Terminal Boredom: Stories, Izumi Suzuki, Polly Barton (trans), Sam Bett (trans), David Boyd (trans), Daniel Joseph (trans) (Verso, April 2021)

” Men loom large in many of Suzuki’s stories as a potential threat. “Women and Women” is the most extreme example. Men once ruled society “through violence and cunning” but are now relegated to an exclusion zone where their only purpose is to help women conceive.

‘There is something wrong with our present society, and I can’t stand SF written by people who don’t understand that,’

Izumi Suzuki

“In every society the degree of female emancipation (freedom) is the natural measure of emancipation in general.”

Charles Fourier

“The followers of historical materialism reject the existence of a special woman question separate from the general social question of our day. Specific economic factors were behind the subordination of women; natural qualities have been a secondary factor in this process. Only the complete disappearance of these factors, only the evolution of those forces which at some point in the past gave rise to the subjection of women, is able in a fundamental way to influence and change their social position. In other words, women can become truly free and equal only in a world organised along new social and productive lines.”

Alexandra Kollontai

The stories collected in Terminal Boredom address many issues currently in vogue. Suzuki’s use of classifications, such as gender and identity politics rather than class, is music to the ears of the new #MeToo movement. This petty-bourgeois layer will no doubt receive her book with open arms. The movement must be running out of steam if it decides to resurrect an author who died more than three decades ago.

Rather than being translated by one person, her stories are done by six, Daniel Joseph, David Boyd, Sam Bett, Helen O’Horan, Aiko Masubuchi, and Polly Barton. It is above my pay grade to say whether this works, which seems fine.

Suzuki was active as a writer in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Although not a writer of the  “Lost Decade”,[1] Suzuki’s writing was deeply influenced by the Japan that emerged after the Second World War. As Peter Symonds writes, “The restabilisation of Japanese capitalism after World War II under the US occupation depended on the crushing of the resurgent working class, above all through the betrayals of the Japanese Communist Party (JCP). The post-war constitution drawn up by the American occupiers was designed to appease widespread public hostility to the wartime militarist regime and ensure Japan would not return to war against the US. But the LDP, which ruled Japan almost continuously from 1955 to 2009, never broke from the militarist past and has long harboured ambitions to restore wartime “traditions”.[2]

The suppression of the Japanese working class harmed Suzuki’s worldview. Rejecting the working class as an agent of revolutionary change, Suziki sought out middle-class forces to bring about change in Japanese society, saying, ‘There is something wrong with our present society, and I can’t stand SF written by people who don’t understand that”.

As Ian MacAllen writes, “Science fiction dystopias are often deployed as a means of examining politics, ideology, or technology, but for Izumi Suzuki, the medium serves as an intimate exploration of anxiety, pain, and sadness. The translated stories collected in Terminal Boredom depend on science fiction dystopias but focus on characters who are broken and seeking their own personal redemption rather than the expected grand narratives about society as a whole. Even though sometimes they are “out of this world” aliens or living in reimagined societies of the future, these are people struggling in the same ways we struggle today.”[3]

There is nothing progressive about her worldview. Her short story “Women and Women ” is about men confined to a concentration camp and used only for procreation and women’s satisfaction. Suzuki has been compared to writers like Phillip K Dick, who, according to James Brookfield, “was a prolific writer who completed 44 novels and roughly 121 short stories before his untimely death from a stroke in 1982 at age 53—was imaginatively gifted in posing large questions. What would people do if the fascists had prevailed? How would society be altered by the eventual development of robots sufficiently advanced to pass as humans? (The latter being the premise of his 1968 Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? which served as the basis for the 1982 Ridley Scott film Bladerunner). Other stories by Dick were adapted for the films Minority Report (2002) and The Adjustment Bureau (2011).[4] This comparison is a disservice to Dick, who compared Suzuki was a far more intelligent and progressive writer.

While all great writers draw upon personal experiences, Suzuki’s work is filled with deep melancholy and sadness, which is hardly surprising given her upbringing. Born in 1949, she took her own life at just thirty-six. She found fame as a model and actress before becoming a writer. she worked with the controversial photographer Nobuyoshi Araki and directors Shūji Terayama and Kōji Wakamatsu. In 1973 she married the jazz saxophonist Kaoru Abe, with whom she had a daughter. Ending in divorce in 1977. Her ex-husband died from an accidental overdose of Bromisoval in 1978. The relationship was stormy, and she cut off one of her toes in front of her husband.

While the Metoo movement has hailed her as one of her own, Suzuki was not completely defined by her sex. Her feminism was a complex phenomenon. As Daniel Joseph writes, “Suzuki’s relationship to gender and feminism is complex and nuanced, requiring the twenty-first-century reader to step outside of hard-line contemporary rhetoric. But while a contemporary mode of feminism may not be overtly apparent in her work, Suzuki often spoke out against the unrealistic feminine ideals imposed upon women by male SF authors in the form of beautiful, cookie-cutter female characters. She also dismissed essentialist stereotypes like ‘women’s intuition’ and demanded the right to be a real, flawed human being. Kotani again: ‘Suzuki’s texts defamiliarise the real world to demolish and reconstruct the “femininity” bound hand and foot by real-world power structures. Her works dismantle the power structures whereby women are marginalised through phrases like “only a woman would…” or “because she is a woman.” It is only through this process that one can begin to think about what constitutes “femininity.”‘ But even at her most political, Suzuki is never polemical. She approaches such questions obliquely, attacking imperialism (‘Forgotten’) and casually dismissing gender as a social construct (‘Night Picnic’, 1981) while depicting troubled romance and the absurdities of family life. Meaning flows through her stories like music, and despite the obvious complexities of her work, Suzuki described her writing in simple terms: ‘I turn my dreams into stories’.”[5]

I cannot bring myself to recommend this book. All one can hope for is that the next book of Suzuki’s work to be published by Verso will be a little better.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lost_Decades

[2] The revival of Japanese militarism-www.wsws.org/en/articles/2013/08/03/pers-a03.html

[3] chireviewofbooks.com/2021/04/21/terminal-bordom-izumi-suzuki/

[4] If Nazism had prevailed: The Amazon series The Man in the High Castle- https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2020/04/21/high-a21.html

[5] How Izumi Suzuki Broke Science Fiction’s Boys’ Club- https://artreview.com/how-izumi-suzuki-broke-science-fiction-boys-club/

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