La casa delle belle addormentate. Il corpo come limite e come matrice del discorso passionale
This article will start by presenting the important theoretical point of the enunciation’s liminal condition: human subjects cannot always conceptualize and express into words their cognitive and emotional experiences which appear to overwhelm them. The main literary example of the article is the novel by Yasunari Kawabata, The House of Sleeping Beauties (1960-61). The choice of this example is in line with Umberto Eco’s claim (2002) that the high quality literature is nothing but a different form of philosophical questioning. Kawabata’s novel is set in a prostitution house that offers its customers, usually elderly, young virgins who are deeply asleep. The old men, simply admire them without touching them, partly because of the physical limits imposed by their age, and partly because the girls are completely unconscious; eventually, they spend the night sleeping next to them. In this story, narrated in the first person, the Japanese writer stages a dialogue between the elderly protagonist, Enuchi, and the sleeping female bodies, which are different every night he visits the house. These bodies seem to possess an expressive proto-linguistic articulation (raised arm/lowered arm, reclined head/straight head, open mouth/closed mouth, etc.), while remaining outside any chance of an effective communication. The analysis shows that both old customers and young women occupy intermediate stages between life and death. But precisely because of their systemic expressiveness combined with their inability to communicate and with the sexual continence of the patrons, the bodies of the ‘sleeping beauties’ become a formidable device to arouse, in the narrator, emotions, memories, desires and reflections. Yasunari Kawabata’s mastery transforms this story, which has an unexpected ending, into a profound reflection on the paradoxical role of the body as both the limit and the source of the passionate discourse.
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