Professor of Japanese Literature and Chair of the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Chicago
Michael Bourdaghs' profile
Narrating Three Lives: Natsume Sōseki, Gertrude Stein, William James
If Henry James was the novelist who wrote like a psychologist, and William James the psychologist who wrote like a novelist, then who was Natsume Sōseki? This paper explores Sōseki’s experiments in unconventional narrative voices and structures, including stream of consciousness, through a comparison with another contemporary writer with strong ties to William James: Gertrude Stein (1874- 1946). I read Sōseki’s fiction, in particular the early story “Ichiya” (One night, 1905), in dialogue with Stein’s Three Lives (1905-6), a novel with direct connections to laboratory research Stein carried out under James’s supervision while a student at Harvard in the 1890s. I argue that the two novelists creatively translated James’s psychological experiments into experimental fiction, producing works that challenged existing norms of narrative coherence and projected radically new modes of readership.