The following is excerpted from an early draft of The Ocean Container:

INTRODUCTION

It is perhaps unconventional to place an Introduction roughly one-third of the way through a novel. But it is not, in this case, without justification. Prior to his death in 20–, Patrik Sampler had published what came to be known as Part One of The Ocean Container in serial, and all editions of the novel have presented this first section with little or no alteration. On the subsequent sections, however, critics have disagreed – both as to whether Sampler was indeed their author, and as to the order in which they are to be presented.

About the author

Patrik Sampler was born in 19–, to parents of German-Danish ancestry and Canadian citizenship. For reasons that aren’t altogether clear, the Samplers moved to Japan when little Patrik was just three years old, and all continued to live there – with brief interludes to visit relatives on the west coast of Canada – well into his university years. As a result of this upbringing, Sampler was raised, essentially, as a Japanese. Moreover, he came to see himself as a “Japanese” writer due to the very “Japanese” characteristics he claimed for his novels – not least of which is the recurring template of a husband searching for his wife who has mysteriously gone missing (either on purpose or because she has been abducted, or for both reasons).

Although the Japanese public generally did not share Sampler’s self-assessment of “Japaneseness” (he was usually considered an “international” writer rather than a “Japanese” writer), his novels nevertheless sold just as well as those of (other) domestic top-sellers. Indeed, at the height of his career, he owned a number of exotic cars (his favourite was a 1973 Citroën SM, colour code AC 637 Bleu de Bregancon), and seemed to enjoy a number of elite privileges, as would befit a literary “superstar”.

Perhaps due to his “international” or “culturally bilateral” image in Japan, Sampler was recruited, in 20–, as the Japanese Emperor’s Cultural Envoy to the Russian Tsar (a position that had just been revived). Distressing for Sampler, the decision came under attack by rightists determined that only a “pure” Japanese should be Envoy, and the appointment was humiliatingly brief: on his very first assignment, Sampler’s flight (JAL 441) was forced to make an emergency landing when one of the passengers performed a lewd act. (By some accounts the transgressor was Sampler’s interpreter, and Sampler also took part in this “performance”.) As a result, Sampler never made it farther than Mongolia.

Following the “Moscow flight incident”, Sampler’s career seems to have gone steadily downhill, and in 20– he committed suicide in front of the Ichigaya Ministry of Defence headquarters in Tokyo. According to witnesses at the scene, Sampler was heard to ask: “Would anyone care to join me in starting a revolution?” Following this he answered his own question – “No one, right?” – prior to shooting himself in the head with a Walther PP replica pistol.

Presentation of “the lost sections”

It was not until several years following both Sampler’s suicide and the Cascadia Earthquake of 20–, that subsequent sections of The Ocean Container – in most editions presented as Part Two and Part Three – were discovered in a water-tight safe in an abandoned freight container on the outskirts of Vancouver. Partly owing to the fact they were unsigned, and because Sampler was not known to have visited Canada in the years leading up to his death, some scholars have cast doubt as to whether he is the true author. V. S. Courtemanche, for example, writing in the Dictionnaire des Anonymes Postmoderne, has claimed the true author of these manuscripts is not Patrik Sampler but a Pem Sampler (although Courtemanche does not trouble himself to verify the identity of Pem, or whether the two were related). Nevertheless, while we can’t discount the very strange circumstances surrounding the discovery of Part Two and Part Three, I believe – as do most other critics – there can be little doubt they do, in fact, belong to Sampler: driving us to this conclusion are a variety of clues so obvious as to warrant no examination. Here then, I would like to focus on a question I believe is worthy of our consideration: that is, how Sampler may have intended the ultimate and penultimate sections of The Ocean Container to appear.

The physical documents in which these sections were found are fragmentary and scrapbook-like, and raise questions as to the order in which their various items should be presented, or presented at all. Because we cannot ask Sampler directly, we must accept that most of these questions can never be answered. There are, however, a few questions I feel must be answered differently than they have been by previous editors – namely, questions regarding the novel’s inclusion of “external” media, and the way it concludes.

A significant difference between this and other versions of The Ocean Container is the way “found” media have been integrated with the text. The original manuscript for parts Two and Three contained a number of newspaper articles cut and pasted onto the pages of a notebook, and in many editions these appear exactly as they were, with author names intact, and even with citations. But Sampler was an open plagiarist, and in his work un-credited “real” news items often appeared side-by-side with “made-up” articles. This applies to Part One of The Ocean Container, and I believe it should also apply to parts Two and Three.

Another divergence from past versions of The Ocean Container is that most end with a section titled “Epilogue”, in which the protagonist is united with his family, gets his job back, and battles successfully against greed and ignorance. To many, this may seem a very obvious, “cinematic” resolution, but there is strong evidence Sampler would have avoided such a tactic – mainly because he was not in the habit of amiable resolutions, as evidenced by his entire body of work. He may have written the “Epilogue” only as a joke – the kind of puerile joke he would have excised from a final draft – and so here I’ve chosen to cut it entirely, allowing the novel to end with the protagonist in defeat or stasis, with none of his questions answered. That is, I’ve allowed it to end the only way Sampler would have ended it.

Image credit: Charles01

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