Authors: Akira Mizubayashi
âAkira Mizubayashi is a man whose dog, MÃ©lodie, taught him what it means to be human because she enabled him to discover his creatureliness in their companionship. It was a discovery that could be made only in the light of love, with patient attention. Mizubayashi reflects upon, and in the quality of his prose shows us by example, what literature can reveal about the truthful possibilities in our relations to fellow creatures who are not human beings.'
a memoir of love and longing
Translated by Stephanie Anderson
MELBOURNE UNIVERSITY PRESS
An imprint of Melbourne University Publishing Limited
11â15 Argyle Place South, Carlton, Victoria 3053, Australia
First published 2016
French text Â© Akira Mizubayashi, 2016
English translation Â© Stephanie Anderson, 2016
Design and typography Â© Melbourne University Publishing Limited, 2016
This book is copyright. Apart from any use permitted under the
Copyright Act 1968
and subsequent amendments, no part may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted by any means or process whatsoever without the prior written permission of the publishers.
Every attempt has been made to locate the copyright holders for material quoted in this book. Any person or organisation that may have been overlooked or misattributed may contact the publisher.
Cover design by Mary Callahan
Text design and typesetting by Patrick Cannon
Printed in Australia by McPherson's Printing Group
National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication entry:
Mizubayashi, Akira, 1951â author.
MÃ©lodie: a memoir of love and longing/Akira Mizubayashi; originally published in French; translated by Stephanie Anderson.
Mizubayashi, Akira, 1951â
Anderson, Stephanie, translator.
In memory of Jiro Mizubayashi, my father
A JAPANESE MAN
I'd never met before approached me in front of Gallimard: âYou're the author of
The Difficulty of Being a Dog
! My dog has been dead for two years, and I dream about her every night.'
That was the beginning of our friendship. A friendship, I should add, between three of us under the aegis of our departed dogs: my Ulysse, J-B Pontalis's Oreste and Akira Mizubayashi's MÃ©lodie.
Having published his fine homage to the French language,
A Language from Another Place
, Akira Mizubayashi felt the need to create, again in French, this evocation of his beloved golden retriever MÃ©lodie, a poetic
(tomb: an elegy), as it used to be called. MÃ©lodie was in fact one of those to whom
A Language from Another Place
As we read, tears will inevitably come to our eyes, more than once. Akira Mizubayashi knows not only how to move
us, but also how to make us acknowledge somewhat paradoxical feelings. For example, the often-mentioned death of his father and the allusion to his ashes along with those of the animal. Or again, because of their high-spirited dance, two dogs are compared to Octavian and Sophie in
. And Mizubayashi shares music, Mozart, with the aptly named MÃ©lodie.
The narrative makes us aware, too, of the extent to which the habits of daily life are not the same in Tokyo and Paris. What does a Japanese dog do when, on returning home, you take off your shoes?
We are made conscious more than once that the author is a specialist of the eighteenth century. But his philosophy spans the thinkers of the Enlightenment to Kurosawa's
. We learn he is against Descartes (animal-machines) and Malebranche, but for Rousseau and even more so Montaigne. This book is a hymn to fidelity and still more a philosophical reflection on waiting. What better embodiment of waiting than a dog? The dog named Hachi who, every evening, waited for his master at the train station exit. But in vain because his master was dead. Hachi waited for ten years before he in turn was to die. Today he has his own bronze statue at Shibuya station.
Near the conclusion of this book in which memory speaks with no fear of flouting the rules of propriety, we shall come across Akira Mizubayashi walking in the footsteps of Henry James to erect in his turn an altar to the dead.
From the heartâmay it go to the heart!
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN
Tereza kept stroking Karenin's head, which was quietly resting in her lap, while something like the following ran through her mind: There's no particular merit in being nice to one's fellow man. She had to treat the other villagers decently, because otherwise she couldn't live there. Even with Tomas, she was obliged to behave lovingly because she needed him. We can never establish with certainty what part of our relations with others is the result of our emotionsâlove, antipathy, charity or maliceâand what part is predetermined by the constant power play among individuals
True human goodness, in all its purity and freedom, can come to the fore only when its recipient has no power. Mankind's true moral test, its fundamental test (which lies deeply buried from view), consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals. And in this respect mankind has suffered a fundamental dÃ©bÃ¢cle, a dÃ©bÃ¢cle so fundamental that all others stem from it
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
TRANS. MICHAEL HENRY HEIM
A HOWL IN THE NIGHT
SOMETHING LIKE THE
howl of a wolf, short and shrill, broke the silence and tore the man from his sleep. He gave a start and sat up. In the gloom he saw the head of the dog, watching him. She was lying on a bath towel at the foot of the big bed, while beside the sitting man, lay a woman, half awake, half asleep. The dog howled again so plaintively that the man thought she was crying out for help. He moved towards her, while she looked steadily at him. From outside, through a crack in the shutters, not entirely closed, there came a wan, washed-out light that lit up the upper half of the dog's head, revealing her age The man noticed that she was panting, when only a few minutes ago she had been lying peacefully in the soft warmth of the night.
âWhat's wrong, my friend?' the man asked. âYou're in pain? You want to tell me something?'
She was holding out her right paw; the man took it. He rubbed his cheek against hers. Then he whispered in her ear, âLet's get you lying next to me.'
Then, with a swift tug, he pulled the towel on which the dog lay motionless, her gaze still intently fixed on him, moving it two metres or so. She was now lying right in close to the man, like a frightened child nestling in its father's arms.
âGood night. Sleep well', said the man.
The dog stretched out. The man placed his hand on her swollen shoulder. Then he slid it gently, in the direction of the growth of her fur, right down her back. He repeated this several times, and the animal became calm again and her breathing regular. All the fear and agitation of the endless lonely night had gone; she seemed to surrender herself to the reassuring and soothing power of the feeling of not being alone and abandoned, to the tactile and olfactory sensation of this human presence, with her, here and now.
Finally, the man fell asleep, his right hand on the dog's neck, which, bulging strangely, felt worryingly vulnerable.
The next morning, on waking, he found himself in the same position: his hand still resting on the dog's relaxed body. She hadn't budged an inch either.
2 DECEMBER 2009
NIGHT WAS FALLING
. At times you could hear the driving rain and the hysterical howling of the north wind.
She was tired, she'd become weak. It would soon be her mealtime, but she wasn't hungry. That morning she hadn't eaten anything. She wasn't thirsty either. Her front paws were as big as logs. Her tongue and her upper lip were completely white as if drained of blood. She had no strength left. She was out of breath even though she'd made no physical effort at all. Could she walk? No. Could she get up? Perhaps not. She was in too much pain. She was exhausted. Soon she would be lost, would disappear into the vast and shadowy silence of oblivion. What on earth was the time? When would he be coming home? It was Wednesday. It was the day he came home late, sometimes very late, after ten o'clock. What was he doing? Could she hang on until then?
She was lying next to the big marital bed, her muzzle placed on the edge, without energy. Suddenly, using all her strength, she tried to get up again. No doubt she wanted to move nearer to the hall so that she could listen out for the merest sound of footsteps approaching. But she couldn't manage it. She waited for a few minutes. Then, she sat up on her haunches with a start as if she were waking up from a horrible nightmare. Her swollen front feet supported all of her weight. She sighed deeply.
A sharp pain was becoming more acute. It was tearing at her chest. Her sight was dimming. The lights were going out one by one. Then she picked up the faint sound of a door creaking, the cupboard door closing again. What? Was she going to leave? It wasn't possible â¦ Oh, please no, please no â¦ With an extraordinary effort she got up and began to walk, painfully â¦ She got to the living room, and she saw MichÃ¨le, who'd just put on her coat.