Vasuki Shastry, Asia’s 8 Circles of Hell

“Inspired by Dante’s Inferno, Shastry takes readers on a journey through modern Asia’s eight circles of hell where we encounter urban cowboys and cowgirls fleeing rural areas to live in increasingly uninhabitable cities, disadvantaged teenage girls unable to meet their aspirations due to social strictures, internal mutiny, messy geopolitics from the rise of China, and a political and business class whose interests are in conflict with a majority of the population. Shastry challenges conventional thinking about Asia’s place in the world and the book is essential reading for those with an interest in the continent’s future.”    –From the book description, Amazon

Noma Hiroshi, Waga tō wa soko ni tatsu (1961)

In 1961, noted Japanese postwar novelist Noma Hiroshi (1915-1991) published the semi-autobiographical novel Waga tō wa soko ni tatsu (There Stands My Pagoda) which gives an account of several days in the life of Kaizuka Sōichi, a student at Kyoto University in the 1930s. Kaizuka, who is increasingly interested in Marxism, engages in a debate with an unnamed character on the nature of hell. While his antagonist cites Genshin’s Ōjōyōshū, Kaizuka replies by citing passages from Dante’s Inferno.

On the comparison, see James Raeside’s 1997 article in Japan Forum: “Since, as I have said, Kaizuka’s opponent is a projection of his own psyche, we cannot doubt that there is some truth in his accusation of a lubricious interest in the Paolo and Francesca passage; this is directly confirmed in a later passage of the book where Kaizuka, looking over another passage from The Inferno, wonders if it is not, after all, true that he is like those who read the work as a kind of pornographic text:

“‘Aren’t I doing the same kind of thing, re-reading The Inferno just searching for the suggestive passages? The places I re-read are already fixed, they’re the only parts that are blackened and grubby.’ (Waga tō: 146)”   –Cited from James Raeside, “This is not hell, nor am I out of it: Noma Hiroshi’s Waga tō wa soko ni tatsu,” Japan Forum 9.2 (1997): 195-215; citation p. 201.

Lorenzo Amato on the surrealist Japanese artist Fukuzawa Ichiro (1898-1992) and Dante

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fukuzawa’s work was recently shown in Laugh Off This Hopeless World: Fukuzawa Ichiro (The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, March 12 – May 26 2019, a cura di Shōgo Ōtani, Ryō Furutate, Reiko Nakamura).

See Lorenzo Amato’s article, “Fra Dante Alighieri e l’Ōjōyōshū di Genshin: la società come Inferno nell’opera di Fukuzawa Ichirō, pittore umanista e misantropo” in Insula Europa, February 2021.

Abe Kōbō, “The Boom in Science Fiction” (1962)

“[. . .] Rediscovering the Vision of Science Fiction. We cannot call everything with a monster in it science fiction, but if we make the presence of a hypothesis our standard, then we are free to widen the field considerably. The evolutionary line of science fiction could include not only Karel Čapek’s R.U.R. [1920] and War with the Newts [1936], but even Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis [1915] and David Garnett’s Lady into Fox [1922]. We could broaden our definition endlessly, going beyond the commonly accepted idea of the ‘science fiction writer’ to include authors like Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, August Strindberg, Guillaume Apollinaire, Vladmir Mayakovsky, Jules Supervielle, Lu Xun, Sōseki Natsume, Uchida Hyakken, Akutagawa Ryûnosuke, Ishikawa Jun, and so on.

“And we could go even further back, to Swift, Cervantes, Shakespeare, Dante, Apuleius, and Lucian. The pedigree for our literature of hypothesis would eventually trace itself all the way back to the Greeks.

“Viewed in this light, science fiction’s vision is not a narrow branch within literature but part of the mainstream, a literary current far longer and deeper than a movement like Naturalism, for example. Even if this vision does not encompass all of literature, it is a part too important to leave out. And if there is a potential for a boom in science fiction in our country, it will be a great blessing for Japanese literature, afflicted as it is with a shortage of hypotheses. [. . .]”   –Abe Kōbō, “The Boom in Science Fiction” (1962), trans. Christopher Bolton, Science Fiction Studies 88 (November 2002)

Review of Murakami, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (2013)

review-murakami-colorless-tsukuru-tazaki-and-his-years-of-pilgrimage-2020“But it’s classical music – another Murakami love – that gives Murakami the title of his latest novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. The title comes from Franz Liszt’s three-suite work Anneés de pèlerinage, which translates as ‘Years of Pilgrimage.’

“The eighth part of the first suite – ‘Le mal du pays’ (translation: ‘Homesickness’) – bonds the five main characters (they all play and/or listen to the piece throughout the novel) as they voyage through the “years of pilgrimage” of their mid-30s.

“Murakami’s literary antecedent in writing about one’s mid-30s as a time of a despondent and confusing quest for meaning is, of course, Dante and his Divine Comedy. And the quest of Dante’s protagonist ends happily, as does the quest of Murakami’s protagonist, Tsukuru Tazaki.” [. . .]    –Paul Gleason, Stereo Embers

WaPo Review of Murakami, Killing Commendatore

“The middle of life is a second adolescence, with no one left to admire our suffering. All of Dante’s work is a beautiful, unconvincing riposte to the sense of anguish this age can bring: ‘Midway along the journey of our life, I woke to find myself in a dark wood, for I had wandered from the straight path,’ he writes. Eventually he makes it to Paradise; but nobody reads that part.

“The great Japanese author Haruki Murakami grew famous writing about the tender melancholy of youth. (Norwegian Wood made him so recognizable in Japan that he left.) Reading books from that period, you feel sad without knowing why — and yet, within that sadness glows a small ember of happiness, because to feel sad is at least to feel honestly.

“Now, in his 60s, he has begun to consider middle age more carefully, as if he sees himself most clearly across a 20-year lag. It’s the subject of his underrated Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage and also of his immersive, repetitive, big-hearted new novel, Killing Commendatore.”   –Charles Finch, “Haruki Murakami turns his gaze toward middle age,” Washington Post, October 8, 2018

Another review, posted on the blog Happy Antipodean on December 1, 2018, also likens Murakami’s novel to Dante’s poem.

Natsume Sōseki, The Wayfarer (Kojin) (1912)

“[I]t gradually becomes clear that marriages good and bad, arranged and romantic are constants in this narrative. Suffering from a kind of existential crisis, Ichiro’s marriage to Nao is in trouble. Ichiro even suspects that his feckless younger brother Jiro has been carrying on with Nao, and voices despairing references to Paolo and Francesca from Dante’s Inferno. The third part of the book covers the period after they all return to Tokyo from their travels. As Ichiro and Nao’s marriage continues to deteriorate, Nao is tight-lipped, refusing to argue or complain, while Ichiro seems close to a nervous breakdown.”   –B. Morrison, “The Wayfarer (Kojin), by Natsume Sōseki” (March 22, 2010)

See also our post on Sōseki’s 1908 novel The Miner.

Natsume Sōseki, The Miner (1908)

“Where Murakami’s introduction starts to go astray, however, is in his assumption that Sōseki’s chief ambition is to describe the mine as an entity in and of itself. Indeed Murakami believes Sōseki pretended to be uninterested in the young man’s personal experiences to avoid confronting ‘a major social problem head-on.’

“Murakami has the equation backward: Sōseki’s main objective was not to describe a mine but to present a modern-day vision of hell, and the mine was a convenient way of doing so. Sōseki is always interested in universal themes that transcend the here and now, and certainly the intensely personal, in order to work on a deeper level. In The Miner he digs deep down into human psychology itself.

“The descent into hell is a recurrent Sōseki theme. In his first piece of fiction, the 1905 story ‘Rondon To’ (‘The Tower of London’), his protagonist crosses the river Thames — recast as the River Styx — and passes under a portal, imagining he can find there Dante’s famous words from Inferno, as translated Henry Francis Cary, ‘All hope abandon, ye who enter here.’ Sōseki’s first vision of hell was achieved by summoning up the ghosts of those who had been murdered or executed in the Tower of London. Sōseki explicitly links The Miner with ‘The Tower of London’ in numerous subtle ways, describing the young protagonist of The Miner as undergoing ‘degeneration’ as he descends into the mine in reference to Max Nordau’s 1892 theory of degeneration, highlighted at the beginning of ‘The Tower of London.’”   –Damian Flanagan, “Natsume Sōseki goes back to hell in The Miner,” The Japan Times (October 24, 2015)

See also our post on Sōseki’s 1912 novel The Wayfarer.

Contributed by Savannah Mikus (Florida State University BA ’20, MA ’22)

Underworld – Saint Seiya

“The Underworld (冥界, Meikai) or Inferno (地獄, Jigoku) is the realm of the dead where souls are placed after death. What area the souls reside in are determined by the Three Judges. It is the habitat of all Specters, including the god Hades (in classic myth, it is also the second residence of Hades’s wife, Persephone).

“The Meikai Underworld was created by Hades to forever punish humans for their crimes. No life is possible in the Underworld without the Eighth Sense (or special devices), as all things in the Underworld normally fall under the control of Hades. Specters are unaffected, and may enter and leave at the discretion of Hades because they wear Surplices.

“As depicted by Masami Kurumada, the Underworld is composed of eight prisons, with further subdivisions (the 7th prison is divided in three valleys, the 8th in ten pits, the 9th in four regions). All of the Prisons correspond to the nine Circles of Hell depicted in Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, which itself borrows heavily from Greek myths. In addition, it also contains the passage to the Elysian Fields, where only those chosen by the gods can go.”    —Seiyapedia, September 12, 2018

Learn more about the Saint Seiya series here.

“Dante nell’Inferno di Fukushima: Lorenzo Amato intervista Kazumasa Chiba”

On January 22, 2020, the journal Insula europea published Lorenzo Amato’s interview with Japanese visual artist Kazumasa Chiba, who, over the last twenty years, has dedicated his art to translating scenes from the Commedia into contemporary political and moral commentary. “Come su un palcoscenico teatrale,” writes Amato, “Chiba si ‘traveste’ da Dante e si muove in grandi paesaggi allegorici costruiti su elementi culturali ibridi, che derivano dal sincretismo di cultura popolare giapponese e tradizioni classiche occidentali e orientali, antiche e moderne.” In 2012 he was awarded the Toshiko Okamoto Award for his work that interprets the Fukushima earthquake and subsequent nuclear disaster as an Inferno in the manner of Dante.

Here’s a brief extract from Amato’s interview with Chiba:

“Dante nomina in modo molto chiaro le persone famose che secondo lui sono colpevoli di qualcosa, anche se sono ancora vive. Diciamo che questo tipo di poesia mi ha mostrato una possibile strada per affrontare con l’arte i problemi del mondo, e quindi anche sfogare la rabbia che a volte provo nei confronti di certe persone, politici o responsabili di avvenimenti importanti, come tutte le persone coinvolte nel disastro di Fukushima. Ogni volta che succedono disastri, o che vengono fatte scelte a livello politico che poi provocano conseguenze negative, provo una forte rabbia. È raro che le persone comuni possano avere un qualche impatto su quelle scelte, e a volte mi verrebbe voglia di mostrare il mio dissenso in forma di protesta anche violenta. In questo senso l’arte è un modo per sfogare questa rabbia, ma anche per lasciare un segno, ovvero per mostrare quello che penso.” — Kazumasa Chiba, in an interview with Lorenzo Amato, Insula europea, January 22, 2020

An exhibit of Chiba’s work, called “A Modern Interpretation of Dante’s Divine Comedy,” was shown at the Mizuma Art Gallery in Tokyo from August 21 to September 21, 2019.