The Frontier Within

The Frontier Within: Essays by Abe Kobo

Abe Kōbō
EDITED, TRANSLATED, AND WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY RICHARD F. CALICHMAN
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 224
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/abe-16386
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  • Book Info
    The Frontier Within
    Book Description:

    Abe Kobo (1924--1993) was one of Japan's greatest postwar writers, widely recognized for his imaginative science fiction and plays of the absurd. However, he also wrote theoretical criticism for which he is lesser known, merging literary, historical, and philosophical perspectives into keen reflections on the nature of creativity, the evolution of the human species, and an impressive range of other subjects.

    Abe Kobo tackled contemporary social issues and literary theory with the depth and facility of a visionary thinker. Featuring twelve essays from his prolific career -- including "Poetry and Poets (Consciousness and the Unconscious)," written in 1944, and "The Frontier Within, Part II," written in 1969 -- this anthology introduces English-speaking readers to Abe Kobo as critic and intellectual for the first time. Demonstrating the importance of his theoretical work to a broader understanding of his fiction -- and a richer portrait of Japan's postwar imagination -- Richard F. Calichman provides an incisive introduction to Abe Kobo's achievements and situates his essays historically and intellectually.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53509-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Philosophy, Art & Art History, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. ix-xx)

    In the English-speaking world, the name Abe Kōbō typically evokes images of an existentialist author, one similar to such European writers as Franz Kafka, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Alberto Moravia in his depiction of the themes of alienation and the absurd. Abe appears, as several have remarked, as the most un-Japanese of writers, at least in comparison with such other writers of his stature as not only Mishima Yukio, his near exact contemporary, but also Kawabata Yasunari and Tanizaki Jun’ichirō. Clearly this reputation can be attributed in large part to a certain politics of translation, in which “western” readers and translators...

  5. “Poetry and Poets (Consciousness and the Unconscious)” (Shi to shijin [Ishiki to muishiki]) (1944)
    (pp. 1-17)

    Consciousness of existence is always in one form or another accompanied by the desire to question. Consciousness attempts to confirm that its own concerns (in the simple sense of this term) are highest. It is inclined to disregard the matter of “for what purpose” and take up the question of “what is first of all necessary.”

    Yet we are not utterly blind or indifferent to what lies behind the issue of “for what purpose.” The common and self-evident orientation of this metaphysical questioning can always be summed up in the words “for truth” or “for life.”

    Although truth itself is...

  6. “Theory and Practice in Literature” (Bungaku ni okeru riron to jissen) (1954)
    (pp. 18-29)

    Do such questions as “What is literature?” and “What should literature be?” really have any meaning? There are those who claim that literature is something to be felt rather than discussed. Certainly any literature that can be replaced by several lines of plot cannot be described as literature. Indeed, no matter how detailed or accurate the commentary on the work, literature is that in which such replacement is impossible. This is its essential point of difference with other forms of written expression.

    In the case of geometry, for example, one finds the following proposition: “Draw any circle around point A.”...

  7. “The Hand of a Calculator with the Heart of a Beast: What Is Literature?” (Mōjū no kokoro ni keisanki no te wo: Bungaku to ha nanika) (1955)
    (pp. 30-46)

    Under the title “How to Make Verse,” Vladimir Mayakovsky wrote that there are no methods to make verse. Here I thought I would follow suit and write about how to write fiction when there are no methods to write fiction.

    This might sound as if I were simply playing with paradoxes, but that is not the case. During the stage of handicraft production, all productive technologies were mysteries passed from hand to hand in the form of unspoken skills. Now, however, such mysteries have come to be exposed as the mere egoism of craftsmen as grounded on relations of production....

  8. “Discovering America” (Amerika hakken) (1957)
    (pp. 47-60)

    I don’t know America very well. Needless to say, I’ve never set foot on American soil nor made a systematic study of American literature. All I know about it is from the several Americans with whom I’ve spoken, the section of America represented by the military bases, and the image of America as reflected inside of us through what I’ve seen on the film screen.

    In sum, this is not America itself but a mere secretion made up of the country’s existence and daily life. Yet I feel I must write about certain things regarding America that have not often...

  9. “Does the Visual Image Destroy the Walls of Language?” (Eizō ha gengo no kabe wo hakai suru ka) (1960)
    (pp. 61-65)

    It is difficult to convey one’s intentions, but it is easy to be misunderstood. While I certainly don’t believe in literature for literature’s sake, I also have no desire to become a leader of audiovisual culture. My point here is quite simple: the linguistic arts and audiovisual arts must not be mechanically opposed to each other, for it is only by discovering their shared task that one can reveal their respective identities.

    In his novel La nausée [Nausea, or Ōto] (which, more accurately, should be translated by the word mukatsuki), Sartre described the shock and anguish that is given to...

  10. “Artistic Revolution: Theory of the Art Movement” (Geijutsu no kakumei: Geijutsu undō no riron) (1960)
    (pp. 66-78)

    Let me formulate a bold hypothesis: “Art is perception generated by logic.”

    In other words, while I tentatively acknowledge the well-known classical definition that science represents rational knowledge and art represents perceptual knowledge, this perception is in no way spontaneous or intuitive. Rather, it is a case here of secondary perception, which first becomes possible only through the mediation of reason, understood as the opposite of perception.

    Of course perception preexists reason and is fully capable of standing alone even without that mediation. Dogs and monkeys lack reason, but perception undoubtedly exists in both. (This is the first system of...

  11. “Possibilities for Education Today: On the Essence of Human Existence” (Gendai ni okeru kyōiku no kanōsei: Ningen sonzai no honshitsu ni furete) (1965)
    (pp. 79-87)

    My remarks represent my own amateur views on education, and I am afraid that they might be somewhat off target. As someone who is completely non-educational, I am quite unable to speak about the technical aspects of education in any concrete and specific manner.

    In what sense is education possible or perhaps impossible? Like all of you, I have been educated in a certain way, and it seems to me that there must be some commonalities in the experiences of those who have been educated. I would like to speak now on the basis of these commonalities.

    When I think...

  12. “Beyond the Neighbor” (Rinjin wo koeru mono) (1966)
    (pp. 88-101)

    Apparently many people believe that it is only natural to problematize the notion of “tradition” in an a priori fashion. This is a bit difficult for me to understand, since I don’t feel this way at all. Of course “tradition” exists. But does its presence mean that we must always problematize it, like alpinists who climb mountains simply because they are there? Perhaps not. Why then problematize “tradition”? The notion of “tradition” can be divided into two main categories. The first consists of artworks. These represent “tradition,” those visible traces that appear on the surface of history. In classical performing...

  13. “The Military Look” (Miritarī rukku) (1968)
    (pp. 102-110)

    I don’t necessarily believe that all military uniforms are linked to fascism.

    Throughout the history of military uniforms, however, it is rare to find a masterpiece that so closely approaches the quintessence of military uniforms as those of Nazi Germany: the ominously stiff silhouette; the rhyming verse refrain of menace and death; the full satisfaction of aesthetic demands without the slightest loss of combat functionality.

    Yet the military is fundamentally the backbone of state power, so it is hardly surprising if its aesthetics make a zealous display of its power. In the case of the modern military, however, the rapid...

  14. “Passport of Heresy” (Itan no pasupōto) (1968)
    (pp. 111-123)

    Several million years ago there appeared the bipedal Australopithecus, who was clearly distinguishable from other anthropoids. Walking upright allowed their brain to develop and provided freedom of motion to both their hands and arms. The australopithecines were already using stone tools. Among our ancestors, they were the first prehominids.

    According to Robert Broom, however, there also lived a different species of bipedal creature known as Paranthropus, who appeared one million years after Australopithecus. It seems that Australopithecus and Paranthropus coexisted for nearly one million years. For some reason, however, Paranthropus died out rapidly thereafter. The surviving Australopithecus continued to evolve...

  15. “The Frontier Within” (Uchi naru henkyō) (1968)
    (pp. 124-148)

    It is not the aim of this chapter to discuss the Jewish question. Nor is it my aim to raise the issue of discrimination or prejudice on the basis of race or social position. Rather, it seems that something like a thought of the “frontier within,” which is currently my main theme, receives sustained expression in the work of many Jewish writers.

    In writing this, I have in mind, for example, someone like Franz Kafka. Of course it is a bit of a stretch to interpret Kafka’s work solely from the perspective of its Jewish characteristics. There is an argument...

  16. “The Frontier Within, Part II” (Zoku: Uchi naru henkyō) (1969)
    (pp. 149-172)

    I casually agreed to this talk today, not realizing how unpleasant it would be to deliver remarks before my play. These talks normally go well, but I fear this one will go badly and that my tempo will be a bit off. I really had no idea that so many people would attend.

    In truth, I have been busy directing the play up until the last minute and so really haven’t prepared anything by way of remarks. Well, I generally don’t prepare much beforehand. If I have a general idea in mind, then I am confident of being able to...

  17. NOTES
    (pp. 173-176)
  18. GLOSSARY
    (pp. 177-184)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 185-192)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 193-194)