Saturday, November 1, 2014

Study Guide: Kanai Mieko’s “Rabbits” (Usagi; 1972)

Study Guide: Kanai Mieko’s “Rabbits” (1972)

Study Guide: Kanai Mieko’s “Rabbits” (Usagi; 1972)[1]

*To purchase Phyllis Birnbaum’s superb translation of Kanai Mieko’s “Rabbits,” click here.

*To purchase The World Book (2009), Paul McCarthy's superb translations of a collection of Kanai Mieko short stories, click here.

*To purchase Paul McCarthy/Tomoko Aoyama's superb translation of Oh, Tama! (2014; Kurodahan Press), click here.

Kanai Mieko 金井美恵子 (1947–): Kanai Mieko read widely in fiction and poetry from an early age. In 1967, at the young age of twenty, she was runner-up for the Dazai Osamu Prize for Ai no seikatsu (A Life of Love), and the following year she received the Gendaishi Techo Prize for poetry. While maintaining a certain distance from literary circles and journalism, she has built up a world of fiction known for its sensual style. Along with her fiction, her criticism, which showcases her often scathing insights, has a devoted following. (Source: J-Lit Books from Japan)

Study Questions

1. Describe the frame-story structure. Who are the two narrators? What is their relation to one another? Where does the frame story start and end? What is the source of the “vague odor” that follows Narrator 1 wherever she goes?

2. How does the work draw from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass (1871)? What elements/themes from those works does Kanai borrow? In what ways does she alter those elements/themes?

3. Describe the rabbit-girl. Describe her personality, environment, situation, etc.

4. Describe the rabbit-girl’s father and his “unusual tastes” (shikō)?

5. Describe the father and the rabbit-girl’s biweekly ritual. What do the other members of his family think of their strange ritual?

6. What is the nature of the father and the rabbit-girl’s relationship? Is their relationship incestuous? If so, what evidence can you find to support this?

7. What happened to the mother and brother? Why did they disappear? How do the rabbit-girl and her father react to their disappearance? Do they secretly know why they left?

8. Describe the father and daughter’s life together after the mother and brother disappear. What new role does the daughter take on? What pleasures does she begin to derive from murdering, skinning, and preparing the rabbits?

9. Discuss the rabbit-girl’s transformation (from someone who enjoys killing/skinning/cooking rabbits to someone who wishes to become a rabbit). Why the “quest for rabbithood”?

10. Describe the father’s transformation/deterioration.

11. Describe the daughter’s surprise birthday party for her father. What “gift” did she plan to “give him”? What ends up happening? What injury does the daughter sustain?

12. Describe the father’s death face and its effect on the daughter.

13. Describe the daughter’s life after her father’s death. Why does she gouge out the eyes of all the rabbits?

14. What condition is the rabbit-girl in when Narrator 1 meets her “a second time long afterward.” Why has she gouged out her remaining eye?

15. What does the rabbit-girl’s blindness render her capable of seeing? Discuss the significance of these three sentences:

When your eyesight gets weaker, invisible things begins to be visible. The power that makes invisible the things which you could see and that makes visible invisible things develops naturally. I can always see the face of my father in death.

16. Discuss the final scene (in which Narrator 1 crawls into the rabbit-girl’s outfit). What does this suggest about the connection between Narrator 1 and Narrator 2?

I peeled off the white rabbit’s fur which had completely enveloped her body. Then I threw off what I had been wearing and got into her costume. I put on the hood and mask which were by her side, held my breath in the animal odor, and waited for a long time crouching there without moving. A group of blind rabbits gathered about us. She and I, along with the rabbits, made no effort to stir and so we remained in that same spot, absolutely still.

Further Discussion Questions

1. Discuss the violent/sadomasochistic/sexual/incestuous elements in the work.
2. Did the narrator really “come to,” as she says on page 3? Or was the whole thing a dream after blacking out? (Relate your answer to Todorov’s conception of “the fantastic.”)
3. Did the rabbit-girl really exist (in the world of the story)? Or is she the creation of Narrator 1’s imagination?

*Further Reading: For an insightful essay in English on the story, see Mary Knighton’s “Down the Rabbit Hole: In Pursuit of Shōjo Alices, from Lewis Carroll to Kanai Mieko”:

*Artwork by Kaneko Kuniyoshi 金子國義. For more of his work, click here.

[1] Translated by Phyllis Birnbaum (1982).

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Study Guide: Akutagawa Ryūnosuke's “Green Onions” (Negi; 1920)

This just in→Study Guide for what is arguably Akutagawa Ryūnosuke's (1892-1927) best story:“Green Onions” (Negi; 1920).

Study Guide: Akutagawa Ryūnosuke (1892-1927) “Green Onions” (Negi; 1920)


Study Guide: Akutagawa Ryūnosuke (1892-1927) “Green Onions” (Negi; 1920)[1]

*Translated by Jay Rubin; included in his Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories (Penguin Classics, 2006). To purchase Rubin’s translation of the story, click here.

*To read the Aozora Bunko version of the original, click here.

Akutagawa Ryūnosuke 芥川龍之介 (1892-1927): Novelist. Born in Tokyo. He published “Hana” (The Nose) in 1916 while studying at the Tokyo Imperial University and the start of his literary career was highly regarded by Natsume Sōseki. After graduation, he taught English as a part-time instructor at the Naval Engineering College and published “Imogayu” (Yam Gruel) (1916), “Hōkyōnin no shi” (Death of a Christian) (1918), and “Rashōmon” (1917), his first short story. After resigning from the Naval Engineering College in 1919, he went full-time into literary activity as a staff writer for the Osaka Mainichi Shimbun. In 1927, he committed suicide at the age of 36. He was the father of Hiroshi Akutagawa and Yasushi Akutagawa. (National Diet Library). (Click here for Aozora Bunko texts.)

Relevant Terms

*Realism: To represent life in literature. Realistic fiction is often opposed to romantic fiction: the romance is said to present life as we would have it be, more picturesque, more adventurous, more heroic than the actual; realism, to present an accurate imitation of life as it is. . . . The realist sets out to write a fiction which will give the illusion that it reflects life as it seems to the common reader. To achieve this effect he prefers as protagonist an ordinary citizen of Middletown, living on Main Street, perhaps, and engaged in the real estate business. The realist, in other words, is deliberately selective in his material and prefers the average, the commonplace, and the everyday over the rarer aspects of the contemporary scene. His characters, therefore, are usually of the middle class or the working class—people without highly exceptional endowments, who live through ordinary experiences of childhood, adolescence, love, marriage, parenthood, infidelity, and death; who find life rather dull and often unhappy, though it may be brightened by touches of beauty and joy. (Abrams. A Glossary of Literary Terms, pp. 152-153)

*The Three Worlds of Narrative: Last week I talked about two narrative worlds: A) story (storyworld) (inaccessible), B) narrative discourse (plot/mythos) (accessible). But there is also a third world: C) world of production (e.g. in film, when the camera/director are seen, etc.). In “Negi”:

A) story about O-kimi, O-matsu, Tanaka, etc—the storyworld they inhabit
B) events as related by semi-omniscient flying-ghost-like “I”
C) “I” of first paragraph; last paragraph

More Terms Related to This…

*Self-conscious narrator: a narrator who shows that he is aware that he is composing a work of fiction; who discusses the various problems involved in constructing his fictional narrative; who thematizes the discrepancies between artifice and reality; etc.

*Narrative metalepsis: when borders between 3 worlds are broken. Examples in this story: narrator-author talking about deadlines; referring to “my own works”; not making it clear whether O-kimi really exists or is fictional; reference to O-kimi’s future/well-being at end—as if she were real (is she?).

*Roman à clef (key novel; 実話小説): novel describing real life behind a façade of fiction. Eg. Here’s a little story I made up about a girl named … (actually true). The key is the mapping of characters to real-life models.

*Metafiction: fiction that self-consciously addresses the devices of fiction, exposing the fictional illusion. “Green Onions” story does this, only it turns this process around: the narrator here acts as if his story is fictional; but we slowly realize/come to suspect that it is real.

*Breaking the fourth wall: the “fourth wall” is imaginary wall separating audience from reader; it is broken in this story (the narrator directly addresses audience, claims that his story is fictional, etc.).

*Narcissistic Narratives: Linda Hutcheon’s term. A narrative that represents the process of narration; mimesis of process rather than product; dramatic presentation of the diegetic (narrative) act; mimesis of the diegetic.

Study Questions

1. Find passages that show the narrator to be a “self-conscious narrator.” Discuss the effect of these passages on the story/your interpretation.

2. Make a list of facts about the narrator. Who is he? What is his social standing? How does he tell the story?

3. What elements of the story reflect Romanticism? What elements reflect Realism? Discuss how Realism and Romanticism intersect in this story.

4. Discuss O-Kimi (her life, her job, her personality, her proclivities, her tastes, her environment, her dreams, etc.). What do her reading habits tell us about her? What does the interior decoration of her room reveal about her? Her clothes/her hairstyle/etc?

5. Why does O-kimi look down on O-matsu?

6. Discuss Tanaka (his personality, motivations, tastes, status, etc.). What male type/archetype/stock character is he an example of? Discuss his role in the story.

7. Make a list of all cultural/historical references that appear in the work (i.e. historical figures, books, artists, actresses, works of art, place names, etc.).

Further Discussion Questions

1. In the world of the narrator, do O-kimi and Tanaka really exist? Or are they the products of the narrator’s imagination? (Note: this is the crux question of work; our interpretation of the work will vary depending on how we answer this question.) If the characters are purely fictional products of the narrator’s imagination, how can we explain the narrator’s obvious vested interest in the characters (particularly O-kimi)?

2. Assuming O-kimi does really exist in the narrator’s world, how does the narrator know so much about her, her room, her life, her activities, her longings, etc?

3. Discuss the significance of the final paragraph:

I did it! I finished the story! The sun should be coming up any minute now. I hear the chill-sounding crow of the rooster outside, but why do I feel depressed even though I've managed to finish writing this? O-kimi made it back unscathed to her room over the beauty parlor that night, but unless she stops waiting on tables at the cafe, there's no saying she won't go out with Tanaka alone again. And when I think of what might happen then—no, what happens then will happen then. No amount of worrying on my part now is going to change anything. All right, that's it, I’m going to stop writing. Goodbye, O-kimi. Step out again tonight as you did last night—gaily, bravely—to be vanquished by the critics! (Rubin, 129)

Is the last line the narrator’s admission that O-kimi is simply his fictional creation?

4. Discuss how the work thematizes the relation between fantasy/fiction and reality. How does fantasy/fiction inform our perception of reality?

5. What symbols/metaphors/similes can you identify in the work? Explain their function/significance.

6. Is my theory plausible?[2]

Pop Quiz

1. Arrange the following movements in the order that they occurred in Europe: realism, enlightenment, modernism, symbolism, romanticism.

2. All narratives are comprised of two components. What are they? (Hint: narrative discourse/events/action/ fabula/sjuzet/plot/story).

3. Identify and describe at least four characteristics of Romanticism.

[1] The story (Negi; 「葱」) was originally published in January 1920 in the literary journal Shinshōsetsu.
[2] My theory is that everything from p. 126 on—from 6:00 on—is imagined [wishful thinking] by the narrator; and that, at the end of story, the date has yet to take place.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

WAVES INTO THE DARK: A Critical Study of Five Key Works from Ishikawa Jun’s Early Writings: The [Expanded] Table of Contents

Okay, so here it is. I know you've all been waiting for this: the [expanded] Table of Contents

WAVES INTO THE DARK: A Critical Study of Five Key Works from Ishikawa Jun’s Early Writings
by R. Shaldjian Morrison

Note on the Translations

INTRODUCTION (Ishikawa Jun’s General Reception; The Literary Context: Realism/Early Naturalism/I-novel)

PART I: Two Early “Self-Portraits”

CHAPTER 1 “Kajin” (1935): I-novel Spoof as Counterdiscourse
1. 1 Introduction 1.2 Deep Intertextuality: the “Artist Novel” and the “Possession Novel” 1.3 Narrative Performativity: The Solipsistic Narrator 1.4 Stage One: The Navel 1.5 Stage Two: The “Kajin” 1.6 Stage Three: Impassivity/Death 1.7 Stage Four: Pan’s Ascendency, Pursuit of Misa 1.8 Final Scene / Epilogue 1.9 Conclusion

CHAPTER 2 “Yamazakura” (1936): Allegorical Fantasy as Counterdiscourse 
2. 1 Introduction 2.2 Fantasy Literature in Japan 2.3 “Yamazakura” as “Allegorical Fantastic” 2.4 The Hallucination-Prone “I”: Three Modes of Being 2.5 Three Lures: the “Black Manteau,” the Wild Cherry Tree, and the Boy 2.6 Crisis of Representation / The Double Role of Language 2.7 Conclusion

PART II Ishikawa’s Early Critical Writings: Bungaku taigai (1942)

CHAPTER 3: “The Structure of the Short Novel” (1940): A Non-Theory of the Non-Novel 
3.1 Introduction 3.2 The Existing Length-Based Novel Taxonomy 3.3 The Novel’s Mode of Genesis: The Popular Misconception (Zokushin) 3.4 “Thinking With the Pen” 3.5 The Novel’s Mode of Genesis: The Actual Process 3.6 Two Types of "Short Novel": Their Genealogies, Modes of Genesis, Defining Features 3.7 The Sui Generis Novel, the SLN’s “Novel-like” Parts 3.8 Conclusion

CHAPTER 4: “Form and Content in Writing” (1940): A Theory of Writing/Écriture 
4.1 Introduction 4.2 Four Universal Conditions of Writing 4.3 Normative Theory of Pure Prose/Écriture 4.4 “Unconscious Content”: Beyond the Style/Form-Content Dilemma 4.5 Conclusion

CHAPTER 5: “On the Thought Patterns of the People of Edo” (1943): Haikai Transformation as Counterdiscourse 
5.1 Introduction 5.2 Haikai / Kyōka / Tenmei / Ōta Nampo 5. 3 Edo as Opposition 5.4 “The Tale of the Maidservant Otake,” Its Foundational Texts, and Haikai Transformation 5.5 Two Contrasting “Thought Patterns”: Modern and Early Modern 5.6 The “Five Transformative Devices” (Tenkan no Sōsa) 5.6 Conclusion



Appendix: Original Translations of Two Stories and Four Critical Essays
*Kajin (Kajin, May 1935)
*The Wild Cherry Tree (Yamazakura, January 1936)
*Form and Content in Writing (Bunshō no keishiki to naiyō, May 1940)
*The Structure of the Short Story (Tampen shōsetsu no kōsei, March 1940)
*Christian Prayers, Shinto Hymns, and Prose (Kitō to norito to sanbun, May 1940)
*On the Thought Patterns of the People of Edo (Edojin no hassōhō ni tsuite, March 1943)

Reference Matter

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Fires on the Plain (Nobi; 1959)

Took advantage of Monday's class cancellation due to typhoon to read something that has long been on my to-read list: Ōoka Shōhei's Fires on the Plain (Nobi; 1951; Ivan Morris trans. 1957). 

My [preliminary/subjective/non-scholarly] Rating: 5/5 [detailed study guide forthcoming]

To purchase Morris's translation of the novel, click here.

And here is director Ichikawa Kon's film adaptation of the novel...

Title: Fires on the Plain (Nobi) 
Year: 1959
Director: Ichikawa Kon 市川崑 1915-2008
Starring: Funakoshi Eiji. 
Based on: Ōoka Shōhei's 1951 eponymous novel
From the Criterion Collection (w/ quality English subtitles). 

*Study guides for both film and novel forthcoming.

*Also, click here for the trailer for the most recent (2015) film adaption by director Tsukamoto Shin'ya 塚本晋也.

Monday, October 6, 2014

江戸川乱歩 『人間椅子』 (朗読:佐野史郎) 1-7

A brilliant reading of Edogawa Rampo's "Human Chair" (Ningen isu; 1925) by actor Sano Shirō 佐野史郎 (1955- ).