Akutagawa Ryunosŭké—a Japanese modernist writer—uses his subject matter to reflect the social turmoil, loss of identity, and changing environment of Akutagawa Ryunosŭké—a Japanese modernist writer—uses his subject matter to reflect the social turmoil, loss of identity, and changing environment of his times. Akutagawa lived in a rapidly changing world due to modernization. Some of the most drastic changes that contributed to or were a result of modernism include: the changes in transportation which enabled people to travel in a totally new way and changed people’s conception of time, the introduction and assimilation of foreign culture (Western dress and furniture, influence of Western artists, directors, and writers, etc., adaptation of capitalism), and a rise in consumerism which led to the commodification of art forms. His stories in this collection reflect the repercussions of modernization, illustrating the egotistical nature of humanity, the subjectivity of truth and morality, and the struggle with identity due to a changing world.
Not only did Akutagawa live and write in an interesting time but he is one of those rare artists whose life is equally engrossing as his work. His family had a history of madness and Akutagawa lived with the constant fear of going insane, his latter works give us a glimpse of his slippage into insanity. These stories are brilliant, painful, sad, and artistically executed. I highly recommend this collection of short stories for it shows Akutagawa’s diversity with his craft and its genres include: horror, parables, satires, and autobiographical works. Perhaps more importantly these stories show the nature of man and the flaws of the human spirit.
"An ethical man performs acts of service which are praiseworthy, but he is all the time conscious of them, and, moreover, he may often be thinking of
"An ethical man performs acts of service which are praiseworthy, but he is all the time conscious of them, and, moreover, he may often be thinking of some future reward. Hence we should say that his mind is tainted and not at all pure, however objectively or socially good his deeds are. Zen abhors this. Life is an art, and like perfect art it should be self-forgetting; there ought not to be any trace of effort or painful feeling. Life, according to Zen, ought to be lived as a bird flies through the air or as a fish swims in the water. As soon as there are signs of elaboration, a man is doomed, he is no more a free being. You are not living as you ought to live, you are suffering under the tyranny of circumstances; you are feeling a constraint of some sort, and you lose your independence. Zen aims at preserving your vitality, your native freedom, and above all the completeness of your being. In other words, Zen wants to live from within. Not to be bound by rules, but to be creating one’s own rules.” - D.T. Suzuki
“Zen thinks we are too much slaves to words and logic. So long as we remain thus fettered we are miserable and go through untold suffering. But if we want to see something really worth knowing, that is conducive to our spiritual happiness, we must endeavor once and for all to free ourselves from all conditions; we must see if we cannot gain a new point of view from which the world can be surveyed in its wholeness and life comprehended inwardly.” – D.T. Suzuki
“Unless, it grows out of yourself no knowledge is really yours, it is only a borrowed plumage.” – D.T. Suzuki
“The desire to possess is considered by Buddhism to be one of the worst passions with which mortals are apt to be obsessed. What, in fact, causes so much misery in the world is the universal impulse of acquisition. As power is desired, the strong always tyrannize over the weak; as wealth is coveted, the rich and poor are always crossing swords of bitter enmity. International wars rage, social unrest ever increases, unless this impulse to get and to hold is completely uprooted.” – D.T. Suzuki
This book is flawed from the start; it attempts to explain Zen Buddhism from a scholarly perspective and in doing so contradicts the very nature of Zen entirely. Suzuki is fully aware of this conundrum and points it out repeatedly, which makes for a somewhat awkward read. But since we crave for some kind of written explanation of what Zen is, this book does a pretty good job in laying down the foundation. His writing is concise and he provides many anecdotes and koans throughout the text. I think I would have enjoyed this more if I hadn’t just read Zen Flesh, Zen Bones—a collection of primary Zen sources. What I liked about Zen Flesh, Zen Bones is that it didn’t seem academic, rather you could read the stories and derive your own meaning or interpretation versus having it explained to you. It was a more enjoyable read and closer to the Zen spirit. However, I would recommend reading Suzuki’s An Introduction to Zen Buddhism if you want a more direct, intellectual understanding of the basic precepts of Zen Buddhism. ...more
The Sailor who Fell from Grace with the Sea is a tempest of a book. Mishima writes poetically and his descriptions are a work of art in and of themselThe Sailor who Fell from Grace with the Sea is a tempest of a book. Mishima writes poetically and his descriptions are a work of art in and of themselves. What starts as an innocuous romance novel, quickly turns into a far more sinister tale of destroyed hopes and lost dreams. Throughout the novel love, death, and glory all seem to be intertwined in a matrix of chaos. Ryuji believes that through love you embrace death:
For Ryuji the kiss was death, the very death in love he always dreamed of. The softness of her lips, her mouth so crimson in the darkness he could see it with closed eyes, so infinitely moist, a tepid coral sea, her restless tongue quivering like sea grass . . . in the dark rapture of all this was something directly linked to death. He was perfectly aware that he would leave her in a day, yet he was ready to die happily for her sake. Death roused inside him, stirred. (Mishima 77)
The characters in this book—at least the male characters—all struggle with finding glory. Ryuji believes he can find this through a woman; while Noburo thinks the only way to truly live is to be adventurous and free, forsaking all human ties to explore life on the sea. Ryuji, a sailor, quickly becomes his idol; he puts all his illusions of manliness and glory onto him, imagining him to be the ideal Japanese male and hero. Here in lies the crux of the novel, a young, dispassionate youth struggling to find a path in an unrecognizable, false world.
Noburo’s living in a westernized Japan; even in his most immediate surroundings—his home—traces of Japanese culture are missing: “There wasn’t a single Japanese room in Fusako’s house; her mode of living was thoroughly Western except on New Year’s Day, when she observed tradition by serving the special New Year’s breakfast on lacquered trays and drinking toasts with spiced sake” (Mishima 113). Noburo’s mother, Fusako, embraces and represents westernization. She is a single mother, who owns a retail store that fashions in imported western clothing. Noboru has no father figure and the ideal Japanese figure that he so desperately clings to, seems to have no place in this westernized, peaceful Japan. Him and his gang of friends try to make sense of the world through violence and nihilism. This leads the reader down a very dark path. The way Mishima writes about these brutal acts, makes the reader feel as an unwilling participant to the atrocities being committed. It is quite an eerie feeling.
This was my first introduction to Mishima and though it was brutal, harsh, and unforgiving, it also remains beautiful, thoughtful, and symbolically layered. I will be reading more by him.