viernes, 26 de agosto de 2011

Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel An Artist Of The Floating World

Superficially, Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel An Artist Of The Floating World seems to present a gentle observation of manners. There’s a daughter to marry and thus associated contracts to be nurtured and negotiated. There’s a relationship with an eight-year-old grandson who in the late 1940s is growing up with American cartoons and comic book heroes as his cultural icons. And, above all, there’s the artist himself, bound up with concerns of style and expression, keen to re-examine his influences, especially those arising in the floating world.

His teacher had been instrumental in focusing his tutees on this floating world which could be found in the city’s night-time entertainment district. The artist of this world of pleasure, Masuji Ono, learned well from his master and adopted much from his style, technique and philosophy of Japanese painting.

But Ono was not satisfied to portray the floating world’s beauty for its own sake, or mere pleasure to evoke delight or diversion. No, he had other ideas, such as comment, loyalty, justice, pride, amongst others. And it is because of the direction of Masuji Ono’s developing inspiration that provides the book with its sinister, even violent thread.

An Artist Of The Floating World is set in post-war Japan. There is cleaning up and reconstruction to be done. There is much rebuilding, and not a little reconstruction, much of it not merely physical, but also cultural. A victor’s imposed norms are changing Japan’s future, perhaps to the relief of many who cannot live with their own country’s past.

Masuji Ono finds himself at the centre of this transformation because of his previous success as an artist. But, as he continues to seek a future husband for his younger daughter, his personal achievements apparently divide his acquaintances, pupils and even friends into distinct camps, those for, even reluctantly, and those definitely against.

The novel seems to inhabit similar territory to Orhan Pamuk’s later book, My Name Is Red. There is a debate about culture, heritage and identity at the heart of an apparently rather narrow discussion of aesthetics and artistic influence. While Pamuk’s characters inhabit the cut-throat world of the Ottoman court, Masuji Ono lives in a country defeated in war and ravaged by it. The desire to break with the past brings as much tension to Ono as the desire to retain it does in Red. But the style employed in An Artist Of The Floating World is deceivingly gentle and belies the deep tension and conflict at its heart.

Kazuo Isiguro’s prose is always silky smooth, so much so that An Artist Of The Floating World seems like a short, even simple book. Luckily for the reader it is neither.

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