Abstracts - Brian Hurley

ABD, Dept. of East Asian Languages and Cultures, University of California- Berkeley  
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Tosaka Jun’s Uninvited Keynote: “Enough Culture, Enough Sōseki”

In 1936, Marxist philosopher Tosaka Jun critiqued what he called “Sōsekian Culture” (Sōseki bunka) as a way of questioning the novelist’s accrued authority. Tosaka’s critique was aimed less at Sōseki’s writings per se, and more at the “fanaticism” (fanatizumu) with which readers have received them. For Tosaka, Sōseki brought the already existing Meiji mantras of “culture” and “cultivation” to their representational apex, but he never aimed to reorganize the existing orthodoxy through transformative “ideas.” Implicitly, then, Tosaka suggested that Sōseki was more of a priest of “culture” (who reanimates an already existing discourse) than a prophet of “ideas” (who delivers a new message). By adoring a priest instead of a prophet, Tosaka concluded that Sōseki’s readers authorized a depoliticized, dehistoricized notion of “culture” over the revolutionary potential of “ideas.” The result, for Tosaka, was a non-threatening literary critical tradition shorn of political agency.

Since his death in 1945, though, Tosaka has sometimes been imagined as a Marxist martyr in ways that ironically reproduce the excessive approval for which he critiqued Sōseki’s liberal readership. Noting this, my presentation does not aim to substantiate Tosaka’s argument to the detriment of Sōseki, but rather to distill from it a rejuvenated mode of literary criticism that might be productive for reading both writers. I focus in particular on how Tosaka lauded Sōseki himself as the only true combination of novelist, critic, journalist and academic in modern Japan. My presentation examines how this aspect of Tosaka’s critique might carry the seeds of a literary critical practice that brings together “ideas” and “culture” without confusing priests for prophets.