Ōe, Kenzaburo (Vol. 86)
Kenzaburo Ōe Nobel Prize in Literature
Born in 1935, Ōe is a Japanese novelist, short story writer, essayist, and critic.
For further information on Ōe's life and career, see CLC, Volumes 10 and 36.
One of the foremost figures in contemporary Japanese literature, Ōe is highly regarded for intensely imagined and formally innovative novels examining the sense of alienation and anxiety among members of the post-World War II generation in Japan. Ōe's fiction is both profoundly intellectual and emotionally raw. Utilizing ideas from Jean-Paul Sartre's philosophy of existentialism, Ōe portrays the unique agonies and dilemmas of his characters with concrete precision in ways that point to the more universal significance of their suffering. Characterizing life as profoundly absurd, Ōe's works are deeply concerned with the implications of nuclear power, particularly in light of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Born in a small village on the western Japanese island of Shikoku, Ōe was raised in a prominent Samurai family in accordance with traditional Japanese beliefs. Like most Japanese children of his generation, Ōe was taught to believe that the Emperor was a living god. When Emperor Hirohito personally announced in a radio broadcast Japan's surrender to the Allied military forces, Ōe and his schoolmates experienced a sense of devastation and disorientation which forever changed their perception of the world. Ōe described his emotions at this point in his life in his memoir Genshuku na tsunawatari (1974; Solemnly Walking the Tightrope): "the strange and disappointing fact was that the Emperor spoke in a human voice like any ordinary man." While Ōe lamented the sense of humiliation and guilt which Japan's defeat and occupation by American troops imposed on his generation, he also embraced the values of democracy which were instilled through the educational system of the occupation forces. While a student at Tokyo University, Ōe read widely in both traditional Japanese and modern Western literature. He was particularly influenced by such existentialist philosophers as Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, and by the American tradition of the "anti-hero," as represented in the works of such authors as Mark Twain, Herman Melville, William Faulkner, and Norman Mailer. Reflecting his ambitious and erudite reading habits, Ōe's early stories were awarded a number of prestigious literary prizes. In 1964 Ōe's first son was born with brain damage. While still concerned with the survival of heroic consciousness in an age of nuclear terror, Ōe subsequently incorporated the figure of his handicapped son into his fiction. According to the critic and translator John Nathan, Ōe began to write of heroes who "turn away from the lure of peril and adventure and seek instead, with the same urgency," a life of "certainty and consonance." A vocal antiestablishment, pro-democracy activist throughout his career, Ōe created a minor controversy in Japan when he rejected Japan's highest cultural honor—The Imperial Order of Culture, awarded days after he received the Nobel Prize—because he considered it a symbolic relic of the Imperial system and "would not recognize any authority, any value, higher than democracy."
While still a university student, Ōe established his literary reputation with his first novella, Shiiku (1958; The Catch), which tells the story of a Japanese boy and a black American prisoner-of-war whose friendship is destroyed by the brutality of war. Ōe's first novel to gain international recognition, however, was Kojinteki na taiken (1964; A Personal Matter). The story of a twenty-seven-year-old man nicknamed "Bird" whose wife gives birth to a physically deformed and brain-damaged son, the novel ends on an apparently hopeful note with Bird's decision to keep his son alive. However, most critics emphasize that the style and overall thematic structure of A Personal Matter are more closely aligned with the pessimistic worldview of existentialism than with traditional narratives of tribulation and triumph. Ōe's concern with sickness and sexual perversion, as expressions of a deeper spiritual malaise, undercut the "happy" ending and signal Ōe's commitment to honestly portraying the darkest neuroses of contemporary humanity. Ōe's most universally acclaimed novel, Man'en gannen no futtoboru (1967; The Silent Cry), is a formally innovative and densely poetic portrayal of Takashi and Mitsusaburo, two brothers who clash over their differing interpretations of their tumultuous family history. Utilizing a method of temporal displacement and unity, Ōe constructs the narrative as the surreal juxtaposition of a political uprising in 1860 (the year Japan was forced to ratify a treaty opening up commerce with the United States) and the brothers' struggle a hundred years later. Violent to the point of psychosis, Takashi commits a brutal rape and murder, and betrays his elder brother in a secret land deal. To retaliate, Mitsusaburo conceals a crucial piece of knowledge about the Manengannen uprising, which has been Takashi's consuming obsession. Takashi's eventual suicide bears an ironic correspondence to the story Mitsusaburo has concealed, and the novel ends with his guilty resignation to a life of passivity and regret. In addition to its complex narrative structure, The Silent Cry exhibits a preoccupation with violence and physical deformity which some critics have linked with the methods of "grotesque realism," a brand of exaggerated satire which was pioneered by the French Renaissance writer François Rabelais. In subsequent works, Ōe continued to employ complex methods of narrative displacement and juxtaposition, notably in Dojidai gemu (1979).
Critical reaction to Ōe's works has been mostly adulatory. Despite the minor reservations of some critics with regard to its "happy" ending, A Personal Matter was internationally recognized as a masterpiece and a triumph of personal expression—a novel clearly autobiographical in content, but which transcends its literal narrative to symbolize the entire postwar spirit of malaise among Japanese intellectuals. The Silent Cry was lauded by the Nobel committee as "Ōe's major mature work," and its complex narrative framework has been compared with the "magic realism" of Colombian novelist and Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez. Many critics argue that Ōe's deliberate coalescence of modern Western and traditional Japanese forms has made him difficult to interpret and translate in either Japanese or English, and the fact that few of his works have been translated into English has limited the amount of criticism devoted to him outside of Japan. However, with the recognition attendant on his acceptance of the Nobel Prize, scholars foresee an influx of English translations and criticism in years to come.
∗Shiiku [The Catch] (novella) 1958
Memushiri kouchi (novel) 1958
Warera no jidai (novel) 1959
Sakebigoe (novel) 1962
Hiroshimo nōto [Hiroshima Notes] (essays) 1963
Kojinteki na taiken [A Personal Matter] (novel) 1964
Man'en gannen no futtoboru [The Silent Cry] (novel) 1967
Nichijo seikatsu no boken (novel) 1971
Kozui wa waga tamashii ni oyobi (novel) 1973
Genshuku na tsunawatari [Solemnly Walking the Tightrope] (essays) 1974
Seinen no omei (novel) 1974
Pinchiranaa chosho [The Pinchrunner Memorandum] (novel) 1976
†Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness (novellas) 1977
Dojidai gemu (novel) 1979
The Crazy Iris, and Other Stories of the Atomic Aftermath [editor] (short stories) 1984
Natsukashii toshi e no tegami (novel) 1987
Yureugoku (novel) 1994
∗This novella was translated and published as The Catch in The Shadow of Sunrise, edited by Saeki Shoichi.
†This English-language collection contains the translated novellas The Day He Himself Shall Wipe My Tears Away, Prize Stock, Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness, and Aghwee the Sky Monster.
Michiko N. Wilson (essay date Winter 1981)
SOURCE: "Ōe's Obsessive Metaphor, Mori, the Idiot Son: Toward the Imagination of Satire, Regeneration, and Grotesque Realism," in The Journal of Japanese Studies, Vol. 7, No. 1, Winter, 1981, pp. 23-52.
[Wilson is a critic and educator specializing in Japanese and comparative literature. In the following essay, she analyzes Ōe's variations on his most recurrent themes in five of his works and elucidates its relation to the genres of satire and "grotesque realism" as defined by structuralist theory.]
Ōe Kenzaburo (1935–) is regarded in Japan and the United States as a leading postwar novelist. Deeply involved in contemporary issues, he makes a clean break from the literary traditions that nurtured such writers as the Nobel Prize winner Kawabata Yasunari (1899–1972), Shiga Naoya (1883–1972), and Mishima Yukio (1925–1970).
What is most innovative about Ōe's works is that he cultivates the techniques of Cervantes and Rabelais and follows in their footsteps. From 1964 on, by employing farce, travesty, satire, and "grotesque realism," which has debasement and laughter at its core, Ōe has challenged and turned upside down the notion of what Japanese literature should be. [In a footnote, Wilson notes that the term "grotesque realism" was coined by the Russian theorist Mikhail Bakhtin in his Rabelais and His World, 1968.] In contrast to Meiji-Taishō Realism, which is often characterized by a spirit of Confucian solemnity, Ōe tries to offer an alternative worldview by synthesizing in his artistic world the long-neglected elements of gesaku-like humor, the satiric, and especially the earthy qualities of folklore such as Konjaku monogatari (Tales of Modern and Ancient Times).
Ōe's originality also lies in the intensity of his message aimed at both the individual and the entire human race. Despite the extremely personal lyricism that runs through his works, his private universe, directed by what he calls "the Cosmic Will," offers immediacy and relevance to contemporary problems. Ōe believes that social, political, and environmental issues are as much "situations" created by man as man is the victim of his own "situations." For him "to outgrow" this insane world [Wilson is echoing and alluding here to the title of Ōe's collection, Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness, 1977], grappling with the world's problems is the only way to survive. As much as the landing on the moon is a reality to contemporary man, the annihilation of mankind by nuclear war is a most immediate concern and reality to Ōe. [Wilson continues in a footnote: "In Hiroshima Nōto [Hiroshima Notes], Ōe talks about the journey he made to Hiroshima immediately after the birth of his first baby boy who was on the verge of dying in the incubator, and how he witnessed the enduring volition of the Hiroshima victims. 'I know very little about the Bible, but the gods who deluged the earth must have calculated on Noah's capability of restoring the human world before they sent the flood. Had Noah turned out to be a sluggard, a hysterical Jeremiah with no ability to restore the world, and had the postdeluvian world continued to be a wasteland, it would have certainly caused consternation among the gods in the heavens…. The atomic bomb that devastated Hiroshima was the worst deluge in the twentieth century. Amidst the great flood the people of Hiroshima immediately began to restore their world. By saving themselves, they also saved the souls of those who dropped the A-bomb. In the current deluge that we are faced with, the universal deluge frozen at this moment, yet ready to melt and engulf us at any time, the souls which the people of Hiroshima have saved include all the souls of humanity in the twentieth century seized with the cancer called "the possession of nuclear armaments."'"]
Four Western literary figures—Auden, Sartre, Mailer, and Rabelais—stand out among those whose philosophy and literary techniques have had profound influences upon Ōe's consciousness. He reminisces in the notes to Part III in Solemn Tightrope Walking (1965), the first of three collections of essays: "My literary background was shaped like a triangle, the three points of which were Sartre, Norman Mailer, and postwar Japanese literature." Also, W. H. Auden often dominated Ōe's early discussions on literature in general:
The things I learned from Auden are numerous, even though I had read Sartre before I came to know Auden. Auden especially taught me what a literary "image" is. I fantasized that, if I were to create an image as a novelist or a poet, I must grasp, as simply and accurately as possible, the nuance of a tiny wrinkle in the human heart, of the dark forest that conceals both a lion and a war. Also, the image must have a sense of shimmering specificity. I wanted to create an image in such a way that everything that exists in the world would go through a tunnel … penetrating straight into the human heart. [Solemn Tightrope Walking]
This statement contains three important points which Ōe has continuously insisted on: to promote social awareness, to demystify human behavior, and to liberate the human mind. With these issues in mind, Ōe struck upon another mentor whose intent and undaunting spirit of continuity (jizokusei) became his own.
He wrote in an essay called "The Continuity of Norman Mailer," "one particular quality that grips the lifelong reader of Mailer is the sincerity of his continuity…. For example, in Advertisement for Myself, at the crossroads of his life, he edited his numerous essays and published them with his own comments. The consistent emotional impact his writings have upon the reader bespeaks not so much the superb journalistic talent inherent in Mailer as the continuity of purpose that is built into his individual works" [Kujira no shimetsu suru hi (The Day the Whales Shall be Annihilated)].
Ōe shares Mailer's radical views on sex and politics. Politics interests Mailer so long as it is an integral part of man as a social being, that is to say, "politics as a part of everything else in life." While Ōe is encouraged by Sartre's statement that "one of the chief motives of artistic creation is certainly the need of feeling that we are essential in relationship to the world," he is also inspired by Mailer who believes that the purpose of art is "to intensify, even if necessary, to exacerbate, the moral consciousness of people." Mailer continues: "In particular, I think the novel is at its best the most moral of the art forms because it's the most immediate, the most overbearing, if you will. It is the most inescapable. One could argue much more easily about the meaning of a nonobjective painting or of music, or whatever. But in the novel, the meaning is there. It's much closer; one could argue about ambiguities, but, because one is using words, it's much closer to the sense of moral commandments, moral strictures" [Advertisement For Myself]. Parallel to this is the role of the artist, which, according to Mailer, is "to be as disturbing, as adventurous, as penetrating, as his energy and courage make possible."
One particular poem by Auden eventually came to represent the lifestyle of the prototype of Ōe's hero. It is entitled "Leap Before You Look"; its first stanza sums up the young hero's sentiments and action.
The sense of danger must not disappear:
The way is certainly both short and steep,
However gradual it looks from here;
Look if you like, but you will have to leap.
[In a footnote Wilson adds: "In 1958 Ōe wrote a short story with the same title about a 21-year-old college youth who is unable to 'leap' and gives in to the stagnant surroundings around him. His lifestyle and sentiments serve to represent the debilitation of Japanese people in general in postwar society. Later, Ōe borrowed a line, 'Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness,' for the title of his story from Auden's long poem called 'Commentary' which appeared in Journey to a War (1939)…."]
For Ōe's hero, this sense of danger stimulates the need to act, the need to "intensify and exacerbate the moral consciousness of people." It is in this light that we are able to come to terms with the militant nature of Ōe's statement on the use of sex, which has often invited annoyance and dissatisfaction from Japanese critics. For example, he deplored the fact that his ambitious work, Warera no jidai (Our Times, 1959), was dismissed as a novel of sexual perversion. "Almost every critic detested Our Times as if it were an ostracized slut" [Solemn Tightrope Walking]. In Ōe's narratives sexual terms and descriptions are meant to provoke the reader, to generate in his mind, as Ōe puts it, "an exaltation of an ideology"; by stimulating the mind and agitating the psyche, he hopes to dig "a vertical mine shaft" straight into the heart of the darkness of both the individual and of mankind. After all, sexuality is inseparably tied to what is at the root of human existence. What Ōe is aiming at is sobriety of mind with sex as a stimulant to one's consciousness, never sexual stupor.
Another Western literary mentor who has been a constant inspiration to Ōe is Rabelais. Paraphrasing the question an interviewer once put to Mailer, Ōe asks himself in one of his essays: "If I were to be exiled to a desert island and could take only a limited number of books with me, what would they be?" His immediate choice of Gargantua and Pantagruel by Rabelais foretells the direction he would take a decade later in creating The Pinchrunner Memorandum (1976), a novel of satire, laughter, and regeneration.
His admiration for Rabelais' work is restated in his 1976 article, "Toward the Imagination of Buffoonery and Regeneration" ["Dōke to saisei e no sōzōryoku"], which supplies us with sufficient data to understand the intent and the range of the ambitious novel, The Pinchrunner Memorandum. The novel is in many ways antithetical to post-Meiji realism and its succeeding literary traditions. It is in a way a violation of a taboo, in the sense that the combination of socio-political issues with Rabelaisian laughter, slapstick farce, satire, and "grotesque realism" has often been regarded as extraneous to the realm of "serious" literature, or belles lettres. Ōe also brings into the novel an element of the fantastic, which enjoyed considerable popularity among nineteenth-century Western writers. The result is that his work is remarkably free of cynicism, sentimentality, and pessimism.
In his early works written between 1957 and 1963, Ōe focuses on the degradation, humiliation, and chaos brought forth by the unconditional surrender of Japan in World War II. He relies heavily on explicit sexual terms in an attempt to portray the "adversities and the plight of the stagnant Japanese youth in the postwar society" [Solemn Tightrope Walking]. Unable to commit themselves to the making of history, these youth are in a state of "moratorium" (which later becomes Ōe's favorite word) in solitary confinement awaiting the moment of execution. Elsewhere, the humiliation of Occupied Japan is symbolized by an unemployed young man under the sway of a prostitute who caters only to foreigners. College youths and delinquent juveniles share the dream of an adventurous life which must exist somewhere outside Japan. Both groups are abandoned by adults, who are repulsed by their violence, obscene language, and aberrant sexual behavior. Out of these groups emerge the misfits who form a collective body to protect themselves from a hostile society, and a young intellectual who eventually settles down and brings up an idiot son.
With the appearance in 1964 of Aghwee the Sky Monster, Ōe's dominant theme shifts from an obsession with the lost war to the theme of madness. This second theme is deeply bound up with his personal experience: in June 1963 he became the father of a baby boy born with brain damage. In his five works written between 1964–1976, Ōe consistently employs the image of a corpulent father and his idiot son, and the theme of madness. These five works are Aghwee the Sky Monster (Sora no kaibutsu Aguwee), A Personal Matter (Kojinteki na taiken, 1964), Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness (Warera no kyōki o ikinobiru michi o oshieyo, 1969), The Waters Are Come in unto My Soul (Kōzui wa waga tamashii ni oyobi, 1973), and The Pinchrunner Memorandum (Pinchirannaa chōsho, 1976). The presence of this "obsessive metaphor" of the father and the idiot son should not be dismissed merely as a repetition of an old theme, but rather we must consider the five works as one large narrative in progress. The repetition in Ōe's works is the key to the understanding of his literary universe and its structure, more essentially, of literature itself, and its tool, language. The pertinence of reciprocity of one work to another is well asserted by Todorov. "Just as the meaning of a part of the work is not exhausted in itself, but is revealed in its relation with other parts, a work in its entirety can never be read in a satisfactory and enlightening fashion if we do not put it in relation with other works, previous and contemporary" [The Poetics of Prose].
To apply Todorov's notion of reciprocity within the works of a single author, Ōe's five works under discussion can be categorized into what modern linguists refer to as a "syntagmatic" type, in which the second text reacts actively to the first, rather than a "paradigmatic" type which indicates the absence of the other text and does not function reciprocally. The first two works, Aghwee the Sky Monster and A Personal Matter, play off one another, creating the "syntagmatic" or "combinatory" relation between the two represented in the formula of the question/answer pair, or what Todorov calls, "a concealed polemic." The main polemic is: "Should I kill the monster baby or live with the monster?" The narrative movement in Aghwee is based on the following answer to the above question, "Yes, I should kill the baby (and I have murdered the baby)." A Personal Matter presents the other choice, "No, I should not kill the baby; I will live with the baby." By combining the first text with the second, the reader gains a clearer view of the conflict that the father must have experienced.
Once the resolution is made and the father carries out the decision, there emerges another question/answer: "Am I really the passive victim quietly enduring a bondage imposed by my idiot son who never rejects my words?" This polemic is the basis of the verbal structure of Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness.
Freedom from this artificially created bondage, the father's obsessive desire, means the establishment of a balanced relationship between the father and the son. It also means the exclusion of a mother or a wife, whose original role loses its impetus. In order to make their life a meaningful one, the pair must have contacts with the external world. Thus, in a way, The Waters Are Come in unto My Soul and The Pinchrunner Memorandum are adventure stories of the undaunted pair, the former story about the father who assumes the active role in the adventure, the latter about the idiot son who carries out the vision of the father and the son. Both stories end with a death: the father dies in The Waters, the son Mori in The Pinchrunner. The function of the pair is such that Ōe must end his story when the idiot son dies, because Ōe's works are ultimately about Mori the idiot son. In the following pages we shall closely examine the first four works about Mori, and their "syntagmatic," i.e., "combinatory," relations which unveil the intertextual figure of the father and the idiot son in a sequence.
A young father, the main character of Aghwee, kills his newborn baby by giving him only sugar water. When the autopsy reveals that the baby had a benign tumor, the father goes into self-confinement and becomes obsessed with the illusion (that is what the narrator and the reader are led to believe) of his baby flying down from the sky. The phantom baby, the size of a kangaroo in a white cotton nightgown, dwells in the sky. In other words, the murdered baby is transformed into a celestial being which is a part of the cosmic force. According to his ex-wife, however, the father's self-confinement is escapism.
The baby comes down from the sky to remind the father of his crime and taunt him. The illusion/reality is perhaps the father's insane desire to communicate and join with the baby whose only utterance in his brief life was "Aghwee!" In the end the baby fulfills the father's desire, or perhaps the baby tricks the father: "Suddenly D [the father] cried out and thrust both arms in front of him as if he were trying to rescue something; then he leaped in among those trucks and was struck to the ground." In other words, the father lets himself go for the first time in his life and decides to follow the baby. Already in this story are mythological elements or elements of the fantastic, which Ōe incorporates into The Pinchrunner Memorandum. The kangaroo baby is not a passive victim eliminated by his own father, but a trickster-like character; he returns to haunt his murderer. The baby character does not exist in reality, but he does exist in the father's psyche. However, to the narrator who is hired to be the father's companion, the question persists to the end: Does it exist or not?
Seven months after [Aghwee] appeared, Ōe published A Personal Matter, which again centers around the father and his idiot son. Antithetical to the previous story, here the newborn baby escapes death by clinging stubbornly to life. Overwhelmed by the infant's physical and instinctive power to survive, the father resolves to live with his idiot son. This yet-to-be-named baby serves a double function: it is the father's personal tragedy as well as a symbol of the tragedy of mankind. For, prior to his decision to take care of the monster baby, in the midst of confusion, despair, and enervation, as he is about to carry out the murder of the baby, the father hears the news broadcast of the Soviet resumption of nuclear testing. At this moment the monster baby that governs his personal destiny seems to represent the fate of mankind in the face of nuclear war. "In a world shared by all those others, time was passing, a [sic] mankind's one and only time, and a destiny apprehended the world over as one and the same destiny was taking evil shape."
Bird, the baby's father, challenges the odds that are stacked up against him, that is to say, "the creation of misery for himself and the nurturing of a life that meant absolutely nothing to this world." Against these odds he repeats himself: "It's for my own good. It's so I can stop being a man who's always running away…. All I want is to stop being a man who continually runs away from responsibility." Here, Ōe's hero realizes the reversal of his relation to reality and to the world. The question, "Who am I?" is replaced by that of "What is my relation to the world?" or "What am I in relation to the world?" Ōe shares the Dostoevskian view that the most important thing is "not how the hero appears to the world, but … how the world appears to the hero and how the hero appears to himself" [Mikhail Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics].
Thus the baby is the beginning of the father's new life, a life of commitment to the world. We see in the following three stories, Teach Us [to Outgrow Our Madness], The Waters, and The Pinchrunner, how the odds are turned around, how the existence of an idiot son becomes part and parcel of the father's entire being. The identification of the father with the infant son gradually takes place at the end of A Personal Matter: "A week after the operation the baby had looked almost human; the following week it had begun to resemble Bird." Also, the final paragraph implies that the father is slowly emerging from an amorphous, suspended existence (chūburarinko), about to embark upon a risky adventure in the world where idiocy is an anomaly, digression from the norms set up by the intolerant society. The baby's presence will eventually liberate the father from the self-image he has indulged himself in. Ōe's works seek to explore "the sum total" of the hero's (later the pair's—the father and the idiot son) "consciousness and self-consciousness … the hero's final word about himself and about his world" [Bakhtin, Dostoevsky's Poetics].
In Teach Us Ōe strikes upon a name most appropriate for the idiot son who allegorically unites Ōe to the environment he himself grew up in, a valley in the deep forest of Shikoku Island (the background of The Catch, 1957). Mori, "forest" in Japanese and "death or idiocy" in Latin, becomes the axis upon which Ōe's literary universe spins and expands. At the same time Mori is also the destination to which Ōe returns. Throughout the story the reader is familiarized with the fat son, not by his real name Mori, but by his nickname Eeyore (which, according to the Japanese pronunciation, sounds like "iiyō," meaning "It's O.K."!). Why so? We are told that the father initially meant to mock his son whose alternative was to die or be an idiot. "Could such existence be given a name?" "Every time he called the child by name [Mori] it seemed to him that he could hear, in the profound darkness in his head, his own lewd and repentent laughter mocking the entirety of his life." His cynicism turns against him, and he is the one to be mocked.
The corpulent father identifies with the moon-faced four-year-old son, and tries to live in his son's twilight world filled with pain, fear, and numbness. He believes or wants to believe that he is the only one who can function as a window to his son's murky mind, as "a pipeline of vision connecting his son's brain" with the outside world through the "conduit of their clasped hands." However, an incident occurs that forces the father to realize his son's adaptability: "My son can get along without me, as an idiot in an idiot's way…. The situation reverses: the fat man, believing that he has brought order, peace, and harmony to his son's fragile existence, must accept the truth. It is the father who depends upon his idiot son for assurance, comfort, and equilibrium.
Thus, Teach Us tells of the initiation of a young father into the outside world filled with terror, pain, and numbness. It is also a story of a father yearning to go back to his childhood and to speak to his own father who continually ignored him. To the fat man, his own father's strange self-confinement in the darkness of the storehouse, his corpulence, silence, and sudden death is as much a mystery as the idiocy of his infant son. The desire to establish an intimacy, "the heavy bond of restraints," between himself and Mori betrays a chokingly painful question he dares not utter, "Why was my son born an idiot? Is this monster my creation?" In trying to answer this question, the fat man digs a mine in order to reach the core of the problem, of primeval existence, at the center of which stands Mori.
The father's quest must continue as he experiences Mori's growth. The Mori character is named Jin in The Waters Are Come in unto My Soul, a two-volume novel published in 1973. [In a footnote Wilson adds: "Watanabe Hiroshi speculates that the name Jin possibly comes from the German word, Sinn, meaning 'sense' and is probably used synonymously with the word, 'subconscious.'"] As if to make up for the poor eyesight the four-year-old Mori had to put up with, Jin, at the age of five, exhibits an extremely keen sense of sound. All day long, he listens to and identifies the songs of wild birds and whales recorded on tapes by his father. In flashbacks we learn about Jin's self-destructive impulses and the self-inflicted pain from which he was never free. Just as Mori's father began to feel the pains his son received from a scalding or an eye examination (which terrified Mori), Jin's father develops sudden fainting spells or experiences a scorching pain. Out of desperation, his wife agrees to let the pair of misfits start a new life on their own, a life of tranquillity in a refurbished nuclear bomb shelter, totally secluded from the humdrum of the external world.
I must comment briefly on the name, Ōki Isana, which the father took for himself upon venturing into a new life with Jin. Literally, the father's new name means Mr. Big-Tree Brave-Fish. Judging from this, what is evident is a sense of humor and the comical function assigned to the role of the father and the son as a pair. The father, claiming to be the agent for the souls of trees and whales, which he believes are the legitimate owners of the earth, exchanges telepathic communications with their spirits. When the entire human population is wiped out by nuclear war, he believes that he is to emerge out of the bomb shelter with Jin and return the earth to the trees and whales.
Jin seems to be a voiceless Jonah, a prophet, a representative of mankind about to be annihilated by nuclear war. Always calm and innocent, he repeats softly to himself the wild birds' names as he listens to the tapes. Here Ōe seems to be satirizing the sanctity of words and of human communication via words, i.e., the function of parole ("actual speech"). Incommunicability between the father and the idiot son, represented by the absence of speech, or of the reciprocity of words and ideas, transforms itself into comical Rabelaisian dialogues which dominate the narrative flow in both The Waters and The Pinchrunner. Divested of human deception, false seriousness, and manipulation, the father and his "parroting" son perform something beyond what verbal communication can achieve under normal circumstances.
In The Waters Ōe again takes up the image of misfits, which dominated his early works. It is significant that dropout characters calling themselves "Freedom Voyagers" form a comradeship with the father and Jin. The nonconformist groups consist of high school dropouts, ex-college students, a middle-aged Hiroshima survivor, "The Shrinking Man," and one female member, Inako, who in turn persuades a Self-Defense Corps member to join the crew. Ōe for the first time unites social outcasts, who heretofore struggled separately, to form a collective body to resist those who simply stigmatize them as "social cancer."
An ex-employee of a big corporation and son-in-law of a powerful conservative politician, Ōki Isana shares the lot of the non-revolutionary "Freedom Voyagers" and dies fighting for a vision, for the "goodness" of the earth, that is to say, the souls of trees and whales. What is amiss in the farcical repartee between the voyagers awaiting the final assault in the bomb shelter and a police riot squad surrounding the shelter, is the voice of Jin the idiot son, who has already been removed from the battle scene by the protective hands of Inako. What the reader and the father want to hear is Jin's soft-spoken voice intoning the words, "The end of the world is here," the Day of Judgment.
Ōe's fifth work under discussion, The Pinchrunner Memorandum, is symptomatic of everything he has so far written and insistently talked about in the past two decades. He has combined three dominant themes in the work: the embattlement of misfits, idiocy and averbalization, and the annihilation of the human race by nuclear war.
The Pinchrunner Memorandum is the story of a former nuclear engineer, a thirty-eight-year-old father who has an eight-year-old idiot son, Mori. This undaunted pair goes through a "miraculous transformation," with the father losing twenty years and Mori gaining twenty years. The grown-up Mori "speaks" in the voice of the Cosmic Will and transmits the message to the teenage father through the conduit of their clasped hands. Together they go out, aided by their faithful comrades and the Yamame Army, to eliminate the Patron ("The Big Shot A") of the underworld, who secretly plans to control Japan by financing the manufacturing of atomic bombs by two radical groups.
There are two central themes posited in the novel which need to be scrutinized carefully for us to grasp Ōe's semantic universe as a totality and a dynamic unity. The first is the theme of the "transformation" (ten'kan) or "metamorphosis," an essential element of fantastic literature. The second is concerned with the function of language and the speech art (verbalization) in relation to Mori, the idiot son.
The two themes are not as incompatible or incongruous as they seem. According to Todorov, the fantastic universe, being the exclusion of words "luck" or "chance," is based on a principle of a "pan-determinism." "It signifies that the limit between the physical and the mental, between matter and spirit, between word and thing, ceases to be impervious." In this sense, the notion of metamorphosis or transformation "constitutes a transgression of the separation between matter and mind as it is generally conceived" [Todorov, The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre, 1975].
Identical with the fantastic universe is the world of drugs, the mystic, the psychotic, and, what is most relevant to our discussion, the primordial world of infancy. What characterizes the being of an infant is the effacement of the limit between subject and object, of the normal barrier between the self and the world (the other). To go a step further, his universe is a world without language. Such is the cosmic fusion which the transformed pair, Mori and his father, continuously approaches.
Like madness, Mori's idiocy is in effect a deviation from the norms set up by society or the "natural" world in which ordinary events occur; it is also a transgression of the laws of nature. Therefore, the only way Mori is allowed to exist is to become a part of the universe of the fantastic. The reader accepts Mori to the extent that he experiences a "hesitation" in the face of an apparently supernatural event, Mori's (the father's) miraculous transformation, which occurs in the context of natural, everyday life.
The central trait of the fantastic is ambiguity. "The fantastic confronts us with a dilemma: to believe or not to believe" [Todorov]. This element of ambiguity is maintained throughout The Pinchrunner Memorandum. First, the separation of the narrator (Mori's father) and his ghost writer (Hikaru's father), who receives the former's utterances through telephone calls, cassette tapes, and letters, and writes them down, is purposely weakened from the very beginning of the story. The concept of "double," the fusion of "I-Thou," is described in the first sentence of the novel:
Words, beyond dispute, uttered by the other party: despite my clear memory of the circumstance under which the other party made the utterance, I feel the words gushed out of the recesses of my own soul.
Ōe also stresses the fact that these two fathers have a lot in common, and form a complementary relationship. Mori's father and Hikaru's father are both of the same generation and are both graduates of Tokyo University, the former with a science degree (nuclear physics) and the latter with a philosophy degree (literature). They both have idiot sons of the same age. Their initial encounter takes place on the school lawn where they wait absentmindedly for "their children" to finish their special class while watching the "brainy children different from theirs" noiselessly play baseball. Reminiscing about the sandlot baseball era he was brought up in, Mori's father mumbles to himself: "Nothing was as petrifying and intoxicating as being selected as a pinchrunner!" Immediately something inexplicable unites the two men. "At that instant, a cumbersome hot pipeline of the parent-child-like bond ran through us."
By the end of the first chapter we are prepared for the supernatural event to come, or, to be more exact, for the supernatural event that has already occurred but has not yet been reported. Then, the first narrator of the novel (Hikaru's father) is replaced by Mori's father (referred to as "the other party") who recounts the supernatural event that has overtaken him and his idiot son.
From the second chapter on, the relation between Mori's father and Hikaru's father becomes that of "the person who emits the text and the person who receives" [Todorov]. Ōe's narrative complicates this verbal structure even more by making the receiver of codes a ghost writer whose main job is to record the utterances or the speech act of Mori's father, not to decode them. We read at the beginning of the story the ghost writer's feeble claim that he is an independent entity and deserves to be treated as such: "Although my job originates in the words of the other party, the words must go through my flesh and consciousness before they can be put down on paper. I am expected to enter the mind of Mori's father, learn in detail his secret, and even temporarily must grasp the entirety of his being. However, I refuse to accept the reversal of this; I resent his constant habitation in my world."
What sustains the narrative construction of the supernatural event is the tripartite bond that unites the narrator (Mori's father) and the chronicler (Hikaru's father), with the reader sandwiched between the two. (Ōe also employs this structure in The Day He Himself Shall Wipe Our Tears Away.) The narrator occasionally questions the ghost writer, "Do you doubt my words?" "I want you to write in such a way that your faltering voice would merge with my insistent voice of self-assertion and the two voices, one on top of the other, resonate together. The verbal account must be sustained by the tense opposition of my insistent words to your silent misgivings."
The adoption of a "ghost writer" intensifies the ambiguity of hesitation experienced by the reader and our "double" hero as the distinction between the narrator and the receiver of codes gradually ceases. The consciousness of the former begins to envelop the mental activities of the other. Also, as the word indicates, although a ghost writer physically exists, he has no claim to the work he is "writing." Conversely, since the real writer has nothing to do with the actual recording of his words, how can the reader really know that the utterance or the text is actually produced by the professed writer, and not by his ghost writer?
Mori's father gives the following reason why he is asking (actually imposing upon) Hikaru's father, whose profession is "writing," to become his scribe:
I need someone to recognize my actions and thoughts, to record them in a "memorandum." I am about to embark upon a new adventure with Mori. Without the existence of a chronicler, I feel the adventure-to-come, and myself will be merely a mad illusion. A premonition tells me that our adventure will be a fantastic event; if the police ever got hold of my "memorandum," they would simply dismiss it as balderdash.
On the syntactic level, the novel is a "game" about the narrator's gamble: on which side will the reader be? Will he believe the narrator's words or side with the faltering voice of the chronicler?
This hesitation, a dilemma whether to believe or not to believe, which is a verbal choice, is also directly linked with the father's fear and intense desire to be selected as a "pinchrunner." His main job is to steal a base and run: the crowd urges him to run. If he miscalculates in the situation, he loses and will be ordered back to sit on the bench. If he wins, he will become, even if temporarily, a hero. His choice is, "Should I stay or run?" The grown-up Mori says once via telepathy: "If the transformation means that we have to run, as a pinchrunner, for those who cannot run, or for those who do not know they must run, then we have to start running any minute now." The father/narrator must face this verbal choice, "Should I stay or run?" again and again. "I heard the voices of the spectator urging me to run, after an unexpected hit-and-run came about." In the end this verbal choice becomes the message of the story, the purpose of the adventure of the transformed pair, Mori and the father:
I was resolved to assert my conviction that we are the chosen ones to run as a pinchrunner for mankind … We have already been selected and sent to the base with the instructions given to us by the coach of the Cosmic Will; we must concentrate our minds whether we should stand by cautiously or run. However, we must rely on our intuition in the end and must run on our own accord.
What the narrator anticipates eagerly from the fantastic event, i.e., the transformation, is to see his and Mori's consciousness expand and their flesh renewed and rejuvenated, which he believes is the fundamental hope cherished by the whole of humanity. In order to renew one's consciousness and flesh, old tissue and the entire past must die, because "renewal" must replace "death." The reversal of time is the key in fantastic literature. That is why the eight-year-old Mori, whose mental universe is that of an infant or a madman, sheds his old infant self, and becomes an "adult simulacrum of infancy" in a world without language. On the other hand, Mori's father steadily regresses and becomes "Mori's son," with the possibility of reverting back to infancy!
In recounting this supernatural event, Mori's father suffers from a terrible suspicion that gnaws at him. Isn't our transformation a terrible mistake? What is it that we are entrusted with by the Cosmic Will? Do we really have a mission to carry out? At one point, he begins to doubt the existence of the Cosmic Will, and instead begins to believe that the political domination of the Patron might be the very cause of their transformation. What pulls him out of this deep skepticism is Mori: at the age of twenty-eight, with his quiet smile, animated eyes and silence, he communicates with his teenage father. The narrator tells the chronicler: "This transformed Mori is the real Mori, the ultimate Mori, the beginning of Mori. So long as this Mori exists in reality, I will live through the life of 'transformation' with him, and carry out the job entrusted to us by the Cosmic Will."
The dreams and the imaginary/the illusory scattered throughout the verbal account indicate "the ambiguous vision" of the narrator that relies on the use of a stylistic device, modalization. Thus, the narrator talks of a possibility (and a hope) of one day decoding what must be stored in Mori's dark, murky brain:
Like in a sealed cell, where dust must eventually accumulate over a long period of time, my words, the fine particles of dust, might one day form a heap and by natural ignition start into flame. At least Mori never rejects my words. Who knows, deep in the dim cell of Mori's twilight brain, the words transmitted to him through the eardrum might have been stored away like the sand in an hourglass.
At one point, the father imagines that Mori is a Socrates: "Listening quietly with genuine interest to whatever I tell him, Mori must be a man like Socrates who awakens you to your ignorance and raises you to a new level of knowledge." In the mind of the narrator, dream and reality, or the imaginary and the real, do not form separate and impermeable blocks. Time and again, Mori's father sees a dream of an extraordinary event that foretells their future: one such dream is about the Patron whom the pair helps gain total political power in Japan, power that extends to Korea, and the pageant they direct to celebrate his victory. However, the festival immediately turns itself into a celebration of the death of the Patron. The pair has rebelled against him and succeeds in the elimination of the evil force.
In the dream of the "Long March," Mori and the father are members of the Yamame Army which has in reality rescued the pair from the violent mob who refused to listen to Mori's message transmitted from the Cosmic Will. The pair is now a part of the collective body of "ideal people." The father recognizes among the Yamame soldiers those friends he encountered in his life. These are the people who have given him "a sense of fullness, stability, and finally the liberation of his soul." Passing right before him is a dear friend of his who strangled himself in Paris, accompanied by his lovely French wife. In reality he was the Yamame Army agent based in Europe. (This "friend" figure also appears in The Silent Cry.) Gijin, the leader of the anti-nuclear movement from Shikoku, is also in the march "walking stiffly like a toy soldier with his hands clasped tight on his chest" as if he had been resurrected from death. The father's idol, Ōno Sakurao, walks right beside him. The sight of Hikaru and his father completes the list of comrades who join the Long March. The narrator tells the scribe: "After all, I have been telling a dream-like dream all along, ha ha!"
Dreams or the imaginary in the novel have a double-function. One is vaticinal in the sense that they are the harbingers of things to come; the other is to remove the boundaries between matter and spirit, the physical and the mental. What happens throughout the story is the materialization of the imaginary and the perceived. It also means that the entire verbal account, based on the sender of codes (narrator) and the receiver of codes (ghost writer), is turned upside down. The reader is uncertain whether the narrator and the ghost writer are really two separate people, or whether the entire verbal act originates in the real, rather than in the imaginary/the illusory, or "a dream-like dream."
This ambiguity or hesitation is not cleared away at the end of the novel. The narrator's "alternate plan" in case of his or Mori's death/arrest, is revealed to the ghost writer who is to substitute as the sender of codes to recount the end of their adventurous journey. We must assume that that is exactly what happens, and that the obstacle between the person who produces the text and the person who receives it collapses.
The aesthetic concept governing The Pinchrunner Memorandum comes from what Bakhtin defines as "grotesque realism" in his discussions of Gargantua and Pantagruel. In grotesque realism the bodily elements always have a deeply positive character given in an all-popular, festive, utopian setting. The cosmic, social, and bodily elements are parts of an indivisible whole, and presented not in a private, egotistic form or isolated from the other aspects of life, but as something universal, representing all the people. "The essential principle of grotesque realism is degradation, that is, the lowering of all that is high, spiritual, ideal, abstract; it is a transfer to the material level, to the sphere of earth and body in their indissoluble unity" [Bakhtin, Rabelais].
As we know, Rabelais challenged the authority of the still-medieval Church which inculcated fear and blind obedience in the minds of individuals. For this "battle," the great French satirist armed himself with a panoply of pots, frying pans, chopping knives, and with the urine and excrement of Gargantua and Pantagruel, which destroy yet fertilize the earth. Rabelais also knew that his criticism of the authority of Catholicism was a deadly one because he was an insider who was constantly exposed to the hypocrisy of clerical power. What he attempted to do was to turn the world and the conventional worldview upside down by demystifying "upward is heaven, downward is earth." According to Bakhtin, "Earth is an element that devours, swallows up (the grave, the womb) and at the same time an element of birth, or renascence (maternal breasts). Such is the meaning of 'upward' and 'downward' in their cosmic aspect, while in their purely bodily aspect, which is not clearly distinct from the cosmic, the upper part is the face or the head and the lower part is the genital organs, the belly, the buttocks."
Bakhtin's analysis sheds light on Ōe's constant reference to the lower part of the human body or bodily elements and copulation. The eight-year-old Mori, whose entire being exists in the need to eat, urinate, defecate, and sleep, is no longer an imbecile in the world of grotesque realism but becomes a positive being. He is acceptable in this world because he embodies the principle of degradation and debasement, which draws upon the excessive, the ludicrous, exaggeration, and earthiness. For example, at night Mori must still wear a diaper no longer big enough to cover his growing buttocks and erect penis. When we read the passage that describes Mori splashing urine all over the restroom, unable to properly aim his penis into the toilet, we do not find him pathetic, but laughable. Laughter degrades and yet materializes, writes Bakhtin. Degradation "has not only a destructive, negative aspect, but also a regenerating one." To degrade an object or a person implies hurling it or him down to "the zone in which conception of a new birth takes place" [Bakhtin].
Laughter in grotesque realism is shared by all people; it is a festive laughter which removes the barrier of human prejudice and deception, where "all men become conscious participants in that one world of laughter." It heals and regenerates. "Laughter must liberate the gay truth of the world from the veils of gloomy lies spun by the seriousness of fear, suffering, and violence."
Despite the fact that man is the only living creature endowed with laughter, when we think of laughter in the context of modern Japanese literature, we are struck by its poverty. It seems that laughter is "an ostracized slut" and has never been fully recognized as a proper ingredient for a novel. Watanabe Hiroshi offers one of the most satisfactory answers to the absence of laughter in modern Japanese literature. First, laughter is born out of the masses, the uneducated, common, ordinary people. It is the vulgar, simplistic, popular nature that is inherent in laughter. In other words, we can say that, by its very association with common folk, laughter has always occupied a "debased" position, and has been considered something frivolous and trivial. Secondly, Watanabe continues, it was extremely rare for laughter to become the source of inspiration and creativity in the days when Japanese intellectuals were busily engaged in "soul searching" or in carrying out their visionary mission.
In contrast to the vision pursued by the Meiji-Taishō intellectuals, Ōe's private quest and literary universe constantly draw upon the festiveness and universality of laughter. Farcical slapstick and travesty abound in The Pinchrunner Memorandum. Or, to put it another way, those incidents which we consider serious and earthshaking in the context of ordinary life, are debased and lowered down to the bodily elements of the earth. Nothing is vulgar in Ōe's universe: everything is told matter-of-factly in its utopian, all-popular organic whole.
For example, the novel describes a type of meeting (hanseikai) familiar to all Japanese. It is designed to "reflect upon" a past event in order to improve the situation, in the manner of a roundtable discussion. So the hanseikai is held to thank Mori's father for rescuing one of the children who gets caught in a malfunctioning automatic door of a supermarket where the whole "special class" has gone shopping. With the principal and the two embarrassed teachers in front of him, Mori's father goes into an eloquent tirade, trying to reevaluate and reform the entire system of the Special School and the function of the teachers who work under the system.
The real help you can give to our children is to tell them what the world is really like out there and how to fend for themselves in society. Are you really teaching them what they need? All you are doing is teaching them how to control their limbs, barely enough to survive as imbeciles…. In the future society, who knows, they might teach our children how to control not only their limbs but how to dispose of the whole body, ha ha, in other words, how to commit suicide?… In order to repel this authoritative power to weed out children like ours, we must teach them how to take up arms and defend themselves. As long as this world continues to be contaminated, the number of children like ours will increase rapidly. They will one day become scapegoats looked down upon as a loathsome minority.
The principal's reply to the radical alternative suggested by Mori's father takes the position that upholds the preservation of the status quo: "As a specialist in physical education, it has been my belief that education means to teach the unity of mind and spirit, and how to reconcile oneself with nature and society." This is a hackneyed statement repeated again and again to students in secondary education, and Mori's father is perfectly aware of the conventionality of the principal's response.
Mori's father immediately offers an alternative which is to teach their children music, that is, education through music. "Since our children have a keen sense of sound, we will make them specialists in music." He solemnly starts reading the memoirs on the record jacket written by a guru of Indian music. The reading session and meditation abruptly comes to an end when the prostitute mother of Saa-chan utters a loud protestation. The meeting deteriorates and turns into a shouting match between the mother and a woman teacher, the latter trying to restrain the verbal abuse the former directs against Mori's father:
What the hell are you talking about? WHAT, WHAT, WHAT? Our children majoring in music? How about a kid who is hard of hearing like Saa-chan? Is she going to be discriminated against even in the special class? Don't you dare!… Why don't you pray for the well-being of your guru, guru, so that you won't goof off! You might as well grab the T.V. celebrity, Ōno Sakurao's fat butt! You, sexual pervert!
The meeting aborts itself, as the parents busily take care of their children who need to urinate, or get rid of the urine and feces of those children who could not wait. In the midst of this commotion sits Mori, quietly wetting himself.
What is at work in the comical, farcical descriptions that abound in The Pinchrunner Memorandum is travesty combined with cartoonization, or cartoonized travesty. Ōe is an inveterate cartoonist; as a cartoonist he is also very much aware of the power of satire, which responds "to the world with a mixture of laughter and indignation" [Matthew Hodgart, Satire, 1973]. In this sense, festive laughter that destroys the clerical authority during the "feast of fools" and the "feast of the ass" in the Middle Ages and the way of satire which turns the real world upside down, share a lot in common. Both grotesque realism and satire involve "a cathartic release of social tension." Bakhtin's analysis of Rabelaisian laughter and what Matthew Hodgart defines as satire complement each other in aiding us to unveil the constituents of Ōe's semantic world. "True satire demands," Hodgart writes, "a high degree both of commitment to and involvement with the painful problems of the world, and simultaneously a high degree of abstraction from the world. The criticism of the world is abstracted from its ordinary setting, say, political oratory and journalism, and transformed into a high form of 'play'; which gives us both the recognition of our responsibilities and irresponsible joy of make-believe."
In the above episode of "practical education" followed by the self-abortive hanseikai, Ōe treats an extremely serious and delicate subject, which directly concerns his personal life and the lives of those parents who have retarded children. However, the more serious the subject matter, the more he intentionally relaxes concern by exhibiting its process as ludicrous, because, as Elder Olson writes [in his 1975 The Theory of Comedy], "it [comedy] is most effectively comic when it treats of things which do arouse our concern." According to Ōe, to paraphrase...
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James Sterngold (essay date 14 October 1994)
SOURCE: "Kenzaburo Oe of Japan Wins Nobel in Literature," in The New York Times, October 14, 1994, pp. B1, B10.
[In the following article, Sterngold reports on the Swedish Academy's decision to award Ōe the 1994 Nobel Prize in Literature.]
The Swedish Academy announced today [October 14, 1994] in Stockholm that Kenzaburo Oe, a Japanese writer known for his powerful accounts of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and his struggle to come to terms with a mentally handicapped son, had won the 1994 Nobel Prize in Literature.
Mr. Oe, 59, is just the second Japanese writer to capture the...
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Kenzaburō Ōe with Sanroku Yoshida (interview date 7 June 1986)
SOURCE: An interview in World Literature Today, Vol. 62, No. 3, Summer, 1988, pp. 369-74.
[In the following interview, which was conducted in 1986, Ōe discusses such topics as his literary and cultural influences and the style and techniques of his fiction.]
[Yoshida]: I met with Yōtarō Konaka yesterday. He said that recently Japanese society has created a peculiar mood in which it is rather difficult to discuss matters antinuclear, and that one may be considered childish or immature if one is antinuclear. The major theme of your Flood unto My Soul (1973), The...
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Reviews Of Recent Works
Emiko Sakurai (review date Spring 1978)
SOURCE: A review of Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness, in World Literature Today, Vol. 52, No. 2, Spring, 1978, pp. 345-46.
[In the following review of the English publication of Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness, Sakurai hails Ōe as a major international talent.]
Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness [translated by John Nathan] is the third publication in English of the extraordinary works of Kenzaburo Ōé, the most talented writer to emerge in Japan after World War II. Like his previous publications (A Personal Matter, 1968, also translated by John Nathan, and The Silent Cry,...
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"Reading Japan Through Its Writers: Abe Kobo and Oe Kenzaburo: The Problem of Selfhood in Contemporary Japan." Book Forum VII, No. 1 (1984): 30-1.
Comments on how contemporary Japanese culture is reflected in the works of Ōe and Abe Kōbō.
Enright, D. J. "Days of Marvelous Lays." New York Review of Books XI, No. 6 (10 October 1968): 35-7.
Negative review of A Personal Matter which considers the novel's ending to be contrived.
Gamerman, Amy. "Kenzaburo Oe Wins Nobel in Literature." The Wall Street Journal (14...
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