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Hermeneutics of Evil in the Works of Endō Shūsaku

Between Reading and Writing

Justyna Weronika Kasza

Evil is a salient component of Endō Shūsaku’s writing. Questions surrounding evil haunted the writer as a student of French literature, having discovered the works of Western authors like François Mauriac and Georges Bernanos. It is around the problem of evil that Endō would create his most renowned novels and the cross-cultural dimensions of the questions he posed on the nature of evil would make him one of the most widely translated Japanese authors.
This study offers new insight into the intellectual and artistic development of the author by focusing on a lesser known yet significant body of work: his essays and critical texts. The book is, on the one hand, an attempt to follow the path of thinking delineated by Endō Shūsaku himself and, on the other, a methodological approach to literary studies based on the application of selected categories of Paul Ricœur’s hermeneutics. Thus, the book accentuates the problem of subjectivity and personhood in Endō’s works, ultimately exploring the question, Who is the one who asks about evil?
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Evil is an abstract and polysemous notion, one that evokes a sense of anxiety and a series of negative associations. It personifies destruction and is the source of pain, sadness, and all forms of suffering. Multiple attempts have been made to define it more precisely by trying to understand the problem of evil, the discourse of evil, and the experience of evil. This does not, however, remove the overriding difficulty that arises, no matter what theoretical conventions are used, whereby a feeling remains that, in its destructive dynamics, evil resists and evades any ordering procedures based on principles of rationalization.

As can be seen from a wide spectrum of statements on evil, many areas of human activity attempt to come to terms with it. Literature, art, religion, theology, philosophy, as well as the everyday dimension of human life, testify to the ubiquity of humanity’s contact with evil. From the perspective of the cultural and historical criteria, evil has been conceptualized in a number of different ways that encompass specific traditions. For this reason, evil is seen as eliciting suffering, according to Buddhist thought, or as having a more personified shape, such as Iblis in the Islamic world.

In the context of Japanese culture, evil is characterized by ambivalence and a lack of distinctive forms and, thus, can be manifested in a variety of ways. One common manifestation of this form of evil could be, for example, the Japanese image of the oni [devil, demon,...

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