Oe’s “A Personal Matter”

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Ôe Kenzaburo’s guilt-ridden autobiographical novel A Personal Matter (published in Japanese in 1964 as Kojinteki na taiken, in English in 1968). No new liaison is arranged for the wife of the narrator, Bird. He spends most of his time with another woman (an ex-girlfriend) while his wife is in the hospital having given birth to a monstrosity — as in “Aghwee The Sky Monster,” also published in Japanese in 1964, in which the protagonist kills his son who was born with a brain tumor; here it is a deformed head). At least in English, the prose is quite accurate and overloaded with adjectives and some quite convoluted constructions. I’m pretty sure that the reader-hostile constructions mimic if not reproduce those of the original Japanese.

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Homosexuality keeps popping up. At the beginning Bird realizes that he is cruising a male transvestite. Later, when he is immobilized by what came out of his wife’s womb, Himiko expresses surprise that Bird has not fucked any male student admirers (p. 111, and on p. 77 she tells him that a jealous boyfriend of hers “had a thing for adults like you; if you ever got together he’d do everything he could to please you. Bird, I bet you’ve had that kind of service lots of times before. Weren’t there boys below you in college who worshipped you? And there must be students in your classes who are particularly devoted. I’ve always thought of you as a hero figure for kinds in that kind of sub-culture.” And “It was certain, he was destined to be helped out of impossible situations by a band of younger brothers” on p. 140).

Sodomizing her cures his fear of the hole in front. He is very aroused by “coition this inhuman”! (p. 113). Himiko is one of several women who “go to bed with her [a producer friend and favorite schoolmate] to make her feel a little better,” which “didn’t shock him particularly” (p. 150). And at the end Himiko takes Bird to a gay bar named for and run by a former friend of his, Kikuhiko, which is the name he chooses for his infant who survives. In the first instance, Bird thinks, “A youth who tries so hard to be faithful to the warp in himself that he ends up searching the street in drag for perverts, a young man like that must have eyes and ears and a heart exquisitely sensitive to the fear that roots in the backlands of the subconscious” (p. 6). In the final one, he reflects, “This was a shrewd and observant Kikuhiko, no longer the simple fairy Bird had known: his friend’s life of apostasy and descent could not have been easy or uninvolved” (p. 208). I suppose this is “tolerance,” but plenty ambivalent.

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As did Oe himself (as he discussed in the nonfiction A Healing Family), Bird eventually accepts the deformed son. Diluting his milk early on seems a pretty ineffectual way to kill him (not that I wanted Bird to succeed at that!)

 

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

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