Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Post about the novel in Austria expanded!

I have rewritten and expanded my post about the novel in Austria. I have now also included genre novels, such as thrillers, horror and fantasy, as well as popular writers.

The 21 novelists now included are: Stifter, Sacher-Masoch, Kubin, Rilke, Meyrink, Perutz, Schnitzler, Musil, Broch, Roth, Baum, Lernet-Holenia, Canetti, Zweig, Handke, Bachmann, Jelinek, Bernhard, Haas, Kehlmann and Beer.

Check it out at https://adblankestijn.blogspot.com/2016/12/best-european-novels-1-austria.html.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Tanizaki by Year (1): 1910-1916 - Diabolism

Tanizaki by Year (1): 1910-1916

Tanizaki Junichiro (1886-1965) was a literary genius and brilliant stylist, who wove complex plots, created lifelike characters and commanded an exceptional wide range of expressive prose styles. His mastery of the essential elements of fiction was so complete that he should be ranked as one of the finest of all the world's great storytellers. (Lewell, p. 399)

Tanizaki was born in Tokyo on July 24 1886 into an old "Edokko" merchant family. His father was an unsuccessful businessman who failed in almost every enterprise he undertook. His mother was known as a beauty in her girlhood and was to figure prominently in Tanizaki's many published reminiscences; she inspired his ideals of Japanese womanhood. At school, Tanizaki was a precocious pupil, who at age twelve discussed Kant and Schopenhauer with a friend. He also read widely, from the Chinese to the Japanese classics, and (later) such Western authors as Poe and Wilde. Visits to the Kabuki theater with his mother also left a lasting impression on Tanizaki. His earliest writings consist of poems in classical Chinese on historical subjects. In 1902 he wrote an essay about moral and aesthetic concepts in which he invoked the names of Dante, Carlyle and Shakespeare. The next year he wrote his first story, which recalls not only Koda Rohan and Ozaki Koyo, but also Higuchi Ichiyo. Despite the ornate language, the story is a moving account of how his father tried to dissuade him from continuing his education. From 1902 to 1907, Tanizaki worked as a "shosei"  (houseboy and tutor) in the family of a restaurant proprietor - until he was expelled because of a love letter he wrote to one of the maids (something Tanizaki didn't mind at all, for he hated this servile position). From 1908, Tanizaki studied classical Japanese literature at Tokyo Imperial University, but did not graduate. He neglected his classes and led a rather wild life. In the eyes of his economically struggling family he must have seemed an unfilial son. In 1909, while recuperating from nervous exhaustion in the house of a friend, he started writing for publication, and in 1911 he left the university to become a full-time writer.

This was the height of the popularity of Japanese-style Naturalism, but Tanizaki was more concerned with structural form and the beauty of artistic expression than hanging out the dirty laundry of his own life, in contrast to writers of the Naturalistic I-novel. He also left out philosophical and social problems which set him apart from canonical authors as Natsume Soseki and Mori Ogai. He choose to write pure fiction, in which his great example was Izumi Kyoka. He was even more inspired by Nagai Kafu - as he wrote in an essay late in life (Setsugoan yawa), what connected him with Kafu was their shared attitude of "art above all."

Tanizaki and like-minded writers in the Taisho-period were called "Tanbi-ha" or Aesthetic School. Other important writers of this group were Nagai Kafu, Akutagawa Ryunosuke, Sato Haruo, Muro Saisei and Satomi Ton (to be followed in the Showa period by the somewhat similar Shinkankaku-ha of Kawabata Yasunari and Yokomitsu Riichi). They originally published in three coterie magazines: Subaru, Mita Bungaku and Shinshicho. Western models were Poe and Baudelaire. The literary club in downtown Tokyo where they met was called "Pan no Kai." Bored with the narrow scope and dull language of the naturalistic I-novel, they tried to express the consciousness of modern urbanites in an aesthetically satisfying manner.

1910 (Meiji 43; age 24)
Tanizaki's historical one-act play, "Tanjo" (Birth) is published in Shinshicho in September. It is a bit of historical pedantry, about the birth of the future Emperor Go-Ichijo, with a wild atmosphere of chanting priests and possessed mediums. In October, another one-act play, "Zo" (The Elephant) appears in the same magazine. In November "Shisei" (Tattoo) is published in Shinshicho, and in December "Kirin" (The Kylin). "Shinshicho" (New Thought Tides) was a short-lived (6 editions) Tokyo University literary magazine. Tanizaki was one of the founders and his association with the magazine put him in contact with important literary figures. In November he joined the first meeting of the anti-Naturalist Pan no Kai (The Devotees of Pan), where he made the acquaintance of Nagai Kafu.

"Shisei" (Tattoo / The Tattooer; November, in Shinshicho)
[tr. Howard Hibbett, in Seven Japanese Tales]
Tanizaki's maiden work is an assured masterwork. Set in the Tokugawa period (which gave Tanizaki greater scope for his imagination), this breakthrough story tells how a tattooer becomes enslaved by a beautiful young woman whom he selected to be the victim of his painful skill by inscribing a giant spider on her body.

The tattooer, Seikichi, finds a secret, sadistic pleasure in piercing the skin of his customers with his needles when inscribing his voluptuous designs on their skin. His dream is to find a beautiful woman and to inscribe his masterwork, a tattoo imbued with his own cruel spirit, on her back. Seikichi meets his ideal woman by spotting a bare, delicate foot peeping from beneath a palanquin curtain, a foot to "step on men." This young woman visits him four years later in his workshop on an errand from a nearby geisha. By showing her two picture scrolls of women watching men being tortured, Seikichi makes sure that she indeed has a cruel streak in her innermost self. The artist tattoos a giant vermilion spider on the white canvas of the girl's back. Through his colors, the tattooer's spirit flows into her body and he feels quite empty. As the girl stands up, the tattooed spider seems to writhe threateningly with her body's movements. When she takes the extremely painful color-intensifying bath, she chases Seikichi away, not wanting a man to see her suffer. In the end Seikichi gazes with awe and admiration on the transformed girl whose beauty has taken on a demonic, compelling power, in which eroticism is combined with sadomasochism. She becomes the "femme fatale" he has always dreamed about, and as she tells him: he is her first victim.

The epitome of Tanizaki's world is revealed in the bud in this early masterwork: the author's indulgence in sensual romanticism, a single-minded dedication to art, a taste for the grotesque, and admiration for ravishing, domineering women - these are all themes repeated in Tanizaki's works. This perfect story marked the birth of a new romantic literature in the form of modern decadence, by fusing "Edo taste" with Western Modernism, and was in fact a prime attack on Naturalist literature. It was also a powerful statement on the transformative power of art.
"Shisei" was filmed in 1966 as Irezumi by Masumoto Yasuzo, with Wakao Ayako. Another (contemporary) adaptation was made in 2007 by Zeze Takahisa.

"Kirin" (Kylin aka Unicorn; December, in Shinshicho).
Although based on Chinese sources, this story resembles Tanizaki's other sadomasochistic stories. Confucius and his disciples visit the State of Wei, where Duke Ling has been enslaved by his beautiful consort Nanzi, a typical Tanizaki-type cruel woman. Inspired by the great philosopher, the Duke tries to follow the path of virtue and good government, and he starts neglecting his consort. Seeking revenge, Nanzi then directs her attention towards Confucius, but even the spectacle of the cruel punishment of those who dare resist her, does not sway the sage. But the Duke fears for the life of the visiting philosopher and renounces good governance, meekly returning to Nanzi's bedchamber. Confucius is forced the set out again on his travels. As the philosopher leaves Wei in defeat, he declares: "I have never yet met a man who loved virtue as much as he loved sex." A story about the terrifying force of beauty. Although clad in exotic Chinese trappings, Tanizaki's fin-de-siecle atmosphere is close to Wilde's Salome.
A beautiful story that deserves to be translated.

1911 (Meiji 44; age 25)
"Shinzei," a historical play, Tanizaki's first paid piece, is published in the literary magazine Subaru (Pleiades). Subaru was an anti-Naturalist literary magazine, that went through 60 issues between 1909 and 1913 under its editor, the poet Ishikawa Takuboku. In June "Shonen" (The Children) is published in the same magazine. Nagai Kafu, a writer very much admired by Tanizaki, writes an appreciative essay on Tanizaki in Mita Bungaku, legitimizing Tanizaki as a serious young writer. He praises Tanizaki's work for the "profound beauty distilled from carnal terror," its urbanity, and the perfection of its style. In September, "Hokan" appears in Subaru. In October Tanizaki publishes "Hyofu" in Mita Bungaku at the request Nagai Kafu. In November the editor of Chuo Koron asks for a submission from Tanizaki - Chuo Koron would become Tanizaki's primary publisher for the rest of his life. Chuo Koron, founded in 1887, was (and is) Japan's foremost general-interest magazine, having a profound influence on Japanese intellectuals with its wide variety of material, also including novels. Tanizaki publishes "Himitsu" in Chuo Koron. In December Tanizaki's first story collection (called after The Tattooer) is published. It is considered for a prize awarded by the Ministry of Education for the finest work of literature of the year. This year, Tanizaki is expelled from university because he has failed to pay his tuition fees.

"Shonen" (The Children; June, in Subaru)
[tr. Anthony Chambers in The Gourmet Club]
Four mischievous friends play sadomasochistic games of dominance and subjection in a large compound that also harbors a mysterious Western-style mansion. "Cops and robbers" is given a distinctive twist by the extreme savagery with which the "robber" is punished. Although victimized by the boys in their earlier games, it is the girl, Mitsuko, who finally dominates and "enslaves" the three boys, her brother and his two friends. They have to trim her toenails, clean her nose, and drink her pee. As Jeffrey Angels has written (Writing the Love of Boys, p. 33): "...[this story] consciously violates the assumption of youthful sexual innocence by describing the homoerotic, power-laden games of children..." Clearly Mitsuko is another example of the cruel woman who fascinated Tanizaki throughout his life. Despite its shocking and scatological content, this story won Tanizaki critical recognition from Mori Ogai, Ueda Bin and others. The story also contains a fine depiction of the festivals and atmosphere of downtown Tokyo.

"Hokan" (The Jester; September, in Subaru)
[tr. Edilberto Alegre in "A Translation of Hokan by Tanizaki Junichiro" (PDF)]
About a traditional Jester (hokan, originally a male geisha who in later times developed into a servant who accompanied geisha; also called "taikomochi," "drum bearer"), who has to play the fool to make people laugh at him, his relation with his rich patron and with the geisha he is secretly in love with. It is also the tragedy of a man who is too susceptible to the thinking of others, and always adjusts his behavior in a masochistic way. Beautiful descriptions of a flower viewing party in boats on the river Sumida.

"Hyofu" (Blizzards; October, in Mita Bungaku).
Story about the fatal fetish for a courtesan's nostrils. With lots of irony, Tanzaki tells the story of Naokichi, an artist who has preserved his chastity to the age of 24, but who looses all control when he becomes infatuated with a Yoshiwara oiran (courtesan) whose nostrils, viewed from beneath, have a mysterious quality. Naokichi nearly destroys himself with sexual overindulgence. To regain his health, he leaves on a 6 month walking and sketching tour in Northern Japan, trying to remain abstinent. This becomes problematic when his health returns. Add to that the blizzards of the North he has to withstand, and Naokichi finally returns to Tokyo as a wreck. In the final scene full of black humor, he dies of a stroke when aroused by his courtesan. This erotic story was banned for being too explicit and the issue of Mita Bungaku in which it had appeared was taken out of circulation. Tanizaki was clearly testing how far he could go - he had already littered the story with "fuseji," circles to indicate certain words or phrases he had removed by self-censorship, but apparently that was not enough. The notoriety he thus acquired in fact brought Tanizaki to the attention of other editors. About the censorship regarding this story, see Jay Rubin, Injurious to Public Morals (University of Washington Press, 1984), p. 139.
Another excellent story waiting to be translated!

"Himitsu" (The Secret; November, in Chuo Koron)
[tr. Anthony Chambers in The Gourmet Club]
The world-weary, hedonistic narrator, who lives a secluded life in the annex to a temple in an old part of Tokyo, experiments with cross-dressing in order to experience the thrill of seeing the world in a wholly new way. In a humorous scene, the narrator visits the theater, where in female guise he attracts everyone's admiration, until an even more fashionably dressed woman outshines him in elegance. She proves to be a mysterious woman he met years ago on a ship going to Shanghai; they had a fling together during the journey. Now she invites him to her house, but he has to come blindfolded, in a rickshaw that makes a long detour, so that he won't know where she lives. After visiting her for several weeks, in the end, he does find out her house and her identity. That is immediately the end of the relationship, for without any "secret" to thrill him, he is not interested anymore. The narrator must move on to some stronger stimulation, no longer satisfied with anything so insignificant as "secrets." Perhaps crime is waiting for him... Like "Shonen," this story contains interesting depictions of downtown Tokyo.

1912 (Meiji 45 / Taisho 1; age 26)
Hozumi Fuku, who had been Tanizaki's first love when he worked as a houseboy in the Kitamura family, dies from pneumonia. Tanizaki undergoes a physical exam for compulsory military service, but is released because of his obesity. In February, "Akuma" is published in Chuo Koron. Tanizaki serializes "Atsumono" in the Tokyo Nichinichi Shinbun, a novel based on the abovementioned first love affair. Tanizaki's popularity rises so fast, that he receives a higher than usual fee for his manuscripts - for the first time in his life, he has some money in his pockets. No longer comfortable to stay in his parent's house, he wanders from one temporary lodging to another. In April, Tanizaki makes a trip to Kyoto, traveling in several stages because of his morbid fear of trains ("Eisenbahnkrankheit"). During this visit, he also sees the Gion geisha district, including the "Miyako odori". In Osaka, Tanizaki watches a Bunraku performance. He publishes an essay (zuihitsu) about his Kyoto visit, called "Sujaku Nikki." Tanizaki stays in the Kansai area until June, also because he often can't travel because of his nervous condition.

"Akuma" (The Devil; February, in Chuo Koron).
A student, Saeki, who (like Tanizaki in this period) has weak nerves and suffers from "Eisenbahnkrankheit" (not so-called "wagon illness," but an obsessive fear of mass transport leading to nervous breakdowns) travels in stages to Tokyo to start living with his aunt and attend university. But he is consumed by ennui and does little studying; he just lies on his bed drinking whisky and smoking. He is fascinated by his cousin Teruko, a tall and well-developed young woman, again one of Tanizaki's diabolical types. She comes several times a day to visit him in his room. This angers the houseboy (shosei) Suzuki, who is in love with her and was promised her hand by her (now deceased) father. But Teruko and her mother dislike Suzuki. Saeki in his obsessive nervous state fears that the strong and healthy Suzuki will literally kill him if he shows his feelings for Teruko; it goes so far that he imagines his own death. One day Teruko has a cold and with her red, sniffing nose looks even more beautiful in Saeki's eyes. He steals her handkerchief to savor its odor. The handkerchief is dirty, but even so he "licks it like a dog." The handkerchief becomes his "private paradise," and he concludes that he doesn't need anything else. This story earned Tanizaki the sobriquet "Akuma-shugi," "Diabolist." It has been said that at this time Tanizaki's primary influences were "off-beat foreign." Besides Poe and Wilde, Tanizaki also studied the pathology of Krafft-Ebing. This was no mere exoticism, but Tanizaki's way of probing the mysteries of the human soul - he believed that the truth about any human being was always buried deeply and could never be fully known to others (Van C. Gessel. p. 98).
An important and well-written story in the Tanizaki canon which is still waiting to be translated.

Atsumono (Hot Stew; serialized from July to November in Tokyo Nichinichi Shinbun)
Novel based on Tanizaki's first love affair with the maid Fuku when he served as houseboy in the Kitamura family. When one of his love letters was discovered, he was expelled. Earlier this year, Tanizaki had learned that Fuku had died from pneumonia. This was the first time Tanizaki serialized a longer piece, but In November he breaks off the unfinished novel. As we shall see, Tanizaki had trouble writing longer pieces - in fact, with the exception of Naomi and The Makioka Sisters, his most successful works are middle length novellas and short stories.

1913 (Taisho 2; age 27)
Tanizaki's second story collection is published under the title "Akuma." In April Tanizaki publishes reminiscences about his youth, "Shonen no kioku." From May, Tanizaki stays for 6 months in a ryokan in Odawara. That month, his play "Koi wo shiru koro" (The Age to Learn of Love) sees the light. This year Tanizaki's younger brother Seiji finishes Waseda University and becomes a writer, journalist and translator (at that time he also translates "The Mask of the Red death" by Poe). 

"Zoku Akuma" (The Devil, Continued; January, in Chuo Koron)
A continuation of "Akuma." Saeki suffers from nervous disorder and tries to forget his condition by reading sensational stories about famous female criminals. When he becomes closer to Teruko, Suzuki demands that he write an apology and leave the house. Saeki refuses; now Suzuki leaves the house, but also sends a threatening letter. In a suspenseful scene, one night he is found lurking in the garden holding a knife. He is confronted by Saeki, who strikes an empty martial pose - will he be killed? The ending is open. The point is that all Saeki's actions serve to underline his masochism - he in fact loves to be plagued by "devils" as his nervous illness, Suzuki, and Teruko.

"Kyofu" (Terror; January, in Osaka Mainichi Shinbun)
[tr. Howard Hibbett, in Seven Japanese Tales]
An excellent short story, the case history of a man with morbidly excitable nerves, who - just like Tanizaki in this period - gets strong attacks of panic when riding streetcars or trains ("Eisenbahnkrankheit", see above under "Akuma"). The unnamed protagonist describes the fear he harbors when attempting to travel from Kyoto to Osaka to take a conscription examination. The narrator writes in detail about the psychological and physiological reactions brought about by being enclosed in crowded moving vehicles of mass transportation. A story in which decadence and fear of trains are equated. See Alisa Freedman, Tokyo in Transit (Stanford U.P., 2011), pp 279-280.

"Neppu ni fukarete" (Blown by a Hot Wind; September, in Chuo Koron)
The year before Tanizaki had after his return from Kyoto lived in the Mazurukan, a boarding house run by Suga, the wife of his cousin. While that cousin himself was away, Tanizaki and Suga had fallen wildly in love, and that is the story Tanizaki tells here (veiled, of course, because that type of relation was punishable by law). At the end of the story the woman is divorced by her husband (Tanizaki's wishful thinking?). A pure love story which was rare for Tanizaki (it seems that Tanizaki even briefly flirted with the idea of a double love suicide with Suga - the only time the notion of suicide came up in his whole life).

1914 (Taisho 3; age 28)
Besides the four stories mentioned below, in April, Tanizaki writes the comedy play "Haru no umibe" (Springtime on the Beach).

"Suterareru made" (Until Abandoned; January, in Chuo Koron)
Although the woman he loves has already taken another lover, a man continues in his slavish and masochistic behavior towards her.

Jotaro (Jotaro; September, in Chuo Koron)
Short novel praised by Sato Haruo (who compared it to The Picture of Dorian Gray). Izumi Jotaro, a celebrated writer, is inclined towards laziness and nihilism. Only in the discovery of sensuous beauty does he find anything of value. To amuse himself he tries to corrupt his disciple, Shoji, but without much success. Eventually he decides that what he really wants is fulfillment of his masochistic urges, and to this end he finds Onui, a girl who is willing to whip and beat him in exchange for money. Her wickedness gives him immense pleasure, which is even enhanced when he finds out that she and Shoji were once lovers. Now reunited, Shoji and Onui all but destroy Jotaro, until, driven to penury by Onui's demands, the writer retreats to his family home (Lewell, p. 405-406).
Not the best piece Tanizaki wrote, but a necessary element in the Tanizaki canon, still untranslated.

"Konjiki no shi" (The Golden Death; December, in Tokyo Asahi Shinbun)
Although Tanizaki himself considered this longer story a failure, it is interesting for two reasons: it foreshadows Edogawa Ranpo's Strange Tale of Panorama Island - in other words, Ranpo got his inspiration partly from Tanizaki - , and it was appreciated by Mishima Yukio for the reason that Tanizaki's protagonist aimed at a "unity of life and art" that would end in his "golden death" in a paradise he creates for himself - an idea close to Mishima's own philosophy (and death). Okamoto, the hero, has expended his vast fortune to create a visual paradise composed of elements borrowed from the architecture and art of the world. He guides the narrator to his masterpieces, including sculptures that consist of living people (his thesis being that no beauty can surpass that of the human body). At the end Okamura takes part in an extravaganza that features hordes of beautiful men and women costumed as Bodhisattvas and Lohans. Okamura himself appears as the Buddha, his body entirely covered in gold leaf. After a night of feasting he dies because the gold leaf has choked his pores. (Keene, p. 739)
A very interesting story that certainly deserves to be translated.

1915 (Taisho 4; age 29)
In May, Tanizaki marries the former geisha Ishikawa Chiyo, who is ten years his junior, in a traditional ceremony. The couple sets up their own household. A frequent visitor is Chiyo's younger sister, Seiko. This year, Tanizaki also writes the historical play "Hojoji Monogatari." Tanazaki has become fascinated by film and sees "The Golem" by Paul Wegener. His marriage has made him poor and he approaches several acquaintances for money. Having to fill his empty purse was also the reason why this and the next year he wrote several stories in a more popular vein.

"Otsuya-goroshi" (The Murder of Otsuya; January, in Chuo Koron)
[In 1915 translated as "A Springtime Case", not available anymore; see also The Modern Novel]
A violent novella crowded with incident (there are five murders), telling of the gradual degradation of Otsuya and her lover Shinnosuke, and also a piece of high-quality popular fiction executed in the manner of a Kabuki drama. The situations can all be visualized as if on stage – the elopement of the pawnbroker apprentice and Otsuya, the daughter of his master, is like the michiyuki in Kabuki. Tanizaki never loses sight of the central thrust of the plot: the decline of Otsuya and Shinnosuke, beginning with her virtual seduction of him and her subsequent degradation to the lowliest of geisha, while she brings him down with her. The conclusion is rapid and brutal. See also "The Evolution of Tanizaki Junichiro as a Narrative Artist," thesis by Kathleen Chisato Merken (University of British Columbia, 1979; PDF), p. 24-25. Mori Ogai fiercely criticized Tanizaki for this story, saying someone who wrote stories like that, "was finished."
Another work waiting for a (new) translation! This story was filmed in 1934 and again in 1951 (Makino Masahiro).

"Sozo" (Creation; April, in Chuo Koron)
The "art of life" is created out of the strong points of man and woman.

"Oiran" (Oiran; May, in ARS)
The term "Oiran" designated the highest rank of courtesan in the licensed quarter. It was Tanizaki's intention to propel his virginal hero into an explosion of sexual discovery, as in the previous "Hyofu" (Blizzards), but when the magazine was banned by the censor before the story even got underway, Tanizaki left it unfinished. What we have now is a fragment about a 16-year old apprentice who is being sent on an errand to the pleasure quarters, where the mysterious oiran lives whom he has heard other men discussing. His vague curiosity about her is his only weak spot...
This fragment became the basis of an eponymous "pink" film by Takechi Tetsuji (1983). Somehow, Tanizaki's stories have always been popular as material for pornographic elaborations.

"Osai to Onosuke" (Osai and Onosuke; September, in Chuo Koron)
A "potboiler" like "Otsuya-goroshi" (also set in the Edo period), but on a lower level, as Tanizaki's narrative doesn't manage to develop enough pace, except in the last pages, which are again "Kabuki-like." There is too much psychological analysis. See also "The Evolution of Tanizaki Junichiro as a Narrative Artist," thesis by Kathleen Chisato Merken (University of British Columbia, 1979; PDF), p. 26. Tanizaki confessed that he wrote this popular story for money, as he was hard-up after his marriage (which he already seemed to regret). This story was again blasted by Ogai.

"Dokutan" (The German Spy; November, in Shinshosetsu)
Describes Tanizaki's first European friend, a shiftless Austrian from whom he learned French conversation. The narrator describes how he would go to see Western movies in the company of this friend and tutor. The thrill of movie pictures derives for the narrator from their dreamlike quality. They are fantastical, but also of this world, thereby blurring the boundary between reality and dream. Together with "The Magician" (1917), "The Mermaid's Lament" (1917), "The Tumor with a Human Face" (1918) and "Mr Aozuka's Story" (1926), this is one of Tanizaki's stories about the cinematic experience.

1916 (Taisho 5; age 30)
Tanizaki's daughter Ayuko is born. Tanizaki writes in his essay "Chichi to narite" (Becoming a Father) that in fact he didn't want to marry and become a father at all, and he worries that more children might follow (a stance for which he was criticized). But he is right in one aspect: in small Japanese houses, a young writer didn't have "a room of his own," and it was almost impossible to work with a family around one. By the way, Tanizaki has become a favorite target of the Police Bureau and in this period he suffers four bans by censorship in close succession: "Oiran" of 1915, "Kyofu Jidai" (Age of Terror, a historical play, 1916), and the below stories "Boyu" and "Binan." 

"Shindo" (The Boy Prodigy; January, in Chuo Koron)
From 1902 to 1907, Tanizaki worked as a shosei (houseboy and tutor) in the family of a restaurant proprietor. His humiliation of being treated like a servant is remembered in this autobiographical story. With "Oni no men" and "Itansha no kanashimi," this is the first of a number of works which are a sort of parodies of the confessional I-novel, but which because of their purported sincerity and "scientific" exploration of the self, didn't fall foul of the censor (Van C. Gessel, p. 100).

"Boyu" (My Late Friend; September, in Shinshosetsu)
Reminiscences of his study friend Osugi who died in 1912. In fact, the friend's real name was Onuki Shosen (the elder brother of Okamoto Kanoko). Tanizaki's depiction is rather abstract.
"Binan" (Beautiful Boy; September, in Shincho)
[tr. Christina Lee, Fetishes and Philanderers, a Translation of Two of Tanizaki's Early Works (Tufts University) (PDF)]
The life and times of a Tokyo playboy as he seduces his way through the metropolis. Tanizaki's usual beautiful descriptions and characterizations are lacking, and there is a just a quick telling of the story, as if the author was not really interested (or too much in a hurry). Contains no sensual, fleshy descriptions of debauchery, but the extent of K’s womanizing is taken to such extremes and described so comically (including his decline into a leech relying on women) that it looks more like a parody of the behavior of a dandy. K is described as a fool through and through (although his beauty brings him luck), and also as very passive - it are the women in the story who drive the action. All the same, the story was banned by the censor.

Oni no Kamen (The Devil Mask; serialized from January to May, in Tokyo Asahi Shinbun)
Autobiographical. Although Tanizaki was not an "I-novelist," he did write many reminiscences about his youth, the problems with his family, and, separately, about his mother.

[Studies: Chambers, Anthony Hood, The Secret Window: Ideal Worlds in Tanizaki's Fiction, Harvard U.P.; Gessel, Van C. Three Modern Novelists, Kodansha International; Ito, Ken Kenneth, Visions of Desire: Tanizaki's Fictional Worlds, Stanford U.P.; Keene, Donald, Dawn to the West; Lewell, John, Modern Japanese Novelists; Petersen, Gwenn Boardman, The Moon in the Water Hawaii U.P.]

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

"The Biographer's Tale" by Byatt (review)

The Biographer's TaleThe Biographer's Tale by A.S. Byatt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A.S. Byatt is a writer of great erudition, a Victorianist who does Victorian studies by writing intelligent fiction for the general public. "The Biographer’s Tale" is another academic quest narrative…

A postgraduate at a nameless English university, narrator Phineas G. Nanson decides to abandon his studies as a post-structuralist literary critic to become a biographer instead, what he believes to be a more tangible pursuit.

He chooses as his subject one Scholes Destry-Scholes, who himself was a biographer of genius. Destry-Scholes's magnum opus was a biography of the Victorian polymath Sir Elmer Bole, a famous explorer, soldier, diplomat, scientist, travel writer, novelist and poet - in short, almost a caricature of a certain British type.

As Nanson searches for clues to Destry-Scholes's life, the novel acquires layers of complexity. Nanson finds fragments written by Destry-Scholes about three men: Carl Linnaeus, Francis Galton and Henrik Ibsen. Like Nanson, the reader realizes the identity of these figures only gradually, for the fragments are oblique and mystifying. To his dismay, Nanson discovers that the revered Destry-Scholes has taken great liberties with the facts, inventing false incidents and inserting imaginary details. This calls into question the whole issue of biographical accuracy and allows Byatt, who all along has been taking swipes at post-structural literary criticism, to introduce arch observations about the current fad of psychoanalytic biography.

The plot broadens when Nanson falls in love with two women simultaneously: one is a Swedish bee taxonomist; the other is Destry-Scholes's niece, a hospital radiographer. This is only one of the many mirror images here, for Bole had also married two women.

In addition to the theme of doubles and doppelgangers, Byatt's (Possession, Angels and Insects) familiar preoccupations with insects, myths, spirits, metamorphoses and sexuality all come into play.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, September 8, 2020





Scomber Japonicus

Beautiful, mother-of-pearl hued, with a silvery-black stripe running along its back, mackerel are little cousins of bonito and tuna. Like tuna, mackerel most of the time swim fast, so their muscles are loaded with Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP). They also contain lots of glutamate and glycine, so they have lots of umami. Mackerel can attain a length of 50cm. They are best in autumn when fat increases, but can be caught the whole year through.

Sushi chefs divide fish into three basic categories: red (tuna, swordfish, etc.), white (sea bream, sea bass, flounder etc.) and blue. This last category refers to fish with a silvery blue skin, and therefore they are also called hikari-mono, "shiny things". Mackerel belongs to this last category.

Found throughout Japan; the main fishing port is Choshi in Chiba, but the largest catches are brought on land in Ibaraki, Nagasaki and Shizuoka.

Saba dishes:

Saba no sashimi. Fresh mackerel are delicious as sashimi or seared (tataki). You can feel the richness of the taste, which is fuller of umami than other fish. It also goes very well with vinegar. The sashimi should be prepared by a specialist, as there is a risk of anisakis parasites.
On sushi: nigiri-zushi, battera-zushi (Osaka), bo-zushi (Kyoto).
Shimesaba, vinegared mackerel
Saba no shio-yaki, mackerel grilled in salt
Saba no misoni, mackerel simmered with miso. Miso is popular for simmering, as it absorbs the fishy odor.
Saba no nitsuke, mackerel lightly pickled in vinegar
Saba no oroshini, simmered mackerel with grated radish
Saba no goma-ae, mackerel dressed with sesame