Sunday, October 31, 2010

Aozora Bunko Translation Project Update

This just in from Molly Des Jardin of University of Michigan:
Hi Beholdmyswarthyface-

This is Molly Des Jardin - I messaged you quite a while back about our mutual friend Boyd whose name I saw mentioned on your blog. Now I'm writing again because I'm interested in the Aozora Bunko Translation Project you and your colleagues are putting together.

I'm back at the University of Michigan now after a year of research in Japan, and looking at developing projects in the digital humanities that specifically use Japan-related resources. I've been looking at some collaborative translation sites out there and getting a lot of inspiration related back to your project.

Given that our department has an abnormal number of Meiji specialists (both grad students and faculty) my brainstorming is leading toward embarking on some kind of collaborative Meiji translation project that would put English and Japanese text up on the web, marked up in a way that would also make it useful for future text manipulation and data mining. I have no idea if I can get a critical mass of interest for this, but the money is there within U of M to make this kind of thing happen. Anyway, my thoughts on it reminded me to message you and see what's going on with your translation project. I checked out your blog updates on the translation list and it looks like a Meiji team would nicely complement the Taishō/early Shōwa texts that are on your priority list.

Let me know your thoughts if you have time. Hope this finds you doing well in Tokyo and slightly warmer than I am here in the windy Midwest.

Hello Molly,

I'm glad to hear you're interested in our project. Recently I've been so busy with other projects (mainly teaching an undergrad literature course at Sophia U. and gathering material for my dissertation) that I haven't had much time for it, but the project is definitely still on the agenda, and we're always looking for more people to contribute. It would be great if you could head up the Meiji division. I'll put Sally Suzuki in charge of the Taishō/Shōwa eras. (She usually does what I tell her to do.)

And it would be wonderful if you could get U. of Michigan to provide some kind of sponsorship for the project. I will ask around at Sophia and Tokyo University as well to see if anyone is interested.

Anyway, we'll discuss more in detail later. I'm out the door right now and into the typhoon that just hit this morning!

For now, I'll put together a list of people who are willing to contribute. (Anyone who is interested should leave his/her name, affiliation, and email address in the comment section below!) 


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Natsume Sōseki on the Nature of Subjectivity

This just in from Mary Klecka:
Dear Beholdmyswarthyface,

Last week my Daddy told me I have neither a soul nor a self. Hearing this, I burst into a fit of tears, and haven't been able to sleep since. Is what he says true? And if so, what, then, am I?  -Mary Klecka
Well, Mary,  I'm not sure I'm qualified to answer this, so let me direct you to the following from Natsume Sōseki. The passage is taken from a lecture he gave in 1907 at Tokyo Art College, in which he explains what he sees as the fundamentally intersubjective nature of subjectivity. Hope this helps.
In this world there is supposed to exist an "I" and a "you," and we are located in a vast space, within which we each act out our roles in a drama that unfolds across time, an unfolding that is governed by the law of cause and effect--or something along those lines. We have to accept that there is an "I," a "you," something called "space," and something called "time," and that there exists a law of cause and effect that governs us. These are all self-evident to everyone--even to me.

And yet when we think about these things more carefully, they begin to appear doubtful. Quite doubtful, in fact. Ordinarily, of course, everyone accepts the above without question--as do I. But when we stand back from common sense and reflect more carefully, we begin to suspect that something is amiss here. Somehow this doesn't seem quite right. Why? Take the "I," for example: the I who stands before you in his frock coat and high collar, who seems to exist so solemnly, mustache and all, before you. In fact, the true nature of this "I" is quite problematic. You can see the frock coat and high collar with your eyes, you can touch them with your hands--and yet, of course, those are not me. These hands, these feet--the ones I scratch when they itch, that I rub when they hurt--in sum, is this body me? No, that doesn't seem quite right. There are feelings called "itchiness" and "pain." And there are sensations of scratching and patting. Other than those, we have nothing. What exists here is neither hand nor foot. What exists are phenomena of consciousness that, for convenience's sake, we call "hand" and "foot," just as we have phenomena of consciousness that we call "itchiness" and "pain." In sum, what exists is consciousness--and the activity that we call being conscious. Only this is certain. Anything beyond this we are unable to prove, but this much is clear, beyond dispute, and requires no proof. When you think about it this way, what we usually call "I" is not something that exists objectively out in the world. Rather, as a matter of convenience we give the name "I" to what is, in fact, a continuous stream of consciousness [ishiki no renzoku]. But why, then, you may ask, is it a convenience to go to all the trouble of positing this otherwise superfluous "I"? It is because once we posit this "I," then as its flip side we also posit the existence of something other than the self--the existence, that is, of "you." In sum, we establish the distinction between self and object. Despite the difficulty it entails, this is a necessary expediency.

In saying this I am denying not only the existence of the self (or what we commonly call the self) but also your existence. Despite the fact that there are a large number of you here listening today, you only seem to be here. I'm very sorry for you, but you don't actually exist. Perhaps you find this upsetting, but I'm laying down my fundamental arguments here, so please do me the favor of hearing them out as arguments. To put this in its most basic form, which may sound impertinent, apart from me you have no objective existence. I said apart from me. Yet this "me" also does not exist, at least not in the form of an "I"--and so how could you possibly exist? No matter how angry you may get about this, it won't change matters.  You sit there. You sit there thinking that you are sitting there. Even I think that you are sitting there. But to say you are there is merely to say that I happen to think you are there. No matter how much I may want to go beyond simply thinking you are there, I am unable to prove anything beyond that. Usually when we want to ascertain the existence of something, we first examine it with our eyes. Having seen it with our eyes, we touch it with our hands. Then, after touching it, we may try smelling or tasting it. We might not need to go through all these steps to ascertain your existence, but, as I said earlier, when I see with my eyes or hear with my ears, in the most fundamental sense what I am actually doing is experiencing the consciousness of sight or hearing, and this consciousness cannot somehow be transformed into an independently existing object of person. If I look at or touch you, the image of students in black school uniforms with gold buttons appears--but only as a phenomenon in my conscious mind. I have no means of ascertaining your existence beyond that. This being the case , we can only conclude that if I don't exist, then neither do you. Consciousness is the only thing that can be said to exist--to really exist. [...]

If we set aside our daily common sense, when we look at the world of selves and things, we realize that we cannot claim that objects exist independently of the self, nor that the self exists independent of its objects. To put it another way, without the self there are no objects, and likewise without objects there can be no self. "Objects" and "self" necessarily appear in tandem. We use two different words to express them only to make things easier to understand and as a matter of fundamental principles. Since the two cannot, in fact, be distinguished from one another, we don't really need a separate word to express their mutually indistinguishable status. Accordingly, the only thing that clearly exists is consciousness. And we ordinarily refer to this continuous stream of consciousness by the name "life."
(Translated by Michael K. Bourdaghs, in Theory of Literature and Other Critical Writings (2009))

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Notes on Kobayashi Hideo's “Literature of the Lost Home”

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.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Mori Ōgai's "History as It Is and History Ignored"

This just in from Jarvis32:
In his essay "Rekishi sono mama to rekishibanare" (1915) (translated as "History as It Is and History Ignored"), Mori Ōgai considers the distinction between fiction and history, the nature of historical fiction, and how the writer of historical fiction should go about his task. According to translator Darcy Murray's prefatory note, the essay "was published less than a month after the appearance of 'Sanshō Dayū' in January 1915," and "is included here as a kind of postscript to 'Sanshō Dayū.'"

Ōgai first addresses the question of whether works that "make use of actual historical figures can be considered as fiction." Judging from the closing lines of the essay, it appears that Ōgai regarded "Sanshō Dayū" as a work of fiction, since history was used in the work only "as a point of departure." Still, he distinguishes himself from other writers who borrow from history only to write self-indulgent, personal confessions (he seems to be taking aim here at the Japanese Naturalists), and points out that in his approach he strives for an objectivity that, whether or not perfectly attained, gives the work a rational, "Apollonian" texture not found in many works of the late Meiji and early Taishō periods.

There is, however, an apparent disparity between what Ōgai tries to do (or claims to try to do) and what he actually does in "Sanshō Dayū." "My motives are simple," he explains. "In studying historical records, I came to revere the reality that was evidenced in them. . . Secondly, if contemporary authors can write about life 'just as it is' and find it satisfactory, then they ought to appreciate a similar treatment of the past."

Nevertheless, Ōgai soon finds that such an approach binds him too tightly to the actuality of the past, leaving him with little room for departure. Seeking more freedom, he settles for "historical fiction," in which the "bones" of historical legends are replaced, while the "purport" -- or shui 趣意 -- of the work is maintained. Such an approach to history is similar to the kankotsudattai 換骨奪胎 approach of the pre-modern Japanese writers, who essentially "retranslated" canonical works in manners appropriate for the new age and new audiences. "Just as I disliked changing the reality in history," he writes, "I became bound by history in spite of myself. Suffering under these bonds, I thought I must break loose from them." And again,

"The virtue of a legend like 'Sanshō the Steward' is that there is enough of a fixed story to prevent the writer from completely losing himself as he goes along; on the other hand, one would not be bound to pursue the story in precisely the fashion that I have. Without examining the legend in too much detail, I let myself be taken by a dreamlike image of this old story that seems itself a dream."

Though he keeps most of the details of plot and character-- the father Masauji's exile to Tsukushi in 1081; the wife's pursuit of her husband, along with her two children Zushiō and Anju; the presence of the old woman Ubatake, who, after the kidnapping, dutifully drowns herself; the deceit of Yamaoka Tayū once they reach Echigo; the abduction of the two children, who are sent as slaves to Tango, where they are sold to Sanshō the Steward; the mother's trials in Sado where she is "set to chasing away birds from the millet"; the torture and murder of Anju after Zushiō escapes to the Kiyomizu temple in Kyoto, where he is adopted by the old priest Umezuin, who soon appoints Zushiō governor of Mutsu and Tango; and Zushiō's rescue of his mother in Sado, followed by his return to Tango where he exacts revenge upon Sanshō and his sons-- Ōgai does make some significant and perhaps inevitable changes. Rather than using the premodern language, he has most of the characters speak in a contemporary Tokyo colloquial dialect. Also, he adds several characters (to which he gives archaic names) who do not appear in earlier versions of the story. The chronology, too, is slightly altered. Finally, he makes several changes to the details of lineage and plot (e.g., the promotion to governor was not likely in the eleventh century).

Still, unless we are to dismiss his final lines as false humility, it seems clear that Ōgai was somewhat dissatisfied with his version of "Sanshō Dayū" and the "misuse" of history it exemplifies. "In any case," he writes in the essay's final paragraph, "I wrote 'Sanshō Dayū' using history as a point of departure. When I looked over what I had written, I somehow felt that using history in this fashion was unsatisfactory. This is an honest confession on my part."

(Translations of the essay and story can be found in The Historical Fiction of Mori Ōgai, edited by David Dilworth and J. Thomas Rimer.)

And, for the blind:

Friday, October 8, 2010

Swarthyface's Note to Self After First Lecture

This just in from Beholdmyswarthyface, addressed to Beholdmyswarthyface:
大学の先生としての初体験が無事に終了。予想以上に人数が多かった(凡そ90人)。最初は緊張したがすぐにコメディアン・モードに切り替えてくだらない冗談をいっぱい言いながら次第に落ち着いて来た。学部生に教えるコツも何となく分かった。まず、抽象的な話はなるべく回避。それから自らの話す時間をなるべく短縮(発表とかで生徒たちにしゃべらせることによって)。言葉に詰まった時は感想文を 書かせること(課題は何でもいい)で時間を稼げるのだ。そして自分の用意した講義ノートが分かりやすくて明確であることは何より大事だと分かった。

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

"How Would You Define Japanese Modernism: An Interview with Suzuki Sadami"

Here’s Suzuki Sadami 鈴木貞美 (1947- ) in an interview with Raquel Abi-Samara, addressing the question, What is Japanese modernism? Suzuki traces its origins to the early 17th century, setting himself apart from critics like Karatani Kōjin and Nakamura Mitsuo (one might even throw Donald Keene in there) who see literary modernism as coinciding with historical “modernity,” i.e., Meiji Westernization. Suzuki holds that Japanese modernism should be limited neither to Westernization, nor to the “narrow sense of European modernism,” which is but one stage in its development. Suzuki proposes a re-periodization of the contemporary (gendai) as well, which he sees as beginning not in 1946 in the wake of Japan’s defeat but in 1920 with the advent of mass culture. Periodization of literary history, he notes, need not always coincide with that of cultural history.

In the first half of the interview, Suzuki walks us through some of terms. First, there is modanizumu モダニズム, which entered into common use around 1926. The term is derived from the word modan モダン, which

appeared for the first time in an essay on the “modern girl” movement in England in a women’s magazine 1923, and it quickly came into wide spread use circa 1926. The word was applied to many new styles of art and everyday lifestyles in urban settings, influenced from Europe and America at the time. The word “modan” was used to establish a new and different definition of the modern and to draw a distinction between it and an earlier katakana word, namely “haikara,” which also meant being fashionable in the European— namely, Victorian—style. The word haikara had come into use in Japan in late nineteenth century, its origin deriving from the word “high collar” in English. (Suzuki, 1-2)

There is also kindai, which until the Meiji period simply meant “recent,” as is the case in Fujiwara Teika’s Superior Poems of Our Times (Kindaishūka 近代秀歌, 1209). But by Meiji, the word came to refer specifically to the process of Westernization and the construction of a “capitalist nation-state.” To avoid confusion with the historical use of the term (which, like the term kinsei 近世, included the Edo period), the word was pronounced “kondai” when specifically referring to the Meiji period. The compound term kingendai 近現代 was invented later to encompass everything from Meiji to the present.

Though terms like kindaika 近代化 (“modernization”) and kindaishugi 近代主義 (“modern-ism”) didn’t appear until later (the latter was first used by Kaneko Chikusui in his 1911 essay “The Origins of Modernism”), the process itself had in fact begun much earlier. Like Ishikawa Jun, Suzuki speaks of the essential modern-ness of the Edoites, who were among the world’s most literate, and whose city was the world’s most populated by 1710. The emergence of a “national language” (kokugo), too, preceded that of the European nations. And in the arts, Suzuki points out, traces of a modernistic realism can be seen in the writings of Motoori Norinaga (1730-1801), Ishida Baigan (1685-1744), Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653-1725), Ihara Saikaku (1642-1693), and in the Edo-era shinkei 真景 landscape paintings, “in which the artist actually copied real scenes as opposed to those imagined in one’s head” (Suzuki, 5).

To be frank, however, I don’t see why Suzuki feels the need to cite examples of pre-Meiji realism in order to prove that Japan was modern before Westernization. Who ever said realism was a precondition for the modern? Is not much of European modernism in fact a reaction against the old notions of mimesis and realism? Also, the claim that Chikamatsu practiced a kind of realism is rather dubious given that Chikamatsu himself stated that realism should be avoided at all costs, as it would “permit no pleasure in the work.”

I’m late for my orthodontist appointment, and I still haven’t said a word about the second half of the interview, so I’ll just briefly mention a few of the topics discussed:

*the reciprocal relation between Japanese tradition and European modernism
*the built-in ambiguity between subject-object in Japanese grammar, writing
*the many ways of looking at Kajii Motojirō’s “Lemon” (1925)
*the war years: what really happened vs. the American triumphalist version of history scripted by the IMTFE
*Japanese universalism, militarism and the Taishō vitalism
*and some thoughts on how “the tradition” is, more often than not, creatively invented.

Aside from some clunky phrases and the occasional typo (e.g., “the poet Noguchi Yonejirô (1975-1947)”), this interview is an excellent introduction to the subject of Japanese modernism, and we should all thank Professors Tyler, Suzuki, and Abi-Samara for making it public.