No Longer Human – Dazai Osamu

**Spoiler alert**

I-novel in ‘found-footage’ format.

The narrator grows up feeling, Asperger’s like, that he’s different from all other humans. He gets by by playing the role of a clown, while on the inside he’s really gloomy, alienating him even more for those around him, and increasingly fearing people will find him out.

In young adulthood he moves to Tokyo (he’s from a wealthy family from the rural north of Japan) where he discovers alcohol and prostitutes, habits that make him comfortable with women, making him somewhat of a ‘lady-killer’. Or maybe a literal lady-killer, because he soon forms a suicide pact with a young bar hostess he met, but while she dies in the event, he lives on.

Not having changed, he keeps on spiraling down, drinking and womanizing, eventually finding himself married but unhappy, and addicted to morphine. He tries to kill himself again. He gets taken to a sanatorium by his family, thinking: even if I kick the habit and make it out, I’ll always wear the stigma, being ‘disqualified as a human being’ (the Japanese title of the novel).

In a cultural historical sense, it’s an interesting novel. It’s quite telling of the mood in post-war Japan that this novel became so immensely popular (I think it ranks 2nd in the list of all-time best-selling novels). Part of the explanation for its popularity may be the fact that the (then already famous) author spectacularly killed himself in a double suicide soon after (or even before?) the book was published, but I’m sure its sentiments – alienation, fear, self-loathing, and despair – also resonated with the rest of the war-exhausted country.

But as a read, for me personally, ughh… I just felt it lacks the charm or originality to make up for its tiresome self-pity.

I-novel in ‘found-footage’ format.

The narrator grows up feeling, Asperger’s like, that he’s different from all other humans. He gets by by playing the role of a clown, while on the inside he’s really gloomy, alienating him even more for those around him, and increasingly fearing people will find him out.

In young adulthood he moves to Tokyo (he’s from a wealthy family from the rural north of Japan) where he discovers alcohol and prostitutes, habits that make him comfortable with women, making him somewhat of a ‘lady-killer’. Or maybe a literal lady-killer, because he soon forms a suicide pact with a young bar hostess he met, but while she dies in the event, he lives on.

Not having changed, he keeps on spiraling down, drinking and womanizing, eventually finding himself married but unhappy, and addicted to morphine. He tries to kill himself again. He gets taken to a sanatorium by his family, thinking: even if I kick the habit and make out, I’ll always wear the stigma, being ‘disqualified as a human being’ (the Japanese title of the novel).

In a cultural historical sense, it’s an interesting novel. It’s quite telling of the mood in post-war Japan that this novel became so immensely popular (I think it ranks 2nd in the list of all-time best-selling novels). Part of the explanation for it’s popularity may be the fact that the (then already famous) author spectacularly killed himself in a double suicide soon after (or even before?) the book was published, but I’m sure its sentiments – alienation, fear, self-loathing, and despair – also resonated with the rest of the war-exhausted country.

But as a read, for me personally, ughh… I just felt it lacks the charm or originality to make up for its tiresome self-pity.


Ik zou hier alleen nog aan willen toevoegen dat de vermeende charmeloosheid van het boek mogelijk aan de vertaling ligt. Sinds ik No Longer Human las, las ik Sayonara, Gangsters vertaald door Michael Emmerich en Fires on the Plain vertaald door van Ivan Morris. Bij Michael Emmerich viel me op dat mijn reactie weer een beetje hetzelfde was bij ander werk dat ik van hem las. Hij vindt het leuk, dat quasi-guitig absurde en nietszeggende, ik vind het irritant en nietszeggend. Toen las ik Ivan Morris’ vertaling van FotP en toen vond ik het geweldig, niet alleen het verhaal, maar ook de taal, de dialogen. Misschien, dacht ik toen, moest ik voortaan maar gewoon naar Japanse literatuur zoeken op vertaler. Misschien werkt dat zo? Want ondertussen probeer ik me ook door Donald Keenes vertaling van Chikamatsu te werken, maar ik vind er weer hetzelfde van als wat ik altijd van Keens vertalingen vind: flets, saai, droog … humor- en charmeloos.

No Longer Human is typisch een boek dat staat of valt bij charme. In Keenes vertaling trof ik het dus niet aan, maar dit zegt niet per se iets over Dazais boek.

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