Seventh Asian Studies Conference Japan
    Saturday, June 21-Sunday 22, 2003
    Ichigaya Campus of Sophia University



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Contact the organizers: Asian Studies Conference (ASCJ) c/o Institute of Asian Cultural Studies, International Christian University 3-10-2 Osawa, Mitaka-shi, Tokyo 181

Session 27
The Stuff of Poetry: Materiality and the Poetic in 1920s Japan
Organizer/Chair: James Dorsey, Dartmouth College

The Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 marks a radical rupture in both the nature and perception of materiality (busshitsu) in Japan. The very "stuff" of history, in the form of the old city, was now gone, and the vacuum left was being filled by a seemingly endless supply of infinitely reproducible commodities, not the least of which were the one-yen books (enpon) being mass produced by new technologies and mass marketed through innovative advertising campaigns. Whereas materiality had once been solid, impenetrable, and enduring, it now seemed fleeting, fragmented, and always interchangeable with some surrogate.The new technologies adopted as writers and publishers recovered from the quake also affected the nature of the work produced, new literary forms and techniques being inspired by the tools through which they were produced.

This panel will examine the relationship between the appearance, in the 1920s, of a modern materiality and the modes of literary expression arising in conjunction with it. All of the literary figures discussed, not surprisingly, were prompted by the changes to explore new genres and modes of expression.These new literary formats were both products of the new materiality and, conversely, producers of it through their representations of their strange new world.

1) Yasushi Ishii, Keio University. "In Search of the Ideal Media: the Materialities of Japanese
Avant-garde Expressions"

In the 1920s, Japanese avant-garde writers and artists published their works in diverse media and in corresponding materials. This paper attempts to overview the range of their material options, focusing on representative cases including the poet Hagiwara Kyojiro and Kawabata Yasunari. Its major aim lies in demonstrating the simultaneity of changes in the artists' modes of expressions with the radical changes in the material aspects of their contemporary media.

2) James Dorsey, Dartmouth College. "Modern Materiality and the Poetic: Kobayashi Hideo's Critical Praxis"

Kobayashi Hideo, though known as the grand critic of modern Japan, also experimented with poetry and poetic prose in his earliest writings. Though his earliest piece of prose, "Tako no jisatsu" (The octopus' suicide, 1922), was very much in the vein of his literary hero Shiga Naoya, his second major work, "Hitotsu no nozui" (One brain, 1924), exhibits a sensibility far closer to the French Symbolist poets (such as Rimbaud), whom he studied and translated, and Neo-Perceptionists like Yokomitsu Riichi, whom he read and critiqued.The Great Kanto Earthquake had occurred in the interim, and the new age of a dynamic, unpredictable materiality that it inaugurated pushed Kobayashi to a prose riddled with modernist poetic images.When Kobayashi turned later to criticism in hopes of easing the anxieties of the modern subject, he invested considerable effort in resurrecting a pre-earthquake notion of materiality, that is hard, unchanging, and impenetrable.This paper aims to chart both the manner in which materiality dictates literary practice and literary practice constructs materiality.

3) Jeffrey Johnson, Michigan Center for Japanese Studies, Hikone. "Hagiwara Sakutarô and the Avant-garde"

Hagiwara is still widely considered the quintessential modern poet and a precursor to surrealism in Japan. This paper investigates the poetry and poetics of avant-gardists who were in opposition to Hagiwara Sakutarô and takes the position that Hagiwara's poetry is "old wine in a new bottle." Avant-garde poetics and activity had to oppose Hagiwara to break through to a thoroughgoing modernist poetry akin to what poets observed in Imagism, DADA, and Surrealism. All of this took place before the backdrop of a very changed sense of the materiality, something that Hagiwara had not been able to grasp.


list of panels