An Artist of the Floating World

by Kazuo Ishiguro

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How does An Artist of the Floating World invite contemplation of our desire for certainty?

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The idea of certainty is contrasted to that of the “floating world.” Referring not only to the elaborate, leisurely life of bygone Japan, Kazuo Ishiguro uses the concept to convey the postmodern uncertainties that Ono confronts. As the novel dips in and out of the past, the reader comes to understand that Ono prefers to inhabit mentally that other world, with its lovely courtesans and dedication to the arts. He has made his own creative life through studying that distant world. As the narrative progresses, the reader sees the price he paid. His own vision of reality justified his betrayal of a friend for the sake of an abstract nationalism and, perhaps more important, being able to continue his work. He experiences the admission of this betrayal as a huge revelation. When tells him that too is in the past, our understanding of him—and of the author’s intention—changes. He is as anachronistic as that earlier time; his whole life since that moment has been lived in the floating world of his own flawed consciousness.

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