Suicidal Honor: General Nogi and the Writings of Mori ?gai and Natsume S?seki
University of Hawaii Press, 2006 - 289 páginas
On September 13, 1912, the day of Emperor Meiji s funeral, General Nogi Maresuke committed ritual suicide by seppuku (disembowelment). It was an act of delayed atonement that paid a debt of honor incurred thirty-five years earlier. The revered military hero s wife joined in his act of junshi (following one s lord into death). The violence of their double suicide shocked the nation. What had impelled the general and his wife, on the threshold of a new era, to resort so drastically, so dramatically, to this forbidden, anachronistic practice? The nation was divided. There were those who saw the suicides as a heroic affirmation of the samurai code; others found them a cause for embarrassment, a sign that Japan had not yet crossed the cultural line separating tradition from modernity.
While acknowledging the nation s sharply divided reaction to the Nogis junshi as a useful indicator of the event s seismic impact on Japanese culture, Doris G. Bargen in the first half of her book demonstrates that the deeper significance of Nogi s action must be sought in his personal history, enmeshed as it was in the tumultuous politics of the Meiji period. Suicidal Honor traces Nogi s military career (and personal travail) through the armed struggles of the collapsing shogunate and through the two wars of imperial conquest during which Nogi played a significant role: the Sino-Japanese War (1894 1895) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904 1905). It also probes beneath the political to explore the religious origins of ritual self-sacrifice in cultures as different as ancient Rome and today s Nigeria. Seen in this context, Nogi s death was homage to the divine emperor. But what was the significance of Nogi s waiting thirty-five years before he offered himself as a human sacrifice to a dead rather than living deity? To answer this question, Bargen delves deeply and with great insight into the story of Nogi s conflicted career as a military hero who longed to be a peaceful man of letters.
In the second half of Suicidal Honor Bargen turns to the extraordinary influence of the Nogis deaths on two of Japan s greatest writers, Mori Ogai and Natsume Soseki. Ogai s historical fiction, written in the immediate aftermath of his friend s junshi, is a profound meditation on the significance of ritual suicide in a time of historical transition. Stories such as The Sakai Incident (Sakai jiken) appear in a new light and with greatly enhanced resonance in Bargen s interpretation. In Soseki s masterpiece, Kokoro, Sensei, the protagonist, refers to the emperor s death and his general s junshi before taking his own life. Scholars routinely mention these references, but Bargen demonstrates convincingly the uncanny ways in which Soseki s agonized response to Nogi s suicide structures the entire novel. By exploring the historical and literary legacies of Nogi, Ogai, and Soseki from an interdisciplinary perspective, Suicidal Honor illuminates Japan s prolonged and painful transition from the idealized heroic world of samurai culture to the mundane anxieties of modernity. It is a study that will fascinate specialists in the fields of Japanese literature, history, and religion, and anyone seeking a deeper understanding of Japan s warrior culture."
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