From Naoji’s Moonflower Journal
The Setting Sun
Translated by Donald Keene
A sensation of burning to death. And excruciating though it is, I cannot pronounce even the simple words “it hurts.” Do not try to shrug off this portent of a hell unparalleled, unique in the history of man, bottomless!
Philosophy? Lies. Principles? Lies. Ideals? Lies. Order? Lies. Sincerity? Truth? Purity? All lies. They say the wisteria of Ushijima are a thousand years old, and the wisteria of Kumano date from centuries ago. I have heard that wisteria clusters at Ushijima attain a maximum length of nine feet, and those at Kumano of over five feet. My heart dances only in those clusters of wisteria blossom.
That too is somebody’s child. It is alive.
Logic, inevitably, is the love of logic. It is not the love for living human beings.
Money and women. Logic, intimidated, scampers off precipitously.
The courageous testimony of Dr. Faust that a maiden’s smile is more precious than history, philosophy, education, religion, law, politics, economics, and all the other branches of learning.
Learning is another name for vanity. It is the effort of human beings not to be human beings.
I can swear even before Goethe that I am a superbly gifted writer. Flawless construction, the proper leavening of humor, pathos to bring tears to the reader’s eyes—or else a distinguished novel, perfect of its kind, to be read aloud sonorously with the deference due it, this (shall I call it running commentary on a film?) I claim I could write were I not ashamed. There’s something fundamentally cheap about such awareness of genius. Only a madman would read a novel with deference. In that case it had best be done in formal clothes, like going to a funeral. So long as it does not seem as affected as a good work! I will write my novel clumsily, deliberately making a botch of it, just to see a smile of genuine pleasure on my friend’s face—to fall on my bottom and patter off scratching my head. Oh, to see my friend’s happy face!
What is this affection which would make me blow the toy bugle of bad prose and bad character to proclaim, “Here is the greatest fool in Japan! Compared to me, you’re all right—be of good health!”
Friend! You who relate with a smug face, “That’s his bad habit, what a pity!” You do not know that you are loved.
I wonder if there is anyone who is not depraved.
A wearisome thought.
I want money.
Unless I have it….
In my sleep, a natural death!
I have run up a debt of close to a thousand yen with the pharmacist. Today I surreptitiously introduced a clerk from the pawnshop into the house and ushered him to my room. I asked, “Is anything here valuable enough to pawn? If there is, take it away. I am in desperate need of money.”
The clerk, with scarcely a glance at the room, had the effrontery to say, “Why don’t you forget the whole idea? After all, the furniture doesn’t belong to you.”
“Very well!” I said with animation, “just take the things I have bought with my own pocket money.” But not a one of all the odds and ends I piled before him had any value as a pledge.
Item. A hand in plaster. This was the right hand of Venus. A hand like a dahlia blossom, a pure white hand, mounted on a stand. But if you looked at it carefully you could tell how this pure white, delicate hand, with whorl-less finger tips and unmarked palms, expressed, so pitifully that even the beholder was stabbed with pain, the shame intense enough to make Venus stop her breath; in the gesture was implicit the moment when Venus’ full nakedness was seen by a man, when she twisted away her body, flushed all over with the prickling warmth of her shock, the whirlwind of her shame, and the tragedy of her nudity. Unfortunately, this was only a piece of bric-à-brac. The clerk valued it at fifty sen.
Items. A large map of the suburbs of Paris. A celluloid top almost a foot in diameter. A special pen-point with which one can write letters finer than threads. All things bought by me under the impression that they were great bargains.
The clerk laughed and said, “I must be leaving now.”
“Wait!” I cried, holding him back. I finally managed to load him down with an immense stack of books for which he gave me five yen. The books on my shelves were, with a few exceptions, cheap paper-bound editions, and at that I had bought them secondhand. It was not surprising that they fetched so little.
To settle a debt of a thousand yen—five yen. That is approximately my effective strength. It is no laughing matter.
But rather than the patronizing “But being decadent is the only way to survive!” of some who criticize me, I would far prefer to be told simply to go and die. It’s straightforward. But people almost never say, “Die!” Paltry, prudent hypocrites!
Justice? That’s not where you’ll find the so-called class struggle. Humanity? Don’t be silly. I know. It is knocking down your fellow-men for the sake of your own happiness. It is a killing. What meaning has it unless there is a verdict of “Die!” It’s no use cheating.