Thursday, May 3, 2018

Study Guide: Natsume Sōseki, "Ten Nights of Dreams" 夢十夜 (1908)

Study Guide: Natsume Sōseki, Ten Nights of Dreams (夢十夜, 1908)

Natsume Sōseki 夏目漱石 (1867-1917): Novelist. Born in Tokyo as the son of a town chief. After graduating from the English Department of the Imperial University in 1893, he worked as a teacher at Matsuyama Middle School and the Fifth Higher School, and then went to London to study in 1900. Returning to Japan, he became an instructor at Tokyo University. After making his debut as a writer with Wagahai wa neko de aru (1905-1906, I Am a Cat, trans. Aiko Ito and Graeme Wilson), he became a storywriter under contract with the Asahi Shimbun newspaper in 1907. After publishing novels such as Sanshirō (1908, Sanshirō, trans. Jay Rubin), Sorekara (1909, And Then, trans. Norma Moore Field), and Mon (1910, The Gate, trans. William F. Sibley), he suffered a severe illness. In Kokoro (1914, Kokoro, trans. Edwin McClellan), Michikusa (1915, Grass on the Wayside, trans. Edwin McClellan), Meian (1916, Light and Darkness, trans. John Nathan), and other works, he focused on psychological depictions of modern intellectuals in Japan. His style of expression, which differed from that of the naturalistic writers popular at that time, was called Yoyu-ha. He has been evaluated as one of the great storywriters of modern Japan. Among his former students are Morita Sohei, Komiya Toyotaka, and many other storywriters and literary men. (Adapted from National Diet Library; click here for Aozora Bunko texts.) 

Original: “Yume jūya”「夢十夜」(1908; read here)
Translation: “Ten Nights of Dreams” (trans. Michael K. Bourdaghs; purchase here)

Study Questions

Answer the following questions.

1. The first-person narrator assumes a different persona in each dream. Describe each narrators’ characteristics, personality, disposition, and worldview. To what extent is he involved in the dream-events he describes? Is he a symbol for something?

2. Make a list of all the characters that appear in each episode. Describe them. How do they relate to one another? Are they symbols for some abstract idea or phenomenon? By extension, is the episode a kind of allegory (e.g., a historical allegory)? If so, explain what corresponds to what (e.g., the westbound steamship=Japan, etc.).

3. Identity the historical period of each dream episode. What clues in the text led you to your conclusion?

4. Identify and describe the various images and motifs that appear in each dream. What kind of mood/atmosphere does each cluster of images produce? How are the images linked or related?

5. Identify and explain the theme(s) of each dream. (Note: a theme is a recurring abstract idea or phenomenon; a motif is a recurring concrete image or thing.)

6. What recurring themes appear in the work? Make a list and explain. (Hint: disenchantment of the world, death of gods/spirits, ambivalence toward modernity/Westernization, fruitless effort (with notable exceptions), persistence of memory/time past, loyalty/disloyalty, reincarnation, death sans finality, return of the repressed, karma and retribution, original sin, etc.)

Bonus Question 1: Should we read these episodes as actual dreams / clinical documents? Or are they more akin to fiction or prose poetry? Some critics (e.g., Sasabuchi Tomoichi) have argued that only Dream #3 is based on an actual dream. What do you think? Does it matter?

Bonus Question 2: Summarize the manifest content of each dream. Then, extrapolate the latent content from the manifest content. Refer to Freud’s theory of dream interpretation to answer this question.

Key Terms

Note the imagery, metaphors, symbols, etc. used in the third night of dream. Refer to the definitions of the following terms while reading the text.

1. Imagery: This term is one of the most common in modern criticism, and the most ambiguous. Its applications range all the way from “the mental pictures” which are experienced by the reader of a text, to the totality of elements which make up a text. According to C. Day Lewis in Poetic Image, an image “is a picture made out of words,” and that “a poem may itself be an image composed from a multiplicity of images.

2. Image-clusters, image motifs, thematic imagery: Repeated groupings of metaphors and similes in a text to convey meaning, such as the maritime imagery in the seventh night.

3. Metaphor: In a metaphor, a word which in standard usage denotes one kind of thing, quality, or action is applied to another, in the form of an identity instead of comparison. E.g. “My love is a red, red rose.” In the seventh night, “sailing” is a metaphor in that it denotes not only the action itself but some other hidden meaning about “embarking on a voyage in modernity (modern times).” Metaphors/similes in this work: red as a newt; like a mirror; Jizō stone; etc.

4. Symbols: Roughly speaking, anything that “stands for” something else is a symbol, but the process operates in many different ways. Literary symbolism is not easily decoded because it tries to be original and tends towards a rich plurality, even ambiguity, of meaning. Some of the symbols in this work: the blind boy (burden of the past, eternal reminder of past sin); the narrator (contemporary Japan, haunted by past crime); dark forest (uncertain/dark future); etc.

Note: According to several kokubungaku scholars, the idea of killing a blind man, being cursed, and having one’s boy turn to a Jizō stone is borrowed from a comic play by Kawatake Mokuami and a kaidan ghost story by Tsuruya Nanboku.

5. Shōhinbun 小品文: between shōsetsu 小説 and zuihitsu 随筆; originally Ming-dynasty Chinese form characterized by informal anti-vulgar/anti-political cultivated enclosed-individualist style, popular in Britain/China/Japan in 1930s. The form incorporated elements of kikōbun, nikki, zuihitsu, and hyōron. “Belles-lettres” literary vignettes, filled with personal reminiscences; take place at Natsume home; construction of literary persona/stand-in/surrogate (as opposed to naturalists “just be me” philosophy); querulous literary persona first displayed in Bunchō (1908); Eijitsu shōhin (1909); Mankan tokorodokoro (1909, about trip to Korea/Manchurian colonies); Omoidasu koto nado (1911; diary/philosophical reflection); Garasudo no uchi (1915; 39 serialized episodes).

6. The Uncanny: Concept/feeling of profound sense of unease about self/world. Destabilized, located in in-between (i.e. dream/reality, etc). Effect usually occurs in familiar places. Uncanny: Something familiar (i.e. the blind son) has become alien to one (the narrator) through process of repression.

7. Allegory: an extended metaphor; comprised of structural (rather than textual) symbolism. In an allegory the characters/action/scenery corresponds more or less directly to certain spiritual/political/psychological struggles. Each of Souseki’s ten dreams are an allegory of modern concerns (3rd dream: reversal of child/parent roles). Narrator burdened/haunted by past crime (killing a blind man 100 yr ago). According to Seats, this is the first Japanese modern “allegorical text.” Other examples: Gulliver’s Travels, Alice in Wonderland, Kafka’s The Castle, Orwell’s 1984.

8. Foreshadowing: (今に重くなるるよ; in final scene, this actually happens).

9. Dream work: Mechanism that transforms dream’s raw material (physical stimuli, day’s residues, free associations, latent content i.e. dream thoughts) into manifest content (the censored/fragmented/impoverished/translated recounted dream). The latent content is only knowable through analysis of manifest content and patient’s free associations. Analyst’s job=literary critic’s job.

10. Modernization: characterized by industrialization, decline of agrarian society, urbanization, alienation, transformation in the family as a unit, rise of individualism. Also, the development of modern science, scientific method of investigation (observation, hypothesis, experimentation, verification), secularization, rationalization. For non-Western societies, modernization is inextricably tied in with Westernization. “civilization and enlightenment” 文明開化)

11. Oedipus Complex: For Freud, the childhood desire to sleep with the mother and to kill the father. Freud describes the source of this complex in his Introductory Lectures (Twenty-First Lecture): "You all know the Greek legend of King Oedipus, who was destined by fate to kill his father and take his mother to wife, who did everything possible to escape the oracle's decree and punished himself by blinding when he learned that he had none the less unwittingly committed both these crimes" (16.330). According to Freud, Sophocles' play, Oedipus Rex, illustrates a formative stage in each individual's psychosexual development, when the young child transfers his love object from the breast (the oral phase) to the mother. At this time, the child desires the mother and resents (even secretly desires the murder) of the father. (The Oedipus complex is closely connected to the castration complex.) Such primal desires are, of course, quickly repressed but, even among the mentally sane, they will arise again in dreams or in literature. Among those individuals who do not progress properly into the genital phase, the Oedipus Complex, according to Freud, can still be playing out its psychodrama in various displaced, abnormal, and/or exaggerated ways. (Purdue University Introductory Guide to Critical Theory)

Particularities of Culture

1. “fifth year of Bunka”: 1808, beginning of the end bakufu, foreign threats
2. Higakubo 日ヶ窪: district in present day Azabu, Minato-ku.
3. Hottawara 堀田原: old name for a district in Asakusa.
4. Jizō 地蔵: guardian of abandoned/orphaned children.

add to list as you read …

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