Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Junichiro Tanizaki: 谷崎 潤一郎 Two Short Stories about Professors

"The Little Kingdom" (1918, 32 pages)
"Professor Rado" (1925, 36 pages)

Two Very Different Professors
by Junichiro Tanizaki
谷崎 潤一郎 

My Posts on Junichiro Tanizaki

The Japanese Literature Five Reading Challenge

I really like Junichiro Tanizaki an awfully lot.   Prior to today I have posted on 12 of his novels.    He is on all lists of best Japanese novelists and the venerable Harold Bloom includes his The Makioka Sisters  in his list of canon status works.   Juninchiro Tanizaki  (1886 to 1965-Tokyo, Japan-there is some background information on him in my prior posts) is also a lot of fun to read.    I think I have now read all of his translated novels and novellas and I am now happy to be starting on his short stories (I have texts of ten of his Short stories).  

Both "The Little Kingdom" and "Professor Rado"  are about teachers.    (Both stories were translated by Paul McCarthy.)    Both of the stories are well done and worth reading but I do not think they are quite up to the standards of his best work.

One think I have not found in my readings in the pre-WWII Japanese literature is a lot of interest in the lives of the poor, who would have been the vast majority of the citizens.    "The Little Kingdom" is the first work of Tanizaki where he focuses directly on people struggling on a day to day basis to survive.    The professor in this story has relocated from Tokyo to a smaller town in the provinces in the hopes that his expenses will be lower.  He supports his wife, seven children and his mother.    He teaches 5th grade boys  and is a highly regarded professional.   The scenes inside the class room are very well done.   Tanizaki does a great job of bringing the class room to life with his depiction of the personalities of  the boys and the professor.   There is an interesting development toward the middle of the story. I will leave the rest of the story untold.   I found this to be a good, though not great, short story.

"Professor Rabo" is a very different story.    As I read it I was pretty close to shocked by its depiction of a sexual fetish.   I admit I laughed out loud at some of the scenes.   Professor Rabo is a distinguished scholar and a  cultural magazine has sent  over a writer to interview him.    The reporter cannot get the professor to open up about anything.   He does notice something odd.   The 15 year old chambermaid has a sort of arrogant attitude for her station in life.  (The ages of some of the women in the works of Tanizaki and others give us trouble now.   In the times these works were written I think laws and attitudes were different.   Teen age girls were often sold by their parents as combination maids/concubines.)   The reporter comes for a second interview and hears some noises from the professor's study.   The door has been left open a bit and he sees the professor laying face down on his desk with his pants pulled down, the chambermaid is sitting on him and has a riding crop and beats him with it and sticks her hand in his mouth.    It is not explicit but the professor seems to have an orgasm during this experience.     The reporter is shocked.   He really wants to write an expose on this but his editor tells him he cannot.    One day the reporter sees the professor at a show that features a number of women in outfits that reveal their legs.   The reporter goes back to the professors house.   The professor asks the reporter to get him information on one of the women that he really is taken by.   The woman never seems to speak and always keeps her feet covered.   Now things get real strange, the professor begins to get data on the woman that makes him think she has leprosy, which is depicted as deforming the feet.   He assumes that is why the woman covers her feet at all times.    (spoiler alert.)  To telegraph things a bit, the reporter loses track of the professor until he hears he has married.   He goes back to his house.   He meets the chamber maid and she has lost her haughty demeanor.    Once again he hears some sounds from the study and peers through the door.   The woman's feet are deformed by leprosy and the professor has her big toe in his mouth and is also talking to the woman in baby talk.   When she responds she either has a bad speech defect or is meant to be a mentally challenged person.

Both of these stories were included in the Harper Collins Flamingo press edition of    A Cat, a Man, and Two Women.  

Mel u


@parridhlantern said...

My next Tanizaki will be either 7 Japanese Tales or In praise of shadows, both sitting on my shelf vying for my attention, as like you I enjoy the beauty of the writing.

Mel u said...

parrish lantern-Have you read Naomi yet?-I am looking forward to reading the seven stories also

@parridhlantern said...

No although am aware of it, so will at some point read it.