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Saturday, June 11, 2022

Snow Country

 I have re-read this novel, Snow Country, by Kawabata.  Although I liked it the first time, I realize now that I don't really understand it. I don't now if I did the first time, either, but know I am more sensitive to what I don't know.  

The main character is the classic dilettante. His speciality is Western ballet, but he has never seen a performance of ballet. So clearly this is a type, a trope of some kind, but to understand it I would have know enough about Japanese literature to compare this to other versions of the same trope. This is not the main plot of the novel, just a detail offered as characterization (highly effective). It is a little bit like the classic trope of the alienation of labor: the laborer picking coffee beans who has never tasted coffee.   

Now, I'm thinking that I am the dilettante here, interested in ballet but denied access to it. I am like the character who is interested in something that is inaccessible to me! That details holds up a mirror to the Western reader. Of course, it wasn't written for us.   

Another thing, quite effective, the description of an elaborate process for bleaching kimonos. They are taken to a certain town, specializing in this, washed a few times before the bleaching process. Here is a classic metaphor that is very evocative... but of what?  The symbolism of washing and bleaching is quite obvious, but how is this being offered? As characterization of the main character who is fascinated by this? As folklore? It is quite amazing, whether I understand it or not.  

So perhaps understanding is an illusion. Someone with more expertise who understood these things in a different way, might be right, but maybe my feeling about these details is intuitively correct.   


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