In my opinion, the decorative aspect of the letters is sometimes even more revealing than their content.
-Junichiro Tanizaki, Quicksand
I was sucked into this book through its use of imagery which is unique in its detail and complexity. Like a kimono: balanced patterns, controlled folds, and mystery. Flip a corner back and another pattern of the fabric reveals itself, folded and tucked, elaborately enhancing while really concealing the body beneath.
The dimensions of the envelope are 5 inches in length by 2 3/4 inches in width, with cherry and heart-shaped designs on a pink ground. There are five cherries in all, bright-red fruit on black stems. (38)
The “Author’s note” comments on the degree of gaudiness shown in the taste of a woman who would send such a card, assuring us that a Tokyo man, “would surely take an instant dislike to the sender.” These love letters are between two women, however, so their garishness is received more tolerantly (according to our discerning author).
But by now I can’t forget it. For the first time, I know what it means to be in love. Now I realize why you were so infatuated. You kept telling me I had no passion, but it seems that even I can be passionate! (204)
First published in Japan in 1947, this translation by Howard Hibbett was published in 1994. I have only read one other book by Tanizaki, The Makioka Sisters, which was also very detailed in an even more ritualistic way, but Quicksand has a very different style and tone. According to the book end notes, Tanizaki is particularly difficult to translate into English, but I can only wonder and imagine what I am missing, or what Hibbett has preserved.
The strange sexual obsessions, deceits, and entanglements are at times laughably over the top. We are constantly being told a new version of any given event. Some told with ardent belief, and then again with suspicion, cynicism, or wishful thinking.
When my husband read it, he would surely be so moved that he would forget his bitterness. Even we ourselves, looking at the letters there before us, had to take this seriously. (197)
The pages turn quickly as curiosity grows. This story was first published in serial form (1928-30) and it suits that format perfectly. The subject matter seems scandalous for the age but, then again, based on this story, it would seem this was a society that was even more abhorrent of a man’s infertility than two woman engaged in a passionate affair.
There are more then a few forehead slapping moments as Mrs. Kakiuchi labors to tell her complicated story to an unknown you, -she just has to tell it, it is too much to write it down. And it feels like it is told, not written. The word choice and temperament is conversational and slightly self aggrandizing. The humor which is, if not black then at least a steel grey, comes from the odd passionless manner in which this tale of passion is told with all its ridiculous histrionics.
But, we are all probably ridiculous in the face of burning desire- love generously suffers fools.