You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘modern’ tag.

image © Gary Kelley

I ran across this image by the talented artist Gary Kelley, and could not help but recall Abe Kobo‘s 1951 short story, “The Magic Chalk” (魔法のチョーク). In this early Abe gem, a starving artist named Argon sells off most of his possessions for food and is left with a piece of chalk. The significance of the ‘starving artist’ figure is debatable, because in 1951 most people in Japan were starving–the artist here is the everyman in this regard. The significance of Argon is far more apparent: it is a noble gas (希ガス) that takes its name from the Greek for “lazy” (hence used commonly as an inert gas), and despite being a “rare gas” in Japanese, I understand it is the most common of the noble gasses. So there you go–Argon the Idle. Nevertheless, this artist possesses a chalk that brings pictures to life. Food, money, a bed, a beautiful landscape, a beautiful–but troublingly modern–woman. In this respect, Mr. Kelley and Mr. Abe seem to be…ahem…drawing on a similar thought. But just as Abe’s story explores the eternal theme of art’s creative power–the power to create a new world, it also highlights a contemporaneous need for a regenerative force to help Japan through the post-war period.

The short story has been translated as is available, yet again, in The Showa Anthology: Modern Japanese Short Stories (Japan’s Modern Writers) (Bks.1 & 2)

Advertisements

http://www.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,1905385_1898654,00.html

The above is the link to a photoessay from TIME magazine about Japan at the height of its bubble economy in 1989, and the later downfall, sometimes referred to as the Heisei Malaise. To tell the truth it is rather weak, but a worthwhile study in how to tell a story using pictures that don’t necessarily fit the narrative. Case in point picture 10. A tired man in a suit. This one is equally at home in the 1980s as in the 2000s. But note how the caption transforms the viewing and interpretation of the–mostly unremarkable–images. It is the photo-journalistic equivalent of buffalax.

Hope THIS GUY didn’t steal anybody’s name…

See the Murakami Haruki short story published in the New Yorker, and available in a collection of short stories, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman.

Kojima Nobuo (小島信夫) wrote the short story “American School” (アメリカンスクール) the same year as “Stars” (星). The similarities in tone and approach are readily noticeable. Although written in 1954, the story is set in 1948 in the midst of the US occupation of Japan. It centers on a visit of a group of Japanese teachers of English to a school run by the Occupation forces, hence the title.

The characters are archetypes and the lampooning of the contemporaneous social realities is representative of Kojima’s satiric approach. Personal relationships between the characters drive the story, the majority of which centers on a group march to the American school. Isa, a cowardly fellow who is scared to death of speaking English—yes he is an English teacher—wants only to be left alone. Yamada, a sycophant to authority and overweening jackass to everyone else, is above all an opportunist (there is a similar character in “Stars”). Yamada sees Isa as a non-hacker and desires to publicly humiliate him. Isa, in turn, despises Yamada. Michiko, the only woman in the group and very popular with the Occupation forces, sticks close to Isa, for a variety of reasons. The most apparent reason is that he has something she wants.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Sea and Poison 海と毒薬 (1958, serialized in 1957)

Endō Shūsaku – 遠藤周作

Translated by Michael Gallagher

There are two types of sins, we are often told—the sins of commission and the sins of omission. The former are the committed through immoral actions, the latter through the failure to exercise moral actions. The former is simple enough; if you murder someone you are guilty by your action. The latter is more subtle; what if you did nothing to stop the murder? Edmund Burke once said something about “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” He might have liked this book.

Read the rest of this entry »

Kojima Nobuo’s (小島信夫) 1954 short story “Stars” (星) is first of all a humorous read. On the surface its wit expertly pillories the system of rank in the Japanese military during WWII. Like most good humor, however, this story functions on more than one level. The protagonist, a second-generation Japanese-American by the name of George Sugihara, is unfortunate enough to be visiting his grandfather in Japan during the war, and is drafted into the army. The story follows the insecure George (Jōji), who is routinely disparaged for being American, on his journey from buck private to PFC. [Note that there were more than a few cases of Japanese-Americans being drafted in the Japanese army during WWII, see Iwao Peter Sano’s 1,000 Days in Siberia.]

The story quickly becomes a theatre of the absurd. Read the rest of this entry »

羊をめぐる冒険[1] by 村上春樹

A Wild Sheep Chase by Murakami Haruki

Essay by Michael Ignatov

A Wild Sheep Chase (1982) deals primarily with time, and specifically the past, as its central concern. Many of the other constituents of the thematic web of this novel are either subsumed in or directly related to the problem of the past.

The past must be understood as a place where time stands still—a frozen moment of time that can be accessed through the cottage in Hokkaido’s frozen landscape. Here time grinds to a halt (238-9), and it is here that Boku learns the dangers of letting himself be consumed by the past—by living in the past one fails to live presently. Murakami takes up this idea again a decade later in South of the Border, West of the Sun.

Read the rest of this entry »