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Manoa 18.1 (2006) 58-65
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Keeping Not Writing:
with Larry Mccaffery
The Japanese guru of metafiction, Yasutaka Tsutsui is a novelist, playwright, literary critic, actor, and musician. Born in Osaka in 1934, he was educated at Doshisha University in Kyoto, where he majored in aesthetics and art. In 1960, he collaborated with his three brothers to start the science-fiction fanzine, NULL. Tsutsui published his first short story, "O-Tasuke," in the detective-fiction magazine Hoseki. In 1962, he returned to publishing science fiction.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Tsutsui was nominated several times for the Naoki Prize. Around this time, his work in slapstick, fabulism, and metafiction began to attract a wide readership. In the 1980s, a twenty-four-volume set of his complete works was published. He has since become active in cyber media, and in the summer of 1996 helped to set up jalinet, the first literary server in Japan. A member of Japan's Science Fiction Writers Association and pen Club, he has received such literary prizes as the 1981 Izumi Kyoka award, the 1987 Tanizaki Jun'ichiro award, the 1989 Kawabata Yasunari Prize for Literature, the 1992 Japan sf Grand Prize, and the 1999 Yomiuri Prize for Literature. In 1997, he was awarded the rank of Chevalier des Arts and des Lettres by the French government.
LM What is it about slapstick that appeals to your sensibility? Doesn't introducing slapstick risk making the work seem less serious?
YT According to what I recall, in the early seventies, sci-fi was not re-garded as a literary form and I felt a strong feeling of resistance towards this kind of prejudice. During that period, I was often asked by mainstream literary magazine editors to contribute more "serious" works and give up writing sci-fi.
I had just published a novel titled Samba of Escape and Pursuit (1971), which was seminal in Japanese metafiction and was considered as a kind of deviant by both the sci-fi people and mainstream people. But this slapstick tendency comes from what I had studied in university, which was surrealism. That was my deepest commitment to literature. So it was not only [End Page 58] Harpo but also surrealism that led me to the intermingling of entertainment and sci-fi. To put it in another way: even surrealism has a slapstick aspect.
LM Most of your sci-fi works are not set in the future or outer space and don't have rocket ships in them. As a sci-fi writer, why haven't you used these conventional trappings? Because they would not be useful to your own interest in psychology?
YT I think this attitude you have just described is true of myself but not necessarily of other sci-fi writers. I resist the sci-fi label, and the other writers consider me a deviant. By the way, in Samba of Escape and Pursuit, there is one scene in which the hero goes through a manhole into a sewer, which leads to another dimension of the spatial-temporal continuum. This might be a concrete example of what you have just pointed out. Come to think of it, I wrote a short story titled "A Pack of Cats," in which the manhole was an important factor and was very surrealistic. Anyway, my inspiration comes from surrealism and not sci-fi.
SG A lot of your sensibility was influenced by surrealism, and yet you have used the structure or form of sci-fi in your works. Why have you not written more "traditional" surrealism? What was your initial impulse regarding sci-fi? Was it just a form that would allow you to create surrealistic works?
YT To me, sci-fi is a way to deconstruct reality, just as surrealism was. Of course, I could have employed other approaches. For example, I had wanted to become a painter, if only I had the talent. Writing, or écriture, was the only way left for me to deconstruct reality. Now, when I...