Jane and Raphael Bernstein Professor, Asian Studies, Dartmouth College
Dennis Washburn's profile
Sōseki, the Visual Arts, and the Translation of Subjectivity
The visual arts, especially modern painting in Western styles, figure prominently as a narrative element in many of Natsume Sōseki's novels. His fascination with the aesthetics of visuality is expressed early in his career in his promotion of the practice of shaseibun (sketches from nature), in which he directly links the assumed immediacy of visual experience with self- expression and thus with the formation of a modern artistic sensibility. This idea is later expressed more explicitly in Bunten to geijutsu (The Ministry of Education Exhibition and the Arts), where he makes a the claim that "Art begins and ends with the self." This paper will examine some of the ways in which Sōseki sought to translate Western conceptions of artistic sensibility into his aesthetic theory and narrative practice. The analysis will begin with the taxonomy of literary artists Sōseki sets out in the introductory essay to his translation of Hōjōki, take up examples of the narrative depiction of painters and paintings in Kusamakura and Sanshirō, and conclude with a summary of the Sōseki's literary readings of individual works in the Ministry of Education Exhibit to illustrate how the visual arts acted as a translating medium to bring subjectivity into modernity.