Friday, August 8, 2008

Ishikawa Jun and the Other Modern (Follow-Up)

Matt asks: "How do you see Sōseki fitting into the Edo vs Meiji takes on modernity, as defined here? Seems to me that he’s big on shabbification, but also pretty invested in realism (at least in certain novels and on certain topics)."

Well, Matt, it’s an interesting question. I wish you’d posted this yesterday before my meeting with my professor, who’s a Sōseki expert of sorts. She’d be able to answer this.

My general impression is that Sōseki lacked the kind of nostalgia for Edo that we see in later writers like Ishikawa Jun and Nagai Kafū. Perhaps he was still too close to the period to feel any nostalgia for it, or perhaps things hadn't gotten that bad yet.

Sōseki did, however, appear to relish his role as critic of modernity (particularly of the Fukuzawan sort), but he seemed to come at it from a different angle. I think he was altogether too stern, ethical, and grandfatherly (even though he died before reaching a grandfatherly age) to enjoy the relatively rowdy and sexualized culture of the Edo plebes. Then again, I could be totally off here.

One example: Sōseki constructs a sort of alternative to the Fukuzawan modern in his novel Kusamakura, in which a first-person narrator leaves the modern city to pursue his solitary, utopian vision of art. But the sources of this vision seem to be Rousseau and the solipsistic Romantics, and the wenren literati of China and Japan, rather than the Edo poets.

But if anyone knows of any instances of him drawing from Edo culture (particularly from the haikai poets), do let me know.

Final note: My apologies for the excessive 渋み of the article! I’ll try to add a little 軽み to the next one!

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