No Longer Human – Osamu Dazai

December 23, 2018 § Leave a comment

First published in Japanese in 1948
Translated into English by Donald Keene in 1958

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Our narrator is a man called Yozu. He tells us about himself, from when he was very little, and how he already felt about the way humans around him behaved. He was very impressionable, easily affected by what his parents did, how his siblings spoke to him, and what his house servants said behind his family’s back. His conclusion was a simple one: humans are a scary species. The less he came in contact with them, the better.

This feeling that he had was strong, and it only got stronger day by day. One event stayed with him in particular, the way his house servants all complained about how boring and irrelevant a speech his father made was, but proceeded to praise and applaud his father when he asked them about it.

Why the lies? Does no one tell the truth? Does that mean that truth is useless in this world? Does that mean he cannot let anyone know how he really feels about humans and the world in general?

Yes. His answer, is yes. He cannot let ANYONE know the real person he is.

He resorts to becoming a clown, a regular comic, always keen to please and keep everyone smiling. He does this so often, it becomes second nature, and no one is the wiser. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t suffer for it. Inside, he constantly questions the way he behaves, believing that he is both forced to act this way to protect himself, and yet wilfully deceptive to the world. He is unable to find a way to come to terms with himself.

So begins his spiral inwards and downwards, spurred on by the presence of what we call today “bad influence” – a friend who introduces him to the world of alcohol and prostitutes. In the drink he finds a bravery he never had to face the world; in the women he finds comfort and connection.

I remember I was first introduced to this title by a friend of mine who, in her own way, is a little eccentric in her tastes and thoughts. She never found it necessary to conform to what society deems is the norm – she is who she is, and she’s not apologetic about it. I vaguely remember that we were having a conversation about what humans are really like. Are we all born pure and untainted, or do each of us carry in ourselves a seed of evil, ready to germinate when the time is ripe? That was when she brought up No Longer Human. She thought I would find it interesting.

It’s been at least five years since that conversation, and in the meantime, I did manage to get my hands on the manga based on this piece of writing by Dazai. And I remember reading the manga, I had found it disturbing and rather uncomfortable. Perhaps it was just too graphic for me, but the idea was intriguing, and I remember making a mental note to find the English translation of the novel.

Now that I’ve read the book, I feel like the manga did not really do it justice. The idea, the very core of this book feels much deeper than just pornographic visuals and disturbing images. It is the very thought that humans are scary for all that we are, because we don’t know if anyone is who they really are; or perhaps precisely because we KNOW that no one is really who they really are. We see, we think, we believe; but how much of that barely even scrapes the surface of what lies beneath? What is at the base of our human hearts and conscience?

Maybe I should revisit the manga.

The novel, I believe I will revisit in time to come.

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