Friday, December 19, 2014

I Once Gave Paul Auster Nightmares

When I die, please write the following epitaph on my tombstone: "He once--via his translation of a Takahashi Gen'ichiro story--gave Paul Auster nightmares (fast-forward to 2:30)." Be sure to include the "fast-forward to 2:30."

*To purchase my translation of Takahashi Gen'ichirō's "Demon Beasts" (Kichiku) in  Volume 4 of Monkey Business, click here.

*To listen to an audio recording of the story, click here.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Best Joke in Japanese of the Last 420 Years

And the award for the best joke in Japanese of the last 420 years goes to legendary wit and Hideyoshi Toyotomi advisor Sorori Shinzaemon 曽呂利新左衛門 (? ~ 1603)→
One day Sorori came to Hideyoshi and said that there was a cucumber eating a cucumber. Hideyoshi did not believe him, and agreed to give him a reward if he could prove it. Sorori took Hideyoshi out and pointed to a man sitting by the side of the road eating something. Hideyoshi complained that he was just a man. Sorori said,“Look well. That man is a wood seller [きうり]. He has a bundle of firewood on his back, and he is eating a cucumber [きうり]. That's why I told you that a KIURI (wood seller) is eating a KIURI (cucumber).

Source: Salvatore Attardo's Encyclopedia of Humor Studies (2014)

Sunday, December 14, 2014

萩原朔太郎「猫町」の YOUTUBE 朗読

Study Questions for Hagiwara Sakutarō’s “The Town of Cats” (1935; Nekomachi- sanbunshifūna shōsetsu, translated by Jeffrey Angles)

Or, in PDF format...
Study Questions for Hagiwara Sakutarō’s “The Town of Cats” (1935; Nekomachi- sanbunshifūna shōsetsu, transl...

Study Guide: Hagiwara Sakutarō’s “The Town of Cats” (1935; Nekomachi- sanbunshifūna shōsetsu)

*To purchase Jeffrey Angles' English translation of the story, click here.
*To read the story in the original, click here.

Terms/Related Concepts/Topics

Look up the following terms/related concepts/topics, and consider their relation to the text. (Note: I have already started to fill in some of these.)

1. Drug use, availability, and distribution in modern Japan:
2. Parallax: the apparent displacement of an observed object due to a change in the position of the observer.
3. Metaphysics: Traditional branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world. Traditionally, metaphysics attempts to answer two basic questions: What is there? What is it like?
4. Dislocation (and the aesthetics of):
5. Defamiliarization (Rs: ostranenie; Jp: 異化) : The distinctive effect achieved by literary works in disrupting our habitual perception of the world, enabling us to 'see' things afresh, according to the theories of some English Romantic poets and of Russian formalism (Baldick, 1990).
6. Wanderlust: a strong impulse to travel.
7. Plato’s Theory of Forms: The idea that behind the flux of phenomenal appearances lies an immutable realm of non-material abstract (but substantial) forms (or ideas) that possess the highest and most fundamental kind of reality. The Form (or Idea) is an aspacial, atemporal, objective blueprint of perfection, as contrasted with idol (image/appearance), which is merely the Form’s particular aspect, which exists materially and temporally. According to this theory, each concrete particular is an imitation of its abstract and eternal Form.

8. Zhuangzi’s 莊子 butterfly: Once Zhuangzi dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn't know he was Zhuangzi. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Zhuangzi. But he didn't know if he was Zhuangzi who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Zhuangzi. Between Zhuangzi and a butterfly there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things.” (Zhuangzi, Ch 2, tr. Burton Watson 1968:49). Original: 昔者莊周夢為蝴蝶,栩栩然蝴蝶也,自適志與,不知周也。俄然覺,則蘧蘧然周也。不知周之夢為蝴蝶與,蝴蝶之夢為周與?周與蝴蝶則必有分矣。此之謂物化。
9. Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860): German philosopher best known for his book, The World as Will and Representation.
10. The fourth dimension:
11. “The Fantastic” (Todorov’s concept): According to Bulgarian theorist Tzvetan Todorov (1939- ), the fantastic is characterized by: a) a hesitation on the part of the reader in deciding whether to interpret the events of the story as real or unreal, natural or supernatural; and/or b) a similar hesitation evident in the characters or narrator(s). To qualify as “fantastic,” the reader must be able to resist reading the story as a simple allegory or extended metaphor; in short, he must read it literally and metaphorically. “Fantastic” works are often divided into two types: strange (in which rational explanation is predominant) and marvelous (in which supernatural explanation is predominant).
12. Spirit Possession in Japanese Folklore:
13. Utopia/Dystopia:
14. Metamorphosis:
15. Prose Poem (sanbunshi):

Study Questions

Answer all of the following questions. I expect at least one full paragraph for each answer.

1. Consider the three references that appear in the work (the Schopenhauer quote, the Horace reference, and the Zhuangzi reference). Explain each reference in relation to the overall theme(s) of the work.

2. The narrator provides several interpretive frameworks for explaining the strange happenings described in the work. List and describe each of these interpretive frameworks. Which framework does the narrator seem to prefer? Which framework is the reader most likely to use?

3. As we discussed in class, “hesitation”—either in a character or in the reader—is the hallmark of “the fantastic.” Explain instances of “hesitation” that occur in/are produced by this work.

4. In the title, Hagiwara refers to his work as a “prose poem” (sanbunshi)? What makes the work a “prose poem”? (In other words, what are the work’s poetic qualities and its prosaic qualities?)

5. What metaphysical claims is the work suggesting/making? What is this “riddle” that the narrator keeps referring to?

6. Describe the town of U and its residents. Can this section of the story be read as a metaphor/allegory/critique of Japanese society at the time? As a prophecy of what was to come in the late 1930s? Explain.

7. Describe the meaning/significance of the residents’ metamorphoses into cats. Why cats? What do the cats represent? Given all the buildup, isn’t this a bit anticlimactic?

8. Discuss the final section of the story. In your view, can the “true” aspects of reality be seen only when one is removed from ordinary modes of viewing? Or is reality knowable only through reason, science, objective observation, and the like? What does the work tell us about the limits and potentials of “reason” and “intuition”?

9. What other works that we have read in class is this story similar to? Explain the similarities.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Study Guide: Murakami Haruki: "TV People" (1990)

Study Guide: Murakami Haruki: "TV People" (1990)

Murakami Haruki: TV People (1990)[1]

*To read the story in the original Japanese, click here.
*To read Alfred Birnbaum’s English translation, click here.

Murakami Haruki (1949- ): Murakami Haruki is the most widely translated Japanese novelist of his generation. Murakami’s first novel, Kaze no uta o kike (1979; Hear the Wind Sing), won a prize for best fiction by a new writer. From the start his writing was characterized by images and events that the author himself found difficult to explain but which seemed to come from the inner recesses of his memory. Some argued that this ambiguity, far from being off-putting, was one reason for his popularity with readers, especially young ones, who were bored with the self-confessions that formed the mainstream of contemporary Japanese literature. His perceived lack of a political or intellectual stance irritated “serious” authors (such as Ōe Kenzaburō), who dismissed his early writings as being no more than entertainment. Murakami’s first major international success came with Hitsuji o meguru bōken (1982; A Wild Sheep Chase), a novel that acquires an eerie quality from the mysterious sheep that comes to possess the narrator’s friend, known as “the Rat.” The narrator and the Rat reappeared in Murakami’s next important novel, Sekai no owari to hādoboirudo wandārando (1985; Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World), a fantasy that was successful with the public and was the winner of the prestigious Tanizaki Prize. One of Murakami’s most ambitious novels, Nejimaki-dori kuronikuru (1994–95; The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle), represents a departure from his usual themes: it is devoted in part to depicting Japanese militarism on the Asian continent as a nightmare. Andāguraundo (1997; Underground) is a nonfiction account of the sarin gas attack carried out by the AUM Shinrikyo religious sect on a Tokyo subway in 1995. The novel Supūtoniku no koibito (1999; Sputnik Sweetheart) probes the nature of love as it tells the story of the disappearance of Sumire, a young novelist. Subsequent novels include Umibe no Kafuka (2002; Kafka on the Shore) and Afutā dāku (2004; After Dark). Several short-story collections, including Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman (2006), translate Murakami’s stories into English. He also wrote a memoir, Hashiru koto ni tsuite kataru toki ni boku no kataru koto (2007; What I Talk About When I Talk About Running), which centers on his love for marathon running. An experienced translator of American literature, Murakami also published in Japanese editions of works by Raymond Carver, Paul Theroux, Truman Capote, Ursula K. Le Guin, and J.D. Salinger.  (Encyclopædia Britannica)

Study Questions

1. Describe the first-person narrator. Where is he located (temporally and spatially)? Who is the “you” whom he repeatedly addresses? Describe his tastes/interests, job, marriage, relation with supervisor/colleagues, mental state, eccentricities, etc. Is he a “reliable narrator”? Why does he refer to himself as a “modern-day Luddite”?

2. Describe the “TV People.” How does the narrator respond to them, and they to him? Do they actually exist?

3. How do the TV People disrupt the narrator’s normal sense of reality, eventually causing his world to crumble? Are the TV People to be read as a symbol/metaphor for something? If so, what?

4. How do the narrator’s colleagues respond to the TV People? What happens when the narrator brings up the subject of the TV People with one of his colleagues? Why this response? Is everyone “in on it,” as it were?

5. Describe “the wife.” Describe her personality, tastes, job, relation with husband, etc. Why doesn’t she say anything regarding the new TV?

6. Discuss the function/significance of the motif of the ticking clock.

7. Describe the sudden shift of mood that begins on page 210.

8. Discuss the possible causes for the wife’s absence/disappearance in the final scene. According to the TV People, what has happened to her? Why do they know? Explain the TV People representative’s comment: “It’s gone too far. She’s out there.”

9. Discuss the narrator’s dream (described on page 212) and its significance.

I dream about a meeting. I’m standing up, delivering a statement I myself don’t understand. I open my mouth and talk. If I don’t, I’m a dead man. I have to keep talking. Have to keep coming out with endless blah-blah-blah. Everyone around me is dead. Dead and turned to stone. A roomful of stone statues. A wind is blowing. The windows are all broken; gusts of air are coming in. And the TV People are here. Three of them. Like the first time. They’re carrying a Sony color TV. And on the screen are the TV People. I’m running out of words; little by little I can feel my fingertips growing stiffen. Gradually turning to stone.

What is the raw material, manifest content, and latent content of this dream? Does the narrator actually awake from the dream, as he thinks? Or is he still asleep and dreaming through the final episode? Explain.

10. Is the final episode a dream, a hallucination, or reality? What is the meaning of the “airplane” that is being built by the TV People in the TV? Why does the narrator’s hand begin to shrink in the final lines of the work?

11. Discuss the final lines. Will the phone ring, as the TV People have predicted? What is a likely conclusion to this story? Why does Murakami leave us hanging in suspense?

Further Reading

1. Michael Seats. Murakami Haruki: The Simulacrum in Contemporary Japanese Culture. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2006.
2. Japan Foundation. A Wild Haruki Chase: Reading Murakami Around the World. Berkeley, Calif.: Stone Bridge Press, 2008.
3. Matthew Strecher. “Magical Realism and the Search for Identity in the Fiction of Haruki Murakami,” Journal of Japanese Studies 25.2 (Summer 1999): 263–98.

[1] First published in Bungei shunju January 1990. It originally appeared under the longer title TVピープルの逆襲 (TV pīpuru no gyakushū, literally "The TV People Strike Back"); it received this shorter final title for all further appearances. Birnbaum's English translation originally appeared in The New Yorker September 10, 1990.