This just in from Cniva Albinus:
Though he would later serve enthusiastically as propogandist for the war, in his 1933 essay “Literature of the Lost Home” 『失われた故郷』 Kobayashi Hideo seems to challenge the nostalgic conservatism of writers like Tanizaki who in the mid-1920s renounced their Western lifestyle and called for a “return to Japan” (日本への回帰) – a position that was not out of step with the nationalist ideology of the day. Kobayashi counters them by insisting that there no longer is any "home" to return to, and that any nativist attempt to reconstruct one is doomed to fail. “History,” he explains, “seems always and inexorably to destroy tradition”- yet this is not something to be lamented, since “individuals, as they mature, seem always and inexorably to move toward its true discovery” (54). Despite its nostalgic overtones, the essay can thus be read as a sort of anti-nativist tract that denies the possibility of ever returning to any "traditional" Japan.
Kobayashi sees the Japanese of 1933 as essentially homeless, and, like many intellectuals of the day, feels himself to be more a rootless abstraction than a man of any particular place. Though an Edokko, he "cannot fathom" what the phrase “born in Tokyo” really means. Those born elsewhere seem to feel some sense of belonging or attachment to their place of origin- his friend Takii Kōsaku (1894-1984), for instance, who was recently visibly moved after catching a glimpse of his rural hometown from the train window. But for those born in Tokyo, there is no such attachment, no such city, only
an endless series of changes occuring too fast. Never was there sufficient time to nurture the sources of a powerful and enduring memory, attached to the concrete and the particular. (48-49)
Having no vivid memories of any fixed time or place, Kobayashi can formulate the reality of the past only through the mediation of “a point of view or a critical perspective.” Like the pre-Meiji Japan of the nationalist imagination, his own personal past must be invented in order to exist at all.
This lost Tokyo of his memory is of course analogous to Japan in the modern world, which, like his memory, has become dislodged from the real. The particulars of his world, he explains, no longer correspond to anything general; they have become empty abstractions, devoid of any symbolic function. The distant mountain, for example, is merely an empty signifier. Memories of youth, of Tokyo, even of Japan as a national unit – these too have become insubstantial phantoms. “I know that my life has been lacking in concrete substance,” he confesses. A symbol for Japan itself, Kobayashi is a rootless ghost floating about the city, recognizing among the crowds only other fellow “abstraction(s)” (49). Such a description brings to mind the “superfluous” men of Dostoevsky's novels, which had a profound influence on him. The following passage sounds particularly Dostoevskian:
I do not easily recognize within myself or in the world around me people whose feet are planted firmly on the ground, or who have the features of social beings. I can more easily recognize the face of that abstraction called the ‘city person,’ who might have been born anywhere, than a Tokyoite born in the city of Tokyo. (49-50)
Kobayashi takes issue with Tanizaki’s call for a “literature that will find a home for the spirit.” How can there be a home for literature, he asks, when there is not even a home for me, for us? Referring to Dostoesky’s Raw Youth – the story of a young man “in turmoil because of Western ideas and who, in the midst of this intellectual agitation, has utterly lost his home” – Kobayashi sees in Russian history a similar crisis of identity. “How very closely he [the protagonist] resembles us,” he remarks. The encounter with the West has been a traumatic experience for much of the world – Russia included – and the result has for the most part been this disorientation and loss of place.
He then moves to the subject of popular and literary fiction, pointing out how neither can compete commercially with historical romances, or magemono. In the case of films, too, the most popular are those that take historical rather than contemporary matter as their subject. The contemporary world is unnatural- "out of joint," as it were- and there is something about it which resists signification. Unlike works set in the distant past, works that address the contemporary world (gendaimono) are incapable of inducing a “stream of affect.” This is partly due to their excessive reliance on plot, a device that grows more tedious as one matures aesthetically. “Only when such youths reach maturity,” Kobayashi explains, “will the plot seem silly to them, and all but unconsciously will they begin to look for the kind of style that might conceal the silliness” (53). This comment might be read as another jab at Tanizaki, who in the famous 1927 “plot debate” with Akutagawa insisted that plot should be ranked above poetry, characterization, and all other elements.
Kobayashi cites other examples of genres that are capable of inducing this "stream of affect," including “historical romances and chambara movies [which] exert a profound influence over the masses” not because of their well-wrought plots but because of their “capacity [. . .] to make the [audience] unconsciously surrender to a stream of real emotions” (52). Another example is the film Morocco, which, like Western films, chambara and magemono fiction, deals with a subject and place far enough removed from the viewer to make such affect possible. “This style elicits a sense of intimacy, so that we feel closer to the Moroccan desert we have never seen than to the landscape of Ginza before our eyes” (53). In other words, distancing the subject from the viewer can have the paradoxical effect of creating a greater intimacy between the two; that is, the further removed something is, the closer we feel to it.
Like Tanizaki and other "return-to-Japanists" of the 1930s, Kobayashi too grieves the loss of Japan’s “cultural singularity,” as he calls it. But unlike the others, Kobayashi resists the call for a return to or restoration of what has been lost, knowing full well this to be an impossible project. “What is crucial,” he concludes, “is that we have grown so accustomed to this Western influence that we can no longer distinguish what is under the force of this influence and what is not.”
Kobayashi Hideo (1902-1983): Some Background Information
Kobayashi Hideo (1902-1983) is often cited as the most important Japanese literary critic of the twentieth century. Like Edmund Wilson, Walter Benjamin and Roland Barthes, Kobayashi sought to make criticism a literary genre of its own. He studied French literature at Tokyo Imperial University, and translated French poetry and fiction. He advocated an expressive, subjective, self-conscious and self-questioning mode of criticism that, while bearing in mind the ideological designs of the day, challenged the validity of the many “–isms.”
Anderer writes in his introduction that “Kobayashi remained skeptical of the apparent stability of any announced position, whether Marxist, aesthetic, or nationalist, especially when these positions were conveyed impersonally, as a dunning recitation of preselected facts or theories” (2). One might, however, cite Kobayashi`s behavior and writings during the war years as evidence to the contrary. But Anderer insists that throughout his career Kobayashi advocated a criticism that was “an exploration of consciousness, a matter of internal urgency, motivated less by general conditions of the world or even by habits of mind than by a specific provocation, a question that demands a personal response” (Anderer, 3).
Kobayashi brought to criticism a kind of “double vision” that simultaneously examines both the work and one's own subjective responses to the work- a technique that might be compared to Edward Said’s notion of "contrapuntal reading," or Fredric Jameson's dialectical reading.