Tanizaki Jun’ichirō谷崎潤一郎 (1886-1965): Edokko; born to wealthy chōnin father (owner of publishing company) in Nihonbashi; a botchan in early years, but family fortunes soon declined; had to drop out of 帝大 in 1911; literary career begins in 1909; married in 1915, but soon bores of her; encourages her to have affair with Satō Haruo (Odawara jiken); obsession with West, aestheticism; moves to cosmopolitan Yokohama in 1922: lives bohemian lifestyle; dabbles in film industry, script writing, 純映画劇運動 (pure film movement); reputation really takes off after 1923 Kantō daishinsai quake (old Tokyo disappears, never to return; his attention moves from West to Kansai); between 1924 and 1934, writes Chijin no ai, In’ei raisan, Manji, Tade kū mushi, Yoshino kuzu, Ashikari, Shunkinshō; this period corresponds to the general trend of Nihon kaiki (yet maintains modernist inclinations); during war: Genji monogatari gendaiyaku and Sasame yuki (portrait of four daughters of a wealthy family slowing slipping in stature); awarded bunka kunshō (order of culture) in 1949; continues to pursue his favorite themes in later novels: longing for mother/ideal woman; male masochism; sexuality/perversion; fantasy in old age; his eternal ideal female archetypes: Western-ish femme fatale throughout early period, then the traditional ningyō-like woman, then the lost mother, then the noblewoman behind screen . . .
Terms/Particularities of Culture
1. Horimono/irezumi: traditional Japanese tattooing; can be traced back to Jōmon period for religious purposes, then as punishment in Kofun period (300-600AD); began to develop as art form during mid-Edo period, influenced by popularity of Japanese translation of Suikoden (Water Margin; 14th century; one of four great classical novels of Chinese literature), which features heroes who have their deeds inscribed into their bodies; flourished among merchant class, wealthy merchants; horimono artists included many ukiyo-e artists; outlawed at beginning of Meiji, thus outlaw associations of tattoos; legalized again in 1948.
2. “Cruel Empress Chou of Shang Dynasty” (1600-1047 BC): reference to the sadistic and depraved King Zhou 商紂王 and Daji 妲己, who reigned from 1075-1046 BC and brought Shang dynasty to ruin. The empress is an archetype in Chinese history of selfish, sadistic consort who controls emperor through her charms, and leads the country to ruin.
3. Aestheticism, or “the Aesthetic Movement” (definition provided by Professor Yiu): A European phenomenon during the latter nineteenth century that had its chief philosophical headquarters in France. Its roots lie in the German theory, proposed by Kant (1790), that the pure aesthetic experience consists of a “disinterested” contemplation of an aesthetic object without reference to its reality, or to the “external” ends of its utility or morality. Rallying cries included “poem per se”—a “poem written solely for the poem’s sake,” (Edgar Allan Poe) and “art for art’s sake.” This movement also stresses the “autonomy” and “all-importance” of art (M.H. Abrams, A Glossary of Literary Terms).
Tanizaki’s story paved the way for other literary works that celebrated art for art’s sake and the artist’s unwavering devotion to his craft. [This story] and Akutagawa’s “Hell Screen” (Jigokuhen 地獄変, 1918) are often grouped together as works of the Aesthetic School (tanbi-ha 耽美派) and are seen not only as harbingers of modernism in prose but also as the beginnings of opposition to the literary school of Naturalism (shizen-shugi 自然主義) and the narrative style of the I-novel, which emphasized flat, unvarnished, and sincere depiction in contrast to the new, spectacle-driven narrative style of the modernists (William Tyler, Modanizumu: Modernist Fiction from Japan 1913-1938, University of Hawaii Press, 2008, p. 25.).
More on aestheticism: sensibility/philosophy of life and of art; English literary and artistic movement culminating in 1890s (Oscar Wilde/Walter Pater most extravagant proponent); a stage in development of Romanticism; related to symbolism; reaction to Naturalism; generally anti-commercial, anti-didactic, anti-democratic, anti-bourgeois, anti-“religion of progress” tone, anti-bunmeikaika; tends to emphasize hedonism, occult, and prefer spiritual, transcendental over material. Aestheticism has its roots in Kant’s postulate from Critique of Judgment (1790) of the “disinterestedness” (no personal interest) of aesthetical judgment, and the irrelevance of concepts to the intuitions of the imagination (i.e. emphasizes intuition/sense/imagination over rational intellect). Music is the ideal art form, as it is most immaterial, removed from quotidian; “to become like music is aspiration of all arts” says Schopenhauer, then Walter Pater)It holds that the pursuit of beauty the main task in life; l’art pour l’art (love of art for its own sake). Aestheticist writers usually regard themselves as an alienated minority, scornful of masses (Seikichi is no exception).
4. Aesthetic Movement in Japan (tanbiha 耽美派): Poe, Baudelaire influences; fin-de-siècle; diabolism (akumashugi); Tanizaki, Akutagawa, Satō Haruo, Kajii Motojirō, Nagai Kafū, Edogawa Rampo; centered around Keiō (Mitabungaku) vs. Waseda bungaku (Naturalists); urban, cosmopolitan, sophisticated.
5. The Edo Period (1603-1868), particularly the decades of Bunka and Bunsei (1804-1829):Tanizaki presents this as a time when wit and pleasure were highly esteemed—as were women who were depicted on stage, for example, in heroic roles in plays like The Female Sadakurō (Onna Sadakurō), The Female Jiraiya, and The Woman Thunder. It was an age of liberalism, affluence, and urbanity worthy of being reclaimed not in xenophobic retreat to the past but through rediscovery of a modernity latent and detectable within pre-Meiji history. Like many novelists writing in the years following Japan’s victory in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, Tanizaki was disenchanted with the economic and human costs that accrued to an imperial power intent on building an international empire. In looking to the past for a different model of the future, he presents the townsman culture of the Edo period as an artistic and societal alternative to the policies of the Meiji establishment. Needless to say, in presenting his view of Edo as far nobler, he erases any vestige of the feudalistic authoritarianism historically associated with the samurai class, Neo-Confucianism, and the Tokugawa shogunate (Tyler 2008, p.25).
Bunka/Bunsei (1804-1829): the last great era before crisis decades of Tokugawa era; Edo period’s second flourishing of urban cultural scene, the first being Genroku (1688-1704) (a view contested by recent Tenmei-focused literary historians); painters Shiba Kōkan, Sharaku; writers Takizawa Bakin, Shikitei Sanba, Jippensha Ikku; arts of this period characterized by down to earth, vernacular style; popular appeal; common everyday themes; lavish habits of Tokugawa shogun Ienari spread to public (post Matsudaira Sadanobu).
6. Fetish/ Fetishism: A fetish is something, such as a material object or an often nonsexual part of the body that arouses or gratifies sexual desire. A fetishism is the displacement of sexual arousal or gratification to a fetish. (1) broad definition in psychoanalysis: any activity that deviates from heterosexual intercourse; (2) a non-sexual part of body or thing that is highly charged with libido/sex drive (foot, pillow, ear, etc.). According to Freud a fetish is a substitute for mother’s penis that boy/girl once believed in (i.e. she lost it, got to find it, before I lose it too). Fetishism is usually found in men, often accompanied by aversion to real female genitals. In Shisei, Seikichi finds replacement for mother’s penis in girl’s foot.
7. Archetype: Applied to narrative designs, character types, or images which are said to be identifiable in a wide variety of works of literature, as well as in myths, dreams, and even ritualized modes of social behavior. (Abrams, pp.11-12). A central term in Carl Jung’s analytical psychology, introduced in his 1919 work. Based on idea that there are “primordial and universal images that make up the contents of the collective consciousness.”
8. Ero-guro-nansensu (Erotic-grotesque-nonsense): A spontaneous artistic and narrative style, strategy and movement that came in vogue in the 1910s-1930s as a new form of expression in defiance of the introspective nature and unadorned language of the Naturalist movement. Playful, evocative, at times vulgar and absurd, it aims at entertaining and shocking the reader and the viewer in an age of nouveau art and literary forms. Literary and artistic movement in 1920s and 1930s Japan; “prewar, bourgeois cultural phenomenon that devoted itself to explorations of the deviant, the bizarre, and the ridiculous” (Reichart); focus on eroticism, sexual corruption, decadence; Taisho popular culture (roots in ukiyoe, shunga). Challenged state ideology, bourgeois conservative values; Edogawa Rampo; traces today in manga, anime, etc.
9. Femme Fatale (lit, “deadly woman”): Mysterious, charming, seductive, often dangerous even deadly female archetype. Examples from history/literature: Eve, Lilith, Delilah, Cleopatra, other “dark ladies” from antiquity; film noir females.
10. Mimetic theory of art: Views/evaluates art in relation to real world; the value of art is determined by the extent to which it accurately mirrors reality.
11. Masochism/sadism: Tanizaki’s great theme; Krafft-Ebing first to provide detailed account of masochism in Psychopathia Sexualis (1886). Word itself comes from Sacher-Masoch’s book Venus in Furs. Krafft-Ebing’s classic study of sexual perversion was introduced to Japan in 1914, translated as 『変態性慾心理』 and immediately banned. The modern use of the word hentai began around this time. (An earlier translation had appeared in 1894, under the title Shikijōkyōhen.) What does masochist want?→satisfaction through unpleasantness/pain). Freud’s gives three types of masochist: erotogenic (sexual pleasure linked with pain), feminine masochism (acting the subservient “bitch”), and moral masochism (desire to experience guilt). Seikichi seems to be erotogenic (he wants her to stomp on his face). Tanizaki’s great insight into human relations: romantic relations are always negotiated in terms of power.
Study Questions (Provided by Professor A. Yiu)
Answer all of the following.
1. Identify the age (time period) and place (setting) of the narrative. How does Tanizaki comment on the Meiji period through evoking a different time period?
2. What is the atmosphere of that specific age and place? How is that atmosphere evoked or depicted?
3. Discuss elements of decadence, eroticism, exoticism, fetishism, and sensuality in the text. In what sense does this work precipitate and embody elements of ero-guro-nansense movement?
4. Discuss the image of the woman as a literary archetype. How is that archetype constructed in the text? How does it serve as a generic archetype as well as a Tanizaki archetype?
5. “Just as the ancient Egyptians had embellished their magnificent land with pyramids
and sphinxes, he was about to embellish the pure skin of this girl” (p. 167). What is the nature of this comparison? Discuss the relationship between art (man-made/tattooing) and nature (not man-made/the woman’s skin) in the text.
6. In insisting on inscribing (tattooing) on nature (the woman’s skin) to create art, how does Tanizaki challenge the mimetic theory (art imitates nature) of art?
7. What happens to the tattooer when his work is complete? Discuss the relationship between the artist and the work of art. In what sense is this work representative of the tanbi-ha (Aesthetic School)?