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Monstrous Narratives: Storytelling and Denial in Mori Ōgai’s As If

Sun, June 26, 10:30am to 12:20pm, Shikokan (SK), Floor: 1F, 106


As the Confucianists accepting the existence of spirits to better focus on their everyday lives, in Mori Ogai’s oft-overlooked text As If, the young historian Hidemaro decides to act “as if duty existed” and fulfill his duties to his father and the nation. For Ukai Satoshi, As If(1912) is a direct answer to the increasing closure of the Japanese Empire after the High Treason Incident. As in other stories such as Youth (1910), the story focuses on a question of writing, of finding a place from which to write, and in this piece, Ōgai cannot find an opening: Hidemaro ends up trapped, unable to answer his friend’s injunction to break through the wall, “like soldiers on a charge.” When in other writers these anxieties take the form of monsters and ghosts, here it is “as if” the narrative itself became the monstrous figure of a spiritual life looking for a breach into the present. Indeed, a year later, Henri Bergson made a memorable speech at the Society of Psychical Research of London entitled “‘Ghosts of the Living’ and ‘Psychical Research’”. For Bergson, action is the juridical mode that gives shape and consistency to the monstrous life of spiritual matter. Ōgai, however, cannot break the imperial wall and instead of a subject of action prefers to adopt the position of the bystander, a voyant who in the melancholic retelling of past stories attempts to navigate the aporia of his time.