Monkey Business Vol. 3: Ted Goossen, Motoyuki Shibata (eds.)

Monkey Business 3Another issue of Monkey Business! Thicker than the last two issues! Read by me in an uncharacteristically timely fashion! I only picked this baby up a couple weeks ago and I have already read it. This will most likely never happen again, so enjoy my sudden timeliness. And I even went to one of the Toronto launch events! This too will most likely never happen again. Not because the event was terrible (it was amazing), but because I haven’t managed to make it to the launch events for the last two issues, and I don’t anticipate the stars aligning so neatly as to allow me to go again. Even though I live in this city.

The event was actually really great, featuring various combinations of editors Ted Goossen and Motoyuki Shibata, authors Masatsugu Ono and Yoko Hayasuke, author/interpreter Rui Umezawa (interpreting for both authors and blowing my mind) and moderator Roland Kelts. Both authors did readings in a style that I thought was quite clever: As they read their work in Japanese, an English translation was thrown up on the screen behind them so the authors didn’t have to read in a language they don’t speak, but the non-Japanese speakers in the audience could still know what was going on. There was also a very interesting chat between the editors about J-lit and the possibilities afforded Japanese writers by the Japanese language itself (possibilities that I love as a reader and struggle with as a translator), and a group discussion touching on things like what it means to be a writer and how Fukushima and other disasters affect how and what you write. And after all that fun, I still had the book to snuggle up with when I got home.

The anthology itself is just what I’ve come to expect from Monkey Business: a mix of things I’ve never heard of with authors I love, and a dash of the Brother and Sister Nishioka. Yes, another Kafka adaptation, this time The Metamorphosis. And again, I must complain about the lack of thought put into the lettering. The words still float awkwardly in the boxes allotted them, which is very visually distracting and unappealing. (I still know that letterer I mentioned last time, you guys!)

Following the comic, though, is “Living in Your Own Private Cubicle”, a fascinating essay discussing The Metamorphosis, excerpted from Naoyuki Ii’s book Kaishain to wa nanimono ka, an exploration of office workers in fiction which I might have to pick up after reading this. He talks about how the private home space and the public company space function for Gregor Samsa from The Metamorphosis, Death of a Salesman’s Willy Loman, and the titular Bartleby of “Bartleby, the Scrivener”, giving me a totally new way of thinking about these works. I was also reminded of Erving Goffman and his discussion of the backstage in our social performances, but it was interesting to see Ii approach very similar ideas through the notion of the office worker.

Brain beloveds Toh EnJoe and Mieko Kawakami are also featured again, the former with an essay called “Time in ‘Time’” discussing the short story “Time” by Riichi Yokomitsu that precedes it. I actually read “Time” recently in another anthology, but I appreciated it more here with this essay to provide an analysis and discussion of aspects I hadn’t considered. Kawakami’s “Dreams of Love, Etc.” is, as you might expect, great, one of those stories that starts out seemingly firm in the ho-hum everyday life thing, but is actually on the slow train to nutsville.

I was also very happy to see part three of Sachiko Kishimoto’s “The Forbidden Diary”. I really hope there are more pieces and I really really hope they are all part of a novel that is going to be published. Each piece only raises more and more questions as the diarist jots down the mundane (“Relaxed at home with a DVD”), the hilarious (“They were selling penis cases in the fruit section of the local supermarket today”), and the just plain weird (“A zombie snatched my fried bean curd”). Although it is divided up, like a diary, into dated segments, there is an underlying story that threads through them, a strange mystery that is teased out in a sentence here and a sentence there.

Ryunosuke Akutagawa is also in here to remind me that I should read more Ryunosuke Akutagawa. “General Kim” tells the story of a Japanese invasion of Korea in 1592 as the legend of a heroic Korean general who kills the evil Japanese Konishi Yukinaga. It’s wondrous and clever, and is made even more clever by the notes translator Jay Rubin includes at the end, putting the work into context and pointing out the deliberate anachronisms Akutagawa used to “cast a skeptical eye on the uses of history”.

This latest issue of Monkey Business also includes works by American authors Paul Auster (who I can live without), Barry Yourgrau (who I like more each time I encounter him), and Richard Powers (who has been on my to-read list for some time). Powers’ “Lodestar” is definitely my pick of the three original English works. Firpo decides to jump into the modern world and give up his paper maps for Lodestar, a car navigation system. I love the relationship that develops between Firpo and Lodestar, as Lodestar offers new and better database upgrades just when Firpo finds himself in need of them. At first, it was just “real-time road conditions and traffic modules”, but soon enough, it’s the personal history module, created by combing through every electronic signature Firpo had ever left anywhere to offer him “the shape and nature and means of fulfilling his innermost desires”.

Like the last two issues of Monkey Business, Volume Three delivers the fun in the form of fiction, poetry and non-fiction. And best of all, it’s longer than either of the first two volumes so there is even more of that fun to enjoy. So, you know, you should probably get it. And then sit on your hands like me and wait for the fourth issue to come out. If only we didn’t have to wait a whole year each time! (I know I express this desire every issue, but seriously, I want more.)


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