Academic journal article The Review of Contemporary Fiction

A Meaning in Art That's No Longer Possible: An Interview with Kiyoshi Kasai

Academic journal article The Review of Contemporary Fiction

A Meaning in Art That's No Longer Possible: An Interview with Kiyoshi Kasai

Article excerpt

Kiyoshi Kasai was born in Tokyo in 1948. Pursuing an early interest in politics, he attended Wako University, a center of student activism. Kasai joined a new-left political organization in 1968 and under the pseudonym Ryuji Kuroki was a prominent radical activist until giving up all political involvement and expatriating to Paris in the mid-seventies. Eventually returning to Japan, he published a novel, Bai Bai Enjeru (Bye Bye, Angel), which won the Kadokawa Award in 1979. Bai Bai Enjeru launched the career of Kasai's detective protagonist Kakeru Yabuki, who employs phenomenological speculation to solve his murder cases.

His most ambitious Kakeru narrative so far is the 2,000-page novel The Philosopher's Locked Room, which concerns the philosophy of Martin Heidegger and the recent revelations of Heidegger's involvement in Nazism. When the interviewers visited his house in the summer of 1992, he had published the first 1,000 pages of this in serial form for EQ, the Japanese version of Ellery Queen's Magazine. But after finishing the serial, he found there was more to go and he wrote another 1,000 pages. (TT)

Sinda Gregory: Is Kakeru Yabuki a private detective acting on his own or a member of the police who somehow is part of a larger legal system?

Kiyoshi Kasai: He's a nonprofessional detective somewhat like Poe's Dupin. The theme of my new book is death--the difference between the nineteenth-century experience of death and the twentieth-century experience of death.

Larry McCaffery: Don DeLillo has also addressed this issue in his novels, like White Noise and Mao II, which both imply that technology mediates our experience of death in all sorts of ways.

KK: I agree with that idea. World War I was the first technologized war in which death was completely different from that depicted by Homer or even by Stendhal. In technologized war, people were treated just like garbage; they died without dignity; it was a mass production of death. That war was the actual beginning of the twentieth century. Until then, people were living in an extension of the nineteenth century.

LM: How does Heidegger fit into this--his connections with fascism?

KK: Heidegger was one of my favorite philosophers when I was a student, along with Gyorgy Lukacs. In Sein und Zeit Heidegger states that the human being becomes the true self only when he is confronted with death. This philosophy was derived from the experience of World War I. Before then, people were able to die their own death, whereas after undergoing World War I, that became impossible. This wound up leaving the theme of death to the philosophers to speculate about. Anyway, I became interested in the fact that the World War I experience in Europe gave rise to Heidegger's philosophy of death and also the classical type of detective fiction simultaneously.

As you know, most of the major movements associated with modernism--for example, formalism, surrealism, dadaism, and expressionism--originated in countries like Russia, Germany, and France, where battles had actually taken place in front of their very eyes. Whereas, you don't find these sorts of drastic artistic movements occurring in countries like America and England, which didn't experience the war firsthand. Then what did happen in America and England? The fad of serious mystery novels! Let's take a serial story in a magazine or newspaper. Before the war, at least one person per day or per week or per month was killed in those stories. The way death is presented in those works reflected the way people thought about death before the war--it was routine, very easy: people simply died, very quickly, with almost no fuss at all. But in a serious postwar mystery novel, death doesn't happen so easily: the murderer scrupulously plans the killing in detail and carries out the crime with every due respect to the victim. …

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