Bringing together novelist Osamu Dazai’s best autobiographical shorts in a single, slim volume, Self-Portraits shows the legendary writer at his best—and worst
“Art dies the moment it acquires authority.” So said Japan’s quintessential rebel writer Osamu Dazai, who, disgusted with the hypocrisy of every kind of establishment, from the nation’s obsolete aristocracy to its posturing, warmongering generals, went his own way, even when that meant his death—and the death of others. Faced with pressure to conform, he declared his individuality to the world—in all its self-involved, self-conscious, and self-hating glory. “Art,” he wrote, “is ‘I.’”
In these short stories, collected and translated by Ralph McCarthy, we can see just how closely Dazai’s life mirrored his art, and vice versa, as the writer/narrator falls from grace, rises to fame, and falls again. Addiction, debt, shame, and despair dogged Dazai until his self-inflicted death, and yet despite all the lies and deception he resorted to in life, there is an almost fanatical honesty to his writing. And that has made him a hero to generations of readers who see laid bare, in his works, the painful, impossible contradictions inherent in the universal commandment of social life—fit in and do as you are told—as well as the possibility, however desperate, of defiance.
Long out of print, these stories will be a revelation to the legions of new fans of No Longer Human, The Setting Sun, and The Flowers of Buffoonery.
Osamu Dazai was born in 1909 into a powerful landowning family of northern Japan. A brilliant student, he entered the French department of Tokyo University in 1930, but later boasted that in the five years before he left without a degree, he had never attended a lecture. Dazai was famous for confronting head-on the social and moral crises of postwar Japan before he committed suicide by throwing himself into Tokyo’s Tamagawa Aqueduct. His body was found on what would have been his 39th birthday.
Ralph McCarthy has lived in Japan for almost two decades. He is the translator of many short stories by Osamu Dazai and of Ryu Murakami’s novel 69.