Japanese Literature discussion

This topic is about Kusamakura
Book Club > 9/18 Kusamakura (aka 'The Three-Cornered World'), by Natsume Sōseki

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Christian (comeauch) | 230 comments This is our discussion thread for Kusamakura, also known as The Three-Cornered World depending on the translator.

I've tried reading it in Japanese but gave up half an hour later at page 2 (hardly an exaggeration). Switched to English and I couldn't stop reading!

I thought it was a very beautiful work, closer to a painting than a novel almost. I think Meredith McKinney deserves some praise, as the poetry really flows through. I liked how for instance she often uses the word "hazy" (which we learn is a season word of spring in haiku), making the whole novel similar to a haiku, which was the aim of Soseki according to the introduction.

For some reason, the philosophical monologues didn't break the flow for me, as they often do in other J-lit novels (I'm looking at you The Temple of Dawn!) I'm not really sure what there is to discuss though... Maybe one thing that struck my curiosity was this bit: 'Unlike so many of his contemporaries, Soseki had a complex and deeply uneasy relationship with the new modernity' I'm not sure who 'contemporaries' refers to, but if she meant authors, I'm surprised. Who could be considered as fully embracing the Westernization?

Anyway, this topic didn't even occur to me before reading the intro. Sure, the narrator discovers that even this remote little village isn't completely disconnected with the real world, but I didn't think of this as a Meiji Restoration parallel (it does make sense though...) I wonder if that's really what he meant. The real world stains his ideal of beauty and nature, but do we have to assume he thinks pre-Meiji Japan was this ideal? Maybe we're the ones forcing this allegory and this is not political at all (please please please!)

Finally, there were number of great quotable passages, which I'll let you discover yourself :P But I immensely enjoyed the clapback at The Book of Tea (they were actually published the same year):

The art of the tea ceremony is something that the common merchant and townsman, lacking any education in the finer matters of taste, dreamed up through their ignorance of how refinement really works, by mindlessly swallowing whole and in mechanical fashion the rules that were invented after Rikyu's day. Their pitiful conviction that it constitutes the height of refinement only👏makes👏a👏mockery👏of👏true👏sensibility.

message 2: by Zak (new) - rated it 5 stars

Zak | 10 comments I loved this book too. As I said in my short review, this book was like reading meditation for me. In fact, the philosophical monologues that Christian mentioned were my favourite parts of the book.

message 3: by Tim (new) - rated it 2 stars

Tim | 152 comments I think this book is the perfect example of a “very good book that is simply not for me.” The writing is beautiful, the language poetic. I must heap praise upon the translator as this must have been quite a challenge. Every line is seemingly trying to evoke a sense of awed beauty and the translator does an admirable job… and yet almost every page I wished the book would just end and let me be done with it. I only finished it out of stubbornness and because it is only 146 pages… and they seemed like some of the longest 146 pages I’ve ever read.

The book is about an artist. He seeks artistic “nonemotion” to view the world like a painting, though of course that only works so much for him. Our unnamed narrator expresses his views of art quite frequently, often going on for full chapters about his theories on aesthetics and declares them all as the proper way of viewing art. Frankly I’ve known people like him in real life and I can’t stand them. They are the sort who declare all their opinions as fact and sneer at anyone who voices otherwise (a great example comes of this in the novel where the owner of the inn he is staying at shows him some art pieces, and he can’t help but show his disgust at a piece deemed too plain and then too gaudy once its origin is told). All is to be viewed in the name of their art, and I personally found it grating.

As I said, entire chapters could be said to just be (definitive in the character’s mind) statements about art, theory and aesthetics. Though the book is short, I’d say over 70 pages could be summed up as just the narrator talking art. At one point I stopped mid-chapter where a page began with the line “But what does theory matter?” and had I been the praying sort, I would have prayed to every deity that he wouldn’t answer that question.

He did.

That said, while I really didn't like it, I'm glad thus far that those who've posted here did... especially as I've been voting for this book since I joined the club (actually come to think of it, every book that I've nominated that we've read, I haven't liked... maybe I should just vote without nominating. :P)

As a brief aside, I find it interesting that it was published the same year as the only other book I have read by the author; “Botchan”. These books are practically polar opposites, as our lead in Botchan is very definitely not an artist and that book is more about plot and humor than the prose. Also, they are curiously opposites in terms of translation, as I will praise Kusamukra’s translator despite disliking the book, whereas I really enjoyed Botchan, but felt its translation flawed.

message 4: by Michael (last edited Sep 08, 2018 10:07AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Michael | 51 comments i read this three years ago, possibly an older translation, and it is his philosophy on art and the world that i enjoyed most. but then i read a lot of philosophy, a lot of art theory, a lot of literary theory, a lot of Japanese of each genre... my judgement was then that this is not a novel and not an essay but something in between, and the criticism of how each work/theory has been affected, primarily for the worse, by thoughtless adoption of ‘western’ ideas of the art and the theory, and in some ways this is aesthetes idea and possibly this work is more for artists rather than audience... he can definitely be grating in his judgement, but this is also why i appreciate Japanese art: unlike the other cultures of western colonialism, the overwhelming dominance of western thoughts, modes, genres- japan was never occupied until after ww2, so developed with conscious refusal and searching for its own art and this meant some work like this refused the moving line between theory and practice, though he might be insufferable in person, well, this is a book, so you can put it aside and think and critique and reflect and there is really no propulsive narrative to spur you on...

message 5: by Carol (new) - added it

Carol (carolfromnc) | 1306 comments I have just not been able to get into this, and I’m quite bummed. I’m not giving up yet entirely. But a prudent man would bet against me finishing. The horror. The horror.

message 6: by Suki (new) - added it

Suki St Charles (goodreadscomsuki_stcharles) | 55 comments I liked this book a lot, especially the lazy pace and the descriptions of nature, but it didn't read like a novel to me-- it felt more like an essay, or even a memoir.

Agnetta | 300 comments I am late to the party but will finish it this week.

It is not "absorbing" me exactly and it is the kind of read I would enjoy most during relaxed days.. however those were scarce in september, hence I did not find the right moment for this.

I do enjoy it, and think the new translation must be excellent, as it reads so fluently and lightly.

What I most enjoy is the the subtle self-humour the character applies to himself. He takes himself seriously with his artistic endeavor and all, and yet he subtly makes fun of himself too, and is very honest with himself.

It reads as a very smart construction, and agree with Suki, feels like an essay, which Sooseki poured into a novel form, very intelligently done.
Maybe he found essays boring and prefers to mix his ideas with some legends about the " Nagara Maiden " and all?

An interesting read to get to know Sooseki under a different light. I am happy I picked it up thanks to this group.

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