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  • The Desolate Self and Its Circular Search for The Absolute Other:Transgression and Dream in the Work of Takahashi Takako
  • Mizuta Noriko
    Translated by Alessandro Castellini (bio)

In 1967 Takahashi Takako (1932-2013) left Japan and temporarily moved to Paris. From there she traveled across Europe, alone, on a journey that would last several months. It was during one of her trips to the European capitals that she visited Vatican City in Rome. In the Sistine Chapel, high up in the central section of the ceiling, her eyes caught sight of a famous fresco by Michelangelo illustrating the temptation and expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. The painting portrays Adam and Eve naked, and the snake coiling around the forbidden tree with its upper body transfigured into that of a tempting woman. In the essay "Eve and Mary" Takahashi recalls her bafflement and fascination at the sight of the two women in the fresco, and submits that this "other woman," this "snake-woman," may indeed represent Eve's awakening to her inner self—here identified as her awakening to sexuality and a newly acquired self-awareness.1 Takahashi goes on to suggest that Eve is the archetypal awakened woman, and that such female awakening always occurs in the form of the breaking of a taboo, a transgression of the Law. She contrasts this understanding of Eve with the countless representations of the Holy Mary: man-made fantasies that testify of a persistent masculine investment in images of mother and child, and which have come to nourish pernicious cultural prescriptions of a feminine nature tied to reproduction, childbirth, and motherhood. But Takahashi cautions us not to be deceived by those male fabrications: "There is no Mary inside woman, there is only Eve."2

In an often-quoted essay titled "Sexuality: The Demonic and the Maternal in Women,"3 Takahashi further elaborates upon woman's "double structure of consciousness" and associates the figure of the "demonic woman" to a vision of female awakening. Her conversion to Catholicism notwithstanding, Takahashi's use of the term "demonic" ought not to be understood in conventional religious terms and most certainly not to indicate a supposedly sinful female nature. The "demonic" acquires, [End Page 156] in fact, positive connotations as a liberatory potential within woman from the shackles of cultural prescriptions of womanhood and femininity. The demonic woman signifies both the woman who has awakened to her inner self, and that "other woman" who exists in latent form in the depths of the female unconscious. The tormented female protagonists that populate Takahashi's early fiction are thus caught between a stifling façade of social conformity and bourgeois respectability and that inner "true" self who, unbeknownst even to themselves, is gasping for air, desperately trying to assert its own existence. From the depths of their female subconscious, the "demonic woman" manifests itself in the acting out of repressed energies and impulses whose disruptive violence and negative emotions are often vented against the oblivious representatives of the established order: devoted wives, pregnant women, and children become that which the protagonists have to negate, even destroy, in their pursuit of a more authentic subjectivity.4 Caught amidst such hallucinatory explosion of antisocial behaviors and transgressions, Takahashi's protagonists find themselves face to face with their true self, but that is often just a fleeting moment that leaves them exhausted and disoriented. Mizuta reads these "female narratives of awakening"5 as partaking of a larger trend in modern women's literature in Japan whereby women's discovery of their self and its desires paved the way for new forms of self-awareness and self-expression. In so doing, she joins renowned literary critic Nakayama Kazuko and many others in assessing ongoing transformations in the subject of women's literature and the transformation of its consciousness.6

The motif of the double or alter-ego (bunshin) in both its negative and positive undertones is a distinctive feature of much of Takahashi's literary oeuvre and one that bears the mark of her fascination with European surrealism and Gothic literature.7 As already noted, the protagonist's double may take the form of women who embody negative...


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