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“The Siren’s Lament” by Junichiro Tanizaki

I used 3 stories of Tanizaki for my discussion classes in the Pushkin Press anthology: “The Qilin”; “Killing O-Tsuya”; and “The Siren’s Lament”.

a book on a table

One story unfolds in the 5th century BC in China, another in the Edo period in Japan, the other in the 19th century in China. These stories are among the early works of Tanizaki. The common thread of the 3 stories is that male characters get controlled and corrupted by female characters. The theme of femme fatale is quintessential in his stories. What is intriguing is each character has a different strength respectively, namely, control (Nanzi), seduction (O-Tsuya), and lament (the mermaid). On top of that, all these 3 characters seem to be driven by a power which is beyond human beings. They are possessed by the allure of fantasy, some occult power, and the seductive force distilled in Geisha. It feels like the characters gradually come to be invisible, and instead something satanic and demonic can be seen darkly through them. I was impressed by Tanizaki’s masterful storytelling techniques as well as his profound knowledge about Chinese classics.

“The Qilin” has added a whole different aspect of Confucius, which led me to study him from different angles. Thanks to participants who are acquainted with Chinese culture, I realize that Confucianism is multifaceted.

In “The Siren’s Lament”, you could see Tanizaki’s fascination of the West, which doesn’t seem to reflect its real state but some idealized version of it. Tanizaki arguably gathered materials from many sources to put the story together, which makes the setting of the story somewhat incongruent. Still, that slight inconsistency is probably inconsequential. What matters is the fact that he combined so many different elements (China, Japan, Germany, and the Netherlands) into something of a kind. It’s a fairy tale and yet quite real.

These 3 stories are all great reads. If you want to immerse yourself into Tanizaki’s world, this is it! Next, we’re going to tackle three stories by Yasushi Inoue. Looking forward to further discussion!


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