No Longer Human is a Japanese novel by Osamu Dazai, first published in 1948. It’s a very curious read. When I first picked up the book, I half expected a nonfiction piece on how we are turning into robots. Well, this is fiction and no one is turning into robots and in some way it’s worse… No Longer Human is a story told in form of notebooks left by one Ōba Yōzō. He is a troubled man and notebooks describe his depressed journey through life. And I guess with losing touch with what makes us feel like humans.
First part or notebook describes character’s childhood. He’s a lonely and sickly child and he struggles to understand the world he lives in and he is constantly upset when he finds out that purpose of things around him has been a practical one. Moreover, he’s a mix between an outcast and a jester: “I thought, “As long as can make them laugh, it doesn’t matter how, I’ll be all right. If I succeed in that, the human beings probably won’t mind it too much if I remain outside their lives. The one thing I must avoid is becoming offensive in their eyes: I shall be nothing, the wind, the sky.”
“Now I have neither happiness nor unhappiness.
That is the one and only thing that I have thought resembled a truth in the society of human beings where I have dwelled up to now as in a burning hell.
Second part doesn’t get much better for the main character. He is desperately trying to hide who he is or his true nature and he tries to appear happy and to fit in I guess. He neglects his studies and turns to alcohol, smoking and sex. He meets a woman, falls in love with her and tries to commit double suicide with her. It doesn’t work out well. Third part is split in to two parts and, well, it goes downhill from the second
I just finished reading this and I’m quite fond of the book, although that might be the wrong word to express that. I liked the sadness and it being combined with criticism towards it. None of us like it, but someone must write about it. I feel like even though the main character was someone else, I think the author used Ōba Yōzō as an extension of himself and so the writing of course appears stronger when you pull the emotions from the reality. What I didn’t like about the book or what I found weird is that somehow the main character seemingly has something against women. He does not hate them per say but he most certainly does not understand them either and this leads to some interesting comments from time to time, for example: “I never could think of prostitutes as human beings or even as women. They seemed more like imbeciles or lunatics. But in their arms I felt absolute security.” Then again, you get similar vibes from Plath and Woolf but against men so what do I know. Maybe it’s more something about the state that you’re in. All in all, I have found one of my new favorites.
“I have always shook with fright before human beings. Unable as I was to feel the least particle of confidence in my ability to speak and act like a human being, I kept my solitary agonies locked in my breast. I kept my melancholy and my agitation hidden, careful lest any trace should be left exposed. I feigned an innocent optimism; I gradually perfected myself in the role of the farcical eccentric.”
How-To Read No Longer Human
1. It’s a short read, however it’s not a happy read. Seriously. I wouldn’t recommend reading this unless you’re in a melancholic mood. If you know depression or if you’re looking for something similar to Plath, Woolf or even Han Kang then this might be your cup of tea.
2. Thoughts are very beautiful. Sad but they hold much truth. I think there might be something here that reflects Japanese mentality. Not to say all Japanese think like Dazai does but there’s something there.
3. There are apparently movie, manga and anime adaptations of this if it wasn’t enough.
Have you read this? Thoughts?