Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon


The Current Reading List

Posted in Books,J-Rock,Japanese literature,Music by bourdaghs on the April 12th, 2010

Oe Kenzaburo, Suishi (Death by water, 2009). The latest novel by the Nobel laureate, this one partakes of his characteristic vein of imaginatively rewriting the reality of his own life into a mythic dreamscape. An aging novelist becomes involved with an experimental theater company who have been staging dramatizations of his work. They meet together at the novelist’s ancestral “home in the woods” in Shikoku where the novelist intends to at last complete a long-abandoned novel (Suishi shosetsu) on his father’s death, based on records that have been kept in a suitcase since his mother’s death ten years earlier. In doing so, he hopes to heal wounds opened by his earlier fictional version of his father’s demise, published as Mizukara waga namida o nuguitamau hi (The day he himself shall wipe my tears away, the title of a novella Oe actually published in 1972). The suitcase, however, turns out to be empty, leading to a bout of depression and new tensions within the novelist’s family. The theatrical company goes on to create a performance based on Natsume Soseki’s 1914 Kokoro, using the figure of Sensei in that novel to call into question the ethics of the protagonist. I’m now a little more than halfway through this complex meditation on death, literature, and history, and after Oe’s visit to Chicago last month, I keep hearing his voice in my head as I read the prose silently.

Frank Kermode, The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction (1966). One of those classic studies I’ve somehow avoided reading up until now. I’ve been invited to write an article for a special journal issue in Japan on “the sense of ending” in modern literature, and this seemed a good place to start organizing my thoughts on the topic. Kermode explores the various ways we map our place in the world through our imaginations of what the end of history will look like and how this becomes a basic structural element in the literary and non-literary fictions that we live by.

Endo Toshiaki, The YMO Complex: Take Me to Techno’s Limit (2003). An intelligent interpretive survey of the postmodern music and semiotics of Yellow Magic Orchestra, the most important and popular Japanese rock band of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Sasaki Atsushi, Nippon no shiso (Japan’s thought, 2009). An engaging, personal survey of how the world of Japanese theory and criticism has transformed from the New Academic poststructuralism of the 1980s (represented by such figures as Asada Akira and Nakazawa Shin’ichi) to the contemporary world of anti-academic subcultural studies (e.g., Azuma Hiroki). Sasaki focuses not so much on the content of “thought” as on the shifting modes of its performance.

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