Kokoro Re-visited

A look at Natsume Soseki's 1914 novel Kokoro and my awful 2017 review of it

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I recently re-read Natsume Soseki's Kokoro. It was a lot better than I remembered it. Back in 2017 I wrote a review of Kokoro. I tried to re-read my review but I had to stop a few times because of how bad it was. Parts of it were incomprehensible and other parts were understandable to me only because I knew what I was referring to.

Most of my review is just a clumsy re-telling of the events in the novel and the rest is an embarrassing amount of projection of my own issues onto Soseki and the character relationships in the novel. If I have any excuse, it is that my opinion of Sensei's backstory (Part Three of the novel) was affected by the anime adaptation of Kokoro in the Aoi Bungaku series (episode 7–8).

I was wrong about Sensei's and K's story holding less weight than the first part. In fact I seem to have put more emphasis on Part One and Part Two of the novel. This was probably because I was much younger at the time, just like the protagonist.

I understand that my history with this novel is of no interest to anyone, but this is what this post is about, so if you were looking for some straightforward review it is time for you to look elsewhere. 

Till my re-read I was under the wrong impression that Part Three was a  repeat of Part One of the novel. Or in other words that K was to Sensei what Sensei was to the protagonist. This is very simplistic because for one Sensei does not really want to emulate K in the way that the protagonist wants to emulate Sensei. And when finally Sensei realises that he is on the same path as K, that is a tragedy. 

Part One is very comedic, by this I do not mean that it was funny but that the protagonist's troubles which he took so seriously seemed trivial especially in respect to what's to come later. Sensei does not take the protagonist seriously and I was left wondering why it is that the protagonist respected Sensei and wanted Sensei's respect. I mean Sensei is basically a NEET and by his own admission has only a few ideas though they are based on his own experience (rather than theories in books - several times several characters imply that the wisdom learned from books is useless to real life).

At first I took Sensei's self-criticism as mere self-effacement,  but now I realise he was not wrong about himself. And yet when in Part Two neither the protagonist's father nor his brother were able to see the worth in a man like Sensei "who did nothing," I couldn't help but feel the wrongness of this cold assessment along with the protagonist.

The father who could not see outside the drudgery of his life and the opinion of the small circle of relatives and boorish acquaintances, and the brother who could not see the worth of a life beyond social ambitions, both seemed despicable but also very typical of mankind. And yet these feelings may be misplaced because Sensei is not trying to seek some individual path like K tried to and failed.

Sensei simply resigned to live as if he were dead, which resembled the way of saints and ascetic sages who had "found" a path to salvation/enlightenment, but he was simply a failure as a typical man. It's the difference between an Otaku and a failed normie. His wife's love for him was no doubt tinged with disappointment at the kind of man he turned out to be.

I did not feel like, as I used to, that it would have been better if the protagonist had saved Sensei to return things to the status quo because I was wrong to believe that there was ever any strong friendship, it was simply a one-sided infatuation on the protagonist's side towards Sensei. There was nothing attractive about the protagonist as a friend.

Thus I felt more sympathetic towards Sensei's reasons for committing suicide.  In a sense his suicide proved that his suffering was real and not just imagined, not just a posture, not just the fussiness of a man who had never had to work, of a man who didn't know the harshness of this world, or some such other presumptuous nonsense.

I also think I understand Sensei' reluctance in confiding with the protagonist but alas I am once again re-telling the story of the novel, albeit less clumsily so I'll stop. I will only say that although I feel Sensei's vexation at the world of human beings I can't see why he couldn't find happiness in solitary leisure when he tried to bury himself alive among books. I suppose the difference between Sensei and I, is that I don't really care that I am not a good person. As for a sense of purity and superiority, this can easily be provided for by a an aesthetic sense rather than a moral one which is bound to fail.

What I mean is that I have gotten over the fact that kindness holds little sway over human conduct and human affairs. There is, to be sure, kindness and beauty in works of art about the ugliness and unkindness of this world such as Kokoro, and that is enough for me to live my allotted time hopefully.

I try also not to put much stock in the kindness of women because, as Sensei found out, it doesn't spring forth out of understanding. Though in Sensei's case he was simply afraid of defiling his wife's pure beauty with the ugliness of this world. Not a feeling I can relate to. I don't know if such pure beauty exists in this world or not, if it ever existed and if his wife was as pure as he thought. Maybe I just haven't come across it.

One thing that I could not help but notice throughout this re-read is how vague the characters are about what it is that they were studying in university.

The Rating: 10

By Otaking, or [The Good Student]

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