Essays,  Sống tích cực

Sự cô đơn hay Hành trình tìm hạnh phúc

Hôm nay tình cờ mình đọc lại một bài luận cuối kỳ khi đang học năm 1, lớp Văn học thế giới (Văn Nhật Bản Hiện đại). Đó là một bài hiếm hoi mình được Giáo sư mình yêu quý nhất cho điểm A vì cô rất khó tính.

Japanese lit 3

Điều khiến mình ngạc nhiên và cảm động khi xem lại đó là trong slide dàn bài thì mình ghi tiêu đề là “Sự cô đơn” (“Loneliness”) nhưng trong bài viết hoàn thiện thì nó đã trở thành “Sự theo đuổi Hạnh phúc” (“Pursuit of Happiness”). Hồi đó mình 19 tuổi, năm nay thì 25. Sau mấy năm thì mối bận tâm lớn nhất của mình trên đời này có vẻ không thay đổi nhiều lắm: Làm sao để sống chân thật và thỏa đáng với chính mình, kết nối được với bản thân nhưng không bị lẻ loi trong mối quan hệ với người khác.

Japanese lit 2

Toàn bộ bài viết dài hơn 2,100 từ. Bạn nào quan tâm thì có thể xem bài luận thành hình ở dưới đây. Một số bạn tò mò mình học Văn học Đông Á bằng tiếng Anh thì nó như thế nào, thì đây chính là một ví dụ.

Japanese lit 1

Đây là outline (dàn ý).

Mình chọn phân tích ba tác phẩm mình yêu mến nhất từ lớp học là tiểu thuyết Confession of a Mask (Yukio Mishima), truyện ngắn “Love Letter from L.A.” (Shimokawa Hiroshi)“The Diving Pool” (Yoko Ogawa) sử dụng thuyết Phân tâm của Freud. Các câu chuyện này lần lượt kể về một cậu bé dần nhận ra mình là người đồng tính và muốn sống đúng bản dạng giới của mình, một cô gái quê ở đảo Okinawa xa xôi muốn được coi trọng đúng với nỗ lực và không bị phân biệt tỉnh lẻ, và một cô con gái luôn cảm thấy tình cảm gia đình bị thiếu thốn do bố mẹ cô nhận nuôi rất nhiều trẻ mồ côi.


Lý thuyết mình dùng để đọc các câu chuyện này: Thuyết Phân tâm (Psychoanalysis) của Freud. Bản năng con người có 3 phần: Cái Tôi, Cái Siêu Tôi và Cái Ấy.




Pursuit of Happiness in Confession of a Mask,

“Love Letter from L.A” and “The Diving Pool”

From Ego Psychology’s Perspective

Tran, Thanh Van

Pursuit of happiness is a very popular theme in literature. Many modern Japanese literary texts adopt this theme; and most of them end in tragedy or not satisfying achievement of protagonists. In this paper, I would like to interpret the struggle for a pleasant life of the protagonists in Confession of a Mask (Yukio Mishima), “Love Letter from L.A.” (Shimokawa Hiroshi) and “The Diving Pool” (Yoko Ogawa) and their failure using Freudian Ego theory, in order to understand how miserable and painful life is when one cannot have the most essential values which are granted to others at birth.

First of all, as said by Freudian psychology, everyone is born with an “Id”, which is driven by the basic instincts and is not responsive to reality. The Id acts according to “pleasure principle” – this side of our personalities will do everything to realize our definitions of pleasure without our awareness of its existence. In Confession of a Mask, the pleasure that Kochan pursues is simply to hold his true gender, which is the most fundamental identity of an individual. Tomiko in “Love Letter from L.A” starves a thing which is of equal simpleness. She wants to live happily, be rewarded relevantly to her effort, and not be discriminated because of her Okinawan origin. In a similar sense, the protagonist of “The Diving Pool” – Aya, the only biological daughter of the couple who run the orphanage Light House – also wishes for a blissful life, a real family which can give her much care and love. The three persons are in thirst of the very basic definitions of joy: being who you are, being loved, being cared – all of which are designed by the naturally born Id, and they are indispensable parts of the characters’ aim of life. A normal person will have all of these basic rights without much effort, thus we do not appreciate how much precious they are. It is not until when these essences are derived that one’s instinct self – the “Id” – will raise upright and urge that unlucky individual to struggle deliberately for what is supposed to be theirs.

Others may dream of big dreams and need to overcome numerous obstacles to reach their goals; our fateful characters only look for the simplest things, but the difficulties they face are not less horrible. To live in this world means to have connections with other individuals and to follow the rules of society. The Id just wants the instant self-gratification, while its opposite force – the Super Ego, the consciousness of any individual – consciously works hard and diligently to make sure that every wrong behavior, every need conflicting with social norms, morality and education will be punished with the sense of guilt. If one just follows their Id and ignore his or her Super Ego, that person would be sooner or later excluded from the web of social connections. At a very young age, Kochan realizes that he is “abnormal”. He was born a guy and has the appearance of a man but his inner person is a woman with the sensitiveness and fragility that any lady may have. Gender is one basic identity and if one cannot hold their true gender, they would not have a full identity. However, Kochan cannot explicitly tell anyone that he is not a real man, because his society does not accept homosexuality, and the conventional stream that anyone must swim along is a man definitely needs to get married with a woman. Also concerned with a granted “abnormal” quality, Tomiko in “Love Letter from L.A” is always pressed by her Okinawan origin. Okinawa legally belongs to Japan’s territory but the islands are not conceived as a part of the nation by a lot of people. Okinawans are always picked out and looked at because of their origins, and Tomiko experiences the same thing when she studies and works in Tokyo. Moreover, even though she can be considered one of the most excellent Okinawan girls, whose good education and many opening chances, Tomiko is just a mistress of her boss. She cannot have an official place besides a man as any other women. This strengthens Tomiko’s belief that Okinawan women do not deserve happiness, and sadness is their inescapable fate. While Tomiko’s Id self yearns for a normal life with love, her Super Ego reminds her again and again about the bad luck of being born an Okinawan and the boundary that she can never overcome. In a less obviously tragic situation is Aya of “Diving Pool”. From the outer look, Aya has a normal and satisfying life: She has both of her parents alive, who devote themselves to the career of God and so the family has many foster members living together. Full of love, full of laugh – it is supposed to be like that. However, Aya does not feel love and care from her parents. They treat her equally to other kids in the Light House, and her source of consolation turns out to be her foster brother Jun. Foster brother and sister of course are unable to belong to each other. Society’s rule reflected in Aya’s Super Ego restrains her from confessing her feelings directly towards Jun.

As we can see right in the appearance of Super Ego, its opposite of Id is a tremendous conflict. Comes between them, balancing them, is the Ego. If the Id is the passion, then the Ego is what should be called reason, acting in response to reality. The Ego’s task is to find a balance between primitive drives and reality by gratifying both the Id and the Super Ego. In Freud’s words, the Ego “driven by the Id, confined by the Super Ego, repulsed by reality, struggles…[in] bringing about harmony among the forces and influences working in and upon it”. How much smoothly the Ego can perform this task decides whether or not one is happy and satisfied with his or her life. In order to do this, each person takes some defense mechanisms, in which fantasy, dissociation, identification, substitution, and suppression are used by Kochan, Tomiko and Aya.

In Confession of a Mask, Kochan first applies the mechanism of fantasy. When Kochan is young, he is closer to Id. He likes cross-gender dress, which helps him blur the boundary between inner self and outer appearance. Repression mechanism also takes place. It makes unacceptable ideas, memories, or feelings removed from conscious alertness. The love for Omi is so beautiful in all ways and Kochan lets his heart tell him the truth. All things related to Omi, like the game of Dirty, the snowy day, his armpits, his barbaric trait,… are observed in highly-detailed quality by Kochan and set up as the “Male perfection” in Kochan’s mind. At this time he is old enough to know that this feeling is not a breeze but a real love, yet not old enough to be suppressed by social norm that a boy-boy love is not acceptable. As time goes by the Super Ego becomes prominent. Kochan tries to get closer to Sonoko and persuades himself that this is love. He evens goes to a brothel to testify his masculinity in sexual intercourse. It is not until his Id yells out that he recognizes the fact that he cannot force himself to be a completely normal man. The struggle between Id and Super Ego and the stuck position of Kochan’s Ego reaches its climax when Kochan dissociates and marginalizes by view himself as another self and judge that self critically:

Then again a different voice mocked me, secret and persistent. This voice was filled with an almost feverish honesty, a human feeling I had never experienced before. It bombarded me with questions in quick succession: Is it love you feel? If so, all right. But do you have a desire for woman? Aren’t you deceiving yourself when you say that it’s toward her alone that you have never had a “lustful desire”? Aren’t you trying to hide from yourself the fact that actually you’ve never had a “lustful desire” for any woman?

His final decision is to avoid getting married with Sonoko, and admit to himself that he does not have “the slightest sexual desire”. In the future, even if Kochan marries another woman or just keep the gaze at men as he usually does, he will never attain full happiness. Kochan might have lived contentedly if he does not need to spend all of his lifetime fighting with himself whether if he is wrong or not and forcing himself to swim along the acceptable, conventional stream of society: A man definitely needs to get married with a woman.

Different than Kochan who struggles since a very young age, Tomiko’s fight only happens for real when she is quite mature, after having moved from Okinawa to Tokyo to pursue higher education and here be thrown in a “foreign” world. The mechanism Tomiko adopts is to identify herself with Sueko the classmate, who shares with her the identity of Okinawan. Because of the same origin, Sueko must suffer the same consequence recorded by Tomiko’s Super Ego: be ignored, be worthless. However, when it turns out that Sueko is not doomed but actually hopeful and a bright future is waiting her ahead, Tomiko collapsed. Here we see a painful array: Tomiko’s Id is represented in her silent yearn for love and being rewarded, and “Okinawan origin” is the self, the reality, are the qualities that are born with Tomiko, are put on one side of the scale. The notion that Okinawan woman do not deserve love is the Super Ego built through being exposed to society always restraining her, is on the other side. The left side has two weights so it is heavier, thus the scale is not balance. In order to make a poise, Tomiko must abandon either her origin of Okinawan or the Id-created craving for merriment. Tomiko tries to resign her Okinawan origin at times, but she finally cannot, thus the only way she can choose is to sacrifice what the Id wants. Because Sueko is emblem of Tomiko, this leads to Tomiko’s destroying Sueko’s potential bliss by telling Sueko that her loving American husband will no longer be with her, and the “Love Letter from L.A” in fact is just a notification of deadly corrupt.

While Tomiko uses a very violent way to end the struggle, Aya at the first place choose a more gentle one. Her mechanism is substitution, which is shown in her decision of not expecting a conventional relationship with Jun, but just a voyeurism towards her foster brother. It is in these moments that Aya feels most comfortable: “I’m not thinking about anything or waiting for something ; in fact, I don’t seem to have any reason to be here at all. I just sit and look at Jun’s wet body”. However, when Aya’s effort of suppression to conceal her unacceptable thoughts and feelings cannot hold her anymore, when her Super Ego cannot control her actions any longer, Aya burns out into destruction acts. She takes up every chance to upset Rie, including leaving the small girl alone, locking her in an urn and feeding her spoiled food. Rie’s hurt becomes an alternative source of comfort for Aya – “Rie’s terrified tears were particularly satisfying, like hands caressing me in exactly the right places – not vague, imaginary hands but his hands, the ones I was sure would know just how to please me”. It is not until when Jun reveals that he knows all the things Aya commit that the concealment of Aya’s turmoil is broken. Her supply of console is not in her reach anymore; reality now is even harsher to her. The stricter the judgment of Super Ego is, in reply to the more difficult situation, the more restrained her Id becomes. The ending of the story is left ambiguous but I hardly see any light for Aya to feel ease in mind in the future.

To live in this world is to balance one’s inner self to the outer world, which according to Freud means to reach the harmony between the Id and the Super Ego. If we lose the Id, it means we lose our truest self and thus our existence is meaningless. On the other hand, if we just follow the Id, ignore social norms, do not marginalize ourselves by building the Super Ego, then we will be excluded from society. We must balance. If we go to nowhere and are lost in this world like Kochan, Tomiko and Aya, the things waiting ahead of us are the eternal loneliness and tear-down because the separate selves within us cannot be together.//

#JapaneseModernLiterature #JapaneseLiterature



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