Abstracts - Matthew Mewhinney

Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, University of California, Berkeley
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The Poetics of Suspension in Omoidasu koto nado (1910)

Over his lifetime, Natsume Sōseki wrote over 2,500 haiku and a total of 208 kanshi, or classical Chinese verse. He also wrote poems in English and other forms of Japanese poetry (renku , tanka, haitaishi, and shintaishi). Sōseki has received wide acclaim as a writer of prose, but his writing as a poet is often overlooked. This paper views Sōseki as a poet, and examines a novella in which he imbeds his own poetry into passages of prose. 

After his travelogue Bokusetsuroku (1889) and “haiku-like” novel Kusamakura (1906), his novella Omoidasu koto nado, or Remembrances, (1910), is the third literary work in which Sōseki places prose and poetry side by side. This paper begins with a summary of the work’s reception in Japanese and English scholarship, and then offers an alternative reading: one that treats Remembrances more as a novella and less as autobiography, by concentrating on formal aspects of language. Remembrances is a metaphysical meditation that recounts the experience of traversing the realms of life and death and being suspended in between. I perform close readings of excerpts from the thirty-two installments that comprise Remembrances, and examine the language Sōseki uses to describe ruptures in the continuity of experience: the process of remembering them, writing about them, and feeling, hearing, smelling and visualizing them. By illustrating how perceptions move in and out of view, and sensations rise and fall in intensity, this paper reveals that the prose and poetry that structure the novella together illustrate a poetics of suspension.