Aesthetics as a space of difference: The implicit sociology in Tanizaki Jun’ichirō’s A Golden Death
Tanizaki Jun’ichirō’s short story Konjiki no shi (‘A golden death,’ 1914) tells the weird tale of a friendship between two young aspiring artists in early twentieth-century Japan. Watashi, the narrator, is a diligent student, has conventional ideas and becomes a conventional writer, while his friend Okamura, who is extremely wealthy and free to pursue his wildest ideas, develops to the most bizarre consequences his own original aesthetics based on the senses and the beauty of the human body.
This story can be read by adopting a perspective that brings out its implicit sociology. Konjiki no shi describes the social trajectories of the two protagonists by tapping into Tanizaki’s “sense of the social.” By resorting to some socio-critical tools and to Pierre Bourdieu’s sociological theory, I will investigate how this story constructs and narrates the relationship between the two main characters and its evolution. Secondly, I will show how aesthetics, as understood as a set of historically situated practices and discourses dispersed in the story, constitutes a significant aspect of the differential characterization of the two protagonists and an important element to interpret their conducts. Tanizaki succeeds in summoning before the readers’ eyes the intersection of two social and aesthetic trajectories that do not appear to be governed by chance or the whim of invention, but respond to his awareness of their social matrices and evolutions, their stakes and costs.