Kenzaburo Oe speaks

“Life wasn’t easy for me then, because of my brother. He could only use a few words, and has the cognitive ability of a four- or five-year-old, his motor skills about the same. But he has perfect pitch and composes music. He’d already begun composing at the time. Once there was a concert at the Welfare Center and the volunteer pianist advised me to send copies of my brother’s compositions to a famous composer, which I did right away. The composer wrote back, saying the melodies were exquisite, and also sent me a copy of a book he wrote. I brought the book with me. Here’s what it says.”

Ms. Tachibana took out a small hardcover book from her oversized handbag. Ogi motioned her over to some concrete seats shaped like tree stumps.

When one thinks, it’s impossible to escape the agency of language. Even when one thinks in the medium of sound, there’s an inevitable connection with language. In my case, in order to form a framework in which my thoughts can be clearly expressed in the overall structure of my music and also in the details, I find it necessary to verify things in language. And I leave it up to a decision of the senses. I discover the themes of my music, too, through this sort of process. It has nothing to do with a poetic mood or anything like it.

“This made me think my brother’s music has limitations. It’s like there’s a bar set up very low, and the music can’t get over that hurdle. Perhaps the composer didn’t want to hurt my feelings by telling me that directly, and that’s why he sent me the book

“My brother lies on the floor of our apartment, in our public housing apartment, and writes his compositions on music sheets. When he makes a mistake he erases it and then writes down the right notes. It’s as if he already has the music in his head and just needs to get the notes down on paper.

“He can’t explain in words what kind of music he’s trying to compose, and I doubt he’s even thinking in words when he does compose. As the composer puts it, he’s unable to verify things in language. . .”

–Kenzaburo Oe, Somersault, pp. 88-89. Trans. Philip Gabriel

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