Sunday, November 25, 2012

Tanizaki Jun’ichirō’s “Mr. Bluemound” (Aozukashi no hanashi; 1926)

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Study Guide for Mr. Bluemound

Tanizaki Jun’ichirō’s “Mr. Bluemound” (Aozukashi no hanashi; 1926)


Tanizaki Jun’ichirō’s “Mr. Bluemound” (Aozukashi no hanashi; 1926)

Related Quote #1: “Our [modern] era prefers the image to the thing, the copy to the original, the representation to the reality, appearance to being.” —Ludwig Feuerbach, preface to the 1843 edition of The Essence of Christianity.

Related Quote #2: “The powers of photography have in effect de-Platonized our understanding of reality, making it less and less plausible to reflect upon our experience according to the distinction between images and things, between copies and originals. It suited Plato’s derogatory attitude toward images to liken them to shadows—transitory, minimally informative, immaterial, impotent co-presences of the real things which cast them. But the force of photographic images comes from their being material realities in their own right, richly informative deposits left in the wake of whatever emitted them, potent means for turning the tables on reality—for turning it into a shadow. Images are more real than anyone could have supposed.” —Susan Sontag, On Photography (1977)

Related Quote #3: “Cinema is the ultimate pervert’s art. It doesn't give you what you desire—it tells you how to desire.” —Slavoj Zizek, The Pervert’s Guide to the Cinema (2006).


1. Plato’s Theory of Forms: The idea that behind the flux of phenomenal appearances lies an immutable realm of non-material abstract (but substantial) forms (or ideas) that possess the highest and most fundamental kind of reality. The Form (or Idea) is an aspacial, atemporal, objective blueprint of perfection, as contrasted with the Icon (image/appearance), which is merely the Form’s particular aspect, which exists materially and temporally. According to this theory, each concrete particular is an imitation of its abstract and eternal Form.

Study Questions
Answer any six of the following.

1.Briefly describe the narrative structure of the story.

2. Perversion and voyeurism are at the heart of this work. How might the story be cited as evidence for Zizek’s claim (quoted above) that film is “the ultimate pervert’s art” in that it “doesn't give you what you desire—it tells you how to desire”? In other words, how is this monstrosity called Mr. Bluemound to some extent the creation of Mr. Nakada?

3. Explain Mr. Bluemound’s theory about “originals” and “copies,” “forms” and “shadows,” and how this theory relates to his obsession with Yurako. In his view, what is most primary/real?

4. “Yurako” is described in various ways throughout the story, but the “real” Yurako is never known or revealed. List and describe each of these representations/manifestations of Yura. What does Tanizaki seem to be suggesting by never revealing to us “the real” Yurako?

5. The relation between Mr. Bluemound and his blow-up doll seems to parallel or mirror—albeit in a rather grotesque way—the relationship between Mr. Nakada and Yurako. Discuss this analogic structure of the work.

6. At the end of his letter, Mr. Nakada states that he is no longer capable of loving Yurako, and that he is resigned to die. What was it about his encounter with Mr. Bluemound that was so radically transformative?

7. List and describe all of the grotesque elements of this work. What do you think Tanizaki was trying to convey by making the story so outrageously grotesque?

8. It is well known that Tanizaki was throughout his life a committed foot fetishist. Identify the descriptions of feet in this work. Why do you think Tanizaki’s characters are so often attracted to the feet of beautiful young females?

9. Describe the transformation that occurs in Mr. Bluemound—or at least in Mr. Nakada’s perception of him—throughout the story.

10. What do you think Mr. Nakada’s motives were in explaining this episode to his wife? Couldn’t he have just died without telling her about it?

11. Do you detect any Buddhist elements/themes/overtones in the work? Explain.

12. Mr. Nakada could have gotten up and walked away from the creepy Mr. Bluemound at any point in their conversation. What motivates him to stay?

13. Although not described in the story, what do you think Yurako’s reaction to the letter was? Explain. 

14. What do you think Tanizaki was to trying convey—about film/photographs/sexual desire in the modern world/women and their representations/the male gaze/appearance vs. reality/etc.—by writing this story?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Study Guide: Ishikawa Jun, Yamazakura (1935, Wild Cherries)

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Study Guide: Ishikawa Jun, Yamazakura (1935, Wild Cherries)

References/Relevant Terms
1. The Fantastic: According to Bulgarian theorist Tzvetan Todorov (1939- ), the fantastic is characterized by: a) a hesitation on the part of the reader in deciding whether to interpret the events of the story as real or unreal, natural or supernatural; and/or b) a similar hesitation evident in the characters or narrator(s). To qualify as “fantastic,” the reader must be able to resist reading the story as a simple allegory or extended metaphor; in short, he must read it literally. “Fantastic” works are often divided into two types: strange (in which rational explanation is predominant) and marvelous (in which supernatural explanation is predominant).

2. Gensō bungaku 幻想文学: Fantasy literature. Has roots in Edo-period works by Ueda Akinari, Chinese ghost stories, twentieth-century folklore (minzokugaku), “supernatural studies” (yōkaigaku), etc. Dreams, sleep, and the unconscious are frequent topics/motifs. Fushigi (uncanny) elements/events are often employed as a critique of modernity, bunmeikaika (“civilization and enlightenment”), scientific rationalism, etc. A common theme in such works is the pursuit of “things unseen” (mienu mono). Much of recent contemporary Japanese literature might be classified as gensō bungaku.

3. Yamazakura 山桜: Mountain cherry trees, as opposed to the other type of sakura no ki: village cherry trees (satozakura). Edo-period nativist and literary scholar Motoori Norinaga was particularly fond of this type of cherry tree.

4. Icarus: Son of Daedalus in Greek mythology. Attempted to escape from Crete with the wax-and-feather wings his father made for him, but drowned after flying too close to the sun. Watashi shares with Icarus a tendency to be drawn to the unknown.

5. “Edgar Allen Poe story […] into a teetotum”: A reference to the character Monsieur Boullard in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The System of Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether” (1845). Like Watashi, a teetotum or dreidel stands only when spinning/moving.

6. Gérard de Nerval (1808-1855). French symbolist poet and author, whose works include the novella Sylvie (1853) and the surrealistic autobiography Aurelia (1855). Nerval’s life was described in Arthur Symons’ book The Symbolist Movement in Literature (1899), which was first translated into Japanese by Iwano Hōmei in 1913.

7. Fūrabō 風羅坊: Thin garment easily torn by the wind; by extension, an “eccentric wind-blown spirit” who has submitted himself to the forces of Nature. Matsuo Bashō used the term to refer to himself. The notion has its roots in the Taoist classic, the Zhuangzi. Watashi might be considered a contemporary version of this literary archetype.

8. Nenashigusa 根なし草: Rootless grasses or weeds; by extension, a rootless wanderer.

9. Giseigo 擬声語 (onomatopoeia): Although impossible to convey in translation, the original contains many onomatopoeia: utsura-utsura, furari, hira-hira, gira-gira, gara-gara, yore-yore, yura-yura, fuwa-fuwa, hyoro-hyoro, paku-paku, zukin, zara-zara, jiri-jiri, pishari, dokin, shittori, gata-gata, bun-bun, kara-kara, kururi, mukkuri, chira-chira, waku-waku, hara-hara, kucha-kucha, kyoton to, puttsuri, papa-papa, pishari-pishari, hyū-hyū, kera-kera, hyokkuri, zoku-zoku, ran-ran, pin-to, pechanto, etc.

Things to Consider

1. Make a list of all terms/allusions you are unfamiliar with. Provide a brief definition/description of each.

2. In the short story “Tsuina” (Night Thoughts) by Mori Ōgai, the narrator is prompted to pick up his pen and write down his thoughts after encountering a single word: shinkiraku 新喜楽 (new pleasures). The word itself functions as “opening on an unknown place” and “an unknown world.” It might be said that the “black mantle” and the “wild cherry tree” play a similar role in this story. Discuss their respective roles.

3. Consider the opening passage. Is “the way” a metaphor for something? If so, what? How is it described? Where does it lead? Where does it begin? (Note: the opening line of neo-Confucian scholar Ogyū Sorai’s The Bendō begins with the same line: “Though the way is difficult to comprehend …”)

4. Discuss how reality and fantasy, sanity and madness, wakefulness and dreams/reverie interact in the work. In what ways is the border between these binaries blurred? What grounds Watashi to reality? What prompts him to pursue the fantastic/the unknown?

5. Describe Watashi’s character traits, his circumstances, his occupation, etc. Is he an example of a fūrabō 風羅坊 (see term #7)?

6. Discuss Kyōko’s role in the story. Do we ever get a clear view/depiction of her? If not, why not? Is she a symbol for something?

7. Describe the narrative style. Where is the narrator (both temporally and spatially) in relation to the events he is describing? How does his occupation (painter) influence the method and content of his narrative?

8. Describe the role of the boy Zentarō. Why does Watashi see his own face when he looks at him up close?

9. Discuss the ending. What do you think happens to Watashi after confronting his rival Zensaku?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Study Guide for Ishikawa Jun’s Kajin (The Nymphs, 1935)

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Study Guide for Ishikawa Jun’s "Kajin" (The Nymphs, 1935)


Study Guide for Ishikawa Jun’s "Kajin" (The Nymphs, 1935)

I. Some Key Terms/Concepts

1. Pan 牧羊神: the Greek god of instincts and sexual desire. In Greek mythology, Pan is the god of shepherds and flocks, of mountain wilds, hunting and rustic music, as well as the companion of nymphs.
2. “Nympholepsy”: a “state of rapture supposed to be inspired by nymphs, hence, an ecstasy or frenzy of emotion especially inspired by something unattainable” (OED).
3. Kūkyo (Japanese: 空虚; Sanskrit: Śūnyatā). Emptiness/void. Relates to the idea in Buddhism (and perhaps psychoanalysis) that the self/ego is an empty void.

II. Some Questions to Ponder as You Read

1. Discuss the narrative style of the work. Is this an example of a "self-conscious narrator"? Give examples.

2. Watashi begins his narrative by describing his search for the “navel” (heso). Describe this episode. Is the navel/omphalos a metaphor for something? If so, what?

3. Describe Yura and Misa. What is their relationship vis-à-vis Watashi? Are they archetypes/symbolic representations of something? If so, what do they represent?

4. Discuss Watashi’s “disappearing act.” What is he trying to do? Why? Why does he eventually attempt suicide?

5. What are the dual aspects of Watashi’s personality/nature? Describe them.

6. How is this work an example of a "quest story"? What is the narrator searching for?

7. How does the motif of Pan (
牧羊神) fit into the story?

8. Discuss the significance of (1) the “white hibiscus” (fuyō
芙蓉) and (2) the poem Watashi composes.

9. The story ends with Watashi’s confession that he suffers from “a condition known as nympholepsy.” What’s that? What are its symptoms? 

10. How is Watashi a “possessed” narrator/character? What is he possessed by? How does this possession relate to his act of writing this story?

11. What are the main “themes” of the work?

12. Identify any inaccuracies/flaws/awkward phrasing in my translation.

III. Homework Assignment

1. Make an original and interesting point about the work. Write this BEFORE reading my optional-reading essay.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Notes on Tamenaga Shunsui’s "Spring Colors: A Plum Calendar"—Japan’s First Modern Novel?

This just in from Meredith Utrabui, first-year student at the University of Nebraska:
Is Tamenaga Shunsui's (1790-1843) Shunshoku umegoyomi (1832-3) Japan's first modern novel? According to Donald Keene, the ninjōbon "came exceedingly close to earning that distinction.” Whether it is or not, of course, depends on how you define the term "modern novel." If we are to follow Tsubouchi Shōyō's definition given in Shōsetsu shinzui, his manifesto for a new Victorian sort of realism, then Shunshoku umegoyomi does not qualify. But if we define the "modern novel" broadly enough to allow for more "postmodern" (or in the Japanese case, pre- and early modern) elements such as involution, frequent narrative shifts, disregard for unity of plot and character development, and a distrust of "objectivity" and "realism," then the work, along with many other pre- and early-modern works, just might qualify.

There is much disagreement over what constitutes a "modern novel," so for sake of brevity let us assume here that Shōyō's definition in Shōsetsu shinzui is correct. (Note: The fact that Umegoyomi does not meet Shōyō’s criteria for the new novel is by no means an indictment of the work, but rather a simple statement of fact.)

Shōyō intended his essay to be an instructional manual for aspiring novelists. Shōyō proposes first that "realism" (as understood by the late Victorians) take the place of what Earl Miner calls Japan's traditional "affective expressive system," and, second, that a Kantian aestheticism take the place of the Confucian didacticism that he felt had corrupted the literature of the previous age. Shōyō also gives many pointers on how the writer should handle specific problems of his craftfrom linguistic and stylistic concerns to the proper relation of writer to audience.

Umegoyomi is no "realist" novel. There is no Aristotelian plot, no structural unity, no development or "dignity of character." The work, a parody, is humorous and playful in tone, and lacks the moral seriousness and tonal sincerity found in "realist" works of Europe. The work also lacks the moral purpose that Shōyō cites as a secondary benefit to the realist novel. The only sermonizing in the work is farcical. Finally, the narrative flexibility displayed in the work is a feature of nonmimetic rather than mimetic or realist works.

Earl Miner argues in his essay "The Grounds of Mimetic and Nonmimetic Art" that Japanese traditional art and literature (by traditional he means Japanese literature prior to the influence from the West) is essentially nonmimetic. “Japanese aesthetic," he writes, "rests not on the imitation of discrete agencies but on relation.” In other words, the subject of the literary work is not the simulation of an external, observable reality, but rather a "re-presentation" of conventions with which the audience is already familiar. Tamenaga Shunsui's Umegoyomi is no exception, as it parodies the tales-of-a-famed-male-lover genre of classic literature, the two most notable examples being Ise monogatari and Genji monogatari. Because Umegoyomi is ultimately art-referential (i.e., a literary pastiche) rather than life-referential (i.e., mimetic), it is disqualified from Shōyō's "new novel" category. For a work to meet Shōyō’s standards, it must depend on verisimilitude to real-world characters and situations, rather than on the "unreal" world of classical legends and archetypes.

A work of pastiche, Umegoyomi is filled with self-referentiality and allusion to texts from both high and low culturetwo types of referencing that Tsubouchi Shōyō warns against in Shōsetsu shinzui. Umegoyomi is also filled with product placements that never let us forget that the work exists, first and foremost, within the commercial realm of the Edo marketplace. Also, there is much self-promotion in the work, as Tamenaga Shunsui repeatedly reminds his readers to purchase his other books. Shunsui, or more accurately his author-persona, even interrupts the story at one point to defend such self-promotion. In another section, the author-persona again interrupts the story to promote a sequel, to defend his use of explicit scenes, and to provide commentary on the included illustrations. The literary fictional past, the "real" historical past, the commercial realm of present-day Edo, and the inhabited worlds of the author all simultaneously coexist in the work and interact with an ease never imagined by any "realist" novelist in Europe.

The work also displays a complex layering of narratives within the main story. An example of this can be seen in Chapter 14 when Yonehachi picks up the book of a drunken client who has fallen asleep. The story Yonehachi reads temporarily becomes the main story, within which another story emerges in the form of a song that is a harbinger of what is to come in the lives of Yonehachi and Tanjirō. The sudden transfer from one narrative to a narrative embedded within it is a device found frequently in Shunsui (and in Edo literature in general), and shows that the author-narrator is as capable of submerging his subjectivity as he is of boisterously intruding upon the work. Long, epistolary insertions, like that in Chapter 18, also attest to the author's ability to conceal his presence entirely. Reference to songs and poetry are found nearly everywhere in the work, reminding readers that they are inhabiting a middle-ground between fiction and real life. Such narrative methods are a far cry from what Shōyō is promoting, namely a novel whose purpose is "solely to provide a critique of life." Umegoyomi is certainly not a "discussion of life" in the sense that Shōyō and Morley advocate.

Shōyō holds that the primary function of the literary work is aesthetic rather than didactic. Yet even so, he still seems to believe in the ennobling powers of the novel, and warns against pandering to the "vulgar tastes" of the public. "Eroticism, too, is to be avoided," he writes. Yet even if we dismiss the more sermonic passages of Umegoyomi as satire or as a kind self-censorship to avoid being banned, Umegoyomi still little resembles the "aesthetic" literature Shōyō advocatesfor, in the end, Umegoyomi's humor is bawdy, lewd, and surely not appropriate for the "discerning audiences" Shōyō had in mind. Although Shōyō admits pleasure as one of the sources for his aestheticism, he would surely disapprove of the pleasures depicted in Umegoyomi, namely, violence, rowdy sex, even gang-rape.

Regarding problems of style, Shōyō argues that the new novel should employ more "positive description" (yōshudan) and less "negative description" (inshudan). By "positive description," he means objective, scientific descriptions made by a detached, third-person narrator, and by "negative description," he means the "Oriental" way of describing indirectly through, say, dialogueand which is the preferred method in monogatari.

The author-narrator's direct involvement, too, should be minimal, Shōyō advises. As noted, Umegoyomi exhibits much authorial intervention and commentary, and, since the story is related through a single, semi-involved perspective, it is more akin to monogatari than to the "positive description" of Victorian realism. The actively engaged narrator-author of Umegoyomi is thus a far cry from the hidden, omniscient third-person narrator Shōyō holds as the ideal.

Besides the authorial interjections and poetic insertions, most of Umegoyomi is presented in dialogue, thus qualifying it as a work of "negative description."

Shōyō also claims that the new novel must have a "mixed style" that is an evenly distributed combination of the literary and colloquial styles, and which is employed in a manner appropriate to content. Umegoyomi, being mostly dialogue, has a disproportionate percentage written in colloquial, and therefore does not meet his standard in this regard either. Also, in the tradition of monogatari, the work is episodic and thus structurally closer to haikai than to Aristotelian conceptions regarding unity and plot. Though there is thematic and narrative continuity between chapters, there is neither the kind of character development nor plot resolution advocated by Shōyō. Moreover, Shōyō would most likely consider Shunsui's frequent narrative interruptions for the insertion of poetry to be pedantic hindrances to the development of story and character. Finally, Shōyō asserts that the hero must possess noble, admirable characteristics. Though the audience surely sympathizes with Umegoyomi's bumbling anti-hero Tanjirō, his disgraceful financial and emotional dependency on women certainly precludes him from being considered noble.

Keene must have felt that Umegoyomi was "exceeding close" to the "modern novel" because its characters were realistically portrayed with minimal exaggerationespecially when compared with other “flawed” Edo-period works. Shōyō, too, felt much of Edo literature to be marred with exaggeration, which he found to be incompatible with “true realism.” In this sense, Umegoyomi comes closer to Shōyō's definition of realism than, say, Bakin's Hakkenden, since the characters of Umegoyomi exist in realistic settings, encounter realistic scenarios, and respond emotionally.

Indeed, Tanjirō, Yonehachi, and the other characters in Umegoyomi are not the kind of "superficial, exaggerated personalities" that Shōyō despises. Yet despite all the connections to real Edo life, this parodic work is still essentially art-referential, and, as a literary genre, is fundamentally different from Shōyō's "new novel."

[For an English translation of Umegoyomi, see Romantic Edo fiction : a study of the ninjobon and complete translation of Shunshoku umegoyomi by Alan S. Woodhull. The original can be found in the 国民の文学 Series, V 18, 春色梅暦 / 為永春水 [著] ; 舟橋聖一 他訳 ]

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Building a Good Literature Paper

This just in from Professor Y:
1. Formulate an argument.
2. Outline your sources (both primary and secondary).
3. Provide a succinct and concise summary of the story in question to help your reader follow your argument.
4. Contextualize your argument within existing relevant scholarship.
5. Respond closely to existing scholarship and show how you challenge or build upon it. 
6. Provide close textual analysis to illustrate your points.
7. Cut out peripheral arguments that detract from you main argument and distract your readers.
8. Provide a clear conclusion. (Note: your conclusion doesn't have to be earth-shattering, but should nonetheless add to what has been said in previous scholarship.)

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Study Guides 1 & 2 for Mori Ōgai’s Vita Sexualis (1909)

Study Guide 1

Study Guide 2

Study Guide 3

Study Guide for Mori Ōgai’s Vita Sexualis (1909)

This just in from Sally Suzuki:
I've put together the following study guide for Vita Sexualis ヰタ・セクスアリス』 by Mori Ōgai, just in case you ever have to teach it in a 300 or 400 level class. I went ahead and put your name on it. I hope this pleases you well.
Vita Sexualis Study Guide