The Human Condition after Hiroshima:

Roundup: Talking About History

Roger Pulvers, in Japan Focus (January 2005):

[Roger Pulvers is an American-born Australian author, playwright and theater director, and a professor at Tokyo Institute of Technology. He translated all the Japanese writings quoted in the five-part Japan Times series"Revealing the Japanese Sensibility," that included the present article. A collection of his fiction and nonfiction writings,"Half and More," will be published by Shinchosha in 2005.]

What could be said for the human being after Nanking, Dresden, Auschwitz, Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Whatever the motivation, this is what we did to each other, and continue to do to this very hour. How can a writer write about goodness when people of all nations, autocratic or democratic, take up murder and torture with the same eager sense of merriment that they do an innocuous hobby?

For the postwar writer the dilemma was plain. How can you create a positive character who is motivated by both a clear knowledge of innate human cruelty and an unfaltering loving kindness? Given the real world, the only hero appears to be an anti-hero; the only emperor is the emperor of the oven.

Postwar Japanese literature produced a stunning variety of novelists, from Mishima Yukio to Murakami Haruki, from Ooka Shohei to Nakagami Kenji, and many more of brilliance. Their work is distinguished by a truth to human nature, with our offensive blemishes on display for all the world to see. They are influenced, to a greater or lesser degree, by the catastrophic defeat of Japan in its war of aggression, and strive to come to terms with it in a good part of their literature.

But one author stands out as being in a class by himself: Inoue Hisashi. He, too, has been deeply affected by the war's aftermath, but his method of overcoming the grief has been somewhat different from his contemporaries.

My interest in his work began when, more than 30 years ago, I saw his 1971 play"Dogen no Boken (The Adventures of Dogen)," a witty and satirical portrayal of the Kamakura Period (1192-1333) Zen monk, Dogen. I was attracted, like all of his fans, to his ingenious use of language, his cutting humor and perhaps more than anything -- to use a word that now seems most out of fashion -- his humanism.

Inoue was known then primarily as a popular writer of humorous fiction and as the most clever player on words in contemporary literature and theater. His fantasy novel of 1970,"Bun to Fun (Boon & Phoon)," about the ups and downs in the career of a no-hope writer whose characters come to life, has sold more than two million copies to date. He is also one of the few Japanese novelists who has created a full-blown, warts-and-all portrait of a non-Japanese, in his hilarious and sympathetic 1972 portrait of a French priest,"Mokkinpotto no Atoshimatsu (The Fortunes of Father Mockinpott)."

But what makes Inoue's literature stand out is not his humor or his clearly cosmopolitan sensibility. It is the essential humanity, an endearing humanity, that his characters possess. Even the evildoers in his prose and drama -- be they thief, imposter or vengeful solider -- display the kind of redeeming features that virtually all other authors, East or West, are loath to give them. The result is that the essential humanity (read that as goodness) of these characters rubs off on us all.

Click here to read the rest of this article.

comments powered by Disqus