Book//mark - The Face of Another | Kōbō Abe (1964)

Kōbō Abe


"At last you have come, threading your way through the endless passages of the maze."

"You don’t need me. What you really need is a mirror. Because any stranger is for you simply a mirror in which to reflect yourself. 
I don’t ever again want to return to such a desert of mirrors."

"The standard of value for faces is definitely objective. If one is involved in personal feelings, one makes the error of being taken in by imitations."

“No matter how many faces I have, there is no changing the fact that I am me.”

“Of course, according to one theory a mask is apparently the expression of an extremely metaphysical aspiration to give oneself a kind of transcendental disguise, for the mask is not simply something compensatory.”

“The world itself, like the mask, began to seem difficult to believe in, and I was stricken with an unutterable sense of loneliness.”

“It was perhaps relief and confidence stemming from the opportunity to tempt you into being my accomplice, however indirectly, in the lonely work of producing the mask. For me, whatever you may say, you are the most important "other person." No, I do not mean it in a negative sense. I meant that the one who must first restore the roadway, the one whose name I had to write on the first letter, was first on my list of "others." (Under any circumstances, I simply did not want to lose you. To lose you would be symbolic of losing the world.)”

“So nothing will ever be written down again. Perhaps the act of writing is necessary only when nothing happens.”

“If one clung too closely to reality, the result might well be far from realistic.”

“What we mean when we say "terrible conditions" is conditions which we are aware of as being terrible.”

“Basically, there is nothing new in the behavior of monsters, for the monster himself is nothing more than an invention of his victims.”

“A crowd isn't formed after people gather; people gather after the crowd forms.”

“Unable to suspect others, unable to believe in others, one would to live in a suspended state, a state of bankrupt human relations, as if one were looking into a mirror that reflects nothing.”

“Injuries to the body, especially the face, are not treated simply as problems of form. We should rather speak of themas belonging in the province of mental hygiene. Otherwise, who whould willingly devote his efforts to cosmetic work?”

“What we call beauty is perhaps the strength of our feeling of resistance to destructibility. Difficulty of reproduction is the yardstick of the degree of beauty.”

“The torment of imprisonment lies in not being able to escape from oneself at any time.”

“There are apparently two hypotheses about jealousy: that it is a product of civilization and that it is a basic instinct of animals.”

''Love strips the mask from each of us, and we must endeavor for those we love to put the mask on so that it can be taken off again. For if there is no mask to start with, there is no pleasure in removing it, is there?”

"It was like being in prison, I thought. A prison's oppressive, constraining walls, its iron bars, all become burnished and pellucid mirrors reflecting the inmate. The torment of imprisonment lies in not being able to escape from oneself at any time. I too was wretchedly floundering around, tightly closed into the bag of myself."

“I can hardly believe that the face is so important to a man's existence. A man's worth should be gauged by the content of his work; possibly the convolutions of the surface of the brain have something to do with it, but his face certainly does not. If the loss of a face can cause conspicuous change in the scale of evaluation, it may well be owing to a fundamental emptiness of content.”

“How wonderful it would be, frankly, if everybody in the world would suddenly lose his sight or forget the existence of light. Immediately, there would be agreement about form. Everybody would accept the fact that a loaf of bread is a loaf of bread whether triangular or round. The girl a little while ago would have kept her eyes shut and listened to my voice. If she had, perhaps we could have become friendly and I could have taken her to the playground and we could have eaten ice cream together. Just because there was light, she heedlessly thought that a triangular loaf of bread was not bread but a triangle. This thing called light is itself transparent, but it apparently changes into something nontransparent.”

“You can't force yourself into something you can't understand, you know.”

“Loneliness—since I was trying to escape it—was hell; and yet for the hermit who seeks it, it is apparently happiness.”

“The goal does not lie in the results of research, the very process of research is itself the goal.”

“I wanted to get close to you, and at the same time to stay away from you. I wanted to know you, and at the same time I resisted that knowing. I wanted to look at you and at the same time felt ashamed to look. My state of suspension was such that the crevice between us grew deeper and deeper, and holding the broken glass together with my two hands, I barely preserved its form.”

"At last you have come, threading your way through the endless passages of the maze. With the map you got from him, you have finally found your way to my hideaway—the first room at the top of the creaking, harmonium-pedal stairs. You’ve mounted with somewhat shaky steps. You hold your breath and knock. Why is there no answer? Instead, only a young girl comes running like a kitten. She is supposed to open the door for you. You ask if there isn’t a message; the girl doesn’t answer but smiles and runs away."


Tanin no kao / The Face of Another, Kōbō Abe, 1964
tr. E. Dale Saunders


Kōbō Abe, 1924-1993 was a Japanese writer, playwright, photographer and inventor.

In 1966, he collaborated with Japanese director Hiroshi Teshigahara in the film adaptation of Tanin no kao / The Face of Another.

In 1971, he founded an acting studio in Tokyo, known as the Abe Studio. Until the end of the decade, he trained performers and directed plays. The decision to found the studio came two years after his first foray into directing his own work, which occurred in 1969 for a production of The Man Who Turned Into A Stick.
Until 1979, Abe wrote, directed, and produced fourteen plays with the Abe Studio.


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