Truth from a Lie

Documentary, Detection, and Reflexivity in Abe Kobo's Realist Project

By (author) Margaret Key

Hardback - £78.00

Publication date:

05 May 2011

Length of book:

208 pages

Publisher

Lexington Books

ISBN-13: 9780739138755

Critics typically regard Abe Kobo (1924-93) as writing against realism, due to his avant-garde aesthetics that challenged the Naturalist realism dominating the literary mainstream and the Socialist realism of the orthodox Left in postwar Japan. He considered his work thoroughly realist, however, and starting in the early 1950s in a series of avant-garde art and literary groups, he championed the possibility of a vital, contemporary realism that challenged the reader to question the "reality" represented in the text through increasingly self-conscious writing strategies. Through a reassessment of the texts in which he worked out his theory of realism, this study traces the development of his commitment to making "truth from a lie"—to fiction, drama, and reportage that openly display their artifice. Key argues that the reflexivity of Abe's texts, which lay bare their own processes of artificial construction in order to reflect how our everyday sense of reality is constructed and maintained, created a critical space for metatextual ideas that were not acknowledged by the literary establishment of his time and have yet to be recognized by critics today.

Undergirding his theory and practice of realism was a critique of conventional documentary and of the classic detective story. The texts examined here expose the degree to which the documentarian and the detective are active fabricators of meaning rather than neutral observers of fact. By paying close attention to the tension between the documentary and the fictive in Abe's works, Key draws out the ethical implications of his documentary approach, arguing persuasively that the documentary qualities of his writing, such as its valorization of objectivity over psychologism and the realm of "concrete things" over abstraction are strategies for challenging the dominant assumptions about what constitutes good ethics and good art, as well as the relationship between these two spheres. Truth from a Lie explores the ways in which Abe put documentary and the de
Abe Kobo's writings are as fresh and relevant today as they were when he wrote them between 1948 and 1991. Margaret Key's analysis of them is a joy to read. Abe has been best known as a novelist of the absurd, but Key utilizes newspaper reportage and plays to read him in a new light. In a tight argument rendered in supple and sure prose, Key deftly locates Abe within Japanese intellectual history and restores to his work the ethical realist dimension it so rightly deserves.