Sunday, May 25, 2014

Study Guide: Ishikawa Jun’s “Form and Content in Writing” (1940)


Study Guide: Ishikawa Jun’s “Form and Content in Writing” (1940)[1]

Read the essay and answer the following questions.

1. Ishikawa makes several points about the differences between speech and writing. Identify and explain each of these points. To what does he attribute their fundamental differences?

2. Ishikawa seems to be advocating a notion of writing that is independent from speech. Should we read his commentary as a critique of the notion/practice of genbun itchi? Explain.

3. In what ways has print technology (katsuji) altered our understanding/practice of writing (calligraphy included)? Explain.

4. Describe Ishikawa’s view of kata (fixed models)? What has the impact of kata been on the unfolding/development of writing?

5. How does Ishikawa posit the relation between the particular (i.e. national language) and the universal? What does he see as the two necessary conditions for all written languages? Why doesn’t Esperanto qualify as an authentic language in his view?

6. Consider the final two sentences of the first section. Where does Ishikawa situate “meaning” in relation to “form” and “content”? How does this relate to his general critique of content-centered/representational writing?

When a work is completed, the traces of the struggle of spirit that unfolded there gain autonomy on the page as the image of a living script, and this image is indivisibly related to what the work “means” as a whole. And this image is precisely what constitutes the form of writing.

7. How does Ishikawa’s address the question “what to write and in what manner” (nani o ika ni shite kaku)? How does he respond to some of the conventional answers to this question? What alternative answer does he propose?

8. What does Ishikawa mean when he says “the written word has a pure and simple nature […] insofar as it has washed itself clean of the physiology, the shinri (mind/psychology), and all other aspects and associations of the writer himself”? How does this statement relate to his claim that writing is always already a depersonalized and public act? Furthermore, how might this statement be read as a critique of the Naturalists/I-novelists?

9. How does Ishikawa view the relation between “technique” and “artistic taste”? What point is he trying to make by citing these two passages from Nishikawa Issōtei and George Moore? Does Ishikawa agree with their points?

10. Explain Ishikawa’s view of the (corrupting) influence of poetry on prose writing. What is Ishikawa’s purpose in quoting Pierre Louÿs’ letter to André Gide? How does Ishikawa think writers should deploy rhythm into their writing/sentences?

11. The title of the first section is “That Which Kills Writing/That Which Animates the Writing.” What are the factors that “kill” writing, and what are the factors that “animate” writing, according to Ishikawa?

12. Ishikawa cites three claims made by French naturalist Comte de Buffon (1707-1788): “style is the man himself”; “truth is the only eternal thing”; and “[the infinite number of truths contained in style] are just as useful—and perhaps more useful—to the human spirit than those that make up the subject itself.” Which of the three claims does Ishikawa agree with? What problems does he find in the other two claims? How does this relate to Ishikawa’s general anti-naturalist/nonmimetic orientation?

13. Ishikawa divides all existing writings into two types: “emaciated writing” (hinjaku-gumi) and “insidious writing” (guretsu-gumi). Describe these two types. Can you think of any examples of each type? Which of the two types of writing does Ishikawa regard as superior? 

14. On what grounds does Ishikawa ultimately reject both of these “deformities”—hinjaku-gumi and guretsu-gumi? What alternative “third way” does he propose? Explain.

15. Ishikawa posits that there are two types of content (naiyō): “conscious content” and “unconscious content.” Explain these two types. How are they related? How does this passage relate to Ishikawa’s general anti-content-centric/anti-naturalist orientation?

16. Does Ishikawa think it is possible to write something that is completely free of “conscious content”—that is, which consists only of “unconscious content”? If so, what would this kind of writing look like, and from what source—seishin or shinri—would it spring? Explain. (Note: seishin/spirit and shinri/mentality are key terms in Ishikawa’s lexicon; you will want to pay special attention to these binary terms in his writings.)

17. Explain as much as you can about Ishikawa’s use of the terms “spirit” (seishin) and psyche/mentality (shinri). In what ways is “spirit” antithetical to “psyche/mentality” (shinri)? Which does Ishikawa prefer? How does Ishikawa contrast “spirit” today from what it used to be in the ancient past? How does he describe the interaction between spirit and language/words in this “third way” mode of writing? How does he explain the interaction between spirit and (unconscious) content?

18. What does Ishikawa mean when he says that “conscious content” always exists “avant la lettre”?

19. In what form/medium does Ishikawa expect this “third way” mode of writing to appear?

[1] “Bunshō no keishiki to naiyō”; translation (by me) forthcoming. The essay was first published on May 20 1940 in issue 3 of the journal Gendai Bunshō Kōza (Mikasa shobō), and later included in A General View of Literature (Bungaku taigai; first edition: Shōgakkan, 1942), a book-length collection of essays written between 1936 and 1942.
[2] IJZ, xx, xx; translated by me.

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