The book tells of a commercial craft operating in the

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Unformatted text preview: eclared him to be the best-read man of his generation.21 Akutagawa published his first short story in a literary journal in 1914, and for the remainder of his brief life concentrated almost exclusively on the short-story form. A recent commentator has suggested much about Akutagawa’s writing in asserting that the European artist who could best have illustrated his stories was Aubrey Beardsley. Like Beardsley, Akutagawa had a “superlative technique,” provided an “abundance of decorative detail,” and had a great “love of grotesques.”22 The Fruits of Modernity 289 The fascination of Akutagawa’s handling of ancient tales as the material for his stories lies not only in the powerful narrative style in which he presents them but also in his exceptional ingenuity in probing the psychological forces—often bizarrely surprising—that may have lain behind the tales. Akutagawa is best known in the West as the author of Rashòmon, which will be discussed in the next chapter in the context of Kurosawa’s post–World War II cinematic version of the story. Here I would like to illustrate Akutagawa’s literature with Kesa and Moritò (Kesa to Moritò, 1918), the medieval tale of a warrior, Moritò, whose passion for the already married court beauty Kesa led to the horrifying act of his unknowingly murdering her.23 Akutagawa’s piece deals with the climax of the story, in which Moritò, blinded by his love, has forced Kesa to agree to arrange things so that he can kill her husband while he sleeps at night; in fact, Kesa herself occupies the husband’s bed and thus solves her ghastly dilemma by allowing Moritò to kill her in his stead. But Akutagawa raises the possibility that the thoughts of the two lovers on this fateful night may have been far different from what we might imagine: Moritò: I was driven by sheer lust. Not the regret that I’d never slept with her. It was a coarse lust-for-lust’s sake that might have been satisfied by any woman. A man taking a prostitute wouldn’t have been so gross...
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