Kōjin, Karatani

Assigned: Kōjin, Karatani. From Origins of Modern Japanese Literature, from Chapter 1. “The Discovery of Landscape,” 2, 6 (1929-38). Also read the editors’ introduction (1925-28).

From Origins of Modern Japanese Literature (1980)

From Chapter 1. The Discovery of Landscape

Part 2

1. On 1929-30 (“The strongly personal tone of…”), Karatani Kōjin begins by discussing the relationship to literary theory of the renowned Japanese novelist Sōseki. The latter complained that in his youth, he felt “cheated by English literature” (1929). What point does the author draw from this complaint regarding the nature of literature itself? What accounts for the difficulty of truly understanding such terms as kanbungaku, which, the Norton editors say, refers to “the techniques used to make classical Chinese works accessible to Japanese readers and writing in Japanese that imitates those works” (1929 footnote 5)? Similarly, why is it difficult to come to grips with the term sansuiga, a coinage by the American critic Ernest Fenollosa that means “landscape paintings” (1929 bottom-1930)? According to Kōjin, how are such terms a matter of ideology and artifice, not naturally occurring generic markers?

2. On 1930-31 (“I would like to propose that…”), Kōjin suggests that “the notion of ‘landscape’ developed in Japan sometime during the third decade of the Meiji period” (1930). This would have been in the 1890s. Why does Kōjin reject a straightforward linear history of the development of landscape painting? What did Sōseki realize during the 1890s about “the structure of his perceptions” (1930) when it came to English literature, landscape, and kanbungaku? In the context of the distinction between kanbungaku and more nativist conceptions of Japanese literature, how do you understand Kōjin’s remark that “Our search for the origins of writing will never take us beyond writing, beyond écriture” (1931)?

3. On 1931-33 (“My discussion is complicated by…”), Kōjin further elaborates on the significance of the supposed discovery of “landscape” or sansuiga during the third decade of the Meiji Period, the 1890s. What insights does Kōjin adapt from the modern artist Usami Keiji with respect to sansuiga in comparison to Western notions about “landscape” (1931-32)? In what way does sansuiga involve “envisioning the transcendental” (1932), and not simply positioning oneself in relation to a patch of scenery? How does Kōjin use this differential explication to help us understand the perceptual shift, or “inversion” (as he calls it on page 1933 and elsewhere) required before Japanese critics and viewers could begin to speak of “landscape” in the Western sense? How is this inversion, according to Kōjin, central to “the very concept of a history of Japanese literature” (1933)?

Part 6

4. On 1933-35 (“Once a landscape has been…”), Kōjin deals with the concept of landscape in the arts in terms relevant to the history of Western philosophy. What “developments in painting,” according to him, were paralleled by “developments in philosophy” (1933)? In particular, how was Cartesian dualism (the positing of a stark split between the “I” that thinks and the world beyond or outside it: as in, “I think; therefore I am”) grounded in the prior concept of perspective in European painting? (1934) Following a long quotation by Suzanne Langer, what doubt does Kōjin express about the ability of artists and philosophers to strike out on a new intellectual path, without confronting the philosophical and conceptual dilemmas of earlier times? (1934-35)

5. On 1935-36 (“In Western Europe it was Marx…”), Kōjin points out that in their respective ways, Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud questioned the epistemology stemming from “the European conception of landscape” (1935). How was Sōseki, according to Kōjin, able to attain the same insight without following the same path they did? In what sense did Japan in the nineteenth century live through a condensed version of Western philosophical, political, and artistic developments? (1935-36)

6. On 1936-37 (“But such interpretive notions as…”), Kōjin suggests that historians of modern literature tend to take the concept of the “modern self” for granted as a given interiority. (1937) How does he adapt Freudian thought to an explanation of late-nineteenth-century Japanese political and literary events? How does he explain what happened when “the People’s Rights movement and the writing of political novels lost its object and was redirected inward…” (1937)? What connection does Kōjin also make between the development of a conception of writing called genbun-itchi (which, the Norton editors say, contrasted with kanbungaku and treated written language as derivative of the spoken word; see page 1937, footnote 6) and “the establishment, around 1890, of the various institutions of the modern state” (1937)?

7. On 1938 (“Of course, insofar as genbun itchi…”), Kōjin writes of Kunikida Doppo, one of the authors interested in reviving genbun-itchi in his writing, that in this author’s work, “the concept of ‘expression’ came into being for the first time in Japanese literature” (1938). What basic assumption or insight about the “inner self” made this concept possible in Doppo’s texts? Why were other writers whom Kōjin mentions—most notably Futabatei Shimei—unable to attain to Doppo’s realization?

8. General question: In our selection from Origins of Modern Japanese Literature, Karatani Kōjin suggests that the driving force in the development of the literatures of various peoples entails a kind of “inversion” (his term) in which a profound transformation of sensibilities and epistemological/perceptual assumptions takes place and is then promptly hidden from consciousness. Only in this way, he says, does it become possible for people to delineate a genre like “landscape” and immediately assume it is natural rather than a construction based on how we see the world. What does this insight imply about our ability to understand literary history—what kind of investigation and reflection must the historian or critic undertake if a worthwhile understanding is to be gained? What are the implications of Kōjin’s analysis of the history of Japanese literature and its key concepts for those who see such literature as a natural, organic development that follows its own laws and thereupon attains to a high degree of “purity” or freedom from heterogeneous or foreign influences?

Edition: Leitch, Vincent B. et al., eds. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 3rd ed. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018. ISBN-13: 978-0-393-60295-1.

Copyright © 2021 Alfred J. Drake