Natural Maturity

This one time, in grad school...

I read Tanizaki’s Jinmenso in grad school in a seminar comprised exclusively of white men (minus my exception). This is not a story about race or my exception, but I have to say it is always odd to be the only Asian woman in an all-white male room, partly because I grew up surrounded almost exclusively by other Asians—as much by circumstance and choice probably—and so any alternative version of a status quo just feels a little odd at first. And yet partly I found the configuration remarkable because there was a good chance I looked more like a wife than a peer to these classmates.

But the point of this story is that we were dissecting the meaning of the jinmenso, which is basically a sentient wart (tumor or boil or carbuncle is how it’s translated but I like “wart” as it’s more accessible). The story itself is about a woman who has a talking wart that grows and terrorizes the host body. In discussing the significance of the metaphor, we went deep into the distinction of metaphor and metonym, and of the critical analysis of momentary language against the landscape of linguistic and psychoanlysis as a reading methodology so popular at the time (1910s). What I remember, however, is that only the professor was really allowed to invoke historical contexts about the author, and back stories about the writers we discussed. I was defensive about wanting to make a connection to the identity traits of the writer, or the moment in history and place whereupon the writing was created. I am sure I was allowed to draw those connections but they seemed facile when I did. Like, of course this is an allegory for Tanizaki’s anxiety about modernization in Japan. So what? Let’s go deeper while staying superficial.

So maybe this is a story about race or my exception after all.

I think about the classroom in which we met. A beautiful mid-century modern room with upholstered walls and recessed lights. An Ivy League building with Nakashima chairs and tables. Imagine, sitting in such thrones of modern craftsmanship. The Nakashima Studio states they primarily use Walnut and Cherry wood from trees that have ”reached or passed their prime.”

Natural maturity is so beautiful.