December 24, 2018

Personality of Naoya Shiga

Excerpts from the chapter about Naoya Shiga in ‘Modern Japanese Writers - And The Nature of Literature’ by Makoto Ueda (for reference):


> A literary work, Shiga thought, should be autobiographical in the strict sense of the word; that is, it should be a conscious effort at self-revelation.

>...In the case of another prose piece, he had first entitled it "Kusatsu Spa, an Essay" and sent it off to a publisher. But when it came back for proofreading he changed it into a short story by simply erasing "an Essay" from the title. It is difficult to think of any other major writer in modern Japan who could have done such a thing.

> Why did he think fiction was the best mode in which to record the facts of his own daily existence? His answer can be found in his notes on ‘Voyage Through the Dark Night’. "Kensaku, the hero, is by and large myself," he wrote. "I would say his actions approximate the things I would do, or would wish to do, or actually did, under the given circumstances." The prime function of a diary, like most other genres of personal nonfiction, was to record only what one actually did. A work of fiction, on the other hand, could present what one "would do, or would wish to do" in various imaginary situations.

> Once, on devising a scene for a short story, Shiga placed the moon in a geographically impossible position, but knowingly let the description stand because that was the way he had long visualized the scene in his mind.

> What kinds of facts, whether actual or imaginary, are most suitable for a work of fiction? Ordinary facts would not do; they would merely provide material for a chat, or for a popular novel at best. "A story that can be told in a chat," Shiga once said, "should be told in a chat. Only a story with something in it that could not be told in a chat could be made into a work of literature. " Shiga did not elaborate on what that "something" was. But other writings of his show clearly enough what he meant. For instance, there is the revealing anecdote about the way he welcomed a close friend who had just returned from a year-long trip to Europe and North America. His wife showered the friend with "Welcome home!" and other such greetings. But Shiga did not utter a word of welcome; he did not even make the customary bow. It had always been this way between him and that friend of his, Shiga explained; he did not know why it should be so, but he felt "it was most natural.".... A serious writer of fiction presented men and women who behaved themselves more "naturally" than the average person...

> Man has impulses; Shiga would not deny that. Yet man has wisdom also, instinctive wisdom given him by nature for his own health and survival. Shiga advised that every man be attentive to it, understand it, and follow it; this was the way to return to nature.

> Shiga's adverse criticism of certain literary works can also be explained in terms of this highly individual view of human nature. He did not like Othello, Hamlet, or Romeo and Juliet because they were, in his opinion, tragedies caused by human folly. He felt that, in each case, the tragedy could have been averted if the protagonists had been "wiser" in the sense already discussed.

> Ultimately, Shiga's theory of literature is limited in the same way as his view of human nature. Even if it be granted that man has some basic animal wisdom such as Shiga recognized, it may be argued that he was being too optimistic.


> If a novel's primary purpose is to depict the life of a man who, having met with a catastrophic misfortune, recovers from it by his innate "wisdom," it seems that the novelist would do well to become such a man himself.

> ...there was a clear distinction between a poet and a novelist in this respect. "A poet is emotional and tends to destroy his personal life," he observed, "like Baudelaire, Verlaine, Rimbaud, etc. But this would never do in the case of a novelist. . . . Poets and novelists are both men of letters, but there is a good deal of temperamental difference between them." Hence Shiga disliked a novelist who was like a poet—that is, a novelist who did not rebound from a misfortune. For instance, he did not like Tanaka Hidemitsu (1912-49), because the latter showed "no spirit of prose literature" and was completely overcome by his own misfortunes. He also did not like Tanaka's idol, Dazai Osamu, because he thought Dazai was a weak man who adopted a conceited pose to hide his weakness. "However hard I tried, I just could not bring myself to sympathize -with Dazai's love suicide," he wrote.

> If this seems to present an image of an ideal man rather than an ideal novelist, that is consistent with Shiga's idea of a novelist. For Shiga, the ultimate goal in life was to become a man of moral strength. This was a logical conclusion for a writer who considered literature as at best an inferior substitute for life. Problems in life had to be solved in the realm of life; the solutions offered by art were, in the final analysis, no more than substitutes for real solutions, dreams that might or might not be fulfilled.

> Inevitably, given his view of literature, he lost the urge to write; he had no frustrations to vent, no disasters to rebound from. He wrote less and less frequently, his yearly production dwindling to fewer than five short prose pieces—normally two, one, or none—after 1928. Very likely he could not have cared less. "I have felt," he once said, "the important thing for me to do is to spend this unrepeatable life of mine in the best way possible. The fact that I have written works of fiction is of only secondary importance."


> An impression of natural beauty comes from observing a man who conducts himself honestly, in accordance with his inmost feelings. ...A man fighting for his survival was beautiful, because he was, if nothing else, pure in his motives. A fight for material gain or for lust was ugly, but a fight for bare existence, physical or mental, had its own dignity.

> Shiga may have had a special feeling for natural beauty, but nature in the conventional sense—flowers, trees, mountains, rivers, etc.—seems to have meant little to him. The vegetable and mineral worlds hardly feature in his occasional writings. There indeed is one short piece called "The Morning Glory," but in its second sentence the author makes clear that he valued this plant not for its flowers but for its medicinal leaves.

> He thought a dynamic, passionate person lived a strongly rhythmical life, and when such a person became the protagonist of a story the rhythm transmitted itself to the readers, stirring them up and moving them. Even when the story did not feature such a person, it could still create a strong rhythm of life if the storyteller had that rhythm and injected it into his narrative.

> Conversely, Shiga decried works of art that showed a weak rhythm of life. "Trying to create a novel out of rotten material," he said, "is like trying to cook a good meal out of rotten fish." If the novelist's life is rotten, his novels become rotten, too. Shiga's adverse criticism of Dazai seems to have been directed more at his life than at his works. Shiga was also critical of Japanese proletarian writers because they drew inspiration more from their ideology than from their experience; he thought even Lenin would have advised that they emulate Saikaku. He disliked Mori Ogai's works because he felt they were too cerebral, and failed to show any evidence of innate vitality on the author's part.

> Shiga also felt that any attempt to accommodate the reader inevitably weakens an author's rhythm of life, at least insofar as it is embodied in his work. Shiga was firmly against "literature for the millions." He did not like his stories to be made into films or translated into foreign languages. He preferred to be read by a select few, with their number to increase gradually as the centuries passed.


> Shiga said little about plot. This is understandable, in view of his emphasis on spontaneity in creative writing. Constructing a plot is basically an intellectual undertaking, far removed from the sphere of impulse. It is also an area in which the novelist's desire to accommodate his readers is often only too obvious. An intriguing plot, Shiga thought, might be necessary for a popular novel, but it did nothing but harm to a genuine work of literature, whose prime purpose was to convey the author's vigorous rhythm of life.

> Shiga's view, then, was that a novelist did not have to pay much attention to plot, since if he had a vigorous rhythm of life the story would develop one of itself. Plot, in other words, marched to the rhythm of the author's own life.

> ...Shiga is thinking of two types of grammar, artificial and natural. Artificial grammar is school grammar, a set of rules devised by scholars. This is the kind of grammar that Shiga says he knows very little about; evidently, he could not have cared less. But he did care a great deal about natural grammar. He thought of language as a gift given to man by nature, and of speaking and writing as something natural and spontaneous. An ideal writer, he believed, would just let words flow out of his brain naturally, and let them form sentences of their own accord.

> One might wonder why Shiga, while aiming to reproduce the natural rhythm of life, arrived at this laconic style, the exact opposite of the "flowing style" that attracted Tanizaki Junichiro for precisely the same reason. The answer lies in their different concepts of the human psyche. For Tanizaki Junichiro, the ultimate source of psychic energy was the sexual instinct, the will to reproduce one's own kind. Since woman, with her ability to give birth, was closer to this source than man, her rhythm of life was correspondingly more vigorous. Shiga, on the other hand, found the source of life not in woman's reproductive power but in man's will to survive. Hence he favored the male, who had more physical strength, as more typical of a human being who was faithful to his inner impulses.


> A literary work, he thought, should improve its readers' self-knowledge and self-confidence, and bring them a sense of elation as it does so. Characteristic of Shiga was the fact that, with all this emphasis on what the novel could do for its readers, he still urged the novelist to write for himself, not for them. In Shiga's view, the novelist wrote for primarily personal motives, namely, to vent his own emotions and so recover his own mental equilibrium. If his readers also found themselves purged of their frustrations, that was only incidental; the novelist did not consciously intend the novel to have this effect.

> There is, however, a serious flaw in this line of thinking—a flaw that constitutes the main limitation of Shiga's views on art. To be sure, the artist or scientist may gain results while following his own bent. But it does not necessarily follow that these results will prove beneficial to all men alike. A delightful intellectual adventure may end in the horror of atomic weapons. The gloomy tale that the novelist feels better for having written may drive some of his readers to desperation or suicide. Shiga would have denied that his works could have any such effect; his heroes, he would have said, always end up victorious. But he never really admitted the moral ambivalence of literature in general. There is no Satan or lago in his works of fiction; indeed, he would not even read about murders and rapes in the newspapers. Yet these should be part of literature, too, as they are part of life.

> For Shiga, literature could be immensely useful insofar as it could fill a particular need in one's life. It was useless for a person who did not have that kind of need, especially one who needed more than literature could give. Shiga, with his pragmatic view of art, could not ignore its limitations. He coolly abandoned it in later life, when he no longer had any need for it.