Masterworks of Asian Literature in Comparative Perspective: A Guide for Teaching

By Barbara Stoler Miller | Go to book overview

Japanese Texts: Narrative


BEYOND ABSOLUTION:
ENCHI FUMIKO'S THE WAITING YEARS AND MASKS

Barbara Ruch

Just as there is an archetype of woman as the object of men's eternal love, so there must be an archetype of her as the object of his eternal fear, representing, perhaps, the shadow of his own evil actions.

Mieko, Masks1


INTRODUCTION

During the last two decades of her life, Enchi Fumiko was heralded by critics as the most important living woman writer in Japan. Gender specificity is an integral part of the vocabulary of the Japanese literary world; since the tenth century it has recognized the special voice, concerns, and, in a highly gendered language of the modern world, the particular rhetoric of female writers. Yet, while often described as the "towering peak" among contemporary women writers "the likes of which we may never see again,"2 the power of Enchi's writing--voluminous, erudite, rich in variety and scale--made her indisputably one of the very few giants of postwar Japanese literature, irrespective of gender. It was on these grounds that she was elected to the Japan Academy of Arts in 1970, was awarded the Bunka Kōrōshō or Distinguished Cultural Achievement Award in 1979, and in 1985 was decorated by the Emperor with the Bunka Kunshō or Order of Cultural Merit, the highest award a Japanese citizen can receive.

This eighty-one-year-old "giant" was tiny, plain, ladylike, willful, and spoiled. While innocent of the ordinary daily-life skills that

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