Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Artificial Wings

Ryūnosuke Akutagawa (1892-1927) was a Japanese writer born into the era when Japan was obsessively struggling to catch up with the west. His education thus focused on European philosophy and literature. But he was, it seems, ambivalent about the experience. This is from one of his most famous works, A Fool's Life:

Twenty-nine years of human existence had offered him little illumination. But Voltaire at least equipped him with artificial wings.

Unfolding these man-made wings, easily he glided up into the sky. Bathed with reasons light, human joy and sorrow sank away beneath his eyes. Over squalid towns, letting irony and mockery fall, he soared into unobstructed space, heading straight for the sun. That with just such man-made wings, scorched by the sun's radiance an ancient Greek had hurtled into the sea, dead. He'd seemed to have forgotten. …. 

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