Sunday, February 3, 2013

Mori Ōgai, “Takasebune” (The Boat on the Takase River, 1916)

Morrison
Mori Ōgai 森鴎外(1862-1922), “Takasebune” 高瀬舟 (The Boat on the Takase River, 1916)[1]

My motives (in writing historical fiction) are simple. In studying historical records, I came to revere the reality that was evidenced in them. Any wanton change seemed distasteful to me. This is one of my motives. 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.

. . . Just as I disliked changing the reality in history, I became bound by history in spite of myself. Suffering under these bonds, I thought I must break loose from them (my italics).

-Mori Ōgai, “History as it is and history ignored” 歴史そのままと歴史離れ (in The Historical Fiction of Mori Ōgai, pp. 181-2)

Mori Ōgai (1862-1922): Born in Shimane-ken to family of physicians to daimyō; received elite education in neo-Confucian classics. In 1872, he moved in with Nishi Amane, began studying German. Graduates from Tokyo Imperial University medical school, becomes a doctor at 19; reads late-Edo gesaku fiction; sent by army to study in Germany from 1884-1888; encounters European literature; publishes Shigarami sōshi, 1889–1894 and his own book of poetry (Omokage, 1889) in anti-realist, German Romantic vein (Ōgai vs. Tsubouchi); institutes modern literary criticism in Japan based on the aesthetic theories of Karl von Hartmann. In 1890, publishes Maihime. His own exile to Kyushu; appointed surgeon general in 1907; edits Mezamashi gusa, 1892–1909 while serving in army as surgeon; translates works of Goethe, Schiller, Ibsen, Hans Christian Andersen, and Hauptmann. From 1912–1916: historical stories (rekishi monogatari; e.g. Sanshō dayu, Takasebune). From 1916-death: shiden (literary biographies; e.g. Shibue Chūsai). His literary style is often characterized as Apollonian, rational, stoic, manly, understated.

Terms/Particularities of Culture

1. Showing/depicting and telling: Fictional discourse constantly alternates between showing us what happened and telling us what happened. The purest form of showing is the quoted speech of characters, in which language exactly mirrors the event (because the event is linguistic). (Note: One must be careful, however, that quoted speech does not always have to be exclusively depiction. Depiction often involves the use of metaphor, imagery and detailed description to make a scene or event vivid, as though it is happening in front of our eyes (A.Yiu).

The purest form of telling is authorial or narrative summary, in which the conciseness and abstraction of the narrator’s language effaces he particularity and individuality of the characters and their actions. Summary has its uses; it can, for instance, accelerate the tempo of a narrative, hurrying us through events which would be uninteresting, or too interesting—therefore distracting, if lingered over. (Lodge, The Art of Fiction)

In Japanese narratives, the style of “depicting” approximates the mimetic, representational form of description typically found in 19th century Western orthodox novels, while “telling” is linked to the Japanese narrative and theatrical traditional of “presentational art,” in which the making of an art form (literary, visual, theatrical) is presented in full view to the reader or viewer. The writer does not hide behind the scene; on the contrary, he or she wants you to show you the process of artistic creation by drawing attention to the art of telling (A. Yiu).

Showing/depicting: mimetic; representational; conversations, action, characters’ thoughts transcribed (interior monologue); the preferred method of Western realism. “The purest form of showing is the quoted speech of characters, in which language exactly mirrors the event (because the event is linguistic)” (Lodge). Wayne Booth’s Rhetoric of Fiction (1961; the terms “implied author” and “unreliable author” coined in this work) argues that “showing” is not necessarily better than “telling,” and that all writers employ both.

Telling: non-mimetic; presentational art of tradition Japanese narrative form, in which the act of narration is exposed. “The purest form of telling is authorial or narrative summary, in which the conciseness and abstraction of the narrator’s language effaces the particularity and individuality of the characters and their actions” (Lodge, The Art of Fiction). “Fictional discourse constantly alternates between showing us what happened and telling us what happened” (Lodge). Telling is presentational rather than representational. It includes explanations, historical background passages, summary of events, etc. “[Telling] can, for instance, accelerate the tempo of a narrative, hurrying us through events which would be uninteresting, or too interesting—therefore distracting, if lingered over” (Lodge).

2. Rekishi shōsetsu (historical novellas): Fictional works that deal with historical themes in an artistic or psychological way (usually with contemporary relevance). Ōgai began writing in this genre after Nogi’s junshi suicide in 1912 (partly to make up for thousands of deaths during Russo-Japanese War). To be contrasted with later shiden (his historical biographies). Sanshō dayu, Takasebune, etc.

3. Mimesis: The imitation or representation of nature, esp. in art and literature. Imitation (a basic human instinct) or representation of nature, esp. in art and literature; basis of representational arts, realism. According to Plato’s broad definition, all forms of discourse are mimetic, are shadows of the Ideal. For Aristotle, mimesis is limited to poetry; depiction of men in action. Rhetoric persuades; dialectic establishes truth; Mimesis founds possibility of history and realist fiction. Concept of Realism/Mimesis came under attack in 20th century: so-called “reality” of work demonstrated to be an illusion/trick/ideology; yet the notion still survives today in expanded form. Mimetic (adj.): Using imitative means of representation.

4. Mimetic criticism: Mimetic criticism views the literary work as an imitation, or reflection, or representation of the world and human life, and the primary criterion applied to a work is that of the “truth” of its representation to the objects it represents, or should represent. This mode of criticism, which first appeared in Plato and (in a qualified way) in Aristotle, is characteristic of modern theories of literary realism (Abrams, p. 37). (An example in usage: “This passage conveys the horror of the event in a mimetic form. . .explain the chosen passage).

Mimetic criticism examines work in reference to the external world it is purported to represent (unreal=bad). It “views the literary work as an imitation, or reflection, or representation of the world and human life, and the primary criterion applied to a work is that of the “truth” of its representation to the objects it represents, or should represent. This mode of criticism, which first appeared in Plato and (in a qualified way) in Aristotle, is characteristic of modern theories of literary realisms” (Abrams, 37).

5. Verisimilitude: “seeming-to-be-true-ness”; “the achievement of an illusion of reality in the reader/audience” (Abrams, 201); employed to convince readers of reality of the things represented in the work, to establish credibility; employed in attempt to satisfy even the rational, skeptical reader that the events and characters portrayed are realistic/possible. Different genres have different measurements, standards, and expectations (i.e. what is realistic in comedy may not be in tragedy).

6. Realism: Concept based on assumption that the form (i.e. novel, poem, drama, painting, etc.) mirrors/imitates reality, and that reality is more or less stable and commonly accessible. Realism is most commonly associated with the nineteenth-century novel, which was believed to be uniquely capable of revealing the truth of contemporary life in society. Honoré de Balzac is often credited with pioneering a systematic realism in French literature, through the inclusion of specific detail and recurring characters. Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Leo Tolstoy, Gustave Flaubert, Ivan Turgenev represent the zenith of the realist style with their unadorned prose and attention to the details of everyday life. Émile Zola's naturalism is regarded as an offshoot of realism. Tsubouchi Shōyō first to write about realism/realist novel, elaborate on its techniques.

7. Reality Effect: Barthes’ term for details that serve no other purpose than producing the effect of reality; they don’t advance the narrative (in fact, they often interrupt it); their function is to state to reader, “hey, this is real.” Examples in “Takasebune”: Takase River, Kyoto, Osaka, Edo bakufu, Kansei era, real historical records; Ōgai’s comments; narrator’s referring to self as “I.”

8. Verisimilitude. The achievement of an illusion of reality in the reader/audience (Abrams, 201). (An example in usage: “This sentence conveys/embodies verisimilitude in the vividness of its depiction/imagery. . .explain the chosen sentence).

9. Naturalism = Realism + science/post-Darwin biological/social determinism/social theories. Eg: Zola; offshoot of realism.

10. Self-sacrifice (akirame/teinen): common theme in Ōgai’s works after General Nogi’s seppuku in 1912. Ware tada taru o shiru 我唯足知 (written at Ryōanji tsukubai washing basin in Kyoto: I am content with what I have; Might also be interpreted as Ōgai’s warning to proletariat: don’t start getting uppity...). The akirame ideal is embodied here by Kisuke, Kisuke’s brother, then Shōbee. 

11. Kansei era (1789-1801): era of the Tokugawa period; followed Tenmei; saw Kansei reforms (Kansei no kaikaku) of reactionary Matsudaira Sadanobu, the strengthening of sakoku policies, and the prohibition of non-neo-Confucian heterodoxies.

12. Euthanasia 安楽死: no official laws in Japan prohibiting it.

Study Questions

Answer all of the following.

1. Examine the imagery in the opening scene. What kind of atmosphere/world does it create?

2. How does the author tell the story by using a mixture of “telling” and “showing” (depicting)? Give specific examples.

3. How does the text achieve verisimilitude and mimesis? Give specific examples to illustrate you answer.

4. How does “telling” and “depicting” enable the Ōgai to “adhere to history as it is” (rekishi sono mama) and “to break loose from history” (rekishibanare)? If “adhering to history” refers to a kind of documentation, why is it inadequate to Ōgai? If “breaking loose from history” refers to gravitating towards metaphor and rhetoric/poetry, why is it necessary?

5. How does the writer draw your attention to his story-telling?




[1] Included in The Historical Fiction of Mori Ōgai, edited by David Dilworth and Thomas Rimer (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, [1971], 1991).

No comments: