Thursday, May 29, 2014

Study Guide: Ishikawa Jun’s “The Structure of Tampen Shōsetsu” (1940)


Ishikawa Jun’s “The Structure of Tampen Shōsetsu” (1940)[1]

Read the essay and answer the following.

1. Why is Ishikawa reluctant to delve into the question “what is the shōsetsu?” What does he propose to discuss instead?

2. What faults does Ishikawa see in the existing (length-based) taxonomy of shōsetsu? What alternative taxonomy does he propose?

3. Ishikawa asserts that in order to understand what factors determine/limit the length of a work, one must first understand how the work comes into being. Yet this process is rarely, if ever, understood, he argues, due to a certain “common belief” (zokushin). Describe this “common belief.”

4. Ishikawa then contrasts this “common belief” with what he regards as the actual process of how the work comes into being. Describe this process.

5. Ishikawa asserts that the tampen is principally comprised of two forms: the conte and the novella. Describe the elements/qualities/deficiencies of each form, as he sees them. Why does he regard the tampen as inferior to the shōsetsu proper?

6. What does Ishikawa mean when he says “the novel and literature (bungaku) are today pitted against one other in a struggle to the death”? Explain Ishikawa’s particular use of the term bungaku. What larger system is bungaku a part of? How does this system differ from the notion of shōsetsu he is describing/advocating?

7. According to Ishikawa, the process by which the tampen comes into being is the exact opposite of that of the shōsetsu proper. Describe this process. Explain how it differs from that of the shōsetsu proper.

8. How does Ishikawa conceive the role/significance of harmony, the author’s notions/ideas, craftsmanship, and beauty in the two forms of tampen? How are the two forms different from the shōsetsu proper in terms of these four elements/qualities? What negative effect does Ishikawa see “the author’s notions/ideas” as having on the work?

9. Ishikawa dismisses all theories/discussions of the shōsetsu to date as merely “theories of literature” or “theories of the man/author himself.” As he explains: “the sentient pen, the impending darkness, the exertion of seishin (spirit)—these are all missing from the picture.” What does he mean by this? What does Ishikawa regard as the fundamental stumbling block that has prevented critics/writers from recognizing/positing/creating the shōsetsu proper?

10. How does Ishikawa describe the role of the moral in the novella and conte? What kinds of morals are typical in such works, and in what manner are they deployed?

11. What does Ishikawa think of writers who aim to reproduce a “slice of life” in their work? Why does he dismiss theories of writing/criticism that are based on idea of “the eye of the author?” How does this relate to his anti-Naturalist stance?

12. Explain Ishikawa’s particular use of the terms “Art” and “Literature.” What are his motivations for wanting to wrest the shōsetsu from the matrix/system of Art-Literature?

13. Ishikawa claims that the shōsetsu—an invention of modernity—initially went through its own “primitive stage.” What does he mean be this? What new technology came along to push the shōsetsu out of this “primitive phase”? What does he see as the proper role of “the voice/speech” in the shōsetsu?

14. Despite his initial intention to avoid the question “what is the shōsetsu?” Ishikawa repeatedly returns to it throughout the essay—and at the end of the essay he even ventures a definition. What is his definition? How is this definition framed in terms of the shōsetsu as self-reflexive medium?

15. Although Ishikawa believes that no “so-called tampen shōsetsu” can ever attain the status of shōsetsu proper, he does acknowledge that many tampen contain certain “shōsetsu-like parts.” What are these parts? Explain them. How do these parts relate to his notion of “unconscious content,” which he introduced in “Form and Content inWriting”?

16. Explain Ishikawa’s genealogy of the novella, which he sees as having passed through four stages: ninjōbon→“model literature”→the “quasi-Naturalist novel”→the “so-called I-novel.” What Meiji-era literary group made the ninjōbon’s survival possible? What are the essential features shared by these four phases? What permutations occurred in the form’s development? Does Ishikawa regard the final phase—the I-novel—as a sign of progress or decline?

17. In the final paragraph Ishikawa defines the “so-called tampen shōsetsu” as “a middle ground between the two species-concepts of the shōsetsu and literature, and also all of the phenomena of the text that ebbs and surges, appears and disappears, floats and sinks within this middle ground.” Unpack this definition in terms of what he has already discussed.

[1] Tampen shōsetsu no kōsei. First published in March 19, 1940 in Issue 3 of the literary journal Gendai Bunshō Kōza, published by Mikasa shobō 三笠書房. The essay was later included in his book-length work Bungaku taigai文学大概 (September 1942, Shōgakukan 小学館). Translation (by me) forthcoming.

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