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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Me Against the World

Shiraishi Kazufumi

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To purchase Me Against the World

Title: Me Against the World
Author: Shiraishi Kazufumi
Genre: Novel
Written: 2008 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 133 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Me Against the World - US
Me Against the World - UK
Me Against the World - Canada
  • Japanese title: この世の全部を敵に回して
  • Translated and with an Afterword by Raj Mahtani
  • With an Afterword by Kawakami Hiromi

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Our Assessment:

B- : more essay than fiction -- which might be okay, if it weren't so poorly reasoned

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Me Against the World begins with a (fictional) 'Publisher's Foreword', a fifty-year-old writer describing the origins of the text that makes up the bulk of the novel. This writer met the author of the text, a Mr.K, quarter of a century or so earlier, and they had remained friends -- albeit of the long-distance sort, meeting: "only about once a year, if we met at all" but staying in touch through correspondence, with the writer always sending his work to Mr.K, who would respond with comments. At the age of fifty-three, Mr.K passed away, and recently, a few years later, his widow passed on to the writer a manuscript of: "Mr.K's private musings, which is the book you hold".
       This Foreword gives a brief overview of Mr.K's life, as perceived at some distance by the writer -- useful insofar as Mr.K.'s two-part text is a sort of 'I-novel', and gives only a limited, inside perspective in Mr.K's own voice. The writer also notes that he felt compelled to publish Mr.K's work -- "I passionately believed that" -- and does so without revising it, despite the fact that:

I couldn't but help find various details objectionable and have also spotted a considerable number of inconsistencies from the outset.
       Similarly, even though he finds: "the title is slightly too provocative for comfort" he left that too unchanged.
       The writer also claims: "I've decided to refrain from expressing my personal opinions here", but over the mere seven pages of the Foreword does, in fact, express quite a lot, directly and indirectly. He both makes some excuses for Mr.K and states, emphatically:
But let me just say that every young person should read Mr.K's writings. I would very much like that.
       Meanwhile, he acknowledges that:
I have also been suffering from a sudden attack of depression again after ten-odd years, and at present I find myself incapable of holding my pen for long
       It's no stretch to imagine that Mr.K's text, and what he expresses there -- all that material the writer believes young folk might benefit from ... -- weighs heavily on the writer ..... Because heavy it indeed is .....
       The Foreword feels like the most 'fictional' part of the novel, the closest to offering story. Mr.K's text does offer a few stories too, but even these tend to be thought-experiments more than an attempt to recount from life or imagination. So the Foreword is central to the novel, shaping it, and the reading of the rest of it -- including by the writer subtly undermining aspects of Mr.K's text and arguments.
       The two-part text itself then reads more like an essay -- or, indeed, philosophical text -- than anything else. It is a personal argument -- its opening entirely personal, for example: "I am married with one son and one daughter" -- but more concerned with theory. Mr.K offers his life-vision -- but that is one that insists our day-to-day lives are of essentially no significance, and that we focus on entirely the wrong matters, and are missing the point.
       As already hinted at in the Foreword, Mr.K quickly gets to one of his points: "I don't love my children, nor do I love my wife". In fact, he pretty much has no feelings for or interest in pretty much anyone -- an attitude he thinks is easy to explain:
The reason I am unable to sustain any interest not only in other people, including my family, but also in myself is because I myself -- the very person who should be the subject of my interest -- will eventually expire.
       Oh, yes, Mr.K's 'Me Against the World' is a study of existential despair, taken to its obvious extremes. It's all about death -- inevitable death, which really throws a spanner in the works. Since we know death is coming ... well, there's no point to anything, right ? Yes, for Mr.K that's the crux of the matter -- all matters. Conversely -- so Mr. K --: "If we can realize immortality every problem in this world will surely be resolved".
       Yes, there's more than a touch of the Houellebecqian to his philosophy too:
     Strictly speaking, sex to humans is a means for realizing pleasure. And that's the very reason why human sexual intercourse has ended up becoming so infinitely disgusting. I can conclusively say in fact that it has become the height of depravity itself, having lost its essential point -- which is reproduction.
       There's some appeal to these extreme positions -- and a character beneath, revealing himself and his lonely struggles of 'Me Against the World' -- and even the basic idea (we're going to die so what else could possibly be the point ?) and some of the consequences he draws from it are intriguing. But it's so poorly argued as philosophy, and there's so little intellectual rigor. If it's convenient to his arguments, then a TV demonstration by a 'psychic' isn't questioned in the least: "As far as you can tell from watching the program, it's impossible to doubt his ESP". The bar for 'impossible' has to be higher than that -- and it isn't here, as Mr.K throws around with absolutes and certainty without bothering with any sort of foundations or explanations (much less proofs).
       Of course, the lack of foundations allow for another reading, too -- that Mr.K offers not a world-view but a desperate and despairing lament for his own personal failure, that when he speaks in generalities and universals what he is in fact bemoaning is his own inability to connect and feel:
     I believe we are simply not endowed with the faculty to accept from the heart, to deeply appreciate, a peaceful, quiet and beautiful world.
       Are Mr.K's writings -- which we know he struggled over for a decade -- simply a flailing reaction to rhe modern condition, to the intense personal isolation Mr.K experienced and which he was unable to free himself from ?
       As such the novel would indeed be more 'a novel' -- but there's not quite enough along those lines for it to be a success as such either. (Additionally, the many poorly- and mis-argued claims frustrate the exercise, regardless of its nature.)
       Me Against the World is, conceptually, an interesting work of fiction -- but the reliance on Mr.K's text, and the weaknesses of that text (specifically, a truly shocking lack of intellectual rigor -- this is stuff that wouldn't pass in a beginner's philosophy seminar) make for a relatively frustrating read. There's appeal to the outlandishness of Mr.K's philosophy -- but their proponent can't do them justice here.

- M.A.Orthofer, 2 August 2016

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Me Against the World: Reviews: Shiraishi Kazufumi: Other books by Shiraishi Kazufumi under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Shiraishi Kazufumi (白石一文) was born in 1958.

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