cover image The Pleasures of Japanese Literature

The Pleasures of Japanese Literature

Donald Keene. Columbia University Press, $85 (133pp) ISBN 978-0-231-06736-2

Originating as five lectures, this elegantly written book by one of the West's leading authorities on Japanese culture constitutes a delightful introduction to that country's premodern literature for the general reader. ``The most precious thing in life is its uncertainty.'' Thus a 14th century master of taste from whose essays Keene singles out what are for him the four salient characteristics of the Japanese sense of beauty: suggestion, irregularity, simplicity and perishability. The study deals, respectively, with Japanese poetry, fiction and theaterwhich Keene calls ``one of the wonders of the world.'' Each chapter contains broad knowledge, sound appreciation and interesting insights. The reader learns, for example, why almost of necessity Japanese poems are short, and how Kabuki actors who impersonate women achieve what actresses cannot by aiming for ``an abstraction of womanhood.'' Keene is currently at work on a multivolume history of Japanese literature, of which World Within Walls and Dawn to the West have already appeared. (Nov.)