Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Lecture by Andrew Gerstle: Parody and Satire in Shunga: Takehara Shunchosai's "Pillow Book for the Young" (1776)

Andrew Gerstle, Professor, Japanese Studies, SOAS, University of London. CJS Winter 2012 Noon Lecture Series.

A Video Conversation with Tawada Yoko, w/ Prof Amir Eshel of Stanford U. (2009)

went to my first maid cafe last night

went to my first maid cafe last night (;only way to describe it: an abomination of desolation; fifty middle-aged virgin males waving glow sticks and clapping as they march merry-go-round around a "forever 16" yr old girl dancing on a raised platform; I have no problem with fantasy / the spirit of ludic imagining / or even the love of pre- early-nubile girls; but this cult of puerility / retardedness must be eradicated。(That said, friend □□□ □□□ dancing around the stage with glow sticks was one of the most entrancingly beautiful things I have ever seen....)

Sunday, December 28, 2014



Waves Into the Dark:石川淳初期作品論』博士論文概要



1章「佳人」(1935) --写実的リアリズムに対する対抗言説としての私小説パロディ

(1) 深層における間テキスト性 (deep intertextuality)→「芸術家小説」形式と「憑依小説」形式の構造・要素を借用
(2) 語りにおけるパフォーマンス性 (narrative performativity)、著者と語り手が単一でないことを誇張
(3) 表面的媒介 (surface mediation)→過去の文学テキストへの直接的言及・引用の汎用
(4) 寓意性 (allegoricity)→隠喩・象徴に富む「探求物語」(quest narrative) の形式をとる

2章 「山桜」(1936) --写実的リアリズムに対する対抗言説としての「寓意的ファンタスティック」

*T・トドロフによる「the fantastic」の概念と「山桜」の関係


3章「短編小説の構成」(1940) --写実的リアリズムに対する対抗言説としての(間接的な)小説論



4章「文章の形式と内容」(1940) --写実的リアリズムに対する対抗言説としての純粋散文エクリチュール論


*「文章」の記述的理論、普遍的4条件→(1) 物質性・可視性、(2) 話し言葉との相違・距離(言文一致批判)、(3) 特殊性・国家性の必然性、(4) 非私的公的な行為として
*「文章」の規範理論、純粋散文エクリチュールの4条件→(1) 話し言葉との相違・距離(言文一致批判)、(2) 「型」に頼らず、(3) 技術的に発展し過ぎず、(4) 詩的要素の排斥

5章 「江戸人の発想法について」(1943) --写実的リアリズムに対する反言説としての俳諧美学


*「抵抗としての江戸」(Edo as opposition)という歴史的背景と石川の江戸
* 近世の発想方と近代の発想の暗示的対比
* 俳諧化とその5つの「転換の操作」→見立て・俗化・やつし・本歌取り・本詩取り

6章 まとめ

付録 英訳

Friday, December 26, 2014

Denis Villeneuve's Incendies (2010; in full)

Today's highly recommended viewing: Denis Villeneuve's Incendies (2010; in full; w/ quality Eng subtitles), a kind of loose retelling of Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, set during [and after] the Lebanese Civil War.

For Literary Translators:A Conversion Formula to Remember

Literary translators are often faced with the problem of how to translate "x pages of 400-character Japanese handwritten manuscript paper" (400字詰原稿用紙x枚). One option is to simply translate it verbatim, i.e. "x pages of  400-character Japanese handwritten manuscript paper." The problem with this, of course, is that no one will know how long that is.

A better way to handle this problem is to convert the number of handwritten manuscript pages to the number of English words. To do this, you will need to remember two simple formulas.

Formula 1: One sheet of Jpn manuscript paper = 400 Jpn characters

Formula 2: One English word = approximately 2.5 Japanese characters.

Let us now do an example conversion....

Example 1: So how many English words is, say, 200 pages of Japanese manuscript?

Answer→ (Step 1) 200 pages = 80,000 Jpn characters ; (Step 2) 80,000÷2.5 = 32,000 Eng words ; Answer = 32,000 Eng words。

Now you try a few examples problems....

Example 2: How many English words is 500 pages of 400-character Japanese manuscript paper?

Example 3: How many English words is 1000 pages of 400-character Japanese manuscript paper?

Example 4: How many English words is 42,451 pages of 400-character Japanese manuscript paper?

Thursday, December 25, 2014

26 Yale U. lectures by Prof Dale B. Martin on the New Testament

recommended Christmas Day viewing:these 26 Yale U. lectures by Prof Dale B. Martin on the New Testament:here is Lecture 1

Margarethe von Trotta's "Hannah Arendt" (2012)

Today's recommended Christmas viewing: Margarethe von Trotta's Hannah Arendt (2012), about Arendt's coverage of and response to the 1961 trial of A. Eichmann:

Also, here is part I of her 1961 report "Eichmann in Jerusalem": (click on image of text).

Best Christmas Gift Ever

I just received the greatest Christmas gift a translator of Ishikawa Jun's early works could hope for: extremely detailed/meticulous/thoughtful comments/revisions of my dissertation appendix from Prof Shibata Motoyuki, Monkey Business founder and one of the eight living gods of Jpn/Eng literary translation !

Monday, December 22, 2014

Study Guide: Tawada Yōko’s “Where Europe Begins” (1991)

Study Guide: Tawada Yōko’s “Where Europe Begins” (1991)


Study Guide: Tawada Yōko’s “Where Europe Begins” (1991)[1]

*To purchase Susan Bernofsky/Yumi Selden’s translation of the story, click here.
*To view Tawada Yōko’s Official Homepage, click here.

Tawada Yōko (1960–):  Tawada Yōko majored in Russian at university, but during her first job developed a passion for all things German and moved to Germany for postgraduate study. She got her Master’s at Hamburg University and her PhD at Zurich before returning to Germany to write. Her first publication was a collection of poems. In 1991 her novella Kakato o nakushite (Missing Heels, tr. 1998) won the Gunzo Prize for New Writers. The novella Inu mukoiri (The Bridegroom Was a Dog, tr. 1998) was awarded the Akutagawa Prize in 1993, and Yogisha no yako ressha (Suspects on the Night Train), a series of linked stories, received the Tanizaki Jun’ichirō Prize in 2003. Tawada lives in Germany and writes in both Japanese and German. She describes her approach in her essay Ekusofoni (Exophony), stressing that what’s important is not each individual language, but the space between them. “I don’t want to be an author who writes either in language A or language B,” she declares. “I want to find that poetical ravine that divides the two and tumble into it.” In 1996 she won the Robert Bosch Stiftung Chamisso Prize and in 2005 was awarded the Goethe Medal. In 2011 her novel Yuki no renshusei (The Trainee of Snow) won the Noma Prize for Literature. (Source: J-lit, Books from Japan)

Study Questions

1. Describe the narrative structure of the work. Summarize the five “diary excerpts” (parts 3, 7, 8, 11, 15); the four “first travel narratives” (parts 5, 9, 12, 18); the two “something I told a woman three years after the journey” sections (parts 6, 10); and the “excerpt of the letter to my parents” (part 17). What effect is produced by constructing the story as a patchwork of various types of narrative?

2. Describe the narrator. Where is she located (temporally and spatially)? What was she like before her trip to Moscow, during her trip, and after her trip? What is her motivation for wanting to go to Moscow? How much of the experience on the boat/train does she remember?

3. Tawada Yōko’s works are often described as “writerly” (see below definition). What elements in this work are “writerly”? Explain.

4. Make a list of the salient images/symbols of this work (e.g. foreign water, water, white serpent, Fire Bird, paper snake, white birch tree, omul, seahorse, knife, umbilical cord, volcano, etc.). Describe these images/symbols and their significance.

5. Discuss the narrator’s parents/upbringing. What picture can we construct from the fragments that are given?

6. Identify and summarize the various myths/legends that are referred to in the work. Discuss their context/significance/function/relevance to the story.

7. Anton Chekhov’s play Three Sisters (1901; transl. Elisaveta Fen) serves as a kind of urtext to this story. Discuss the relation between these two texts.

8. What does the work tell us about the boundaries/divisions between nations, continents, cultures, languages, etc.?

Related Literary Terms

*Readerly and Writerly Texts: Translated from Barthes’ neologisms lisible and scriptible, the terms readerly and writerly text mark the distinction between traditional literary works such as the classical novel, and those twentieth century works, like the new novel, which violate the conventions of realism and thus force the reader to produce a meaning or meanings which are inevitably other than final or “authorized.” Barthes writes:

The writerly text is a perpetual present, upon which no consequent language (which would inevitably make it past) can be superimposed; the writerly text is ourselves writing, before the infinite play of the world (the world as function) is traversed, intersected, stopped, plasticized by some singular system (Ideology, Genus, Criticism) which reduces the plurality of entrances, the opening of networks, the infinity of languages. (S/Z 5)

Readerly texts, by contrast, are anything but readerly; they are manifestations of “The Book.” They do not locate the reader as a site of the production of meaning, but only as the receiver of a fixed, pre-determined, reading. They are thus products rather than productions and thus form the dominant mode of literature under capital.
Behind these distinctions lies Barthes’ own aesthetic and political projects, the championing of those texts which he sees as usefully challenging—often through the method of self-reflexivity—traditional literary conventions such as the omniscient narrator. For Barthes, the readerly text, like the commodity, disguises its status as a fiction, as a literary product, and presents itself as a transparent window onto “reality.” The writerly text, however, self-consciously acknowledges its artifice by calling attention to the various rhetorical techniques which produce the illusion of realism. In accord with his proclamation of “The Death of the Author.” Barthes insists, “the goal of literary work (of literature as work) is to make the reader no longer a consumer, but a producer of the text” (S/Z 4). (Source:

[1] Originally published in German (“Wo Europa Anfängt”) and Japanese (「ヨーロッパの始まるところ」) in 1991. English translation: Where Europe Begins. Susan Bernofsky and Yumi Selden, with a preface by Wim WendersNew York : Published for James Laughlin by New Directions Pub. 2002.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Primary Source Quotations from Dissertation [note: unedited/unpolished; not for citation]

Surely one of the most terrible/difficult/annoying parts of writing a Jpn-literature dissertation is deciding which primary source excerpts to use and then translating them into readable English. Here are the primary source quotations from my dissertation. Lots of awkward/nonsensical/unreadable spots; suggestions/corrections are welcome. [Note: full translations of these five works (and other works by Ishikawa Jun) can be found in the appendix to my dissertation, "Waves into the Dark: A Critical Study of Five Key Works from Ishikawa Jun’s Early Writings" (forthcoming)].

Primary Source Quotations from Dissertation [unedited/unpolished; not for citation]

[currently being revised; will post again once revisions are completed]

Friday, December 19, 2014

1970 film production of A. Chekhov's The Three Sisters (1901)

preparing for Monday's Tawada Yoko lecture by watching this excellent 1970 production of A. Chekhov's Three Sisters (1901; transl. Elisaveta Fen), which is a kind of urtext to Tawada's story; the film features a young Anthony Hopkins;study guide forthcoming...

I Once Gave Paul Auster Nightmares

When I die, please write the following epitaph on my tombstone: "He once--via his translation of a Takahashi Gen'ichiro story--gave Paul Auster nightmares (fast-forward to 2:30)." Be sure to include the "fast-forward to 2:30."

*To purchase my translation of Takahashi Gen'ichirō's "Demon Beasts" (Kichiku) in  Volume 4 of Monkey Business, click here.

*To listen to an audio recording of the story, click here.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Best Joke in Japanese of the Last 420 Years

And the award for the best joke in Japanese of the last 420 years goes to legendary wit and Hideyoshi Toyotomi advisor Sorori Shinzaemon 曽呂利新左衛門 (? ~ 1603)→
One day Sorori came to Hideyoshi and said that there was a cucumber eating a cucumber. Hideyoshi did not believe him, and agreed to give him a reward if he could prove it. Sorori took Hideyoshi out and pointed to a man sitting by the side of the road eating something. Hideyoshi complained that he was just a man. Sorori said,“Look well. That man is a wood seller [きうり]. He has a bundle of firewood on his back, and he is eating a cucumber [きうり]. That's why I told you that a KIURI (wood seller) is eating a KIURI (cucumber).

Source: Salvatore Attardo's Encyclopedia of Humor Studies (2014) [direct quote from Dr. Marguerite A. Wells's entry on humor in classical Japan]

Sunday, December 14, 2014

萩原朔太郎「猫町」の YOUTUBE 朗読

Study Questions for Hagiwara Sakutarō’s “The Town of Cats” (1935; Nekomachi- sanbunshifūna shōsetsu, translated by Jeffrey Angles)

Or, in PDF format...
Study Questions for Hagiwara Sakutarō’s “The Town of Cats” (1935; Nekomachi- sanbunshifūna shōsetsu, transl...

Study Guide: Hagiwara Sakutarō’s “The Town of Cats” (1935; Nekomachi- sanbunshifūna shōsetsu)

*To purchase Jeffrey Angles' English translation of the story, click here.
*To read the story in the original, click here.

Terms/Related Concepts/Topics

Look up the following terms/related concepts/topics, and consider their relation to the text. (Note: I have already started to fill in some of these.)

1. Drug use, availability, and distribution in modern Japan:
2. Parallax: the apparent displacement of an observed object due to a change in the position of the observer.
3. Metaphysics: Traditional branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world. Traditionally, metaphysics attempts to answer two basic questions: What is there? What is it like?
4. Dislocation (and the aesthetics of):
5. Defamiliarization (Rs: ostranenie; Jp: 異化) : The distinctive effect achieved by literary works in disrupting our habitual perception of the world, enabling us to 'see' things afresh, according to the theories of some English Romantic poets and of Russian formalism (Baldick, 1990).
6. Wanderlust: a strong impulse to travel.
7. 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 idol (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.

8. Zhuangzi’s 莊子 butterfly: Once Zhuangzi dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn't know he was Zhuangzi. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Zhuangzi. But he didn't know if he was Zhuangzi who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Zhuangzi. Between Zhuangzi and a butterfly there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things.” (Zhuangzi, Ch 2, tr. Burton Watson 1968:49). Original: 昔者莊周夢為蝴蝶,栩栩然蝴蝶也,自適志與,不知周也。俄然覺,則蘧蘧然周也。不知周之夢為蝴蝶與,蝴蝶之夢為周與?周與蝴蝶則必有分矣。此之謂物化。
9. Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860): German philosopher best known for his book, The World as Will and Representation.
10. The fourth dimension:
11. “The Fantastic” (Todorov’s concept): According to Bulgarian theorist Tzvetan Todorov (1939- ), the fantastic is characterized by: a) a hesitation on the part of the reader in deciding whether to interpret the events of the story as real or unreal, natural or supernatural; and/or b) a similar hesitation evident in the characters or narrator(s). To qualify as “fantastic,” the reader must be able to resist reading the story as a simple allegory or extended metaphor; in short, he must read it literally and metaphorically. “Fantastic” works are often divided into two types: strange (in which rational explanation is predominant) and marvelous (in which supernatural explanation is predominant).
12. Spirit Possession in Japanese Folklore:
13. Utopia/Dystopia:
14. Metamorphosis:
15. Prose Poem (sanbunshi):

Study Questions

Answer all of the following questions. I expect at least one full paragraph for each answer.

1. Consider the three references that appear in the work (the Schopenhauer quote, the Horace reference, and the Zhuangzi reference). Explain each reference in relation to the overall theme(s) of the work.

2. The narrator provides several interpretive frameworks for explaining the strange happenings described in the work. List and describe each of these interpretive frameworks. Which framework does the narrator seem to prefer? Which framework is the reader most likely to use?

3. As we discussed in class, “hesitation”—either in a character or in the reader—is the hallmark of “the fantastic.” Explain instances of “hesitation” that occur in/are produced by this work.

4. In the title, Hagiwara refers to his work as a “prose poem” (sanbunshi)? What makes the work a “prose poem”? (In other words, what are the work’s poetic qualities and its prosaic qualities?)

5. What metaphysical claims is the work suggesting/making? What is this “riddle” that the narrator keeps referring to?

6. Describe the town of U and its residents. Can this section of the story be read as a metaphor/allegory/critique of Japanese society at the time? As a prophecy of what was to come in the late 1930s? Explain.

7. Describe the meaning/significance of the residents’ metamorphoses into cats. Why cats? What do the cats represent? Given all the buildup, isn’t this a bit anticlimactic?

8. Discuss the final section of the story. In your view, can the “true” aspects of reality be seen only when one is removed from ordinary modes of viewing? Or is reality knowable only through reason, science, objective observation, and the like? What does the work tell us about the limits and potentials of “reason” and “intuition”?

9. What other works that we have read in class is this story similar to? Explain the similarities.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Study Guide: Murakami Haruki: "TV People" (1990)

Study Guide: Murakami Haruki: "TV People" (1990)

Murakami Haruki: TV People (1990)[1]

*To read the story in the original Japanese, click here.
*To read Alfred Birnbaum’s English translation, click here.

Murakami Haruki (1949- ): Murakami Haruki is the most widely translated Japanese novelist of his generation. Murakami’s first novel, Kaze no uta o kike (1979; Hear the Wind Sing), won a prize for best fiction by a new writer. From the start his writing was characterized by images and events that the author himself found difficult to explain but which seemed to come from the inner recesses of his memory. Some argued that this ambiguity, far from being off-putting, was one reason for his popularity with readers, especially young ones, who were bored with the self-confessions that formed the mainstream of contemporary Japanese literature. His perceived lack of a political or intellectual stance irritated “serious” authors (such as Ōe Kenzaburō), who dismissed his early writings as being no more than entertainment. Murakami’s first major international success came with Hitsuji o meguru bōken (1982; A Wild Sheep Chase), a novel that acquires an eerie quality from the mysterious sheep that comes to possess the narrator’s friend, known as “the Rat.” The narrator and the Rat reappeared in Murakami’s next important novel, Sekai no owari to hādoboirudo wandārando (1985; Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World), a fantasy that was successful with the public and was the winner of the prestigious Tanizaki Prize. One of Murakami’s most ambitious novels, Nejimaki-dori kuronikuru (1994–95; The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle), represents a departure from his usual themes: it is devoted in part to depicting Japanese militarism on the Asian continent as a nightmare. Andāguraundo (1997; Underground) is a nonfiction account of the sarin gas attack carried out by the AUM Shinrikyo religious sect on a Tokyo subway in 1995. The novel Supūtoniku no koibito (1999; Sputnik Sweetheart) probes the nature of love as it tells the story of the disappearance of Sumire, a young novelist. Subsequent novels include Umibe no Kafuka (2002; Kafka on the Shore) and Afutā dāku (2004; After Dark). Several short-story collections, including Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman (2006), translate Murakami’s stories into English. He also wrote a memoir, Hashiru koto ni tsuite kataru toki ni boku no kataru koto (2007; What I Talk About When I Talk About Running), which centers on his love for marathon running. An experienced translator of American literature, Murakami also published in Japanese editions of works by Raymond Carver, Paul Theroux, Truman Capote, Ursula K. Le Guin, and J.D. Salinger.  (Encyclopædia Britannica)

Study Questions

1. Describe the first-person narrator. Where is he located (temporally and spatially)? Who is the “you” whom he repeatedly addresses? Describe his tastes/interests, job, marriage, relation with supervisor/colleagues, mental state, eccentricities, etc. Is he a “reliable narrator”? Why does he refer to himself as a “modern-day Luddite”?

2. Describe the “TV People.” How does the narrator respond to them, and they to him? Do they actually exist?

3. How do the TV People disrupt the narrator’s normal sense of reality, eventually causing his world to crumble? Are the TV People to be read as a symbol/metaphor for something? If so, what?

4. How do the narrator’s colleagues respond to the TV People? What happens when the narrator brings up the subject of the TV People with one of his colleagues? Why this response? Is everyone “in on it,” as it were?

5. Describe “the wife.” Describe her personality, tastes, job, relation with husband, etc. Why doesn’t she say anything regarding the new TV?

6. Discuss the function/significance of the motif of the ticking clock.

7. Describe the sudden shift of mood that begins on page 210.

8. Discuss the possible causes for the wife’s absence/disappearance in the final scene. According to the TV People, what has happened to her? Why do they know? Explain the TV People representative’s comment: “It’s gone too far. She’s out there.”

9. Discuss the narrator’s dream (described on page 212) and its significance.

I dream about a meeting. I’m standing up, delivering a statement I myself don’t understand. I open my mouth and talk. If I don’t, I’m a dead man. I have to keep talking. Have to keep coming out with endless blah-blah-blah. Everyone around me is dead. Dead and turned to stone. A roomful of stone statues. A wind is blowing. The windows are all broken; gusts of air are coming in. And the TV People are here. Three of them. Like the first time. They’re carrying a Sony color TV. And on the screen are the TV People. I’m running out of words; little by little I can feel my fingertips growing stiffen. Gradually turning to stone.

What is the raw material, manifest content, and latent content of this dream? Does the narrator actually awake from the dream, as he thinks? Or is he still asleep and dreaming through the final episode? Explain.

10. Is the final episode a dream, a hallucination, or reality? What is the meaning of the “airplane” that is being built by the TV People in the TV? Why does the narrator’s hand begin to shrink in the final lines of the work?

11. Discuss the final lines. Will the phone ring, as the TV People have predicted? What is a likely conclusion to this story? Why does Murakami leave us hanging in suspense?

Further Reading

1. Michael Seats. Murakami Haruki: The Simulacrum in Contemporary Japanese Culture. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2006.
2. Japan Foundation. A Wild Haruki Chase: Reading Murakami Around the World. Berkeley, Calif.: Stone Bridge Press, 2008.
3. Matthew Strecher. “Magical Realism and the Search for Identity in the Fiction of Haruki Murakami,” Journal of Japanese Studies 25.2 (Summer 1999): 263–98.

[1] First published in Bungei shunju January 1990. It originally appeared under the longer title TVピープルの逆襲 (TV pīpuru no gyakushū, literally "The TV People Strike Back"); it received this shorter final title for all further appearances. Birnbaum's English translation originally appeared in The New Yorker September 10, 1990.

Monday, December 1, 2014







Sunday, November 30, 2014

Study Guide: Hayashi Fumiko “Late Chrysanthemum” (Bangiku; 1948)

Study Guide: Hayashi Fumiko “Late Chrysanthemum” (Bangiku; 1948)


Study Guide: Hayashi Fumiko “Late Chrysanthemum” (Bangiku; 1948)[1]

*To read the story in the original, click here.
*To purchase Lane Dunlop’s 1986 translation, click here.

Hayashi Fumiko 林芙美子 (1903-1951): Novelist whose realistic stories deal with urban working-class life. Hayashi lived an unsettled life until 1916, when she went to Onomichi, where she stayed until graduation from high school in 1922. In her lonely childhood she grew to love literature, and when she went out to work she started writing poetry and children’s stories in her spare time. Hayashi’s own experiences of hunger and humiliation appear in her first work, Hōrōki (1930; “Diary of a Vagabond,” published in English translation in Be a Woman: Hayashi Fumiko and Modern Japanese Women’s Literature), and Seihin no sho (1931; “A Life of Poverty”). Her stories of degradation and instability, depicting women who remained undaunted, commanded a strong following. Often near sentimentality, they are saved by a realistic and direct style. She reached the peak of her popularity after World War II, when such stories as Daun taun (1948; “Downtown,” published in English translation in Modern Japanese Stories: An Anthology) and Ukigumo (1949; Floating Cloud) mirrored the harsh postwar scene. Hayashi died suddenly of heart strain from overwork. (Encyclopædia Britannica) (Click here for Aozora Bunko texts.)

Study Questions

1. What type of narrator is used in this story? Where is the focalization point? Does this focalization point move?

2. Describe the style of narration. Is there more “showing” (representation) or “telling” (presentation)?

3. Describe the willful, proud, beautiful but aging, retired geisha Aizawa Kin. Discuss her appearance, personality, sexual history, work history, background/upbringing, drug use, view of men/women, financial circumstances, worldview, sense of values, line of work, taste in clothes, hopes/fears, etc. How has she changed over the years (if at all)? Is she a symbol for something?

4. Describe Kin’s much younger lover Tabé. Discuss his background, past and present circumstances, war experience, etc. What is his motivation for visiting Kin?

5. Note the literary/cultural references that appear in the work (e.g. Ise monogatari, Ihara Saikaku, etc.). What is their function/effect?

6. When/where does the story take place? Discuss the importance of this historical context.

7. Describe Kin’s frame of mind in the opening scene. How does she prepare for Tabé’s visit? What does she expect from the encounter?

8. Describe the reunion between Kin and Tabé. How does the encounter fail to meet Kin’s expectations? What “fortress” stands between them?

9. Describe the circumstances of Kin and Tabé’s relationship four years ago. How were things different then?

10. Discuss the undercurrent of violence in the story. Is there foreshadowing of the potential violence on page 102?

11. Discuss the role of the deaf maid Kinu. How does she serve as a contrast to Kinu? What qualities of Tabé does her presence bring out?

12. How do memories of Kin’s past lovers (Itaya, Yamazaki, etc.) appear in the story? How do these memories contrast with the reality of Tabé?

13. Discuss the following passage in terms of the social context of postwar period:

“You’re saying I didn’t turn out well, then?” “Yes, I am.” “That’s thanks to you, and the long war.” “Ah, that’s an excuse. Things like that are not the reason. You’ve become completely vulgar...” “So what if I'm vulgar? That's how people are.”

14. Discuss the significance of Kin’s final act (i.e. the burning of her picture of young Tabé).

15. This work has been described by prominent critic Nakamura Mitsuo as one of the ten best “naturalist” (shizenshugi) pieces of modern Japanese literature.[2] What “naturalist” qualities do you see in the text?

[1] “Bangiku” appeared first in Bungei shunjū in November 1948; it was the winner of the third Women Writers Award in 1949.
[2] See his essay “Hayashi Fumiko ron.”

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Study Guide: Tanizaki Jun’ichirō “In Praise of Shadows” (In’ei raisan; 1933)

Study Guide: Tanizaki Jun’ichirō “In Praise of Shadows” (In’ei raisan; 1933)

Study Guide: Tanizaki Jun’ichirō “In Praise of Shadows” (In’ei raisan; 1933)[1]

*To purchase Edward G. Seidensticker and Thomas J. Harper’s translation, click here.
*To read the original, click here.

Tanizaki Junichirō 谷崎潤一郎 (1886-1965): Novelist, essayist. A prolific writer whose popularity extended through the reigns of three emperors, Tanizaki is perhaps best known for Sasameyuki (1943-48, tr. The Makioka Sisters, 1957). A detailed account of an Osaka family that embraces a tradition-bound way of life, it was the first major Japanese work of the post-World War II period. Tanizaki’s other novels include a modern version of The Tale of Genji; Some Prefer Nettles (1928, tr. 1955); Quicksand (1928-30, tr. 1994); The Key (1956, tr. 1961), and Diary of a Mad Old Man (1961, tr. 1965). A witness to the Tokyo earthquake of 1923, which destroyed half the city, he moved to the Kansai region (the greater Kyoto-Osaka area), where a more traditional lifestyle still prevailed. The new environment influenced his outlook, and many of his works carry an implied condemnation of excessive interest in Western things. Tanizaki often writes of women, taking as his themes obsessive love, the destructive forces of sexuality, and the dual nature of woman as goddess and demon. His other work includes the selected short stories of Seven Japanese Tales (tr. 1963) and The Gourmet Club (tr. 2001) and the novellas The Reed Cutter (1932, tr. 1994) and Captain Shigemoto’s Mother (1949-50, tr. 1994). (Source: The Columbia Encyclopedia).

Warning: Do not read this essay as a tract on Japanese aesthetics. Tanizaki is a novelist. Novelists perform. They make up stuff. They entertain. They play roles. Here he is playing with the public persona of an old grumpy man who dislikes everything about modern civilization and complains a lot, yet does nothing about it, and constantly fails to live up to own standards. The key to the essay is in the last paragraph.

Study Questions

1. The essay consists of sixteen sections. Discuss this structure. How does it move from one subject to the next? What is the overarching theme?

2. Who is the narrator? Why does he refer to himself as an “old man” (Tanizaki himself was only in his mid-40s when he wrote this)? Is the narrator the author? How does he resemble the old man in Tanizaki’s novel Tade kuu mushi (Some Prefer Nettles; 1929)?

3. Describe the tone of the essay. Where is the narrator joking/being ironic? Where is he serious? How can you tell?

4. Among the topics Tanizaki discusses are: traditional architecture, electric lights, fans, candles, screen doors (shōji), electric stoves, gas stoves, fireplaces (danro), bathrooms, tile roofs, wood, radios, films, oil paintings, traditional lacquer (urushi), ceramics, roofs in traditional Japanese architecture, uses/value of gold, Japanese food, yōkan confectionary, walls, study bays, alcoves (toko no ma), hanging scrolls (kakejiku), flower arrangement (ikebana), traditional Japanese rooms, the importance of silence/quietude/pauses, temple architecture, priest’s robes, Noh costumes, the skin of Noh performers, Kabuki, puppet theater (bunraku), teeth blackening (o-haguro), etc. Discuss each of these and their relation to the essay’s main theme (the importance of shadows). How do they each illustrate “the magic of shadows”?

5. Discuss the narrator’s remarks on the toilets in the East. Is he being ironic? What is he parodying? Explain.

6. What value does the narrator place on dirt, grime, stains, impurity, uncleanliness, oldness, rusticity, patina, etc.? What does he mean by “elegance is filthy”? Can these remarks be read as a challenge to the discourses of “Japanese purity” that were prevalent at the time? Is his insistence on the importance/beauty of “grime” “dirt” “impurity” a challenge to cultural nationalists of day?

7. Make a list of all binaries that appear in the work (e.g. East/West, country/city, Kyoto/Tokyo, night/day, light/shadows, vulgar/elegant, etc.). Are these binaries problematized/collapsed at any point? Explain.

8. Discuss the narrator’s description of the Japanese “national character” (kokuminsei)? What examples does he give to illustrate this character? What is a “national character”? Is there such a thing? What is Japan’s/your “national character”?

9. Explain the narrator’s comments about the possibility of an alternative modernity, of a science/technology/arts “more suited to our national character.” What would this alternative look like? Is an alternative modernity possible?

10. According to the narrator, how did Japan’s process of modernization differ from that of the West?

11. Can this essay be read as a critique of the Meiji-era ethos of “civilization and enlightenment” (bunmei kaika)? What other anti-bunmei kaika works have we read? Explain.

12. How does this essay relate to the “return to Japan” (Nihon kaiki) cultural movement of the 1930s? Does it challenge/subvert this dominant discourse in any way? Explain.

13. How is China (and to a lesser extent India) described in this essay? How does the narrator view the traditional paper, jade, food, and crystals of China? Is the China he describes the China of 1933, or the China of the ancient past?

14. Explain the phrase “elegance is frigid.” How do these remarks about elegance compare with other “treatises on elegance” (fūryūron) written around the same time?

15. Explain the narrator’s view of the relationship between beauty and everyday life/material conditions/fūdo. Discuss the significance of the line: “The quality that we call beauty, however, must always grow from the realities of life” (18).[2]

16. Discuss the narrator’s description of Japanese women/female beauty. What are the defining features of the “typical woman of old” (29)? How does he recall his mother?

17. The narrator makes numerous generalizations. For example: “Such is our way of thinking—we find beauty not in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates” (30). Are such generalizations verifiable, consistent with evidence? Is it true that the West has placed less of a value on shadows (30-31)? Doesn’t Western art abound in shadows? (Think: Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Baudelaire, gothic writers, fin de siècle writers, Romantic/Symbolist poets, chiaroscuro in Renaissance painting; extreme chiaroscuro of Caravaggio, El Greco, Rembrandt; Shakespeare, etc.) Is there any validity to the narrator’s claim that East=shadows, West=light? That “We Orientals find beauty not only in the thing itself but in the pattern of the shadows, the light and darkness which that thing provides.” (31)

18. Discuss the narrator’s concept of races/skin colors and their relation to “cloudiness” and “grime” (31-32).What contemporary racial discourses are evoked in essay? Explain.

19. Discuss the connection between the narrator’s description of women as white disembodied ethereal faces wrapped in darkness, and the female characters in Tanizaki’s fiction. Is it true that women exhale/exude darkness from their orifices/bodies?

The darkness wrapped her round tenfold, twentyfold, it filled the collar, the sleeves of her kimono, the folds of her skirt, wherever a hollow invited. Further yet: might it not have been the reverse, might not the darkness have emerged from her mouth and those black teeth, from the black of her hair, like the thread from the great earth spider?

20. The narrator decries Japan as the world’s second greatest waster—second only to America—of energy/electricity (35-38). How might we read these remarks today in the wake of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake/tsunami/nuclear crisis? What might Tanizaki’s answer to the current energy crisis be? What does the narrator recommend for keeping cool in the summer?

21. In the final section, the narrator compares himself to the old griping women of England who complain about the modern age. How is he similar?

22. On page 9, the narrator states that behind shadows is a mere void, i.e. that shadows are the reality/more real that the object that casts them. In what other works of this period have we seen this idea? (Think: Tanizaki’s “Mr. Bluemound,” Kajii Motojirō’s “Ascension of K,” Hagiwara’s “Town of Cats,” etc.) Explain.

23. The last paragraph is the key to the entire essay. After reading this paragraph, what do you think the essay’s actual/implicit subject is? What are “shadows” a metaphor for?

I am aware of and most grateful for the benefits of the age. No matter what complaints we may have, Japan has chosen to follow the West, and there is nothing for her to do but move bravely ahead and leave us old ones behind. But we must be resigned to the fact that as long as our skin is the color it is the loss we have suffered cannot be remedied. I have written all this because I have thought that there might still be somewhere, possibly in literature or the arts, where something could be saved. I would call back at least for literature this world of shadows we are losing. In the mansion called literature I would have the eaves deep and the walls dark, I would push back into the shadows the things that came forward to clearly, I would strip away the useless decoration. I do not ask that this be done everywhere, but perhaps we may be allowed at least one mansion where we can turn off the electric lights and see what it is like without them.” (42).

Further Reading

1. Margherita Long. This Perversion Called Love: Reading Tanizaki, Feminist Theory, and Freud

[1] Originally published in December 1933 and Jaunary 1934 issues of Keizai ōrai . Full translation by Edward G. Seidensticker and Thomas J. Harper was published in 1977.
[2] Watsuji Tetsurō wrote Fūdo ningenteki kōsatsu from 1928-1935; its main theme: climate, in a broad sense, determines national character. Traces of work can be seen here, perhaps in parodized form.