Dream Pictures - A Short Story by Kenzaburo Oe - from July 13, 1998 in The New Yorker
Translated, from the Japanese, by John Nathan.)
Published in the print edition of the July 13, 1998, issue.
The Japanese Literature Challenge 14 - Hosted by Dolce Bellezza
January 1 to March 31. Japanese Literature Challenge 14
My readings for JL14 2021 so far
- “Peony Lanterns” a Short Story by Aoko Matsuda - translated from the Japanese by Polly Barton -2020 - a delightful story you can read online. Linked to traditional stories of Ghosts
- Before The Coffee Gets Cold by TOSHIKAZU KAWAGUCHI -2020- an international bestseller
- The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa - 1998
- The Lady Killer by Masako Togawa - 1968
- The Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata - 2016 - cult favorite
- UNDER RECONSTRUCTION - A short story by Ōgai Mori - first published 1910 - translated from the Japanese by Ivan Morris 1968
You may read today’s story on the website of The New Yorker.
I first encountered the work of Kenzaburo Oe in 2009 during JL2. I knew right away I wanted to read everything by him I could. Here were my thoughts from long ago on his stunningly powerful story “The Day He Himself Shall Wipe Away My Tears”:
“I cannot really begin to convey the strange and wonderful qualities of this work. Imagine if Rabelais (Oe was a student of French literature and philosophy at the University of Tokyo), Jean Paul Sarte and William Burroughs collaborated on a work right after eating some very bad blow fish and you have an idea of what
The Day He Himself Shall Wipe Away My Tears feels like as you read it.
This work is about a lot of things and it is about itself. It is about loss of faith, feelings of profound loss,
survivor's guilt, and the destruction of old values. We feel the effects of the war everywhere.
The Japanese culture provided no role models or cultural archetypes to help them cope with what could not happen, total defeat.
There is a long established literary tradition of using the insane to say what cannot be accepted by those in fully sunlit worlds. The narrator of The Day He Himself Shall Wipe Away My Tears has very deep roots in western culture. His ancestors were in the plays of Euripides, his great grandfather was Dostoevsky's underground man, he speaks through Crazy Jane. Oe has stated that he has come to understand the meaning of his own works through reading the poetry of William Butler Yeats.
I do not mean to convey that The Day He Himself Shall Wipe Away My Tears is a closed work that cannot be enjoyed or even followed without great effort. It can be enjoyed just as a narrative of a crazy person. As such we will pick up a lot about the aftereffects of the war on Japan. We will see how the Japanese people felt when they heard the Emperor speak on the radio, and we will learn something about the home front in rural Japan. The book is also funny-imagine the very straight laced executor of the narrator's estate being threatened with the loss of his work as administrator of the narrator's estate (who appears to have nothing to pass along anyway and probably is not going to die soon either) by a man in underwater goggles.
My first judgment is that Oe is as deep as the Russians and as careful as Proust and Flaubert and knows as much about people as Dickens.”
From this start I went on to read on all his works available in translation, including his essays on Hiroshima. I was so happy to see a new to me short story by Oe on The New Yorker Website.
My primary purpose here is to keep a record of my reading and to let interested parties know of this story.
The New Yorker’s introduction is very articulate:
“The acclaimed Japanese novelist Kenzaburo Oe has an uncanny talent for melding the real with the imagined and illuminating the inner lives of his subjects. Since 1998, Oe has written for The New Yorker on topics ranging from the historical antecedents of the Fukushima nuclear disaster to an essay contest in which he participated as a youth. The winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, in 1994, Oe has published more than a dozen books, including “A Personal Matter” and “Rouse Up O Young Men of the New Age!” Oe has also written at length about the tragic legacy of Hiroshima, and has spent decades as a pacifist and anti-nuclear activist. One of my favorite pieces by Oe is “Dream Pictures,” a masterly short story about a father’s poignant relationship with his disabled son, nicknamed Eeyore. (Oe’s own son, Hikari, was born with a severe brain hernia, and the writer has published a series of novels and other fictionalized accounts about their family. Hikari is now one of the most prominent composers in Japan.) In “Dream Pictures,” the protagonist, a writer, is haunted by feelings of parental remorse and mystified by his son’s impediments, including an apparent inability to dream or recollect his dreams. “As I repeatedly tried to discuss dreams with him, he began to protest adamantly: ‘That’s enough. I want to stop now!’ To my wife, who listened in silence, his resoluteness was terrifying. I suppose she was afraid that the day would come when Eeyore would close his mind to all things in the world, our family foremost among them, with a final, ‘That’s enough. I want to stop now!’ ” Oe writes. The artistry of the story lies partly in its structure. As the narrator struggles to navigate his son’s afflictions, he finds himself exploring the allegorical resonance of dreams and his own heartrending distress in the face of his child’s opaque inner life”
—Erin Overbey, archive editor
I thank Dolce Bellezza to adding Kenzaburo Oe to my reading life.