"Sometimes the Heart of a Turtle" (1964, 8 pages-short story)
"The Atomic Bomb, Nuclear Energy, and Japan" (2011, two pages-essay)
Oe in French Surrealistic Mode
A Post Jarry Look at Oe
The Pinch Runner Memorandum by Kenzaburo Oe (translated by Michiko and Michael Wilson) is perhaps the most experimental of Oe's Novel(1935-Japan-Nobel prize 1994-there is background information on Oe in my prior posts on his works). Recently I read for the first time Ubo Roi by Alfred Jarry, a founder of French Surrealism. As I read The Pinch Runner Memorandrum (my 15th by Oe) I was struck by how much of it seems almost made possible by the artistic liberation brought about by Alfred Jarry and other French writers. A lot of the book is about a character called "The Patron" who seems straight out of Ubo Roi. Oe is perhaps the most "French" of contemporary Japanese writer. There are two political peeks in Japanese literature, on the right is Mount Mishima and the left is Mount Oe. I see much more than I did two years ago when I first began to read Japanese literature that these two writers react to each other in their works. Much of Oe is a mocking of the cultural dictates of Mishima and his devotion to the Bushido code. I think Oe can be perfectly well appreciated without knowing this but my realization of this has taken me, I think, deeper into both writers.
The Pinch Runner Memorandum deals directly with the two central issues in Oe's work and his personal concerns. Oe's personal life has been dominated by the birth of his learning impaired brain damaged son. His political thinking was shaped by his reaction to the atomic bombs dropped on Japan during WWII. In a chaotic blend of styles and techniques Oe blends these two themes into an absurd plot centering on a cult that plans to use nuclear terrorism to enforce their values on Tokyo. Let us hope Oe is not a prophet.
Here are some very French absurdest lines-(all from just one page-225)
"Simple. They were basically scared. They can't approach a man as terrifying as Big Papa without costumes, without painted faces...Able official turned to Dog Face and they both burst out laughing...But once they get going so that the merriment
can start percolating, they'll crack the audience up, so they will join in the laughter themselves..."
Like Jarry, Oe is letting us see the absurdity behind government. Big Papa is Napoleon, he is The Emperor, General Hirohito or MacArthur, or Alexander. Oe, I think, also is explicating the origins of religion.
I really enjoyed The Pinch Runner Memorandum. I do not see this as a good "starter" Oe. Once you have read a few of his better known works then I think you will be in a better position to appreciate this novel.
"Sometime the Heart of a Turtle" is a simple short story sort of on the plot lines of the Karate Kid movies. If you are an Oe fan, you might as well read it online HERE.
"Atomic Power, Nuclear Energy, and Japan" (from The New Yorker) is the bare bones of Oe's opposition to Nuclear power and his reaction to the implications of the recent earth quake and Tsunami as it touches on these issues. Many, maybe most people, will not fully agree with his views but they are worth pondering.
I have two Oe novels to go in my plans to read all of his translated works. I think I will wait until 2012 to start them. Somehow I do not look forward to completing this project.
Do you see Jarry in Oe? There is a reference in The Pinch Runner Memorandum to Jean Paul Sartre being a script writer for the movies of Luis Bunuel, which I take as a kind of tip off to us. It does make me a bit nervous how obvious Oe is making all of this for us. Probably there are deeper layers in Oe still to be reached.