The protagonist in Ryūnosuke Akutagawa's A Fool’s Life is a man floating in a space between two worlds with gravities that pull in opposite directions. “To live or to die?” He lives this question, with which he painfully feeds his creativity.
His rationalist, scientific turn of mind enables him to view humanity from a distance, the way humans might observe the antics of ants. From that perspective, he glances at the modern society and says in a chilling tone, “ Life is not worth a single line of Baudelaire” (Akutagawa 187). However, he is aware of the danger of such a height, where the air is too thin, the temperature is too low for a human to survive. After all, he is a mundane human himself equipped with only a pair of man-made wings, which can be easily signed by the sun. Still, he chooses to stay. He lingers for what reason? The desire to create, the attraction of self-destruction, or the unbearable detestation toward the modern society and the humankind? There is no clear answer. Moreover, his fear of losing his conscious mind to think and to create draws him closer to the world of death.
Meanwhile, the gravity of living is pulling him back. As I read closely, I can sense his strong attachments to the living world. He has a passion for nature. He is a man who is capable of gazing at a landscape through Van Gogh’s eyes, and of understanding Rousseau’s language of passions. He is also not immune to love: “Her face seemed to be bathed in moon glow even now, in daylight. As he watched her walk on (they had never met), he felt a loneliness he had not know before” (Akutagawa 193). This beautiful cinematic scene indicates how gently this man loves. Furthermore, his guilt towards his wife and children also ties him to the living. However, the combined forces of love, passion, and guilt do not seem to be strong enough to keep both his feet on the ground of living.
His hunger to create and his fear of losing the capability of creating; his desire for people and his loathing toward humankind: two forces of gravities are constantly pulling him apart. And the man-made wings seem to be not sufficient to help him escape from this "cursed" space. Even worse, this man is drowning in an ocean of ideologies without knowing which one to grab on in order to survive. However, I am inclined to conclude that this man longs for the living world, or else he would not have called his final farewell a defeat.
“To live or to die? Why can’t I find an answer to this question, which seems to be so simple to the majority? I must be a foolish man living a foolish life.” I can almost hear the man’s self-mocking voice.