Organizer: David Rosenfeld, University of Michigan
Chair: Atsuko Ueda, Stanford University
Discussant: Tomiko Yoda, Duke University
Contrary to popular belief, national identity is far from immutable. Throughout the course of the modern era, Japan has defined and redefined itself, generating various national identities to suit the specific needs of different historical moments. By analyzing works of fiction written at different moments in modern Japanese history, our papers seek to identify the varying forces that have governed the production of "modern Japan."
We begin in early Meiji, a time when Japan sought to establish itself as a modern nation state by defining itself vis-à-vis the Western powers. Rosenfelds presentation on Tsubouchi Shôyôs Tôsei shosei katagi (Character of Modern Students, 188586) foregrounds the uncertain relationship of the Japanese elite with Western culture as enacted in the texts politically charged use of rubi, phonetic or semantic gloss. Reicherts analysis of samurai narratives written in the 1890s examines the manner in which this historical icon, which was thought to epitomize the values that distinguished Japan from other nations in Asia as well as from the West, was reconfigured to serve as a propaganda tool for Japans nationalistic, imperialistic project. As Japans national boundaries fluctuated following its victory in the Russo-Japanese War (19041905), we again witness the production of a new identity. Golleys paper on Yokomitsu Riichis Shanhai (192831), inquires into the role of science as a rhetorical strategy for legitimating the integrity of the nation and shows how scientific logic was ultimately used to justify Japans imperialist project. Although Japans military occupation of Asia came to an end, Japanese imperialism still survives in varying guises. Uedas paper examines Lee Yangjis Yuhi (1989), which foregrounds postwar Japanese-Korean relations, and inquires into the ways Japan negotiates with the memory of its own colonization of Korea in constructing the boundaries that separate the two nation-states.
This selection of papers reveals both the persistence and the flexibility of the concept of the nation-state throughout the modern era. From the urgency of "native" literary style and themes in Meiji, to the pseudo-scientific visions of imperial destiny in Showa, and, finally, the role of cultural memory in the maintenance of national identity amid the devastation of the postwar period, the specter of the nation-state seems to function as a kind of absolute horizon for modern Japanese discourse.
Yokomitsu Riichi and the Science of the Nation
Gregory Golley, University of Chicago
In 1928, just after launching the serial publication of his great experimental novel, Shanhai (192832), Yokomitsu Riichi (18981947), engaged leading writers of the powerful Proletariat Literature movement in a series of written exchanges that would come later to be known as the "Debate on Formalist Literature" (Keishikishugi bungaku ronsô). In the course of this debate, Yokomitsu introduced an emphatically "scientific" theory of materialism (yuibutsuron) that reached beyond class, finding its ultimate source in the material relationship between written script on the page (viewed as its own kind of "matter" [busshitsu]) and, the substantive flesh of the human body. Despite its scientific and objective inflection, however, this theory departed radically from the universalism associated with traditional science and presented the materiality of human flesh and of written signs as inseparable from the nation-state. Matterand especially the materiality of the human bodybecomes, according to this theory, the natural and inescapable expression of a unique national identity.
My paper will examine this bizarre notion of "materialist literature," which guided the composition of Shanhai at the level of language as well as historical vision. In the novel and in the essays which surround its composition, human "flesh" (nikutai) serves as the scientific yet somehow vaguely mystical foundation of a far-reaching nativist epistemology. Yokomitsus theory of language, then, inevitably developed into a theory of history expressed in the idiom of ethnicdestiny.
Creation of a National Icon: Samurai Narratives from the 1890s
Jim Reichert, Stanford University
The 1890s were a triumphant decade for Japan, with the crowning achievement being the successful execution of the Sino-Japanese War (189495). Victory over China laid to rest any doubts that Japan had emerged as the most modern, powerful nation in Asia. The public response to this accomplishment was extremely positive. It is interesting to note, however, that in addition to a collective sense of euphoria, one can also detect what might be termed a national identity crisis as Japan struggled to construct a new set of myths and icons that would help to justify and explain its emergence as the first "great nation" in Asia.
My paper looks at one component of this myth-creating process. Specifically, I examine the rash of samurai stories that were published during mid-1890s. These texts are typically treated as one facet of a conservative trend that supposedly characterized literary production during the 1890s. The master narrative of modern Japanese literary history describes this return to "traditional" literary values as evidence of widespread disillusionment with westernization and modernization. I argue, however, that at least in the case of samurai stories composed by such eminent authors as Kôda Rohan, Eimi Suiin and Takahashi Otowa, these texts exemplify a process whereby a historic icon is carefully reconfigured to fit the social and political conditions of the modern era (specifically nationalism and imperialism). The samurai presented in these narratives are not anachronisms; rather, they serve as politically-charged symbols, legitimating Japans ascendancy over China and its new status vis-à-vis the West.
Marginal Comments: Rubi in Tsubouchi Shôyôs Tôsei shosei katagi
David Rosenfeld, University of Michigan
This paper examines the innovative and politically charged use of rubi (the phonetic or semantic gloss accompanying characters in Japanese printed texts) in Tsubouchi Shôyôs Tôsei shosei katagi (The Character of Modern Students, 188586), a novel conventionally thought to be a failed attempt at the new prose form outlined in the authors contemporaneous theoretical work Shôsetsu shinzui (Essence of the Novel, 1885). I argue that the deployment of rubi, particularly in its use to represent the foreign words and references dotting the speech of the students of the title, evokes the exhilarating but uncertain Zeitgeist of the second decade of Meiji. At first, Shôyô uses rubi to represent the oral utterances of the students, often in foreign languages, in opposition to the Japanese referents of these utterances represented by the main text; but this conventional use of rubi becomes destabilized through the work as oral and textual elements change places and are transmuted by means of their representation on the printed page. The volatile relationship between text and gloss dramatizes the slippery apprehension the students have of the world outside themselves and outside their nation. The use of rubi also evokes the nationalistic desire for Japanese identity vis-à-vis the West, the source of the cultural and technological riches flooding Japan at the time. Rubi had taken on a new and vital role as a technology for apprehending and domesticating Western texts, and this, I suggest, transformed its significance in a native literary text like Tôsei shosei katagi as well.
The "Integrity" of Nation and Identity in Lee Yangjis Yuhi
Atsuko Ueda, Stanford University
This paper seeks to examine the configuration of "boundaries" in Lee Yangjis Yuhi, a work that won the prestigious Akutagawa prize in 1989. The story takes place in Korea, where Yuhi, a woman of Korean descent born and raised in Japan, is attending university. In a land where anti-Japanese sentiments remain strong, claiming her love for Japan signifies a rejection of her ethnic identity. In other words, in order to become a "pure" Korean, she feels that she must reject her "Japaneseness." However, the story is more than that of a young womans torn identity; it foregrounds the reality of 20th-century Japan-Korea relations. I read Yuhi as a text that is politically engaged with the issues that define the boundaries of two nation-states, where one was once militarily occupied by the other. Works like Yuhiwritten by Koreans residing in Japan (zainichi kankokujin)have increased in recent years, and many of those have questioned the rigidity of boundaries that define "Japan" and "Japanese." Moreover, Yuhi is visibly bilingual; the Korean hangul alphabet is scattered throughout the work, transgressing the "boundary" of national languages. In other words, the existence of the work itself threatens the homogeneity of "Japan." Nonetheless, the fact that Yuhi did win the Akutagawa prize necessitates speculating on its impact on and position within the institution of modern "Japanese" literature.