Wednesday, January 30, 2013

15 Things to Think About While Watching Mizoguchi Kenji’s Sanshō the Bailiff (1954)

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15 Things to Consider While Watching Mizoguchi Kenji’s Sanshō the Bailiff (1954)

LIT 365: Morrison

*To watch the film (w/ subtitles), click here.

Consider all of the following.

1. Consider the significance of father’s message about mercy & its relation to the rest of the film.

2. Consider the significance of Zushio’s corruption, transformation, and rejuvenation.

3. Consider the use of flashbacks in the first half of film.

4. Consider the representations of the mother and father.

5. Consider the mood throughout the film, and its numerous changes.

6. Consider the notion of human nature presented in the film. How is human evil presented?

7. Consider the most affecting/beautiful scenes.

8. Consider what happens in the end (with Sanshō and his slave factory). Are scores settled? Is revenge exacted? Is there resolution?

9. Consider how are women portrayed in the work. What sort of society do the women live in, and what is their role within it? (Note: this is favorite topic of Mizoguchi’s.)

10. Consider the representation of Anju.

11. Consider what liberal or left-leaning ideas or ideologies inform the film. How do these relate to the historical context of postwar Japan?

12. Consider how the Mother’s song functions as a kind of recurring motif. What does the musical score add to the film?

13. Consider why Mizoguchi chooses to reverse the ages of the two children.

14. Consider the acting. Is this realistic/mimetic method acting, or is it more formal & stylized?

15. Consider the religious elements in the film.

Mori Ōgai Sanshō Dayū (1915) Study Guide

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Mori Ōgai Sanshō Dayū (1915) Study Guide


Lit 365: Morrison

Terms/Particularities of Culture

1. Apollonian and Dionysian: Apollonian and Dionysian are terms used by Nietzsche in The Birth of Tragedy to designate the two central principles in Greek culture. The Apollonian, which corresponds to Schopenhauer’s principium individuationis (“principle of individuation”), is the basis of all analytic distinctions. Everything that is part of the unique individuality of man or thing is Apollonian in character; all types of form or structure are Apollonian, since form serves to define or individualize that which is formed; thus, sculpture is the most Apollonian of the arts, since it relies entirely on form for its effect. Rational thought is also Apollonian since it is structured and makes distinctions.

The Dionysian, which corresponds roughly to Schopenhauer’s conception of Will, is directly opposed to the Apollonian. Drunkenness and madness are Dionysian because they break down a man’s individual character; all forms of enthusiasm and ecstasy are Dionysian, for in such states man gives up his individuality and submerges himself in a greater whole: music is the most Dionysian of the arts, since it appeals directly to man’s instinctive, chaotic emotions and not to his formally reasoning mind. Nietzsche believed that both forces were present in Greek tragedy, and that the true tragedy could only be produced by the tension between them. He used the names Apollonian and Dionysian for the two forces because Apollo, as the sun-god, represents light, clarity, and form, whereas Dionysus, as the wine-god, represents drunkenness and ecstasy. (Walter Kaufmann, From Shakespeare to Existentialism: An Original Study (Princeton University Press, 1959), pp. 207-8)


Old provinces:
1. Iwashiro岩代国 (Fukushima-ken): where the family lives
2. Tsukushi 筑紫国 (Fukuoka, way west in Kyushu): where father banished 12 yr prior
3. Echigo (Niigata): Nihonkaigawa; where the town of Kasuga is.
4. Sado 佐渡国 (tiny island in Nihonkai; part of Niigata, Sado City): place of exile.

The Tango-bound boat passes through the following looking for buyers . . .
1. Etchū 越中 (Toyama-ken): on Nihonkai-gawa. Borders Echigo (N). City: Miyazaki
2. Noto 能登国 (Ishikawa-ken): the tip prefecture; on Nihonkaigawa.
3. Echizen 越前 (Fukui-ken): Nihonkai-gawa
4. Wakasa 若狭 (Fukui-ken): Nihonkai-gawa
5. Tango 丹後国 (northern Kyoto-ken): Nihonkai-gawa. City: Ishiura (Sansho’s estate)

Other places/references (add to this list as you read)
1. Imazu : 
2. Nakayama-dera (Hyougo-ken):  temple in Hyogo-ken
3. Rengebuji Temple 蓮華峰寺: in Sado
4. Ise (in Mie-ken, formerly Iga 伊賀国 and Kii 紀伊国 on Taiheiyou-gawa):
5. Kiyomizu-dera: founded in 798; no nails;
6. Jizou bodhisattva: guardian of children and travelers; Anju’s Jizo amulet
7.  Taira (or Heike) Clan: One of 4 important clans of Heian (others were Minamoto, Tachibana, Fujiwara); arrogant; destroyed in Genpei War (1180-1185); subject of Heike monogatari.

Study Questions

Answer all of the following.

1. Give a concise summary of the story.

2. Despite taking place in the Heian period, the story is very much about the contemporary world in which Ōgai lived. Identify the major themes of the work and explain how they reflect/relate to/engage with the historical period? Is the story an allegory for Japan in 1915? If so, what corresponds to what?

3. Discuss the work’s fantasy-like ending, in which all conflicts are suddenly and almost miraculously resolved. Why do you think Ōgai made these alterations to the original story? What is the effect of such changes? Does this unexpected happy ending prove that Ōgai was ultimately a conservative/reactionary writer who was paranoid about social unrest and revolution?

4. Compare Ōgai’s story to Mizoguchi’s film that was made a few years after the end of WWII? How are they each a reflection of their times? How do they represent different ends of the ideological spectrum?

5. Discuss the narrative voice. Who is narrating? Is the narrator omniscient? Does it employ mostly showing or telling? Does it focalize itself in any of the characters? Does it relate events that are mostly constitutive or supplementary? What style is it written in (言文一致 or 雅俗一致)?

6. After General Nogi’s famous seppuku suicide in 1912 following the death of Emperor Meiji, Ōgai became rather obsessed with the ideas of junshi (殉死) and self-sacrifice. Discuss the theme of self-sacrifice as it is presented in this work, represented most conspicuously in the two characters, Ubatake and Anju.

7. What does Ōgai believe to be the proper relationship between history and fiction? What is his attitude toward his historical materials?

8. Ōgai describes his own artistic temperament as more “Apollonian” than “Dionysian.” What does this mean? What is Apollonian or Dionysian about “Sanshō the Steward”?

9. How is human nature presented in the work? What is Ōgai trying to say about human nature, the various kinds of evil, etc.? 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Study Guide: Ishikawa Jun’s “Jesus of the Ruins” (Yakeato no iesu; 1946)

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Study Guide: Ishikawa Jun’s “Jesus of the Ruins” (Yakeato no iesu; 1946)


Lit 365: Morrison

 Terms/Figures/Places

Yakeato generation (yakeato sedai 焼跡世代): “The boy in this short story belonged to a generation of war-orphans numbering approximately 123,000 by the end of the war in 1945. The child literally defies description because the ‘taxonomy of his kind had yet to be invented.’ The taxonomy that Ishikawa was looking for in 1946 when the short-narrative was composed was shortly to define an entire generation that would come to be known as yakeato sedai or the ‘generation coming of age amidst the burned-out ruins after the war.’ Ishikawa was born in 1899 and set a literary precedent when he used the title phrase to signify an orphaned child growing up in the burned-out ruins of metropolitans where the immediate black-market economy signified the struggle for daily survival. Ishikawa’s indistinguishable usage of the term yakeato introduces the possibility of a generation that would rise like a phoenix out of the ashes of the long war” (Rosenbaum, 2006, 2; for more, see Legacies of the Asia-Pacific War: The Yakeato Generation, edited by Roman Rosenbaum, Yasuko Claremont (2012), as well as Rosenbaum’s article “Ishikawa Jun and Postwar Japan”).

Yatsushi やつし: From the verb yatsusu which means “to disguise,” yatsushi is a disguised contemporary version of a romantic figure from antiquity or classical literature. It involves the inversion of something refined/noble into something vulgar/plebeian. In this story, the yakeato orphan is described as a sort of yatsushi version of Jesus Christ. Ishikawa Jun discusses this term—along with mitate, haikai, honkadori, and other terms related to Edo-period aesthetics—in his essay “On the ThoughtPatterns of the People of Edo” (1943).

Mitate 身立て: Analog; the depiction of one thing through the presentation of something else. In traditional waka, it is associated with a kind of “elegant confusion,” such as when falling cherry blossoms petals are mistaken for snow. In general, the term means “selection” and signifies imagery that combines two completely different subjects, often drawn from high culture and popular culture respectively. In this story, the yakeato orphan is given an added depth through his mitate link through with Jesus.

Kiyomizu hall 清水観音堂: Inspired by the magnificent Kiyomizu-dera in Kyoto, Ueno Kiyomizu Kannon-dō was established by Abbot Tenkai Sōjō, who was also the founder of the Kan’eiji Temple. Built in 1631, the temple is one of Tokyo’s oldest, and has miraculously survived battles of civil war and bombing raids. Today, it is recognized as a national treasure.

Tōshōgū Shrine東照宮: Built in 1616, the shrine is one of numerous shrines in Japan dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Edo Shogunate. Until 1868, the shrine was a part of Kan’eiji Temple.

Ueno black market (yamiichi 闇市): A major site of the black markets that flourished in the immediate postwar period, when goods were hard to come by.

Dazai Shundai 太宰春台 (1680-1747): Neo-Confucian scholar, born in the province of Shinano (Nagano prefecture). Entering the service of the daimyo of Izushi near Hyōgo, he studied under Nakano Iken. Later, having left the Izushi estate, he became a disciple of Ogyū Sorai. He then entered the service of the daimyo of Ooimi (Shimōsa) but soon decided to teach. His favorite subject was economics, and he published a number of works on the subject, the best known of which were Keizairoku (Discussion of Economics, 1729) and Keizairokushū-i (Discussion of Economics, part two). He wrote more than 50 works. (Louis Frédéric, Japan Encyclopedia, 150).

Hattori Nankaku 服部南郭 (1683-1759): Confucian scholar, painter, and poet of the mid-Tokugawa period. Born in Kyoto, he studied the Chinese classics under Ogyū Sorai, then opened his own school in 1716. He is best known for his Bunjinga “scholarly paintings,” which are in imitation of the Chinese Qing-dynasty style. He helped to  popularize Tang poetry, which had an enormous influence on Edo culture.

Gap (béance) (Term in Lacanian Psychoanalysis): The French term béance is an antiquated literary term which means a ‘large hole or opening.’ It is also a scientific term used in medicine to denote the opening of the larynx. The term is used in several ways in Lacan’s work. In 1946, he speaks of an ‘interrogative gap’ which opens up in madness, when the subject is perplexed by the phenomena which he experiences (hallucinations, etc.) (Ec, 165–6). 
In the early 1950s, the term comes to refer to the fundamental rupture between man and NATURE, which is due to the fact that ‘in man, the imaginary relation has deviated, in so far as that is where the gap is produced whereby death makes itself felt’ (S2, 210). This gap between man and nature is evident in the mirror stage [...] The function of the imaginary is precisely to fill this gap, thus covering over the subject’s division and presenting an imaginary sense of unity and wholeness. 
In 1957 the term is used in the context of the relationship between the sexes; ‘in the relation between man and woman…a gap always remains open’ (S4, 374; see S4, 408). This anticipates Lacan’s later remarks on the non-existence of the SEXUAL RELATIONSHIP. 
In 1964, Lacan argues that ‘the relation of the subject to the Other is entirely produced in a process of gap’ (S11, 206), and states that the subject is constituted by a gap, since the subject is essentially divided (see SPLIT). He also argues that the concept of causality is essentially problematic because there is always a mysterious, inexplicable gap between cause and effect (S11, 21–2). 
Lacan also uses the term ‘dehiscence’ in a way that makes it practically synonymous, in his discourse, with the term ‘gap’. Dehiscence is a botanical term which designates the bursting open of mature seed-pods; Lacan uses the term to refer to the split which is constitutive of the subject: there is ‘a vital dehiscence that is constitutive of man’ (E, 21). This split is also the division between culture and nature which means that man’s relation to the latter ‘is altered by a certain dehiscence at the heart of the organism, a primordial. Discord’ (E, 4) (Evans, 72-73)

Study Questions
Answer all of the following.
1. Describe the narrative structure of the work. Who is narrating the story? What it his relation to the world he is describing?

2. Describe the scene at the Ueno yamiichi (black market). What phase of human history do we seem to be in? What is the relation between past, present, and future? Does the narrator feel that the world has really turned over a “new leaf”?

3. Describe the woman selling the o-musubi rice balls. How does the narrator react to her? What qualities does she seem to embody?

4. Describe the yakeato orphan who appears in the black market. How do people react to him? How does the narrator react? What powers does he seem to possess?

5. Describe the incident that takes place in the market. How does the narrator become involved?

6. What does the narrator intend to do when he gets to Yanaka? What is the significance of this act? Explain his interest in Dazai Shundai, Hattori Nankaku, Edo period (particularly Tenmei era), Tang dynasty, etc.

7. Describe the appearance of the orphan the next day. Why does he chase down and attack the narrator? What does this scuffle symbolize?

8. Discuss the connection between the yakeato orphan and Jesus Christ in terms of the Edo/Ishikawan concepts of yatsushi and mitate (see definition above).

9. Describe the scene at the market the next morning. Discuss the final passage of the work:

Until only yesterday stands had lined the alleys of the marketplace like a wall. But what about today?
All that remained along either side of the streets were the long, empty rows of stalls constructed of flimsy reed screens. Stretching as far as the eye could see, they resembled huge stable equipped with countless berths and mangers. But it was a horseless livery. Not a horse was in sight.
Peering still farther inside, one saw an open space. It looked freshly swept. It was as if someone had taken a stiff broom and given it a vigorous sweeping.
Still, the surface was market by a spot here and there. It was as though something had traipsed across it and left behind its traces. They were the marks of an unidentified being that had walked upon the face of the earth and left its telltale imprint. As a matter of fact, the traces looked ever so much like footsteps—yea, even hoofprints—that a strange creature, having wandered into the desert, left as its tracks in the sand.

10. Gaps, stains, openings, rips, tears, burn marks, traces, holes, etc. form a cluster of recurring images in the work. Discuss the significance of these images.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Study Guide for Ishikawa Jun’s Asters (Shion Monogatari, 1956)

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Study Guide for Ishikawa Jun’s Asters (Shion Monogatari, 1956)


Lit 365: Morrison
Ishikawa Jun’s Asters (Shion Monogatari, 1956)[1]

Ishikawa Jun 石川淳 (1899-1987): Novelist from Tokyo. Made his literary debut in 1935 with the novella Kajin (The Nymphs). His 1936 novel Fugen (The Bodhisattva) won him the second Akutagawa Prize. After World War II, Ishikawa came to be regarded as one of the Shin-gesaku (new gesaku) school of writers. Other representative works are Yake-ato no Iesu (Jesus of the Ruins, 1946), Ōgon densetsu (The Legend of Gold, 1946), Taka (The Hawk, 1953), Shifukusennen (A Thousand Years of Happiness, 1966), and Kyōfūki (Account of the Wild Wind).

Some Terms

1. Ichioku sō-zange 一億総懺悔:  “Collective repentance by 100 million.” “‘Ichioku,’ or one hundred million, refers to the size of the population of Japan, and by extension it becomes a metaphor for ‘all the subjects/citizens in the land’; ‘zange,’ or penitence, is done by all or in unison ()” (Tyler 1998, 274). The term was coined shortly after the war by Prime Minister Higashikuni Naruhiko, who called on the Japanese people to repent collectively for the war. His call has been criticized as an attempt to exonerate the militarists and the ruling classes who were directly responsible for the war, and to shift the blame to the entire population. Ishikawa indirectly addresses the themes of memory, amnesia, trauma, repentance, atrocity, etc in this story.

2. Doppelgänger: “Double walker” in German; a double or second-self. In literature, dream analysis, or archetypal symbolism, the Doppelgänger is often figured as a twin, shadow, or mirror-image of the protagonist. The Doppelgänger characteristically appears as identical to (or closely resembling) the protagonist; sometimes the protagonist and Doppelgänger have the same name. Prominent literary examples of Doppelgängers include Poe’s “William Wilson,” Stevenson’s “Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde,” Conrad’s “The Secret Sharer,” and the novel and movie “The Fight Club.” […] In Freudian terms, the Doppelgänger represents hidden or repressed aspects of the protagonist’s personality, and the arrival of the double represents the “return of the repressed.” The protagonist must acknowledge what the double represents, and at the same time struggle against it. Characteristically, a Doppelgänger story climaxes with a confrontation of the two, usually a fight to the death. The death of the Doppelgänger represents the successful repression of the dangerous impulses, but the struggle leaves the protagonist sadder and wiser about humanity and about himself or herself. (Dr. Glen Johnson, Catholic University of America)

3. Kant’s four types of evil: (1) evil resulting from fragilitas, (2) evil resulting from impuritas, (3) evil resulting from perversitas (i.e. radical evil) (privileging of inclinations, still pathological), and (4) diabolical evil (unpathological, not based on inclinations, contrary to self-interest, elevated to the level of a maxim). For more, see Kant’s Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone (1794): http://bit.ly/bBJlc8

Study Guide

Answer all of the following.

1. What genre(s) of novel might the work be classified as? Does the story fit into any of Todorov’s genres of “the uncanny,” “the fantastic,” or “the marvelous”?

2. Describe the narrative structure of the work.  

3. Discuss the role of poetry in the work. What powers does poetry possess? How does Muneyori regard his own natural poetic gifts? Explain the connection between his renunciation of poetry and his rebellion against his father/his father’s courtly culture?

4. Explain the significance of the three arrows. What does each arrow represent? How are they related? What discovery does Muneyori make?

5. At its core, the work is an exploration of the problem of evil. Discuss the four types of evil that are represented in the work through the four characters of Tōnai, Princess Utsuro, Yumimaro, and Muneyori. Consider these characters in relation to Kant’s four types of evil mentioned above. Also, discuss the ambiguous relationship between diabolical evil (Muneyori) and ultimate good (Heita).

6. Describe the character Heita. Describe his doppelgänger-esque relationship to Muneyori. In what ways are they the uncanny mirror images of each another? What are their similarities? What are their differences? Do they complement each another to make a whole?

7. Describe the two settings—Muneyori’s province and the town beyond the mountain—and the inhabitants/communities/cultures of each. How does each group view the other? What is their relation to one another?

8. The work abounds in dichotomies/binary oppositions. Identify and describe them all. What does Ishikawa seem to be saying about the true nature of these dichotomies?

9. Explain the significance of the three plants: the asters (shion), the forget-me-nots (wasurenagusa), and the grasses-of-forgetfulness/day lilies (wasuregusa). Which plants does Muneyori plant? In what circumstances? For what purpose? Which plants does Heita plant? In what circumstances? For what purpose? How do these plants relate to the larger themes of the work, namely the problems of history, memory, trauma, atrocity, evil, etc.?

10. Describe the Buddhist statues that are carved into the rocks. Why is Muneyori driven to destroy them?

11. Discuss the character of Chigusa. How does Chigusa and Muneyori’s relationship resemble that of Yang Kwei-fei 楊貴妃 and Emperor Hsuan Tsung 玄宗 from Bai Juyi’s Song of Everlasting Regret 長恨歌 (806)?

12. Given its main themes, can this work be read as an allegory of postwar Japanese society? Explain.

Further Reading
1. Shibusawa Tatsuhiko’s essay in Hen’ai teki sakka ron.
2. [add to the list as you research…]
3.
4.
5.




[1] Source: The Old Woman, the Wife and the Archer: Three Modern Japanese Short Novels. 1961. The Songs of Oak Mountain, by S. Fukasawa; Ohan, by C. Uno; Asters, by J. Ishikawa. Translated by Donald Keene.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Study Guide Questions for Edogawa Rampo’s “Human Chair” (1925)

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Study Guide Questions for Edogawa Rampo’s “Human Chair” (1925)

Study Guide Questions for Edogawa Rampo’s “Human Chair” (1925)
Morrison


 Terms

1. Ero guro nansensu: Literary and artistic movement in the 1920s and 1930s that devoted itself to explorations of eroticism, sexual corruption, decadence, the perverse, the bizarre, and the absurd. Although influenced by the “decadence” of European modernism, the movement’s roots can be traced to ukiyoe, shunga, and other native art forms of the Edo period. In general, the movement challenged state ideology and bourgeois conservative values, and this story is no exception. Today, lingering traces of the movement can be found in manga, anime, etc. The popular literature magazine Shinseinen 新青年 (1920-1950) was, in its early years, a major venue for the movement.

Some Relevant Marxist Terms[1]

2. Alienation: Karl Marx developed his theory of alienation in his early writings, particularly in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (1844). Using the German words Entfremdung (to estrange, make alien, rob) and Entäusserung (to alienate, part with, sell, externalize), Marx outlined various ways in which human beings become alienated in their lives, particularly in the course of the labor process. According to Marx, human beings experience a loss of control over their lives and over the creations that constitute the basic institutions and processes of society, such as the state and work. This alienation or estrangement means that human beings have a sense of living in a world that is alien and hostile, and they experience their lives as meaningless, unsatisfying and worthless. Ultimately human beings live their lives in a way that is less than fully human; they are dehumanized. 
Marx derived his theory of alienation from Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s notion of alienation and his own critique of Hegel. For Hegel alienation referred to the process of “Spirit” (Geist) externalizing itself in the creation of reality, but failing to grasp that the world was not something external to Spirit. Spirit, through human consciousness, gradually comes to realize that the world is the creation of Spirit, and in so doing overcomes alienation. Marx, treading in the footsteps of the “Young Hegelians” and Ludwig Feuerbach critiqued and moved away from this notion of alienation rooted in idealist philosophy. Following the line of thought developed by the Young Hegelians and by Feuerbach in particular, Marx identified the problem of religious alienation where human beings create the notion of God and attribute to this creation idealized features of themselves. Having created God and projected on to it our most essential features, we then give it an independent existence and bow down to worship this entity that is entirely our own creation. This process sees the externalization of our essential features and the fashioning of an alien entity out of them which then has a power over us. 
In religious alienation we become separated from our essential selves, and this occurs in an even more significant way in the labor process. Human productive active is fundamental to us, not just as the way in which we produce our subsistence, but also as the way in which we develop and express our human potential. However, in class society, and in capitalism in particular, the process of production is a process by which individuals become alienated. First, individuals are alienated from what they produce. For example, a worker in a factory creates a product which is then sold by the factory owner when, where, to whom and at what price he sees fit. The worker has no control over the product that he has created. Secondly, an individual is alienated from the conditions of the work process, that is, he has no control over the process of production, does not own the tools of production and, increasingly under capitalism has to perform dull, repetitive tasks requiring little imagination, skill or creativity.
Thirdly, an individual is alienated from his “species-being,” that is to say, he is unable to develop and express his essential human characteristics. Human beings, according to Marx, are essentially productive creatures and it is in the course of producing that we distinguish ourselves from animals. Unlike animals human beings produce consciously, planning their actions and using imagination and creativity. Human beings can exercise their will and not just act according to instinct, and they are also essentially social and cooperative, but all these characteristics are denied in the labor process in capitalism. The restrictions placed on us by a class society where the majority do not have free access to the means of production, where there is a highly specialized division of labor, and where control is exercised over our labor by bosses and impersonal market forces serve to prevent work from being the enriching and fully human activity it should be. For Marx the solution to the problem of alienation is communism; the overthrow of capitalism with the abolition of the division of labor and private property will make de-alienation possible. The theory of alienation is controversial among Marxists and Marxist commentators with some, for example Stalinists and structuralist Marxists such as Louis Althusser, viewing it as essentially a product of Marx’s immature thought and a theory that he left behind as he developed his more sophisticated and scientific notions of historical materialism and of exploitation in particular. However, Georgii Lukács, Herbert Marcuse, Jean-Paul Sartre, Erich Fromm and Gajo Petrovic are notable Marxists who have accorded a place of importance to the theory of alienation in Marx’s thought.

3. Commodity: According to Karl Marx, the commodity is the cornerstone of capitalism and commodity production is a key defining characteristic of capitalism. Marx begins his investigation of capitalism in Capital with an analysis of the commodity. A commodity is something that is produced for exchange rather than something produced for immediate use or consumption by the producer. According to Marx, every commodity combines two aspects: use value and exchange value. Use value refers to the power of a commodity to satisfy some human want, or put simply what the commodity is used for.
Exchange value refers to what a commodity can be exchanged for, in other words its power to command other commodities in exchange for itself in a particular ratio. The value of a commodity is the amount of labor embodied in it (see LABOR THEORY OF VALUE), and the labor that creates a commodity can be viewed as either concrete labor, that is a particular kind of labor (such as weaving) that produces a particular use value (such as cloth), or as abstract labor. Abstract labor represents labor in an undifferentiated way, as just labor that creates exchange value, and only occurs in a system where commodities are exchanged and the labor embodied in them has to be commensurable. Marx identifies one particular commodity as crucial in capitalism because of its unique ability to create value, and this commodity is labor power. Labor power is the source of surplus value and ultimately of profit in capitalism (see EXPLOITATION; FETISHISM OF THE COMMODITY; SURPLUS VALUE).

4. Fetishism of the commodity: In his analysis of capitalism in Capital Karl Marx introduces his notion of the fetishism of the commodity. Drawing an analogy with religious fetishes where a power is falsely attributed to an object, Marx argues that in capitalism the commodity is given the appearance of being the natural source of value by the prevailing social relations. Commodities appear to have a natural and intrinsic value rather than being the value of the labor power invested in their manufacture. Marx attributes a similar fetishism to wages, profit and rent, which in capitalism have the appearance of being revenue derived from labor, capital and land respectively, but are in fact derived from different amounts of labor power. Marx sees capitalist social relations as mystifying, as obscuring the true relations between people and things, for example wages conceal exploitation, and overall capitalism appears as natural rather than a historically specific social form.

5. Reification: The term reification is linked to the notions of alienation and  commodity fetishism. It refers to the idea that human qualities, relations, actions and even human beings themselves are transformed in the course of capitalist production into things, and these things come to have power over human beings. Karl Marx implicitly discusses the phenomenon of reification in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (1844), and explicitly analyses it in the Grundrisse (1857/58) and Capital (volume I, 1867; volume II, 1885; volume III, 1894).
According to Marx, all the key elements of capitalist production, for example, the commodity, money, capital, profit, and wages, involve this process of reification. Social relations between individuals become thing-like relations between persons and social relations between things; social actions take the form of the action of things. Human creations become independent of their creators and human beings become subject to their own creations; human beings are governed by the system of commodity production that they created. The social origin of these economic creations, of wealth and value, becomes obscured, and bourgeois economists compound this mystification by presenting the attributes of these elements of capitalism as natural properties. The notion of reification was given prominence in  Marxist thinking by Georgii Lukács in his History and Class Consciousness (1923) in which the main chapter was devoted to “Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat.” According to Lukács, commodity production entailed the key problem of fetishism, giving a relation between people the character of a thing and obscuring its origins. Reification gradually seeps into the inner life of society, even into the consciousness of human beings. Bourgeois society is in thrall to rationalism and rationalization, to the calculable and the measurable, and in the grip of a false consciousness that does not allow the social origins of capitalist relations to be perceived. The proletariat, its members treated as objects, as commodities, when it develops its class consciousness will actively rebel against reification and end it by ending capitalism. The place of reification in Marxist theory and its relation to other aspects remains a point of debate. For some it is a form or aspect of either alienation or commodity fetishism, while others see it as replacing the immature concept of alienation which was still rooted in philosophical idealism. In general, it has not received the same attention or been accorded the same importance as alienation and commodity fetishism.

Study Questions

Answer all of the following.

1. Describe the narrative structure of the work. What subgenre(s) of novel might this work be classified as?

2. Describe the personality and circumstances of the author of the letter. What is his relation to the world, to his craft, to his creations?

3. Does this work have a political message? Cite evidence to support your answer.

4. Describe the man’s interest in and interactions with women. In what way does his interest in women change? What is to account for the change?

5. How does the man perceive the world while in the chair? Which of his senses are most acute?

6. How is this work an instance of the “ero guro nansensu” movement? Identify and describe its “perverse” and “grotesque” elements.

7. After the man’s relocation to Yoshiko’s house, how does he go about eliciting her affection?

8. Discuss the ending. Does the second letter assuage Yoshiko’s fears? Or does she still suspect that the man is inside her house? Which letter are we to believe?

9. In his article “Panorama of Enlightenment” (Kaiko no panorama), Maeda Ai argues that human relations in Japan from the Meiji period on have been mediated through objects, particularly Western objects. How might this work be read as a statement or meditation about this fact of post-Meiji life?

10. The notion or literary device of “the confession” is at the very heart of Japan’s modern literature, particularly in so-called “naturalist” literature. How does this work problematize the notion/device of the confession?

11. It is a truism that one’s mode of reading will affect one’s interpretation of a work. How does this story thematize/confirm this truism?



[1] Definitions of Marxist terms are taken from Historical Dictionary of Marxism (Walker, Gray, 2007)