Superb dramaticule far ahead of its time, ‘Long Live the Ignorant!’ is redolent of Sigmund Freud. Jibun’s imagined “I”-character sits writing within the space of his own unconscious. Garbed in black, two mysterious figures observe the content of his script: an enticing representation of Freud’s ‘dreamwork‘. A harsh future is revealed to underpin the naive optimism of ‘the good-natured man’. Interpreting the revelations as being the real outcomes of Jibun’s life, and not simply a dream, the scenario takes on metaphysical as well as psychoanalytical connotations. The piece is heavily and cynically ironical, revealing harsh truths that lie beneath the naive optimism of the ‘good-natured man.’
Becketteers will immediately see shades of Samuel Beckett’s Rough for Theatre II (written 1958) in the piece (see a description in the blog Books & Boots: reflections on books and art; including a link to a youtube video of the Rough.) Beckett’s sketch is more metaphysical and surreal than overtly psychoanalytical, but the structural similarities are remarkable. I am reminded particularly of the black coated Auditor in Beckett’s Not I (1973); the final image of Ohio Impromptu (1980), with two surreal, black-coated figures turning to look at each other; and the metaphysical satire of his drama more generally. Mushanokoji’s piece works particularly well given the accumuluation of context from the novel and addenda, and the onion-skin layering of ‘self’ and unconscious that the author has managed to put into effect.
The first of two atmospheric-contextual images is by an unknown photographer published in The Popular Science Monthly (NY, 1908): ‘Manner of fine Japanese writing’, The second, an anonymous family photograph taken in 1930, was sourced from Aomori Shirato Shashinkan / Shirato Photo Studio (Pinterest).
Long Live the Ignorant!
A young man about eighteen years old sits writing on a piece of paper at a desk, upon which are placed a pen and a lamp. Behind him are two figures in black-suits, a man (A) and a woman (B), both of indeterminate age. On the desk there is also an alarm clock, with the hands pointing to one o’clock.
A: Dreaming of happiness.
B: He has written, ‘Good luck to them both.’
A: ‘Good luck to them both’ probably refers to when they will become husband and wife. However, there is no way for a young couple to know whether or not they will be happy together after they marry.
B: He writes: ‘I wish to marry her, even if she makes me unhappy.’
A: Perhaps so, but when unhappiness does come, will he then celebrate their marriage?
B: One cannot know until the time comes, when one sees.
A: But this young man wants to know now.
B: He writes: ‘It will be unbearable if we can’t get married.’
A: Surely he knows that, unbearable though it may well be, it is inevitable.
B: Although he knows it, he doesn’t want to write it.
A: This young man is full of hope at present, so he wants the future to come soon.
B: He is thinking about when they will become husband and wife.
A: At present he seems to believe they can become a couple.
B: It is fortunate he believes so.
A: This man thinks that if his present love is broken, he will never love again.
B: What would he say if we told him now he will have a second love?
A: Probably angry, offended, desolate …
B: In his dream, he would instantly erase the idea, but have a feeling he was doomed to misfortune.
A: What if I said there will come a time when that second love will be broken and he will have a third love?
B: Ignorance is bliss.
A: In other words, one may be happy about the darkness ahead!
B: His third love is also broken.
A: If he knew that when he becomes thirty he will marry a woman who repulses him more than anyone in the world, he would be so upset he would kill himself.
B: Or if he discovered that his wife is to become unattractive and stubborn…
A: Then in the first year she gives birth to a baby boy.
B: Who dies in the second month.
A: The following year she bears another baby boy.
B: And the year after, they part.
A: And the next year he takes a beautiful wife ten years younger than himself.
B: But in the first year, she dies in childbirth.
A: The first year after that, for the first time, he buys a geisha to keep as a mistress, and the following year she becomes his wife, having given birth to a baby girl.
B: The second year, the woman sleeps with an actor she has procured .
A: She bullies her stepchildren.
B: He detests her, beautiful and hateful as she is.
A: But then he begins to take some pleasure in life.
B: And at fifty-two years of age, the parent of five children, he leaves.
A: Two of the five girls are not his own.
B: The first child is a good-for-nothing.
A: The second sickly.
B:The third dies at the age of five.
A: The oldest daughter fourteen.
B: The second seven.
A: All the children are as rude and selfish as the wife.
B: He can only expect that his family will come to ruin after his death.
A: He occupies a prominent position as a man of letters until he is thirty-four or five, but is forgotten before very long and treated as an old man by the time he reaches forty.
B: Not knowing such things, he writes away here, optimistic and carefree.
He writes: “I am a rather contented person to believe that, while I can’t think that any woman would love someone like me, she certainly does, and perhaps we may become a couple. It is dreadful to think there is no one in the world as happy as I am.”
A: He seems to have written ‘dreadful’ only with the tip of his brush.
B: Even in his dreams he does not know that there are times when he writes, ‘Is there anyone in the world as unhappy as I am?”
A: Let us celebrate unknowable things for the sake of this young man.
A and B together: Hurrah for ignorance!
The young man puts down his pen and stands up.
Young Man: Please God grant us both good fortune and make us husband and wife.
A and B look at each other.
September 42nd year of Meiji (1909)
English translation of Saneatsu Mushanokoji’s Omedetakihito (1910) by Michael Guest © 2022
Categories: Mushanokoji's Good Natured Man