Professor, Japanese literature, University of Hawai'i
Ken K. Ito's profile
Reading Kokoro in High School
Kokoro’s place in the canon is insured by its regular inclusion in Japanese high school textbooks at least until the early 21st century. But the work hasn’t always been part of the curriculum. When prewar textbooks carried Sōseki’s writing, the chosen works were either short pieces, such as “Rondon-tō” or “Bunchō,” or excerpts from Wagahai wa neko de aru or Kusamakura. The use of Kokoro in the classroom did not begin until 1956, when it was first incorporated into a second-year kokugo textbook; in this case, what was carried were a few chapters from the novel’s first part, narrated by the younger man. Kokoro has been a staple in high school textbooks since then, but always in the form of excerpts. Although a few textbooks take chapters from both the first part of the novel and from “Sensei’s Testament,” the great majority excerpt s varying portions of the last part of the novel. Most high school students, then, do not experience the dialogical dynamics of Kokoro, which for critics and academics have been the novel’s interpretive foundation for at least the last twenty years. Keeping the issue of canonicity in view, my paper will examine the interpretive horizons and ideological work of the excerpted text, both through considering what Jerome McGann calls the “textual condition,” the historical existence of texts in various physical manifestations, and what Stanley Fish has termed the “interpretative community,” the historical reception of texts by delimited groups of readers.