Sunday, 20 May 2018

Apollo's Head by Kurahashi Yumiko

An author I've been meaning to return to is Kurahashi Yumiko, although the short story collection The Woman With the Flying Head and Other Stories, translated by Atsuko Sakaki has remained out of reach for the time being I thought I'd look out for the short stories that I have or am able to read online. So perhaps I'll have a mini season of reading her short stories, the first one stumbled upon is available over at Words Without Borders, Apollo's Head,  translated by Ian MacDonald, perhaps subconsciously whilst reading there's the hope that an affordable and accessible collection may appear in the near future. Apolon no Kubi first appeared in 1985.

There's an aspect of the imagery used in Apollo's Head that defies immediate interpretation, the reader has to accept the story as is, associations are made and contemplations of Apollo's significance or representations in ancient history are contemplated, but it feels that the story is a picturesque fantasy that presents a phantasmagoric and in places an erotically charged scenario to consider. The narrator is a student who whilst walking on campus discovers through a blue glowing hue, the head of a beautiful young man or boy at the base of a tree, at first beguiled by his beauty and then succumbing to fear and the realization that he is the victim of a murder she flees home. The head though seems to show some signs of consciousness, the eyes blink, the pupils move, this assessment of it's consciousness arises again later, but to the narrator there remains similarities to the head of Apollo, hewn in either Pentelic or Parian marble, the head's beauty gives rise to erotic speculations in the narrator leading to envisioning culpability for the decapitation, which provokes briefly the question of reliability of the narrator, amongst this the decision to retrieve the head.

The head is brought home, nurtured in a fruit bowel of water and puzzled over, somewhat placidly, by the narrator's fiance, Toru, who remains on the whole unimpressed, until near the end of the story where his forbearance gives out. The story is laced with the erotic, earlier the narrator kisses the head, later she and Toru make love in front of it, the head remains indifferent to these encounters. There is the disarming element in Kurahashi's ability to maintain and align the everyday against the unfolding of these macabre and erotic events. The head eventually begins to transform, taking on the resemblance of a pomegranate, a watermelon, a cactus, a comparison to a portrait by Arcimboldo is suggested, eventually a harvest of heads is cultivated. Apollo's Head appears to defy direct interpretation, the reader is presented with an unnerving blend of eroticism and hinted metaphors.

Apollo's Head at Words Without Borders    

image from Wikimedia

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