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“He said he didn’t care if he went to heaven or hell, because neither could be more fearful than absolute nothingness; salvation and damnation were one and the same if the only thing out there was total nothingness”.- Shizuka-na seikatsu (A Quiet Life) (1990) – Kenzaburō Ōe

Kenzaburō Ōe (大江 健三郎, Ōe Kenzaburō?, born January 31, 1935) is a Japanese author and a major figure in contemporary Japanese literature.

“As I grew up, I was continually to suffer hardships in different realms of life – in my family, in my relationship to Japanese society and in my way of living at large in the latter half of the twentieth century”. Kenzaburo Oe

His works, strongly influenced by French and American literature and literary theory, deal with political, social and philosophical issues including nuclear weapons, nuclear power, social non-conformism and existentialism.

“By reading Huckleberry Finn I felt I was able to justify my act of going into the mountain forest at night and sleeping among the trees with a sense of security which I could never find indoors”. Kenzaburo Oe

“The fundamental style of my writing has been to start from my personal matters and then to link it up with society, the state and the world”. Kenzaburō Ōe

“There could be joy in destruction, too, couldn’t there? Isn’t Jesus Christ’s Second Coming supposed to occur only after a lot of unmitigated destruction? But again, human history is fraught with tragedies in which man spared no effort to destroy with millenarian joy, only to learn that no messiah appeared afterwards.”.- Shizuka-na seikatsu (A Quiet Life) (1990) – Kenzaburō Ōe

Ōe was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1994 for creating “an imagined world, where life and myth condense to form a disconcerting picture of the human predicament today”.

Between 1958 and 1961 Ōe published a series of works incorporating sexual metaphors for the occupation of Japan. He summarised the common theme of these stories as “the relationship of a foreigner as the big power [Z], a Japanese who is more or less placed in a humiliating position [X], and, sandwiched between the two, the third party [Y] (sometimes a prostitute who caters only to foreigners or an interpreter)”. In each of these works, the Japanese X is inactive, failing to take the initiative to resolve the situation and showing no psychological or spiritual development. The graphically sexual nature of this group of stories prompted a critical outcry; Ōe said of the culmination of the series Our Times, “I personally like this novel [because] I do not think I will ever write another novel which is filled only with sexual words.”

List of books available in English

Memeushiri Kouchi, 1958 – Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids (trans. by Paul Mackintosh & Maki Sugiyama)
Sebuntiin, 1961– Seventeen (Trans. by Luk Van Haute)
Seiteki Ningen 1963 Sexual Humans, published as J (Trans. by Luk Van Haute)
Kojinteki na taiken, 1964 – A Personal Matter (trans. by John Nathan)
Hiroshima noto, 1965 – Hiroshima Notes (trans. by David L. Swain, Toshi Yonezawa)


Man’en gannen no futtoboru, 1967 – The Silent Cry (trans. by John Bester)
Warera no kyōki wo ikinobiru michi wo oshieyo, 1969 – Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness (1977)
Mizukara waga namida wo nuguitamau hi, 1972 – The Day He Himself Shall Wipe My Tears Away in Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness (1977)
Pinchiranna chosho,’ 1976 – The Pinch Runner Memorandum (trans. by Michiko N. Wilson)
Atarashii hito yo mezame yo, 1983 – Rouse Up O Young Men of the New Age! (trans. by John Nathan)
Jinsei no shinseki, 1989 – An Echo of Heaven (trans. by Margaret Mitsutani)
Shizuka-na seikatsu, 1990 – A Quiet Life (trans. by Kunioki Yanagishita & William Wetherall)
Kaifuku suru kazoku, 1995 – A Healing Family (trans. by Stephen Snyder, ill. by Yukari Oe)
Chugaeri, 1999 – Somersault (trans. by Philip Gabriel)
Torikae ko (Chenjiringu), 2000 – The Changeling (trans. by Deborah Boehm)

“Kenzaburo Oe has devoted his life to taking certain subjects seriously — victims of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, the struggles of the people of Okinawa, the challenges of the disabled, the discipline of the scholarly life — while not appearing to take himself seriously at all. Although he is known in Japan as much for being a gadfly activist as for being one of the country’s most celebrated writers, in person Oe is more of a delightful wag” – Sarah Fay, in “Kenzaburo Oe, The Art of Fiction No. 195” in The Paris Review (Winter 2007)

“After the end of the Second World War it was a categorical imperative for us to declare that we renounced war forever in a central article of the new Constitution. The Japanese chose the principle of eternal peace as the basis of morality for our rebirth after the War. I trust that the principle can best be understood in the West with its long tradition of tolerance for conscientious rejection of military service. In Japan itself there have all along been attempts by some to obliterate the article about renunciation of war from the Constitution and for this purpose they have taken every opportunity to make use of pressures from abroad. But to obliterate from the Constitution the principle of eternal peace will be nothing but an act of betrayal against the peoples of Asia and the victims of the Atom Bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki”. – Japan, The Ambiguous, and Myself (1994) – Kenzaburō Ōe

“The voice of a crying and dark soul” is beautiful, and his act of expressing it in music cures him of his dark sorrow in an act of recovery. Furthermore, his music has been accepted as one that cures and restores his contemporary listeners as well”. – Japan, The Ambiguous, and Myself (1994) – Kenzaburō Ōe

“To be upright and to have an imagination: that is enough to be a very good young man”. Conversations with History interview (1999) – Kenzaburō Ōe

“I am the kind of writer who rewrites and rewrites. I am very eager to correct everything. If you look at one of my manuscripts, you can see I make many changes. So one of my main literary methods is “repetition with difference.” I begin a new work by first attempting a new approach toward a work that I’ve already written — I try to fight the same opponent one more time. Then I take the resulting draft and continue to elaborate upon it, and as I do so the traces of the old work disappear. I consider my literary work to be a totality of differences within repetition. I used to say that this elaboration was the most important thing for a novelist to learn”. -Paris Review interview (2007) – Kenzaburō Ōe

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