Assistant Professor of Japanese, Florida International University
Hitomi Yoshio's profile
The Art of Forgetting: National Literature, Authorship, and Gender in Kusamakura (1906)
The field of literature rapidly achieved an independent and respectable cultural status after the end of the Russo-Japanese War. During this crucial period, Natsume Sōseki wrote enthusiastically in defense of the social significance of writers and artists, with the aim to create a unique "national literature" that will compete with literatures of western nations. In this paper, I examine Sōseki's novel Kusamakura (1906), written less than one year before Sōseki joined Tokyo Asahi Shimbun to become a professional writer. This work, more than any other, shows Sōseki's engagement with the role of the artist/writer in modern Japan, depicting a protagonist who both embraces and breaks away from (or desires to "forget") past inheritances of literature and art. Despite the protagonist's stated preference for "Oriental" (tōyō) aesthetics, which is somehow linked to life in the mountains where he sojourns, this preference is complicated by the fact that he is a painter of the western- style (seiyōga) who is thoroughly assimilated in fin-de-siècle decadent aesthetics. This creative dissonance ultimately centers upon the innkeeper's daughter Nami, who remains an illusive and subversive aesthetic subject even as she becomes cast as a catalyst for creativity. Through a close reading of this complex work through the lens of cultural legacy and gender, I hope to examine the various ways in which Sōseki engages in the discursive construction of Japan's national literature and authorship at the dawn of the 20th century, in relation to contemporary discourses on European art and the emerging fields of sociology and psychology.