Teach us to outgrow our madness

by Kenzaburo Oe

Paper Book, 1989





London : Serpent's tail, 1989


These four novels display Oe's passionate and original vision. Oe was ten when American jeeps first drove into the mountain village where he lived, and his literary work reveals the tension and ambiguity forged by the collapse of values of his childhood on the one hand and the confrontation with American writers on the other. The earliest of his novels included here, Prize Stock, reveals the strange relationship between a Japanese boy and a captured black American pilot in a Japanesevillage. Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness tells of the close relationship between an outlandishly fat father and his mentally defective son, Eeyore. Aghwee the Sky Monster is about a young man's first job -- chaperoning a banker's son who is haunted by the ghost of a baby in a white nightgown. The Day He Himself Shall Wipe My Tears Away is the longest piece in this collection and Oe's most disturbing work to date. The narrator lies in a hospital bed waiting to die of a livercancer that he has probably imagined, wearing a pair of underwater goggles covered with dark cellophane.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member MeditationesMartini

This book gutted me, and when I tell you now before you read it that it is obviously informed by (I will not say based on) Kenzaburo Ōe's relationship with his autistic son Hikari ("light"), I suspect it will gut you too. It's a father–son story set against Ōe's frequent narrative safety net of distant fathers grappling with their demons, caring-malevolent mothers doing cruel things to protect the ecological health of the family unit, sons trying to bring out the howls of anguish within them, irrelevant wives, etc. Here, that is the background (roughly speaking, though it busts out at the end per below), and rotundly in the foreground is a fat man (never just "the man," always "the fat man") who wants so much to communicate with his developmentally disabled (and also fat) son that he convinces himself he can feel his thoughts/fears/pain and communicate with him through the skin-to-skin bond formed their big and little, damp and sticky hands. This is a story about their adventures on the subway and at the noodle shop and with the optometrist and in the polar bear enclosure, and if you have ever wept with longing to have a little one to love or sat gobsmacked by your perfect child (I have done both), what happens to break their bond in the end will act as a sobering tonic to all those overwrought feelings and remind you that no new life is a a blank slate, there's never just two people in the room, that no matter how much we might be tempted to disappear into a brave new dyadic world where none of "that other stuff" counts and LOVE OUR KID RIGHT, every parent is always (already) also a child, sibling, lover, friend and foe ... ad nauseam!… (more)
LibraryThing member MeditationesMartini
Ōe can write. Ōe can write kids. Ōe can write Japanese kids. This is a story about a black POW in a Japanese mountain village during the war and the kids who guard and fear and come to love him. Ōe also gets that the nexus between fear and love is the body, and that contrasting the love is loathing; the "loathing" in "fear and loathing" often self-loathing: "It sruck me that I was a poor and meager thing," in contrast to the frantic fear and joy that the animalized black airman brings the village children. There are a lot of Of Mice and Men-style themes here--but siloed within a pre-postwar, and also really a premodern or prehistoric, Japanese total straightjacket of the heart regarding any notion of the essential humanity of the Other, the bestiality of civilized man, etc.; Ōe plays this straight as straight can be by using the hick kids as his lens. The only reason I don't give this five stars is that the end seems a copout and I would have made this a novel not a short, though I'm glad nobody asked me and that does seem to be taking us into Disney, just-the-two-of-us-nervy-kid-and-gentle-beast territory. Even the hated "town," let alone the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, can't intrude into this vignette without cracking its skull on a rock. I take it back, Ōe may write himself an easy out but all alternatives would have been worse. It was an inherently unstable situation.… (more)
LibraryThing member JimmyChanga
I've not yet read the 1st novella in this book. I may revisit it later. The 4/5 star rating is for the rest of this collection:"Prize Stock": my favorite; a strange and powerful tale that really resonated with me. 5/5"Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness": strange is just the beginning here. But there is tenderness here too. The ending wasn't as satisfying as I'd hoped, but the writing is solid. 3.5/5"Aghwee the Sky Monster": really good story. 3.5/5… (more)
LibraryThing member MeditationesMartini
This was as insistent as the other stories in this volume about the inevitability of sad weirdness that displaces you from your own life and makes it seem like a foreign country, and as well put together, and as reliant on Ōe's frequent themes of family and the "shocking event," and it was a pretty bagatelle in the way it wore its wound, but not quite as rich for me as the other stories. We suffer unbearable pain, and then we get to see Aghwee the sky monster? It's an intentionally inadequate catharsis, but I was looking for something that sustains.… (more)
LibraryThing member MeditationesMartini
I will not soon forget this story, but I'm damned if I can speak in an intelligent way about it. It's about a man dying of cancer and dictating the story of his childhood during the war. But it's stranger and uglier than that, like his childhood was a small animal and someone wrung its neck and its corpse went dancing and stinking around for 35 years and then got cancer and decided to tell its story. I mean, this guy gets a visitation from a bristling grinning lewdly lolling barbabodhisattva on the first page and does he flinch? Fuck no! He throws his shaver at the bearded obscenity and goes "I'M CANCER" and scares it back to monster's nirvana. The style is meta- and meta-meta-, and underneath the distancing and scarequotesing is something I could only describe as Lynchian Japonesque, the horrid godparent of Eraserhead and Tetsuo the Iron Man. But the parts about childhood banish that early garish awful from large swathes, I think the bulk of the narrative, and we get instead the narrative of the author's Happy Days of childhood, all mixed in with General Ishiwara and the Mukden Incident and a brother killed trying to flee over the border but legitimately Happy Days for all that, with that idyllic Japanese rural childhoodness. His parents ruin it, by being grownups torn apart by grownup stresses, and the venom that cancer man has for his mother and a certain party should give any parent, especially any parent who's working hard to get over wounds and resentments and figure out what kind of plausibly functional scenario to knit together in which for their small child to grow, pause. No wonder the narrator waits for the emperor to wipe his tears at the end--he's the only parent who's never disappointed, who could never disappoint (so the book finds time right at the end also to pithily explain, you know, totalitarianism). I felt like I graduated to a new level of nippo-ostranenie (疎外) with this one, and I loved it.… (more)
LibraryThing member technodiabla
Wow! This was an exceedingly challenging read, especially The Day He Himself Shall Wipe Away My Tears. I enjoyed all 4 novellas and that they shared some thematic similarities. Particularly, strained and damaged relationships between sons and fathers, and the process of spinning towards insanity. Prize Stock was my favorite and the most accessible. I'm not sure this collection would appeal to "most" people but it you've read other Oe works, can make your way through Faulkner or similar, then this might be for you.… (more)


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