Assistant Professor of Japanese, University of Montana
Robert Tuck's profile
"Shadowed form of Woman:" Gender Ambiguity, Homosocial Poetry, and Kusamakura
One notable characteristic of Sōseki’s Sino-Japanese poetry (kanshi), especially his early work, is the extent to which it experiments with concepts of gendered poetic voice. Especially in poetic exchanges with his good friend Masaoka Shiki, Sōseki frequently adopts female authorial voice and subject positions, overlaying the language and imagery of male-female romantic relationships onto male-male homosocial ones. Focusing particularly on the ambiguity and uses of the term “beauty (bijin, kajin )” in Sōseki’s poetry, this paper uses these tropes to construct a new reading and analysis of two figures who appear in Sōseki’s 1906 novel Kusamakura, the fictional mystery woman Nami and the real-life Fujimura Misao, a student at the elite Tokyo First Higher School who studied under Sōseki and whose suicide in 1903 sent shockwaves through Japan’s intellectual community. Analyzing both Sōseki’s reaction to Fujimura's suicide and that of Japan’s print media, the paper argues that Kusamakura's language and imagery explicitly and implicitly work to overlay Fujimura’s experiences onto the character of Nami. Focusing on Nami's own poetry as it appears in the narrative, and on the significance of her identification with Hamlet's Ophelia, as well as her remarks on suicide by drowning, the paper reads Kusamakura through the lens of Sōseki’s homosocial poetry to show that Nami can be read as polyvalent and ambiguous object of both homosocial and heterosocial desire. The paper thus uses Kusamakura as a case study by which to address largely neglected questions of gender and voice within Meiji kanshi and poetry in general.