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The following is a synopsis of the 1951 story, "S. Karuma-shi no hanzai," or "The Crime of Mr. S. Karma." An excerpt of the story appears in English in Beyond the Curve; translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter, Tokyo; New York: Kodansha International, 1991.

All page numbers refer to the version appearing in volume 2 of the Abe Kôbô zensakuhin shû,Tokyo: Shinchôsha, 1973. All translations are my own.

This synopsis, along with all other materials appearing on this website, is copyrighted. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

 

 

 

 

 

The protagonist wakes up one morning to the sensation that something is vaguely awry. Throughout his morning routine he is haunted by this feeling, and senses a certain hollowness in his chest. He decides that it might be due to hunger, and sets out for the cafeteria. At the cafeteria he eats much more than usual, but still the sense of emptiness persists. Only when he gets up to sign his tab does he realize what the cause of that sensation is--he has forgotten his name. He checks his business cards, but they are gone. He looks at his driver's license, and other forms of identification, but from all of them the name has been erased. He returns home and searches through all of his belongings, but his name has disappeared, as if by magic, from all of them.

When he arrives at work and sees his name on the board he recognizes it, but feels none of the satisfaction at having remembered something. The hollowness persists. Arriving at his office he looks in and finds, much to his surprise, an exact duplicate of himself at the desk and dictating to his secretary, Y-ko. He is stunned at first but then realizes, by closing his left and right eyes in succession, that it is only his new business card. The business card sees him, and confronts him, telling him that the workplace is his "turf" and that if anyone sees them both together, and realizes their connection, that it would be no end of trouble. Humiliated, and not knowing what else to do, the protagonist returns home.

Unable to stay at home and wait for the business card to return, he decides to go to a doctor to see if there might be anything that could be done to explain, at the very least, the odd hollowness that resounds inside his chest. When he arrives he is asked his name for the chart, but he has already forgotten it. He rolls several names around--Karute (chart), Arute, Aruma, and finally settles on Akuma (Devil). This name still does not sound right to him, but he decides that, in the end, it would be better to have Akuma for a name than to admit that he has no name at all.
While waiting to see the doctor, he opens up a magazine and glances through it. He is particularly struck by a picture of a broad Spanish plain. Though he has never been to Spain, and there is no reason to suppose that he should have any knowledge about that particular area, he feels as if he knows it. Concentrating on the picture, suddenly he is standing in the midst of that landscape. He looks around, and picks up a handful of sand at his feet to make sure that it is real. Something wet hits his hand--it is one of his own tears. Rubbing his eyes, he's suddenly back in the waiting room, and the picture is gone from the magazine.

The doctor examines him and finally, after giving him a chest X-ray, sees that the landscape has been sucked into his chest. He determines that there must be some sort of vacuum in his chest, and that by means of this vacuum he has stolen the picture. While the doctor absolves the protagonist of guilt, saying that since he is sick it therefore is not his fault, but, as the whole situation is highly un-scientific, the doctor can have nothing to do with him. Whereupon the doctor and his assistant throw the protagonist out of the nearest window.

The protagonist proceeds to the zoo, his body heading in that direction free from any sort of volitional control. He stops in front of the lion pit and something extraordinary happens. The lion, which had been hiding inside his cave, comes out, and walks directly up to the wall where the protagonist is standing. He stares directly at the protagonist in an almost sympathetic manner. Unnerved, the protagonist backs away. Several animals have similar reactions to him, while others do not notice him at all. Tired, he eventually sits down on a bench in one of the more remote corners of the zoo, by the cage of the camel. The camel reacts the same way the lion did, and notices his presence immediately. Approaching the end of the cage nearest the protagonist the camel stares directly at him and smiles. It is then that the protagonist understands that the animals which responded like this were drawn, not to him, but to the broad field he has in his chest. Only those animals which were native to such an environment responded in this manner. He feels betrayed, and yet at the same time he cannot remove his gaze from the camel. Before he knows it, he has absorbed the camel into his chest.

Shortly thereafter, private security guards come and hustle the protagonist off into a tunnel underneath the zoo. At length he is brought to a chamber for what is to be his trial. The Doctor's assistant is the "facilitator" of the trial, though in fact he acts more as the prosecutor. The judges are composed of philosophers, legal scholars, and mathematicians. Witnesses are brought to testify to the fact that the protagonist is guilty of theft. The various characters that have been introduced testify against him, with only Y-ko speaking out in his support, saying that he had been with her all afternoon. When the means of his theft is discovered--absorption through his gaze--the room is thrown into panic out of fear that one of them might be absorbed. In the end the protagonist is blindfolded.
Eventually the debate comes down to the protagonist not having a name. Without a name, he cannot be tried, and yet since he has no name, he has no rights under the law, so the trial may continue. But until his name returns, it cannot end. So it is determined that the trial will continue forever. At this point Y-ko, thoroughly frustrated with the absurd logic of the judges, yells for the protagonist to remove his blindfold, sending all those in the chamber fleeing for their lives. As Y ko and the protagonist make their escape, one of the judges cries out, from his hiding place behind a table, that the trial will continue and that the law will follow him as long as he is in this world.

The protagonist and Y-ko make a date to meet at the zoo again the next afternoon, and the protagonist returns home to wait for the business card to return. It gets very late and he eventually falls asleep. He is woken up when his business card returns and calls out to the other inorganic items in the room to "wake up" as it is a revolution. While conscious throughout this, the protagonist cannot move or speak. The protagonist's various personal effects come to life and gather around the business card in order to develop a plan. Attempts are made to devise a revolutionary theme song, but they fail. The manifesto of the revolution, "From Dead Organic to Living Inorganic!" is posted on the wall, and the various things plot against their "enemy," the protagonist. It is decided that the business card will go to the zoo and try to seduce Y-ko while the other belongings delay the protagonist. As dawn approaches the various personal effects return to their places, and the business card leaves.

While the protagonist is preparing for his date, his father, from the countryside, arrives unannounced. Though he has come a considerable distance, he spends only a few minutes with his son and is very distant, not paying any attention to his son's pleas for help and advice. The protagonist notices that, as he gets ready for his date, that his clothing is rebelling against him. As his pants fight against his legs, the protagonist calls out for his father to help him, but his pleas are ignored as his father walks out of the door. The more the protagonist attempts to get ready, the more strongly and violently his belongings rebel. Eventually, attacked on all sides, he loses consciousness.
He wakes up several hours later, and though there would appear to be no chance that Y-ko would still be waiting for him, he gets dressed (without any problems this time) and sets off for the zoo. There he sees his business card with Y-ko, but before he can speak or act, his clothes freeze again, so that he is unable to move. He eventually realizes that it is not the real Y-ko, but rather a mannequin that resembles her exactly. The mannequin is one that he used to pass daily as a junior high school student, and it is this mannequin, he says, that had been his first love. After the mannequin Y-ko and the business card leave, the protagonist's clothes unfreeze and he walks about aimlessly. He ends up in front of the shop window where he used to see the Y-ko mannequin when he was in school, only now the mannequin is gone. A male mannequin remains and asks him what has become of the Y-ko mannequin, promising a reward if he gives up the information. Not seeing any particular reason to be secretive, the protagonist tells the mannequin about the zoo experience, whereupon he is presented with a ticket for a movie and lecture on the "end of the world." The mannequin reminds the protagonist of the parting words of the judges that the law would follow him as long as he remained in this world, therefore, logically speaking, the only way that he could escape this eternal trial would be to go to the end of the world.

There is no date, time, or location on the ticket, and the protagonist wanders about in the red light district until he comes across the Y-ko mannequin, who is beckoning customers into the club. She sees his ticket and shows him into a room where a hunchback shows the protagonist a movie of the end of the world (the movie is actually a single image of the landscape in the protagonist's chest played for thirty minutes) followed by a presentation on the end of the world. The conclusion of his speech is that, while when the earth was thought to be flat, there was a definite and remote location for the end of the world, since the earth is now understood to be spherical, the end of the world has been concentrated into one spot. That spot is in our rooms, and access to the end of the world can be gained through the wall. The lecture ends with the projector showing an image of the protagonist's room on the wall, and a command for the protagonist to embark on his journey. Stepping through the wall, the narrative shifts from first to third person.

Back in his room, and much reassured that the end of the world can be found in his room, he stares at the wall, and thinking it a source of comfort, recites the following poem:

Wall!
I praise your great workings
That humans might be born, born from humans
To be born from humans, give birth to humans,
You have liberated humans from nature,
I call you,
The human hypothesis. (70)

The wall suddenly changes into something very forbidding, but nonetheless he cannot take his eyes off of it. As he stares at the wall, it grows transparent and disappears, and he is now walking through the barren landscape, toward the horizon. As he walks the ground in front of him begins to shift, and out of it emerges a wall that grows to tower over the landscape. In it there is a door, which the protagonist enters.

Going down the stairs he finds a room in which there is music. The telephone rings and it is the "wall growth investigative committee" calling to inform him that they are on the way to investigate this growth of the wall. While he waits, Y-ko appears. It is not she, however, but rather half the real Y-ko and half the mannequin, connected in one body. The committee arrives, and it is his father, who calls himself Professor Urban and denies any connection to the protagonist, and the doctor from earlier in the story. They are about to cut open the protagonist's chest when the protagonist offers to show them an easier way to investigate the wall. He leads him out the door he came in, but ends up back in his room.

Recalling a passage from the Bible ("it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get to heaven"), the doctor concludes that camels can get through very narrow places, and calls for one to be sent over. The professor rides it into the protagonist's eye, and into the landscape. At this point the protagonist begins to cry, causing a flood that threatens the life of the professor. The professor spots Noah's Ark, with Noah's mummified, yet still living, form atop it. He tries to climb aboard but Noah refuses him entry, claiming that the boat is not in good shape and that the number and type of passengers are limited. The professor tries to board anyway and ends up destroying the Ark. The camel, Noah, and the ark all disappear, while the professor struggles to remain afloat in the flood. The doctor has the protagonist sneeze, at which point the professor is ejected from the protagonist's body. The committee leaves the protagonist alone, and looking in the mirror, the protagonist sees not a human being but a wall. The story ends with the following lines: "As far as I can see, a broad plain/In the middle of it I am the wall that endlessly grows in quiet." (84)