I sat down with Tanizaki’s Diary of a Mad Old Man the other day — one of the first books I’d read when I had started making my foray into things Japanese. It struck me both then and now as something which worked decently well as a novel, but probably could have been condensed to a short story without losing much. I did have to wonder how much of what was in it was Tanizaki himself lamenting the advances of old age — needing the length and girth of a novel, even a relatively short one (certainly short compared to The Makioka Sisters!), to surround the reader with those feelings.
I understood a great many more of the topical details in the book on coming back to this this time, but my sense of its core meaning then and now remains unchanged — namely, how the life force and the libido are psychic and spiritual, and freely transcend the limits of the body. He’s not mad at all; in fact, he’s probably saner than most other people his age, because he knows exactly what he’s missing and wants to do everything he can to reclaim it before he really is gone. Death itself doesn’t frighten him so much as the process of dying: the decrepitude, the worry, the hassle.
Diary is one among many books I read way back when and which I’m now circling back to re-read. I don’t know if a full review is needed, but there may be other works which absolutely demand that kind of treatment, especially now that I can come back to them with a far better sense of what they are and why. One major example: Kenzaburo Oe’s The Silent Cry, which along with many of Oe’s other books (and Oe himself as a writer) has divided bitterly the people I have talked to about it. Cry is absolutely not the place to start with Oe — go with A Personal Matter, it’s shorter and conveys a good sense of the man’s writing in a relatively constrained space. But Cry was, for better or worse, one of those few books (like Ryū Murakami’s Coin Locker Babies) that served as a reminder of what fiction can do at its best. Or, in my case, the kind of book(s) that made me want to go out and write one myself because I didn’t want to be left behind.
On the same note, the “hero project” keeps rattling around in my head, refusing to leave but also refusing to take a definitive form. So far the best I’ve been able to pin down is that it will be an episodic or at least quasi-episodic (that is, each “episode” being more or less self-contained) story, with several other works as possible points of reference: Berserk, Claymore, the Tales of the Otori novels, Yoshikawa’s Musashi, and maybe also Lone Wolf and Cub. It’s deeply frustrating to have a project like this, which is all desire and no substance, despite all my note-taking and theorizing to the contrary.