‘Kitchen Plays’ by Mieko Kanai, translated by Paul McCarthy

We’re in a maze which, arguably, Kanai never lets her readers leave even if her characters do manage to escape (not certain). The opening paragraph, such a paragraph that I wish I could memorize it, takes the form of a spiral within the larger spiral that’s the story’s overall shape: images like “spindle-tree hedges” and a “triangular stone” keep slipping into view as the narrator zigzags along a narrow path towards his childhood home. The maze, although I’m uncertain about this, could also be the maze of his own memory. Again and again he forgets the characteristics of the zigzag path, which he must have wandered many times: its upward incline, for example, towards a sandstone summit. Returns to the homeward-bound maze alternate in his account with reminiscences of a train journey away from home. His point of view alternates too; he is a child, an adult, a child, adult. He is alternately “I” and “he”. Each time he recalls his journey home or away from home, the details seem to spiral farther away from actual events, spiraling deeper into fantasy—and why?

With meandering and truncated phrasing, Kanai writes: “The abruptness with which one remembers that one has forgotten even the fact of having forgotten. At this rate, he’d probably forgotten that he’d forgotten many other things. So I think. In this weightless space of memory.”

First published in Japanese in Tangoshu, Chikuma Shobo, 1979. First published in English in The Word Book, Dalkey Archive Press, 2009

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