Sōseki's Diversity | April 18-20, 2014 | Forum Hall, Palmer Commons, 100 Washtenaw Ave, Ann Arbor, MI
For three days in April, 2014, scholars from three continents gathered at the University of Michigan to reflect on the legacy of Natsume Sōseki (1867-1916), Japan's most widely read and intensively studied modern novelist. Sōseki's works are fixtures on the syllabi of high school literature courses in Japan and the subject of hundreds of books and thousands of scholarly articles. His place in the Japanese national imagination is comparable to that of a figure like Mark Twain in the United States. Until recently, his portrait appeared on the ¥1000 bill.
Sōseki's fourteen novels, written in just over a decade from 1905 to 1916, exhibit an astonishing stylistic diversity and formal inventiveness: from exuberantly comic satire to a realism marked by unsparing irony and precise psychological observation. Taken together, they constitute a fictional account of unparalleled richness of the daily lives of Tokyo's middle classes as they lived through Japan's dizzyingly rapid emergence as a modern industrial society.
In addition to his work as a novelist, Sōseki was also a gifted poet, writing in both Japanese and Chinese. He was the founder of English literary studies in Japan, and the author of the monumental Theory of Literature (1905), one of the world's earliest attempts to describe scientifically how literature works.
"Sōseki's Diversity" coincided with the 100th anniversary of the inaugural newspaper installment of his novel Kokoro, perhaps the most canonical work in all of modern Japanese literature. In nine panels over three days, and featuring keynotes by John Nathan and Tawada Yoko, the conference added new voices to a century of scholarship on Sōseki, reflecting on his place in modern Japanese literature and in world literature more broadly.
Titles and abstracts of all papers are archived on this site.A selection of four papers from the conference has appeared in the Japanese journal Bungaku (Dec. 2014) and more publications in both Japanese and English are in the works.
Please join the conference Facebook page for continuing discussions and updates about Sōseki and his work. (The group is closed and does not require you to “friend” other participants). Ask to join here.
In addition, we invite all participants to contribute to a collaborative timeline about Soseki and his context. For more information about the timeline, click here.