. Metaphysics is employed as pseudoscience not only by crackpots.

The older articulation of philosophy – “love of wisdom” – has much to recommend it. Loving wisdom does not make one wise; some of the worst meta-questions, ones that only are brought up to advance ideology or crass political goals, might be cut away with that thought alone. Moreover, saying “love of wisdom of mathematics” or, as we have “philosophy of being” at my campus, “love of wisdom of being,” makes no sense. It can’t make sense because wisdom has to relate to the human things somehow. The theoretical is grammatical, at least.

None of this is to say “philosophy of” subfields should be done away with. It’s more that I see the specialization as a willful ignorance of the power of philosophy to open minds. It should scare us that there is so much dogmatism in philosophy nowadays, whether it is animal-rights or libertarian activism, Christian apologetics or outright atheism, or what have you. Many think of philosophy as learning to argue, preparation for law school; specialization ultimately is about seeing where arguments lie and navigating them. This turns philosophy into a market that is not an agora. You need the “philosophy of X” title as a license to sell to a premade audience. In the deepest sense, there are no questions, because no one is really asking except in terms of competition or establishment.

How different a small shop in a village is. It contains nothing but markers of a way of life. The morning light on the horizon marks where one is.


The Essential Haiku. ed. Robert Hass. New York: HarperCollins, 1944.

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