Sunday, March 27, 2011

Faith Healer, by Brian Friel, and Rashomon, by Ryunosuke Akutagawa

Two books in one post? What will he do next?!

At first, one might believe these two books to be as opposite in character as they are in nationality. The Japanese stories "Rashomon" and "In the Grove" by Ryunosuke Akutagawa (also made into a film together called Rashomon) are set in old Japan, and the latter deals with a murder in the woods that the investigator cannot solve because each person's account is equally different and equally plausible. Brian Friel's Irish play Faith Healer lets three characters recount their time traveling together as a team of sorts. (Sidebar: I saw Faith Healer performed in Dublin back in 2006, entirely by accident. It starred Ralph Fiennes, Ingrid Craigie, and Ian McDiarmid. Single best performance I have ever seen. Of anything.)

Yet the stories share, as an integral (and perhaps defining) component, an entire lack of reliability of its narrators. Not just your usual questionable-narrator syndrome that you learn about in sophomore English; no, I'm talking about each of our storytellers contradicting the others in the details and the generalities, in tone and in spirit, perhaps intentionally, but probably not. Perception is reality, my mother always reminded me; these stories remind us of the subjectivity of our own memories.

They also throw into deep doubt what, exactly, truth is.

I read both of these stories recently, but not quite near the date of this post. Like I said, I was familiar with Faith Healer already, but in talking with two of the writers I respect most in this world, I was twice recommended the works of Akutagawa--not just for pleasant reading, but because a story I am working on relies very heavily on perception to interpret fact (if "fact" exists).

Both these stories are small, Akutagawa's especially so. But they pack a punch. What people remember (and how they remember it) says more about them than it does about the events of the past. I think we could all do well to be swiftly reminded that our own interpretations of the world usually won't jive with another's. And if we're lucky, we'll get such reminders through stories that don't end in death and sacrifice.

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