Saturday, May 24, 2014

Study Guide for Tanizaki Jun'ichirō “The Secret” (Himitsu, 1911; translated by A. Chambers)

Study Guide for Tanizaki Jun'ichirō “The Secret” (Himitsu, 1911)

“Desire thus does not seek satisfaction; rather, it pursues its own continuation and furtherance—it merely seeks to go on desiring.” -Bruce Fink, A Clinical Introduction to Lacanian Psychoanalysis: Theory and Technique, 51.

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I. Terms/Places/Particularities of Culture

1. Literary Aestheticism (tanbi-ha 耽美派): The notion of “art for art’s sake” (l’art pour l’art). A sensibility or philosophy that regards the creation of aesthetic pleasure as the ultimate or proper aim of art. This sensibility/philosophy privileges a non-mimetic, reality-transforming conception of art. In Japan, Tanizaki, Akutagawa, Satō Haruo, Kajii Motojirō, Nagai Kafū, and Edogawa Rampo are most commonly associated with the “movement.” Tanbi-ha writers often trace their influences to fin-de-siècle western literature (e.g. Baudelaire, French Symbolism, Edgar Allen Poe, gothic/late-romantic novels, etc.) that emphasizes the erotic, the exotic, the strange, and the forbidden. Tanbi-ha is sometimes referred to as “diabolism” or akumashugi 悪魔主義.

2. The Asakusa Twelve Story Tower (Ryōunkaku 凌雲閣, or Cloud-Surpassing Pavilion): Japan’s first western-style skyscraper. A large, brick structure that was a major symbol for Asakusa until its collapse in the 1923 earthquake.

3. Asakusa: Center of the old shitamachi (downtown), and the major entertainment district of Edo/Tokyo until the first half of the twentieth century. The area is also known for its various Buddhist temples, the most famous of which is the Sensōji, which is dedicated to the bodhisattva Kannon.

4. Thunder Gate (Kaminari mon): The first of two large torii-style gates leading to the Sensōji in Asakusa. First built in the seventh century, it has long since been the symbol of Asakusa. The rokku or “Sixth District” was famous for its theaters and cinemas.

5. [Add to this list as you read…]

Study Questions

Answer all of the following questions. Each answer should be at least one full paragraph.

1. Describe in detail the tastes, proclivities, desires, and personality traits of the narrator-protagonist. What is he drawn toward? What is he ultimately seeking?

2. Review the above definition of the Aesthetic Movement (tanbi-ha 耽美派). What “aestheticist” qualities do you perceive in this work?

3. Describe the place/neighborhood where the narrator lives. What sort of possessions are scattered about his room? What does this environment that he has chosen/created for himself tell us about him?

4. What does the narrator do every night at nine o’clock? What was his initial motivation for dressing as a woman?

5. The prevailing ethos of the Meiji period was one that stressed and valued lights, brightness, “civilization and enlightenment” (bunmei kaika), science, rationality, fixed gender roles, etc. How might this work—which emphasizes and affirms an opposite set of values—be seen as a challenge to this?

6. Describe the woman. Does she fit into any of Tanizaki’s usual female types?

7. Why does the narrator’s interest in his nightly cross-dressing routine disappear after his unexpected reunion with this woman from his past?

8. Describe the narrator’s perception of the woman and her room during the affair. How does this perception change in the final scene?

9. If Watashi so enjoys the dream world that they have created, why does he try to discover the exact location of her house? In other words, why is he willing to risk puncturing/terminating this dream?

10. Explain why he stops seeing her. What is the work trying to tell us about the nature of [male] desire?

11. Consider the final line of the story: “The satisfactions to be gained from ‘secrets’ were now too bland and pallid for me. I intended to seek more vivid, gory pleasures.” Write a brief summary of a possible sequel to this story.

12. Describe how the work borrows elements from the detective novel, and how Tanizaki appropriates the technique of “ratiocination” which is common in detective novels.

Relevant Terms

1. Ratiocination: (from Latin for “a calculating or thinking”) logical reasoning in steps that argue from induction, deduction, cause-and-effect, definition, comparison, or testimony. The term was first adapted from logic to literature by Coleridge (Literaria Biographia) who referred to the range “of eloquence from the ratiocinative to the declamatory.” (Diction of Poetic Terms, J.E. Myers, et. al., 300)

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