Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: https://hdl.handle.net/10356/55204
Title: The ethics of aesthetics in Kawabata Yasunari.
Authors: Siti Rohana Binte Mohamed Akhbar.
Keywords: DRNTU::Humanities
Issue Date: 2013
Abstract: Kawabata YasunariI, novelist and master ofthe short story and Japan's first Nobel Prize laureate for literature, by his own self-professed aims, made beauty his life business. "All my life," he proclaims, "is a search of beauty, and I will continue searching for it to the moment ofmy death." That his writing is beautiful is treated rather as a given. It is the one point of convergence in opinion of Kawabata's disparate commentators, who all agree that the distinction ofKawabata's literature is to palpably reorder reality into art. His aesthetics, however, is as celebrated as it is problematic; largely because of his Nobel Prize acceptance speech and its glorification of 'Japaneseness' with overtones that have been described as culturally racist, imperialist or even fascist. So strong are these overtones that his literature, especially the novels this essay focuses on - Snow Country, Thousand Cranes and House ofthe Sleeping Beauties - has inevitably been framed within its context. The discussions that follow build upon the argument that in the protagonists' self-effacing surrender to a purely aestheticised ideal, their author comes too uncomfortably close to the language of fascism. That the lyrical beauty ofKawabata's poetry prose has been described as reminiscent of haiku in its episodic brevity and reliance on the device of "internal comparison" (Akmakjian 14), No in its "structure of discovery, when the reader or spectator begins on the outside and works his or her way towards the central concern" (Rimer, Modern 9) and sumi-e, where that which is explicitly depicted is only the foreground; a mere distillation of what lies beyond in the distant background extending into enveloping space, are thus seen as a "specific mobilisation of signifiers of tradition" (Cornyetz 14) towards the aestheticised notion of 'Japaneseness.' This self-effacing quality has also been interpreted as serving the obliteration of the individual in 'fascist moments' that coincides beauty and violence. Because Kawabata's protagonists are usually male, yet others have interpreted this self-effacing or self-obliterating quality ofthe protagonist as mere passivity; seeing it as a structural sanctioning of patriarchy in Japanese society and culture. All these various critiques are discussed in the first chapter, which presents the (in)famous Nobel Prize lecture, "Japan, the Beautiful, and Myself' as well as Nihonjinron, the discourse of ,Japaneseness,' as a context for Kawabata's fascist aesthetics that has been said to be celebratory of death. The second chapter is a study of Kawabata's treatment of art and proposes that what is seen as a self-effacing, selfobliterating or passive quality may in fact be inevitable characteristics of the essential role of the protagonist in Kawabata's novels: that of the 'perceiving persona.' This chapter proposes that Kawabata's novels may be read as 'lyrical novels': novels that "approach the function of a poem" (Freedman 1). As 'lyrical novels' rather than novels, the protagonist in Kawabata functions as a 'perceiving persona' and need necessarily retain self-denying qualities that have been described, in turn, as selfeffacing, self-obliterating, and passive. However, in the third and final chapter, I propose that this stylistic quality of the Kawabata protagonist as perpetual perceiver serves to demonstrate the ethical implications of rendering all as pure aesthetic surface. It is through this concern that Kawabata proves he is not the mere sensualist he tends to be dismissed as, and that his works of fiction, "far from being mere fumes ofprettiness, are continuously surprising, often intensely unsettling" and at their best, "unequaled in portraying the psyhic cost of aesthetic pleasure" (Philips n.pg.), that is, the fine-tuning ofcertain senses at the cost of others.While this essay focuses on Snow Country, Thousand Cranes and House ofthe Sleeping Beauties, where relevant, it has also made reference to other major Kawabata fiction, notably "The Dancing Girl of Izu," a short story and Kawabata's first piece ofpublished prose to achieve critical acclaim, and The Sound ofthe Mountain.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10356/55204
Fulltext Permission: restricted
Fulltext Availability: With Fulltext
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