Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies

Kenzaburo Oe, the Silent Cry (Man'en Gannen No Futtoboru): The Game of Sacred Violence between Myth, Logos and History in the Japanese Cultural Matrix

Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies

Kenzaburo Oe, the Silent Cry (Man'en Gannen No Futtoboru): The Game of Sacred Violence between Myth, Logos and History in the Japanese Cultural Matrix

Article excerpt

Abstract: Studies of mythology and the philosophy of religions ascribe violence an important role in understanding traditional societies. Whether perceived as sacred and capable of renewing the world, or as oppressive and destructive, violence acquires a twofold valence, whose constituents are interpreted in a complementary relation of interdependence and entail a world outlook with profound implications. Retrieving this ambiguous dimension of religious violence, Kenzaburo Oe's novel imagines, against the historical background of post-war Japanese society, a game that enacts the eternal rivalry between two brothers. Lest the history of this seemingly lost present should fall prey to political abuse, the Japanese writer proposes a return to myth, without, however, idealising it; instead, myth is revalorised and tradition is re-conceived from the vantage point of rationalism, with full and alert awareness of the dangers inherent in an ideology that is imposed by force and aggression. Kenzaburo Oe's novel is a lucid meditation on Japan's modern and contemporary history.

Key Words: religious violence, myth, logos, history, violence, Japanese Cultural Matrix, Kenzaburo Oe

In Hiroshima, they said, the very first group to flee to the suburbs after the nuclear attack had been a herd of cows. Supposing a vaster nuclear war destroyed the cities of the civilized countries - would the elephants in the zoo escape?

Kenzaburo Oe, The Silent Cry

Religion ou crime, tout effort human obéit, finalement, à ce désir déraisonnable et prétend donner à la vie la forme qu'elle n'a pas. Le même mouvement, qui peut porter à l'adoration du ciel ou à la destruction de l'homme, mène aussi bien à la création romanesque, qui en reçoit alors son sérieux.

Albert Camus, L'Homme révolté

Throughout history, violence seems to have always played an ambivalent, destructive and, paradoxically, constructive role. Undergoing perpetual transformation, the history of mankind appears to be defined "by fighting and violence,"1 irrespective of the vantage point - mythical, socio-political, intellectual or psychological - one may adopt. Having emerged either amongst the gods or amongst humans, displayed either on earth or in the universe at large, violence has always engendered limit- experiences, in which normality is transgressed, constraints are disregarded and boundaries are exploded. As the purveyor of multiple, polyvalent meanings, the dialectic of violence has never solely targeted a mere reform, an ideological change or a political transformation; throughout history, its implications have oftentimes been transfigured, being invested with connotations of a sacred or resurrectional nature, which ultimately attest to man's re-humanisation through violence.

Over the past two centuries, Japanese history has been full of tempestuous changes; the speed at which these were imposed as "normal" has left inevitably painful traces. For two hundred and fifty years, Japan was isolated, closed to the Europeans and without any diplomatic relations with China. However, the Meiji Restoration from the second half of the nineteenth century enabled the Land of the Rising Sun to experience the "western adventure": the archipelago opened its gates to the West, entering thereafter into a twentieth century that was ambivalent, violent and peaceful, beset with various predicaments of a religious, cultural, social, economic, political and military nature.

The past century and a half has been coeval with Japan's "modernisation": the Meiji period, which began in 1868, replaced the feudal system with that of a nation that recognised the emperor's absolute authority. However, a historic moment arrived when what was required was not a mere political reform but also the placement of Japan in an international context, after all these years of ... absence. History followed its course, and the country's forced development triggered the crisis2 that entailed the rise and fall of Japanese fascism, China's invasion and the Pacific War, Japan's defeat in the war and the atomic bomb, post-war reconstruction and economic prosperity and, eventually, the so-called "apotheosis" of materialism. …

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