Abstracts - Sayumi Harb

Assistant Professor, Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, Connecticut College
Sayumi Harb's profile

Penning the Mad Man in the Attic: Women Writers and Imperial Subjects in Sōseki’s Fiction

Though little has been written about Sōseki’s engagement with women’s writing (cf. his reading of Austen and C. Bronte in Bungakuron), he did experiment with intertextual allusions to women writers in his fiction. In Sanshiro (1908), the eponymous hero borrows a book from the library by Aphra Behn (1640-1689), certain that this one is obscure enough not have been read yet – he is foiled when he discovers ample notations marking up this volume. A discussion with Professor Hirota reveals the book to be Oroonoko: Or, the Royal Slave (1688), which chronicles a Ghanaian Prince’s love, rebellion, and tragic end while exploring issues of gender and colonial slavery. Behn scandalized the literary world by (among other things) her depictions of homoeroticism in her fiction. What might the evocation of such an author signify at this moment in Sōseki’s novel, given that Hirota has displaced the position of the exoticist Lafcadio Hearn proxy? I argue that the repeated citation of Oroonoko in Sanshirō enables an emergent post-exotic reading of both texts, while also bringing into relief the drama of Sanshirō’s emergent sexuality and gender identity. Ultimately, the intermediate position of (English) women writers and their works as a “third term” between empowered Euro-American (masculine) Imperialism and the Japanese (male) subject opens up a geo-critical space to voice subjectivities oscillating between the positionalities of those leading and those led, masculine and feminine, city and country, etc. Sōseki’s citation of “Western” women’s writing constitutes one intertextual field in which “ stray sheep” may wander.