Asian Studies Conference Japan

Saturday, June 19 - Sunday 20, 2004
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 14: Room 301

Tradition and Modernity in Japanese Literature

Organizer and Chair: Masako Ono, Teikyo University

This panel will consider how modernity conjures up tradition in Japanese literature and criticism. The papers are arranged so as to analyze the two different ways of juxtaposing modernity and tradition in Japanese literature and criticism: to reject modernity in favor of the traditional values of Japan, or to try to encode their own modernity. The anxiety for national identity during the interwar years led Japanese scholars of Japanese literature to search for the origin of Japanese-ness in courtly literature of the premodern age. The influence of the leading scholars riveted the scholarship in Japanese literature toward the courtly and premodern. They were motivated to juxtapose the anxieties of the present with the comfortable past, in which they imagined courtiers like the Shining Genji or Fujiwara Teika (either in fiction or in history) indulged themselves in amorous pleasure and cultural activities. Conversely, Japanese Modernist poets attempted to set themselves off from the traditional poetics, in order to create a new modern form of poetry which should be aligned with European Modernism. They were preoccupied with how to arrive at the distinctive features of Japanese Modernism, which inevitably came after European Modernism.

The panel will further pursue these questions: Is modernity either to be overcome or to be appraised? Is there any other way to deal with modernity? How do the oppositions of tradition and modernity act as evaluative boundaries? How can the history of Japanese literature be emplotted without Western modernity as its reference point?

1) Masako Ono, Teikyo University
The Tale of Genji and the Question of Modernity in Japan

Because The Tale of Genji (Genji monogatari, ca. 1005) does not have a definite ending, we may wonder if Murasaki Shikibu intended to produce more heroes and heroines substituting one for another even beyond the ending. Some Japanese critics in earlier ages attempted to attach an extra chapter after the last, imagining what happens after the author's original ending. During the thousand years since Genji monogatari was brought into the world, Japanese have kept on trying to uncover or construct meanings out of the indeterminacy of Genji monogatarii. There are only readings instead of one overarching meaning in Genji monogatari. Those readings make "intertexts” for Genji monogatari, in other words, "post-texts,” instead of "pre-texts.” They participate in constructing meaning in the fluid space of premodern kana writing, which allows abundant room for interpretations. By analyzing the various "post-texts” that Genji monogatari has spawned, I hope to experiment with alternative approaches to the ending of Genji monogatari. I read Genji monogatari back from the perspective of the modern, attempting to historicize my readings, since I am aware that the meaning of Genji monogatari is constructed not only through its "pre-texts” but also through its "post-texts.” The apparently anachronistic reading of Genji monogatari retrospectively from modernity comes from the recognition that my enunciative position is inevitably that of a particular historical moment, which comes after centuries of appropriation of the images from Genji monogatari.

2) Masaaki Kinugasa, Hosei University
Medieval Literature and Modern Kokubungaku Scholars

After the 1890s, when modern kokubungaku (Japanese studies) was institutionalized, there was a curious tendency to ignore the literary texts produced in the medieval era, between the end of the Heian period and the beginning of the Edo period. Those neglected periods, however, suddenly came to the front of criticism in the 1920s with the efforts of younger scholars. Okazaki Yoshie (1888-1981) was most active amongst them. By the mid-1930s, he started his project to periodize the history of Japanese literature from the new perspective of Nihon bungeigaku (literary aesthetics). Many scholars followed Okazaki. For them, the medieval period was crucial in that it gave a definite shape to the Japanese literary tradition--so crucial that some, including Yasuda Yojiro, were tempted to call Matsuo Basho a poet of the medieval period. However, disagreements came from the Marxist scholars. They emphasized "popular” aspects of medieval literature. Having been written for the populace, medieval literature did not, as they thought, have such a formative power as to direct literary history. Their discussions were never settled. The medieval period vexes Japanese scholars even now. They wonder how to characterize the medieval period and medieval literature. What is interesting to notice is that they are motivated by nationalism in their concern with the medieval period, since what they are interested in is to find out when and how "Japanese-ness" of Japanese literature emerged to distinguish Japanese literature from other national literatures.

3) Masahiko Abe, The University of Tokyo
Silencing the Text: Freedom, Constraints, and the Lines in Modern Japanese Poetry

Following the massive cultural importation from the "West" at the beginning of the Meiji period, Japanese poets faced a problem that vexed many of their contemporaries in other fields as well: how to negotiate their inherited form with a new one which had just arrived from another culture. The poets suffered from a generic identity crisis. This crisis arose out of the historic nature of modern Japanese poetry, often understood as "free verse in colloquial speech,” or shi as against uta. For Japanese poets the riddance of the conventional syllabic meter served as a gesture of freedom, meant to ensure dissociation from the indigenous tradition of waka. This liberation from waka was closely tied with the issue of form, because it was not only the waka tradition that the newly founded genre had to resist. It also had to seek its identity in the presence of the strong tradition of the so called "prose spirit,” a mixed idea curiously combining the prosaic and the poetic, notable at once for its lack of formal constraints and for its stylistic perfectionism. I will especially focus on the idea of "silence,” which typically appears among line alignments in modern Japanese poetry. The poets arrived at "silence” in their attempts to mark out what poetry is as distinctive from prose. However, the question remains: how "silence” helped to establish the "liberated formalism" of modern poetry in Japan.

4) Toshiko Ellis, The University of Tokyo
Problems of Japanese Modernity

Japan's encounter with Western modernity at the end of the late nineteenth-century was quite overpowering. The modern unilaterally equated with the West imposed its norm on Japan under the disguise of universality. Japanese modernity was hastily invented with the desire to participate in a linear progressive history of the West. What happened as a result is the constant anxiety whether Japan has been really modernized, and, at the same time, the nostalgia for the traditional areas of Japanese culture. The questions I raise include the following. How can we deconstruct the temporalities marking the boundary between the modern and the pre-modern, if it is modernity that constructed the idea of the premodern as an ahistorical cultural space? Those temporalities are problematic in that they look descriptive while they are in reality evaluative. They constantly compel us to evaluate one instead of the other. How can we evade the hermeneutic circle in which modernity needs tradition to define itself as such, and tradition needs modernity to be a repository of "Japanese-ness," devoid of foreign-ness? The other question concerns the Edo period, which Japanese scholars like to take on in order to set modernity off from it. The Edo period is the immediately proximate past of the Meiji Period, when Japanese modernity is supposed to have begun. Can we say definitely which is more alluring--Heian or Edo? How can we say something is more traditional than another?

Discussant: Toshiko Ellis, University of Tokyo


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