Life,  Read

The Fox’s Deeper Symbolism Beyond Mystery and Legend: Cunning, Treachery and the Writer’s Totem

In addition to mysterious allusions and legends, the meaning of the fox has a deeper interpretation space. The thinker Isaiah Berlin famously said about the fox and the hedgehog: the fox is a pluralist, and the hedgehog is a monist . He classifies those writers who attribute everything to a single central idea, such as Dostoevsky, Ibsen, and Proust, as hedgehogs; those whose thoughts are diffuse, and whose actions and ideas are sometimes unrelated , and even contradictory writers, such as Joyce, Pushkin, and Balzac, are classified as foxes.

Dubravka Ugresic, a Dutch writer born in the former Yugoslavia, interprets the fox as a totem that shuttles between fiction and reality in the book “Fox” that integrates personal experience and literary criticism. If the life of a man is written into the novel, he becomes a fox; but today, does the fox still symbolize betrayal? The fox described by Dubravka is a series of footnotes that cannot be precisely located, and it is also the writer himself wandering in the minefield of the world. In the book, we follow her narration and walk into the stories of Tanizaki Junichiro, Nabokov, Bulgakov and others. In these stories, the fox is a symbol of treachery and cunning, and also a totem of the writer .


A Tale of Betrayal

“A Story about How Stories Come to Be Written ” by the Russian writer Boris Pilnyak has a brief opening (only a dozen or so pages in total), Tells how he met the writer Tagaki quite by chance in Tokyo. The referrer told Pilnyak that Tagaki had become famous for a novel about a European woman, a Russian. But if Pilnyak hadn’t glimpsed a request for repatriation of Sofia Vasilyevna Gnedich-Tagaki in the archives of the Soviet Consulate in K City, Japan, the writer Tagaki might have been thrown away forever by him. In the back of my mind.
Comrade Jurba, who was in charge of receiving Pilnyak, was the secretary of the consulate. He took Pilnyak to a fox temple on the hill outside the city. Pilnyak wrote: “The fox is a totem of cunning and treachery. If a man’s body is possessed by the spirit of a fox, the whole tribe of that man is cursed.” The temple is located in a cedar forest, on a straight On a rocky cliff that plunges into the sea, there is an altar in the temple where the foxes can rest. From there, the hills rolled and the sea stretched away in an eerie silence. In this sacred place, Pilnyak began to ponder such a question: How are the stories written?

The Fox Temple, and the autobiography of Sofia Vasilievna Gnedich-Tagaki (also provided by Comrade Jurba), inspired Pilnyak to take up the pen. From this we learn that Sophia finished secondary school in Vladivostok in order to work as a teacher “until someone proposed to her” (from Pilnyak’s review): learned that she “was with thousands of Tens of thousands of old Russian girls are no different” (Pilnyak’s review): learned that she was “stupid as a poem, but isn’t that what eighteen-year-olds are like” (Pilnyak again ).

In Russia, women’s lives are exactly the same, “like two peas in the same pod: first love, loss of virginity, happiness, husband, child, and few others”. Her story did not pique Pilnyak’s interest until “the moment the ship docked in Tsuruga,” a brief and unusual experience that made her one of thousands of provincial Russian women. stand out”.

How on earth did this young woman from Vladivostok get on board the ship bound for Tsuruga port? Using excerpts from Sofia’s autobiography, Pilnyak details her life in Vladivostok in the 1920s. Sophia rented a single room in a house where Japanese military officer Tagaki also rented. According to Sophia’s autobiography, Tagaki “bathed twice a day and wore silk underwear and pajama pants at night.” Tagaki speaks Russian, but he always pronounces the l as an r, which sounds weird, especially when reciting Russian poems aloud, like, “O night, spit (dew) fragrance…”

Although Japanese military law prohibits military officers from marrying foreigners, Tagaki proposed to Sophia, “in the Turgenev way.” Before leaving for Japan—because of the impending influx of Russians into Vladivostok—Tagaki left her a list, and some money, to go to him.

Sophia took a boat from Vladivostok to Tsuruga, where Japanese border police detained her and questioned her about her relationship with Tagaki. She admitted that they were engaged, so the border police went back to Tagaki himself and suggested that he call off the engagement and send Sofia back to Vladivostok, but he refused. Not only that, but he put Sofia on a train bound for Osaka, where his brother would pick her up and take her back to his village, where his family lived. He himself was at the disposal of the military and police, and the case was quickly and satisfactorily resolved: he was expelled from the army and sentenced to two years of exile, but he served his sentence in his village, in his father’s house “surrounded by flowers and green trees”. In the house of “shadow”.

The newlyweds live a life of sweet seclusion, filled with intense carnality at night and free and peaceful by day. Tagaki is a pleasant person, although he is reticent and prefers to stay in his study all day long.

“She loved, respected, and feared her husband: respected because he was omniscient, omnipotent, courteous, and unsmiling; loved and feared because of his fierce passions that could destroy the soul, conquer and Weakening of the will of man—of course she is here, not him,” Pilnyak wrote. Although she doesn’t know much about her husband, her married life is still satisfactory to her. After Tagaki’s exile officially ended, the young couple remained in the village. Then, all of a sudden, reporters and photographers came in and disturbed their secluded life… In this way, Sophia discovered the secret that her husband hid in his study every day: in these two or three years, Tian Yuan wrote a novel .

She couldn’t understand, and begged him to tell me what was written in the book, but he kept evasive. With the success of the novel, their lives changed: they had servants who cooked for them: and a personal driver who drove Sophia to a nearby town for shopping: Tagaki’s father “bowed to his daughter-in-law, More respect for him than a daughter-in-law” – Sophia begins to enjoy the fame of her husband’s novel she has never read.

She didn’t know what the novel was about until a Russian-speaking journalist from the capital came to visit. Tagaki wrote the entire novel about her, describing every moment they had together. The reporter took her to the mirror, “she saw the vivid self in the book”. The novel describes in detail how she shuddered with passion, how her stomach throbbed, and that was all right. The terrible place—the place that frightened her—was yet to come. She came to realize that her whole life, and every detail of it, was material to be observed, and that her husband was watching her life all the time. This is where her fear begins, that everything she owns has been brutally betrayed.

Pilnyak asserts that in the stupid woman’s autobiography, the part about her childhood and schooling in Vladivostok is unremarkable, while the fragments of her married life contain “simple and clear real language”. Whether that’s true or not, Sofia has given up “love, being the wife of a famous writer, and that beautiful jasper life” and asked to return to her hometown, Vladivostok.


The fox is the writer’s totem

“That’s the end of the story.

“She … lived her autobiography, I wrote her biography. He … wrote a wonderful novel.

“I don’t intend to judge people, I just want to relive it all, and in particular, how the story was written.

“The fox is the totem of cunning and treachery. If a man’s body is possessed by the spirit of a fox, that person’s whole tribe is cursed. The fox is the totem of the writer.”

Does Tagaki really exist? Where is Sophia? It’s hard for us to know. But in any case, reading this ingenious story, it never occurs to the reader for a second that the Soviet consulate in K City, Sophia’s story, her repatriation request, and the writer Tagaki are all fictions. Readers are still in shock, both for the brutal truth of the story and for the power of this brief biography. It consists of two betrayals: the first by the writer Tagaki and the second by the writer Pilnyak, out of the same creative impulse.

In most myths and folklore, the fox’s symbolic semantic field presupposes cunning, treachery, flattery, hypocrisy, deceit, selfishness, sneakiness, arrogance, greed, depravity, carnal desire, revenge, and seclusion, often associated with A kind of despicable behavior linked together, always involved in various painful entanglements, reduced to the situation of the loser, whose individual nature determines that it is insulated from the higher mythical beings. In any symbolic reading, the fox is placed in the lower ranks of mythological creatures. In Japanese mythology, InariŌkami is the god of fertility and rice, and the fox is his messenger. Since it is a messenger, it naturally still belongs to the human side, belongs to the earthly category, and cannot touch the higher realm, that is, the sacred or spiritual realm.

Among the Indians, Inuit, Siberians, and Chinese, there is a widely circulated legend: There is a fox that sheds its fur every morning and turns into a woman, and then goes to a poor man. When the poor man discovered the secret, he hid her fur, and the woman became his wife. When she finally found the fur, she turned back into a fox and left him forever.

Whether in the East or the West, the fox has always been imagined as a trickster, a treacherous villain, but also as a devil, a witch, and a wicked bride, or as in Chinese mythology, the animal embodiment of the spirit of the dead. In Western folklore, all foxes are male without exception, that is, the Reynard fox: in the East they are all female. In Chinese (often called “vixen”), Japanese, and Korean mythological systems, the fox is a master of shapeshifting and illusion, a life-killing goddess of desire, a banshee. In Japanese mythology, the fox has different classes: it can be an ordinary wild fox, or it can become a god fox, for which she has to wait a thousand years. This rank is indicated by the number of tails, the highest being nine.

In this way, Pilnyak seems to be right, and the fox is a well-deserved totem of literature, the totem of infidelity.

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What does fox mean today?

How exactly do stories become stories? Pilnyak lived in an era when literary language was powerful and dominant, and images were young and exciting. And I live in an age where words have been squeezed into corners. How can we expect users of new technologies, people whose bodies and minds have undergone metamorphosis, whose language is images and symbols, to read what not so long ago was called literature and is now loosely called a book? ?

There is a lingering feeling that magic has been banished forever in my time, though I cannot explain what it is, what it does, or why it was better than it is now. Anyone who dares to compare different eras is not only likely to be refuted, but often wrong. There are many moments in the past that seem magical to us only because we were not direct witnesses to it, or if we did, those moments are gone forever.

Why is the heroine Sofia as charming as ever, despite Pilnyak’s attempts to strip her naked? Why do I reread Pilnyak’s story over and over again, each time engrossed in his genius telling? The word ” magic” may have been poorly chosen.

For example, how do we view the core image of Pilnyak’s story today-the fox? Judging from the countless non-professional images on the Internet, Fushimi Inari Shrine is similar to Japan’s Disneyland. In today’s social norms, Pilnyak’s fable about the ethics of writing and the fox as a totem of betrayal would likely be read in reverse. Today’s slogan would read something like this – the fox is a totem of cunning and treachery: If a man’s body is possessed by the spirit of a fox, that man’s whole tribe will be blessed! The fox is everyone’s totem, not the privilege of the few!

Today, Sophia would be eager to write down her erotic life with Tagaki, and use video materials to fully promote it. Today, putting your own life and the lives of others on display is no longer an ethical issue, or a choice, but an automatic behavior : everyone does it and expects others to do it. Can Pilnyak imagine that his granddaughter would leave her sincere and innocuous imprint on any website with both hands, saying that she likes Turgenev’s prose and Bunin; likes to run; doesn’t believe in political parties; Believe that things will get better if everyone loves the work and does it honestly; say you have a bad temper and get angry easily; say you don’t want to hurt anyone? How does the short biography of Pilnyak’s granddaughter differ from thousands of others?

“On a hill in Kobe… there is a temple in which is enshrined the totem of a fox. On a cliff that falls straight into the sea, far above the sea, a whole city stands among ancient pines and cypresses It rises from the ground. The ringing of the bell echoes in the silence. The further you go into the mountains, the more desolate and silent. There are small altars standing there, on which are industrially produced ceramic foxes, whose quality is not as good as the cheap wooden fox heads in the market. I bought ten of these foxes for one yen at a market in Kobe one night,” Pilnyak wrote in “Ni no Ben”.

The Japanese animation industry has a volume of billions of dollars. I wonder how Pilnyak will feel when he sees it? I took a few glances and learned that the fox with big, round eyes like billiard balls (the little blue fox in the cartoon!) is a popular character in Japanese anime. These foxes can change shape (as in old Japanese legends), and can change from fox to boy at will – the body of a boy with the ears and tail of a fox fits perfectly. What would Pilnyak do if he visited today’s Japan and saw young people wearing artificial (fox?) tails and communicating their master’s emotional state to those around them by remote control (droop-up-shake) look at all this? It took less than a century to go from foxes sleeping on altars in silent temples to fox cosplay and artificial tails.

The ash of oblivion keeps falling on us, slowly burying us, the gray, unmelting snow. We are all footnotes, many of us will never have the chance to be read, we are all fighting relentlessly and desperately for our life, the life of a footnote, trying to do it before we will sink with all our might stay on the surface. We keep leaving traces of our existence here and there, traces of confronting the void. The bigger the hole, the harder our struggle—

mein kampf,min kamp,mia lotta,mujboj,mijn strijd,minun taistelu,mi lucha,my struggle,moja borba…

What remains behind us are thousands of s and video records that we will never find time to look at again. After a few years, even if we stumble upon one of them, we will not know where or when it was taken. Who are those people? It’s not even sure whether the people inside are themselves.

What remains behind us are layers of ash, new covering the old. The little blue foxes in the Japanese animation movie use their small blue tails and round eyes like billiard balls to wash, sweep, and erase the story of Pilnyak, as well as their own mythological traditions, and finally, with blue That, forgotten smile, hypnotizes us.

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