Doctor of Desire

What made Tanizaki, a real-life gourmet, such a devotee of the voluptuary's path? Part of the answer may lie in the collection's atypical story, "The Two Acolytes," probably written in the early 1920s. Anthony H. Chambers and Paul McCarthy (the book's excellent translators) suggest that it can be read as the young writer engaging himself in debate. Two apprentice monks and friends, studying at a mountaintop Buddhist temple, end up in vastly different ways. One leaves for the pleasures of the ukiyo or floating world, while the other, though tempted by his friend's descriptions, remains committed to the Buddhist aim of renunciation. Written simply, the tale already has Tanizaki's peerless faculty of understanding human desire at work. The ex-monk writes his friend, "Believe me, the joy of being just a common layman involved with the passions is infinitely preferable to being an ascetic practicing the 'Perfect and Sudden Way' to enlightenment."

illustration by Brad Kendall

Details

The Gourmet Club
By Jun'ichiro; Tanizaki, translated by Anthony H. Chambers and Paul McCarthy
Kodansha, 201 pp., $24
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Tanizaki was, of course, no "common layman," and while it's difficult to imagine him as a Buddhist monk, still, I'm convinced that he would have been as devout in his obeisance to the spirit as to the body. The appeal of nirvana after all lies in its promise of transcending pleasure—an otherworldly hedonism that is surely the ultimate delight.

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