My Writing

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Diary of a Mad Old Man

I recently finished a book I greatly enjoyed and admired, Diary of a Mad Old Man by Junichiro Tanizaki, the Howard Hibbett translation. It's the first book I've read by Tanizaki. I purchased The Key concurrently and will read that and probably more by him.

Most of the book is informal diary entries of an old man, Utsugi, who has very shitty health, knows he is near death, and is only enlivened by his lust for his daughter-in-law, Satsuko. 

Utsugi is desperate for any kind of erotic interaction with Satsuko and she exploits this, milking him for expensive gifts in return for little favors like the chance to kiss her feet, neck, and other parts of her body. Any time this happens his blood pressure goes up, threatening his health. 

The book was hilarious and enjoyable to me. I often love things written in someone's speaking voice, and I especially love when the tone is informal and somehow shows the speaker's personality. It draws me to the character and also makes me think about living and speaking--how one does things, how one views things, and how one talks about it.

There was something funny and engaging to me about the bleakness of the narrator's life and how matter-of-fact he is about his physical deterioration, his coming death, and his pervy lust for Satsuko. By the end of the book I felt moved as well, as his death and the sadness of his situation started to feel more somber to me, less of a joke. 

The shortness and immediacy of the diary entries made it easy to read and created narrative energy, I felt. 

Here are some parts I liked:

"Since I have no particular reason to keep on living, sometimes I think I would be happier if a woman like Oden turned up to kill me. Rather than endure the pain of these half-dead arms and legs of mine, maybe I could get it over and at the same time see how it feels to be brutally murdered."

"August 13

Again today, at around 3 p.m., I had my little erotic thriller. But today my eyes didn't become red. My blood pressure seems normal too. A slight disappointment. Something is lacking unless my eyes get bloodshot and my blood pressure goes over 200."

"I wouldn't mind being injured if that would bring Satsuko pleasure, and a mortal injury would be all the better. Yet to think of being trampled to death, not by her but by her dog..."

"If my tears the other had suggested madness, what of today's? This time they were quite unexpected. I have Satsuko's taste for shocking people, and I think crying is shameful for a man; yet in fact I am easily moved to tears--they come at the merest trifle. That is something I have always tried to conceal. Ever since I was young I have enjoyed playing the villain; I am constantly saying spiteful things to my wife, for instance, but as soon as she begins sniffling I lose my nerve. And so I have done my best to keep her from knowing my weakness. In other words, even though I am sentimental and given to tears--as virtuous as that may sound--my true nature is perverse and cold-hearted in the extreme. That is the kind of man I am; and still when an innocent child suddenly shows me such affection I can't keep my glasses dry."