Dazai’s “Almanac of Pain,” et al.

A political memoir from Dazai Osamu! I find it hard to comprehend the kind of young communist he could have been, and “Almanac of Pain” could serve as the title for his collected work. It is hard to imagine how it can be a story either, lacking plot, and other characters. It is not lacking for aphorisms, however. Nor is it lacking humor (self-deprecating humor, of course).

I thought he was challenging (in advance) Keene’s claim for him as a social historian of defeated Japan: “I am a writer of the marketplace. What I speak bout remains within the purview of the history of the one little individual called ‘me’” [and various other names!], but he turns to make a claim similar to what I think Keene meant (exemplification of the spirit of the time, not documentation of details of typical behavior or attitude): “but in later ages when the time comes to investigate our current of thought, it may be that these personal fragmentary descriptions of our [!] lives that we are always writing will be more reliable than the writings of so-called historians” (in “An almanac of pain,” [1946] Lyons tr., p. 263).

A statement of the leitmotif of strong women and a weak Dazai follows, as he notes the women in the family long outlive their husbands, and that sons-in-law had to keep marrying in (the previous three generations).

Osamu_Dazai_at_home.jpg

I read Blue Bamboo, with more Dazai stories, mostly reworkings from the war years. Along with translator Ralph McCarthy, I wish that he had written more Irie family serial stories. I prefer Dazai frivolity to self-laceration. I wish that love conquered all and that we all lived happily ever after.

220px-Osamu_Dazai_2.jpg

Dazai says something that recalled Mislosz’s statement about the domesticity of European “scenery” in contrast to the inhuman scale of western North America:“Scenery is something that has been gazed at and described by people through a long passage of years, that has been, as it were, tasted by human eyes, softened and tamed by human beings.” (from Return to Tsugaru (1944), p. 331). In contrast “this seacoast at the northernmost end of Honshu was nothing at all like scenery. It totally rejected human existence” and is “simply frightening… This was the dead end of Honshu” (p. 332). This seems to be the Taiwanese conception, too. Sun-Moon Lake or the dawn above the clouds from Ali-Shan—or the Golden Gate Bridge… In “100 views of Mt. Fuji,” Dazai sought an unhackneyed experience of the most famous site in Japan, though he eventually came to appreciate what everyone else does. There seems to me some load of reverence in the way people from Taiwan and from Indonesia (and elsewhere, but these are the two I’ve experienced most recently) use “famous” for a professor or a school: as if the judgment was supernatural, not a product of the repetition of people’s words.

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