rhizomes.01 fall 2000

Hyper-Authorship: The Case of Araki Yasusada
Mikhail Epstein



A Letter to a Japanese Friend

The Russian Identities of Araki Yasusada





[1] The work of Araki Yasusada (1903-1972) has appeared in numerous publications of late and has provoked a good deal of discussion in the world of poetry. I say "world" because poets and critics are avidly speculating about the work in the United States, England, Japan, Russia, Italy, Australia, and Mexico, where selections and critical commentary have recently appeared. It is understandable why the Yasusada phenomenon has caused such fascination and controversy, for it is, without doubt, one of the most enigmatic and provocative authorial mysteries of twentieth-century poetry. [1]

[2] Originally presented in various journals as translations from the posthumously discovered notebooks of Yasusada, a purported survivor of the bombing of Hiroshima, the writing has recently been revealed by its "caretakers," Kent Johnson and Javier Alvarez (two individuals whose existence is empirically verifiable) as the creation of their former and now deceased roommate, Tosa Motokiyu, who has been credited in all previous publications as the main "translator" of Yasusada's work.

[3] Johnson and Alvarez assert that Tosa Motokiyu is the hypernym for an author whose actual identity they are under instructions never to reveal.

[4] I came into contact with this work through two fortuitous occurrences, first in 1990 and then in 1995; but it was in January of 1996 that I became more intimate with it, when I received a letter and a package of Yasusada materials from Motokiyu, who explained that he had been urged by "our mutual friend" Kent Johnson and his own interest in my recent book, After the Future, to write to me. In this letter he acknowledged himself to be the empirical writer of the Yasusada materials, and he asked for my thoughts on the implications inherent in such a scrambling of authorial identities. I wrote him back a lengthy reply, only to learn from Kent Johnson in the summer of 1996 that he had died not long after receiving my letter.


A Letter to a Japanese Friend [2]

[5] To Tosa Motokiyu

from Mikhail Epstein

February 6, 1996

Dear Tosa Motokiyu:

[6] Thank you for your letter and rich materials that I will certainly go through with great interest. I've been so inspired by some of your suggestions that I don't want to delay my response.

[7] Why couldn't we establish an International Society (or Network) of Transpersonal Authorship? We could invite for membership those people who feel themselves overwhelmed by different (and multiple) authorial personalities that wish to be realized through their transpersonal creative endeavors. This writing in the mode of otherness is not just a matter of a pseudonym, but rather of a hypernym. We don't produce our own works under different names but we produce works different from our own under appropriate names.

[8] This is a crucial issue in contemporary theory and writing. Poststructuralism has pronounced a death sentence for the individual author(ship), but does this mean that we are doomed to return to a pre-literary stage of anonymity? One cannot enter twice the same river, and anonymity in its post-authorial, not pre-authorial, implementation will turn into something different from folklore anonymity. What would be, then, a progressive, not retrospective, way out of the crisis of individual authorship? Not anonymity, I believe, but hyper-authorship.

[9] There is so much talk about hypertexts now. But what about hyper-authors? This question has not even been raised. Hyper-authorship is a paradigmatic variety of authors working within the confines of one (allegedly one) human entity. A hyper-author relates to an author as a hypertext relates to a text. Hypertext is dispersed among numerous virtual spaces that can be entered in any order, escaping any linear (temporal or causal) coherence. Hyper-authorship is dispersed among several virtual personalities that cannot be reduced to a single "real" personality.

[10] As thinking is always thinking "of," without necessary specification of the object, writing is always "writing by," but this "byness" of writing cannot be reduced to any biological, or historical or psychological subject. To follow Husserl who called this "ofness" of thinking "intentionality," we can call this "byness" of writing "potentionality" that does not need to be biographically actualized or can be actualized in multiple figures and persona. The same writing can be potentially ascribed to various authors which intensifies the play of its meanings and interpretations. In traditional literary theory, the author is a real individual or a group of individuals, but this is an outmoded way of thinking that can be compared with the conceptual framework of physics before the advent of quantum mechanics. The latter showed that we cannot pinpoint a particle with any specificity in time and space; it is a fuzzy phenomenon, embracing the aspects of discreteness and continuity, a particle as well as a wave. What I am discussing now is precisely the concept of "fuzzy," or "continuum-like" authorship, which refers not to a discrete personality but rather to a wave going across times, places and personalities. Tosa Motokiyu and Araki Yasusada are some of the observable locations of this hyper-authorial wave that can reach the shores of other epochs, countries, and strange personalities. Hyper-authorship is virtual authorship in which real personalities become almost illusionary, while fictional personalities become almost real. This "almost" is what allows them to co-exist on the same continuum in the imaginations of readers. Leo Tolstoy said: "In art, the 'almost' [chut'-chut'] is everything." This concerns not only the matter of artistic representation, but also its mode of authorization.

[11] Previously the author was interesting to the degree that his/her personality could illuminate the text and be instrumental in its understanding. This tendency culminated in the widely announced "death of the author" by virtue of which the text became a self-sufficient and self-enclosed entity. Now I am inclined to think that a text is interesting only inasmuch as it manifests the multiple, infinite possibilities of its authorship. What we should enunciate, perhaps on behalf of several authors, like Tosa Motokiyu, Araki Yasusada, and Ivan Solovyov, is the resurrection of authorship after its death, this time in the wavy, misty, radiant flesh of prolific hyper-authorship, no more coinciding with the mortal animal flesh of a separate biological individual.

[12] We have moved far beyond the concept of biological parenthood, which is now recognized as only one of many forms of parenthood. Now let's have done with the reductive concept of authorship as only "biological" authorship limited by the input of the author as a living individual. There are many sorts and degrees of non-biological--psychological, intellectual, inspirational, magical authorship. The question is how to differentiate these numerous authorships related to a single piece of writing, without hierarchical subordination of one to another. In what sense and in what respect are Yasusada's pieces authored by Tosa Motokiyu, and in what respect are Motokiyu's pieces authored by Araki Yasusada? This is the adequate way to question post-individual or transpersonal authorship, not just to ask: who is the real author of this work, Motokiyu or Yasusada.

[13] There is a principal asymmetry and disproportion between living and writing individuals in the world. It's evident that not all living individuals have either the inclination or the capacity to become authors. Some individuals cannot write or write only on checks and holiday cards. This renders quite plausible the complementary statement: not all authors have either the inclination or the capacity to become living individuals. There are many authors who, for certain reasons (which need further exploration), have no potential for physical embodiment, as there are many individuals who for some related reasons have no propensity for becoming authors. This implies that some living individuals, who have a potential for writing, must shelter or adopt a number of potential authors within their biological individualities. What awaits actualization in the writing of one individual is the potentiality of many authors, i.e. those creative individuals who have no need or taste for living, in the same way as many living individuals have no need or taste for writing.

[14] The deficiency of previous theories was to confuse these two aspects of writing, a biological individual and an authorial personality. Poststructuralist theory contributed to the solution of this question only negatively, by denying the attributes of a creative author to a biological individual. What logically follows is that we should also deny the attributes of a biological individual to a creative author. We have to split these naive equations of the naturalistic fallacy. But we also have to proceed beyond the limits of this two-fold denial. Now the question has to be solved in a more constructive way, by positing hyper-authorship as the potential for an infinite self-differentiation of an (actual) individual, as well as the creative integration of different (virtual) individuals in the process of writing. The deconstruction of authorship opens the way for the construction of hyper-authorship.

[15] The basic principle of writing is the excess of signifiers over signifieds which generates synonyms, metaphors, paraphrases, parodies, parables, and other figurative and elliptical modes of writing. Furthermore, this principle applies to the surplus of interpretations over the primary text which, again and again, becomes a single signified for proliferating critical discourses. What has not yet been discussed is the extension of this principle to the sphere of authorship. The excess of authorial personalities and their unlimited proliferation is the final surplus of creative signification. The author who was believed to produce the excess now becomes its product.

[16] I believe that in the course of time hyper-authorship will become a conventional device not only in creative, but also in scholarly writing since it becomes impossible for a postmodern intellectual to adhere strictly to one position or one methodology in matters of his/her profession. The need for the development of new, hypothetical methods of research (and which method is not hypothetical?) will bring about hyper-scholars who would pursue several alternative ways of argumentation mutually exclusive and complementary in the expanded universe of virtual knowledge.

[17] Let me share with you one secret. When you confided to me that it was not Yasusada but you who actually wrote his poems, I remained hesitant about the meaning of this statement perceiving it as a possibility for still another round or level of interpretative play between these two probable authorships. What is essential here is not the difference between Motokiyu and Yasusada but their mutual interference. Finally, do we know, following the famous parable of Chuang Tzu, whether Chuang Tzu sees a butterfly in his dream, or whether it is the butterfly who dreams of herself being Chuang Tzu? Are you absolutely sure that it's you who invented Yasusada, not the other way round?

[18] Let us leave this divination to critics and literary historians, and let's proceed with the fact that both of these potential authorships are maintained on the level of "hyper", i.e., are mutually interchangeable without determination of the "origin" which is impossible, as you know, according to the theory of the trace. There is a trace of Yasusada in you, and there is a trace of Ivan Solovyov in me, but the origins of these traces are lost and irrecoverable, or perhaps never existed. What is important to discuss is the relationship among these traces, not their relation to the "pseudo" origin. What becomes "pseudo" under this new mode of writing is not the name of the fictional author but the identity of the "original" author. Biologically and historically, I am Mikhail Epstein, but as an author, I am a complex amalgam of several authorial personalities (some of them remain unknown even to myself), among whom Mikhail Epstein has no authorial privilege on the grounds of the simple fact that he has some extra-textual body.

[19] I also can imagine a journal (an annual?) inviting the contributions of transpersonal authors and elaborating the theory of hyper-authorship. The title might be TBA meaning "trans-biological authorship" and at the same time "To Be Announced," an abbreviation for something that has not yet and perhaps never will be determined.

[20] Cordially,

all of us, including Mikhail Epstein


The Russian Identities of Araki Yasusada

[21] As some other critics and scholars have done, I have reflected on the matter of Yasusada, and certain curious coincidences and parallels have emerged. Is it possible that I have a more personal connection to this work that I was not at first cognizant of? Is it possibly the case that the author whose hyper-identity is Tosa Motokiyu already knew of me many years ago, when we both were citizens of the bygone Soviet Union, and that his announced "death" is meant as a metaphor for his "death as an author"? I write now to offer the following two hypotheses concerning the authorial origins of Yasusada. I do so not to try to "solve" the matter (for paradoxes are not to be solved), but rather to suggest possible layers of hyper-authorship whose consideration may enrich the further interpretation of Yasusada's texts (and his life as a potential megatext).

[22] The intriguing scholarly controversy, in fact, "author-mania" that erupted over the issue of Yasusada's identity(ies), gradually focused on the potential authorship of Dr. Kent Johnson, poet and college professor of English, who published and annotated the majority of Yasusada's works. I find this attribution no more persuasive and no less hypothetical than the two others that I would like to present. It is worth pointing out that Emily Nussbaum's discussion in Lingua Franca (Nov/Dec,96) regarding the presence of Yasusada poems in Kent Johnson's doctoral dissertation does in no way settle the question of the Yasusada authorship. In fact, as my remarks will suggest, it is quite feasible that Johnson placed this work in his dissertation at the request of its actual author. Such a gesture would have been perfectly consistent with the "conceptualist" aesthetic of one of the writers I discuss later. I might further say, in regards to this matter, that I happened to be a guest lecturer in Bowling Green, Ohio in the spring of 1990, and was invited to attend Johnson's dissertation defense. As he began, in front of a table full of solemn professors, to speak about the poems of Yasusada, two other graduate students seated on the floor behind him began (carefully following notations set down in copies of Johnson's lecture) to exclaim loudly certain utterances in English and Russian, and to blow, strike, and drum on an array of Asian musical instruments. This they did for the next fifteen minutes or so, while Johnson presented a collage of theoretical and poetic propositions. Although the professors on Johnson's committee seemed very perplexed, I can attest that this was truly a strange and memorable event, one very similar in flavor to a conceptualist poetry evening in Moscow.

[23] This parallel was all the more vivid to me because my lecture at Bowling Green and the subsequent conversation with Kent Johnson and his colleagues Ellen Berry and Anesa Miller-Pogacar was devoted in a significant part to conceptualism and the construction of multiple authorships. Of this conversation published later, I will cite only one passage that relates directly to the current discussion on the authorship of Yasusada's poetry: "After deconstruction comes an epoch of pure constructivism. Anything can be constructed now. As one of my philosophical characters says--most of my recent works are constituted not by my own thoughts, but by those of my characters--a word cannot be exact, cannot be precise, so it must be brave. Deconstruction demonstrated that a word can't be precise, it can't designate any particular thing. But what remains to be done with the word? To be brave, to use it in all senses that are possible to it. This [is] the new domain of construction which comes after the deconstruction . . ." [3]

[24] Included in this domain is, first of all, the construction of authorship, as implied in those philosophical characters (conceptual persona) in my own work about whom and on whose behalf I am speaking. This explains why I became so intrigued by the phenomenon of Yasusada and now attempt to look into the enigma of his origin. It is up to the reader to decide if the following hypotheses pursue the goal of deconstruction of Yasusada or rather can serve as an example of critical constructionism.

Hypothesis #1

[25] The manuscript Doubled Flowering: From the Notebooks of Araki Yasusada was originally composed in Russian by the famous writer Andrei Bitov and then translated by Kent Johnson and at least one Russian-speaking informant into English. I'll try to substantiate this version with irrefutable facts.

[26] Bitov, born 1937, is Russia's major novelist, a founder of postmodernism in Russian literature. His work generated a number of famous hyper-authors, among them Lev Odoevtsev, a literary scholar and the protagonist of Bitov's major novel Pushkin's House, and Urbino Vanoski, a writer of mixed Polish, Italian and Japanese origin, the hyper-author of another of Bitov's novels, A Professor of Symmetry, which is annotated as "a translation from English without a dictionary."

[27] I have maintained friendly ties with Bitov since the late 1960s and have first-hand information about the following. In the mid-1960s Bitov--by that time already one of the leading figures of the so-called "youth prose"--received an invitation to visit Japan through the official channels of the Soviet Writers' Union. However, he was denied an exit visa by Soviet authorities, who claimed that he was too ideologically immature for such a responsible trip to a capitalist country (he was suspected to be a hidden dissident, probably rightfully, as presumably 80 percent of the Soviet intelligentsia were at that time). One can easily imagine both the excitement and disappointment of a young writer who spent two or three subsequent years reapplying for this trip and reassuring the authorities of his "maturity" in vain. This bitter experience inspired him to write a novel Japan (Iaponiia), about the country he never saw but tried to invent in his imagination. Two planes alternated in this novel: the bureaucratic trials of a young author haunting the thresholds of high Soviet authorities, and imaginary landscapes and poetic visions of Japan, including fragments of an imaginary anthology of contemporary Japanese poetry. Incidentally, though Bitov never considered himself a real poet, he has hyper-authored several brilliant poems allegedly written by some of his characters (in particular, Aleksei Monakhov, the protagonist of Bitov's "dotted" novel The Days of a Man). I assume that Bitov's novel Japan, that would be more properly titled "Dreams about Japan," was a kind of symmetrical response to the 18th century Japanese masterpiece Dreams about Russia, written by Kodayu Daikokuya (1750 or 51-1828), a treatise which mixes pseudo-ethnographic description with lyrical visionary passages. This book was translated into Russian, and I have no doubts that Bitov was intimately familiar with it.

[28] With the coming of glasnost', Bitov intended to publish his novel Japan after some additional stylistic elaboration. I was very intrigued by this plot, especially after Bitov's other book, A Professor of Symmetry came out, a monumental stylization of a contemporary multi-ethnic Western author, slightly in Conrad's or Nabokov's vein (English was not Vanoski's native language; hence Bitov's alleged translation from English into Russian of a novel which itself was presumably translated from his mother language into English, at least in the bilingual imagination of the imagined author). I expected that Bitov's Japan would again induce a case of "doubled authorship," now with a Japanese hyper-author [4]. According to Bitov's account, Japan was almost finished. But gradually all rumors about its pending publication disappeared, and my direct questions addressed to Bitov failed to receive any definite answer. Bitov complained that he was burdened with numerous urgent literary projects and administrative responsibilities. Indeed, since the early 1990's he has been the president of the Russian division of International PEN (a worldwide organization of writers). Thus, the publication of Japan, with a poetic anthology as its supplement, was postponed for an indefinite period.

[29] The last time I saw Bitov was December 11, 1995 when he visited Emory by my invitation to give a lecture on Russian postmodernism. In our conversation he confirmed again, with a visible reluctance, that Japan will be published in due time, but probably "in a modified form" (he did not go into detail). On December 29 of the same year, in downtown Chicago, at the annual convention of the Modern Language Association, I met by chance Kent Johnson, whom I had not seen for several years. He shared with me news on the rising posthumous star of Araki Yasusada, and gave me some copies of Yasusada's publications. Not immediately, but with an increasing feeling that I had guessed rightly, I recognized Bitov's stylistic charm in these English verses allegedly translated from Japanese. But why not directly from Russian?

[30] The fact is that Kent Johnson, as the compiler and editor of a well-known and critically acclaimed anthology of contemporary Russian verse, Third Wave: The New Russian Poetry [5], had more of a first-hand familiarity with Russian poetry than with Japanese. Is it possible that there is a connection between Kent Johnson, who is now prominently connected to Yasusada's legacy, and Andrei Bitov, a master of hyperauthorship and the author of the still unpublished novel Japan? Let me further explain. (6)

[31] I first met Kent Johnson in St. Petersburg (then Leningrad, the native city, incidentally, of Bitov) in 1989, at a conference on contemporary Russian culture. Kent was then busy collecting material for his English anthology of the newest trends in Russian poetry of 1970s-80s. This anthology came out, with my afterword, from University of Michigan Press in 1992 and had a significant success, particularly in the world of Slavic literature: it was the first book in English representing the "new wave" of Russian poetry, and, most valuably, it contained, in addition to verses, theoretical manifestoes from the poets. Kent Johnson and his co-editor, Steven Ashby, managed to make a superb choice of authors and their representative works, as well as of skillful translators, for this unique collection. This project by itself would have justified Kent's trip to St. Petersburg, but, as I suspect now, it was in Russia that he got the impetus for the preparation of another anthology, this time a Japanese one, subsumed under the name of a central hyper-author (Yasusada), but including two of Yasusada's renga collaborators, Ozaki Kusatao and Akutagawa Fusei, and their three contemporary translators, Tosa Motokiyu, Okura Kyojin, and Ojiu Norinaga. I am amazed by the subtle skills that were employed to this anthology translated from Russian into English in order to finally present it as originally Japanese. Now I can also understand why Bitov withdrew his intention to publish "Japan" under his own name. To become part of a foreign culture is a more inspiring, generous, and at the same time ambitious enterprise than just to add still another piece to the treasury of one's native language. [7]

[32] Yasusada's work is conceived not just as a poetic collection, but as a novel with its own sub-plot (the editorial piecing together of the fragmented record of a Hiroshima survivor), cast in the multi-generic form of diaries, letters, verses, comments, etc. The meta-genre of "novel in verses" is deeply rooted in the Russian literary tradition--with Pushkin's Eugene Onegin as its prototype--the major source of Bitov's inspiration throughout his creative search and especially in his major novel Pushkin's House. No wonder that the novel "Japan" proved to be not just a novel with a "poetic supplement" as was intended initially, but "a novel in verses," or, more precisely, "a novel with verses." Every reader of Yasusada's texts will agree that verses constitute only one aspect of its larger literary whole which, like both Pushkin's and Bitov's novels, includes numerous self-commenting pages, lyrical digressions, and critical reflections. This is truly a poetic novel of Yasusada's life, a novel in the tradition of Russian literature which now, with the aid of Kent Johnson's mediation, again invests its inspirations into the treasury of Japanese literature, but now in the even more palpable and congenial form of "a newly discovered author."

[33] Such Russian authors as Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Chekhov, were for a long time the moral and artistic authorities for Japanese literature; now, with Bitov-Johnson's contribution, Russian literature becomes an indispensable part of Japanese literature, of its novelistic flesh and poetic blood. As a scholar of Russian literature, I can only rejoice at the fact of this transcultural interaction and the resulting synthesis.

Hypothesis #2

[34] This, I believe, is the least hypothetical of the two, being merely a combined statement of several well-known facts. Among Russian authors presented in Kent Johnson's anthology of contemporary Russian poetry, one of the most preeminent figures is Dmitry Prigov, a close acquaintance of Bitov, and a central proponent of Russian Conceptualism, who is known for his poems and whole collections written on behalf of various characters and mentalities belonging to different cultures. As Prigov puts it in his manifesto published in Johnson's anthology, "the heroes of my poems have become different linguistic layers ... A shimmering relationship between the author and the text has developed, in which it is very hard to define (not only for the reader but for the author, too) the degree of sincerity in the immersion in the text and the purity and distance of the withdrawal from it. ...The result is some kind of quasi-lyrical poems written by me under a feminine name, when I am of course not concerned with mystification but only show the sign of the lyrical poem's position, which is mainly associated with feminine poetry ..." [8]

[35] In 1987 or 1988 Prigov circulated a collection of verses on behalf of a Chinese female poet, thus helping to fill the gap of female authorship in the highly developed but almost exclusively male-oriented Chinese classic tradition. Further, he planned to expand the cultural geography of his hyperauthorship by introducing a collection by a Japanese poet with "a rather unusual but universally comprehensible fate and sensibility." This collection was never published under the name of Prigov himself, and I submit that in this case the project of hyperauthorship underwent a further mysterious expansion to acquire an international set of hyperauthors, hypereditors, etc., along the lines of a global poetic plot (imitating and parodying the 'Zionist- masonic conspiracy' as exposed in The Protocols of Zion). Prigov once, in the spirit of 'new sincerity,' confessed to me his "masonic" conspiracy for the triumph of creative impersonality throughout the world of art.

[36] Precisely at the time Prigov's Japanese collection was due to be finished (1989), Kent Johnson came for his first and only visit to Leningrad to meet with Prigov and other poets participating in the future Russian anthology. From my continuous personal talks with Prigov at this time (we even spent a rather 'sincere' night of discussions and confessions in the apartment of our common friend poet Viktor Krivulin) I could conclude that along with the poems he passed to Kent for this anthology, there was an additional set of materials large enough to form a separate collection which, it is easy to conclude, came to be known as Doubled Flowering by Araki Yasusada.


[37] I want to underscore once more that everything aforesaid is only a hypothesis, though all mentioned facts are true. I daresay this kind of hypothesis does not need a further factual verification, inasmuch as the true identity of the person named Tosa Motokiyu (who, as I mentioned earlier, is now claimed by Johnson and Alvarez to be the "real" author of the work) is never to be revealed, according to his own last will. A question poses itself: Whose will is this, if its author refuses to accept attribution of its authorship? This is the same type of paradox that we find in the most famous of logical paradoxes of "liar's type": "The liar says that he is always lying. Is it a truth or a lie?" If we believe Motokiyu's testament that his true name is not to be revealed then this is not Motokiyu's testament.

[38] A vicious circle? But is not the same circle inscribed into the most glorious and suspicious declaration of authorship? Is Shakespeare Shakespeare? Let us suggest that whoever Shakespeare was he succeeded in producing, in addition to "Hamlet" and other classical plays, the most enigmatic of his creations--the author named "Shakespeare," the one who wrote both prophetic "Hamlet" and his own almost illiterate will. The enigma of Motokiyu, who authorized the eternal suspense and concealment of his authorial identity and who claims to be behind Yasusada without revealing who is behind Motokiyu himself, is not only a deeply parodic reinstatement of the "Shakespearean question," but a subversion--or rather endless and deliberately vicious multiplication--of the very phenomenon of "authorship."

[39] The vicious circle is a creative one. An author's imperative: to create an author. How can we trust a doctor who is permanently sick? There is a biblical saying: "Physician, heal thyself." How can we trust an author who limits himself to inferior characters, like kings, generals, adventurers, etc., and cannot create an Author?

[40] Thus we should be grateful to Motokiyu, who succeeded in creating Yasusada and, even more, his friends, translators, editors, and executors. But who created Motokiyu? And who created his creator? The answer is infinitely deferred, to use the deconstructionist cliche, but what is more important and goes beyond the realm of deconstruction is the construction of infinite authors in the place of the absent single one. By this I do not mean to imply that the quest for an original authorship should be qualified as a critical fallacy; the point, rather, is that the dispersion of creative origins is inscribed in the very act of creativity and brings forth the possibilities of infinite answers. Is not the goal of creativity the excess of meanings over signs, and therefore, the excess of authors over texts, since each additional authorship is a way to change radically the overall meaning of the text and to extend the scope of its interpretations? Each text is allowed to have as many authors as it needs to have in order to become maximally meaningful.

[41] Vladimir Nabokov once remarked on what makes literature different from the "true story" or "the poetry of testimony": "Literature was born not the day when a boy crying 'wolf, wolf' came running out of the Neanderthal valley with a big gray wolf at his heels: literature was born on the day when a boy came crying 'wolf, wolf' and there was no wolf behind him." [9]

[42] A friend of mine with whom I shared this observation, remarked pessimistically: "In our wretched times, when the boy runs in crying 'wolf, wolf!' no poetry is born whatsoever -- he will simply be dragged to court for 'making false statements' and 'disturbing the peace' of the pedestrian-minded." Some will regard such a view as overly gloomy, but it does suggest why, in our times, the boy might do well to disappear together with the ghostly wolf he dared to herald so bravely. In other words, the author is drawn to become fictitious in the way fiction is itself; the author shares the destiny of his characters and becomes one of them, like a chameleon--a grand illusion among illusions. Perhaps a new kind of literature is being born these days--one where neither the wolf nor the boy is to be found real, even though the heart-rending cries go on echoing in the villagers' ears.

[43] But wait, object the villagers, for in the meantime rumors about the wolf and the boy who supposedly are "never present" become more insistent and repetitious. Isn't this play of language without wolf and even without boy behind it exactly what we know as "postmodernism"? If the wolf in this little parable represents the objective truth of realism, while the boy is the subjectivist pathos of modernism, then the vanishing of both of them constitutes the effect of postmodernism.

[44] Is it not a blasphemy to "post-modernize" such a deeply pathetic experience as conveyed by Yasusada's poetry? Theodor Adorno, with even deeper pessimism than my friend, famously proclaimed that there can be no poetry after Auschwitz. We might likewise conclude that there can be no poetry after Hiroshima. But is this true? Could it be, instead, that poetry has to become wholly different from what it used to be in order to fulfill its human calling after Hiroshima? If so, then the work of Yasusada points toward one possible form of renewal: dissemination of authorship. With Yasusada, poetry reaches beyond the individual's self-expression, beyond the original testimony, beyond the "flowering" of one person, to become "multiple flowering," a shared imagining and expression of potential Japanese, American, Russian authors, of all those who are capable of sharing the tragedy called "Hiroshima" and coauthoring the poetry called "Yasusada." Yasusada's fragments, letters, and poems become, through the generosity of a person or persons we call Motokiyu, an appeal for a transpersonal--and thus selfless and in a sense authorless--empathy.

[45] Perhaps we can say this: In Yasusada's poetry there exist as many potential authorships as there are individuals in the world who are aware of Hiroshima and can associate themselves with the fate of its victims and survivors. In our quest for the genuine author of Yasusada's works a moment of truth arises when each of us is ready to ask: Could it be me?

[46] In conclusion, I must state again that all foregoing facts concerning real names, persons and historical circumstances, are true. It is only the interpretation of these facts that can claim the higher status of a hypothesis.



[47] On November 15, 1996, my path crossed with Andrei Bitov's at a Slavic conference in Boston. I told him very briefly about Yasusada and shared with him my hypothesis about his potential authorship. He thought for a while and then noted: "The more hypothetical is one's approach to an author, the more truthful it may finally prove to be." "Does this relate to this specific case?" I asked directly. He evaded the answer and continued: "The value of a hypothesis is to predict a thing which cannot be observed. The value of an author is to make palpable what is impossible. A critical hypothesis about an author is just a retroactive projection of his own creative work and does not need any further justification. As you know, some of my characters are literary scholars, which presumes that some literary scholars . . . " Did he mean to add, "are my characters"? At this moment--we were strolling around the book exhibition--an acquaintance of Bitov approached him and distracted us from the conversation. Unfortunately, later on in this day we had no opportunity to talk privately, and none of us wanted to bring this topic to public attention.

[48] Two details of this short exchange need to be emphasized. 1) Bitov did not ask me what Yasusada's works were about. 2) Anyone familiar with Yasusada's style cannot but recognize its echoes in Bitov's manner of coining paradoxes.



[1] See the most complete collection of Yasusada's works and critical intepretations: Doubled Flowering: from the Notebooks of Araki Yasusada, edited by Tosa Motokiyu, Ojiu Norinaga, and Okura Kyojin. New York: Roof Books, 1997. The materials on Yasusada were published in Grand Street, Conjunctions, Abiko Quarterly (Japan), First Intensity, Stand, The American Poetry Review, Countermeasures: A Magazine of Poetry and Ideas, Lingua Franca (November 1996), Boston Review (Summer 1997) and many reputable journals all over the world. Forrest Gander wrote in The Nation: "...[T]he most controversial poetry book since Allen Ginsberg's Howl ... [T]he pages of Doubled Flowering are stunning as poems and failures as the historical documents they turn out not to be. They are alternately funny, ironic, irreverent, bitter and passionate."

[2] "A Letter to a Japanese Friend," was first published in The Denver Quarterly, 31: 4 (Spring 1997), 100-105. Part 2 was first published in Witz, 5: 2, Summer 1997), 4-13.

[3] I consciously repeat here the title of the famous Jacques Derrida's piece in which he elaborates in a "Japanese," "negative" manner the undefinability of deconstruction. Perhaps it is more than a simple coincidence that the reconstruction and "hyperization" of authorship was also inspired by the work of a Japanese author.

[4] The meaning of the prefix "hyper" is a combination of "super" (excess) and "pseudo" (illusion). The proliferation of authorial personalities makes each of them less "real." This simultaneous evolution of cultural phenomena, including authorship, in two directions, "super" and "pseudo," resulting in the triumph of "hyper," is one of the most salient traits of postmodernism. "Unlike the prefixes 'over-' and 'su[pe]r-', it ['hyper'] designates not simply a heightened degree of the property it qualifies, but a superlative degree that exceeds a certain limit. (The same meaning is found in words like 'hypertonia,' 'hypertrophy,' 'hyperinflation,' 'hyperbole'.) This excess of the quality in question is so great that, in crossing the limit, it turns into its own antithesis, reveals its own illusionary nature. The meaning of 'hyper,' therefore, is a combination of two meanings: 'super' and 'pseudo.' 'Hyper' is the kind of 'super' that through excess and transgression undermines its own reality and reveals itself as 'pseudo.'" Mikhail Epstein, "The Dialectics of Hyper: From Modernism to Postmodernism," in his book, Russian Postmodernism: New Perspectives on Post-Soviet Culture (with Alexander Genis and Slobodanka Vladiv-Glover). New York, Oxford: Berghahn Books, 1999, p. 25.

[5] Third Wave: The New Russian Poetry, ed. Kent Johnson and Stephen M. Ashby. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1992.

(6) The first collection of Bitov's poems, V chetverg posle dozhdia, (St.-Peterburg: Pushkinskii fond) was published in 1997.

[7] The original Japanese title is Oroshiyakoku Kodayu hyoryu nikki noutsushi. Russian translation: Sny o Rossii, Izdanie teksta, perevod, vstypitelnaia statia i kommentarii V.M. Konstantinova ; pod. red. N.I. Konrada. Moscow : Izd-vo vostochnoi lit-ry, 1961. See also the historical novel under the same title of the contemporary Japanese writer Yasushi Inoue (1907-1991), Dreams about Russia, also translated into Russian: Sny o Rossii, perevod s iaponskogo B. V. Raskin. Moscow: Nauka, 1977.

[8] Third Wave: The New Russian Poetry, ed. Kent Johnson and Stephen M. Ashby. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1992, 102.

[9] The Writer's Quotation Book: A Literary Companion, ed. James Charlton, New York: Penguin, 1986, p.9.