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The Key

by Stephen Mansfield

Special To The Japan Times

When an aging professor attempts to arouse the repressed passions of his wife, he finds that his own declining sexual vigor may fail him in the endeavor.

The Key, by Junichiro Tanizaki Translated by Howard Hibbett.
vintage, Fiction.

In much of Junichiro Tanizaki’s work, sexual deviation takes on colorful and inventive forms, including a good deal of sado-masochism, voyeurism, infatuation and a range of erotic obsessions, such as the foot fetish (apparently shared by Tanizaki himself) that appears in this short novel

Like the Irish poet William Yeats, who did everything in his power to sustain his virility, the protagonist in “The Key” resorts to all available methods to shore up his flagging libido. The explicitness of the narrative here is achieved through a voyeuristic intrigue that draws in the reader, with two main characters relating their feelings through diaries that each assumes the other will read — both revealing differing interpretations of events.

Using the diary entries to surreptitiously prod his wife to commit adultery in order to enhance his own desire may replicate the author’s own unfulfilled first marriage, in which he encouraged his partner to enter into a relationship with one of his friends, a fellow writer.

In other hands, material like this would doubtless have appeared lurid or titillating, but in this late work by Tanizaki, one of the world’s major literary figures, we experience a narrative marked by irony, wit and an observation of the human condition in extremis.

Each week “Essentials” introduces a work of fiction that should be on the bookshelf of any Japanophile.

  • Jake Carson

    I sure hope that this will be a great opportunity for everyone to see
    some of “Don’s Scenes” from his productions of his classic hits “Tales
    From Kutcharitaville”. You know that Rickles and Johnny Carson together
    produced those comedy hits about their friend “Mr. Kutchie Pelaez” and
    their wild and crazy exploits of Kutchie’s Key West and The World of Key
    Lime Pies from the perspective of (Johnny Carson, Don Rickles, Kutchie
    Pelaez and Steve Martins Eyes!) What a Hoot Those Classic Hits Surely
    Were. Don’t miss them, be sure to tune-in next month. We Laughed Until
    We Cried Watching Those Funny Movies. “The Tales From Kutcharitaville”, I
    Think That They May Still Be Available In A Boxed Set. Maybe Try
    Amazon. Good Luck.

    You Know, It’s No Wonder That Everyone Calls
    “Captain Kutchie Pelaez”..The Most Interesting Man In The World! You
    Know That Kutchie Drinks Those Wonderful Mixed Drinks Named In His Honor
    Called “Kutcharitas”. Hell Of A Lot Better Than Any Mexican Beers.
    And Much Stronger To Boot!

    ….It’s Been Resting Down On The
    Bottom Of The Sea Since Way Back In 1867, “Mel Fisher” Even Overlooked
    This One! “Yankee Jack and Micheal McCloud Now Have Reason To Write
    Another Song.

    ….Hell We Can’t Find A Boeing 777 That’s Been
    Lost Only A Little Over A Month! Could It Be Because The Jet Had No
    Silver and Gold Aboard, Just People?….Go Figure……

    ….nice-key-u-got-their….