Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Study Guide for Tanizaki Jun’ichirō’s Some Prefer Nettles (1929): Day One

I. Outline of Novel

*Ch 1-3: Trip to bunraku theater in Osaka
*Ch 4-8: Kaname’s cousin Takanatsu’s visit to Shiba home in Hanshin (Kobe suburb)
*Ch 9-12: Kaname’s journey with old man and O-hisa to the island of Awaji to see  puppet theater, and stop at Kobe on way back.
*Ch 13-14: Kaname’s trip to old man’s place in Kyoto

II. Regarding Seidensticker’s Intro

1. “the issue is clearly drawn” (p. ix). Is it?
2. “The real theme of Some Prefer Nettles is the clash between the new and the old, the imported and the domestic” (p. x). This has been a common interpretation of the novel, but it’s not the only interpretation, and there are reasons to disagree with it. Don’t accept Seidensticker’s interpretation uncritically (or anyone else’s).
3. Dreamy/floating vagueness of Japanese language (p. xiv). Is the Japanese really like that?
4. O-hisa as “dim and fragile” (p. xvi). Really? As you read, note the evolving discrepancy between the “real” O-hisa and the O-hisa that the old man sees.
5. Note autobiographical elements in the text (which was completed one year before his divorce from Chiyo).

III. Some Terms/Particularities of Culture

1. Bunraku 文楽, also known as ningyō jōruri 人形浄瑠璃: “Puppet theater created at the Bunraku-za Theater in Osaka in 1872 by a troupe handling ayatsuri-shibai puppets (ayatsuri-ningyō) while reciting joururi (ningyō-jōruri) to the musical accompaniment of the shamisen. The puppets are approximately one-half to two-thirds life size; they are manipulated by one to three operators wearing black robes and hoods; only the principal operator does not wear a hood. The heads (kashira) of some puppets have movable jaws and eyelids. The main puppet characters were Musume (young woman), Fukeoyama (married woman), Chari (clown), Bunshichi (warrior), and Danshichi (braggart), but their heads could be used for a number of roles. The ayatsuri-shibai originated probably in the early seventeenth century, in Kyoto, and spread to Osaka and Edo, where traveling troupes performed the adventures of a certain Kimpira and his acolytes. The ayatsuri-shibai suffered in competition with the Kabuki theater. At the end of the eighteenth century, a jōruri singer, Uemura Kunrakuken, from Awaji, settled in Osaka and presented a new show using ayatsuri-ningyō, without great success. His son, however, followed in his footsteps, performing puppet shows in various places. His descendants created the Bunraku-za Theater in Osaka, giving the current form its name. The building was damaged by fire a number of times, and was last reconstructed in 1956. It is currently the only theater reserved exclusively for this type of performance, which draws most of its plays from the repertoire of Chikamatsu Monzaemon.” (Japan Encyclopedia, Louis Frédéric and Käthe Roth, 92)

2. Focalization: Position or quality of consciousness through which we “see” events in the narrative. (More exact than point of view.) Usually the narrator is the focalizer, but the focalizer can shift, sometimes within same sentence. Focalization is related to “voice, i.e. the sensibility through which we “hear” the narrative.

3. (p. 21) The design in the bottom of the cup is one of Hiroshige’s prints of Numazu:

4. (p. 37) “Ancient Japanese court literature” refers primarily to The Tale of Genji; “the drama of the feudal ages” refers to the nô theater.

5. (p. 40) The “new American cab” is a Model A Ford.

6. (p. 63) Doll Festival:

IV. Study Questions

Answer in bullet-point form each of the following. Bring your answers to class, and add to them as you discuss the questions with your group.

1.  Describe the point of view of the narrative. Describe the shifts in focalization that occur throughout the work.

2. In Japanese, the word kaname means “turning point” or “that which is pivoted between two objects.” Explain the significance of the protagonist’s name, and how this name relates to his personality, his behavior, and the overarching theme(s) of the work.

3. Discuss Misako’s father as a character type. Describe his personality, tastes, aesthetic inclinations, attitude toward life, relation with his daughter, etc.

4. Discuss the character types of each of the female characters (Misako, O-hisa, Takanatsu’s ex-wife, Louise, etc.). How does each measure up against Kaname’s ideal woman?

5. Describe the character of Takanatsu. Explain his role in the novel.

6. What is the state of Kaname and Misako’s marriage? What is the source of their troubles? What are their options?

7. On pages 58-59, in a scene that recalls the famous “rainy night conversation” about women in the “Hahakigi” chapter of The Tale of Genji, Kaname and Takanatsu discuss their ideas about “the ideal woman.” Discuss Kaname’s “ideal woman” and how this ideal relates to his personal life.

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