Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Ishikawa Jun and the Discourses of Modernity

Mabel Callahan of Dublin asks:
What exactly are you working on, because it seems like you just wander the streets of Tokyo all day like some kind of debauched flâneur, occasionally writing little stupid entries in your blog?

Well, Mable, building upon the ideas presented in my article 「石川淳の『江戸人の発想法について』と『明月珠』」, I plan to spend the next three years exploring a) the subject of Japanese “modanizumu” within the context of the various discourses about modernity and b) the modanisuto project of Ishikawa Jun (1899-1987), a writer who drew both from Sino-Japanese traditions and European modernism, thus making him an appropriate symbol for Japan’s heterogeneous modanizumu. Also, as I am deeply interested in translation, I hope to spend part of my time studying the art of translation under S-sensei and translating several of Ishikawa Jun’s shorter works.

What is modanizumu (which began in the 1920s and lasted through the 1940s) in the Japanese context? The current understanding of the term seems insufficient, as it is too often only narrowly applied to writers like Yokomitsu Riichi and Itō Sei who explicitly implemented the techniques of European modernists, while writers like Tanizaki and Kawabata are often tossed into the “traditional” category. But as any one who has read Asakusa kurenaidan (1930) knows, Kawabata himself experimented heavily with modernist techniques, which he continued to employ and refine throughout his so-called “traditionalist” stage. Tanizaki, too, continued to seek innovative methods for constructing his novels, even after he was thought to have “returned to Japan.” That “traditionalists” Tanizaki and Kawabata in fact both wrote “modernist literature” throughout their careers, and that “modernist” Ishikawa Jun in fact drew heavily from the Sino-Japanese tradition shows that the lines between “traditional” and “modern”—or, for that matter, modern and anti-modern (kindai and hankindai)— are extremely blurry, and that a fundamental reassessment of categories is needed. To do this, I will first need to address the following five groups of questions:

1. How was modanizumu different from kindaika? Are they synonymous? Or does the “spirit of modanizumu” predate kindaika and Westernization, as Ishikawa suggests in 『江戸人の発想法について』?

2. Next, what was modanizumu’s relation to the dominant literary ideologies of Meiji and Taisho, namely, naturalism, realism, mimesis, and later, the shi-shishōsetsu and shinkyō shōsetsu? Should modanizumu be seen as a heterodoxy reacting against these orthodoxies? Here I will specifically focus on how the anti-Shiga Naoya movement revolutionized the modernist buntai or literary style, and how it developed into the post-war Shingesaku-ha of Ishikawa Jun, Sakaguchi Ango, Dazai Osamu, Oda Sakunosuke, and others.

3. What was modanizumu’s position vis-à-vis Japan’s own literary past? Was modanizumu a rejection of the “traditional” forms of Japanese literature, or did it in fact align itself with certain elements from its past? Is the case of Ishikawa Jun’s modanizumu— which drew heavily from the techniques of Edo haikai and kyōka poetry—the exception or the norm?

4. What was modanizumu’s relation to the modernisms of Europe and America? How was it influenced? How did they appropriate new formal innovations into their own works? Were they effective? And most importantly, should Japanese modanizumu be seen as only that which possessed the characteristics of European modernism? Or are there not in fact numerous aspects of Japanese modanizumu that have nothing to do with what went on in the West?

5. And finally, how was modanizumu positioned politically? What social and political movements was it associated with? How did it react, for example, to the years of militarism and war? Did it serve as a form of resistance?
Though I still have much to explore, during the course of my research I expect to discover the three following things: a) modanizumu was not a single movement, but rather a broad conglomeration of writers and literary movements; b) the modern-traditional (or kindai-hankindai) false distinction confuses more than it clarifies, and thus should be either refined and broadened or discarded altogether; and c) the definition of modernism must be expanded beyond the typical Euro-American-centric definition in order to account for its plurality.

The second half of my project will deal with the “modernist aesthetic” of Ishikawa Jun. Here I will explore how it was informed by: a) European modernism, and b) the native “tradition,” particularly the heterodoxical traditions of the Edo period, which served throughout his career as an endless wellspring of new methods and ideas. Concerning a), I will examine how European modernist writers, particularly Andre Gide and Anatole France, provided Ishikawa with a new range of narrative techniques, including the novel-as-commentary-on-the-novel style of which Gide was a master. I will look at how Ishikawa discovered a new modanisuto style (buntai) by translating works such as Gide’s L’Immoraliste (1902) (背徳者、1924) and Les Caves du Vatican (1899) (法王庁の抜け穴, 1928) .

Concerning b), I will examine how much of what is considered “modern” about Ishikawa’s was in fact derived from Ota Nanpo and other Edo writers, who provided Ishikawa with new ways of understanding author, text, audience, world and tradition. An important key to understanding Ishikawa’s relationship with these Edo writers is his 1943 essay 「江戸人の発想法について」, in which he argues that the Edoites’ genius was in their ability to adapt the literary tradition to their contemporary world by using “transformative devices” (tenkan no sōsa), such as mitate, yatsushi, haikaika, and zokka. Ishikawa’s own literature—like that of Joyce, Eliot, and other European Modernists— can be seen as a similar project of transforming the past into a form that suits the present. Looking back, one can see that the ideas discussed in his 1943 essay have much in common with the ideas later developed by Structuralist and Post-structuralist theorists. Ishikawa’s discussion of honshidori, for example, has much in common with Harold Bloom’s notions of “misprision” and “anxiety of influence.” In describing the desirability of authorial anonymity (jinkaku mumei) and mystification (tōkai buri), too, Ishikawa seems to be describing something similar to what Roland Barthes later elicited in his famous essay “The Death of the Author.” It seems that by discovering a part of the Japanese literary tradition that had been (until the late 1930s) mostly ignored, Ishikawa was able to see beyond his own age and lead the way toward new forms of writing.

Finally, I will examine Ishikawa’s modanizumu under the rubric of “resistance literature,” focusing on his pre-1945 works. The term “resistance literature” is usually limited to proletariat writings, and, as a consequence, writers like Ishikawa who are closer to the Sino-Japanese wenren 文人 tradition than to Marx are often overlooked. Finally, I will look at Ishikawa’s post-war works such as Taka (1953) , Shion monogatari (1956), Aratama (1963), and others and explore how Ishikawa’s understanding of the problem of tōgenkyō— or utopias— developed through the years.


Anonymous said...


My English is not so good but I like Ishikawa Jun so can you translate this to Japanese for me please?

Aoki Nanpachi

Anonymous said...

This is all very interesting. I will read it thru a second time for additional understanding. I will also print it for Grandmother to read. Is it necessary that this be accepted, or is that a given?

Is the motivation behind this depth of understanding that you will be able to write as well as translate your own body of work some day?

Always amazed by you. Love, JMM