Saturday, November 17, 2012

Study Guide for Ishikawa Jun’s "Kajin" (The Nymphs, 1935)


Study Guide for Ishikawa Jun’s "Kajin" (The Nymphs, 1935)

I. Some Key Terms/Concepts

1. Pan 牧羊神: the Greek god of instincts and sexual desire. In Greek mythology, Pan is the god of shepherds and flocks, of mountain wilds, hunting and rustic music, as well as the companion of nymphs.
2. “Nympholepsy”: a “state of rapture supposed to be inspired by nymphs, hence, an ecstasy or frenzy of emotion especially inspired by something unattainable” (OED).
3. Kūkyo (Japanese: 空虚; Sanskrit: Śūnyatā). Emptiness/void. Relates to the idea in Buddhism (and perhaps psychoanalysis) that the self/ego is an empty void.

II. Some Questions to Ponder as You Read

1. Discuss the narrative style of the work. Is this an example of a "self-conscious narrator"? Give examples.

2. Watashi begins his narrative by describing his search for the “navel” (heso). Describe this episode. Is the navel/omphalos a metaphor for something? If so, what?

3. Describe Yura and Misa. What is their relationship vis-à-vis Watashi? Are they archetypes/symbolic representations of something? If so, what do they represent?

4. Discuss Watashi’s “disappearing act.” What is he trying to do? Why? Why does he eventually attempt suicide?

5. What are the dual aspects of Watashi’s personality/nature? Describe them.

6. How is this work an example of a "quest story"? What is the narrator searching for?

7. How does the motif of Pan (
牧羊神) fit into the story?

8. Discuss the significance of (1) the “white hibiscus” (fuyō
芙蓉) and (2) the poem Watashi composes.

9. The story ends with Watashi’s confession that he suffers from “a condition known as nympholepsy.” What’s that? What are its symptoms? 

10. How is Watashi a “possessed” narrator/character? What is he possessed by? How does this possession relate to his act of writing this story?

11. What are the main “themes” of the work?

12. Identify any inaccuracies/flaws/awkward phrasing in my translation.

III. Homework Assignment

1. Make an original and interesting point about the work. Write this BEFORE reading my optional-reading essay.

1 comment:

Francesco said...

Professor Morrison,

Following the class discussion on Ishikawa Jun's story the other day, I thought it would perhaps be interesting to share some of the things that came to my mind.

As I mentioned, it reminded me of Portuguese early-20th century poet Fernando Pessoa ( He had several heteronyms and one of the them, Álvaro de Campos, focuses on the same topic and expresses the same kind of feelings the short story does. As an example, here is the first part of one of his poems:

Nothing holds me.
I want fifty things at the same time.
I long with meat-craving anxiety
For I don’t know what—
Definitely something indefinite . . .
I sleep fitfully and live in the fitful dream-state
Of a fitful sleeper, half dreaming.
All abstract and necessary doors were closed in my face.
Curtains were drawn across every hypothesis I could have
seen from the street.
I found the alley but not the number of the address I was
I woke up to the same life I’d fallen asleep to.
Even the armies I dreamed of were defeated.
Even my dreams felt false while I dreamed them.
Even the life I merely long for jades me—even that life . . .
At intermittent intervals I understand;
I write in respites from my weariness;
And a boredom bored even of itself casts me ashore.
I don’t know what destiny or future belongs to my anxiety
adrift on the waves;
I don’t know what impossible South Sea islands await me, a
Or what palm groves of literature will grant me at least a
No, I don’t know this, or that, or anything else . . .
And in the depths of my spirit, where I dream all I’ve
In my soul’s far-flung fields, where I remember for no reason
(And the past is a natural fog of false tears),
On the roads and pathways of distant forests
Where I supposed my being dwelled—
There my dreamed armies, defeated without having been,
And my nonexistent legions, annihilated in God,
All flee in disarray, the last remnants
Of the final illusion.


I know this is a common literary topos, but I feel that some of the mood and imagery is interestingly similar between the two. This other Álvaro de Campos poem also sums up the feeling pretty well:

Then, there is also "Tabacaria", often considered one of his magnum opus (and personally, one of the finest 20th century pieces of poetry I've had the pleasure of reading):

I know this isn't directly related to Japanese literature and it ended up being a long email, so I apologize.

I would also like to ask, if possible at all, to consider including a female writer (Enchi Fumiko, Kōno Taeko, Kurahashi Yumiko) in the texts we'll read until the end of the semester.

I wish you a prompt recovery, once more time with a Álvaro de Campos poem which seems appropriate:

"I have a terrible cold
And everyone knows how terrible colds
Alter the whole system of the universe,
Set us against life;
And make even metaphysics sneeze.
I have wasted the whole day blowing my nose.
My head is aching vaguely.
Sad condition for a minor poet!
Today I am really and truly a minor poet.
What in the old day was a wish; it's gone.

Goodbye forever, queen of the fairies!
Your wings were made of sun, and I am walking here.
I shan't get well unless I go and lie down on my bed.
I never was well except lying down on the Universe.

Excusez un peu... What a terrible cold! ... it's physical!
I need truth and aspirin."

Best regards,