Thursday, December 23, 2010

Ishikawa Jun's "xxx xxxxxx" (1935)

This just in from Molly Cessess: 

I heard you were translating Ishikawa Jun's xxxxxx into English (hats off to you for that), and I was wondering if you could either a) send me a copy of it, or b) post it online. I was hoping to quote parts of the story in an essay I'm writing about (re)presentations of the self in 1930s fiction. What do you say?
Also, could you remind me what the novel (récit?) is about? It's been a while since I last read it, and I've sort of forgotten the plot line.  Thanks, Molly Cessess
Thanks for your mail, Molly. Yes, it is true that I'm working on a translation of Ishikawa Jun's xxxxx, which I've tentatively titled xxx xxxxx. (If you can think of a better English title, please let me know.)

As for posting it online, I think I'm going to hold off from doing so, at least for a while, as I hope eventually to have it published. What I can do, however, is convert it to Ispeech and post the Ispeech button here:

As for the plot line, it can be summarized as follows:

Guy (the story's narrator and protagonist who in many ways resembles the real-life Ishikawa Jun) wanders around a NE suburb of Tokyo in search of the axis mundi, discovers that there is no such thing, begins a disappearing act (by which he sheds, one by one, the various layers of self (i.e., emotions, affects, desires, etc.) in an effort to become pure cogito), finds only a void at self's center, attempts suicide, fails, is reduced to pure physicality, ravishes his wife's sister (suggesting the possibility of spiritual redemption through the flesh/barbarization/daraku), confesses that he suffers from a condition known as "nympholepsy," and abruptly cuts narrative off in media res.  

And finally, I am indebted to the Beholdmyswarthyface Foundation for the grant that made experimental work on this translation possible. I am also indebted to Professor xxxxxxx, who read my translation against the original, and made many helpful suggestions.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Guest Lecture: Prof. Suzuki Sadami (Nichibunken, Kyoto)

This just in from Mabel Callahan:
Hey, Swarthyface. It was great seeing you at the Suzuki Sadami lecture the other day. What a great talk, and how hectic was that nomikai that followed!

Anyway, I didn't mention it at the time, but I actually secretly recorded Professor Suzuki's lecture. (Reason: my Japanese is not so great, so I have to listen to lectures two or three times before I get the gist.)
If you'd like to hear the recording, click here. And for those who weren't there, the talk took place at the University of Tokyo, on Dec. 13, 2010. The title: 「日本モダニズム文藝史のために」 . (Note: The first few minutes are a little scratchy, but it gets clearer around the two-minute mark.) 
Mabel of Dublin

Monday, December 13, 2010

Suzuki Sadami Lecture

This just in from Mabel Callahan:
Say, Beholdmyswarthyface, you planning to attend this?


講師: 鈴木貞美氏(国際日本文化研究センター教授)

テーマ: 「日本近現代文学史再編の新構想」

 鈴木貞美先生は、京都の「日文研」に依拠しながら、広い視野からたいへん精力的に、次 々と実証的かつ理論的に大胆な著作を世に問い続けて来られました。現代日本を代表する近現代文学研究者の一人です。代表的な著作に「梶井基次郎の世界」 「日本人の生命観」「日本の「文学」概念」(英訳あり)、「「日本文学」の成立」など。最新著書は「「文藝春秋」とアジア太平洋戦争」。その他の著書・編 書多数。

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ishikawa Jun's "xxxxx" (1935)

This just in from Helen Cornthaugh:
Say, Beholdmyswarthyface, I recently read Ishikawa Jun's debut work, xxxxx, and found it both deeply moving and entertaining. I was wondering how it was received by the public in 1935, the year it was published? If you have any info on this, please send it along. Best, Helen Cornthaugh.
Well, Helen, thank you for your query, and I'm glad you enjoyed the work. Incidentally, I'm now in the process of translating it, and I hope to have it finished by nightfall. I haven't decided on a translation for the title, but I'm thinking about going with "The Nymphs." What do you think? Also, I was hoping you could check my first draft against the original once I finish. What do you say?

Regarding your 同時代評 question, all I have at the moment is novelist Makino Shin'ichi's review from April, 1935, published in the Yomiuri shimbun.  I think there was one other review from that year, but I can't remember who penned it or where it was published. I'll look into that, and get back to you. I should be able to find it in the 『文芸時評大系』 (2005).  At any rate, here's what Makino Shin'ichi had to say about the work when it first came out: 
「もうひとつ僕は、今月こゝまで読んだものゝうちで、おそらく多くの文芸愛 好家が見落しはしないであらうかとおもつた佳作に出遇つたことを吹聴して置きたい。それは、石川淳氏の「佳人」(作品)である。この作家は、どんな範囲で も僕にとつては、はじめての人であり(そんなことは何うでも関はないことであるが)、どんな概念も持合さぬのであるが、この作は不思議な魅力に富んだ美し い力作であつた。名状なしがたき人間の悩みを一途に悩み、別に何処に何うといふ小説的なものが介在するわけでもないの に、読みすゝむに伴れて曠野の霧に打たれ、月の雫に袂を沾ほされる容易ならぬおもひであつた。惻々として、上等なる感慨に迫られたものであつた。」

Beholdmyswarthyface Modern Japanese Literature Examination (Round 1)

This just in from Cniva Albinus:
Hey Beholdmyswarthyface,

I recently heard that there is a Beholdmyswarthyface Modern Japanese Literature Exam being circulated among your friends and colleagues. I was hoping you could post it online so that we--the readers of your blog--can also take it.  Thank you. -Cniva Albinus.

I don't know how you heard about this, but sure thing. Here is the test(***Removed to prevent future cheating. -Sally Suzuki, Jan 4, 2012***). If you'd like us to grade it, just send your answers to our email address in PDF format. Good luck! And remember, the test was intended for undergraduates, so it might be a tad too easy for you. -Sally Suzuki

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Lotus-Eater or Lotus-Seeker: Tanizaki Jun’ichirō and Buddhism

Correction: I think Jos Vos was referring to this essay (originally posted as a comment) by Leopold Adelgonde Hauspie III, and not to the one linked in the entry below. Sorry for the confusion. -Sally Suzuki, BMSW Media Director

Writer Tanizaki Jun’ichirō 谷崎潤一郎 (1886-1965) is mostly perceived as a born lotus-eater: a man utterly devoted to the fulfillment of his desires. The chief object of his – quite earthly – desires was food and women, both of which he kept pursuing throughout his life, and let the characters in his literary work pursue as well. Especially the pursuit of a masochistic-natured erotic gratification formed the central drive for both himself and his fictional heroes. In the beginning of his career his penchant for sensual pleasure and decadence had been so intense and consuming that he even earned the epithet of ‘diabolist.’ Many events in his personal life flagrantly illustrate his selfishness and ‘immorality.’ Shortly after his first marriage, for example, he fell in love with the wayward younger sister of his wife, still a minor, upon which he sent his wife and newborn daughter to live in his parents’ home in order to be alone with her sister. Another example, of much later in his life, is when he made his third wife abort the child he had begot with her, under the argument that a child would destroy his much cherished ‘artistically inspiring’ environment (he lived together with four women: his wife, her two younger sisters, and his wife’s daughter from an earlier marriage). Likewise, from the first to the last of his works, in a career spanning more than half a century, his heroes are the slaves of their passions, such as Seikichi of the famous early short story Shisei 刺青 (‘The Tattooer,’ 1910) or the aged Utsugi of Fūten rōjin nikki 瘋癲老人日記 (‘Diary of a Mad Old Man,’ 1962).
It is hard to imagine a man more thoroughly controlled by bonnō 煩悩, the
earthly passions that according to Buddhist theory lead to entanglement and obstruct the path to enlightenment, than Tanizaki. So, one would be inclined to presume that Tanizaki was, of necessity, at completely opposite ends with Buddhism. How, one naturally thinks, could a man as sybaritic and self-indulgent like him ever be interested in the ascetic and abstemious way of life held high by Buddhism, and why would he even think of using Buddhist texts and doctrines as materials for his fiction? In this paper, I would like to verify whether these assumptions are true, or if there might be an unexpected Buddhist facet to this remarkable writer.

Tanizaki and Buddhism
To trace back Tanizaki Jun’ichirō’s religious outlook, it might be useful to have a glance at the religious life of his grandfather on his mother’s side, Tanizaki Kyūemon. From Yōshō jidai 幼少時代 (‘Childhood Years,’ 1956), Tanizaki’s memoirs of his early childhood, we learn that his grandfather had converted himself late in his life to the Russian Orthodox Church, and had kept an icon of the Virgin Mary in the house. This eventually led up to the awkward situation at his deathbed when both a Buddhist Nichiren priest – the sect of which his family had been adherents for many generations – and an Orthodox priest arrived, upon which a heated discussion flared up as to how the old man should be buried. Because Kyūemon had been the only one in the family to convert to this new faith, and had even kept his conversion a secret from his wife, in the end it was Buddhism that prevailed, and Kyūemon was interred according to Nichiren rites at the Jigenji 慈眼寺 cemetery in Fukagawa (which was later moved to its present location in Somei). Tanizaki Jun’ichirō, who was only two at the time of his grandfather’s death, had no direct recollections of these events, but the thoughts he said he had at the sight of the image of Mary, which was kept enshrined there throughout his youth, are very revealing:
… [W]hen I looked at the image of the Virgin Mary holding the infant Christ, there was a solemnness different from my emotions when I stood before the family Buddhist altar, as Grandmother and the others recited the sutras morning and evening. Gazing with inexpressible reverence into the Virgin Mother’s eyes, so full of tenderness and mercy, I felt I never wanted to leave her side. I understood something of my grandfather’s feeling as he prayed before this image of the Western goddess. There was a certain strangeness about it all, yet I sensed that someday I too might well do as he had done. (Tanizaki 1988: 19-20; Paul McCarthy’s translation)
The Christian faith of his grandfather is reduced here to the worshipping of a ‘Western goddess.’ In the eyes of the young Tanizaki, joining the hands in supplication before this exotic female figure was something infinitely more exiting than the dreary spectacle of grandma chanting sutras before the Buddhist altar. In this description, it seems like almost no distinction is made between religious fervor and a yearning for the exotic and female beauty. This appraisal of his grandfather’s faith, as we will see, will share certain crucial characteristics with his later assessment of Buddhism.
Probably the first reference to Buddhist matters in Tanizaki’s published fiction we find in his early short story Himitsu (‘The Secret,’ 1911). In this story, an extravagant young man who secretly goes out every night in female attire is seeking a hideaway in the center of Tokyo to stay low during daytime. He finds this in a Shingon monastery behind the Honganji Temple in Asakusa. But this young man’s choice for a monastery has little to do with religious feelings. What he seeks is something completely different. To adorn the walls of his room, he lends some old Buddhist paintings of hell and paradise, Mount Sumeru, and a Lying Buddha from the head priest, intent at creating a mysterious, exotic atmosphere:
A steady thread of mauve smoke rose calmly from the incense burner in the alcove and filled the bright, warm room with its fragrance. … The room presented a mesmerizing spectacle on clear days, when the rays of the noontime sun struck the shōji with full force. From the old paintings that covered the surrounding walls, brilliantly colored Buddhas, arhats, bhiksu, bhiksuni, upāsaka, upāsikā, elephants, lions, and unicorns swam out into the abundant light to join a host of living figures from the countless books thrown open on the floor – on manslaughter, anesthesia, narcotics, witchcraft, religion – merging with the incense smoke and looming dimly over me as I lay on a small scarlet rug, gazing with the glassy eyes of a savage, conjuring up hallucinations, day after day. (Tanizaki 2001: 53; translated by Anthony H. Chambers)
As becomes clear from this flowery excerpt, Tanizaki’s early works were characterized by a decadent brand of tambi shugi 耽美主義, or aestheticism, and it is obvious that his use of the setting of the monastery and rooms with Buddhist paintings has much less to do with religion than with his intention to create an outlandish, intoxicating ambience. As an ingredient of this exotic ambience, religion is hardly distinguishable from “manslaughter, anesthesia, narcotics,” or “witchcraft.”
Three works from the early phase of Tanizaki’s career have a setting that is through and through Buddhist, with monks, or people closely involved with monastic life, as major characters. The first, Hōjōji monogatari 法成寺物語 (‘A Tale of the Hōjōji Temple,’ 1916), is a play about the famous Heian sculptor of Buddhist statues Jōchō 定朝, who is commissioned by regent Fujiwara no Michinaga to make a statue of the Amida Buddha. However, this play, said to be influenced by Oscar Wilde’s Salome, is above all about intricate love relations and the function and significance of art, rather than about Buddhism itself. The same sort of thing can be said about Genzō Sanzō 玄奘三蔵 (‘Xuanzang, Monk of the Three Treasuries,’ 1917), a short story on the famous Chinese monk Xuanzang who went to India to study Buddhism and collect Sanskrit Buddhist scriptures. This story too, as was the case with Himitsu, has a ‘Buddhist’ setting purely for the exotic effect of it. In this period, Tanizaki wrote many stories set in ancient China, a distant Japanese past, or even imagined lands, which he peopled with sorcerers, mermaids, fairies, and the like. Also, his choice for Xuanzang as his protagonist might have been inspired by the popular Chinese Ming novel Xiyouji 西遊記 (‘Journey to the West’), which also bursts with fantastical elements originating from Chinese folklore – a story he new very well, as he had bought the book with his saved pocket money as a child (Tanizaki 1956: 187). Best proof of all this is that in Genzō Sanzō, Xuanzang not once on his journey meets a Buddhist monk or comes across a Buddhist scripture. Instead, he encounters a variety of (non-Buddhist) mute ascetics, fakirs on nail beds and other eccentrics. Genzō Sanzō also treats the question of poetry. When Xuanzang is watching an exceptionally beautifully voiced Hindu nun chanting verses of the Ramayana, he is informed by another spectator that, “one who is born in a foreign country and cannot appreciate the special flavor of the Indian language, however much he may know about the mercy of the Buddha, cannot hope to gauge the depth of poetic expression. … Of all human speech, poetry is closest to the gods.” (Tanizaki 1917: 349; my translation) Through this bystander, Tanizaki seems intent on championing poetry over religion.
Of special interest to this paper is the next story with a fully Buddhist setting, Futari no chigo 二人の稚児 (‘Two Acolytes,’ 1918). All principle characters are related to Buddhism – mainly the two acolytes of the title and an eminent Buddhist monk – and find themselves in a thoroughly Buddhist environment, namely Mount Hiei, the location of the head temple of the Tendai sect. As the two acolytes have been raised there from early childhood, they have no clear memory of the world outside of the mountain. “Their greatest source of unease,” it is said, “was the fact of never having actually seen the creature they called “a woman” – some sort of human being that lived in the outside world and was held to be the source of almost every calamity.” (Tanizaki 2001: 74; McCarthy’s translation) Since they are not allowed to descend from the mountain, they have only the instructions of their master and the sutras to rely on for information on this puzzling creature. Letting the two boys consult the scriptures on the subject of women, Tanizaki displays quite some expertise in the Buddhist canon, citing from as much as five different sources that deal with women, i.e. the Utenōkyō 優填王経 (‘Sutra of King Udayana’), the Chidoron 智度論 (‘Treatise on the Perfection of Wisdom’), the Nehangyō 涅槃経 (‘Nirvana Sutra’), the Hōshakukyō 寶積経 (‘Great Treasure Store of Sutras’), and the Yuishikiron 唯識論 (‘Treatise on Consciousness Only’) (Tanizaki 1918: 313-14; 2001: 75-76).
Tanizaki’s somewhat surprising erudition in the Buddhist scriptures – there is still much more Buddhist terminology in the story, apart from the above five quotes – might have something to do with his education. In his four years at the higher elementary school, which in the old school system took from the age of ten to fourteen, he had a teacher, called Inaba, with a broad interest in a range of subjects. This Inaba-sensei let him read all kinds of works from Plato and Schopenhauer to classical Chinese poetry, but his biggest interest seems to have lain in Buddhist texts, especially of Zen philosophy. Among the books Inaba-sensei used to carry with him, Tanizaki mentions Kūkai’s Sangōshiiki 三教指帰 (‘Paradigm for the Three Religions’) and Dōgen’s Shōbōgenzō 正法眼蔵 (‘Treasury of the True Dharma Eye’). Acknowledging Tanizaki’s literary talent, Inaba-sensei had always given the boy special attention, seeing him also outside of the classroom and lending him many books. All this even inspired the young Tanizaki to write a piece called Ikkyū Zenji 一休禅師 (‘Monk Ikkyū,’ 1897), which appeared in the school magazine he issued monthly with his friends. As Tanizaki declared that no teacher had ever influenced him more than Inaba-sensei, the knowledge on Buddhism he displayed in his later works may well have originated from his readings back then (Tanizaki 1956: 86, 214-16).
But let us return to the story of the two acolytes. To solve the enigma of ‘women,’ one of the boys decides to break the rules and descends the mountain, promising to his friend that he will be back before evening. It eventually takes half a year before his friend hears from him again, when a messenger comes to pass a letter. The messenger explains that his friend now passes his days in pleasure, loved not only by a wife but also by “a crowd of courtesans more beautiful than the twenty-five bodhisattvas.” (Tanizaki 2001: 85) After the letter describes in a few words what has happened to him during all those months, it goes on to tell about the outside world:
The truth is, the outside world is not a dream, not an illusion. It’s a sheer delight – in fact a paradise, the Western Pure Land here on earth. I have no use any more for the doctrine of “Three Thousand Phenomena in a Single Thought” or for the meditation on “The Perfect Interpenetration of the Three Truths.” Believe me, the joy of being just a common layman involved with the passions is infinitely preferable to being an ascetic practicing the “Perfect and Sudden Way” to enlightenmment [sic]. I urge you to change your way of thinking and come down from the mountain at once. (Tanizaki 2001: 87)
One is inclined to think this a perfect summary of Tanizaki’s own look on life. The acolyte who is still on the mountain, however, does not let himself be persuaded by his friend’s letter and decides to stay on the mountain to continue his ascetic training, swearing he will become a monk as eminent as his master one day. The story of the two acolytes might be very much related to Tanizaki’s own experiences in his youth. In Yōshō jidai, his childhood memoirs, he writes:
Though sensei was interested in literature, his real intent seems to have lain with the classical Way of Sages, and he aspired to educate me in a Confucian or Buddhist way. However, in the end I had to disappoint him. All in all, my fascination for philosophy, ethics and religion had just been something temporary, borrowed from sensei. (Tanizaki 1956: 229; my translation)
As Chambers (Tanizaki 2001: 10) also points out, although Tanizaki had eventually ‘gone down the mountain’ to taste from the pleasures of life, just like the other boy, maybe this story can be seen as a kind of tribute to the part of himself that might have chosen the other path.
As if he wanted to close that chapter for good, Futari no chigo was his last original work with an all-Buddhist setting. In 1929, however, Tanizaki rewrote a medieval otogizōshi tale called Sannin hōshi 三人法師 (‘Three Monks’). It is the somewhat grisly story of three monks on Mount Kōya confessing to each other the events that had brought them to becoming a monk. Tanizaki said he did this adaptation merely to practice the classically-inspired literary style of the many historical works he was to write thereafter. Yet the monks of the story may have given him inspiration on a personal level as well, as two years later, he would spend four months on Mount Kōya himself, to write on the novel Mōmoku monogatari (‘A Blind Man’s Tale,’ 1931). There, he stayed in the Taiunin 泰雲院, an annex to the Shinnōin Temple 親王院 (Nomura 1972: 351). Until now we have seen that Tanizaki, having been taught in childhood on Buddhist scriptures and from time to time including Buddhist elements in his fiction, was not as much on opposite ends with Buddhism as one would expect from a genuine lotus-eater like him. But even more remarkable is that he voluntarily retreated on this holy mountain for as long as four months. It was not the first time that he did such a thing, however. In the summer of 1925, too, he had stayed for about two months in the Saijūin Temple 西住院 in Kyoto (Nomura 1972: 299). To be able to devote himself wholeheartedly to his writings, he had been staying alone in hotels and inns from the beginning of his career, so presumably, temples likewise were ideal places for him to concentrate. As we can glean from Nomura Shōgo’s biography of Tanizaki, thereafter he would still stay many more times in temples, among which are the Jizōin 地蔵院, a convent adherent to the Jingoji 神護寺 in Kyoto, the Shōnenji 正念寺 in Osaka, and the Shinjōin 真乗院, a temple adherent to the Nanzenji 南禅寺 in Kyoto (1972: 370-71, 395, 438).
His retreat on Mount Kōya has often been called a ‘working honeymoon,’ since less than a month earlier he had married his second wife Furukawa Tomiko. However, as Nomura points out, his real motivation likely was not so fancy. Pressed by serious debts, he had been obliged to sell his house, and it appears that his stay on the mountain was more of a necessity. (1972: 351-52) Be this as it may, while he was on the mountain, Tanizaki devoted his time not only to writing, but also took the opportunity to learn more about esoteric Buddhism from a Shingon monk of the Shinnōin Temple called Mizuhara Gyōei 水原尭栄 (1890-1965). No doubt the secrecy and mystery associated with esoteric Buddhism greatly appealed to his rich imagination and taste for the unusual. It induced him also to write, besides the long novel he had been planning from before, a fantastical story and an essay, using materials he had come across on the mountain. The short story, Kakukai-shōnin Tengu ni naru koto 覚海上人天狗になる事 (‘On Eminent Monk Kakukai’s Becoming Tengu,’ 1931), is based on a local legend that said that the monk Kakukai (1142-1223) had metamorphosed into the long-nosed mythical creature Tengu, and had eventually flown away into the skies. The very short essay Tengu no hone 天狗の骨 (‘Tengu’s Bones,’ 1931), then, centers upon a skull of unknown origin (but said to be that of Tengu) which Tanizaki had chanced upon in the Zōfukuin Temple 増幅院.
But Tanizaki’s interest in Shingon Buddhism was by no means restricted to such bizarre stories. On the contrary, the environment of Mt. Kōya appears to have provoked his religious awareness in no small degree. According to his wife Tomiko, he often visited sanctuaries like the Okunoin 奥之院, the Daimon 大門, the Shinbessho-entsūji 真別処円通寺, and the Shinnōin. Describing the deliciousness of monk Mizuhara Gyōei’s shōjin ryōri (vegetarian meals), she writes: “It made even non-Buddhists reverently join their hands, exclaiming “Namu Shinnō-sama, Namu Shinnō-sama,” but Jun’ichirō was actually quite devout. He was being initiated in the Eighteen Paths and burnt incense and formed mudrās every day, convinced as he was that he would become a daikoji 大居士 [distinguished lay practitioner] before long.” (Nomura 1973: 108; my translation) His younger brother Shūhei also remarks:
My brother apparently visited [Mizuhara Gyōei] to hear his expositions on Buddhism. Eventually, he even began to go there to study sutra recitation himself. Whatever my brother took on to do, he did it with incredible enthusiasm. So it happened more than once that when he had been writing until late at night, he took the opportunity to attend the morning recitations at five at the Shin'nōin. In the end even Tomiko began to study the sutras. (Nomura 1972: 352; my translation)
But Tanizaki was a man of many whims, and just like it had been with his passion for the guitar, his plans to go live overseas, his screenplay writing, and so many other things, his zealous ‘lotus-seeking’ proved to be only short-lived. When September came and it got a bit chilly on the mountain, Tanizaki quickly decided to return to the ‘floating world’ again.
Thereafter, short references to Buddhist matters continued to appear from time to time in his work, in many of which faces or other body parts (especially feet) of
characters are likened to Buddhas or bodhisattvas. An especially interesting reference we find in the novel Ashikari 蘆刈 (‘The Reed Cutter,’ 1932). Building on an existing trope from the nō theater, the narrator, sitting on a sand bar in the Yodo River, associates the courtesans that used to frequent those river banks long ago with Fugen Bodhisattva (or Samantabhadra). “Would it be impossible to raise them to the surface of this stream for a time,” he muses, “like bubbles forming on the water – these women who likened themselves to avatars of Samantabhadra and were even revered by a venerable sage?” (Chambers 1994: 43) With this ‘venerable sage,’ as Chambers indicates, Tanizaki was referring to the poet-monk Saigyō 西行 (1118-1190), about whom a legend went that he had met a certain courtesan, Hanaurushi, who was assumed to be an avatar of Fugen Bodhisattva. (Chambers 1994: 44-45) Incidentally, the very same association is also made in Futari no chigo, when the boy who left Mount Hiei for the earthly delights of the outside world tries to explain in his letter what sort of beings ‘women’ are:
It is hard to convey the gentleness and beauty of women, either in words or pictures. To what shall I compare them?… Just yesterday I embarked at Yodo harbor and went to a place called Eguchi where from the houses along the riverbank came a throng of courtesans paddling their little boats toward us. It seemed like Seishi Bodhisattva’s descent from Paradise, or an apparition of the Willow Kannon: I was filled with joy and gratitude! (Tanizaki 2001: 88-89)
Underpinning these associations, no doubt, is the sense that sexual ecstasy and religious ecstasy are not all together different. To Tanizaki and his male protagonists, the veneration of feminine beauty is something akin to a religious experience.
Another fascinating reference to a Buddhist matter appears in the novel Shōshō Shigemoto no haha 少将滋幹の母 (‘Captain Shigemoto’s Mother,’ 1950). In this work, the practice of fujōkan 不浄観, or ‘contemplation of impurity,’ is described. Of this and other topics in Tendai Buddhism Tanizaki learned from the monk Yamaguchi Kōen 山口光円 (1891-1972) of the Manshuin Temple 曼殊院 in Kyoto (Nomura 1973: 164). The fujōkan practice means watching the decomposition of a dead body, in order to realize to the full the impermanence of this earthly existence. Shōshō Shigemoto no haha contains the grisly scene of the old Major Counselor Kunitsune going out in the middle of the night to gaze at corpses on a bank of the Kamo River. He does this in the hope that he would be able to forget about his beautiful young wife, who has been taken away by the mighty Minister of the Left Fujiwara Shihei. In the end, however, his austere efforts remain fruitless. Once more, Tanizaki makes the obsession for a beautiful woman prevail over ascetic practices, and seems to be saying that only true beauty is everlasting.
In his excellent commentary on seven of Tanizaki’s major fictional works, Anthony Chambers sums up many examples of male protagonists who regard the woman they love with religious reverence and liken them with Buddhas or bodhisattvas, or both – concretely, in Chijin no ai (‘Naomi,’ 1925), Manji (‘Quicksand,’ 1930), Shunkinshō (‘A Portrait of Shunkin,’ 1933), and Shōshō Shigemoto no haha (‘Captain Shigemoto’s Mother,’ 1950) (Chambers 46-47, 58, 65, 102-105). The apotheosis of this woman worship, however, appears in a work that he did not discuss – Tanizaki’s second to last full-blown novel, Fūten rōjin nikki (‘Diary of a Mad Old Man,’ 1962). The owner of the diary is Utsugi, a man of advanced age who is already planning the arrangements for after his death. First, he dreams of having the image of Satsuko, his daughter-in-law and the object of his desire, carved into the headstone of his grave in the form of a bodhisattva. That way, Utsugi muses, he could “sleep eternally under the image of my Satsuko Bodhissatva, under the stone image of Satsuko wearing a crown, with jeweled streamers dangling on her breast, with her heavenly robe fluttering in the wind” (Ito 1991: 264; Hibbett’s translation). But eventually the old man abandons this plan in favor of another one that even more enthralls him. Like Tanizaki himself not only a masochist but also a first-rate foot fetishist, Utsugi conceives the idea of having Satsuko’s footprints carved out in a grave marker, in the manner of a Buddha’s footprint stone. Completely carried away with this alluring fantasy, he writes: “At the very thought of those Buddha’s Footprints modeled after her own feet she would hear my bones wailing under the stone. Between sobs, I would scream: “It hurts! It hurts! … Even though it hurts, I’m happy – I’ve never been more happy, I’m much, much happier than when I was alive! … Trample harder! Harder!” (Ito 1991: 266) Lying under Satsuko’s feet, the masochistic desires that had steered Utsugi when he was alive would become eternalized, and there was nothing more he could hope for.

Needless to say, it is not a great stretch to compare Utsugi’s fantasies with those of Tanizaki himself – not in the least because the location where they both wanted to be buried was identical as well, namely at the Hōnenji Temple 法然寺, along the Philosophers’ Path in Kyoto. Although this is a nice and quiet place, the choice for this Pure Land temple was not a matter of course, as Tanizaki’s ancestors were all buried at a Nichiren temple in Tokyo. According to Nomura, Tanizaki had declared he had chosen the place purely because he liked it, and would not even have minded becoming a Pure Land convert if necessary (1972: 475). This demonstrates that he was not at all married to one or the other sect. Nor did he dwell on his posthumous name. After part of his ashes was interred at the cemetery of the family temple in Somei, Nomura writes, a priest in Tokyo (who was an old friend of him) had given him a second posthumous name, but in the end the temple in Tokyo was forced to give that name up (1973: 241-42).
Just like the ‘mad old man’ of his novel had intended (but eventually failed) to do, Tanizaki had prepared the headstone for his grave by himself; and not only for his and his wife Matsuko’s grave, but also for the grave of Matsuko’s younger sister Shigeko and her husband Watanabe Akira, which was situated just to the left of theirs, within the same lot (Chiba 1994: 9, 278). The stone of the Watanabe’s carries the Chinese character kū 空, the one of the Tanizaki’s jaku 寂, together forming the compound kūjaku 空寂, which means ‘void’ or ‘emptiness.’ It is hard to tell with certainty why Tanizaki chose this word with such heavy Buddhist connotations, but a look at Jōtarō 饒太郎 (1914), an early novella of him, might provide a clue. It is said that the title character, writer Jōtarō, had until then:
…written his novels just by repeating that ‘The world is empty,’ over and over again. That was the only thing he had to say. To put it more precisely: ‘The world is a beautiful void’ – this formed the cornerstone of all his novels. It was a childish, simple, extremely lazy philosophy. Nevertheless he was an artist, so he naturally craved a certain ‘beauty.’ … But his so-called ‘beauty’ belonged exclusively to the world of the senses, the erotic… (Tanizaki 1914: 358-59; my translation)
The worldview that Tanizaki ascribes to his alter ego Jōtarō here shares with Buddhist thought a certain resignation about the present world, yet it withholds one thing, and one thing only, that is worth being entangled to, and that is sensual beauty. This is what makes life worth living for Tanizaki. But when eventually death comes along to make an end to the ability to experience this beauty, all that remains is void.

At a certain point, the old man of Fūten rōjin nikki confides to his diary: “Anyway, I don’t believe in gods or Buddhas. All those different religions, I don’t see the use of it. Should there exist a God or a Buddha, for me it would surely be Satsuko, and no one else.” (Cited in Chiba 1994: 286; my translation) His momentary infatuation with esoteric Buddhism on Mount Kōya notwithstanding, it seems unlikely that Tanizaki’s own look on life would have been very divergent from Utsugi’s. In the final analysis, he had obviously been more of a lotus-eater than a lotus-seeker. Yet this does not mean that he was not interested in Buddhism. He had assiduously studied Zen, Shingon and Tendai Buddhism at various points in his life, and throughout his long and fruitful career, he effectively deployed this fairly broad knowledge to incorporate a variety of Buddhist imagery into his fiction. And in the very last days of his life, when he probably already felt the shadow of death looming over him, he apparently had plans to write one last novel with Buddhist content. His wife Matsuko recounts how after a period of serious illness, almost miraculously, Tanizaki was suddenly full of energy again, and eager to write on top of that:
From early in the morning he shut himself up in his study and sat there holding the heavy Bukkyō Daijiten 仏教大辞典 (‘The Great Dictionary of Buddhism’) in his painful, stroke-stricken hands. His desk was buried under solid tomes like the three volumes of Monk Nishiari Bokuzan’s 西有穆山禅師 Dōgen Zenji no Shōbōgenzō keiteki 道元禅師の正法眼蔵啓迪 [A Guide to Monk Dōgen’s Treasury of the True Dharma Eye], Sawaki Kōdō’s 沢木興道Dōgenzen no Shinzui 道元禅の神髄 [The Essence of Dōgen’s Zen], and Ifukube Takahiko’s 伊福部隆彦 Shōbōgenzō shinkō 正法眼蔵新講 [A New Perspective on the Treasury of the True Dharma Eye]. Wasn’t it here that that gaze began, I wonder – those wide open eyes, trying to fathom the truth of death? (Tanizaki Matsuko 1979: 108; my translation)
Unfortunately, Tanizaki died before he could even begin to write the novel he had in mind. On his desk, a few notes were found with Buddhist-sounding names of characters and other jottings, but we will never know what story might have resulted from these. The only thing that is sure is that Tanizaki, lotus-eater in heart and soul though he was, also had a tinge of a lotus-seeker inside of him until his final moments on earth.


Chambers 1994
Anthony Hood Chambers. The Secret Window: Ideal Worlds in Tanizaki’s Fiction. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994.

Chiba 1994
Chiba Shunji 千葉俊二. Tanizaki Jun’ichirō: Kitsune to Mazohizumu 谷崎潤一郎:狐とマゾヒズム [Tanizaki Jun’ichirō: foxes and masochism]. Tokyo: Ozawa shoten, 1994.
Ito 1991
Ken K. Ito. Visions of Desire: Tanizaki’s Fictional Worlds. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991.

Nomura 1972
Nomura Shōgo 野村尚吾. Denki Tanizaki Jun’ichirō 伝記 谷崎潤一郎 [The life of Tanizaki Jun’ichirō]. Tokyo: Rokkō Shuppan, 1972.

Nomura 1973
Nomura Shōgo 野村尚吾. Tanizaki Jun’ichirō: fūdo to bungaku 谷崎潤一郎:風土と文学 [Tanizaki Jun’ichirō: localities and literature]. Tokyo: Chūōkōronsha, 1973.

Tanizaki 1914
Tanizaki Jun’ichirō 谷崎潤一郎. “Jōtarō” 饒太郎. Orig. pub. in Chūō kōron 中央公論 (September 1914); repr. in vol.2 of Tanizaki Jun’ichirō zenshū 谷崎潤一郎全集. Tokyo: Chūōkōronsha, 1966, pp.353-461.

Tanizaki 1917
Tanizaki Jun’ichirō 谷崎潤一郎. “Genzō Sanzō” 玄奘三蔵 [Xuanzang, monk of the Three Treasuries]. Orig. pub. in Chūō kōron 中央公論 (April 1917); repr. in vol.4 of Tanizaki Jun’ichirō zenshū 谷崎潤一郎全集. Tokyo: Chūōkōronsha, 1967, pp.329-57.

Tanizaki 1918
Tanizaki Jun’ichirō 谷崎潤一郎. “Futari no chigo” 二人の稚児 [Two acolytes]. Orig. pub. in Chūō kōron 中央公論 (April 1918); repr. in vol.5 of Tanizaki Jun’ichirō zenshū 谷崎潤一郎全集. Tokyo: Chūōkōronsha, 1967, pp.307-35.

Tanizaki 1956
Tanizaki Jun’ichirō 谷崎潤一郎. “Yōshō jidai” 幼少時代 [Childhood years]. Orig. pub. in Bungei shunjū 文芸春秋 (April 1955 - March 1956); repr. in vol.17 of Tanizaki Jun’ichirō zenshū 谷崎潤一郎全集. Tokyo: Chūōkōronsha, 1968, pp.41-253.

Tanizaki 1970
Tanizaki Jun’ichirō 谷崎潤一郎. Tanizaki Jun’ichirō zenshū 谷崎潤一郎全集 [The complete works of Tanizaki Jun’ichirō]. Tokyo: Chūōkōronsha, 1966-70.

Tanizaki 1988
Tanizaki Jun’ichirō 谷崎潤一郎. Childhood Years. Translation of Yōshō jidai 幼少時代 by Paul McCarthy. Tokyo: Kōdansha International, 1988.

Tanizaki 2001
Tanizaki Jun’ichirō 谷崎潤一郎. The Gourmet Club: a Sextet. (Translation of six Tanizaki stories by Anthony H. Chambers and Paul McCarthy.) Tokyo: Kōdansha International, 2001.

Tanizaki Matsuko 1979
Tanizaki Matsuko 谷崎松子. Ishōan no yume 倚松庵の夢 [Dreams of the Ishōan]. Tokyo: Chūōkōron shinsha, 1979.

Monday, November 8, 2010

re: "Tanizaki and Buddhism" (2009)

This just in from Jos Vos:
Mon cher monsieur,

I read the essay on "Tanizaki and Buddhism," which appeared in your blog in May 2009, with great interest.
The essay is attributed variously to Miharu Ohrkirk, Miharu Outork and 'others.' Could you kindly let me know who the actual author is, and how I might be able to get in touch with them?

I am a literary translator, presently working on the first Dutch translation of Genji monogatari, and I am also a serious Tanizaki fan. I'd be very grateful for the information.

Best wishes from Oxford, U.K. -
Jos Vos

P.S. I really enjoy your blog!
Professor Vos, 

Sure thing. The author of the article is part-time Japonologist and full-time dandy Leopold Adelgonde Hauspie III, of Belgium. You should be able to reach him through his Belgium-based translation company, Waran Translations.

Good luck with the Genji translation. If you ever have any bungaku-related scraps you'd like to send along, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Sally Suzuki (filling in at the moment for Beholdmyswarthyface)

Monday, November 1, 2010

Aozora Bunko Translation Project Update

Here's Molly Des Jardin's follow up to the previous post: 
Hi Beholdmyswarthyface,

Thanks for such a detailed reply! I totally understand your position (honestly I am probably too overwhelmed with school and part-time work to be thinking about doing this, but I am excited about planning and trying to generate interest). And honestly, I can't make any promises about interest at U of M among my colleagues, although I am going to try my best to pressure them. :)

One thing I am intellectually interested in with this project, from the standpoint of literature, is the idea of collaborative writing and translation. (And here I'm heavily influenced by the late 19th-century coterie/amateur writing landscape that I'm dwelling in for my dissertation.) I really like the collaborative attitude in the encyclopedia you are putting together and I wonder if this might be the best way to approach translation - putting all of our heads together to contribute both our own translations and also editing of others'. I wonder what the best way is to do this infrastructure-wise. Google docs is convenient in that it spans institutional boundaries - of course MediaWiki would be even better IMO, but the only easy way I can get an instance of it going is within a U of M limited site, and that's really counterproductive to the spirit of inter-institutional, interdisciplinary translation and writing.

It's great to hear that you've got so many people already. I stumbled on this project quite randomly and I suspect it's not that well known in the field. Maybe a good first step on my end is to try to broaden awareness of the project and have some meetings with interested students (and maybe faculty? a stretch but it would be really nice), here at my own university. I think the trend is probably going to be "I'm interested! oh... but I have no time." But if we can recruit people who are already doing research in Meiji literature and who are translating at least portions of material from that period, it might be more possible to push them in the direction of simply making that available, even if incomplete.

I also wonder if a more distributed approach to the project could get it to move along more smoothly - multiple leaders (or even no leaders) for different periods or topics, ongoing suggestions of titles, and ongoing if incomplete submissions of translation.

Anyway, I am mostly brainstorming out loud here, but I'll see what kind of interest I can generate on this end and see where that takes me. I still think that planning for a good infrastructure for collaborative work is perhaps most important at this stage, as is deciding on a format for text markup. I'm attending a workshop on TEI (Text Encoding Initiative) in a few weeks and am expecting to get more insight into digital text best practices from that. There's a lot of stuff already done and being done with English and European language materials, but I haven't been able to find anything equivalent for Asian language materials or translations.


Sunday, October 31, 2010

Aozora Bunko Translation Project Update

This just in from Molly Des Jardin of University of Michigan:
Hi Beholdmyswarthyface-

This is Molly Des Jardin - I messaged you quite a while back about our mutual friend Boyd whose name I saw mentioned on your blog. Now I'm writing again because I'm interested in the Aozora Bunko Translation Project you and your colleagues are putting together.

I'm back at the University of Michigan now after a year of research in Japan, and looking at developing projects in the digital humanities that specifically use Japan-related resources. I've been looking at some collaborative translation sites out there and getting a lot of inspiration related back to your project.

Given that our department has an abnormal number of Meiji specialists (both grad students and faculty) my brainstorming is leading toward embarking on some kind of collaborative Meiji translation project that would put English and Japanese text up on the web, marked up in a way that would also make it useful for future text manipulation and data mining. I have no idea if I can get a critical mass of interest for this, but the money is there within U of M to make this kind of thing happen. Anyway, my thoughts on it reminded me to message you and see what's going on with your translation project. I checked out your blog updates on the translation list and it looks like a Meiji team would nicely complement the Taishō/early Shōwa texts that are on your priority list.

Let me know your thoughts if you have time. Hope this finds you doing well in Tokyo and slightly warmer than I am here in the windy Midwest.

Hello Molly,

I'm glad to hear you're interested in our project. Recently I've been so busy with other projects (mainly teaching an undergrad literature course at Sophia U. and gathering material for my dissertation) that I haven't had much time for it, but the project is definitely still on the agenda, and we're always looking for more people to contribute. It would be great if you could head up the Meiji division. I'll put Sally Suzuki in charge of the Taishō/Shōwa eras. (She usually does what I tell her to do.)

And it would be wonderful if you could get U. of Michigan to provide some kind of sponsorship for the project. I will ask around at Sophia and Tokyo University as well to see if anyone is interested.

Anyway, we'll discuss more in detail later. I'm out the door right now and into the typhoon that just hit this morning!

For now, I'll put together a list of people who are willing to contribute. (Anyone who is interested should leave his/her name, affiliation, and email address in the comment section below!) 


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Natsume Sōseki on the Nature of Subjectivity

This just in from Mary Klecka:
Dear Beholdmyswarthyface,

Last week my Daddy told me I have neither a soul nor a self. Hearing this, I burst into a fit of tears, and haven't been able to sleep since. Is what he says true? And if so, what, then, am I?  -Mary Klecka
Well, Mary,  I'm not sure I'm qualified to answer this, so let me direct you to the following from Natsume Sōseki. The passage is taken from a lecture he gave in 1907 at Tokyo Art College, in which he explains what he sees as the fundamentally intersubjective nature of subjectivity. Hope this helps.
In this world there is supposed to exist an "I" and a "you," and we are located in a vast space, within which we each act out our roles in a drama that unfolds across time, an unfolding that is governed by the law of cause and effect--or something along those lines. We have to accept that there is an "I," a "you," something called "space," and something called "time," and that there exists a law of cause and effect that governs us. These are all self-evident to everyone--even to me.

And yet when we think about these things more carefully, they begin to appear doubtful. Quite doubtful, in fact. Ordinarily, of course, everyone accepts the above without question--as do I. But when we stand back from common sense and reflect more carefully, we begin to suspect that something is amiss here. Somehow this doesn't seem quite right. Why? Take the "I," for example: the I who stands before you in his frock coat and high collar, who seems to exist so solemnly, mustache and all, before you. In fact, the true nature of this "I" is quite problematic. You can see the frock coat and high collar with your eyes, you can touch them with your hands--and yet, of course, those are not me. These hands, these feet--the ones I scratch when they itch, that I rub when they hurt--in sum, is this body me? No, that doesn't seem quite right. There are feelings called "itchiness" and "pain." And there are sensations of scratching and patting. Other than those, we have nothing. What exists here is neither hand nor foot. What exists are phenomena of consciousness that, for convenience's sake, we call "hand" and "foot," just as we have phenomena of consciousness that we call "itchiness" and "pain." In sum, what exists is consciousness--and the activity that we call being conscious. Only this is certain. Anything beyond this we are unable to prove, but this much is clear, beyond dispute, and requires no proof. When you think about it this way, what we usually call "I" is not something that exists objectively out in the world. Rather, as a matter of convenience we give the name "I" to what is, in fact, a continuous stream of consciousness [ishiki no renzoku]. But why, then, you may ask, is it a convenience to go to all the trouble of positing this otherwise superfluous "I"? It is because once we posit this "I," then as its flip side we also posit the existence of something other than the self--the existence, that is, of "you." In sum, we establish the distinction between self and object. Despite the difficulty it entails, this is a necessary expediency.

In saying this I am denying not only the existence of the self (or what we commonly call the self) but also your existence. Despite the fact that there are a large number of you here listening today, you only seem to be here. I'm very sorry for you, but you don't actually exist. Perhaps you find this upsetting, but I'm laying down my fundamental arguments here, so please do me the favor of hearing them out as arguments. To put this in its most basic form, which may sound impertinent, apart from me you have no objective existence. I said apart from me. Yet this "me" also does not exist, at least not in the form of an "I"--and so how could you possibly exist? No matter how angry you may get about this, it won't change matters.  You sit there. You sit there thinking that you are sitting there. Even I think that you are sitting there. But to say you are there is merely to say that I happen to think you are there. No matter how much I may want to go beyond simply thinking you are there, I am unable to prove anything beyond that. Usually when we want to ascertain the existence of something, we first examine it with our eyes. Having seen it with our eyes, we touch it with our hands. Then, after touching it, we may try smelling or tasting it. We might not need to go through all these steps to ascertain your existence, but, as I said earlier, when I see with my eyes or hear with my ears, in the most fundamental sense what I am actually doing is experiencing the consciousness of sight or hearing, and this consciousness cannot somehow be transformed into an independently existing object of person. If I look at or touch you, the image of students in black school uniforms with gold buttons appears--but only as a phenomenon in my conscious mind. I have no means of ascertaining your existence beyond that. This being the case , we can only conclude that if I don't exist, then neither do you. Consciousness is the only thing that can be said to exist--to really exist. [...]

If we set aside our daily common sense, when we look at the world of selves and things, we realize that we cannot claim that objects exist independently of the self, nor that the self exists independent of its objects. To put it another way, without the self there are no objects, and likewise without objects there can be no self. "Objects" and "self" necessarily appear in tandem. We use two different words to express them only to make things easier to understand and as a matter of fundamental principles. Since the two cannot, in fact, be distinguished from one another, we don't really need a separate word to express their mutually indistinguishable status. Accordingly, the only thing that clearly exists is consciousness. And we ordinarily refer to this continuous stream of consciousness by the name "life."
(Translated by Michael K. Bourdaghs, in Theory of Literature and Other Critical Writings (2009))

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Notes on Kobayashi Hideo's “Literature of the Lost Home”

This just in from Cniva Albinus:
Though he would later serve enthusiastically as propogandist for the war, in his 1933 essay “Literature of the Lost Home” 『失われた故郷』 Kobayashi Hideo seems to challenge the nostalgic conservatism of writers like Tanizaki who in the mid-1920s renounced their Western lifestyle and called for a “return to Japan” (日本への回帰) – a position that was not out of step with the nationalist ideology of the day. Kobayashi counters them by insisting that there no longer is any "home" to return to, and that any nativist attempt to reconstruct one is doomed to fail. “History,” he explains, “seems always and inexorably to destroy tradition”- yet this is not something to be lamented, since “individuals, as they mature, seem always and inexorably to move toward its true discovery” (54). Despite its nostalgic overtones, the essay can thus be read as a sort of anti-nativist tract that denies the possibility of ever returning to any "traditional" Japan.

Kobayashi sees the Japanese of 1933 as essentially homeless, and, like many intellectuals of the day, feels himself to be more a rootless abstraction than a man of any particular place. Though an Edokko, he "cannot fathom" what the phrase “born in Tokyo” really means. Those born elsewhere seem to feel some sense of belonging or attachment to their place of origin- his friend Takii Kōsaku (1894-1984), for instance, who was recently visibly moved after catching a glimpse of his rural hometown from the train window. But for those born in Tokyo, there is no such attachment, no such city, only

an endless series of changes occuring too fast. Never was there sufficient time to nurture the sources of a powerful and enduring memory, attached to the concrete and the particular. (48-49)

Having no vivid memories of any fixed time or place, Kobayashi can formulate the reality of the past only through the mediation of “a point of view or a critical perspective.” Like the pre-Meiji Japan of the nationalist imagination, his own personal past must be invented in order to exist at all.

This lost Tokyo of his memory is of course analogous to Japan in the modern world, which, like his memory, has become dislodged from the real. The particulars of his world, he explains, no longer correspond to anything general; they have become empty abstractions, devoid of any symbolic function. The distant mountain, for example, is merely an empty signifier. Memories of youth, of Tokyo, even of Japan as a national unit – these too have become insubstantial phantoms. “I know that my life has been lacking in concrete substance,” he confesses. A symbol for Japan itself, Kobayashi is a rootless ghost floating about the city, recognizing among the crowds only other fellow “abstraction(s)” (49). Such a description brings to mind the “superfluous” men of Dostoevsky's novels, which had a profound influence on him. The following passage sounds particularly Dostoevskian:

I do not easily recognize within myself or in the world around me people whose feet are planted firmly on the ground, or who have the features of social beings. I can more easily recognize the face of that abstraction called the ‘city person,’ who might have been born anywhere, than a Tokyoite born in the city of Tokyo. (49-50)

Kobayashi takes issue with Tanizaki’s call for a “literature that will find a home for the spirit.” How can there be a home for literature, he asks, when there is not even a home for me, for us? Referring to Dostoesky’s Raw Youth – the story of a young man “in turmoil because of Western ideas and who, in the midst of this intellectual agitation, has utterly lost his home” – Kobayashi sees in Russian history a similar crisis of identity. “How very closely he [the protagonist] resembles us,” he remarks. The encounter with the West has been a traumatic experience for much of the world – Russia included – and the result has for the most part been this disorientation and loss of place.

He then moves to the subject of popular and literary fiction, pointing out how neither can compete commercially with historical romances, or magemono. In the case of films, too, the most popular are those that take historical rather than contemporary matter as their subject. The contemporary world is unnatural- "out of joint," as it were- and there is something about it which resists signification. Unlike works set in the distant past, works that address the contemporary world (gendaimono) are incapable of inducing a “stream of affect.” This is partly due to their excessive reliance on plot, a device that grows more tedious as one matures aesthetically. “Only when such youths reach maturity,” Kobayashi explains, “will the plot seem silly to them, and all but unconsciously will they begin to look for the kind of style that might conceal the silliness” (53). This comment might be read as another jab at Tanizaki, who in the famous 1927 “plot debate” with Akutagawa insisted that plot should be ranked above poetry, characterization, and all other elements.

Kobayashi cites other examples of genres that are capable of inducing this "stream of affect," including “historical romances and chambara movies [which] exert a profound influence over the masses” not because of their well-wrought plots but because of their “capacity [. . .] to make the [audience] unconsciously surrender to a stream of real emotions” (52). Another example is the film Morocco, which, like Western films, chambara and magemono fiction, deals with a subject and place far enough removed from the viewer to make such affect possible. “This style elicits a sense of intimacy, so that we feel closer to the Moroccan desert we have never seen than to the landscape of Ginza before our eyes” (53). In other words, distancing the subject from the viewer can have the paradoxical effect of creating a greater intimacy between the two; that is, the further removed something is, the closer we feel to it.

Like Tanizaki and other "return-to-Japanists" of the 1930s, Kobayashi too grieves the loss of Japan’s “cultural singularity,” as he calls it. But unlike the others, Kobayashi resists the call for a return to or restoration of what has been lost, knowing full well this to be an impossible project. “What is crucial,” he concludes, “is that we have grown so accustomed to this Western influence that we can no longer distinguish what is under the force of this influence and what is not.”

Kobayashi Hideo (1902-1983): Some Background Information

Kobayashi Hideo (1902-1983) is often cited as the most important Japanese literary critic of the twentieth century. Like Edmund Wilson, Walter Benjamin and Roland Barthes, Kobayashi sought to make criticism a literary genre of its own. He studied French literature at Tokyo Imperial University, and translated French poetry and fiction. He advocated an expressive, subjective, self-conscious and self-questioning mode of criticism that, while bearing in mind the ideological designs of the day, challenged the validity of the many “–isms.”

Anderer writes in his introduction that “Kobayashi remained skeptical of the apparent stability of any announced position, whether Marxist, aesthetic, or nationalist, especially when these positions were conveyed impersonally, as a dunning recitation of preselected facts or theories” (2). One might, however, cite Kobayashi`s behavior and writings during the war years as evidence to the contrary. But Anderer insists that throughout his career Kobayashi advocated a criticism that was “an exploration of consciousness, a matter of internal urgency, motivated less by general conditions of the world or even by habits of mind than by a specific provocation, a question that demands a personal response” (Anderer, 3).

Kobayashi brought to criticism a kind of “double vision” that simultaneously examines both the work and one's own subjective responses to the work- a technique that might be compared to Edward Said’s notion of "contrapuntal reading," or Fredric Jameson's dialectical reading.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Notes on Tsubouchi Shoyo's "The Essence of the Novel" (Part 1)

This just in from Cniva Albinus:

It was Glenn Shaw who observed in his 1936 essay "Contemporary Japanese Literature: A Foreigner's View" that Tsubouchi Shōyō's (1859-1935) Shōsetsu shinzui (1885-1886) was really no more than a summary of the "the current English idea of what constituted a novel" and that its influence on Shōyō's contemporaries was in fact rather limited. Nevertheless, one cannot deny the long-term effect that Shōyō's theory-- a sort of composite of Kant-based aestheticism, Romanticism, and Victorian notions of realism-- had on the subsequent discourse and production of literature.

In his preface, Shōyō states the two goals of his essay: first, that it might enlighten future novelists, and, second, that it might help to raise the status of the novel. "The novel in Japan,” he writes, “had long been considered unworthy of the attention of the educated." Tsubouchi imagines a future where the genre may enjoy an elevated status, and be looked upon "as a form of art the equal of poetry, music, or painting," where "realism rather than didacticism [would be] the aim of characterization and plot" (Preface). In the first section of the essay, Shōyō addresses various theories of the novel, provides an overview of its development in both Japan and the West, and defines the nature of this "true novel." The second section deals with the practical questions of language, style, form, and content. In this article I will address the following questions:

1. What exactly was the tradition that Shōyō was so adamantly rejecting?
2. What sort of "realism" was he advocating, and what were the sources and/or ideologies that informed his idea of the "true novel"?
3. And, finally, how were his points received, accommodated, or rejected by both his contemporaries and following generations, and to what extent can Japanese modern literary history be seen as a grappling with the problems posed in Shōyō's essay?

A Clean Break

At the end of Chapter Two, Shōyō advises the young generation to forget their own tradition and begin copying the "great modern writers like Scott, Lytton, Dumas, and Eliot." "Fellow countrymen," he writes, "do not waste your time worshipping Bakin and Shunsui and Tanehiko . . . Make up your minds to avoid stereotypes, reform the Japanese novel, and write masterpieces worthy of a place in art!" (23). To be fair, although much of his essay is a denunciation of the Edo tradition, Shōyō does remind us in his introduction that his critique is not a wholesale rejection of the Japanese tradition per se, and he praises those works which, he feels, mark its pinnacle. Still, he disagrees with Taguchi Ukichi (1855-1905), who asserts in his essay Nihon kaika shōshi (1877-82) that Japanese literature begins in the Edo period, with writers such as Ihara Saikaku (1642-1693), Ejima Kiseki (1666-1735), Santō Kyōden (1761-1816), and Kyokutei Bakin (1767-1848). "It is here," he wrote, "that literature is first to be found" (Kornicki, 462). Shōyō, by contrast, finds little of worth in the Tokugawa period, and singles out for praise mainly works from the pre-modern period, such as Genji monogatari, Sagoromo monogatari, Hamamatsu Chunagon monogatari, Sumiyoshi monogatari, Jōruri monogatari, among others. Though some early modern writers do make his list -- including Saikaku, Bakin, Kiseki, Kyōden, Jippensha Ikku, and Tamenaga Shunsui -- he makes clear later in the essay that, on the whole, the faults of the Tokugawa and early Meiji literature far outweigh the merits. Shōyō felt that works of late Edo and early Meiji tended toward the pornographic and didactic largely due to the authors' excessive consideration for the tastes of popular audiences. Although included in the above list of praiseworthy worthy authors, Bakin too is found guilty by Shōyō of overemphasizing Confucian ethics and writing in an overtly didactic manner. Notably, however, Shōyō later regretted having been so harsh on Bakin (Kornicki, 463).

As Massimiliano Tomasi points out, the development of realism coincided with the rise of the genbunitchi movement and the importation of Western rhetoric, and these three factors worked together to make genbunitchi and realism the dominant modes for fiction. From Western rhetoric, Meiji intellectuals learned to value clarity over the often-ambiguous associative style favored by haikai poets and the obfuscating pedantry of Confucian scholars. Genbunitchi first took hold in the bureaucracy, then in the schools, and finally in the literary establishment. "By 1887," Twine writes, "the idea of using genbunitchi as a means of spreading education and reaching all Japanese was firmly implanted, and had to a considerable extent won out against traditional prejudices" (Twine, 344). New terms, such as logic (ronri), also came into the language during this period, and were used by Shōyō as a kind of critical tool to chide writers for not adhering to the new standards.

Shōyō also takes aim at Edo writers for reveling in vulgarity, pornography, sadism, and violence. "Eroticism is to be avoided," he states unequivocally. His catalog of faults includes the excessive use of fantasy (he was firmly anti-escapist), monotony and redundancy (which, incidentally, is one fault of his essay), the favoritism and patronage of certain characters, the inconsistencies in plot, the ostentatious scholarship (e.g, the ever-pedantic Bakin he faults for obscurantism), lengthiness and redundancy (he urges that delay tactics be used only in moderation), the lack of poeticism ("what I really mean is a lack of dramatic sense"), and the use of long monologues to relate personal histories (83-88). For praise he cites mainly Western-imported aesthetic notions such as symmetry, heterogeneity, and coherence of plot (94-5). As for the hero of the novel, he must be "outstanding" and bear traits that set him apart from his counterparts. Finally, the writer should avoid describing fools or characters with foolish traits, and bad characters should always be balanced with a good counterpart (95).

There are two problems with Shōyō's analysis. The first is that he applies a Western theoretical yardstick to the Japanese tradition, without acknowledging that Japan has a system of aesthetic discourse and narratology entirely distinct from Western, Aristotelian notions. Instead of dealing with the Japanese tradition on its own terms, he applies the newly-acquired and undigested theories to Bakin and others, measuring them according to these new standards. The second problem lies in his misreading of the native literature. To give an example, in talking about waka, he concludes dismissively that "our tanka and chōka, by comparison with Western poetry, are very simple -- they do no more than express a transient emotion" (7). Here Shōyō seems to be under the mistaken impression that the significance of waka is to be found in each individual unit rather than in the sequence as a whole. Instead of reading it as it always had been read -- as a complex progression of verses linked together by subtle narrative and linguistic associations-- he reads waka as if it were English poetry.

[Click here for Part 2.]

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Mori Ōgai's "History as It Is and History Ignored"

This just in from Jarvis32:
In his essay "Rekishi sono mama to rekishibanare" (1915) (translated as "History as It Is and History Ignored"), Mori Ōgai considers the distinction between fiction and history, the nature of historical fiction, and how the writer of historical fiction should go about his task. According to translator Darcy Murray's prefatory note, the essay "was published less than a month after the appearance of 'Sanshō Dayū' in January 1915," and "is included here as a kind of postscript to 'Sanshō Dayū.'"

Ōgai first addresses the question of whether works that "make use of actual historical figures can be considered as fiction." Judging from the closing lines of the essay, it appears that Ōgai regarded "Sanshō Dayū" as a work of fiction, since history was used in the work only "as a point of departure." Still, he distinguishes himself from other writers who borrow from history only to write self-indulgent, personal confessions (he seems to be taking aim here at the Japanese Naturalists), and points out that in his approach he strives for an objectivity that, whether or not perfectly attained, gives the work a rational, "Apollonian" texture not found in many works of the late Meiji and early Taishō periods.

There is, however, an apparent disparity between what Ōgai tries to do (or claims to try to do) and what he actually does in "Sanshō Dayū." "My motives are simple," he explains. "In studying historical records, I came to revere the reality that was evidenced in them. . . Secondly, if contemporary authors can write about life 'just as it is' and find it satisfactory, then they ought to appreciate a similar treatment of the past."

Nevertheless, Ōgai soon finds that such an approach binds him too tightly to the actuality of the past, leaving him with little room for departure. Seeking more freedom, he settles for "historical fiction," in which the "bones" of historical legends are replaced, while the "purport" -- or shui 趣意 -- of the work is maintained. Such an approach to history is similar to the kankotsudattai 換骨奪胎 approach of the pre-modern Japanese writers, who essentially "retranslated" canonical works in manners appropriate for the new age and new audiences. "Just as I disliked changing the reality in history," he writes, "I became bound by history in spite of myself. Suffering under these bonds, I thought I must break loose from them." And again,

"The virtue of a legend like 'Sanshō the Steward' is that there is enough of a fixed story to prevent the writer from completely losing himself as he goes along; on the other hand, one would not be bound to pursue the story in precisely the fashion that I have. Without examining the legend in too much detail, I let myself be taken by a dreamlike image of this old story that seems itself a dream."

Though he keeps most of the details of plot and character-- the father Masauji's exile to Tsukushi in 1081; the wife's pursuit of her husband, along with her two children Zushiō and Anju; the presence of the old woman Ubatake, who, after the kidnapping, dutifully drowns herself; the deceit of Yamaoka Tayū once they reach Echigo; the abduction of the two children, who are sent as slaves to Tango, where they are sold to Sanshō the Steward; the mother's trials in Sado where she is "set to chasing away birds from the millet"; the torture and murder of Anju after Zushiō escapes to the Kiyomizu temple in Kyoto, where he is adopted by the old priest Umezuin, who soon appoints Zushiō governor of Mutsu and Tango; and Zushiō's rescue of his mother in Sado, followed by his return to Tango where he exacts revenge upon Sanshō and his sons-- Ōgai does make some significant and perhaps inevitable changes. Rather than using the premodern language, he has most of the characters speak in a contemporary Tokyo colloquial dialect. Also, he adds several characters (to which he gives archaic names) who do not appear in earlier versions of the story. The chronology, too, is slightly altered. Finally, he makes several changes to the details of lineage and plot (e.g., the promotion to governor was not likely in the eleventh century).

Still, unless we are to dismiss his final lines as false humility, it seems clear that Ōgai was somewhat dissatisfied with his version of "Sanshō Dayū" and the "misuse" of history it exemplifies. "In any case," he writes in the essay's final paragraph, "I wrote 'Sanshō Dayū' using history as a point of departure. When I looked over what I had written, I somehow felt that using history in this fashion was unsatisfactory. This is an honest confession on my part."

(Translations of the essay and story can be found in The Historical Fiction of Mori Ōgai, edited by David Dilworth and J. Thomas Rimer.)

And, for the blind: