Christophe Thouny's profile
At the Periphery of the I-Novel: Topologies of the Planetary in Sōseki and Ōgai
Karatani Kōjin famously localized both Natsume Sōseki and Mori Ōgai at the periphery of Modern Japanese literature defined by the I-novel. The claim is provocative and problematic, and yet there is here a radical insight into the question of literary writing, modern subjectivity, and as I will argue today, urban experience, that still needs to be addressed. I propose then to read an early and still under-examined novel of Natsume Sōseki, the Miner, serialized in the Asahi Shinbun in 1908, in relation to Mori Ōgai's novel Youth serialized in Subaru two years later. Both novels are original narrative experiments in the genre of the bildungsroman, trying to find an answer to the radical experience of bodily disorientation provoked by the entrance into a planetary urban space. I argue that both works enact a queer movement of subjectivation by displacing the contradictions of modern urban life onto two different topologies respectively articulated by the Mine and the Antique Shop. In The Miner, a young man tries to find an escape from the patriarchal and capitalist family into the Forest and the Hole, in the anonymous body of the miner, while in Youth, the death of the mother is what opens the urban as a space of experience defined by a multiplicity of origins. This implies two different enactments of urban subjectivity and two forms of novelistic writing, the dissemination of individual memories in urban places in Ōgai's cartographic writing, and the exploration of depth in a photographic world out of focus in Sōseki's stream of consciousness.