Many Japanese books have been translated and published abroad so far. But most of them are novels, or essays on things Japanese, and only a few full-fledged critical writings on a universal theme have appeared in English versions.
It is true that Japan has been chiefly on the receiving side of not only technology and new products but also such kinds of literature that are neither fiction nor poetry. I, as a Japanese, think that Japan must also be an actively transmitting country in as many fields as possible. And one of the fields is literary speculation one example of which is this work.
Its original title ( translated into English ) is Notes of Ａ Critic，with the subtitle Literary Reflections on The Functions of Words. And the author begins the book with a startling statement that there is nothing certain in this world, and ends it with a reminder that no works of art are perfectible.
And in between he discusses such topics as how reality comes to imitate language: how the only thing that exists is relationship: how words indicate things at the same time as they themselves are things : how the novelist hides himself in his novels when what his readers really want is to hear his voice: how the main characters in Chekhov' play The Three Sisters only interpret themselves in their utterances while in Shakespeare's plays all the characters except the hero cooperate with him to make him the centre of the drama.
While discussing those and other topics, the author cites examples from Greek Sophists, Socrates, Plato, Thomas De Quincey, and such Japanese novelists as Soseki and Futabatei… Those novelists may be unknown to readers outside Japan, but the author of this book treats them in such a manner that does not require any background knowledge, because the topics involving them is about "funniness" or drollery of the way they depict the characters or situations in their novels.
And thus, humour, irony, and dissimulation become one of the main themes of this book which is indeed a many-faceted body consisting of as many as 283 short sections. But these sections or notes as the author calls them often run in continuous flow, making the whole book a more or less consistent series of discourse rather than a mere collection of numerous fragments.
The above expounding, however, is only a clumsy effort on the side of the translator when one compares it with what the author says in his own comment which appears at the end of his complete works ;
The linguistic philosophy is a field of study about language, not about words themselves. Words cannot be the subject of any study or learning. If someone asks you what a word is and you open your dictionary, you find that words are meaningful sounds emitted by people. This definition is not wrong, but the real shape of words do not become apparent through it. The definition just sounds like a charade which brings only a disappointment. If we are going to be disappointed anyway, it would be much better to learn that a word is a word or it is something you are so familiar with, as Dr Johnson said. In short, "What is a word ?" is an unanswerable question.
The contents of the philosophy of language and all the dictionaries are the other people' words after all. For those who consult their dictionary, words remain forever the words or utterances of others. If we want to explain words by using words, we must set up some frame and then confine words within it. Words can stabilize themselves only when we use technical terms or other people's words. And if we do not like them, we must resort to the natural language which changes its meanings according to the context. That "language" is your own words, your own utterances.
These were the thoughts that were in my mind when I wrote Notes of A Critic. The result, as you see, is my going back and forth between two doors, at one of which stand the things that can be uttered in the form of words and at another there are the things which are unutterable by words. Thus shuttling to and fro, I kept mumbling, "That is not the way it really is, no; but nor this is the way it is either", and the result of it all is just leaving a trace of doing nothing much more than to devour the pleasure of the incessant movement.
The last part of the above quotation from the author's own commentary, I think, comes from his modesty, but at the same time it also is the expression of one of his beliefs that one must enjoy the process of doing something rather than trying too hard to reach the conclusion.
Anyway, the readers of this book may be induced to reconsider what they have taken for granted not only about the nature of language or words but also about the relationship between a speaker and his words.
Fukuda Tsuneari the author was born in Tokyo, 1912. He began his literary career as a critic of both Japanese and Western literature, but his activity was not confined to literature and extended to politics particularly during the Cold War. He defended the free world against Communism. His thoughts, however, never left the domain of literature and they remained literary in essence even when he was discussing political situations.
He, in the role of a dramatist, wrote more than 10 plays and translated Shakespeare's major plays and directed the staging of many of them. The English works he translated include those of T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, G. K. Chesterton, Ernest Hemingway (The Old Man and the Sea ) etc..
He is also known as the leader of the movement opposing the government-enforced reform of the Japanese language.
All in all, he was one of the Modern Japanese Renaissance men who did not limit themselves to a single role. I hope that he will be known as such and more throughout the world.
2,000 Nakamura Yasuo