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Reviewed by:
  • Other Worlds: Arishima Takeo and the Bounds of Modern Japanese Fiction, and: The Saga of Dazai Osamu: A Critical Study with Translations
  • Sanford Goldstein
Paul Anderer. Other Worlds: Arishima Takeo and the Bounds of Modern Japanese Fiction. New York: Columbia UP, 1984. 152 pp. $22.50.
Phyllis I. Lyons. The Saga of Dazai Osamu: A Critical Study with Translations. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1985. 410 pp. $38.50.

From first to last Paul Anderer's book elucidates a thesis that is at once perceptive and exciting, for with an appealing concentration and specificity the critic establishes his major point and propounds it in a clear-cut analysis of a number of Arishima's stories and two major novels, Aru Onna (A Certain Woman, 1919) and Metro (Labyrinth, 1917).

To those acquainted with Japanese literature, from Genji to Tanizaki, from Bashō's haiku to Kawabata, and from tanka to Sōseki and even Mishima, there is the recognition of place, the defined and aesthetic and resilient awareness of geography and culture. But in Arishima (1878-1923), particularly his obsession with "other worlds" outside the traditional view of Japanese territory, we find the beginnings of dislocation in which there are other worlds that do not fit easily and acceptably into the Japanese landscape and, therefore, into the Japanese mind. As Anderer puts it, Hokkaido, the region most associated with Arishima's life, "objectifies . . . the desire to create some turbulent space beyond culture, a space charged with a wild, demonic energy, where new and wholly unexpected actions might take place." And even when the topography is not Hokkaido, be it Tokyo or the sea or America, such a region may find the protagonists in Arishima's fiction enmeshed in a turbulence that offers no relief; the result is a movement toward strangeness, disorder, hallucination, and death. Again and again Arishima "gives shape to that threatening space which opens up when one is cut loose from former habits of thought, and is mentally adrift, prior to any new settlement"; that space "becomes a labyrinth through which a lost mind wanders, grasping at ideas, like 'love' or 'the self,' which in the end prove to possess no more than a fictional substance."

Although Anderer is not making a biographical study—the approach taken by much of the earlier criticism of Arishima's work—he shows the impact of Hokkaido on Arishima's development. In 1799 there was not a completed map of Hokkaido's coastline, and by 1871 this region was the only place of deportation in Japan, a place where familiar crops could not be grown and where a kind of melting pot was established for Ainu, samurai, vagrants, and adventurers. Hokkaido's nature was natural scenery as antagonist, a place with no valid cultural resonance. In his psyche and his fiction, Arishima characterized Hokkaido as full of traps and unseen depths.

Parallel to this kind of Hokkaido alienation was the alienation of America, for Arishima in 1903 began his three-year stay here. Anderer's long catalogue of books Arishima read, including Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther, whose hero Arishima seems to have modeled himself after during his American journey, forms part of the multiple layers of cultural disorientation that helped produce Arishima's other worlds and that eventually led to his suicide in 1923.

In spite of numerous natural disasters in Japan, the harmony of nature and the closeness of the Japanese psyche to it have remained a constant source of richness to the Japanese. With Arishima, the disturbing note of an anomaly was [End Page 861] poignantly registered, and his "geography" with its other worlds so removed from the traditional Japanese world could not but affect his characters and deprive them of their sanity, their ability to pass safely through, their life force.

Always dramatic yet rationally written, Anderer's study offers creative insight into one of Japan's first literary iconoclasts, and his minute and exciting examinations of A Certain Woman and Labyrinth entice us to read the novels, though only the former has been fully translated.

For Americans, the startling new voice calling attention to Japan's defeat came in Dazai Osamu's The Setting Sun...


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