Sunday, October 26, 2014

Study Guide: Akutagawa Ryūnosuke's “Green Onions” (Negi; 1920)

This just in→Study Guide for what is arguably Akutagawa Ryūnosuke's (1892-1927) best story:“Green Onions” (Negi; 1920).

Study Guide: Akutagawa Ryūnosuke (1892-1927) “Green Onions” (Negi; 1920)


Study Guide: Akutagawa Ryūnosuke (1892-1927) “Green Onions” (Negi; 1920)[1]

*Translated by Jay Rubin; included in his Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories (Penguin Classics, 2006). To purchase Rubin’s translation of the story, click here.

*To read the Aozora Bunko version of the original, click here.

Akutagawa Ryūnosuke 芥川龍之介 (1892-1927): Novelist. Born in Tokyo. He published “Hana” (The Nose) in 1916 while studying at the Tokyo Imperial University and the start of his literary career was highly regarded by Natsume Sōseki. After graduation, he taught English as a part-time instructor at the Naval Engineering College and published “Imogayu” (Yam Gruel) (1916), “Hōkyōnin no shi” (Death of a Christian) (1918), and “Rashōmon” (1917), his first short story. After resigning from the Naval Engineering College in 1919, he went full-time into literary activity as a staff writer for the Osaka Mainichi Shimbun. In 1927, he committed suicide at the age of 36. He was the father of Hiroshi Akutagawa and Yasushi Akutagawa. (National Diet Library). (Click here for Aozora Bunko texts.)

Relevant Terms

*Realism: To represent life in literature. Realistic fiction is often opposed to romantic fiction: the romance is said to present life as we would have it be, more picturesque, more adventurous, more heroic than the actual; realism, to present an accurate imitation of life as it is. . . . The realist sets out to write a fiction which will give the illusion that it reflects life as it seems to the common reader. To achieve this effect he prefers as protagonist an ordinary citizen of Middletown, living on Main Street, perhaps, and engaged in the real estate business. The realist, in other words, is deliberately selective in his material and prefers the average, the commonplace, and the everyday over the rarer aspects of the contemporary scene. His characters, therefore, are usually of the middle class or the working class—people without highly exceptional endowments, who live through ordinary experiences of childhood, adolescence, love, marriage, parenthood, infidelity, and death; who find life rather dull and often unhappy, though it may be brightened by touches of beauty and joy. (Abrams. A Glossary of Literary Terms, pp. 152-153)

*The Three Worlds of Narrative: Last week I talked about two narrative worlds: A) story (storyworld) (inaccessible), B) narrative discourse (plot/mythos) (accessible). But there is also a third world: C) world of production (e.g. in film, when the camera/director are seen, etc.). In “Negi”:

A) story about O-kimi, O-matsu, Tanaka, etc—the storyworld they inhabit
B) events as related by semi-omniscient flying-ghost-like “I”
C) “I” of first paragraph; last paragraph

More Terms Related to This…

*Self-conscious narrator: a narrator who shows that he is aware that he is composing a work of fiction; who discusses the various problems involved in constructing his fictional narrative; who thematizes the discrepancies between artifice and reality; etc.

*Narrative metalepsis: when borders between 3 worlds are broken. Examples in this story: narrator-author talking about deadlines; referring to “my own works”; not making it clear whether O-kimi really exists or is fictional; reference to O-kimi’s future/well-being at end—as if she were real (is she?).

*Roman à clef (key novel; 実話小説): novel describing real life behind a façade of fiction. Eg. Here’s a little story I made up about a girl named … (actually true). The key is the mapping of characters to real-life models.

*Metafiction: fiction that self-consciously addresses the devices of fiction, exposing the fictional illusion. “Green Onions” story does this, only it turns this process around: the narrator here acts as if his story is fictional; but we slowly realize/come to suspect that it is real.

*Breaking the fourth wall: the “fourth wall” is imaginary wall separating audience from reader; it is broken in this story (the narrator directly addresses audience, claims that his story is fictional, etc.).

*Narcissistic Narratives: Linda Hutcheon’s term. A narrative that represents the process of narration; mimesis of process rather than product; dramatic presentation of the diegetic (narrative) act; mimesis of the diegetic.

Study Questions

1. Find passages that show the narrator to be a “self-conscious narrator.” Discuss the effect of these passages on the story/your interpretation.

2. Make a list of facts about the narrator. Who is he? What is his social standing? How does he tell the story?

3. What elements of the story reflect Romanticism? What elements reflect Realism? Discuss how Realism and Romanticism intersect in this story.

4. Discuss O-Kimi (her life, her job, her personality, her proclivities, her tastes, her environment, her dreams, etc.). What do her reading habits tell us about her? What does the interior decoration of her room reveal about her? Her clothes/her hairstyle/etc?

5. Why does O-kimi look down on O-matsu?

6. Discuss Tanaka (his personality, motivations, tastes, status, etc.). What male type/archetype/stock character is he an example of? Discuss his role in the story.

7. Make a list of all cultural/historical references that appear in the work (i.e. historical figures, books, artists, actresses, works of art, place names, etc.).

Further Discussion Questions

1. In the world of the narrator, do O-kimi and Tanaka really exist? Or are they the products of the narrator’s imagination? (Note: this is the crux question of work; our interpretation of the work will vary depending on how we answer this question.) If the characters are purely fictional products of the narrator’s imagination, how can we explain the narrator’s obvious vested interest in the characters (particularly O-kimi)?

2. Assuming O-kimi does really exist in the narrator’s world, how does the narrator know so much about her, her room, her life, her activities, her longings, etc?

3. Discuss the significance of the final paragraph:

I did it! I finished the story! The sun should be coming up any minute now. I hear the chill-sounding crow of the rooster outside, but why do I feel depressed even though I've managed to finish writing this? O-kimi made it back unscathed to her room over the beauty parlor that night, but unless she stops waiting on tables at the cafe, there's no saying she won't go out with Tanaka alone again. And when I think of what might happen then—no, what happens then will happen then. No amount of worrying on my part now is going to change anything. All right, that's it, I’m going to stop writing. Goodbye, O-kimi. Step out again tonight as you did last night—gaily, bravely—to be vanquished by the critics! (Rubin, 129)

Is the last line the narrator’s admission that O-kimi is simply his fictional creation?

4. Discuss how the work thematizes the relation between fantasy/fiction and reality. How does fantasy/fiction inform our perception of reality?

5. What symbols/metaphors/similes can you identify in the work? Explain their function/significance.

6. Is my theory plausible?[2]

Pop Quiz

1. Arrange the following movements in the order that they occurred in Europe: realism, enlightenment, modernism, symbolism, romanticism.

2. All narratives are comprised of two components. What are they? (Hint: narrative discourse/events/action/ fabula/sjuzet/plot/story).

3. Identify and describe at least four characteristics of Romanticism.

[1] The story (Negi; 「葱」) was originally published in January 1920 in the literary journal Shinshōsetsu.
[2] My theory is that everything from p. 126 on—from 6:00 on—is imagined [wishful thinking] by the narrator; and that, at the end of story, the date has yet to take place.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

WAVES INTO THE DARK: A Critical Study of Five Key Works from Ishikawa Jun’s Early Writings: The [Expanded] Table of Contents

Okay, so here it is. I know you've all been waiting for this: the [expanded] Table of Contents

WAVES INTO THE DARK: A Critical Study of Five Key Works from Ishikawa Jun’s Early Writings
by R. Shaldjian Morrison

Note on the Translations

INTRODUCTION (Ishikawa Jun’s General Reception; The Literary Context: Realism/Early Naturalism/I-novel)

PART I: Two Early “Self-Portraits”

CHAPTER 1 “Kajin” (1935): I-novel Spoof as Counterdiscourse
1. 1 Introduction 1.2 Deep Intertextuality: the “Artist Novel” and the “Possession Novel” 1.3 Narrative Performativity: The Solipsistic Narrator 1.4 Stage One: The Navel 1.5 Stage Two: The “Kajin” 1.6 Stage Three: Impassivity/Death 1.7 Stage Four: Pan’s Ascendency, Pursuit of Misa 1.8 Final Scene / Epilogue 1.9 Conclusion

CHAPTER 2 “Yamazakura” (1936): Allegorical Fantasy as Counterdiscourse 
2. 1 Introduction 2.2 Fantasy Literature in Japan 2.3 “Yamazakura” as “Allegorical Fantastic” 2.4 The Hallucination-Prone “I”: Three Modes of Being 2.5 Three Lures: the “Black Manteau,” the Wild Cherry Tree, and the Boy 2.6 Crisis of Representation / The Double Role of Language 2.7 Conclusion

PART II Ishikawa’s Early Critical Writings: Bungaku taigai (1942)

CHAPTER 3: “The Structure of the Short Novel” (1940): A Non-Theory of the Non-Novel 
3.1 Introduction 3.2 The Existing Length-Based Novel Taxonomy 3.3 The Novel’s Mode of Genesis: The Popular Misconception (Zokushin) 3.4 “Thinking With the Pen” 3.5 The Novel’s Mode of Genesis: The Actual Process 3.6 Two Types of "Short Novel": Their Genealogies, Modes of Genesis, Defining Features 3.7 The Sui Generis Novel, the SLN’s “Novel-like” Parts 3.8 Conclusion

CHAPTER 4: “Form and Content in Writing” (1940): A Theory of Writing/Écriture 
4.1 Introduction 4.2 Four Universal Conditions of Writing 4.3 Normative Theory of Pure Prose/Écriture 4.4 “Unconscious Content”: Beyond the Style/Form-Content Dilemma 4.5 Conclusion

CHAPTER 5: “On the Thought Patterns of the People of Edo” (1943): Haikai Transformation as Counterdiscourse 
5.1 Introduction 5.2 Haikai / Kyōka / Tenmei / Ōta Nampo 5. 3 Edo as Opposition 5.4 “The Tale of the Maidservant Otake,” Its Foundational Texts, and Haikai Transformation 5.5 Two Contrasting “Thought Patterns”: Modern and Early Modern 5.6 The “Five Transformative Devices” (Tenkan no Sōsa) 5.6 Conclusion



Appendix: Original Translations of Two Stories and Four Critical Essays
*Kajin (Kajin, May 1935)
*The Wild Cherry Tree (Yamazakura, January 1936)
*Form and Content in Writing (Bunshō no keishiki to naiyō, May 1940)
*The Structure of the Short Story (Tampen shōsetsu no kōsei, March 1940)
*Christian Prayers, Shinto Hymns, and Prose (Kitō to norito to sanbun, May 1940)
*On the Thought Patterns of the People of Edo (Edojin no hassōhō ni tsuite, March 1943)

Reference Matter

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Fires on the Plain (Nobi; 1959)

Took advantage of Monday's class cancellation due to typhoon to read something that has long been on my to-read list: Ōoka Shōhei's Fires on the Plain (Nobi; 1951; Ivan Morris trans. 1957). 

My [preliminary/subjective/non-scholarly] Rating: 5/5 [detailed study guide forthcoming]

To purchase Morris's translation of the novel, click here.

And here is director Ichikawa Kon's film adaptation of the novel...

Title: Fires on the Plain (Nobi) 
Year: 1959
Director: Ichikawa Kon 市川崑 1915-2008
Starring: Funakoshi Eiji. 
Based on: Ōoka Shōhei's 1951 eponymous novel
From the Criterion Collection (w/ quality English subtitles). 

*Study guides for both film and novel forthcoming.

*Also, click here for the trailer for the most recent (2015) film adaption by director Tsukamoto Shin'ya 塚本晋也.

Monday, October 6, 2014

江戸川乱歩 『人間椅子』 (朗読:佐野史郎) 1-7

A brilliant reading of Edogawa Rampo's "Human Chair" (Ningen isu; 1925) by actor Sano Shirō 佐野史郎 (1955- ).

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Study Guide Questions for Edogawa Rampo’s “Human Chair” (1925)

Or, in PDF format...

Study Guide Questions for Edogawa Rampo’s “Human Chair” (1925)

Study Guide Questions for Edogawa Rampo’s “Human Chair” (1925)

*Translated by James B. Harris, included in his Japanese Tales of Mystery & Imagination (1956)
*To purchase the English translation, click here.
*To listen to an audio recording of the original (read by actor Sano Shirō 佐野史郎), click here.

Although not explicitly proletarian literature, it's a very proletarian/revolutionary work, in my view. Written in 1925 (just before the proletarian movement peaked and just before the Shōwa Financial Crisis 昭和金融恐慌 of 1927), it's the story of a poor ugly worker who is alienated from the products of his labor (i.e. fancy expensive chairs that are bought by the ruling class) and who one day decides to disrupt this process of alienation by hiding himself/living in his chair and fondling the wealthy women who sit in it;a truly revolutionary work.


1. Ero guro nansensu: Literary and artistic movement in the 1920s and 1930s that devoted itself to explorations of eroticism, sexual corruption, decadence, the perverse, the bizarre, and the absurd. Although influenced by the “decadence” of European modernism, the movement’s roots can be traced to ukiyoe, shunga, and other native art forms of the Edo period. In general, the movement challenged state ideology and bourgeois conservative values, and this story is no exception. Today, lingering traces of the movement can be found in manga, anime, etc. The popular literature magazine Shinseinen 新青年 (1920-1950) was, in its early years, a major venue for the movement.

Some Relevant Marxist Terms[1]

2. Alienation: Karl Marx developed his theory of alienation in his early writings, particularly in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (1844). Using the German words Entfremdung (to estrange, make alien, rob) and Entäusserung (to alienate, part with, sell, externalize), Marx outlined various ways in which human beings become alienated in their lives, particularly in the course of the labor process. According to Marx, human beings experience a loss of control over their lives and over the creations that constitute the basic institutions and processes of society, such as the state and work. This alienation or estrangement means that human beings have a sense of living in a world that is alien and hostile, and they experience their lives as meaningless, unsatisfying and worthless. Ultimately human beings live their lives in a way that is less than fully human; they are dehumanized. 
Marx derived his theory of alienation from Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s notion of alienation and his own critique of Hegel. For Hegel alienation referred to the process of “Spirit” (Geist) externalizing itself in the creation of reality, but failing to grasp that the world was not something external to Spirit. Spirit, through human consciousness, gradually comes to realize that the world is the creation of Spirit, and in so doing overcomes alienation. Marx, treading in the footsteps of the “Young Hegelians” and Ludwig Feuerbach critiqued and moved away from this notion of alienation rooted in idealist philosophy. Following the line of thought developed by the Young Hegelians and by Feuerbach in particular, Marx identified the problem of religious alienation where human beings create the notion of God and attribute to this creation idealized features of themselves. Having created God and projected on to it our most essential features, we then give it an independent existence and bow down to worship this entity that is entirely our own creation. This process sees the externalization of our essential features and the fashioning of an alien entity out of them which then has a power over us. 
In religious alienation we become separated from our essential selves, and this occurs in an even more significant way in the labor process. Human productive active is fundamental to us, not just as the way in which we produce our subsistence, but also as the way in which we develop and express our human potential. However, in class society, and in capitalism in particular, the process of production is a process by which individuals become alienated. First, individuals are alienated from what they produce. For example, a worker in a factory creates a product which is then sold by the factory owner when, where, to whom and at what price he sees fit. The worker has no control over the product that he has created. Secondly, an individual is alienated from the conditions of the work process, that is, he has no control over the process of production, does not own the tools of production and, increasingly under capitalism has to perform dull, repetitive tasks requiring little imagination, skill or creativity.
Thirdly, an individual is alienated from his “species-being,” that is to say, he is unable to develop and express his essential human characteristics. Human beings, according to Marx, are essentially productive creatures and it is in the course of producing that we distinguish ourselves from animals. Unlike animals human beings produce consciously, planning their actions and using imagination and creativity. Human beings can exercise their will and not just act according to instinct, and they are also essentially social and cooperative, but all these characteristics are denied in the labor process in capitalism. The restrictions placed on us by a class society where the majority do not have free access to the means of production, where there is a highly specialized division of labor, and where control is exercised over our labor by bosses and impersonal market forces serve to prevent work from being the enriching and fully human activity it should be. For Marx the solution to the problem of alienation is communism; the overthrow of capitalism with the abolition of the division of labor and private property will make de-alienation possible. The theory of alienation is controversial among Marxists and Marxist commentators with some, for example Stalinists and structuralist Marxists such as Louis Althusser, viewing it as essentially a product of Marx’s immature thought and a theory that he left behind as he developed his more sophisticated and scientific notions of historical materialism and of exploitation in particular. However, Georgii Lukács, Herbert Marcuse, Jean-Paul Sartre, Erich Fromm and Gajo Petrovic are notable Marxists who have accorded a place of importance to the theory of alienation in Marx’s thought.

3. Commodity: According to Karl Marx, the commodity is the cornerstone of capitalism and commodity production is a key defining characteristic of capitalism. Marx begins his investigation of capitalism in Capital with an analysis of the commodity. A commodity is something that is produced for exchange rather than something produced for immediate use or consumption by the producer. According to Marx, every commodity combines two aspects: use value and exchange value. Use value refers to the power of a commodity to satisfy some human want, or put simply what the commodity is used for.
Exchange value refers to what a commodity can be exchanged for, in other words its power to command other commodities in exchange for itself in a particular ratio. The value of a commodity is the amount of labor embodied in it (see LABOR THEORY OF VALUE), and the labor that creates a commodity can be viewed as either concrete labor, that is a particular kind of labor (such as weaving) that produces a particular use value (such as cloth), or as abstract labor. Abstract labor represents labor in an undifferentiated way, as just labor that creates exchange value, and only occurs in a system where commodities are exchanged and the labor embodied in them has to be commensurable. Marx identifies one particular commodity as crucial in capitalism because of its unique ability to create value, and this commodity is labor power. Labor power is the source of surplus value and ultimately of profit in capitalism (see EXPLOITATION; FETISHISM OF THE COMMODITY; SURPLUS VALUE).

4. Fetishism of the commodity: In his analysis of capitalism in Capital Karl Marx introduces his notion of the fetishism of the commodity. Drawing an analogy with religious fetishes where a power is falsely attributed to an object, Marx argues that in capitalism the commodity is given the appearance of being the natural source of value by the prevailing social relations. Commodities appear to have a natural and intrinsic value rather than being the value of the labor power invested in their manufacture. Marx attributes a similar fetishism to wages, profit and rent, which in capitalism have the appearance of being revenue derived from labor, capital and land respectively, but are in fact derived from different amounts of labor power. Marx sees capitalist social relations as mystifying, as obscuring the true relations between people and things, for example wages conceal exploitation, and overall capitalism appears as natural rather than a historically specific social form.

5. Reification: The term reification is linked to the notions of alienation and  commodity fetishism. It refers to the idea that human qualities, relations, actions and even human beings themselves are transformed in the course of capitalist production into things, and these things come to have power over human beings. Karl Marx implicitly discusses the phenomenon of reification in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (1844), and explicitly analyses it in the Grundrisse (1857/58) and Capital (volume I, 1867; volume II, 1885; volume III, 1894).
According to Marx, all the key elements of capitalist production, for example, the commodity, money, capital, profit, and wages, involve this process of reification. Social relations between individuals become thing-like relations between persons and social relations between things; social actions take the form of the action of things. Human creations become independent of their creators and human beings become subject to their own creations; human beings are governed by the system of commodity production that they created. The social origin of these economic creations, of wealth and value, becomes obscured, and bourgeois economists compound this mystification by presenting the attributes of these elements of capitalism as natural properties. The notion of reification was given prominence in  Marxist thinking by Georgii Lukács in his History and Class Consciousness (1923) in which the main chapter was devoted to “Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat.” According to Lukács, commodity production entailed the key problem of fetishism, giving a relation between people the character of a thing and obscuring its origins. Reification gradually seeps into the inner life of society, even into the consciousness of human beings. Bourgeois society is in thrall to rationalism and rationalization, to the calculable and the measurable, and in the grip of a false consciousness that does not allow the social origins of capitalist relations to be perceived. The proletariat, its members treated as objects, as commodities, when it develops its class consciousness will actively rebel against reification and end it by ending capitalism. The place of reification in Marxist theory and its relation to other aspects remains a point of debate. For some it is a form or aspect of either alienation or commodity fetishism, while others see it as replacing the immature concept of alienation which was still rooted in philosophical idealism. In general, it has not received the same attention or been accorded the same importance as alienation and commodity fetishism.

Study Questions

Answer all of the following.

1. Describe the narrative structure of the work. What subgenre(s) of novel might this work be classified as?

2. Describe the personality and circumstances of the author of the letter. What is his relation to the world, to his craft, to his creations?

3. Does this work have a political message? Cite evidence to support your answer.

4. Describe the man’s interest in and interactions with women. In what way does his interest in women change? What is to account for the change?

5. How does the man perceive the world while in the chair? Which of his senses are most acute?

6. How is this work an instance of the “ero guro nansensu” movement? Identify and describe its “perverse” and “grotesque” elements.

7. After the man’s relocation to Yoshiko’s house, how does he go about eliciting her affection?

8. Discuss the ending. Does the second letter assuage Yoshiko’s fears? Or does she still suspect that the man is inside her house? Which letter are we to believe?

9. In his article “Panorama of Enlightenment” (Kaiko no panorama), Maeda Ai argues that human relations in Japan from the Meiji period on have been mediated through objects, particularly Western objects. How might this work be read as a statement or meditation about this fact of post-Meiji life?

10. The notion or literary device of “the confession” is at the very heart of Japan’s modern literature, particularly in so-called “naturalist” literature. How does this work problematize the notion/device of the confession?

11. It is a truism that one’s mode of reading will affect one’s interpretation of a work. How does this story thematize/confirm this truism?

[1] Definitions of Marxist terms are taken from Historical Dictionary of Marxism (Walker, Gray, 2007)