This Perversion Called Love: Reading Tanizaki, Feminist Theory, and Freud

This Perversion Called Love: Reading Tanizaki, Feminist Theory, and Freud

by Margherita Long

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Through close readings of Tanizaki's and Freud's major writings from the 1930s, the book proposes new answers to classic feminist questions about perversion.See more details below


Through close readings of Tanizaki's and Freud's major writings from the 1930s, the book proposes new answers to classic feminist questions about perversion.

Editorial Reviews

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"Margherita Long's study of Tanizaki Jun'ichiro is a welcome addition to the body of work on this author in English . . . This Perversion Called Love addresses key issues of Japan in its modern era: gender, nationalism, language, and modernity itself. It is a book that expands our horizons."—Eve Zimmerman, Monumenta Nipponica

"This Perversion Called Love is one of the most important books ever written on feminism, psychoanalysis, and Japanese literature. Long finds that Tanizaki's fiction portrays a radical relation to the mother unhindered by abjection, and a heterosexual love in which the woman is the figure of plenitude rather than lack."—Nina Cornyetz, New York University

"By staging intricate textual conversations between the modernist Tanizaki and the works of Freud, Lacan, and feminist theorists, Long renders the latter foreign, that is to say she makes them new and once again provocative."—Elizabeth Weed, Brown University

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Stanford University Press
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This Perversion Called Love

Reading Tanizaki, Feminist Theory, and Freud

Stanford University Press

Copyright © 2009 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8047-6233-5

Chapter One

Suffering Through Japanese Culturalism: Tanizaki's Aesthetic Essays and the Inexorable Western Superego

MOST OF WHAT TANIZAKI wrote as nonfiction in the late 1920s and 1930s he wrote as zuihitsu, or "following the brush" essays. A classical literary form, the zuihitsu seemed appropriate for his "return to the classics" (koten kaiki) period, when he is supposed to have abandoned his youthful interest in crime fiction, stage plays, cinema, and novels about sexual perversion in favor of traditional Japanese genres, allusions, and settings. "When we are young we are interested in imported art and literature," he wrote, "but in the long span of a lifetime such a period can last ten or twenty years at most [and ...] with the onset of old age I have gradually returned to Eastern tastes" ("Geidan" 433). Describing these tastes in odes to Japanese architecture and food, the classical language, and the traditional culture of western Japan, Tanizaki made regular contributions to such journals as Chuo koron and Kaizo. His "return" coincided with a larger intellectual shift from the cosmopolitanism of the 1920s to the"culturalism" (bunkashugi) of the 1930s.

An attempt to come to terms with what Harry Harootunian has called the "doubling" of modernity, culturalism struggled to understand what it meant for Japan to repeat and rework a capitalist modernization that had taken place first in the United States and Western Europe (Disquiet 111). In its more progressive forms, it used vestiges of native culture as a vantage point from which to critique capitalism's ills and to reject Japan's classification as somehow still lagging, still insufficiently Westernized on a scale of global modernity. In its more conservative forms, and increasingly as the war approached, it imagined culture as an escape-an "overcoming" of capitalism, modernity, and the West. The various "returns"-to Japan, the East, and the classics-staged by intellectuals in the 1930s belong to the latter kind of culturalism. With noted exceptions, this is the sense in which I use the term here. Culturalism was associated in literature with the Japan Romantic School and with writers of the bungei fukko, or cultural revival, of the mid-1930s. On the whole, however, it was less a literary movement than a broad philosophical inquiry across a range of disciplines, including the ethics of Watsuji Tetsuro (1889-1960) and Nishida Kitaro. (1870-1945), the folklore studies of Yanagida Kunio (1875-1962) and Origuchi Shinobu (1887-1953), the aesthetics of Kuki Shuzo (1888-1941), and the history of Miki Kiyoshi (1897-1945) and Tanabe Hajime (1885-1962).

This chapter reads three of Tanizaki's best-known culturalist essays to consider an undertone of suffering in them that is not usually acknowledged. Written in 1933-1934, "In'ei raisan" (In praise of shadows) has long served as a synecdoche for everything Tanizaki said about traditional aesthetics during the 1930s. Written in 1931, "Ren'ai oyobi shikijo" (Love and sexual desire) discussed the aesthetics of sex in particular, and in so doing staged an important disagreement with Watsuji Tetsuro's Fudo: Ningengakuteki kosatsu (Climate: an anthropological study, hereafter Climate). Written in 1933, "Geidan" (Speaking of art) gained notoriety as the target of a review essay by Kobayashi Hideo called "Kokyo o ushinatta bungaku" (Literature of the lost home). In each of the three essays, suffering is evident in dalliances with images-racial abjection, sexual inferiority, artistic exhaustion-that contradict Tanizaki's otherwise exquisite defense of Japan's "East" vis-à-vis Euro-America's "West." I suggest that taking these dalliances seriously means watching the Japanese uniqueness that is celebrated by culturalism emerge as a kind of fetish, an alternative focal point that both diverts attention from and compensates for the trauma of the pain that lies behind it.

In this chapter I aim first to show that this pain finds intermittent expression in the essays, then to ask what purpose it serves. If exposing it means exposing the contingent, fictional nature of Japanese uniqueness, it is tempting to read the essays as a critique of culturalism. However, it becomes hard to explain why they have lent themselves so well to camouflage and been so fully co-opted to the culturalist agenda. If pain is the issue, it is also tempting to read the essays as part of a masochistic project. In this case, however, it is hard to explain why the essays would engage seriously with the palliative discourse of Japanese uniqueness at all. The task of this chapter is to suggest that Tanizaki is unique among his culturalist peers for recognizing the interrelationship of cultural pain with cultural fetish. My argument is that he sees the latter arising from the former, and that he provides elegant and detailed narratives of Japanese beauty precisely because he has so vivid a sense of the trauma they are working to obscure. The chapter traces this trauma through Tanizaki and his interaction with Watsuji and Kobayashi in an effort to show that he conceives of it as a byproduct of modern Japan's founding identification with the West. This is not to say, however, that it represents a uniquely Japanese kind of suffering. The advantage of reading Tanizaki's zuihitsu psychoanalytically is that it allows us to understand the endlessly beleaguered psyche as a normative and inescapable part of modernity-itself the implicit target of Tanizaki's critique.

A Western Superego That Insists "You Must Be, You May Not Be!"

"Enjoy your nation as yourself" is a phrase that Slavoj Zizek uses to describe the logic of fundamentalism in postcommunist Eastern Europe. Following Jacques Lacan, Zizek argues not only that the nation can be analyzed like the individual psyche, but also that in fact it must be so analyzed if we are to understand the irrational, extradiscursive "kernel" that allows nationalism to function:

A nation exists only as long as its specific enjoyment continues to be materialized in a set of social practices and transmitted through national myths that structure these practices. To emphasize in a "deconstructionist" mode that Nation is not a biological or transhistorical fact but a contingent discursive construction, an overdetermined result of textual practices, is thus misleading: such an emphasis overlooks the remainder of some real, nondiscursive kernel of enjoyment which must be present for the Nation qua discursive entity-effect to achieve its ontological consistency. Nationalism thus presents a privileged domain of the eruption of enjoyment into the social field. (Tarrying 202)

Zizek's assertion that a kernel of enjoyment must be present for the nation to function is slightly misleading. Along the lines of the objet petit a, whose founding absence structures the symbolic order in the Lacanian account of subjectivity, Zizek's "kernel of enjoyment" is not present but rather "extimate," the trace of a guilty pleasure that the nation must make absent in order to come into existence. Should this remainder fall back into the symbolic, the result is analogous to national psychosis: "The necessary consequence of [the kernel's] overproximity to reality," Zizek explains, "is a 'derealization' of reality itself. Reality is no longer structured by symbolic fictions [... a]nd it is here that violence comes onto the stage" (Metastases 76). Although nationalism may present "the privileged domain of the eruption of enjoyment into the social field," in other words, such an eruption takes place only in extreme cases. Most of the time the nation keeps enjoyment at bay, spinning the symbolic fictions and national myths that its absence enables. In this sense, Japanese culturalism is not an aberration but rather a historically specific instance of fiction-production that is unique not in how it works but merely in what it says.

To address culturalism's claim that one might return to uniquely Japanese or Eastern tastes, we need to consider the specificity of the "enjoyment" to which it is opposed. Zizek's designation of the kernel of enjoyment as the sine qua non of nationhood is based on Freud's theories on the origins of social groups in Totem and Taboo. For Freud, social groups operate like individuals in that both require a foundational renunciation of sexual license in order to manage the natural aggression that would otherwise prevent peaceable human life. Following Charles Darwin, Freud imagines a moment in human development when a dominant primal father in any given group kept all the women to himself. Frustrated in their desires, a mob of brothers murdered and cannibalized him, agreeing that henceforward none of them would have access to the clan women. Eliminating incest and initiating exogamy, their act created a social group founded on laws that had the surplus effect of producing parricidal guilt. In all of the clan brothers there remained an "ideal" that commemorated both "the unlimited power of the primal father" and their retrospective penitence-a postparricidal "readiness to submit to him" (148). Identifying with one another by means of their identification with this contradictory ideal, the clan brothers were bound by ambivalence. They feared and admired the murdered father's sexual license, but they also killed him for making them submit to it. Afterward, in identifying with both aspects of his person, they simultaneously idealized and renounced his outlawed pleasure. When Zizek speaks of a "kernel of enjoyment," he is speaking of this forbidden but, for the community, necessarily internalized and idealized paternal enjoyment. When Tanizaki speaks of Japanese nationalism, he tends to imagine paternal enjoyment as Western, the guilt of identifying with it as Japanese, and like Freud, the responsibility of managing both guilt and enjoyment as the job of an agency called the superego.

Let us consider the superego first. In "civilized" man, the paternal ideal is set up in the psyche through a process that is less bloody than cannibalism, but still almost as violent. In The Ego and the Id, Freud explains how the ego ideal joins the child's psychical apparatus as the "heir" to his Oedipus complex. Faced with the daunting task of renouncing the sexual license with his mother that had defined his existence to that point, the little boy "borrows strength" from his father in a paternal identification that introduces a superego, or conscience, into his ego (34-35). As an unconscious source of censorship, this superego ("ideal") memorializes the father by exhorting the boy both to emulate the father's moral strength and to refrain from the object to which that strength entitles him-the mother. In one of the most famous lines in his essay, Freud writes, "[The superego's] relation to the ego is not exhausted by the precept 'you ought to be like this (like your father).' It also comprises the prohibition: 'you may not be like this (like your father)- that is, you may not do all that he does; some things are his prerogative'" (35). As with the scenario in Totem and Taboo, the result of this founding identification is an eternity of bewilderingly contradictory injunctions-one dangling the temptation of paternal enjoyment, the other preempting it with inexorable guilt. As Kaja Silverman has noted, the severity and distress of the superego are "so considerable as to call fundamentally into question the notion of a 'healthy' subject" (Male 192).

Seeing things more historically, Tanizaki imagines Japan's distress in the context of its guilty encounter with a specifically Western superego. "In Praise of Shadows" offers a good introduction to this tendency in its use of almost Oedipal terms to describe Japan's modernization. The essay recites a version of the story in which Japan is said to have lived in its own state of repletion prior to the Meiji Restoration, recognizing outside authority and relinquishing solipsistic satisfaction only when suddenly coerced:

[T]he West arrived where it is by following its own natural path, whereas we faced a superior civilization and had no choice but to incorporate (toriireru) it. Changing our course from the one that allowed us to flourish for thousands of years, we encountered no small number of obstacles and difficulties. Had we been allowed to proceed freely we might not have come much further in terms of material progress than five hundred years ago. [... B]ut we would have taken a path that was suited to our own nature. (524)

We notice an ambiguity as to whether Japan's state of undifferentiated premodernity should be located thousands of years in the past or merely five hundred. It is as if the past itself is all but unknowable given the speed and totality of what has happened since Japan's encounter with the West. "Probably as much has changed in our country in the sixty years since the Meiji Restoration," Tanizaki says, "as in the three or even five centuries prior to that" (555). Cataloging the ways in which European technologies have infiltrated every aspect of Japanese life, his essay describes a project of full-scale identification and internalization. Freud notes that the superego's domination over the ego is more strict the more rapidly the ego's satisfaction succumbs to repression. Here Japan's accelerated transformation does give rise in Tanizaki's imagination to a particularly painful encounter with the West's contradictory injunctions, "You must be like me, you may not be like me." The nation yearns to achieve recognition as "one of the world's civilized nations" (bunmeikoku no ikkoku), but it feels guilty, and not entirely legitimate. As the first non- Western nation to identify with the West, Japan imagines its ideal to be poignantly inimitable, and ruthlessly judgmental. "The shadow of the object has fallen upon the ego" ("Mourning" 249), Freud says of this kind of identification, and Tanizaki shows such shadows lurking in his own psyche and in those of his fellow culturalists.

In this context we begin to see how Tanizaki might read culturalism in the 1930s as a return not to Japan as it existed prior to forced emulation of the West but rather to "Japan" as it evolved as a fetish to act as palliative. The fiction of some always-available Japanese uniqueness, in other words, is necessary to keep at bay the suffering demanded by a Western superego. So it is not, psychoanalytically speaking, that the fiction of pure Japaneseness corresponds to nationalistic enjoyment. As Zizek explains, to "enjoy your nation as yourself" is tantamount to indulging only the "you must be" half of the internalized injunction: the violence of unbridled sexual and political license. The point that Freud makes with his theory of the superego is that this is exactly what the modern psyche is designed to prevent. The same agency that says "you must be (Enjoy!)" also says "you may not be," thus creating a constant stream of guilt and suffering. In Freud this suffering, like the superego from which it issues, remains mostly unconscious. In Tanizaki, however, it comes to light in the little pockets of excruciation to which his zuihitsu are so often drawn, and from which they always avert their gaze again, in haste.

In Praise of Racism: Reading "In Praise of Shadows"

"In Praise of Shadows" uses no image more frequently than that of layers. There are layers of darkness around ink paintings in the Japanese alcove, layers of shadow under eaves at the Japanese temple, and layers of mystery in the sheen of lacquerware, the glow of jade, and the patina of silver. There are even layers of sweet and salty opacity in jellied bean paste (yokan), miso, and soy sauce. Tanizaki's descriptions are lovely, and his claim that appreciating shadows is an "Oriental" quality would seem straightforwardly culturalist if it were not for passages like this:

Of course in all truthfulness "the glow of antiquity" is actually the glow of grime. The Chinese word shutaku (soil from handling) and the Japanese word nare (familiarity) both refer to the sheen of oil left by years of repeated touching-in other words, to filth. If "elegance is frigid" one could also quip that it is squalid. There is no denying at any rate that within the gachi (tastefulness) we like so much there is an element of the unclean and the unsanitary. I may rightly be called defensive for saying so, but is it not true that in contrast to Westerners who root out and eliminate every last particle of dirt, Easterners preserve it and make it beautiful? (527-528)


Excerpted from This Perversion Called Love by MARGHERITA LONG Copyright © 2009 by Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Excerpted by permission.
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