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Spirit Matters: The Transcendent in Modern…
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Spirit Matters: The Transcendent in Modern Japanese Literature

by Philip Gabriel

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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0824829743, Hardcover)

Spirit Matters is a ground-breaking work, the first to explore a broad range of writings on spirituality in contemporary Japanese literature. It draws on a variety of literary works, from enormously popular fiction (Miura Ayako’s Hyôten and Shirokari Pass and the novels of Murakami Haruki) to more problematic "serious" fiction (Ôe Kenzaburô’s Somersault) to nonfiction meditations on martyrdom and miracles (Sono Ayako’s Kiseki) and the dynamics of religious cults (Murakami’s interviews with members of Aum Shinrikyô in Underground).

The first half of the volume focuses on the work of two women Christian writers, Miura Ayako and Sono Ayako. Combining a decidedly evangelistic bent with the formulas of the popular novel, Miura’s 1964 novel Hyôten (Freezing Point) and its sequel are entertaining perennial bestsellers but also treat spiritual issues—like original sin—that are largely unexplored in modern Japanese literature. Her work also raises important questions regarding the tension between faith and art, religion and literature. Sono’s Kiseki (Miracles) and Miura’s Shiokari Pass focus on the meaning of self-sacrifice and the miraculous and survey both the paths by which people come to faith and the spiritual doubts that assail them. Perhaps most striking for Western readers, Gabriel reveals how Miura’s novel shows the lingering resistance to Christianity and its oppositional nature in Japan, and how in Kiseki Sono considers the kind of spiritual struggles many Japanese Christians experience as they try to reconcile their belief in a minority faith.

The literary reaction to the 1995 Tokyo subway attack is discussed in the second half of Spirit Matters through the work of Murakami Haruki (Underground and subsequent fiction including the novels Sputnik Sweetheart and Kafka on the Shore) and Ôe Kenzaburô’s 1999 novel Somersault.! The attack, Japan’s first modern terrorist incident, sent shock waves throughout the nation, and led to widespread questioning of Japan’s spiritual direction. Murakami’s interviews with Aum followers in Underground provide an absorbing glimpse into the dangers of religious fanaticism, and here Gabriel deftly reads Murakami’s post-Aum fiction as literary responses to the enticing yet dangerous "narrative" of religious cults. Likewise Ôe’s Somersault is read as a kind of counter-narrative to Aum, a novel that portrays the attempt to diffuse the violence and fanaticism endemic to many cults. Gabriel’s incisive analysis interprets Somersault as the most detailed and ambitious statement of a Novel Prize–winning writer with longstanding concern over the possibilities of the spiritual in a nation that has renounced "belief."

Spirit Matters is a fascinating look at some of the most influential works of contemporary Japanese literature. It will appeal to readers interested in women writers, Christian literature, the impact of religious fanaticism, and the intersection of faith and literature.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:51 -0400)

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