Sunday, November 25, 2012

Tanizaki Jun’ichirō’s “Mr. Bluemound” (Aozukashi no hanashi; 1926)


Tanizaki Jun’ichirō’s “Mr. Bluemound” (Aozukashi no hanashi; 1926)

Related Quote #1: “Our [modern] era prefers the image to the thing, the copy to the original, the representation to the reality, appearance to being.” —Ludwig Feuerbach, preface to the 1843 edition of The Essence of Christianity.

Related Quote #2: “The powers of photography have in effect de-Platonized our understanding of reality, making it less and less plausible to reflect upon our experience according to the distinction between images and things, between copies and originals. It suited Plato’s derogatory attitude toward images to liken them to shadows—transitory, minimally informative, immaterial, impotent co-presences of the real things which cast them. But the force of photographic images comes from their being material realities in their own right, richly informative deposits left in the wake of whatever emitted them, potent means for turning the tables on reality—for turning it into a shadow. Images are more real than anyone could have supposed.” —Susan Sontag, On Photography (1977)

Related Quote #3: “Cinema is the ultimate pervert’s art. It doesn't give you what you desire—it tells you how to desire.” —Slavoj Zizek, The Pervert’s Guide to the Cinema (2006).


1. Plato’s Theory of Forms: The idea that behind the flux of phenomenal appearances lies an immutable realm of non-material abstract (but substantial) forms (or ideas) that possess the highest and most fundamental kind of reality. The Form (or Idea) is an aspacial, atemporal, objective blueprint of perfection, as contrasted with the Icon (image/appearance), which is merely the Form’s particular aspect, which exists materially and temporally. According to this theory, each concrete particular is an imitation of its abstract and eternal Form.

Study Questions
Answer any six of the following.

1.Briefly describe the narrative structure of the story.

2. Perversion and voyeurism are at the heart of this work. How might the story be cited as evidence for Zizek’s claim (quoted above) that film is “the ultimate pervert’s art” in that it “doesn't give you what you desire—it tells you how to desire”? In other words, how is this monstrosity called Mr. Bluemound to some extent the creation of Mr. Nakada?

3. Explain Mr. Bluemound’s theory about “originals” and “copies,” “forms” and “shadows,” and how this theory relates to his obsession with Yurako. In his view, what is most primary/real?

4. “Yurako” is described in various ways throughout the story, but the “real” Yurako is never known or revealed. List and describe each of these representations/manifestations of Yura. What does Tanizaki seem to be suggesting by never revealing to us “the real” Yurako?

5. The relation between Mr. Bluemound and his blow-up doll seems to parallel or mirror—albeit in a rather grotesque way—the relationship between Mr. Nakada and Yurako. Discuss this analogic structure of the work.

6. At the end of his letter, Mr. Nakada states that he is no longer capable of loving Yurako, and that he is resigned to die. What was it about his encounter with Mr. Bluemound that was so radically transformative?

7. List and describe all of the grotesque elements of this work. What do you think Tanizaki was trying to convey by making the story so outrageously grotesque?

8. It is well known that Tanizaki was throughout his life a committed foot fetishist. Identify the descriptions of feet in this work. Why do you think Tanizaki’s characters are so often attracted to the feet of beautiful young females?

9. Describe the transformation that occurs in Mr. Bluemound—or at least in Mr. Nakada’s perception of him—throughout the story.

10. What do you think Mr. Nakada’s motives were in explaining this episode to his wife? Couldn’t he have just died without telling her about it?

11. Do you detect any Buddhist elements/themes/overtones in the work? Explain.

12. Mr. Nakada could have gotten up and walked away from the creepy Mr. Bluemound at any point in their conversation. What motivates him to stay?

13. Although not described in the story, what do you think Yurako’s reaction to the letter was? Explain. 

14. What do you think Tanizaki was to trying convey—about film/photographs/sexual desire in the modern world/women and their representations/the male gaze/appearance vs. reality/etc.—by writing this story?


Carl M. said...

Eidos is another conjugation of idea. You meant to write "icon."

『Behold My Swarthy Face。』 said...

The book I was reading said something else, but you're right! Thank you!