2005 Annual Meeting: Border-Crossing Sessions


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Session 184: Body and Nation in Japanese Modernist Poetics

Organizer and Chair: Jeffrey Angles, Western Michigan University

Discussant: Hosea Hirata, Tufts University

Japanese modernist literature is often remembered as largely apolitical in nature, partly because early modernist groups, such as the influential shink˘ geijutsu-ha [Rising Arts Group] founded in 1929, argued against the heavy political messages seen in the work of the burgeoning proletarian literary movement. This does not mean, however, that modernist literature is devoid of ideological content. Even the work of writers who ostensibly belonged to the art-for-art’s-sake movement often touch on issues of social concern, such as nation, class, cosmopolitanism, and gender relations. This is equally true of Japanese modernist poetry. The purpose of this panel is to show that Japanese poets associated with various modernist styles and schools (such as aestheticism, expressionism, surrealism, futurism, and dadaism) provided some of the most engaging explorations of key social questions, including the subject of this panel—issues of the body and nation.

Partly because of the extreme difficulty of translation, poetry has tended to remain at the margins of critical discussions of modernist literature. Apart from a few recent studies, most notably those of John Solt and Myriam Sas, Japanese modernist poetry remains little known and underappreciated in the West. This panel redresses this critical lacuna by discussing the essential role that modernist poetics played in the movement. William Gardner examines the works of the poet Kitagawa Fuyuhiko and the prose-writer Yokomitsu Riichi, both of whom explore the relationship between organic body and its dissolution and re-territorialization within the colonies. Annika Culver’s paper examines the treatment of the colonized Other in the work of a group of Japanese poets based in Manchuria—a group that fostered many future leaders of the surrealist movement. Finally, Jeffrey Angles examines the denationalization and aestheticization of the adolescent male body in the poetics of Inagaki Taruho, the author of a large number of prose-poems about youthful male desire.

Bodies and Flows at Empire’s Edge: On the Modernist Aesthetics of Kitagawa Fuyuhiko and Yokomitsu Riichi

William Gardner, Swarthmore College

This paper will examine two major works of Japanese modernism, Kitagawa Fuyuhiko’s poetry collection Sens˘ (War, 1929) and Yokomitsu Riichi’s novel Shanhai (Shanghai, 1928–1931), in regard to two persistent issues in early twentieth century art: the relationship between organic and inorganic materiality, and the ability of artwork to represent motion. An imaginative engagement with the materiality of the body allowed artists to re-map the boundaries of the human and technological realms, and to explore the objectifying effects of militarism and capitalism. The representation of motion was a frequent subject of Futurist artistic experimentation and the focus of extensive research and theoreticization in film and photography. These issues are central to the work of Kitagawa and Yokomitsu, both of whom set their work on the volatile edges of Japanese Imperial power in Asia: Kitagawa’s work focusing on Manchuria, and Yokomitsu’s novel set amid violent protests against Japanese-owned textile factories in Shanghai. Kitagawa’s poems concern the intersection between organic and non-organic matter, imagining the dismemberment of the body in moments of violent intersection with flows of energy and matter, as well as the montage-like dissection of time itself. In Shanhai, Yokomitsu vividly describes the materiality of the body and its objectification, while also depicting how the body is territorialized by various flows of power, integrated into the flow of capital and claimed by competing political ideologies. In comparing these two works, I will highlight their shared formal strategies and scrutinize their potential to challenge or affirm the ideologies of Japanese Imperialism.

The Surrealist Critique of Imperialism in Manchuria and the Fascination for the Native

Annika A. Culver, University of Chicago

In 1924, a group of avant-garde poets in Dairen under the leadership of Takiguchi Takeshi including Kitagawa Fuyuhiko and Anzai Fuyue formed part of the future core group of surrealists in Tokyo. Through Surrealism, it was possible to view the individual and his corresponding personal desires as part of an international network sympathetic to Marxism that fought for the primacy of literary expression in the public realm. The fact that most of the poets working in the mode of Surrealism developed their ideas abroad (in Europe or in Manchuria) highlights the international nature of a modernism that surpassed the confines of the individual and national body.

For Kitagawa and Anzai, the literary exploration of the colonized in Manchuria served as a form of self-liberation from the strictures of bourgeois Japanese society and the capitalist depredations of the imperialist government it represented. The merging of self and other in this representation of colonized peoples allowed greater understanding of social conditions, but ultimately colonized through a gaze that highlighted difference and justified subjugation. Experimentation with poetic form and lack of narrative reference allow an erotic intimacy with the colonized subject, while the body of the self and other merge in a union that defies national boundaries.

However, though the poetic self can penetrate or even wear the human shell of a Chinese coolie or prostitute, it cannot escape the colonizing obsession for categorizing nation, class, and gender. The colonial space alternately functions as a pre-modern utopia of the past-as-present, or as an uncertain territory where the reality of the colonizer violently collides with the incompatibility of the anachronistic natives. Through Surrealism, the borders of self and nation are blurred in a utopian experiment that implicitly contains the seeds of a politics that could just as easily be sympathetic to the right as to the left.1

1 In 1942, Kawabata Yasunari edited a volume compiling literary compositions representative of authors from the five races in Manchukuo. Anzai Fuyue and Takiguchi Shűz˘ both contributed poetry on the requisite cherry blossoms. See Kawabata Yasunari, ed., Manshűkoku kaku minzoku s˘saku senshű I (Anthology of compositions by each race in Manchukuo, volume 1) (Tokyo: S˘gensha, 1942).

Stroking the Male Surface: Sh˘nen’ai (The Love of Adolescent Boys) in the Poetics of Inagaki Taruho

Jeffrey Angles, Western Michigan University

In 1921, the writer Inagaki Taruho (1900–1977) made his literary debut by submitting "Tsuki no sanbun-shi" (Prose poems about the moon) to the Second Futurist Art Exhibition. This early work, which consists of several short, linked works about the surreal happenings of style, anticipates many of his later collections of short, linked works, which defy simple classification as either poetry or prose. (One of his best known works in this style, Issen ichiby˘ monogatari [One thousand and one second stories] from 1923, is now considered a classic of Japanese surrealism. In a 1924 issue of Shinch˘ [New tide], Taruho published "Watashi no tanbishugi" [My aestheticism], a statement that explains the aesthetic vision behind these works and that outlines one possible direction for the burgeoning Japanese modernist movement.) He advocates a style of momentary transience and fairy-tale-like fantasy while, in dandyesque fashion, celebrating the chic—a category that covered fashionable consumer products as well as astronomical entities. According to Taruho, however, beautiful young men play a special role in avant-garde aesthetics: "That thing known as pedophilia erotica (the taste for adolescent boys) is an essential quality of the extreme development of aestheticism."1 The homoerotic appreciation of the adolescent male body surfaced as a major theme in Taruho’s work in "R-chan to S no hanashi" (The Story of R-chan and S) and "Hana megane" (Pince-nez Glasses) also published in 1924, and in "WC" and "A to ent˘" (A and the cylinder) published the following year.

This paper examines the development of the theme of sh˘nen’ai (the love of young boys) in Taruho’s early writing and its relation to Taruho’s aesthetic vision. It shows that Taruho aestheticized the male adolescent body partly through placing it in an environment that, while free of overt markers of political and nationalistic ideology, reveals traces of the international cosmopolitanism that he associated with modernity. Meanwhile, in fetishistic fashion, he celebrates the body as a surface: a signifer of a rarely glimpsed interiority that titillates through the hidden promises it seems to hold. Finally, Taruho twists the language and symbols of sexology to his own purposes—not to classify and control homoerotic desire but to celebrate it, thus subverting the ideological foundations upon which much sexology was based.

1 Inagaki Taruho, "Watashi no tanbishugi," Inagaki Taruho zenshű, vol. 1 (Tokyo: Chikuma shob˘, 2000), 65.