Monday, June 30, 2014

Takahashi Gen’ichirō on Youtube! "Demon Beasts" (Kichiku 鬼畜, 2002, translated by me)

“Demon Beasts” (Kichiku 鬼畜, 2002) by Takahashi Gen’ichirō, translated by Ryan Morrison, read by Yakitome.

*Purchase my translation of the story in Volume 4 of Monkey Business! Purchase the original story here!

*For the official Beholdmyswarthyface study guide for the story, click here.

Study Guide: Furukawa Hideo’s “Now There Is Neither Purity Nor Defilement” (2012)

*To purchase the story in the original, click here; to purchase my translation of the story in the 2013 issue of Monkey Businessclick here.

Consider and answer the following as you read the story.

1. Identify the setting of each scene.

2. Make a narrative timeline of the whole story.

3. There are two narrators in the work. Their narratives are woven together and often intersect. Describe these narrators in as much detail as you can. Is either of them a self-conscious narrator? If so, identify passages that suggest an awareness of their status as narrators.

4. Go through each sentence and determine who is narrating. Are there any passages where it is not clear who the narrator is? Does a switch in narrators ever occur in mid-sentence?

5. Identify all fantastical and surrealistic elements of the work.

6. What are Mezu 馬頭 and Gozu 牛頭? What is the connection between Mezu No. 9 and the girl? Discuss the function and significance of Mezu and Gozu in the work.

7. Identify elements of both humor and pathos in the story? Do these elements harmonize together in the work?

8. Identify all references to music in the work. Discuss this motif of music and how it relates to the story as a whole. Why does the rooster taste of rock and roll? What is this business with the SONY walkman in the final section? What powers does music seem to be invested with?

9. Discuss the poetic elements (e.g. rhythm, metaphor, metonymy, repetition, ambiguity, symbolic language, etc.) in the work.

10. Discuss the aural/musical elements in the work (e.g. emotive swells, dynamics, symphony-like moments of calm followed by crescendos and climaxes, duets, songs, cries, howls, bleating, etc). Make a kind of musical score that charts this development.

11. Discuss the visual aspects of the work (colors, visual images, references to camera lenses and film techniques, etc.). What is their composite effect?

12. What techniques of rhetoric are employed in the work (e.g. digressions, indirect expression, ambiguity, non sequiturs, etc.)? Indentify and explain the relevant passages. What is the composite effect of these elements?

14.  What is the connection between the goat and the girl?

15. Having now read and listened to the entire work several times, what do you consider the theme(s) of the work to be? Explain.

16. Identify and discuss the Buddhist imagery/references in the work. How do these relate to the overarching theme(s) of the work?

17. Discuss the significance of the following passage, particularly with reference to these notions of diary consumption and resurrection:

The diaries you are chewing on are the diaries I am now supplementing. It’s just that for each diary your stomach decomposes, you race further toward the resurrection. With each notebook that your stomach breaks down—wait, resurrection? Isn’t this a garbled metaphor? I don’t even know. All I can say is that with each notebook your stomach digests you roundly embody another aspect of the universe. I could probably replace “roundly embody” with “master a posteriori.” “Make flesh and blood” might work too. For this is why I write
Why I wrote then
Why I am writing now
With this little hand
Little hand that is not even ten
With these little fingers   and a big pen

18. Discuss the significance of the following passage. Is this episode to be read as an allegory?

—Sever it! you crooned.
You instruct this goat in purgatory to sever the cycle now.
For this is the main theme.
—You must stop devouring these telegrams, these tidings and these telegrams!
The theme evolves.
—Here, chew on this instead. As a surrogate!
What exactly did you hand over? Though a matter purely of song lyrics, what? The this that you sang was that. You know what. And it is now time for you to hand it over. Hand over that. You will extend your hand and . . . I shall hand over this. You are now fully mindful. The scene is now devoid of all mindlessness. You will presently offer him your hell diary, as surrogate edible paper. I will offer him my hell diary, as surrogate. That’s right, I’m the one doing the thinking now. The so-called hell diary that belonged to Number Nine. You follow? Mezu Number Nine was me, you see. And the Mothers was my affiliation. I was the hell warden who kept a diary of what happened . . .[1]
I hand over the diary.

19. Consider this motif of “burning/incinerating memories.” How does it relate to (1) the episode with the goat, (2) to the atomic bombing at the end, (3) to the Vietnam War dream, (4) to Buddhist references and notions of transmigration (rinne), etc.?

[1] Gokusotsu (Skt: bandhana-palaka) are wardens in hell who torture the damned and feed on their flesh. They are often depicted with heads of beasts and semi-human bodies.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

19 Homework Questions for Furukawa Hideo’s “Now There Is Neither Purity Nor Defilement” (2012)

Or, in PDF format...

Haruo Shirane lecture at Metropolitan Museum: Japan and the Culture of the Four Seasons: Nature, Literature, and the Arts

Part of a Sunday at the Met held in conjunction with the exhibition Designing Nature: The Rinpa Aesthetic in Japanese Art, on view May 26, 2012–January 13, 2013, this lecture features Haruo Shirane, the Shincho Professor of Japanese Literature and Culture, Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at Columbia University. Recorded September 30, 2012. Originally posted here.

Yukio Lippit and Mogi Ken'ichirō on the 2012 Itō Jakuchū (1716-1800) exhibit at the National Gallery in Washington DC

Friday, June 27, 2014

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Study Guide for Kajii Motojirō’s (1901-1932) “Lemon” (1925) and “The Ascension of K—or His Death By Drowning” (1927)


*To purchase William Tyler's English translations of the two stories, click here.

Terms/Cultural Particularities/Etc.

Review the following. Add to the list as you see fit.

1. 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. Jekyll 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)

2. The Fantastic: According to Tzvetan Todorov (1939- ), “the fantastic” is a distinct genre characterized by a “hesitation” either on the part of the reader in deciding whether to interpret the events of the story as real or unreal, natural or supernatural, or a similar hesitation evident in any of the characters.[1] Todorov explains:

In a world which is indeed our world, the one we know, a world without devils, sylphides, or vampires, there occurs an event which cannot be explained by the laws of this same familiar world. The person who experiences the event must opt for one of two possible solutions: either he is the victim of an illusion of the senses, of a product of the imagination – and the laws of the world then remain what they are; or else the event has indeed taken place, it is an integral part of reality – but then this reality is controlled by laws unknown to us […] The fantastic occupies the duration of this uncertainty. Once we choose one answer or the other, we leave the fantastic for a neighboring genre, the uncanny or the marvelous. (Todorov, 25, emphasis mine)

According to Todorov, “the fantastic requires the fulfillment of three conditions”:

First, the text must oblige the reader to consider the world of the characters as a world of living persons and to hesitate between a natural or supernatural explanation of the events described. Second, this hesitation may also be experienced by a character; thus the reader’s role is so to speak entrusted to a character, and at the same time the hesitation is represented, it becomes one of the themes of the work -- in the case of naive reading, the actual reader identifies himself with the character. Third, the reader must adopt a certain attitude with regard to the text: he will reject allegorical as well as “poetic” interpretations. (Todorov, 33, emphasis mine)

Todorov’s third conditionthat the reader must “reject allegorical as well as poetic interpretations”is the most problematic of the three. After all, what literary text can be read only in a literal sense? Aren’t all literary texts at least open to the possibility of a “poetic reading,” i.e. of being read metaphorically or allegorically? Does this openness really disqualify the work from being an instance of the fantastic? Christine Brooke-Rose and others have challenged this claim, arguing that the fantastic and allegorical/poetic modes of reading are not mutually exclusive.
Todorov divides the fantastic into two kinds: (1) those in which the hesitation is between real and illusory, and (2) those in which the hesitation is between real and imaginary. In the first instance, the reader (or character) is certain that the described events have taken place, yet uncertain as to how to explain them; in short, the usual laws of nature do not apply. In the second instance, the reader (or character) is not sure whether the described events have actually taken place or whether they were simply the product of the character’s imagination, hallucination, dream, madness, drug-induced vision, etc.
Todorov’s positions his genre of the fantastic between two related genres: the uncanny and the marvelous. The uncanny is (according to Todorov) a genre in which the strange elements of the work are ultimately shown to be explainable in natural terms; that is, our usual laws of nature need not be adjusted to explain the strange events, which can be explained as being the product of the narrator’s imagination or illness. The marvelous is a genre in which the strange elements are ultimately explained in supernatural terms; that is, the reader (or character) ascribes the event to laws of nature that are different from our own.
Todorov explains that the genre of “the fantastic” forever vacillates between these two alternative genres of the uncanny and the marvelous, never committing itself to either. It is precisely this hesitation that is suspended throughout Kajii’s “The Ascension of K”—for in the end the question of how to explain K’s strange behavior and death is left unresolved. Is the narrator’s account to be believed?
I should also note that while Todorov holds that the fantastic consists of a distinct genre in its own right that is marked by a certain vacillation, hesitation, or ambiguity on a structural level, Rosemary Jackson and others have challenged this claim by arguing that the fantastic is a literary mode that can appear in a variety of genres, rather than a distinct genre as such.[2]

3. Icarus: Son of Daedalus in Greek mythology; attempted to escape from Crete with the wax-and-feather wings his father made for him, but drowned after flying too close to the sun.

4. Edmond Rostand’s play Cyrano de Bergerac (1897): In the play, the character Cyrano escapes to the moon.

5. Kaguya-hime of Taketori monogatari: echoes of this tenth-century story are present in Kajii’s story; the “bamboo girl” Kaguya-hime returns to the moon at end of story.

Study Questions

In bullet-point form, answer four questions for each story. Bring your answers to class, and add to them as you discuss your answers with your group.

Lemon” (1925)

1. Identify and describe the sensory experiences depicted in the work. Which of the five senses (touch, sight, sound, taste, smell) is the narrator most sensitive to? How do these sensory depictions relate to the main theme of the work?

2. What relation between imagination and reality is implied in the first half of the work?

3. Describe the narrator’s aesthetic sensibilities. Where does he find beauty? What pleases him? What displeases him?

4. How has the narrator’s attitude toward the Maruzen bookstore changed? What is to account for this change?

5. Describe the narrator’s attitude toward his illness (tuberculosis). At the time the work was written, what sort of people and lifestyle was this illness associated with?

6. Discuss the lemon as symbol. Explain the effect the lemon has on the narrator, and the reasons for this effect. How does the lemon alter his attitude toward the world, himself, his illness, the lump in his throat, the Maruzen bookstore, etc? Why does it have this effect?

7. Discuss the narrator’s view of the relationship between art and everyday reality. Is this view an inversion or reversal of the usual view? Explain.

8. Why does the narrator pile the books into an imaginary castle and place a lemon atop the stack as if it were a bomb? What is the symbolic significance of this act? Also, discuss the significance of the last sentence.

TheAscension of K” (1927)

1. Describe the setting.

2. Describe the narrative structure of the work.

3. Identify the elements of “the fantastic” found in the work (i.e. elements that cause a certain “hesitation” in the reader or character; see above for a description of “the fantastic”). Explain how these elements cause such a hesitation.

4. Explain how the Doppelgänger motif appears in the work. Explain its significance and function.

5. How does K prepare for his own death? How are his actions a preparation for what happens in the final scene?

6. Explain the similarities and differences between Icarus’s flight to the sun and K’s ascension to the moon.

7. Describe K’s view of the relationship between light and shadows, reality and dreams. What do shadows represent for him?

8. Identify the circular imagery/motifs/descriptions in the work. Explain the significance and overall effect of all these circles, repetitions, ebbs and flows, images of roundness, etc.

9. Discuss K’s “ascension to the moon” as described by the narrator at the end of the story. Are we to believe his account of what happened to his friend K?

[1] See Todorov’s The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre (1973). For more on the fantastic, see Fantastic Literature, A Critical Reader by David Sandner and Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) by John Clute. For a broad-ranging overview of the fantastic in modern Japanese literature, see Susan Napier’s excellent study The Fantastic in Modern Japanese Literature: The Subversion of Modernity (1996).
[2] See, for example, Jackson’s Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion.

Study Guide for Kajii Motojirō’s “Lemon” (1925) and “The Ascension of K—or His Death By Drowning” (1927)

Or, in PDF format...
Kajii Motojiro Study Guide

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Study Guide: Akutagawa Ryūnosuke's “The Life of a Stupid Man” (1927; Aru ahō no isshō) and “Spinning Wheels” (1927; Haguruma)


*To purchase the J. Rubin's English translations of these two stories, click here.

Terms/References/Key Concepts

1. Flâneur : “The name given to a crucial figure of modernism as it emerged in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. As understood by Baudelaire, the flâneur or stroller was one of the heroes of modern life. A flâneur was held to be an urban, contemporary and stylish person who walked the anonymous spaces of the modern city. Here he experienced the complexity, disturbances and confusions of the streets with their shops, displays, images and variety of people. This perspective emphasizes the urban character of modernism. The flâneur took in the fleeting beauty and vivid, if transitory, impressions of the crowds, seeing everything anew in its immediacy yet achieving a certain detachment from it. The idea of the flâneur directs our attention towards the way in which the urban landscape has become aestheticized through architecture, billboards, shop displays, street signs etc., and through the fashionable clothing, hairstyles, make-up etc. of the people who inhabit this world.
[...] The adventures of the flâneur [...] were one of male-coded public spaces from which women were excluded (for example, the boulevards and cafes) or entered only as objects for male consumption. Thus, the flâneur’s gaze was frequently erotic, and women were the objects of that gaze.” (Barker, The SAGE Dictionary of Cultural Studies, 70).

2. Eros: “1. Term used by Sigmund Freud as a poetic metaphor to personify the life-force and sexual instinct. 2. In later psychoanalytic theory, the drive that comprises the instinct for self-preservation, that aims for individual survival; containing also the sexual instinct, whose goal is the survival of the species. Named for the Greek god of sexual love (responsible for permitting and harmonizing life, secret lover of Psyche). Also known as life instinct. (Corsini, The Dictionary of Psychology, 339).

3. Thanatos: “1. According to the Freudian view, thanatos is the basic death instinct that functions in opposition to the life instinct. 2. The Greek God of death, which in psychoanalytic theory becomes the name of a purported “death instinct” inherent in all organic matter and that is somehow more basic than its opposing instinct ‘eros’ the life instinct.” Ahmad, Comprehensive Dictionary of Education, 510).

Study Questions

Consider all of the following questions as you read. For your homework, answer three questions for each story.

Spinning Wheels” (1927)

1. Describe the narrative structure of the work.

2. List and discuss the recurring images in the work.

3. Give a brief description/diagnosis of the narrator’s psychological condition.

4. List and explain each of the allusions, symbols, metaphors, associations, foreshadowings, etc. that are related to death.

5. List and describe the various images and associations related to flight.

6. Analyze the passages related to fire, desire, hell, the devil, sexuality, eros, spirit possession, etc.

7. List and describe the many doppelgangers, “second selves,” self-reflections, etc. that the narrator encounters in the work.

8. Explain how this work relates to the literary topos of the “the flâneur” (see above).

9. Explain the motif of vengeance, sin, female wrath, the Furies, etc. that runs through the work.

10. Explain the significance of the faraway “pine forest” that is alluded to several times in the text. What does this pine forest represent?

11. Many images/colors/sensations/words appear in the work in a certain context, only to appear again in a different context. Identify some of these images/elements, and explain how their meanings shift according to their context. Include in your answer a discussion of the significance of the eponymous image of the “spinning wheels.”

The Life of a Fool” (1927)

1. Explain the “point” (i.e. the symbolic significance within the context of the narrative) of each episode.

2. Where is the narrator (both spatially and temporally)? Describe the narrative voice, and its relation to the events/characters it describes.

3. Although the narrative is very poetic and fragmentary—indeed its structure seems to foreclose any attempt by the reader to extract/construct a “story”—try to piece together the events of the narrative as if it were a “regular novel,” and give me a summary of that novel.

4. Examine the relation between the death-related images and life-related images that appear in the work. Consider the complex relationship between Eros (the drive toward life) and Thanatos (the drive toward death, both personal and general) suggested in the work.

5. Examine the references to Western culture/civilization that appear in the work. Explain the function/significance of each.

6. Discuss the work’s autobiographical elements. How does the work relate to the genres of I-novel/autobiography? Why do you think Akutagawa—who had made a name for himself as an “aestheticist” or tanbiha (i.e. anti-shishōsetsu) writer—suddenly turned to his own personal life for literary material?

7. Examine the images and motifs related to madness. What does the narrator mean when he says that the protagonist is “possessed by the demon of the fin de siècle”?

8. Discuss the various women (the protagonist’s wife, his mother, the madwoman, the “moon woman,” the “Hokuriku woman,” the woman whose face resembles the sun, etc.) in the story. Describe their relation to the protagonist.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Study Guide for Sakaguchi Ango’s “In the Forest, Under Cherries in Full Bloom” (1949)

Study Guide: Sakaguchi Ango’s “In the Forest, Under Cherries in Full Bloom” (1949)


Study Guide: Sakaguchi Ango’s “In the Forest, Under Cherries in Full Bloom”[1]

*Sakaguchi Ango 坂口安吾 (1906-1955): Novelist. Born in Niigata, Sakaguchi was one of a group of young Japanese writers to rise to prominence in the years immediately following Japan’s defeat in World War Two. In 1946 he wrote his most famous essay, titled “Darakuron” (“On Decadence”), which examined the role of bushidō during the war. Click here for Aozora Bunko texts.

Study Questions

1. Identify the narrator/point of view. Where is the narrator? In what era is he located? What is his style of narrative? Does he use more “showing” (representation) or “telling” (presentation)? What is his attitude toward the events his is describing?

2. The narrator begins his story by explaining the different attitudes toward cherry blossoms, past and present. Explain these differences.

3. Describe the male protagonist of the story. Describe his occupation, personality, circumstances, intellectual capacity, motivations/desires, etc.

4. Describe the beautiful woman he kidnaps and makes his eighth wife. Describe her personality, looks, worldview/ethics, proclivities/fancies, behavior, motivations/desires, background circumstances, attitude toward husband, etc. How is she different from the other seven wives?

5. Why is the sensation felt by the narrator when standing under the cherry blossoms in full bloom identical to the sensation when in the presence of his eighth wife? Explain.

6. What demands does the woman make to her new husband? Identify and describe each of them.

7. Discuss the power relationship between the man and woman. Who’s “on top”?

8. Describe their life after moving to the capital. How does the man adjust to his life in the city? Does he like it? How do the other city dwellers regard/treat him?

9. Describe the wife’s head-collecting hobby. How does she acquire the decapitated heads? What does she do with them once she has them? Explain.

10. Discuss the imagery/symbolism in this passage:

But the woman’s desire was endless, and so now he was bored with that, too. Her desire was like a bird flying straight across the sky with no end in sight: flying on and on without a rest, never tiring, slicing cleanly through the wind.
The man himself was but an ordinary bird—perhaps an owl that hopped from branch to branch, stopping to doze now and then, maybe crossing a valley if it had to. Physically, he was quick and athletic. He moved well, he walked well, with great vitality. But his heard was a lumbering bird. Flying in an infinite straight line was out of the question for him.
From the mountain-top he watched the sky of the capital. A single bird was flying in a straight line across the sky, this sky that changed from day to night, from night to day, in an endless cycle of light and darkness. At the edges of the sky was nothing, just the infinite repetition of light and darkness, but infinitude was something the man found impossible to comprehend. When he thought about the next day and the next day and the next, and the infinite repetition of light and darkness, it felt as if his head would split in two—not from the effect but the pain of thinking.

11. Why does the bandit come to the decision that he must “bring down the sky” and kill his wife?

12. Explain the significance of this passage.

Is she me? he wondered. Was I the bird that flew straight across the sky with no end? If I kill her, will I be killing myself?

13. What happens the day they return to the mountains? What is strange/unnatural about the scene they encounter?

14. Describe the atmosphere under the cherry blossoms in the final scene. What happens to the woman? Why is the man now able to sit under the cherry forest in full bloom without a feeling of dread/loneliness?

15. What symbols can you find in the work? Explain their significance

16. Why do the two characters disappear in the final scene? Explain.

[1] Sakura no mori no mankai no shita (1949). Translated by Jay Rubin.

Study Guide for Ishikawa Jun's "On the Thought Pattern of the People of Edo" (1943)