Secret princes, where are they now?

The two sides of the human soul

Tanizaki Junichiro tells in "The Secret Story of the Prince of Musashi" about the lure of severed heads

From Georg Patzer

Discussed books / references

He was twelve years old when the castle of Ojikayama is besieged, where he lives and is brought up as a hostage. The situation is so threatening that Hoshimaru's constant companion is called to fight, the boy is left to his own devices and joins the women who tell stories. What will shape him for life is a very specific activity that an older woman takes him to one night: They clean and haircut the severed heads of enemy soldiers so that they don't look too repulsive. For Hoshimaru it is an act of the utmost "suppleness and grace". On the second night he sneaks back there alone and watches the women doing what they do, especially a young girl who takes care of the skulls with a cruel smile on her face. It is not just the girl who attracts him: “It was she who he found most beguiling last night. Not least probably because, in terms of age, she had just reached the point at which she was physically in full bloom. ”The contrast between her handling of skulls and her liveliness also appeals to him, her complexion in contrast to the deathly pallor of her skull. He becomes jealous of the skulls and wishes to be one of them and to be smiled at just as cruelly by her.

On the third night he observed her with a head that was missing the nose, stump and stem cut off:

The girl had carefully inserted the teeth of the comb into the quasi-lively, jet-black hair of the noseless head and arranged the motodori, the backward protruding part of the hair knot, when she looked straight at where the nose should have been - in the middle of the Face, and her usual smile. Of course, the boy fell into ecstasy again, as always, but this time to an extraordinary, unprecedented degree.

His ecstasy increases to the point of ecstasy.

To experience that again, he needs another nasal skull. But nobody turns up in the battle for the castle. And so Hoshimaru sneaks into the camp of his enemies and kills the leader of the besiegers, Prince Danjo, who also has a particularly elegant nose, and thus saves the castle. But the noselessness and the cruel smile become a sexual fetish for him. Much later, when Hoshimaru, who is now called Kawachinosuke as a man, is married to Danjo's daughter Kikyo, some absurd things happen that have to do with lost noses and his head fetish.

Sexual obsessions are a typical topic for Tanizaki Junichiro (the family name traditionally comes before the first name), and he celebrated them in many of his novels. In The secret story of the Prince of Musashi the fetish is broken up by a wonderfully ironic tone and an often rather cumbersome but precise description. Even his pseudoscientific quotes from fictional historical works, which view this samurai from a different angle, and the fictitious sources from equally fictitious documents, which the narrator weighs up and discusses, turn the peculiar pathological case into a game of truth and poetry and take the brutal one Scenes completely serious. In addition, this short novel leads back to the great samurai times of Japan and is full of exciting and bloody events, unlike most of Tanizaki.

And so the novel lives from the violent and well-composed contrasts when the lord of the castle, Norishige, is mutilated in an idyllic poetry contest, when a young wife catches fireflies with her husband (and thus is alluded to the "Genji Monogatari") and she suddenly is from him gets involved in a sadistic game. That is the other side of the novel: the deep look into the human soul, which knows many varieties, dominates tenderness alongside sadism and can fall into extremes in a matter of seconds. And the man's nose is also a well-known sexual symbol in the West.

It is a sly narrative style that Tanizaki uses by announcing a famous military leader, but is then almost only interested in his sexuality. The connections and documents are so fictitious that it seems almost unbelievable - yet the novel is told so excitingly that it unfolds its own pull. Right from the start, the author admits that everything is made up by denying it. And gives a clear satirical hint when he tells of a heroic portrait of the samurai, which tells “the whole sorrow of his soul, his being in this defiant defense” of the armor: “For example those wide-open eyes, the angry nose, and how he holds his shoulders - downright terrifying, like the picture of an angry tiger. ”To continue:“ Not dissimilar, but also, depending on how you see it, the face of a rheumatoid patient who is struggling but stoically gnawing the pain in his Bites and joints bitten. "

Tanizaki was born into an old merchant family in Tokyo in 1886, studied English and Japanese literature and, influenced by Oscar Wilde, Edgar Alan Poe, Charles Baudelaire and his teacher Nagai Kafu, is considered an anti-naturalist and main exponent of an increased aestheticism. Most of his work revolves around sexual obsessions and the tension between traditional and modern Japan. He died in 1965.

The edition in the Iudicium Verlag is a new edition of the beautiful edition from the Insel-Verlag from 1994, which was published in the "Japanese Library". Unfortunately, and strangely enough, without a preface or an epilogue, with which the novel could at least have been classified in literary histories, at least for the uninformed reader. The old edition had a beautiful, knowledgeable afterword by Irmela Hijiya-Kirschnereit, the grande dame of Japanese studies.