Abstracts - Stephen Poland

Yale University
Stephen Poland's profile

I Am a Dog: Natsume Sōseki and the South Manchuria Railway

In 1909, Natsume Sōseki became the first major Japanese literary figure to travel through Northeast China (known as "Manchuria" at the time), where Japanese state and private actors were rapidly embarking on a colonial project following the military victory over Russia in 1905 and acquisition of railway rights in the region. After his return to Japan, Sōseki serialized an account of his six-week journey in the Asahi newspaper as "Here & There in Manchuria and Korea" (Man-Kan tokoro dokoro), contributing a literary representation of Manchuria that would--like the railroad itself--play a part in transforming the region into a "modern" space. "Here & There" appears to be the most neglected (if not disdained) work in Sōseki's oeuvre, and scholarly work on the text largely treats it symptomatically to reveal Sōseki's racism and complicity with Japanese imperialism. Without simply defending Sōseki from such charges, I engage with "Here & There" as a self-conscious text turning a critical eye toward the Japanese imperial project in order to ask a series of questions about its uneven and incomplete serialization and its representation of Manchuria. Through an emphasis on the text’s narrative focalization, I consider what might be at stake in thinking of this travelogue by Japan's most canonical modern novelist as a foundational text of a modern "Manchukuo literature,” and look at how "Here & There in Manchuria and Korea" presents themes and problems that will become central to literary and film production in Manchukuo after its establishment in 1932.