I have finished my translation of 'A Letter to Kawabata Yasunari' (川端康成へ). Actually, I am not confident that I have it all correct, so if anyone thinks they spot a mistake, please do let me know. I have also posted it, with the original text, on my other blog
.A Letter to Kawabata Yasunari
In the September issue of Bungei Shunju
you wrote of me disparagingly: “… After all, ‘The Flowers of Buffoonery’ is full of the life and the literary views of its author, but it seems to me that there is an unpleasant cloud surrounding the author’s personal life at present, and, regrettably, this prevents his talent from being expressed as it should be.”
Let us not bandy inept lies. When, standing in the front of a bookshop, I read the words you had written, I was deeply aggrieved. From the way you had written, it was quite as if you alone had decided who should and should not receive the Akutagawa Prize. This was not your writing. Without doubt, someone had made you write this. What is more, you were even exerting yourself to make this obvious.
‘The Flowers of Buffoonery’ is a piece I wrote three years ago, in the summer of my twenty-fourth year. Then, it bore the title, ‘The Sea’. I gave it to my friends, Kon Kani’ichi and Ima Uhei, to read, but compared with the version that exists today it was a very rough piece of work with none of the monologues now belonging to the ‘I’ of the narrative. It was simply the narrative itself – a plain but structurally sound story. That autumn I borrowed Gide’s essay on Dostoyevsky from Akamatsu Gessen, who lived in the neighbourhood, and reading it set me to thinking; I took that primitive – even formal – work of mine, ‘The Sea’, tore it to pieces, and put it back together as a work in which the face of the ‘I’ was to be found everywhere in the text. In this way I believed I had created a work the like of which had not been seen before in Japan; boasting as much, I passed it around my friends. I had my friends Nakamura Chihei and Kubo Ryuuichiro, and also Mr Ibuse, who lived nearby, read it, and it was well received. Encouraged by this, I revised it further. I made deletions and additions, and wrote the whole thing afresh five times before putting it away carefully in a paper bag in the cupboard.
At around New Year this year, my friend Dan Kazuo read this manuscript.
“Hey,” he said, “This is a masterpiece! You must send this to a magazine. I’ll try taking it to Kawabata Yasunari. Kawabata is sure to understand a work like this.”
Soon after that I came to an impasse in my writing. I went on a journey, prepared, in my heart, as it were, to die in the wilderness. This incident caused a little stir.
However much my elder brother berated me, that was fine, I just needed to borrow five hundred yen. And then, I could try again. I returned to Tokyo. Thanks to the trouble taken by my friends, I managed to secure from my brother, for a two or three year period starting then, an allowance of fifty yen a month. Immediately I set about looking for lodgings, but while I was still searching I was stricken with appendicitis and admitted to the Shinohara hospital at Asagaya. Septic pus had seeped into the peritoneum. I had been diagnosed a little too late. I was admitted on the fourth of April, this year. Nakatani Takao came to visit me. Join the Japanese romantic movement, he urged. To celebrate, I shall publish ‘The Flowers of Buffoonery’. These are the matters we discussed. ‘The Flowers of Buffoonery’ was in the possession of Dan Kazuo. I insisted that it would be best if Dan Kazuo took the manuscript to Mr Kawabata. Due to the pain from the incision in my stomach, I was quite unable to move. Then, my lung became infected. For many days I was unconscious. My wife informed me afterwards that the doctor had declared he could no longer take responsibility for my fate. For a full month I lay in the surgical ward, and even to lift my head was a struggle. In May I was transferred to the Kyodo Hospital for internal diseases in Setagaya Ward. I was there for two months. On the first of July the organisation of the hospital was to be changed, all the staff were to be replaced and so on, and as a result, the patients all had to leave. My brother and his acquaintance, a tailor by the name of Kita Hoshiro, discussed the matter and decided to move me to a place in Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture. I spent the days collapsed in a rattan chair, taking a light constitutional stroll at morning and evening. Once a week, a doctor came from Tokyo. This state of affairs continued for two months, when, at the end of August, I stood in a bookshop, read a copy of Bungei Shunju
, and discovered what you had written: “… an unpleasant cloud surrounding the author’s personal life at present…” etc. etc. To tell the truth, I burned with rage. For many nights I found it hard to sleep on this account.
Is breeding exotic birds and going to see the dance, Mr Kawabata, really such an exemplary lifestyle? I’ll stab him! That is what I thought. The man’s an utter swine, I thought. But then, suddenly, I felt the twisted, hot, passionate love that you bore towards me – a love such as that of Nellie in Dostoyevsky’s The Insulted and the Injured
– fill me to my very core. It can’t be! It can’t be! I shook my head in denial. But your love, beneath your affected coldness – violent, deranged, Dostoyevskian love – made my body burn as with fever. And, what’s more, you did not know a thing about it.
I am not attempting to engage in a contest of wits with you. In the words that you wrote I sensed ‘worldly ties’ and smelt the bitter sadness of ‘financial concerns’. I merely wanted to make this known to two or three devoted readers. It is something that I have to make known. We are beginning to doubt that there is beauty in the moral path of subservience.
I think of Kikuchi Kan, wiping the sweat from his brow with a handkerchief, grinning and saying, “Well, I suppose it’s better this way. We haven’t lost anything in the end,” and I too smile like a fool. It really is better this way, it seems. I did feel a little sorry for Akutagawa Ryuunosuke, but - what am I talking about? This, too, is part of those ‘worldly ties’.
Mr Ishikawa is an example to us all. In that sense he is dispensing his duties with deep sincerity.
It’s just that I feel dissatisfied. That Kawabata Yasunari tried to assume a casual attitude in his lying, but couldn’t quite cut it – I can’t help being dissatisfied at this. It should not have been this way. It really should not have been this way. You have to be more aware, in your dealings, that a writer lives in the midst of absurdity and imperfection.