Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Manganese Dioxide Dreams















Manganese Dioxide Dreams sounds like it could be a story from Haruki Murakami, although it was written by Tanizaki Junichiro in 1955, it's Japanese title is Kasankamangansui no yume, the title intrigued me, not being very scientifically minded I turned to the internet to find out what Manganese Dioxide actually is, after learning what it is my mind couldn't figure how Tanizaki had worked this into his short story. The story is narrated by what we guess is a man advanced in his years, he worries about his blood pressure, and like Tanizaki mentions in his In Praise of Shadows he has a western style toilet fitted in his house. On an excursion to Tokyo with his wife, Tamako and the maid, Fuji, during the August heat, to arrange wedding dresses for Etsuko, who's presumably their daughter. Departing from the women he visits the cinema to watch the film 'Blue Continent', afterwards heading back to the inn they are staying at he finds himself unable to relax, disturbed by the heat, and the noise of building work adjacent to the inn, reluctantly he takes some of his sleeping pills, and dozes for a short time. Many of Tanizaki's works are peopled with characters prone to masochistic tendencies, being one of Tanizaki's later works, you get the impression that the narrator of the story has a sense of lethargy about him, instead of appearing outwardly masochistic himself, Tanizaki has inserted the masochism by means of the narrator giving us quite an in depth synopsis of Henri-Georges Clouzot's film Les Diaboliques which he goes to see later in the story, his characters here seem to be spectators. Sex being another of Tanizaki's story's common subjects features here too, but again as something which is viewed, his wife and Tamako persuade him to take them to a strip show, he disagrees at first thinking that a man accompanying his wife would be in poor taste, but then hearing that the film is not too risque, he takes them, the venue is mostly filled with foreigners. During the film his wife nods off to sleep, and afterwards the only thing he can remember about the film is an episode featuring a bath scene with the actress Harukawa Masumi. In the evening they have a Chinese dinner. The next day the women sort out the wedding dresses, and he watches Les Diaboliques, he learned of the film whilst watching a trailer for it before seeing the film Nana. Before catching the train home to Atami, that evening they have a large Japanese dinner in Tsujitome of Kyoto cuisine of Hamo, you get the impression he's a slight misanthrope, as he observes on the journey home, 'At that hour the second class coaches shouldn't be crowded, but tonight they were full as far as Ofuna, the ripe smell of humanity making the damp heat all the worse'.

The segment of the story set at home is when Tanizaki makes some startling connections within the narrative, his wife sometimes suffers from nightmares, and he has to wake her, sometimes she finds it hard to breath when she comes out of her dreams, she feels 'gripped by an indescribable sensation', fearing she may die on the spot. Usually a sound sleeper, even after visiting the toilet in the night he can usually get back to sleep, but tonight he has trouble and takes a Rabona and two Adalin, he gradually slips into a realm between sleep and unconsciousness, 'I enjoy the myriad vague imaginings,now forming, now vanishing, like foam on the sea, until at some point they merge with real dreams'. The image of the 'hamo:the pure white flesh of the eel, the impid, slippery-liquid that encased it', from this image comes that of Harukawa Masumi in the bathtub, but this changes to the murdered (?) Michel in the bath from the film Les Diaboliques. Another 'weird figment' comes to him of his western toilet, something seen here recalls an encounter of eating red beets for breakfast, and then the image of Simone Signoret, which in turn leads to an image of a Grecian torso, leading finally to an account from Records of the Grand Historian, (The Shih Chi of Ssu-ma Ch'ien). It's one of those story's, that when you come to the end of, you marvel at where the narrative has taken you, Manganese Dioxide Dreams can be found in The Gourmet Club, a sextet of stories from Tanizaki, translated by Anthony H. Chambers and Paul McCarthy, I'll leave it to you to discover where the Manganese Dioxide enters the story.

6 comments:

Bellezza said...

I can see how you'd make the comparison to Haruki Murakami's work with the lethargy, sex and dreamlike qualities. It sounds fascinating! I love the mood that Haruki creates, the way that I'm still trying to put all the pieces together long after I finish his work, so I'm sure I'd like this one, too. I wish my background knowledge in film and Japanese literature was a it greater; you draw solid connections to other works, but sadly, I don't know all of them. Thanks for expanding my understanding, though!

me. said...

Maybe lethargy might be the wrong word here,perhaps 'ageing' might of been a better,description as Tanizaki,(and maybe the character in the story),were advancing in years.Many thanks for commenting!.

litdreamer said...

Sounds strange and wonderful.

me. said...

I've not read anything by Tanizaki for a while,this story served as a great reminder of his brilliance,i think Mishima is mentioned as well.

bokunosekai said...

This title really intriguing. My chemist instinct is really curious.

I haven't read anything by Tanizaki yet, But I will one day. I'm planning to read as many new author as possible

me. said...

The story's title alone piqued my interest too,this collection would make a great introduction to Tanizaki's writing,many thanks for commenting.