Critical Context

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Kb Abe’s novels stand apart from the tradition of earlier modern Japanese fiction in their unpolished prose and loose structure, in their experimentation with genre (often employing popular genres such as science fiction and the detective novel for conveying more abstract ideas), and in their emphasis on portraying philosophical conflicts, often at the expense of a sense of place and time. Inter Ice Age 4, for example, undermines the emphasis on subjectivity inherent in the Japanese “I novel,” thematically by representing the limits of the narrator’s understanding of the world around him, and structurally by concluding the novel with the first-person narrator’s anticipation of his imminent assassination, the realization of which makes the reader suddenly aware of the narrative apparatus and its artificiality—if the narrator is about to be killed, how can he pass this information on to the reader? The addition of a prelude and a postscript further define the limits of the narrator’s subjective perceptions. For the novelist, neither objectivity nor subjectivity holds the key for understanding the world, if any such key does exist.

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Inter Ice Age 4, like many of Kb Abe’s novels, owes more to modern Western literature, particularly the novels of Franz Kafka, than to Japanese models. Like Kafka, Abe uses a protagonist whose search for meaning assumes that his own search is meaningful and will necessarily yield a solution. The disparity between the searcher’s confidence in his abilities to solve the riddle and the baffling complexity of the world suggests the absurdity of any search for a transcendent answer, a theme echoed in the modern dramatic movement known as the Theater of the Absurd. Like the French New Novelist Alain Robbe-Grillet, Kb Abe uses the form of the detective novel—a genre characterized by the search for intelligibility—to point out the ultimate unintelligibility of the world. More philosophical than its Western models, the work of Kb Abe nevertheless takes its place among them as an example of how modern literature tends to explore the world while at the same time refusing to accept its explorations as definitive or even valid, except insofar as they are able to question their own validity.

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