PhD candidate, Japanese literature, East Asian Languages and Cultures, University of California, Berkeley
Lisa Reade's profile
Heredity and the Transmission of Experience in Natsume Sōseki’s Kokoro
Recent scholarship on Sōseki has made much of his interest in the sciences, particularly late 19th century psychology and sociology, and the way in which they shaped his Theory of Literature . When Sōseki was writing around the turn of the century, the dominant theme in many of the discussions surrounding these disciplines was Darwinism, and the extent to which heredity governed and even predetermined individual thought and action. While Sōseki was widely read in many of these debates, it is William James, whose interpretation of Darwin was far less deterministic than his contemporary Herbert Spencer, whose influence is most visible in his work. While not denying the role of natural selection in shaping an individual's response to its environment, nevertheless for James the primary characteristic of consciousness was its ability to spontaneously elect one ideal or course of action out of a range of possible choices. This paper will thus explore the theme of heredity in Sōseki‘s 1914 novel, Kokoro , suggesting that the failure of biological kinships represented therein (Sensei's childlessness, the Narrator's estrangement from his family) is ultimately redeemed by the actively chosen spiritual lineage constructed by the characters through the transmission of texts. It will argue that, far from being a novel about the isolation of the modern individual, Kokoro in fact foregrounds the transgenerational “continuity of consciousness" that Sōseki outlines in his theory of literature; and that the open structure of the novel, which suggests that the reader herself is the next heir to Sensei's testament, in fact illustrates Sōseki’s view of literary tradition as actively constructed by a temporal community of readers with a shared sensibility.