Wednesday, October 06, 2004

"Ten Nights' Dreams" - a delightful deviation of a literary giant

Soseki Natsume, the author of "Ten Nights' Dreams," is considered to be one of the greatest figure in the modern Japanese literature, for not only his numerous novels and essays with spontaneous insights into the nature of modernity but also his contribution to the very creation of modern Japanese language.
Born in 1867, he lived and worked in the midst of the modernization/Westernization of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, probably the most abrupt and zealous reformation Japanese society has ever experienced. When the entier society was voraciously (and with a considerable amount of inferiority complex) absorbing the "advanced" Western culture and technology, Soseki was not an exception. He diligently studied English literature in cold and damp London, and came back with larger-than-average inferiority complex (a perfect recipe for his future stomach ulcer). After teaching at the University of Tokyo, he devoted himself entirely to creative writing, including novels with deep human insight, such as "Kokoro," political and social criticism and satire, such as "I Am a Cat," short stories and essays. The majority of his works are realistic and deal with such serious (depressing, one might say) matters as the meaning of being individual, the selfish nature of human being, and the implication of rapid modernization of Japanese society.
Placed amongst his other works, "Ten Nights' Dreams" is a strange but delightful bastard of his underexplored, dreamy subconscious. It is true that a reader can read essential unstability of our existence, and profound fear as a consequence in the ten stories, and in that sense these are "serious"works. However, thanks to the fact that these themes are sublimed into surreal setting and plot which are not necessarily closely tied to our own lives, the ten stories are redeemed from the revealing but depressing nature of his other works. Japanese text is available here, a post on 青空文庫, a web-based free library of works whose copyrights have expired.


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