Monday, October 29, 2012

Study Guide 1 and Study Guide 2 for Soseki's Botchan (1906)

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Study Guide #2: Botchan (1906; Chapters 5 Through 11)


I. Terms

1. Picaresque (ピカレスク、悪漢小説)
-kind of realistic fiction (originating in 16th c Spain), in plain colloquial language
-focused around an anti-hero (picaro/picaroon/picaroon)
-rambling narrative of loosely connected episodes (rather than plot)
-picaroon: a scoundrel or rogue of low birth and unconventional life, at war with society.
-picaroon’s descriptions satirize society
-picaroon often exploits the society he is in
-common autobiographical account of picaroon’s fortunes, misfortunes, punishments, and opportunism
-tales are episodic, frequently arranged as journeys
-little character development
-abrupt endings to each episode (and to whole novel; suddenly go to America!)
-pessimistic judgment of life (without resolution; life just goes on miserably)
-damage inflected on anti-hero, other characters; damage a sign of experience
-anti-hero is irrepressibly independent; society is unalterably hostile
-novel allows anti-hero to assert his independence; but invokes counterbalance of society and its restrictions
-picaroons have tyrannical masters
-examples: Thackeray’s Barry Lyndon, Grass’s The Tin Drum, Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, 16th c. Chinese classic Journey To the West 西遊記,

*Genre Exercise: To what extent does the work conform to the definition of the picaresque?

Some Questions

1. Is Botchan a reliable narrator (i.e. is his vision of the world compelling, does it resonate, does it draw us in)?

2. Consider the other characters in the story. Are they round characters? Or are they more like the caricatures of katagimono literature of the Edo period?

3. Although a lighthearted and comical work, there are dark elements. What are they?

4. Describe Botchan’s personality (and how your perception of it is evolving). Are you noticing a gap between how he presents himself and how he is in reality? Cite specific passages.

5. Describe Botchan’s style of narration (to do this you will need to consult the original). What sort of language does he employ? Who is his implied audience? How much temporal distance is there between the narrating Botchan and the narrated Botchan? Do you detect any (ironic) distance between the author (i.e. Sōseki) and his narrator?

6. Locate the passages where Botchan refers to Kiyo. In what contexts/situations is she recalled? Why at these times? What do these passages reveal about Botchan?

7. Discuss the two rival camps that are beginning to form. What differentiates the two camps? Along what lines are they drawn?

8. Discuss Botchan’s notions of money and indebtedness. Consider this especially within the context of Botchan’s relationships with Kiyo and Hotta.

9. Is Botchan a fool? How reliable a narrator is Botchan? Is his worldview compelling and consistent with reality? Does it resonate with us? Does it draw us in? To what extent is Botchan aware of his own shortcomings? Is Botchan capable of objective self-assessment? Of mental, emotional, or spiritual growth? Are there any differences between the narrating Botchan and the narrated Botchan (i.e. the Botchan embedded in the story)?

10. Discuss the character Hotta. What is his role in the story? Discuss Mr. Koga (Green Squash). What’s his role?

11. Botchan’s philosophy is to be honest and straightforward no matter what the costs may be. Is Botchan living up to his own motto?

12. In his essay “Bunmei kaika to bunmei hihyō” critic Etō Jun wrote that the major writers of the Meiji period—Natsume Sōseki, Futabatei Shimei, Mori Ōgai, and Nagai Kafū—were primarily “bunmei hihyōka” (critics of [Meiji] englightenment). In what ways might Botchan be considered an example of bunmei hihyō 文明批評 genre of literature?

13.  What does Botchan mean when he says that he and Hotta are “heaven-commissioned chastisers” (179) who must exact revenge upon Red Shirt and the Clown?

14. Discuss how this idea of kanzen chōaku 勧善懲悪 functions in the story? 

15. Is Botchan a bildungsroman (教養小説) ? In answering this question, consider the narrator’s position vis-à-vis his past self/actions? Does the narrating Botchan strike us as any more mature than the narrated Botchan? Does he reflect upon his past behavior from a more mature (intellectually or emotionally) standpoint? Does he show a capacity for objective self-reflection? For critical judgment regarding his past actions?

16. According to Ōgai’s narrator in Vita Sexualis, all narratives are attempts at self-justification or self-vindication. Can the same be said about Botchan’s story? If so, was successful in vindicating himself?

17. Might Botchan be read as parody of Naturalists’ confessional novels, which were just becoming popular around this time?

18. How might we re-read Botchan in a completely different way now that we know that Kiyo is dead?

Sōseki’s Botchan (1906; Ch 1 through 4)

“A contrast between country and city, as fundamental ways of life, reaches back into classical times.” (Raymond Williams, The country and the City (1973)

Edokko: Child of Edo. “The word expresses nostalgic admiration for the old life and ways, and the pride that comes from being able to trace one's household or lineage back to the Edo period (1603-1868) and from possessing a certain quality that sets one apart from people born in the provinces. [. . .] The word Edokko is said to have made its first appearance in 1771 in a senryu (a humorous and/or satirical poem): "Edokko no / waranji o haku / rangashisa." The gist of the poem, a commentary on the Edokko character and behavior, is that Edokko are noisy even when they are wearing straw sandals. These cantankerous townsfolk were supposedly so impatient that they were unwilling even to take the time to tie the cords of their sandals, so their approach was heralded by a noisy flapping sound.” (Suzuki Shose, Mejiro University)

Some Questions

1. Describe Botchan’s personality. What sort of character traits does he possess? (List as many as you can, referring to specific passages.)

2. Describe Botchan’s style of narration. What sort of language does he employ? Who is his implied audience? How much temporal distance is there between him and the events he describes? Do you detect any (ironic) distance between the author (i.e. Sōseki) and his narrator?

3. Describe the character Kiyo. What qualities does she possess? What is her relation to Botchan? How does Botchan feel toward her?

4. Make a list the characters Botchan encounters upon arriving at the countryside school. Describe them. How do these characters and their personalities contrast with Botchan?

5. What is Botchan’s attitude toward his new location (namely, the city of Matsuyama in Ehime prefecture, on Shikoku island)? How does he regard the people of this region, and their customs and habits? As you read through the novel, you will need to consider the representations of city and country, and think about the associations and stereotypes associated with each. Are these associations and stereotypes undermined or reinforced in the work?

6. Play special attention to each character’s attitude toward money. To a large degree, each character defines his or her self by this attitude.

7. The novel is often read as a moral tale. What moral values is the work advocating, if any? You will need to think about this as you read through the work.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Ihab Hassan on Postmodernism

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Ihab Hassan on Postmodernism

What is postmodernism? Is it an historical era? Is it a specific movement in the arts? It is an artistic sensibility? A set of philosophical precepts? How does it differ from modernism? Theorist Ihab Hassan famously divided modernism and postmodernism along the following lines. We will discuss these differences in detail in class. For now, think about these issues/characteristics as you read my translation of Furukawa Hideo’s recent work “Now There Is Neither Purity Nor Defilement” (2012).

Modernism                                                  Postmodernism

Romanticism / Symbolism                        Pataphysics / Dadaism
Form (conjunctive, closed)                        Antiform (disjunctive, open)
Purpose                                                         Play
Design                                                           Chance
Hierarchy                                                     Anarchy
Mastery / Logos                                          Exhaustion / Silence
Art Object / Finished Work                       Process / Performance / Happening
Distance                                                        Participation
Creation / Totalization / Synthesis          Decreation / Deconstruction / Antithesis
Presence                                                       Absence
Centering                                                      Dispersal
Genre / Boundary                                      Text / Intertext
Semantics                                                     Rhetoric
Paradigm                                                      Syntagm
Hypotaxis                                                     Parataxis
Metaphor                                                     Metonymy
Selection                                                      Combination
Root / Depth                                               Rhizome / Surface
Interpretation / Reading                          Against Interpretation / Misreading
Signified                                                       Signifier
Lisible                                                          Scriptible
Narrative / Grand Histoire                      Anti-narrative / Petite Histoire
Master Code                                               Idiolect
Type                                                            Mutant
Genital / Phallic                                         Polymorphous / Androgynous
Paranoia                                                      Schizophrenia
God the Father                                          The Holy Ghost
Metaphysics                                               Irony
Determinacy                                               Indeterminacy
Transcendence                                           Immanence

Source: Ihab Hassan, “Toward a Concept of Postmodernism” (From The Postmodern Turn, 1987). http://bit.ly/VSzAkm.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Crash Course in Narratology, With a Summary of Kōda Rohan’s “Encounter With Skull” (1890)

This just in from Swarthyface:
Last week I said that you should always provide a brief summary of the story when writing a critical essay. But before you can do this, you will first need to know how to distinguish between what’s essential to a story and what’s not, i.e. between constitutive events and supplementary events.
 Before we begin our activity, let’s review some of the important narratological terms, starting with narrative. What’s a narrative? Well, a narrative is a linguistic representation of an event or a series of events. And narratives can be divided into three components.
 1. Component 1: The Story/Fabula 
The first component of narrative is the story. The story is also occasionally called the fabula, the word used by the Russian Formalists who first theorized on the differences between story and narrative. The story/fabula can be defined as the events or actions of a narrative. The story/fabula is made up of all the things that happen within the storyworld (also occasionally called the narrative world).
 The story/fabula can be further divided into three parts: events, entities, and setting.
The events are all the things that happen in the story. There are two kinds of events: constitutive and supplementary.  Constitutive events are actions or events things that absolutely must be there for the story to be itself. In other words, the constitutive events are what define a particular story. Supplementary events are all other non-essential events and actions in the story. When writing a plot summary at the beginning of an essay, you should include only the constitutive events of the story.   
Entities, also called existents, are the characters that appear in the story. Entities may be human, animal, or even inanimate objects or abstract ideas. If invested with enough descriptive character traits, a river or city can be considered an entity. (Example: Nagai Kafu’s Sumidagawa, where the Sumida River is described and behaves in quasi-human terms.)
 The setting is, of course, where the story takes place. It hosts or contains all of the events and entities of the narrative. It is also occasionally referred to as the storyworld or narrative world. 
Component 2: The Narrative Discourse/Sjuzet 
The second component of narrative is the narrative discourse. This is also referred to as sjuzet (the Russian Formalists’ term), plot, or mythos. The narrative discourse can be defined as the actions or events represented linguistically. In other words, it is what the story appears as after it has been rendered into language. Some theorists divide narrative discourse into two groups: style and plot/sjuzet. Others claim that style and plot are too interrelated to be neatly separated. 
Component 3: The World of Production 
Finally, there is the world of production. The world of production refers to everything that goes into producing the narrative—i.e. the pens, brushes, papers, cameras and sets (in the case of film), even the author or director himself. Laying bare this world of production is a favorite technique of avant-garde or metafiction novelists and cinéma vérité directors. Two common examples of the world of production being exposed—a technique referred to as narrative metalepsis—are when the author herself describes the act of writing, or when a film director includes in her film various elements (cameras, props, grip boys, equipment, etc.) used in the making of that film.
 *** 
So these, then, are the three components of a narrative. We should keep in mind that, as readers, we only have direct access to Component Two, the narrative discourse. Our access to Component One, the story/fabula, is possible only through the mediation of Component Two. In other words, the story is inaccessible and unknowable except when it is “emplotted” into a narrative sequence by an author.
 Another thing to remember is that the story/fabula is open to an infinite possibility of adaptations and renderings, just as long as each rendering retains all the sine qua non constitutive events of that particular story. 
Now that we understand the basic terms of narratology, we will now proceed to write a summary of Kōda Rohan’s story, “Encounter With Skull.” Be sure to include in your summary only the constitute events. Supplementary events—regardless of how anecdotally interesting they may be—should be left out in a summary. (They can, of course, be included in the body of your essay, insofar as they are relevant to whatever point you are making.) And remember, if it’s not causally related to anything else, it’s probably not a constitutive event.
 After you write your summary of the story, you can check it against mine, which goes as follows: 
Rohan, a self-assured young man “driven by the desire to see as much of the world as [he] could,” goes on a journey through the northern provinces. After losing his way, he comes upon an isolated hut in which a beautiful young woman named Tae lives. Taking pity upon him, the woman invites him in, offers him a hot bath, clean clothes, and dinner. She encourages him to stay the night. After eventually agreeing to her request, Rohan proceeds to fall asleep.
After several hours, he wakes up realizing that she has given him her only bedding. The two argue over who will sleep on the floor. She surprises him with an invitation to share the bed with her. Rohan considers her offer, but ultimately refuses for fear that he will be overcome by his desire for her. To help ease his mind, he asks her to tell him the story of her life.
Tae, we learn, was born into a wealthy family. Her father died when she was fourteen, her mother when she was eighteen. Before her mother died, she left Tae with instructions never to marry. Despite a very attractive marriage offer from a young nobleman, Tae obeys her mother’s wish—and as a result, the rejected nobleman dies of a broken heart. Wracked by guilt, Tae follows the young man’s dead spirit into the mountains where she meets a wise priest who teaches her to live life with a sense of detachment, compassion, and grace. As she finishes her story, the sun begins to rise, and both she and the house vanish; only a bleached skull remains at Rohan’s feet. Upon reaching the neighboring village, Rohan learns that a hideous, leprous woman had disappeared into the mountains a year ago, never to be seen again.

Crash Course in Narratology, With a Summary of Kōda Rohan’s “Encounter With Skull” (1890)

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