Lafcadio Hearn

… the sense of existence here is like that of escaping from an almost unbearable atmospheric pressure into a rarefied, highly oxygenated medium. That feeling continues: in Japan the law of life is not as with us, — that each one strives to expand his own individuality at the expense of his neighbour’s. But on the other hand, how much one loses! Never a fine inspiration, a deep emotion, a profound joy or a profoimd pain — never a thrill, or, as the French say so much better than we, a frisson. So literary work is dry, bony, hard, dead work. …
… But how sweet the Japanese woman is! — all the possibilities of the race for goodness seem to be concentrated in her. It shakes one’s faith in some Occidental doctrines. If this be the result of suppression and oppression, — then these are not altogether bad. On the other hand, how diamond-hard the character of the American woman becomes under the idolatry of which she is the Subject. …
… I doubt, or rather I wish to doubt, that the development of individuality is a lofty or desirable tendency. Much of what is called personality and individuality is intensely repellent, and makes the principal misery of Occidental life. It means much that is connected with pure aggressive selfishness: and its extraordinary development in a country like America or England seems a confirmation of Viscount Torio’s theory that Western civilization has the defect of cultivating the individual at the expense only of the mass, and giving unbounded opportunities to human selfishness, unrestrained by religious sentiment, law, or emotional feeling.

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4 Responses to Lafcadio Hearn

  1. shinichi says:

    Letter to Basil Hall Chamberlain

    Lafcadio Hearn

    Matsue, August, 1891

  2. shinichi says:

    Perhaps it will interest you to know the effect of Japanese life upon your little friend after the experiences of a year and a half. At first, the sense of existence here is like that of escaping from an almost unbearable atmospheric pressure into a rarefied, highly oxygenated medium. That feeling continues: in Japan the law of life is not as with us, — that each one strives to expand his own individuality at the expense of his neighbour’s. But on the other hand, how much one loses! Never a fine inspiration, a deep emotion, a profound joy or a profoimd pain — never a thrill, or, as the French say so much better than we, a frisson. So literary work is dry, bony, hard, dead work. I have confined myself strictly to the most emotional phases of Japanese life, — popular religion and popular imagination, and yet I can find nothing like what I would git at once in any Latin country, a strong emotional thrill. Whether it is that the difference in our ancestral history renders what we call soul-sympathy almost impossible, or whether it is that the Japanese are psychically smaller than we, I cannot venture to decide — I hope the former. But the experience of all thinking persons with whom I have had a chance to speak seems to be the same.

    But how sweet the Japanese woman is! — all the possibilities of the race for goodness seem to be concentrated in her. It shakes one’s faith in some Occidental doctrines. If this be the result of suppression and oppression, — then these are not altogether bad. On the other hand, how diamond-hard the character of the American woman becomes under the idolatry of which she is the Subject. In the eternal order of things which is the highest being, — the childish, confiding, sweet Japanese girl, — or the superb, calculating, penetrating Occidental Circe of our more artificial society, with her enormous power for evil, and her limited capacity for good? Viscount Torio’s idea haunts me more and more; — I think there are very formidable truths in his observations about Western sociology. And the question comes: “In order to comprehend the highest good, is it necessary that we must first learn the largest power of evil?” For the one may be the Shadow of the other.

  3. shinichi says:

    I think the idea that the degree of the development of individuality in a people necessarily marks its place in the great march of mind is not true necessarily. At least it may be argued about. For as the tendency of the age is toward class specialization and interdependent subdivision of all branches of knowledge and all practical application of that knowledge, the development of the individuality of every integer of a community would seem to me to unfit the unit to form a close part of any specialized class.

    In brief, I doubt, or rather I wish to doubt, that the development of individuality is a lofty or desirable tendency. Much of what is called personality and individuality is intensely repellent, and makes the principal misery of Occidental life. It means much that is connected with pure aggressive selfishness: and its extraordinary development in a country like America or England seems a confirmation of Viscount Torio’s theory that Western civilization has the defect of cultivating the individual at the expense only of the mass, and giving unbounded opportunities to human selfishness, unrestrained by religious sentiment, law, or emotional feeling.

    What you say about your experience with Japanese poetry is indeed very telling and very painful to one who loves Japan. Depth, I have long suspected, does not exist in the Japanese soul-stream. It flows much like the rivers of the country, — over beds three quarters dry, — very clear and charmingly beshadowed; — but made temporarily profound only by some passional storm. But it seems to me that some tendencies in Japanese prose give hope of some beautiful things. There was a story some time ago in the Asahi Shimbun about a shirabyoshi that brought tears to my eyes, as slowly and painfully translated by a friend. There was tenderness and poetry and pathos in it worthy of Le Fanu (I thought of the exquisite story of Le Fanu, “A Bird of Passage,” simply as a superb bit of tender pathos) or Bret Harte — though, of course, I don’t know what the style is. But the Japanese poem, as I judge from your work and the “Anthologie Japonaise,” seems to me exactly the Japanese coloured print in words, — nothing much more. Still, how the sensation of that which has been is flashed into heart and memory by the delicious print or the simple little verse.

  4. shinichi says:

    ラフカディオ・ハーンにおける東西の結婚と倫理

    by 大東俊一

    http://repo.lib.hosei.ac.jp/bitstream/10114/3876/1/kyoyo103_daito.pdf

    西欧文明から逃れて日本の生活の中に入るのは、十気圧の空気から逃れて完全に正常な環境に入るようなものです。さらに告白しなければならないことは、西洋の本質的な特徴である個人主義(The Individuality)がまさに欠けているということが、私にとっては日本の社会生活の魅力のひとつであるということです。というのは、この日本では、誰ひとりとして他人を犠牲にして自らの個性を実現しようとする者はいないからです。

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