Monday, May 19, 2014

Study Guide: Takahashi Gen'ichirō 高橋 源一郎: "Goodbye Christopher Robin" (さよならクリストファー・ロビン;初出 2009)

Readings in Modern Japanese Fiction

Study Guide
Takahashi Gen’ichirō: “Goodbye, Christopher Robin” (2009)[1]

Takahashi Gen’ichirō 高橋源一郎 (1951) was born in Hiroshima. He graduated from a nationally famous prep school and landed a place in Yokohama National University, but his involvement in the student movement led to his withdrawal. He worked in construction for about ten years, during which time he suffered from a kind of aphasia, and it was as a form of rehabilitation that he eventually tried his hand at fiction. In 1981 his debut work, Sayonara gyangu-tachi (Goodbye, Gangsters), received an honorable mention for the Gunzo New Writer Prize for Novel-Length Fiction. In 1988 he won the Mishima Yukio Prize for his novel Yuga de kansho-teki na Nihon yakyu (Japanese Baseball: Elegant and Sentimental). Drawing on material from literature both Eastern and Western as well as from manga and pornography, and displaying a penchant for both parody and pastiche, he has continued to be one of Japan’s leading postmodernists. The novel Nihon bungaku seisuishi (The Rise and Fall of Japanese Literature), based on the struggles of literary giants in the period when modern Japanese literature first took shape, garnered the Ito Sei Prize in 2002; and his collection of stories Sayonora Kurisutofa Robin (Goodbye, Christopher Robin) took the Tanizaki Jun’ichiro Prize in 2012. He is also known as a writer of incisive essays on current events, and as a commentator on horse racing. (Source: J-Lit: Books from Japan)

Study Questions

1. Identify the narrator(s).
2. Identify/describe each fictional character (old fisherman, wolf, young girl, etc.) and the story he/she is generally associated with; then summarize what happens to him/her.
3. What is the “rumor” referred to on page two?
4. Summarize the episodes involving the astronomer, the physicist, the music lover, the neuroscientist, the head nurse, etc. How do they relate to the main story and its events/themes? Explain the various ways in which the universe is shrinking/disappearing, and the reasons for its shrinking.
5. What are the “two worlds” in the story; how are they related?
6. What is “the nothingness”? What causes it? What can stop it?
7. What is the event that occurred in the other world (referred to as “it” on pages 6-7)?  How does this event affect the characters of “this world”? Summarize the testimonies of those who experienced/witnessed this event.
8. How do the characters resolve to combat the encroaching “nothingness”? What do Winnie-the-Pooh and the others do in order to stay alive?
9. What is the “one last story” that Pooh writes? Might it be the story we are reading?

Further Discussion Questions

10. Is this story an allegory? If so, what represents what (e.g. nothingness= x; shrinking world= y; etc.)?
11. Is our world today—that is, is the social/symbolic order—shrinking? In other words, is the importance of symbols, metaphors, narratives, stories, and so forth diminishing in the modern/contemporary world? If so, what are the likely consequences of this?
12. How does this work challenge the typical worldview of the existentialists? Can this work be read as a critique of existentialism?

Literary Terms/Cultural References

1. Urashima Tarō 浦島太郎: “Legendary character, originating in the Nihon shoki, who was said to have married the female kami of water, Oto-hime, in 478. He saved Oto-hime when she was resting on a beach in the form of a turtle. Transforming herself into a ravishing young woman, she took him to her father's underwater palace, where she married him. After three years of happiness, he wanted to return to land. Oto-hime let him go, but gave him a box containing the years of his life. When he returned home, Urashima Tarō could not keep himself from opening the box. His years quickly fled, and he died instantly of old age. In some versions of this tale, Urashima Tarō is called Shima no Ko or Urashima no Ko. It is a Japanese version of Rip van Winkle, and its adventures were the subject of a Noh play called Urashima and many otogi-zōshi tales.” (Louis-Frederic Japan Encyclopedia 1016).

2. Allegory: an extended metaphor; allegories are comprised of structural (rather than textual) symbolism. In an allegory the characters/action/events/scenery corresponds more or less directly to certain spiritual/political/psychological struggles.

[1] The original story was published in December 2009; a translation is forthcoming.

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