I’ve come to dread writing about Aoi Bungaku as it usually leaves me disappointed. I could spend an hour diving into both the novel and the anime to write an entry, but I’d get more than twice as many views had I written about some trashy harem anime instead. After seeing the last episode of the No Longer Human arc, however, I guess it deserves one last entry.
Enough has been said about the anime. I’ve lamented repeatedly over the anime’s twists on the source material that I won’t get into that today.
2DT remarked here that the aged woman at the end of No Longer Human represents death and I found it interesting. Where we disagree, however, is that this portrayal of the aged woman is a new dimension contributed by the anime. I missed it on my first reading of the novel, but after some reflection, I felt that the aged woman represents death in the novel as well. A hobbling, crippled widower, with a son nearing death and a father-in-law wasting away upstairs, the woman symbolized Yozo’s final solution: the embracing of death. He literally does so to acquire morphine. Morphine is the drug with which Yozo intends to destroy his human self. As you’re probably well aware of, morphine is an analgesic and one could say that it ‘deadens’ pain. For Yozo, however, pain is the only thing keeping him human by the end of the novel, and resolving to destroy himself at all costs, he succumbs to morphine addiction.
You can divide Yozo’s life into two parts: the crime and the punishment. In a lot of ways, No Longer Human resembles Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. In both novels, the story doesn’t truly begin (I’ll concede that this is purely a subjective conclusion on my part) until the crime has been committed. Also true to both Raskolnikov and Yozo, women represents various aspects of their lives. You can draw parallels between Dunya and Shizuko, two women willing to make great sacrifices for their families. At the same time, however, both Raskolnikov and Yozo refuse the women’s sacrifices; neither want to be kept men and thus flee from this fate. As a result, they both turn toward rebirth with innocent but flawed (and equally naive) girls: Raskolnikov with Sonya and Yozo with Yoshiko. Sonya eventually convinces Raskolnikov to confess to the authorities (and thus God) and he ultimately finds salvation in repentance. Unfortunately, this solution doesn’t work for Yozo, who only embraces nihilism to the very end and destroys any last shred of his humanity.
The important question for us, then, is why didn’t it work for Yozo? I’m reminded of an important existential theme: personhood is the combination of one’s history, memory, experiences and one’s free will. There is a way of looking at the self which reveals two components of every person. Sartre calls these components one’s facticity (“I have done bad things in the past…”) and one’s transcendent self (“…but I am free to stop, and I will.”).
If you go to a serial killer (or a sinner like Raskolnikov and Yozo) who is utterly repentant, you can ask, “Are you the type of person who kills people?” and he can truthfully answer you twice, “Yes, I am” and “No, I am not.” Why? Because examining one half of his identity, his facticity, describes him as a person who does bad things. Examining the other aspect of his identity, his transcendent free will, which has committed itself to not harm another living thing, describes him as someone who wouldn’t hurt a fly. This is a theme of duality of the self at work in No Longer Human, especially within the notion of redemption. How can someone who has done such terrible things like Yozo repent and become clean, harmless, innocent? Wouldn’t his repentant self still be tarnished with his past deeds?
The differences between the fates of Raskolnikov and Yozo says a lot. Dostoyevsky remained a man of faith despite the atheistic and utilitarian fervor sweeping across Russia’s intellectuals. Dazai, on the other hand, lived through Japan’s industrialization (and thus decay of a former society), Japan’s involvement in a horrific world war, and presumably Japan’s waning spirituality. There would be no gods to save Yozo and thus Dazai. Nihilism was the only answer.