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Fiction > Silence by Endo Shusaku (General Comments)

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message 1: by Lia (last edited Jul 07, 2018 07:36AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lia | 522 comments Mod
Some general comments. I haven't seen the movie and this is the only Shusaku book I've read so far.

I don't know how to research cover arts, but I thought the book cover is really interesting:

Silence by Shūsaku Endō

It's the kanji for "Silence", zoomed in on the "dog" radical of the word, with the rest out of frame. You can see the "fire" radical partially in frame under the "dog," and a red line-drawing of Jesus nailed to the "dog-on-fire."

Whose silence is being scrutinized is debatable. I might go through my notes and add some quotes later. The most literal, obvious "indictment" is against God's silence and abandonment of his tormented believers. There's clear parallel between the confused foreign young Jesuit betrayed by the "whipped dog" Kichijiro, and Jesus being thrown into a world hostile to his way, and betrayed by Judas. Repeatedly, Rodrigues compares himself to Jesus, and Gods' silent-treatment to both of them. He didn't seem to notice Jesus was made to be a spectacle for whatever political purpose; whereas Rodrigues was made to watch Japanese christians being tortured for his benefits.

The strange thing is that in the end, Rodrigues' God did speak to him. It is not that God is silent, God's voice is so small, you cannot hear it without tuning down the noise around it. Strip down to nothingness, and the still-small-voice comes through, clear and unambiguous. Rodrigues came to Japan looking for romantic heroism, glorious martyrdom, his image of God was a God of beauty, strength, triumph. He had nothing but contempt for Kichijiro, the weak, ugly, pathetic, fallen Japanese Christian who repeatedly bows to coercion, ingloriously endures contempts and abuses (Rodrigues' romantic perception of Japanese Christian seems to be that of strong people ready for martyrdom, even though Kichijiro was the first Japanese Christian he encountered, he held onto his glorified image.) Kichijiro followed Rodrigues every step to serve him, care for him, rejected but clings on nevertheless, with no sense of dignity, falling, failing, picking himself up like the drunkard that he was -- and followed Rodrigues to the end. It seems, for Shusaku (a practicing Japanese Catholic), the image of God is not beauty, strength, and triumph, but rather, he's a god of mercy, ugliness, and submission.

I'm pretty annoyed with readers who "explained" the book to curious enquirers as some white missionary sacrificing himself to rescue needy Japanese peasants unfairly deprived of salvation. Granted, the discussions I saw were Christians/ Catholics asking if it's save for them (or their mothers) to read the book. It seems to me that ultimately, the young Jesuit learned his perception was romantically distorted, he gave nothing but sufferings to Japanese peasants, Japanese christians were tortured for his contemplation. He arrived helpless, incapable of providing any labour of value, can't even take care of himself, is fed and clothed and led by the poor and the oppressed, his stubborn refusal to step on an idol led to countless tortures and deaths. It's infuriating to me that people can collectively read that and conclude he came to Japan to save others.

message 2: by Lia (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lia | 522 comments Mod
Towards the end, Rodrigues heard the groans of Christians being tortured, and got irritated in the most self-pitying, self-righteous manner, because he thought they were snoring. He really thinks he alone suffers and the world spins around his heroic "endurance." It doesn't matter what's actually happening in front of him, he's got his heroic image, and he's going to live up to that fantasy somehow.

message 3: by Lia (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lia | 522 comments Mod
Some notes on Torture and Silence:

Source: Confronting Torture: Essays on the Ethics, Legality, History, and Psychology of Torture Today

Psychologists have been architects of coercive interrogation techniques as well as healers tending to psychological wounds left as a consequence of those techniques. Research in psychology has helped us understand both the processes involved in humans’ capacity to inflict such suffering on others and the psychological consequences for those who have suffered at the hands of the perpetrators, the latter allowing us to find paths to healing. Torture no doubt affects different persons differently, and so there are perhaps no universal truths about how victims of torture recover or what kinds of treatment help them. But those psychologists and counselors who have specialized in working with torture victims can help us understand the sort of longer-term damage that torture does to the victim’s psyche, as well as the range of behaviors of which humans are capable. Like many other victims of trauma, those tortured have been rendered silent, initially lacking a language to comprehend and communicate their suffering. In contrast to many other traumatized people, those tortured live with the knowledge that their pain and powerlessness were the very ends of a torment sought by fellow human beings. They tend to feel torn apart from their own pasts and their communities and usually have lost some measure of fundamental trust in a meaningful or manageable world. Broadly speaking, the harm is shown in their silence, their withdrawal, their numbing, and their nightmares, as much as in their scars, burns, and broken bones.

message 4: by Lia (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lia | 522 comments Mod
A Note on Torture as a technique inherited from Ancient Rome:

Source: Confronting Torture: Essays on the Ethics, Legality, History, and Psychology of Torture Today

torture as a technique of interrogation in ancient Rome must be seen in the context of the degree of physical suffering that was deemed appropriate in the punishment of slaves and, later, other categories of disadvantaged persons: pain fills the vacuum created by absence of status. Under Roman law, slaves could be tortured to extract evidence and confessions of guilt. At various times under the empire, these sanctions were also applied to free persons. Yet, Roman jurists frequently questioned the efficacy of torture as a means of extracting the truth, whether from free persons or from slaves. At the same time, after the virtually universal grant of citizenship to all free persons in 212 CE, judicial savagery increased. Ultimately, the use of torture as both a means of interrogation and an instrument of punishment coalesced in the treatment of the late antique Christian martyrs, who undermined the entire purpose of torture by enduring it, thereby paradoxically demonstrating their innocence in the process of proving their guilt.

message 5: by Lia (last edited Jul 07, 2018 12:42PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lia | 522 comments Mod
More on Torture and Race from Confronting Torture: Essays on the Ethics, Legality, History, and Psychology of Torture Today

I was detained again and subjected to what I call torture by sleep deprivation. Keeping me up through the day, through the night, with a team of interrogators shouting at me, banging the table for ten minutes, total silence for ten minutes, replacing each other, rotating all the time. When I asked for some food, they seemed delighted and smirked as they set a plate in front of me: I was pretty sure there was some drug in the food. And the next morning my body is fighting my will, my mind. The desire to sleep, to collapse, is just overwhelming. I knew of people who had held out for four days, for five days or seven days, and the longer they had held out, the more they had ultimately broken. They had lost all control whatsoever. I feared ending up like them. The theory was that you should hold out for thirty-six hours so that your colleagues could escape. But I had no one to protect; my information was two years old.

And this battle was not even about information. It was about breaking me. It was about showing that they were stronger, that they were more powerful. I was not thinking of Jean Paul Sartre at the time, but later I recalled his writing about torture in Algeria, and his pointing out that the objective of the relevant sections of the French military was not only to get information, it was to destroy the will, the confidence, the self-esteem of the people in captivity. There was a powerful racist dimension. They sought to dehumanize the people they were torturing by the very act of treating them in a subhuman way. They felt they were not only entitled to do what they were doing, they were obliged to do it because they were combating evil, crushing an inferior, threatening creature. And in the eyes of the interrogators I was in some ways even more terrible than the black people to whom racist ill-treatment had been historically applied. I was the pernicious white mastermind who was stirring up innocent souls, telling them they had grievances when in fact they were grateful to this government for making them better off than their counterparts in other parts of Africa.

It's much harder to stomach when you remember Silence refers to fictional accounts of historical events, we don't know what actually happened to this set of characters, but we know these methods of torture were in fact used on real Christian martyrs.

I get self-conscious about that sense of disconnect, I really shouldn't be so flippant. I wonder if the fact that I'm capable of emotional distance when I read about torture accounts is partly what contributes to systematic acceptance of torture as state sanctioned policy internationally.

Anyway, that's an interesting remark that's surprisingly apt for our novel: are Asian bodies more appropriate for torture? Why is the Jesuit put on some kind of pedestal? Why is he invited to watch and react? It seems racism is also an important theme here, the idea that even Japanese from privileged class trained abroad were excluded from leadership position in the church, and that's just the tip of the racism iceberg. And yet, government officials and peasants alike continue to treat the young priest in some kind of honorific, caring for him, feeding him, giving him high quality clothes that even the guard covets. Rodrigues himself seems completely oblivious to his own sense of superiority, and blithely denied the accusation without a thought.

message 6: by Lia (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lia | 522 comments Mod
Endo: Here was something, I felt, that bridged the gulf between Christianity and Japan and between Christianity and myself, that gulf which had troubled me for many years. Are not government and history buried in the ashes of silence? I came to see that literature is what brings weaklings back to life from out of the ashes, makes them walk, and listens to what they say

message 7: by Lia (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lia | 522 comments Mod
Jim wrote: "I haven't read this book before. But I really want to do that after this post. I will write my own review and post it here."

Thanks Jim, looking forward to find out what you think of the novel.

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