Mushanokoji's Good Natured Man

Mushanokoji’s Good Natured Man 15 (Addendum 2)

Not unlike a Brechtian ‘alienation‘ or ‘estrangement effect’, Mushanokoji’s ‘supplementary record’ creates a distance from the naturalism of the original story. These addenda are intended to be read as though written by Jibun, the character in the story, not the author as such. Thus they are located at a further remove of representation, an outer orbit.

At the same time, Jibun lurks at the nucleus as ‘myself‘, an identity not attributed a proper name in the basic story. In the supplementary record to date, the narrator is called Ichiro, a name sometimes given to the first son of a Japanese family. It carries weighted connotations of ‘first’ and ‘clear/bright’, which serve to signal an intrinsic connection with the authorial persona.

Hence we note some fundamental differences between this and the original narrative. The love relationship is not so utterly one-sided as it was in the original story. Ichiro and Shizu (‘quiet’/’clear’) are placed at an equivalent degree of objectivity in a certain respect, even while the narrator identifies with Ichiro to an extent. They are intertwined, like a composite character—individuals who are conjoined even in their alienation from one another.

As in Addendum 1, the story of ‘Two People’, the theme is depersonalized. Attention is given to the ‘objective’ nature of romantic attraction in terms of unconscious impulse and recognition. It is like a ‘thought experiment’ in which the point-of-view assumes an objective purchase on the unconscious processes of romantic attraction. It is Mushanokoji charting the territory for a philosophical, anti-naturalistic style of writing. It is as though Mushanokoji attempts to schematize the phenomenological action of ‘love’ and ‘yearning’, almost as if anticipating Heidegger on ‘care’ in Being and Time (1927).

A brief note on the contextual-atmospheric images. The first woman is Kaneyo SASAKI (1904-1980), who was an artist’s and photographer’s model, and a muse for three famous artists, Takeji Fujishima, Seiu Ito, and Yumeji Takehisa. The lower image was created between 1863 and 1877 by the Italian-British Fealice Beato (1832-1909), an early photographer of East Asian peoples and scenes. Incidentally, he was one of the first war photographers, and amassed the first substantial photojournalistic oeuvre.


2

Two years is a long time for someone afflicted with yearning. Ichiro thought about telling his father or mother about his feelings, but he had not yet entered university, and did not know if the girl loved him or not, so how could he tell them he loved her? He didn’t know anything about the girl and had never even spoken to her. He agonized and kept it secret in his heart to avoid being ridiculed.

From time to time, Shizu also thought about confiding in her mother, but neither did she know the boy’s name or what he was like, and it would be embarrassing to try to explain her feelings about someone she had no more contact with than occasionally passing him in the street. In agony, she kept it to herself, thinking that if she did tell her mother, what difference could it possibly make?

Sometimes, the two would pray to the gods, but without conviction. Why should the gods grant them time to hear about what they themselves thought may be no more than a nagging infatuation? The more they thought about it, the more they felt they should dismiss it, but since it was not something they were fully conscious of, they could not forget, either. They tried various means to distract themselves, but some unknown thing was searching for them and would eventually embrace them, sooner or later.

The two pretended to be cheerful if only to please their parents, but that made them even lonelier. On moonlit nights, they wandered through their gardens in tears, never dreaming that someone else, a neighbourhood and a half away, was suffering as well. No one doubts the possibility of communicating at a distance by telephone, but one cannot communicate what has not risen into one’s consciousness.

It is hard to believe they were not in love with each other, but they put it down to infatuation and, unreasonably—willfully—consoled themselves with this thought. To reiterate, they had no idea how to speak heart to heart, eye to eye. They had no wish to occupy themselves with anything beyond their studies.

Each believed that the next time they met, they would be able to discern whether the other one loved them or not, but they would be startled to meet by chance, and forget all of that. It was only after the other had passed by that each regained their senses. Another year went by.

Shizu turned nineteen, an age when her mother and father turned their attention to the matter of her marrying. However, the situation between her and Ichiro remained the same. The clearer it became that each loved the other, the more they doubted the other loved them in return, and the more they contemplated, the more confused they became, until each began to doubt the other’s merits. Their stupidity became so apparent that they sometimes scoffed at themselves. When they brought these feelings to the forefront of their rational mind, they must have blushed and forgotten about them.

One day, Shizu received a marriage proposal. She refused it, but not for any particular reason. She herself could not see any justification for refusing. Her parents considered it a good proposal, but since their beloved daughter did not wish to go ahead with it, they decided to abstain. Afterwards, Shizu felt she had been foolish. It would have been better to have taken a little more time to consider the suitor rather than decline straight away. She had not done so because she disliked him, but because she was preoccupied with Ichiro. She had no illusion of uniting with Ichiro, but something was there she did not understand, and because of that something she had abstained from the proposal without giving it enough thought. Reflecting on it now, she could not help feeling that what she had done was regrettable.

Then three or four months later, there came another proposal. This time her father was more amenable to it than before. But once more, without reason, Shizu was unwilling. Her father told her about this suitor’s good social standing, his education, and his earnestness. She believed all that her father said, and knew that he was right in wanting her to proceed. However, for some reason or another, she was again reluctant, and while she did not say so directly, her voice made this clear. Fortunately, her mother checked with her fortune-teller, who told her that Shizu’s age was unfavourable. When her mother said that Shizu appeared very unhappy with the arrangement, her father reluctantly bowed to them, and declined the proposal. Afterwards, once again Shizu regretted what had happened. It was foolish of her to think so much about Ichiro. Why preoccupy herself so with someone to whom she had never spoken, and of whose name and character she had no idea. She herself would become old, and he would get married … she could not but think herself a fool.

That September, Ichiro became a first-year law student.

They both grew impatient. She is old enough to become someone’s wife, Ichiro thought, but he could not bring himself to speak up. They went to that street more often than before, but they were now under a conscious influence. When Ichiro came back in through his gate disappointed, Shizu would be leaving hers in frustration, or Shizu would go into her room to cry, just as Ichiro would be putting on his geta to go out and see her, and they were often at complete odds with each other. I do not love her, he does not love me, the two would sometimes lament.

And so the years passed.


English translation of Saneatsu Mushanokoji’s Omedetakihito (1910) by Michael Guest © 2022

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