Sunday, November 16, 2014

Study Guide: Tanizaki Jun’ichirō “In Praise of Shadows” (In’ei raisan; 1933)

Study Guide: Tanizaki Jun’ichirō “In Praise of Shadows” (In’ei raisan; 1933)

Study Guide: Tanizaki Jun’ichirō “In Praise of Shadows” (In’ei raisan; 1933)[1]

*To purchase Edward G. Seidensticker and Thomas J. Harper’s translation, click here.
*To read the original, click here.

Tanizaki Junichirō 谷崎潤一郎 (1886-1965): Novelist, essayist. A prolific writer whose popularity extended through the reigns of three emperors, Tanizaki is perhaps best known for Sasameyuki (1943-48, tr. The Makioka Sisters, 1957). A detailed account of an Osaka family that embraces a tradition-bound way of life, it was the first major Japanese work of the post-World War II period. Tanizaki’s other novels include a modern version of The Tale of Genji; Some Prefer Nettles (1928, tr. 1955); Quicksand (1928-30, tr. 1994); The Key (1956, tr. 1961), and Diary of a Mad Old Man (1961, tr. 1965). A witness to the Tokyo earthquake of 1923, which destroyed half the city, he moved to the Kansai region (the greater Kyoto-Osaka area), where a more traditional lifestyle still prevailed. The new environment influenced his outlook, and many of his works carry an implied condemnation of excessive interest in Western things. Tanizaki often writes of women, taking as his themes obsessive love, the destructive forces of sexuality, and the dual nature of woman as goddess and demon. His other work includes the selected short stories of Seven Japanese Tales (tr. 1963) and The Gourmet Club (tr. 2001) and the novellas The Reed Cutter (1932, tr. 1994) and Captain Shigemoto’s Mother (1949-50, tr. 1994). (Source: The Columbia Encyclopedia).

Warning: Do not read this essay as a tract on Japanese aesthetics. Tanizaki is a novelist. Novelists perform. They make up stuff. They entertain. They play roles. Here he is playing with the public persona of an old grumpy man who dislikes everything about modern civilization and complains a lot, yet does nothing about it, and constantly fails to live up to own standards. The key to the essay is in the last paragraph.

Study Questions

1. The essay consists of sixteen sections. Discuss this structure. How does it move from one subject to the next? What is the overarching theme?

2. Who is the narrator? Why does he refer to himself as an “old man” (Tanizaki himself was only in his mid-40s when he wrote this)? Is the narrator the author? How does he resemble the old man in Tanizaki’s novel Tade kuu mushi (Some Prefer Nettles; 1929)?

3. Describe the tone of the essay. Where is the narrator joking/being ironic? Where is he serious? How can you tell?

4. Among the topics Tanizaki discusses are: traditional architecture, electric lights, fans, candles, screen doors (shōji), electric stoves, gas stoves, fireplaces (danro), bathrooms, tile roofs, wood, radios, films, oil paintings, traditional lacquer (urushi), ceramics, roofs in traditional Japanese architecture, uses/value of gold, Japanese food, yōkan confectionary, walls, study bays, alcoves (toko no ma), hanging scrolls (kakejiku), flower arrangement (ikebana), traditional Japanese rooms, the importance of silence/quietude/pauses, temple architecture, priest’s robes, Noh costumes, the skin of Noh performers, Kabuki, puppet theater (bunraku), teeth blackening (o-haguro), etc. Discuss each of these and their relation to the essay’s main theme (the importance of shadows). How do they each illustrate “the magic of shadows”?

5. Discuss the narrator’s remarks on the toilets in the East. Is he being ironic? What is he parodying? Explain.

6. What value does the narrator place on dirt, grime, stains, impurity, uncleanliness, oldness, rusticity, patina, etc.? What does he mean by “elegance is filthy”? Can these remarks be read as a challenge to the discourses of “Japanese purity” that were prevalent at the time? Is his insistence on the importance/beauty of “grime” “dirt” “impurity” a challenge to cultural nationalists of day?

7. Make a list of all binaries that appear in the work (e.g. East/West, country/city, Kyoto/Tokyo, night/day, light/shadows, vulgar/elegant, etc.). Are these binaries problematized/collapsed at any point? Explain.

8. Discuss the narrator’s description of the Japanese “national character” (kokuminsei)? What examples does he give to illustrate this character? What is a “national character”? Is there such a thing? What is Japan’s/your “national character”?

9. Explain the narrator’s comments about the possibility of an alternative modernity, of a science/technology/arts “more suited to our national character.” What would this alternative look like? Is an alternative modernity possible?

10. According to the narrator, how did Japan’s process of modernization differ from that of the West?

11. Can this essay be read as a critique of the Meiji-era ethos of “civilization and enlightenment” (bunmei kaika)? What other anti-bunmei kaika works have we read? Explain.

12. How does this essay relate to the “return to Japan” (Nihon kaiki) cultural movement of the 1930s? Does it challenge/subvert this dominant discourse in any way? Explain.

13. How is China (and to a lesser extent India) described in this essay? How does the narrator view the traditional paper, jade, food, and crystals of China? Is the China he describes the China of 1933, or the China of the ancient past?

14. Explain the phrase “elegance is frigid.” How do these remarks about elegance compare with other “treatises on elegance” (fūryūron) written around the same time?

15. Explain the narrator’s view of the relationship between beauty and everyday life/material conditions/fūdo. Discuss the significance of the line: “The quality that we call beauty, however, must always grow from the realities of life” (18).[2]

16. Discuss the narrator’s description of Japanese women/female beauty. What are the defining features of the “typical woman of old” (29)? How does he recall his mother?

17. The narrator makes numerous generalizations. For example: “Such is our way of thinking—we find beauty not in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates” (30). Are such generalizations verifiable, consistent with evidence? Is it true that the West has placed less of a value on shadows (30-31)? Doesn’t Western art abound in shadows? (Think: Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Baudelaire, gothic writers, fin de siècle writers, Romantic/Symbolist poets, chiaroscuro in Renaissance painting; extreme chiaroscuro of Caravaggio, El Greco, Rembrandt; Shakespeare, etc.) Is there any validity to the narrator’s claim that East=shadows, West=light? That “We Orientals find beauty not only in the thing itself but in the pattern of the shadows, the light and darkness which that thing provides.” (31)

18. Discuss the narrator’s concept of races/skin colors and their relation to “cloudiness” and “grime” (31-32).What contemporary racial discourses are evoked in essay? Explain.

19. Discuss the connection between the narrator’s description of women as white disembodied ethereal faces wrapped in darkness, and the female characters in Tanizaki’s fiction. Is it true that women exhale/exude darkness from their orifices/bodies?

The darkness wrapped her round tenfold, twentyfold, it filled the collar, the sleeves of her kimono, the folds of her skirt, wherever a hollow invited. Further yet: might it not have been the reverse, might not the darkness have emerged from her mouth and those black teeth, from the black of her hair, like the thread from the great earth spider?

20. The narrator decries Japan as the world’s second greatest waster—second only to America—of energy/electricity (35-38). How might we read these remarks today in the wake of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake/tsunami/nuclear crisis? What might Tanizaki’s answer to the current energy crisis be? What does the narrator recommend for keeping cool in the summer?

21. In the final section, the narrator compares himself to the old griping women of England who complain about the modern age. How is he similar?

22. On page 9, the narrator states that behind shadows is a mere void, i.e. that shadows are the reality/more real that the object that casts them. In what other works of this period have we seen this idea? (Think: Tanizaki’s “Mr. Bluemound,” Kajii Motojirō’s “Ascension of K,” Hagiwara’s “Town of Cats,” etc.) Explain.

23. The last paragraph is the key to the entire essay. After reading this paragraph, what do you think the essay’s actual/implicit subject is? What are “shadows” a metaphor for?

I am aware of and most grateful for the benefits of the age. No matter what complaints we may have, Japan has chosen to follow the West, and there is nothing for her to do but move bravely ahead and leave us old ones behind. But we must be resigned to the fact that as long as our skin is the color it is the loss we have suffered cannot be remedied. I have written all this because I have thought that there might still be somewhere, possibly in literature or the arts, where something could be saved. I would call back at least for literature this world of shadows we are losing. In the mansion called literature I would have the eaves deep and the walls dark, I would push back into the shadows the things that came forward to clearly, I would strip away the useless decoration. I do not ask that this be done everywhere, but perhaps we may be allowed at least one mansion where we can turn off the electric lights and see what it is like without them.” (42).

Further Reading

1. Margherita Long. This Perversion Called Love: Reading Tanizaki, Feminist Theory, and Freud

[1] Originally published in December 1933 and Jaunary 1934 issues of Keizai ōrai . Full translation by Edward G. Seidensticker and Thomas J. Harper was published in 1977.
[2] Watsuji Tetsurō wrote Fūdo ningenteki kōsatsu from 1928-1935; its main theme: climate, in a broad sense, determines national character. Traces of work can be seen here, perhaps in parodized form.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Die Tanzerin (1988)-- A Film Adaptation of Mori Ōgai’s “The Dancing Girl” (Maihime; 1890)

Originaltitel:Maihime - The Dancer
Darsteller:Brigitte Grothum, Hiromi Goh und Lisa Wolf
Länge:121 Minuten
Genre:Drama und Literaturverfilmung-Film
Regisseur:Masahiro Shinoda
Drehbuch:Masahiro Shinoda, Hans Borgelt und Tsotomu Tamura
Herstellungsland:Deutschland und Japan

Animated Film of Mori Ōgai’s “The Dancing Girl” 森鴎外「舞姫」

青春アニメ全集「舞姫」 : 1986年に日本テレビ系列で放送

Study Guide for Mori Ōgai’s “The Dancing Girl” (Maihime; 1890)

Study Guide for Mori Ōgai’s “The Dancing Girl” (Maihime; 1890)

Study Guide for Mori Ōgai’s “The Dancing Girl” (Maihime; 1890)[1]

*To purchase Richard Bowring’s English translation, click here.
*To read the original, click here.

Mori Ōgai (1862-1922): Born in Shimane-ken to family of physicians to daimyō; received elite education in neo-Confucian classics. In 1872, he moved in with Nishi Amane, began studying German. Graduates from Tokyo Imperial University medical school, becomes a doctor at 19; reads late-Edo gesaku fiction; sent by army to study in Germany from 1884-1888; encounters European literature; publishes Shigarami sōshi, 1889–1894 and his own book of poetry (Omokage, 1889) in anti-realist, German Romantic vein (Ōgai vs. Tsubouchi); institutes modern literary criticism in Japan based on the aesthetic theories of Karl von Hartmann. In 1890, publishes “Maihime.” His own exile to Kyushu; appointed surgeon general in 1907; edits Mezamashi gusa, 1892–1909 while serving in army as surgeon; translates works of Goethe, Schiller, Ibsen, Hans Christian Andersen, and Hauptmann. From 1912–1916: historical stories (rekishi monogatari; e.g. “Sanshō dayu,” “Takasebune”). From 1916-death: shiden (literary biographies; e.g. “Shibue Chūsai”). His literary style is often characterized as Apollonian, rational, stoic, manly, understated.

1. Discuss the narrative structure. Where (temporally/spatially) is the “narrating I”? Why/what is he writing? Is he an example of a “self-conscious narrator”?

2. Describe the narrator (i.e. his position, background, education, motivations/desires, priorities, concerns/struggles, talents, interests, behavior, personality, etc.).

3. What examples of foreshadowing can you find in the work? (Hint: unwritten notebooks; “hidden remorse”; etc.).

4. Make a list of all the cultural/historical references that appear.

5. How does Ōta Toyotarō describe the city scene on his first day in Berlin? Why does he try to keep himself from being moved by the various sights?

6. Describe the “real self” that Ōta feels emerging inside of him. How is this “real self” different from his “former assumed self”? Does this “true nature” prove to be an illusion?

7. How is Ōta regarded/treated by his Japanese peers?

8. Describe Ōta’s view of/relations with women prior to his encounter with Elise.

9. Describe Elise (i.e. her circumstances/background/predicament/behavior/etc.). In what state is she when Ōta discovers her? How does she react to him? Why does the narrator describe dancing as a “disreputable trade”?

10. Do you perceive any hints of anti-Japanese/anti-Asian racism in the work? Explain.

11. At one point the narrator asks himself: “Did she [Elise] know the effect her eyes had on me, or was it unintentional?” What is the answer to this question? In other words, to what extent is Elise’s innocence/naivety feigned/strategic?

12. Why is Ōta’s position terminated? What is the content of the two letters he receives?

13. Describe the evolving stages of Ōta and Elise’s relationship.

14. How does Ōta’s friend Aizawa Kenkichi “help” him?

15. Describe Ōta and Elise’s life when they are living together. How does Ōta change during this period? What new interests/skills does he acquire?

16. How does Ōta’s luck change beginning in the winter of 1888? What are the sources of his anxiety during this period? What advice does he receive from Aizawa Kenkichi after confiding in him? How does Ōta take this advice?

17. Describe Ōta’s trip to Russia. Describe the nature of the letters he receives from Elise while in Russia.

18. Discuss the meaning/significance of the following sentence: “With Aizawa’s help she had not wanted for daily necessities, it was true, but this same benefactor had had spiritually killed her.” (「相沢の助にて日々の生計たつきには窮せざりしが、此恩人は彼を精神的に殺しゝなり。」)

19. Describe Elise’s metamorphosis. What causes it? Is it believable under such circumstances? What are the “ur-texts” for this scene? Who are Elise’s literary models? What was the “something” she was looking for?

20. Discuss the ethical problems/implications of the work. How grave was Ōta’s “crime”? Is Ōta’s behavior/decision/course of action ethically defensible? Was there another more ethical option? If so, what?

21. Discuss the significance of the famous last sentence: “Friends like Aizawa Kenkichi are rare indeed, and yet to this very day there remains a part of me that curses him.” (「嗚呼、相沢謙吉が如き良友は世にまた得がたかるべし。されど我脳裡なうりに一点の彼を憎むこゝろ今日までも残れりけり。」)

Further Discussion

1. What is the main conflict of the story? Is this a moral story about the tension between giri and ninjō, as some critics have described it?

2. Why did Ōgai use the pseudo-classical style (gikobun/gabun) rather than the modern colloquial style (genbun itchi) to write this story?

3. Why has the work been read as an autobiography/roman à clef in Japan? What are the advantages/disadvantages of reading the work as autobiography/roman à clef?

4. Discuss the theme/representation of interracial sex in the work. How is this story a reversal of Loti/Belasco/Long/Puccini’s Madama Butterfly (1887/1898/1900/1904) story?

5. Is the work a Bildungsroman? Explain.

[1] First published as “Maihime” (舞姫) in the journal Kokumin no tomo (國民之友) in January 1890.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Dissertation Submitted

This just in→My chief advisor has received my dissertation; I repeat: dissertation submission has been confirmed by my advisor。To celebrate the occasion I have made this video, a lousy-G.Gould-imitation-video (BWV 861 WTC1: Prelude 16 G minor)。