Assistant Professor of Japanese literature and culture, University of New Mexico
Andre Haag's profile
Why was he…well…killed? Natsume Sōseki and (Anti-) Colonial Violence
“Why was he…well…killed?” This tentative query raised by Oyone in Natsume Sōseki’s Mon momentarily threatens to open a dangerous discussion of Itō Hirobumi’s recent assassination by An Chunggŭn. The glaring erasure of the Korean assailant’s identity from the subsequent dialogue, however, forecloses on such possibilities in favor of a gentle parody of popular colonial discourse. Yet, might this abortive and ironic confrontation with (anti-) colonial violence offer a key to reconciling Sōseki’s dual positions as writer of a semi-colonial periphery and emerging imperial metropole? Although much of Sōseki’s prose problematizes the cultural violence concomitant to the encounter with “civilization” (code for self-colonization under the global regime of Western imperialism), postcolonial critics have lamented his silence on the violence of Japan’s own imperial expansion in northeast Asia.
Reexamining the ironic narration of colonial violence in Mon against recently-unearthed parallel texts, this paper explores how close encounters with Japan’s periphery from 1909 enabled Sōseki’s avowed (and possibly tongue-in-cheek) discovery of a new sense of national identity forged within empire. Simultaneously, the violent ethnic conflict accompanying these encounters, which recalled the failure of past Japanese resistance to “civilization,” marked a disruption to the double structure of imperial nationalism that could only be contained in narrative as farcical scenes of aporia. I demonstrate how absurd gaps in the narrative reconstruction of Ito’s death mirror those separating the writer’s fiction from his forays into other genres of colonial discourse, calling into question the very possibility of stable, meaningful resistance or critique vis-à-vis empire.