Friday, August 14, 2009

"Vainly I had sought to borrow from my books surcease of sorrow"

"Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before"
"The Raven"

The blessing and bane of really getting into a hobby is that you're never finished. There's always something left to do. The detectives-to-read list is just endless, getting longer and longer as I find out about new books everyday.

One pleasant expansion to the list though was another English Edogawa Rampo translation, which is probably quite unknown, even though it's a fairly recent publication. Edogawa Rampo's Nisen Douka ("Two Sen Copper Coin") was Edogawa's first published work and the very first original modern Japanese mystery story. The story takes it cues from Edgar Allan Poe's The Gold-Bug, but presented in a Japanese context. For readers in the Western world it is perhaps surprising to see how 'clean' this story is compared to the more erotic grotesque stories Edogawa wrote later on in his career. While on its own merits alone, this story is certainly nowhere near gold-material, but just like with Edogawa's D-zaka Satsujin Jiken ("D-Street Murder Case"), the story is important as steps towards real Japanese detective fiction. Insert Neil Armstrong quote.

The story is to be found in Modanizumu: Modernist Fiction from Japan, 1913-1938 (Compiler: William J. Tyler), an anthology of precisely what it says on the cover. Modernist fiction from 1913-1938. It also contains new translations of Edogawa's The Caterpillar and The Man Traveling with the Brocade Portrait, which were already available in the excellent Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination. Modanizumu is not a normal anthology, but meant for the more serious reader also interested in Japanese history/sociology, as it tries to show the influence of modernism in the early 20th century on literature, accompanied with history-heavy introductions. Other highlights in this book however are the scenario of the strange, strange movie A Page of Madness (part of the Japanese and Korean Movies course in Leiden), a haunting trip to the past in Streets of Fiendish Ghosts, a strangely entertaining Tale of Trouble from the Bar Roulette about the troublesome partnership between a Japanese and a Dutchman (with the German name Karl Richter...) as owners of a bar and Tanizaki Junichirou's The Censor, which makes a great read on the literature censoring system in those times.

The censoring system also makes its appearence in the 1994 movie Rampo ("The Mystery of Rampo"), which like a lot of other Edogawa-based movies gave me strange visuals which left me wondering what the heck I was watching. Beginning with an animated version of The Appearance of O-den (translated in The Edogawa Rampo Reader) and then offering a continuation on that story, the movie puts confusing layers upon layers of narrative, until it really, really lost me at the end about which narrative was about what and when. Of course watching movies while reading might not be the optimal way of watching movies, but it helps shorten the reading list. And as I sat there reading my book and watching the movie, I pondered, maybe the reading stack will once shorten to a normal length, like long before. Quoth the raven, "nevermore".


  1. I can hardly believe your stack was ever at a normal length, but than again, I don't think you were as fanatical as me back then. Ha! you're finally one of us! One of us! Gooble gobble, gooble gobble! One of us! One of us! ;)

  2. Thanks for the info on "Modanizumu"-- I hadn't heard about this publication, but it's basically exactly what I'm into :)

    Gonna order a copy very soon :)