Friday, September 19, 2008

Today's Plug: 『Modanizumu』, a new anthology edited by Professor William Tyler

This just in from Mabel Calahan:
If you're interested in the subject of Japanese "modanizumu," you'll definitely want to check out William J. Tyler's new anthology, Modanizumu: Modernist Fiction from Japan, 1913-1938. The anthology includes some of the big names-- Tanizaki, Kawabata-- but also introduces some relatively unknown writers like Takeda Rinatarō, Abe Tomoji, and Inagaki Taruho. Also included in the collection are previously untranslated works by Yumeno Kyūsaku, Kajii Motojirō, Yoshiyuki Eisuke, Okamoto Kanoko, Hagiwara Sakutarō and Ishikawa Jun. I'll try to write a bit about the stories when I have time. For now, I'll leave you with what the University of Hawaii Press Log had to say about the anthology:

Modanizumu: Modernist Fiction from Japan, 1913–1938, compiled and edited by William J. Tyler, addresses this discrepancy by presenting in translation for the first time a collection of twenty-five stories and novellas representative of Japanese authors who worked in the modernist idiom from 1913 to 1938.

Remarkably little has been written on the subject of modernism in Japanese fiction. Until now there has been neither a comprehensive survey of Japanese modernist fiction nor an anthology of translations to provide a systematic introduction. Only recently have the terms “modernism” and “modernist” become part of the standard discourse in English on modern Japanese literature and doubts concerning their authenticity vis-a-vis Western European modernism remain. This anomaly is especially ironic in view of the decidedly modan prose crafted by such well-known Japanese writers as Kawabata Yasunari, Nagai Kafu, and Tanizaki Jun’ichiro­. By contrast, scholars in the visual and fine arts, architecture, and poetry readily embraced modanizumu as a key concept for describing and analyzing Japanese culture in the 1920s and 1930s.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Nixon in China

Just in from Jarvis32:
Though it’s now common knowledge that the ostensibly liberal but mostly neoconservative NY times editorial page is, for the most part, total crap (especially on matters of foreign policy), I’d always thought that when it came to the arts, the paper was still a legitimate authority. But I’m now beginning to doubt this, too, after reading some very off-the-mark reviews, including this one from 1987, in which avant-garde-unfriendly critic Donal J. Henahan pans John Adam’s opera “Nixon in China,” which is now regarded by most as required listening and, according to this Guardian music critic, is “arguably the most influential opera of the past 20 years.” Granted, the review is old, but it misses the mark so badly that I just had to mention it.

If you haven’t seen the entire opera yet, you might want to warm up with this. Also, if you haven’t seen Oliver Stone’s Nixon, rent it. Though very different, it rivals Adam’s opera.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Nakba ("The Catastrophe")

Just in from Josh Lander:
Saw a very powerful documentary by Japanese director Hirokawa Ryuichi last night, called "Nakba." Think it might still be playing at the Bungeiza Theater in Ikebukuro. In the states, I think it's already out on video.

The film left me and those attending me pretty convinced that Zionism, in its extreme form, is a kind of disease. Despite several awkward scenes where the director insists on conversing with his subjects in very poor English, the film is, in my judgment, a groundbreaking success and should be made mandatory viewing in the U.S.

That is all for now, friends.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Interview with translator Alisa Freedman

Something I came across today: an interview with Alisa Freedman, assistant Professor of Japanese Literature and Film at the University of Oregon, and translator of Kawabata Yasunari’s modernist novel The Scarlet Gang of Asakusa (Asakusa kurenaidan; 1930). Having gotten through Kawabata's original only by reading it in conjunction with her translation, I must say she's performed a most valuable service in rendering this highly experimental and difficult novel into English.

But more on this novel another day-- time has expired, and more, it's like a sauna in here.

Sunday, September 7, 2008



 あなたと仲良くなったのは今から十数年前でした。 そのとき、私は未だ長靴を履いていた青年でした。


 その時からも、毎年の、アメリカ独立記念日のお祝いで、あなたの別荘に行くことになり、普通の人が見ることの出来ない世界を紹介してくれたことは何よりです。アメリカに限らず世界のさまざまな芸能人や偉大な人物にも知り合えたのもお蔭様でした(ロシア大統領 プーチンは特におかしかった!)。そして、今、私がこの絶交状を書いていると同時に、あなたの次男 ジミーさんがイラク戦争の前線に出ているようですが、彼と、それから海軍兵学在中の長男 ジャックさん、二人ともと仲良くなったことも、僕のような身分の低いものにとっては、とても珍種の機会でした。本当に感謝しております。





Saturday, September 6, 2008

Interview with pyschologist Kishida Shū

A fine piece in today's Sankei shinbun. It's an interview with pyschologist Kishida Shū 岸田秀, author of Nihonjin to 'Nihonbyō' ni tsuite, A Place For Apology: War, Guilt, and US-Japan Relations (trnsl.), among other works. Kishida first received attention in 1978 when he diagnosed the Japanese as schizophrenic in his book, Monogusa seishin bunseki (English translation: Slacker Psychoanalysis). He raised eyebrows again in 1996 with the publication of Nijūseiki o seishin bunseki suru, in which he likens Matthew Perry's rather ungentlemanly method of gunboat diplomacy to rape.

In today's Sankei interview Kishida discusses what he considers to be the root cause for the failings of the post-war Japanese political system, namely, subordination to America. He sees Japan as having two options at this point: either launch another all-out war against the Americans, or take the more pragmatic route of patiently waiting for America to collapse. Judging from the 笑 emoji inserted into the text, I think we can assume that Kishida favors the latter.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Notes On “The Art of Fiction” (1884) by Henry James (Part 1)

Like Horace, Henry James is more interested in the practical problems of his craft than in theoretical speculation. His essay “The Art of Fiction,” which is the last section of his book Partial Portraits (1888), is in part a response to an article by Walter Besant, who argues that there are certain “rules” to writing good fiction. James vehemently denies this claim, insisting that the only “rule” is that the writer must make his work interesting. Challenging “the old evangelical hostility to the novel”— which he blames for novel’s low status— James calls for a “new novel” that builds upon the groundwork laid by proto-modernist writers like George Eliot (1819-1880), Anthony Trollope (1815-1882), Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894), and Alphonse Daudet (1840-1897).

The novel, in order to enter the realm of “high art,” must “begin to take itself seriously" (661). (It might be interesting to compare James’s tract with Tsubouchi Shōyō’s “The Essence of the Novel” (1885-6), which advocates a similar kind of naturalistic realism.) Specifically, James insists that novelists must stop apologizing for being novelists, that they must accept the fact that they describe truths equal to those of the historian, the painter, and the philosopher, and that they are, at the very least, on equal footing with the philosopher, painter and historian, since “their inspiration is the same, their process (allowing for the different quality of the vehicle) is the same, [and] their success is the same” (662). In fact, the novelist may even be superior to his competitors, since he is by default all of them at once. “It seems to give [the novelist] a great character, the fact that he has at once so much in common with the philosopher and the painter; this double analogy is a magnificent heritage” (662).

The novelist, James continues, must assume the semi-omniscient perspective and confident manner of the historian. “To represent and illustrate the past, [and] the actions of men is the task of either writer,” and therefore the novelist must “speak with the assurance, with the tone of the historian” (662). His story—regardless of whether or not it is true— must be delivered as if it were history. (One is reminded here of Mori Ōgai’s 1912 short story “Ka no yō ni” (“As If”), in which Ōgai, borrowing from Hans Vaihinger’s (1855-1932) notion of “als ob,” argues that man, in order to avoid the endless cycle of skepticism and moral relativism, must behave “as if” there were certain objective universal truths, and “as if” subjective noumenal experience actually corresponded to external phenomenal reality.) To admit to your readers that the story you are about to tell is false— as Anthony Trollope and other 19th century writers had done— is “a betrayal of a sacred office . . . a terrible crime” (662). To James, giving the “air of reality” and the “illusion of life” are the supreme virtues of the novel (665).


This just in from Tom Landers: