Dazai Osamu seems to me to have operated from shame. Tanizaki Jun’ichrô’s protagonist Kaname in Tade kuu Mushi (Some Prefer Nettles) does not (though his father-in-law produces some of its rhetoric), and both brother’s in Ôe Kenzaburo’s (1967) The Silent Cry operate out of guilt – although of different kinds: Mitsu suffers under disabling generalized existential guilt while Takashi maniacally acts out his guilt for incest with a retarded sister who killed herself in the other.) Does this evidence a generational shift? Probably not: probably just a difference in temperament. I had some trouble staying with Nettles, and some trouble getting started on Cry (in contrast to swallowing Tsugaru and voraciously consuming many Dazai short stories).
Dazai was deeply abashed (or hurt?) that his first wife had had sexual experiences before him. Kaname pushes his wife to another man, and in The Silent Cry Mitsu is indifferent to his wife taking up with his brother Takashi-at least he refuses to show any feeling when he is told of it. His relentless undercutting of Takashi’s pretenses as a revolutionary are part of a much longer-running fratricidal dynamic that reignites when both return to their rural home village (Mitsu from Tokyo, Takashi from the US).
Takashi becomes a figure in the local legend of rebellions, and after Takashi shoots himself Mitsu finds that the history of his family’s role in the 1860 and 1871 rebellions differs from his suppositions and the romantic vision of the radical past Takashi maintained.
The novel is not lacking in plot, though the charge “types rather than characters” can be sustained against it. Dazai was able to go home again and find reconciliation to a far greater extent than the brothers in Silent Cry, and embracing tradition seems a viable alternative to the modern world for Kaname (albeit that of Osaka, not rural Japan). Mitsu’s wife has dried out during her time with Takashi and wants to bear his child and take her retarded child by Mitsu out of the institution.
Takashi’s mobilization against a successful Korean (the “Emperor” of supermarkets) seems to me to symbolize fascism’s xenophobia/racism, and Mitsu seems to find that aspect particularly repellent, but once he sees it as play-acting (like Mishima’s private military?) he is less bothered by it (though still contemptuous of it).
The elegiac horror-story novella Prize Stock launched Ôe’s career. I don’t understand why the Shikoku villagers kill their prisoner. They don’t want to bother to transport him? It is chilling that the Japanese, not just the child recalling wartime, did not consider the black flyer human. Would they have considered an exotic white flyer dropped from the air human?
The novella is engrossing, but gives me the creeps. To a lesser extent, so does Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness, an early version of the guilt-ridden (and in this instance grotesquely fat) father and his brain-damaged whom he calls Eyore (as Ôe did his own brain-damaged son) and loses when attacked by hoodlums at the zoo. The New Age (après la lettre) Aghwee, the Sky Monster doesn’t. It has some of the urban anguish of more recent work (I’m thinking of A Quiet Life, with its more external menaces and the ubiquitous retarded child to protect, though he is older there) but seems absurdist (and, therefore, funny to me). I find Ôe a very frustrating writer, yet his work haunts me, especially Echo of Heaven).
The longest of the early Ôe novellas, The Day He Himself Shall Wipe My Tears Away, strikes me as a parody of Mishima Yukio’s rebellion mixed from home-country (as in Prize Stock) childhood unhappiness and masochism acute even for Ôe. According to Donald Keene’s memoirs, Mishima and Ôe respected each others as writers, though their politics were quite opposed.
I have no idea whether Ôe was familiar with William Goldings’s Lord of the Flies. The youth in Nip The Buds, Shoot The Kids (1958) were stigmatized: reform school boys rather than “innocent” school boys. They were forced to take on tasks that not only further stigmatized them, but which were outright dangerous, in particular, dealing with animal carcasses in an area where the plague has broken out. When the boys are abandoned to their own devices (in the rural village where they have been slave labor, locked up in a shed and fed only raw potatoes) they turn into monsters less than they die in loneliness. (The plague is probably a metaphor for the war Ôe’s elders brought on and the suffering of civilians.) There are also a Korean boy (Koreans were and are stigmatized by their former colonial masters) and a deserter, and more peasant cruelty in this novella.