The Key and Diary of a Mad Old Man – Junichiro Tanizaki

The Key is a brilliant study of the innermost nature and sexual desires of human beings. I was quite baffled that one is willing to succumb to one’s sexual desire and even sacrifice one’s life for it. Reading this story is quite a sensual ride.

Diary of a Mad Old Man is also erotically charged. However it was hard for me to read a story about a perverse seventy six year old man. I was wondering how realistic the character was. My guess is it must be, to some extent, considering Tanizaki wrote the novel in his seventies. Viewed from another perspective, Diary of a Mad Old Man provides insight into the sexual appetite and psychology of old men.

I was shockingly surprised to read this book, since it’s a world of difference from The Makioka Sisters in terms of subject matter. When I read a short article on the JP Times reviewing Tanizaki’s autobiography Childhood Years (trans by Paul McCarthy) I came to realize that Tanizaki’s infatuation with sexual relationships was rooted in his childhood days and it defined his works and his art.

In these two novels, there are also traces of Tanizaki’s nostalgia for the fading Japanese traditional culture and his observation of the emergence of Western influences on Japanese people and lives. This nostalgia was also explored in his slim book In Praise of Shadows (trans. by Thomas Harper and Edward Seidensticker).

Translated from the Japanese by Howard Hibbett.

T. Hoang Jan 2020

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