Review: Kenzaburo Ōe, Rouse Up O Young Men of the New Age!
Rouse Up… is ostensibly about a famous author father, K, and his relationship with his son, nicknamed Eeyore. The book, like many of his, is semi-autobiographical, based on Ōe’s own life experience with his disabled son. I say “ostensibly” because it is not really about Eeyore at all. Told in the first person by K, the story is primarily about the narrator. Other characters come in and out of his life and thoughts like planets with elliptical orbits. Eeyore is the most prominent of these satellites, and the one that leads to the most reflection, but the story is not about him. The most that can be said of Eeyore is that his inscrutability, caused by his personality and amplified by his disability, leads K to meander in his own thoughts, trying to decipher ways to explain life, death, and imagination to Eeyore while at once attempting to discover if Eeyore already understands them. For almost all such concepts, it is revealed at climactic moments that Eeyore does understand those topics that K thinks most valuable, but has done so organically, largely independently of K’s own parental and literary artifice. The benificary of such work, of course, is K himself.
This is not to say that Rouse Up… consists solely of unself-conscious projection: Ōe has a deft touch as to the timing of K’s revelations, in terms of K’s criticism of himself, his parenting, and his place in society. Sometimes these moments occur, as I said, in tandem with an event or phrase of Eeyore’s, sometimes within frequent meditations of the work of William Blake and its applicability to K’s own life, and sometimes on one of many tangents and switchbacks into K’s life and travels. The last device, whose use sometimes makes it difficult to follow exactly how events in the main plot are unfolding, is what makes Ōe fit with Kawabata and Mishma. Rather than plowing through events involving K, Eeyore, and their family in a strict, chronological narrative, K is led to describe episodes from his childhood, education, and professional life. Early on in Rouse Up… this is done under the pretext of explaining K’s view towards life or death so as to find some way to explain them to Eeyore, but as the narrative goes on the episodes are introduced more and more as personal reflections performed for personal moments. One theme in the story is the frequent criticisms levelled at K that he hides behind Eeyore in order to never change, progress, or take a stand on modern issues. Ōe answers these charges, (which, given their prevalence in the story, have likely been leveled against him), by allowing his narrator to mature in front of our eyes.
Entry filed under: Fiction.