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Modernity, Boredom, and Decadence in Natsume Sōseki’s Sorekara
By the mid-19th century in France, “ennui” had become symbolic of the spiritual and material effects of modernization. Changes as a consequence of industrialization, urbanization, and an emerging consumer society were linked to melancholy, fatigue, and boredom.
1Baudelaire and Flaubert write boredom into the world of the lyrical subject of Fleurs du Mal (1857), and into the romantic longing of Emma, the eponymous protagonist of Madame Bovary (1856), respectively. In the Japanese context, the source of boredom in Naturalist works appears to be the routine of life and over-familiarity. For example, Tayama Katai’s protagonist in Futon (1907) is bored with his wife. Masamune Hakuchô’s “Izuko e” (“Where To?” 1908) tells the story of a man who is indifferent to women, liquor, and everything else. Sōseki represents boredom in his work Sorekara (And Then, 1909) more in Hakuchō’s sense. It seems to arise from a restlessness within the protagonist, Daisuke, that has little to do with an overly familiar environment. Nothing holds any interest for Daisuke; “he’s beset with ennui.” Ennui is an expression of modernity in the narrative, but it is deployed also as a symptom of moral ambiguity. This paper explores the depiction of the aesthete Daisuke, who teeters on the precipice of decadence in his boredom, self-indulgence, and dependence on a father for whom he has no respect. His condition, as it unravels vis-à-vis his family and the woman he loves, parallels that of Japan, described as being in spiritual and moral decline.
1 Goodstein 161