I read an English translation (by Philip Gabriel) of the book, so the following excerpt is from that translation, not the original; sorry.
Oshima stays behind and helps me close up for the night.
"By any chance have you fallen in love with somebody?" he asks. "You seem kind of out of it."
I don't have any idea how I should respond. "Oshima," I finally say, "this is a pretty weird thing to ask, but do you think it's possible for someone to become a ghost while they're still alive?"
He stops straightening up the counter and looks at me. "A very interesting question, actually. Are you asking about the human spirit in a literary sense — metaphorically, in other words? Or do you mean in actual fact?"
"More in actual fact, I guess," I say.
"The assumption that ghosts really exist?"
Oshima removes his glasses, wipes them with his handkerchief, and puts them back on. "That's what's called a 'living spirit'. I don't know about in foreign countries, but that kind of thing appears a lot in Japanese literature. The Tale of Genji, for instance, is filled with living spirits. In the Heian period — or at least in its psychological realm — on occasion people could become living spirits and travel through space to carry out whatever desires they had. Have you read Genji?"
I shake my head.
"Our library has a couple of modern translations, so it might be a good idea to read one. Anyway, an example is when Lady Rokujo — she's one of Prince Genji's lovers — becomes so consumed with jealousy over Genji's main wife, Lady Aoi, that she turns into an evil spirit that possesses her. Night after night she attacks Lady Aoi in her bed until she finally kills her. Lady Aoi was pregnant with Genji's child, and that news is what activated Lady Rokujo's hatred. Genji called in priests to exorcise the evil spirit, but to no avail. The evil spirit was impossible to resist.
"But the most interesting part of the story is that Lady Rokujo had no inkling that she'd become a living spirit. She'd have nightmares and wake up, only to discover that her long black hair smelled like smoke. Not having any idea what was going on, she was totally confused. In fact, this smoke came from the incense the priests lit as they prayed for Lady Aoi. Completely unaware of it, she'd been flying through space and passing down the tunnel of her subconscious into Aoi's bedroom. This is one of the most uncanny and thrilling episodes in Genji. Later, when Lady Rokujo learns what she's been doing, she regrets the sins she's committed and shaves off her hair and renounces the world.
"The world of the grotesque is the darkness within us. Well before Freud and Jung shined a light on the workings of the subconscious, this correlation between darkness and our subconscious, these two forms of darkness, was obvious to people. It wasn't a metaphor, even. If you trace it back further, it wasn't even a correlation. Until Edison invented the electric light, most of the world was totally covered in darkness. The physical darkness outside and the inner darkness of the soul were mixed together, with no boundary separating the two. They were directly linked. Like this." Oshima brings his two hands together tightly.
"In Murasaki Shikibu's time living spirits were both a grotesque phenomenon and a natural condition of the human heart that was right there with them. People of that period probably couldn't conceive of these two types of darkness as separate from each other. But today things are different. The darkness in the outside world has vanished, but the darkness in our hearts remains, virtually unchanged. Just like an iceberg, what we label the ego or consciousness is, for the most part, sunk in darkness. And that estrangement sometimes creates a deep contradiction or confusion within us."
"Around your mountain cabin — that's real darkness."
"Absolutely," Oshima says. "Real darkness still exists there. Sometimes I go there just to experience it."