Assistant Professor, Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures, Yale University
Seth Jacobowitz' profile
“In the Key of Minor Literature: Reading Conventions in Sōseki and Machado de Assis”
“I am astonished that a writer of such greatness does not yet occupy the place he deserves. Up to a point, the relative neglect of Machado outside Brazil may be no more mysterious than the neglect of another prolific writer of genius whom Eurocentric notions of world literature have marginalized: Natsume Soseki.” —Susan Sontag
In her lament for the obscurity of Machado de Assis (1839-1908) in the Western world that appears in the “Forward” to the first English edition of his novel The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas,* Susan Sontag offers a tantalizingly brief analogy to Natsume Soseki (1867-1916) that begs further scrutiny. I would argue it is not greatness that distinguishes the most radical works of Machado and Soseki, but a specific type of writing against the grain that Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari call “minor literature.” To be sure, Machado and Soseki were masters of the novel who also played decisive roles in the construction of their respective national canons, literary establishments and the tastes of the reading public. Yet it is inadequate to simply say they were critical of the artifice of literary language or experienced modern alienation. This paper is accordingly an experimental attempt to read Machado and Soseki in the key of minor literature. Working mainly between The Posthumous Memoirs (1881) and Soseki’s I am a Cat (1904-05) and Kokoro (1914) it compares the deep affinities these texts share in terms of style and philosophical outlook, where dissimulation prevails over representation. In lieu of a conventional exposition of allegory, symbolism and genre, it then reframes the novel for Machado and Soseki as a writing-machine, an assemblage of geometries and forces through which the language of modern subjectivity speaks.
* Published as Epitaph of a Small Winner (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1990)