intense sensations

Hanging my head in shame

Posted on: October 3, 2011

Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I first started writing book reviews and posting them to my blog I really didn’t care what I wrote. I never spent more than 10 minutes on any of them. I just wanted my name to be posted on the internet every day. The point was to publicise my stories, into which I poured my heart and soul.

Then something terrible happened. People began to read my reviews. Not just any old people. Experts.

I’ve had Chinese literary experts. Sex experts. Hard-boiled fiction experts. There’s an expert Haiku practitioner lurking out there ready to scrutinise my forthcoming poetry book review. And now, having just announced I’ll be reviewing this book of stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, I’ve got a Rashomon expert. A violent one. With Ninja skills.

I feel a bit like Horikawa Yasukichi in the story The Writer’s Craft.

Yasukichi is an English teacher in the Naval Engineering School. His real love is writing stories. It is not easy for him to create literature while working in a school, especially when he is sometimes called on to write a eulogy for a dead colleague at the drop of a hat. But neither can Yasukichi easily abandon his artistic integrity and turn out a dud funeral speech riddled with hackneyed phrases.

What to do?

It’s quite a dilemma for the writer.

However, with a deadline for one of his stories pressing down on him, and the funeral only three days away, Yasukichi falls back on “the writer’s craft” and dashes off the eulogy in thirty minutes.

Can you imagine his shame when the dead man’s family start to cry on hearing his words?

Yasukichi’s first reaction to this scene was one of surprise. Then came the satisfaction of the playwright who has succeeded in wringing tears from his audience. But in the end he felt an emotion of far greater magnitude: a bitter self-reproach, a sense of wrongdoing for which there could be no penitence. All unknowing, he had tramped with muddy feet into the sacred recesses of the human heart.

I’m sorry, Sessha. Please don’t come after me with your katana, wakizashi and tanto. All I can say about these stories is that they filled me with shame and a heavy sense of my own inadequacy. Writing stories is not easy. There is a long, long literary tradition to live up to and an unforgiving writer’s code to uphold. But no matter what creative burden we carry, there’s never an excuse for writing a sloppy review.

Vanessa Wu is the author of Love Has No Limits


1 Response to "Hanging my head in shame"

I’m amazed at the breadth of your reading and reviews! From James Bond to classical Japanese literature.

Your reviews are also entertaining and thought provoking.

I’m following!

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