Representing the Other in Modern Japanese Literature: A Critical Approach. Edited by Rachael Hutchinson and Mark Williams. London and New York: Routledge, 2007.
Coming from a remote island country, only recently thrust into the international circuit, and often perplexed as an “Other” in the West or in colonial Asia, the Japanese traveler of the Meiji or Taishô periods was assailed on every side by fresh, delicious sensations of the exotic and developed a keen sensitivity to differences. The present volume examines the complexities of this experience as reflected and enriched in twentieth-century Japanese writing.
Even as late as 1959, in Kyoko no ie, Mishima Yukio was able to present prosaic details of New York life as glowing with alien charm (as Irmela Hijiya-Kirschnereit relates). Just as Americans may still be able to exoticize the streets or villages of Japan, Mishima shows himself a master of reverse Orientalism as he foregrounds such American exotica as doors that open automatically. When sensation fails to offer the traveler such thrills, fantasy fills the gap. Thus, Natsume Sôseki, unhappy in London, calls up historical visions in the Tower, adopting a “doctrine of jikohon’i or ‘on my own terms,’ which can be seen as an intellectual gauntlet thrown down in the face of Western society” (Susan Napier, p. 46).
Dexterous use of literary sources sustains and enriches the fantasy of the alien land. Hijiya-Kirschnereit reveals how exoticism takes on an intertextual dimension when Mishima laces his stories with largely unnoticed allusions to Pater, Wilde, Mann, and Greek mythology, as well as drawing on an exotic trove of Chinese characters. Similarly, Satô Haruo, following a visit to Taiwan, his first trip abroad, blends Western and Chinese exoticism in his “Tale of the Fan” (1925), where he explicitly emulates Poe’s “Fall of the House of Usher” in a variation on the Chinese cliché of the deserted woman lamenting in a ghostly mansion (as Faye Kleeman argues).
Even sex became more exotic when seen through a Western prism. Ann Sherif presents the Japanese trial about Lady Chatterley’s Lover as turning on “the aestheticization of sex” (p. 195) and “High Modernist assumptions that aesthetic response should encompass sexual response” (p. 203). It remains unclear whether the lawyers noted that “sex” here meant four-letter words and sodomy, or how much of the shock value, the “otherness,” of Lawrence’s breach of these taboos was transmitted to Japanese readers.
But the present volume is not just a collection of aesthetic delights. Within the paradise of fantasy the serpent of problematization lurked. Some of the fantasists themselves undertook deconstruction of their initial self-indulgent projections. When Nagai Kafû dismantles the popular Meiji image of America as the “sacred land of liberty,” this, according to Rachael Hutchinson, is “part of a wider discourse of dissent and doubt circulating among intellectuals after the Russo-Japanese War” (p. 71). When Kafû portrays a Japanese, symbolically named Kunio, in masochistic thrall to an American woman, the fantasy has a multiple subversive impact. Napier points out that Sôseki’s fantasies are “rudely rejected by his landlord who offers prosaic explanations for every seemingly uncanny event” and is “disillusioning on the subject of the mysterious woman” whom Sôseki has imagined to be a reincarnation of Lady Jane Grey (p. 45). In parallel, Satô’s narrator, according to Kleeman, scotches the superstition and romanticism of his Taiwanese friend Segaimin, though of course the narrative indulges to the full the frisson these “naïve” attitudes allow.
Perhaps the most elaborate dialectic between fantasy and realism in twentieth century literature is that pursued by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki in a long career. He began with fin-de-siècle decadence, blending it with a cult of Chinese exotica; then he indulged a fantasy of the West, derived from the movies; traditional Japan offered the basis for his later imaginations, which form a searching interrogation of the texture of Japanese psychology and cultural history. Adrian Pinnington traces “the general shift in Tanizaki’s work from the pure fantasy of much of his earlier work, to the profounder exploration of the role that fantasy plays in ordinary life, and especially in personal relationships, in his later work”; this critical insight allowed him “to remain unmoved by the increasingly racialist fantasies developed and propagated by Japanese militarists in the 1930s” (p. 89).
In other cases it is the brutalities of external history that puncture the aesthetic idyll, as when Yokomitsu Riichi, as described by Douglas Slaymaker, finds in 1937 that the French image of Japan has changed from one of quaint elegance to one of bellicose militarism, or when other Francophile travelers find their dream country threatened with extinction in 1940. As Leith Morton notes, comic fantasy is also used by Okinawan novelist Ôshiro Tatsuhiro to vehiculate the malaise caused by the American military presence. Murakami Haruki is a current instance of Japanese fascination with and exoticization of the Western Other, yet, Napier points out, his exile brings him a new perspective on Japan in the surreal fantasies of The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, wherein he confronts Japan’s wartime past in Manchuria (p. 49). Perhaps the story of twentieth-century Japanese fiction could be told as one of oscillation between rootless or narcissistic fantasizing and the kind of realism that prevailed in postwar fiction, “grubbing around on its hands and knees in quite a commonplace world” (Maruyama Masao, quoted, p. 202). The greatest moments come when the real and the imaginary act out their conflict or undergo mutual displacement.
All of this could be spoiled if a heavy, politically-correct ideology is brought to bear on the analysis of the fiction. When Kleenan applies postcolonial and feminist criticism to Satô’s Taiwanese tale, she finds that “the narrative strategy of mapping a fundamental gender injustice onto the modern ideal of free and passionate love is not dissimilar to Satô’s displacement of history in favor of aestheticism in his dealings with Segaimin” (p. 285). This seems to put the accents in the wrong places in a charming tale, destroying the pleasure of the text. Thousands of detective stories and travel tales offer themselves to be deciphered in such terms, which invite the danger of making literary studies an appendix to sociology.
Some of the contributors are more ambitious, drawing on Lacan and Foucault to further problematize representations of self and other. Happily, we are spared a bath in jargon by the focus on particular case studies and by the lucidity of the editors’ project as they “look to the process rather than the end product of construction” (p. 4) and “perform an archeology of representation, one which illuminates the processes at work behind such representation and thus destroys the possibility of these concepts becoming fixed” (p. 5). Their critique of nihonjinron essentialism serves to open up the buried richness of the texts, bringing many surprising new insights.
Beyond fantasy and problematization, the theme of otherness has a painful concreteness in stories of burakumin attempts at “passing.” Here otherness is no longer a pleasure or a puzzle, but something dangerous, to be concealed. Affirming one’s otherness can also be a trip. Thus Nakagami Kenji’s self-outing as a burakumin was unwelcome to some in the Buraku Liberation League, since his writing “always risked re-invoking rather than subverting the language of otherness and discrimination” (Mark Morris, p. 139). When the protagonist of Shimazaki Tôson’s Hakai (Broken Commandment) finally speaks out, he is whisked off to Texas by a rich friend, “one of the weakest endings in novelistic history” (p. 128)—yet one that could perhaps be read as an eloquent tribute to the power of taboos. James Raeside examines Noma Hiroshi’s mammoth Seinen no wa (Circle of Youth)—an “absolute novel” influenced by Joyce and frequently citing Hegel—that integrates various aspects of the burakumin issue, giving them novelistic concentration by centering on the relationship between two men “bound in emulation and enmity” (p. 147) on the sweltering streets of Osaka in August–September 1939. The complexities are labyrinthine.
Zainichi Koreans also trouble the Japanese sense of identity, as “an ineradicable reminder/remainder of the colonial legacy” (Catherine Ryu). Since they can pass as Japanese, “only in the discursive field can the differentiation between the Japanese Self and zainichi Koreans be fully delineated and zealously guarded” (p. 313). They are proving difficult to marginalize “merely as an indispensable but static Japanized Other” (p. 314). Their literature, though four times honored with the Akutagawa Prize, is also treated as marginal. Yu Yang-ji’s novel Yuhi “expands the theoretical horizons for the ongoing critical discourse on the Japanese Self and the contrastive Other by pointing to ‘something Real’ beyond Language, that is, beyond the distinctions of Self and Other” (p. 327).
These darker aspects of the theme suggest that self-consciousness about “otherness” is always the index of an oppressive situation, to be worked through towards a higher vantage point of reconciliation, perhaps via a creative, dialectical resistance to the constructions of identity that have such lethal effects. The present volume is a precious contribution to this task, both in the capacious reach of its critical perspective and in its revelation of the hidden subtleties and alert intelligence of the authors studied.
Monumenta Nipponica 62 (2006):131-4.