Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Murakami Through Lacan

This just in from Sally Suzuki, Beholdmyswarthyface Media Director:

I thought our readers might be interested in this illuminating essay by Jonathan Dil, titled "Woman as Symptom and the Void at the Heart of Subjectivity: A Lacanian Reading of Murakami Haruki's 'The Wind-up Bird Chronicle.'" They also might want to check out Professor Dil's recent doctoral dissertation, available here in full. That is all for today. -Sally Suzuki

James Cameron's "Avatar" and Its Public Reception

This just in from Lucy Tucker, American exile living in Holland:

I just saw James Cameron’s Avatar. I give it four stars, despite its obvious flaws. (The story is a rather cliched “going native” romance, a sort of recycled Lawrence of Arabia or Dances With Wolves, and the depiction of the natives is predictably Orientalist.)
But I don't fault James Cameron for these flaws. The film, set on a fictional planet in the future, is effective precisely because it is so didactic. Furthermore, its broad critique of American imperialism is so potently effective because the “Na’vi” do not correspond to any one specific group, but are rather an amalgamation of the various indigenous peoples Americans have encountered through history, from North America and the Philippines to Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

But more importantly, I am amazed at how such an unambiguously anti-imperialist film can be so popular within the imperium. Has the public, during my long absence, been radicalized? Have they been reading Lenin? Or have they swung to the Lindbergh Right and gone isolationist?

Or, is this an example of what Marxists call “recuperation” (or “incorporation”), whereby a dissenting discourse is adopted and reconfigured by the dominant ideology for safe public consumption?

Or does the film serve as a kind of a Bakhtinian carnival where the repressed fears of the tribe are given cathartic release through the temporary reversal of the usual moral coordinates?

Or is it that the public is just too dumb to see beyond the special effects to the film’s exceedingly obvious political message? (You’ll note that even many of the major movie critics missed the point, evaluating the film in the tired discourse of race.)

Also, I wonder if there are any historical precedents for this. Did Germans in the early 1940s gather en masse to watch plays or films in which they were the bad guys, and Jews and Communists were the heroes? Did the ancient Romans have such a custom? Did the Imperial Japanese? The British? The Umayyad Caliphate?

Collective self-flagellation usually comes after the collapse—but can it happen while things are still going relatively well?

Please look into this for me.

Lucy Tucker

PS Oh, and for the blind:

Monday, December 28, 2009


This just in from Sally Suzuki:
Bethany Doublename,,

Although your panel topic sounds fascinating, I'm afraid you've been misinformed. Beholdmyswarthyface and I are not holding a Japan Studies Conference next month; in fact, this is the first I'd even heard about it. But good luck finding a conference to host your panel!

Sally Suzuki, Beholdmyswarthyface Media Director

"Widening the Discourse of the Shishōsetsu in Modern Japanese Literature"

This just in from Bethany Doublename:

Dear Beholdmyswarthyface,

My people have informed me that you and Sally Suzuki are holding the first annual Beholdmyswarthyface Japan Studies Conference sometime next month. Corbin Clausewitz,
Cresti Yerfi, and I, Bethany Doublename, would love to participate, so please take a look at our panel proposal and get back to us. Thanks.
Broadly defined, the shishōsetsu (or "I-novel") has been and continues to be the predominant mode of narration in modern Japanese literature. Even writers who assume an oppositional stance toward the form often end up employing—perhaps unconsciously—the very literary methods of the I-novelists. Our panel will focus on five modern writers—Iwano Hōmei, Tayama Katai, Shimazaki Tōson, Ishikawa Jun, and Takahashi Gen'ichirō—the last two of whom are generally not regarded as part of the "I-novel" tradition yet who can still be historically situated within its discourse. In the first paper, Bethany Doublename will examine the interwar theoretical works of Ishikawa Jun in relation to the I-novel problematic. In the second paper, Corbin Clausewitz will explore late Meiji-era readers' reception of three works by Tayama Katai, Shimazaki Tōson, and Iwano Hōmei. And in the third paper, Ian Hogarth III will look at postmodern Japanese fiction in terms of this problematic, focusing on Takahashi Gen'ichirō.
1. First Paper (Bethany Doublename)

"Ishikawa Jun as Theorist: His Interwar Writings"
Like Natsume Sōseki, Ishikawa Jun (1899-1987) was endowed with a highly theoretical mind, and his fiction might be said to be an extension of his theoretical writings. Yet little attention has been paid to these important works. In this paper, I will show how Ishikawa Jun's interwar critical works such as "Edojin no hassohō ni tsuite," "Mori Ōgai," and "Bungaku taigai" are key to understanding his fiction and, more broadly, his theory of literature. Focusing specifically on issues related to the I-novel problematic (i.e., questions of subjectivity, author, persona, voice, and author-reader contract), I will show how his penetrating readings of Mori Ōgai, Edo poetry, and French modernist novelists provided him with a perspective (both aesthetic and political) that set him apart from writers of his day. Yet despite his professed preference for self-mystification, intertextuality, and parody and his distrust of "realism," confession, and the supposed "transparency" of language, Ishikawa's writings still share much with I-novelists in terms of narrative practices, and it is this apparent contradiction which I also plan to explore.
2. Second Paper (Corbin Clausewitz)
"The Ignoble I: Authors, Authenticity and Immorality in Shishōsetsu"
Shishōsetsu, often translated into English as "I-novel," is a literary style that encourages readers to blur the lines that divide reality and fiction, novelists and narrators. Indeed, we know that many of the events upon which the important late Meiji-era shishōsetsu (Tayama Katai's Futon, Shimazaki Tōson's Hansei and Iwano Hōmei's Tandeki, to name three) are based actually took place. But there is one more feature shared by these three notorious novels that is worthy of discussion: their conspicuous depictions of various forms of transgression. Katai's work is a confession of lust for his young pupil; Tōson describes his affair with his niece; and Hōmei writes unabashedly of his dalliance with a local geisha. But what did contemporary readers make of these scandalous episodes? What did they make of these authors? In my presentation, I will examine public responses to these three sensational novels, and, in doing so, will attempt to highlight how private scandal was channeled into the public discourse in each case.

3. Third Paper
(Ian Hogarth III)

"Postmodernism, Takahashi Gen'ichirō's John Lennon Versus the Martians, and the Legacy of Shishōsetsu"
My paper will explore the state of shishōsetsu in contemporary Japanese literature, focusing on Takahashi Gen'ichirō's John Lennon Versus the Martians. While it is often stated that shishōsetsu died out with the rise of proletarian literature in early Shōwa period, certain aspects of the genre have continued into the present. Takahashi Gen'ichirō's John Lennon Versus the Martians is a quintessential postmodern work that at first glance seems to bear little resemblance to the earlier shishōsetsu of Tayama Katai or Shimazaki Tōson. Yet its first-person mode of narrationwhich fuses together author and narratoris undoubtedly a technique borrowed, perhaps unwittingly, from the shishōsetsu tradition. I will examine the significance of the author and narrator's unification in this postmodern age in which the author's subjectivity—even existence—has been radically discarded, and how this relates to the tradition of the shishōsetsu in Japan. I also think it will be useful to expand our analysis to include a comparison with Richard Brautigan and other late 20th-century American writers who have had a major influence on Takahashi.

[And, in Japanese . . .]
本 発表は高橋源一郎の『ジョン・レノン対火星人』を中心に、「現代文学における私小説」という問題を考察する。「私小説」という概念は、狭義においては昭和 初期、プロレタリア文学の隆盛とともに衰退していった一ジャンルといわれるが、日本文学におけるその影響は現代文学に至るまで連綿と続いていると見ること もできる。高橋源一郎の『ジョン・レノン対火星人』は日本におけるポストモダン文学の代表的作品であり、「私小説」というジャンルからは一見最も遠いよう に思われるが、一人称で、作家高橋と語り手が同一に見えるように書くその語り方は、私小説の伝統の影響下にある語り方である。本発表においては、作者の主 体性を積極的に放棄するものであるとされるポストモダン文学において、作者と語り手の同一視をうながすような私小説の語りが持ち込まれることにはどのよう な意味があり、それは日本文学における私小説の伝統とどのように関わっているのかを考察する。その際、高橋が影響を受けたとされるブローティガンなどアメ リカのポストモダン作家との比較を行うことがより広い視座をもたらし、有効であると考える。

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A History of Modern Japanese Literary Criticism: Act One, Scene 2

W. David Marx, editor of the popular online journal Neojaponisme, has kindly invited me to post on his site the second scene of my short reference play, A History of Modern Japanese Literary Criticism. The remaining two scenes should be finished by the end of January.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Russian Literature In Japan

This just in from Molly Cessess:
Hey, Beholdmyswarthyface. Here is my translation that was presented at a Yale lecture last week. The author of the piece wishes to have it published in some literary journal, but before doing so, I was hoping you could help me polish it up. Please compare my translation with the original, which is included at the bottom.

Molly Cessess

And, for the blind:

Monday, December 7, 2009

"The Schoolgirl" by Dazai Osamu

This just in from Josh Assimilated:
Hello, Beholdmyswarthyface. My name is Josh, Josh Assimilated, and I have been a fan of your web journal for many years.

I think you're on to something with this Aozora Bunko translation project, and I wish you luck in getting that million-dollar grant.

Though I have no family, education, money, or credentials to speak of, I would like to participate in the
project. Please take a look at this sample translation, and let me know if you think I am qualified. It is the first section of my translation of Dazai Osamu's short story "Joseito" (1939). You can compare my translation with the original text, which I've included at the bottom of the document. I'll post the rest of my translation after hearing from you.

Best regards,
Josh Assimilated

P.S. Oh, and this for the blind: