Sunday, May 8, 2011

Invalid

Since reading Doll Love/Ningyo ai, Takahashi Takako is an author I've been wanting to return to, Byoshin/Invalid, a brief story from 1978 starts with a phone conversation, a dialogue between a woman and a sick man, throughout the short story Takahashi refrains from naming the two characters. The woman asks how he is feeling, in reply he coughs down the line, the woman begins to imagine his insides; 'But what shape was he in down in the deepest unseeable parts of his body?. She wanted to know the colors, the shapes, the feel and everything else about him'. He tells her he's been listening to Erik Satie, (Gymnopedies), although the true depth of their relationship is left ambiguous to begin with an episode from the past is recalled, another time when he was ill, sitting by the window she had given him a lozenge. Before this episode is recalled though, after further cross inspection by her he confesses to feeling a nausea - It was a nausea that had recently come to roost within his body in the middle of the night, a nausea that could not be eradicated because they did not know it's source, a nausea that seemed to be the riddle that was himself. The phone conversation comes to an end, the narrative continues on down the phone line settling back into a description of the man's apartment that seems to be like a cocoon to the external world, painted entirely white, the stereo playing Satie, There is no more trace of emotion: Only sensation. That is Erik Satie. His illness and the melody of the music fuse. Shifting to describe the woman in her apartment she too is succumbing to a piece of music; Saint-Saens 3rd Symphony, which begins to take her on a journey to her innermost self, consciously and unconsciously, unleashing a tempest. After this, there's a descriptive passage of how she has begun to listen to every word spoken whilst in conversation, she had been able to decipher by listening out closely to single words  repeated by the speaker, she learnt how to reach an understanding of that person's inner workings, she finds that this talent proved useless though, when in the presence of her rapacious feelings for him.

Although the man is young he suffers from back pain, the woman's spirit's soar when she learns of this new cryptic clue to the man, they meet at a hospital where he has an appointment for tests to be carried out, after she questions him at length about this pain he is unable to explain exactly what's wrong, telling her that he had a skiing accident when he was young. Some what disappointed with his descriptions of his pain he tells her it feels different than before, '"How was it different?" She was insistent. She had come so far with him. But she was not tormenting him with her questions: she was the one in agony. There was no way she could escape this agony if she could not find out just how his back hurt him.'. The hospital is described with it's clinical attention at attempting to contain contagion, Takahashi in describing physical ailments also hints at spiritual ailments or those of the inner condition, and at the same time reminding us of the vulnerability of the flesh - The whole building had been made whitely, inorganically bright, as if in the hope of neutralizing the diseases that people carried so protectively inside themselves'. The woman's frustrated temperament at his inability to describe his pain borders hysteria, he describes the pain he endured to walk to the hospital but still she doubts him, she wishes for a machine that is able to measure the pain inside people, throughout the story she yearns to have an endoscopic ability in order to see the pain with her own eyes, later studying X-rays the man had had, she still finds no reassurance, the more she examines them the less she can decipher what the images mean. The story culminates on her disappointed resignation that the doctors can't find a specific reason for his pain. Although the word nausea appears regularly in the story, it's existentialism doesn't appear overtly so, there's an ambivalence to the story which leaves the identity of the invalid of the story open to interpretation, also the nature of the invalidism, whether it's the man's physical condition or something referring to the woman's psychological state. Displaying an almost hysteric desperation for physical evidence of the man's pain, she only appears to know him fully through a full knowledge of his pain, she displays the disappointment and weariness of someone living through the philosophical pain and private language argument, there are many instances in Takahashi's stories that bridge the philosophical and the psychological, Invalid/Byoshin is translated by Van C. Gessel and can be found in The Columbia Anthology of Modern Japanese Literature, volume 2.



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