Session 7: Room 11-505

Parodic Positions in the Japanese Literary Tradition

Organizer: Marc Yamada, Brigham Young University

Chair: Jack Stoneman, Brigham Young University

1) Marc Yamada, Brigham Young University

John Lennon vs. The Gangsters: The Parodic Metafiction of Takahashi Genichirō

2) Chris Weinberger, University of California, Berkeley

The Stereoscopic Vision of Mori Ōgai

3) Jack Stoneman, Brigham Young University

Saigyō’s Self-Selected Poetry Contests, Parody, and Japanese Poetic Praxis in the Late Heian Period

Discussant: Professor Indra Levy, Stanford University

Parodic Positions in the Japanese Literary Tradition

Organizer: Marc Yamada, Brigham Young University

Chair: Jack Stoneman, Brigham Young University

Linda Hutcheon describes parody as “repetition with critical distance that allows ironic signaling of difference at the very heart of similarity.” Parodic texts move between “insider” and “outsider” positions, incorporating the conventions of particular discursive forms both to stimulate the continuity of those forms and to problematize them. This panel will examine the formal parodic impulse in the work of three writers from different periods of the Japanese literary tradition: novelists Takahashi Genichir˘ and Mori Ōgai, and the poet Saigyō. Individual papers will discuss the position of these writers as both simultaneously “insiders” and “outsiders” vis-Ó-vis the political and literary institutions that established the discursive norms conditioning the forms of writing they parodied. They experimented with formal literary structures as a means of critiquing or exposing the authoritarian hierarchies implicit in such norms. Takahashi used an avant-garde literary style to critique both the language that the media and the educational establishment used to interpret the “extremist period” of the early 70s and the attempt of critics to unearth political intention in his own writing. Ōgai parodically employed the literary conventions of realism and confessional literature to expose the way they naturalize the sensibilities of authors, confer illusory unity on the self, and suppress alterity. The poet Saigy˘ problematized the genre, functions, and characteristics of utaawase (poem contests) to work both within and outside of the conventions of poetic society. This panel will explore the work of these three writers from very different traditions, suggesting that the parodic impulse they share connects them in a lineage of critically reflexive Japanese writing.

1) Marc Yamada, Brigham Young University

John Lennon vs. The Gangsters: The Parodic Metafiction of Takahashi Genichirō

The fiction of student-activist-turned-novelist Takahashi Genichir˘ is known for its resistance to the “political language” used by the same institutions he battled as a protester in the late 1960s and early 70s: the state, the media, and the educational establishment. Novels like Goodbye, Gangsters (Say˘nara, Gyangutachi, 1982) and John Lennon vs. The Martians (Jon Renon Tai Kasaijin, 1985) expose the artificiality of the signifying systems that the ruling establishment used to justify authoritarian policies. A number of Takahashi’s fellow writers and intellectuals on the Left, however, were slow to embrace his work despite its anti-establishment stance. Critics like Yoshimoto Takaaki, an early member of Japan’s New Left, argued that Takahashi’s deconstructionist tendencies violated important humanistic principles: a belief in the recoverability of meaning and authorial intention from literary language. Takahashi’s response to critics—who demanded that he, like other writers, be accountable for his words—was to embrace the “outsider” status attributed to him as a means to resist the authoritarian impulse he recognized in the work of these critics. Takahashi, this paper suggests, moves between an insider and outsider position in order to maintain the authority of the author. He parodies the Japanese novel to reclaim his agency from those of the literary establishment, who in their work to interpret literature, Takahashi suggests, advocate a “political” view of literary language similar to the one held by government and educational institutions he battled in his activist days.

2) Chris Weinberger, University of California, Berkeley

The Stereoscopic Vision of Mori Ōgai

Mori Ōgai (1868-1922), one of the progenitors of the modern novel in Japan, frequently cast himself in oppositional terms: as medical doctor and literati, literary critic and creative writer, traditionalist Japanese national and modernized, four-year resident of Germany. Of late, scholars such as Kabe Yoshitaka have criticized Ōgai for using rhetorical tricks to establish the unique authority of his perspective as both insider “expert” and detached, objective “onlooker” (bōkansha). This justifiable criticism misses, however, Ōgai’s deliberate, self-conscious reflection on the problems of perspective intrinsic to the narrative form of the novel itself.

In parodic works like “Vita Sexualis” and “The Wild Geese,” Ōgai deliberately put competing perspectives in tension, as if at once to underscore their subjective, relative nature and yet to produce, by their overlapping, a rich, dialogic perspective that exposed its own self-authorizing dimensions. Against a tradition of Ōgai scholarship and Ōgai’s own early claims, I argue that this was an ethical as well as aesthetic project for him. That is, I suggest that his work in formal aesthetic criticism led him to understand that the novel actually instantiated social life, not through its representation of human relationships, but formally, through the points of view and subject positions it made available. By pointing to the complicity of his own (or his narrators’) rendering of perspective in the ethical problems manifest by the stories his novel told, Ōgai critiqued the ethics of the very conventions of realism and confession for which his writing became famous.

3) Jack Stoneman, Brigham Young University

Saigyō’s Self-Selected Poetry Contests, Parody, and Japanese Poetic Praxis in the Late Heian Period

Saigyō’s position in waka history is ambivalent. He is characterized as a maverick who spurned the traditions of his day to create poetry as nonconformist as his life seemed to be. On the other hand, we can characterize him as the ultimate insider of late-Heian poetic society. He knew and associated with every major poetic figure of the day. This paper will explore Saigyō as both outsider and insider, analyzing what he accomplished by this unique positioning and how he both enriched and subverted poetic praxis through his parody of utaawase (poem contests).

Utaawase of the Heian period were highly circumscribed social events in which poems were divorced from the everyday realities of poets’ lives and pitted against one another in contests of professional execution of stylistic conventions. Saigyō problematized the functions and characteristics of utaawase, constructing two contests that never happened, using only his own poems. His parody of utaawase called into question the basic social functions of the form, enlarged the boundaries of poet-centered literary forms, and opened the door to later expansions of the utaawase form. The structuring principles of his utaawase deviated significantly from the norm, offering new modes of organization outside the milieu of court poetry that determined the form of traditional utaawase. Though these utaawase were potentially subversive and ironic, Saigyō nevertheless requested judgments of them from the two leading poetic authorities of his day, making his parody simultaneously critical of prevailing poetic praxis and complicit in the traditional social hierarchy of court poetry.

Discussant: Professor Indra Levy, Stanford University