Thursday, September 6, 2007

On “The Collective and the Individual: Literary Practices and its Social Implications,” from Earl Miner’s "Principles of Classical Japanese Literature

Earl Miner presents a convincing case for the particularly collective nature of Japanese literature by looking at the predominant role of “collections" in pre-modern and early-modern Japanese literature. Citing numerous examples from the Nara through the Edo periods, Miner shows that even works that lack the –shū suffix are still often, in fact, collections, thereby qualifying a great many of the pre- and early-modern works as such.

The problem with his argument, however, lies in his seeking to ascribe elements of this literary phenomenon to broader social and historical contexts. Examining the societal functions that inform the production of art is a methodology that can and does often prove effective; however, when one is not trained in social history, and is therefore unable to provide sufficient evidence to support one’s claim, then it loses its effectiveness.

Though Miner’s conclusion may be accurate― namely, that the “particularly Japanese” social tendencies and notions of “self” and “person” greatly informed the production of literature― the evidence he sights to reach this conclusion is sparse, and his reasoning smacks a bit of nihonjinron. Miner makes several very general and contentious claims about Japanese group psychology and behavior for which he sights no evidence other than the centrality of collections in the literary canon.

This poses a larger question: Can any inferences be made about a society through the study of that society’s art, and, if so, what? Can we learn anything about 18th-century German society by listening to and studying the music of Bach, or, inversely, can we explain the music of Bach through the social behavior of Germans? Keeping in mind these larger questions, I will point out some of Miner’s more problematic claims, and show where more evidence could be justified.
[to be continued . . .]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very informative, Ryan. Here are some other points from my notes.


The Centrality of collections in Japanese Literature

“’Japanese literature’ is a modern concept.” “Early Japanese wrote about particular kinds: uta, monogatari, nikki, -ki, etc,” and distinguished the standard literature from popular or vulgar literature. “Only two kinds of Japanese writing have always been thought serious by Japanese: history and the kind of poetry—waka—associated with the court” (18)

Collections dominant form since Kojiki (712), then Man’yōshū, then Kokinshū (ca. 905-920), which provided the form for all subsequent collections, and, in terms of its topical rather than chronological or biographical arrangement, to which “there is no full counterpart . . . either in India, China, Korea, or the West” (20).

Topical Ordering: “The principles of this model are progression, association, and suitability.”

Utamonogarai and other genre adapt from the royal collections “the collective principle.”

Utamonogarai, uta nikki, and kashū differ mainly in function. “All three are essentially collective in nature. This collective principle extends far beyond anthologies—a collective work need not have “shū” in its title” (22).

Later examples: Renga of Nijō Yoshimoto (1320-1388) in Tsukuba shū. Sōgi (1421-1502) in collection Shinsen Tsukuba shū and Chikurinshō. Renga influenced by waka, and by jo-ha-kyū rhythm taken from court music.

More examples of collective: bashō’s Sarumino (1691), the “Kokinshū of haikai.”

Seasonal order (though changed to Winter, Summer, Autumn, Spring).

“Once we grow alert to the collective principle in Japanese literature, we are apt to find that all works of importance and length are collections” (25).

Definition of a collection: “an assembly of comparable (that is coordinately rather than subordinately relatable) units that are distinct in authorship, as integers, or in similar radical fashion” (26). Genji, therefore, is not a collection, despite what Konishi Jin’ishi says about Japanese literature containing “no long integral works” (25).

Chinese and Western Collections

Chinese collections date way back to Chou dynasty (6th century BC). “But in China, individual collections were more important than official anthologies” (29). Another point of distinction: prose narrative like that of Japanese monogatari was not a feature of Chinese writing.

In the West: “the Alexandrians began real arranging.” Examples: Callimachus, Pindar. “Greek poetry was commonly read (like Japanese and Chinese) as if autobiographical” (29). Latins: “prose as well as poetry more often appears in Latin collections” (30). Catullus, Ovid’s 15 books of Metamorphosis, his Amores; Statius’s “Sylvae,” Cicero, Aulus Gellius, Horace and Virgil bring more complex schemes (particularly Virgil’s ten Eclogues and Aeneid).

Roman ordering: proportional, numerological, related schemes

Japanese ordering: progression, association, rhythm, asymmetry, achronological; non-allegorical.

Jews: the law; the prophets; the writings (from Babylonian exile of 587 B.C. to second century AD)

Christians: the old (Jewish bible) and the new (4 gospels, letters of paul, and the writings).

“the literary conception of a canon is metaphorically adapted from the religious” (32). Buddhist canon divided: Mahayana (both of Japan and abroad) and Hinayanist canon.

Organized collection of Renaissance Europe: Petrarch to Donne (Corona: “last line of one sonnet provides the first of the next”); Shakespeare’s sonnets (calendrical order); Spenser’s Shepherd’s Calender (calendrical; much like Yoshitada’s Maigetsu shū). Also George Herbert’s collection, the Temple, Dryden’s twenty-one poems, Fables Ancient and Modern (but his “ordering is thematic and is therefore dependent on an awareness of recurrence alien to Japanese collections. Because for Japanese collections we are expected to connect one poem with the next and to presume principles of progression and rhythm—but not echoes from a poem in one part of a sequence to a poem in another.” (33). Also: “In both waka and linked-poetry sequences, semantic connection of any plotted kind (character in time and place) breaks with each five-line unit. If units separated by twenty others seem alike, there is no semantic connection. None at all. There is no parallel, no motif, no recollection of an earlier similar image, no synchrony” (43).

Theoretical Principles of Collections

Claims Genji is a narrative rather than a collection (“diverse materials arranged in some suitable fashion”): “a collection brings together units that are supposed to be (or resemble being) capable of being appreciated in themselves as wholly discrete units, even if their meaning or beauty may be heightened by their being collected” (35). Problem: Genji is capable of both!

Suji vs. plot. Story line: “involves the continuity of a group of characters, a chronological series, spatial matters.” Sequence (suji) vs. plot. Sequence is the primitive stuff of story lines. “Japanese collections have sequential properties but not story lines.” “Western plots are used to stress occurrence, casuality, agency, and responsibility. Various suji may funtion so, but they are used far more to emphasize sequential flow, connection, association, and arrangement” (36).

Diachronic vs. synchronic. Japanese collections typically diachronic?

Problem with statement: “As literary history has come to seem an invalid and useless study, criticism has made more and more of the synchronic understanding” (38).

Principles of Japanese Collections

Compendia phenomena: bungaku jiten, rekishi jiten, bukkyō jiten, ningyō jiten, etc. “Front ancient times to present, Japan has been a nation devoted to collection. What other culture has so refined the poetic collection? What other nation distinguishes literary period by collections? Every Japanese responds to the Man’yō period, Kokin period, and Shinkokin period” (40). Ex: Minashiguri, Sarumino shū, zuihitsu collections (makura no sōshi, tsurezuregusa, hōjōki, mumyōshō, genjūan no ki, oku no hosomichi, Nijō Yoshimoto’s Kyūshū mondō). “In short, collections make up a far higher proportion of Japanese literature than even Japanese themselves realize. That fact implies a relative lack of distinction between collections and noncollections” (41). By contrast, “editions of Shakespeare, Milton, Dryden, and others appear only with the eighteenth century. (There is one exception, Chaucer, edited from the sixteenth century.”)

The Kokinshū may use chronology, but it is “not governed by it.”

Modernism similarities in Kokinshū: ever-shifting point of view. “Each poem has a speaker with a viewpoint, but each poem has a different speaker. The resentful women of poems 1007 and 1008 are different women. The integration of the collections involves progressions from poem to poem and associations aroused by the progressions. But there is no plot—only sequence” (42). In the West, singularity of narration. In Japan, typically plurality of narration.

Roving point of view, lack of consistency in narratorship: “In Japanese collections we find that single identifiable personality [typical in western literature] dispersed in favor of multiple personality and narratorship on the individual level and integrity assumed to exist at the collective level” (43). Genji example: roving narrator, stream of consciousness flows freely from one character to another: “In fact, the point of view often seems neutral, involving both that of the narrator and of a given character or characters . . . A given character . . . may well step out of role to speak as if another character or to speak in the third person of the self” (44).

Ideological Implications

Were the Fujiwaras the Neoconservatives of Heian Japan? In the section “Ideological Implications,” Earl Miner explores the relation of the twenty-one royal collections of classical poetry to political power.

Marx: art is contingent on power

Heian Japan: power is achieved, held, and expressed through art. “Legal codes matter in Japan, but [poetry] collections are also of wider ideological significance. They were used to celebrate or legitimize power, to console those who once had power, or to proffer a claim by those who aspired to power.”

Kokinshū: not dominated by Fujiwara.

Emperor daigo vs. Fujiwara ascendancy

After Daigo, the next six royal collections saw more and more Fujiwara influence.

“But it was Gosanjō’s son and successor, Shirakawa (r. 1072-1086), who devised a means to evade Fujiwara dominance. This was the insei or system of cloistered sovereigns, in which a given tennō would resign his ritualized rule after reaching maturity and then seek to exert some portion of real power from his cloistered position” (48).

Minamoto bakufu in Kamarkura (late 12th century).

Gotoba-in vs. Minamoto Bakufu and Fujiwara Teika (Shin chokusenshū).

Gotoba finishes Shinkokinshū in exile after his attempt to overthrough the Kamakura bakufu,

By the end, “The court had become so demoralized that in poetry it could only cling to the hollow conventions of the past. And the wretched nation was so breaking into anarchy that the Ashikaga shoguns similarly sought after the forms of power to the extent that they could not realize them in actuality. . . Japan was now less one country than many disputed territories” (52).

Conclusion: collections have far more ideological implications than their counterparts in the West.

The Individual and the Collective

On the “brevity” of Japanese poetry: “the full evidence reveals that there is a conception of collective integers, of large, composite wholes that the very brevity of the poetic units either made possible or was in fact responsible for encouraging: that conception promoted, as it were, one kind of brevity so that another kind of extension would be feasible. To put matters differently, the brief unit is brief because it is not accorded the independent existence that Westerners assume formal poetic integers to possess” (53-54).

“distinctive features of the individual entities of Japanese literature” are: 1. interdependent, not discrete; 2. varied, not equal in status; 3. defined by relation to other also unequal units and to a larger, composite whole; 4. defined by relation to each other and their composite whole rather than to some external principles (such as chronology of composition, single-author canons, etc.); and 5. “adhesive” in being relatable to elements not the same in nature (prose to verse, verse to pictures, pictures to prose, etc.)” (54).

“highest are is that of stanza relation (tsukeai)” (55).

“The Japanese concept does not depend on abstract concepts of independence and unity but rather on the relational, something so inherent to the coexistence of part and whole that we may fail to recognize it and have great difficulty in expressing it abstractly” (55).

Conclusion: aesthetic practice is informed by forces that are “not purely literary but are in fact founded on a whole system of values and assumptions” (55).

The Social and the Individual

Contentious claim: “I have been proposing that, over the centuries, Japanese have presumed a kind of relation between the individual and the collective that is distinct, different in its emphasis from that presumed in other highly developed societies— and also that, rather than assume pure hierarchy or pure equality, Japanese have assumed individual entities that are essentially relational” (57).

Distinction between “Self”-“Person” (prominent in Japan; ex: Kyōden, Denzō, and Masanobu all names for the man Iwase Sei. Masao Miyoshi argues in his Accomplices of Silence that modern Japanese is “weak in its conception of self.” Konishi’s “lack of clearcut opposites” (regarding class, hero-villain, human-natural, individual-group, author-audience).

Collective schools: “charismatic individuals” who lead schools (Sōgi, then Bashō). Think of all the –ha’s.