ASCJ 2009

SATURDAY JUNE 20, 1:15 P.M.-3:15 P.M.

Session 15: Room 11-405


Sōseki’s City

Organizer: Dan O’Neill, University of California at Berkeley

Chair: Angela Yiu, Sophia University

Our panel analyzes the ways in which new conceptions of space in the changing cityscape of late Meiji Japan shaped Sōseki's literary production as well as how he responded to the changes brought about by rapid urbanization. By examining how Sōseki’s writings participated in interpretations of urban modernity, we consider the ways in which the anxieties and ideals associated with city life were extended and mediated by aesthetic means. Dan O’Neill explores the trope of the city as a complex discursive space and gauges Sōseki’s ambivalent views on urban modernity by tracing the protagonist’s uncanny peripatetic experience in the short story “Koto no sorane.” Alisa Freedman investigates how Sōseki used a dialectical relationship between physical motion and emotional stability to argue that modernization, while necessary for Japan’s survival, makes individuals anxious and threatens national stability when it occurs too quickly. Present in almost all of his works, this dialectic is most dramatic in the novel Sanshirō. Yuko Iida examines the emergence of romantic love within the context of urban modernity, specifically putting Sōseki’s depictions of Tokyo in dialogue with questions of gender and desire. Angela Yiu offers a new mapping of Sōseki’s literary legacy by demonstrating how his engagements with the lurid transformations of urban space forged pathological interiorities that anticipated those of later modernist authors. By considering Sōseki’s writings as a hybrid of sociological inquiry and imaginative work, we hope to trace both the troubling legacies and hopeful future that marked the evolving modernity of Sōseki’s Tokyo.


1) Dan O’Neill, University of California at Berkeley

Preparing for the Urban Uncanny: Hearing Things and the Anxiety of Influence

Recent criticism has begun to explore the diverse ways in which Sōseki’s writings can be theorized in relation to the representation of urban space. These works demonstrate how the prosaic achievements of his novels can be understood and qualified by a fascination with the exhilarating and sometimes frightening novelty of urban space. This paper expands upon these critical engagements by focusing on how the fascination with urban space was carried over to and existed in the short story “Hearing Things” (1905), an experimental text considered by most as a minor work lacking the clarity of vision that characterizes the later works of this author.


My reading will explore the significance of the storys rhetorical engagement with urban space in the context of popular thinking about occult influences during the time of the Russo-Japanese war (1904-1905). Specifically, I trace how the descriptions of the city, once internalized by the roaming narrator, are transformed into an open and unwieldy set of signifiers, idioms and styles. I argue that it is in this openness of the peripatetic experience -- this receptivity to and intense awareness of external influences – that the uncanny arises to elicit a feeling of shifting identifications and instability of place. By exploring the ways in which the short story internalizes and prepares for this openness, I hope to enrich the way we may conceptualize Sōseki’s later works and their relation to urban space.


2) Alisa Freedman, University of Oregon

Following in Sanshirō’s Footsteps: Reading Truths about Urban Time and Space in Natsume Sōseki’s Fiction

By describing, in a creative form, such everyday occurrences as a city train ride or stroll, authors react to and leave records of their historical times and affect how their present moments are remembered. This is especially true of Natsume Sōseki. Sōseki articulates the belief that modernization is necessary for Japan’s survival, but when it occurs too quickly, such change makes individuals anxious and threatens national wellbeing. In several works, Sōseki conveys this argument by describing a dialectical relationship between physical and metaphysical motion and emotional stability. Sōseki employs images of mass transportation to expose paradoxical limitations placed on personal freedom by urban growth and creation of new social roles. Yet he describes slower movements over time and space as crucial to human development and the quest for happiness.


This dialectic is most dramatic in Sanshirō. More than other literary works, Sanshirō reveals the emotional experience of Tokyo. Sōseki depicts an elite student and mass transportation together to critique government efforts toward “Civilization and Enlightenment” (bunmei kaika) predicated on urban development, educational and technological advances, and adoption of Western customs. Sanshirō feels discomfort around things, especially vehicles, and women in motion but enjoys fleeting inner peace while traversing Tokyo on foot. To demonstrate Sanshirō’s continued relevance, I explore current studies on the truth-value of Sōseki’s fiction. My analysis differs because I analyze how Sōseki captures aspects of Tokyo life, fictionalizes them, and endows them with meaning through his characters. I examine Sōseki’s conception of urban time, in addition to space.


3) Yuko Iida, Kobe College

Love and the City—Sōseki’s Youth Goes to Tokyo

One symbolic resistance of Westernization is Sōseki’s skepticism of love (ren’ai) in reality, though as a newspaper novelist, he wrote a number of love stories. What lies behind his sense of estrangement towards love was its perception as a concept imported from the West. Yet the concept of love developed alongside the entwined processes of modernization and urbanization and was central to the literary trajectory in Meiji and Taishō Japan, from the Romantic poetry of Kitamura Tōkoku to the emphasis of love as an expression of individualism in the I-novels. Modernist fiction further engages the trope of love and the labyrinth-like relationships between characters as metaphors to convey the sense of urban unreality and abstraction in the expanding metropolis.


This paper examines the slippage from reality in Sōseki’s depiction of love in the city. I focus on the figure of the youth who leaves his country hometown to go to Tokyo in search of advancement yet finds himself falling in love. In examining the intimate relationship between urban space and love, I hope to delineate the way Sōseki uses the city as a powerful metaphor for the many configurations of love.


4) Angela Yiu, Sophia University

Pathological Interiority in Sōseki’s Configuration of Space

Parallel to the peripatetic exploration of urban landscape in Sōseki’s full-length fiction are a number of proto-modernist short pieces and essays that depict the intricacies of interior space. These works and experiments with modernist techniques in configuring space through sound, a limited range of vision, a hallucinatory imaginings belonging to the invalid confined to his sick room. The sick room pieces, which includes works such as “hen na oto” “garasudo no naka” and “eijitsu shōhin” create an imaginary opening that is simultaneously liberating and confining and prefigures the obsession with reshuffling and imagining external reality within a narrowly enclosed space in Taishō modernist fiction, such as the “attic pieces” by Uno Kōji and Edogawa Rampo, the “recluse pieces” by Satō Haruo and Kajii Motojirō. These works essentially recast urban space as pathological interior space where the mind reconfigures the oppression of an impersonal cityscape into an intimate landscape that contains one’s darkest anxiety and mystery.


Discussant: Reiko Abe Auestad, University of Oslo