Ask.Fm Asks: Isn’t it unfair that japanese have such great modern writers as Sca-Ji and Romeo while here in the west we have nobody who can be compared to them?

What.

Are we going to somehow ignore all the great Western writers and thinkers from the past and current like Italo Calvino, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Mark Twain, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Raymond Chandler, Marcel Proust, Dorothy Allison, Jean-Luc Fabre, Victor Hugo, Gustav Flaubert, Vladimir Nabokov, Alfred Bester, Douglas Adams, Graham Greene, Lewis Carroll, Herman Melville, Roland Barthes, Roald Dahl, EB White, Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett, David Hume, Ted Chiang, Voltaire, Soren Kirkeegard, William Shakespeare, Kurt Vonnegut, Edith Wharton, Andy Weir, St. Augustine of Hippo, Patricia Highsmith, Harper Lee, Truman Capote, Frank Herbert, Joseph Heller, Fyodor Doestovsky, Nikolai Gogol, Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson, Maurice Sendak, T.H. White, E.M. Forster, Albert Camus, Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick, Stuart Dybek, Shirley Jackson, David Foster Wallace, Paul Torday, John Fowles, David Mitchell, Umberto Eco, Robert A. Heinlein, Henrik Ibsen, Ron Hansen, Ken Kesey, George Orwell, Jonathan Swift, Edward Said, Elie Wiesel, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Emily Bronte, H.P. Lovecraft, Christina Rossetti, John Steinbeck, Joseph Conrad, Washington Irving, Brian Doyle, Charles Dickens, William Faulkner, Stephen Pinker, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Ludwig Wittgenstein, CS Lewis, HG Wells, Thomas Hardy, Alice Walker, Aldous Huxley, Anthony Burgess, JD Salinger, Edgar Allen Poe, Mary Shelley, Connie Willis, Bruce Sterling, John Irving, Arthur Miller, Eowyn Ivey, Max Weber, Dennis Lehane, Larry McMurtry, Sara Gruen, Cormac McCarthy, Jack Kerouac, Levi-Strauss, and many, many more for a group of modern writers who write for a specific medium?

There is no reason to even ask this question. Many of these “modern Japanese writers” you admire take inspiration from some of these mentioned writers. I remember reading Hikaru Sakurai loving Ted Chiang’s Story of My Life and Others and Connie Willis’s The Doomsday Book, all great works of science fiction books.

It is ignorant to suggest that the world is divided into East and West when it comes to art too. Art is in a universal conversation with each other, let it be you living in Chicago, Ouagadougou, Shenzhen, or Leeds. Everyone needs each other. We can’t trade artistic cultures the same way we trade stocks. It doesn’t work that way! We should love how, even in different cultures and countries, we can read or watch the same thing without feeling left out. Hollywood understands that and that’s why films outside the West are being released at the same date and time as the Western countries. If Michael Bay’s Transformers 3 can spark a universal condemnation of Bay’s directing, why can’t we do the same with writing, especially in books and visual novels? We are in a world when we can’t call Transformers 3 a “film for Americans”; it’s for everyone around the world.

Why can’t we say, “Nobody writes in their country anymore; everyone writes in this planet called Earth”?

And yet, and yet, we are stuck calling books by American writers “American literature” and everywhere else “world literature”. I agree that there are certain traits that make up American writing, British writing, Japanese writing, South African writing, and so on — I can’t deny that there are certain genres and storytelling that are contained in a specific writing culture — but why can’t we all accept that we are now writing for the world and not some localized section anymore? Fucking WordPress tells me that people from Sri Lanka read my blog. But we can’t accept that. We think we write for Americans. We delude ourselves into thinking that Japanese writers are talking to themselves when there are writers like Murakami who take inspiration from Western writers.

That’s why you get people who firmly believe that Japanese literature is some ephemeral godly being that transcends all flaws that dignify Western literature. That’s not true. What makes SCA-JI and Romeo unique is not because they are Japanese — it’s because they are SCA-JI and Romeo. You don’t slap them as “Japanese writers”, equating them as good because they are “Japanese writers”. Sure, they may use specific storytelling techniques from Japanese oral and literary culture — but that doesn’t mean shit. These writers are unique because of how they write, not how a certain culture make them write.

Maybe I read too deeply into the question. Maybe the asker is just saying, “Man, I wish there are writers like SCA-JI in the West. That’d be cool.” Of course we long for another writer who writes like our favorite writer. I wish more people write like Douglas Adams for example. But that longing sounds dumb if you say, “Man, I wish there are writers like Douglas Adams in Japan. That’d be cool.” Douglas Adams may be a British writer and he loves using the dry humor that is quintessentially british, but he is Douglas Adams. No amount of wishing and longing will bring him back from the dead. And I doubt there will be anyone who writes his style of humor in Japanese.

Douglas Adams is the writer of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Romeo Tanaka is the writer of CROSS+CHANNEL. SCA-JI is the writer of Subarashiki Hibi. They are unique identities. It is foolish to wish for writers like them to appear like magic because they are great writers and nothing we will ever do can replace them.

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11 thoughts on “Ask.Fm Asks: Isn’t it unfair that japanese have such great modern writers as Sca-Ji and Romeo while here in the west we have nobody who can be compared to them?

  1. Konb October 30, 2015 / 9:38 pm

    I agree, idk how are you supposed to express your opinions of liking a thing that another person said?
    Something like this:
    “Hell yeah, thats right! Everyone everywhere reads porn on exhentai; people from hungry, russia, vietnam, korea, etc. And and not just porn from japan, but from korea, france, Norh america, Australia; we now live in a world we national barriers are broken where anyone from any where can enjoy a niche type work, and can in turn write their own for anyone to enjoy. We live in a new world of communication where everyone is connected. RAWWRRWRRARR.”
    Is that a good comment, was it redundant or anything, was it relevant to the topic?

  2. gustave154 October 31, 2015 / 2:37 am

    Great answer to a dumb question. It’s pretty sad that Scaji’s best game hasn’t even been translated to english yet though.

  3. czach October 31, 2015 / 4:35 am

    Although I’m not the poster of that question, I do share some similar sentiments, but that’s more of the general state of most Literature now, and it may just be pure chance that the current cohesive avant-garde and hope for Literature seems to come from Japan.

    I mean ever since the revolution that Dostoyevsky, the Modernist poets, and the whole load of other writers at the time, Literature seems to have jumped into this gap that is probably widely the result of Postmodernism. Who has depicted characters so self-aware and consciously moving, or lyrics so inventive, hermetic and beautiful, or having great entertainment, riveting plots and interesting mind-shaking ideas, or all at the same time? A lot of works now are formally inventive but rarely cohesive, beautiful but rarely interesting, psychological but rarely ambitious.

    Now there are so many modes of writing, but who else really naturalizes all into a cohesive whole? Who can really stand to the ideal of the Great Author of the Postmodernist Mode that is able to freely mix so many styles and themes and ideas and characters together without being overly dense, mechanical in prose, or unambitious in ideas and themes? (Then again I haven’t read the others that you talk about)

    (Leaving out the philosophers or sociologists because they don’t really fall into the scope of ‘modern writer’, except maybe Kierkegaard or Nietzsche)

    People listed that can only encompass some areas:

    Italo Calvino – Loses on the Consciousness, and very hit and miss on his other works apart from If on a winter’s night a traveler
    F Scott Fitzgerald – Writes the same theme all the time, but only did it really well for one book
    Mark Twain – Pioneered first-person voice, but not formally profound
    Raymond Chandler – Entertaining but falls on the rest
    James Joyce – Formally inventive, but not lucid enough to be called consistently well-written
    Marcel Proust – Beautiful for about 20-30% of his novel, the rest is weird French stuff that has little to do with today
    Victor Hugo – Beautiful, but bad characterization
    Lewis Caroll – Inventive and Profound in his satire and humor, and the most endearing lyricist, but little else.
    Samuel Beckett – Entertaining, Comedic, and Beautiful but only writes about one single howling existential subject matter
    Ted Chiang – Lucid Ideas crafted in tight gut-punches, but, like all pure SF writers, little else. In this he is probably very similar to Borges.
    Umberto Eco – More Ideas and Setting oriented and formally inventive than beautiful or good at profound characterization.
    George Orwell – Strictly a polemical writer, too political.
    William Faulkner – Pioneer of the Southern Gothic style, but can get too dense at times for his own good
    Salinger – Franny and Zooey
    HP Lovecraft – More a gothic writer and a philosophical pessimist theorist than anything else
    Edgar Allen Poe – Only writes in the Gothic vein
    Jonathan Swift – Satirist only
    Jack Kerouac – Aggrandized and fiercely marketed diary-writer. Why is he even here?
    Cormac McCarthy – Strictly Southern Gothic Writer.
    Albert Camus – Strictly Philosophical Existential-Ennui Writer
    Dickens – Entertaining and Nice Plots, but really just a very good entertainment writer.
    Philip K Dick – Inventive, Comedic, sometimes Beautiful and Philosophically Driven, but little else.
    Roald Dahl – Great Children’s books, funny lyrical poems and some stories with sharp turns. But not contemporary or psychologically profound.
    Ray Bradbury – Beautiful, Inventive, has some very human touching stories, has great ideas, but could not consistently write that for all of his work.

    People listed that are close to the ideal of the Perfect Postmodernist

    Dostoyevsky – Psychologically Profound, brilliant at characterization, able to weave great philosophy and wisdom in his Literature, formally inventive in so many modes and voices. But work is too bulky to stand up to Contemporary Times, even though he’s the ideal of a writer.
    David Foster Wallace Profound, the most inventive and the most hilarious, and the most contemporary, and one of those that reaches the closest to the idea of a Postmodern Work fully, but falls apart for 50% of his work.
    Shakespeare – Beautiful, Profound, Psychological, Funny but failed miserably at plotting, and falls apart for the other 50% of his work.
    Herman Melville – Wrote one big and crazy book
    Douglas Adams – Consistently Entertaining, Great characters, Witty plots
    Nabokov – Writes fine gem-like and entertaining prose, technically and formal brilliant, writes great mysteries and puzzles, but significantly below in characterization, and communicating profound human truths (he himself even said he didn’t care about all of that)
    Soren Kierkegaard – The only philosopher who was more of a writer than a philosopher.

    Some other people not listed

    Borges – Like Chiang, an ideas writer more than anything else, although beautiful in his writing
    Stanislaw Lem – Inventive, crazy cutting-edge SF, and has mastered so many modes of writing that he’s just plain insane. But maybe not as good at psychological characterization (except His Master’s Voice, which is just an insane book altogether)
    Tim Rogers – Just for his small little amount of personal essays that are the perfect expression of what it’s like to live in contemporary times
    Pynchon – Beautiful at times, and funny at times, and profound at times, but these are very loose and few times between stacks and stacks of ridiculous writing.
    Thomas Mann – The characters + scenes + philosophical treatises
    Kinoko Nasu – Crazy entertaining and is able to synthesize proper Buddhist philosophy with gripping narratives, but falls on his face at everything else for the most part.

    People Who are The Ideal

    Inio Asano – Possibly. Though not for Oyasumi Punpun, incidentally, but for Dedede
    Chris Ware – Dropped an Atomic Bomb on what Comics as a medium can achieve
    Woody Allen – See’s Alex Sheremet’s Woody Allen: Reel to Real for details.
    Hideaki Anno – Only if you watch Evangelion with Kare Kano
    Nisio Isin and other New Unorthodox Mystery Writers

    I guess that makes the top writers Visual Novel New-Wave the best contender for the Po-Mo Writer Ideal for being fun and beautiful and having a depth of characterization and (especially SCA-ji) for being able to deal with philosophy and all else so cohesively.

    That really does support the thesis that, whilst the West were the ones who set up most of the foundation in Modernism, the most contemporary great writers today are from Japan, at least for now. Until some visionary steps up from the fluff of Po-Mo drivel and unambitious ‘family-drama’-like novellas, I am going to stick to that thesis.

    • Kastel October 31, 2015 / 6:15 am

      Okay, I wrote this blog post because I am sick and tired of these kind of comments. Not an attack on you personally, but this is strictly at odds how I view art. I don’t have a guideline on what makes an artist the postmodernist ubermensch nor do I see art in a total state of decline and the only thing that can save it is a bunch of weirdos from Japan. This whole sentiment is so bourgeoisie one can probably say, “pls check your privilege,” without hesitation.

      And in this specialized bullshit field particularly (I call it “I LOVE JAPAN AND I HATE THE WORLD I AM IN Studies”), I believe it has to do with the lack of understanding what Japanese visual novels have.

      You cite Nasu as an example of the “Visual Novel New-Wave” (a completely nonsensical term if you know the history of VNs) and you say he is “able to synthesize proper Buddhist philosophy with gripping narratives”, but I have no idea what you mean. I asked several Type-MOON fans and they say there’s nothing to do with Buddhism. I would know anyway because I was raised up as a Buddhist. The only Nasu visual novel I played, by the way, is Mahoyo which has more to do with the moving forward of technology and fairy tales/marchen.

      Yet that part made me think of an actual postmodernist who does Buddhist shit in visual novels, Masada. Dies Irae is a critical look at shounen/video game plots and our own humanity — we are fixated on a moment and never move on, not seeing the world around us. My friend, Wahfuu, said that Senshinkan is about adaptations and praising the original. I don’t know how meta and postmodernist you can get. It is frankly strange you don’t bring up Masada.

      And this whole list you conjured up will not please SCA-JI. I must applaud your ability to make descriptive adjectives into buzzwords in a mere post, but calling Shakespeare “Beautiful, Profound, Psychological, Funny but fail[ing] miserably at plotting, and [then] falls apart for the other 50% of his work” is impermissible. Any negatives you write would be considered nitpicking and there’s a whole section in Sakura no Uta’s VI about nitpicking. One of the reasons modern art stinks is because we nitpick. We don’t look at the world holistically and say, “The world is beautiful.” We zoom onto something and say, “God, that trope you use is ugly,” while laughing and clicking on our TVTropes page.

      To quote Hadler (who may have been influenced by that SakuUta chapter):

      “Mileage may vary but for me Cross Channel, Ima, Subahibi, Sakura no Uta, Muramasa and Oretsuba should just be in the ‘how the hell were they written’ monster tier and not even be rated. If you start nitpicking at their flaws, it’s easy to find them but doing it with these titles in particular just feel tasteless to me.”

      Likewise, I cannot fathom a world without Shakespeare. I don’t get why people criticize his plots when they clearly enjoyed his works. It’s like they need to be Objective and find something to dislike so they can look mature.

      I bring up Masada again because I feel like sections of Dies Irae, particularly the ending, describe that dread of a postmodernist condition:

      “I once again closed my book to see him off with an answer. The story has come to an end, and I must now return to reality. No matter what color the world turns, this is where I was born, and where I will live. We must never once forget that; should we do so, we will be haunted by our dreams forever, longing after eternity.”

      Let’s come back to reality. Let’s come to accept that “family novels” and the “fluff of PoMo drivel” are not inherently flawed. Let’s love art. Because what you are doing is the reason why today’s art is in that state of decline. If you see the world as a half-empty glass, the world will react and be that half-empty glass.

      Life imitates art and art imitates life. Life informs our perception of art and art informs our perception of life. Our understanding of the human condition informs our faith in a God and our faith in a God informs our understanding of the human condition.

      幸福に生きよ!

      • czach October 31, 2015 / 9:20 am

        I apologize that I wasn’t able to go beyond those cheap signposts, since I was dealing with quite a large list of authors anyway. And I don’t really care about Japan in particular, but I do care about what is good Literature, and its just my sentiment that even if Shakespeare is lauded, there still exists like critical barriers between Art then and now, and its very difficult to deny this. For example there’s the huge gulf between Homer and Shakespeare, the former who only sought to describe events clearly and plainly, the latter who was at an era that conceived of poetic consciousness and was able to deal with psychological description on a more heady and depth-filled level. Once again, the simple difference between a picture that is merely depictive, like maybe any other painter of pastoral scenes, and a person like Van Gogh, who, although not beautiful, sought to be evocative and saw Art as a greater medium of communication, that went beyond plain Beauty and aesthetics. Likewise I find nothing wrong with Beauty, but I think that its folly to deny a specific dimension of a work is smaller than it truly is, and to disbelieve that we cannot do better. I cannot conceive of a world without Shakespeare, but I can conceive of poetry better than Shakespeare. Its not really just his plotting anyway, but simply that he missed with the plays that were not his main tragedies and comedies. And most of his sonnets, except for the few that are spread so much around schools, range from okay to bad. Why can’t we be critical about Art that we love? Isn’t understanding of where it did not stick with us the essential part of growing as an artist? Even in the realm of children’s cartoons, there’s a void between previous cartoons and current cartoons that’s being spear-headed by Steven Universe.

        Actually I guess I was talking more about Kara no Kyoukai for Nasu, which was praised by the phenomenologist mystery writer Kiyoshi Kasai, and which, if not Buddhist, is at least Taoistic in its idea of inscrutable forces and melding together of opposites. I’ll admit I haven’

        The reason why Modern Art stinks is simply because its bad. Its vision of Art is small, informed by things like politics and other concerns besides communicating something essentially human to the experiencer, and it’s bad in executing that vision of Art.

        My critical opinions are informed by Alex Sheremet and Dan Schneider. The latter did a comparison of every sonnet of Shakespeare to the major poems of Wallace Stevens here:

        http://www.cosmoetica.com/S3-DES3.htm

        And Sheremet goes into the possibility of Poetry and the progress of Art by examining Wallace Stevens here

        http://alexsheremet.com/wallace-stevens-rabbit-king-ghosts/

        And the history of Criticism here

        http://alexsheremet.com/on-the-history-of-criticism-some-updates-for-my-readers/#comment-358

        But my sensibility is also informed by Borges, who is probably your ideal type of critic, in that he was truly and intrinsically motivated to enjoying every single work he came across, talking about every single book in his library with a fervor that little other writers could muster. I’ve read the entire works of Borges about 4 times, and he’s been indispensable to my vision of the world, as an artist, as a thinker, and whatever. But that doesn’t save myself from admitting that he has really only one directed voice, and this was critiqued by Stanislaw Lem:

        “The cause of his work’s “mechanistic” sickness is this, I think: from the beginning of his literary career, Borges has suffered from a lack of a free and rich imagination.* In the beginning he was a librarian, and he has remained one, although the most brilliant manifestation of one. He had to search in libraries for sources of inspiration, and he restricted himself wholly to cultural-mythical sources. They were deep, multifarious, rich sources — for they contain the total reservoir of the mythical thought of mankind.
        But in our age they are on the decline, dying off as far as their power to interpret and explain a world undergoing further changes is concerned. In his paradigmatic structures, and even in his greatest achievements, Borges is located near the end of a descending curve which had its culmination centuries ago. Therefore he is forced to play with the sacral, the awe-inspiring, the sublime and the mysterious from our grandfathers. Only in rare cases does he succeed in continuing this game in a serious way. Only then does he break through the paradigmatically and culturally caused incarceration which is its limitation, and which is quite contrary to the freedom of artistic creation he strives for. He is one of the great men, but at the same time he is an epigone. Perhaps for the last time. He has lit up — given a paradoxical resurrection to — the treasures transmitted to us from the past. But he will not succeed in keeping them alive for any long period of time. Not because he has a second-rate mind, but because, I believe, such a resurrection of transitory things is in our time quite impossible. His work, admirable though it may be, is located in its entirety at an opposite pole from the direction of our fate. Even this great master of the logically immaculate paradox cannot “alloy” our world’s fate with his own work. He has explicated to us paradises and hells that remain forever closed to man. For we are building newer, richer, and more terrible paradises and hells; but in his books Borges knows nothing about them.“

        I don’t think being critical of Art in this way causes its state of decline. Being critical of Art in a way that does not critique the work of Art causes its state of decline. Critiquing its politics for example. I guess when I said family-novels and Po-mo fluff, I gave you the impression that I was critiquing it based on its subject matter. None of that. I was critiquing it simply based on the fact that it does little and achieves little. Postmodernism plays with surfaces, but not in the wholesome and easy way, with real intellectual interest, and real love for the human condition. David Foster Wallace has critiqued this again and again in his essays over and over. And why should I touch a work like Franzen’s The Corrections, when Woody Allen, with his innately funny, sad and moving, and wholesomely real depiction of Bourgeoisie life, and the destructive things that people do to one another, does it so much better in every way? Then he goes beyond it in works like Stardust Memories. Is it wrong to point that out? I’m merely according worth to what I see has worth. Currently the West is the top of everyone in terms of Film, Poetry, Television, Music, and Philosophy, but its Literary establishment is taking a dive for now. It has literally nothing to say about our current times, and nobody quite writes in the way that you’d think a generation who has the whole history of Literature at their fingertips would be able to write. I think Visual Novel writers write the way that a generation who has the whole history of Literature and Philosophy at their fingertips would write. I think they do it very well. I don’t think that many people in the West do, but like I said, it’s a bias simply because few people in the world do anyway and it just so happens that this subcultural niche medium happens to get the jump on it first. It’s like why German Idealism is called German Idealism, not because German’s are intrinsically better at philosophy, but because Kant was too dope a philosopher to describe.

        Yes Literature is entertainment, and I’m not going to take a step in the direction of Schopenhauer to say that it is the sublime kind of entertainment that distracts from the essential horror of the human condition, but I can also say that it is pretty good entertainment that many people have been able to live their lives for, some, like Flaubert, more so, and more painfully, in trying to craft their idea on a sliver of dust.

        I don’t care about the labels, but I accord that which is good to that which is good, and that which is bad to that which is bad.

        I love Art, but I also want make good Art, and I make good Art by stabbing old Artists in the face, truthfully, and with love.

  4. petoyusa November 4, 2015 / 12:51 pm

    Hey Kastel. I found your post (especially the thoughts) pretty interesting while the subject is pretty distict. That’s why I wonder if you’re d’accord with me translating your post into my mother tongue (German) for my blog. Of course, I’will be very pleased if you allow me to do so, but if you decline I’ll be okay with your decision as well.

      • petoyusa November 14, 2015 / 8:57 pm

        What the fuck. Pingback seems to be literally worse than Hitler. I have the feeling it gets more and more, the more i keep updating my article. I’m sorry for that!!!

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