Sunday, May 17, 2009

Ishikawa Jun

This just in from Mrs. Marina Thomas:
Who's this Ishikawa Jun you're always talking about?
Well, Marina, here’s what William Tyler has to say about him. I quote the article in full:
Standard anthologies of modern Japanese literature have identified Ishikawa Jun as a writer belonging to the "new talent" debuting in the 1930s, the first wave of post-World War II novelists, the burai-ha (libertine) or shin gesaku-ha (new burlesque) school of Sakaguchi Ango and Dazai Osamu, or a young generation of "internationalists" such as Abe Kōbō or Ōe Kenzaburō. Ishikawa has also been seen as a figure belonging to no group at all, his place within Japanese letters established solely by his brilliance as a prose stylist and experimentalist. What these labels obscure or grasp only in part is the consistently modernist thread that runs through his works. To understand this writer and to establish his place within Japanese and world literature are to appreciate how Western modanizumu (modernism) has parallel roots in Japanese culture. A broad understanding of what modernism denotes can help one to understand how Ishikawa is simultaneously "libertine," "new burlesque," and "internationalist," as well as how he fits into the mainstream of contemporary Japanese fiction.

Less is known about Ishikawa's life than is usually the case with modern Japanese writers. He insisted on the right to privacy, and he advocated the principle that a work of art be appreciated independently of the life of its author--a position contrary to that generally assumed by Japanese critics, novelists, and readers. This position is consistent with Ishikawa's long-standing opposition to the shizen-shugi (naturalist) school of writers and his rejection of the first-person, confessional mode of reportage that dominated Japanese letters during the first half of this century.

Ishikawa was born Shiba Kiyoshi on 7 March 1899 in Asakusa, the old downtown section of Tokyo, where the Shiba and Ishikawa families lived in the same neighborhood of Miyoshi-chō. He was the second son of Shiba Atsushi, a local banker and politician who had given up his family name of Ishikawa to become the adopted son-in-law of the Shiba family and head of its traditional business as fuda-sashi, or brokers. Kiyoshi--or Jun, as the character for Ishikawa's given name can also be read--spent much of his childhood at the home of his paternal grandparents, the Ishikawas, who subsequently adopted him as heir.

His grandfather, Ishikawa Shōsai, had been one of the hatamoto samurai, who lived in Edo and served the shogun directly. He was also a scholar of Chinese and Japanese poetry. During the last years of the Tokugawa era, he served as lecturer at the shogun's prestigious School of Confucian Studies, and he edited several anthologies of Chinese poetry written by Japanese. Under his grandfather's tutelage, Kiyoshi received a solid grounding in both the classical Chinese texts and the high culture of the native No drama. On his own initiative he studied the popular literature of the Edo period and frequented the rakugo, or raconteur, theaters in nearby Asakusa Park. He was a fan of Mori Ōgai's translations of Western literature such as Hans Christian Andersen's Improvisatoren (1837; translated as Sokkyō shijin, 1902) and the short stories of Carl Gustav Vollmoeller and Edgar Allan Poe. The boy also met aspiring young writers such as Kubota Mantarō and Akutagawa Ryunosuke through his older brother, Shiba Taketsuna, a business major at Keiō University and later manager of Enoken, the popular comedian. The brother died young, and little is known about the fate of the Ishikawa and Shiba families after the earthquake of 1923.

The chronicler of Asakusa, Kubota Mantarō, wrote that families such as the Ishikawas sustained the spirit of old downtown Tokyo, a spirit often characterized as that of the "Edokko," or "Sons of Edo." Both the samurai and merchant classes had built homes along the banks of the Sumida River and created a highly literate subculture that emphasized free and easy social relations and a quixotic disposition that contrasted sharply to the neo-Confucian orthodoxies of the shogun or the Meiji oligarchs who ruled the "high town" of Edo castle and Tokyo. Ishikawa identified this liberal, antiestablishment tradition as the locus of his spiritual roots in "Edobito no hassōhō ni tsuite" (On the Thought Patterns of the People of Edo, 1943), published in the magazine Shisō. As Kubota Mantarō points out, Ishikawa's definition of an Edokko should be distinguished from a more popular, albeit more squalid, image of Asakusa as the shitamachi (low town) that developed after the destruction of Tokyo in the earthquake of 1923 and the bombing raids of 1945.

At age eighteen Ishikawa entered the Department of French Language and Literature at the Tokyo School of Foreign Languages just as French literature was being introduced into Japan. As a linguistic prodigy, he read extensively in the original texts of such writers as Romain Rolland , Joris-Karl Huysmans , Anatole France, and Charles-Louis Philippe . After Ishikawa graduated, he helped to found Gendai Bungaku (Contemporary Literature), a small coterie magazine in which he published his first pieces. These études have not been treated as a significant part of his literary production, however.

After leaving home, Ishikawa moved into the Kiku Fuji Hotel, a favorite spot of bohemian and left-wing writers in the Hongō section of Tokyo. He worked briefly in the research division of the Bank of Japan, and after the earthquake of 1923 he went to Kyushu to teach French at Fukuoka Higher School. He was soon forced to resign, however, because of his outspoken support for striking coal miners in northern Kyushu and his opposition to steps taken by the Ministry of Education to suppress student activism. He returned to Tokyo and thereafter struggled to make a living by becoming one of the first Japanese translators of French novels such as Anatole France's Le lys rouge (Akai yuri, 1923) and André Gide 's L'immoraliste (Haitokusha, 1924) and Les caves du Vatican (Hōōchō no nukeana, 1928), as well as plays by Molière.

The essays that Ishikawa published at this time indicate that his interests were shifting sharply away from fin de siècle epicureanism toward symbolism, antinaturalism, and the iconoclastic life personified by Michel and Lafcadio, the protagonists of Gide's L'immoraliste (1902; translated as The Immoralist, 1930) and Les caves du Vatican (1914; translated as The Vatican Cellars, 1952). The extent of Ishikawa's involvement with groups associated with anarchist Ōsugi Sakae and dadaist Tsuji Jun is not fully documented, but during the controversy between the anarchists and the bolshevists that swept Tokyo intellectual circles in the 1920s Ishikawa's political sympathies clearly lay with the ideas of Piotr Kropotkin and Nikolai Bukharin and his literary interests with modernist experiments in narratives such as those of Gide's Paludes (1895) and Les Faux-monnayeurs (1925; translated as The Counterfeiters, 1927).

Throughout his adult life Ishikawa continued to hold anarchism as a posture of philosophical skepticism that challenges the validity of all systems. This position explains why he was not drawn into the proletarian literary movement; moreover, this posture is a perennial topic in his mature works--for example, anabaptism serves as the source of inspiration for Shifuku sennen (On With the Millennium, 1967), a highly fantastic novel that envisions the introduction of millennarian Christianity into Japan during the last days of the Edo period. Or, in Hakutōgin (Lays of the White Haired Wig, 1957) Ishikawa weaves a comic tale of anarchist involvement in the modern theater movement that began at the Tsukiji Shōgekijō (Tsukiji Little Theater). Set in this unsettled period of his life, Hakutōgin is one of Ishikawa's few postwar works that is demonstrably autobiographical.

Issues concerning the grammar of narrative--authorial voice, style, and tone--become important in the series of récits, or words, or that Ishikawa began publishing in the mid 1930s. His debut work, Kajin (The Beauty, 1935), parodies and definitively signals his rejection of the naturalist I-novel. "I, I, I...," the story begins in a seriocomic vein. "It were as if the sluice gates of my pen had opened, and the backwater that is myself surged forth in an endless torrent," Ishikawa writes. He continues with a story of his "stigmata-ization," of how he suffers almost Christlike in an existential drama that records his birth as a writer.

Similarly, Fugen (1936; translated as The Bodhisattva, or Samantabhadra , 1990) is a first-person parody and metafictional tale of an impoverished novelist who, beset by the quotidian realities of making a living in Tokyo, is driven by the dream of realizing a secular "Pure Land" on earth. "The breezes that stir the pages of the novel," he says, "are far different from the gusts of the mundane world," and he longs for a modern incarnation of Joan of Arc--whom he finds in Yukari, a young woman who is involved in the political underground and whom he attempts to save from the hands of the "thought-control" police. By combining Christian and Buddhist imagery and by drawing a series of parallels between the "flowers and dust" of France during the days of Joan of Arc and those of Japan during the 1930s, the novel implicitly critiques its times--and a self-absorbed class of intellectuals that have failed to act. The protagonist unhappily concludes that no "bodhisattva" will save Japan in its hour of peril. The only defense left to those who would resist is reflexive gestures of protest. Awarded the distinguished Akutagawa Prize for literature in 1937, this seminal novel powerfully combines parody, allegory, and satire in using both the palimpsest construction of European modernist prose and the techniques of mitate (look-alikes), tōkai-buri (mystification), and random plotting characteristic of the gesaku, or burlesque fiction, of the Edo period.

Ishikawa's next major work, Marusu no uta (1938; translated as "Mars' Song," 1995), denounces the national chorus of jingoism that followed the Japanese invasion of China in 1937. "Mars' Song" was banned by the censors, and Ishikawa and his publisher were taken to court and heavily fined. Along with Fugen, "Mars' Song" established Ishikawa's reputation as one of the few Japanese writers to oppose the actions of the military, although there was no organized movement, per se, to resist the war. The work presents its antimilitarist message in several ways, sometimes by openly denouncing martial music--which, Ishikawa claims, originates in the madness of the streets, its frenzied crescendo rising to a fever pitch to assault my window. . . . it spits forth an acrid smoke, the blackness of its soot blanketing every household, its grit penetrating into every corner, there to wither city arbors and asphyxiate backyard fowl and family pet. There, in the gaping mouths raised in song, one sees the malaise of our times. . . . I rise from my chair, and turning in the direction of the popular refrain as it echoes down the street, I shout "NO!"

The allegorical subplots that its first-person narrator weaves also reinforce such denunciation. One presents the story of Fuyuko ("Winter's Child"), who insists that "pretending deafness may prove fatal," because the consequences of tacitly supporting, or not resisting, the war are more lethal than many suppose. Yet another denunciation device is the narrator's metaphor for Japan as a beautiful aquarium, in which all of its species are hopelessly entranced and entrapped.

During the war years Ishikawa wrote primarily literary criticism. Most notable is his famous critique of the fiction of Mori Ōgai (Mori Ōgai, 1941). In an introduction that is startling for its boldness, he dismisses the bulk of Ōgai's oeuvre as "inferior work, reeking of the commonplace" and argues that only Ōgai's last works (such as Shibue Chusai, 1916) are praiseworthy. Even so, they are admirable not as biographies, as was commonly held, but as experiments in repertorial narration--that is, as "novels" using a metafictional narrator-within-the-narrative technique. Moreover, in Bungaku taigai (All About Literature, 1942) Ishikawa follows the French essayist Alain (pseudonym of Emile Chartier), who had enunciated in "Essai sur le style" (1920) a theory of writing as vitalistic and automatic: "penser à mesure que la plume écrit" (to think as the pen writes). During the war Ishikawa wrote only one novel--Hakubyō (Line Drawing, 1939), a roman à clef that has as its central character Bruno Taut, the modernist, pro-Soviet architect who had been driven out of Nazi Germany in 1933 and had sought temporary refuge in Japan. While Dr. Kraus--as Taut is called in the novel--praises the spirit and design of "native" Japanese buildings (most notably the Katsura Detached Palace in Kyōto), he does not want his views associated with the rising tide of Japanese nationalism.

Because Japanese citizens could not pursue such immigration abroad during the war years, Ishikawa decided to withdraw from the sociopolitical situation by immersing himself in literary studies. Through a self-proclaimed program of Edo ryugaku, or "study abroad in Edo," he located the historical roots of modern Japan in the Tenmei era (1781-1789)--"Japan's most modern age"--and in the literary genre of Tenmei kyōka, comic poetry in the Tenmei style. In this satiric verse Ishikawa saw the origin of a modernist spirit characterized by the relativism and secularization of ideas. In Meigetsushu (1945; translated as "Moon Gems," 1985), a story recounting Ishikawa's attempts at learning to ride a bicycle during the final days of the war, he describes how important, as sources of humor and inspiration, were the kyōka and its sole practitioner in the twentieth century, the novelist Nagai Kafu. The bicycle stands as a metaphor, or "vehicle," for Ishikawa's attempt to maintain a sense of pride and levity in the face of the single-minded national pursuit of the war. During this period Ishikawa also adopted the pseudonym of Isai, meaning both "the barbarian" and "the kyōka poet at his desk."

After Japan was defeated, Dazai Osamu, Sakaguchi Ango, and Ishikawa--recognized as members of a "libertine" or "new burlesque" school--quickly became leaders in Japanese postwar literature that was characterized by their iconoclastic attitudes toward traditional values and their interests in the parody fiction of the Edo period. Yet they did not share any formal association, credo, or membership in a coterie magazine.

Ishikawa wrote short stories almost exclusively during the period immediately after the war, and while he wrote in the seriocomic, garrulous style of his earlier works, he shifted from a posture of resisting to one of openly embracing the yet undefined possibilities of what Japan might become. Couched in Christian rather than Buddhist imagery, his stories are allegories for the death and resurrection of Japan. In Yakeato no Iesu ("Jesus of the Ruins," 1946), for example, Ishikawa suggests that a vagrant orphan of the war who haunts the black markets of Ueno is Christlike, or almost divine, by virtue of having been returned to an elemental state that is free of tradition. Allegories such as "Jesus of the Ruins" are among Ishikawa's best known and most often anthologized pieces. Ōgon densetsu (1946; translated as "Legend of Gold," 1997) gained notoriety when it was censored by the occupation authorities: a scene depicting a Japanese woman in the company of an American soldier was cut from the story, along with references to black-market American cigarettes and chocolate.

Occupation policies on fraternization and censorship notwithstanding, "Legend of Gold" presents the return of peace as a golden opportunity for its first-person protagonist--representing Everyman in Japan--to reclaim his watch and hat, symbols of the restoration of time and dignity after the ignominy and lack of creativity during the war years. Even though the protagonist is about to lose his old love--his girlfriend, or a vision of Japan about to be surrendered to a Western soldier during occupation times--he remains proud. "Heretofore modernity has been an understudy in the grand drama of history," he announces in a passage reminiscent of existential themes. "It has been made to stand in the wings, its potential cloaked in the heavy curtains of possibility. As of this moment, however, there has been an opening, and it has stepped forward to take its place on centerstage. It is announcing to the world that '...thanks to the marvelous invention known as the Introduction of Time, at last it is possible to bring you what you've been waiting for.'"

Ishikawa faded from popular attention in the 1950s, but he continued to be read by Japanese intellectuals, to whom he was known as a novelist's novelist, or a shibui writer of "understated" genius. More importantly, during his next three and one-half decades he wrote works of increasingly greater length, including his longest novel, Kyōfuki (Record of a Mad Wind, 1980), which exceeds nine hundred pages.

On the one hand, Ishikawa devoted himself to writing what he called jikken shōsetsu, or experimental novels. Circa 1949 he switched to third-person narration and a less garrulous, more streamlined style. While he retained his familiar parodic and satiric tone, for the first time he incorporated the pure fantasy that distinguished his prewar stories such as Yamazakura ("Wild Cherries," 1936) or Hasuzake ("Lotus Wine," 1942) as salient features of his fiction. Without resorting to conventional employment, Ishikawa added to his work a kinetic rhythm that propels his stories, and the novels that he wrote during these years consequently explore more deeply the terrain of metafiction. By having layers of parody and allegory, these novels also reference their times and retain the satiric bent of his prewar fiction.

The novella Taka (1953; translated as "The Raptor," 1997) illustrates these developments. It presents the story of Kunisuke ("Servant to the Nation"), a young man who becomes involved in the clandestine distribution of a new contraband cigarette called "Peace." The cigarettes endow their smokers with the mysterious power to read futurese, or ashita-go, "the language of tomorrow." The authorities eventually apprehend and incarcerate Kunisuke and his fellow visionaries, but in a conclusion that comes as a lyrical paean to the indomitable courage of the human spirit, Kunisuke is saved by a giant raptor that, swooping over the billets of the prison yard, transports him to freedom. Through the story's references, for example, to a government-run cigarette monopoly or to a brand of cigarettes called "Peace," this work clearly references contemporary Japan. It also speaks allegorically of the burning political question of the period: with the signing of the peace treaty in 1952 and the end of the Allied occupation, who was to shape the new age of peace that had come to Japan--the government, the corporate monopolies, or the people?

Ishikawa's mature fiction typically offers a similar pattern of visionary tale, literary parody, and social allegory or satire. Inspired by Gustave Flaubert 's Legend of Saint Julien L'Hospitalier (1877), for example, Shion monogatari (1956; translated as "Asters," 1961) is set in an age of feudal wars, and the central character is torn by his creative and destructive impulses. Aratama (The Bad Boy of the Gods, 1963) is the story of Sata, a bête noire who embodies the darkling forces at the bottom of society and represents another manifestation of the divine wild child introduced in "Jesus of the Ruins." The novel parodies comic-book heroes, and it prophesies the kuroi kiri (black mist) that enveloped Japanese politics in the 1970s. Likewise, On With the Millennium--a narrative in which bands of hidden Christians plot to take control of the city of Edo and impose competing definitions of Christianity on Japan--is no doubt inspired by Gide's tale of the "false Pope" in The Vatican Cellars, the factionalism endemic to Japanese politics, and the new religions of the postwar period.

In addition to writing novels, Ishikawa published many postwar essays. Starting with Isai hitsudan (Isai's Propos, 1952), Isai rigen (Isai in the Vernacular, 1952), and Isai seigen (Elegant Isai, 1954), he wrote a series of essays under his pen name of Isai and in the style of the "propos" of Alain. These essays include a wide range of topics: politics--for example, "Kenryoku ni tsuite" (On Authority) and "Kakumei to wa nanika" (What is Revolution?); art--""Geijutsuka no eien no teki"" (The Artist's Eternal Enemy) and "Utau ashita no tame ni" (Toward the Tomorrows Which Shall Sing); and even the rare personal reminiscence, such as "Jiido mukashi-banashi" (Once Upon a Time with André Gide ). The political and philosophical threads that these share are anarchist and existentialist.

Ishikawa was also interested in nanga painting and in the East Asian tradition of the kijin, or eccentric artist. Occasionally acting as an appraiser, he became an art authority on nanga, and one of his most elegant collections of essays is Shokoku kijinden (Grand Eccentrics and Gallants from Around the Country, 1957), which contains biographies of Kobayashi Jotei, "the Master Carpenter of Matsue"; Awa no Dekochu, "the puppet maker Chusaburō from Awa"; and other craftsmen and artists. Ishikawa also adapted into modern Japanese Ueda Akinari's Shinshaku harusame monogatari (Tales of Spring Rain--A Modern Interpretation, 1954) and, in Shinshaku Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters--A Modern Interpretation, 1960), the classic myths of Japan. Saiyu nichiroku (Travels to the West, 1965), an account of his first trip to Europe in 1964, and Pekin dokugin (Solo Verse from Beijing, 1975) include his linked verse and haiku.

From 1969 to 1971 Ishikawa wrote a weekly column on the arts and literature for the evening edition of the Asahi newspaper, and these essays were collected in Bunrin tsugen (Speaking from the Groves of Literature, 1972). In 1967 he had joined Abe Kōbō, Kawabata Yasunari , and Mishima Yukio in an appeal for the protection of intellectual freedom during the Cultural Revolution in China, and in 1975 he testified before the Supreme Court of Japan in defense of Nosaka Akiyuki, who in a famous test of censorship laws had reprinted and distributed Nagai Kafu's allegedly pornographic novel, Yojōhan fusuma no shitabari (The Voyeur's View of the Four-and-a-Half Mat Room, 1919). Ishikawa was much admired as the last of twentieth-century Japanese novelists to be freely conversant with the three traditions of Japanese, Chinese, and Western literature. Abe Kōbō ranked him with Hayashi Tatsuo, dramaturge and Renaissance scholar, as having one of the most erudite and encyclopedic minds in Japan.

An important critical debate about Ishikawa concerns the nature of his transformation into a writer of experimental fiction during the 1950s. Some critics have seen the change as sudden and radical; others, as a natural evolution of the metafictional pattern established from the time of his literary debut. Some have viewed his writing of experimental fiction as a retreat from politics or as a separating of artistic and political concerns, whereas others have seen it as a layering or conjoining of Ishikawa's interests, although his intent often may be concealed by a pretense of detachment or a smokescreen of "mystification" in the style of writers of the Edo period. Especially after Ishikawa married Ishikawa Iku and his life became more settled in the postwar era, he was able to devote his energies to writing in a way that had not been possible during the war and the years immediately thereafter.

Ishikawa received the Ministry of Education Prize for Literature in 1957 for Asters, and he also received the Asahi Cultural Prize in 1982 in honor of his longest novel, Record of a Mad Wind. He was elected to permanent membership in the Geijutsuin, Japan Academy of the Arts, in 1963. At the time of his death from lung cancer at age eighty-eight, he was working on Hebi no uta (Song of the Snake, 1988), a novel concerning sex, power, and money in contemporary Japan.

In terms of his generational peers Ishikawa ranks alongside critics and writers such as Kobayashi Hideo and Yokomitsu Riichi, who sought an end to naturalist, first-person narration and called for the junsui shōsetsu (pure novel). Clearly he was among the first writers of his generation to advance the causes of modernism and metafiction, and in moving away from the nostalgia that mainstream writers such as Kawabata Yasunari and Tanizaki Jun'ichirō maintained for traditional Japan, Ishikawa anticipated a major change in the interests and tastes of younger writers. Often he has been anthologized with Abe Kōbō and Ōe Kenzaburō, with whom he shared a love of French existentialist literature and a desire to wrest the Japanese novel from topics particular to the culture. Although modern Japanese literature has a strong existentialist orientation by virtue of its relative indifference to issues such as absolute authority and the existence of God, Ishikawa ranks among the first to have articulated in abstract or allegorical ways the significance of what it means for modern man to live in a relativistic world. Moreover, because of Ishikawa's skill at creating in his works an imaginary realm in which he mixes icons and images of Japanese with non-Japanese culture, critics have treated his work as belonging properly to world literature. Often he is compared to Jorge Luis Borges or Vladimir Nabokov because of his brilliance as a stylist, his mastery of parody, and his advocacy of experimental fiction.

Yet one must not forget that as a writer Ishikawa was not isolated from Japanese literature, as his indebtedness to the traditions of gesaku fiction and kyōka poetry show. He is also heir to the bunjin, or "literati," tradition that, starting with the nanga painters, was introduced to Japan from China in the early 1600s and was continued by the kyōka poets of the mid Edo period. The works of modern writers such as Mori Ōgai and Nagai Kafu continue to transmit this heritage to Japanese arts and letters, and Ishikawa has accordingly been hailed as saigo no bunjin, "the last of the literati" of Japan, as he embodies the antiestablishment and iconoclastic, as well as the refined and cosmopolitan, strains of the tradition.

--William Tyler from Van Gessel's Japanese Fiction Writers Since World War Two (1997)


Anonymous said...

That's a mighty long entry, Beholdmyswarthyface.

-Aoki Nanpachi

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting. Is there any way you could also post a list of his works and works about him?

-Mabel Aterdose