Kenzaburo Oe

From "Personal Matter"

"Bird, gazing down at the map of Africa that reposed in the showcase with the haughty elegance of a wild deer, stifled a short sigh. The salesgirls paid no attention, their arms and necks goosepimpled where the uniform blouses exposed them. Evening was deepening, and the fever of early summer, like the temperature of a dead giant, had dropped completely from the covering air. People moved as if groping in the dimness of the subconscious for the memory of midday warmth that lingered faintly in the skin: people heaved ambiguous sighs. June-half-past six: by now not a man in the city was sweating. But Bird's wife lay naked on a rubber mat, tightly shutting her eyes like a shot pheasant falling out of the sky, and while she moaned her pain and anxiety and expectation, her body was oozing globes of sweat."

"He had seen the painting often but he had never looked at it carefully. Now he noticed how bizarre it was. A public square walled in by buildings in the style of the Middle East. In the distance rose a pair of stylized pyramids: it must have been Egypt. The thin light of dawn suffused the scene-or was it dusk? Sprawled in the square like a fish with a ripped belly was the dead body of a young man. Next to him his distraught mother, surrounded by a group of old men with lanterns and women cradling infants. But the scene was dominated by the giant presence overhead, swooping across the square with arms outspread. Was it human? The beautifully muscled body was covered with scales. The eyes were full of an ominous dolor and were fanatically bitter; the mouth was a hollow in the face so deep it swallowed up the nose-a salamander's mouth. Was it a devil? A god? The creature appeared to be soaring upward, reaching for the turbulence of the night sky even while it burned in the flames of its own scales."

"Every time you stand at a crossroads of life and death, you have two universes in front of you, one loses all relation to you because you die, the other maintains its relation for you to survive in it. Just as you would take off your clothes, you abandon the universe in which you are still alive. In other words, various universes emerge around each of us the way tree limbs and leaves branch away from the trunk".

"'What are the attributes of the vagina and the womb that frighten you?' ... 'I have this feeling there's what you'd call another universe back in there. It's dark, it's infinite, it's teeming with everything antihuman: a grotesque universe. And i'm afraid that if i entered it, i'd get trapped in the time system of another dimension and wouldn't be able to return - my fear has certain resemblance to an astronaut's fantastic acrophobia".

"From the external world he was letting in nothing to project its image on the screen of his consciousness. He was simply waiting, like a radio set equipped with a receiver only, for a signal from the distance which he wasn't even certain would be transmitted".

"More often than not he finds what he is looking for, and it destroys him."

"You always feel that a baby's cry is full of meaning... For all we know, it may contain all the meaning of all of man's words."

"They were glimpsing an infinitesimal crack in the flat surface of everyday life and the sight filled them with innocent awe."

"You're right about this being limited to me, it's entirely a personal matter. But with some personal experiences that lead you way into a cave all by yourself, you must eventually come to a side tunnel or something opens on a truth that concerns not just yourself but everyone. And with that kind of experience at least the individual is rewarded for his suffering. Like Tom Sawyer! He had to suffer in a pitch-black cave, but at the same time he found his way out into the light he also found a bag of gold! But what I'm experiencing personally now is like digging a vertical mine shaft in isolation; it goes straight down to a hopeless depth and never opens on anybody else's world. So I can sweat and suffer in that same dark cave and my personal experience won't result in so much as a fragment of significance for anybody else. Hole-digging is all I'm doing, futile, shameful hole-digging; my Tom Sawyer is at the bottom of a desperately deep mine shaft and I wouldn't be surprised if he went mad!"


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