|A very striking plant makes its appearance in William Faulkner's group of Yoknapatawpha fictions (monogatari). This plant, the honeysuckle, twines around the buildings and plants that in the saga, overgrows them, and scatters the sweet smell of its flowers. That sweet smell is that of sex itself, sometimes becoming the smell of death itself, as if to violate the structure that composes those passages of the Yoknapatawpha saga where the narrative moves forward, that composes the arrangement of narrated time and "real" time, that composes the movements of the characters, now gesturing to another hidden structure.... Where it suggests this sense of "place" and articulates these plants and grasses, rather than taking the direct influence of Faulkner, the effect comes from my habit of continuously reflecting on my investigations of the roji of Kumano, and scrutinizing everything that comes my way, however minute these things might be.|
The roji, or alleyway, is the privileged topos in the three-volume Kishu saga by Nakagami Kenji (1946-1992). While Nakagami's collected works (zenshu stretch to fifteen volumes, the Kishu saga is considered by many critics to be the backbone of Nakagami's writings and consists of three works of prose fiction: The Cape (Misaki, 1976), The Sea of Withered Trees (Karekinada, 1977) and The Ends of the Earth, Supreme Time (Chi no hate, shiji no toki, 1983). This trilogy features the unfolding stories of a group of characters who live in the semiotically-loaded space of the Kumano region of Japan. These characters pass in various constellations through the set of intricate relations of family, sexuality and work of the protagonist Takehara Akiyuki, a young construction worker. Although the Kishu saga takes place in the late nineteen-seventies and early eighties, following the contours of prosperous postwar economic development, the saga consistently makes references to other histories linked to these characters and land, and other texts of Nakagami's, as well as texts of other pre-modern and modern writers.
| I have the feeling that now the Ki Peninsula, Kishu are another country.|
It is without a doubt a country which has sunken into the darkness of those who have continued to be beaten down ever since Jimmu. Kumano and Komuriku overlap on this country sunken into darkness. Making the rounds of the cities and town of this Komoriku, this place and that, and writing down, for instance, the name of Shingu writing down stories so as to call up the spirits of the land, is, in other words, the method of the Kojiki and the Nihon shoki.
I'll say this countless times, but this is no simple sight-seeing trip, and nor is it a text like the Record of Ancient Matters (Fudoki). Rather, it resembles the method used by the American writer William Faulkner in making the map of Yoknapatawpha, Jefferson, Mississippi, and claiming himself as proprietor of this map of Jefferson. (12)
|In this passage Nakagami describes his "method" of traveling and transcribing into contemporary scriptural systems as a repetition of the role of the scribes of the first poetry anthologies, the Kojiki and the Nihon shoki. These anthologies track the creation and naming of imperial places and genealogies since the first mythical imperial regime, "since Jimmu" (660?-585 B.C.). He traces the legwork of "the Jinmu and the Susanowo that you can't see"(12), using the conventional ethno-sexual metaphor of the dark continent to explore the region of "the country sunken into darkness" which is both separated off from the nation of Japan and necessary to produce it. The element of the wind god of Susanowo is important in this instance because he is both the god charged with making the land habitable for settlement, and with having voyaged to the underworld "ne no kuni" to bring negativity to the visible world.5 This structure of negativity at two removes--the "country of roots" which enables the production of Kumano which enables the production of the "South"" as a totality--recalls the two removes of the "South" that runs through the historiographies of the saga of the Compson family, in the relation of Haiti to the "South," and the "South" to the absent "North." What Nakagami seems to have learned from Faulkner is the privileging of what is marked as oral, and the marking of its processes of production, in the context of these two removes from the "North."|
In the two novels of Faulkner I will focus on, the "North" is represented as Cambridge, Massachusetts and Harvard, a place where Northern culture and cultural authority is seen to be fashioned; in Nakagami's texts, the "North" is even more abstracted, and is seen in terms of the cultural-political hegemony of the classical imperial capital in Kyoto and then in Tokyo. In Nakagami's reading, as in many of the arguments of structural anthropology which treat the symbolic authority of the imperial system in Japanese thought of the 1960s and 1970s through such figures as anthropologist Yamaguchi Masao, this imperial authority is seen to be diffused through a center-periphery structure, and seen to exile to the supplementary periphery things which are seen to be unincorporable.6
In the overall saga composed of Nakagami's texts, these symbolic articulations of imperial power are succinctly summarized in the title of the short story collection The Capital of Gravity (1981). In The Capital of Gravity, things which have slipped or fled out of the orbit of imperial symbolic systems have drifted to Kumano. These include the group who drifted to Kumano after the failure of the Ikko uprising against the centralizing powers of Oda Nobunaga in the Tokugawa era, and the defendants in what came to be known as the High Treason incident, after being accused and probably framed for plotting to assassinate the emperor in 1923(159).7 What strings these monogatari characters together is that each of them is rendered into monogatari by means of an affiliation with sabetsu. The affiliation of Mago-ichi with the Ikko uprising and the Jodo shinshu is to hint at his ties to the hisabetsu buraku; these ties are cinched further by Nakagami's citation in the Kishu reportage of a mythical figure Suzuki Mago-ichi, who participated in the uprising. Just as in many accounts, the Jodo shinshu sect is the sect most closely allied to the hisabetsu buraku, the defendants of the High Treason incident are also tied to the hisabetsu buraku through both their politics and the topos in which they live. It is the characters who fall out of the orbit of the imperial capital and whose mythic status is maintained by oral culture which allows for a separation from or resignification of the "syntax" (216) of written, imperial language, a separation from the "North." The primary topos in which the transplanted denizens of "Southern" textuality reside is that of the roji.
Before I move into the substance of my reading of Nakagami Kenji's transplanting of Faulkner, the translation of drifters and sensoria from one map to another, I would like to spell out some key elements of what this "South" is in Nakagami's textual world, and some of the implications of reading the "South" as periphery. Some of these implications emerge from the particular history of texts and their relation to political structures into whose history Nakagami is intervening in his translation some of the key problematics of Faulkner's texts.
The reason I referred to Kumano as a semiotically-loaded space in the above text, is that it is also the site of a palimpsest of myths, chants, stories and other renditions of both oral and written culture which have been transcribed and incorporated into the historical strata of narratives from the "national archive" of Japanese literature, including Izumi Kyoka and Tanizaki Jun'ichiro not to mention the Nihon shoki and Kojiki cited above; these discourses of myth and cosmology retain a distinctly modern signifying force in the literary national imaginary as they continue to be re-signified in the disenchanted age in which Nakagami's fictions were written.
|What draws your gaze here is the connection between the imperial capital and Kumano. Kumano appears on the genealogical plaque that stands in the Sanjusangendo temple of Kyoto, the imperial capital, the land of power which by means of such power consolidated "culture." I'm going to write it without applying the kanji, approximating only the sound, Ku-ma-no. Komoriku, Komorino, Kumano. The fact that the ever-shifting light and dark that reach the same Kyoto whose every and all element is like a delicate, refined miniature garden, begins as transmitted from the light and dark of Kumano, is a profound thing.(144-145)|
|The qualities of light and dark mentioned here are one attempt to denaturalize the claim of an imperial claim to legitimacy through denaturalizing both the light source and the archive that transmits it. Nakagami's claim here is that the intricate chiaroscuro aesthetics of Kyoto are unimaginable without the light source/light filter of Kumano. Nakagami makes this critique not just by means of a discursive claim, but by means of appealing to the signifying properties proper to writing. Which is to say, interpreting the politics of systems of inscription of kana and kanji writing as representative of different relations to power and "light." He implies a literal reading the character for "sun" in the kanji writing of Japan, and then switches to writing "Ku-ma-no" in the phonetic kana syllabary, rather than the conventional kanji. While at other points in the reportage Nakagami takes this polemic in a different direction by rewriting homonyms of the same reading, in this instance the effect is to re-open the signifier of meaning which was inscribed at some time "since Jimmu."|
When Nakagami brings in the oral reading of the place names in Kumano, the strategy works in a way that resonates with Faulkner's texts. There is nothing Faulkner's texts valorize more than movement, the quality of "vibration" that Nakagami privileges, of a symbolic shift at the level of the signifier: this occurs at a textual level, at a level of nomadic characters, in the way the saga of texts responds to each of its coordinate parts.9 A similar valorization of movement occurs at both the level of character and the level of the signifier in Nakagami's works.
This figure of nomadic character and nomadic language is consolidated in the figure of the marebito, the key concept of Origuchi Shinobu which Nakagami treats in a 1981 essay. Origuchi (1887-1953) is regarded as one of the founders of modern institutions and epistemes of ethnology/folklore (minzokugaku) in Japan. His work was both formidable and problematic enough for Nakagami to include him in his series of essays called "The Genealogy of Monogatari." James Fujii describes the marebito as "those itinerant figures of alterity who stand in Origuchi's oeuvre somewhere between kami [gods] and beggars" (236); this description and the property of being both a character and a narrative function of movement and generation (through gossip and rumor, for the most part) also recalls certain of Faulkner's characters, particularly at their most sacrificial, such as Joe Christmas.10 In Origuchi's account in his series of essays on "The Production of National Literature" (1919-1936), the marebito is both the precursor of literature, and a nomadic figure who served the function of suturing communities.
In the essay "The Genealogy of Monogatari," Nakagami credits Origuchi with understanding monogatari more than almost any other writer; at the same time, he criticizes Origuchi for not transferring this knowledge to a critique of those structures rather than a mere cataloging. He claims that Origuchi uses kanji in an imprecise way, and that he seeks to fix the meaning of words through transhistorical etymologies. In his account, Origuchi's model of language is to search at a word like "flower," peeling its different incarnations away like layers, as if to get to the ultimate kernel of its meaning11 :
| Origuchi looks for the meaning of words.|
And here we run into another point. This is illustrated by the way that Origuchi asserts that a particular meaning is the originary meaning of some element of Japanese, in the same way that you might think of the (empty) middle of a pearl onion.
For instance if we think of a flower, he might peel away a hora, the flower of a rice plant, and then afterwards pull off the cherry blossom which he supposes to mean flower, such that he is not then seeing that flower originally regarded as a cherry blossom, but fixes it as something that was used to foretell the success of the rice harvest. It appears to me that Origuchi runs after meaning fixed by means of written characters, which is to say by means of the kanji that sprang up in China and crossed over Korea. He pays no attention to the acoustics of "hana" that you'd naturally want to pay attention to. Of course the sound "hana" can mean a flower, or a nose, or an edge, and even if the pronunciation were actually "hana" it would make no difference in the way that Origuchi has undertaken to seek the fixed meaning of words. (172-173)
|His criticism is that Origuchi gets at language through written kanji, and that these kanji are seen in logocentric, dehistoricized isolation from their relation to other signifiers. Nakagami does not, however, elevate the authenticity of speech at the expense of writing. Nakagami's project in the reportage of this trip is to render legible the polyvalence of meaning in acoustic signifiers as they appear in writing such as the highly over-determined syllable of "ki." In this reportage, kana writing is more approximate to the oral because kana syllabary can contain multiple and even contradictory readings. Just as the inscription "ki" (tree), is supported by a root which is part of it and yet its subordinate, the inscription "ki" as tree cohabits with other inscriptions of the same utterance of "ki," including those which combine in the name "Kishu to form radically different compounds, including the "ki" of writing, of narrative or annals, the "ki" of a sort of "spirit," the "ki" of nobility, and even the "ki" of devilry or mischeviousness (33).|
Nakagami's point here is not just that the "voiceless" have been excised from the archive of kokubungaku; his point is about the production of otherness in language. This is what distinguishes his account from a reading of sabetsu which would be satisfied with incorporating more testimonial voices into a finished, resolved account in which sabetsu was rendered as an object which could be contained without negativity. This refusal to resolve is another point of coincidence with Faulkner's saga. While retaining a stake in articulating the material results of sabetsu, Nakagami is calling particular attention to how a mode of writing has been formalized to exclude traces of alterity not compatible with the building of a literary national imaginary at each particular instance of the conceptual transplanting from oral to written. This process of excision is illustrated in Nakagami's critique, and Nakagami's counter-method to the fixing of meaning is illustrated in his strategy of representing sabetsu not through the referentiality of meaning (description, dialogue, or other realist literary phenomenologies), but by the development of the conceptual topos of the roji.
The roji is a neighborhood in a city in Kumano; over the course of the three volumes and Nakagami's writings as both a literary figure and a public figure, it becomes apparent that the roji is a conceptual space which also stands in a highly abstracted way for a hisabetsu buraku neighborhood. It is important in this case-for reasons I will elaborate later-that it is the topos of the roji and not a representative person who is the object of representation. Furthermore, complicated problems of translation emerge in attempting to explain either of the terms of the hisabetsu buraku or the hisabetsu burakumin; the former is the topos, while the latter is the resident of such a topos. The buraku is a signifier marking and delineating a community; burakumin is a term designating a member of that community, which has in recent years been superseded by the progressive or liberal term hisabetsu burakumin, meaning one who has been discriminated against on the basis of belonging to that community. This modification, however, still insists on the act of naming, which has been a fundamental part of continued discrimination. The difference comes from the fact that a geographical topos is a social space, in which the processes of sabetsu can be seen to be articulated and turned into discourse; a character serves the purpose of being made normative as either representative or pathological, as in the case of The Broken Commandment we will see later. As in my reading Nakagami's texts work to render legible the complicated ways that sabetsu is embedded in practices of daily life and myth, the psychological realist portrait of a character is insufficient, as it is in Faulkner's texts.
In the reportage of Kishu--Country of Trees, Country of Roots, all of the "ghosts of the land" have monogatari to tell which have their "roots" in the effects of sabetsu. This includes the story of the group charged for the High Treason Incident (a group composed largely of residents of the hisabetsu buraku) that appears in the first chapter, to monogatari that inhabit the practices of everyday life, such as the hisabetsu buraku resident whose wife was counseled by local health authorities to abort her child, and the spurning of the "Dowa boat" by a fisherman's union in the town of Koza (57).12 Clearly the term of "roots" of the reportage's title are the roots of discrimination which underwrite the monogatari of Kumano, which in turn underwrite the Showa center-periphery structure of the diffuse imperial symbolics of the imperial capital.
As has been much discussed, the politics of racial representation are a central discourse of Faulkner's own saga.13 Clearly the episteme of prewar American racial discriminations and discrimination is different from the discriminations and discrimination of postwar Japan. My interest in this essay is in Nakagami's transplanting of certain of Faulkner's problematics into the topography of his own saga. The topography of Kumano, including the roji as a conceptual space, may well have been informed by the Faulkner's texts, with all of their hauntings of the racial hysteria, the sprawling structure of materiality, sensory mechanism and figure that is his inscription of the "South." The narration of Faulkner's south is always in the process of uneven growth, of slapping up another textual building (to use Faulkner's favorite folksy metaphor for his works of the "toolkit"), in the process of re-reading and re-presenting itself as a (not always successful) strategy of bringing the effects of this racial hysteria into a field of legibility.
In this essay I will try to elaborate how Nakagami's intervention into the politics of sabetsu and monogatari also takes seriously this problem of the politics of bringing an object into a field of representation; his approach to the problem, through writing, is to treat sabetsu as a problematic of representation, through the "powerful weapon" of the saga, rather than as an object of representation.
At the end of Absalom, Absalom! there are three appendices attached which do not belong to the novel proper. These are a chronology, a genealogy and a hand-drawn map, all describing the fictional terrain of the novel, Yoknapatawpha county. The chronology and genealogy serve as a stabilizing focus, putting the people and events in Absalom, Absalom! in an understandable sequence.
In this essay, I am briefly treating two particular nodes in which Nakagami Kenji seems to have translated Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha county into his own saga. The first case is methodological and appears, as we have seen, in his travel writings on the Ki Peninsula. The second is related to Nakagami's re-writing at meta-textual level of a particular scene from one of the representative monogatari that Nakagami critiques for its abjection of its hisabetsu-sha protagonist, Shimazaki Toson's 1906 prose fiction, The Broken Commandment (Hakai).
|The hundred-odd years from the Meiji restoration to the present has been an era including the loss of the war and the occupation, and even more so, humanism and the advocacy of "literature" have run rampant. For instance Katai, for instance Toson. Why did The Broken Commandment have to end with the confession of being an eta? I'm different from the run of literary scholars and critics, and when I think that Segawa Ushimatsu's confession is a weakness of the author Shimazaki Toson, and that eta is the effect of social law and system at the same time that it is the monogatari borne by Segawa Ushimatsu, in effect what I think Toson did is to ignore law and system, and plunge monogatari into humanism and the advocacy of "literature."14|
|Nakagami's critique is that through the confession which produces Ushimatsu's subjectivity, his identity, Ushimatsu makes it appear that sabetsu is something for which he is responsible, which he himself produces in isolation from any interpellating law or system. It is a highly alienating gesture, insofar as it attributes to himself a power of conferring subjectivity which he in fact does not have, and cannot help but lose to. In Modern Japanese Literature and 'Sabetsu,' a history of the different literary phenomenologies used to describe hisabetsu buraku protagonists since the late Tokugawa era, Watanabe Naomi, however, points out the fact that--all questions about the novel's authenticity as ethnographic realism aside--Ushimatsu required a different thing of readers than earlier hisabetsu buraku characters whose "identities" had been pasted onto them. Ushimatsu is a banal character. He lacks the "sign" of extreme poverty, the "typical outcast" physiology, or an identifying illness which typically make the hisabetsu buraku character both representative and pathological: he is completely "a regular person" (32). The lack of marks (aside from his telltale name itself) requires that the process of reading be used to attribute an "identity" to Ushimatsu.|
Overall, Nakagami's writing of Kishu Country of Trees, Country of Roots seems to emerge from a crisis in trying to "read" sabetsu--the very transaction that is seen in new terms in The Broken Commandment. Nakagami describes a crisis of reading in Kishu--Country of Trees, Country of Roots in terms of the effect of its capacity to completely enclose: "there is one thing that haunted me, which was I wondered again, what ever might "sabetsu" might be. For sabetsu exists, and there is structure of sabetsu that acts like a membrane. But the word "sabetsu" is just too simple" (197). In my reading, this membrane is both something that appears to physiologically cover someone inside, at the same time as it is a permeable covering, which might be sensitive to environmental irritants.
This is also the time-span when Nakagami's lecture series in Shingu with the Hisabetsu Buraku Youth Group fails due to being about discourse and not direct action, as described in "Reflections on the Cancellation of the Lecture Series in the Hisabetsu Buraku After Eight Times." Shortly before taking the trip through Kishu and at the time when the Sayama trial was nearing its close, Nakagami describes in a roundtable discussion how he was provoked to develop a systematic critique of sabetsu in literature, as opposed to the one-time-only conditions of the protest denunciations (kyudan toso).15 While at the same time "the roots of sabetsu" is a completely banal description, in Nakagami's reportage writings, the figure of the "root" seems to emerge from the need to provide a more rigorous account of how sabetsu operates. As I cited above, this "root" (ne) is seen to have a history reaching back to the classical anthologies which depicted the "country of roots" as one of negativity which is translated into the world of the visible. As we can start to see in Kishu sabetsu operates not merely at the level of the phenomenal object but at the level of the perceiving subject, this translator of negativity, who performs sabetsu by means of a process of reading. Nakagami sees that sabetsu is something other than an object: it is a structure, or more properly, one of a number of variations of script that go by the name of monogatari: "I am overcome by the poison of written things, the poison of written words" (216).
With respect to the act of reading and sabetsu, I would like to briefly refer to one of the processes of translated modernity-to cite Lydia Liu's phrase-that is in fact obscured by rendering my argument into English, due to not being able to show the differences in the different writing systems that make up written Japanese. In Japanese, one reading for the character which finds itself in compounds related to acts of reading is pronounced as "doku"; the same pronunciation, "doku," corresponds to a character which is read to signify "poison."
In the Kishu reportage, the acts of encounter between reporter and object, as well as object and surroundings, are consistently described in terms of the mingling of subject and object. For instance, there is a scene where Nakagami visits a slaughterhouse, and runs across a fetching young hisabetsu buraku boy pulling the last hairs out of a horse's tail to make the bow of a violin. Nakagami then tastes the brine in which the horse's tail has been soaked and meditates on the circuit of corporeality and aesthetics that is being completed in the scene. The relevant question in scenes such as this which emphasize the equation of reading (doku) and poisoning (doku), is, in opening up the conditions of production from which these homonymic readings can emerge, is if there is indeed a structure of "roots" (ne), how does the poison(doku)=reading (doku) attain in the relation between subject and object? One interpretation may lie in the rhetorics of sensoria which populate the texts of both Faulkner and Nakagami, in which historiography is engaged by means of sensory irritants.
The rhetoric that connects sabetsu to rhetorics of perception and to history may well be one transplanted from Faulkner. These rhetorics seem clearly connected by Nakagami's use of the figures of poison, root and inhalant, a rhetorical constellation which is particularly clear in his discussion of the toxic powers of the seitaka-awadachiso. This plant is the weed that crawls, like the suikazura, all over the Yoshino landscape which was the setting for Tanizaki's novel Arrowroot (Yoshino kuzu). Nakagami's conclusion is that "there is poison at the roots of monogatari."16
In Faulkner's texts it is important to look at the significance of re-reading, particularly as provoked by sensory irritants. Quentin's narration occurs at the level of "wisteria and cigars," the sensory irritants which both engage him and subordinate him to his memory of those irritants and prior recitations. To translate into the terms of Nakagami's texts, the senses are used to provoke a reading of "another hidden structure" whose roots usually reside in senmin outcast culture: mummies and their beholders in The Ends of the Earth, Supreme Time, or wandering skeletons and those who hallucinate them in the short story collection Make-up (Kesho; as well as the mononoke of the landscape in Kishu--Country of Trees, Country of Roots. As with Faulkner's wisteria and cigars, which trigger the impulse to remember and recount in those who sense them, this afterlife of history-as-ghostly-irritant is stored often through modes of sensuality like smell (the flower that smells of sex and death in "The Remains of Flowers" (Nokori no hana, The Capital of Gravity), touch in many of the classically loaded-love/sex scenes, and acoustics. These modes of generating historiography are given equal weight with the written or built monuments one can empirically point to, most notably the mythical Mago-ichi whose legend provides the fantastic monumental image for Hamamura Tatsuzo's empire, the monument that is so disappointing to Akiyuki in The Sea of Withered Trees.
In all versions of Nakagami's "South," the metaphor of plants-one of the chief sources of stimulus and irritant--is operative. Briefly, there are three ways that Nakagami's crypticism of Faulkner might employ constellations of metaphors about plants with respect to how they are used in acts of re-reading and re-poisoning in transplanting the ghosts of the "South." First, plant as material: something which has a form, which reproduces and spreads, and which, in Nakagami, is always inorganic, and which exists as something composing the text (through its very paper, as we know from Tanizaki) as well as something safely inside it. Second, plant as sensory mechanism: something which emits colors, smells, allergens and other things. And third, the plant as episteme: the kind of image Nakagami uses sometimes as metaphor (the honeysuckle)and sometimes as idealized structure (the Deluzian rhizome that occurs in Utsuho monogatari, short stories about the pre-history of the hisabetsu buraku and artistic production, and sometimes as intertext (Yoshino kuzu, the text of Tanizaki's whose setting of the hisabetsu buraku Nakagami refers to in Kishu--Country of Trees, Country of Roots.)
The root is something other than a stray metaphor used for the familiarity of its conventional application to issues of sabetsu. The fictional status of both these collectives, the "South" of the United States and the Ki Peninsula, is called attention to in terms of plants. In other words, the network that Nakagami's texts most re-code from Faulkner has to do with what the Grandfather in Absalom, Absalom! refers to as "the planting of nature and man too." After the demise of his chief symbolic object of critique, the Showa emperor, in 1988, Nakagami continued to write the novel Different Tribes (Izoku), which takes place in the "south" of Manchuria, and whose ringleader has a name in keeping with the associations of names, places and plants from much earlier in Nakagami's career.
Among several kinds of flowers that Nakagami translates into nativist terms, Nakagami mentions that bamboo (the same bamboo as is signified by a character in Takehara Akiyuki's name) has to be planted by people, and does not spread organically. His focus on the plant reminds us that the names of the protagonists of Nakagami's imaginary topographies are always created out of these conspicuously inorganic genealogies. In addition to Takehara Akiyuki, the transplanted child who is the protagonist of the Kishu saga, there is Hamamura Tatsuzo (whose characters are made of a concatenation of inscriptions signifying harbor--> village and which mix Chinese and Japanese readings of characters in conspicuously inorganic ways), who moves from shady, illegal transience to legal indeed legalizing settlement, and finally, there is the shepherd of colonization, Makinohara (whose characters when concatenated might mean field of evergreens) a right-wing ideologue who puts together a group of youth to re-colonize Manchuria in the unfinished prose work Different Tribes (Izoku). In effect, the plant as a metaphor in Nakagami allows for two things. First, the description of an effect of something toxic prior to or even at the expense of describing its origin. And second, a focus on processes of transmission, transplanting a reworking of the planting and transplanting of the texts of kokubungaku as the figures move from place to place through their poison (doku) =reading (doku).
Putting together the figures of reading and poison with respect to sabetsu, let's return to the question of how Nakagami engages Faulkner cryptically. To begin with, there are several similarities that we would want to call attention to between the Yoknapatawpha saga and the Kishu saga. Formally, characters, especially narrators, in both novels are constantly drawn into the thick of other people's monogatari, scripts of other people's melodramas. Then, the patriarchs of both novels come from out of nowhere: "out of no discernible past"(6)in the case of Thomas Sutpen, and Hamamura Tatsuzo described as a man who is a "bone of who knows what kind of horse," as if from outside of history. In both novels, relations between father and son, and the transmission of patriarchal authority, are driven to a fever pitch and a confrontation by the potential threat of a secret being revealed. We should note that in both cases, it is the son (Henry and Akiyuki) who is most intent on invoking and reaffirming the paternal law. Charles Bon threatens to reveal the "secret" of Sutpen's past in Haiti. Charles Bon actually makes two confessions: one to Henry, and one to Sutpen. Just before the incident in which Henry presumably kills Charles Bon, they argue, and according to Quentin's narration, it becomes clear that Henry's prohibition is driven by the fear that his sister will marry a black man, rather than that she will commit incest.
However, despite the thematic similarities in the transgression of incest, and the oedipal drama, it seems that the recognition scene where Akiyuki fails to provoke Hamamura Tatsuzo into laying down the law of the father is performing a cryptic reading of Faulkner (translating the textual codes of Absalom, Absalom! and the Yokhapatawphna saga) at the level of theme, but just as importantly it is doing a cryptic reading of one of the foundations of Nakagami's perennial critical target, monogatari (then coming into formation as kokubungaku in the fourth decade of the Meiji era), in the form of The Broken Commandment.... The very theatricality of the failure of the confession in The Sea of Withered Trees draws our attention to it. The question I ultimately want to address is how the "lack" he saw as constitutive of the protagonist of The Broken Commandment is recoded as the failure to confer a mode of recognition which is based on the same model of subjectivity in The Sea of Withered Trees. Which is to say, how the question of transgression in Faulkner is recoded onto a reading of The Broken Commandment, which Nakagami sees as a representative work of prose fiction in the tethering together of sabetsu and monogatari.
First, let us consider the case of Charles Bon in Absalom, Absalom!. There is no question that Charles Bon's lack of any racialized mark is exactly what is so threatening to what Eric Sundquist calls the "metaphysics of racialism," which is to say processes of reading something without a "sign," and attributing to it a racialized identity: in effect occupying the double position of reader and poisoner. By keeping any empirical "proof" of Charles Bon's racial status off-screen, the effect is to bring into the foreground the real untenableness of all the racial reading that appear in the text as a result of Charles's "revelation." It is the status of the revelation of Charles's "secret" that I would like to analyze here, and then to compare it to Akiyuki's "secret" and his confession in The Sea of Withered Trees to see where the transgression and the reading has been recoded in Nakagami's text.
If the treatment of sabetsu as a metaphysics of racialism is one element Nakagami picked up from Faulkner, it is probably important to note that neither the story of Joe Christmas nor Charles Bon offers us any "on-screen" evidence for their racial "identity": evidence for the histories and "identities" of both men provided totally through hearsay and gossip. Similarly, despite all of his "extra-novelistic" comments about sabetsu, Nakagami maintains the roji as a space with virtually no mimetic references to sabetsu. It is interesting to consider whether this kind of discourse of reading=poisoning regarding sabetsu has its roots in the aporias of Faulkner's texts. One further issue from Faulkner that is pertinent to the Kishu saga is the act that both are like mystery novels without evidence, whose crimes the protagonists Charles Bon and Takehara Akiyuki both charge themselves with on the basis of confession, not evidence.
Faulkner's saga tries to solve the problem of re-reading ghosts in formal terms, by re-visiting the scenes of formerly un-narrated events, as if only finding them would provide a clue. This occurs at the level of character and at the level of the text. The re-narration of Quentin's death three years earlier by himself in a different book (The Sound and the Fury) has provocative implications for the process of re-reading. The category of "innocence" which is so precious both to Thomas Sutpen's "design" and to American kokubungaku in general is particularly put into question as Quentin is provoked to narrate the relation between Henry, Bon and Judith, and to apply it to his own relation to Caddy. In Absalom, Absalom!, Quentin jigsaws the story of Sutpen's Hundred back together again, effectively re-narrating his own suicide which had in fact occurred some three years previously. This re-reading in Absalom, Absalom! occurs by means of the "insights" he himself has made up in his jigsawed narration as he dramatizes how elements of race and sexuality went hand-in-hand to form the chief threat posed by the "factor" of Charles Bon, which refers back as well to Quentin's obsession with Caddy's purity. In Absalom, Absalom!, through the process of narration, Quentin comes to make the connection between the "reading" of Charles Bon and his own investment in keeping Caddy not only sexually innocent, but innocent in the sense of racially pure.
In the case of The Sea of Withered Trees, the taboo is that there is no object which establishes the logic of taboo at all. Akiyuki wants to be scolded into subjectivity when he confesses his incestuous relation with his half-sister Satoko, to the father of both of them, Hamamura. He ardently hopes that his transgression of sleeping with Satoko should both invoke the paternal law of Hamamura's anger, while paradoxically at the same time destroying Hamamura's dynasty through showing the extra-territoriality of his own transgression. However, both aims of Akiyuki's fall flat when his revelation fails to provoke Hamamura's wrath:
| Looking at the man who sat on the floor with one leg crossed and one knee up, as if he were ready to suggest drinking sake all night, Akiyuki said, "Two of your children slept together."|
The man looked at Akiyuki.
"I know," the man said. "There's nothing can be done," the man said in a slightly angry voice.
Tears came out. Akiyuki wiped the tears away.
Why the tears came out Akiyuki didn't know. He wanted to spill it, to tell everything (145).
|Hamamura remains unfazed when Akiyuki announces no fewer than three times that he has slept with Satoko. What is obviously striking in the case of Akiyuki is the failure of the confession of the secret. This "failure" is particularly resonant when we think of the scene of confession in The Broken Commandment. Even if the novel has a "happy end," with Ushimatsu getting married to the girl he has always loved with shy tenacity, and after quitting his job as a public servant, a school-teacher, he gets a good job in Texas, the novel leaves him in a place much like Charles Bon: he has to remain sacrificially off-screen in order to attain subjectivity and recognition. Nakagami's novel, on the other hand, refuses to engage in these authorizing discourses at all. However dastardly is the law of Hamamura and the extra-territorial power of his capital, through the reading=poisoning of its recoding of the longing for subjectivity as seen earlier in Ushimatsu's confession in Toson's 1906 novel, The Sea of Withered Trees suggests a radically different idea of where a "character" comes from. If we continue reading, we see the three characters Satoko, Akiyuki and Hamamura all getting drunk together. Akiyuki, through this sensual derangement, remembers when he was three, and Hamamura, home from jail, called out to him. The past thirty years of gossip describing all of Hamamura's misdeeds floods through his head. I would like to recall the epigraph to this essay, which describes "the arrangement of narrated time and "real" time, that composes the movements of the characters, now gesturing to another hidden structure." In this same manner, Akiyuki recalls the spying eyes not just of Hamamura, but of the roji, and remembers the "double lovers' suicide" of his brother and sister (which virtually stinks of Faulkner), which drove his sister to elope with Mitsuhiro. In one of the characteristic sentences describing Akiyuki's perplexed, dumb alienation, the last line of the sequence is both provocative and telling. "It was sheer gossip with neither root nor flower, but Akiyuki understood that it was like something with a root, with leaves" (147). Although the description of gossip in this clause is so common in Japanese as to be de-literalized, I think the rhetoric merits our attention. My reading takes this sentence to draw Akiyuki into the saga of the rhetoric of "roots" and sabetsu.|
This sequence occurs exactly halfway through the novel, and of course another fifty pages follow, which will include Akiyuki's slaying of his half-brother. It is not too difficult to read that scene as the inevitable repetition of Akiyuki's revenge in an oedipal drama. However, what I would like to call attention to is the constellation of metaphors which emerges from this scene--when the oedipal taboo, more than being overcome by domination, is proven to be merely irrelevant--in the rhetoric of the plant saturated with the Faulknerian sense of time and rhetoric from the reportage Kishu--Country of Trees, Country of Roots. Through its combination of the reading (doku) of Toson combined with Faulkner, Nakagami has produced an antidote (doku) to the very stuff which is the backbone of a novel, its protagonist. The continuation of the saga, through a complete refiguring of Akiyuki in The Ends of the Earth, Supreme Time might well be looked at through the combinations of sensorium and sabetsu allowed by Nakagami's cryptic reading of kokubungaku through Faulkner.
Indeed in this "country sunken into darkness," in Nakagami's topography of transplanted Faulkner, monogatari is in fact overgrowing.
|1. Nakagami Kenji, "'Basho' to shokubutu" ("'Place' and Plants"). An Era Ending, an Era Begins. (Tokyo: Hukutake Shoten, 1987) 438.|
2. Nakagami Kenji, "Faulkner no hanmosuru 'minami'" ("Faulkner's Overgrown 'South'"). An Era Ending, an Era Begins. 448. Unless noted otherwise, translations are my own. An English translation of this essay has been previously published as "Faulkner: The Luxuriating South," translated by Ishii Michiyo in the compilation Faulkner: After the Nobel Prize. Ed. Michel Gresset and Ohashi Kenzaburo.
3. To pursue this inquiry outside of a totalizing center-periphery structure, equally necessary, and equally out of the scope of this paper, is the question of how Japanese literary production fits in a scheme of the post-colonial. Needless to say, the readings and the elements of Faulkner which are critiqued and transplanted by writers as far-flung as García Márquez, Aléjo Carpentier, Édouard Glissant, and Kateb Yacine are vastly different, as are the historical specificities of the texts they write and the social texts within which they are written, printed and read.
4. While monogatari is also a term designating the earliest collections of Heian writings, since readings and translations of post-structuralism, it has come take on some of the meaning of narrative and ideology as rendered in Anglo-European post-structuralist criticism.
5. For a more elaborate account of the Tokugawa discourse on nativism, the folk and negativity in practices of daily life, see Harry Harootunian, Things Seen and Unseen.
6. See, for example, Yamaguchi Masao, "Kinship, Theatricality and Marginal Reality in Japan." Although Yamaguchi has published prolifically, in general, where available I have concentrated my citations on materials available to English-language readers.
7. For an extended treatment of Nakagami and the problems of the "origin" of the hisabetsu buraku, see Karatani Kojin, "The 'Origin' of the Hisabetsu Buraku."
8. For an explicit discussion of Tanizaki's essay and its relation to "tradition" and sabetsu, see Interrogating the Roots of Sabetsu, ed. Noma Hiroshi and Yasuoka Shoichiro (Tokyo: Asahi Shuppan, 1984) 192.
9. It should be noted, as Édouard Glissant reminds us, that there is a racialized division of labor in Faulkner's texts between the transitive white characters and the intransitive black ones. Akiyuki's relation to movement merits further investigation in this context.
10. For an account of Origuchi with respect to modern prose fiction (kindai shosetsu), see James Fujii, Complicit Fictions.
11. Ironically, the limitations of Internet publication in English make it impossible to show Nakagami's project of exploding "ki" in the visual way, through the switched kanji, that is most effective. My rendering of "meaning" here (e.g. tree, spirit) is makeshift at best, and should be read in the context of Internet publication conventions (English-only syllabaries) rather than as my faith in unmediated one-to-one correspondence of isolated units of language.
12. The term of dowa is a term no longer used which describes residents of the hisabetsu buraku. The derogatory reference to the "dowa boat" is a reference to a series of public policies implemented by the national government designed to redress past inequities of discrimination, which sometimes provoked a backlash of such "reverse discrimination." For a general outline of such policies, see Harada Tomohiko, Hisabetsu buraku no rekishi.
13. See for example, the anthology Faulkner and Race: Faulkner and Yoknapatawhpa 1986.
14. Karatani Kojin and Nakagami Kenji, Overcoming Kobayashi Hideo (Tokyo: Kawadeshoboshinsha, 1979) 143.
15. Interrogating the Roots of Sabetsu, V. 2, 205. The Sayama incident and Sayama trial are named for an incident which took place in 1963 for which a buraku youth was accused and, many believed, framed for the murder of a young girl. The trial and subsequent imprisonment of the accused Ichikawa became a node for the discussion of the continuing effects of sabestu, including among left literary critics and writers.
16. Overcoming Kobayashi Hideo, 152.
Faulkner, William. Absalom, Absalom! New York: Vintage International, 1986. Copywright (C) 1999 Anne McKnight
Copywright (C) 1999 Anne McKnight