“In a Grove” by Ryunosuke Akutagawa
The third term of the Sunday Course has just begun! We started it off with Ryunosuke Akutagwa. It was my great pleasure for me to have introduced this genius writer to the class. I found out that he was not that well-known internationally unfortunately. Some of you may have read his short stories in the penguin classics with the introduction of Haruki Murakami.
Akutagawa was born in 1892 and died very young in 1927. He is considered as the master of short stories and was a prolific writer. He wrote more than 150 stories over the period of just 13 years.
Kan Kikuchi, one of his best friends at The First High School, created the Akutagawa Prize after he passed away. It is the most coveted literary award in Japan, which is the equivalent of the Booker Prize or the Prix Goncourt.
Osamu Dazai wanted to get this award so badly that he even criticized Yasunari Kawabata, who was a member of the selection committee at that time, very harshly. “Is it that noble to sing with birds and dance? I will stab you”. “刺す” (Sasu.) is such a succinct and yet the fiercest criticism. Dazai admired Akutagawa that much and he even followed in his footsteps and committed suicide. According to Dazai, Akutagwa was always looking for words that should be followed by “in a word”.
What is really distinctive of this story “In a Grove” is its structure. It forces readers to read the story very carefully and makes them feel as if they were there in the story. I had to read the first part several times to make the details right. For Akutagawa, structures of novels were essential. On that, he even had a highly publicized dispute with Tanizaki, who thought the lyricism in the story was much more important than the structure.
“In a Grove” makes us think of what the truth is. The stories we recount are destined to be subjective. Is there such a thing as objective truth? This story is even more relevant for us who are living in the world where “alternative facts” abound. In addition, it is full of aphorism that depicts human nature, at which Akutagawa was masterful.
In the next class, we are going to read and discuss “Separate Ways” by Ichiyo Higuchi!