Burton: Chapter 2

Reading Assignment: Chapter Two (“Narrative Tracks Across the Floating World: Kazuo Ishiguro’s An Artist of the Floating World (1986) and Remains of the Day (1989)”) of Burton’s Artists of the Floating World: Contemporary Writers Between Cultures

This week, a fellow classmate and I will be leading the class discussion on Chapter Two of our professor’s text. This chapter focuses on Ishiguro, both as an author and on his numerous novels/texts.

I’ll be posting a transcript of our class discussion later, but for now, here are some musing before class.

This is an excerpt from section four of the chapter (“An Artist of the Floating World (1986)”):

“By the end of the novel, Ono can claim, with a contented smile on his face, that he has spent his life well, can now, with confidence, pass on the responsibilities of his generation to the next generation. He believes, in effect, that he has kept his singular narrative tracks on course. The reader, on the other hand, may wonder whether or not the questions raised, inadvertently, by Ono have been fully addressed, let alone answered. According to one critic: ‘The narrative has no confident, authoritative centre, and in a deconstructed text, many things remain elusive to the eavesdropping reader’ (Sarvan, 97). Clearly, then, Ishiguro’s novel exposes an epsitemological gap between Ono’s investment in a grand narrative–a singular, narrative track–and the eavesdropping reader’s discernment of multiple, sometimes competing narrative tracks” (Burton 44).

Personally, I would argue that Ono’s exploration of his “patriotism” is the central narrative track of the novel. The events that transpired because of his “patriotic acts” are what he attempts to avoid while he is floating from memory to memory (this is evident when he suddenly stops pursuing a memory by saying “but I digress”) throughout the entire book. To me, this avoidance emphasizes how important and central Ono’s participation in the national narrative of Japan during World War II are to his story/narrative.

Now, there are numerous narrative tracks within this novel, such as interactions with Ono’s family, his youngest daughter’s marriage process, and the various stages of Ono’s career. However, I further argue that each of these narrative tracks relate back to Ono’s involvement in World War II Japan’s national narrative and his “patriotism” during the war. Here are some examples of this:

  • Ono’s interactions with his family display how an outsider may view his involvement in the war effort, as well as emphasize how Ono floats between old Japan and new, post-war Japan. I have already mentioned his oldest daughter’s remarks on Ono just being an artist and to not beat himself up for his “patriotic paintings” in a previous blog post, but this scene is also applicable here. His sons funeral also relates back to Ono’s present day questioning of the national narrative as he emphasizes both his son-in-law’s reaction to the funeral and that his son was killed because of questionable orders from his general.
  • Throughout the continuous narrative track of Noriko’s marriage process (and failed engagement), it is heavily alluded to that Ono’s involvement in the war effort, either as a propaganda artist or his aiding in Kuroda’s arrest, is what terminated her previous proposal. Once Ono figures this out for himself, he begins doing everything he can to make sure that those who are most familiar with his potential transgressions during the war would only say kind things about him and his past during the new marriage proceedings and investigations.
  • Finally, the various narrative tracks of Ono’s career illustrate how he developed his prestige and reputation, as well as show what led him to the propaganda artwork. Without his prestige and reputation, Ono would not have been able to turn Kuroda in for “unpatriotic practices,” and without making the specific career choices he made, he would not have met Matsuda, the individual who set him on the path to propaganda posters and artwork.

In my reading of Ishiguro’s text, every narrative track connects to the central idea of Ono’s participation in World War II Japan’s national narrative, and the fall out that may have happened because of this participation. At the end of the novel, Ono has accepted that the things he did in the name of patriotism and his country during the war were misguided and now seen as unacceptable, and he begins accepting the new national narrative. If this novel did indeed have no central narrative track, I do not think he would feel content with his life at the end of the novel he would not have made the same discoveries regarding his participation in the national narrative since he would’ve been floating aimlessly through his memories. Instead of floating aimlessly, Ono floats with a purpose, and even if he avoids the stream of that purpose at first, the current always pulls him towards it in the end.

Feel free to tell me what you think in the comments down below. Do you believe that the central narrative track of this text is Ono’s participation in and struggle with national narratives, or do you lean on the side of Ono floating aimlessly through his life? I am curious to hear what you, my readers, think.

Until next time,

-Megan Mann

Burton, Rob. Artists of the Floating World: Contemporary Writers Between Cultures. 2007.

Ishiguro, Kazuo. An Artist of the Floating World. Vintage Books, 1989, New York.


One thought on “Burton: Chapter 2

  1. Yes, the class discussion was great last week. Well done. I like the paradoxical phrase, “To float with purpose,” that you use in the penultimate paragraph. I think that’s we all strive for!


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