Associate Professor, NYU Gallatin School of Individualized Study
Nina Cornyetz' profile
What does Sōsuke Want? Marriage, Boredom and Crisis in Sōseki’s Mon
In Natsume Sōseki’s The Gate, Sōsuke and his wife Oyone live harmoniously in isolation and poverty. The reader discovers the reason for their unhappy social circumstances: as a young man Sōsuke “stole” Oyone from his best friend, Yasui.
Sōsuke has given up everything for this marriage of love, trading in his career, family, and friend. Most importantly, he has traded curiosity and vigor for boredom and languor, a tedium of time punctuated only by extreme moments of potential crisis attributable to the same decision - the loss of the fetuses, the (impossible) reappearance of Yasui, etc.
Boredom, in psychoanalysis, indicates a compromise between an unconscious wish and its equally unconscious repression. Or, a desire for a desire: I want to want to do something, this disinterest has me in a state of dis-ease. Time, as experienced in states of boredom, is a stasis of the present, without past or future. What is it that Sōsuke wants? What is it that he will not allow himself to desire? How has marriage, precisely, created this condition of torpor? What is happening to time here?
What Sōsuke may not want to want is precisely a homosocial-homosexual continuum that characterized Edo-period male-male relations. The imposition of the modern Meiji ideal of a nuclear family built around a monogamous heterosexual couple and their children is literally stillborn in The Gate. Sōsuke’s desire for Yasui must be foreclosed, and only known to himself in a triangulated form, mediated through desiring the woman Yasui desires (as Yasui’s rival); hence, sadly, leading to the destruction of the bond with Yasui, an unconscious conflict that engenders the tedium of his married life.