Singapore: Tuttle Publishing, , pp. New York: Marsililio Publishers, pp. Ryunosuke Akutagawa remains something of a literary anomaly. A major stylist, he is denied the established standing of a Natsume Soseki or a Shiga Naoya.
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Singapore: Tuttle Publishing, , pp. New York: Marsililio Publishers, pp. Ryunosuke Akutagawa remains something of a literary anomaly. A major stylist, he is denied the established standing of a Natsume Soseki or a Shiga Naoya. Instead, he is relegated to the role of eccentric, a minor symbolist who wrote a few popular pieces. Perhaps this very popularity works against his inclusion in the establishment.
He is comparatively easy to read and there is correspondingly less for a literary scholar to do. In addition, he is an extraordinarily imaginative writer, even a fanciful one, and literary opinion in Japan has long been controlled by the various schools of realism. He was also an antisocial maverick, and this did not endear him to the literary establishment.
Even the fact that he committed suicide — usually enough to ensure instant canonization — has not been sufficient to earn him a place in the local literary pantheon. Nor to a proper place in that part of the foreign pantheon devoted to Japanese literature — and for many of the same reasons. Here, too, his popularity works against him. He is the most translated of all Japanese authors. With so much available, foreign scholars are not much interested.
They prefer to make their reputations staking out their own, preferably virgin, territory. Another problem with the foreign translations, besides their sheer number, is that Akutagawa was translated early. As a result, these first translations range from the unscholarly to the appalling. One of their unwelcome qualities is that they insist upon the exotic — this being one of the few ways to sell Japanese literature in the early days.
An unfortunate result is that Akutagawa is made to seem quaint and curious, a mere purveyor of the exotic. That he was much more, indeed, a major figure in early 20th-century literature, has been obscured.
At least, however, the work has been there, in some form or other. Akutagawa has never gone out of print — either in Japanese or in foreign languages. Here are two newly issued volumes, which indicate both the continued popularity and the troubled legacy of the renderings. None of this work has been collected, and to read Akutagawa so well-translated in a single volume is a pleasure. The book itself is a brand-new printing of the reprint of the Liveright edition.
The English is carefully pedestrian. Certainly a degree of freedom is taken with the original edition. On the other side, no corrections have been made in the text, and the illustrations which are all bunched at the back are nowhere credited. In the Lippit volume, similarly, we are nowhere told where the Borges piece came from. This kind of editorial sloppiness is the result when literature is seen as mere reprint.
Akutagawa first published the story when he was twenty-nine. However, when the speaker sees the painting, it does not meet the expectations of the promised masterpiece of unparalleled beauty. However, even though the speaker does not know if the painting actually exists, he realizes that he can see the beauty in his mind. In the short story, Akutagawa deals with the subjects of truth and beauty. He explains that a man named Yen-k'o, a great admirer of Ta Ch'ih, learned of the painting, which was supposed to be the finest of the artist's works. Seeking the painting, Yen-k'o ends up at the house of a Mr.