The evocation of specific times and places and the exploration of sexual fantasy are the poles of Tanizaki's art, and the tense interplay between them, sometimes veering to realism, sometimes to pure fantasy, gives his presentations of Japanese psychology a fascinating many-sidedness. As the chronicler of a changing Japan, he skilfully exploits the material yielded by his biographical traversal of the Meiji, Taisho, wartime, and postwar eras, as well as the lore of older periods. Steeped in the diversity of modern Japanese culture, of which he is one of the foremost shapers, he was able to connect it to entertainments of the Edo and Osaka pasts and ultimately to the world of The Tale of Genji. His work is a vast ‘bridge of dreams’ between tradition and modernity, cemented by a sensual relish both for the sounds and scents of old streets and houses, costumes, adornments, and musical instruments, and for the exciting brashness of Hollywood or the decadent frisson conveyed by Poe, Baudelaire, or Wilde. He drew on art to fill out the lineaments of an erotic vision, clothing it in the accoutrements of older civilisation, while conversely his sexuality became material for art.
Realist authors such as Balzac showed him how precise observation and accumulated detail could produce a plush recreation of specific places and periods. But he has none of Balzac's political analysis or philosophical reflection. His realism is rooted in a sensual curiosity about the textures of people's lives. The owner of Tanizaki's favourite restaurant, Sangetsu, not far from the site of his grave in Honen'in, Kyoto, recalled to me how 'Tanizaki Sensei' would take the raw fish in his hands and appraise its texture. Like Rubens and Rembrandt, painters of human flesh in every condition, Tanizaki was an avid student of the fleshly reality of his society, especially in his realist masterpiece Sasameyuki (The Makioka Sisters, 1948). The realism here is not a naturalistic sprawl, but remains confined to a small, refined, already old-fashioned world, in the manner of another great realist, Jane Austen. Also reminiscent of Austen is the sense of strain the novel exhibits, as it makes us feel the insistent pressures on Japanese people anxious to meet the demands of gracious living and social advancement. The Makioka Sisters gains an aura of Flaubertian objectivity from the author’s ascetic suppression of his idiosyncratic fantasies. But even here the realism remains at the service of an aesthetic vision, a mood of nostalgia for pre-war Osaka. In Tanizaki's other works the usurpation of realism by fantasy takes many forms, and is most effective when realism puts up a good fight before it yields, or when it returns to exact vengeance on the excesses of fantasy.
Tanizaki's inventive and versatile style was well matched to the demands of his rich material. The porosity of written Japanese to conversation and inner monologue, due to the absence of stiff grammatical structures for reporting indirect discourse, is among the features that give his writing a feline sleekness and vibrancy well suited to his ironic expositions of how the delirium of passion negotiates the restraints of society, or tramples on them.
One of Tanizaki's celebrated feats of style is ‘Shunkinsho’ (‘A Portrait of Shunkin’,1933). The story tells of the adoration of Sasuke for his mistress, the blind samisen-teacher Shunkin, who treats him imperiously and subjects him to cruel beatings. After an unknown intruder pours boiling water on the sleeping Shunkin's face, Sasuke blinds himself in order not to behold her disfigurement: ‘Dear Madam! [Oshishasama, Oshishasama] I shall never see how you have changed! All I can see now is the image of your beautiful face – that lovely image that has haunted me for the past thirty years’ (SJT, 75). Sasuke's sacrifice, made in response to Shunkin's tacit wish, seals their relationship. Her words, ‘I admire your courage… You have made me very happy’, fill him with joy, and thus ‘they turned their misfortune into a blessing’ (SJT 76).
Stendhal and Hardy lurk in the background of this story. These writers, too, were both consummate realists and masters of passion and fantasy. Many pages in their works read like a waking dream, yet they also possessed the powers of observation of seasoned men of the world. ‘Shunkinsho’ is modelled on Stendhal's ‘L'Abbesse de Castro’ (1839), which Tanizaki translated from the English version of C. K. Scott Moncrieff in 1928, and Hardy’s ‘Barbara of the House of Grebe’ (from A Group of Noble Dames, 1891), which he translated in 1927. The stories are atypical works, in that they take the form of historical chronicles, whereas the major novels of their authors are set in a more recent past. Like Tanizaki, Hardy and Stendhal found that their imagination was freed by moving to a vanished world, which they could reshape according to their fantasy and in which they could present more naked and extravagant spectacles of passionate behaviour than in the major novels, with a high level of violence and cruelty.
A Group of Noble Dames is a collection of ten linked tales, each told by a member of the ‘South-Wessex Field and Antiquarian Club’ (G 51). Hardy wrote it partly out of exasperation at the censors who had forced bowdlerisation of his major fiction. In this ‘Wessex Decameron’ (told over two days rather than Boccaccio's ten), which occasionally veers into scabrous regions, he ‘cocked a snook at Mrs Grundy’ (Turner 117). Hardy spoke slightingly of these ‘subtle and instructive psychological studies’ (G 163) as ‘rather a frivolous piece of work’ (quoted, Turner 116), but Hardy’s frequent self-deprecations should not be taken too seriously.
The puritanism endemic in English literary critical tradition seems to have ensured that these stories had no intelligent reception. ‘Merely revolting’ is how a contemporary Hardy scholarjudges ‘Barbara of the House of Grebe’ (Turner, 122), and T. S. Eliot, in his notorious tract, After Strange Gods, wondered what could have prompted Hardy to create such ‘a world of pure Evil’; the story ‘would seem to have been written solely to provide a satisfaction for some morbid emotion’ (Eliot, 58). Tanizaki may have been drawn to Hardy because of their shared fate at the hands of censors and puritan critics. The latter make much of a distinction between the ‘good Tanizaki’ and the ‘bad Tanizaki’. Even his translators have expressed some squeamish distaste, falling back on the same language T. S. Eliot uses of Hardy: ‘Seidensticker, who is not an admirer of the early fiction, singles out ‘Shonen’ ['The Children,' in Tanizaki, 2001], which is especially rich in its perverse elements, as “embarrassing”, the mere “working out [of] a mechanical solution to erotic daydreams”’ (McCarthy 1975:97; see also McCarthy 1988). Such reactions may not do justice to Tanizaki as an analyst of the pre-oedipal realm of ‘polymorphous perversity’ lit up by Freud (and positively valorised by Marcuse).
‘Barbara of the House of Grebe’ begins with a scene of elopement: Barbara informs her parents that ‘she had taken this extreme step because she loved her dear Edmond as she could love no other man, and because she had seen closing round her the doom of marriage with Lord Uplandtowers' (G 60). The parents' forgiveness is won partly by Edmond Willowes' ‘wonderful good looks’ (68). He is sent abroad ‘till he became polished outwardly and inwardly to the degree required of such a lady as Barbara’ (64). Barbara notices that her feelings are cooling in his absence and asks him to send his portrait, ‘that she might look at it all day and every day, and never for a moment forget his features' (65). Willowes sets a sculptor to work on a marble statue of himself. Then Willowes is burnt in a fire, which destroys his handsome face. He returns, and in a suspenseful scene, removes the mask that conceals his marred countenance. ‘She shut her eyes at the dreadful spectacle that was revealed. A quick spasm of horror had passed through her; but though she quailed she forced herself to regard him anew, repressing the cry that would naturally have escaped from her ashy lips' (73). ‘She regarded this human remnant, this ecorche, a second time. But the sight was too much' (74). Willowes disappears, and Lord Uplandtowers renews his suit: ‘Barbara did not love him, but hers was essentially one of those sweet-pea or with-wind natures which require a twig or stouter fibre than its own to hang on and bloom' (78). Their unsatisfactory marriage is plunged into crisis when the statue of Willowes arrives from Italy. Barbara is entranced: ‘this perfect being was really the man she had loved' (81). Discovering his wife embracing the statue by night, Uplandtowers devises a ruthless stratagem: he has the statue maimed in the same way as Willowes' face was. When Barbara pays her next nightly visit to the statue, she faints in horror. To break down her residual love for Willowes, Uplandtowers forces her to look at the maimed statue three nights in succession, ‘till the nerves of the poor lady were quivering in agony under the various tortures inflicted by her lord, to bring her truant heart back to faithfulness’ (88). On the third night she has an epileptic fit. When she recovers, ‘a considerable change seemed to have taken place in her emotions. She flung her arms around him, and with gasps of fear abjectly kissed him many times' (89). Towards the memory of Willowes she acquires ‘a permanent revulsion’ (90). But the 'fictitious love wrung from her by terror' (89) grows morbid and jealous, becoming an oppressive burden to Uplandtowers.
Tanizaki with his relish for decadent melodrama, was well-equipped to translate this story and to appreciate its sadistic under-currents, which are perhaps more apparent to twentieth-century readers than to its first audience. He would have picked up the masochistic overtones in the other stories as well, for instance in the tale of Lady Icenway's lover: ‘his attachment seemed to increase in proportion to her punitive treatment of him' (G 146); ‘He sunned himself in her scornfulness as if it were love, and his ears drank in her curt monosyllables as though they were rhapsodies of enchantment’ (147); or the masochistic abasement before aristocracy expressed by Timothy Petrick when he realises that his son is not a duke’s offspring, as his dying wife's delusive confession had led him to believe: ‘he could no longer read history in the boy's face, and centuries of domination in his eyes' (162); 'Why haven't you his looks, and a way of commanding, as if you'd done it for centuries – hey?'(163).
Free of the constrictions of Victorian puritanism and in tune with the complex erotic traditions of his own country, Tanizaki could respond intelligently to the peculiar genius of Hardy's tales. Hardy may have composed them in a casual mood, but for this very reason they reveal more clearly traits of his psychology which transpire only through a thick veil in his full-length novels. The sadistic streak running through the stories also underlies grisly scenes in the major novels – the murder of Alec D'Urberville in Tess of the D'Urbervilles, for example, or the death of the children in Jude the Obscure (as discussed by Jean-Jacques Lecercle and Christine Brooke-Rose [Butler, 1-48] and by James R. Kincaid [Higonnet, 132-48]). But the stories are comic in tenor, turning on complexities of illicit marriage and parentage. Throwing off the cothurn and letting a vein of mischievous comedy spring up (such as we find also in the collection, Life's Little Ironies), Hardy puts himself in touch with aspects of his temperament and imagination given little vent elsewhere. Deep characterisation is not aimed at; rather, sudden shifts in situation or in the characters’ feeling move the plot forward like the moves of knights or queens on a chessboard. The element of black comedy and the relishing of perversity in ‘Barbara’ takes it deep into Tanizaki territory. ‘Shunkinsho’, too, has a comic or at least ironic aspect, though it is not as marked as in Chjin no ai (Naomi, 1925) and Kagi (The Key, 1956), which are other examples of ‘a twisted variation on the Pygmalion myth’ (Larson, 176). The same elements that combine to create tragic melodrama in ‘Barbara’ have an idyllically happy upshot in ‘Shunkinsho’.
Points in common between Tanizaki's story and Hardy's include the use of a narrator of antiquarian leanings, who evokes a vanished historical period, but one which holds fascination for those who live in the present, and the exploration of a relationship turning on issues of sadistic control and masochistic bondage and on the effect on love of marred physical beauty. These topics are rehearsed in Ken K. Ito's excellent study of Tanizaki as analyst of the fabric of human desire (Ito, 168-72). Here I shall attempt to fill out the chapter which Ito has added to the story of Hardy's influence on twentieth-century fiction (for the European dimensions of this influence see Casagrande).
THE ANTIQUARIAN NARRATIVE
Tanizaki derived from ‘L’Abbesse de Castro’ the framing structure of the narrative, in which an antiquarian researcher ‘pieces together the story from various sources and presents it to the reader through a combination of description, conjecture, and direct quotation from "primary" materials’ (Ito, 168). ‘Shunkinsho’ deals with what HenryJames in the preface to ‘The Aspern Papers’ calls ‘a palpable imaginable _visitable_ past', and is thus closer to the ltaly of La Chartreuse de Parme than to that of ‘L'Abbesse de Castro’ or the other ‘chroniques italiennes’. The fantastic relationship of the lovers is embedded in a fully visualised yet already vanished society, as is the relationship of Fabrice and Clelia in La Chartreuse.
Just as Stendhal fleshes out the historical chronicles with novelistic elaboration, Hardy conjures up his noble dames from the pedigrees of county families, which ‘mostly appear at first sight to be as barren of any touch of nature as a table of logarithms’ (G vii). Similarly, the story of Shunkin is pieced together from the inscriptions on her and Sasuke's graves and from the document quoted in the text; but Tanizaki, unlike Stendhal and Hardy, is using fictional documentation. The piling up of pseudo-documentary detail in this story creates such a densely textured world that one is loth to accept that the figure of Shunkin is not based on a historical person. Indeed, Japanese critics have sometimes been taken in by Tanizaki's inventions of non-existent historical characters and poets, just as ‘L'Abbesse de Castro’ until a few decades ago was taken as straightforward history rather than a characteristic product of Stendhal's novelistic imagination.
Hardy’s narrator plays a slightly more active role than is noted by Ito. It is not correct to say that ‘in contrast to Tanizaki's ever-present researcher, Hardy's villager disappears following a brief introduction, effectively turning the story into a third-person narration' (Ito, 168). The phrase ‘Tanizaki's ever-present researcher' is misleading, since the researcher is very deliberately presented as Tanizaki himself. There are essayistic sections in the author's journalistic voice; he quotes his colleague Sato Haruo (S 273; replaced by a bland ‘it has been said' in SJT 8); he refers to a recent issue of the Mainichi Shinbun (S 285; omitted in SJT 28) and to one of his own articles, ‘My View of Osaka and Osaka people’ (S 298; omitted in SJT 54). The statement that some of Shunkin's pupils may have been people like Rousseau (S 301; omitted in SJT 760), straightforwardly presupposes the cultural milieu of Tanizaki himself and his readers' awareness of the masochistic narratives in Rousseau's Confessions. The English translation systematically omits these rather prosaic authorial intrusions, thus slightly misrepresenting the way in which Tanizaki inserts his tale of perverse passion in a realistic reconstruction of the old world of Osaka musicians and actors. Tanizaki has long practice in presenting himself in his fictions. In ‘Dokutan’ (‘The German Spy’, 1915), he is ‘Herr Tanizaki, der beruehmte Romanschreiber’, and in Poesque tales of mystery, such as ‘Hakuchukigo’ (‘Tale of a Noonday Devil’, 1918) or ‘Yanagiyu jiken’ (‘The Yanagiyu Incident, 1918), his poker-faced narration of the tall tales in his own persona lends them the uncanny verisimilitude the genre requires. In ‘Hassan Khan no Yojutsu’ (‘Hassan Khan's Magic Arts’, 1917) he recounts an elaborate mystical vision with every appearance of earnest straightforwardness, but to ultimately comic effect. The antiquarian essayist of ‘Shunkinsho’ has already appeared in such stories as ‘Yoshino Kuzu’ (1932) and ‘Ashikari’ (1932), again with no effort to characterise him distinctively and distance him from Tanizaki himself. It is the completely prosaic presence of Tanizaki as narrator that stamps the story with an effect of reality: 'the sceptical narrator, continually questioning, doubting, and speculating, imparts an uncanny plausibility – a feeling almost of inevitability – to the improbable tale' (Chambers, 457-8).
Meanwhile, Hardy's narrator is not simply a ‘villager’, but the ‘Old Surgeon’, a doubly significant characterisation. His age brings him nearer in time to the events narrated: ‘The parson… retorted that their friend the surgeon, the son of a surgeon, seemed to him, as a man who had seen much and heard more during the long course of his own and his father's practice, the member of all others most likely to be acquainted with such lore' (G 50). Barbara's world is present to the surgeon through links of oral tradition: ‘In my childhood I knew an old lady whose mother saw the wedding’ (G 79). His profession qualifies him to comment on the physical and psychological pathologies with which the story is fraught. He speaks as a psychologist from the start: ‘It was apparently an idea, rather than a passion, that inspired Lord Uplandtowers' resolve to win her’; ‘the family character had a great deal to do with it. Determination was hereditary in the bearers of that escutcheon’ (55). The contrast between the 'lukewarm state of religion' in Barbara's day and 'the happy times in which we live' (77) must be attributed to the surgeon's wry humour rather than to Hardy himself. The surgeon's curiosity is woven into his narrative: 'What followed is more or less conjecture. The story, as told to me, goes on to say that…' (87). Appeals to the community's memory occur: 'she in after years became the wife of the Honourable Mr. Beltonleigh, who was created Lord d'Almaine, as may be remembered' (90); 'the title, as is known, passed at his death to his nephew. Perhaps it may not be so generally known that… the broken fragments of a marble statue were unearthed… Only one or two old inhabitants guessed whose statue the fragments had composed'(91). He views Barbara's zombie-like subjection to her lord as a medical curiosity: 'How fright could have eflected such a change of idiosyncrasy learned physicians alone can say; but I believe such cases of reactionary instinct are not unknown. The upshot was that the cure became so permanent as to be itself a new disease'(90). The surgeon's summary of a sermon prompted by Barbara's fate shows the limits of his mentality: 'He dwelt upon the folly of indulgence in sensuous love for a handsome form merely… In the case of the tender but somewhat shallow lady whose life I have related, there is no doubt that an infatuation for the person of young Willowes was the chief feeling that induced her to marry him' (91). Here the surgeon-narrator becomes almost a comic figure. Similar comic limitations of outlook are shown in the discussion between the local historian and the reverend Vice-President as to whether the Lady Penelope's fate ought to be seen as 'a chastisement' for her 'unseemly wantonness in contracting three marriages in such rapid succession' (188). 'This is rather a "Group of Noble Men" defending themselves against women as the odd "Others" in order to provide entertainment accompanying brandy and cigars. Hardy's structure allows them to damn themselves' (Steel, 91).
Tanizaki confirmed that he had been inspired by Hardy (Sato, 1934). Tanizaki 'hypothesised about what a Japanese would do in the same situation, or what would happen if the male and female roles were reversed'; the conclusion of the story 'contained a tacit anti-Western stand' (Sato, quoted Ito, 169). 'It seems that when the priest Gazan [a historical person, 1852-1900] of the Tenryu Temple heard the story of Sasuke's self-immolation, he praised him for the Zen spirit with which he changed his whole life in an instant, turning the ugly into the beautiful, and said that it was very nearly the act of a saint' (SJT 84). There may be some irony here, as in the sermon related by the surgeon in Hardy's tale: the full sadomasochistic situation is missed in both religious glosses. It is somewhat misleading to say 'the priest Gazan's praise of this triumph of the human subjectivity can be construed as an anti-Western stand' and 'an answer to Hardy's conclusions on the primacy of exterior reality', or that ‘“What a Japanese would do in the same situation" is to transcend the Western preoccupation with the material and find a way to cling to his vision of the real' (Ito, 169-70). Ito wrongly takes the Dean of Melchester's 'morally banal' sermon to represent Hardy's own conclusions. Jean-Jacques Tschudin misses the spirit of Hardy even more completely: ‘It is hard to speak of real influence, for Tanizaki’s fable explores other avenues than Hardy’s story; the bonds knit between the protagonists are of a radically different kind and lead to situations and a conclusion, immoral and provoking, at the antipodes of the conventional wisdom of the English author’s narrative, which ends with the triumph of solid values over the sensual and superficial beauty of forms’ (Ninomiya I:1871). Perhaps the point of Tanizaki's claim to provide a Japanese corrective to Hardy, once we have set aside the archaising nods to Zen piety, is that Sasuke's masochism is positively valorised, whereas Barbara's is a pure defeat. Hardy's tale is one of sadism, and at the end of it we see Barbara only as the object of sadistic aggression. Tanizaki inverts this: his story is told from the masochistic perspective of Sasuke, and at the end we see Shunkin only as the object of his masochistic adoration. Thus the same elements produce grim catastrophe in Hardy but an idyllically happy conclusion in Tanizaki.
Tanizaki's story is an important event in the literary reception of Hardy's. The later work ‘is an answer to questions left unresolved in the earlier work; indeed it brings to light problematic aspects of its predecessor which might otherwise have remained hidden, and helps us to understand its coordinates more subtly and intricately'(Ryan, 153). When Henry James rewrites Goethe's Elective Affinities in The Golden Bowl, Balzac's Eugenie Grandet in Washington Square, or Pushkin's ‘Queen of Spades’ in ‘The Aspern Papers’, he brings a modern literary and psychological sophistication to bear on the predecessor. But Tanizaki does something even more interesting, transferring the European situation into a Japanese setting, where quite new cultural presuppositions come into play. The study of Japanese rewritings of European models – of Mauriac's Destins in Mishima's Thirst for Love (Ai no kawaki), for example – is a promising field, unfortunately neglected in both the departments of Japanese literature and of European literatures in Japanese universities.
The Buddhist elements in the story are quite prominent; the posthumous dharma-names of both Shunkin and Sasuke are given in the opening description of their graves (omitted in Hibbett's translation) in a Pure Land temple; Shunkin's dharma name, Esho Zenjo Ni, is mentioned again at the end of the novella: Esho has thematic relevance in that it combines the characters for'blessing' and 'light'. Sasuke transferred from the Nichiren sect to Pure Land in order to be close to Shunkin. When he is blinded, Shunkin's face hovers before him like the visitation of Amida Buddha at the hour of death in Pure Land belief (raigobutsu, S 309; SJT 75 simply has'the Buddha'). Perhaps, after all, there is more to this than cultural orchestration. Remembering The Tale of Genji, in which Buddhist readers have found the message 'that the affairs of men and women, the sorrows and joys of life, are no more than a dream' (Shirane,192), we may surmise that in a looser manner than Lady Murasaki her modern successor (and translator) also wishes to give a Buddhist aura to his entertainments. The Mahayana slogan, 'passions themselves are enlightenment' suggests a religious perspective on Tanizaki's traversal of his fantasies. Like any artist's labour 'to see life steadily and see it whole', Tanizaki's sounding of the existential undertones of eroticism can be seen as inherently aligned with the religious quest. In bringing out the existential projects and questions underlying forms of relationship usually reserved to diagnostic manuals he builds a bridge between the sexual and the spiritual, finding a conatus of transcendence in activities that could lend themselves to ridicule.
THE PERVERSE COUPLE
In a now somewhat dusty version of psychoanalytical theory, what are called the perversions (sadomasochism, exhibitionism, voyeurism, fetishism, scatology) are understood to be survivals of pre-Oedipal sexuality. Social constructionists inspired by Michel Foucault might see Tanizaki's sadomasochistic scenarios as cultural products, imported from the West or, failing that, inherited from Japanese culture. The shaping influence of culture on the enactment of these desires and on the judgement made on them is indeed a theme latent in Tanizaki's own writing. Nonetheless, it seems clear that his proclivities have their roots in untutored infancy, and can be cited as support for the Freudian approach.
Freudians sometimes see homosexuality as a bridge between the perversions and the heterosexual economy confirmed in the Oedipal crisis. Unsurprisingly, then, homoerotic currents swirl in Tanizaki's oeuvre. Sasameyuki centers on the lesbian Yukiko, and the stifling of her sexual identity is what lends to the novel's many miai their keenest oppressive edge. Troilism, a sexual rapport between men mediated by the woman they share, abounds in Naomi, The Key, and Diary of a Mad Old Man (1962), in a masochistic key as in the tales of Sacher-Masoch himself; Manji (1930) offers a sadistic version, in Mitsuko and Sonoko's treatment of Watanuki, who is sexually incapacitated by orchitis and has been treated as a 'man-woman' by lesbian prostitutes. Mishima's championing of ‘Konjiki no shi’ (‘A Golden Death’, 1914) in 1970 is due not only to its supposed suggestion of suicide as an aesthetic solution (Ninomiya I:1637), but to its accord with Mishima's cult of youthful male beauty.
So-called perversions have been subject to severe repression in Western civilisation, but less so in Japan. At least, in Tanizaki's very self-consciously Japanese fictions, 'kinky' relationships of different kinds are allowed to unfold with very little sense of guilt or fear. His explorations of perverse sexuality are more explicit than anything in Hardy, but they are encased in well-wrought texts claiming high literary status. He does not cross the border into pornography (though that is partly in the eye of the beholder), and the movie adaptations of his novels which do cross it are instructive to those who seek to determine where that border may lie (see Connolly, 57-115). In ‘Shunkinsho’ everything is distanced and poeticised by the complex narrative technique and the endless sentences recalling an archaic Japanese style. Tanizaki, at least in his later career, maintains a higher level of stylistic self-respect than Kawabata or Mishima, who were too ready to write potboilers for popular consumption. Less prolific, he was also less prolix. Even his most popular pieces are individual and stylish performances, little games he is playing with conscious artistry. Though he organises ingenious situations which allow the acting out of erotic wish-fulfilment, he never abandons entirely a double sense of responsibility, as a realist and as a stylist. Not only are the sexual affairs located in a thoroughly described social and historical milieu (in contrast to the schematic settings of A Group of Noble Dames), but the catastrophic social and personal consequences of perversion are minutely examined. There is a constant tension between the oneiric fantasy governing the characters' actions and the reality of the world around them. In The Key and Diary of a Mad Old Man, where social constraint is outrageously rejected by the protagonists, fantasy runs up against another kind of reality, that of the sick and aging body. Tanizaki deplored the disappearance of the tension between fantasy and reality in the film versions of ‘Shunkinsho’. The careful staging of collisions between fantasy and reality – as in the disillusionments suffered by Joji in his Pygmalion project in Chijin no ai, and the degeneration of his social position – lends extra force to the paradoxical victories of fantasy over reality in the final masochistic triumphs of the protagonists.
There is certainly something cold and unattractive, even monstrous, about many of Tanizaki's protagonists. Sasuke's monomania and Shunkin's peevish tyranny hardly make them lovable characters. Tanizaki refuses to glamorise. As he follows perverse desire to its extremes, disturbing aspects come into view, such as the tendency of the perverse couple to exclude the procreative dimension entirely, or to appropriate it for another purpose; consider the roles of the daughter in The Key or the protagonist in ‘Yume no Ukihashi’ (‘The Bridge of Dreams’,1959). Although Sasuke and Shunkin have four children, they soon die or are adopted. ln ‘Yume no Ukihashi’ an inconvenient baby is similarly disposed of (SJT 126), in accordance with the economy of perverse desire, which has a ruthless, all-or-nothing dynamism. Tanizaki himself was lacking in paternal affection (Keene, 734). Marriage itself is swept aside by the imperious demands of perverse desire. Sasuke and Shunkin foreswear marriage in order that Sasuke can continue to be Shunkin's social inferior; the marriage between Joji and Naomi in Chijin no ai is merely the respectable social mask of their unorthodox sexual arrangements.
However, it is incorrect to see Tanizaki as satirising or condemning the protagonists. To say that Chijin no ai ‘implicitly condemns the hero, Joji, for his adulation of a waitress whose coarse appeal destroys a decent, sensitive man’ (Keene, 753) is to apply an inappropriate yardstick. As in Joyce's Ulysses, the upshot of these studies in perversity is comic acceptance. Psychoanalysts talk of the perversions as a happy substitute for neuroses. Tanizaki's characters are driven by compulsions, but these are not a source of neurotic suffering. Rather the protagonists, even the kleptomaniac narrator of ‘Watashi’ (‘The Thief’, 1921), surrender enthusiastically to the strange desires which shape their lives. The author, despite his ironic detachment and narrative feints of naivety, is in fundamental sympathy with the characters' drives. (An example of the faux-naif narrative style is his tentative suggestion that the relation between Sasuke and Shunkin might have been a sadomasochistic one). His writing could well be taken as a charter of erotic freedom, or at least honesty. The tone of his chronicles cannot attain tragic depth, for even suffering and death become elements of a sexual comedy.
Tanizaki reveals a strongly narcissistic structure in the masochistic imagination. There may be affection, passion, even love for the partner, but what is crucial is that the partner fills his or her role in the pre-ordained scenario of the perverse fantasy' Thus Shunkin and Naomi play their dominatrix role to the hilt while Sasuke and Joji exuberantly adopt postures of slavish adoration. All four characters are thorough narcissists and their relationships are a skilful play of projections, in which the partner becomes an object of domination or submission, but in which one also acts out the object-role expected by one’s partner. There is a ritual quality to the relationship between Sasuke and Shunkin. Shunkin carefully initiates him into his role in early scenes (S 279-80, 284; SJT 18-20, 27-8), which invite comparison with the more brutal initiatory stratagems of Lord Uplandtowers in the Hardy story. The faux-naif narrator informs us that ‘Perhaps Sasuke cried easily, but they say that whenever Shunkin struck him he began to sob’ (SJT 31; S 285). Reading between the lines, we see that Sasuke is acting up to the role Shunkin has prescribed for him. Later,in order to continue her role undisturbed, she prescribes that he '[grit his] teeth and bear it' no matter how much it hurts' (SJT 34), and Sasuke duly ceases to cry.
Profound anarchy underlies the rigid and ritualised lifestyle of Sasuke. ‘A further point about the pervert is that since, for him, the Law is not fully established (the Law is his _lost_ object of desire), he supplements this lack with an intricate set of _regulations_ (the masochistic ritual)'; the regulations ‘bear witness to the absence or suspension of law' (Zizek, 42). Sasuke's obedience to Shunkin is rebellion against the social order. Her wilfulness makes of her blindness a fortress of sovereign independence. He seals his surrender to her by entering that world of blindness, and at the same time brings his own perverse freedom to perfection. In going all the way with his desire he is following its law: ‘In contrast to the "normal" subject, for whom the Law functions as the agency of prohibitiom which regulates (access to the object of) his desire, for the pervert, _the object of his desire is Law itself_-- the Law is the ldeal he is longing for, he wants to be fully acknowledged by the Law, integrated into its functioning'(14). The paradox of transgression which expresses a radical desire for Law is clearly enacted in Sasuke's story. If Sasuke's self-blinding is ‘very nearly the act of a saint’ (SJT 84), it is because of this self-sacrificing obedience to the Law, not because it is performed out of love for Shunkin.
THE COMPULSION TO REPEAT
‘In perversion the narrative remains stuck in the same place and repeats itself indefinitely – that is to say, the perverse narrative is unable to "progress" properly’ (Zizek, 40). The relationship of Sasuke and Shunkin is based on ritual repetition, with occasional intensifications, culminating in the self-blinding of Sasuke. Hardy's tales of fixation are characterised by similar repetitive structures. The dominance of fantasy in narrative of perversion drains away the interest of individual characterisation. The guiding fantasy 'is uncanny – even horrifying – since it somehow "depossesses" the subject, reducing her or him to a puppet-like level "beyond dignity and freedom"' (8).
Hillis Miller points out that in Hardy's stories, the author's and the narrators' calling up of the dead is mirrored in the plots themselves: ‘If Hardy's framing in the Preface and in the frame story describes the fiction of prosopopoeia as the source of the stories, the stories themselves… are about the devastating effects of the same process. An example is Barbara's infatuation with a face, which becomes, after her husband's death, infatuation with his statue'(Butler, 114). Similarly, Sasuke's infatuation with Shunkin's face becomes after his self-blinding, and again after her death, infatuation with the image of the face preserved in his mind; the face replaces the real woman. ‘It is not that Barbara has loved a statue, but that her first husband was in a sense also a statue. She did not love him. She loved his face and figure and raised a suppositious personality on that iconic basis' (ibid.). Similarly Sasuke loves Shunkin as a projection of his narcissistic imagination. It has been suggested that he himself disfigures her in order to incorporate her more perfectly into his fantasy world. He blinds himself in order to allow fantasy to rule uncorrected by external realities. In his blindness he completes the pattern of infantile narcissism underlying all Tanizaki's scenarios: he reconstitutes the world of the womb itself, in which he is forever fused with mother: ‘he was bound up with her in an intimacy beyond the dreams of any ordinary husband and wife or pair of lovers’ (SJT 44). From the start Sasuke is drawn to Shunkin not in spite of her blindness but because of it (‘her features seemed ideal', SJT 15). He is drawn to a world of darkness which recalls the bliss of the womb. The dark closet in which he secretly practises the samisen becomes a dreamlike place, and even when it is no longer necessary he remains there in order to share the darkness of Shunkin’s world.
The elaborate portrait of Shunkin’s tastes, dress, and fashion contains exotic touches, such as her pet nightingales, and centres on her cruelty and wilfulness; one is reminded of Salome, the archetypal heroine of decadent writers. She has many feline traits. which mav make her attractive to those who are cat-lovers like Tanizaki. Shunkin resembles Hardy's witchlike women. ‘Man perceives a woman as a witch when she thwarts his ambitions, or, rejecting him, becomes his obsession. The relationship invariably begins as loving enchantment and ends in disaster, her projected image driving him to ruin and ultimately to death. Hardy's comment that the spider is not invariably male nor the fly invariably female has often been quoted' (Steel, 97). Sasuke is the willing victim of the spider-woman, who devours him with a destructive, possessive love. One remembers the sadistic artist in ‘Shisei’ (‘The Tattooer’, 1910) who gives a girl's back the form of a huge black-widow spider' and remarks, 'the spider has you in its clutches' (SJT 167-8).
Like Salome, Shunkin overreaches herself and is punished for her hubris. In the long discussion of who had disfigured Shunkin (S 301-5; SJT 60-8) no convincing case is made against any suspect. When we recall that in Hardy's story it is the jealous husband disfigures the statue of Willowes, the suspicion arises that Sasuke himself is the one who disfigured Shunkin. jealous of the attentions of such suitors as Ritaro (as proposed bv Nosaka Akiyuki and Chiba Shunji; see Ito, 179-80). Rather than jealousy, I suggest that his act is a revolt of the fly against the spider. Henceforth the balance of power is inverted and Shunkin's image is caught in the web of his blindness. This adds a new dimension to the perversity of the story. ‘As in Tanizaki’s other parables of dominant women and submissive men, the balance of power is not as simple as it initially appears' (lto, 172). When the sadomasochistic pervert stages the scene in which he participates, he "remains in control" at all times, maintains a distance, gives directions like a stage director. But his enjoyment is none the less much more intense than that of immediate passionate immersion' (Zizek, 15). But the control may not always be just the ‘paradisal’ transparency this evokes' The anarchy underlying the rigid regulations of the masochistic relation may erupt in an act of obscene violence, when the Law of the perverse relationship works itself out at the expense of the partner or of the subject himself. ‘Drive as such is death drive: it stands for an unconditional impetus which disregards the proper needs of the living body and simply battens on it' (31).
Hillis Miller points out the recurring structures of repetition in Hardy's novels, building on a hint thrown out in Proust's La Prisonniere: 'the parallelism between The Well-Beloved, where the man loves three women, A Pair of Blue Eyes where the woman loves three men, etc., and finally all those novels which can be superimposed on top of one another, like the houses vertically set up one above the other on the rocky soil of the island'(quoted, Miller, 152). Proust might have added Far from the Madding Crowd, where the heroine is loved by three men, an archetypal romantic situation (see Beegel, 207). These uncanny structures make such stories fairy tales for adults. We find something similar in Joyce's 'The Dead' where the men are grouped in twos and fours and the women in threes and where the protagonist fails successively with three women as if under a jinx; the structure of repetition culminates in a vision of the repetitive rhythm of mortality, all human beings falling likes snowflakes to their graves throughout all time. Again, in James' Portrait of a Lady, Isabel is repetitively besieged by three suitors, and shrinking from their sexual presence buries herself in the deathly palace of Osmond, as if choosing the skull beneath the repetitious, oppressive rhythm of fleshly desire. Os in Latin is 'bone' or 'mouth'; 'mond' recalls German Mund, mouth; so Osmond brings Isabel the kiss of death. Again, in Forster's The Longest Journey, Rickie seeks the embrace of his dead mother in a succession of encounters with his wife and his half-brother and finally embraces death as the true object of this desire.
Freud, in ‘’Beyond the Pleasure Principle’, finds in certain lives a repetition compulsion which is a living out of forgotten infantile experience. It gives people a sense of uncanny destiny presiding over their career. A case in point is that of a woman who marries three men, and has to nurse each of them through a long, fatal illness. The number three is the minimum number to establish a pattern of repetition, hence its frequency in folk tales. Its special fascination for Hardy is evident in the structure of 'What the Shepherd Saw': 'He begins with a love triangle, a setting that includes three stones powerful in themselves, and he structures his action in three significant scenes on three successive nights. Not only are odd numbers said to be masculine, but the Duke's power increases in each scene: he catches the shepherd spying on the third night' (Steel, 92). Tanizaki himself courted the eldest of three sisters, married the second, and had an affair with the third (McCarthy, 63-4,67-8). He also married three times; his third wife divorced a husband who was having an affair with her younger sister. These repetitions, as well as the repetitions between his fictional creations and the facts of his life, would have made Tanizaki sensitive to the uncanny overtones of Hardy's tales.
The Well-Beloved, in which three women incarnating his ideal, grandmother, mother and daughter, all named Avice, are pursued in turn by a sculptor, is another perverse variant on the Pygmalion myth. The sculptor remains perpetually young, reflecting the infantile, pre-Oedipal source of his repetition compulsion. The second Avice resembles Naomi in Chijin no ai and the sculptor's attitude to her recalls Joji: 'watching over her, tending her mind, and developing it' (Ingham,264). 'O Avice, Avice, you must not go out like this! Don't you know that I am responsible for your safety? I am your – well, guardian, in fact' (270). Hardy's protagonist is a fool (chijin) like Tanizaki's: 'Foolish he was, indeed, to be devoted to this young woman' (272); the first version is still closer to Tanizaki: 'Foolish he was, indeed, to be the slave of this young creature!' (102) – note Hardy's conscious de-eroticisation of his text. The eternal adolescence of its protagonist – ‘emotionally he was not much older than she’ (276) – is shared by Proust's Marcel and Tanizaki's Joji.
The Fort-Da rhythm of Barbara's relations to her husbands, the way she veers between adoration and fierce rejection, is a structure of repetition such as Freud noted in a child's play, and in which he detected an intimation of the death-drive. Lady Penelope promises her suitors: 'I will marry you all in turn' (G 179), and she lives out this script as if following a fatal law of repetition. Tanizaki's obsessed protagonists also follow such a script, in a spiral of increasing masochistic subjugation. But in no case do the protagonists come to rest: Barbara's subjection to her husband becomes a condition of restless jealousy. Her last Fort! is a total rejection of Willowes: ‘“I cannot endure recollection of him!" cried the poor Countess slavishly. "It fills me with shame – how could I ever be so depravedl"'(G 89), but this revulsion and subjection is not static, it intensifies: 'A permanent revulsion was operant in her, which intensified as time wore on… The cure became so permanent as to be itself a new disease… His slightest civilities to other women made her frantically jealous'; her 'obsequious amativeness towards a perverse and cruel man' has the effect of 'causing him to curse and swear' (G 90).Penelope's third marriage is rendered uneasy by the unjust accusation, which her husband believes, that she had contrived the death of his predecessor; 'done to death by a vile scandal that was wholly unfounded' (187-8), her grave itself is unquiet – her remorseful husband becomes a wanderer, and discussion of her case continues even among the story-tellers at the club of the narrative frame. Tanizaki's masochists do not come to rest either. All these tales confirm the uneasiness of the death-drive underlying compulsive repetition, an 'impossibility of dying' explored in the twilight fictions of Blanchot and Beckett.
Though the 'compulsion to repeat, may be, as Freud argued, a disguise for the desire of death, this desire, it seems, cannot be satisfied. It cannot be satisfied because its goal does not exist, at least not as a point of undifferentiated origin to which all living organisms have a desire to return. It exists rather as a phantasm generated by the incompleteness which is the true “beginning”' (Miller, 138).
The ultimate projection of such a situation is a living death, as in Poe's fantasies of premature burial or conscious corpses. Willowes’ mutilation, Barbara's enslavement, Penelope's slandering, Shunkin’s blinding and her mutilation, Sasuke's self-blinding, make them examples of living death. Sheer horror emerges obscenely and uncannily at the heart of each story – the reader feels as if he is being blinded by the horrible sight of Willowes' disfigured face or its reproduction on the mutilated statue. Tanizaki heightens this horror not in the description of Shunkin's disfigurement but in the account of Sasuke's self-blinding. Blinding is notoriously a displacement for castration, ever since Oedipus. The horror of castration is close to the surface in Tanizaki but it is also felt in the mutilations of Hardy's story.
THE LABYRINTH OF DESIRE
Documentary recreation of Meiji period city culture, and journalistic treatment of the new phenomena of Taisho Japan, become in Tanizaki's hands a form of imaginary exploration. Yosho Jidai (Childhood Years, 1956) is on the surface a rather prosaic memoir, but its sedulous evocation of vanished streets gives us not just the props but the very stuff of Tanizaki's imagination. Hardy's imagination flourished on the Wessex landscape and on massive stone constructions, but Tanizaki, like Baudelaire, likes to lose himself in ‘les plis sinueux des vieilles capitales’, in the urban texture of old Osaka. Kyoto and downtown Edo, and in the shadows and creaking wooden corridors of old Japanese houses.
The endless rambling sentences of ‘Shunkinsho’ reflect the labyrinthine interior of a Japanese house, the warped character of Shunkin, and the twisting passages of Sasuke's heart. Tanizaki explains in his Bunsho Tokuhon (1934) that the story attempts to reflect the older rhythms of Japanese prose by cutting down to a minimum the use of periods, a Western punctuation device. He quotes a sentence from ‘Shunkinsho’, and then the same sentence with orthodox punctuation. His aim was to create a dim, vague feeling (Bunsho Tokuhon, 176-8). The dimmest region in this story is the world of blindness into which Sasuke finally enters by his own act; it is no accident that the longest sentence in the story is the one that describes his self-blinding (S 307-8; SJT 72-3). The longer a sentence) the more obscure it becomes, reflecting the difficulty of finding one's way in the world of the blind or the obscurity of Shunkin's and Sasuke's motivations.
The spirit of In'ei Raisan (In Praise of Shadows, 1933-4), written about the same time as Shunkinsho, presides over this spidery style of composition. As a result, the sentences become mazes from which one cannot escape. Consider the following:
“But Sasuke did not in the least feel this darkness to be inconvenient, reflecting that blind people live in such darkness all the time and that Koi-san [Shunkin] also would play the samisen in this darkness, and himself finding no higher joy than to have his place in the same world of darkness, so that when afterwards he was permitted to practise openly, it was his habit to close his eyes when taking the instrument in his hand, saying he had to do the same as Koi-san, that is, even while enjoying his sight he wanted to taste the same difficulties as the blind Shunkin and to experience as far as possible the handicapped situation of blind people, at times seeming to envy blind people, so that his actually becoming blind in later years was due to the influence of this attitude of his in his youth and was, on reflection, no accident.” (S 281)
The sentence forces the reader to concentrate on the blind inner world of Sasuke, that of Shunkin with which Sasuke identifies and into which he enters fully in his self-blinding. The sentence is spidery, reflecting the tentacles that bind Sasuke in Shunkin's web.
Influenced no doubt by prescriptions of clarity and concision stemming from Hemingway and Orwell, Hibbett's English translation cuts up the text into short, crisp sentences. The effect is as if a traditional Japanese house were suddenly drenched in electric light. The sentence just quoted becomes eight sentences in Hibbett's translation:
“But Sasuke never felt inconvenienced by the darkness. Blind people live in the dark like this all the time, he thought, and Shunkin has to play the samisen the same way. He was delighted to have found a place for himself in that dark world of hers. Even afterward, when he could practise freely, he was in the habit of closing his eyes whenever he took up the instrument, explaining that he felt he had to do exactly as Shunkin did. In short, he wanted to suffer the same handicap as Shunkin, to share all he could of the life of the blind. At times he obviously envied them. And these attitudes in which he persisted since boyhood help to account for his own later blindness. It was something that had to happen.” (SJT 22)
The translation defines Sasuke's feelings and attitudes too sharply. They are no longer dimly descried but set forth with objective clarity in temporal and logical sequence. The result is a simplification and sentimentalisation of the Shunkin-Sasuke relationship. Two sentences at S 309-10 become twenty-two sentences in English (SJT 75-6), from "'Did it hurt much, Sasuke?" she asked him', to'And the blind lovers embraced, weeping'. The English invites a soap-opera level of empathy with the couple, whereas the Japanese sustains a sense of strangeness and puzzlement, demanding an effort of interpretation and assessment from the reader.
One might correlate Tanizaki's stylistic experiment with those of Gertrude Stein or Samuel Beckett, who produce a thickening and slowing of language that envelops the reader. Their language 'performs a temporal delay through the absence of causal connectives. It is this change in temporal organisation that in turn slows down the interpreter – as if the loss of "strong links" within the original text or narrative paradoxically strengthens the link between it and the reader, enabling the transfer of the former's emotional value' (Ngai).
Hardy's story takes us to the outer reaches of the bizarre in classical English fiction. Tanizaki takes us farther, by the sedulous realism with which he maps out the relationship and its social context, by the intense empathy with which he espouses and articulates the masochistic perspective, and by the extraordinary stylistic labour which carries perversion into the realm of language itself, yet at the same time carries us back to older, forgotten rhythms ofJapanese language and sensibility.
G = Hardy, Thomas. A Group of Noble Dames. London: Macmillan, 1991 (repr. New York: AMS, 1984).
SJT = Tanizaki Jun'ichiro, Seven Japanese Tales, trans. lfoward Hibbett.Tokyo: Tuttle, 1967.
S = Shunkinsho, in Tanizaki Jun'ichiro shu, vol. 2 (Nihon bungaku zenshu, vol. 22), Tokyo: Shuei, 1977.
Bunsho Tokuhon = Tanizaki Jun'ichiro, Bunsho Tokuhon. Tokyo: Obunsha.
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From: TRANSACTIONS OF THE ASIATIC SOCIETY OF JAPAN 14 (1999)