Sunday, October 4, 2015

Study Guide: Tayama Katai “The Girl Watcher” (1907)

Tayama Katai “The Girl Watcher” (Shōjobyō1907)

*Original: 少女病May 1907, Taiyō 太陽 
*Translation: The Quilt and Other Stories by Tayama Katai, trans. Kenneth G. Henshall. Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press, 1981.    

Tayama Katai (1872-1930): Ken’yūsha and, later, naturalist novelist credited with writing the first “I-novel” (watakushi shōsetsu). His early work was highly romantic, but with the essay “Rokotsu naru byōsha” (1904; “Straightforward Description”) he pointed the way toward the more realistic path he was to follow under French influence. The injunction to observe strict objectivity and to describe things as they are, deriving from the early French naturalists Guy de Maupassant and the brothers Edmond and Jules Goncourt, developed into a major genre in Japanese literature—the watakushi shōsetsu, or “autobiographical novel.” His Onna no kyōshi was published in 1903, but Futon (1907; “The Quilt”) made his reputation. It described in embarrassing detail the attraction of a middle-aged writer to a young female student. A trilogy of autobiographical novels, Sei (1908; “Life”), Tsuma (1908–09; “Wives”), and En (1910; “The Bond”), fixed the distinguishing form of Japanese naturalism. Inaka kyōshi (1909; “A Country Schoolmaster”) showed the influence of the Goncourts and of Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. Tayama’s essay on his own literary theories, “Katai bunwa” (1911; “Katai’s Literary Discourses”), introduced into the critical language the term heimen byōsha (“plain description”), with which he is identified. In later years, with the decline in the influence of naturalism, he entered a period of personal confusion from which he emerged with a calm, almost religious attitude, which was reflected in Zansetsu (1918; “Lingering Snow”) (adapted from Encyclopædia Britannica and other sources).

Literary Terms

1. Heimen byōsha 平面描写: Plain/flat/objective/surface/unmediated description; Tayama’s guiding aesthetic concept and key to his technique of sketch-from-life shaseibun realism; focuses on “surface” of things, with as little thoughts/feelings/imagination/subjective evaluation as possible. Tayama’s radically empiricistic motto: “I describe my own experiences in reality only as I saw, heard, and touched them.”

2. Watakushi shōsetsu 私小説: Form/genre of twentieth-century Japanese literature (or mode of reading) characterized by self-revelation and focus on personal matters from subjective perspective; author usually read as the central character; emphasizes flat, unvarnished, and sincere depiction; grew out of the naturalist movement; Tayama’s Futon often regarded as first I-novel; the term first used in the 1920s; Hirano Ken divided the I-novel into two types: 破滅型 and 調和型.

3. Genbun itchi 言文一致: The principle of unifying spoken and written languages; modern colloquial “transparent” style; first advocated in the 1880s; first successfully achieved in the works of Futabatei Shimei and Yamada Bimyō; became the dominant mode of writing after 1895. By 1910, the principle/style had become so widespread that the term was no longer used.

Study Questions

1. From what point of view is the story told? Where is the focalization point? Give examples.

2. Describe the style of prose. Is this an example of “heimen byōsha”? If so, how? Is it an example of genbun itchi? Explain.

3. Describe the setting/surrounding scenery. What sort of area was Sendagaya in the early twentieth century?

4. Describe Sugita Kojō (i.e. his age, appearance, personality, job/workplace, interests, dreams, literary experience, domestic situation, type in women, anguish, reputation, romantic history, “illness/condition,” etc.). Is he a comic, tragic, or tragicomic figure? Explain.
5. Describe the final scene. Might his death have been intentional? Explain.

6. Make a list of all the girls (shōjo) that appear in the story. Describe their features. What do they all have in common?

7. Is Sugita aware of how he is viewed by others? Does he care? How does the author (Tayama Katai) employ ironic distance /dramatic irony in the work?

8. Tayama Katai is often regarded as the first “I-novelist.” Can you identify any “I-novel”-esque features in the work? Explain.

Further Reading

1. Tayama Katai. Literary life in Tōkyō, 1885-1915: Tayama Katai’s Memoirs “Thirty years in Tōkyō.” Translated and introduced by Kenneth G. Henshall. Brill Archive, 1987.

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